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Episode 5: Next Door As It Is In Heaven

Gary Kendall interviews author Lance Ford

Meet author Lance Ford who is a national leader sharing on how to reach your neighbors and bring heaven to earth. Lance tells the story of engaging a neighbor who was certain he would be rejected. You’ll want to hear his take on being the voice of God’s word in the neighborhood.

Find Lance’s book on Amazon here: “Next Door As in Heaven.”

Transcript

Gary Kendall: Welcome to the Blessed podcast, where we join Jesus where he’s already at work: where we live, study, work, and play. We bring guests who have expertise in areas that are important to us as we attempt to join God. Specifically, we’re talking about neighboring today. We’re talking with Lance Ford, who is an author with Brad Briscoe. Together, they wrote Next Door as it is in Heaven. Brad used to live in Kansas City, which is where we first met, and Lance too to. They lived in a neighborhood there and wrote about their experiences. I can’t wait for Lance to share a little bit about that book. Welcome Lance, I’m glad you can be a part of this today.

Lance Ford: It’s good to be here Gary, I appreciate it.

Gary Kendall: The last time we saw each other, we were in Kansas City and both of us are doing something different now. So catch me up from the time we were in Kansas City. Tell me a little bit about your book and how you got to where you are today.

Lance Ford: My wife and I spent around six years living Kansas City and for the last two years we’ve lived in right above Panama City, Florida, near her parents. We moved back out into the country where we’d been before, and she’s a country girl. It was her opportunity, after 37 years of doing everything I wanted to do, for us to get to do what she wanted to do. We’re here where it’s warm all year long.

Gary Kendall: Good deal. Tell me about the book. You and Brad you wrote this book together out of your experiences in neighboring. Neighboring is probably my favorite topic. So tell me a little bit about how the book came to be.

Lance Ford: Well, there are different ways that books come to mind, or the evolution of it when a subject gets in your heart. This one was a bit of a surprise, really. Brad and I were working in a lot of the incarnational and missional type of leadership agencies. Over the last several years, during that time in Kansas City, we both started having some neat experiences in the neighborhood that we moved into. We learned a lot. Our neighborhoods really became laboratories for us. We ended up waking up one day thinking about the neat stories we had collected. We learned a lot of what to do and what not to do. We practiced what we’d been preaching for the last 15 years. We had collected a lot of stories from other people that we’d been around. We became really convinced that this whole missional movement that we’ve been a part of, it was not any more complicated than loving your actual neighbor as yourself. If you just did that, you could probably have a pretty good impact on a community.

Gary Kendall: One of the things I like about the book is the way you mixed neighboring as a strategy with biblical principles that underlie it from the very beginning. Then you tell us some very good stories in there. Talk to us a little bit about the missionary nature of God. God is sending God, God is a missionary God. How had that worked its way into your heart until you realized that Jesus meant love my actual neighbor, not the aspirational, “I love everybody,” or the story of the good Samaritan where I am going to help someone who is broken down on the road. But maybe Jesus actually meant love my real neighbor, the one who lives next door. Tell us about that.

Lance Ford: I’m like so many of your listeners. I’ve got the seminary degrees and all that, but I never considered myself a theologian. What I do know, theologically, is that God is a missionary God. Throughout the Old Testament, you see that God sent. “Here I am send me.” The nature of God is such that He that looked up on the brokenness of humanity and said “I’m going to do everything I can to reach them.” He didn’t do that by sending a tract. He didn’t do that by inviting us to some event. No, He actually moved in. John 1:14 says that “The word of God was made flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.” So the thought was, “What would that really look like?” It’s interesting to me that Jesus was called the Word of God. What an interesting title. What an interesting name. The word of God. What is the Word? I started thinking about this for our neighborhood. A person’s word is their bond, it’s their promise. It’s also someone’s opinion. So what would it look like if God’s opinion moved into this neighborhood? A lot of people have really bad opinions about God. Even more, some people think God has certain opinions about them. What would it look like if we started living in such a way that that word became flesh? What if God’s opinion about people, God’s promises about people, God’s attitude about people started taking on flesh and blood by the people that claim his name? My wife and I decided to try to be some of those people. I know the same thing happened with Brad and Michelle. Just taking it literally.

Gary Kendall: I was talking at a church not too long ago and I was talking about the two great commandments: love God and love your neighbor. I was posing the question: What if Jesus meant your actual neighbor? A guy walked up to me after the service and he said, “That was a total blind spot to me.” Here’s a guy who had been in the church for years and never took it literally, never thought that God was talking about his actual neighbor when he read this story of the good Samaritan. He was imagining helping someone broken down on the road. Completely missed the point of that.

Lance Ford: I think we’ve all been guilty of that, so much. We kind of theorize the scriptures. That’s typical. I think preachers have the ability to really complicate something very simple.

Gary Kendall: Guilty as charged. You tell some great stories in the book. Tell us a story. It doesn’t have to be from the book, but tell us a story about neighboring.

Lance Ford: One of the things that happened in our neighborhood was there was a house that went up for sale that was across the street from us. For several years that we’d been living there, there was not a couple in our demographic, late 40s, early 50s. There just wasn’t anyone right in that sweet spot. My wife was really praying that someone would buy this house that would be in that sweet spot. The house ended up selling. We see the moving vans come in one night and she’s all excited. She said she hoped the Lord answered her prayers for someone like us to move in there. She runs down to the store she gets a nice bottle of wine and she tells me the next day to go meet them. I’m the extrovert, so I have to do all the extrovert stuff. She told me to go over there find out if her prayers got answered.

I go ring the doorbell the guy answers the door. He’s probably in his mid 60s, and I’m thinking her prayers didn’t get answered. We hit it off. I welcomed to the neighborhood and told him who I was. In passing, he said he wished partner were there to meet me. He said Richard was in London that week. I thought, well her prayers didn’t get quite answered. He said he’s there because he’s retired. I asked what he did, and he said he worked for the IRS for 35 years. I always joke, it’s like someone said they worked for Hitler for 40 years and then retired. Anyway, we chatted a little more and he asked what I do. As a pastor, Gary, you know you can be in a great conversation and when that question gets asked, I always try to avoid it. I have a whole series of ways to avoid it. I won’t go into those, but I try to avoid the answer directly. I usually say I work in community transformation, or I work for a non-profit. But he just kept digging and digging and digging. Finally I said I was a pastor for 20 years and now. When I got that out of my mouth, his smile dropped and he asked, “Are you one of those Christians that hate people like me?” I said no. Jesus loved tax collectors. That’s not what he expected. That’s not what I expected to come out of mouth.

Gary Kendall: God rescued you!

Lance Ford: He did. The Holy Spirit, man. I said, “No, Jesus loved tax collectors. He had one on his team.” He just looked at me with a blank stare and I looked back at him and I was like, I’m not saying another word. I’m going to see how he reacts to that. He started laughing because he knew what I just did, and he knew I knew what I just did. It was one of those magic moments. It was very clear that I saying that that’s not what I want our relationship to be about. Basically, I was trying to show the opinion of God.

We ended up having an hour conversation that first conversation. It started going deeper and he started talking to me about the hurt he had gone through growing up in the church and why he didn’t want anything to do with it. He told me about the things that had happened to him and how he’d been treated. He had been Catholic, and I told him one of my favorite authors was Catholic. I quoted Brennan Manning who said, “God loves you as you are, not as you should be because none of us are as we should be.” I told him that’s where I’m going from. I said I’ll let God sort the other stuff out. It’s just about establishing that opinion of God. That was one of the cool things. He ended up being a dear friend in the little community we had started there. He actually had cancer the first time I met him, and he hadn’t told us. Anyway, I think we were really meaningful to his life and he was meaningful to our life too.

Gary Kendall: That’s great. Thanks for sharing that. As you share that, it makes me think of something that I say often, which is that we never want to treat people as projects. A big part of our life is neighboring and we think that’s one of God’s strategies, people can never become projects because really what Jesus said was to love them. He didn’t say convert them.

Lance Ford: You’re exactly right. They know if you’ve made them your project. In fact, that very phrase has been used to me. We had a neighbor that had heard I was a pastor and was not happy that we had moved in. They were going to move because we had moved in. You know John Shirley. John is a pastor of a really great church called the gathering network in Kansas City. John and Alissa were our very next-door neighbors. There was this one couple that were not Christ followers. When they found out that two evangelical couples had moved into the neighborhood, they were not happy. They were going to leave and they let us know about it. We ended up making friends with them. Just showing love to them. Inviting them to deserts and different things. They ended up pulling their house off the market after getting a couple of cash offers. They told over dinner that they were not going to move because they had never seen Christians like us. We asked what they were talking about. They said that we were the most normal Christians they’d seen, that we didn’t act weird. I took that as a compliment. The wife also said that we never treated them like they were our projects. I thought that was profound that she said that. She said we just treated them like friends. We’re accomplishing the mission. That’s what we want to be.

Gary Kendall: Absolutely. In Kansas City, we call it signing up to be a light. So they’re going to be a light to their neighborhood, and they have this desire to be used by God. If you were going to give them two or three things to keep in the forefront of their mind as they started this journey of neighboring, what would you say?

Lance Ford: I think the first thing is start noticing. Start opening your eyes. Look and listen. A lot of times we don’t do that. We think we know what people need, rather than listening. Other than a couple of anecdotes, Jesus doesn’t show up in the Gospels until he’s 30. We see a few stories when he was a young boy, but what was he doing the first 30 years? I’m more and more convinced he was listening and he was learning the culture. He was blending in, not covertly blending in, but he was becoming “one with.” Look and listen. Open our ears to hear what the needs are and quit trying to assume that we have all the answers. A lot of times it’s not jumping in and starting a new ministry. It’s actually coming alongside of something that’s already going. It’s that common grace thing. There could be some goodness that’s already happening in a community or in a neighborhood that we could start out by just coming in and being friends with. It helps people know that we haven’t made them our projects.

Gary Kendall: That’s really good. One thing I often say to people is that I love the idea of random acts of kindness, but I think a laser shined on a particular need is a much more powerful way to witness. I often encourage people don’t do anything until you feel like God is actually giving you some real direction toward a particular person or a particular thing to do. I have the patience to wait so the Holy Spirit can actually show you. A guy told me one time that he felt like he had been waiting at least 30 days. I asked what’s happening inside of him, and he said he felt like his heart was changing. I said bingo. That may be exactly what God had in mind for these 30 days. He wanted to change you first before he sent you out, you know.

Lance Ford: In fact, that point right there that you made is kind of an anecdotal point. But when you do start living among the other, it changes you. Sometimes those who are far from God give us a gift. It’s a part of our continuing conversion towards the Gospel also.

Gary Kendall: They teach us things. Sometimes we think we’re going to go do things for them, but often it’s letting someone do something for us that will open their mind to the fact that we actually could be friends.

Lance Ford: Absolutely. That’s a great point. Sometimes we go in that mindset of I’m here to be a witness, I’m here to be the giver. When you’re able to help someone, it does something for you. It validates you. So it works both ways. When we receive the gift from the other and we do it in humility, sometimes that’s really what they need. They need to play that part. Not getting prideful is very important.

Gary Kendall: Hey Lance, tell me what your theme is. If you have a chance to talk to a church, or a group, or pastors, or in this case a podcast, what’s your sweet spot?

Lance Ford: The important thing is “Kingdom come on Earth as it is in heaven.” That’s part of the title of this book, “Next Door as it is in Heaven.”

The idea was always in my mind in the neighborhood I lived in. It’s in the mind where I live right now. I think about my neighbors and as I prayerfully pray over them you know several days a week, my prayers become more informed. For example, in Kansas City we lived in a historic neighborhood that was what we would call a walkable neighborhood. Now, we’re on 5 acres amongst neighbors that have 5, 20, 30 acres. My neighbor Marcus is far from God, but he’s a very likable young man. As I get to know him more and more, one of the things I pray for him is, “Lord, your Kingdom come, your will be done in Marcus’ earth as it is in heaven. As I pray that, I’m asking the Lord to show me anything tangible that I can do about that.

For example, when I was living in the neighborhood in Kansas City, John and I had a neighbor that was on the other side of him. She was a widowed senior citizen. John and I were talking during the winter. We saw her out shoveling her snow, and we thought “Sharon’s not going to be shoveling snow in heaven. That’s not going to be happening.” We’re thinking, “How can we bring heaven on earth?” I had a snow blower, so we just committed to clearing her driveway every time it snows before she even gets up in the morning. We’re goint to bring heaven on earth. We had an elderly neighbor on another corner named Jess. I looked out one day and saw a 78 year old man raking his leaves. Jess is not going to be raking leaves in heaven. So I got my son and John, and said, “We’re going to bring some heaven on earth. It’s about always thinking that way. It just gets in your mind and heart, and you just start living that way.

Gary Kendall: You’re talking about snow stories, my next-door neighbor broke his leg a couple of years ago stepping off the doorstep of his house. He just stepped awkwardly and broke his leg. When that happened I thought, he’s going to need someone to mow his lawn. So I mowed his lawn for him a couple times without ever asking if he needed if mowed. He really appreciated that and never forgot it. So the next time it snowed, which was about 6 months later, he was walking around in a boot. He had a snow blower and I didn’t. He would snow blow my driveway for 3 years after I mowed his lawn just one or two times.

Lance Ford: That was worth mowing that yard one or two times!

Gary Kendall: Absolutely it was! It’s so funny how those things come back.

Lance Ford: It obviously did something in him and for him to. That’s just beautiful stuff.

Gary Kendall: It is cool the way God works. What was a surprise? Has there been anything along this journey that you didn’t see coming?

Lance Ford: The biggest surprise was how easy stuff was, how hungry people are to connect because you know we live in an increasingly disconnected culture. Social media is not helping it. It’s making it worse. One of the things that I talk about in the book is this deal that we kind of stumble on called cornbread suppers. I had some friends up in Lexington that had done something like this. I won’t go into the details, buy the book and get the details. Anyway, we started this monthly gathering that was basically a potluck. I went on the app nextdoor.com. I invited anybody in our area. I said that my wife and I are going to start a thing on Wednesday and Thursday nights. We’ll have several different types of corn bread and we’re inviting anybody to come. You can bring me can bring meat, you can bring drink, desserts, whatever. I listed five simple rules. One of the big rules was there’s no agenda. Would anybody be interested in this? My email in the next two hours just blew up from people, strangers that said they’d love to get to know more of the neighbors. The first Wednesday we had 15 strangers. The first night. I couldn’t believe it. The next month, all 15 showed up, and 5 new ones showed up. The next month, 20 showed up, plus 5 more. It ended up being the easiest, most beautiful thing that we ever did in our neighborhood. It was simple. People were just hungry for this. They wanted to get to know each other, they just didn’t know how to do it. I work with church planter today, and one of the first lessons I teach is that when you go into a neighborhood, just start a potluck and you will be shocked how people are wanting to connect. Overall, even with a lot of other things that we did, people are hungry to connect. One of the things Brad always says is, “Who better than us, the citizens of heaven?”  It’s just not complicated. It’s more undone than it is complicated.

Gary Kendall: That’s great. You’re doing a conference in September at Westside family church in Lenexa. Tell a little bit about that conference. What’s going to happen at that conference?

Lance Ford: We just call it a workshop. Brad and I developed a workshop that’s one day. We try to meat on Saturdays so anybody can come. We usually start around 8:30 and it lasts until 2:30. It’s very practical engaging, interactive workshop for those few hours that we’re together. We try to make it a lot of fun. We have you practice some things. We get your mind thinking and looking at your particular neighborhood. We try to send people away with a set of tools and resources and a new mindset that their neighborhood really is the place that God sent them, the places that they live, works, and play. So it’s not just your neighborhood. It’s the places you hang out. We talk about how to reach people naturally and not make people a project. We’ve been doing these all over the country lately. I think it’s the best thing we’ve ever put together as far as really helping folks, whether it be church staff members, or soccer moms, or whoever.

Gary Kendall: So anyone who’s listening to the podcast, if they’re a light to their neighborhood, they could come in and benefit. Church leaders can also come, or you can bring a whole team from your church.

Lance Ford: Even if you’re a small group leader, it’s a great opportunity. You can take the book and even start a small group or do a series on it. We just try to make things that are applicable.

Gary Kendall: As we wrap up, I’ll tell you a quick story. One of the things about neighboring is just staying close enough so that if someone has a breakthrough, you’re there for them. There’s a guy that doesn’t actually live in my neighborhood, but I’ve stayed close to him. Some time ago, he kind of walked away from God. In his words, he gave God the middle finger and walked away. I kept in relationship with them. Later on he even became suicidal again. That’s just keeping relationship with them and talking to him and trying to find out if he actually had a plan. We hadn’t got to that point yet in our conversations, but last week we had a chance to reconnect, and when I saw him he had a big grin on his face. His first words to me were, “Hey I returned to God” and he kind of emphasized the “Re,” as if he had turned away. Of course we knew he had, but now he returned I said, “That’s awesome. Tell me about it.” He said, “What I didn’t bargain for was that God never stopped pursuing me.” He thought after doing what he’d done, he had a feeling that God was mad at him. He said God showed him that He was pursuing him. He told me a story about walking along one day and said he’d actually gotten to the point of considering when and how he was going to commit suicide. He said a paper airplane flew over his shoulder and he turned around to see where it came from, but he couldn’t really see anybody. So that perplexed him. Then that paper airplane did a nosedive into the cement and he thought it was like his life. As he’s walking along, the wind came up underneath this paper airplane lifted it off the ground again and it started to fly. In that moment, he just felt like he heard from God, although he hadn’t been hearing from God at all. Inside of his spirit, he heard the words you know you’re not dead you can fly again.

He realized God was pursuing him. I asked what made the change. He said it was Grace. I said, “That’s awesome.” He said, “No. A girl named Grace.” It was hilarious! There was a girl who worked next to him where he worked. She’s a follower of Jesus. They started talking and they’re both the same age. They talked about starting a relationship, but she said she was a follower of Jesus and she was looking for someone else who is. He was going, “Well I kind of used to be.” Long story short, through her influence and talking, he turned back to God again. He said he didn’t know if the relationship was going to go anywhere or not, but he knew that God had used her. He said, “I told you I was searching for truth in other ways, but actually I think I was just in rebellion. I was just really mad about some things that happened. God just convinced me how much he loves me and that he’s real.” He said, “This morning before I came to meet you, I was washing dishes at the place where I work. I kind of forgot how to pray, so I was trying to remember. I thought maybe I should say the names of God out loud. I found out I couldn’t remember very many of them. But I started to say two or three of the names I could remember. I felt like God literally came and put his arms around me and gave me this hug. I had a tangible sense of God’s presence with me right there in the kitchen.” It’s so cool the way that God pursues us. When he does, he needs people like Grace and like Lance and Gary. We get to be his hands and feet.

Thanks Lance, for your time today and for talking about your book. I’m excited about what God is doing with you and with Brad. I’m going to be at the conference, looking forward to it. Is there anything you want to say as you’re kind of signing off?

Lance Ford: I think the biggest thing that I would say is to go out and live the gospel. Just try it. Just try it. Jesus could sum up everything the love God with your heart, your soul, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. Just take him at his word because that’s the best thing. In fact, loving your neighbor as yourself is one of the best ways of loving yourselves too. It’s got a transformative peace to it that we talked about earlier. Go out and be who you remain to be. It’s not all about do this, do this, do that. Just be who he is in you. The last thing that I would say is the Dallas Willard quote, “Discipleship is about letting Jesus live our lives as if he were us.” If we just do that, then we’re going to be following him. So just do it!

Gary Kendall: That’s a great place to park this thing. Thanks, Lance Ford. My name is Gary Kendall. This is the Blessed podcast. We attempt to join Jesus right where he’s already at work where we live, study, work, and play. So thanks for tuning in.

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