KOH2RVA: Day 257

feral-cat-1Someone was asking me about First Baptist’s year-long, every-member mission trip recently, and wondering how we organized it. “How did you find something for everybody to do?” she asked.

The answer: we didn’t.

I told her what I’ve said again and again since coming to First Baptist, that there must be a thousand ways to bring heaven to earth and that our responsibility is to look around for anything that doesn’t look like heaven and then roll up our sleeves and get to work. I’m convinced that if we look at the world through our own eyes, we will see the things that break our own hearts and call us to action.

That’s so much easier than trying to come up with one, big mission project that everyone can embrace, and so much better than giving someone an assignment and saying, “Here, go do this.”

It also leads to some interesting results.

For example: I heard from one of our members recently who said she was bringing heaven to earth by feeding the feral cats in her neighborhood. And she said she’s using the premium cat food, not the cheap stuff.

That’s pretty much all she said, but I can fill in the blanks. She’s telling me that when she sees those skinny, half-starved cats it breaks her heart, she feels moved to do something about it. And she is moved because she believes those cats are part of God’s creation, and that God has it in his heart to redeem not only his human creatures, but everything he has made and called good, including cats (Rom. 8:18-21). And so she has taken on this ministry to the homeless, and she dishes out the premium cat food because she thinks of cats as something God made and loves, and not as a nuisance.

Chances are good that if she had submitted this idea to the church it would have never been approved. Someone would have said, “We don’t want to encourage this kind of thing,” and someone else would have said, “Are we supposed to pay for the cat food?” But she heard me say, “There must be a thousand ways to bring heaven to earth,” and she looked around for anything that didn’t look like heaven and saw this—skinny, half-starved cats—and it broke her heart, and she rolled up her sleeves and went to work.

That sounds like a parable to me. I can almost hear Jesus say, “What is the Kingdom of Heaven like, and to what shall I compare it? The Kingdom is like a woman whose heart was broken by what she saw in her own neighborhood, and who had the gumption to get up off the couch and do something about it.”

KOH2RVA: Day 223

cookies3Today is Saturday, and it seems like the perfect day to talk about “Bake and Take”–a simple way to bring a little taste of heaven to the neighborhood.  Thanks to FBC member Vicky Nicholau for writing the article below.  Enjoy it, and then–if you’re in the mood–bake something and take it to your neighbors!

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“Bake and Take” was listed on the KOH2RVA web site as something one could do to help bring the Kingdom to Richmond. It sounded like fun and a way to include folks who wanted to do something for the Kingdom, but couldn’t find their niche. Since there was no one to contact, I decided to put some feelers out there to see who might be interested. Well, I wasn’t the only one who loved to bake.

In December, we started as a small group by baking cookies and distributing to our neighbors on West Grace Street. People who were home welcomed our visit and the goodies as well. We were able to deliver 20 dozen cookies to our neighbors. Included in each bag was a calendar of the upcoming Christmas events at First Baptist Church: this was our way of informing them of the activities we were having and inviting them to join us during the Advent season.

At the Ministry Fair, 14 additional people signed up to participate in this ministry. . . wow, that’s a lot of bakers!!!

So, in February, with a lot more hands, we distributed 16 dozen cupcakes to agencies around our area. Four dozen were delivered to the Ronald McDonald House; 7 dozen were delivered to the Espigh Family Shelter for Women, along with children and staff members; and 5 dozen were delivered to the Home Again Men’s Shelter. The guys were so excited they came out to the car and helped us take the cupcakes to their dining area where they immediately started to open and taste them.

One of the new members, Debbie, said, “I joined the Bake and Take Team because it was one way I could help bring heaven to earth. While I am baking I can almost see the smiles on the faces of those receiving the homemade treats.”

Claudia remarks, “even though Jeff and I will be out of town for the next Bake and Take, we signed up because we felt this was one small way we could help share the Joy of the Lord in the community and help to brighten someone’s day.”

Lori . . . ” the reason I did it is because I love to cook and bake. I’m not sure that is a spiritual gift but people enjoy the fruits of my labor and I enjoy sharing it. It’s the best of two worlds. Plus homemade is from the heart.”

The Bake and Take Team currently meets the first Sunday, every other month (December, February, April, June, etc.). We decide as a team what to bake and where to deliver. In April we will be taking cookies and cupcakes to Beauty Salons and Veterinary offices in our area.

It’s impossible not to be a “cheerful giver” when you’re spreading the good news and sweet treats to those in our community!

Vicky Nicholau

“I Love the City”

FE_PR_richmond-vaI was invited to a retreat at Richmond Hill recently where area pastors were going to be talking about bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia.  Well, how could I resist?  That’s what I’ve been talking about since I got to Richmond!

So we gathered for worship in that beautiful old chapel, and then had a delicious meal in the refectory, and then moved on into a meeting room that looks out over the city, a place where people have been praying for Richmond since 1866 and still do.  Pastoral Director Ben Campbell got us started with prayer and then invited each of us to share our vision for ministry.

There were about twelve of us around the table, from Baptist, Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian, Christian, and Pentecostal churches.  We took our time, talking about the work we do and the neighborhoods in which we do it.  But as we talked it became clear that our primary concern was for the churches we have been called to serve, about how to make them bigger, stronger, happier, healthier.  When we finally got back around to Ben he said, simply, “I love the city more than I love the churches.”

I suppose I should have expected that.  Ben is not the pastor of a local church; he’s the director of a spiritual community that has as its mission praying for the city of Richmond.  But something about the way he said it made me realize that we pastors have a tendency to focus on what is happening within the walls of the church rather than what is happening in the neighborhood, the city, the nation, or the world.  We could easily end up with glittering edifices perched on top of garbage dumps. 

But not Ben.

I pictured Ben driving around Richmond jotting down notes about the people and things his community needs to pray for:  sanitation workers, educational institutions, police officers, and prisoners.  He has lifted his sights above the concerns of a single church to take in the concerns of the whole city.

But here’s the thing: God’s sights are even higher.  Not only does he love and care for Richmond, he loves and cares for the world.  That’s his mission, and he’s looking for churches that will help him do that.  So, at Richmond’s First Baptist Church we’ve been asking not, “Does the church have a mission?” but “Does the mission have a church?”  In other words, does God’s mission have a church?  Will First Baptist, Richmond, help him love the world? 

Well, we want to, of course.  We want to do whatever God asks.  But it will require lifting our sights a little higher.  Instead of seeing only the beautiful buildings and grounds of First Baptist Church we will have to start seeing the whole city, even the parts that aren’t so beautiful.  And then we’ll have to lift our sights even higher, to see the world God loves and to think about how we might share his love with that world.  That’s not easy for us, or for anyone.  It goes against the grain of our human nature.  But it does seem to be essential to the divine nature, and part of what Jesus was trying to teach his disciples. 

In him the love of God dropped into the world like a stone into a pond, and began to ripple outward.  As we follow his example may that same love ripple outward from the church to the neighborhood to the city to the state to the nation and, finally, fully,

to the world God loves.

Don’t Take It Personally

(Excerpted from a recent sermon with the same title)

 

Jesus once told his disciples, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me” (Matt. 10:40), as if it might actually happen, as if those disciples who go out to spread the good news of a coming kingdom might actually be welcomed by some. 

 

It happened to me not long ago. 

 

I walked over to “my” block here in the neighborhood, the one I’ve been trying to get to know and love.  I walked around the corner and saw a woman reclining on a wicker sofa on her front porch, reading a novel.  I started to walk by but then I stopped and said “Hey!” in a friendly way and scared her half to death.  She sat bolt upright, dropped her book, fumbled with her glasses.  When she recovered we began to talk and eventually she invited me to come up and sit on the porch for a while.  We talked for half an hour and by the time I stood up to leave we were old friends.

 

“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me,” Jesus says, and I thought about this woman.  I was walking around her block only because I thought it was the kind of thing he would want me to do, and I said hello to her because I thought he probably would, if he were walking by.  So although it was just me and not Jesus, when she invited me up on her porch it was as if she were inviting Jesus to come up and sit for a while.  She didn’t have to do it.  She could have told me to go away.  In fact, I was fully prepared for that.  In Luke chapter 10 Jesus tells his disciples, “Whoever rejects you rejects me.”  In other words, “Don’t take it personally.”  So I was ready.  If she had told me to go away I would have moved on down the sidewalk muttering, “Fine, then!  Be that way!  But it’s not me you’re rejecting: it’s Jesus.”  Instead she welcomed me, and I had to resist the temptation to take it personally.  It would be easy to think she invited me up on the porch just because I’m so friendly and affable.

 

“Nope,” Jesus says.  “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”  If Jesus is right (and I have a feeling he is), it wasn’t me this woman welcomed on her porch.  It wasn’t even Jesus.  It was God himself she welcomed.  And if I’m right about this (and let’s hope that I am), she welcomed him because God knows how difficult every human life is, and how much sin and death and sorrow each one of us has to face.  That’s why the Bible deals with those difficult problems and shows us the solution.  That’s why God sent his only son into a world desperate for salvation.  And that’s why his only son sends us to startle people on their front porches and strike up conversations.  Because he loves those people, and he wants them to know it.  So, if this woman should show up in church someday because I stopped by her house, and if she should hear the Bible speak to the very situation in which she finds herself, and if she should end up worshiping God with tears of joy streaming down her cheeks, I won’t be able to take it personally.  Because it won’t be me she’s welcoming into her life:

 

It will be Him.