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That’s Not Your Neighborhood!

19 Aug

Interactions with neighbors can be good and bad.

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Love thy neighbor—but don’t pull down your hedge.” 

I laughed when I read that, but there might be some truth in Franklin’s warning. Boundaries can be a good thing, as poet Robert Frost also reminds us: “Good fences make good neighbours.” 

Yet even though hedges and fences are healthy, they’re never meant to prevent us from showing love and kindness. They’re never supposed to allow us to fence in our grievances and let them fester into self-focused ugliness toward our neighbors.

Hate is never to be our “neighborhood.”

After the Charlottesville rioting, I read and thought a lot about neighbors and neighborhoods. 

English comedian Eric Morecambe said, “It is easier to love humanity as a whole than to love one’s neighbor.”

English theologian G.K. Chesterton had a lot to say about neighbors. Two favorite thoughts:

“We make our friends; we make our enemies; but God makes our next door neighbor.

“The Bible tells us to love our neighbours, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.

I think we have a lot to learn about neighbors and neighborhoods, and the Bible is a good place to start.

Some neighborhoods are to be avoided entirely! The writer of Proverbs warned his sons not to even stroll through the neighborhood of the adultress.

And I’ve read plenty of scriptures that remind me the “territory” of gluttony is not my neighborhood either! In fact, the works of the flesh are never the Christian’s neighborhood.

But after Charlottesville, I studied what God has to say about actual people as neighbors, and I’ve determined not to live in the “neighborhood” of HATE!

Here’s what God says:

“For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:14).

Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”(Romans 13:10).

“… having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor ….” (Ephesians 4:25)

“Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.” (Romans 15:2).

There are a host of scriptures that—while they don’t use the words “neighbor” or “neighborhood”—back these verses up and help us understand what being a good and godly neighbor should look like.

NOTE: We might quibble over some scriptures below, arguing that they only concern members of the body of Christ. But I contend we can still practice the characteristics of neighborliness with anyone.

Perhaps the Lord will use our attitudes, words and actions to win over those who don’t know Him.

Martin Luther King, Jr., once shared concerning a learned man who asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29).

King noted the Lord’s response.

“‘I do not know his name,” says Jesus in essence. “He is anyone toward whom you are neighborly. He is anyone who lies in need at life’s roadside’… So Jesus defines a neighbor, not in a theological definition, but in a life situation.”

I agree. Our neighbors are anyone the Lord puts in our path, especially for His purposes.

Here are just a few characteristics we should develop to become good neighbors.

Can’t you just imagine how different our world would be if we lived according to God’s Word?

The story of The Good Samaritan in Luke 10 might just as well be called “The Good Neighbor.”

As King said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige, and even his life for the welfare of others. In dangerous valleys and hazardous pathways, he will lift some bruised and beaten brother to a higher and more noble life.”

Does your idea of “neighborliness” match God’s truth?

Get practical here: What can you do to avoid the neighborhood of hate and create a neighborhood of love wherever you go?

All neighbor/neighborhood quotes in this post from WorkingHumor.com.

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I Wouldn’t Wish It on My Worst Enemy

11 Jun

I saw a sign that read, “No matter how bad your day feels today, remember this:  someone has to clean the bathroom at McDonald’s.”

WorstEnemies_LOLwithGod_Graphic-MorguefileNow I don’t know how bad McDonald’s bathrooms can get—or any other restaurant’s bathroom for that matter. But I’ve been in some public bathrooms I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy!

I’ve seen some hairdos I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy too.  And some fat-filled buffets!

My husband used that expression the other day in reference to … well, that doesn’t matter.  What does matter is, hubby’s comment started me thinking about what I would wish on my worst enemy.

Not too much, really. I’m a fairly compassionate person. I don’t really have a “worst enemy,” humanly speaking.

God’s people in the Old Testament, on the other hand, had plenty of enemies. One source says Israel and Judah had 8,728 enemies! Wow! Sometimes God protected (1 Samuel 12:11) and delivered (Deuteronomy 23:14a; 2 Kings 17:39) His people from their enemies. And sometimes God used these enemies to chasten (Deuteronomy 28:47-48) them.

I’ve read many passages by the psalmists when they were not wishing their enemies well.

For example, Psalm 69:22-24:

Let their own table before them become a snare; and when they are at peace, let it become a trap. Let their eyes be darkened, so that they cannot see,  and make their loins tremble continually. Pour out your indignation upon them, and let your burning anger overtake them.

Strong stuff, right? We have to remember a few things when we read imprecatory verses and prayers. (“Imprecatory” means invoking judgment, calamity or curses on enemies of God.)  The psalmists noted the enemy’s evil, but they did more than that.

The psalmists emphasized God’s hatred of evil; His love, care and protection for His chosen people; and His sovereign control over believers’ lives.

Jesus and Paul quoted some of these harsh-sounding Psalms  (see John 15:25; Romans 11:9-11), and they weren’t motivated by selfishness or sin. They were upholding the holiness and righteousness of the Almighty.

So I wondered, “Is it ever right for me to pray like the psalmists, to pray against my enemies … those who wish me harm … those who would persecute me?”

I knew I had to think about this a little deeper.

1. Definition: Who qualifies to be my “enemy”?

My “enemies” aren’t the people who do stupid things I don’t appreciate—people who cross over three lanes of traffic and cut me off so they won’t miss the off-ramp … people who let their dog bark outside at two and three in the morning when I’m trying to sleep … people who butt in front of me in the grocery line … even Christians who rub me the wrong way.

And “unbelievers” (overall) aren’t necessarily my enemies either. While they may be enemies of God (Romans 5:10 and 8:7-8), in regard to me, it’s usually going to be clash of worldviews. They might be hostile toward God and the purity of the Christian message—and they will usually identify themselves as “against” the Lord in some way. Maybe they’ll push a debate with hurtful words. Perhaps they’ll mock or insult the things I hold dear, or the Lord Himself. For many Christians worldwide, it may escalate to threats or worse, but here in America, that’s not the case. Yet.

Some might say we could also consider people in the church who constantly stand against the Gospel and practice overt sin as “enemies.” I personally hesitate to do that because we do not know a person’s heart—we can only see a person’s actions. (But actions might be a strong indication of an “enemy” heart!)

Recognizing the enemy is a good start in responding wisely. As retired Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin (now executive vice president of the Family Research Council) said, “The church needs to understand the enemy. It’s a fundamental principle of mounting a successful campaign against it.”

2. Instruction: When I feel like reacting, why can’t I retaliate?

So let’s say an “enemy” rises us against me. What am I to do then?

The Bible says vengeance is God’s territory (Romans 12:19). He has this right because He is God and He is the righteous judge who is indignant about wickedness (Psalm 7:11); and He knows all things, even the heart (Jeremiah 17:10) of our persecutor.

Christ-followers don’t have the right to practice vengeance. [That doesn’t mean there isn’t a time to fight.] *

Lt. Gen. Boykin said the believer in Christ “needs to recognize that while there is a reference in the Bible to loving your enemies, there is also a reference in Psalm 94 (verse 16) that tells us to stand up against evil.”

But standing up against evil is not, for the Christian, about vengeance. Not being vengeful seems so hard, so impossible when we’ve been desperately wronged. But people notice when we leave the judging to God. As the Word says, we are to “give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all” (Romans 12:17).

Case in point: America stood amazed as the members of the Emanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston, South Carolina, refused to judge a man who murdered nine of their own. They offered forgiveness instead, and left the judging to the Lord and the courts.

The media couldn’t stop talking about their incredible love when so wronged.

3. Commission: Jesus tells me to pray for my enemies, not against them. 

Jesus made it clear:  He commissioned His people to pray for their enemies (Matthew 5:44-48; Luke 6:27-38).

The Lord didn’t say, “Pray for your enemies if they suddenly ‘make nice.'” No, He didn’t leave it open for discussion.

Paul takes this a step further when he says we are to feed our enemy and give him something to drink. We’re not to be overcome by evil (our enemy’s intent), but instead, overcome evil with good deeds of kindness and love (Romans 12:20-21).

4. Clarification:  Jesus says I’m to pray, but what am I supposed to pray?

Living under grace, I’m not supposed to pray for bad things to happen to people. My prayers are to be motivated by love, not hate.

If I pray in love:

  • I will pray for an “enemy’s” salvation. I can pray God will enlighten my enemy’s mind so he can understand the life-changing Gospel and believe. This might take more compassion than I can muster when I’ve been abused, but it will be the love of God that softens my heart and enables me to pray about an enemy’s eternal destination.

One thing is for sure: I would not wish hell on my worst enemy!

  • I will pray life’s circumstances will cause my “enemy” to respond to the goodness of God and repent of sin (Romans 2:4). These don’t have to be awful circumstances. There are many stories of people moved by love or kindness—things they can’t understand—to seek the Lord.
  • I will pray God’s purposes will prevail. I don’t have to like what’s happening, but I can yield in prayer to God’s sovereignty and trust Him for the outcome. All things will work together for good—my good and God’s glory—even when I don’t understand how (Romans 8:28).

Prayer for my enemy doesn’t make me a wimp. It makes me a warrior of love.

And as I pray, I will take a strong stand against evil in my world. Paul says believers wrestle against many “spiritual enemies” within and without. Beyond prayer, we must stand firm against the schemes of the devil and his followers by putting on the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-19).

5. Supplication: I must remember my brothers and sisters.

Finally, I want to spend my time interceding for the family of God—praying the “saints” will stay alert and strong against our ultimate enemy and his strategies to defeat them (6:18).

Got any “enemies” you’re praying for today? Are you praying for the family of God?

– Dawn

Graphic adapted, courtesy of Morguefile

* A short word about war: It’s a topic that divides the body of Christ, and I’m not going to get into it in a big way here (“just war” or otherwise) except to say:  While Jesus did say to “turn the other cheek” (Luke 6:29) and the principle there is forgiveness; on the other hand, I do think there is a time to go to war (Ecclesiastes 3:8b). It may be a matter of self defense (Exodus 22:2) or protecting innocents and our loved ones (which is a godly response). It’s not a matter of selfish conquest or wicked aggression. (For more on this, check out an article by Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry (CARM), “Should a Christian Go to War.”)

 

 

 

Four Thanksgiving Lessons

18 Nov

As was their tradition, before they ate their holiday meal, Dad read the story of Thanksgiving and how the Indians and the Pilgrims sat down together for a meal. After the story, little Teddy climbed up into his father’s lap.

“Daddy,” Teddy said, “did you know that if we were Indians, you would be a brave and Mom would be a squawk?”

“Son, that is the best description of your mother I have ever heard,” his daddy replied … as he ducked.

As I think about Thanksgiving, and how everyone seems to want the turkey leg, I’m amazed that no one wants to eat a flamingo for Thanksgiving… have you seen those long legs? (Granted, not much meat.)

The story of the first Thanksgiving is controversial, depending on who you talk to and what books you read. Squanto and the Indians of the Wampanoag tribe helped the Pilgrims survive when they were poor and hungry, many dying from disease; and some believe their kindness was not appreciated and repaid because the Indians were “heathens.” 

As I think about this Thanksgiving, I am taking some lessons from my research on this holiday:

Lesson 1 – God takes note not only of what we have, but what we share. We all have a choice about who we will help and encourage. Thanksgiving is a time to examine our hearts, to look at our abundance, and ask God what He wants us to offer to others.

Lesson 2 – We need to remember those who have shared of their time and resources with us, and be careful to express our gratitude. Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to tell people why we are thankful for them and what they have done ~ buy a box of thank you notes and get writing!

Lesson 3 – We need to be sure that we see the kindnesses we have received from others outside our faith. Our response is noted. We need to be sure we respond as Christ would ~ offering gratitude and love. (Remember the story of The Good Samaritan? It was the unlikely man who offered help!) If we ever hope to have an audience to share the love of God with those who do not know Him, we need to be sure we are practicing basic good manners and kindness. We should always do the honorable thing.

Lesson 4 – We need to focus on the Blesser ~ God Himself ~ not only the many blessings He gives.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

– Dawn

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