On Loving Our Neighbors

Loving our neighbors is one of the greatest challenges in both the Old and New Testaments.  Our sinful nature and selfishness make us naturally put ourselves first, in direct contradiction to the command of God.  Added to this, our contemporary American culture and its infatuation with the supremacy of the self has lessened any cultural emphasis on selflessly helping others in need.  Sadly, contemporary American Christianity is following our culture’s emphasis on the infatuation with self and has done little to sound the clarion call to love and serve our neighbors.

Historically, however, this self-centered approach is foreign to a Christ-centered understanding of Christianity (and a conservative approach to Judaism).  Writing on Galatians 5.14, Luther says:

No one should think they fully understand this command: “Love your neighbor.”  Certainly this command is very short and very easy as far as the words are concerned.  But where are the teachers and learners who actually practice this in life?  These words, “Serve one another humbly in love,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself,” are eternal words.  No one can think about, urge, and practice them enough.

Tuesday and Wednesday, I had the wonderful opportunity to head to Galveston with several other members of the Texas Air National Guard and help serve lunches at Moody Memorial UMC.  The church, together with Lighthouse Charities, has been preparing and serving lunches free of charge to anyone in town since folks were let back on the island after Ike.  Though we still have a ‘blue roof’ and much of our fence blown down in the back yard, our lives have largely returned to pre-storm normal.  Going to Galveston, however, I was reminded that a great number of people will be feeling the effects of Ike will be felt for many, many months to come.  This was my first post-Ike trip to Galveston and the devastation, though expected in my mind, was still shocking.  As resiliant as folks on the island are, it will still be a long, long time until life settles into a “new normal.”  Until then, as everyday if we will simply look around, there are countless opportunities to love and serve our neighbors…if we will only practice the words we know so well.

A new friend, Randall, going through the damage in Galveston after Ike.

 

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Luther on Crying Out to God

In my little corner of the world, there has been much talk recently about calling on God for help in times of trouble.  While many want God to come to their rescue at a moment’s notice, few seem willing to struggle and wrestle in prayer…instead praying haphazardly or ‘as if you’re shouting into the wind.’  “In this case,” Luther says, “it would be better not to pray at all.”  Instead, teaching on Psalm 118, Luther says:

You must learn to call on the Lord.  Don’t sit all alone or lie on the couch, shaking your head and letting your thoughts torture you.  Don’t worry about how to get out of your situation or brood about your terrible life, how miserable you feel, and what a bad person you are.  Instead, say, “Get a grip on yourself, you lazy bum!  Fall on your knees, and raise your hands and eyes toward heaven.  Read a psalm.  Say the Lord’s Prayer, and tearfully tell God what you need.”  This passage [Ps 118.5] teaches us to call on him.  Similarly, David said, “I pour out my complaint before him; before him I tell my trouble” (Ps 142.2).  God wants you to tell him your troubles.  He doesn’t want you to keep them to yourself.  He doesn’t want you to struggle with them all alone and torture yourself.  Doing this will only multiply your troubles.

God knows you will be too weak to overcome your troubles by yourself.  He wants you to grow strong in him.  Then he will be the one who receives the glory.  Out of difficult experiences emerge true Christians.  Without troubles, people talk a lot about faith and the Spirit but don’t really know what these things are or what they’re saying.
(from Faith Alone: A Daily Devotional / LW 14:60)

The point is quite simply this:  In his great mercy, through Christ Jesus, God has provided us:

  • An ear for our complaints
  • Companionship in times of loneliness
  • Strength in times of weakness
  • Perseverance in times of impatience
  • Help when we are overwhelmed
  • Growth in times of struggle
  • Relief in times of inundation

That said, as earthly fathers often restrain themselves from helping their children until asked in order to teach their children trust, reliance, and hope, so our Heavenly Father teaches us to cry out to him in our time of need.  And he will answer us through reassurance from his Word, a gentle word from others, physical aid from others, the peace that surpasses understanding (Phil 4.7), or another means.  Even if he delays, we may continue to hope, knowing that “out of difficult experiences emerge true Christians.”

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Luther on Hurricanes (and Trusting God)

By no deliberate choice of my own, I read the following words from Dr. Luther the morning after Hurricane Ike had ravaged our part of the world between Galveston and Houston.  In fact, while reading this, the wind was still blowing, our roof was still leaking, and shingles occasionally left their happy abode on our roof and drifted to the ground.  Writing on Matthew 6, Luther says:

We can’t seem to let go of our anxieties and worries as long as we live.  Yet God gives us everything we need hour by hour, without needing any assistance from us.  So why do we keep on having foolish fears and anxieties about trivial little needs, as though God can’t or won’t supply us with food and shelter?  We should hang our heads in shame when people point out this foolishness to us.  Yet foolish is the only way to describe those rich, well-fed people who are always worried about having a full pantry.  They have plenty of food on hand to serve nourishing meals, but they never share a meal with anyone or invite dinner guests.  They have empty beds but never ask anyone to spend the night.

Accordingly, Christ is plainly telling us what foolish people we are.  It should be enough to make us want to spit on ourselves in utter disgust.  Still, we continue to grope along in our blindness, even though it’s obvious that we’re incapable of providing for our basic needs without God.  This alone should be enough to make us Christians and to keep this thought in mind: ‘Undoubtedly, I never held in my own hands even one fleeting moment of my life.  If I must trust God for my very life and limb, why should I worry about how I’m going to find nourishment from day to day?’  Not trusting God for our daily needs is like having a wealthy father who is willing to lavish thousands of dollars on us, yet not being able to trust him for money in an emergency.
(from Faith Alone: A Daily Devotional / LW 21:195)

There have been only a few times in my nearly 35 years when I have been totally conscious of my utter dependence upon God “hour by hour” for not only ‘the big things’ but for my very existence.  The evening Ike made landfall and plowed up Galveston Bay was one of those times.  For the span of what seemed like days, the wind howled in anger, rain pounded our house trying (not entirely in vain) to get inside, trees bent over prostrate in deference to the tempest, and shingles beat continually against the roof before their silence betrayed their absence.  The experience was a twelve-hour long total sensory overload intensified by the fact that it all occurred at night, which denied me the ability to see what was happening as it also denied me the ability to sleep for almost 40 hours.

It has been years since I have been acutely aware that, “Undoubtedly, I never held in my own hands even one fleeting moment of my life.”  If you have never been in such a situation, be it from disaster, combat, illness, accident, etc., unfortunately I can neither adequately describe it to you nor can you truly completely comprehend (beyond theological or mental assent) the truth of Luther’s statement.  For those who have been here and returned to the normalcy or ‘new normalcy’ or life post-event, you know exactly what Luther is saying.  Even when losing the entirety of our material possessions, as so many in this area have…or perhaps I should say especially when losing our possessions, we can answer in faith Luther’s rhetorical question, “If I must trust God for my very life and limb, why should I worry about how I’m going to find nourishment from day to day?”  The answer, of course, is quite simply this…in my own words:

I should not worry.  My God, who provides us life and existence from moment to moment will not fail to provide us everything we need.  His provision may not come in ways we expect, ways we are accustomed to, or ways that we necessarily enjoy, but his provision will come.  Of these things we can be sure.  He has proven himself faithful time and time again.

Thanks be to God for his great faithfulness, mercy, and grace in Christ Jesus!

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