be a realist, you must believe in miracles." David Ben-Gurion.
One Sunday morning, as my wife Yvonne and I sat in the sun-lit
sanctuary of her home church (Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida),
she turned to me and whispered, "I think God just spoke to me. Things will get tough,
but were to stick together. Hes preparing us for a role."
At that time (1978) I was a library manager; Yvonne a bank secretary.
We lived modestly but adequately. But after that "message" our world turned
upside down. Time after time, we experienced things we thought only happened to others.
Just a few were sexual harassment; firings for pregnancy and for illness; a layoff that
cost us our home, savings, and health insurance; pesticide poisoning, and toxic mold that
sickened us for years and took nearly all our possessions.
The peak came when for nearly six years, beginning in 1993, we and our
two young children lived in a tent, much like Abraham except ours had wheels for
towing, a tiny refrigerator, a heater, a folding stove, and a small sink.
We werent alone: just in my field (by then aerospace/defense),
between one and two million families lost their jobs and homes. Indeed, we were fortunate.
Thanks to our tent trailer our "home" never became a bridge, a car, the street,
or a shelter as it did for many we met.
Those six homeless years made us the realists David Ben-Gurion
described. We worked hard, but the obstacles proved great; the barriers high. We had to
believe in miracles, and experience them.
But we chose to make an adventure of the hard times, and saw Gods
hand in them. Walking where others walked gave us a heart for good, hardworking people in
difficult circumstances. It took away our stereotypes. It let us feel the passion in the
preaching on human needs by the prophets, Jesus, and his disciples. And it brought to life
the thousands of Biblical passages that exhort us to love and help our neighbors.
During that "learning time" I spent one full month in bed
with a severely torn leg muscle. "Stir crazy," I leafed through my Bible,
listing texts about "loving our neighbors." That first quick look found 600
verses. Later, help from a good concordance found 3,000 more! This book is based on them.
These verses come from every book in those parts of the Bible
that are common to the Catholic, Protestant, and Eastern Orthodox faiths. (Though this is
a frankly Christian book, around two-thirds of its verses are from the Jewish Scriptures
in the Old Testament, and it will not offend me if our Jewish friends choose to read only
those passages. The message will be the same.)
Some verses describe kinds of "neighbors," like family, the
poor, sick, orphans, immigrants, widows, prisoners, politicians, and enemies. Others
spotlight those neighbors most pressing needs or describe how Gods people
tried or neglected - to love them.
These Scriptures communicate the depth of Gods love for his
children; an awareness of how deeply many of them are hurting, an understanding of how
important it is to minister to their needs; and a realization of the responsibility he
gives us all to fulfil that ministry.
God has created us all. He loves us all. He feels it when we hurt.
Jesus taught that when we see hurting individuals around us, and don't help them, we
dont help him. God expects us to help as much as if Jesus himself was in need. Have
any of us loved or given that much?
Through this study I realized how little Id known about what
"loving our neighbors" meant. For me, it had been a forgotten commandment. And
society often replaces it with "me first."
Its time to re-learn what God means by "loving our
This Bible study attempts to teach that. Its interwoven with
stories of my familys and our friends experiences. All are true. But Ill
tell you now: some sound absolutely impossible.
If you can, think of those stories as affirmation that God is real.
That the miracles we read about in the Bible can, and sometimes do, happen today. That
when we quietly ask God to lead our lives, and mean it, he may do so in ways we could
never have imagined and for which we would never have dared to dream, let alone ask!
Aldous Huxley said, "Experience is not what happens to a man. It
is what a man does with what happens to him."hrough our experiences, we grew.
I hope those stories will be as fresh as (but more helpful than!) the
exhibit of one science fair student whose booth I saw in a tiny Western US desert town. He
reasoned that if talking lovingly to plants benefits them, "chewing them out"
should do the opposite. So he titled his project "The Effects of Cussing on
Plants." His plan was to grow two potted plants, with identical care except for
"cussing" one daily, and compare their growth. He held my fascinated attention
until his final panel, which read "The result of my experiment was that both plants
died because I forgot to water them."
How is this book organized?
Most of the 3,500+ verses fall naturally into topics, which form the
chapters. Questions and answers bring out specific Biblical teachings. First-hand stories
add interest and "fun." Quotes give flavor, provoke thought, and show how
Christians and nonChristians alike have spoken up for "loving our neighbors."
Where names are changed for privacys sake, theyre enclosed
in apostrophes the first time each is used (as in Don).
It was soon obvious that quoting all 3500+ verses in full was not
practical. So as a rule Ive quoted one or two verses on each question, then listed
others you can study.
Except where noted, all verses are from the Living Bible (1992 Rainbow
Study Bible edition), used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers. I like the way this
modern-language versions clear paraphrasing expresses each thought in language
wed use today. For those of you who want to study all the Scripture references, I
strongly recommend using one of the many good modern-language versions available. Ask your
favorite bookstore for suggestions.
Occasional quotes are from other versions. These include the American
Standard Version (ASV), King James Version (KJV), New International Version (NIV), New
Revised Standard Version (NSRV), and New Living Translation (NLT).
Are all of todays "love your neighbors" issues
discussed here? No. The Bible was written long ago. But its principles apply amazingly
well today. And this book tries to lay a Biblical foundation for intelligently, caringly
approaching all the issues that impact our "neighbors" now.
For example, race is actually a recent issue, which only came to the
fore a few hundred years ago. In the Bible skin color wasnt thought significant,
though ancestry sometimes was (as with the Samaritans). The few Bible verses that mention
race all focus on issues between Jews and non-Jews, not blacks vs whites. Even in
Colossians 3:11, "In this new life ones nationality or race or education
or social position is unimportant," most modern versions use other words than
"race" (the NIV says "Greek or Jew").
Today, we need to meet issues like race with love. How Christians treat
any person, regardless of color, sex, age, handicap, etc., is how we treat Jesus.
And some issues, like justice for the poor, keeping land affordable,
and protecting land ownership, were actually emphasized more strongly in the Bible than
they are today.
Ive tried to write this book for readers of many faiths. My own
background is Protestant, but I respect others, and have seen Gods Spirit working in
many kinds of churches. So there is only one teaching I want to argue for here: that we
all love and help our neighbors as God teaches us to do. That teaching is common to all
three major branches of Christianity, and to Judaism. I believe all churches can work
together to obey that command, even while keeping their own distinctive teachings.
While I dont expect many of this books readers to agree
with every one of my views, I do pray that youll check its teachings by
"searching the Scriptures" like the early Bereans (Acts 17:11, NLT). And
I pray that God will make his Word "accomplish all I want it to and prosper
everywhere I send it" (Isa. 55:11).
Most of all, I pray that as we live Gods love, our
"neighbors" will see how good, how real, and how fulfilling that love is, and
will want to experience it themselves.
"We turn to God for help when our foundations are shaking, only to
learn that it is God who is shaking them." Charles C. West