Exploring the Biblical meaning of 'Loving Our Neighbors’

Chapter 17

Loving our Neighbors Today

"If you can dream it, you can do it." – Walt Disney.

"Do whatever, whenever." – Dino Rizzo.


Two cans of corn grew into a beautiful example of churches working together to help their neighbors.

New Covenant Church was born in south Florida in 1977. Its founders included best-selling author Catherine Marshall and her husband, Guideposts editor Leonard LeSourd. Members believed strongly in loving God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength, and in loving their neighbors as themselves. Their joyful worship almost immediately filled the middle school auditorium where they first met.

From the beginning, New Covenant helped "neighbors" who were in need. Its outreach began with those two cans of corn, donated during a church drive. The seeds grew and flourished. By 1995 it was time to expand "loving and helping" beyond the walls of the parent church.

A core of dedicated individuals prayed about the next stage. And prayed. And prayed. They were patient. They took each step only after they believed they knew God’s leading. Slowly, surely, they laid the foundation.

Finally, Gateway Community Outreach came into being as a multi-denominational "love your neighbors" ministry.

Gateway grew to partner with several dozen churches, including Jewish synagogues. It serves more than 25,000 individuals yearly, and works with more than a hundred county agencies.

Those two cans of corn matured like an acorn growing into a majestic oak tree.


As we "love and help" our neighbors, what can we learn from the early church?

The fledgling church was wonderfully generous. But, though growing rapidly, it was too small to help everyone. The Bible records four ways it "stretched" its resources. We may not use identical methods today, but we should know about them as we conduct our own ministries.


Relatives helped when they could.

"The church should take loving care of women whose husbands have died if they don’t have anyone else to help them. But if they have children or grandchildren, these are the ones who should take the responsibility, for kindness should begin at home supporting needy parents.

"The church should care for widows who are poor and alone in the world ... But anyone who won't care for his own relatives when they need help, especially those living in his own family, has no right to say he is a Christian. Such a person is worse than the heathen" (1 Tim. 5:3-8; 3:16).


Those who could provided for themselves.

"Stay away from any Christian who spends his days in laziness and does not follow the ideal of hard work we set up for you ... You never saw us loafing; we never accepted food from anyone without buying it; we worked hard day and night for the money we needed to live on, in order that we would not be a burden to any of you ... we wanted to show you firsthand how you should work for your living. Even while we were still there with you, we gave you this rule: ‘He who does not work shall not eat.’

"Yet we hear that some of you are living in laziness, refusing to work ... In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ we ... command them ... get to work, and earn their own living" (2 Thess. 3:6-12).

Proverbs repeats that principle often. "Lazy people want much but get little, while the diligent are prospering" (Prov. 13:4). And see Prov. 6:6-11; 10:4-5; 12:9; 12:11; 12:14; 12:24; 12:27; 14: 23;15:19; 16:26; 18:9; 19:15; 19:24; 20:4; 20:13; 21:17; 21:20; 22:13; 24:30-34; 26:13-16; 28:19.

Jewish teaching asserts that "the most meritorious level of charity is helping someone to become self-supporting."

(Lisa Katz, http://judaism.about.com/od/beliefs/a/tzedakah_what.htm.)

Even Pablo Picasso said "Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working."


The Church asked consistent behavior.

"The church should care for widows ... if they are looking to God for his help and spending much time in prayer, but not if they are ... running around gossiping, seeking only pleasure and thus ruining their souls" (1 Tim. 5:5-7).

Today, that right to say "no" can apply to cases like alcoholism or addiction. Compassion or circumstances, however, may lead a church to help children despite their parents’ problems, a wife whatever her husband’s behavior, or addicts who are honestly trying to overcome substance abuse.

A church can choose whether, or when, to follow that precedent. But it exists.


The early Church helped Christians first, then others.

"Let us not get tired of doing what is right, for after a while we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don't get discouraged and give up. That's why ... we should always be kind to everyone, and especially to our Christian brothers" (Gal. 6:9-10).

When my wife Yvonne wanted children, we bought health insurance with good maternity coverage. But then she was fired for being pregnant. And we could no longer pay the premiums.

New Covenant Church, which I attended but hadn’t joined, paid the premiums until we could find the income to keep the policy in force. They apologized for only paying our insurance. If I’d been a member, they’d have done even more. But they met our most urgent need, and we thought it was wonderful!

The infant Church, too, took care of its members first. That was differemt from the Old Testament. There, tithes were given to all the needy every third year. But those tithes came from all the people. In contrast, the early church’s money came from a small percentage of the population. It couldn’t help everyone.

God’s love compels us to reach out today, but we, too, have limits. Just as with ancient Israel, it will take all of us to do the job. That makes it important to support public "help" agencies. The result is that we reach more people at a lower cost to each of us.


How can a church know its members’ needs?

No church can. Not of all its members, all of the time. But church leaders can be familiar with the kinds of situations their people face.

When millionaire Bob Graham first ran for state office in Florida, his "campaign gimmick" was to spend 100 days working side by side with ordinary people all across the state. That "workday" program elected Graham. But it also taught him about the lives and needs of Florida’s real people.

Later, while Governor and then US Senator, Graham continued that program one day a month. (For one workday, he drove our Orlando church’s senior citizens’ bus.)

Programs like that are a tested technique. My first pastor reached new people by helping them on their farms. It doesn’t require a large time investment - but can pay rich dividends.


What if no one in our church needs help right now?

Needs vary greatly from area to area and year to year. We’ve lived where homelessness was a major, heart-wrenching problem, and in towns where it hardly existed. But if we think there are no needs in our church, it probably means we don’t know what’s happening to our "sheep."

In all of the more than 80 cities where we worked during our five-year homeless self-employment, we met working people who had trouble paying for food and rent, couldn’t go to the doctor, and "fell through the cracks" in existing "help" programs.

In even the smallest church, people get sick or hurt. They suffer layoffs. Companies go out of business. Crops fail. Husbands desert wives; wives leave husbands. Natural disasters occur. If "love our neighbors" money isn’t needed in one month, it will be in another.

We can also respond to needs elsewhere, just as the early Greek church helped Christians in Jerusalem. Many denominations have offices for disaster relief. And local churches can donate to agencies like Habitat for Humanity, Compassion, World Vision, Samaritan’s Purse, and many others.

"Do what you can, with what you have, where you are." – Theodore Roosevelt.


How did the early Church make sure its money was well spent?

Paul stressed accountability when he said "God knows we are honest, but I want everyone else to know it too."

When Greek churches raised an offering for famine-stricken Christians in Jerusalem, Paul sent the gift with several men to assure the donors their money would be safeguarded and used properly.

"I am sending another well-known brother ... elected by the churches to travel with me to take the gift to Jerusalem ... we are anxious that no one should find fault with the way we are handling this large gift. God knows we are honest, but I want everyone else to know it too" (2 Cor. 8:18-23).

Churches today achieve that purpose through methods ranging from having at least two people count each offering to auditing the church books every year. Those steps verify that church officials are honest and donations are being used properly. That’s as important now as in Paul’s day.

Accountability is also important for charitable non-profit corporations. Your public library can tell you what percentage of a nonprofit’s income goes toward its goals. Or check Internet sites like the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance, www.bbb.org/us/charity, or the American Institute of Philanthropy’s www.charityguide.org and www.charitywatch.org.

That information helps identify good charities, vs. bad. And the latter do exist. One Central California man told me he planned to start a mountain camp for city kids. That sounded wonderful. BUT he intended to hire a fund-raising organization, get donations, give the camp the legal minimum (25%), and keep the other 75% for himself. He said openly that the 75% was his whole motivation.


What practical guidelines should a "help" ministry follow?

No single set of procedures works best everywhere, in all circumstances. But two experienced "love your neighbors" leaders shared their advice for this book’s readers. Carol Ray is Gateway’s director/CEO. Rev. John Ratcliff, pastor of New Life Ministries in Rock Springs, Wyoming, has actively helped meet people’s food, clothing, financial, and household needs for over 20 years. Together they recommended these principles:

1. Workers must have the same vision.

2. There can be only one vision - one leader or general overseer.

3. Leadership must be united. Always show a united front even if there are disagreements or discussions behind the scenes.

4. Have a council for advice and as a sounding board (not for control).

5. If you do have to have a board, be careful who’s on it. Be sure to have people with the same vision.

6. View it as a ministry, not just a job.

7. Take time to rest and for family relations.

8. Not everyone in the Body will feel this calling, although they should see the Biblical mandate to help in some way.

9. Don’t bite off more than you can chew, especially in financial commitments.

10. Realize you can’t help everybody. That’s why we have a big body with lots of members.

11. Don’t hesitate to refer certain needs to other agencies.

12. Have guidelines to qualify for types of help (financial, food, clothing, furniture, etc.). Follow them. Otherwise, some people who are "black holes" will suck you dry if you let them.

13. Do not give cash to anyone. Pay utilities, rents, medical bills, etc., directly. Buy groceries.

14. Be very careful about receiving help from agencies with strings attached.

15. Establish and follow health and sanitary guidelines.

16. Have guidelines in place to handle dangerous situations. Don’t allow anyone, especially women, to work by themselves.

17. Provide on-going training and mentoring of volunteers.

18. Keep information about clients confidential as you provide service.


These, and other, principles are explored in depth in Beth Lindsday Templeton’s book "Loving our Neighbor; a thoughtful approach to helping people in poverty; seasoned guidance on how to practice wise compassion." (New York, iUniverse, Inc., c2008.)

Mark Labberton of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Ca, explores how we can see others through Jesus’ eyes in "The Dangerous Act of Loving your Neighbor." (Downers Grove, IL, IVP Books, c2010).

And "Compassion," by Maureen H. O’Connell (Maryknoll, NY, Orbis Press, c2010), explores how we can "love our neighbors in an age of globalizarion."

These books approach loving our neighbors in unique ways. But, in contributing their own viewpoints, each is worth reading.


What practical steps can individuals take to "love and help their neighbors?"

All right. We’ve learned how important "loving and helping our neighbors " is. We know that it’s as important as it would be to help Jesus himself if we were to meet him and he was in need. We’ve found that our neighbors include our families; the poor; immigrants; orphans; widows; government workers and officials; Christians from other churches; the sick; handicapped; elderly; prisoners; and even our enemies. We’ve seen the Bible teaches that our neighbors have needs such as justice, food, clothing, housing, jobs, and income. We’ve seen that all us – individuals, families, single churches, groups of churches, non-profit organzations, and various levels of government all need to play a part in "loving and helping our neighbors" if we’re to do it well enough to please God.

But how do we do it? What steps should we take?

Some answers are very simple.


Compliment people.

Encourage them.

Be alert for neighbors who are sick, out of work, or need food.

Help the homebound with shopping, meals, or laundry.

Volunteer time or money to a good local program.

Earmark a third of your own giving to "help" programs. But make sure how it’s used. (One church simply left all of our donations sitting untouched in the bank.)

If you know of unmet needs in your community, approach your church or a service club about adopting them. Or organize fundraisers for people with severe financial needs, as Anything for a Friend does for cancer patients.


Get ideas from the Internet. Visit sites like these:

American Red Cross: www.redcross.org

Anything for a Friend: www.anythingforafriend.com

Beautiful Feet Global Outreach: www.beautifulfeetgo.org

Bread for the World: www.bread.org

Catholic Charities: www.catholiccharitiesusa.org

Compassion: www.compassion.com

Feeding America: www.feedingamerica.org

Habitat for Humanity: www.habitat.org

Love Others: www.loveothers.com

Mazon: a Jewish Response to Hunger: www.mazon.org

Operation Blessing: www.operationblessing.org

Salvation Army: www.salvationarmy.org

Samaritan’s Purse: www.samaritanspurse.org

United Way: www.liveunited.org

World Vision: www.worldvision.org


What can individual churches do?

Talk with people.


Become aware of local needs.

Gear your efforts to real people, real problems, real solutions.

If necessary, begin small. Expand by realistic steps. But ask "what would we do if we were helping Jesus?"

If your church is new, include the Biblical third of the tithe in your budget from the start. It’ll be easier that way. And it’ll help "sell" your church to the community.

Watch for effective but economical ways to help. You’ll find good, practical examples in "Servolution" by Dino Rizzo (below).

Use a weekly or monthly "loose change" offering.

Consider "faith pledges" like those used for missions.

Learn what services are already available in your area. Use them. Meet the people who run them.

Help single mothers, the sick, elderly, and unemployed.

Don’t assume that a community "safety net" covers everyone. It’s usually a group of small "nets" with limited goals. Many families slip through the gaps between them.

And avoid stereotypes. One church we attended "helped" the needy by buying them cleaning supplies (but not food or clothes). That came straight from their stereotypes. In six years of homelessness, we never met a family for whom cleaning supplies were a more of a problem than food, work, rent, clothing, medical care, or car repairs.

The Healing Place Church, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, began by serving its neighbors. It continues to grow the same way. Its pastor, Dino Rizzo, says "Even if you don’t have enough money to accomplish all that needs to be done, you can still start with what God has given you." Every caring Christian should read his book "Servolution; starting a church revolution through serving" (Zondervan, 2009). Visit the church’s web site at www.healingplacechurch.org., write to 19202 Highland Road, Baton Rouge, LA 70809, or phone 225-753-2273 (fax 753-7175).

Christ’s Church in Federal Way, Washington, has a "sister" relationship with several small churches in western Montana. Each summer Christ’s Church sends work teams to help the disabled, elderly, single parents and others who can’t help themselves. They install new roofs, paint houses, and chop wood.


Should we work with other churches?

J. Michael Feazell says "A good way [to "love our neighbors"] is to commit to partnership with a Christian organization of a different tradition ... To work across denominational lines as Christian brothers and sisters does not mean we have to hold identical beliefs ... it does mean that we have taken seriously Jesus’ command ... that we love one another." (The Liberation of the worldwide church of God, Zondervan, c2001, p. 166).

Dino Rizzo at Baton Rouge’s Healing Place Church says "The more we partner, the more impact we can have." His book Servolution movingly describes how that church joined with many others to minister after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.

There is strength in numbers.

"Two can accomplish more than twice as much as one ... One standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer; three is even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken" (Eccl. 4:9; 4:12),


Two excellent examples of multi-church organizations exist on opposite sides of the US.

In Broward and Palm Beach counties, Florida, churches of many denominations support Gateway Community Outreach. Gateway operates an emergency homeless prevention, food and support program for homeless and disadvantaged individuals and families. It provides groceries, clothing, rent and mortgage assistance, education (literacy, GED, adult basic education), family mentoring, legal, medical/dental assistance, employment, personal encouragement, spiritual support, and counseling. It works with local agencies and both Christian and Jewish centers to match clients with needed services.

Contact Gateway at 291 SE 1st Terrace, Deerfield Beach, FL 33441, (954) 725-8434 or 8435 (fax, 8436), e-mail them at gatecomm291@aol.com, or see the Internet at www.gatecommoutreach.com.


In the Mojave Desert north of Los Angeles, the Grace Resource Center was begun by the Antelope Valley Ministerial Association and is a joint effort of about 40 churches.

Grace’s stated purpose is "to eliminate hunger in the Antelope Valley, and to share the love of Christ in a tangible way by the giving of services." It feeds 8,000 people monthly, works with other local agencies, operates a "Thrift Super Center," and offers computer classes and POWER courses (Personal growth, Order, Wisdom, Ethics and Relationships).

See Grace’s Internet site at www.graceresources.org, or contact them at 45134 N. Sierra Highway, Lancaster, CA 93534, (661) 940-5272 (fax, 940-5274).


If you plan to minister cooperatively with other churches, you may want to create a non-profit corporation. You’ll need to select a board; draft a constitution, by-laws, and statement of purpose; and choose an attorney.

Follow your state’s incorporation laws. Some nonprofits will generously share copies of their paperwork (Gateway did so with us). But don’t just copy that paperwork, because both your goals and your state laws may vary. Excellent state-by-state aids are available, such as the California Nonprofit Corporation Handbook by Anthony Mancuso (Berkeley, Nolo Press). Or check Joy Skjegstad ‘s Starting a Nonprofit at your Church, Alban Institute, 2002.

Learn what information you’ll need for reports, tax forms, and audits. Keep accurate, detailed records that will support them.

Consider your lawyer carefully. The expense of a hiring specialist in nonprofit corporations may be worth it. That helps assure that incorporation will go smoothly, without costly errors or omissions. And some specialists will "walk" your application for tax-exempt status through the IRS as part of their price. Gateway used the Bird Law Firm of Atlanta, Georgia, which does that. You can find many others on the Internet.

Gateway has helped churches in Maryland, Oklahoma, Virginia, and northern Florida set up similar organizations, and continues to pray about forming a nationwide association. That would let you simply become a chapter. It would save start-up time and money, and let you get advice from experienced people.

Whatever organization you create, be sure it fits your goals.


What if people don’t want to accept help?

When Paul collected funds for the Jerusalem church, he asked the church in Rome to "pray also that the Christians there will be willing to accept the money I am bringing them" (Rom. 15:31).

Pride makes many people refuse help. Sometimes we must just respect that. But there are ways to make help easier to accept. Early in my first marriage, while we struggled on a very limited budget, a neighbor offered us a washing machine. We needed one, but it seemed too much to take. So Don wisely told us, "pay me back by doing the same thing for someone else a few years from now."

Some pastors offer work at the church, like painting or cutting grass.

Homebound may "repay" the church’s help by joining its prayer team.

Try the "Christian handshake" containing folded $5, $10, or $20 bills.

When we were coping with one long sickness, an anonymous friend mailed us a $100 grocery gift card. We never learned who sent it, but surely appreciated it.

Remind people that we’re helping Jesus by helping them (Matthew 25: 40).


A friend who stopped to aid a stranded driver told me he gave the man his business card. He asked him to repay the favor by helping another motorist, adding his own name to the card, and passing it on.

Several months later Dave’s own car stalled, and a driver stopped to help. Afterwards, the man reached into his wallet, extracted a dog-eared card, wrote his name on the back, and gave it to Dave.

Dave looked at the card. It was his own! He turned it over. The back was covered with the names of motorists who’d been helped and had, in turn, helped another. The chain Dave had started had come back to him.


We know churches that have ministered in these ways:

Maintained food pantries, donation boxes, and "clothes closets."

Made every third men’s meeting a workday to repair, paint, and do odd jobs at homes of the elderly, widows, and sick.

Arranged for youth to work in homeless shelters and day care agencies; making lunches for the homeless, or cleaning yards for the elderly.

Posted job openings on a church bulletin board.

Contributed to interchurch "help" programs.

Operated a soup kitchen with other churches.

Took food to shut-ins. (First learn what meal-delivery services are available now, and who’s eligible.)

Built and operated low-cost senior citizens’ housing.

Got bicycles from the police department, renovated them, and gave them to needy kids. Or gave bicycles to the Fire Department to fix and give away.

Changed oil for low-income individuals.

Signed up church women, a month each, to prepare meals for the sick.

Offered a hot meal at the church at Thanksgiving.

Helped a family rebuild after a fire.

Renovated trailer homes for low-income people.

Gave coffee and drinks to crowds at sports events.

Participated in Travelers’ Assistance programs.

How can we learn what works? Talk with those who’ve tried. Every program, public or private, has successes and failures. Correct flaws. Improve service. Try new ideas.

But don’t quit! When one of my college roommates first made gravy, he followed the recipe carefully. But his first try was less than successful. He took the gravy outside, nailed it to a tree, and shot at it with his .22! But AJ didn’t quit. By the time we roomed together, he cooked well.


King Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes 3:1-3 and 3:7-8 sum up our study:

"There is a right time for everything:

"A time to plant;

"A time to harvest;

"A time to heal;

"A time to rebuild;

"A time to repair;

"A time for loving."

Today is "a time for loving." For loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. For loving our neighbors as much as we love ourselves, and as much as Jesus loves us. For showing our love by how we give and serve!

Today is a day for Christians to remember that how we treat all our "neighbors" is the way we treat Jesus. Then, as in Matt. 25:34, he will say "come, blessed of my Father, into the kingdom prepared for you."



"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead










































































































































































































































































































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