How to Love Your Neighbors Without Them Hating You

Proximity means risking intimacy. Last week I shared about the importance of loving our actual neighbors. This does not excuse us from loving ALL peoples and treating everyone like our neighbor, but I think that in many ways it is harder to love those who live near you. It is good to love those across town or around the world (I try to do both), but when you serve in those contexts you eventually go home. When you invest in your neighborhood, you are home! That means you have to risk rejection on a more personal level.

A little over three years ago my family relocated to a new state and a new neighborhood. Brandie and I were convinced that we had not loved those in our last neighborhood well. We repented of that sin and committed to doing our best to live out the gospel among our neighbors. We weren’t sure what that meant, but we knew we wanted to glorify God by living differently. Our journey is going to be a long one here, and we’re still learning lessons of what it means to have genuine community, but here are five of the very simple principles we have learned that I hope you will consider adopting in order to fall in with love your neighbors:

1. Pray: “Give me my neighbors or I die!” When we moved, I wanted to have the same burden for my neighbors that God has for them, namely, to see them come to repentance and fall in love with Jesus. I wanted to share the gospel with them but I wanted to do it out of devotion and not duty. I had to ask Him to give me that burden. During those early months I read about Scottish reformer John Knox. Knox was so burdened for the souls of his countrymen that he prayed, “Give me Scotland or I die!” So, I began to pray that prayer for my neighbors. As I started praying John Knox’s prayer and substituting the name of my subdivision, the Holy Spirit started to melt my heart until I meant the words of the prayer. I can honestly say that God has given me a sacrificial love for my neighbors. I love them so much I don’t want to see them separated from eternal life in Jesus Christ. As I have gotten to know many of them that love has truly increased. Which leads to point number two.

2. Meet your neighbors. This sounds too elementary to list, but it’s easy to get so focused on your family that you forget to meet those around you. Learn your neighbors names and try to find out some of their stories.

3. Be faithfully present. We haven’t always done this well. Faithful presence means that you show up and make a commitment to keep showing up. Show up without any agenda but to build relationships. In missional circles, this is called being “incarnational.” It simply means to give flesh to something. We want to “give flesh” to the gospel by being involved in the lives of our neighbors. That means going to parties we may not normally go to. We don’t compromise who we are, but we don’t expect them to change who they are, either. It also means putting priority on being in the neighborhood over other good choices, including spending time at church.

4. Share your life. This includes our imperfections. The best compliment one of my neighbors has given me is to say that I’m “real.” We need to be genuine, even when we mess up.

5. Share the gospel. We don’t want to be silent on the message of Jesus. We cannot truly love our neighbors if we don’t share with them the hope we have found in Jesus. Some have embraced Christ, some have returned to Christ, and some are still wrestling with the claims of Christ. Our friends know where we stand, but more importantly they know we are sharing with them out of love, not as a task. I will write more on how we do this later.

In 1 Thessalonians 2:8, Paul reminds his friends that he didn’t just share the gospel with them but his very life as well. I have come to the conclusion that we really can’t share one without the other. We love God and we love our neighbors. It’s only natural, then, to want to introduce them. It really is that simple. We could be doing more to show our neighbors we love them, I’m sure. But we have taken a step into missional living and we can’t imagine going back.

So, how about you? Will you start to love your neighbor for the glory of God?

 

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

The Great Commandment. In it Jesus summed up the 600-plus laws of the Jewish people into two simple, yet profound commands from the Old Testament. The first, He said, was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second, He added, was to love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:30-31).

Little Pink Houses
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk via Compfight

In the Gospel of Luke, the understanding of these two basic commands led a certain lawyer to ask Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus answered with the story that has been called “The Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:30-37) concluding that we are neighbor to those to whom we show mercy. This neighborly love transcends creed, color, gender, and even religion. The bottom line is that we are to be neighborly and show this love to ALL. Jesus used the polar extremes in his parable to emphasize the transcendent and inclusive nature of the love we are to show.

This focus on loving everyone regardless of differences is truly foundational, and it is necessary to push people outside of their comfort zones to love the unlovely and serve those least like us and most in need.

I have found it all too easy to neglect one group of people more than any other in obeying this command of Jesus. I don’t believe I’m alone, either, because I have spoken to many church friends who unconsciously overlook this segment of society, too. I’m not speaking of a social class or ethnicity here. The neighbor I neglect to love is…well…my neighbor.

That’s right. Ironically, in my attempt to obey the Great Commandment to “love my neighbor,” I have a tendency to overlook my actual neighbors! This is sad but true for me and too many of my church friends. We have been conditioned to look for others in need outside of our circles so much that we unintentionally ignore the people next door!

So, how can we love our actual neighbors? In the next post I will unpack some of the simple ways our family is seeking to love those in our neighborhood.

 

Lessons from Indonesia

I’ve been home only a couple of days now from Indonesia where I accompanied Chuck Register and Joel Stephens to lead two regional pastors conferences for the Indonesian Baptist Union. We spent 38 hours in planes and airports getting home, but I feel as if it will take me 38 days to recover. The people were very polite and made us feel welcome. I have been reflecting on the trip and my learnings. If you have ever get the opportunity to serve on mission outside of the U.S., I urge you to go. You will never be the same.

Jakarta

I am fascinated by all the different people that God has created. There are vast differences in culture, color, language, body size and shape, but we are all created by God in His image. I saw that the Indonesians I met are people just like me. I want to take time to process my brief experiences with these people before I post too much about the journey, but I know there will be several take-aways that will apply to creating a disciple-making culture here where I live.

The first lesson is very straight-forward, though: Everybody worships something or someone, and there are many idols competing for the worship of people. Whether it was the Islamic call to prayer over the mosque loudspeakers in Jakarta or the Western call to purchase in the glittering Cartier and Chanel ads at the airport in Dubai, people are being called to worship false gods of man’s own making.

God created people to worship, but that need to worship is often misplaced by worshiping the wrong object. The claim of Deuteronomy 6:4 that there is one God that we are commanded to love exclusively with all of our essence is as counter-cultural today as it was millennia ago. The claim that this one God has granted access to relationship with Him exclusively through Jesus Christ is still revolutionary. The world desperately needs to hear that Jesus is Lord and that He is the only Lord. The question is, do American Christians live in such a way that we credibly can claim Jesus is Lord of our own lives, much less the Lord of all? How about you? Is Jesus your One Lord?

 

Catching the Rabbit – Dimensions of Discipleship, Part 2: Community

When Jesus calls us to be His disciples, He calls us into a life lived together with others. He calls us into relationship: a relationship with Him and relationships with others. We live in an isolated and individualistic culture. For many people, relationships are seen as a means to an end of personal pleasure, satisfaction, or gain. True relationships–true community–is hard to find in this world. But Jesus calls His disciples into relationship for mission, to give of themselves instead of taking for themselves. If a disciple is one who is abiding in Christ and doing what Jesus did (1 John 2:6), then the disciple will be about those things that Jesus was about, namely: worship, community, and mission. These are three dimensions of discipleship. Community is in the middle of this trio because it is the relational glue that holds disciples together to worship and to be on mission.

Image: savit keawtavee / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When Chris Tomlin sings, “You and I were made to worship,” he is correct (as we have noted), and you and I were also made for community. God created humans in His image. The essence of God is found in His Trinitarian nature. Within the Godhead, the three Persons of the Trinity–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–exist as a unity comprised of diversity. [Read more…]

Dimensions of Discipleship, Part 1: Worship

I recently began a series on the question, What is a disciple?  Based on 1 John 2:6 we have stated that a disciple is someone who is abiding in Christ and doing what Jesus did. This definition raises many questions for the would-be disciple. One of those questions, naturally, is, “What, then, did Jesus do?” Jesus did many things in His earthly ministry, but a strong case can be made that His primary focus may be seen in just three behaviors. These three dimensions of the life of Jesus are in fact the three primary dimensions of discipleship. In observing Jesus in the Gospels we can see that Jesus worshiped the Father, served people, and invited others to join Him. Consequently, the three dimensions of discipleship are worship, mission, and community.

markuso / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

At the heart of discipleship is worship. Jesus worshiped the Father. The focus of our Lord’s life was glorifying the Father. The Gospel that makes this clearest is John. [Read more…]

Is Your Church a Culture Club?

Culture is something that Christians spend a lot of time fighting about. We use martial terms and speak of the “culture wars.” Believers are told to be “counter-cultural.” Typically, though, when Christians talk culture we are talking about “them.” We talk about “their” culture–meaning those outside the faith. Let’s think for a few minutes about “us” and “our” culture. That is, Christian culture.

 

Your church is a culture club. To some extent, all churches are. [Read more…]