A story of what happens when you live for the good of your city in ways specifically designed for your hometown.
Last week, I preached about how we should live for the good of our city. Living for the good of our city means we need to plant roots, to multiply, to pursue the peace of our city, and to pray for our city.
Planting roots in our city means we need to establish a presence in our neighborhoods and in our city.
– Establishing a presence means living like Jesus in the midst of sinners.
One way we can do this is by throwing block parties for our neighbors.
I heard of lot of people quickly excuse themselves from this opportunity because in their mind, I just didn’t know how awful some people’s neighbors were. In response to this mass exodus from the need to reach our neighbors in this way, I offered my take on one of the most common objections to the idea that we should throw parties for our neighbor: “But They’ll Bring Beer.”
In short, many of our objections to reaching out to our neighbors this way for the good of our city come more from a self-righteous fear. When we fail to reach out to our neighbors because they might act like unbelievers, we are creating a level of holiness that Jesus himself did not feel was necessary to reach.
Jesus did not consider himself so holy that he would only interact with sinners in sterile situations. He sat and talked with actual, real-life prostitutes who sold themselves for money. He ate with real-life thieves who stole money from their own countrymen on behalf of the enemy. He drank with real-life drunks who did not exercise self-control. This is how the Son of God himself lived as one who had been sent to a hostile culture. We should be worried when we refuse to live in ways that Jesus did.
– Establishing a presence in your city should be contextualized.
A lot of times, the way you can best live for the good of your city is in a way that is specifically designed for your hometown. The way one might best reach a neighborhood in Pittsburgh will probably look a lot different than how one might best reach a suburb of Phoenix.
When thinking about how we can best live for the good of our city, we should consider what makes our city unique. What part of the life in the city provides a sense of identity to the people of the city?
In other words, “What makes us, us?”
When we are able to pinpoint ways that will uniquely fit the makeup of our neighborhoods and our cities, we will be more effective in promoting the peace and welfare of our city. We will also be more effective in finding favor among our neighbors who experience the blessings of our tailor-made handiwork.
The Need to Be Noticed
In the city of Wheeling, the people are passionate about their races. During the course of the year, there are several opportunities to take part in 5Ks, half-marathons, and other types of races. On any particular day, you will find scores of runners of all ages, skills, and sizes trekking down National Road, where our church building happens to be conveniently located.
Day after day, people run, jog, and walk by our building; and for the most part, they don’t even notice us.
Despite the convenient location, I still regularly have conversations with people that go something like this:
Neighbor: “Oh, it is nice to meet you. And what do you do?”
Me: “Oh, I’m a pastor.”
Neighbor: “Oh…ummm…. Ok. What church?”
Me: “First Baptist Church.”
Neighbor: “Oh…. First Baptist Church…. where is that again?”
Me: “It is on National Rd. Right next to the cemetery. It has the big blue sign.”
Neighbor: “Oh, you mean the one with the big glass window in the front.”
Me: “No, that’s the Christian Church… You know what? Don’t worry about it.”
People run, jog, walk, ride their bikes, walk their dogs, drive to work right past the building day in and day out. Yet many of our neighbors do not know we are there.
But, today, I have greater hope that some of my neighbors might have a different conversation.
– Establishing a presence in Wheeling happens when the runners notice you.
This is because of an outreach event that some of my friends helped put together on their own initiative. Right in line with the city’s running culture, my friends decided to set up hospitality stations for those who were participating in the Ogden Newspapers Half-Marathon last month.
They rallied together, pointed their compass outward, and served the city around them and established a presence with their neighbors.
They gathered oranges, they sliced the oranges into smaller pieces that the runners could manage, they created signs with encouraging messages to spur the runners on, they put together an exciting playlist of songs that would lift the runners’ spirits, they showed up on race day and clapped, screamed, and cheered with unbridled enthusiasm from the first racer to the last.
Bright and early that Saturday morning, they set aside their preferences, comforts, and desires in order to reach their community.
- They didn’t pick their favorite fruit to eat.
- They didn’t write their all-time favorite Bible verse.
- They didn’t pick their personal favorite songs.
With each action, they thought about what would best meet the needs of their neighbors. They considered the interests of others as more important than their own.
They looked a lot like Jesus.
Thinking outward and living for the good of your city doesn’t always have to be as risqué and controversial as throwing parties for your neighbors; although sometimes, it is. Sometimes it can be as simple as looking to where the people of your city are gathering, and going with an orange slice and a smile.
When you live like that, it is amazing what happens. Your neighbors start to notice.
– Establishing a presence in your city often results in finding favor with your neighbors.
Even as the event was still going, my friends heard runners say things like, “Oh, you don’t know how bad I needed this orange.” Middle-aged men limped by with a little more bounce when they heard the familiar theme song from one of their favorite sports movies. Neighbors walked out of their houses just to see what was going on at the church next door. In the hours and days following the race, my friends were told more than once that they were the best part of the race.
They looked outward. They pursued the peace of their city, and their neighbors noticed.
– Establishing a presence is something we all can and must do – no matter what city we live in.
You might not need to do an outreach for a race in your community. Maybe where you live, people hate to run. But where ever we live, we should think deliberately about how we might effectively reach our neighbors by living for the good of our city.
What about you? What are some ways that you or your small group or your church has pursued the welfare of your city and neighborhood? I’d love to hear from you.