I am writing my column this issue about something that I believe is important to the life of our congregation. This is also in response to a request from the Outreach Committee of which I am a member (ex officio). So here we go.
In Mark chapter 12 Jesus was asked what is the most important commandment. His answer follows:
“29Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
You may recognize the quotes from Deuteronomy 6:4 and Leviticus 19:18. These are very common verses to our ears because we hear them relatively often. Therefore, we must be particularly careful not to allow them to become mundane or common because Jesus says there is no other commandment greater than these.
In my “pondering” I would like to focus on the quote from Leviticus 19, “…you shall love your neighbor as yourself…” I’m splitting the two quotes from Jesus’ answer, but always remember (this is critical) that loving God and loving neighbor are inherently interconnected. You cannot truly have one without the other.
Love your neighbor as yourself, what does that really mean? Before we go any further let me assure you that I understand many books have been written on the subject and I am under no delusion that I am going to add anything to what has already been said before. Now to answer the question, I think we first have to think about what it means to love ourselves. For many “reformed” believers there are red flags going up all over, as well they should. We have been told to die to self, to take up our cross (an instrument of death) and follow Jesus. That is a call to sacrifice ourselves so how does that fit with this situation? Well, Paul tells us we are called to treat others as better than ourselves. We are called to put our own selfish desires aside and follow Jesus and to do that we must first take care of ourselves physically and spiritually. If you are not active in the means of grace you will not have the spiritual strength to fulfill the call. If you do not take care of your physical needs you will not have the strength for living. We need these things for the benefit of our own lives, we also need them in order to benefit our neighbors.
So what am I getting at? I’m trying to encourage us as a congregation and as individuals to begin taking an interest in our neighbors, particularly a spiritual interest. There are a number of ways that this can manifest itself including talking with your neighbor about spiritual things and inviting them to church. It may be inviting them to a Bible study. There are any number of things you can do. I know some of you are thinking “o.k., the pastor is now officially getting into my uncomfortable zone.” I understand, I also understand that when I’m uncomfortable I do something about it. Now here is the challenge. You can do something to move back to your comfort zone or you can do something to change the boundaries of your comfort zone so that it embraces more godly action. So what will it be?
As your pastor I want to go on record as saying, I want you to be happy. I also want you to be fruitful for the Lord. I think ultimately these two things are interconnected. This thought struck me recently, “You can never be truly happy as long as you are focused on pursuing your own happiness.” I do not expect you to start being happy and fruitful tomorrow. In fact for some of you it may take years, but tomorrow you can take a definitive step toward your own happiness. The step I am asking you to take it to pick up a “10 Most Wanted” card in the Narthex and fill out the card with the names of people you know who do not know the Lord (or are at least unchurched). If you do not have 10, do not panic, just fill in as many as you have and start praying. How should you pray for these people?
Pray for them to have their eyes opened to their need for a Savior.
Pray for the Holy Spirit to open their hearts to the Gospel.
Pray for the Lord to use you to show the love of Christ to them in your actions and with your words.
Pray for the Lord to give you courage to invite these people to church.
Pray for them to come to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
This process should take you a few minutes a day. Maybe you could take one person a day from your list and focus your prayers on them. The key is you will be praying for the lost and in that process the Lord will give you a greater love for these people. You will be investing in their lives in a very powerful way and you will also be investing in your own walk with the Lord. It is a win-win situation. Please do not miss this opportunity.