Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Paying it Forward

"Pay It Forward", a book by Catherine Ryan Hyde later made into a movie starring Haley Joel Osment, tells the story of what happens when one young boy takes his teacher's challenge to put into action a plan that will change the world. His plan is to do three good deeds for three different people that can't pay him back but will also do three good deeds for three other people. In the story, though the boy is mocked by some classmates, his plan begins to have global (and personal) ramifications.

As great as this story is, it isn't new. A couple thousand years ago a similar story was communicated by a Nazarene named Jesus. As told in the book of Luke, we know the story that Jesus told as "The Good Samaritan." Shared with an expert in the Old Testament law, Jesus identifies not only who our neighbor is, but how we should respond to our neighbor. We often think of our neighbor as the person that lives near us or maybe is a family member. Jesus' definition goes beyond this to include even those that are culturally, ethnically and religiously different than we are.

One of the most surprising aspects of the telling of The Good Samaritan is that Jesus makes the hero of the story a Samaritan and not a respected Jewish leader (like might be expected). Our church, Lake Baldwin Church, examined this parable this Sunday and were challenged to consider how we as individuals and as a church should respond to our neighbor. One of the distinctives of our church community is what we call "connection groups." After the Sunday morning service, we have a ten-minute coffee break and then gather around tables to share about our lives and how the message impacted us. Each table is an open group (groups vary from week-to-week) with a facilitator guiding the discussion.

As our table discussed this topic this week, we talked about the times that we've been "in the ditch" and needed help. One woman shared about when she was living life as a "rabid atheist" and a gracious Christian friend got involved in her life and led her to the Lord. Another guy talked about when as a lonely junior high schooler, a janitor took the time each day to talk with him about how he was doing. When our discussion moved to who our neighbor actually is, one gentleman in our group courageously confessed that he has oftentimes lived in judgment towards those in the gay community and that God is now doing something in his heart so that he views homosexuals as his "neighbor."

It may be giving a few bucks to a homeless man on the street or helping a lady change her tire on the side of the road or investing in the life of some different than us, but I think Christ defined our neighbor as anyone He brings across our path. I may not know the "who" or the "when", but I need to regularly examine whether my heart is softened to the needs of others. And, at times, I may be on the receiving end.

Just minutes after leaving church on Sunday morning, we were at a nearby mall in order to have lunch and kill some time before going to a friend's high school graduation open house. The kids came across some of those little cars and rides that you put a few quarters in for a 30-second ride. Since we didn't have any quarters, we just let them pretend they were riding for awhile. Plus (those of you who are parents can relate) once they do one ride then they want to do another and before you know it you're taking out a loan so your toddler can ride a yellow alligator.

So, as we were letting them play, this guy walks up to me and taps me on the shoulder. I turn around and he puts his fist out. I almost thought he was gonna hit me at first, but then he grabs my hand, puts it under his hand and drops something into mine. I looked and saw four shiny quarters. In my astonishment I mumbled a "thank you" as he smiled and walked away. He never said a word. I was the one that had been in church that morning, but he was the one that was being the Good Samaritan to me. I guess I'll have to Pay it Forward now...

For some good resources about practicing random acts of kindness, visit the following sites:
  • How to Pay it Forward - a site with tips on showing kindness towards others.
  • Ordinary Attempts - stories of how ordinary people incorporate Christ into their ordinary activities on ordinary days.
  • The Sower - suggestions on how to take the initiative to share Christ with those that God brings across your path.
  • Good News, Good Deeds - a collaborative site for those involved in passionate proclamation and compassionate demonstration of the gospel.
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