Hanging on the wall in front of my writing desk is a picture of our house in 1940. I (Lance) look at that picture and think, Seventy-five years ago the Lord was in this neighborhood. My neighborhood. Way back then, God was seeking to bring the same compassion, care, peace, and mutual neighborly love he is encouraging people to do by prompting us to write this book.
It is no different in your neighborhood. The Lord got there long before you. He is not just passively or distantly observing. In John 5:17 Jesus said, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” God is doing something in your neighborhood. You do not have to talk him into joining you. It should be comforting to know you are joining what he is already doing.
So if God is in your neighborhood, and has been there for a long, long time, what stops you from reaching out to those nearby? Often it’s a question that haunts you, and stands as a barrier between you and intentional friendships with neighbors. Whatever it is, not being able to remember someone’s name, a lifestyle you disagree with, or a past conflict, there is an answer that needs to be backed up with courage. Here are four of the most-asked questions, and responses we’ve learned from loving our neighbors.
Common Questions About Loving Our Neighbors
People we talk to most often ask:
Q: How do I start loving my neighbors?
A: The best answer to this question is pretty simple. Begin with what you have. Simply start with what and whom you know. Don’t do it alone. It is much more fun and encouraging if you invite others to join you.
An example of this comes from my (Lance) wife. She decided to do an inventory of her own skills and knowledge one day after talking with Staci, a neighbor who mentioned she didn’t know how to break down a whole chicken. Sherri said, “Come over and I’ll be glad to teach you. You will save money and you can learn to make your own chicken stock, which is a savings in itself.” This incident got Sherri to thinking that there are a myriad of lost skills that were known by most women for generations but are somewhat rare nowadays: canning, gardening, raising backyard chickens, sewing, composting, raising backyard honey bees, and so on.
Men can organize a similar type of group, and they can also teach and learn from the women. Everyone needs to know how to change a car tire and how to monitor and top off the fluids in their engine. Basic carpentry skills and home maintenance are just a few of the things that are both resourceful and helpful for everyone to know.
Q: I’ve lived here for years and am embarrassed that I don’t know my neighbors. How do I introduce myself to someone I’ve waved to for years?
A: The short answer is, “Just do it.” Swallow hard and walk across the street. The small pain we endure in re-introducing ourselves is a tiny price to pay for the possibility of making a fellow resident into a neighbor and friend.
I (Lance) recently reintroduced myself to a couple I met shortly after we moved into our home, almost five years ago. I forgot their names and we had a gathering coming up and we wanted to invite them. Glancing out the window one evening I saw them walking their dog and quickly slipped on a pair of shoes and ran across the street. I decided to just go ahead and eat the crow. “Hi, I’m Lance, from the house on the corner. We met a long time ago and I’m embarrassed that we never had you over to our home. Can you tell me your names again?” They smiled widely, laughed, and said they felt the same way. Next, I invited them to our gathering and they happily accepted, showed up, and it is clear a friendship has begun—after almost five years!
Q: How do I reach out to neighbors whose lifestyle I disagree with?
A: In the mode of Jesus, let us answer this question with a question: Did Jesus agree with the lifestyle of the prostitutes, tax collectors, adulterers, and others we see him eating with and hanging out with throughout the Gospels? Moreover, when did Jesus reach out to you? Did he agree with your lifestyle? If we are talking about more than sexual orientation, does he agree with our lifestyle (consumerism, overindulgence, and the like) right now?
Jesus said he was sent to those who were in need of a doctor, not to the healthy ones. When we shut our lives off from everyone other than our Christian friends it is tantamount to a hospital only admitting healthy people. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they cannot communicate; they cannot communicate because they are separated.” Our first hurdle is to eliminate the gap of separation.
Q: How do I reach out to a neighbor I have had conflict with?
A: For a Christian who is seeking the welfare of their neighborhood, and is trying to love his or her neighbor, it can be rather daunting when we have had some sort of neighborhood conflict. When this happens we need to take another look at the basics of who we are—our identity as followers of Jesus. We are called to be peacemakers, to bless those who curse us, to offer food and drink to our enemies.
If the kingdom of heaven is going to become tangible we must start taking Jesus literally. Make every effort to make peace. The apostle Paul wrote, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). Do what you can to extend an olive branch of reconciliation. If the conflict has been over a situation that you can bring peace to by giving in, you can consider allowing yourself to be wronged for the sake of making peace. If you host a meal or event, invite the neighbor you have had issues with, just like you would anyone else.
Most people just dream of possibilities. Few people take action to bring possibility into tangibility. Our neighborhoods will become livable and sprinkled with the foretastes of heaven only when we decide to act on the little notions, daydreams, and “crazy” ideas running around in our heads. The starting point lies in the word ownership. You must own the possibility in your neighborhood. Take ownership and act upon it. If you choose to do so, you and your neighbors can experience life next door as it is in heaven.
Taken from Next Door As It Is in Heaven copyright © 2016 by Lance Ford and Brad Brisco. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
Lance Ford was a church planter and pastor for 20 years. He is the author of several books, including Revangelical, and Right Here, Right Now (with Alan Hirsch).
Brad Brisco has been involved in church planting for over 17 years and is currently a church-planting catalyst for a network of Baptist churches in Kansas City. He is the cofounder of Forge Kansas City and coauthor (with Lance Ford) of Missional Essentials and The Missional Quest
Together Lance and Brad serve on Forge America, a missions-training network, and they train and consult for churches and faith communities. They are both co-founders of the Sentralized Conference.