10 Things Christians Get Wrong about Loving Their Neighbor

“Love your neighbor as yourself,” Jesus said (Mark 12:31). Who among us wouldn’t agree with that statement? When I’m sitting in a pew on Sunday and my pastor teaches that concept, I nod my head in agreement. When I’m having quiet time and I happen upon that verse, I feel confident and slightly proud. Of ...

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“Love your neighbor as yourself,” Jesus said (Mark 12:31).

Who among us wouldn’t agree with that statement?

When I’m sitting in a pew on Sunday and my pastor teaches that concept, I nod my head in agreement. When I’m having quiet time and I happen upon that verse, I feel confident and slightly proud. Of course I love my neighbor. God told me to.

It’s easy, right? Well, yes—until it’s not.

Because reality is rarely as simple as the theoretical. I love the idea of loving my neighbor, truly. I profess love and try to live in such a way as to practice it. I want to offer to others what God gave so freely to me.

But when I look, literally, around my neighborhood, what do I see? Houses I pass every day filled with people I’ve never seen. People to nod at as we drive past, but whose names I do not know. Houses that are suddenly empty, and I can only assume someone passed away because my impression is that an elderly man once lived there, but I’m not even sure.

What kind of neighbor does this make me? I’m not wanting to beat myself—or you—up, but the truth is, we all make mistakes when trying to love our neighbor. Even if we mean well, even if we’re intentional about reaching out, there are likely things each of us could do better. Let’s look at 10 of the mistakes every Christian makes when trying to love their neighbor.

1. We forget that loving our neighbor is the second most important commandment, and we skip the first one.

 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”

In order to love our neighbor, we must first love God with our whole selves. It is this kind of love that equips us to reach outside of ourselves to love someone else—because once we have personally been on the receiving end of the love of God, we can’t help but share it.

2. We think we’re going above and beyond, when actually this was a basic, foundational instruction.

It feels good to help someone, and it’s nice to get recognition. But just like a student doesn’t get extra credit for merely completing the original assignment, we don’t get bonus spirituality points when we show love to our neighbors. Jesus didn’t say this was graduate-level work; he just said to do it. None of our excuses matter.

3. We pick and choose which neighbors to love.

Have you ever thought, Sure, I love my neighbors—but not that one. Not the one who is difficult to love. Not the one who lives in the bad neighborhood—or a mansion. Not the one who worships another God (or none at all). Not the one who makes bad choices. Not the one who doesn’t like me, or makes me feel inferior. 

If the Bible gives qualifiers like that, I’ve never seen them. Jesus continually leveled the playing field. No one sin is greater than another. If we think it, we have done it. The least are the greatest. The poorest are the richest. In God’s economy, it all balances out—and it all comes back to one thing. We cannot earn God’s love, and He withholds it from no one. So who are we to think we get to stipulate who should receive the love we have to give?

4. We assume “love” equates to “help” or “rescue.”

We think of our neighbors as projects rather than people, or we enter into the relationship with an ulterior motive—if I help them, they’ll have to come to church. But as a friend pointed out, “Jesus didn’t heal the blind man and then say, ‘You’re welcome! And hey—I’d love it if you came by the shoreline later to hear me preach.’” When we make our love conditional, it ceases to look like the love of God.

5. We think that loving someone involves voicing all of our convictions about their sinful life.

God is the one who will convict someone of a sinful lifestyle or need to repent. It’s hard to convince anyone our love is genuine if it’s phrased, “I love you, BUT…” Live your life in a way that shows the generosity, kindness, mercy, and compassion of God; if you do, people will see that and will want to find what you’ve found. Live for God yourself and let the Holy Spirit work in people’s lives.

6. We ignore a need because it looks too big, or hard, or time-consuming, or complicated.

We resist entering into someone else’s life because our own lives are messy and it’s not a convenient time. The problem with that line of reasoning is that problems don’t wait until we have time for them. And people need us now, even if it’s inconvenient.

7. We think we have nothing of value to offer.

It’s easy to be paralyzed by the thought that we aren’t qualified, don’t have enough, or can’t do enough to make a difference. Often, what people need is simple: to be seen, heard, noticed. To find a safe place. To share a fleeting moment or two of a life. To have a friend. We attempt to quantify and solve a situation before we step into it. But if God has something for us to do, He will equip us. The commandment to love our neighbors doesn’t mean we need to identify and solve our neighbors’ needs, just that we should show up—and pay attention to what He asks us to do.

8. We do it with our own power and forget to seek God’s direction.

We don’t need to ask God if we should love our neighbor; He made that clear. But beyond that, we can show love by lifting our neighbors to God in prayer. By interceding in a way that can make a difference in even the most impossible situation. It’s not our job to guide our neighbor’s life and decisions, but we can—and should—pray about the extent of our involvement and what God is asking us to do.

9. We convince ourselves that someone else will step up if we do not.

One day as I prayed for a woman at my church, I said, “Lord, surround her with people who can help her.” I felt God’s reply: “You’re a person.” True, maybe someone else is better equipped or has more free time. But that doesn’t get us off the hook. If we feel that love is an obligation, we’re not truly loving. Ask God to help change your heart so that you’re connecting authentically and without reservation.

10. We think loving our neighbor is about us, or even about our neighbors, but really, it’s about God.

 “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). The most effective way to witness to someone is to live it, not to preach it. God changes lives, and the most powerful way to tell that story is to let other people see how He has changed you into someone more like Him.

Please pray with me: 

Dear Heavenly Father, “love one another” is such a simple command, yet we make it complicated. Release us from the biases and judgments and insecurities that keep us from obeying. Open our hearts so that we may love our neighbors freely and without reservation. Equip us, guide us, and shine through us as we show others the love You already gave us.

This article first appeared on crosswalk.com.

 

 

 

It’s time to fight for kindness. Will you join me?

I’m sure you’ve seen posts on Facebook saying things like, “I can’t take it any more. I’m outta here.” Or “This negativity is getting to me. I’m taking a break.” And I’m sure you’ve witnessed the drama… the thinly veiled bashing of other people, whether or not actual names are used. The posts that purposely ...

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I’m sure you’ve seen posts on Facebook saying things like, “I can’t take it any more. I’m outta here.” Or “This negativity is getting to me. I’m taking a break.”

And I’m sure you’ve witnessed the drama… the thinly veiled bashing of other people, whether or not actual names are used. The posts that purposely stir people up. The click-bait headlines.  Closed-minded arguments, sweeping generalizations, broad stereotyping. The petty and just downright mean things people say online.

And during this election cycle… well, things have gotten ugly. I feel strongly, too, and I want people to see what I see, to know the “truth” as I believe it to be. I feel a very strong a sense of danger and foreboding, and I want to make sure people understand what is at stake. At the same time, I love to have open dialogue, to learn what makes you believe the way you do and to hear what’s behind my beliefs, too. But that rarely seems to happen. It might start out okay, but then it rapidly disintegrates.

There’s a verse in the Bible that I try to apply to all of my interactions:

“Don’t waste what is holy on people who are unholy. Don’t throw your pearls to pigs! They will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you. Matthew 7:6, NLT

No, I’m not calling people pigs. (Although sometimes that might be true.) The way I interpret this verse is this: Use wisdom. Think before you share something because this might not be the right time or the right place for this. Don’t waste your good words on someone who will trample them. Before you throw them out there, evaluate the environment.

Like many of you, I want to share things with people. I get it. I really do. Which is why being on Facebook the past few weeks has been hard on me emotionally. My spirit grieves. I mourn the ugliness and hatred. I have trouble picking myself up when these things pull me down.

When I say these things, I’m not pointing my finger at anyone. I’m as guilty as anyone else of giving in and telling about my crappy day, or complaining about poor service, or of getting snippy with someone who is perpetuating information without first fact-checking or seeing if there is even a vein of truth to it. I want to correct people’s perceptions, and sometimes even when people are accurate in their understanding, I just plain disagree and want to change their minds.

But there’s a time and a place for that. And based on what I’ve seen over the past years, but especially these past few months, I don’t believe Facebook is the place for it.

Because it’s not well-received. We sit behind our keyboards and screens and type things we would never speak face-to-face. We can have good, helpful, respectful conversations. It really is possible. But in my experience, those work best when we’re sitting at a table with cups of coffee in front of us, when we can see the expressions of our companion, when we can ask questions with nuances unavailable through emojis.

What grieves me the most is when I see a distinct lack of love and compassion from people who call themselves Christians. Each person’s faith, or lack thereof, is their own. I can’t judge it, and I try really hard not to. We each have to come to terms with the God we believe in. I’m proud to be a follower of Jesus. But I’m not proud that so many non-Christians look at the things being said and done in the name of Jesus, and they wonder what kind of God we have. They can’t accept someone who exhibits certain behaviors, and they see no appeal whatsoever to a life of following a God who supports this.

But one thing I know is that much of what I see doesn’t look or sound anything like the God I adore. I don’t know if I can say this without sounding like I’m judging and criticizing—but I’m truly heartbroken by what some of these behaviors tell the world about my God. Because the God I worship is one who loves. He always loves. Love comes first, before any change of heart, before any depths of understanding are reached. When people see love, they’re supposed to understand that we belong to God.

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. John 13:35

This, however, doesn’t seem to be the case as often as I’d like. So I’ve struggled. Do I need to leave Facebook for a while, too?

And then I decided NO. I will not leave. I don’t believe in running away when I don’t like something. I am a fixer. I want to try something new. I want to find creative solutions. I yearn to be the catalyst for a good kind of change.

The truth is, I have very little influence in this media-saturated culture—I have more Facebook friends than some, and a fraction of what others have—certainly not enough to pull this off on my own. And I really, really want to do something. Maybe I’m weird, but I happen to like Facebook. I enjoy reconnecting with people. I like feeling as though I have some general idea of what people are experiencing on a daily basis. I have found great encouragement from people who send the perfect message at just the right time. I have been lifted up by other people’s stories of God coming through, of those who witnessed the kindness of strangers, who were able to use this as a way to build people up, not tear them down.

So I decided to do something. Maybe it won’t make a bit of difference. But maybe, just maybe, it will. If you will help me.

Starting June 1, I am going to be posting kindness challenges for the next 21 days. They’re simple things—some focused on ourselves, some on others. A few are supported by Bible verses and prayer, and some are based on other quotes and ideas. This isn’t a spiritual campaign, necessarily—other than the fact that Jesus told us to do to others what we would have them do to us (Matthew 7:12, Luke 6:31). But you don’t have to be a Christian to believe in respect and kindness and understanding. And to recognize that having more of those things present would surely be a good thing. I’ll be asking people to do things like spread a little happiness, share what inspires you, and lift up someone besides yourself—nothing hard, but maybe not the things that come automatically in response to what we see. I’m not calling for hypocrisy. Don’t just put on a happy front and be bitter and resentful underneath—that won’t help a thing. But I’m asking you, and I’m asking God, to try to change our hearts. To open us up to others. To realize that we’re all connected in many ways. To discover that, yes, we have differences. But we also have a lot in common. And that before we can see anything good happen, before we can turn a toxic environment into a nurturing, encouraging place to thrive, we have to take some steps towards what we want. Each one of us.

If you’re on Facebook, and if you, too, are unhappy with the atmosphere there, won’t you come along with me for this ride? I’m still naive and hopeful enough to think that we can make a difference. I know that 21 days is a short span of time. This is just the beginning. One step at a time… but if we take enough steps, pretty soon we’ll end up in a whole different place.

And everyone knows a trip is a whole lot more fun when your friends come along for the ride.

Click here to like the Facebook page and see the 21 days of kindness posts. #kindnesschallenge

Slowing down and paying attention

Poor me. All I’ve talked about for weeks is my elbow. I’ve spent the last week with my right arm immobilized in a brace. Most of the time has been spent half-snoozing, system full of pain-killers. Mindless Netflix episodes. A couple frivolous books. Trying not to criticize my husband for not doing all of my ...

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Poor me. All I’ve talked about for weeks is my elbow. I’ve spent the last week with my right arm immobilized in a brace. Most of the time has been spent half-snoozing, system full of pain-killers. Mindless Netflix episodes. A couple frivolous books. Trying not to criticize my husband for not doing all of my usual tasks exactly the way I would do them. Eating isn’t even much fun when it’s all about getting enough in your stomach to keep the meds from making you nauseous, and having someone else cut your food, and then shakily balancing food on an awkwardly grasped fork, hoping to end up with more in my mouth than tumbling down the front of my shirt.

Several friends, upon hearing about my injury, asked if it’s my writing hand. Yes. But I spend so much time typing that I didn’t think it would bother me much in that respect. Oh, what we take for granted. Signing a check or charge slip. Jotting new activities and kids’ sports practices on the calendar. Writing quick reminders on post-it notes. Grocery lists. Addressing an envelope. Filling in the answers in my Bible study book. Scribbling insights in the margins of books I’m reading. I typically spend lots of time with a pen in hand. A Tul medium point blue gel pen, to be precise. I love filling pages of any kind with my handwriting, smooth and glob-free thanks to my trusty pens.

But I jot things down because I can’t remember everything and there’s always so much to remember. Maybe I need to slow down and simply remember.

Interestingly enough, I just now got an email notifying me that a blog post of mine just went live on Devotional Diva, a site I’m excited to be writing for. Prayer for the Overwhelmed. The words I wrote weeks ago minister to me now. Huh. Funny how that happens.

I have no doubt that God is trying to teach me something. Slow me down and teach me to lean on Him in new ways. The first of these lessons I’ve already seen.

Friends — people I think a lot of but don’t know well — have sent me cards. Actually stopped what they’re doing after seeing my posts on Facebook, and sent me cards. I’ve gotten texts and gifts and food.

Apparently, there are still a lot of loving and thoughtful people in this world. People so much kinder than I am.

Friends with chronic conditions have shared their tips and encouragement. A woman with so many more health issues than I have has sent up prayers and offered advice for how to lean into the pain and not fight the body’s natural response. More people than I can believe have empathized, mentioning the time they had arm/shoulder/hand/knee surgery. (Where was I? How did I not notice or remember? Am I really so self-focused?) One friend has been without a voice for two weeks, unable to work — and yet SHE sends ME a get well bag of goodies. My sister tells me about the people from her work and church who ask about me. (On a side note, the people at C’ville’s First United Methodist Church and all the staff at Spencer Dermatology are among the nicest people I know.)

But the most humbling moment came when my friend Sherry walked into church Sunday. She has several serious medical issues and recently fell, hard, further injuring her already painful, messed-up back. She came into church, leaning on a cane, grimacing from the effort. Yet she threw her arm around me, hugged me, and said she’s been praying for me and worrying about how I’m doing.

She. Has been worried. About me.

I think that when we’re hurting, when we are facing a big change (whether tragic or emotional or physical), our natural response is to close in. Our world gets smaller. The pain defines us and gives us blinders to everything else.

But the people who make a difference are those who uncurl themselves, who come out of their circle of pain to reach out to others. Those who are not defined by their circumstances. Those who use their experiences to embody their compassion for others. Those who understand that even in pain, even in sorrow and hardship, God reigns. He never leaves. He’s not angry and punishing them. He loves and soothes and comforts and forgives and teaches and reveals and enlightens.

He reminds us that no matter how lonely we might feel, we are not alone.

We are not forsaken. We should not despair. We should, quite simply, love.

LORD, don’t let me waste this time. Don’t let me fill it with mindless noise and fail to hear Your voice. If I have to slow down, let this time have a new kind of value. Let my mind slow and my soul learn to wait. Remind me to listen. And teach me this kind of generosity of spirit. Help me love like You would. Amen.


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Luckily, I prepared the April prayer calendar before my surgery so it’s here and ready to go!

 

Pass the fruit salad

Good morning! I have a new post at Internet Café today. Please join me there to read the rest of it. But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT) In theory, I like fruit. But in practice? Well, I’m ...

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Good morning! I have a new post at Internet Café today. Please join me there to read the rest of it.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT)

56568838In theory, I like fruit. But in practice? Well, I’m more of a chocolate kind of gal. I can notice the beautiful colors and shapes and agree that the fruit looks quite luscious. But I’m more likely to grab a bagel instead of a banana. While I’m often surprised by how good fruit tastes, I’m not all that adventurous. Give me the more “mainstream” ones like apples, grapes and strawberries. Watermelon and pineapple are yummy. But kiwi? Kumquat? I’ll pass. [read more]

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