In less than 10 days we will celebrate Thanksgiving.
We are, of course, thankful for things like our faith, family, health and country. But I would like to suggest that we give thanks for one more thing: a simple but important opportunity which is within our reach every day.
The opportunity I am suggesting - if each Christian would engage it - would literally transform each of our communities. What is it?
Our country is going mad. Mass shootings are commonplace. Racial tensions are boiling over. Young men and women are being radicalized by ISIS. Domestic violence, opioid abuse, sex trafficking, bullying, loneliness, isolation, and depression are all dramatically on the rise.
Governments and national organizations are trying to figure out policies and programs that will solve these problems for us. But there is a radical idea already out there that just might prevent future terror attacks, and reverse the other trends almost completely.
What is it?
“Love your neighbor,” (Jesus in Matthew 22:39).
More from Jesus, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” “Freely you have received, freely give.” “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (John 13:34, Matthew 10:8, Matthew 25:40, Luke 6:46)
What the world needs now is love, sweet love. And what the world needs now is for Christians who have received abundant love from the Father to then love our neighbors who need it so badly.
“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1). And now, having received that abundant love, we can go love the people the Father has placed nearby. “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another,” (1 John 4:11).
I know it’s tempting to ask, “But am I my brother’s keeper?”
The answer of Jesus? “Yes.”
By the way, “Love your neighbor,” doesn’t mean simply to be “nice” to your neighbor, or politely “tolerate” your neighbor. It means to offer “grace” to your neighbor. Grace is the gritty kind of love that is not deserved or earned but is desperately needed. Grace – simply put – means treating people better than they deserve… like the Father has already treated you and me.
“Christians-who-actually-love-their-neighbors” is the radical idea that will transform and save every community. Because that’s what grace does when it is shared… it transforms and saves people. Enemies become friends. Strangers become family. And those who would have been left alone with their festering thoughts come into the light of care, grace and truth because a Christian regularly invites them over for a meal and conversation.
All we have to do is do it.
What if we didn’t wait for governmental policies to be written and implemented? What if we didn’t delegate to national organizations what Jesus gave us to do? What if all the Christians in worship on Sunday went home and did the one thing Jesus gave us to do – love our neighbors?
And that’s the opportunity I am suggesting we give thanks for on Thanksgiving. The opportunity to notice and care about the people God has placed nearby each day. What’s their name? What’s their story? How are things going for them this week?
What if we hung out with our neighbor so we could find out from our neighbor? What if Sayfullo Saipov, the man who drove a rental truck onto a Manhattan bike path on October 30, had had a Christian neighbor who regularly invited him over for meals? What if Devin Patrick Kelley, the man who shot dead 26 worshippers in Sutherland Springs on November 5, had had a Christian co-worker who noticed his increasing anger and agitation and had walked with him rather than avoided him?
In those cases, we will never know.
But there’s the opportunity. Yes, what’s done is done. But starting today we can be that Christian neighbor or co-worker who understands the real reason our Lord placed us where he did: to be a way through which His love, care and redemption would get to the people nearby who need it so badly. From Him, through us, to them.
In nine days we will celebrate Thanksgiving.
With thanksgiving in our hearts, let’s go do what Jesus gave us to do.