For nearly 13 years, we lived in a subdivision on a 50-by-100-foot lot. When you can reach out your kitchen window and shake hands with the person having coffee next door, you really want to get along with your neighbors.
And for a long time – despite the suffocating proximity – we did. Come evenings, weekends and summertimes, the front yards all melded together into one great community center. By the grace of God, most of our neighbors were fellow Christians, so adults would gather and encourage one another while our kids milled about on bikes or with balls.
Then the non-Christians moved in. I thought we were ready.
We were friendly, just as we had been with the previous neighbors. I think we even took a plate of cookies when they moved in. But no matter what we did, they didn’t like us, and they were determined to express their dislike in every possible way.
We discovered one such expression when we came home from a day trip. Our oldest son looked at the maple tree in our front yard and screamed, then cried. In those few hours, someone—and we knew who—had cut off all the lower branches of my son’s favorite climbing tree, even though the branches had been nowhere near the property line.
We feebly tried to explain to our son why someone would do something so malicious. But before the sawdust had settled, a frontal attack came our way. The chainsaw-smitten father vociferously accused our son of throwing mud balls at the side of his house, though my sons denied it. He even threatened to call the police on our 10-year-old. I defended my sons’ innocence, not realizing till decades later they had actually been the culprits, spurred on in retaliation for the pruned tree.
When I calmly made it clear that no police officer would see the evidence (a running hose and a mud-slicked side yard behind their locked gate) as incriminatory toward my son, I went in and settled into my favorite rocking chair, opening my Bible to 2 Corinthians. And this is what I saw
“For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance of life to life.”—2 Corinthians 2:15-16a
I practically ran out of the room with my open Bible and grabbed my sons. “I know why they hate us!” I excitedly proclaimed. “Listen to this verse!” I read it aloud. “They hate us because we smell like death to them!”
Years later, a squirrel decided to up and die inside my kitchen wall right before I was preparing dinner for a new pastor. I had bought out the cinnamon brooms from our local Publix in hopes that the smells of fried chicken and cinnamon would drown out the smell of death. I wanted the horrendous stench to go away, just as our neighbors wanted us to go away.
“I have given them Your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.—John 14:17
“If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.”—John 15:18
“The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.”—John 1:5
Darkness hates light because light obliterates darkness. Jesus revealed the darkness in the deepest recesses of the human heart, which is desperately wicked and in need of redemption. But we are still commanded to shine for Him, because though some will hate us, others will come to love Him.
“In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”—Matthew 5:16
A week from today, nine of us will leave for a weeklong attempt to let our lights shine before men. May the people of Alaska see our good deeds and praise our Father in heaven. And as for you, my friends, remember you’ll have your setbacks as you attempt to let your light shine for Jesus. Sometimes you have to be willing to smell like death to make your life count.