Neighbor Love and the Considerate Traveler

Noise-cancelling headphones are one of the best inventions in recent memory. I was given a set a couple of years ago. Since I travel a fair amount, I have come to appreciate the ability to block out aircraft engine noise and a fair amount of other distractions as well. I like my headphones.

But I’ve discovered that my headphones have their limitations. The do not cut out noise at certain frequencies, including high pitched baby squeals or the voice of the really loud guy currently two rows behind me who is going on a mission trip overseas. I don’t know this fellow; we’ve never been introduced. I don’t know what he looks like. But I know an awful lot about him already, because I and about 15 other people in this part of the plane can hear every word he says, and we are being treated to the sound of his outbursts of laughter with regularity.

Which brings me to my point: All people should be courteous, but it occurs to me that the call to neighbor love should make Christians the most courteous, considerate people of all. But I’m afraid this is not always the case. I think this may be because some who call themselves Christians simply aren’t courteous. They are rude and self-centered, and courtesy is something to be shown to them, not shown by them.

Others were never taught to be courteous. It is no secret that we have a manners deficit in our country, and a good number of people, believers included, just don’t know any better. And then there are those who just don’t think about it. Their lack of courtesy is an oversight, not some grand moral failure. But neighbor love, it seems to me, should cause us to consider being considerate in all of life. It is a way of showing that we care about another person, that we are thinking of their well-being, and that we are willing to defer to them for the sake of Christ and the gospel.

The expression of neighbor love I call courtesy should be the mark of the considerate traveler. Christians are journeying through this world to the next, and we are called to do so in a distinctively Christian manner. Our smaller journeys, from place to place, from city to city or country to country, should be marked by that distinctive Christian manner, in matters small and large. This is the stuff of a Christian way of life.

I want to suggest some ways that we might show ourselves to be the considerate traveler and, therefore, one who faithfully practices neighbor love. Of course traveling isn’t the only time we should display neighbor love, but since I’m traveling as I write this, here are some examples drawn from my experience over the last 24 hours. I’ve chosen seven, for no special reason. There are more I could mention, but this will surely get the point across.

  • Watch the volume of your voice: Be aware of the volume of your voice when in a public setting. You may be very interested in what you have to say. And so may the person to whom you’re speaking. But don’t assume everyone else around you is interested. I’ll be perfectly honest. I’m tired after a few days of travel, and I’d like to read my book. But the guy behind me is telling his friend all about all sorts of things. Not only is he stunningly dull, he’s loud enough to fell a small building. Enough already.

I’ve taught my children about what I call a “sense of presence.” Know where you are, be aware of your surroundings, and always consider how what you do and say may affect those around you, especially those you do not know. Some people have a naturally resonate voice, and they have to be especially careful about this. Some people just talk loudly, and they need to break this bad habit. (I have this problem myself. You don’t have to speak to your neighbor like you’re Whitefield trying to preach to thousands in an open field.) As I say to my son (and said to one daughter before him), use the “inside voice.”

  • Be aware of the nature of your laughter: This is the same as my advice about the volume of your voice. It’s fine to laugh. I encourage you to. And sometimes boisterous laughter is irrepressible. But some people laugh a whole lot, and do it loudly all the time. This becomes annoying eventually, especially when most of the people who hear you have no idea what is so funny.
  • Beware of slamming hotel doors: Hotel doors close on their own, and they are amazingly loud. So, just shut the door yourself, instead of letting it close on its own. Your neighbor at the hotel is just about to fall asleep after a really hard day. And you let your door slam, and he is now awake for another half hour. Neighbor love should cause you to spend the extra three seconds it will take to close the door quietly.
  • Be careful about late night (and early morning) noise: This is the general principle of which the slamming door is a specific instance. Whatever your sleep habits may be, realize that many, I suppose most, sleep at night. So, after 9:30 or 10:00 or so, just be quiet in a public place like a hotel or a plane. This applies to late nights to be sure, but also to early mornings. Whether you like it or not, not everyone gets up at 6:00am singing hymns and loving life. And even if you think they should, Prov 27:14 counsels you to be quiet in the morning. Thank you very much.

A word to parents: I know that travelling with children can be difficult and exhausting. So you’re in the hotel after a long day, and the kids are a bit cranky, and the fact that junior wants to play baseball in the hotel room, while it may not be best, is something you’re just not willing to fight about. So you let him run and play, hoping he’ll eventually pass out so you can have a moment of quiet. I get that. But your neighbor didn’t sign up (much less pay for a hotel room) to hear your kids play at midnight. It isn’t cute, and it isn’t funny. So, be courteous. A suggestion – request a first floor room so you aren’t above another guest.

  • Be charitable about your place in line: I’m always amazed to watch how people rush to get on an airplane. It’s as if we’re all on the Titanic, and only the first in line will make it to a lifeboat. Listen – the plane will take off once everyone is boarded. Getting on first won’t change your arrival time. And, since Southwest has now gone to seat assignments, I think all US airlines have assigned seating. I am aware that deferring to others may mean you lose overhead space for your carry on. But perhaps neighbor love will cause you to gate check your luggage every now and then. The crosses we bear . . .

Let me be frank on this one. If you always have to be first in line, at the airport, at the buffet line, at the Gaither concert, then you have a problem. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this problem is something like selfishness. So, stop it. Defer to your neighbor. Stop being so selfish. Really. Just stop it.

  • Don’t be obnoxious about seat backs on planes: If you’ve flown even a little bit it’s happened to you. The person behind you is getting seated, or they want to get out of their seat, or they are adjusting their movie screen, and they shake your seat back like they are trying to pull the thing off so they can hurl it out of the plane. And the particularly discourteous traveler will do this to you over and over and over. Don’t be that person.

Also, even though your seat back will recline so you can essentially lay in the lap of the person behind you, it doesn’t mean that you have to do so. I once watched a friend of mine caught in this unfortunate position for a several hour flight overseas. I thought I’d have to ask the flight attendant to bring the jaws of life to get him out. Instead I just passed food and drink into the cavern in which he was lodged until the particularly rude fellow in front of him awakened, just before landing, to let him out. Don’t be that person.

  • Don’t be a jerk to airline or hotel employees (or anyone else): I know, I know. You paid good money for that plane ticket. And now they’ve not treated you like you think they should. So, you’re going to show that corporation. You’re going to be just as rude as you can possibly be to that single mother of three who works overtime every week trying to keep up with her bills. She doesn’t run the company, she didn’t delay the plane, and she can’t make the replacement part show up any sooner. But you’re going to take out your frustration on her. With all the things you should stop, this may top the list.

And I realize that some employees have an attitude. That they essentially ask for a customer to let them have it. Don’t “let them have it.” Do this instead: Be courteous to them. Realize there may be more happening in the situation than you might see from your limited vantage point. And, if you think something must be done because you’ve been wronged, get the name of the employee and talk to their supervisor. Acting like a jerk at the gate or in the lobby or on the phone isn’t the solution you’re looking for. And if it is, if you really enjoy mistreating people like this, then we need to have another conversation. Don’t be that person either.

So, there it is. I think you get the point. A Christian way of life should work itself out in ways big and small. And the seemingly insignificant may matter in ways we too often overlook. We don’t need more rude Christians. We do need Christians who exhibit neighbor love in such a way that others see the more excellent way of love that the apostle Paul commended to us and that our Lord exhibited at every turn.

On The GCR Declaration, Part 2

Lord willing, over the next few days I will be blogging through the GCR Declaration in anticipation of next week’s SBC Annual Meeting in Louisville, Kentucky. This is the second article in what I hope will be a series. As you read, please remember that while Between the Time is a group blog that includes a number of Southeastern Seminary professors, these articles (and every article I write) represent my own personal opinions. I speak only for myself, so please avoid imputing my views to any of my fellow contributors unless they have publicly spoken/written about these matters and you can cite their agreement. The comments are open, but because of the large volume of blogging I will be engaging in this week you will understand if I choose not to interact with many comments.

Article II: A Commitment to Gospel-Centeredness

First of all, let me say I love the fact that the GCR Declaration takes a moment to offer a simple definition of the gospel rather than simply assuming that everyone knows what it is. This is one reason so many American churches (and not a few SBC churches) are in danger of losing the gospel. It’s not a matter of denial, but rather a matter of assumption. And assumption today leads to unbelief tomorrow.

I also like that the GCR Declaration doesn’t speak of the gospel as if it were just a list of truths that must be affirmed to “get in the family”. Instead, it understands the gospel to be the good news that animates every moment of our existence from new birth to resurrected glory. Southern Baptists need to hear more of this type of preaching and teaching. Until they do, the I-Podders among us will continue to spend five times as much time listening to non-Southern Baptist preachers as they do pastors in their own denomination.

I also like that the document speaks to the possible offense of some of our “styles, traditions, legalisms, moralisms, personal preferences, or unhelpful attitudes”. All of our churches have their own unique problems (even the best of them), and I strongly suspect there are certain “styles, traditions, legalisms, moralisms, personal preferences, or unhelpful attitudes” that characterize Southern Baptists in general. We can and will debate what those are, but this much I know-we better root them out and destroy them when we find them. In our public discourse we are often far more obnoxious than we think we are and too often just self-centered enough to think the problem lies with others.

I also think the GCR Declaration helpfully reminds us that all of our programs need to be closely tied to the gospel. This means more than a simple “plan of salvation” printed in the flyleaf of all our curricula. It means making the precious truths of all that God has accomplished through Christ explicit in everything. How do we read every passage of Scripture in light of the gospel? How do we do youth, children’s, men’s, and women’s ministry in light of the gospel? How do we evangelize in light of the gospel? How do we disciple in light of the gospel? How do we engage culture in light of the gospel? How do we plant churches in light of the gospel? This is the question that we must ask of everything that we do, in our churches and in our wider denominational life.

I am going to say something that some of you will think is too provocative, but it needs to be said. The number one complaint I hear about the SBC is that the Convention doesn’t take the gospel seriously enough. Numero uno. And let me assure you that I am talking about Southern Baptists from a variety of backgrounds and ages and a variety of theological persuasions. They argue that we hear a lot about programs. And we hear about the culture war. And we hear about Baptist distinctives. And we hear about our statistics. But we don’t hear nearly enough about the gospel.

I have a prediction: David Platt is going to rock some peoples’ worlds when he preaches at the Convention. That’s all I’ll say about that right now. Pray for David-he’s not what we’re used to, in a good way.

Article III: A Commitment to the Great Commandments

I will not say much here about the Great Commandment because much of what I could write would overlap with the things I said about the lordship of Christ. So let me just say this: if we love the Lord as we ought, we will love our fellow Christians and unbelievers as we ought.

I want to focus more attention on the Second Greatest Commandment because I think Southern Baptists have a conspicuous problem here, and not just in matters of racism and ethnic diversity (to which the GCR Declaration does a fine job of speaking). I just want to add that the more we love the Lord and faithfully preach and live-out his gospel the more our churches will reflect the ethnic, cultural, and socio-economic diversity of their respective regions. To the degree we focus on ourselves and assume the gospel, most of our churches will continue to look like little colonies of Dixie in an increasingly cosmopolitan culture.

But it’s the part about getting along in our intra-Convention relationships that I want to talk about. The moderates used to say that after the conservatives got rid of all the progressives, we would turn on each other because it is in the nature of fundamentalism to have to have bad guys to fight against. Now I think moderates were (and are) wrong about many things, but they were dead right about this one. And it is to our shame.

It is appalling how badly we treat each other. Some of the nastiest, most petty, most untrustworthy people I know are Southern Baptist ministers and denominational servants. I’m dead serious. Now don’t misunderstand me-most of the folks I know are not like this. But the fact that any are like this is a disgrace to Southern Baptists and a disgrace to the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. I have seen “leaders” speak out of both sides of their mouth without batting an eye. I have seen pastors strut when they are sitting down. I have heard gossip and even vitriol couched in the language of concern and piety. I have seen people lie on weblogs, and then seen others lie when they responded to the first liars. I have heard backhanded compliments and seen daggered smiles. I have seen well-meaning men too chicken to confront other men who were sinning in their actions and speech. And I have seen some who were confronted (some by me) dismiss it with a “well, that’s not what I meant brother”. Indeed.

I already mentioned why most of the folks I talk to complain about the SBC. Now let me tell you what most bothers me about the SBC-the way we treat each other. By God’s grace I have a fantastic job, doing exactly what I want to do for exactly whom I want to be doing it. I work for godly men, and I mean that with utter sincerity. But when I see how some folks in the SBC treat each other, it makes me want to walk away from this whole thing and join another group. And I teach Southern Baptist history and identity for a living.

Friends, we have got to treat each other Christianly and we’ve got to be honest enough to admit that much of the time we don’t. I’m sick and tired of gossip, slander, character assassinations, and dog and pony shows. I want to see more integrity and hear more gospel.

I’m sorry for being so pointed (I’m on the verge of weeping while I write this-I’ve been holding this in for years), but this is a serious problem and everyone reading this article knows it is a serious problem. So what are we going to do about it?