It seems to me that we have, perhaps, inadvertently reversed the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Jesus’ point in the parable is that our neighbor is anyone in need. In order to make this point clear, he tells the story of the Samaritan coming across a man who was beaten and robbed. Even though this man was culturally his enemy, he takes action and helps.
Jesus’ point is: don’t let yourself off the hook of the command to love your neighbor as yourself by limiting it only to a narrow group of people. Love even your enemies, do this sacrificially (as the Samaritan did), and be willing to risk (as it was a dangerous road).
I think precisely because of this parable, few people in the world who are familiar with the teaching of Jesus would be callous enough to walk by a person bleeding on the side of the road. Or, if they did, they would know it was deeply wrong (unlike the religious people in the parable, who apparently didn’t even get that).
But that’s only half the point. In fact, I would suggest if that’s all we get from the parable, we’ve totally missed the point — even if when presented with the exact circumstances of the parable, we would stop to help.
The reason is this: we don’t very often come across people who are bleeding on the side of the road. So how does the parable apply to us the rest of the time?
I think we’ve inadvertently taken the parable and restricted the meaning of our “neighbor” in the other direction, thus doing the very thing Jesus is forbidding. We’ve come to think that our neighbor is only a person in extreme need — the person bleeding on the side of the road.
But what about the person who is not bleeding on the side of the road, but has other, much smaller but still very real needs?
We tend to just pass on by. “He’s not my neighbor — my neighbor is the person bleeding on the side of the road.” And yet it never crosses our mind to say, “Hmm…; isn’t it strange that I’ve never actually come across such a person in my entire life?”
Jesus told this parable to teach us something that is to apply to us every single day of our lives. He gave an extreme example to counter the common notion of the day that limited the scope of who we are to love. But then we’ve strangely seized on the example he gave and limited the meaning of “neighbor” in an entirely different direction, to mean only those in extreme need. That was not Jesus point.
Overlooking seemingly “small,” everyday, and ordinary needs is also a great sin. Your neighbor is not just the person in extreme need, but the person right before you at work, in your neighborhood, in your community. Your client, business partner, employee, co-worker, person who comes off the street into your business asking for directions, or person who attends your church and has a concern. Anyone and everyone who has any need is your neighbor.
If you think you’ve got it together because you don’t pass by people who are beaten up on the side of the road, but overlook issues of everyday need in the people right before you, you are missing it.
And don’t we all need to hear this? I know I do.
So, let’s get with it. Let’s about the world with our eyes and ears open to seek out, identify, and meet all types of needs that the people have whom God brings across our paths. Let’s ditch this notion that our neighbor is only someone in extreme need. Let’s be proactive in meeting less extreme needs as well.
And, as we do that, then we will be truly obeying the point of the parable, even if we never literally come across someone beaten up and bleeding on the side of the road.
And, we just might come to see that this seemingly “small” needs aren’t quite so small after all.
My friend Matthew Lee Anderson started his latest book after I started mine and it has released well before mine. Way to go, Matt!
Matt is the lead writer at the very helpful blog Mere Orthodoxy. It is an absolute joy to read his writing; as I’ve said before, I think he is one of the best evangelical writers today.
His first book was Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to Our Faith. His new book is The End of Our Exploring: A Book About Questioning and the Confidence of Faith, and I can’t wait to read it. Here’s what a few people have had to say about it:
Doubt has become very popular in the last few years. Many times though, doubt never takes the doubter anywhere for answers. Matthew shows us how to question well and actually let our doubts take us to God.
Darrin Patrick, Lead Pastor of The Journey St. Louis, author of For the City and Church Planter
I wish I had read this book a long time ago! Learning to question well is one of the most important things we can teach young people to do. I will be recommending this book to the many young people I work with every day.
Sean McDowell, educator, speaker, author of Apologetics for a New Generation
You can see him talk about the book here:
Many thanks to my friend, Matt Heerema, for setting the blog up on a new and much faster, more reliable server. Thank you Matt!
Matt is the founder and owner of Mere Agency, a web agency that offers services in the area of organizational strategy consulting, website information architecture, design, website construction, and website hosting services. (Full disclosure: I do some contract work for Matt.)
Matt and his company do fantastic work , and if you or your organization are looking for help in any of those areas, it would be worth checking them out.
When working on the book, I had my wife write up a short call-out box on how she has utilized some of the concepts I discuss in the book. I thought this might be a helpful way to show how the concepts in the book apply to every area of life, including our home lives.
I loved what she wrote. It was brief, clear, and fun to read. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to include it in the final draft because of space constraints. (Though it won’t be in the printed book, I do plan to make it available in the online toolkit for the book; so hopefully it can still be useful to a lot of people.)
However, you can already read it now in advance at Melissa McDonald’s blog The Cross and the Kitchen Sink.
Melissa’s blog does an excellent job showing how the gospel applies to truly every aspect of our lives — including the kitchen sink. It is refreshing to see her thoughts on how the gospel plays out in everyday life, especially in relation to family and the home.
Recently she asked if my wife or I would do a guest post on how productivity serves homemakers. This seemed like the perfect place for the call-out section my wife had written for the book, so I sent it to Melissa as a guest post for her blog.
So, check out How What’s Best Next Applies to Homemakers at her blog (and make sure to take a look around at the rest of her blog while you are there!).
Chris Misiano organizes and oversees on-campus events at Liberty university and, on the side, has been my assistant for the last year-and-a-half. I am amazed at his productivity and ability to stay on top of things. He is also an incredible writer. Here are three very helpful articles that he has recently produced that I found to be very helpful:
- A Liturgy for Saturdays. On a much-overlooked area in productivity: how to use your Saturdays well! Great thoughts here, and I agree.
- Staying on Mission. Loved this article on the value of a personal mission statement.
- Connection in an Age of Digital Distraction. Very helpful recommendations on project management software that don’t add to your load but help manage it.
Yes! From Seth Godin:
The shortcut that’s sure to work, every time:
Take the long way.
Do the hard work, consistently and with generosity and transparency.
And then you won’t waste time doing it over.
It seems to me that most of our approaches to productivity tend to orient our focus at the wrong level. We end up focusing on the runway level — next actions — and the 10,000 foot level — projects. This makes it hard to prioritize across areas of your life.
For example, if you come into work in the morning and say to yourself “what projects to I have going on?,” you might make some good progress that day. However, your thinking is necessarily narrow — it is focused on what projects already exist, and the focus is to get that loop closed when there might be broader things that are more deserving of your attention that day. Further, these broader things may not be anything captured on another existing list, like a next action list, because in a very real sense it is actually impossible to make any next action list “complete” (perhaps more on that later).
So how do you identify those broader things? I think by going to the 20,000 foot level, which is areas of responsibility. So instead of saying to yourself “what projects do I have on my plate” or “what actions do I have on my plate,” you instead say “what are my main responsibilities? Now, what are the most important things I can do today to advance the responsibilities that most need to be advanced at this time?”
In this way, you aren’t relying on any lists to ultimately show you what to do. Rather, you are relying on reflection. You might refer to your lists to make sure you are considering everything, but by putting the focus on reflecting on “what do I need to do now,” you allow new ideas to arise that are more in tune with current priorities. That is, you can adapt better, focusing on what is important now rather than on what was important two weeks ago, but you couldn’t do then so you put it on a list.
This is how I operated in college, without the assistance of any planning system (or even calendar–ironic, I know!). Every few days, I would simply say to myself “what is coming up in each of my classes?” Then I would identify what was most important, and get it done. The advantage there was that I had a pre-existing syllabus for each class; in the world of ordinary life, you are having to create much of your “syllabus” for your life as you go.
The irony is that, when a planning system inclines you to think mostly from the 10,000 foot level and runway, it can lead to lack of focus because there is simply so much to consider, with the result that you are worse off than not having any planning system at all.
But used right, a productivity system puts you way ahead. If, instead of using it to substitute for thinking (that is, instead of simply saying “what’s on my project lists and action lists; OK, I think I’ll do this), you use it as a support to keep some of the heavy lifting of remembering important ongoing things off your mind, it can be helpful. Then, what you do is operate from a stance of reflection at the 20,000 foot level of responsibilities, and refer to the lists to help fill out your options on what each area might needs, rather than relying on the lists as an exhaustive catalog of all your options.
A great article from the 99%.The 5 most dangerous creativity killers are:
- Role mismatch
- External end goal restriction
- Strict ration of resources
- Lack of social diversity
- Discouragement/no positive feedback
Here’s one of the most important highlights of the article. There is truth to the fact that constraints often add to our creativity by creating the “entrepreneurial gap” that requires novel solutions (and thus creativity) to cross when resources are scarce.
Sometimes, however, that reality is used to justify strict rationing of resources in an organization and a caviler imposition of restraints on creatives. That is a complete misunderstanding and misapplication of the entrepreneurial gap. As the article points out:
Although self-restriction can often boost creativity, the Harvard study shows that external restrictions are almost always a bad thing for creative thinking. This includes subtle language use that deters creativity, such as bosses claiming “We do things by the book around here,” or group members implicitly communicating that new ideas are not welcome.
Here’s one other important point: a shortage of time is not good for creativity!
While money and physical resources are important to creativity, the Harvard study revealed that mental resources were most important, including having enough time.
Creative people re-conceptualize problems more often than a non-creative. This means they look at a variety of solutions from a number of different angles, and this extensive observation of a project requires time. This is one of the many reasons you should do your best to avoid unnecessary near-deadline work that requires novel thinking. Also, when we are faced with too many external restrictions we spend more time acquiring more resources than actually, you know, creating.
Live58 is a movement to end extreme poverty in our generation. This is a helpful connection from the latest email newsletter by the team:
When we think of justice, the environment isn’t normally the first thing that comes to mind. Perhaps we think of human rights, or all those crime shows. But when Paul said in Colossians 1:20 that Jesus came “to reconcile all things to Himself,” you’ll notice that he doesn’t say some, and he doesn’t say people. He says all things. This means all of God’s creation.
Earth Month (with Earth Day earlier this week and Arbor Day today) is a reminder for us as Christians to take care of the creation God has made us stewards over. One of our solutions to extreme poverty is Environmental Stewardship, as most of the world’s poor are completely dependent on their environment for survival. Unfortunately, up to half the trees being cut down in developing countries are used for fuel wood, creating rampant deforestation and adding to the devastating effects of rural poverty. This fuel wood is then used for traditional cook stoves, which are causing indoor smoke pollution and killing almost 2 million people, mostly women and children, each year.
Our Environmental Stewardship partner, Plant With Purpose, works with communities to build improved cookstoves. These stoves require 50 to 60 percent less wood and also burn cleaner, which decreases the need for cutting wood and the risk of smoke-related illness or death.
While we shouldn’t make the environment an idol or fall into the notion that nature is equal in importance to people (it’s not: Matthew 10:31), we shouldn’t look down on good environment stewardship, either. In fact, as Live58 shows, there is often a relationship between better stewardship of the environment and not just improved human lives in general, but helping the poor specifically.
You can read more about the work Plant With Purpose is doing to improve wood burning stoves in the developing world. Also, for a good example of thinking wisely and Christianly about environmental issues, especially through the lens of climate change, see Glenn Brooke’s helpful post Thinking Wisely About Climate Change.
In a couple of weeks, there is a very exciting conference occurring in Chicago- Pastorum 2013. If you are able, I would encourage you to make the trip to Chicago to attend this time of learning and connecting with other teachers, pastors, students, and scholars. Speakers include Mark Futato, Ed Stetzer, Lynn Cohick, and many more. The conference begins the morning of Thursday April 11, and runs through the afternoon on Friday April 12.
Sessions at Pastorum begin with Bible Backgrounds, then move to Old Testament and the Intertestamental Period. On Friday, session 3 walks through the New Testament and then the conference wraps up with session 4- Connecting the Dots. There are also panel discussions “where speakers and attendees collaborate and share ideas for applying academic subjects to the local church.”
The folks at Pastorum have been kind enough to offer free registrations to ten readers of What’s Best Next. To win one of these registrations (a $100 value!), be one of the first ten readers to email firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send you further instructions. Note: you will be responsible for providing your own transportation to and from Chicago, as well as your lodging and meals while attending the conference.