Who is My Neighbor?

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On the ground in front of me, right in the middle of the trail where we were hiking last year in the desert of Israel, lay a member of our group. The people trekking in line ahead of me did not stop or break their stride to talk to the man lying on the ground, but instead just stepped over him and kept going. So I did the same.

I’m not sure what I thought. The truth is, I didn’t pay much attention to the person lying there at all. I figured if he had truly been injured, someone else would have stopped and helped him. As a result, I barely noticed him and just kept on hiking.

When we stopped to rest, Brian, our teacher, had us open the Word and read about the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37.

An expert on Jewish law tested Jesus by asking him what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. When Jesus asked the expert what he thought the law required, the expert told him that one must love God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength and love his neighbor as himself. Jesus agreed, and then the expert asked a question he wished he hadn’t, “And who is my neighbor?”

In response, Jesus told this parable.

A Jewish man lay near the side of the road naked, bloody and alone. He was barely conscious after being attacked, beaten, robbed and left for dead. Two Jewish religious leaders, a priest and a Levite, were walking down the same road and saw the man lying there. Both men ignored the seriously injured man, crossing over to the other side of the road so as to avoid him.

A Samaritan came along and when he saw the battered man, he did not look the other way, but took pity on him. He stopped what he was doing to care for him. He treated and bandaged his wounds, then took him to an inn and further cared for him. When the Samaritan left the inn the next day, he paid the innkeeper to take care of the injured man until the Samaritan could return and pay any outstanding charges for his care.

The Jewish religious leaders had a good reason for not stopping to offer help to the dying man. If the injured man was already dead or died while they were assisting him, then they would be ceremonially unclean and thus unfit for service in the tabernacle or temple for seven days. However, there is no indication that either the priest or the Levite showed even the slightest interest in offering assistance to the wounded man, regardless of whether doing so would have rendered them unclean. They did not stop and attempt to talk to him. Neither religious leader offered to get someone else to help their fellow Jew. These religious leaders were aware of the man’s critical condition but they did not have compassion on him. Instead, they chose to ignore him and kept on walking, going about their business and leaving him for dead like the robbers had done before them.

Just as the Jewish religious leaders had a good reason not to help their fellow injured Jew, so did the Samaritan. Jews and Samaritans did not socialize with each other. Jews despised Samaritans because they were half-breeds, having intermarried with Canaanites contrary to God’s unequivocal instructions.

The priest and Levite decided their service to the Lord in the tabernacle was more important than caring for someone in desperate need of help. Jesus made it clear that he did not agree with them, asking the Jewish legal expert, “Which of these do you think was a neighbor to the man who had been beaten and robbed?”

Jesus had made his point. Anybody who needs our help, mercy and compassion is our neighbor. If we are Christ followers, then we are commanded to help those in need regardless of race, ethnicity, values, beliefs, customs or whether we like them. Loving our neighbors as ourselves involves hands on service and will cost us something. More than that, loving our neighbors is a higher priority than anything else but loving God.

The Samaritan’s empathy for the wounded Jew in his terrible circumstances moved him to action. He was able to see the beaten and bloody man lying naked at the side of the road as someone who was just like him – in need of mercy and compassion. We begin to love our neighbors when we recognize that we are like them, they are like us and we need each other. We are all in this together and sooner or later, we all need help. As a caveat, however, God does not expect us to do for others what they can, but choose not to do for themselves.

There is no excuse for ignoring and stepping over someone in need whom God has placed directly in our path. If we refuse to stop and lend a hand, when lending a hand will help and not harm the other person, then we are in essence telling that person: “You are not my neighbor. I do not see you. I will not help you. I could not care less about you.”

I have stepped over many of my neighbors through the years as I go on my way: my spouse, my children, my friends, my co-workers, members of my church family and my community. Lord, please forgive me. Give me fresh eyes to see when you have placed someone directly in my path whose wounds you want me to bind up. Please create in my heart the same compassion and mercy for others that you have shown to me. God, spur me to action on behalf of the least of these and those who have trespassed against me. Please make your priorities my priorities.

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Divorcing Your Church Family

Pastoral styles and personalities will come and go, but the body of believers that we love and with whom we worship God, serve, grow in the Lord and fellowship with year after year is our church family.

These are the people who minister to us when we are sick and lonely and tired and hopeless and broken and afraid. They help us pick up the pieces of our shattered dreams and envision a brighter tomorrow.  They are there for us when we weep because of what we have sown. They walk with us through the desolate valley of the shadow of death, and lift us up into the arms of the Great Comforter.

These faithful friends also teach and correct and train us according to the Word of God. We share the Lord’s Supper and many other meals together. They encourage us to take our eyes off our circumstances and fix them on Jesus. They offer us grace and mercy and truth and accountability. They embolden us to share the Lord with the least, left, lonely and lost. Our church family cheers us on and laughs, rejoices, and celebrates the wins of life with us. And we, in turn, do this for them.

If we are not careful, we can allow a spirit of discontent with our church family to grow within us, one that is not constructive, exhorting our members to follow more closely in the dust of our Rabbi, but destructive. It begins with comparison. We hear an eloquent pastor speak when visiting another church, whose tone and demeanor and attitude is more pleasing to our senses than the one at our church. We attend a worship service elsewhere and like the type of music or ability of that worship team better than our own. We notice that the people at that other church are friendlier than where we attend church. And the list of defects associated with our body goes on.

There are legitimate reasons to leave a church, such as when false doctrine has infiltrated its teaching or preaching and the leadership is unwilling to correct it. But simply because we do not prefer the current preacher in the pulpit is not a Biblical basis for divorcing our church family. Rest assured, if we leave the precious fellowship of souls to whom we have made a commitment to love and support and to serve our King with, just because we do not like somebody, then we are destined to abandon our next church family at some point, too. Just as with a marriage, leaving our church family has more to say about our character than that of the one who we blame for causing us to leave.

Lord, thank you for placing me in my beloved family of imperfect believers. Help me to remember that you can speak to me through anyone, not just through those people whose personalities I prefer and who think like me. Help me not to shut out people that you may want to use to speak to me, and to understand that you do not speak through their imperfect flesh, but through your Holy Spirit. Lord, please give me the courage, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to stay faithful to my church family as together we seek to follow you.

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25

Abandoned, But Not Alone

Are you facing abandonment by someone you love? Have fear and despair grabbed you by the throat and threatened to suffocate you? Is pain, not peace, flooding your soul today? If so, then friend, may I offer you hope?

I, too, was abandoned by two people close to me – as a child, by my mother, and as a middle-aged woman, by my first husband. While overwhelming at the time, by the grace of God, I survived these desperate times and grew through the pain. I did not allow my hardships to define me and learned these valuable lessons:

  1. God is with me. No matter where we go or what we go through, as a follower of Jesus Christ, God is always with us. He has promised over and over again in His Word to never forsake us. “Fear not, for I am with you.” Isaiah 41:10. God alone is the only one who will never disappoint us. Everyone else is human and will fail us, just as we will fail others in both big and small ways. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble.” Psalm 46:1.
  2. Control the one person you can – you. Remember that your thoughts and actions are your responsibility. You cannot control what others say, do or feel, but you can control yourself and the way you choose to respond. Stop the negative self-talk. Take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ. Ask yourself, “Would God say this about me?” If not, then that thought is from the Enemy, not from your Lord. Refuse to receive or dwell on it. Speak life not only to others, but to yourself as well.
  3. Don’t obsess and pursue. Efforts to keep someone from leaving who has resolved to leave you usually don’t work. At least, they didn’t for me. Crying, making promises and begging will only strengthen their determination to leave. Any control you think you have over that person is illusory. Instead, let go, and let God. Trust the One who has promised to never leave you or forsake you, to take care of you come what may.
  4. Your feelings are legitimate and need to be felt. Don’t deny or ignore them, but don’t put them in charge either. Do what is right, even when you don’t feel like it. You be the boss of you and let God have His way in your life, and in the life of the other person.
  5. Helping others helps you heal. When we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, and not on our circumstances, the lions that surround us in the current lions’ den of our life are rendered powerless. We find peace and joy and new confidence as we begin to look outside ourselves and focus on meeting the needs of others. Look for ways to bless someone else in the midst of your pain, and watch the healing begin.

Dear friend, your name is not Abandoned. “You will be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will bestow….No longer will they call you Deserted…but you will be called Hephzibah – which means ‘my delight is in her’”. Isaiah 62:2, 4.

May you see hope in front of you as you look up to the God who delights in you, and who is with you today and always.

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18.