We are in a different era in our nation these days. Our country has been well explored and well discovered. There seems to be less opportunity for everyday people to strike out on a new adventure, take on the challenges of dealing with the unknown in the midst of hoping for a new and meaningful life in a new place. the result is that there are less and less examples of adventurous people and a greater tendency to be settlers rather than pioneers.
Settlers were the ones who came along later and followed the newly worn trail of the pioneers. They followed the wagon wheel tracks to discover this new place where they could live their life. Settlers did leave behind what was comfortable and then reestablished their home in a new place. They lived differently in some ways, but mostly they just adjusted their old life to this new place.
As I participated in a discussion about the gospel of Luke last night, I began to wonder if the church had not gotten to much the same place that our nation has. Are the people of God who call themselves Christians more apt to be settlers rather than pioneers? Are we believers in Jesus Christ who live our lives mostly the same as we always have, or are we followers of Jesus Christ who seek to explore new possibilities and open up a new path that leads others to a greater life?
Yeah, I can hear the question in my own head – what does it mean to be a Christ-follower, a “pioneer” living out our faith? Do we need to sell all our possessions and give the money to the poor (Matthew 19:16-30 & Luke 12:32-34)? Maybe. Do we need to leave our homes and go to another country as missionaries? Maybe. Do we need to change our lifestyle and live more simply, buy a house in a less affluent part of town and live among the poor? Could be.
But, then again, maybe not. As so often happens in these discussions we came around to the idea that maybe we are in our home, in our neighborhood, because God wants us there to serve those around us. Maybe we live in these middle-class subdivisions where so many people are caught up in the materialistic, consumeristic lifestyle so that we might show them a better way of living. And this is true – God is always wanting us to show those around us a better way of living. The question is, are we doing it?
There are at least two possibilities for us in living where we are (probably more than two, but we’ll talk about two). One is that God has called us to live out the gospel in that place. The second possibility is that we like our life as it is so we convince ourselves that it’s okay because certainly God can use us where we are. I am not here to decry that second prospect as sinful or unholy. That’s a discussion for another day. I am simply wanting us to ask the question – based on where we are now (by God’s call or our own choice) are we truly living out the gospel in our neighborhood?
The problem with me asking this question is that it forces me to answer it for myself. And if I were to be honest, I cannot swear to you that I am right where God wants me to be – it may be my own desire to live such a lifestyle that has me where I am. I also cannot say with any real evidence that I am living out the gospel in my neighborhood.
According to the Gospel of Luke we are to live among the people – the poor, the hurting, the lost, and to be in ministry to them in a real way. In order to live that out – to live out that life as a “pioneer” and follower of Jesus Christ – I should be more engaged with my neighbors. Some of them may need encouragement because they are living a lifestyle beyond their means and are overwhelmed by debt. Some of them may be facing issues of brokenness in their family or in themselves. They may be losing their job or facing major health struggles. How can I walk beside them and minister to them in any way if I do not associate with them and truly live among them?
The truth is I can’t. And, the other truth is, I am not trying to. I do not know my neighbors very well. I live tucked away in my own home much like others around me. I look more like the non-Christians in my neighborhood than Jesus would if he were in my shoes, at least as I imagine it based on what I read in Scripture.
In other words, I am a settler. Someone else has led me to a life with Jesus and I have adjusted my old life to fit in this new place. And yet, I can hear the call of God calling me to explore new possibilities. I can hear God calling to me:
“If you are going to live where you are, then live out the gospel in that place. Take a risk. Explore new territory. Your neighbors may not do these things and may not know how to receive you, but if you will reach out to them and love them and seek to be with them, I will work in you and through you to blaze a new path, a path that will lead your neighbors to a new place. It is time to take on the mantle of a disciple, the mantle of a pioneer, in the Kingdom of God. There is much new territory to be discovered in the hearts of your neighbors, the hearts of the poor and the forgotten, the sick and the lonely.”
Do you hear God’s voice as well? Will you venture with me into unknown places? Will you encourage me and let me encourage you? Will you and I encourage others who travel with us?
The path of an easy, settled life is wide and easy. The path of new life is narrow and difficult. On the first path life happens to us. On the second path life happens in us and through us.
Settler or pioneer? Which will you be?
Holy high-five to you,