Love People, Not Houses

Blake and I lived in our first house for five years. I loved that house. I loved the yard. I loved the double deck. And most of all, I loved the proximity to Target. I wish with all my heart that I could tell you that I loved our neighbors. I didn’t not love them. I’m sure they were probably very lovable. I just didn’t know them. I could tell you the names of the families that lived in three houses on our street – the house to our right and the two to our left. Five years of evening walks… five years of cooking out on our double deck… five springs of yard work… and that was all I had to show for it.

When the time came to move, to say that I was saddened would be an understatement. I was truly broken by how unaltered our neighbors lives would be by my absence. Blake did a much better job with our neighbors then me, but we vowed that next time it would be different.

The Greek word for hospitality is philoxenos. Phileo means “brotherly love” and xenos is another word for “strangers.” So “brotherly love for strangers” is essentially what hospitality means.

Our family has always loved to use hospitality as a way to get to know people better, filling our table or couches with friends. But were we truly exercising the ministry of hospitality to the full extent of its meaning? Our first home had seldom served as a place that we invited in people we didn’t know.

So Blake and I did what I’m sure many of you have done when you moved: we began to pray for our neighbors before we even met them. We walked the neighborhood and prayed for open hearts. It became clear to us rather quickly that the Lord had given us a circle full of people starving for time and attention – but not necessarily the gospel.

Romans 12:20 – To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”

The book Practicing Hospitality says, “The method of hospitality varies according to the need of the individual” (55). So we decided that we were going to give them what they needed: Time. Attention. Love.

We moved into our current house the first week of January 2016. Once the weather warmed up, we had a cookout and invited the 20 homes that had been finished so far. I printed off cheap invites, kept the menu basic, and let them bring things if they asked. We grilled burgers for the sake of the gospel.

Later that year in December, we invited about 50 homes to a Cookies and Milk Holiday Open House. We served different types of cookies (several of which were store bought), big pitchers of milk, and LOTS of conversation! We met about eight families we had never had contact with before! We scrubbed our toilets and spent a few hours visiting with people we had never met for the sake of the gospel!

One of our neighbors moved in just before she was scheduled to have a major surgery. The first time I met her was a few days after as her husband brought her home from the hospital. We took them a meal the next day and learned weeks later that our meal was the only one anyone took to them. And I don’t just mean from our neighborhood. So we learned that sometimes you have to double your dinner recipe for the sake of the gospel.

Our freezer is known for being full of popsicles. They aren’t the expensive, all natural, organic ones. They are the cheap ones. But these kids don’t care! When it’s hot and their cheeks have turned red and their heads are wet with sweat, they crowd on our patio and we serve popsicles for the sake of the gospel.

Last summer, we checked out our church’s outdoor movie screen and projector. It fit perfectly in our smallish backyard and we laid out lots of towels for families to sit on. We had popcorn and juice boxes and sat through a cartoon for the umpteenth time for the sake of the gospel.

A few days ago, we sent out invitations for a little summer kickoff bash at our home in a few weeks. We will serve watermelon and bottled water and those cheap popsicles we hoard in our freezer. And we will stand outside, dripping in sweat, and visit… for the sake of the gospel.

Mark 12:29-31 – Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all you strength. The second is this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater then these.”

Blake is so much better at this than I am. He naturally participates in conversations with our neighbors without being distracted by our five children running wild in the yard. But I am trying. I am trying to love my neighbors well. I don’t enjoy time outside. I’d rather sit on a couch than a plastic patio chair, and I’d rather light a candle in my kitchen than a citronella one to keep the bugs away. But I’m not sure my neighbors would guess that because we spend an enormous amount of time outside, just making ourselves visible and available. If I see a momma outside, I try to drop what I am doing and head outside. We are very open about what Blake does. We have invited them to church. We will offer rides to kids for VBS. We pray for them when they share about difficult circumstances. Blake even got to pray with a neighbor recently. We feel that the Lord has called us to this home for years, so we are just moving forward slow and steady. We don’t want them to think that we view them as people to fill our pews at church, but people that we love and care about and enjoy. We still want to be their friends, even if they don’t come to church with us! If they run in the opposite direction every time they see us coming, then the door is closed for us to invest in them with even these most basic things.

This house… this house is pretty perfect. We picked a floor plan that worked for our family of 7. We have a smaller yard that has proven to be the perfect size. You can spot deer in our backyard if you wake early enough. I love this house. But do you know what I have grown to love more than our home? Our neighbors have turned out to be our friends.

Luke 19:5-7 – And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.”

Aren’t we all? Sinners, I mean. The only difference is some of us are sinners that don’t love Jesus, and some of us are sinners that do. May we be sinners that love Jesus and love people.

Short-term Missions: Yes!

I recently returned from Ethiopia after going on my fourth mission trip to Addis Ababa. We go there on an annual trip as a means to support our partnership with Gospel & Grain. While our team of 9 was preparing to go to Ethiopia, there was another mission team of about 30 people serving in Eastern Kentucky at the Oneida Bible Institute. Before the year is out, our church will send four more teams on short-term mission trips to Colorado, Ecuador, Uganda, and Argentina.

I love that our church sends short-term missionaries around the world each year. Since I’ve been a member at Ninth & O, I’ve participated in 11 of these mission trips. As a church during that span, we have sent out 40 plus mission teams all around the world. We value missions. We give, we partner, we pray, we send, and we go.

As much as I love that we participate and seek to engage people through short-term missions trips, I realize that we should do so with much discretion and wisdom. Not every short-term mission trip is a good idea. There is a wrong way to do these type of mission endeavors, and there are plenty of resources on the subject. In fact, one book I recommend is When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. So, though others may read this short post, I’m mainly writing to the membership of Ninth & O Baptist to encourage them to continue the work of short-term mission trips. Here are five reasons why I’m glad we go on short-term mission trips.

1) Short-term mission trips help us participate in the Great Commission.

Just before leaving earth and returning to the Father, Jesus told his disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18b-20). With these last words, the credits roll, and Matthew’s gospel ends.

There is something about last words that carry more weight. There is an added significance to them that we are left to cherish and ponder. Our Lord has commanded us to go, so we go. We go across the street and around the world. We go to Ethiopia, and we go to the East End. We go to Uganda, and we go through St. Matthews. We work in Beuchel, and we work in Ecuador.

I believe when people go across the street to share the gospel, they’re more inclined to go around the world. And I think that when people travel around their world for a short-term mission trip, they return energized and invigorated to engage in gospel witness in their home context. At least that’s been my experience.

I realize that not all of us can go. But as a church when we go on a short-term trip, it’s not only those traveling who are participating. It’s our entire church family. For example, on our most recent trip, we had to fly out of Cincinnati on Friday morning at 6:00 AM, meaning we had to be at the airport at 4:00 AM, and therefore, requiring us to leave Ninth & O at 2:00 AM. Our church bus was in Oneida with another mission team that day, so we needed another means of transportation. We had a faithful servant from our singles ministry drive us to the airport and back that night. No sleep. Solo trek back to Louisville. He didn’t travel to Ethiopia, but he was an essential member of our team.

And it wasn’t just this brother. We couldn’t have gone without the hundreds of people who give generously and sacrificially to our general church budget and the Great Commission Offering (GCO). Through the GCO, we were able to give mission trip scholarships to people to help them afford the cost of the trip. We know that many, if not most of you, prayed for us while we were gone that second week of April. So when a team is preparing to travel or is the midst of their trip, as a church, short-term missions allows us to participate in the Great Commission on a global scale by going, sending, serving, or praying.

2) Short-term mission trips are a tool for discipleship.

Every trip from which I return, I feel like I was the one blessed. You go, hoping and praying that God will use you to bless others, yet you come home having yourself been blessed.

There is a spiritual benefit derived by those who participate. Our teams often come back refreshed, energized, and awakened to God’s work around them. The Holy Spirit often uses these trips to do work in our hearts. God stretches us and uses these trips to grow us in an area of our lives and spiritual walk.

As a leader and pastor, it gives me the unique opportunity to see a team’s giftings and talents on full display. Frequently, gifts emerge that we were not aware of before that we can help people utilize in the church upon their return.

Just this past April, we had a man on our trip that was casually taking pictures, and they were all fantastic. He became our trip photographer and is considering joining our Photography Team at Ninth & O. The likelihood of us discovering his gift outside of this trip would have been much lower if not nil.

3) Short-term mission trips help team members build community.

One thing that drew me to take my first trip at Ninth & O was knowing that I would meet a lot of new people. It was our second summer at Ninth & O, and Rebekah and I wanted to begin meeting people outside of our Bible Fellowship Group. We thought going on a mission trip would help us do that, and it sure did.

We met people from all different areas of the church. Young and old. Professionals, doctors, students, and moms. And when we returned, we had an unbelievable bond with those folks. Now when I see some of them, we still reminisce about that trip. These trips build and strengthen the community.

4) Short-term trips allow us to partner with and support others.

Reaching & Teaching International Ministries and Gospel & Grain are two of our ministry partners. These partnerships contain giving, praying, and trip components. Beyond our partnerships, our church also engages in “missionary care” trips. These trips go to missionaries that have been sent out from our church. They’re one of us. We go to encourage and support them.

We believe that we can offer a great deal of support by taking annual trips to partner alongside these organizations in their mission. We hope that just as we benefit spiritually from the trips, their teams and communities do too. We like to use the analogy from Mario Kart. When racing in Mario Kart and you hit the turbo track, it propels you forward a bit faster. That’s what we hope our trips do for our partners.

We provide extra hands and feet to serve. We encourage them with our presence. We bring necessary supplies. We don’t engage in vacation missions. We partner in the same places with the same people, again and again, developing relationships and furthering our work alongside them in their contexts.

5) Short-term mission trips boost our missions energy levels.

We average about 4.5 trips a year at Ninth & O. We don’t feel like we have missions fatigue but missions kindling. Short-term mission trips keep us moving the ball down the field and remind us of the goal: to make disciples of all people – across the street and around the world.

Thank you for being a giving, praying, sending, and going church. Keep it up!

Good Friday

Amplifying Jesus & Armed With Awkward Spray

Many moons ago I served as College Pastor at Ninth & O. One benefit of serving alongside young people is that they keep us older folk up to speed with the latest jargon. I remember one instance when a group of students were huddled in a circle and someone made an awkward comment. Without hesitation, one of the students raised his hand in the air, pretended to spray an aerosol can, and blurted out “Awkward Spray!” Smiles ensued. I was unfamiliar with the expression, but based on the students’ reactions it was obvious that he was attempting to interject some levity into an uncomfortable situation. It was a pretty effective tactic. In fact, to this day I still find myself using Awkward Spray from time to time.

The reality is most of us do not enjoy uncomfortable situations. But I’ve noticed most of the spiritual growth in my life has occurred when I’ve stepped outside my comfort zone (and into my “growing zone”). I bring this up because the March emphasis on the LIVE THE VISION Roadmap is to “find one way to move outside our comfort zone to amplify Christ’s name.”

There are two things I know to be true for myself and probably true for most of us. First, we genuinely desire to amplify Christ’s name to unbelievers. We sincerely do! Second, we genuinely desire to remain in our comfort zone. The rub here is obvious in that most times our amplification of Christ’s name to unbelievers occurs squarely outside our comfort zone. As best as I can tell, we have two options for reconciling this situation. Option #1 is to not share Christ with others. This option, while perhaps popular, doesn’t align with Scripture, so we should probably eliminate it from consideration. Option #2 (which is really the only option) is to share Christ with others in the power of the Spirit (Acts 1:8) and to depend on the Spirit to give us courage (2 Timothy 1:7) as we enter into conversational spaces that make us uncomfortable.

The beauty of living a life marked by evangelistic obedience is that the more we practice the discipline of moving from our comfort zone to our growing zone, the larger our comfort zone grows. So what we once considered to be paralyzingly awkward now becomes manageably awkward! But, if you find yourself squarely in the “paralyzed by evangelism” camp, I want to share with you a three step approach that helps me feel more comfortable as I share Jesus. And for me, this simple approach is like spraying Awkward Spray as I engage in spiritual conversations with unbelievers. Of course, every evangelistic encounter is different, taking on a life of its own. Regardless, having this approach in mind as a template as I share Christ helps calm my nerves and fosters within me greater confidence. I hope it will do the same for you as well.

Step #1 – Use a Keyword to Infuse Spirituality into the Conversation

  • Turning everyday conversations into spiritual conversations is easier than you might think. In the natural flow of conversations, I look for opportunities to drop keywords into the discussion. Keywords I commonly use include “prayer” and “church.” For example, I might ask my neighbor what he did over the weekend. Then, as I respond to the question, I will talk about our family’s experience at church on Sunday. By simply mentioning church, I have infused spirituality into the conversation and opened a doorway into a spiritual discussion.

Step #2 – Ask If They Are a Person of Faith

  • Truth be told, the transition from Step #1 to Step #2 is often the most awkward moment in the entire conversation for both you and the other person. Just be prepared for that uncomfortable 3-second transition and push through it. Most often after I mention one of my keywords I will say something like, “[Name of person], you know that church and faith are important to my family. And I know we’ve never really had a spiritual conversation before, but are you a person of faith?” I’ve never had someone respond negatively to this question, probably because of its unassuming nature. Making no assumptions about their spiritual background puts people at ease to openly share. Responses will vary depending on their comfort level. On rare occasions, the person may want to shut down the conversation, and that’s okay. Trust God’s timing in all things. But most will be open to discuss, so be sure to listen to their words and watch their body language carefully. Doing so will help you discern how best to respond.

Step #3 – Discover a Connection Point and Share

  • As the person shares their spiritual story, I try to identify something they’ve said that I can use to connect their spiritual story to my own. Once I’ve discovered that point of connection, I use that as an entry into sharing the gospel. Without exception one of two themes will surface as they share, either 1) their spiritual upbringing, or 2) some element of brokenness. If they mention either, I have transitional comments that flow into sharing the gospel. If they mention their spiritual upbringing, I will say something like, “I grew up going to a Baptist church. The reason I’ve stayed Baptist is because they simply teach the Bible. It can be confusing with so many churches teaching so many different things, but can I share with you what we believe at my church?” I then transition into sharing the gospel. If brokenness is a strong theme of the person’s spiritual story, it’s easy to flow into the gospel with comments such as, “To some degree every person experiences brokenness, but one of the reasons I’m a Christian is because the message of the Bible makes sense of brokenness in the world.”

This three step approach has worked for me, and I hope it’s helpful for you as well. But one question you might still have is, “I know this approach ends with me sharing the gospel, but how do I do that?” I recommend learning 3 Circles because of its straightforward approach highlighting the themes of God’s design, brokenness, and how Jesus heals brokenness. You can learn 3 Circles as well as walk others through it by downloading the “Life Conversation Guide” app (iOS, Android) to your smartphone.

Evangelism is uncomfortable and understandably so. After all, by its very nature, it is spiritual warfare as light collides with darkness. But as we move outside our comfort zone, let us go with a simple plan and with the understanding that we witness not in our own strength but in the strength of the Holy Spirit.

Welcome to The Beacon

Solomon said there is nothing new under the sun. Today we’re introducing a new blog called the BEACON. Though in one sense it’s not new. Those who have been around Ninth & O for years will remember the church’s weekly newsletter with the same name. The Beacon was delivered to church members’ homes and included church stats, news, events, inspiring quotes, and usually had a word from the Pastor. It was a staple for nearly a half-century at Ninth & O.

Today, we’re bringing the Beacon back in a blog format. The Beacon will cover various topics written in a more devotional style that we hope will benefit your spiritual walk written by Ninth & O pastors and laity. Many of these topics will be related to our vision, giving us an opportunity to more fully develop ways each of us can participate in Live the Vision.

We won’t mail the Beacon to your home, but you can follow the Beacon on our website or social media channels and engage in the conversation with us.