Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Love Thy Neighbor.. No, Really!

Dear Friends,

A good friend of mine recently wrote on her blog a post entitled, “If Trump Was My Neighbor.” She lives with her family on a very multicultural and multiracial street and, while “hatred” may be too strong a word, she and her neighbors shared a pervasive and intense dislike for Donald Trump and thought very highly of Hillary. My friend is an African-American pastor and she told her readers that she was using the “Neighbor Trump” scenario to teach her young son how to behave as a Christian toward someone that they so thoroughly despise. Her heart of angst was clearly heard and it was thought-provoking.

Because really.. What if Donald Trump did move into your neighborhood? Or what if it was Bill and Hillary? Or the three gay guys next door who invite other men over for loud and boisterous hot tub parties? Or the old White curmudgeon guy across the street who flies the Confederate flag on all national holidays? Or the run-down house with the El Salvadorian men and their MS-13 gang tattoos? Or the aging Black rock ‘n roller bass player reliving his hippie days with his garage band on those late Saturday nights? Or that overzealous Bible-thumper at the end of the block who annoys you by giving you Bibles, tracts and religious material and inviting you to his church – oh... wait... I think that last guy is me...

You may be blessed like I am with perfect next door neighbors who love the Lord, go to church and whose values and political beliefs mirror my own. Or you may feel as if you’ve been cursed with a neighbor from hell (see above paragraph). And honestly, if it were a “Donald” or a “Hillary” that moved into our neighborhood, or the garage band or the Confederate curmudgeon, that’s when even us good church-goin’ Christians can resent, resist and reject the words of Jesus. My dilemma is that Jesus didn’t tell me to tolerate my neighbors and be polite. That I can do. It would be so easy if the Son of God had just commanded me to put-up-with, ignore or avoid contact with my undesirable neighbors. My property is fenced with gates that lock so I can easily avoid contact with any difficult neighbors. But the problem we have with Jesus is that He told you and me in the strongest possible terms to love your neighbor.” Matthew 22:37-39 And then He said that “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are My disciples.” John 13:35 NLT And then Jesus shockingly took it one step further and made the preposterous statement that we should even love our “enemies!”

“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For He gives His sunlight to both the evil and the good, and He sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. 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. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Matthew 5:43-48 NLT

And Paul also tells us how to treat our neighbors. “Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other.. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.” Romans 12:14-18 NLT If a Donald or a Hillary moved into our neighborhood, our prayer is not that God would give them a holy smack-down but that God would actually bless them.

I can, of course, be pretty judgmental when it comes to my neighbors and so sometimes it’s to me that God gives a holy smack-down and it’s my attitude that changes. Last week I was out in my front yard and most of you know I live across the street from Olive View Hospital. A Hispanic man in his twenties walking down the street saw me and called over the fence. Wearing only gym shorts and a shredded tee shirt, shaved head and covered with gang tattoos he looked like a muscular and powerful street hood. This was one scary dude. From outward appearance, this guy did not look like he’d “persecute” you. He looked like he’d kill you. Most definitely not the guy I’d want to move into my neighborhood. He had just been released after three years in prison, celebrated his release with drugs and fighting and wound up at Olive View under a “5150pc" involuntary psychiatric hold for being a danger to himself or others. He told me that he saw I was wearing a cross and just wanted to talk to a Christian. After we said goodbye and he walked down the street, I thanked God for the opportunity to talk with him and prayed for him the rest of the day. When he first called out to me, I took one look at him and warily approached thinking he was going to ask me for money. I was wrong. He wanted to ask me about Jesus. I found myself wishing that he was one of my neighbors so that we could have talked again. To be continued in 2 weeks..

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