Chapel: Love the neighbor who’s right in front of you
By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
Jay Pathak has a gift for storytelling. Even though he was speaking to Chapel for the first time Monday at Grand Canyon University Arena, it was impossible not to feel as if he was an old friend.
The Lead Pastor of Mile High Vineyard in Denver was funny. He was thoughtful. He was incredibly human. Best of all, he told two amazing stories that illuminated what it means to truly love your neighbor, and it seemed just right coming from a guy who talks like someone who could live right next door.
The first was about a Bible study he and his wife, Danielle, were planning.
He didn’t want to do it. Oh my, he didn’t want to do it. He told Danielle to just call it off. She said fine – they would do a “fellowship night” instead.
But Danielle had a surprise for him amid the fellowship. She told other people in their apartment complex to bring some food and join them, and pretty soon their apartment and the courtyard both were filled.
He saw the life lesson as soon as he got home and saw a guy playing his guitar: He didn’t know any of these people. He had never bothered to find out their names or anything about them.
After this night, however, he knew their background, their challenges, their joys and their heartaches. He had taken the first step toward loving your neighbor – you first need to get to know your neighbor.
“That night changed our life,” he said. “Because that night, as we got to know people, we started to hear their stories, and once you start to know someone’s name and you hear their story, you connect to them in a different way, don’t you? You know, they’re no longer just sort of anonymous, faceless people that surround you, they’re suddenly people that enter into your thoughts and into your prayers.
“That night changed us because my wife and I effectively became the pastors of that apartment complex. We started to walk people through addiction recovery and domestic-violence things that were going on and people that were severely depressed and going through different kinds of job problems and all kinds of things.
“Over the course of that year, we were engaged with all these people, and I realized that I always got in my car to drive somewhere to do ministry, to be a pastor, when there was ministry all around me if I just had eyes to see it.”
Love your neighbor – it’s repeated over and over in the Bible, Pathak noted. Most famously was when a man asked in Luke 10:25, “Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responded by asking in response, “What is written in the law? How readest thou?” and then told the parable of the Good Samaritan.
This is interesting for another reason, Pathak said: It was typical of how Jesus responded to any question. There are only two places in the Gospels where he answers a direct question with a direct answer. He usually asked a question or told a story – or both, as in this case.
Pathak had the audience laughing when he put it this way:
“Every time you’re asked a question this week, answer with a question or tell a story. Someone says, ‘Hey, when’s the project due? Is that Thursday or Friday?’ Say, ‘There was once a farmer …’ I guarantee it will be a very enjoyable week – at least for you.”
Samaritans were so despised in Jesus’ time, Pathak pointed out, it would be as if an ISIS follower had helped the man on the road today.
“Anyone you come across, anyone who’s in pain, even your enemy, is your neighbor,” Pathak said.
He had an interesting exercise for the audience: Make a chart with nine boxes on it and then write the names and something about all the people who live around you – their loves, their regrets, their spiritual condition. Can’t do it? You’re probably not alone.
The second story was even more emotional.
Pathak got to know a family who lived across the street from him, but the dad made it clear he wanted no part of the pastor’s message. “Don’t ever talk to me about Jesus,” he said.
Months later, Pathak’s wife had a dream – the man’s wife was in a hole and needed someone to pull her out. Later that day, they saw her on the street and told her about the dream. She told them she had just been diagnosed with cancer and hadn’t yet told her family. Then she started crying. So they did the only thing he could do – they prayed with her.
A week later, she came outside and lifted him off the ground. She’d had another scan done. The cancer was completely gone. They all started crying this time.
“Listen, for those of you who are skeptics in the room, let me just throw you a bone here: Maybe she had a bad scan the other time, I don’t know. All I know is, whatever that was, let’s do more of that,” Pathak said.
The woman got baptized. So did all three of her sons. And, finally, after watching all this, so did the dad.
Pathak was so dumbstruck, he said the conversation went like this:
“Jay, I want to give my life to Jesus.”
“Listen, this is not an evangelism plan that I’m giving you. We don’t love people to convert them,” Pathak said. “We love people because we’re converted. We choose to obey Jesus because it’s the right way to live. My prayer for you is that you make a commitment that you live the rest of your life this way, and I guarantee you, you will be a part of something God is doing everywhere you live.”
● For a replay of Chapel, including the music of the Worship team, click here.
● Next week: No Chapel (spring break)
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].