Sunday, November 2, 2008

Who is My Neighbor?

It’s Monday; again. We all are in the cycle of “another week” with an exhausting number of assignments, meetings, and commitments. Each day we arise and function as “academic robots” where all that stands before us are the tasks that need to be completed before the end of the year. Any shift in the schedule or interruption in your day-timer mentality creates mayhem. Simple observation; watch out for it’s at times like this that we demote people and elevate tasks in their ranking in our value system. My question: Is your value system situational? Meaning, “I value people most of the time, except as finals appear on the horizon of my calendar.” So, how do we express our value of people? As for Angie and me; it’s fourth on our list of the Smith Family values:

Relationships: I will love the Lord our God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love my neighbor as myself. My “neighborhood” begins with my wife and children. It then extends to my current place of ministry, Indiana Wesleyan University and to my local church, College Wesleyan Church. It then expands as I seek to live in love and harmony with the rest of the world.

As you can read, my value statement takes shape from Jesus’ general statement about mutually loving God and our neighbors (Luke 10:27). This arises from a bible scholar’s (a scribe) question to Jesus about how might he inherit eternal life. Their general consensus is to follow the law as stated by God in Deuteronomy 6. But practically speaking, for the scribe and for us, we must find a way to particularize this so it functions in everyday life. So the scribe asks Jesus the key question, “Who is my neighbor?” In other words, the scribe is asking, “What are the limitations of my love?” Or more to the point, the scribe wants to know, “Who can I ignore or even who can I despise?” Who is not my neighbor? Jesus then masterfully tells the parable of the “Good Samaritan” (what an ironic title for the first century). You know the way Jesus changes the scribe’s question from “Who is my neighbor?” to “Am I being neighborly?” Thus, the question ceases to be about the likable-ness of others but its becomes a matter of my desire to offer Christ-like-ness to everyone.

Now, how will this relate to my decisions on whom I will invest in? Does this mean I am called to minister to everyone? Am I to personally sacrifice time and talents to everyone who crosses my path? For you this may mean, “Am I to immediately put down my books and school projects when someone asks for my help?” Heaven forbid. Even Jesus was incapable of meeting every person’s need. I’m sure He disappointed people when He went home to Nazareth (Mark 6) and could not do many miracles. He must have seriously shamed His mother in the temple when He said, “I must be about my Father’s business (Luke 2).” Her needs were being submerged beneath that of His Heavenly Father.

The demands others place on you should never be the determining factor in your decision-making. For me, I try to place my relationships within the ever enlarging circles of my “neighborhood.” My inner most circle contains God. Failure to maintain my relationship with Him will have catastrophic consequences. My next circle has Angie in it. I am the only one who can be her husband. So if I fail in that relationship, no one else can substitute; no one else in the Body of Christ can redeem that failure. Next circle has my children; they need me as Dad above any other role I can play in the world. I must care and nurture these relationships with a bounty of energy and time. But then it expands to my place of ministry (you at IWU) and then to my local church (College Wesleyan), finally to the rest of the world.

So, in the end, I will always be “neighborly” to you but I may not be the one to serve you directly. If I fail my Lord as His disciple, my wife as a husband, and my children as their father; in the end I also fail you. So the best thing I can do with my relationship values is to trust the Body of Christ, that if I am not the one to meet your need; I wonder who God will call to be alongside you?

Help us to know You as our highest relational value.
Assist us to know ourselves and how we are called to relate with one another.
Provide us with energy to serve Your Body by doing Your bidding.
But Lord, teach us to say “no” which will allow another to say “yes.”

Now, “Go with God.”

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