Four years ago, I was leading a group from our church in the formation of a launch team for our first daughter church plant. In my series on “cultivating community contacts,” I shared about the “missional moleskine” (not to be confused with the memory moleskine).
When I started using the missional moleskine, I used it to gather all information from people I encountered in the daily rhythm of life. Such information included (a) their name, (b) when and where I met the person, (c) what the person was doing, (d) info to help me remember them, and (e) info from conversations about their life, beliefs, and experiences. This information would then be used for ongoing prayer as well as plans to build on (cultivate) the encounters from the past. Here is how I explained it in 2008:
Once I have gathered this information, I leave room in my journal for future encounters. For example, if I cultivate a relationship with a server at a restaurant, I will schedule my eating around their work schedule and attempt to connect with them on a regular basis, building on the previous encounters and conversations. Each successive encounter would be dated and filled out, creating a chain of commentary hopefully leading to progress in loving them and leading them to Jesus. The end result is to chronicle the movement around the mission as we cultivate relationships with unbelievers and seek to sow the good seed of the gospel in their lives as a faithful witness and relentless commitment to advancing the cause of Christ. Other benefits include specifics for ongoing prayer and intercession and research/reflection for cultural exegesis, planning, and corporate strategies.
This year, I am focusing on making disciples through a renewed relational investment plan, and with that plan, and am reincorporating the missional moleskine with a few tweaks. The big thing I’m focusing on this year is incorporating “place” and “progression” in the investment “plan“. My goal is to see the missional moleskine turn into a travelogue for life in the city. It is tracing life on mission at home (first place), at work (second place), and in the community (third places). Living as a missionary is not about being special or additional but intentional, and the missional moleskine helps me map that out.
By progress, I am talking about the establishment of relationships with non-Christians and investing in those relationships progressively over time. It is common knowledge that the majority of people whose lives are transformed by the gospel do so through a relationship. For me, this is ground zero for living on mission. While this may sound really elementary and basic, the starting point has to be an honest one.
I have two toddler boys (aged 3 and 5) who love to share with me exciting happenings in their little world. My three-year old, for instance will come running into my office out of breath, telling me of his first successful attempt of buttoning up his own pants. My five-year old is learning to read and cannot wait to share with me the new words he has learned to spell. Those regular occurrences remind me that from our earliest years of talking, we were made to bear witness to others about what makes the biggest impression on us.
I must confess that I am a great witness of lesser things. I find it rather natural for me to talk with others about things like college football dynasty like Alabama football, or the latest political controversy, or the most interesting moment that recently occurred in my life. We want to have something to say, something to contribute to the lives of others around us, and in the end, the offerings of our daily witness have less weight and significance than we bill them to be in our conversation.
God has made me to be a witness of the biggest drama in all of history. The event that interprets history and delineates time is meant to explode off my lips. Nothing is to be more profoundly impacting for the purpose of natural overflowing than a bloody cross, empty tomb, and occupied throne. The scandal of the cross, the innocent for the guilty, the righteous for the unrighteous, the perfect Son for the rebellious traitor, the sacrifice for the scoffer–this scandal should sober my senses, awaken my affections, and transfix my thoughts that I am stunned by the greatness of such grace. Nothing in the world should get me sweetly talking like Him who remained silent and drank the bitter cup of God’s wrath for me.
Tragically, I find myself far too easily impressed with lesser things. I bear witness of things that cannot satisfy, of idols that cannot save, of moments that are quickly forgotten. I want my words and witness to count for the biggest event in all of history performed by the greatest person who ever lived. I am not as impressed in the law-fulfilling life of Jesus as I should be. I am far more gospel inoculated than I admit. I am not as awakened to the majesty of sovereign mercy in the sacrificial death fo Jesus. I suffer more from gospel amnesia than I realize. And I am not conscious of the fact that Jesus right now has all authority over all things in heaven and earth, including ever person I will ever encounter and every heart He has yet to conquer through the gospel. And yet I am succeeding in bearing witness in matters that do not matter in the scales of eternity.
When I behold the majestic mountaintops, the expanse of the wide oceans, the enormity of the universe, I am daily reminded I was made to speak of awesome realities. But nothing is more awesome than sins forgiven, washed in blood, nailed to the cross, taking away all condemnation and curse! Nothing is more awesome than divine favor and acceptance that comes from being dressed in the righteousness of Jesus, hidden in His embrace, and loved because of His merits. Nothing is more awesome than fellowship with the Father who is for me, the Son who is with me, and Holy Spirit who is in me. I was made to tell the world of this. To bear witness of His majesty and mercy, of His greatness and grace, of His unapproachable light and never-ending love.
I am a witness. You are witness. The question is what are we witnesses of? What is making the biggest impression and evoking the great commentary and reaction? I am, you are, made to bear witness of glory. Not just any glory. The glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Let’s behold Him with fresh eyes of faith, and then respond with Spirit-led, grace-laced, jaw-dropping, life-transforming testimony of the beauty and power of King Jesus.
And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Acts 17:26-27
Last week, I talked to you my efforts this year to build a neighborhood in my city through Next Door. This is a heavy burden I have, one that I have not steward very well in the past. The verses above speak about God’s providence, namely that God determines our dwelling places. Have you thought much about that? Yes, you thought you live where you do because of the great deal on the house, the school district, the proximity to work, etc. But in and through all of these secondary causes, there’s a primary cause that you live where you do: God put you there.
And God’s providence is not without God’s purpose.
God’s purpose in Acts 17 is “that they should seek God…and find him.” So let’s put this together. God placed me in this particular plot on planet earth for the purpose that people should seek God and find Him.
And God’s purposes should become the passion of our lives.
If God’s purpose of providentially placing me in the city where I live so that people would seek God and find him, then it ought to be my passion to accomplish that purpose. God has a design. He’s being intentional and purposeful. When I embrace that intentional design, my response should be a passionate embrace and acceptance of the mission.
Simply put: I live where I live so that those without God can find life in Him. What difference would this make if my life really looked like that?
I live in the city of Cape Coral, FL. It’s a fascinating city in many ways. A few years ago, it was one of the top ten fastest growing cities in the United States. More recently, it has held top ranking for highest numbers and percentages of foreclosures and short sales in an area with the worst performing job market of the 100 metropolitan areas of the United States. Cape Coral has massive potential unfortunately ruined with horrible planning. It’s a story that advertises paradise with a much darker reality.
The city is built like a massive grid (see the image above). Only a handful of neighborhoods in the midst of 165,000 people. I would say 90% of the city lives without any communal connections in their immediate geographic context. It wasn’t made to be this way. Cape Coral was to be a bedroom community. Business development was severely discouraged (we don’t have an actual “downtown” or business district). Because it was once swamp land, the developers dug over 400 miles of canals throughout the city (more than any other city in the world). According to Wikipedia, Cape Coral was a “master-planned, pre-plotted community” which means us 165,000 were to fit into a postmodern template where neighborhoods didn’t exist. Because the city expanded so quick with developers, most of the homes don’t have running water or sewage (instead use well water and septic systems), and because there was only a few select neighborhood developments, the majority of the homes are randomly scattered (in my case, I have 13 vacant lots surrounding my house, and an additional 5 foreclosed (empty) homes past that).
The city is much like the boats that line the canals. It is without roots and is about as stable as the water upon which it sits. You are hard pressed to find indigenous folks here with multi-generational roots (the city was started in 1958). There aren’t stories that transcend generations or narratives that shape the culture as a whole. Rather, it is like a jigsaw puzzle. The people moving in are primarily (a) retired couples from the north who have intentions to “snowbird” part of the year and perhaps move down full-time at a later time and (b) Caribbean islanders (Cuban, Haitian, Dominican, etc.) and long with other Hispanic ethnicities migrating from the east coast (Miami/Ft. Lauderdale) looking for work in the blue-collar service industry. Then there’s the investor piece to the puzzle–people who buy property with no intentions on living in the city. So in any given street, the makeup of the community could be:
house 1: low middle-class full time resident (highly transient due to low-performing economy)
house 2: foreclosed home
house 3: investment home from someone in Europe
house 4: home own by snowbirds in town 3-6 months out of the year
(and in between these homes are numerous vacant lots)
Because there are not roots, it is very unlikely for people to stay. Job security in many cases is determined by your ability to own and operate a small business in the service industry. The moment you get to know someone, you find a UHaul truck in their driveway. On my street, only one of my neighbors has been here longer than I have (four years).
As you can imagine, this journey of dwelling in this city has been a real challenge. At times, I have just waved the white flag and given up on building community. Pessimistically, I envied living in a college town, because you would at least have folks around for four years (or more). Of all the places I have lived, I have become convinced this is the hardest city I have ever lived for the purpose of fostering community and living on mission.
But, this is my mission field, I am renewing my commitment this year to be the best neighbor I can be and positively invest in the welfare of my city. One of the creative ways I’m seeking to do this is through an online platform called Next Door. Throughout this tool, I am gonna try to create a neighborhood where one does not exist and bring those around me together. Here’s a brief overview from Next Door about what they’re about:
Why is this so encouraging to me? Well, it is going to provide me the opportunity to make my neighboring efforts to “stick.” By that I mean, I am going to be able to transcend the current dilemma seen above (house 1, house 2, house 3, house 4) by networking those who are present and interested in helping one another out. I believe it will help me personally know my neighbors so that I can practically serve my neighbors so that I can genuinely love my neighbors.
Here’s another big reason I’m encouraged. People no longer come to their front door. If they do, it is with a shot gun and a threat. You are a stranger and likely a very dangerous one at that. First places (the place of the home) are fortified with fences, security systems, and blinds. However, people are open and actually want community. And they are finding this community through social media and social networking (principally Facebook). So the front door of the 21st century neighborhood is no longer the front door of the house but the social networking invite. That’s how you enter into their lives.
But here’s the difference with Next Door. Those in your online network are actually your REAL neighbors. They are people whose lives you gain access and can actually make investment in the world you are living in. The front door of the virtual world through Next Door has the potential to become the key to unlock the front door of people’s lives (and their homes).
I say potential because I’m just getting started in 2013. My goal is to have 50 neighbors networked together, forming a new neighborhood I’m calling Burnt Embers. It’s an experiment that I hope will become a precedent, perhaps for our city. We need neighborhoods, not just “master-planned, pre-plotted communities”. I’m committed to giving it my best shot, to living incarnationally and on mission so that Jesus would be magnified in my life, my neighborhood, and my city.
For those interested in this kind of thing, I will try to keep you updated. May God help me form a neighborhood where His kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven.
Thursdays are normally my day off, and due the crazy week that it had been so far, I was particularly look forward to a little break from the grind. However, things did not go according to plan. Sick children, doctors appointments, and some urgent ministerial demands quickly made it another stressful day. By lunch time, I was ready to take a nap!
My toddler boys usually nap in mid-afternoon, which gives me time to relax or run a few errands. In this case, I decided to visit the local pizza shop as part of my weekly routine. I have come to know the owner quite well, and he has a habit of asking about my wife and kids. It doesn’t hurt that the pizza is quite good, too.
After a lonely, quiet lunch, I made spurious decision to get a haircut. I go to one of those places where you never know who will cut your hair or what kind of haircut you will get. I’ve been going there for sometime and have come to know many of the folks who work there, except that the turnover seems excessively high (which usually does not bode well of the business). I walked into a fairly empty joint. I looked forward to a quick and easy cut so I could get back to family duties back home. The lady got my name and number and told me it would be just a few minutes.
Fifteen minutes later she came back to the front, having forgotten she registered me already. I began to get frustrated by what appeared to be obvious customer service failure. I gave her my name and number, and to my disappointment, she said she would be cutting my hair. Not exactly how I was wanting things to go.
Upon the request of some Grace members, I taught last night on having everyday evangelistic conversations. That is not to say that I am sharing the gospel everyday; rather, I am orbiting my life around the gospel with the desire to have its gravitational pull bring those far from God to the center of life and history (Jesus). In other words, gospel intentionality means glory trajectory. If I say I want God to be glorified in my life, then I want that to be fleshed out most principally in day-to-day dealings with people, situations, and conversations for they are intended to be.
5 Foundational Principles
Foundational to living evangelistically, I believe we need to be reminded of a few biblical principles:
(1) God is sovereign over all the affairs of men (things, people, events, etc.); consequently, I should (a) take comfort in his care and control and (b) take courage to venture out in the world that belongs to Him.
(2) God is active in seeking and saving the lost. Salvation belongs to the Lord. He brings the increase. He is Lord of the Harvest. God is more willing to save sinners than I could ever be.
(3) God is a sending God, sending me. Our God is a missionary God. He sent His Son. He sent His Spirit. He is sending His people. He is sending me. Inherent to be a disciple of Jesus is going. My life should evidence gospel advance and seeking first the kingdom of God.
(4) God saves sinners through ordained means of proclaiming the gospel. The gospel logic is clear. Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved (Rom. 10:13). But they will not be saved unless they call. They will not call unless they believe. They will not believe unless they hear. They will not hear unless someone preaches the gospel to them. And they will not preach unless they are sent. ALL of this is ordained means unto the salvation of sinners. Usefulness in the kingdom of God means that we should expect to be “ministers of reconciliation” who become “servants through whom you believed“.
(5) God’s purpose in saving sinners is to transform us into white-hot worshippers of King Jesus. Evangelism is not about making decisions. Evangelism is about making idol worshippers true worshippers of Jesus. Stopping short of that fails to do evangelism justice.