Pastor's Pondering


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Your Actual Neighbors

by Duane Mabee on May 18, 2017
When Jesus was challenged to name the most important commandment in the Bible, He didn’t hesitate.  “The most important one is to love the Lord your God with everything you have and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself.  There is no commandment greater than these,” (Mark 12:29-31, paraphrase).  

We do our best to love God and love people – in general.  But, what if Jesus meant for us to take that “love your neighbor” thing literally?  In The Art of Neighboring, Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon make a strong case that He did.  They ask, “What if He meant that we should love our actual neighbors?  You know, the people who live right next door.”  They recognize the figurative aspect of it, too, but it is easy to say that we love our neighbor when “neighbor” is a nameless faceless concept.  Love is only real when it is shared between people who know each other and relate on a level deep enough to irritate each other.  Until then, love is just a fantasy. 

Pathak and Runyon give a simple test to determine whether we love our literal neighbors.  They suggest that you draw a grid representing the eight houses closest to yours.  For each house list three things from memory: 1. the names of all the people who live there; 2. one thing about each person that you could only know because they told you – not something you can see like “he has red hair,” but something like “he has a degree in chemistry”; 3. one thing you know that requires a deeper level of knowledge like “What are their hopes and dreams?  What would they say about God?”  

Can you do it?  Only about 10% of people can list all the names.  About 3% can list something about each person that can’t be observed from a distance, and only 1% can tell you something deeper.  How can we love our neighbors, though, if we don’t know them like we want to be known?  How can we be a light in our community if we have no idea who lives in our neighborhood? 

Relax, the challenge isn’t for you to “get out there and win all of your neighbors to Christ.”  Jesus said to “love your neighbor,” He didn’t say to “target them.”  Love them the way you want to be loved.  You don’t want to be someone’s project or target.  You want people to love you like you are for who you are. 

As your relationships with your neighbors develop, your conversations will naturally drift to the things that are important to you and the things that keep you up at night.  Friends share those kinds of things.  If you’re collecting that level of information about them by not sharing it about yourself, they will likely feel like a target.  The things that are important to you will include your faith, but you will be able to share it as naturally as you would the fact that you like the Braves and hate opera.  The Holy Spirit will take it from there.  Your job isn’t to proselytize them.  You don’t have to have a slick presentation to run them through, or be able to answer all their questions.  Your primary job is to love them.