Love THAT Neighbor??

Nagging thoughts had been intruding, briefly and occasionally, for a while.  Neighbors...two sets in particular...were the source of escalating irritations.   Loud screams, obscenities, constant traffic in and out, continuous horn-honking at all hours of the day and night, pulsating music rattling our already rather ramshackle house...all contributed to my increasing level of annoyance.  My thoughts about my neighbors weren't pretty...or loving...or kind.  

The source of the nagging thoughts was fairly obvious.  But even as I felt conviction about the ugly thoughts I'd begun to harbor about our neighbors even when they *weren't* causing chaos in the neighborhood, I shoved it aside.  After all, I wasn't asking much.   Just common courtesy and adherence to the law.  I had a right to be upset.  "Love your neighbor" and "Be kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake has forgiven you"  were not thoughts I cared to dwell on. 

Wednesday morning things came to a head.  We'd been up late the night before due to the storm, and I was letting the kids sleep in.  I had gone to the back porch to sit and have some quiet time.   I'd barely gotten settled in good when the ruckus started in the house across the side street...directly across from our back fence.  Yelling, foul language, the toddler honking the horn on the truck with no interference from his parents...all interrupting my plans for a peaceful few moments at the start of the day.  

"Do they really have to start that kind of commotion this early in the morning??" I thought.  Then it began:  the pelting.  Like tiny hail from the storm the night before, it began to hit.  First, the not-so-small-and-nagging-anymore thoughts.  "Those people over there who irritate you so much are people I created.  People I love.  People I died for.  They don't know Me...why do you expect them to act as though they do??"  Conviction became full-blown as I realized that I needed to confess and put away my irritation, and put on love, and compassion, and prayer for our neighbors.  God had put us here, and them there, for a purpose.  I needed to pray...and I needed to be open to the fact that God might be about to push me way out of my comfort zone and have me reach out to these neighbors who have caused me so much irritation.  

"Out of my comfort zone" is a bit of an understatement.  This neighborhood has changed a great deal since we bought this house from my grandfather 14 years ago.  The houses are more run-down, the occupants much more transient, and a great deal rougher than they used to be.  Last year we even received an anonymous death threat after Billy tried to help some neighbor children.  I am perfectly content to hole up in my own house, venturing out in to the backyard periodically, and completely ignore my neighbors other than an  wave and a quick "Hello" just for old-fashioned southern politeness's sake.  

But those initial "pelts" were just the beginning.  I packed up my stuff and came back in the house and began to get the children going on their morning chores.  A little while later, while on hold on the phone at my desk, I decided to check in on a blog I hadn't read in a while.  As I scrolled down the page, I came upon this post:

Now, I'm not planning a block party anytime soon, but I did have that nagging feeling I was being "pelted" again.  That feeling came back in full force when I somehow found myself reading this post:

In My Own Backyard, part 1  (I can't wait to read the rest of her series!)

That also led me to this post:  

Ping!  Ping!  Ping!  Those tiny pieces of hail were getting a bit bigger.  

Sunday morning, as we talked about "investing in people" (including those we don't necessarily want to invest in), I shared with my youth Sunday School girls the conviction I'd been feeling all week.  I verbalized the commitment I'd already made privately...to pray, to have an attitude of love and compassion rather than irritation, and to seek God's direction as far as reaching out to these rather prickly neighbors.  

Then came Bro. Kent's message.  Not for the first time, I completely marveled at God's perfect timing in Bro. Kent's verse-by-verse expository preaching.  We have been in the book of Romans for...well, a very long time :)...and on this very day, we "just happened" to be in Romans 10:1-4:

Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.  For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

Here are a few of my notes...

*God calls us to desire the salvation of everyone...we should have the same heart for the lost that Paul had...
*We say we love the lost and want them to be saved, but we won't cross the street to share Christ with them...
*Paul calls sin for what it is, but he isn't arrogant or prideful.
*How on earth are we going to win the lost if we don't want to have anything to do with them?  Think about that neighbor who drives you crazy because of their wild, immoral behavior...our attitude should be one of compassion that leads us to prayer and to witness.
*The Bible doesn't teach that sincerity is the way to life (salvation), but that TRUTH is the the way to life.  Jesus said, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No man comes to the Father but by Me."
*God works through (1) prayer, and (2) preaching (verbal sharing).
*Any "righteousness" we have is as filthy rags.  God gives the only true righteousness, and there is NOTHING we can do to earn it.  It is completely a free gift.

That part about the neighbors...I only wrote it down once, but it that was only one of several times it was mentioned.  Ouch.

I told Bro. Kent later that if I didn't know better, I would think he had been reading my mind.  I had already been completely convicted, but yesterday's sermon was definite confirmation in case any doubts remained.  I'm still not sure exactly what God's plan is from here, but I know that He is working, and I'm praying and watching and waiting for the next step.  I'll keep you posted on developments from here....

I'm linking up today with Michelle from "Graceful" for Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday.  Please visit her blog to see what others have to share this week...


Brandee Shafer said...

Here via graceful. Your post coincides with a conversation we had here, just yesterday. We were explaining to the boy about how God's Word says anyone can be nice to someone nice. It's being nice to someone not-nice that sets apart the Christ follower. I'm with you, though; it isn't easy, always! Saying a little prayer for you!

Jennifer said...

Brandee...I have that same conversation with my children about once a month. Some things are so much easier to "teach" than to "live"...and yet that is where our real teaching is! Thanks for the prayer...and for visiting this morning!

Graceful said...

That is a lot of hail pinging down indeed -- the icing on the cake was the sermon! I am interested to know how God will work through you in this endeavor -- He is already transforming your heart and mind!