In a year that has built more walls than bridges, the mission of the Church is never-changing. God’s clarion call to reach the lost and love our neighbor remains the same, in spite of circumstances. Fear of the unknown can be a great paralyzer that immobilizes those who normally would be productive and effective. Yet, He gives us power by His Holy Spirit to continue to be His image-bearers in our neighborhoods.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 shutdowns in March of 2020, nobody knew the extent and implications of this virus. Every family “circled the wagons” and sheltered-in-place to see if we could ride this thing out. But weeks turned into months, and we started to become stir-crazy at best and lonely, isolated, and depressed at worst. During something like that, the Church needs to love better and love more. We need to be MORE connected and MORE available to those who have genuine needs, especially providing community.
The command to love your neighbor as you love yourself first shows up in Leviticus 19:18, but that’s the only time it’s mentioned in the Old Testament. However, Jesus calls it the “second greatest commandment” and the New Testament writers quote Leviticus 19:18 nine times. James even calls it the “royal law” (James 2:8). Jesus gives the parable of the Good Samaritan to illustrate this principle of loving your neighbor when he asks one of the experts in the law, “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who showed him mercy” (Luke 10: 36-37).
Do we have mercy on our “neighbors?” It has been important for me to regularly evaluate the needs of our friends and neighbors to see if I can meet those needs. God has blessed our family with abundance and if we are able to meet a need, we give freely because we are merely stewards of the things we possess. Our possessions do not belong to us. “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:17-18).
Food is one of my love languages, and I love to feed people! I think it’s a beautiful picture of God’s creativity (and one of His many blessings) to give us taste buds. Taste buds are evidence of God’s grace, that He would allow us the capability of experiencing such delight! Jesus’ ministry often centered around food. From eating with tax collectors and sinners, to feeding the 5,000 with loaves and fish, to His final supper with His disciples, Jesus often communed deeply with people by sharing a meal with them.
We try to host people in our home regularly. It’s nothing fancy and it’s certainly quite loud and chaotic, but it provides an opportunity for meaningful conversation and deep connection. The goal is not to impress people with the state of our home but to invite them into our real life. The heart behind it is summed up so well in this verse, “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess. 2:8).
Loving your neighbor well may require some sacrifice and creativity, especially in the midst of a global pandemic. But ask yourself today, who do I know that could use some encouragement? Is there a way that I could meet someone’s need (and therefore be a conduit of God’s grace in that person’s life)? It’s really not complicated, but it requires “kingdom-eyes” to see what God is doing in our sphere of influence.
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