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When Everyone is Looking For You

Yesterday I was shopping, cleaning, cooking – preparing for family who would arrive from out-of-town for a week-long visit. I multi-tasked, prepping everything along with all the regular “stuff” of life like meetings and writing assignments.

Creating time and space to connect with friends or family takes discipline and intentionality, but as we sat with dessert on the patio last night, I thought, how sweet the rewards.

It’s easy to go on “auto-pilot” with relationships, especially with Jesus who is so…polite. He never pushes His way in. Never demands time with us. He waits for us to come to Him.

Last week I introduced some devotional cards a friend and I have created around this theme, “Come”.

This morning, here’s the card I sat with.

If you are a mom of toddlers, or a boss, or a planning an event, I know you can relate to these words!

This verse comes after a very full 24 hours of ministry. Jesus gets up early and goes off alone to pray.

In Mark1 there are three places Jesus uses the word “Come” – each of them very different in context, but each of them speak to me of a reason why it was so important for Him, in the midst of crazy busy, to be alone with His Father. Here are three reasons for us to come to Him too:

  1. Imitate and Model

In Mark 1:17 Jesus calls the disciples, “Come follow me.”

Jesus invited (and invites) people to follow Him, but even He needed to be replenished in order to continue to lead.

People are watching us. They are following us. In 1 Corinthians 11:1 Paul writes, “So imitate me, watch my ways, follow my example, just as I, too, always seek to imitate the Anointed One.”

2. Power up

In Mark 1:25 Jesus defies evil, casting out a demon, saying with confidence, “Be quiet! Come out of him.”

When we spend time with Jesus we are reminded that this same authority that gave Him power, lives in us through His Holy Spirit. We may be weak, but “greater is He who is in [us] than he who is in the world.”

3. Remember

In Mark 1:38 When the disciples find Jesus He says they will all head to some nearby villages for Him to preach because “That is why I have come.”

Time alone with the Lord grounds us and reminds us of our purpose. As I read God’s Word He tells me again who I am and whose I am.

Which of these do you need most this morning?

Do you know a graduate or a friend who might like a month’s worth of cards inviting them to  come away with Jesus?

 

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Neighboring Challenge, Day 7 – Eat

Most of us view our homes as a sanctuary. A safe place where we can hide from the world. It’s ours. No matter how chaotic the world seems, at home we have a sense of control. Letting others in threatens that sense of control.

We may think:

  • What if they judge me or my cooking or my decorating or housekeeping?
  • What if I don’t like them?
  • What if they stay too long?
  • What if they expect too much of our relationship?
  • I don’t want to do the work. This will just be uncomfortable!

God has a bit different take on the situation and that can feel scary. He actually thinks everything is HIS, and we’re just caretakers – charged with using our homes, our cars, our money to further His kingdom of loving care. Hospitality is a high value in the kingdom as we see in these passages.

Genesis 18: 1-8 The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day.  Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.

He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree.  Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant.”

“Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.”

So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.”

Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it.  He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.

Hebrews 13:1-2 Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters.  Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.

I LOVE the idea a friend of mine has initiated! She calls it “Front Porch Fridays” and invites friends to drop by for drinks and appetizers from 4:00 on!

Neighboring challenge:  Actually invite your neighbors over! I know this can be scary, but think of it as an adventure! You could do:

  • a cookout
  • a Saturday morning bagel bash
  • a potluck where each family brings a dish that tells something about their heritage
  • or “Sundaes on Sunday” like we did

I was nervous that no one would show up, but EVERYONE came! We made it short (7:00-8:00) and as simple as possible – sundaes or root beer floats. Try it and let me know what happens!

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Neighboring Challenge, Day 6 – Love

Who’s “that person” for you?

  • Maybe it’s the mom in your neighborhood who’s kids are wild and disrespectful and unsupervised that you end up feeding lunch three times a week.
  • Or the neighbor whose dog barks at all hours of the day and night.
  • Or the one who yelled at your kids for walking across his lawn.

And yet, Jesus says, “I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves.” Mt. 5:44-45 msg

These irritations are minor compared to what Ananias was facing. He had a much bigger challenge than loving neighbors like the ones I described above. And you might too. But God called Ananias to love (like with real ACTIONS, not just words or prayer), Saul, who had been brutally persecuting followers of Jesus until his dramatic conversion. Take a look…

Acts 9 There was a disciple in Damascus by the name of Ananias. The Master spoke to him in a vision: “Ananias.”

“Yes, Master?” he answered.

“Get up and go over to Straight Avenue. Ask at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus. His name is Saul. He’s there praying. He has just had a dream in which he saw a man named Ananias enter the house and lay hands on him so he could see again.”

Ananias protested, “Master, you can’t be serious. Everybody’s talking about this man and the terrible things he’s been doing, his reign of terror against your people in Jerusalem! And now he’s shown up here with papers from the Chief Priest that give him license to do the same to us.”

But the Master said, “Don’t argue. Go! I have picked him as my personal representative to non-Jews and kings and Jews. And now I’m about to show him what he’s in for—the hard suffering that goes with this job.”

So Ananias went and found the house, placed his hands on blind Saul, and said, “Brother Saul, the Master sent me, the same Jesus you saw on your way here. He sent me so you could see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” No sooner were the words out of his mouth than something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes—he could see again! He got to his feet, was baptized, and sat down with them to a hearty meal.

Reflect on this passage.

Neighboring challenge: Who is the neighbor (in your actual physical neighborhood, or work neighborhood) who has hurt you or is hard to love?  Pray for them today. Find a way you can bless them. Love not with just words, but actions.

Neighboring Challenge, Day 5 – Accept & Pray

Within four houses of me any direction there live Jews, Muslims, agnostics, and Christians, Republicans, Democrats, single, divorced, young and old. Our neighborhood can be a cafeteria tray with square compartments that separate us, or we can go for “stone soup” where a mixture of unlikely ingredients makes for a delightful surprise.

In the first century there were many factions too. Jew, Gentile, Pharisee, Sadducee, Samaritan, Soldiers… We see an example of how God brings some of them together in Acts 10.

 

In Ceasarea there is a guy named Cornelius (a Gentile) who God speaks to.

Forty miles away in Joppa there is a guy named Peter (a Jew) who God speaks to.

God speaks to them both, but they would not usually associate with each other.

The Lord tells Cornelius to go get Peter.

The Lord tells Peter to go to Cornelius.

But first God spreads out a banquet before Peter and reassures him,  “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

In other words, Jesus death on the cross was for everyone, not just the Jews who followed a heck of a lot of rules the Gentiles didn’t (Like not eating  pork).

When Peter gets to Ceasarea Cornelius has gathered all his relatives and close friends.

Peter begins to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.  You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.” (Acts 10:34-36)

What does this say to us about our neighbors?

Neighboring challenge:

You may have Jews, Muslims, atheists, agnostics and more in your neighborhood. Take a minute and close your eyes. Picture God looking at each of them with great love.

Take a prayer walk around your neighborhood as a family. (Maybe after dinner).

  • Pray with thanksgiving.
  • Pray for neighbors of different faiths from yours.
  • Pray for the neighbors with needs you know.
  • Pray for the neighbors you don’t know.
  • Pray that your neighbors would see Jesus in you.

Right now we’re in the month of Ramadan. If you’d like to learn how to support your Muslim neighbors and pray for them, here are a couple of resources:

Searching for a Father: A Ramadan Prayer Guide

3 Ways to Support Your Muslim Neighbors

 

Neighboring Challenge, Day 4 – Encourage

John and I both have a drawer where we save special notes that have been meaningful and encouraging. As I think about them, there are several characteristics they have in common.

  1. They are unexpected. They don’t come as an obligatory “thank you” note after you’ve given a gift or hosted a meal. They come as a delightful surprise when we least expect it.
  2. They are specific. They don’t contain general niceness, but often include personal examples.
  3. They require attention, intention, and forethought. Encouragers see the Imago Dei in others and call it out.

In the early church, Barnabas was an up-lifter, an encourager. He would be a “note-writing” kind of guy today I think.

Take a look…

Acts 4:34-37 And so it turned out that not a person among them was needy. Those who owned fields or houses sold them and brought the price of the sale to the apostles and made an offering of it. The apostles then distributed it according to each person’s need.

Joseph, called by the apostles “Barnabas” (which means “Son of Comfort”), a Levite born in Cyprus, sold a field that he owned, brought the money, and made an offering of it to the apostles.

Acts 9:26-27 Back in Jerusalem he (Paul, after his conversion) tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him. They didn’t trust him one bit. Then Barnabas took him under his wing. He introduced him to the apostles and stood up for him, told them how Saul had seen and spoken to the Master on the Damascus Road and how in Damascus itself he had laid his life on the line with his bold preaching in Jesus’ name.

Later, we see that when Paul is ready to ditch John Mark because he’s been irresponsible, Barnabas sticks by him and keeps investing, keeps encouraging. He sees the possibility of redemption! (See Acts 15:37-41)

You may not have the spiritual gift of encouragement and you may not think of it in terms of your neighborhood, but everyone can do something to notice and affirm another. Everyone loves applause. Give it a try!

Neighboring challenge:  Write a note of thanks or affirmation to one of your neighbors. Pop it in their mailbox.

Neighboring Challenge, Day 3 – Relational Poverty

Ever feel like you have tons of “friends” on social media, but little deep relational connection?

Ever been at a party, but feel alone?

Are you concerned that your kids are good at texting, but aren’t equipped for many relational situations and face-to-face conversations?

“Relational poverty”, or loneliness is a growing phenomena. I loved listening to a message on Loving the Lonely and thought I’d share a few notes…

Relational poverty = lacking the intimacy and connections to live a meaningful life. You can be with a lot of people and yet feel very alone. There are people around you, but you don’t feel like they care, or that you can open up to them.

Why is relational poverty a growing issue, especially in the west?

  • Breakdown of families
  • Increased mobility – people don’t stay in one place long.
  • Heavy workload – too busy.
  • The rise of social media. We get a glimpse into someone’s life, but not true connection.

Sooo….How did Jesus love the lonely or isolated?

  1. With touch. Matthew 8:1-4

    Jesus came down the mountain with the cheers of the crowd still ringing in his ears. Then a leper appeared and went to his knees before Jesus, praying, “Master, if you want to, you can heal my body.”

    Jesus reached out and touched him, saying, “I want to. Be clean.” Then and there, all signs of the leprosy were gone.

2. By listening.  Ex.: In Luke 24, on the road to Emmaus Jesus asks questions and listens.

v. 17 He asks, “What’s this you’re discussing so intently as you walk along?”

v. 19 He says, “What has happened?”

We can ask others:

  • Tell me your story?
  • How are you doing – REALLY?
  • How can I pray for you?

3. With time. Jesus was busy, but always interruptible.

I’m convicted that even when I’m not technically rushing, I can give off a vibe with my body language that I’m too busy to be present and take time to truly listen and care.

Which of these three can you get better at giving? How do we need these in our neighborhoods?

Neighboring Challenge

  • Bake something and take it to a neighbor you don’t know yet. Here’s what I tried.

Here’s a recipe you can make and take to neighbors from my sister-in-law Jane.

Banana Chocolate Chip Bread

Mix 1/2 cup butter and 1 cup sugar

Add 2 eggs,

1/2 ts. salt

3 large ripe bananas, mashed

1 ts. baking soda dissolved in 1/4 cup warm water

1 3/4 cups flour

Chocolate chips

This makes 2 8×4″ loaves or 3 mini loaves

Bake at 350 for 10 minutes. Reduce to 300 and bake about 50 minutes more (less for mini loaves)

Confession: Most of the time I totally ignore the temp change and just do it for less time.

  • Learn your neighbors’ names. Reach out to everyone living within two houses or apartments on every side of you. Make sure you know their name and contact information. Create a “map” to give to those in your neighborhood to help you better connect.

(YIKES! I am an extrovert! I “do people”! But still, when I did this I was NERVOUS! So, if that’s you, know that you’re not alone! You can do this! Everyone was super nice and grateful I was doing this)

 

 

Neighboring Challenge, Day 2 – Who?

Jesus once told a story:

 “There was a teenage Latino junkie walking home in the Lawndale neighborhood of Chicago. On the way he was attacked by gang members. They took his phone, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a suburban woman, volunteering at a nearby homeless shelter, was on her way down the same street, but when she saw him she angled across to the other side, nervous about her own safety.

Then a  businessman showed up on his way to a meeting on community development for a non-profit organization; he also avoided the injured man because he was running late.

 Then a transvestite walking down the street came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave the teen first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his shoulders and took him to the ER, and made him comfortable.  To the hospital administrators he paid the bill and said, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I’ll pay you on my way back.’”

Jesus asked, “What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?”

“The one who treated him kindly,” the religion scholar responded.

Ok, that may be the Crosby Revised Version, but you get the idea.

Jesus said, “Go and do the same.”

“Real friendship (or neighboring for our purposes) happens when we move toward the people we are most tempted to avoid.” Scott Sauls

Or as our friend Rich Stearns says, “Imagine Christians feeding Syrian Muslims while ISIS beheads Christians.”

As you walk through your day, notice who you’re most tempted to turn away from, and consider turning towards instead…

  • the person of a different race, religion, or sexual orientation
  • profane mom yelling at her kids on the bus,
  • the obnoxious businessman who cuts you off in line at Starbucks,
  • the intellectually challenged teen,
  • the bratty kid in Target
  • the homeless person on the corner

When I was teaching kids about meeting strangers, I used to tell them to pay attention to the color of the other person’s eyes as they shook hands. Afterwards I’d ask them, “What color was Mr. ________’s eyes?”

Jesus turned towards people and looked them in the eye.

Mark 10:21 Jesus looked at him and loved him.

Neighboring Challenge

  • Turn towards a neighbor different from you today. Look them in the eye and see the Imago Dei. Treat them as Jesus would.
  • Make a point of complimenting complete strangers. Look them in the eye.
  • Smile and say hi to everyone you pass today. Look them in the eye.
  • The next time you eat out, be sure to ask your server’s name, look them in the eye, and initiate a conversation with them NOT about the food. Like “Tell me about your tattoo.” or “What do you like best about this city?”
  • If you have kids, have them identify someone at school who is different from them or hard to love. Challenge them to talk to the person they identify and come home and tell you what color his or her eyes are.

Pray: Lord, help me to see as You see, to hear as You hear, to love as You love.

 

 

Neighboring Challenge, Day 1 – Fill Up

In my family I’m known for driving my car on fumes – going as long and as far as I possibly can without actually running out of gas. I seem to have an uncanny ability to drive my car that holds 15 gallons of gas, 15.8 gallons worth of miles.

I’m also prone to stretching my “tank” when it comes to hospitality. If I don’t first fill up with a Jesus heart and perspective, although I keep going, I notice 3 things can happen:

  1. It becomes about the externals – appearances, logistics, food…This can promote pride, or discouragement, neither of which please God.
  2. I am more focused on tasks than on being present to the people in my home.
  3. I am anxious because I want to be in control instead of letting the Spirit guide.

Most of us are super familiar with the story of Mary and Martha, but take another look.

Luke 10:38-42 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.”

Ask yourself: What are you worried or upset about? Open your hands and give those things to Jesus.

Just a few thoughts about this passage to keep things in perspective:

  • Note, we tend to bash Martha and praise Mary for being so spiritual, but if Martha doesn’t open her home, Mary doesn’t have a place to sit and listen to Jesus.
  • Jesus admonished Martha for being “worried and upset”, not for serving.
  • Martha did what was expected of women. Mary did what was expected of men (sitting at the feet of a teacher). Jesus broke down the wall that divided men and women.
  • “Mary has chosen…” We always have choices! If it’s a choice between Jesus and jobs, choose Jesus first.

Neighboring Challenge: 

To neighbor well we need to fill up first.

  • Picture you car dashboard with the gas gauge. Do you feel spiritually, physically, emotionally full or empty? Somewhere in between? What changes is it possible for you to make in order to fill up? Is there a spiritual practice that might help? Consider joining me on Facebook Live at noon CST Monday to hear more about a resource I’m offering.
  • Walk through your home praying – dedicate each room to the Lord’s purposes.

I’d love to see and hear your responses throughout this challenge – in the comments or on Instagram, or Facebook! Use the hashtag #neighboring. (Follow on Instagram or like the FB page if you want it to show up in your feed)

Introducing a Neighboring Challenge

Is it just me or does it seem like the level of angry rhetoric, distrust, and division in our world has reached a level that looks a little like this?

via GIPHY

You might say righteous anger is warranted, and sometimes it is. But the next time you are criticizing another – whether someone across the political aisle or across your church aisle, notice the feeling that wells up in you.

Is there a little bit of satisfied self-righteousness? I confess, there is for me.

I think the righteous anger of Jesus is accompanied by a deep sadness and desire for understanding and reconciliation. But is ours? Or are we more motivated by a “win”?

Our neighborhoods may look delightful but be divided.

Jesus calls each of us to be peacemakers. He is a welcoming God, a listening God, a connector, a reconciler and a restorer, and we should be too.

But “Peacemaker” sounds like such a big brave word – like CHANGE THE WORLD. NOW.

It sounds like it must involve world travel, high level contacts, or a job in the State Department, right?

“Too much”, you say.

“Not my job”, you say.

To that I respond, “Peace starts with a cup of coffee and a listening ear.”

The wisdom that comes from God is first utterly pure, then peace-loving, gentle, approachable, full of tolerant thoughts and kindly actions, with no breath of favouritism or hint of hypocrisy. And the wise are peace-makers who go on quietly sowing for a harvest of righteousness—in other people and in themselves. James 3:18 Phillips

In the Bible, God talks a lot about our neighbors – the ones near, who we know, and the ones far away. We are called to love them all as we love ourselves. But how can we do that if we have no contact with them?

In order to neighbor we need to know.

Sooooo, I want to propose a week-long Neighboring Challenge. For each post I’ll share a passage of Scripture on neighboring and include an action step you may want to take.

Now I can just hear you young mama’s yelling “Nooooo! Not one more thing to DO!!!”

Settle down. I get it. No worries. This will not be a huge deal, and it will be a great way to model and include your kids in peacemaking. I’ll even try to include some stuff specifically for them.

I’d love to have you join in and share your experience in the comments or on Instagram with the hashtag #neighboring  so we can encourage each other. But if you just want read and watch, that’s fine too!

There have been several experiences recently that have prompted me to do this. One of them has been reading Scott Saul’s book, Befriend: Create Belonging in an age of Judgment, Isolation and Fear. If you want a good companion book for this neighboring challenge, I’d recommend it!

 

 

Why You Should Choose Smelly Friends

Walking to Starbucks early this morning the breeze carried the sweet smell of lilacs and honeysuckle bushes and made me wish that Instagram had a sensory button so I could share the delightful moment with all of you. It made me think of an experience I had years ago.

We have two other couples we’ve done life with for 25 years.  It started with a get-to-know-you dinner when we first moved to Minnesota. We held hands around a table to pray that night and have been holding hands ever since.  We’ve cried at gravesides together and danced the weddings of our children. We’ve laughed hysterically on boat rides, and hiked in Montana together. These are our table people.

One evening after I had experienced a particularly wounding encounter we were together and they asked how I was doing.  With them there was the safety of “home” and the love that encouraged all the ugly cry blubbering, bitter, wounded honesty I could pour out.

After they had listened for a long, long time, they gently surrounded me and anointed me and put their warm hands on my weary shoulders and prayed for me.  We hugged, and as John and I drove home I noticed that my clothes had absorbed the scent of perfume and after-shave from the hugs of my friends. The fragrance of Jesus they carried with them had rubbed off on me and strengthened my heart.  

I was reminded of 2 Corinthians 2:14 “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him.”

You will have all different kinds of relationships in your life. Some will be depleting; you’ll give more than you get. Others will be like sandpaper – uncomfortable, but helpful at smoothing your rough edges. Some will just come, like water the waiter pours at a restaurant; you have little choice when it comes to family or co-workers. But look for the people you will regularly gather around your table prayerfully.

Look for friends who can listen deeply, speak truth, and cheer for you always. Choose friends who will drop things at a moment’s notice show up for a crisis. They’ll do silly stuff with you, but also do the hard work of helping you paint the nursery in your new house. All that is important, but the most crucial thing to sniff for is the fragrance of Jesus on them. Because over the years around the table, holding hands and hugging and praying, it will rub off on you.

 

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