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About this series
One at a Time
The Unexpected Way God Wants to Use You to Change the World
Have you ever considered the remarkable impact Jesus has had on history? Think about it… He lived over 2000 years ago and only had a small group of followers. Yet fast forward to today, Christianity is the leading world religion. So what was Jesus’ secret? In this 8-part series, guest teacher Kyle Idleman reveals the unexpectedly simple practices Jesus used to change our world. Don’t miss how you and I can continue the work He started… one interaction, one conversation, one life.. at a time.More from this series
There’s something about proximity, about being close.
If there’s ever a time where we need to be reminded of that I suppose this is the time, because we’ve become more and more comfortable with isolation and doing life from a distance, and more and more uncomfortable with people being too close to us, and more and more aware when someone gets in our personal space. And yet there’s something about us—that we have been made to live life in close proximity with others.
I was reading a New York Times article about a guy named Hal who had seven hundred friends on social media. Can’t remember if it was Facebook or Instagram, but he had, like, seven hundred friends. And he was pretty proud of that. He thought, “You know what would be really cool?” He was kind of doing it for the story. He’s a writer. It’d be really cool to get all seven hundred friends together.
He writes, “And on the evening in question, I took a shower, I shaved, put on new pants and a favorite shirt. Brimming with optimism, I headed over to the neighborhood watering hole, and waited and waited and waited, and eventually one person showed up.” And the one woman who showed up to meet Hal—he didn’t know her. She was a friend of a friend. They talked for a few moments. She left. He waited until midnight. No one else came. He ordered a beer and sulked. And he concludes his article with these words: “Seven hundred friends, but I’m drinking alone.” And that captures where a lot of people are at in our world.
I was reading earlier this year where Elon Musk, the world’s richest human…I think his net worth is, like, $280 billion. He was selling all of his homes. And he talked a bit about why. The material possessions were kind of a distraction from what he really wanted to focus on and… But then he did this interview where he talked a little bit more, and here’s what he said. He said, “Being in a huge empty house when there are no footsteps echoing through the hallways—how do you make yourself happy in a situation like that?”
Here’s someone who’s worth $280 billion, but there’s within him this awareness that if you’re living alone, if you’re missing out on proximity, that it’s hard to find joy.
And so if you look at Jesus, He seemed to know this. And sometimes it was someone who was wealthy, like Zacchaeus, where Jesus just knew, He needs…just needs to spend some time with Me. “Zacchaeus, I’m going to go to your house today for lunch.” And sometimes it was someone who was more of an outcast, like the woman at the well. Jesus sits down, has a conversation with her. But ministry flowed from proximity.
And so I want us to look for a few minutes at a parable found in Luke 14. We’ll just look at this quickly. But it’s a parable called “The Great Banquet.” And so for a context, Jesus tells this story while He’s having dinner at the house of one of these religious leaders. And so He looks around. I think there were probably quite a few people invited. But He looks around, and He recognizes that everybody there is a part of a certain social club. They all have a certain status, religious status about them. Like, it’s…well, it’s exclusive. And most of us are really drawn to anything that’s exclusive. Like, if somebody is advertising membership, it’s an exclusive… It’s not for everyone. It’s exclusive.
Exclusive sees the world through this “us and them” category, and we always want to make sure we’re in the “us” category. And Jesus looks around, and He sees that this is how these religious leaders are doing things. Like, it’s us. But there’s no them. And so He decides He’s going to confront the situation, and He says in verse 12…I wish I could have been there. “Then he turned to His host. ‘When you put on a luncheon or a banquet…’” And this isn’t hypothetical. This is a luncheon, right? Like, this is what’s happening. He said, “Don’t invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors.”
Now I wasn’t there, but I think what’s happening is, if you had been there, you would’ve looked around and it would’ve been like, Oh, look. There’s his friends, his brothers, his relatives and his rich neighbors. So he says to the guy who’s throwing a party and invited all these people, “When you throw a party, don’t invite all these people.” And it’s awkward. And there’s part of us that…I mean, that’s how we try to structure our lives.
We want to spend as much time as possible with people who look like us and talk like us and live like us and believe what we believe, and people who are comfortable with us and we’re comfortable with them, people who can do for us so we’re not just doing for them. And Jesus says, very directly, “Don’t do that. For they will invite you back, and that will be your only reward.”
Now here’s what Jesus is doing. Really interesting. He’s…listen…He is connecting your reward in heaven with the people you spend time with here on Earth. I’m not making that…He’s making that connection. I’m not saying…He’s saying that. He’s connecting your reward in heaven with the people you love here on Earth.
And so it gets really awkward in that moment. Jesus says, “Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Then at the resurrection of the righteous (in heaven), God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you.” Hey, bro, you need to invite a bunch of people who are not here. Stop inviting all these people. Invite some people who don’t usually get invited.
And it’s just tense. But there’s this guy who’s at that table, and he’s one of these people who doesn’t like conflict. Do you have somebody like this in your life? Like, there are some people who like conflict. You’re like, “Get some popcorn. This is going to be good.” There are other people…there are other people who, when conflict arises, they just feel the need to immediately make everything okay. That’s this guy. Verse 15: “Hearing this, a man sitting at the table with Jesus exclaimed, ‘What a blessing it will be to attend a banquet in the Kingdom of God!’” Let’s talk about this instead.
And Jesus decides, No, let’s…let’s keep going. I’m…pushing in a little bit more. And so Jesus tells a story, gives this parable: “A man prepared a great feast and sent out many invitations. When the banquet was ready, he sent his servant to tell the guests, ‘Come, the banquet is ready.’ But they all began making excuses.” So all these people who had expected to be invited, got invited, but they start making excuses. “One said, ‘I have just bought a field and must inspect it. Please excuse me.’ Another said, ‘I have just bought five pairs of oxen, and I want to try them out. (Got to take them for a test drive.) Please excuse me.’ Another said, ‘I just got married. I can’t come.’” My wife won’t let me go. It’s not my fault; it’s her fault.
So they each kind of give these excuses. Each of the excuses are not rude. They’re not hostile. Like, they’re polite. “It’s just not a good time right now.” Every excuse is a priority excuse. Every excuse says, It’s not that I don’t want to. It’s just that this is more important to me right now. I think that, when it comes to responding to the invitation to do life in proximity with God and other people, it tends to be the same. Like, we may not talk about the five oxen, but it’s a priority thing.
And Jesus, in verse 21, continues with this story: “The servant returned and told his master what they had said. His master was furious and said, ‘Go quickly into the streets and alleys of the town.’” Go to these places you don’t usually go, and invite some people that you don’t usually invite. “Invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.” This isn’t going to be exclusive. This is going to be inclusive. Go! Go everywhere and invite everyone. This is the “one at a time” approach to proximity.
A couple things that I would just draw your attention to is that… If we’re going to live this “one at a time” way, living in proximity means being fully present. It means being fully present. That you’re going to be engaged where you are.
The disciples struggled with this. Like, they could have a hard time seeing opportunities in front of them because they were focused on all these other demands and pressures. And that’s something I struggle with. My wife will sometimes say to me…sometimes sweetly…not always. But sometimes she’ll say, “I feel like you’re here, but you’re not present” Like, I just have…I don’t do it on purpose…but I just have this within me where I’m always thinking about something. I’m always…I’m distracted with something, something that needs my attention over here. And so I’m around people that I love and love me. I’m around people where I have opportunities to encourage them and influence them and impact them, but I’m not really present.
And Jesus just had a way of being fully present. So proximity means being fully present.
The second thing I would say that we see in this is that proximity means loving uninvited and overlooked people. This is tough because it means caring for, reaching out to people that you might normally do your best to avoid. And some of us live very careful lives to make sure we’re never around anyone like this—anyone that might drain us, anyone that we’re always doing for them but they never do for us. We avoid places like this. We do our best to just keep those walls in place. Jesus talks about poor people here. And He’s speaking in financial terms, but the word is interesting because it’s literally translated as “people without value.” Invite those people.
And so who is this for you? Maybe it’s someone at work that you just quickly walk past. Maybe it’s someone at school…usually sits by themselves at lunch and you avoid eye contact with them, worried about what it might do to your reputation. Maybe it’s someone in your neighborhood that you just think it’s probably better to not have a conversation with. Maybe it’s a relative who’s just always needing something, and it seems like they just always are going out of their way to make a mess out of things. And there’s something powerful when we show up in proximity with people who can do nothing for us in return. You might not get anything for that here, but there is a reward one day when you love the way that Jesus loved.
Beth Moore tells a story of being at the airport, and she was at her gate, kind of getting settled. And there was an elderly man who was in a wheelchair, and he looked kind of dirty, unkempt. His hair was long and kind of matted, and she just had this instinct within her to kind of give him some space, just distance herself from him. And she was preparing for her next talk, next speaking engagement, and she just felt this impression from God that she was supposed to go talk to him. And she’s like, Oh, this isn’t a good time. And she thought maybe she was supposed to go witness to him, but then she had this impression from God that she was supposed to go brush his hair. And she says, “That seems really weird to you. It seems really weird to me. That’s never been something I’ve felt the Holy Spirit ask me to do before or since. But in that moment, there it was.” And she quickly dismissed it. I mean, she didn’t even have a hairbrush, and yet she couldn’t escape it.
And so she went over to him and she said, as quietly as she could, didn’t want to draw much attention, “Sir, may I have the pleasure of brushing your hair?” And this elderly man said, “What did…? What did you say?” And she said, “May I have the pleasure of brushing your hair?” And he said, “Little lady, if you expect me to hear you, you’re going to have to talk louder than that.” And everybody is looking. “Sir, may I have the pleasure of brushing your hair?” And he was kind of caught off-guard by the question, but said, “If you really want to.” And she didn’t really want to. But she said, “I’d be glad to. I just don’t have a hairbrush.” He said, “I have one in my bag.” And so she got on her hands and knees behind his wheelchair, and she unzipped this stranger’s bag; and she found a hairbrush, and she started brushing his hair.
She says, as she tells the story, “There’s not a lot of things that I do well, but I’ve raised two girls and I know a lot about brushing out tangled hair.” And she said, “I know this sounds strange, but I never have felt that kind of love for someone I didn’t know in my entire life.” Do you know what that’s like?
I think if you’re a Christ-follower you know exactly what she’s talking about. Where God just decides to put someone in your path and you love them and care about them and you don’t really know why. She brushed out his hair until it was nice and smooth, and she thought, Okay, this is the part where I need to talk to him about Jesus. I mean, surely this is where it’s all going. And so she said, “Sir, do you know my Jesus?” And he said, “Yes, I do.” She was surprised by that. Like, she thought the purpose was going to be to introduce him to Jesus.
But the man said, “I’ve known Jesus ever since I married my bride. She wouldn’t let me get to know her until I got to know Him.” And this elderly man said, “But the problem is I haven’t seen my bride in months. I had to have open-heart surgery out of town, and she’s been too ill to come see me. I was sitting here thinking to myself, I’m going to look like such a mess when I see my bride today.” And immediately Beth knew, Okay, this is what God wanted. And she was happy to help, but she still thought it was unusual because she thought that the idea was probably to help somebody meet Jesus. And a few minutes later, she was boarding the plane when the airline hostess approached her with tears in her eyes and said, “I saw what you did for that man. Do you mind me asking, Why did you do that?” And she said, “Do you know my Jesus?” And she explained, “This is the way that Jesus has loved me, so I know that I’m supposed to love other people that way.” And Jesus says, “By this the world will know that you’re My followers.” By this.
Our story in Luke 14 ends with the servant going out and giving invitations to people who had not been invited. But here’s what happens next, as we wrap this up, “After the servant had done this, he reported, ‘There is still room for more.’” Still room for more. I invited all these people, but there’s still room for more. “His master said, ‘Go out into the country lanes and behind the hedges and urge anyone you find to come, so that the house will be full.’” I want a full house. Go find anyone you can.
And so living in proximity means loving uninvited and overlooked people. It also means going to unfamiliar and uncomfortable places. This is my challenge for you this week: to mix it up, to mix up your proximity. You usually go over here for coffee. Go somewhere else for coffee. You don’t have to go to that place for the rest…just for this week. Do you usually go to this grocery story? Go to a different grocery store. And as you go, I want you to pray this prayer, God, help me to find myself in proximity with somebody that needs to be seen and that needs to be loved, needs to be cared for. God, help…help me. Give me that opportunity. And when you go to unfamiliar and uncomfortable places, you’ll probably be surprised at some of the “one at a time” opportunities that begin to come up.
I think if you don’t do that, if you just kind of stay in your bubble, and you just kind of come here and you sit at your office and you go home and you just…you’re around the same people and…it’s harder to have those stories. But when you change up your proximity, it’s amazing some of the “one at a time” opportunities that begin to flow.