Kairos—καιρός There are two words for time in Greek; chronos and kairos. The first identifies chronological time while the latter emphasizes an opportune moment in which to seize. God provides the moment and we are charged with responding to the opportunity.
Bruce Zachary of Calvary Nexus, Camarillo, California
A case study of geographic saturation of a community with neighborhood groups [NG]:
How I rediscovered the Great Commandments:
I remember meeting with Lynn Cory of “The Neighborhood Initiative” to discuss a city-wide initiative to reach our community for Christ through “neighboring.” It’s always interesting and perplexing when a noun becomes a verb. And I really had no idea what the idea of “neighboring” really meant. I discovered that it was the simple idea of loving your actual neighbors. We talked at lunch about the likelihood of a city-wide multi-church effort in our community. I like Lynn (he’s essentially impossible not to like) and respect him as a pioneer leader and godly man, but I know that it is challenging to coordinate multiple churches to a single initiative. At the time, I was beginning a two-year term to lead the Camarillo Ministerial Association [CMA] a group of about twenty evangelical churches. Even in our community, where we enjoy a great unity among evangelical churches, it would take time and energy to communicate and implement a multi-church vision for neighboring. At that time, our local church was about to engage in a process to seek a long-range vision and I didn’t feel able to commit to a multi-church neighboring initiative.
As we enjoyed our barbeque lunch, Lynn invited me to attend a “Neighborhood Collective” gathering that was being hosted at Valley Vineyard Church, where Lynn served, in Reseda, Ca. a community of Los Angeles about thirty-five miles from my home. I agreed to attend, primarily to support Lynn, and not really feeling any call from God to neighboring. At the “Neighborhood Collective” conference there were speakers from various parts of the country and many attendees who were curious about neighboring. It was a nice event, and I discovered some of the history of the neighboring movement. Yet, I didn’t feel a call to neighboring as an individual nor as a church-wide initiative at our local church during the event. Nevertheless, within hours or days of the Neighborhood Collective I had the epiphany moment.
I came to discover, that I was rebelling against God, and I had been completely ignorant of my condition. That realization of my rebellion cut right to my heart. I’d been a pastor for over twenty-five years and have been successful in that calling as the world measures success. The local church where I served had a reputation for solid Bible teaching, knowing good doctrine, and loving one another and serving others. As I considered my ministry, and some of the characteristics that I associated with being Jesus’ disciples I generally referred to: Bible learning, prayer, serving, sharing your faith, reflection, giving, and loving others. The list isn’t heretical, but here’s the problem – it neglects the Great Commandments.
The Great Commandments (Matt. 22:37-39) require us to love God supremely and to love our neighbor as we love self. Jesus declared that these commandments are the essence of all that God has declared to man. Any reasonable interpretation of the commandment to love my neighbor should include those in geographic proximity (i.e. my actual neighbors). Yet, somehow despite extensive theological training and ministry experience I had missed it. Therefore, I was in unwitting rebellion against God. I realized that not only was I in rebellion against God, but essentially every pastor that I know was in the same condition.
Jesus came to bring forth a revolution to turn our world right-side up. The essence of the revolution is distilled to the revolutionary idea: love God supremely and love your neighbor as you love yourself. I presume therefore that if we were to actually do what He required us to do in the Great Commandments that we would advance the gospel, His kingdom, and the revolution. Unfortunately, in our effort to advance and support the revolution, we have created a plethora of ministry infrastructure at the local church. For example, the Tuesday night men’s group, Wednesday night mid-week study, Thursday ladies study, Saturday event (e.g. breakfast, service project, conference, youth fundraiser, etc.), and Sunday worship gatherings. This is a relatively typical model of local church life. Add to that schedule the activities the children are involved in such as music lessons, sports, or clubs and you can easily see why a Christian caught up in this dynamic has no margin to love their actual neighbors. The ministry at the local church that was intended to support Christ’s revolution actually obscured the simple essence of the revolution.
Somehow, I was unaware of my rebellion. Our local church was impacting so many lives for Christ and influencing our community for the gospel so I presumed we were doing good. We loved one another and loved others too. But, I was so busy doing ministry and supporting ministries at our local church that I didn’t even know my neighbors let alone love them. I could rationalize, justify, and deny my rebellion against God’s commandments or admit my rebellion and repent. That’s how I rediscovered the Great Commandments, and how I began a journey to live them.
How we sought to approach living the Great Commandments: The vision to saturate our community with gospel-centered neighborhood groups [NG].
At that time, our local church had just celebrated our twentieth anniversary. We had a strong foundation of making disciples and developing leaders. I was the founding and lead pastor, there had been considerable success, and there was a high degree of trust between the church and leadership. Our core pastor team was collectively seeking to discern God’s direction for Calvary Nexus for the next ten years. We started to sense that we were called to saturate our community with gospel-centered small groups where people would become disciples and leaders would be developed. Since our church was approximately one and a half to two percent [1.5%-2%] of the entire City of Camarillo (a suburb in Southern California between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara) it appeared to be a God-sized vision and yet feasible as a ten-year vision.
I began to share with our core pastor team the idea of neighboring, and suggested the possibility of incorporating the neighboring concept into our vision. Our five core pastors each had ten to twenty or more years of pastoral ministry experience, but none of them was familiar with the concept of neighboring. Yet, all of us were interested in the idea. Our next step was to purchase every book that we could find on the subject (please see the Appendix: Recommended Readings for a list of suggested books). Each of us read multiple books and prepared summaries that we shared with one another. After a few months of prayer, research, and discussion we collectively felt called to neighboring.
We sensed Calvary Nexus’ ten-year vision is to saturate our community with gospel-centered Neighborhood Groups [NG]. A neighborhood group is a place where we learn to love God and neighbors better.
Our Neighborhood Groups are the primary place where we learn to be Christ’s disciples. The goal is to make Jesus king in every realm of our lives: personal, marriage, family, community, career, and calling. Bible learning will develop Christ-like character. People are encouraged to befriend and build relationships with their neighbors where they live, work, study, and play. We discover how to share Christ’s love in tangible ways.
Approximately four to five months prior to launching the vision, we began to prepare a vision brochure to help the church to begin to understand the Neighborhood Groups and neighboring concepts [http://calvarynexus.org/neighborhood-groups-vision]. We began to develop a list of the frequently asked questions that we anticipated (and later received) [http://calvarynexus.org/neighborhood-groups-faq]. And we began to prepare training resources for NG leaders and participants [http://calvarynexus.org/neighborhood-group-resources].
We created a Neighborhood Group Study Guide template based on the Sunday Bible study (sermon) as a tool for groups. The study guide is distributed each Friday via email to a distribution list of about 2,000 people and is also available to download on the NG Resources tab. We want all our groups to adopt the Scripture (Sermon) based study guide especially the sections regarding loving neighbors outside and inside their group.
Love your neighbor outside the group better:
1. Who would like to share how they sought to befriend or build relationship with their neighbors where they live, work, study, or play this past week?
2. Are there some needs that can provide us an opportunity to love our neighbor outside the group?
3. Here is a neighboring idea(s) for us to consider for the week(s) ahead:
As the weather is getting warmer your neighbors are likely to spend more time outdoors. Plan to spend more time outdoors in your neighborhood too. Consider walks in the neighborhood, playing at a local park, or simply spending time in front of your residence.
Love your neighbor inside the group better:
1. Are there some needs in our group that can provide us an opportunity to love our neighbor within the group?
2. What might we do about that need to help?
By including the questions related to loving neighbors during each group gathering it reinforces, encourages and creates accountability to develop the core value of loving neighbors.
At that time, we also began to explore how we could begin to simplify church life (ministry, programs, etc.), and life generally, to create margin to invest in relationships with neighbors where we live, work, study and play. We understood that we had to make the transition slowly in our context because we were a twenty-plus year old church with many established ministries. The transitions would likely take a couple of years. Nevertheless, we began to minimize the number of events on the church calendar starting in the second year of the vision. And approximately three months prior to launch, we discontinued our mid-week study and encouraged all of the attendees to participate in beta groups to test the NG study guides.
In starting test groups, we considered the concepts of geographic proximity and affinity. Traditionally, most small group ministry is based on affinity (common life interests or development). These might include: singles, young married with no children, young married with toddlers, married empty nesters, senior adults, cycling, musicians, etc. An advantage of this approach is that the commonality of interests or life-stage often make it easier for people to connect with one another. On the other hand, neighboring flourishes in a context of geographic proximity. If people from a local church who live within a few blocks of one another gather together they have a common connection to the neighbors they are building relationships with. For example, my neighbor Phyllis shared with me that she wanted to visit the widow who lives a few blocks away, but wanted someone to go with her. It was only natural for me to offer to go, because Phyllis’ neighbor is my neighbor too.
We adopted a hybrid model of geographic proximity and affinity in an effort to leverage the best of both models. In this hybrid model, the foundation of the group is based on people living in geographic proximity with one another. And then participants are free to invite people to participate based on affinity regardless of geographic proximity. This model is intended to leverage the enhanced ease of connection created by affinity, and the synergy of people living in geographic proximity connecting with common neighbors.
Finally, we communicated the vision to staff and leaders (elders, deacons, ministry leaders, and existing small group leaders) approximately six-months pre-launch. We encouraged each to begin to prepare margin in their lives to allow them to not only participate in a NG, but margin to befriend and build relationships with neighbors where they live, work, study, and play. We believe that for any church-wide initiative to be effective that all key leaders need to be committed (especially lead/senior pastors).
Some of the blessings we experienced when we lived the Great Commandments:
Once I rediscovered the Great Commandments, I began to live the value of loving my neighbors. The first change that I noticed was I began to go out of my way to talk with neighbors in our condominium (condo) parking lot. In the past, if I had seen my neighbors talking in the parking lot I would wave and pull into my garage and close the door. Now I was parking my car and going out of the garage, and go over to my neighbors to talk.
As I became aware of different struggles that my neighbors were experiencing, I would offer to help, or listen, or pray with (or for) them. I soon discovered that I was much more comfortable offering to help than asking for help. One day, I offered to help my neighbor with a handyman project even though I may be the least handy guy around. I was sincere in the offer, but God impressed upon me that I had to humble myself and learn to ask for help. I discovered that Christians can be perceived as proud in generally offering to help, but rarely asking for help. My willingness to ask for help was actually making me a better neighbor. And there was a wonderful sense that I was pleasing Jesus.
On another occasion, I had been on an epic bicycle ride. After the ride, I went to a local noodle house for a bowl of Ramen. The guy sitting next to me was a ramen guru. He knew enough about ramen to write a blog. As we started talking about ramen, I explained that for the last twenty miles of my bike ride I’d been thinking about ramen. I soon discovered that he also rode a bike. So, we started chatting about cycling. Then I asked him about his work, and he politely reciprocated and asked what I did for work. That’s when I got to tell him that I was a pastor, and I served at a church a few blocks from the noodle house.
I grabbed one of my business cards and handed it to him and invited him to be my guest at church. He looked at my card and said, “I’ll probably never go to church, but I’ll give you a call and we can go for a ride sometime.” For the first time, I actually had to wrestle with the idea: would I would be willing to invest hours of my time knowing that it was extremely unlikely that he would receive the gospel just to show the love of God? When I concluded that I would, there was an overwhelming feeling that I was actually being transformed.
There were also experiences that revealed how much I needed to grow. One morning, I was headed out to a meeting when I saw my neighbor in our condo parking lot. I asked, “How are you doing?” And my neighbor began to tell me. And tell me more, and continue to tell me all about it. I realized that I was going to be late and I was becoming impatient (although trying my best not to appear impatient). Then I sensed the Lord whisper, “Loving your neighbor is not going to always be convenient.” And I realized that I needed the Lord to change my heart to be more like His.
When one of our neighbors had become ill, my wife and I reached out to see if there were any needs that we could help with. Later, I sensed God urging me to invite my neighbor to lunch. I must confess that in my past I don’t ever recall inviting a neighbor who I had nothing in common with except geographic proximity to lunch. Yet, in a desire to please Jesus I found myself typing an email, “I’d love to take you to lunch and hear your story.” I paused before hitting send, and recall thinking that the invitation would likely be declined or fall through the cracks, and in part that comforted me. Nevertheless, my invite was accepted and soon thereafter we were at lunch. And I’m able to report that it was a good experience, and I’m confident the Lord was pleased.
I was blessed to discover how rapid the transformation could be when we purpose to live the Great Commandments. Our condo-complex has an annual Christmas Party. For years I neglected to attend, because there was always something going on at church that was a bigger priority, or I simply felt too tired to deal with people at a party. About six months after seeking to love my neighbors, I purposed to attend our neighborhood Christmas party. During the course of the evening, one of our neighbors said, “Bruce you’re a really good neighbor.” Six months earlier, I don’t believe I was a good neighbor. I didn’t play loud music all night, have crazy parties, or leave trash in front of my condo, but I didn’t really care, let alone love my neighbors. By the grace of God, I had been transformed in six months. And I reflected that it had been one of the most satisfying times of my life and ministry. There weren’t any monumental huge projects or initiatives, but there was the uniquely satisfying glory of simply living the Great Commandments.
I was blessed to see the rapid transformation of others in our Neighborhood Group too. Here is one of countless stories. One night we closed our group gathering with a time of prayer for our neighbors. As we concluded, one of our friends had a tear rolling down her cheek, and I asked her what was wrong. She explained, “All of you are praying for neighbors by name and I’ve lived in the same place for years and don’t even know my neighbors.” Within a few weeks, she started to share with our group that she had noticed that her neighbors would retrieve their mail around the same time. So, she started to meet neighbors and build relationships by being purposeful to wait at mail time.
Some of the obstacles we encountered, and some lessons we learned as we sought to overcome those challenges:
The first challenge was, “What is neighboring?” The concept was unfamiliar, and unfortunately people were afraid. There was a perceived fear that people would be expected to “immediately” share the gospel with neighbors, or open their homes to them. We anticipated the fear and addressed it by encouraging people to begin by simply befriending and building relationships with neighbors where they live, work, study, and play. We sought to help people to understand that over a course of time, sharing the gospel or opening their home would be great, but not to worry about it and allow God to direct the process. We found it helpful to create a list of FAQs to help people discover neighboring.
A second obstacle is busyness. There was simply too much going on in people’s lives for them to build relationships with neighbors. Much of the busyness relates to church life, and people are used to and comfortable with that culture. People are resistant to change. We realized that changing culture or values generally takes at least two to three years. We committed to the process, and sought to adopt a BBQ approach – “low and slow.” The pressure to make changes would be low and the process slow (by the way, that approach is generally very uncharacteristic for me). We encouraged people to seek to create margin in their lives that would allow them time to love God and neighbors better. The pressure to join a NG was especially low during the first year of launching the vision. Nevertheless, we want people to consider their next step(s):
1. Belong: Participate in a Neighborhood Group,
2. Become: Grow as a disciple and/or leader prepared to lead a Neighborhood Group,
3. Befriend: Befriend and build relationships, and share Christ’s love where you live, work, study and play.
A third challenge is to keep loving God the priority when you are spending an increased amount of time talking about loving neighbors. We try to be very intentional to remember to communicate that love for neighbors is a natural (supernatural) byproduct of love for God; and that real love for neighbors cannot be produced independently.
A fourth hurdle is to distinguish loving God and neighbors as values rather than another program or project of the church. When we share God’s love with neighbors it is a demonstration of our love for God, and not a program to then share the gospel and make our unsaved neighbor a project. Nevertheless, the gospel is the greatest demonstration of love. So ultimately, we want to share the gospel, as the Sprit leads, and not reduce love to random acts of kindness.
The fifth challenge related to our existing small groups. These were groups that had formed under a different paradigm, and may have been resistant to adopting the Neighborhood Group model and the values of loving God and neighbors better. We approached the issue by sharing the vision with existing group leaders about four months pre-launch. We wanted the existing leaders to have time to process and ask questions. We chose not to mandate adoption. Instead, we looked to develop a coalition of the willing to that would influence the hesitant, and ultimately the resistant. Within six months of launch over eighty percent (80%) of the groups were aligned.
The sixth challenge was to keep neighboring in focus. Along with reducing competing ministry at the church, we use stories to keep us focused. Starting approximately five to six months post-launch, we created space in our weekend gatherings for people to share their stories of neighboring. This includes live and simple videos from leaders and people in the congregation that are shared prior to the Bible teaching (message) most weekends. The stories from people in the congregation can be messy, but are perceived as having greater weight than church leaders’ stories, because they tend to empower the typical congregant.
Conclusion: We are new to neighboring, and our approach is certainly not the only way to engage in a church-wide initiative to live the Great Commandments. We hope that by sharing our experience it will encourage you and those that you influence to discover the satisfaction of advancing God’s kingdom in your community, and the personal fulfillment that uniquely flows from living the Great Commandments.
A GOOD SAMARITAN
“Please help me, somebody! Please!”
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” Luke 10:30-36
Often I have read the story of the Good Samaritan and thought of it as just that…a story. But after looking closer at this parable Jesus gave to an expert in the law, I have found that Jesus intended to convey something deeper about Himself for us. If you look closely you will see that Jesus used the Samaritan, the most despised in society at that time, to portray His ministry in comparison to that of the religious leaders of His day. Jesus was not one to toot His own horn, so He wrapped something about Himself in the story of the Good Samaritan. Jesus was moved with compassion and entered our world and bandaged our wounds and so on. Jesus concludes His story with these words to the expert in the law. “Go and do likewise.” And that is what Nadine did with someone at her own front door who was in a similar condition as the man on the side of the road.
Nadine Eareckson’s Neighborhood
One late night at about 2 am I awoke to the doorbell ringing. I got up thinking my mother had forgotten her key. My four children and I live with her. What followed was a pounding at my front door and a woman’s screams. I ran to the front door and peered out the shutters and saw a young woman in distress looking the other way yelling “Please help me, somebody! Please!” The teenager who lives next door is troubled and it wasn’t uncommon to see the police at her place. My immediate thought was that she was in trouble again. There was no question about opening the door to her. But then she turned towards me and I didn’t recognize the bloody face looking my way. You’d think I had seen enough violent movies to be unphased by this scene, but this was the real thing and it sent a chill up my spine.
In the span of a few seconds I realized that this was a stranger and if I chose to open the door, who knows what I would be letting inside. My impulse to help had already taken over and I quickly brought her in, looked around outside to see if other people were there and then locked her inside with me and my family. My unholy thoughts turned to where to let her sit down. I determined she would ruin the sofa with all the blood, so I had her sit on an upholstered chair next to the front door.
She had dark blood coming from a couple of stab wounds on her neck. She wore a short plaid skirt and she had a lot of tattoos for a young girl. I thought of my own daughters and judgment arose. She had obviously been no stranger to late nights without supervision. She cried “I’m bleeding. I don’t want to die!” and I tried to calm her saying “You are safe. I am going to call for help.” The 911 operator had me questioning the girl for details.” Even as frightened as she was, her answers were vague and she avoided saying who was responsible. My mom had awoken and helped me put pressure on the more serious wounds. About six police officers arrived and set to questioning her again, but weren’t getting much more out of her. They removed her shirt to assess the damage and I was surprised at how many more stab wounds she had on her back, wrist, stomach and sides. I really wasn’t needed beyond providing extra towels, but I stayed close and told her I was proud of her and what a brave girl she was. All the while I was asking God if I shouldn’t be doing something more, as if this was the perfect opportunity to use me in some grand act of healing, but I didn’t hear any prompting.
There were so many miracles that evening. First, her life was spared and there were no repercussions to inviting her inside. Secondly, my six and seven year old boys sleep in that same front room with only a room divider separating their space and yet they stayed asleep through the bulk of it, despite the girl’s screaming and the officer’s loudly questioning her. None of us were being particularly quiet. My daughters sleep in the bedroom right next to the front room with a window facing the front of the house. They slept through most of it as well and by the time my oldest had determined she shouldn’t miss this once in a lifetime chance to see what was going on, the paramedics had covered the girl with a sheet so there would be no violent image to haunt her thoughts.
The officers and detectives and forensic people filtered through over the next several hours. One flat out told me I did the wrong thing by letting her in, several others said I was a Good Samaritan and that I saved her life. I learned the girl was 20 years old and in a gang. My mother was a little traumatized by the incident and didn’t like my decision. I took it all in. There was blood splattered all over the front of the door and porch, the floor, walls and yes the upholstery on that chair was ruined. After my mom and I finished off the bottle of hydrogen peroxide cleaning up, I sat in a bath soaking in the fears I had repressed and cried out to God, “What was I thinking? It could have gone so differently. I put my family in danger. Did I do the wrong thing?” I heard God break through my heavy thoughts with, “Remember when you thought it was the neighbor girl? That was me. There wasn’t time for more. I needed you to know it was ok.”
Sometime later an officer told me that the girl finally agreed to testify against the gang members that attacked her and dumped her across the street from my house. Apparently, she had witnessed a murder and they were trying to keep her quiet. A year later I was coming back from a run and there were three young people parked across the street from my house looking at me. It was obvious they were staring so I asked if I could help them and the girl approached. It was her. She wanted to thank me. She said she knew she was given another chance and she was trying to live a better life, but I smelled the alcohol on her and knew she was still finding her way. She showed me her wrist where there was nerve damage from one of the stab wounds, but she was grateful to be alive. I told her again that I was proud of her. She swore that the porch light was on that night and that’s why she chose to head my way even though she was dumped a house or two away from mine. We never leave the light on, but I have no doubt that she saw a light. To be honest, I don’t always want to have my proverbial light on. It’s almost always inconvenient to be available to those that need help, but the reward of knowing I partnered with God for a moment feels pretty amazing.
A time for reflection:
- The first responders in Nadine’s story had two different responses to her opening the door to this young woman, one was negative and the others’ response was that she was a Good Samaritan. What would you have said to Nadine if you were involved in the situation?
- If you were put in Nadine’s situation, what would you have done and why?
- Considering the story of the Good Samaritan, what do you think Jesus was telling the expert in the law to do and how should it impact the way you live with your neighbors?
NEIGHBORING CAN GET MESSY
“In an instant I was praying with him…”
“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Luke 6:27, 28
These words from Jesus certainly apply to difficult neighbors. We all have one or two in our neighborhood that challenge us like Brian was challenged in his neighborhood. You will laugh at his experience, but when you are in the midst of an ordeal like he was, it is not that laughable. Let’s learn from his life lesson.
Brian Bevis’s Neighborhood
Our neighbor, I’ll call him Joe, easily had the best yard on the block. Joe was in his yard all the time, tending to his super-green grass with nothing out of place. He gave me advice like, “This is what you ought to do.” “Use this weed killer.” “Water this way.” “Use this turf builder.” I appreciated his advice, and it seemed like we were getting along. But then I noticed how obsessed he was with his yard. He had cut down every tree on his property so he wouldn’t have leaves. He mowed almost every day. When he got done mowing, he would use scissors to trim the whole yard. (I am not exaggerating.) That’s when I thought we might have a problem.
Joe’s advice and encouragement turned into criticism, and he started getting frustrated with my gardening skills. It turned insulting, actually, and finally got to the point where we couldn’t even talk to or look at each other. It progressed to the point that I wouldn’t go outside if he was outside. I would check to make sure Joe wasn’t there. It was bad. For about a year I tried to avoid Joe, my neighbor, at all cost.
Fast forward a couple of years, and Julie and I have two daughters, ages three and one. Joe, among other criticisms, warned me about letting my girls walk around barefoot. He was angry that we had a tree, and leaves from it would occasionally fall or blow into his yard. He would collect the leaves that got into his yard, bag them up, and dump them back into our yard.
One evening we were all outside cleaning up the leaves in the yard. We didn’t have a sprinkler system, so my wife started watering the yard with a hose. My oldest daughter was next to Julie as she accidentally splashed some water onto Joe’s driveway.
Joe blew a gasket. He ran up to Julie and started shouting at her for splashing water onto his driveway. On the other side of the yard, I wondered what I should do. I’m a pastor, a man of God. So I did what you’d expect: I ran over and shoved him away from Julie. I pinned him against his truck, and we yelled at each other like an umpire and a manager at home plate.
During our argument, I learned just how fixated he was about our little girls walking around barefoot. He had placed broken glass in our yard just to teach us a lesson.
Joe was nuts, and I was ready to crack his shell.
I didn’t punch him or throw him to the ground, but I did about everything else. After we had been screaming at each other for about twenty minutes, I realized I was out of control. I stormed into the house, exasperated, and asked Julie, “What are we going to do with this guy?”
She got all spiritual on me. “Maybe we ought to pray for him,” she said.
All right! Let’s pray for Seal Team Six to take him out! I thought.
For about a week we prayed for him and we prayed for us. In my prayers I heard God say, You need to apologize.
I fought it, telling God, “No way! This guy is wrong, not me.”
God kept pressing in. You need to make things right.
My response was always no.
About a week later I peeked out to see if I could leave my house without bumping into Joe. With the coast, clear, I grabbed my stuff and opened the door. At the same time, Joe stepped out of his house.
That’s the problem with prayer. It makes things happen, sometimes whether we like it or not. I felt like I was seeing a girl for the first time after a bad breakup.
We stared at each other and then approached each other. Simultaneously we said to each other, “I am so sorry.”
We both apologized, knowing we shouldn’t have argued in the way that we did. We apologized not just for that incident but for the year prior and the tension of not talking to each other.
Joe said, “Let’s make things right.” We had never had a spiritual conversation up to that point, but he said, “I know you’re a pastor, and I’d like to talk to you about God.”
I was in shock. What the heck was happening? After a year of trying to stay out of this guy’s way, in an instant I was praying with him.
A time for reflection:
- What lesson(s) do you think Brian learned from his experience with Joe?
- Have you ever had a difficult neighbor? How did you handle your relationship with this neighbor? If you didn’t handle it well and if you had a do over with this neighbor, how would you have done things differently?
- How would you counsel others with a difficult neighbor?
(Brian’s story is from The Neighboring Church: Getting Better at What Jesus Says Matters Most by Rick Rusaw and Brian Mavis, Thomas Nelson, pages 80-82.)
Too Busy Doing Good Things
“I Was Radically Changed.”
The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:40
Sometimes we can get so busy in life that we overlook “the least of these,” as Jesus called them. Certainly, we have lots to do in a day, but there are those days we miss the opportunity (Kairos) that God has set before us. Let’s learn from Robin’s story.
Robin Jones Gunn’s Neighborhood
I had a moment in my life, as we all do, when a bit of eternal truth broke through my “convenient Christianity,” and I was radically changed.
We lived in a small university town where God opened up many opportunities for ministry. My husband was working as a youth pastor. We had teenagers over to our house all the time and even had a college student living with us. I accepted a part-time position as what they called a “radio personality” at a Christian station in town. I was busy writing a series of teen novels for a Christian publisher, and women’s groups were calling asking me to speak at various events. In every way, I was Ministry Woman!
One night I was on the phone with my best friend, Donna. In three weeks she and I were flying to Europe where I’d been invited to speak. There was so much to do, and I told Donna, “If one more person asks for one more little piece of me, I’m going to fall apart! I have no more pieces left to give.”
As I was speaking to her, the call waiting signal on my phone started beeping. I ignored it but the caller continued to dial in. “Just a minute, Donna.”
It was almost ten o’clock, and the caller turned out to be my neighbor, Jana. She said, “Robin, I didn’t know who else to call…could you come up? Just for a minute?”
I thought, okay. This is it. The last piece of my sanity and now my neighbor wants to take it from me. Doesn’t it ever let up?”
I considered saying no. I thought she would certainly understand if I said it was too late. I would come see her in the morning. Whatever it was could wait until then, couldn’t it?
“Oh, all right,” I heard myself tell Jana. “I’ll be there in a minute.”
I told Donna I’d have to call her back, and I jerked the front door open ready to march up the street to Jana’s house.
It was a crisp cold night. It had been snowing. That, and the fact that I walked out without a jacket made me feel even more inconvenienced. I couldn’t imagine what Jana wanted. I’d given her all my books, but she hadn’t read them. I told her when my radio program aired, but she never listened. I’d given her two books by important Christian psychologists when her husband left her, but she hadn’t gotten around to reading them. The way I saw it, I’d done my part. Jana simply wasn’t interested in coming to the Lord.
When I arrived at her front door, Jana stood there on crutches. I’d forgotten that she told me a week ago that she was having her right hip replaced. She had now had both hips replaced before she was forty-five due to arthritis. I knew her mom had come from the East Coast the first few days to help out. Her ex-husband had their two daughters every Thursday, and this was Thursday. Her mom had gone home, and Jana stood before me, all alone.
“Thanks so much for coming,” Jana said showing me in and hobbling to the hospital bed set up in the family room. “I didn’t know who else to call. You see, I wanted to go to bed, but…” she looked down at her feet. I couldn’t take off my shoes.”
In that moment, I realized that I thought I was “ministry woman,” and yet I was not worthy to untie the laces on my neighbor’s tennis shoes.
I knelt down, and let me tell you, it was all I could do to not wash her feet with my tears. I saw what God desired of my life. I suddenly understood His concept of ministry. All God has asked me to do is love Him and love my neighbor.
That’s what a real ministry woman does.
I untied Jana’s shoes and slipped them off her feet. Then I helped her take off her sweat pants. I saw the scar. It was vile. So much pain, I thought. And no one here to comfort you.
Jana slid into bed but I didn’t want to leave just because my task was done. I pulled the comforter up to her chin and asked if she’d like a cup of cold water.
I brought one for her. In Jesus’ name, I thought, as she sipped from the glass tumbler.
Then before I could be self-conscious about what she might think of me, I kissed her on the cheek and said, “Good night, Jana. I love you.”
“I know,” she said. “That’s why I called you. I knew you would come.”
A year and a half later, Jana gave her life to the Lord. We had moved to another state when she told me her good news on the phone. She was excited about plans to go on the women’s retreat and the weekly Bible study group at the church she was attending.
More than once I have wondered what would have happened if I had said no on that snowy night. After all, I had books to write, planes to catch, and a radio show to record in the morning. What if I had missed the opportunity for the pure and undefiled ministry of loving my neighbor simply because I was too caught up in my own version of being Ministry Woman?
A time for reflection:
- What do you think Robin learned from her experience with Jana and how do you think it changed her life with her neighbors?
- What have you learned from Robin’s encounter with Jana and what would you do differently now with a neighbor in need?
- How would you respond if a neighbor called you for help when you didn’t have time to help them, because of a busy schedule?
(Robin Jones Gunn is the much loved author of the popular Christy Miller series for teens and Sisterchicks® novels as well as non-fiction favorites such as Victim of Grace and Spoken For. Her 90 books have sold nearly 5 million copies worldwide. Robin is a frequent speaker at local and international events. She and her husband live in Hawaii where she continues to write her little heart out. For more information go to www.robingunn.com.)
Having Eyes for the Kairos Adventure
“A Must Read!”
“Jesus said…My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working…I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does…For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these.” John 5:17, 19, 20
The most exciting life you can experience is the Kairos life, filled with adventure and surprises. Once you enter this kind of life you will never wish to go back to the old way of living. It is how Jesus lived His life.
Most of us are driven by the clock and busy lives and deadlines; but Jesus lived His life free from such constraints. His relationship with His Father and loving and serving people were at the heart of what allowed Him to live a kairos life.
Kairos vs. Chronos Living
You are probably asking, “What is kairos?” I am glad you asked! The Greek has two words for time: chronos and kairos. Chronos concerns time as in the 24-hour day. We define our workweeks by the number of hours that we work. We have a list of things to do and only so much time to get everything done. Having a chronos mind-set can often make us miss out on seeing what God is doing all around us. Instead, our eyes are fixed on the clock, where we need to go next, and checking off another item on our “to do list.”
Kairos is quite different than chronos. It is not linear or bound by time constraints limitations; in that it doesn’t include a clock or a schedule. It is life lived in the moment and being fully present when you are with others in that moment. Kairos is best referred to as an “opportunity.” For example, parents have only a certain season of time to raise their children and then the opportunity is over. Opportunity may refer to a lengthy period of chronos or the short kairos moments that we are to redeem. The Apostle Paul says, “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity (kairos)…” (Ephesians 5:16, 17 NIV). And again, he says in Colossians 4:5, “Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders; make the most of every opportunity (kairos).”
A perfect example of a kairos moment is when my wife Jo and I were hosting a Christmas dinner in our home for some people from our church. As people were arriving, I noticed that Jo was at the front door talking with our neighbor Marcy.
Marcy’s car had been broken into near her kids’ school and her purse and a great deal of cash had been taken. She had to freeze her accounts at the bank, leaving her without easy access to emergency funds. Her husband was out of town on business and wouldn’t be back until the following day. Here she was, just before Christmas, thirty-eight weeks pregnant and home alone with two young children. She was deeply concerned that whoever broke into her car, knowing that she had this amount of cash, would now be coming into our neighborhood, and she came to warn us. She was visibly shaken from the break-in and Jo asked if it would be okay if she prayed for her. Marcy agreed, and Jo put her hands on Marcy’s shoulders and prayed. As Jo was praying, the Lord told me, in a way that only He can communicate, “Give her two hundred dollars.”
After everyone had left our dinner party, Jo came up to me and said. “How much are we going to give Marcy?” I immediately responded, “The Lord told me two hundred dollars.”
I had been to the ATM the day before and there was two hundred dollars in my wallet. I asked Jo to get a Christmas card ready and said I would go and see if Marcy was still awake. I gave her the card with the gift inside.
The next day, I got a call from Marcy. She thought I had given her just a Christmas card and she put it on her nightstand with all the others. She woke that morning and decided to read all of her Christmas cards, hoping to cheer herself up. After opening our card, she called me in great surprise and said, “I will pay you back!” I said, “No, Marcy, that’s a gift from God for you.” Her response was priceless: “That’s not normal!”
I love not being normal.
When I talked to Marcy’s husband the following week, he told me that when Marcy told him about the gift he almost cried.
Kairos Moments Require a Choice
Like our story with Marcy, kairos moments frequently occur when we least expect them and they seldom fit into our self-determined plan for the day. They are often viewed as intrusions in our lives. Each time one occurs, we are forced to make a choice. Do I disrupt my plans and choose to lay them aside for the sake of what God is doing in the moment?
I have often thought that when Jesus gave the parable of the Good Samaritan, He was making a comparison between the way He lived His life and the way the religious leaders of His day lived theirs. The priest and the Levite were too busy after their temple service activities to stop and care for their desperate “neighbor” who was beaten and robbed and left to die by the side of the road. Oddly enough, Jesus uses the most despised in society in that day, the Samaritan, to demonstrate extraordinary “neighbor-love.” The religious leaders missed out on the kairos moment. Helping may have been an inconvenience. They may have been late in getting home, or perhaps there was too much risk involved. They could not be bothered.
“Doing what the Father is Doing”
You may be asking now, “How do I move from seeing these moments as more than impositions and enter into the kairos life?” During the early development of Neighborhood Initiative, the Lord helped me understand that there were two ways I could choose to move forward with this good work that He initiated. I could choose to try and make things happen on my own or I could join Him in what He was doing. This is at the heart of the kairos lifestyle. I discovered the first approach was difficult and frustrating, because I was trying to make things happen. The second approach was easy and full of wonderful surprises, because God was inviting me in to what He was already doing. I found the same to be true in my own neighborhood. If I wanted see God’s kingdom move in it, then I needed to relinquish my good intentions and plans and surrender my will to the work that He was already doing with those in my neighborhood. It was a new revelation for one who had, for years in ministry, relied on coming up with a strategy to reach people with the gospel. It was so freeing to rely on God to lead me in to relationship with those in my neighborhood. I was experiencing what Jesus spoke of, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” I was experiencing the easy yoke with Jesus. Some of you may be asking, “What is a yoke?” A yoke is a wooden crosspiece that is fastened over the necks of two animals and attached to the plow or cart that they are to pull to make sure they are moving in the same direction. I learned that it was Jesus carrying the heavy weight and I was joining him in the easy yoke with Him…He took away the burden and any sense of guilt in serving God in my neighborhood.
In the early days of Neighborhood Initiative, Dallas Willard, a dear friend and well known philosophy professor at USC, one who walked closely with Jesus and deeply respected by many Christian leaders, told me, “Don’t stop doing what you are doing. If you keep moving forward with what you are doing, we will see revival and awakening.” These were significant words coming from Dallas, one who chose his words carefully. I took what he said to heart.
If you have listened to or read much of Dallas, one of his noteworthy quotes among so many was, “Don’t ever try to make anything happen.” I watched this up close and personal in his life. He didn’t need to promote himself or try to make things happen, yet God used him greatly to influence so many lives in and outside the church. He understood and lived in the “easy yoke” with Jesus and did what the Father was doing; by this yoking with the Lord, he was in one accord with Him.
“Joining What the Father is Doing”
Not trying to make something happen is such a freeing way to live life. I have found there are three things that I can do that have enabled me to live a life free of performance and “trying to make something happen.” These three simple activities have allowed me to see what the Father is doing and then, after His invitation, I join Him. They have shown me His activity in my own neighborhood, enabled me to live the kairos life and seize divine opportunities: “I pray,” and “I wait,” and “I watch.”
You probably have a set way that you pray…I would encourage to stay with the way the Lord has directed you. I believe prayer, conversing with God and Him with you is a personal matter…there is no one way to do it. I am sure we can all learn from others, but I have found in this season of my life that prayer walking has become most refreshing for me. It allows me to be focused as I listen and talk with my Father. Each day of the week, I walk and pray with a different focus in mind. On Tuesday mornings, I walk through my neighborhood and I pray for each of my neighbors by name and I ask the Lord to show me what He is doing in their lives. Sometimes He will speak to me about my neighbors or give me ideas of what He would like me to do. Sometimes I hear nothing or see nothing happening and I have boldly asked Him, “Is this a fruitless activity?” He has faithfully and dramatically, like the story of Marcy, shown me that He is in favor of my weekly prayer walks in my neighborhood. So I have continued to make this my regular practice.
Rather than try to make something happen in my neighborhood after I pray, I wait for Him. This kind of waiting is not a passive waiting, but a waiting with a sense of expectation. When Isaiah speaks of “those who wait on the Lord” in Isaiah 40:31, he is referring to a waiting with expectation and that’s the kind of waiting I do. I pray and then I wait for the next thing the Father invites me to do with Him in my neighborhood. I have been prayer walking through our present neighborhood for years. I must confess, in the early days, I would question if anything would ever happen in our neighborhood. But in time relationships have begun to open like flowers. There is a tendency to want to make something happen like a child wants to force open a budding flower before its time. But if you pray and wait, God is faithful and begins to open the hearts of people in your neighborhood like He opens a flower to display its beauty.
Then I watch and out of nowhere something will happen that I least expect. A neighbor will call me and ask me to perform a wedding at his home or another will ask me to officiate at a funeral for someone in the neighborhood. Or, a fifty-foot tree is blown down in front of our home, a car is crushed, the tree lands on our neighbor’s house across the street, and an opportunity opens up with a neighbor. Or, I follow an ambulance up the street and that experience opens a new relationship with one of my neighbors. You can’t control, anticipate or predict; however, because of His sovereign working and prayer, God has invited me in to participate in His ongoing work.
Patiently waiting and watching for God to do His work in your neighbors’ lives can, at times, become discouraging and may cause one to lose heart, because we don’t see results immediately. We want the work to take place in our time. We might even find ourselves trying to make something happen in the lives of our neighbors to hurry the process along. The story of Frog and Toad: The Garden, a children’s book, gives a helpful parable for us who are impatient with this process. Here’s a summary of the story.
When Toad sees Frog’s beautiful garden, Toad decides that he too would like to have a garden. Frog tells Toad that a garden is hard work, and gives Toad some flower seeds to plant. After Toad plants the seeds, he tells them to start growing, and when they do not do so immediately, he shouts to the ground that the seeds should start growing—but this still doesn’t work. Frog suggests that Toad is frightening the seeds with all the shouting, and tells Frog to leave the seeds alone for a few days. That night Toad observes that the seeds have still not begun to grow, and he worries that they are afraid of the dark. Toad begins experimenting with reading stories and poems to the seeds and playing music for them. Still, the seeds do not grow. Eventually, Toad falls asleep, and when he wakes up he sees that the seeds have started to grow. He is very happy that his “seeds have stopped being afraid to grow.” Toad then reports to Frog that Frog was right, growing a garden is “very hard work.” Frog and Toad Together Arnold Lobel; HarperCollins; First Edition edition (October 3, 1979)
The Frog and Toad story helps us better understand what Jesus conveys in the Parable of the Growing Seed, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” (Mark 4:26-29) Often, the process with neighbors is slow. But one day, when you least expect it, God surprises you with an invitation to join Him in His work with one of your neighors, like He has with me on so many occasions.
Living the kairos life with the Father is like a little kid who is waiting for his dad to invite him on a new excursion with him. He knows that only dad can drive the car and he waits for his dad to say, “Come on, kid! I have a wonderful surprise for you. Let’s go!” And off they go together with dad in the driver’s seat. This is the adventure I spoke of earlier. This is the kairos adventure: becoming like a child and enjoying the ride with Dad on an amazing journey through life with those in your own neighborhood.