Monday, April 9, 2007

Loving Your Neighbor

One of my favorite versions of the Bible to read is The Message (all Biblical quotes used in this post will be from this version unless otherwise noted). I love how it is written as if you are reading a book and how the phrases jump to life and make it so real to me. A couple of weeks ago I started reading in Romans. The whole book of Romans is amazing and holds so many truths. But I started reading chapters 12, 13 and 14 and the words just jumped off the page and caused me to think about how I live my life. Do I live it to the fullest and take advantage of each opportunity God places before me? Do I share His love with each person I come in contact with each day? Or do I keep what I've learned to myself and stay in my safe little routine and ignore the needs of those around me?

More times than not, I am afraid that I have done the latter. Oh, I mean well. I think of ways to help or reach out to others. I see opportunities all around me, but somehow I just figure that surely God will use someone else. That He has something else for me to do. I call myself someone who is compassionate and my very profession is one of helping others. But when something calls me to step outside of my little safe box of routine, do I respond? Do you?

Romans 12:9 tells us to "love from the center of who you are; don't fake good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle." This is not an easy thing to do. Love from the center of who you are. In order to do that it is important to know who we are, who God made us to be. And to love ourselves...which is very hard to do at times. Practice playing second fiddle. Wow! That is also a very tough thing to do. Sure, we want to help. We want to make a difference. But at what cost? Only if we get recognition? Only if we get a pat on the back? Or are we motivated by something deeper. Something beyond ourselves. Motivated by the love God Himself placed inside us. The desire to live out the life of Jesus in us and share that love with others - regardless of what we may or may not receive in return.

Romans 12:14-19 also contains some wonderful words of wisdom. "Laugh with your friends when they're happy, share tears when they're down...Make friends with nobodies; don't be the great beauty in everyone...don't insist on getting even; that's not for you to do. 'I'll do the judging,' says God..."

Laughing with your friends and sharing their tears with them seems easy enough. This verse says nothing about sharing your opinion and interjecting your thoughts into the situation. Why is it when we have a friend who comes to us needing simply a shoulder to cry on do we insist on opening our big mouth? They are not coming to us for words. They are coming for comfort. And that is exactly what this verse is saying. The NIV says to "rejoice with those who rejoice" and to "mourn with those who mourn". Our job as a friend is to simply BE there. When someone has suffered a great loss, for example, they simply want a person to understand and just cry with them, not offer them a solution or tell them it will be OK. At those times our needs and our thoughts are not what are important. What is important is to simply love that person and laugh WITH them and cry WITH them.

Make friends with nobodies. Discover beauty in everyone. At first glance this, for me, seems easy. I wasn't popular in high school and have always seemed to fit in best with the "misfits". But when I look closer at my life, I see that I, too, tend to be "stuck up" at times and am not always friendly to the "nobodies" of this world. It is so easy to do. You pass the man in the grocery store who may be unshaven and unkempt and maybe even smells a little. You try your hardest not to make eye contact and avoid him. All the while never knowing what may really be going on in his life. Do we ever stop to think that maybe he has been at the hospital all week with his dying wife and just stopped in for a quick snack on his way to see her and hasn't had a chance to shave or wash clothes this week? You see the woman at church who isn't all that attractive by the world's standards and she isn't dressed in the latest fashions. So you just glance her way but refuse to go up and welcome her. Do we ever stop to think that maybe she is like the woman who gave all she had while the Pharisees and Sadducees complained that she hadn't given enough? Maybe she is on a fixed income and gives her money to help some missionary in another country or gives to help the homeless. And heaven knows that God views her as more beautiful than most gorgeous super model in the world because of what's inside. Do we ever stop and think about the story behind the people we meet or see everyday? The ones we do our best to avoid? God does. He not only sees their stories; He is writing their stories. I am so thankful that He looks at our heart and not our outward appearance. We would do well to do the same. Some of those nobodies we pass by just might turn out to be some of the most godly and giving people and some of the best friends if we would but give them a moment. And after all, without Jesus, aren't we all just a bunch of nobodies? Isn't He the one who makes us beautiful? Time and time again the Bible tells story after story of the "nobodies" Jesus used and continues to use to share His message and His love. Fishermen as disciples? A prostitute as a rescuer? An atheist as a Bible scholar? So remember...make friends with nobodies. Christ has done no less for us. And see beauty in everyone. If a person has Christ in their heart, they are beautiful beyond compare. And if a person is lost, we should still see the beauty that Christ could bring to their life and share His love. We should see beauty in each person no matter what. God does, and He asks no less of us.

I'll do the judging, says God. Hmm. Where did we get to the place where we thought it would be OK to judge others? I've come to realize that when we judge others, we are really judging ourselves. Usually we have an area we know we are failing in and so we automatically see that in others and feel the need to judge them. God tells us time and time again that He is the judge. Not us. The only person I have any right to judge is myself. Like I said above, we have no idea about the stories behind peoples' lives. We have no idea what led them to the place they have come. I may see someone as harsh and stand offish. Yet God sees the fact that they had their heart broken and are doing all they can and putting up walls to keep from getting hurt again. I may see someone who has a "bad reputation". But God sees someone who is searching for love and not finding it. I may see a person with an addiction. God sees a person who is trying so hard to shut out the pain. How many lost people have we turned away from God because of our own selfishness or because we are more concerned with how we will be viewed by fellow believers rather than how God may be calling us to minister to a person in need? How many believers have we let down because we were more concerned with looks and position and what we could get out of something than with how we may be able to meet their need? May God forgive us for seeking our own way rather than His and for turning away from those in need.

Loving our neighbor is not always the easiest thing. But if we will take some time to look beyond the surface, to see the bigger picture, we can see them as God sees them. Loving your neighbor begins with loving God and then loving yourself. Mark 12:31-33 (NIV) tells us to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." No commandment greater than these. Greater than anything else He commands us to do. Greater because if we do these two things, everything else falls into place. So the next time you pass that stranger, take a moment and offer a smile or a hello. The next time your friend needs a shoulder to cry on, let them do just that. Offer them a shoulder and share their tears instead of your opinion. When you see a new person at church next Sunday, walk up and say hello. When you see a person struggling with a sin, be there for them and pray for them rather than judge them and kick them when they are down. You never know when God will decide to use you to lift up someone else. And you never know that He may use that stranger to lift you up. Remember "be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." (Hebrews 13:2)

So this week seek to love your neighbor. Truly love them. Love from the center of who you are. Make friends with the nobodies. And learn to discover the beauty in everyone. Train your eyes to see beyond the surface, to see the story behind the person. Take the time to listen and to care. After all, God took the time to see beyond what the world sees in us. He loved us enough to send His Son who demonstrated the ultimate example of love by dying in our place. The least we can do is to love each other. Life is hard enough without us tearing down each other. So seek to love and let Him love through you. The blessing you receive from obeying that command is so far above and beyond any earthly acclimation. And the results will last for an eternity.


Anonymous said...

Wow! This is great, Lori! Thanks for sharing with me. You just took me down memory lane big time. Thanks again for sharing and I'm so glad to hear you are fully relying on God! He is the only way!!!!
Carla (Cook) Burks

ruthie said...

So true... thanks for speaking from your heart, Lori. We all need a good kick in the pants every now and then, and usually we only have to drop our eyes onto the pages of the Word to receive one!! I've had mine for today... wonder what tomorrow's will be like!