Want To Make a Difference? Know Your Neighbor

A few months back I was talking with a fellow pastor here in Boone County about the most powerful sermon he ever preached. He said it wasn’t actually his sermon that was powerful, but a story shared beforehand by a member of his congregation who was a powerful business executive in Indianapolis. He shared that the man read a letter to the congregation his daughter had written him, a letter telling him some hard truth.

In it, his daughter talked about how her father had always worked so hard to give his family everything he could, putting them in a great house in one of the best school districts in the state, ensuring every material need was not only met but exceeded, and provided his kids the opportunity to take part in amazing extracurricular activities.

But as he read the letter to the congregation, he began to cry. His daughter went on to say that the one thing she really wanted and needed her whole life was the one thing that he never gave her: Himself. The only thing she ever wanted growing up was her father, to be in relationship with him and to spend time together. She didn’t need him to give her everything in the world. She just needed him to be with her, talk with her, and actually know her and allow her to know him in return. She needed him to not just be her provider. She needed him to be her father. She said that the sad truth was she didn’t really even know him and that he didn’t know her.

The pastor said it was a sobering moment in the congregation as many realized they were doing the exact same thing and needed to change their ways. And for us, it should be a stern cautionary tale that causes us to examine our lives and ask, “Am I giving my family and/or my spouse things, or am I giving myself?” Another way we could put it would be, “Am I doing things for them, or am I doing things with them?” The difference in that one preposition makes all the difference in the world because that difference is relationship.

Relationship is what we were made for as human beings. We read in Genesis chapters 1 and 2 that in the beginning God created humanity to know him and be known by him, and to live in harmony with one another and all of creation. But sadly, each of those relationships is broken by sin and in need of restoration and reconciliation, which is what Jesus came to do.

The amazing truth that we celebrate each Christmas is that Christ came to us, as one of us. God came incarnate, which means “in the flesh” and dwelled with us. We call him Emmanuel, God with us. Yes, he came to die and resurrect for us (a Truth we will celebrate in the coming weeks) that we might be forgiven and set free from sin, but he did this so that God could be with his people again.

The challenge is, even though Christ has come to reverse sin’s tide, there is much in our world that is not yet healed. The brokenness of sin remains widespread and causes us to withhold relationship from others, failing to give of ourselves or to truly accept the other. It is when we withhold relationship that we fall into the trap of doing things for others instead of with them.

You might think I am talking about the executive and his daughter again, but this concept is actually much larger than just interpersonal relationships. It is incredibly widespread in how the American church relates to our neighbors. You see, it doesn’t matter whether we are talking about evangelism or efforts to help the poor, we love to do things for others, but often fear doing them with them.

We notice a problem and quickly try to provide a solution by throwing money and resources at it, then pat ourselves on the back for doing so. Later, we are surprised and confused when it seems our efforts haven’t made the impact we’d hoped for. The problem remains. We don’t realize the way we are relating to others is itself broken by sin and rendered ineffective. Even more concerning is the fact that such an approach reduces people to projects. They become objectives for us to check off rather than people to be known and loved.

Like the executive in our opening story, the problem isn’t that we don’t care. Every church I have encountered has had a sincere concern and desire for others in a way that surpasses anything I have seen in the rest of the world. The problem is we don’t recognize our own brokenness that leads us to keep others at an arm’s length. We can’t just give them material things when what they really need is relationship with us.

I sincerely believe that we as the Church are the hope of the world. We are told time and time again in scripture that the Church is the body of Christ, the hands and feet of Jesus performing God’s redemptive activity in this world. The Apostle Paul said we are ambassadors of Christ, taking part in the ministry of reconciliation, helping people be reconciled with God through Jesus. We live into this identity not just by doing things for others, but by offering ourselves and receiving them. No one is reconciled to Christ without also being reconciled to the Church.This is why connection is one of our core values of Rooted.

So let me propose a thought: What if our non-Christian neighbors are like the business executive’s daughter? We know that in order for their lives to be restored they need to know Jesus. We also know that God doesn’t desire to see anyone struggling in poverty, addiction, homelessness etc. But what if what they truly need isn’t just for someone to do something for them? What if what would truly be transformational, bringing deep healing and restoration, is for them to be known and to know us, for us to be with them?

Seth

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