KOH2RVA: Day 356

UncommonI had coffee with Steve Quesenberry yesterday (pronounced KWESS-en-berry).

Steve and his wife Suzan have been visiting First Baptist for the last few months and he thinks he’s ready to join. He wanted to talk to me about that yesterday, but even more he wanted to talk to me about the holy nudge he’s feeling to start a men’s Bible study group, especially for young men like himself. He talked about a book called Uncommon by Tony Dungy, former coach of the Indianapolis Colts, and wondered if he could start an Uncommon Bible study for men at First Baptist Church. I hadn’t heard of the book, but after hearing Steve talk about it I was curious. This is what I found online:

When Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy took home the trophy in Super Bowl XLI, fans around the world looked to him as the epitome of success. Athletic victory, professional excellence, fame and celebrity, awards and honors—he had it all. But even in that moment, he knew those achievements had little to do with his ultimate significance as a man.

Coach Dungy still passionately believes that there is a different path to significance—a path characterized by attitudes, ambitions, and allegiances that are all too rare but uncommonly rewarding. In the New York Times best seller Uncommon, Dungy reveals secrets to achieving significance that he has learned from his remarkable parents, his athletic and coaching career, his mentors, and his walk with God.

As I told Steve yesterday, I’d want to know a little more about the book before I give it my endorsement, but I already love the title. In fact I wrote down the first draft of a bulletin blurb while we were having coffee: “You’ve heard of the common man. But what about the uncommon man? Want to be one? Join Steve Quesenberry on Sunday mornings at 9:45 in Room…”

What I love even more is the way Steve understands that if you’re going to join First Baptist Church, you need to find your way of bringing heaven to earth.  We seem to be creating a “culture of expectation” here that is focused on fulfilling the mission, and not only meeting members’ needs.  It aligns with a missional vision that insists, “The church is not the goal of God’s mission; the church is the tool of God’s mission.”  For Steve that means helping young men follow “a path to significance that is characterized by attitudes, ambitions, and allegiances that are all too rare but uncommonly rewarding.”

I hadn’t heard of Tony Dungy before yesterday. I wasn’t sure how to pronounce Quesenberry. I’m a little more aware today, and a little more hopeful that with young men like Steve in the world the Kingdom of heaven must be near.

Uncommonly near.

KOH2RVA: Day 355

Pratt1Pratt Stelly sent me this wonderful story about how she “got off the bus and onto the mission field,” and I love the way she didn’t limit herself to bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia. While that’s been a great way to focus our mission, it was never meant to restrict us, to keep us within the city limits.

Pratt certainly didn’t let it restrict her.

Dear Dr. Somerville:

As the year draws to a close, I want you to know that I got off the bus both literally and figuratively. But first let me back up a bit. In the spring I attended the Missions Fair in the Dining Hall. I was drawn to the darling baby hats that the SKEINS group knit and sent to an orphanage in South Africa. I have not knit in quite a while, but I figured I would give it a try. I was given a pattern right there on the spot and stopped to buy yarn on my way home from church! I knit 10 hats before I left for China to visit my son in June.

Pratt2And this is where I got off the bus. While you want to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, I feel like we should bring the Kingdom of Heaven wherever we are in the world. I took my hats to Tibet in hopes of finding an orphanage, but could not find one that took babies. And then I had a thought, why not give the hats to needy people I passed on the street. Words cannot describe my joy in seeing the appreciation in the eyes of the child and parent. While we did not speak the same language, we shared the feeling of love for one another, and that is what it is all about.

The picture and movie clip attached were taken at a roadside pit stop on our way back from Mt. Everest. I spotted this little girl who was with her mother selling trinkets by the road. They were very poor and there was little hope for this child to have a normal life. While I could not take her home in my suitcase to give her a better life, I could give her a hat and say a little pray over her. Just looking at her in the pictures and video have made this mission worthwhile, and I will cherish her little smile as long as I live.

So thank you for getting me off the bus and I will continue to knit and give hats wherever I am.

Pratt

It was Mother Teresa who said, “Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love.”

I think Pratt has shown us how.

——————————————

Bonus Reel: Here’s a creative and funny video someone made of Pratt’s China adventures, including the episode with the little girl and the hat.  Priceless!

KOH2RVA: Day 354

ChloeAfter worship on Sunday Chloe Buchanan approached me shyly and asked if she could be one of my guest bloggers. Chloe is in the youth group at First Baptist Church. She said she was writing something about what KOH2RVA had meant to her and wondered if I would be interested in publishing it on my blog. “Absolutely!” I said, and encouraged her to send it to me as soon as possible.

She sent it the next day, but because of the backlog in my email inbox I didn’t find it until yesterday. But it’s all for the best. Today is my day off and I’m driving to West Virginia to see my parents. I didn’t really have time to blog. So, a huge thank you to Chloe for wanting to put into words what this year-long, every-member mission trip has meant to her, and for doing it so beautifully.

Here are her thoughts:

Before our church’s year long mission trip, KOH2RVA, started I just went on doing my daily routine without any thought about what God’s purpose was for me. For kids, well young adults my age we’re mostly focused on school, friends, and for some their first job. We go to church on Sundays, Wednesday nights, and might even volunteer on Saturday, but that’s where church stops. At my age there are so many distractions we face on a daily basis. I faced the struggle to make my time with The Lord everyday, and honestly it wasn’t on the top of my to-do list.

Since KOH2RVA started I have taken the extra effort to search for what God is trying to show me everyday. Whether it be how the sun shines through the clouds or that the checkout lady needs her day brightened up. I have also taken more time to just be still, reflect, and to know that The Lord is almighty. I have found that if you can make that extra few seconds to either reflect or pray for someone it can change not just your day but others as well.

One of my biggest focuses this year has been my walk with The Lord and how I can help others. My youth group has brought both of those together throughout the year. One of those moments happened while on a mission trip in Nickelsville Virginia. During the week we helped children, elders, and the less fortunate. I had already felt blessed for all that God had shown me through out the week but I was not expecting this. We were at a function called Nickelsville Days, there I met a women who proceeded in thanking me and blessing our youth group for what we have done and asked to pray with me. There, it hit me, just because we are a group of teenagers we have the power to make an impact on an entire town.

Now, there isn’t a day that goes by that God’s love and power isn’t present in some way. Even if you don’t have the gift of traveling elsewhere to do God’s work, you can do it here at home in Richmond. You can be any age, 1 or 101, if you take that extra few seconds, you’ll have the power to change not just your life but someone else’s life too.

Chloe Buchanan is a student at Atlee High School, a member of First Baptist Church, and the great granddaughter of legendary pastor Theodore F. Adams.  Her mother, Julie Adams-Buchanan, recently contributed to this blog.

KOH2RVA: Day 353

martin-luther-king2It was 50 years ago today that Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech. The way I heard the story he was going on and on about jobs and justice and the audience was losing interest when Mahalia Jackson, the blues singer, who was sitting right behind King, said, “Tell ‘em about the dream, Martin!” And that’s when he fell into the preacher’s cadence, and shared the prophet’s vision, of a day when this nation would rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: that all men are created equal. He said:

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

That speech captured the imagination of millions, and inspired them to do the kind of work that would make the dream come true. Fifty years later we’re closer, but we’re not there yet. There’s still a lot of work to be done.

King’s words remind me of another young prophet who used to tramp the hills of Galilee sharing his dream of the Kingdom. When people asked him what that Kingdom was like Jesus said:

The Kingdom is like a sower who went out to sow some seed. It’s like the shepherd who went out to look for his lost sheep. It’s like the treasure you stumble upon in the field, or the precious pearl you find at the flea market. It’s like the king who throws a party for outcasts, or the dad who kills the fatted calf for his no-good son. It’s that place where Samaritans pay your hospital bills and sinners go home from the temple justified. It’s where those who worked an hour get the same as those who worked all day and where the beggar at the rich man’s gate ends up in the bosom of Abraham. It is, finally, that place where the last are first, the least are great, and the lost are found forever.

Those words captured the imaginations of his hearers, and inspired them to do the kind of work that would make Jesus’ dream come true. And yet, 2,000 years later, there’s still a lot of work to be done.

So, I’m going to stop writing blog posts, and roll up my sleeves, and get out there and do some work. I’m going to see what I can do to help bring the Kingdom of Heaven a little bit closer to Richmond, Virginia. Because if there is one lesson to be learned in all this it’s that dreams don’t come true by dreaming:

Dreams come true by doing.

KOH2RVA: Day 352

Rob and Katie CourainSo, I was talking with Rob Courain yesterday about this crazy idea he has to raise money for missions. Rob is a member of First Baptist who, along with his wife Katie, was baptized in the James River on August 18. He is also a co-founder of RVA United, the ministry with and for 20-30somethings in Richmond that rocks First Baptist Church with a powerful praise service on Tuesday nights (Rob plays guitar in the band). And, as it turns out, he is something of an entrepreneur.

Here’s what he’s thinking:

Using the business model made popular by Groupon, Rob has made arrangements with Arianna’s Grill at 700 N. Sheppard Street to offer up to 500 vouchers to our congregation valued at $20 each. When you buy a $20 voucher and take it to Arianna’s you get $20 worth of delicious Italian food. But here’s the interesting part: in exchange for the in-church publicity and promotion, Arianna’s will give half that money to the mission cause of our choice, in this case to Mark and Sarah Williams, CBF missionaries working to save the lives of AIDS orphans in South Africa.

Before reading any further, stop to appreciate that last point: Arianna’s—a friendly neighborhood restaurant less than two blocks from the church—is going to give half of the money it earns on these vouchers to missionaries in South Africa, evidence that the Kingdom of Heaven is coming to Richmond, Virginia.

Now, here’s the catch: in order to offer this kind of deal Arianna’s has to sell at least 200 vouchers. If they don’t sell 200, the deal is off. They believe that the publicity and promotion they receive through the church will be well worth the minimum of $2,000 they send on to Mark and Sarah. And they are hopeful, of course, that people who discover Arianna’s through this promotion will like it and want to come back at other times.

I have.

In fact, I’ve had lunch there the past two days. I love their lunchtime specials, their big, conversation-friendly booths, and the charming and attentive wait staff. But I looked at Arianna’s differently when I was there yesterday. It wasn’t just a friendly neighborhood restaurant, serving up good food at good prices: thanks to Rob I looked at Arianna’s as a partner in mission.

Vouchers go on sale at First Baptist on One Sunday, September 8. I want to be the first person in line, holding my $20 in the air, knowing that half of it will go to Mark and Sarah Williams and the good work they are doing in South Africa.

I hope you will be right behind me.

KOH2RVA: Day 351

breathing2A few years ago I told someone that if I were writing a manual for new members at Richmond’s First Baptist Church I would want to stamp one word on the cover: SENT! Because now, more than ever, I believe that’s what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.

What is the first word of the Great Commission? (Matthew 28:19-20): “Go.” What does Jesus tell his disciples in that upper room in John’s Gospel? (20:21): “As the father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” What does he say to his followers just before his ascension in the Book of Acts? (1:8): “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” I call these the “Three Great Commissions,” and in each of them Jesus makes it clear that disciples are not supposed to sit around singing Kum-ba-yah: they’re supposed to go.

But I also believe they are supposed to come.

I was reminded of that again in worship yesterday. Kaky Minter and Rob Reinstein shared testimonies of how the church had ministered to them in times of illness and grief. Later in the afternoon someone told me how much the fellowship of the church means to her, and how it’s just not the same to watch the webcast on her iPad. Last week Clint Smith, the vice-chair of the deacons, acknowledged that while people don’t seem to come to church like they used to in America, they will always be attracted to other people, and “love is the most powerful force in the universe.”

So, here’s Jesus, telling us to go out into the world, and here we are, coming back to the church. I’ve been trying to think of it not so much as a tension between going and coming, but rather a rhythm of going and coming, like breathing. You can’t live very long if you only breathe in, but you can’t live very long if you only breathe out.

It takes both to keep the body healthy.

In the same way, keeping the body of Christ healthy seems to depend on coming together for worship, study, nurture, fellowship, encouragement, healing, and then going out again to do the things Jesus told his disciples to do. Yesterday we came to church. For the rest of the week we will be on the mission field. If we do it right we will need to come back to church at the end of the week, for all those things listed above. And if we do church right, it will send us back onto the mission field, re-energized and ready to serve.

It’s not so hard, is it? Just breathe in.

And then breathe out.

KOH2RVA: Day 350

hotspot-one-sundayIt’s going to be a drop-dead gorgeous day in Richmond, Virginia, friends: a perfect day to throw back the covers, get out of bed, and come to church. Kaky Minter is going to share the story of her own miraculous healing today as a prelude to the Gospel lesson about a woman who was miraculously healed (Luke 13:10-17), and then Mary Eldredge, Ruth Szucs, and Margaret Wilson are going to sing “His Strength is Perfect.”

Heaven will come to earth.

Speaking of that, you may have noticed that we are on Day 350 of this year-long, every-member mission trip, which means that two weeks from now we will gather to celebrate all the ways the Kingdom of Heaven has come to Richmond, Virginia, in the past year.

We’re going to begin in the gym at 9:30, with music from the RVA United praise band, followed by a word of appreciation from the principal of Glen Lea Elementary School, a representative from Essex Village, and the head of the Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School. We’ll see some of the KOH2RVA videos that were produced by our communication ministry and finish off with a slide show of images accompanied by a song that says, “I don’t know but I’ve been told heaven is coming down to this world.”

At 11:00 we’ll gather in the sanctuary for one combined worship service followed by dinner on the grounds. In my sermon on that day I want to talk about what we’re going to do for an encore. I don’t want to give it away here, now, but I’m excited about sharing it with you then.

I hope you will make every effort to come.