Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Love Your Neighbor

A writer friend challenged me, when I solicited ideas for new topics, to consider how we, as Christians, can reach out to our neighbors, especially those of different religious faiths. Thank you, Alyice, for this excellent suggestion. I challenge you to send me your ideas by commenting on this post.

The suburban/rural area where I reside consists mostly of white and African American Protestants. In a nearby urban area live people of the Islamic faith, Jews with differing theological perspectives, and various other religions. Traditionally, Christians have often offended those of differing beliefs by pushing their ideology, preaching at others without taking a breath, and parading their personal superiority. No wonder we can't reach others. Our whole mentality consists of winning converts, souls, scalps.

Jesus spoke firmly to both groups and individuals about difficult doctrine: denying self, hypocrisy, repentance. However, he never shook his finger in the face of the woman at the well who'd had five husbands. He didn't flaunt his superior--actually, perfect--character before the woman caught in adultery. He never tried to force someone to believe in Him. Rather, He showed compassion, He listened, and He spent time with people. He never seemed to be in a hurry to go somewhere else when he talked with someone.

I have to ask myself: How do I lead anyone to the Kingdom of God, to belief in Jesus Christ, much less someone with a vastly different background from mine? I need to follow the principles Jesus showed--spending time with people, being humble (which I foolishly think is easy enough, since unlike Jesus, I'm a sinner), and caring about their hurts and struggles. I should share gently and in a natural conversation what I believe, rather than dumping my entire theology on a person in a single load. Maybe just share one principle that is the most relevant to that person.

There are many practical ways to live this out. Some of us are great at whipping up a tempting dessert or a savory casserole. A new neighbor or a friend from work who is depressed or ill might appreciate that. We can embrace opportunities to assist our friends with anything from picking up a child from school to caring for our neighbors when they're ill. As our Jewish, Mormon, Buddhist, or Muslim acquaintances raise questions, we can find Bible verses or Christian literature to help point them to the Truth that is only in Jesus Christ. We can learn what interests these friends and neighbors and ask them questions about their activities, their families, and their beliefs. This shows we care about them as individuals and also opens the door for us to discuss what is important to us, including our faith.
Sometimes it's easier to send money and pray for the people who need the Gospel on the other side of the world, than to dig into the trenches of being a friend to those around us. However, instead of serving as barriers, the cultural differences may just need the bridge of friendship. We need to cross this bridge and link these neighbors to the lifeline of our Savior.

Luke 10:27-37

Friday, January 12, 2007


Busy is today's byword. It's our favorite excuse for anything we don't believe we can work into our jammed schedule.

In mid-December I felt guilty that I had not visited again with our new neighbors since going over to say "hi" early in the fall, as they moved into the house across the street. At least I would see them, hopefully, when I went to take them the loaf of fresh bread we had purchased, like the ones we also would give to the other families surrounding us for Christmas. The new neighbors beat me to the punch, coming by with peanut butter fudge. Sadly, I wasn't home, but our daughter greeted and thanked them.

When I finally made it over with the bread, the husband was home, but I didn't get to thank his wife for the fudge. We both lead busy lives and failed to connect over the holidays.

So how do we make time to connect and to reach out to others in the craziness of our daily schedules?

1) We take the time, if only a few minutes, to speak to that neighbor out raking leaves, to call the person who's missed Sunday School several weeks and may be sick or discouraged, to drop by the hospital to cheer up Mom, who wanted to go home the day before.

2) We reevaluate our schedules. What activity, less important than connecting with the people around us, could be dropped? Am I doing it out of habit? To glorify my ego? Because I think secretly that no one else will do it as "perfectly" as I have? How am I wasting my time in my leisure that could be put to better use than endless TV viewing or piddling on the computer?

3) We spend a few minutes each week writing notes of encouragement to folks who need them: the woman from church struggling through chemotherapy, a son trying to pass a college course, a single parent surviving stress and loneliness.

4) We give up our perfectionistic tendencies and grasp for once that it doesn't always take huge quantities of time or money, or glorious grand gestures to connect with and minister to others. Sometimes all a person needs from us is a smile.

5) We realize that ministering to and connecting with the people around us--our neighbors, friends, strangers, and families--can bring us tremendous rewards, including self-respect, honoring God, and forgetting the worries of our own lives.

6) We acknowledge that connecting with others is something God commands us to do, and that He created us to need and to help each other.

No man, when he hath lighted a candle, putteth it in a secret place, neither under a bushel, but on a candlestick, that they which come in may see the light. King James version, Luke 11:33