I recently became aware of statistics which reflect that shortly after someone makes a decision to follow Christ, contact with people outside their Christian circle decreases dramatically. This trend continues to spiral down year after year until followers of Christ become almost completely isolated from the world around them, and people who are lost.
THE WORLD YOU CAN'T ENTER IS A WORLD YOU CAN'T REACH.
Jesus Invites Himself for Dinner
In Luke 19, we read the story of Zacchaeus who was a well known tax collector. Actually, he was the chief tax collector which meant he was very wealthy and all the other tax collectors reported to him. Not only was he wealthy, but he was hated because tax collectors were known to be very dishonest and it appeared Zacchaeus was no different.
Zacchaeus heard that the great Rabbi, Jesus, is coming to his city. Out of curiosity, he goes to see what all the commotion is about concerning Jesus. A great crowd of people gathered but Zacchaeus, being short, couldn't see. So what does he do? He climbs up in a sycamore tree to get a better view.
When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. Luke 19:5-6 (NIV)
On the surface, it seems like Jesus is inviting himself over to Zacchaeus' house for dinner. I used to get in trouble for this as a kid all the time. My parents, who were pastors, would drill into me, "You don't invite yourself to other people's houses,” which I did quite often after church services, hoping my parents would forget the trouble I got into at church! Well that's western culture – but in eastern culture it is actually a sign of high respect when you say to someone, “I'd like to have dinner with you.”
Here is Jesus showing respect to a thief, and a hated dishonest thief at that, by asking to come to his house for dinner. This causes quite a stir amongst the religious people and it becomes the talk of the town.
As you read the rest of the story – Jesus has great influence on Zacchaeus, so much so, that Zacchaeus sincerely repents and declares that he is going to give half of his wealth to the poor and repay four times what he had stolen. Zacchaeus was a changed man and he totally turned his life around after one dinner with Jesus.
The point I'm trying to make here is this could not have happened had Jesus not gotten physically close to the man. Had Jesus not gotten in his world and gone to his house, Zacchaeus would have remained unchanged.
Too many of us are hardly around anyone who is far from God long enough to have any amount of influence in their lives, and nor do some of us have any desire to be.
Influencing Our World
Jesus prayed that we, the church, would do what He came to earth to do – to bring His light to people in a tangible way, He said:
I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. They do not belong to this world any more than I do. Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. John 17:15-18 (NLT)
I think this is so telling that Jesus specifically said that He did not ask that His followers be taken out of the world. Quite the contrary, He said that He is sending us into the world. In the 21st century, this world is filled with immorality, perversion, crime, violence, greed, prejudice, gossip, sexism, slander, hate—and the list goes on.
Jesus knew that if we were personally transformed by His Spirit and had a strong spiritual core, our light would shine forth brightly from a place of strength and we would simultaneously remain holy in the midst of the darkness.
The world that Jesus has sent us into is not a distant, far-off land in the remote regions of the earth, but the place in which each of us lives our everyday life.
We are called to influence “our world” within the world.
This world comprises our homes, neighborhoods and our neighbors, schools, colleges, places where we shop and eat, and work. The people we run into everyday on the bus, on the train and at the gym.
Learning to Love People Enough to Get Involved
We need to develop relationships by engaging in the lives of the people God has brought into our lives. This world was never supposed to be a threat to the church but rather the mission field of the church, which, through Jesus Christ, has the power to change our world rather than be changed by our world!
It will take each and every one of us to personally rise up and change our perspective of the world and the people that are around us. Instead of hiding from the world or being overwhelmed by the evil of it, we need to see our world the way Jesus sees our world and trust in the power of the Spirit that is at work in us.
So, how do you determine the people you should influence?
— They are the people who are already in your life.
— They are the divine designed connections that regularly cross your path - the people who are far from God.
These are the people that are counting on you - waiting for you.
They don't know they are counting on you and perhaps up until now you didn't know it either. Now you know.