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Archive for September, 2012

It was quite a day at Richmond’s First Baptist Church!

First there was the work of explaining Mark 9:38-50 to a group of bright and attentive youth (that’s the “If your hand offends you cut it off” passage), followed by the harder work of explaining it to a group of children at the 11:00 service. One little boy fell backward off the steps and whacked his head on the floor, but I’m not sure if it came before or after that offending verse. And the sermon itself was from that passage in James 5 about praying for people and anointing them with oil and how “the prayer of faith will save the sick.” Made me wish I had thought to pray for that little boy with the bump on his head rather than simply handing him off to a doctor.

But then at lunch things began to get better. I invited all the 20-30 somethings at church today to join me for lunch and we gathered in the dining hall for spaghetti, salad, breadsticks (and what looked like some pretty delicious pecan pie). We ate for a while and chatted at our tables and then we began talking about what was already being done for that age group and what more could be done.

We talked about friendship and community and how important it is for Christians to be able to find each other in a city like this, but at some point we talked about how much bonding occurs through shared experiences. Brock suggested building a house together as a way to forge lasting friendships. Katie said that these 20-30 somethings are eager to get involved in hands-on projects that will really make a difference. I wondered aloud if this group might not be able to get involved at Essex Village, where there are 544 children who could really use some attention.

I’m not sure what will come of today’s lunch, but I saw people talking with each other afterward and exchanging email addresses. I wouldn’t be too surprised if this group becomes the core of a large group of 20-30 somethings, who take seriously the KOH2RVA mission, and who begin to do their share–and a little bit more–of bringing heaven to earth.

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It’s Saturday evening, September 29. I’m back from a one-day preaching conference at Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, North Carolina, and a four-day backpacking trip in the Shining Rock Wilderness with my two longtime hiking partners, Chuck Treadwell and Joe Perez.

In my last post I said something about coming back to Richmond at the end of my trip, and how I thought I might be able to see–as I got closer to the city on I-95–that heaven had come a little bit closer even while I was away, thanks to the good work and faithful efforts of First Baptist Church. Well…I may have been imagining it, but after driving through rain most of the day from Asheville, NC, I found the skies getting lighter and brighter as I crossed the Virginia state line. And then, when I could actually see the Richmond skyline in the distance, I noticed how clean and bright everything looked, with blue skies overhead and afternoon sunlight making the city shine. I thought, “It really does look as if if heaven has come closer while I’ve been away!”

So, thank you members and friends of First Baptist, for not slacking off while I was gone. I’m sure I’ll hear some of the stories at church tomorrow, and hope to add some of my own as the week progresses. It’s great to be back in this place I love, and love to call home:

RVA.

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photo by Linda Moore

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Bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond through the Divorce Recovery Ministry — A Future with Hope!

by guest blogger Ralph Starling

A few weeks ago I was in the Philippines during the monsoon season and witnessed the devastation caused by the constant rain and flooding. Thousands of people lost their homes along with all their possessions. Our mission team visited several outdoor shelters on the outskirts of Manila. Each shelter we visited were full of men, women, and children with numbers at each site exceeding 500. In one of the shelters a young woman came up to my crying and holding the only possession she had left, a photo of her little baby she had lost in the flooding. In her grief she begged me to help her! But, I had no earthly idea what to do. I felt so helpless. All I knew to do was cry with her and pray for her. I eventually took her to meet some of the community leaders at the shelter in hopes they could find a way to help her.

Experiencing loss can be a devastating experience. I was reminded of this again last Sunday as we began our 22nd annual Divorce Recovery Workshop. There in the huge Dining Room at Richmond’s First Baptist Church were a room full of people seeking shelter and support, but feeling overwhelmed and helpless from the painful loss of their marriage. Many were on the verge of tears. Others were still in shock that this was even happening to them. Some were speechless. And, some could not believe a Baptist Church would even offer this kind of workshop. But, our some sixty Divorce Recovery volunteers were ready. They know how to practice hospitality! They were greeting people in the parking lot and walking participants inside to the Workshop. They were encouraging participants with their lovingkindness and attentive spirit. Our Divorce Recovery volunteers know the value of this workshop. At one time they all benefited from this workshop as participants. It is these committed volunteers who help make this ministry one of healing and transformation.

Most participants in the workshop never imagined they would be going through this experience. Some of them have been married almost their whole lives. Others now wonder how they will ever begin again? Many are very concerned for the future of their small children, and what will happen to their homes, and whether they will even have enough money to survive. A few of our participants arrived at the workshop speechless. They had not yet grasped the reality that this was happening to them. And, some of our participants are suffering from fatigue. They have been trying to fix their marriage for years but arrived at the workshop having lost all hope.

One of the reasons we exist as a church is to help people feel loved and valued, because God loves and values each of us. At Richmond’s First Baptist Church we are doing our best to help bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond. This Fall our church embarked on a year-long mission trip here in Richmond to help people discover a future with hope! We do this because we know Jesus wants us to do this. We also do this because we have discovered the power and benefits of love. Loving the people Jesus loves makes our lives more abundant and joyful.

Join us on our mission trip this year to help people discover they have a future with hope!

Cheers!
Ralph Starling

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Today I preached a sermon called “Walking the Walk,” which, as you might expect, was about getting off the couch and following Jesus, about doing something, and not just talking about it. And so I wanted you to see the new license plate I ordered, the one that I put on my car yesterday.

It’s going to remind me every time I see it that I’m supposed to be helping Jesus bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia. It will probably remind me of that even when I drive my car to North Carolina later today for a preaching conference at Gardner-Webb University followed by several days of backpacking in Pisgah National Forest, and I will feel guilty about that, but I will also feel refreshed and ready to renew my efforts when I get back.

In the meantime I’m counting on the many missionaries of First Baptist Church to carry out the mission. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if–when I see the Richmond skyline in the distance on Saturday evening, as I approach the city on Interstate 95–it appears that heaven has come noticeably closer.

Thank you members and friends. Your efforts are making a difference!

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Have you ever raised an Ebenezer? Well, we raised one today, in the dining hall at Richmond’s First Baptist Church.

We’ve been engaged in a discernment process for the last three months, asking God about his dreams for the church in 2013. We’ve done it like this: each ministry team in the church has spent some time centering their thoughts on God, clearing the table of their own agenda, and then asking God to set the table with his agenda. Today we came to report on what we had discerned.

Each team leader was given a rock, and as the microphone was passed around the room each of them had two minutes to share the results of their process, usually beginning with something like, “In 2013 we feel that God is leading us to…” And then, when they had finished, they would bring the rock to the center of the room and stack it on the pile. Only then would I say, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done,” and everyone else would say, “On earth as it is in heaven.”

Some big dreams were shared today. Many of them were followed by the words, “We believe this would be a way to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia.” And so, even though we didn’t do much today in the way of hands on ministry, we did put our hands on the rocks that represent God’s dreams for the church’s future, and for the way it will work to bring heaven to earth in 2013.

May all of God’s dreams come true.

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KOH2RVA: Day 13

Yesterday was my day off, and so I didn’t do much to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia. But God must have known that, and so, while I rested on the twelfth day he rolled up his sleeves and went to work, making one of the most beautiful days he has ever made–78 degrees and sunshine.

While my own efforts often seem small and ineffective, what God did yesterday touched every part of Metropolitan Richmond. It blessed both rich and poor, both young and old. Yesterday the most ragged and miserable citizen of our great city could tilt his face toward the sky and feel God’s love, could stick out his tongue and get a taste of heaven.

As I say sometimes about the Lord’s prayer, it ends the way it does in case we begin to have some success, in case heaven does come a little closer to earth and we imagine it’s because of something we have done. That’s when we need to remember: “Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever.”

Amen.

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I had lunch with Mike Robinson yesterday.

Mike is the Director of Missions for the Richmond Baptist Association. I wanted to tell him about our mission to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, and to ask for his partnership.

It was a good lunch, at a great little place called Garnett’s, but as we talked I surprised myself with my passion. “A church has to have a clear understanding of its mission,” I said, banging the table for emphasis, “and its mission can’t be its own survival.” I told him I believe that attendance and giving are a by-product of doing what Jesus has asked us to do and cited several examples.

One of those was Tabernacle Baptist Church, right here in the Fan, where my friend Sterling Severns is pastor. When Sterling came church attendance was under 100 people on Sunday mornings. Now it’s double that. Why? He says it’s because they embraced Burmese refugees who were moving to Richmond, helped them get established here, and invited them to church. Thanks to Baptist missionary efforts in that part of the world years ago, many of those refugees were already Christian, and eager to find a church home. By showing radical hospitality to these Burmese brothers and sisters (remember they didn’t have much of anything and didn’t speak English), Tabernacle has been transformed into a vibrant, mission-centered, community of Christ. Attendance and giving are on the rise, but only because attendance and giving are not the point.

I told Mike that I had invited Sterling and Tabernacle to partner with us on our mission trip, and wanted to ask RBA to do the same. Mike was happy to say yes. The Richmond Baptist Association is already deeply involved in bringing heaven to earth in Richmond. There are three community ministry centers in the city and every summer hundreds of kids leave the city to spend a week breathing the fresh air and enjoying the great outdoors at Camp Alkulana.

I’ve listed the community ministries of the Richmond Baptist Association below. I welcome the RBA as a partner in our mission of bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia.

Thanks, Mike!

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COMMUNITY MINISTRIES

CHURCH HILL CHRISTIAN WELLNESS CENTER
(located in Mount Tabor Baptist Church)
2011 Fairmount Avenue, Richmond, VA 23223
Rev. Glinda Ford, Community Missionary
804-780-0053; glinda.ford@rbaonline.org

OREGON HILL BAPTIST CENTER
(located in Pine Street Baptist Church)
400 South Pine Street, Richmond, VA 23220
Rev. Jennifer M. Turner, Community Missionary
804-648-1353; jennifer.turner@rbaonline.org

SOUTH RICHMOND BAPTIST CENTER
(located in The Saint Paul’s Baptist Church South)
700 East Belt Boulevard, Richmond, VA 23224
Rev. Wesley R. Garrett, Community Missionary
804-232-0174; wesley.garrett@rbaonline.org

CAMP ALKULANA
111 Camp Alkulana Road, Millboro, VA 24460
Mrs. Beth Reddish Wright, Camp Director
RBA Office: 804-329-1701 ext. 206; campalkulana@gmail.com
Camp Phone: 540-997-9444 (June-August)

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