by Steve Lutz
All Sandy was trying to do that night was host a simple Christmas Cookie party for her neighbors. Exchange some cookies, tell some stories, and enjoy the festive time of year. But the mood changed when they learned that Sandy’s new neighbor, a young mom in her thirties, had just had a stroke the day before.
Sobered by this news, another neighbor suggested they take up a collection to help pay for her medical expenses and the kids’ Christmas, which they did. A couple weeks later, this young mom had returned home but faced a difficult recovery. She had partial paralysis and couldn’t do much of anything without assistance. She was learning to walk again. She also struggled emotionally as she wasn’t able to help her family, or work, or do any number of things that had given her identity.
Sandy continued to check in on her and offer help. She prayed for her and brought over a devotional book and they got to talking. It turned out her neighbor had a Christian background, was actually a pastor’s daughter, but had largely wandered away from the faith. Her medical crisis had surfaced some old questions. She was asking where God was in all of this, and beginning to find some answers as she started reading the devotional book, and started streaming her father’s church services online.
For the next couple years, Sandy remained a faithful presence in her neighbor’s life, driving her to her many doctors and physical therapy appointments. All the time Sandy spent driving her around led to many conversations about faith and life. Her neighbor came back to her Christian faith, and eventually so did the rest of her family.
Today this neighbor is doing much better and able to be more independent. But Sandy’s relationship with them is stronger than ever. “I am still there a lot. I feel like part of the family. I help the kids with their online schooling. It brought us closer, talking about where is God in tough times. It’s helped me to see God work in hard situations…I’m thankful to have been available, and I think God put all this together, starting with the cookie party to bring neighbors to the same place so we could respond.”
Sandy is a Front Yard Missionary. She lives her life with a holy expectancy and availability to love and serve those around her. When a need arises, she’s there. For her and other Christ followers, this is so ingrained that it comes naturally. But this doesn’t seem to come as naturally for many other Christians, at least in North America. We seem to have forgotten or even lost something at the absolute core of being a disciple: “Love your neighbor.”
When Jesus was asked to boil all the Scriptures (and thus all the Christian life) down to its essence, this was his reply:
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36–40 NIV).
If you’ve been a Christian for a while, you’ve likely heard this many times. But we shouldn’t let our familiarity with these words obscure how brilliant and radical they are. Jesus is calling us to a full-hearted, fully-devoted, never-stopping love for both God and neighbor. He’s saying that’s what this Christian life is all about.
When I say simple, I don’t mean that this is easy or simplistic. It’s certainly not easy. Only when we begin swimming against the current of our self-interest to love God and neighbor do we feel how hard this truly is. And yet when the Holy Spirit is at work in us, he gives us the power to choose God and others ahead of ourselves.
Nor is this simplistic. The Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., accustomed to dealing with finely nuanced legal arguments, was quoted as saying, “I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” Jesus has taken all 613 commands of the Old Testament, plus the many other rules and regulations that had sprung up around them, and given us simplicity on the other side of complexity.
Love God. Love Neighbor. It really is that simple.
Here’s my conviction: the primary way God intended for us to interact with the world is as a neighbor, what we call a Front Yard Missionary. It’s my experience that when we lean into God’s design for us, we experience his blessing in new and profound ways. It’s my hope that we can help catalyze a movement of people loving their neighbors as God designed. When we latch onto this, we believe it will be transformative for individuals, churches, neighborhoods, and the world — and for you.
So what does a Front Yard Missionary do? Here’s how we define it: Moving out in love towards the people God has put in our path. Just like Sandy did. Simple. But not easy or simplistic.
This is excerpted from a draft of my forthcoming book, Front Yard Mission.