How To Make A Neighbor

There is a character in the Bible that is never named but he is labeled by Bible scholars and readers throughout history. He is known as the Good Samaritan. What strikes me as funny about that the Good Samaritan name is that it has taken on a life of its own. Like the man who received this label is some kind of super hero. “There he, the GOOD SAMARITAN. He travels dangerous stretches of Israel saving the weak and those that are crying for help, he is…The GOOD SAMARITAN.”

The words “good Samaritan” does not appear in the story. In fact, for the people that Jesus was telling this story to the mention of the name Samaritan evoked hatred and prejudice. In there racist and biased view, there was no such thing as a Samaritan who is good. For these people, Samaritans were half breeds, betrayers of the one true God, defilers of the covenant, lacking in blessing, and backward and ignorant. By the time Jesus comes along the Samaritans were so despised that “good” Jews of Jesus’ day wouldn’t even step foot in Samaria even though this often forced them to add miles and miles to their travels north and south in Israel.

Image result for good samaritan creative commons
Watts, Manchester Art Gallery

As Jesus completes the lesson he asked the religious leaders who are so proud of their own piety and righteousness who is the neighbor in the story? The answer is obvious to everyone but the person who is questioning Jesus cannot even breathe the word Samaritan and instead spins the answer so he doesn’t have to say the name.

In Jesus’ provocative telling, he uses one of the most despised groups of people in his culture and makes a hero out of one them. The point being that race, politics, country of origin, economic status, and religious respectability is not what makes a person good. A clear sign of a good person is their ability to love others. If Jesus was telling this story to the run of the mill Evangelical church, he might choose different groups to draw his hero of the story – the Good Muslim, the Good Democrat, the Good Homosexual, the Good African American. Also, if he was telling the story in other contexts he might use the Good Evangelical, the Good Republican, or the Good White Person.

Jesus point is two fold. We make ourselves a neighbor by our love for others AND we make others a neighbor by our willingness to love them. I wake up today willing to be a neighbor because of my love for others and those that receive my love are my neighbor because they deserve love from me. As Dallas Willard says, “In God’s order nothing can substitute for loving people.”

As our society tries to determine its future in terms of race, justice, and equality may we take our cue from the Good Samaritan and step out of our prepackaged labels and love those around us so that we will be known for nothing else but our love and the source of that love, Jesus Christ.

*This post was inspired by a section out of Dallas Willard’s book The Divine Conspiracy.

Being Honest With God

As a lifelong Church goer, I am fully aware of the patterns of behavior and ways of thinking that I can sink into that present me as a respectable and good “Christian.” I have been conditioned to look good based on the expectation of the church even though it is all very safe and does not prosper Growing Up or spark much inspiration.

One area where this is obvious is prayer. A lifelong church goer becomes conditioned to pray in the style and manner that they hear in public prayer within the church and among church members. These church goers find a raw and stripped down style of praying to be alien and unlike what they are accustomed to. So, when they go to pray, even privately, their initial tendency is to stick to the safe and staid patterns of prayer that they usually hear in church.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Through circumstance or need they have not been in a situation where crying out to God in a gut-level way is a viable option. Thank goodness that the Psalms demonstrate to us that prayer can be whining, prayer can be pleading, prayer can be lament, prayer can be stripped to the bone honesty.

Psalm 13 says, “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?”

If this kind of honesty disturbs us or the use of raw language feels unsettling to us then this is probably a point of growth. The thing is, we can use the Psalms as our prayer book. This is how they have been used for thousands of years and we can use them in this way now. We can actually speak these words as our own words and start to flex our honest and sincere prayer muscles so that we can begin to talk to God with the enthusiasm of our highest highs and the brokenness of our lowest lows. This is what God wants us to do, he knows our hearts, he knows what we are truly dealing with so we might as well start there and leave the pretense and sanitized language behind.

I need this help too. In addition to praying the Psalms, maybe we should write our own prayers as an exercise in speaking honestly with God. Perhaps something like this:

“Father, I am so tired of this disease that has disrupted my life. I can’t bear the uncertainty it has caused any more. And I am not even suffering from the disease itself. The isolation, loneliness, and helplessness that it has caused good people, innocent people is awful beyond account. Make it stop. End this. I know you have the power to heal and to change this. When will you?”

Stop sugar coating your prayers and lay your heart in front of God. Break that need for refinement and emotional control when approaching God. He is not impressed by you playing a part. Be the real you. For it is in prayer that the Psalmists show us we need to be the most real.

What Matters Most

Three years ago today, my dad died of lung cancer. I want to honor his memory here by sharing what I wrote for the memorial service. The pain of his loss is still present and surfaces at strange times and in strange ways.

Reading these words again reminds me that Growing Up doesn’t have to be complicated and it reminds me that I still have some ways to go to take the lessons he taught me and implement them for my own life.

From July 2017

My dad was a simple man. I say that in the best possible way.

He knew the power of a handshake and taught me such power. Just a few days before he died, he still gave me one of his patented handshakes.

He taught me that life wasn’t about comparison but an opportunity to get the most out of your ability. To this day, I tell our girls each day as they go to school to, “do your best.” I learned that from my dad.

He taught me that little things can make a big difference. My parent’s neighborhood is set up like a circle. Everyday, when he was able, my dad would carry each neighbor’s newspaper from the driveway to the porch. On trash days, he would roll the big trash cans from the curb to the house so that the neighbors wouldn’t have to do it. This sounds like a small thing, but just about every neighbor I talked to after his death mentioned his kindness to do this day after day.

I mentioned that my dad was a simple man. A good way of thinking about simplicity, as it relates to a person, is they know what matters most. My dad knew what mattered most.

Before he retired, his job sent him to schools in small towns around the area where my parents lived. Instead of cranking up his favorite song or listening to talk radio, my dad would turn everything off and pray and meditate and sit in silence. What a simple yet profound thing to do in our day and age.

One Easter growing up, I noticed something strange at the dinner table. The rest of us were enjoying our meal but dad was just drinking orange juice. He wasn’t broadcasting it but he was fasting in response to the sacred event. I had never been exposed to this before and this action really had an impact on me. My dad took his faith serious enough to sacrifice something.  What was I willing to sacrifice?

Not too long ago, my dad and I were on a long trip out of town. He took the opportunity to tell me, “If there is anything I have done or said that hurt you, I am sorry.” Here was a man in his sixties asking for forgiveness. He was at the age where most men don’t think they owe anybody anything. You are supposed to be set in your ways by then. It takes a real man to go first in a situation like that. Unfortunately, I wasn’t man enough to return the favor and tell him that if there was anything that I did that disappointed him or hurt him, I was sorry.

What mattered to my dad was consistency, integrity, love of Jesus, family, connections with close friends, and kindness to others. These are the things that should matter the most to all of us.

May we all practice this kind of simplicity.

My Turning 45 List of Advice, Lessons, and Observations

On June 27th, I turned 45 years old. After being inspired by this list by Kevin Kelley and this from David Perell, I decided to write my own list of advice, observations, and lessons learned. So here is my list, one for each year of my life.

  1. No effort to be a disciple of Jesus goes wasted. I have been transformed and saved by all of these efforts. God has used them to transform me in order to rescue me from grief, loss, heartbreak, self inflicted wounds, trial after trial, betrayal, mistakes, missteps, and disappointment.
  2. Tell the person you are firing the bad news first. It just makes the terrible process go smoother and allows you to be direct and clear.
  3. Having more than one kid brings you more of everything – joy, fun, irritation, hassle, love, meaning, and exhaustion.
  4. I don’t have to be Jesus, just the Jesus that he would be if he were me.*
  5. Prayer is more than worry with wings. Call on God and make your requests known.
  6. Include listening in your prayer time.
  7. It is okay to read the Bible’s greatest hits if that keeps you in the scriptures.
  8. I can’t listen to music with lyrics while doing office work.
  9. Unfriending or unfollowing people on social media that trigger my anger decreases my level of irritation and frustration.
  10. Write the first draft without editing. It lets you get into a flow without beating yourself up for your mistakes and poor execution.
  11. God is the most joyous being in the Universe.*
  12. God’s kingdom is a perfectly safe place for me to be.*
  13. Share a meal with a homeless person. The story and the connection will leave an indelible mark.
  14. Be generous to those in need. If they make poor decisions with your gift, that is between them and God. You are called to be faithful to the Lord’s prompting to give.
  15. Don’t read more than two books at a time.
  16. Name three things you are thankful for each day. Get your kids to do the same.
  17. Never question someone else’s grief.
  18. Fasting is not about your health or spiritual achievement. It is about reliance on God.
  19. I am more likely to fall asleep during an action movie than a drama. I know how the action movie will turn out and who will win, I don’t always know the outcomes of dramas or comedies.
  20. Finding new music that you like is harder when you get older.
  21. Running at least 30 minutes several times a week is therapeutic to me.
  22. The best rock band names are a two word phrase – Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam, Imagine Dragons. Easy to remember yet open to creativity.
  23. Never use colors or numbers in your band name. Avoid animal names unless they are fictional.
  24. What you think about God is the most important thing about you.#
  25. There is nothing you can do that will make God love you more or love you less.**
  26. Whenever I have put myself at the center of my universe it has been a disaster. That place is reserved for Christ.
  27. My goal in life is to mature in Christ.
  28. Evangelical churches have neglected introverts, singles, and women.
  29. The more Christ’s followers develop a likeness to him the more effective their church will be.
  30. Bible instruction must have an appeal to the heart or it is just an academic exercise.
  31. Classic Country music sounds better on a record player.
  32. How many people like my latest post should not dictate what my next post will be.
  33. Dallas Willard, Henri Nouwen, Eugene Peterson, and Brennan Manning are all dead. Frederick Buechner may soon follow. Who will be the next ones to inspire a generation willing to be vulnerable, spiritual and broken before Christ?
  34. I write as much for myself as I do for others.
  35. Kick your phone out of the bedroom.
  36. Being a Christian leader is not pushing management solutions with a Christian stamp of approval. It is actually living out the Sermon on the Mount in the context of an organization.
  37. Listening to the Bible counts as reading the Bible.
  38. Embracing silence and solitude for designated moments is a clear path to Growing Up.
  39. Having a personality or a type is how God made you but it also points out areas of growth.
  40. It takes work to stay engaged with your teenagers but it is absolutely essential.
  41. Growing Up as a Christian means finding the best method to experience God and learn from Jesus. That might look different for different people.
  42. The only hope that any family relationship has is the ruthless ability to forgive.
  43. The people who succeed are the ones that can find enthusiasm in the middle not just the beginning or the end.
  44. Look at the sky at least once a day.
  45. I am one in whom Christ dwells and delights and I live in the strong and unshakable kingdom of God.^

*From Dallas Willard

#From A.W Tozer

**From Brennan Manning

^From James Bryan Smith