Jeff was a linebacker on our college football team. That was a good thing because the washing machine we were carrying down treacherously narrow concrete stairs into my stinky, dark basement felt like it was full of offensive linemen. Jeff and his wife Angelina were helping us move into our first home. My wife Kristy and I scraped every penny we had (and a few we didn’t have) together to buy this place that was worth a little less than a fancy sport utility vehicle.
We knew we were moving into a rougher part of town, and we liked that, in theory. We thought, “Jesus would probably visit this part of town.” We also thought, “This is the only part of town we can afford.” Honestly, I probably used the first thought to cover my pride-bruise from the second. As we unloaded the last truckload, I told Jeff how we hoped to make a difference on our street but didn’t know where to start. Without hesitating, he said, “You’ve got a big, open backyard. Why don’t you just cook up some hot dogs and invite people over.”
Jeff grew up in the Midwestern U.S. where people still eat hot dogs and some neighbors still talk to each other. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay area where hot dogs are basically outlawed and neighbors are people you might wave at on national holidays. Over the next few years, we had things stolen, multiple drug raids within 100 yards of us, a gun pulled on our dog in front of our kids, shake-and-bake meth bottles exploding in our yard, and heavy metal band practice at 1:00am to lull our growing family to sleep. Sadly, to this point we hadn’t pulled off Jeff’s hot dog cookout idea. In fact, at this point I thought, “What’s the use?”
I was working at a humanitarian organization that was meeting needs all around the world during the day, and I was coming home to shut my blinds to the needs of my own neighbors at night. Then, three things happened. First, our dogs learned to jump our fence after cats. Second, our kids got old enough to talk to strangers. Third, Adam Stoddard, our pastor at the time, said something like, “Christianity is going the places Jesus would go, and doing the things Jesus would do, for the people Jesus would do them for.” I knew Adam didn’t make this up. I grew up hearing my grandparents and parents preach this way, too. What we do for someone in need, we do for Jesus (Matthew 25:35-40). When we bear each others’ burdens, we fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2). Oh, and we’re called to love our neighbor the way Christ loved us (John 15:12). So, my dogs dragged me into people’s yards to apologize for their anti-feline behavior. My kids helped turn strangers into neighbors. And, a pastor reminded me what I had forgotten. Being a Christian is loving the person in front of you the way Jesus first loved the soul inside of you.
We never ended up sharing hot dogs. (I still think they’re not really food.) But before we moved, Kristy and I shared kiddie pools, pulled pork, backyard cookouts, birthday parties, babysitting, vulnerable stories, our safety, the reason for the hope we had, playdates, prayers, lawnmowers, rides, and more. Kristy was honored by city hall for her involvement with local organizations to help at-risk neighborhoods find their voice and discover the resources and solutions to their issues. Our neighborhood discovered our neighbors were our greatest resource.
Looking back, we didn’t discover anything new. Jeff knew it all along. So did Jesus. One day an expert in the law asked Jesus what the most important commandment was.
Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-40 NLT
So, here’s my advice to you. Don’t take as long as we did to connect Jesus’ two commandments. Just start loving your neighbors on your street, in the places you go, and in the world you were created to love. Need more inspiration and practical ideas?