KOH2RVA: Day 321

smokingOn Wednesdays I go down to the basement level of the church to speak to the men and women who come to First Baptist for hot showers, clean clothes, a cup of coffee, and a little bit of the love of Christ. I enjoy doing it, and I try not to make it too “preachy.” I simply try to encourage people who live a harder life than most of us can imagine.

But this week I told a story I heard from church historian Bill Leonard years ago. It was about a time he visited a rural church in Kentucky that didn’t even have a building: the congregation just sat outside on wooden benches. Bill sat down beside a man who was wearing a pair of faded bib overalls, with a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes in the front pocket.

When the preacher got warmed up to the subject of his sermon he said, “I’m getting tired of these people going out honky tonkin’ on Saturday nights, getting’ drunk and carryin’ on like they do. What kind of example is that to be settin’ before our kids?” And the man in the bib overalls said, “Amen, preacher! You tell ‘em!”

And then the preacher said, “And what about these young women walkin’ around with their skirts cut up to here and their blouses cut down to there, showing off everything the good Lord gave ‘em? How is a young man supposed to keep his way pure?” And the man in the bib overalls said, “Amen, preacher! That’s right!”

But then the preacher said, “And what about cigarettes? People who call themselves Christians walkin’ around suckin’ on them cigarettes like a baby sucks on his bottle! That’s got to stop!” And that’s when the man in bib overalls turned to Bill Leonard and said, “That ain’t Bible and I ain’t listenin’!” and walked off in a huff.

I said to my friends at Community Missions, “That’s a funny story, but it does raise the question of who you listen to. This man said he wasn’t going to listen to something that wasn’t in the Bible, but what he really meant was that he wasn’t going to listen to something he didn’t agree with. What about you? Who do you listen to? Who has authority in your life? Is it the Bible? Is it your mother? Is it the voices in your head?

I said, “For me, it’s Jesus. I believe he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and I believe that if I follow his Way I won’t be disappointed. So, I read the Gospels, and I underline what Jesus says, and I try to live by it. And even if I get to the end of my life and find that Jesus has led me to a locked door (although that’s not going to happen), I don’t think I will have any regrets. I believe his Way really is the best way to live in this world.”

It’s the reason First Baptist Church is on this year-long, every-member mission trip to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia: because it’s so important to Jesus, because he mentions the Kingdom some 120 times in the Gospels, because he teaches his disciples to pray that God’s Kingdom will come, and His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

So, we’re working hard to bring heaven to earth, and it’s not necessarily because we want to, but because Jesus said so.

What about you?  Who do you listen to?

KOH2RVA: Day 253

First Baptist worship

Yesterday was a long day at First Baptist. I got to church a little after eight in the morning and left a little after eight at night. But it was a great day, and in so many ways it lived up to the promise of Pentecost. This morning my mind is a kaleidoscope of images. Here are a few of them:

  • The joy of sitting on the steps with the children during worship, telling them the Holy Spirit is like “the best babysitter you’ve ever had.”
  • Watching the congregation rise to its feet to thank David Powers for twenty years of dedicated service as Minister of Communications.
  • Seeing a young man whose name I don’t even know leap to his feet to push Danny Taylor’s wheelchair out of the sanctuary during the fire drill.
  • Rick Belflower getting tears in his eyes as he talked about the crime of human trafficking and how it robs children of their childhood.
  • Hearing Bart Dalton praise Skyler Cumbia at her graduation ceremony for the way she inspired other youth to engage in selfless service.
  • Sitting in the chapel at the healing service, watching Shawnae Lacy fight back the tears as she told the story of losing her foster daughter to cancer.
  • Sitting in the sanctuary later, looking up toward heaven (and feeling it) as the youth and adult choirs ringed the balcony and sang, “In this Very Room.”
  • Clapping my hands, laughing, and singing along as they finished last night’s concert with “If You’re Happy and You Know It Say ‘Amen.’”

I was happy, and I knew it.

At some point in yesterday’s sermon I said that there was good news in the story of Pentecost because it wasn’t so much about going to church as it was about being the church. Yesterday I watched the members and friends of First Baptist being the church all day long, but I wouldn’t have seen it if I hadn’t gone. While heaven has been touching down all over the greater Richmond metropolitan area in the last 252 days, one of the most reliable places to see it happen is in that building at the corner of Monument and the Boulevard on Sundays. I saw it happen yesterday,

Over and over again.

New Year’s Resolution

On Sunday I preached on that often-neglected passage from Luke 2 about the time the boy Jesus was left behind at the temple in Jerusalem.  It reminded me of the time my dad left my brother Scott behind at the library in Charleston, West Virginia—a 45-minute drive from our house.  But Scott didn’t seem to mind.  He loved books, and the library was his favorite place in the world.  If he had run away from home in those days we would have known just where to find him.

So I asked the congregation at the end of the sermon: “If you turned up missing in the next 24 hours, where would people begin to look for you?  And when they found you, and you asked them, “Where else would I be?” where would you be?  And is there any chance you would be here, in church, thinking the things of God?  And if not, then why not?  What has become more important to you than that?

It sounds kind of pushy when I see it in print, but in context it was mostly about what we love most in the world, followed by the question: if God is not at the top of that list then why not?  What has taken his place?  So I ended the sermon with the litany of renewal from John Wesley’s covenant service, in which he urged his congregations at the beginning of each new year to “wholly give themselves up to God, and to renew at every point their covenant that the Lord should be their God.”  The litany can be found in its entirety in my post from this time last year (“Those Methodists Mean Business!”), but I want to reprint the closing paragraph here.  Let me challenge you in the way I challenged the congregation on Sunday: if you can say “Amen” to these words then say it, and if you can’t then don’t.  But if you can say it, say it with all your heart, and let this new year be one in which you live out the terms of this covenant.

I give myself completely to you, God.
Assign me to my place in your creation.
Let me suffer for you.
Give me the work you would have me do.
Give me many tasks
Or have me step aside while you call others.
Put me forward or humble me.
Give me riches or let me live in poverty.
I freely give all that I am and all that I have to you.
And now, holy God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
You are mine and I am yours.  So be it.
May this covenant made on earth
continue for all eternity.

Amen!