KOH2RVA: Day 203

Happy Easter, everyone! Here’s one of my favorite sermons, preached on the first Easter after September 11, 2001, and re-recorded in our studios here in Richmond just a few weeks ago.

I’ll be away for the next few days, helping to lead a national retreat for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, but I’ll be back and blogging on Friday, April 5. Until then, keep on bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, or wherever you are.

Christ is risen!

KOH2RVA: Day 202


It’s Holy Saturday, the only day in history when Jesus was dead.

If there is one day on the calendar when we shouldn’t be out there joyfully bringing heaven to earth, when we should, instead, put on sackcloth and ashes and mourn the death of our Lord, this is it.

So, other than presiding at the funeral of a beloved church member, I’m not going to work to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, today, but I am going to work. I’m going to write a sermon that I hope will help us celebrate what happened on the day after that mournful Saturday long ago, and I hope you will be in church tomorrow to celebrate with me.

“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning” –Ps. 30:5

KOH2RVA: Day 201

good-friday-wallpaper-24It’s Good Friday, which is really only our modern English way of saying “God’s Friday” (just as “goodbye” is a modern English contraction of “God be with ye”).

God’s Friday makes more sense than Good Friday. In itself, there is almost nothing good about the day Jesus was nailed to the cross. It was horrible from daybreak to dark. But God was able to reach down into the bloody mess of it all and make something good of it so that, centuries later, we look back on what happened through tears of gratitude.

There’s been some discussion on this blog recently about what we humans are able to do and what God alone can do. Can we bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia? No. Not without God’s help. Not anymore than we could have made something good out of that horrible Friday long ago. But let us remember that there were some on that day who called for Jesus’ crucifixion, who condemned him, jammed a crown of thorns on his head, flogged him until he was nearly dead, nailed him to a cross, mocked him, cursed him, spit on him, and gambled for his clothes, but there were others who stood at the foot of the cross, looking up at him with love, who took his lifeless body down, placed it in a borrowed tomb, and anointed it with a hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes (John 19:38-42).

We may not be able to bring heaven to earth all by ourselves but we can make it clear which side we are on. We are on the side of heaven. We want to work with God, and not against him. And if it is his will to someday bring heaven to earth we want to do everything we can to tip the balance in that direction. We want to put our shoulder to the wheel of the Kingdom and push hard.

For me, every time a child laughs, every time love is shared, every time the hungry are fed or the weary are lifted up, it serves as evidence that God’s Kingdom is coming and that we are helping. When the day of judgment comes—whenever and however it does—I want it to be clear which side we are on.

We are on the side of heaven.

KOH2RVA: Day 200

mini worldMy friend and colleague Ralph Starling recently shared this brief article by Seth Godin about paracosms.  What’s a paracosm?  Literally it means “a world alongside,” but listen to how Godin describes it:

A paracosm is an ornate, richly detailed imaginary world. Whether you’re a three-year old with imaginary playmates, or a passionate inventor imagining how your insight will change just about everything, a paracosm gives you the opportunity to hypothesize, to try out big ideas and see where they take you.

[Let me interrupt long enough to say that the Kingdom of Heaven, as Jesus talked about it, sounds like a paracosm].

Managers at established organizations have a very hard time with this. Take book publishing as an example. Ten or fifteen years ago, I’d sit with publishing chiefs and say, “let’s imagine how the world looks when there are no mass market books published on paper…” Before we could get any further, they’d stop the exercise. “It’s impossible to imagine that. Paper is magical. Are you saying you don’t believe in books?” (I heard variations on this from people as recently as a year ago.)

[Let me interrupt again to say that the way the scribes and Pharisees responded to Jesus’ talk about the Kingdom of Heaven sounds like that].

The emotional response is easy to understand. If one of the core principles of your business needs to be abandoned in order to act out the paracosm, it feels disloyal to even utter it. Sort of like asking your spouse if he’s going to remarry after you die…

And yet.

The most effective, powerful way to envision the future is to envision it, all of it, including a future that doesn’t include your sacred cows. Only then can you try it on for size, imagine what the forces at work might be and then work to either prevent (or even better, improve on) that future and your role in it.

It’s not disloyal to imagine a future that doesn’t include your founding precepts. It’s disloyal not to.

If that’s true, do we need to spend some time today imagining a future that doesn’t include the church as we know it, but rather the kingdom as God knows it?  And if so, what would that future look like?  According to Seth Godin, “A paracosm gives you the opportunity to hypothesize, to try out big ideas and see where they will take you.”

Go ahead. Knock yourself out.

KOH2RVA: Day 199

hospital visitMuch of our focus for this year-long, every-member mission trip has been outside the walls of the church, but I don’t mind admitting that much of the time, perhaps even most of the time, the members of First Baptist Church bring heaven to earth for those who are inside the walls.

For example: at last month’s deacons’ meeting I led a training session on how to make a hospital visit, thinking especially about those times our own members are in the hospital. I emphasized that the word deacon literally means “minister,” and then I led them through these ten steps:

Making a hospital visit: suggestions for deacons

1. Park in the visitor’s parking lot. Go in the front entrance. Ask about the person at the information desk. Get a room number and follow directions to the floor.

2. Ask at the nurse’s station about visiting Mr. Jones in Room 555. If they ask about your relationship to the patient say, “I’m his minister” (the literal meaning of the word deacon).

3. Sanitize your hands before going in. If the doctor or nurse is in the room, wait in the hallway while they do their work.

4. When you enter the room, say, “Hello, Mr. Jones. I’m a deacon at First Baptist Church. I’ve come by for a visit.”

5. Be considerate. Don’t bounce on the bed. Don’t come in with the smell of gas on your hands or strong perfume that may be unsettling. Don’t say to the person, “My uncle died of what you have” (that suggestion from Bob Higgins).

6. Limit your visit to 5-10 minutes. The person is not there to entertain visitors, but to try to get well. A five minute visit will feel longer if you take off your topcoat, pull up a chair and sit down.

7. Try not to ask, “So, how are you?” Instead let them lead the conversation. If they need to talk about something, they will. If they don’t, they’ll talk about the food in the hospital.

8. Say, “I’d like to pray with you before I go. Is there anything in particular I could pray for?” Hold a hand if you can and then gather up the things they have mentioned and offer them up to God in a short, simple prayer. Leave a moment of silence after the “Amen.” Let them be the first to speak.

9. When you have finished the visit stand up and say something like, “I’ve enjoyed the visit. I hope to see you in church soon.” If that’s not appropriate, simply say a sincere goodbye and leave.

10. Sanitize your hands on your way out of the hospital.

The training session was well received, in fact, Lynn Turner and I got this email message from Clark Norton, one of our newest deacons, the next day.

Jim and Lynn,

Sign me up and give me some tough cookies! I live just down the street from St Francis in Midlothian but I’ll go anywhere.

Thanks again for inviting us to serve more.


Now, that’s the spirit, isn’t it? There’s a deacon who knows what the word means and who can’t wait to do some ministry. After all, if deacons aren’t going to do ministry, why ordain them?

May your tribe increase, Clark, and maybe on one of those hospital visits you will not only visit our members, but ask at the nurse’s station if there is anybody else on the floor who could use some cheering up.

Then you really will be bringing the KOH2RVA!