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Jesus always struck this unique balance between exclusivism and inclusivism. In John 14:6 he says, “No one comes to the Father except through me,” and his ministry focuses primarily on spending time with the hookers, the diseased, the outcasts, and the poor. Some of us are better at imitating this than others; reaching out just comes naturally. To some of us, though, it frightens us to death. We’d much rather just stay home. Actually…that can have its benefits, too.

I realized about a year ago that we (my family) didn’t really know anyone in our neighborhood. I took piano lessons from one lady on our street, so I knew her, and then there were several families we’d exchange the usual pleasantries with, but one day I realized we’d never actually had anybody on our street over for dinner. What better way to show love to others than to open up your home to them? I mean, think about this: it’s one thing if you call up your neighbor and say, “Hey, would you like to join us out to eat somewhere?” That’s still pretty impersonal. But to open your house to them and cook them food is a great way to communicate love. You’re being pretty vulnerable that way—inviting basically a stranger into your house for dinner. It’s quite the oxymoron that we call these people that live next door to us neighbors when really for most of us…they’re not.

This could be hard because maybe some of our neighbors make us uncomfortable (but then again, following Christ is not about being comfortable). Maybe they’re awkward, aren’t talkative, are too talkative, reclusive, obnoxious, etc. Hey, all you have to do is invite them over; it’s up to them to accept or decline.

Why is this important? Because we’re supposed to reach out to the people close around us. Where we are is not an accident. God has put us in specific places and in specific circles of people because He has some weird plan in light of those placements. If we disregard those which He has placed us around and among, we are ignoring one of our most basic callings. What if everyone on your street or in your building became close with you, knowing they could depend on you because you love and care for them? What if they could see something in you that they struggle to find in other people?

If the only people we ever have over to our houses or apartments are people from our churches, then our homes are having very little impact. Fellowship with other believers is good, don’t get me wrong, but if that’s all that’s taking place around the dinner table, there’s a problem. We shouldn’t make excuses, either, saying things like, “Well, I’m not very good at making conversation.” That’s easily fixable. Just ask people their story. If they’re not very talkative, either, then ask them to start from the beginning. Childhood and all that. I think we’d be surprised at the things we’d learn about our neighbors, things we never knew. In fact, I know we would. Consider, too, it’s only upon welcoming people with open arms that we begin to make a difference, for it is only upon gaining someone’s trust that they will give us the time of day when we want to bring faith-focused questions into the conversations. We won’t bring a stranger to Christ; it’s an encounter generated by a friendship—a privilege that has to be earned.

Much love.

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6 comments
  1. Matt Goodhart said:

    Totally agreed!! We’ve luckily been blessed to have some really good neighbors live around us, and we know them decently well, but I dont think we’ve ever had them over to eat. As it is, communion which is all about remembering Christ was originally intended to be a meal. What better way to show Christian love than by a meal. Seriously, who doesn’t like free food?

  2. DiMy said:

    Nelson,
    You’ve probably hit us between the eyes again with this one! First let me relate a summer experience.

    On Wednesday nights this summer the ladies where I attend church have been focusing on different avenues of service to take place during that 7-8:00 time slot every week. I was asked to head up a group that would go to visit some of our older women each week. After some arm twisting, I agreed and began my first week of visiting with some feelings of nervousness and uncertainty. What would I talk about with those “old” women that I didn’t even know? Was I in for a surprise! Each week as I went on my visit I would come back to the church building saying, “I HAVE THE BEST JOB!!!” because I would have been blessed beyond belief by those wonderful ladies I visited. Without exception, I hated to leave them within the alloted hour, and without exception they asked why I was leaving so soon and when I would be back. Their life stories were funny, touching, stimulating and taught me some wonderful lessons. I could have missed that….

    Of course, what you are suggesting carries a little more of the unknown and is therefore a bit more threatening. To invite someone we really don’t know to share our intimate space? Hummmmmm, I don’t know about that. But in this, as in so many areas of our life, I imagine that if we take the step we will be showered with blessings that we can’t even begin to imagine on this side of the experience. And wouldn’t it be wonderful if through the simple act of table fellowship we built some neighborhoods where people watched out for each other, cared for each other’s needs, and where we really could experience an everlasting impact?

    So, Nelson, I will take up the challenge be begin to be more than just neighborly….to go out on a limb and begin inviting my neighbors into a private part of my life. In a few weeks, ask me how I’m doing. 🙂

  3. Jan said:

    Love this thought and totally concur. I’ve been the block captain for our street for about three years and have gotten to know a lot of people (we live on a very short street). Have really tried to keep the communication lines open but with dinner invites I have not been prompt! Our next door neighbors, with whom we were really close, recently sold their home but not without some bumps in the road. At one point, we had them over for dinner and then found out after they moved that they had completely misled us about the home sale. It was sold to an investor and is now an assisted living home. Feel betrayed but would not change anything. Maybe pursue a relationship earlier on even.

    Keep up the good work, Nelson.

  4. Sarah Kyle said:

    That’s a really good point, Nelson. Honestly, when my parents started doing that sort of things with my neighbors in our new house, it struck me as very weird at first. It was very uncomfortable for me, because we had never really done that before. But now, we have closer relationships with people that could really use the encouragement or helping hand. It’s important to remember that we aren’t meant to just live our own lives– we are meant to impact the lives of those around us.

  5. Larry Honea said:

    Nelson,

    Great insight.
    When I was your age we knew all of our neighbors. We seldom did anything with them but chat, but we knew them and were friends with them even when they moved away, which very few of them did.
    These days we live in a transient society that is continually on the move – expressing even more urgency to reaching out.

    Thanks

  6. Renae said:

    That can be quite a bit to take in.
    The “tell me your life story” question was once a favorite of mine, but I don’t ask it as often anymore. It may just be a fear of … who knows: rejection, maybe? Maybe its our initial fear of the unknown and rejection that stops us from reaching out. If our friendship was always welcomed, I think we may be better about reaching out.
    I believe our society has a lot to do with our hesitation, as well. We beleive its safer to be behind locked doors, but if we were all outside, the outdoors would be safer because everyone would be watching, keeping each other honest. Children watch their TV star heros instead of meeting the real world heros around them who would actually be able to help them. Even this blog allows us to discuss an issue, but we’re missing the face-to-face fellowship.
    Not only could the invite be slightly awkward to ask, personally, it would also be against the grain of the direction our society around us is moving.
    I am hoping to be more enthusiastic and confident about meeting others. Thanks for the boost!

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