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Archive for December, 2012

new-years-resolutionIt’s New Year’s Eve, and along with all the end-of-the-year parties you might be going to, I hope you will make some New Year’s resolutions.

In my preparation for Sunday’s sermon I was impressed by how much the Christian life is not only about believing things, but also about doing things. While belief is necessary for salvation, it begs the question of what you are going to do with the life that’s been saved.

The writer of Colossians has some suggestions.

He tells us to “put on” compassion, for example, and as I explained in the sermon yesterday you can’t put it on without doing something. I said, “Compassion—as Steve Blanchard often reminds us—is not just seeing the suffering of the world, and not just feeling it with those who are suffering, but seeing it, feeling it, and doing something about it.”

Which brings me back to New Year’s resolutions.

What are you going to do in 2013? First Baptist Church is 114 days into its mission to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, and if you are a member of the church I hope you will strengthen your resolve to do that. But if you aren’t, and you don’t live in Richmond, there is no reason why you can’t resolve to bring heaven to earth right where you are.  You can make up your mind to get involved at your elementary school, to visit the local jail, to help out at a homeless shelter, to pick up the trash in a city park, to visit a nearby nursing home, to share the good news of Jesus, to donate food or clothing, to pray for your city council.  As I often say, “There must be a thousand ways to bring heaven to earth.”  Find one.  Do it.

I have to confess: the holidays have interrupted my mission trip. I’ve been celebrating Christmas and spending time with my family and taking a few days off from work. Tonight is New Year’s Eve. Tomorrow is New Year’s Day. But on January 2 I’m going to hit the ground running, eager to get back to the joyful work of bringing heaven to earth.

I hope you will join me.

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Amish BuggyThis is how it happens sometimes:

  1. A shooting takes place at an elementary school in Connecticut.
  2. You feel the pain the whole nation is feeling, but don’t know what to say.  On one side are all your liberal friends, screaming for gun control.  On the other side are all your conservative friends, pleading the Second Amendment.  All you know is that you don’t want one more child to die.
  3. Over the Christmas holiday you take your family to visit your parents at a nursing home in Franklin, West Virginia.
  4. On the way your daughter spots an Amish buggy whizzing down the road, and wants to know more about these fascinating people.
  5. You do a Google search when you get home and find a whole website about the Amish and the Mennonites.
  6. You find this section that seems eerily relevant to Number 1 above:

Q: I understand your belief in nonresistance and pacifism. Does this principle extend to personal situations where you are confronted with imminent evil, say a known murderer confronting you and your family in your home? Can you use force to preserve your life in this situation? To what extent? What is the Biblical basis for your position?

A: Both Amish and Mennonites are committed to a lifestyle of peace and non-violence. Yes, this pervades every aspect of life. However, no one can predict with certainty how anyone would really react to an absolutely unprecedented crisis such as described above. Emotions as well as thoughts are involved and the situation is personalized. Having said this, we would hope that as people who have practiced a lifestyle of peace, we would not resort to force and violence in a crisis situation such as the one described.

We must briefly make several points:

  1. There is no assurance that use of force would save my life or the life of my family if confronted by an attacker.
  2. We could recall many accounts of unhoped for deliverances, whether by mediation, nature, or divine Providence, when Christians refused to use force when confronted by an attacker.
  3. If the result is death at the hands of the attacker, so be it; death is not threatening to us as Christians. Hopefully the attacker will have at least had a glimpse of the love of Christ in our nonviolent response.
  4. The Christian does not choose a nonviolent approach to conflict because of assurance it will always work; rather the Christian chooses this approach because of his/her commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord.

Some of the Biblical references for peace and non-resistance are: Matthew 5:38-48; John 18:36; Romans 12:18-21; and I Corinthians 6:18.

I still don’t know what to say about the shooting in Connecticut, or what our response as a nation should be, but I’m impressed by the way the Amish and the Mennonites approach the subject.  I love their line, “If the result is death…so be it; death is not threatening to us as Christians.”  That sounds gutsy, and a whole lot like something Jesus might say.

As we work to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, this year, maybe we can remind people of that—that faith in Christ can set you free,

Even from the fear of death.

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snow-covered-fieldDo you know that song, “Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house we go”? Yesterday that’s what I did with my family, except we went over the mountain and through the woods to grandmother’s nursing home.

On a good day it’s about a three-hour drive from Richmond to Franklin, West Virginia, and yesterday was a good day. My daughter Ellie is visiting from New York and Catherine is home for her winter break. We all piled into the car yesterday morning (along with Ellie’s two dogs) and headed for the hills.

We had plenty to talk about on the way, and as we got off the Interstate and into the country there was plenty to see. There was snow on the ground! The roads were clear but the fields on both sides were glazed like a Krispy Kreme doughnut. Ellie saw a horse-drawn Amish buggy whizzing down the road. Catherine saw a deer head hanging from a tree (yikes!). We went over Shenandoah mountain through so many hairpin curves that everybody began to feel a little queasy, but from the top the views were breathtaking.

When we finally got to Franklin we were dismayed to learn that the entire nursing home was under quarantine because of the flu, and were told at the front desk that we wouldn’t be able to visit my parents. I said, “But I called yesterday! But we just drove three hours! But my daughter has come from New York!” And while I was protesting the director of nursing happened along and said that my mother, at least, wasn’t showing any symptoms and could come to the family room for a visit.

So, that’s what we had: a two-hour visit with my mother, who entertained us the whole time. She had us laughing like a stand-up comedian. When it was time to go I asked if we could walk around to the side of the building and at least wave to my dad through the window. One of the nurses said she would go to his room and open the curtain. So, off we went, hiking around the side of the nursing home through ankle-deep snow.

As we went Christy reminded the girls of those days when they used to visit the nursing home in Wingate, North Carolina, where we lived at the time. She would take them to be “spirit lifters,” and Ellie, at least, spent a lot of time painting fingernails, which the ladies there seemed to love.

I thought about how that was one more way of bringing heaven to earth. Long before our year-long, every-member mission trip to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, Christy and the girls were figuring out that when one person shares the love of Christ with another heaven touches down—however briefly–wherever you are.

And that’s what we had with my dad yesterday: a very brief moment.

The nurse pulled back the curtain and the four of us stood at the window to see Dad, lying in his bed, smiling up at us. Just because it seemed like the thing to do I began to sing, “We wish you a merry Christmas,” and the family joined in, and then, to our surprise, we could see Dad joining in, singing along with us. The nurse opened his window just a crack so we could hear him and he could hear us, and when we were finished singing we told him that we loved him and blew kisses and waved goodbye.

That was it.

That was all the nurse had time for but probably all my dad had strength for. He’s very weak these days. And to leave him with the image of four impromptu carolers wishing him a merry Christmas and a happy new year was probably about the best we could have done.

And so we drove back to Richmond, satisfied by the visit, having brought the Kingdom of Heaven a little closer to Franklin, West Virginia.

Today, I’m back in this city I love, wondering how I can be a “spirit lifter” here. What about you? Is there somebody whose spirit you can lift, even if you have to go over the river and through the woods to do it?

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Have you seen this video? I love the way these First Baptist members bring heaven to earth by delivering Meals on Wheels. I’ve been with them once, and it really does make a difference to the people who receive these meals. They not only get a hot, nutritious meal, they get a friendly greeting, a handshake or hug, and often a “God bless you,” on the way out. Think about how much that improves the quality of life for each one.

My parents have been on the receiving end of this service when they were living in Summerville, South Carolina, and I remember what a huge difference it made for them. I’m going to try to bring a little bit of heaven to earth today by visiting them in Franklin, West Virginia, where they live now. Maybe I’ll ask them if they remember Meals on Wheels, and when I do I will be grateful all over again for these First Baptist “missionaries,” and the way they are bringing the KOH2RVA.

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ChristmasPresents2In the 5:00 service on Christmas Eve I talked about the “season of giving” and questioned why we give what we give. Is it because we want to, or because we have to? I talked about the worst gift I ever gave (an ugly homemade hat for my brother Scott). I talked about how “generosity begets generosity.” I read The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. And then I said this:

I wonder if generosity will beget generosity in this season. I wonder if God’s gift of himself will inspire us to give. And I’m not just talking about money, although that figures in. Money is a symbol of what we value. We pay $20 for something because we think it’s worth $20. How much is God’s love worth to us? What will we give in return for the gift of his son?

I love Vicky Nicholau’s answer. She told me that last year she was in Hanna Zhu’s Sunday school class, where they studied the book, Christmas Is Not Your Birthday. It’s not, is it? It’s Jesus’ birthday. The more Vicky thought about that and the more she wondered what she could give Jesus at Christmas the answer became clear: she could give him herself.

Last summer she was baptized in the James River and this is what she said: that her baptism was a symbol of giving herself to Jesus. Maybe it shouldn’t surprise me then that of all the people I see working to bring heaven to earth on our year-long, every-member mission trip, Vicky seems to be the one who is doing it most joyfully. She seems to be giving herself away like that tree—apples, limbs, and trunk. And you get the feeling that if Jesus would come and sit down on her stump when she’s through giving herself away, she would be happy.

What about you? Will generosity beget generosity? Will God’s gift of himself inspire you to give yourself away? And will you give because you want to, or because you have to? There’s a difference, and the one who receives your gift will surely be able to tell.

December 25 is a couple of days behind us at this point, but it’s still not too late to give your gift to God.

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