You won’t drive through many major intersections in my hometown of Austin, TX, without passing a guy with a sign saying that he’s homeless and will work for food. Most of them say “God Bless” at the bottom. We all respond to that guy differently. Some people make sure their doors are locked. Some people look away. Some suddenly need to pay great attention to changing the station on the car stereo. A few roll down the window and contribute.
But most of us drive past. We think many things.
“He would just use the money for beer.”
“He’s probably not even homeless.”
“I read an article on how much money you can make begging.”
“If he really wants to work for food, then he should get a job.”
One night I was in downtown Memphis with a friend, and a guy came up to us telling a story about how his wife was pregnant, and they were traveling across the country, and their car broke down, and they just need some money to take the bus to her parents, so they’ll be closer to the hospital, etc. I had a couple of dollars and gave it to him. My friend looked at me like I was crazy. She said, “You know that was all a lie, right?” At the moment, I replied. “Yeah, but it was a good story.” But God was doing something much more complicated in my heart.
The thing is… I don’t think God is up in heaven saying, “I can’t believe you just gave money to that guy who said he was in need! What were you thinking? Couldn’t you tell he was lying?” I think God is using those moments to shape me, much more than affecting that possibly homeless guy.
And so, I thought I started to understand more about “Love your neighbor.” God’s command didn’t have nearly as much to do with my neighbor as it had to do with me. This was not God’s only opportunity to provide aid for this man. This was His chosen plan to grow me in both affection and action.
And so I thought I had figured it out. Loving my neighbor wasn’t nearly as much about him, as it was about me. But that was only part of the story.
Over the last few years, God has been teaching me about the Bible and about life. A major lesson was that the Bible isn’t about me, it’s about Him. It does apply to me sometimes, but He is the star. And life is the same. My life is not about me, it’s about Him. And so, I began to wrestle to understand and apply these commands, “Love your neighbor” (Matt. 22:39), “Love your enemy” (Matt. 5:44), “Love your wives” (ph. 5:26), “Love one another” (1 John 3:23). And it finally started to make sense. God asked me to love everyone, not to make it difficult to obey, but because He is love. He cannot set a standard less than His character. Loving my neighbor wasn’t just about my neighbor. And it wasn’t even just about me. It was primarily about God. He is love. And when I love, I am reflecting His image.
So I can’t just pick and choose who I love. God’s character does not change depending on who I happen to be in a conversation with. I don’t know that God is nearly as concerned with the truth of the sign held by the alleged homeless, the supposed poor, as He is with His glory and character being reflected just for a moment at that intersection. Through the kindness of one of His children, the glory of God brightens the darkness underneath that downtown bridge.
And that’s at least part of the story behind the song “Love Your Neighbor”. Heck, I didn’t even get to the second verse. Well, you’ll have to wait for the record.
6 thoughts on “H2BL Story Behind The Song: Love Your Neighbor”
“Loving my neighbor wasn’t nearly as much about him, as it was about me.” I think this statement says it all. We are to love everyone, not just the ones easy to love or the ones who look like us. God has really been working with me on this one.
I love your comment about the glory of God. It is so awesome that God would allow his glory to shine through someone like me–broken and self-absorbed. Yet, the more time I spend in His presence, the more I learn about his love, how to receive it, and how to give it. I’m so thankful that the ability to love others does not depend on my striving to love, but in my resting in the arms of Love. It IS all about Him, and that is life-changing!
To me, the character of God is revealed more richly when someone pulls their car over to spend time getting to know a person who is begging for money, food, gas, etc and offering to meet that specific need.
I have heard the argument by many people that it isn’t about what they spend the money on, but about our hearts and the condition we are giving….I don’t agree. As a soon to be father, if I knew that over 90% (I live near OKC, and the city council sponsored a study of panhandlers around the city where over 90% of them said they were going to spend their money on some form of alcohol, the cheapest of which is off-brand mouthwash) of the money I give my son is going to be spent on Listerine (methyl alcohol) that would kill him within a few years (because the body can’t break it down the way it does ethanol, that’s why there is a warning on the bottle saying do not ingest), would I be a good father to give him money? I don’t think so…because it is killing him. In my opinion, it is much more useful and loving and Jesus-like to talk to the panhandler and ask them what they need. If they are traveling across country and need a bus pass – go buy them a bus pass. If they are broken down on the side of the road or need gas, call a tow service and pay for repairs or buy them gas. If they are hungry, go buy them some food. I have asked many panhandlers if I can do these things and the overwhelming majority say they don’t want the services/goods, they just want the money. This doesn’t make me stop asking, but it does reveal where they were going to spend the money I may have given them.
There is an awesome program in OKC that allows people to buy bus passes online that have the major homeless shelters and their terminals with a map printed on the back. These are places that people can get food and shelter and possibly help, which is a useful way to give to people in they need. Maybe there is one in the cities we all live in…
Just wanted to clarify that I do agree that the state of our hearts when we give is extremely important, I just don’t think it should be the only determining factor for when/how we give.
That’s a great story Todd. Thanks for sharing it.
When we’re told to love our neighbor, we seem to
naturally think of those who are materially poor, but what about our materially
prosperous neighbor? How do we love that person? How do we seek to share the
love of Jesus with that person? Many wealthy and prosperous people are dying
inside for want of a real relationship with God and with His people. We’re called to remember these neighbors too.
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