Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Sully Notes 6 | The Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Front Door Part 2 of 3

Sully Notes 6: Books in 25 minutes or less

Sully Notes are more than a book review. They are meant to provide you with direct quotes from some books I've read in the last year, so you can get a taste of the overall theme of the book and then begin to chew on what your life might look like if you applied what you read. 

Here are links to the previous Sully Notes books:

And here is the links to the previous posts in the Sully Notes 5 | The Art of Neighboring series:

The Art of Neighboring | Sully Notes 6: Part 2 of 3

Chapter 4 | The Fear Factor

... the main thing it (a neighborhood party that went overboard with kids present) forced us to do was to ask God to lead us as we engaged our neighborhood. We believe this is what God wants of each of us. After praying about it, we decided to continue attending the parties while keeping a very close eye on our kids. To be sure, throughout this journey we have often thought, This neighboring stuff is just too messy. I'm just not sure it's worth it. And being honest here you may get to a point where you too just want to throw in the towel. But fortunately we are learning the value of learning in and embracing the tension. All you can do is remember the words of Jesus. Remember that neighboring really matters. And remember that being a good neighbor is something that both changes the people who live around us and changes us as well. As (my wife) and I wrestled through the situation with the party, we found ourselves asking God for guidance. And as a result, we grew closer to him.” – pgs. 63-64

" ... Unfortunately the nation of Israel (in Numbers 13) believed the ten fearful spies. So God became angry at their cowardice and lack of faith, and as a result, they spent forty years wandering in the wilderness. They were on the doorstep of something that God wanted to do through them, but their perceived fears kept them from what God had laid out for them. Forty years later the Israelites came to the border of the Promised Land again. Everyone from the previous generation, except Joshua and Caleb, had died. A telling statement comes from Rahab, a woman who lived in the land. She explained how (in Joshua 2:9-11), years earlier, things were the opposite of what the Israelites thought was true. Joshua and Caleb had been right all along. When the spies entered the land forty years earlier, everybody in the land was afraid of them. They did not see them as easy prey, as the ten spies had imagined. ... The Israelites perception had been wrong all along. They had always feared their neighbors, perceiving them as giants. But in truth their neighbors feared the Israelites because of their God." – pgs. 65-66

" ...  most of us have been conditioned to be afraid of our neighbors, and they've been conditioned to be afraid of us. Someone has to break the cycle of fear. God has given us an invitation to go forward not backward. First Peter 3:13-16 offers a further perspective. Peter asks: 'Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. 'Do not fear their hearts; do not be frightened.' But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience.' ... Peter is quoting from Isaiah 8:12, and the instruction is clear. When you encounter other people, do not fear. Do not be frightened. Even when everyone around you chooses fear, you have a hope that is greater. Live out that hope, and don't be afraid to talk about it." – pgs. 66-67

" ... there is often a part of fear that isn't justified, and you have to push past it. Be thoughtful about whom you approach and how. But also know, at the end of the day, following Jesus is not necessarily designed to be safe. Safety is a natural desire but it can keep us from being like Jesus in the midst of an unsafe world." – pg. 67 

"This feeling of awkwardness isn't fear – it's just awkwardness about possible rejection. The truth is, awkwardness won't kill you. In 2 Timothy Paul writes: 'For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline' (1:7). God enables all of us to be bold, to take the first step, to be the neighbor we were meant to be. We don't need to be afraid. When we feel those emotions creeping in, we need to remind ourselves that enduring awkwardness is probably the worst of it." – pg. 68

"God is already working in your neighborhood. Being a good neighbor simply means slowing down and being aware of what he is designing. By developing real relationships, you'll find out how God is already moving in a person's life. You'll begin to overcome the fear that you once had and develop trust for one another. ... Confronting our fears regarding our neighbors can be hard work, but it is worth it. There's a lot of peace that can come to your life when you know your neighbors. You can grow to be a person who isn't controlled by fear, a much better way to live." – pgs. 69-70

Chapter 5 | Moving Down the Line

"... my wife and I started to do something very important. We wrote down the names we were learning on a simple block map that we taped to the side of the fridge. This may not seem like a big deal, but it was. Once we put the chart up where we could see it every day, we found ourselves thinking more and more about the neighbors that we knew by name and about the ones we needed to introduce ourselves to when the opportunity arose." – pgs. 76-77

"Once you have learned and remembered someone's name, your relationship has moved from stranger to acquaintance. That's a crucial first step. However, Jesus didn't tell us to become acquaintances with our neighbors; he called us to love them, and that means we need to have an actual relationship with them." – pg. 78

"Block parties are natural environments in which neighbors will often take steps from being acquaintances to actually become friends. Parties create space for us to talk to others we already know and to meet people we don't. Maybe this is the reason Jesus spent so much time at parties he knew the power of a party. He understood they were an important means for people to share their lives with one another in very real and practical ways." – pg. 79

" ... when the Pharisees question him, Jesus has every opportunity to apologize for spending time with 'sinners.' Yet Jesus actually does the opposite. He defends his right to be there and doesn't back down because he is using the opportunity to hang out and party with a group of people who don't have any religious framework and whom he might not see otherwise. When is the last time you were accused of doing something like this? Has your character ever been questioned because you ate or drank with sketchy people? Not everyone in the neighborhood is cleaned up and easy to be around. We need to be willing to follow Jesus and choose to be with others in uncomfortable situations, because we can't always expect people to come onto our turf; we must also be willing to enter their world." – pg. 80

"You may wonder, Wouldn't it have made more sense for Jesus to throw the party to celebrate Levi's decision to follow him? But that's not how the story goes. Levi is so excited about what is happening in his life that he gathers his circle of friends and invites Jesus and the disciples to join them in celebrating. With this in mind, when we consider gathering our neighbors together, there may be others who are better suited to host the party. If so, look to partner with them rather than trying to plan and host a party on your own. If not, then maybe God wants you to be the one who initiates the gathering. Either way, as Christians, we should be playing a part in throwing the best parties in our neighborhoods – not sitting on the sidelines being irritated because the music is too loud!" – pgs. 80-81

" ... start asking yourself, What would it be like if we were to make a commitment to take the next step with each of our immediate neighbors this year? What would it be like to make a commitment to throw at least one good block party every year, and then to sit back and see how God uses it on our block?" – pg. 84

Chapter 6 | Baby Steps

" ... remember, relationships don't happen when we heap pressure onto ourselves and others. So don't try too hard! This can happen more easily than you anticipate because this is how God designed you to live. You were built to connect with other people. So be who you are, and relationships will grow out of that. It makes friendship normal and natural, something that just happens rather than something that's forced. And the most natural way to connect with people is through shared activities (like) baking/cooking, playing sports, watching sports or other shows on TV, etc." – pgs. 90-91

"The world around us is lonelier than we know, so it's good to have your radar up, purposefully looking for ways you can engage with people who live close to you. One of the easiest things to do is eat together. So it's easy to say, 'You're eating; we're eating; let's eat together.' Yes, that does require some intentionality. But it's not hard to invite others to join you because you are already going to eat anyway, right? Just try it. You'll be surprised at how easy it is. What's more, doing the small things and sharing what you love can often overlap with the actual needs of neighbors." – pg. 92

"Last spring my wife and I were thinking about throwing a big block party. As we were in the planning stages, we were trying to come up with some ways to start to get to know our neighbors. One night I decided to make s'mores. It was a beautiful spring evening, and, on a whim, I decided to go around the block and invite people to join us. All but two of our neighbors showed up, and we ended up hanging out around the fire pit for more than two hours. Midway through the evening, it dawned on me that we were actually having a spontaneous block party that required no planning whatsoever! That summer my wife and I decided to look for other simple ways to gather together with our neighbors. ... The idea seems so simple just do what you're already doing, invite others to the table, and watch what God does as a result. This simple concept is freeing in many ways ... All it requires is that you take a step back, think about things that you already love, and invite your neighbors to join in." – pgs. 93-94 

"When we do simple things over time, we can make a big impact. At first, it probably won't feel as if you are doing anything monumental. In fact, if done correctly, it probably won't feel that interesting at all. Keep in mind, though, that most of the changes that take place in our lives don't come through one huge moment. Our body changes slowly. Our families change slowly. Our friendships change slowly. Sure, there can be huge breakthroughs or setbacks at any moment, but the majority of lasting change in our lives comes through consistent, regular investment. The challenge is to simply make those small investments, stay in the game, and share your day-to-day life with those around you. And then don't give up." – pgs. 94-95
"Remember, it's often the small moments that count, so focus faithfully on the small things day in and day out, and over time change can and will happen. Small things have a way of adding up and producing disproportionately great results. It's simple: just share what you love to do. Make small steps. Give the little you have and watch God do a miracle." – pg. 97

Chapter 7 | Motives Matter   

" ... if evangelism is your only motive, then you won't be a very good neighbor. However, if neighboring is done with the right posture, then people who don't know God will most certainly come to know him. ... The ulterior motive in good neighboring must never be to share the gospel. But the ultimate motive is just that – to share the story of Jesus and his impact on our lives. There's a big difference. The 'agenda' we need to drop is the well-meaning tendency to be friends with people for the sole purpose of converting them to our faith. Many so desperately want to move people forward spiritually that they push them according to their timetable, not according to how God is working in them. It's tempting to offer friendship with strings attached. ... (But) We are called to love people – period. ... We are called to love our neighbors unconditionally, without expecting anything in return. The Great Commandment says, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' The commandment ends there, with no other expectations given. Thus good neighboring is an end in itself."  pgs. 99, 102-103

"It's about authenticity. It's honestly talking about how your walk with Jesus makes a difference. Your story should reflect not only your life before your encounter with Jesus, but also what your life has been like after your newfound relationship with him. Those around us need to hear how someone's faith in Jesus has made a world of difference! God's story isn't forced; if you have a relationship with Jesus, he is living out his story through you. And once you have a clear sense of how God is moving in your life, you have an active way to share your faith. It won't be a canned sales pitch, but rather a powerful demonstration of God's activity in your life now. Just as important, we must learn how to listen to our neighbors' stories. When we are neighboring well, this will happen in a natural way. We won't need to press them. Be available to enter into meaningful conversations with your neighbors, and God will open the door to further opportunity." – pgs. 108-109

"Conversations (sometimes in one conversation and sometimes after multiple interactions) follow this pattern: 

  • first we talk about the things we can see: the weather, the crazy color of a neighbor's house, the increased traffic on our street, etc.
  • then basic personal information: 'How long have you lived here?' 'Where did you grow up?' 'What do you do for a living?' 'Are you married? How long?' 'Where did you guys meet?' 'Do you have kids?'
  • later our dreams and desires: 'What do you love most about what you do?' 'If you could do anything, what would you do?'
  • After some time our regrets, losses and pain: the loss of someone we love, a hard relationship, a challenging job situation, etc." – pgs. 109-110

"When we show where our story overlaps with our neighbor's story, and with God's story, then our neighbors might start wondering if their story might join God's as well. ... If we live out the Great Commandment, an environment is created where the Great Commission can be effectively obeyed. Loving people who live around us fosters an environment where people trust one another." – pg. 111

"When we share our lives and our story, our neighbors have a chance to see who we really are. They know we aren't perfect but they can see how our faith affects how we do life with others. ... (In Matthew 5:14-16) Jesus is declaring that we can live in such a way that people around us will look to God because of how we are living. When they see us living out a life of love, they will actually be seeing God in us. They may not even know who God is, but they will start to be curious because of the way we live out our lives. We believe that Jesus offers us the best kind of life and that we should do what he commands, not just because we have to but because we want to, not just because it's best for us but because it's also good for others. Jesus isn't just trying to make moral people. We can trust that he offers us a way of life that is simply better than any other." – pgs. 112-113
"The Great Commandment is a matter of obedience to those who know and follow Jesus. We don't love our neighbors so they will know Jesus; we love our neighbors because we already love Jesus and trust him. We are called to love our neighbors, even if our neighbors never show any interest in Jesus, because we have made Jesus our highest priority." – pg. 113

"When you love God and love other people, deep spiritual things transpire. You don't need to worry about what will happen when you attempt to become a good neighbor. You don't need to be anxious about the structure or strategy of what happens. You just need to be faithful and flexible. ... you need not make your neighbors your 'pet project'; make them your friends. You simply need to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, strength, and body, and love your neighbor as yourself. When those things happen, everything else falls into place. The goal is to faithfully tell your story, God's story. Then listen to their story and ask God to lead you." – pgs. 114, 116
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