Think about how you came to have the best and closest friends of your life?
For most of us... we first came to know the best friends of our lives through circumstances that 'forced' us together. Maybe we sat next to one another in the same class in grade school or played on the same little league team. Maybe we shared a dorm room together our freshman year in college. Maybe we worked together on the job. Maybe we met because our children became friends with their children and we spent time together while the children played.
So... what happens when we aren't 'forced' to meet new people and develop new relationships? Sadly, most of us tend to turn inward, grow inward, and invest inward. We concentrate on our family and current friends and make them the center of our social life and sphere of care and concern. We opt for safe, secure, and comfortable interactions with those whom we already know and leave aside the riskiness of going new places and meeting new people, different people, and strangers. The results of this lifestyle is made evident in 'suburban living' in places like here in Toms River. Behind high privacy fences and closed windows and doors are highly private people living very individual lives with very small circles of friendship, care, and concern.
We should all ask ourselves this question: HOW MANY OF MY ACTUAL NEIGHBORS DO I KNOW? Our neighborhood is the most elementary daily space in which we are 'forced' to live side by side with other people who are not-yet-friends. The answer to this question will give us a good indication as to how developed and intentional our friend-making is. As Christians and Everyday Missionaries, friend-making is a vital endeavor and part of the great command that Jesus proclaims: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself" Luke 10:27. In that same story, a shrewd follow-up question by a lawyer in the crowd asking "and who is my neighbor" allows Jesus to more fully turn the command into practical marching orders to bring tangible redemption to people we encounter in our daily life:
A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, "Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend." Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers? He said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."
For Jesus and his followers loving our neighbors is a type of friend-making that goes beyond our families, church families, and current friends. It is intentional and generous, risky and courageous and it results in new deep, abiding relationships that bring tangible redemption to people though love, care, nurturing, and ongoing committed relationship. From the parable:
More than just cultivating safe relationships... we are called to reach out to the stranger we encounter in our daily path (the man was not known to and not like the Samaritan who found him.
More than just sticking to safe and secure and comfortable places... we are called to extend ourselves and risk (the person who beat and robbed the man could come back and beat and rob the Samaritan.
More than just providing incidental or superficial care... we are called to deeply and generously give of ourselves and our resources and commit to a future relationship of care (the Samaritan gave much and pledged much to care for the man he rescued).
May you go into your neighborhood this week and notice those with whom you have been 'forced' onto the same daily path. Love God... Love Them... not just for a moment but for a lifetime.
Check out this week's video by Alan Hirsch and Lance Ford entitled 'Oh Raaawb" to go deeper into this dimension of living as an everyday missionary.