Thinking Out Loud

May 10, 2010


Filed under: character, Faith, ministry — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 12:41 pm

(Quick age/culture test:  Did the title of this post remind you of the movie Napoleon Dynamite?  That’s the inflection I was going for…)

Matthew 5: 22

But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. (ESV)

But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell. (NLT)

I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill. (The Message)

But I say to you that everyone who continues to be angry with his brother or harbors malice (enmity of heart) against him shall be liable to and unable to escape the punishment imposed by the court; and whoever speaks contemptuously and insultingly to his brother shall be liable to and unable to escape the punishment imposed by the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, You cursed fool! [You empty-headed idiot!] shall be liable to and unable to escape the hell (Gehenna) of fire. (Amplified Bible)

Four translations. Four clear messages. Varying interpretations. Why am I thinking about this verse today?

We live on a corner property that is only attached to two other houses. One is a bit of a distance away. Nice family: Husband, wife, two daughters. The other is much closer. What passes for a backyard is practically touching their kitchen window.  Many other stresses.

The bigger problem is, I have no respect for these people. For twenty years I’ve wrestled with different aspects of what it means to be salt and light in this community, as well as the particular aspect of the question that bears on why God would have us live next door to these people.

So far, as hard as I’ve tried to listen to His voice and His promptings, I’ve been unsuccessful, or to put it more spiritually, I haven’t seen anything fruitful take place.

For the past few years I have found it rather sad that they have removed all the mature trees from their backyard. (My dream would be to have a house with a ravine lot. Maybe in the “new earth” I’ll get that opportunity.)

To review, trees are good because:

  • They provide shade on a summer’s day
  • They protect the house from wind
  • They create a noise barrier
  • They provide an aesthetically pleasing atmosphere
  • They attract migratory birds
  • They help oxygenate the planet
  • They provide privacy
  • Each mature tree adds a minimum of $1,000 to your house’s value at resale; perhaps much more.

So I was equally distressed a few weeks ago when they cut down a nice silver birch tree on their front lawn for no apparent reason.

Then yesterday, after enjoying an exceptionally relaxed Mother’s Day with my wife and sons, the chain saw came out around 5:30 PM and within half an hour, a beautiful, 24-foot spruce tree that was about 30 years old was felled.   Again, no reason.   It wasn’t diseased.   It wasn’t threatening the house or the road or overhead wires.   Its roots weren’t close enough to the house to be a problem.   It required no maintenance.   The track record shows no other tree will replace it.

My neighbor is an idiot. (According to some interpretations, I can say this to you here, as long as I don’t say it directly to him.)

That was the only conclusion I could come up with.

Our longtime acquaintance Lorne, who programs the Christian music channel on Canada’s national satellite service, once said to me, “You don’t suffer fools.”   Maybe.   But doesn’t Matthew 5:22 tell me that I must?

The man next door works for the nuclear power company.   Ironically, so does the man across the street who has also cut down a number of mature trees– but nothing so grand as the one yesterday — over the past few years.   Maybe it’s an environmental perspective one gains with years of handling nuclear raw materials.

I just can’t imagine waking this morning and looking out at that big empty lawn and thinking I accomplished something vital and good the day before.

All I could think of this morning was this story:

A man made an appointment for marriage counseling with his pastor.

“I just don’t love her anymore;” was all he could say.

The pastor said, “We’re commanded to love our wives.   In Ephesians 5:25 it says, ‘Husbands love your wives just as Christ loved the Church…’   Do you think you can love your wife on that basis?”

The man said; “No, I can’t love her like that.”

The pastor smiled and said; “That’s okay.  There’s a second level of love available to you.  In Matthew 22:39 scripture says to ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  Do you think at least you can love your wife as a person would love their neighbor?”

“No;” the man replied; “I can’t even love her like a neighbor.”

“Don’t worry;” the pastor continued, “There’s a third level of love.   In Luke 6:27 the Bible says, ‘Love your enemies.'”

Insert rim shot here.  Believe it or not, that’s the punchline.   Told well orally, it’s one of those preacher stories that gets a good laugh.   In the context of a marriage sermon however, I’m not sure how useful a story it is.

But nonetheless, I am commanded to love my enemies as well as my neighbor.    Even when the words I want to say are; “You moron; you stupid, stupid idiot.”   Even when I want to say those words with great passion, a la Napoleon Dynamite.

[Old Testament readers can interject here that as with Jonah, it wasn’t my tree to weep over; better to weep over the spiritual — unsaved — state of my neighbor’s soul.   You’re right.   Interjection taken.   We included him in last night’s prayer time.  It’s done now, anyway.]

So what about you? Got neighbors, relatives, co-workers, fellow-students, or even people at your church who are hard to love?    Do you ever find your command to love at odds with the reality of being in proximity who seem to define the term ‘unlovable?’

Tell ya what:  You pray for me and I’ll pray for you.   And I’ll pray for myself, also.  As George Washington (quoting Thomas Paine) might have said if he lived in suburbia:  These are the neighbors that try men’s souls.

Leave a Comment »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Your Response (Value-Added Comments Only)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: