Heading West

I’m on a plane, getting ready to fly to Zion National Park in Utah (or as close as I can get on a commercial aircraft). I’m spending the week hiking with my regular backpacking partners, Chuck Treadwell and Joe Perez, and flying back on Saturday so I can preach on Sunday.

I love my time in the wilderness and with these friends. It is always a spiritual retreat. Someone told me after worship today, “When you go to the Grand Canyon you look down. When you go to Zion National Park you look up.” That line from Psalm 121 came to mind: “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills.”

That’s what I’m going to do this week.

I’ll count on the rest of you to bring heaven to earth while I look for a little bit of heaven to bring back to Richmond. I have a feeling I’m going to find some.

Happy Trails,

Jim

What Would Yeshua Do?

Tikvat Israel

Tom Douglas and his wife Lynne are regular fixtures in the 8:30 worship service at Richmond’s First Baptist Church, but they are also regular fixtures in the worship services of a synagogue just down the street.  How do they manage both, and what does it mean?  Take a look at Tom’s article below and his suggestion about how we might partner with our Messianic Jewish brothers and sisters.

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Three weeks ago, we ended our first year of KOH2RVA: “A year long, every member mission trip.”

Lynne and I weren’t there for the One-Sunday event but we were able to watch it on our computer at home. It was heart-warming to listen to the awesome testimonies that were given, to see what so many wonderful people have been doing and it made us very proud to be members of this church, to be associated with people who really are involved in community efforts that are much needed.

The next Sunday, Pastor Jim charged us to not only continue what we had started a year ago, but he asked the church to extend beyond our boundaries to include partnering with other organizations and he called it KOHX2.

We have a wonderful opportunity to partner with Tikvat Israel. Tikvat is the Messianic Jewish Synagogue located within walking distance of First Baptist, at the corner of Boulevard and Grove. Who better to partner with than our Jewish brothers and sisters who believe, as we do, that “Yeshua” (that’s Jesus’ Hebrew name) is our Messiah?

Briefly, Messianic Jews worship much like the first century Jewish believers in Jesus did. They live a Jewish lifestyle and they celebrate all the Jewish holidays and customs that God Himself gave them and they believe in Jesus as Messiah.

I have been attending Tikvat for a number of years now and have many friends there. They are a friendly and loving congregation just as we are.

I would like to propose that First Baptist partner with Tikvat in its prison ministry. I have been overwhelmingly blessed to have been a part of this ministry for five or six years now. The thing about those who are in prison is that they basically have nothing. As with any such group–the homeless, the less fortunate, the underprivileged–you find people who have no pretense: people who are at the lowest point in their life, just looking and hoping that someone on the outside will do something to let them know that they matter, that they may be welcomed back into society when their time is up.

I visit this group of Messianic believers once a month. We hold a Messianic Jewish worship service. What you could do to help is maybe write letters to one or more of them, maybe visit one or more of them, or maybe come with me to one or more of our services. Or maybe make a donation, we always need prayer books and other religious materials. Passover comes around the time of Easter and supplies are expensive.

This would be a step in KOHX2 and a step in enhancing Jewish/Christian relations, which have suffered way too long.

Matthew 25:31-40 says:

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.‘ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

Thank you for your consideration. God bless all of you in whatever mission you do.

Contact:

Tom Douglas
Home: 264-0774 after 6:00pm
Cell: 804-334-8038
E-mail: tomatbap@yahoo.com

My Heart Melts…

Harvest Moon

I got this email from Kai “Jay” Jing a couple of days ago.  Jay is a doctor from China who ended up at First Baptist through the outreach of our Radical Hospitality group.  He joined Michael Lipford’s Sunday school class, the Disciples, and soon became a disciple himself.  On August 18 of this year he was baptized in the James River, and ever since (he says) he has “understood everything” at church.

That’s almost a miracle.

I wanted to share his email simply because it is so full of grace, and gratitude, and generosity.  It makes me proud of those saints at First Baptist who reached out to Jay and inspired him to reach back.

Hi, everyone, 

Today is a Mid-Autumn day in Chinese lunar calendar, it is a important festival for gathering and reunion of a family, just like thanks giving day in U.S.

I just want to say, thank you, Ralph, Jim, and the disciples of the bible study class, thank you to keep me accompany when I am here alone in RVA, but I don’t feel lonely. 

Last Mid-Autumn day, I found my spiritual home—-FBC; and this Mid-Autumn day, I have melted in it, the Kingdom of Heaven in RVA.

In the day, we usually enjoy the beautiful view of the moon, which is the metaphor of the family reunion (share the picture above with the members & friends of FBC, please), and eat the moon cakes (I don’t have any here, I would share with you if you stop by my city in China, on the festival).

Have a good weekend.

Jay

What Are You Going to Do Now?

Partners

Inez Cocke was already at church when I arrived yesterday morning (Inez is one of our most faithful volunteers.  She had probably been there for hours.  I often suspect she actually lives at church and has a cot somewhere in the basement).  But I walked in and said hello and after some friendly banter she asked, “What are you going to do now that your mission trip is over?”

Wow.

I hadn’t really thought about it like that.  I knew that we had come to the end of our year-long, every-member mission trip called KOH2RVA, but in my mind the mission was still going on, only in a different way.  Instead of trying to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, by ourselves we were going to start working with other churches, individuals, agencies, and organizations in a mission called “Kingdom of Heaven Times Two,” or, as I like to say it, “KOHX2: Bringing It Together.”

I gave Inez an example: I told her that some of our deacons have been working to renew our friendship with First African Baptist Church in the hope that we might work together to do something remarkable in Richmond, to show this city what true reconciliation looks like.

She seemed pleased by that.

“There’s always something going on around here,” she said, smiling, as if she knew that she would still have work to do when she showed up the next morning, as if she knew that our mission—God’s mission, really—won’t be over until his kingdom comes, and his will is done in Richmond as it is in heaven.

The Cutting Room Floor

cutting room floorMy friend Don Flowers has a blog called “Didn’t Make the Sermon.”  I love the title, and I would guess that every other preacher does, too.  We know there are plenty of things we think about putting into the sermon that we eventually leave out, often with good reason.  And we all remember those times we left something in that should have been left out.

I went back and forth on this introduction to yesterday’s sermon, but eventually left it out, reasoning that it was more about last week’s sermon than this one.  Still, there was something there that I liked–the idea of the church as a place of unconditional love and acceptance.  So, I’ve rescued this intro from the cutting room floor and posted it here for what it’s worth:

We are still on the road with Jesus, walking with him on the way to Jerusalem, watching everything he does, listening to everything he says. Last week he was talking to the scribes and Pharisees about what you do when you lose something precious, like a sheep, or a coin, or a son. Jesus implied that you drop everything to look for it; you don’t stop looking for it until you find it; and when you find it you rejoice. It made me think about those who are wandering away from the fold of the church in America these days, and what we are doing about it. A lot of them are young people who simply don’t find church compelling any more. They’re not afraid they’ll go to hell when they die. They don’t know why they should show up and listen to someone tell them how to live. But some of them are leaving because they’re afraid that if we knew everything about them we wouldn’t want them to come. They don’t think of the church as a place of unconditional love and acceptance; they think of it as a place where people will judge them for who they are and how they live. It made me think we need to find a way to let them know that this place is not that kind of place, that we need to do a better job of seeking, finding, and rejoicing.

I wonder what would happen if we put a big sign on the front steps of the church that read: “This is a place of unconditional love and acceptance.”  Would it bring in the wrong crowd?  Or would it bring in the right one?

And who gets to decide which is which?

When Regular Hospitality Seems Radical

Iraqi mother and childLouis Watts introduced me to three couples from Iraq on Sunday.

I had a hard time getting the story straight, but apparently they had watched the worship services from First Baptist on the Internet while they were still in their home country, and now that they were in Richmond (VCU students?), they wanted to visit the church they had only seen on their laptops before.

So they came, and they brought their children, and they left them in the nursery while they attended the service.

Can you imagine going to Iraq, and visiting a mosque, and leaving your children in the nursery?  That must have been what it was like for them, but they did it, and apparently it was a surprisingly good experience for everyone.

No surprise to me: Candi Brown, our Minister to Children, and her crew of volunteers are some of the most loving and caring people on the planet.  But I was still gratified to read this email Louis sent to Candi on Monday morning:

Candi:

Thanks to you and all of your nursery workers for your compassionate care for the Iraqi children attending with their parents at yesterday’s worship service. I can tell you through further conversations with the families at lunch yesterday that the parents were very pleased for their children to get such good care.

The family that had the two little girls have been through great difficulty. Their first child, a son was born in Iraq, but lived only one day; his lungs were underdeveloped and he could not breathe. The second child, the oldest girl yesterday, has significant brain damage and had some problem with her digestive system resulting in her being undernourished. They could do nothing for her in Iraq. Since being in Richmond, she was hospitalized at MCV for 17 days where they performed surgery on her stomach to correct some problems with digestion and installed a feeding tube. She has begun to thrive, at least physically, since that surgery. The third child, also a daughter, seems to be completely healthy. So all of this to say that they were at first hesitant to leave their children, but the husband told me that yesterday was the happiest his wife had been in a long time – seeing that her children were loved and cared for while attending the church service.

A little bit of heaven came to some Iraqi children while in your care yesterday! God bless all of you and all that you do!

Louis

There are times when regular hospitality seems radical, and Sunday was one of those times.

Let’s keep on opening our doors and our hearts, friends, for in doing so some have entertained angels unaware (Heb. 13:2).

Time for A Phone Fast?

My friend John Ballenger put me on to this YouTube video about us and our smartphones that makes me think it may be time for a phone fast.

Nick Bilton writes:

The two-minute video, which has been viewed more than 15 million times, begins with a couple in bed. The woman, played by the comedian and actress Charlene deGuzman, stares silently while her boyfriend pays no mind and checks his smartphone.

The subsequent scenes follow Ms. deGuzman through a day that is downright dystopian: people ignore her as they stare at their phones during lunch, at a concert, while bowling and at a birthday party. (Even the birthday boy is recording the party on his phone.) The clip ends with Ms. deGuzman back in bed with her boyfriend at the end of the day; he is still using his phone.

Ms. deGuzman’s video makes for some discomfiting viewing. It’s a direct hit on our smartphone-obsessed culture, needling us about our addiction to that little screen and suggesting that maybe life is just better led when it is lived rather than viewed (New York Times, September 1, 2013).

So, that’s what I’m planning to do tomorrow.  It’s my day off, and I’m going to switch off the little screen, get out there, and live some life.  I’m going on a phone fast.

I may tell you how it went afterward, but there won’t be a YouTube video.

I promise.