Y'all, I'm not completely flying by the seat of my pants with this series. I have a good list of topics to address; what I lack is a well-thought-out plan for presenting them. Let's see how this goes.
Have you ever thought that loving your church could also involve loving your neighborhood? I'm talking about the neighborhood where you live, as well as the neighborhood of the church. Today, let's talk about the church neighborhood, and tomorrow we'll look at the neighborhoods where we live.
Consider what the prophet Jeremiah wrote to the Israelites who were living in exile in Babylon:
4Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. 6Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
God tells his people to make themselves at home in the land to which he has sent them. He instructs them to build up the city, for in doing so, they will find benefit for themselves.
Our church sits right next door to Whole Foods Market. Their parking lot shares a wall with our property. We are also catty-corner to a local coffee shop, and down the street from a barber shop, a pub, as well as a Starbucks and a bank.
My husband, one of the pastors in our church, frequents many of these establishments. He gets his hair cut by the Greek barber, buys lunch at the tiny falafel place, and has established friendships with many of the checkers at Whole Foods. He knows about their lives, and prays for them. He invites them to events at church whenever it seems right. While my husband is an extremely gregarious person, and might have done these things anyway, he revealed to me that he considers himself the pastor of these neighborhood friends. Most of them are not believers, so they do not have churches of their own. But by virtue of the fact that they work 20 yards from the church's front door, he feels he should take time to care for them as he can.
So I see John seeking the welfare of the city to which he's been sent in two ways. One, by supporting these local businesses in his every day transactions, he is building up our local economy. Two, by taking time to build friendships with people who also work in our neighborhood, he is seeking the personal welfare of the people of our city.
I'm assuming most of you reading are not pastors; we might not feel the same burden that my husband does for the neighborhood. However, most of us could do the same kinds of things that John does. We can see the church's neighborhood as an extension of our own. We can meet business owners, and patronize their businesses. We can take a few minutes to make a connection with the one checking out our groceries. We can mention our churches in conversation so that people realize the real live humans who are not totally weird attend there. (If you are totally weird, that's okay, too. As I tell my children, weird is wonderful.)
Tomorrow we'll talk about how we can love our churches by loving the neighbors right where we live.