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Posts Tagged ‘values’

Bookshelf BuildersOK, so this is probably not the most artistic picture I’ve ever posted, but it may be the best picture I’ve ever posted. Let me tell you why:

I told you that my wife, Christy, was going to Essex Village yesterday to work with some children who are having trouble learning to read. I didn’t tell you that she was taking nearly 300 children’s books with her, part of the bounty she gleaned from the library book sale at St. Michael’s Episcopal School (where she teaches kindergarten).

She realized she was going to need some help getting the books into the building at Essex Village and putting together the bookcases she had bought at Target, but she didn’t know that there were some willing and able volunteers just waiting for something to do.

That’s where the picture comes in.

I recognize Glen Scott as one of those willing and able volunteers, and it doesn’t surprise me. Glen is one of our most faithful members at First Baptist, and seems to be willing and able to do almost anything that will help. I didn’t know he was going to be at Essex Village yesterday and neither did Christy, but he was one of the first to volunteer. The other two Christy identified as Mr. Roy, a teacher who was helping his wife with the program at Essex Village, and a young man named Eric.

But look at what’s happening here: these three men are working together to build a bookshelf. They’re doing it simply because it needed to be done and they were willing and able. But look at what else is happening: they are so focused on their mission that they probably haven’t taken time to ask if they all believe the same things; it seems obvious that they haven’t set up any racial boundaries; they may not be aware that they’re doing this because Ms. Somerville is trying to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, by helping little children learn to read. They’re just building a bookshelf.

They’re focused on the mission.

It’s when we’re not focused on the mission that we begin to divide ourselves along social and racial and doctrinal lines. That’s when we start insisting that everyone look the same way and think the same way and believe the same way. But when the mission is clear and the cause is just we can simply put our shoulders to the wheel and push. And when we achieve our mission—even if it’s only getting a bookshelf built—we can celebrate. Or, as one of Christy’s children’s books might sum it up:

The more we work together the happier we’ll be.

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On MissionOn Sunday I spent three hours with the Ministry Planning Team at Richmond’s First Baptist Church. We were trying to draft a mission, vision, and values statement for the church, something we’ve been working on for a while.

We were stuck on the “mission” piece.

What is it that we, as a church, are trying to do? Are we trying to bring heaven to earth? Are we trying to make disciples of every nation? Are we trying to be Jesus’ witnesses from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth? Are we trying to save people from eternal damnation?

We looked at mission statements from Coca-Cola (“To refresh the world, to inspire moments of happiness and optimism, to create value and make a difference”) and Starbucks Coffee (“To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time”). We talked about “aspiration” and wondered if our mission statement could be about something people really want, rather than just about something they ought to do. We thought we were getting close at one point, and then our conversation ricocheted off in another direction.

We’ve still got work to do.

But I woke up Monday morning thinking about our mission, and ended up writing the litany that’s printed below. It’s not our mission statement. It’s just Jim’s thoughts on a Monday morning. But I hope you will read it and let me know your thoughts. Does any part of it refresh you, or inspire you…or make you want a Coke? (smile).

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Leader: Jesus taught his disciples to pray that God’s Kingdom would come and God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

People: Richmond’s First Baptist Church wants to be an answer to that prayer.

Leader: Jesus knew what a big job that would be. He told his followers to go, make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey all that he had commanded.

People: Let us never be content with making converts alone.

Leader: Jesus breathed on his disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit; as the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

People: We are sent as Christ was sent to love the world God loves.

Leader: Let us go in the grace of God, the love of the Lord Jesus, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

People: Amen.

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KalenaYesterday was a full day for the pastor of Richmond’s First Baptist Church.

I left my house at 8:00 to walk the four-and-a-half blocks to “Mission Central” (that’s what Billy Burford, our administrator, calls the church campus at the corner of Monument and the Boulevard. I like it). I got there in time to meet with our worship leaders and clip on my wireless microphone before the service began at 8:30. It was Commitment Sunday, and at the end of the service people streamed forward to lay their pledge cards, tithes, and offerings on the altar. And Cari DuVal told me that yes, she thought she would like to become a full member of First Baptist.

That’s another story altogether, but a good one. Cari grew up in another denomination. She’s been one of our most committed Watchcare members for years now. The recent change in our membership policy allows her to join without being re-baptized but she told me yesterday she would like to be immersed in the swimming pool in Helena, Arkansas, where she has been participating in an annual mission trip for the last several years. The catch? I have to come do it.

I’m checking my calendar.

Between our two morning worship services Dot Smith brought me coffee and a plate full of treats to keep me going. She does it every Sunday, but yesterday it was especially appreciated. The day was just getting started.

The third-grade Sunday school class knocked on my door around 10:15. They were on a prayer walk, and wanted to pray for me. How sweet!

The 11:00 service followed the same order as the 8:30, but the two services are never the same. At the end of the second service people streamed forward again with pledge cards, tithes, and offerings, but this time Rob and Katie Courain told me they were ready to join the church.

Rob and Katie are the young couple who head up the powerful city-wide worship celebration called RVA United, and it felt like a great compliment to First Baptist that they would choose to join a church that doesn’t worship with drums and guitars (usually), but instead sings hymns out of a book (gasp!). There must be something good going on at First Baptist. Rob and Katie say it’s our mission, that they, too, are trying to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia.

After worship I went to a three-hour meeting of the Ministry Planning Team, where we worked on a mission, vision, and values statement for First Baptist Church. It’s hard work, but good work. We spent a lot of time talking about who we are, what we’re trying to do, and the challenges we face as we do it. We didn’t finish our statement, but we came a lot closer.

My next meeting was with the Communication Team, thirty minutes later. They wanted to hear my thoughts as we anticipate David Powers’ retirement in September. David has been doing this job nearly twenty years. He is the driving force behind our television broadcast, our webcast, our website, our in-house publications, and our printed pieces. It’s hard to imagine the post-Powers era, but we did. We spent a full hour talking about the ways technology is changing and how it impacts communication. Jim Norvelle told us how he tuned into our webcast from the west coast last week (at 5:30 Pacific Time), watching the service on his iPhone even before he got out of bed. What will it be like five years from now, ten, fifteen?

From there I went to the Prayers for Healing service in the chapel, and spent a little more than an hour in that candlelit room praying, singing, listening to Bev Carroll talk about the work of spiritual rehabilitation, lighting a candle for my dad, praying with those who requested it, serving communion, and offering the benediction. It was a solemn, holy experience, followed almost immediately by…

Crazy dancing in the youth suite!

I had been invited to drop by for Kalena Porter’s surprise birthday party and when I got up to the third floor I found the youth line dancing. I watched as long as I could stand it and then just jumped in, much to their delight (there is nothing quite so funny, apparently, as seeing the senior pastor dance). Just before Kalena arrived we turned out the lights and waited to yell, “Surprise!” I think Kalena was surprised. The picture above was taken seconds afterward, as she was being rolled down the pink carpet created by Chloe Buchanan (at left in the photo).

Kalena has a terminal illness. She’s not going to be in our youth group much longer. But last night the youth poured out all the love they could on her and she was able to receive it gratefully. I couldn’t have been prouder.

Yesterday was a full day for the pastor of Richmond’s First Baptist Church. I didn’t get home until 7:00. But this morning I find myself savoring almost every detail of a day that was filled with worship, work, and witness.

A day when heaven came to earth.

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I was out at Lakewood Manor this afternoon, preaching a sermon called “Will We Meet on That Beautiful Shore?”  It was a sermon inspired by a conversation I once had with a man who had been told that he wouldn’t know his deceased wife in heaven, and the “proof” he was given was a passage from Luke 20 where the Sadducees (who don’t believe in the resurrection) come to Jesus with a hypothetical question:

“There were seven brothers,” the Sadducees began.  “The first married a woman and died, childless; and then the second, and likewise the third married her; and so in the same way all seven died childless and finally the woman died, too.  In the resurrection of the dead, therefore, whose wife will she be?  For the seven had married her.”  Jesus said, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage” (Luke 20:29-35).  And that’s what somebody had told this man: that he wouldn’t be married in heaven, that he might as well just get over that idea.  He told me about it through tears.  It was this idea—the idea that he would someday be reunited with his wife—that had kept him going.  Now what was he supposed to do?

I sat with that man in his car for a long time, looking at that passage, and then I said, “Look, it doesn’t say that you won’t be married in heaven.  It just says that in the resurrection people don’t get married, see?  ‘They neither marry (present tense) nor are given in marriage.’  It’s another way of saying there are no weddings in Heaven.” 

That seemed to help him.  But I made the mistake of reading on to find out why there aren’t any weddings in heaven and the reason Jesus gives is because there won’t be any death there, as if the only reason to get married were to make babies, to replenish the population, and thus ensure the survival of the species.  “I don’t know if that’s why you got married,” I said, “but when I got married the survival of the species was not really the first thing on my mind.”  I had love on my mind, as I think most of us do these days.  But if you read closely you will find that’s not really the biblical view of marriage.  Marriage, in the Bible, seems to be little more than the creation of a stable social structure in which children can be born and reared. 

So, when we talk about marriage in America these days we had better be careful not to embrace too quickly the biblical model of marriage in the same way we want to be careful not to embrace “biblical family values.”  When people begin to talk to me about those values I say, “Which biblical family did you have in mind?  Cain and Abel?  Lot and his daughters?  Jacob and Esau?  David and Absalom?”  Those biblical families had some terribly twisted values.  And when it comes to marriage it’s true that if marriage is all about making babies then, yes, it has to be marriage between “a man and a woman.”  We are human beings, after all; we reproduce sexually.  But it wouldn’t necessarily have to be marriage between “one man and one woman.”  Not in the Bible anyway.  If making babies is the point then the more wives you have the more effective your efforts, right?  Look at Jacob: he produced twelve sons and at least one daughter through his two wives and their two maidservants.  Solomon—who set some kind of record—had 300 wives and 700 concubines (he practiced nation-building the old fashioned way!).

The problem comes for the Sadducees when they try to imagine one wife with seven husbands rather than the other way around.  If wives were considered property, which they were, whose property would she be?  The seven would be fighting over her in the resurrection, making the whole notion seem ridiculous.  That’s just what the Sadducees wanted to do, they wanted to make the whole notion of resurrection seem ridiculous, but Jesus sees things another way.  They don’t marry there, he says, neither are they given in marriage, because there isn’t any death there.  Remember that child’s letter to God that says, “Dear God: Instead of letting people die and having to make new ones why don’t you just keep the ones you got now?”  In the resurrection that’s just what God does—he keeps the ones he’s got.  And so there isn’t any need for a social structure in which children can be born and reared just so the species can be preserved. And there isn’t any need to have children so you can secure your social status or achieve some small measure of immortality.  And I’m going to bet my bottom dollar that those women who are considered worthy of the resurrection are not going to be treated as anyone’s property ever again.  Things are different there, thank God.

And resurrection is real.  Jesus proves it to the Sadducees be referring to a story from Exodus, one of the few books in the Bible they accepted as authoritative.  It was that story from Exodus 3, the one about the burning bush, where God identifies himself to Moses as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  He doesn’t say he was their God.  He says he is, right now.  For he is not the God of the dead, but of the living.  “You want to know if there’s a resurrection?” Jesus asks. “Take that!”

It’s a good answer.  At least it works for them.  In the very next verse the Scribes who were listening burst into applause.  And after that no one dared ask him any more questions.  But I’ve got one: I accept the fact of the resurrection but what about reunion?  Will we meet on that beautiful shore?  Will that man who wept in his car that day be reunited with his wife?  And in what way?  Will they have a little cottage right there beside some golden street in heaven where they can sit on the front porch in their rocking chairs as they hold hands and watch the sun set over the crystal sea?  And if so what about the second wife that same man later married?  Where will she sit?  And whose hand will she hold?

As far as reunion goes—I’m sure of it.  Not only from this passage in which Jesus speaks of the eternal family reunion of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but also in that passage from John 14 where he tells the disciples that he is going to prepare a place for them so that where he is there they may be also.  If that’s not reunion I don’t know what is!  And as far as the kind of relationship we might enjoy in that place?  Is it possible that the most loving and intimate relationships we have known in this life are but a foretaste of the relationships we will enjoy in the life to come? 

I can imagine that man seeing his first wife in heaven and embracing her with tears in his eyes, telling her how much he missed her and how glad he is to see her again.  I can imagine that all the best memories of the life they lived together would be fresh and new for him there.  But I can also imagine him introducing her to his second wife without any fear that she would be jealous or angry.  All that small and fearful, greedy and grasping, love would be gone, replaced by the kind of love God has for us—abundant as the ocean and just as full of grace.  Maybe the two of them would go strolling off hand in hand—those two wives—the first one saying to the other, “Boy, have I got some stories to tell you!” while he watched them walk away, shaking his head with wonder.

Who knows?  Only God.  The best we can do is speculate.  But we can know this much at least, thanks to Jesus: that resurrection is real, that reunion is real, and that in that resurrection reunion things will be really . . . heavenly.

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