by Brian Ford

Dr. Brian Ford is pastor of Little Bonne Femme Baptist Church in Columbia, MO

Dr. Brian Ford is pastor of Little Bonne Femme Baptist Church in Columbia, MO

Well, it’s that time of year again folks. Time for some of us to make well intentioned “New Year’s Resolutions” and the like. Perhaps we gained a few pounds or spent too little time with family last year, and want to make a new start and renew our efforts to eat right, exercise more, and prioritize family time. These personal efforts of maximizing what is important in our individual lives are good no doubt, but what about making a new start and renewing our efforts to improve our communities and the lives of our neighbors?

After consuming the 24 hour news media these past twelve months, I’ve sensed a strong narrative of fear and suspicion being proclaimed that warns us to take care of ourselves & those we love most, and keep everyone else at arm’s length, even an ocean’s length away. With all the mass shootings, terrorist attacks, and other horrible events across the nation and world, I can see why this fear narrative is popular & sells TV time, radio time, and print space. I hear the fear echoed in conversations with fellow church members, with subdivision neighbors, and in the grocery store aisles to name a few. “The world is a scary place these days…you can’t trust anybody,” is a phrase I hear often in casual conversation.

What are we to do? Might I suggest two “New Year’s Resolutions” that are personal and communal. First, reduce our time spent consuming 24 hour news media. This resolution will free up time to spend preparing healthy meals, exercising, and/or with family. Second, get to know someone in the community who is different than you. Learn their names and their story.

If I were to ask you to take an inventory of your current friend circle, how many of them are different than you? Truth be told, most of us have a friend base that looks and sounds a lot like us. Few of us have friends of a different nationality and/or who profess a faith other than Christianity. Few of us have friends with a different color of skin than us. Due to fear of “others,” we often stick with our “own folk” because we know them and feel more comfortable around them.

In the Gospel of Luke, a religious law expert approaches Jesus and asks, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:25-29) Jesus’ response is to tell a story about a Samaritan man who takes the time to help a dying Jewish man along the road. This Samaritan gave of his own resources (time, personal property, and money) to help bring the Jewish man back to health. This Samaritan man who showed mercy and compassion was a “neighbor,” said Jesus.

So, give these two resolutions a try in 2016 – they are simple, yet challenging. But don’t let fear keep you from acting. Fear keeps us from doing many things in life that are of real importance. It must or the phrase, “Do Not Fear” would not be found in so many places throughout the Bible. It seems that God is always reminding us not to fear and to trust that God is at work in the world, making new starts and renewing creation. Let’s hope and pray that God will use our efforts in 2016 to make a new start and renew our efforts to improve ourselves and our mercy and compassion for neighbor, no matter who those neighbors will be.