Love Your Neighbour

I am a passionate person. Ask my friends and family – they’ll tell you I have opinions about things and I don’t hesitate to share them freely. To be honest, it has gotten me in trouble on more than one occasion but, thankfully, it has also allowed me to be a voice for those who have none.

The raging debate between Christians regarding whether to re-open their church doors or leave them closed during a pandemic is dividing congregations across our communities. Both sides make excellent points, but I’ve noticed a disturbing trend that is causing me to sit up and take notice of how I myself engage in this topic.

Jesus has called us to love our neighbour as ourselves. So just how do we love our neighbour well during a public health crisis? Is church attendance essential to being a Christian? Is the gathered body of Christ a priority when the current health recommendations are to be apart?

Wonderful questions worthy of vigorous debate.

Here’s the problem I am currently struggling through. 

I’ve noticed the tendency to measure spiritual maturity in relation to which side we fall on. And of course, we raise an eyebrow at those who don’t agree with our point of view. Those who want to gather are seen as immature and selfish people who are not living out Jesus’ command to love our neighbour. Those who are unwilling to gather at this time and choose to follow health guidelines are seen as cowards who are worshiping the government instead of Jesus.

Why are we doing this to each other?

“If you think church is a building, you don’t know Jesus.” 

“If you don’t want to gather with other Christians, something’s wrong in your walk with Christ.”

Two sides of the same hurtful, destructive coin. 

Can I offer a third way? What if we do the thing Christ-followers been called to do for centuries? Ephesians 4:2-6 says, 

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

Tim Keller once said, “The church is not a museum for pristine saints, but a hospital ward for broken sinners.” Of which we all are. No one has the corner on perfect righteousness except Jesus. We are all wrestling through stressful circumstances with no real end in sight. Some have accepted pandemic life and are patiently waiting it out. Others believe if they were to do that, they would be compromising their beliefs. Is one more spiritual than the other? Some suffer struggles made significantly worse by isolation and are desperate for meaningful human interaction with their church family. Some suffer anxiety over possibly spreading the virus to the vulnerable and are paralyzed by the thought of a group gathering even if it means missing out on a part of their life they hold dear. Is one closer to Jesus than the other? We have been isolated from one another for so long, stuck in our echo chambers where it’s far too easy to paint the other side in a negative light. We have forgotten the call to be completely humble and gentle, to be patient, to bear with one another in love.

When presented with the opportunity to sin by self-righteousness and smug attitudes, let’s run the other way and choose to love our neighbour well – including our Christian brothers and sisters on the other side of this issue. Instead of passing uncharitable judgment on those whose needs and desires do not align with our own, we can praise the Lord that the body of Christ is made up of many different parts, and that each part has a purpose and a role in fulfilling the call of Christ to the greater community at this particular time in history.

Lord, forgive us for calling someone else’s faith into question when they don’t see this the way we do. Give us wisdom, patience and deep encouragement as we learn how to love our neighbour well in this difficult time.

(image: mine)

Connecting Points

I stepped outside yesterday evening and -21 C felt positively balmy after the polar vortex week of -45 C windchills. The bitter cold is slowly losing its grip and it feels amazing.

Cosy weather, though, isn’t it? Hot tea, sweaters, slippers, books and movies and all the inside hobbies you can muster. No yard to tend to other than keeping the sidewalk clear. Aside from all the usual suspects that come with the cold, like your key won’t turn the lock in the front door, or that giant icicle needs to be karate-kicked off the furnace vent, or the van won’t start unless it’s plugged in and when it does, random warning lights pepper the dashboard, it’s not so bad.

I’m thankful, though, that a bit of relief is on the way. In just a few more days we’ll have regular February cold instead of that frigid Arctic blast. Believe it or not, our weather has been one of the biggest blessings of the past few months. I was chatting with a friend from another province over zoom the other day and we were both amazed at how fantastic the weather has been so far this winter, both there and here. With the restrictions on activities and social gatherings, the unseasonably warm, vibrant fall and mild winter has felt like a kiss from heaven.

Where else are you seeing God’s grace today?

I live a rather ordinary life. I get up in the morning, get ready for the day and grab a cup of coffee. Then my mental chore checklist kicks into high gear and I remember all the dishes and laundry that didn’t get done yesterday so I begin my “I’m just going to do this one thing” habit. But the Lord is teaching me to press pause on my plans and be present when the opportunity arises.

I’ve observed that in our home, breakfast is a connecting point. All four kids are sitting at the table chattering away while they munch on their cereal or oatmeal. They pipe up when I don’t join them. “Mom! You have to eat breakfast!” they say. So I grab my toast and coffee and, against my morning-energy, goal-oriented, multi-tasking nature, I sit. This week our 10 year old instituted a Question of the Day. She posts a new one every morning and we take turns answering it. Then we’ll pull out one of the devotion books on the shelf or I’ll ask a spiritual question or use an ordinary object to illustrate a truth about God. We’re only around the table for about 10-15 minutes, but it’s a connecting point for spiritual conversations. Then we pray together and get on our way. I fully realize it won’t always be like this, so I’m making the most of these moments while I have them right in front of me.

I’m a busy person. I’ve always got something going on. There’s so much to do all the time. I’m flitting from this thing to that thing, my mind preoccupied with the things I’ve done and the things I have yet to do, today, tomorrow, next week, next month. My mind is has an ongoing checklist that is never quite finished, only set aside in favour of things that are more urgent.

Connecting points break into my noisy world. They are invitations to sit, to rest, to be present — to connect.

Connecting points are God’s grace unfolding before our very eyes. When we’re moving mechanically through these moments and days and years, we tend to miss some of the most amazing opportunities to pour into each other’s lives. I am far from perfect at it and too often I feel the sting as hindsight reveals my shortcomings, but I’m learning to slow down and savour the life I have right in front of me, the life given to me as a gift by the One who knows me better than I know myself. The One who made me and sustains me. The One who knows just what I need in every moment of the day. The One who invites me to sit at His feet even though “I’ve got a lot to do, you know”.

Luke 10:38-42 comes to mind:

“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’

‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’”

Lord, help me to choose what is better — even in the moments when I think I know better. Let the warmth of connecting with You release the bitter cold of drivenness and soften my heart so I recognize the connecting points that are right in front of me.

One morning my little guy invited me to have “coffee” with him.