THE POWER OF LOVE
“Thanks for loving me.”
Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?… If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. James 2:5, 8
Loving our neighbor is one the most powerful weapons we have in our arsenal. Neighbors may be critical about us because we are Christians; however, once they experience the flow of God’s love through us they often find it difficult to maintain this perspective. Jesus tells us, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) The word Jesus uses here for “good” is kalos, which means beautiful…beautiful because the deeds glorify our heavenly Father. When we allow the light of God’s love to be expressed toward our neighbors, they often find it attractive and are irresistibly drawn to it. This is even in the case of desperate neighborhoods like Joe and Heidi’s. Observe how the love of God expressed through Joe’s life impacts a young man named Danny.
Joe and Heidi White’s Neighborhood (Jackson Neighborhood)
When I saw Danny for the first time, I knew that he would cause us trouble. Danny was not just a typical teenager in our neighborhood, he was a known gang member. He wore the color red to indicate his gang and he wore a scowl on his face. He wouldn’t look you in the eyes when you said hello and he would never dare to smile or even acknowledge you if you said hi. It was clear that he had a hard life, but it was also clear that he had a hard heart.
Occasionally, my wife and I would see Danny walking through the neighborhood and we would always make it a point to roll down our windows and yell, “Heeeeey Daaaaaaany” and wave as we drove by. For months, he didn’t even acknowledge us. The only reason we knew his name was because one evening he walked by our home and we asked him. He was apprehensive to tell us, undoubtedly uncertain as to why we’d even care to know.
What would it take to love Danny and others like him? Our neighborhood is filled with “Dannys.” They hate school, have dysfunctional homes, are gang affiliated and many have criminal records. The Dannys in our neighborhood end up in one of 3 places: dead, jail, or live in perpetual poverty. They have extreme barriers to employment.
According to the latest Barna Research (a visionary research and resource company), Fresno has the highest church attendance rate on the West Coast but it also has the second highest rate of concentrated poverty in the nation (Brookings Institute). What does this mean? It means, at minimum, that church attendance isn’t transforming our cities. Most desperate neighborhoods and kids like Danny are becoming the latest statistics for crime rates and school dropout statistics.
What does it mean that Jesus would ask His church to love their neighbor, Danny? As a church in the Jackson Neighborhood, we obsessed about this question. He wouldn’t come to church with us and we couldn’t force him to learn something at a school he hated. It was under these desperate conditions and with an obsession to love our neighbor Danny, an idea was born.
Behind our 100-year-old home was an abandoned workshop that at one time was used as a mechanics garage for the Jackson Neighborhood. It had been in a state of disrepair for the past 100 years. We wondered if we could turn that workshop into an artisan space where kids in our neighborhood could learn job transferable skills like welding and woodworking. Would kids like Danny with extreme barriers to employment thrive in an environment outside of the classroom in a scenario where learning was possible under the mentorship of skilled artisans?
For the next year, in an attempt to love our neighbor Danny, we renovated this shop into a beautiful space filled with high end woodworking equipment. We created a business called Neighbored Jobs which would train and employ Danny to make Little Libraries. Little libraries are little houses that people mount on a post and often are painted to match their home. They are filled with books that neighbors can take, donate, and return. They are a “little library” for your neighborhood.
We invited Danny to come over one day to show him the workshop. He was amazed at all the cool woodworking equipment. We asked, “Danny, would you like to make money? We want to start a business that you would run. We will teach you how to make little libraries and we will find effective ways to sell them. When we sell them, all the profit will go to you.” To our surprise he said, “Yes!” Over the next year we taught Danny to make the little libraries and we sold them. By hiring Danny to build Free Little Libraries, people were providing an opportunity for him to prove his potential.
Danny used high quality cedar, birch, and poplar and all of his libraries were waterproof and durable. People bought them like crazy and as sales increased so did his confidence. He began to smile and say hello. He began to exchange his gang colors for shirts which had the company logo. As his skills increased, so did his joy — he wasn’t just a school drop-out, he was a craftsman and a business owner. In the following year, he began to attend church with us in the neighborhood — each week he gathered with neighbors and participated in the community of neighbors. Recently I asked him, “Danny, you’ve come a long way in these last few years. Do you see how much has changed in your life since we first met?” Danny isn’t a “talker”, he’s still quiet and reserved but what he said spoke volumes. He said, “Yeah.” And after a long pause said, “I’m gonna do something great with my life. Thanks for loving me.” Jesus, the Master Carpenter is welcoming his apprentice Danny into a new future filled with hope and opportunity. Everything is possible when we love our neighbors.
A time for reflection:
As you reflect on Danny’s story, think of Joe’s level of commitment to love him as himself. Who sacrifices like this for another today? It is otherworldly. Back in the early 70s there was a little book by Francis Schaeffer entitled, The Mark of a Christian that had great influence in the body of Christ. The mark he referred to is love…the love of God flowing through us to another human being. This is the kind of love that Joe demonstrated in Danny’s life. The fact that Danny said, “Thanks for loving me” reveals that God’s love touched his life in a profound way. Is the Lord calling you to love someone, particularly in your neighborhood? Who might that be? Are you ready to uncap the Lord’s love and let it flow through you to this person? Where should you start? Ask the Lord to give you direction and then follow His lead.
(Joe and his wife Heidi are the founders and lead pastors of Neighborhood Church. Joe is the preaching pastor and directional leader for Neighborhood and has a heart for church planting, leadership development, and urban ministry. He grew up in Fresno’s highest-crime lowest income neighborhood as the son of urban missionaries and has been nurtured and trained in CCD principles (http://www.ccda.org) his entire life. He has a BA in Biblical Studies, a Diploma in Urban Ministry, a Diploma in Christian Studies, and a Master of Divinity. Like all the Neighborhood Church Staff, he lives in the Jackson Neighborhood with his wife and 4 kids. They absolutely adore their neighbors and neighborhood. You can connect with them at: www.joeandheidiwhite.blogspot.com; www.neighborhoodchurchfresno.com. (You can order a little library at www.neighborhoodjobs.info.)