Who is My Neighbour?

A guide to relational evangelism…

First, it’s worth prefacing this with a reminder that the role of Gospel presence (or relational evangelism) among neighbours is a blessed privilege and responsibility for all Jesus-followers, not just a few “ministry professionals” or “paid missionaries.”

  • Matthew 5:16 (“let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”)
  • Matthew 28:18-20 (“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…”)
  • 1 Peter 2:9-10 (“…that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”)
  • Ephesians 2:10 (“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”)

Second, once we understand this calling to steward the Good News, we might still need help thinking through, “who is my neighbour?” Below I’ve put into writing some ways I’ve found it helpful to think through 3 different kinds of neighbours in part 1. and 3 different levels of evangelistic relationships with these neighbours in part 2.

Part 1. Where are your neighbours at geographically?

  1. Next door neighbours – Where you live
  2. Natural neighbours – Where you naturally spend your time
    1. (Intentionally adopt a “usual spot” vs random time everywhere).
  3. General neighbours – Intentional community involvement beyond your “usual spots.”

City Group Circles of Influence (1)City Group Circles of Influence (2)

Figure 2. Shows what these circles of influence look like in a geographical area. Figure 3. Shows how a community on mission can reach a large area of neighbours just by living life on mission together. Below, I’ve given some space to think through and name at least 3 neighbours in each relational/geographic context. 

  • Next door neighbours: Home
    • _____________
    • _____________
    • _____________
  • Natural neighbours:     _____________ (local restaurant/gym/park/coworkers)
    • _____________
    • _____________
    • _____________
  • Intentional community:  _____________ (city councilman/community volunteer/friend across town)
    • _____________
    • _____________
    • _____________

Part 2. Where are your neighbours at relationally?

We want to make disciples, but our neighbour down the road is a complete stranger; how could we possibly disciple someone we don’t even know? Here are several layers of relational growth between being “strangers” in our community and making disciples, and the steps to move deeper at any level.

  1. Strangers – (a face in the crowd)
    • Step 1: become a familiar face somewhere
    • Step 2: get on first-name basis with someone
  2. Acquaintances – (first-name basis)
    • Step 1: Invite familiar neighbours into your life
    • Step 2: Start inviting others to meet and know your neighbours. This builds more relational context/influence.
  3. Friends – (knowing your neighbours beyond the surface level or public context)
    • Step 1: share your life, story, and life rhythms where Jesus is central.
  4. Disciples – (an ongoing relationship with spiritual direction)
    • Step 1: continue investing time with Gospel intention

Below, taking the names you listed above, think through, “who of these do I know as acquaintances (“I only know their first name”), friends (“I’ve met them and/or their family in another context.”), and disciples (“I’ve been able to share my faith and continue demonstrating and declaring my gospel hope with them.”)?City Group Circles of Influence (3)

  • Strangers (“familiar faces”)
  • Acquaintances (first-name familiarity)
    • _____________
    • _____________
    • _____________
  • Friends (deeper relationship)
    • _____________
    • _____________
    • _____________
  • Disciples (spiritual investment)
    • _____________
    • _____________
    • _____________

A challenge to us:

If we follow Jesus then we are called and enabled by the Holy Spirit to make disciples of Him. However, many of us have a hard time finding those opportunities. Instead we fall short when… 

  1. We remain strangers. We go in and out of the community but don’t invest time meaningfully. Instead we spend time randomly in a wide range of areas.
  2. We don’t establish friendship. We may have many friendly acquaintances who recognize us or know our name at our usual spots but they have never been invited to our home, a missional-community event, or a deeper personal friendship.
  3. We don’t disciple. We may succeed at being social and getting people into our homes but stop at friendship. Instead of investing spiritual hope into the friendship we “guard” many friendships with superficial comfort.

What if we could take just one step this month (or each month) to go from being a stranger to getting to know someone’s name? …To go from first-name only basis to getting to know more about their life or family? …To go from being a friend to being someone who takes genuine interest in sharing your greatest hope in life and death; the good news of salvation through Christ for all? I believe and have seen that “drilling deep and reaching wide” (to borrow a phrase) is key to effective, relational, evangelism

Finally, cover these names in prayer (lift them up to God, intercede for them, ask God to turn his attention to them, etc.), and ask God to direct every moment, minute, and hour, of your time and by God’s grace He will bring divine appointments and genuine friendships you never could have otherwise created or thought to ask for.

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God’s Faithful Affliction

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God has a faithful, painful, plan to make you into something you are not yet; into who He has created you to fully be, into a reflection of His perfect Son. Like an artist looks at his raw material, in God’s mind he envisions a finished product even if right now you’re not yet there. The areas of your life that will need a bit of pruning to get there He carves away to make you just a bit more like Him. That’s sanctification. His testimony will become your testimony. In the end He will not stop short of presenting you pure and blameless in His glory.

Lately my artistic expression has been carving linoleum blocks; also called block-printing or lino-cutting. When I have an idea for a block-print I start with a “canvas” of clean, malleable, linoleum. I draw out the image I have in mind and begin to carve away at the negative space in my picture. I have a different set of blades for each desired cut. The broad, wide, scoop for large spaces. The narrow, fine, blade for detailed lines. In the end, my block displays for the page what my mind displayed for the block. While cutting away at the material I inflict pain to the linoleum (so to speak). But this cutting away isn’t destructive; it’s actually creative, even constructive, because my desired outcome will be more beautiful. My product will bear the signature of my design as our life and testimony are shaped to reflect that of God.

Psalm 119 says,

“Your testimonies are my delight;
they are my counselors.” -v.24

And,

“I will also speak of your testimonies before kings
and shall not be put to shame,” -v.46

And,

“Let those who fear you turn to me,
that they may know your testimonies.” -v.79

See how the writer is shaped (counseled) by God’s testimonies and then echoes God’s testimonies as they become the very message of his life. God’s testimonies are greater than our experiences, more real than our revelations, and more true than our perceptions. They shape us and counsel us as we delight in the Creator’s plan. The writer says he delights but also realizes the costly process as God seems to carve away at our very flesh with the blades of affliction.

Psalm 119 also says,

“This is my comfort in my affliction,
that your promise gives me life.” -v.50

And,

“I know, O LORD, that your rules are righteous,
and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me.” -v.75

And,

“It is good for me that I was afflicted,
that I might learn your statutes.
The law of your mouth is better to me
than thousands of gold and silver pieces.” -vv.71–72

God comforts in affliction. God is faithful in affliction. God is good in affliction. His blade is carefully guided by faithful hands and the outcome is more valuable than gold and silver. What is God cutting out, cutting away, carving, or refining in your life right now? The pain is real today but one day I’m convinced we’ll look at the cutting room floor and glory in the final product of His faithful design.

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PS. This is my latest block-print illustrating a poem written beautifully by my friend and colleague Ryan Bussiere. Check out his poem here: A Lantern’s Wish

Getting over a stomach flu is like Heaven

Three weeks into our arrival to Montreal our family was hit with a vicious stomach flu. Unfortunately, it even lasted through Christmas. Thankfully, God is good even when we’re sick and gives us opportunities like this to appreciate Him and desire for restoration even more!
Getting over a stomach flu is like Heaven. The flu virus totally depraves your body of health, strength, joy and peaceful rest. Body aches make every muscle sore; feeling like you’ve been hit by a truck. Fevers spike your body temperature from sweating hot to shivering cold. Nausea expels your sustenance and dehydrates your whole body.
Waking up to Heaven must be like that first beam of warm light you feel when you wake up from laying in bed all day in pain, then laying in bed all night in exhaustion…then the morning comes. The first sip of cool water or Gatorade that soothes your cracked lips and quenches your deep thirst is life giving! The first food you can keep down is revitalizing. You take a shower and you start to feel like yourself again.
One day we will feel like ourselves again… the selves we haven’t known yet. The original man and woman of God’s creation were the most-fully-human-beings; unhindered by flaw and not limited by sin and malfunction. They were made in God’s image. They were “very good” when everything else around them was just “good” (which I would bet we would call “perfect”).What was meant to last forever in perfect order fell out of order for a time (the time we are in now) and has continued to degrade and decay until a time when everything will be restored by our Creator and Sustainer.
Based on the original glory we fell out of (in the first book of the Bible, Genesis) and the future glory we will enter into (in the last book of the Bible, Revelation) we can see how entering Heaven will be like waking up from horrible sickness. Being there, it would be like we didn’t even know how sick we were on earth until we feel how healthy and whole we are in Heaven. The decrepit disease of sin is so pervasive we’ve just gotten used to it and medicate it ourselves. Medicating our hunger for wholeness ourselves with the buffet of the world’s cheap thrills is like the children in the slums of La Saline, Haiti, who fill their starving bellies with mud pies mixed with butter and baked in the sun. It only fills them temporarily and prolongs the inevitable disease and death. Our Creator who designed us to be fully human, not the fragmented, shadow-veiled, humans we are today, holds out His hand with the true life-bread so that we can wake up to new glory one day!
About this bread, Jesus had a conversation with some Jewish leaders in his day:

Jews: “Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'”

Jesus: “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

Jews: “Sir, give us this bread always.”

Jesus: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”

-From John 6:31-35

There’s bread… and then there’s true bread. Sure they both give life, but only one gives true life. So who is this bread for? Who did Jesus come to and who will respond? Check it out:
Here’s another run-in with the Jewish leaders (Pharisees):

The Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at [Jesus’] disciples, saying; “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”

Jesus: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

-From Luke 5:30-32

Waking up from sickness is so good. Our whole family is now recovering from a severe round of the stomach flu. How awesome will it be for all who realize they are sick to go to the true, divine physician and take the true bread of life (which is himself) and one day wake up from all of this!

The struggle is real, part 1

2 chronicles 20:2-3

“Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, ‘a great multitude is coming against you…’” 

“Then Jehoshaphat was afraid…”

Do you ever try to not be afraid because you think it’s wrong? Like, our faith should instinctively and instantly dismiss our fears because, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear”…? Sometimes, however, there are real, legitimate, plausible, imminent threats that do cause fear, and it is not wrong. This is when the struggle is REAL. How do we handle trials and challenges which crush us to the end of our rope, when circumstances are beyond our means or control? We learn so much on this from King Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles 20:1-23

The chapter starts out with some military intelligence reporting to the king that three nations were teaming up and on their way to attack, kill, and destroy the nation of Judah, their cities, and families. Jehoshaphat (I’ll call him Jo) was matter-of-factly right to be afraid in this REAL moment. However, it’s what Jo does with his fear that is our key to real victory amidst real struggle. 2 Chron. 20:3 says, “Then Jehoshaphat was afraid AND set his face to seek the Lord,” What do you do when you’re afraid? Is it more like, “Jo was afraid and consulted his master plan?” “Jo was afraid and threw his arms up in defeat?” “Jo was afraid and worked really hard to fix the situation?” No! The first thing Jo turned to was God, the God who had always been there for him and who never gave him a reason not to be trusted. Jo (along with the whole nation) specifically turned to God with prayer and fasting. 

Jo prayed. Jo’s prayer is packed with truths about God’s character that I think we can apply even to the struggles we face today. Jo’s prayer begins by praising God’s sovereignty at every level of need:

  1. “Oh Lord…are you not God in heaven?”
  2. “You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations.”
  3. “In your hand are power and might,”

What are you struggling with? What is the imminent threat? God is sovereign over every trial, threat, or disease:

  1. Oh Lord, are you not God in heaven?
  2. You rule over all the doctors and hospitals
  3. Even the cells of my body are not outside of your control

Try it yourself by filling in the blanks with your own need; surrendering your burden to God knowing that He is in control at every level.

  1. Oh Lord, are you not God in heaven?
  2. You rule over [A, B and C].
  3. Even [X, Y and Z] are in your hands.

The second part of Jo’s prayer in 20:7-12 gives great hope in the midst of the clouds of fear when you can’t see where you are, where you’re going, or what’s going to happen. First, Jo looks back, “God, you brought us here, you’ve provided our safety before, you’ve never given us a reason to doubt you.” Second, Jo looks forward as he leans on God’s promises. “You told us that if we ever came across war, famine, etc, and we called out to you, you would hear us and save us. Well, now these people are coming for us and we are calling out to you.” Finally, Jo concludes, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” This is the mantra of one who reaches the end of himself and finds his only hope in God! Make that your mantra! 

God answers. The Holy Spirit took a hold of Jahaziel in 20:14 and declared to everyone, “Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s. Tomorrow go down against them.” God declares his victory right here and it is AS GOOD AS DONE. But, even as God declares the victory He doesn’t just call the people to sit and wait passively. Instead, He still calls them to go out actively against the threat.

They go. They go worshipping and believing. After God answers, Jo leads the people to respond to their salvation (v. 17, “see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf”). Jo and his people bowed their faces to the ground and worshipped and the next day appointed a choir to go ahead of the troops singing, “Give thanks to the Lord, for his steadfast love endures forever.” 

God rescues. “…when they began to sing and praise, the Lord set an ambush against the men who had come up against Judah…” 
What’s your go-to song when you don’t even have the words to cry out to God?

Whatever threat you are up against, consider these questions.

  • In your fear, have you turned to the Lord? Or are you still trying to muster your own strength and devise your own strategy?
  • In turning to God, have you been in prayer and fasting?
  • In your prayer, can you look back and see God’s provision in the past; thanking Him?
  • Can you look forward and see God’s promises; trusting Him?
  • In hearing from God, do you sit passively or do you believe he goes with you against the threat? (V. 17, “Tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you.”)
  • As you go with God, are you sulking and wringing your hands or are you worshipping and praising?
  • In your praise, have you started singing yet? It’s when they began to sing that the Lord began to work…

Finally, king Jo proclaims a truth for us all as we march on, “Believe in the Lord your God, and you will be established; believe his prophets, and you will succeed.”

There are many challenges and trials we face today but our greatest personal threat is probably not war. The Lord to whom Jo prescribes his people to believe in -the “salvation on your behalf” – would come again one day as God-incarnate, a king named Jesus, from Judah, to destroy our real greatest imminent threat once-and-for-all. Our biggest threat is the coming of God’s wrath toward sin and the war-like uprising residing in our own hearts and bodies. Jesus Himself says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16

How to reach neighbors in need

How do we reach the unreached? Who are the unreached? Why do we reach the unreached?
There are tragic stories all around us of those who are living without hope and without the spiritual well-being we all need. A woman diagnosed with a rapidly advancing Huntington’s disease takes her own life before the disease takes it and her husband soon follows her in death. A single mother of two young autistic boys, now a new mother again, self medicates her pain with drugs and alcohol and wakes up from a blackout to find her infant dead. A 64 year old man in a rural town bursts out in domestic violence, confronts the arriving police officer with gunfire and is shot dead. These are stories that have all just recently occurred not in 3rd world countries, not in inner cities but in what is statistically the happiest state in the country, reportedly the most peaceful state in America, Maine. Though our state is known for it’s peace and beauty there is an underlying darkness that is seldom known until we unfortunately see it on the news. Surely these people have jobs, neighbors, friends, communities, but are living unreached; far off from God.
So, what are we to do? Do we dismiss these tragedies as just an unfortunate, unpreventable part of life? How do we get to know these neighbors? Specifically what is the Church supposed to do who more than anyone is commanded to love their neighbor and be the good Samaritan. Our well-put-together weekly programs and modern Sunday morning worship music isn’t what I see being prescribed in scripture as the solution to draw near those who are far off.

First, we start not with what to do…but who we are that will motivate and equip us to reach our neighbors. The apostle Paul who tried to destroy the early growing number of Jesus followers -turned one of the most influential early fathers of Christianity- says, “remember that you were at that time separated from Christ…having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ…And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.” -Ephesians 2:11-17. Does this not sound like some of these neighbors in need? “Separated, far off, having no hope.”

So, yes these neighbors are in need. Maybe that moment of need isn’t right now but maybe next month they’ll lose a loved one, maybe next year they’ll receive a life changing diagnosis. It is our responsibility to emulate Jesus to the world all around us and this is how these people who are unreached by a life-changing, hope-giving Gospel will see and hear his good news.

Our methodology for doing this, and part of our personal vision for ministry for the province of Quebec and the city of Montreal, is through what we call Missional communities- groups of people who are committed to the work of knowing their neighbors and coworkers in a deep and caring way to demonstrate the peace between man and God that Jesus has brought to us.

You won’t find the concept of Missional community anywhere in the Bible and I’m not saying Missional community is the next big idea that your church needs to be a part of. What I am saying is that this is a way we can all be involved and connected in what God’s word does call us to in our personal ministry of stewarding the mystery of Jesus, being an ambassador of God’s kingdom and being a witness to our neighbors of the continual work of Jesus in our lives. This work is extremely difficult but it is a life and death matter when our neighbors walk through deep darkness apart from spiritual hope. If we can make an effort to know just 5 neighbors or coworkers on a deeper level then this good news will multiply and lives will be turned from dark to light by the body of Christ, His Church.

Thank you, 2016!

img_2518Friends and family, allow me to thank you for following me and my family this year as we transition to join a growing church planting network in Montreal QC. Your prayer, support and words of encouragement have meant so much to us. I believe the greatest hope for you this year, friend, is the best love out there- God’s personal love for you through His Son, Jesus. The goal of our ministry is to bring this awesome truth to people who have never heard it. If you would consider giving towards this goal of launching and sustaining Gospel-centered churches in Montreal, QC please follow the below link to join our team. Thank you in advance, Geoff Wright

Thankfulness in Suffering

Disclaimer: I’m writing this on 0 hours of sleep in the past 24 hours and just popped a Zquil, a Zyrtec and a Prednisone to help me finally do so.

I hate suffering. I know I haven’t suffered a lot compared to many people (but I’ll get back to that). What I do know is that I have suffered enough to know that I hate it. I’ve suffered things like deep corneal abrasion, raw 2nd degree burns across my back which was literally the closest thing to excruciating (of the cross) as I’ve yet to experience, and now currently: hand, foot, and mouth disease. The name sounds more weird than bad or painful but how does itchy and painful blisters on your face, hands, in your ears and in your nose sound? Yeah, it sucks. So much that I literally couldn’t sleep last night. At. All.

I’ve only ever not slept one night once in my life and, again, I know that for some people difficulty sleeping is a misery they suffer with regularly and for others (late teens/mid-twenty-year-olds) it’s a lifestyle. For me- I can usually fall asleep on demand anywhere at any time. These sores would not let me sleep last night. I stayed up and updated my website, I tried falling asleep, I watched Better Call Saul, I tried falling asleep, I tried reading the Bible, no sleep, I tried memorizing Colossians 1:13 and rehearsing myself to sleep, still no sleep, I watched the Bible miniseries, I almost fell asleep, I finished the entire first season of Better Call Saul, I knew I wasn’t going to sleep.

The sun was already up and the walk-in clinic would open soon to properly diagnose whatever flesh eating auto-immune disease I thought I had. That’s when the doc told me about hand foot and mouth: that I have it bad, and that it was probably going to get worse. But wait…I was certain 11 hours ago that Jesus was able to get rid of this thing instantly and definitely overnight. I even prayed over a glass of water confident that this sanctified H2O would be the glass that would flush my system of this trash. I didn’t expect that I would have to suffer longer, but alas. For me this will take a few more uncomfortable days but it will go away. Back to those I mentioned who know what real torment is all about. I cry just thinking about the chronic illnesses and long term pain some of my loved ones deal with daily; things that won’t just clear up and go away with time.

Enough babbling, I actually did learn something about what the God I was praying to is capable of. Going back to my efforts to fall asleep last night God turned me to Colossians 1. At first I was trying to memorize verse 10 basically with a commanding tone: “Be more deserving of God’s love! Do more good works! Do a better job at knowing God!”

“so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” – Colossians 1:10

My head wasn’t receiving the fact that Paul’s prayer for what the Colossians’ character would be only comes as a result of who they already are in verse 13. With this verse stuck in my head through my fatigue and pain and bitterness it dawned on me not what I could expect God to be able to do for me but to give thanks to God for making me part of his inheritance (paraphrase Col. 1:12). Verse 13 tells what God is capable of: “he has delivered us from the domain of darkness (that’s crazy capable) and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son through whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

“giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” – Colossians 1:12-14

It doesn’t say, “through whom we have instant healing all the time.” My heart learned right then that even though my body feels like garbage at the moment my soul is more well than I could ever ask for or deserve and with that in mind why would an annoying rash be my preoccupation? I still know he could heal me instantly and if he is able to give us eternal life why would he not also grant us little things too. And yet for me today I relished the realization if he is able to give me eternal life how can I bother to ask for anything more?

“He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” – Romans 8:32