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March 24, 2020

Are You Being a Good Neighbor?

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There’s an anonymous guy in the Bible that I identify with. He asks a lot of questions!

In the book of Luke, there’s a moment where Jesus summarizes the intent of the Old Testament by saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Then the nameless man asks, “And who is my neighbor?”

I am not sure the guy was just innocently asking a clarifying question. Regardless, he opened the conversation up for us and makes us consider it more deeply.

To answer, Jesus tells one of the most familiar stories from the Bible—The parable of the Good Samaritan—a story of a man who helped someone different from himself at great cost to himself. In the story, a traveler gets mugged and two religious folks pass by before a despised Samaritan appears as the hero, spending extravagant time and money to help the injured man. Here is the full story.

Jesus closes by returning to the original question, but with a twist. He turns it on the questioner and changes the question to “Who acted neighborly?” He makes it a personal action and not a classroom discussion.

A global crisis has descended upon all of us. The noise is higher than ever. Much of it is helpful and good. Times like this test our values, habits, and judgment. I would actually go further and say it reveals our character and even our theology. It exposes our operating core. Remember, we all have a theology (a philosophical framework for life and work with God somewhere in it) that we believe and practice.

News threads have all begun sprinkling every story with a positive feel-good angle to help us with hope.

One thread that is unmistakable is people being neighborly. Fred Rogers said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” They’re out there to be sure.

In that vein, how about a few tips on being neighborly from the lips of Jesus embedded in a dusty two-thousand-year-old parable? Especially given the fact that, in the age of coronavirus, we can’t go literally pick up someone and put them on our donkeys. Here are five ideas:

  • To be neighborly, I might have to get outside my comfort zone and normal routine. There is no doubt the Samaritan in the parable was busy and had an agenda for the day prior to seeing the injured man kicked to the curb. Don’t for a second think the Samaritan was just some mobile hospital wagon running around the countryside trying to help hurting people. He was as busy as the other two other people who just passed by. But he stopped. He said, “I am going put my agenda aside, slow down and check on another person.” And by the way, this person was nothing like him. But he acted neighborly.
  • Let your empathy run a little wild. Feel the pain others are in. Put yourself in their shoes. Consider how you would be handling this crisis if you were the other people. Think through specific groups of people in your town and put names and faces to that exercise. Think through other countries. Think through people who don’t have your means and safety. Now do something. Anything. Certainly, practice sound common sense, but don’t let fear be the only emotion you are embracing.
  • To be neighborly might not just cost convenience but could require actual dollars. Like you, I am hearing good neighbor stories every day during this hard time in our world. One local company, run by good friends, created a game plan to prepay future meals with their favorite BBQ joint. Others are paying forward their office cleaning and other local services. Many are leaving huge tips as they pick up or get food delivered. I’m involved with a company that is bridging their employees to the other side of this crisis, regardless. All these have one thing in common. Real dollars and time are spent.
  • Start by loving the person in your immediate proximity.  Eric Hoffer wrote, “It is easier to love humanity as a whole than to love one’s neighbor.”  Don’t spend all your time and energy on projects overseas while you’re a jerk to the waitress or the person across the hall.  In this season, when you may not have a waitress, who do you have a relationship with (employees, neighbors, parents of kids’ friends)? Start there. Don’t make loving your neighbor more complicated than it needs to be.  Start with literally the people in your orbit.
  • Step up the creative communication. My family has a Friday Selfie thread we have been using for years. We originally launched it when one of our kiddos first moved outside of Northwest AR for work. It was just our way of keeping the connection alive. Get more creative with your iterative spot communication. Pick a few neighbors and check on them weekly via FaceTime. Teach them how to do it if they don’t know how. Make a list of people that you could touch weekly. Consider doing something like this card.

Chip Ingram said, “Generosity isn’t an act. It’s a way of life.” In the same way, loving your neighbor isn’t an act, it’s a way of life. We’re just in a season where that way of life shines particularly brightly.

As for those of us who are people of faith, we must be at least neighborly. That is the baseline for all of us. Mark Twain stated, “Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”

And that means more than just nodding as we speed by people getting our own stuff done. Slow down and move the needle for someone else. Be a good neighbor. Be the Samaritan. 

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