Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Art of Neighboring - Lenten Journey Day 31 Devotional - April 9, 2014

"We should all be concerned about our neighbor and the good things that will build his faith."                 - Romans 15:2

I was just looking at my LinkedIn profile today.  If I go only one person deep into my network (that is a friend of a direct connection) I have over 950,000 people connected to me.

Take that Kevin Bacon!

Social Networking has turned the average person into a “relational X-Men”.  We live in a world without borders.  We are SUPER connected, right?

Well.  Not really.

As I looked at that astonishing number of people, it reminded me of a message our pastor preached at the end of last year.  The whole concept of “neighbor” has been drowned out by digital noise.  When I wake up in the morning I have a list of emails that goes something like this….
“George just got a new job, click here to say ‘congrats’.”
“It’s Valerie’s birthday today, click here to send her a card.”
“Sean just ‘liked’ your photo album, say thank you”
“Jane just opened your card and says thank you, click here to say ‘you’re welcome.”

It goes on and nauseum…..

It’s bordering on insane. 

We consider ourselves so socialized, but, when our pastor handed each of us a card and asked us to write the names of the people living in the four residences around us, most people were stumped.  Why is that?
 Simply put, we’re too self-absorbed.  Socially agile now, but communicatively feeble. The art of neighboring has been lost somewhere along the information superhighway.   The warmth and intimacy of relationships have started to turn cold..

We like people in our lives on our terms.  We like a world where I can accept or reject friend requests or networking invitations at the click of a button; no confrontation involved.  We like to drive in our garages, shut the door behind us and “connect” from a distance.
But is that what God has asked us to do?  No. 

In fact, God takes neighboring very seriously.

Jesus said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' 
"This is the first and great commandment. 
"And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' 
"On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets." - Matthew 22:37-40

Loving our neighbor is the SECOND commandment.  That’s a pretty high priority!
Of course, the scripture speaks of neighbor in the broader sense, but it certainly doesn’t EXCLUDE those living around us.  They deserve our love as well.

I know some of you are saying, “Julia, if you knew my neighbor, you’d understand.  They’re not very lovable.” 

Others would say, “I’m just not the type of person that goes out and does that whole neighboring thing, it’s awkward for me to talk to strangers.”

I understand both.  But, I also understand what Jesus said in Matthew 5:46-47, if you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. 

Godly neighboring doesn’t come naturally for most.  That’s why loving God is the first commandment, and it is that love that enables us to love others across all the barriers and boundaries that life has built to keep us from touching one another.   Godly neighboring sees God and then, with His eyes, sees the needs of those around us.  Godly neighboring starts with a “hello”, but continues with a “how may I help you?”

So what are some keys to being a good neighbor?

Be motivated by compassion.
Sometimes it’s our own insecurities that keep us from loving our neighbor.  During my mission trip in Haiti, we didn’t have access to the same luxuries of cleanliness as we do here in America.  I look back at the pictures of myself.  Yikes!  I definitely wasn’t winning any beauty contest.  Sweaty, dirty, with children wrapped around me, and I couldn’t have been happier.  I was completely indifferent to an appearance that would normally make me cringe. Compassion has a way of moving us away from “self” and towards those in need.   Your neighbor needs you.  Shut off the self-talk and open your heart. 

But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? -1 John 3:17

Act in humility.
Godly neighboring may turn into a great friendship.  You may even be surprised by how much you enjoy it, but that’s not why you do it.  You do it because when you express kindness, goodness, and love to your neighbors, you extend the same love that God gave to you.  This isn’t the time for agendas.  This is the time for pure, unadulterated love.

Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. - Philippians 2:3-4

Stop procrastinating
Finally, good neighboring needs to happen NOW. 

Do not say to your neighbor, "Go, and come back, and tomorrow I will give it," when you have it with you. - Proverbs 3:28

This morning, I got a notice about our Community Garage Sale this weekend.  Do I have anything to sell?  No.  Am I interested in buying anything? Nope. Do I like garage sales?  Not really.  But it sounds like a divine appointment in the making and a great opportunity for me to go out and stretch those neighboring muscles. 

Let’s pray:  Father God, Your word reminds us that we are to love others as ourselves.  I ask for the same heart that was in the Good Samaritan to be in me.  Help me to be sensitive to the cares and needs of those directly around me.  Since this is Your will, that I love my neighbor, I will be more aware of how I plan my day and make time to deliberately connect with my neighbors.  Help me to overcome any fears or insecurities that will keep me from this purpose. And, for those who I have had challenges or tension in the past, where our communications may have been strained, help me to pour out the same measures of grace, kindness, and love on them that You have poured out on me so undeservedly.  Let your light shine through me.  In Jesus name.  Amen.

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