I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. – Philippians 1:3-6
This ongoing “freedom” conversation has a lot of applications. One of the most fundamental is our relationship to our neighbors.
Rebekah had some great comments about “neighbor” in her excellent message this past Sunday, but for today’s post I’m concerned with the people who literally live close by, and those people we come into direct contact with as we go about our lives.
Someone asked me a question this morning about how best to deal with obnoxious neighbors – people who act without regard to anyone else’s sensibilities. Loud profane music that literally rattles other houses, language spattered with obscenities (trash talk and trash on the street). “They know we are Christians and it seems like this is an intentional aggravation…”
Probably not intentional, I said, so much as selfish and unconcerned with anyone but themselves.
This is tricky, but it is a great example of the ongoing challenge freedom offers. Freedom without love leads to, “It’s a free country and I can do what I like!” Freedom with love leads to, “I am free to make choices that put my neighbor ahead of myself.”
But the majority of people in this free country do not follow Jesus, and even those who do often fail to understand what discipleship requires and what it means to embrace the kind of freedom that Christ offers.
We have the freedom to bear witness to the light, but we also have the freedom – and the responsibility – to hold our neighbor accountable (in love and in the spirit of Christ). So I immediately thought about three incidents:
- A young adult consistently driving dangerously fast in the neighborhood. I saw where he pulled in so one day I walked down and introduced myself. “Hi,” I said. “My name is Derek; I don’t think we’ve met.” (We shook hands and he told me his name) “I don’t want to come across like a jerk but I have to tell you I’m scared a dog or a child will run out when you’re driving that fast and not even Captain America has reflexes fast enough.” He apologized, thanked me for “being cool about it” and promised to be more careful.
- Racism and Bigotry: One day I was standing on the first tee of a Florida golf course with a church friend. We were paired with two members he knew well. There was banter, there were jokes, there was laughter. Then two remarks in a row that were not just off-color but blatantly bigoted and discriminatory. I looked at my friend and he just shrugged his shoulders. I said, “Hey, the last thing I want to do is sound like a prude… but the stuff you guys were just saying about minorities and women isn’t okay.” One guy said, “sorry, man, I didn’t really mean it.” The other said, “that’s cool. Can we laugh at your game instead?!”
- Trash in the Street: So I have a pet peeve about littering. I was walking across a parking lot when I passed an SUV. A window came down and clouds of smoke poured out, along with two MacDonald’s bags filled with trash. I stopped, turned back, picked up the bags, and knocked on the front window. It rolled down to reveal four burly guys who could have passed for professional wrestlers. “Not sure if you realized,” I said, “but someone must have dropped these by mistake; want me to stow them in the trash for you?” For a moment I wasn’t sure how this was going to go. Then he smiled. “My bad, man,” he said, then pointed at one of the guys in the back. His friend jumped out, took the trash from me, and jogged over to the nearest garbage can.
These stories could have gone either way. But I’m getting more and more convinced that if we say we want Jesus to make a difference in our lives and in the world, then we have to not only live in love but also be proactive, and have courage, and – always – be respectful and kind.
This broken world is not going to fix itself. We must take Jesus seriously, and take the Gospel of Love everywhere we find ourselves with other people.