Love Our Neighbors – For Real

There are many Christians who try to live a life separate from the world – as if interacting and becoming friends with non-Christians will cause us somehow to be exposed to an infectious disease like Ebola or that the sins of the world will somehow rub off on us like gum sticking to the bottom or our shoes.

And while it is true that Jesus says we are to be in the world and not of it – I believe He is not saying that we should stay away from or somehow think ourselves better than the people we come in contact with every day in our jobs, schools, grocery stores and neighborhoods.

In fact, I believe Jesus is saying just the opposite is true.

Everyone knows the verse in John 3:16 which states, “For God so loved the world that He gave His Only Begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” But the next verse, verse 17 is equally important. It says, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.”

How are we supposed to demonstrate the love of God to those who don’t yet know Him if we stay sequestered in our own little life cubicles? Shouldn’t it be the other way around – shouldn’t it be we who are influencing and impacting them rather than them impacting us?

And when we do have relationships with non-Christians it is not so we can hit them over the head with our Bibles (let’s see how long those relationships last) or tell them that unless they get saved that they are going to burn forever in hell – rather it should be to live a life so full of God, so full of the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, self-control – that they will WANT to be around us and WANT to know how to experience these things in their own lives. The fruits of the Spirit are what all people are looking for in life. These are universal desires of all human beings.

We must always remember that it is the kindness and mercy of God that brings men and women and children to repentance.

So how are we to live a life full of the fruits of the Spirit? The answer is surprisingly simple. – We are to love!

Jen Hatmaker, who with her husband, were led by God to establish a church in Austin, Texas, the only major city in Texas that is not Bible-based, reminds us that Jesus says we are to love God with all of our heart, all of our mind, all of our soul and all of our strength, and we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. She then, jokingly says, how about we just take that verse literally, meaning we love our neighbors for real!

She and her husband have done this by encouraging the members of their congregation to open their homes one night a week to their neighbors for book clubs, card parties, coffee gatherings. They also do this by mowing their neighbors’ grass, shoveling their sidewalks, raking their leaves, taking soup to someone in the neighborhood who is sick.

And their church has done this by working with the secular non-profit organizations in Austin to meet the needs of their community, much like we do every week at our Hub dinner, which I am convinced that God is so pleased with us for doing!

I have found that the simplest acts of love are just that – simple – and many don’t cost a penny. Here are some examples of what we can all do every day:

  • Smile warmly when you see someone;

  • Address people by their first name (people love to hear their name being spoken);

  • Hold the door open for people;

  • Listen to people and actually listen to them;

  • Compliment people (not artificially, but sincerely; people know when you are not being honest but everyone has something for which you can give a compliment);

  • Be aware of people’s needs and then try to meet those needs (as much as possible);

  • Say thank you to people who have been kind, loving and gracious to you.

Recently on facebook, I saw a great post that provides 10 Biblical ways to love.

Listen without interrupting, Proverbs 18:2.

Speak without accusing, James 1:19.

Give without sparing, Proverbs 21:26.

Pray without ceasing, Colossians 1:9. (If someone is sharing a need with you and asks you to pray for them, why not stop right then and pray? Also, we can pray on facebook! This is amazing technology that we now have to share the Gospel and God’s love.)

Answer without arguing, Proverbs 17:1.

Share without pretending, Ephesians 4:15.

Enjoy without complaining, Philippians 2:14.

Trust without wavering, 1 Corinthians 13:7.

Forgive without punishing, Colossian 3:13.

Promise without forgetting, Proverbs 13:12.

I am convinced that if we all read the 1 Corinthians 13 love chapter every single day of our lives and put our name in the place wherever it says love, we would live the Christian life with so much more joy and effectiveness. We did this recently during the fruits of the Spirit small group on Wednesday nights – for example: love is kind – Debbie is kind, love is patient – Debbie is patient, etc.

And then here are some loving ideas that do cost money but not a lot of money.

  • Send cards to people;

  • Give small gifts. You would be amazed. I bring a bag of candy every day to the schools where I am a substitute teacher and you would think that I am giving away gold – to the students and the teachers!

  • Make a meal or cookies for a friend or family member;

  • If you go out to dinner or through a drive-through window for fast food, give a tip (remember not sparingly) and leave a little Scripture card or one of our church ministry cards with it or simply say thank you and God bless you!

The truth is none of these takes an enormous amount of time, effort or money. Of course, not all of us can open our homes once a week to invite our neighbors in. But all of us can do some of the above – both within the church and within our neighborhood.

This is why we are making the effort to do more things outside the church like the grocery give-away today. Many people are suspicious of churches (and perhaps rightfully so); or even of going to church or anyplace that is unfamiliar to them.

This is human nature. And so we must be prepared to take the good news of God’s love outside the four walls of this church.

Many would say our congregation does it better than most. And I would agree. Many of us have been saved from terrible life circumstances so we love much because we have been forgiven much; and many of us have been in church long enough to know that most people will not come to us in church.

I would like to close with a few thoughts about love from the mouths of children. When asked what is love, Chrissy, age 6, says, “Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries without making them give you any of theirs.”

Lauren, age 4, says, “I know my older sister loves me because she gives me all of her old clothes and has to go out and buy new ones.”

But the one that says the most comes from a 4-year-old boy whose neighbor was an elderly gentleman whose wife had just passed away. Upon seeing the man crying, the little boy went into the old gentleman’s yard, climbed up on his lap and just sat there. When his mother asked what he had said to the neighbor, the little boy said, “Nothing. I just helped him cry.”

Matthew 5:14-16, states it best, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in Heaven.”

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