Do You Know Why Jesus Said, "Love Your Neighbor"?

If you want to make engaging mission much simpler for you (and more fun), try doing something Jesus told you to do:

Love your neighbor.

Do you know why Jesus said to love your neighbor?  Because it works.

There is no more effective way to engage real mission than by being with, eating with, and talking with real people who really need the grace and truth of Jesus. By creating this simple context of friendship, we are in a place where we can offer a little grace, a little good news, a little truth when our neighbor needs a cool cup of Jesus’ water.

We make mission so much harder and more awkward when we neglect the simplest ingredient: getting to know our neighbors.  What’s their name? What’s their story? What’s Jesus already been up to in their life?

If you say you’re “all-in” for joining Jesus on His mission, it starts with actually loving your neighbor which means hanging out with them. If joining Jesus on His mission seems to be stalled for you or taking a really long time to gain traction, the diagnosis is simple: you probably haven’t gotten around to loving your neighbor yet and hanging out with them regularly.

When Jesus says, “Love your neighbor,” He doesn’t want you to just memorize the words, or discuss it’s meaning in church, or recite it in the original Greek. He wants you to go home and do it.

Again, the reason Jesus says to love your neighbor is because it works.  You know why mission isn’t working in many of our communities?  Christians are disobeying Jesus.  We are not getting to know our neighbor, eating with our neighbor, laughing with our neighbor, mourning with our neighbor, talking about meaningful things with our neighbor.  We are not loving our neighbor.

So, let’s cut it out.  Let’s repent, believe the good news and go with Jesus to love our neighbor.

How do we get started?  Follow the K.I.S.S. method:

  • Share some food

  • Share some laughs

  • Share some stories

  • Add grace

  • Repeat regularly

And the Kingdom comes and the will of the Father is done.

Now go have some fun! (Your neighbor needs it.)

"Making Jesus Real" | An Advent Tale

Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”

1 Corinthians 12:27, “Now you are the body of Christ.”

It’s a very Advent-y thought: God becoming flesh. But more than being an Advent thought, God intends it to be an ongoing reality for His material creation.

How? Through His people.

Here’s what I mean: God became flesh in Jesus. Jesus died and rose to take away our sins. His Spirit is breathed back into us through Baptism. We now literally have Jesus inside of us. We now are the material body of Christ in the material world of creation.

And what do we now do?  Sit on the bench and run out the clock until we die and go to Heaven?  Or is there something more in the meantime?

This past fall, I met Melanie and her husband, Don.  They live in the northeast where I was leading a mission training at their church. Melanie shared with me how she had become a Christian as an adult. She said that as she looks back on her years growing up, she now sees that Jesus was already introducing Himself to her by the way people interacted with her.

I pointed out that her story is a revealing example of what the Bible means when it calls Christians “the body of Christ.”  In other words, being the body of Christ is not a theological thought but a material reality for the people around us.  Jesus is always present. But His presence, love and activity become real… become experiential… become tangible through His people.

When we, as the body of Jesus, live out the love of Jesus, we make the person of Jesus real to the people around us who need Him so badly. That is, indeed, very Advent-y.

I asked Melanie to tell us her story.  And she graciously complied below.  Enjoy!  And Merry Advent!

Melanie’s Story

Years ago, I stopped in at a church to make an emergency phone call, on my way home from work. The pastor spent some time talking with me, gave me a Bible (my first one) and invited me to a service. Not long after that, Pastor Bill baptized me into the Christian faith.

I’m so thankful that he took the time to care.

As I read God’s Word and listened to Pastor Bill’s sermons, I remembered people who had been a part of my life earlier on and, with amazement, recognized the love of Jesus in them.


She was a senior and I was a freshman in high school, when I joined the silks squad. I remember being so excited and eager to learn how to twirl my flag while marching with the school band. To join meant to practice twirling in sync with the other squad members, of course, and this was hard for me because I was shy and I felt intimidated by the older girls.

Cynthia picked up on my discomfort and came to my rescue. She was warm and friendly, and she went out of her way to talk with me and to help me feel welcome. She even gave me rides home from practice, a real honor being that I was a lowly freshman.

There was something noticeably different about Cynthia. For one thing, she listened to Amy Grant on her car radio. I’d never heard of her before, so Cynthia explained that she sang Christian music. Cynthia went to church, and I’d never heard any other teenagers talk about that before either. However, she didn’t talk too much about it. She seemed more interested in hearing what I had to say.

Cynthia was different in a lot of ways, but most importantly she treated me in a way that I knew I didn’t deserve to be treated. That was the key. That was the real Jesus connection for me. Family loves you because you are family, but this girl - why did she genuinely care for me?

When the squad came together for a weekend in the Poconos, Cynthia’s support enabled me to overcome my shyness and join in the fun. I didn’t even mind too much when the girls toothpasted and feathered me, my ‘initiation’ into the group, because I knew that Cynthia and I would laugh about it after. It meant so, so much to know that this trusted friend was right there with me.

Remembering Cynthia’s care made everything I was reading in my Bible and hearing in church services wonderfully real for me. She had made the love of Jesus real for me. I can’t remember the names of the other girls in my silks squad, but I will never forget Cynthia.

After a few years I moved on to a new job and a new church, and I lost touch with Pastor Bill. I hadn’t kept up with Cynthia either. I wonder if they have any idea what an impact their little acts of kindness have had in my life?

They were just living out their faith in Jesus each day, actively and intentionally loving the people that our Lord brought into their lives, according to His Master Plan. They couldn’t see that plan, and they didn’t need to. Their trust in it, and in Him, made it real for them.

And, some years later, for me.

"Grandparenting in the Neighborhood This Fall"

I was talking with a retired couple from Denver.  They have lived in the same home in the same neighborhood for thirty years.  Back in the day, several families moved in around the same time and raised their kids together.  They said “neighboring” was easy then.


Those neighbors have all moved on.  The kids grew up and started lives of their own.  Now, the parents have moved on, as well.  Some retired.  Some downsized.  Some moved to be closer to their kids who are having kids.  No mater the cause, the result is the same.  My friends find themselves on the same block but nothing is the same at all.  They are the only ones left.  The neighborhood has completely turned over.  New young families move in almost monthly.  They know almost no one.

Their question: what should we do?

Sound familiar?  Many people in the congregations we work with have similar stories.  “Back in the day, neighboring was easy.”  Kids played.  Parents talked.  “We really lived the way you are describing. We really loved each other.”  Life and love and laughter and conversation flowed.  It seemed so natural. 

It can be again.

Many mourn the loss of community in their neighborhoods.  “It didn’t used to be this way.”  But, frankly, it didn’t used to be this way because we used to do things differently.  We didn’t think about it then, we didn’t plan it out, but it was happening: we were with our neighbors so we got to know our neighbors.  And, over time, as we got to know our neighbors, we started to love our neighbors.

The good news?  What used to happen naturally can happen again intentionally.

Think about it.  Your neighborhood still has several common denominators that are in play from “back in the day.” 1) new young families are moving in and living near each other (you may not be new to the neighborhood, but you are new to your new neighbors); 2) everyone has a need for community (they may not expect to fill that need with neighbors, but everyone still has that need); 3) the children in the neighborhood (you are not the parents, but you can thoroughly empathize with parents who are parenting); 4) Jesus is on the loose in your neighborhood (and He still wants families to have the peace and joy of living in His grace and truth).

The only thing missing?  Someone being intentional about neighboring… like you.

Back in the day, it used to happen naturally.  But Susan and I have found over and over again, from coast to coast, from urban settings to rural, that if someone becomes intentional about neighboring, neighborhoods come alive and neighbors start to love each other again. And the “Neighborhood Grandparents” can lead the way.

Are you the only “old” people left in the neighborhood?  Perfect!  You can become every family’s surrogate grandpa or grandma!

And that brings us back to my friends’ question, “What should we do.”

Be intentional about “neighboring.”

  • Bake some cookies and head out to start welcoming new families to the neighborhood. (Everyone loves fresh baked goodies. Even if families can’t accept them for dietary reasons, they will love that you offered.)

  • Start a closed Facebook page for the neighborhood and invite new neighbors to join it. This helps everyone stay in touch and can increase safety in the neighborhood.

  • Halloween is a great time to start connecting with neighbors.  Instead of hiding behind closed doors with the lights off, be out on the front lawn with the best candy on the block.  (Don’t go cheap! Now is not the time to be stingy.)  Some have asked about putting “Jesus-stickers” on bags or handing out pamphlets.  I would advise against this.  The information you want to share is awesome, but the context for the sharing is not.  Work on building friendship over time so you eventually have a natural context for sharing values and beliefs back and forth.  If you really believe now is the time for Jesus-stickers, etc., then be sure to give the absolute BEST candy.

  • The Thanksgiving season offers a unique opportunity to interact with new neighbors and their kids.  Right after Halloween, go door to door, re-introduce yourself and say something like, “Thanksgiving is such a wonderful time to show our thanks and share with others.  Wouldn’t it be cool to find someone in our own neighborhood who could use a little help or a little hope?  Do you know of anyone we can love-on and bless over the upcoming holiday season?”  Maybe it’s a single parent, or a widow(er), or someone who is battling an illness… you get the idea.  Invite neighbors to help figure it out.  Then work together to organize how everyone can be a part of whatever is decided.

  • Advent, believe it or not, is a prime time for getting to know young families better.  Invite families over to make Advent Wreaths together.  (We have found this to be very popular with young families longing to find more substance for their Christmas celebrations.)  Invite families into your home for this.  Ask parents ahead of time if there are any dietary restrictions.  (Hot chocolate and cookies are favorites if they are permissible.)  Provide foam rings from the craft store, four thinner candles, one thicker candle that can stand on its own, and some artificial greenery.  Let them decorate their own wreath.  You can share with them where Christmas came from, “Christians believe that God loves each of us so much that He sent His Son Jesus into our world to save us from our sin. They believe Jesus was born on Christmas. That’s why we have all the Christmas fun!  To celebrate His birth!  The Advent Wreath helps people remember this and count down the days to Jesus’ birthday!”

  • In connection with the Advent Wreath, or as a Christmas gift later, you can give each family the gift of a children’s Christmas book.  We have found Arch Books from Concordia Publishing House to be really, really good for this.  Right now Arch Books are on sale for only $1.99 each.  Here’s a link https://www.cph.org/c-246-arch-books.aspx?REName=Books%20%26%20Bibles&plk=240.

 What not to do:

  • Don’t be weird and clingy.  Don’t be presumptuous and don’t make this about you.  Instead, be friendly.  Be yourself.  Be helpful.  Be welcoming.  Read the signals they are sending you.

  • Don’t have an agenda.  And don’t make this simply about “getting them to church.”  If you are offering friendship as bait for church membership, they will see right through your deception.  And be disappointed.  What they need, especially in the beginning, is not your congregation but you.  In other words, before you invite them to church, BE the church.  Be the person they are glad to see.  Be the person with a smile and a word of encouragement.  Be the person who always seems to have a little love, joy and peace to spare.  Be the person they want to invite to their kid’s birthday party.  Simply love them and see what Jesus does from there.

Happy Grandparenting!

"Armed Robbery and Emmanuel"

I was taught a valuable lesson about being the “Emmanuel” of God by an armed robbery.

Between March and August, 2011, I worked in a jewelry store owned by my neighbors. They hired me while I got back on my feet and started building the foundation for Dwelling 1:14. During my six months at the store, I never did find my mojo as a jewelry-guy, but I got to know the staff and became friends with many of them. I got to know their stories and they got to know mine.

Of course, most of my story is wrapped up in being the husband of Susan; the father of Amanda, Emilie, and Ellen; a pastor for 20+ years; and a follower of Jesus. Some of the staff embraced me right away. Some were unsure of the “new pastor guy.” I had to prove I was there not to sell religion to them, but jewelry to the customers. And eventually I did.

Even though I never got the hang of selling jewelry, as the months passed I began to gain the trust of the rest of the staff by at least trying hard and being willing to laugh at myself. And even though I wasn’t selling religion (or, more likely, because of it), I eventually found myself having spiritual conversations with most of them. I did that not by being a pushy or clever Jesus-salesperson, but by being a watchful Jesus-follower. I simply watched and listened for what Jesus was already up to. I would ask some questions, do some listening, offer some encouragement or insight or, sometimes, prayer. I was surprised when they began jokingly referring to me as “the Pastor of Lewis Jewels and Timepieces.”

When the day came for me to resign my position so I could lead Dwelling 1:14 fulltime, I was leaving a group of friends. And, after that, I would make it a point to regularly stop in to say “hello” and stay in touch. Which is why I was so concerned when I got the phone call from my owner-friend a couple years later. The store had been robbed at gunpoint. Shots had been fired. The armed robber had been wounded. Everyone was fine. But no one was fine. They had shut down the store for a couple days to clean up the damage. “But could you come by?” my friend asked. “I think everyone needs some encouragement and prayer.” We set it up that I would come the next morning.

When I arrived, the store itself was almost back to normal. But the staff was not. They were trying to be brave but their eyes were still haunted. Fear remained close by. My friend gathered his staff. The store became a sanctuary. I gave them words of grace and encouragement. We held hands and prayed in the name of Jesus. It was good. It was reassuring. It helped.

Then my friend made a little announcement. “For the remainder of the morning Greg will be available to talk with you in the back office. Feel free to come back. Take as much time as you need.”

Everyone headed back to work and I headed back to the office to await the first person. And I waited… and I waited… I had waited about 15 minutes when I realized no one would be coming to me in the office. I wasn’t sure what was going on, so I decided to go back out into the store and see. I went up to the first lady I saw and just asked her how she was doing. For the next several minutes she poured out what she had experienced the day of the robbery, what her thoughts had been, and what her feelings still were. I was able to repeat several of the things I had said earlier to the group, but this time it was to her personally. There were tears, there were smiles, there were hugs.

I spent the next couple hours going from person to person doing the same thing.

What had I learned? I call it “the Lesson of Emmanuel.” I could have waited all day for the people to come to me in the office and nothing would have happened. But, as soon as I went to them – and was with them – the words and feelings and healings began to flow. They just needed someone to come to them. To be with them. To ask. And then listen. When all the “bad stuff” from inside got out, then the “good news” I had to share could be heard and get in.

Of course, “Emmanuel” means “God with us.” And Jesus is Emmanuel… literally. He is the “with us” God. He is God made flesh and dwelling with us. And as the Father sent him, so he now sends us. Because Jesus is inside of us through baptism, we are now Emmanuel… literally. We are the body of Jesus living in the neighborhood, heading off to work, attending classes at school.

And we are sent. Not to sit in offices waiting for hurting people to come to us, but to go out to them and see how they’re doing. Allow me to repeat: Not to wait for them, but to go to them. To be with them.

That’s what an armed robbery taught me about Emmanuel.