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Where Is the Front Line of God’s Mission? Look out Your Window

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She stormed up to me, irate, as I basked in the Californian sun during our outdoor service. “There’s a transvestite in the women’s room. What should I do?”

I smiled at her calmly. “Wait for him to come out?” I said quizzically as my smile turned to a smirk. I knew what was coming. Told you I was a punk. There was no response, just a blank look. Her eyes narrowed with apprehension of what I was suggesting we do: nothing.

With a huff, she stormed off to find another leader and tell on “that bald guy over there” who didn’t give her the answer she wanted. I’d planted this church a few years earlier, but when I returned occasionally, few knew who I was. Just some bald guy; and that was the way I liked it.

I knew the transvestite she was talking about. We had three prostitutes in the church at that time, but Marcel was a cross-dressing ex-construction worker who was coming to church regularly.

It had taken months for us to earn his trust. In fact, the first time I asked how to get in touch, he handed me a paper that had an email including “4rent” in the address. When I read it, tears started to form, and I nearly lost my composure as I folded it up into my pocket. Marcel had been a construction worker, and once he began to open up with a few of us, we realized he’d walked a very tough road.

The other leader who she tattled to later told me that the lady wanted a confrontation with Marcel. A pound of flesh. A showdown at high noon. She wanted me to give the nod for her to storm into the women’s bathroom and demand that Marcel come out immediately. After that, she was hoping one of us would chew Marcel out for the audacity to think he could use the women’s bathroom.

In many churches, if I’d given the nod, the coats would pile up at my feet as others eagerly picked up stones to throw. This is where, I fear, many Christians would make a stand against all they thought was indecent. This is where they might plant the flag and hold firmly, and as they did so, they would also pierce the heart of yet another person who’d come to a church named Refuge, and was hoping it would live up to its name.

Marcel had learned quickly that very few churches were indeed a refuge. After the service, we spoke with Marcel, and he let us know that he strategically chose to go into the bathroom during the sermon because he didn’t want to make anybody feel uncomfortable. Further, he’d chosen the women’s restroom because he usually got beat up when he used the men’s room.

In a conflict like this, experience had taught me that before the day was done we would lose somebody. The important thing was quickly deciding who it was going to be. I knew exactly how upsetting my response was to the woman, but I also knew that she could find a handful of churches where people would think and act exactly like her. She’d be welcome in those churches. Marcel? We were pretty much it. Because of the large number of funerals we’ve done in our first few years, we call Refuge the “last stop before hell.” For many people, we’re their last chance at redemption before they face eternity.

You can tell pretty easily when people just talk about reaching lost people versus talking to them. Sometimes it’s the way they describe a drug addict or somebody with mental illness, but there’s one quality that will expose that they don’t actually know anyone with those struggles—a lack of compassion. Everywhere Jesus went, if he showed one thing to sinners, it was compassion. And nothing tests your compassion like a cross-dressing prostitute on a Sunday morning.

Compassion was one of the first results we observe in the apostles at Pentecost. When the Spirit came in power, they received his heart for the community and began to see Jerusalem through his eyes. Peter had passed the beggar propping himself against the Temple Gate called Beautiful countless times on his way to daily prayer, but that morning after Pentecost, Peter saw him differently. Same beggar, different Peter. “Peter directed his gaze at him” (Acts 3:4 ESV). The Greek text implies that Peter studied him, perhaps as if he’d really seen him for the first time. Or perhaps the first time seeing him in a new way. Whatever it implies, that look was momentous.

When we come under the influence of the Holy Spirit on mission, our attitudes towards our own “Jerusalem” changes. Becoming a witness in Jerusalem means going on mission in the community you’ve probably lived in for a long time. So long, in fact, that the way you see your city, or community, or neighborhood is in need of an overhaul.

Perhaps you no longer see it all. As the Spirit consumes us for mission, we see our community as God sees it. Being a missionary isn’t so much a matter of geography as a matter of posture. The Greek philosopher Anonymous (yes, I know … this is a joke) said, “A missionary isn’t someone who crosses the seas but someone who sees the cross.” Once you begin to see the people you’re interacting with as people for whom Christ died, it’s a game changer.

By the way, that day at the temple gates? About two thousand more men believed, in addition to the three thousand at Pentecost. Why? Reaching the Unreached Simple. The apostles had become the crucified Christ’s witnesses in their home turf, Jerusalem. And it all began with Peter taking a second look. It’s the second look that kills ya.

I Hate People

Every town tells the tale of two cities. There are two types of people you can choose to reach; people just like you, or people who are nothing like you at all. On Paul’s first missionary journey, he and Barnabas went home and reached people just like them. There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s a good starting point when God begins working in our lives.

Paul targeted his fellow citizens of Tarsus, in his native Turkey, and Barnabas the inhabitants of his homeland, Cyprus. But on Paul’s second missionary journey, something shifted. Paul thought he had it all mapped out, where he would go, who he would reach, but the Holy Spirit kept frustrating his attempts to go places. Finally, the Macedonian call brought him to Greece. That was the shift away from Paul’s own Jerusalem, and the beginning of the call to a specific foreign people group.

Sometimes God calls you to reach one specific people group at the expense of others, and believe it or not, there is nothing wrong with that. In every epistle, Paul claimed that he was the “sent one” specifically called to reach the unreached Gentiles. Rick Warren claimed he was called to the yuppies in his Jerusalem of Southern California. During his three-year ministry, Jesus said, “I have been sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 15:24).

Wherever you think your mission field is, it always starts in Jerusalem and expands outward from there. Like the apostles, God will initially begin to use you in your immediate surroundings, even if it’s the springboard to a different destination. J. Hudson Taylor felt called exclusively to the Chinese, and in embarking for China, had to leave his Jerusalem behind.

God may never call you to South-East Asia, or to the Afghanistan tribes to share Jesus, because he may have strategically called you to stay in Jerusalem and reach the home team. There is enough brokenness in your city to keep you busy for the rest of your natural born life.

Instead of a passport and an airline ticket, Charles Spurgeon said that the two necessary items to reaching people effectively are a love for God and a love for people. Monty Python missed this as the meaning of life, but the Holy Grail of truth from a biblical worldview is that we were made to love and be loved by God. It shouldn’t surprise us, therefore, that being witnesses in Jerusalem flows out from loving God and loving others.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. I hate people. People laugh when I say it, but it’s true. When I grew up, I escaped the heartache of my upbringing by reaching into the furthest corners of my imagination, represented by a universe of plastic action figures with five points of articulation. Star Wars, He-Man, G.I. Joe, ThunderCats, and plastic three-and-a-half-inch people were my friends, locked away with me in my room, because being around human people meant pain, rejection, and emotional abuse.

In the end, I felt safest when alone. Childhood was all toys and cartoons (which probably explains a lot). When I approached adolescence, however, I lost myself in reading and music, all of which provided more opportunity to isolate myself. When I was a child, I thought as a child, but when I came to Jesus, it was time to grow up.

Many Christians grow older in Christ without really growing up in him. When I came to Jesus, his Bible kept saying that I needed to tell others about him. There was a part of me that was doing that naturally, but a piece of me felt like Jonah—loathing the people I was called to reach. It had nothing to do with them. It wasn’t personal; I didn’t like anybody.

How was a natural born Son of Thunder to become transformed into John, the Apostle of Love? John’s evangelistic methodology worked for me, “Call fire down upon those people, Lord.” With the Vikings “Convert or Die” program in full swing, I grabbed the first scoffer that ever mocked me for being a Christian by the neck and slammed him against the wall. Fist cocked back I growled, “Think Jesus is funny now, wuss?” Tears moistened his eyes in humiliation and fear, and his quivering lip eked out “No, I’m sorry . . . just let me go.”

I realized pretty early on that I had a dilemma. Jesus was trying to love people through me, but I naturally feared, disliked, and hated the people he died for. If I was going to love people, his supernatural love was going to need to trump my natural hatred, I just couldn’t see how. We waste time pretending that we love people when we don’t. So in desperation, I broke down and did a crazy thing. I told God the truth! I confessed my hatred of people.

Acknowledging the truth to yourself and God is the first step in yielding your place of brokenness and helplessness and inviting him to fill you and fix your inadequacies. When we come to the end of what our natural self can do, the supernatural Holy Spirit begins to kick in. At least that’s how it worked in our justification. Why not our sanctification too? In our justification, we had to come to a place of utter helplessness in our ability to save ourselves before we cried out to Jesus to save us. In our struggles with sanctification, we can’t tell God, “Thanks for saving me, God. I pretty much got it from here.”

The Spirit rushes into that vacuum created by a spiritual bankruptcy where we’ve reached deep into the pockets of our own resources and come up with pocket lint and a paperclip, but no dice. At that moment heaven kisses earth, and the Spirit fills that vacuum of inadequacy and supernaturally fills us with a love for people we’d naturally hate. I’ve stood weeping, overwhelmed with love for the people I shared the gospel with, aware that left to my own devices, I wouldn’t give a rip about them.

It’s inexplicable. It’s what Paul naturally felt when he asserted that it was as if Christ himself were pleading through us to “be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20) and that “Christ’s love compels us” (2 Cor. 5:14). You don’t have to have the same love he has, you just have to let him love people through you. And with that, you win the T-shirt “Instant People Person—Just Add Holy Spirit.”

Why am I telling you all of this? To reach the unreached at the ends of the earth, our Jerusalem changes only when we change first. The revolutionary spiritual awakening known as the Jesus movement started in the 1960s with a forty-five-year-old Foursquare preacher named Chuck Smith. Problem was, he hated hippies.

As they sat on the wall in front of his house on the coastal boardwalk in Newport Beach, Chuck would peer out the window at the unwashed, stinky, emaciated bodies invading his space, and grumble about what losers they were. Until his wife, Kay, stopped him dead in his tracks one day with a challenge, “Chuck, why don’t we start praying for them?” You can’t get any more “Jerusalem” than the front wall outside of your house. As Chuck and Kay prayed for the hippies, God started to open Chuck’s eyes to the mission field of his own personal “Jerusalem.”

Without it, the Jesus Movement may never have had happened, and you might have been dressed in a suit next Sunday singing hymns.

Remember, if you enjoy cruising church in shorts and sandals, you have the hippies to thank for it. The harvest was indeed plentiful, but the workers were few. A prayer to see hippies differently made all the difference and changed outreach as we know it.

Taken from Reaching the Unreached: Becoming the Raiders of the Lost Art by Peyton Jones. Copyright © 2017 by Peyton Jones. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com

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Peyton Jones is a veteran church planter, founder of the New Breed Church Planting network and serves as the Church Planting Catalyst of the Western U.S. and Canada for the North American Mission Board (NAMB). For a more comprehensive discussion on church planting—including an exclusive interview with Peyton Jones—don’t miss the July/August 2017 issue of Outreach.