KOH2RVA: Day 317

Children's MinistryMy daughter Ellie and I have been talking about “branding” lately, something she’s interested in. She says that your “brand” is the first thing people think of when they think of your company. So, when you think of Maxwell House you think of coffee; when you think of Schwinn you think of bicycles, and when you think of Levi’s you think of blue jeans.

But what do you think of when you think of Richmond’s First Baptist Church?

Some people think of us as “that big church on the corner of Monument and the Boulevard.” I’ve heard that some people think of us as “that rich church,” or “that fancy church,” or that “country club church,” (although I couldn’t get anyone to admit it). But my favorite is the one I heard during last year’s youth Christmas pageant, when someone joked about running into some people from that “heaven to earth church.”

That’s a brand I could live with.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the first thing people thought of when they thought of Richmond’s First Baptist Church was heaven coming to earth? That could mean so many things! It could mean that when you are sitting in our sanctuary on Sunday morning, listening to the choir sing, it’s like heaven on earth. Or it could mean that the congregation is working to bring heaven to earth all the other days of the week, outside the sanctuary. It could mean both, and ideally it would, but either way, being known as the “heaven to earth church” would not be a bad thing.

So, is that our brand? Is bringing heaven to earth the first thing people think of when they think of Richmond’s First Baptist Church? I don’t know, but I do know that I got email yesterday from a woman in Louisville, Kentucky, who sent me a copy of a hymn about heaven coming to earth because she said that when she saw it, it reminded her of First Baptist, Richmond.

Where would she get such an idea? I don’t know. She might read this blog from time to time. Or she might subscribe to one of the Baptist state newspapers that has carried our story. Or she might visit the Ethics Daily web site, or get electronic updates from Associated Baptist Press. When I was at the General Assembly of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship recently—a national gathering of Baptists—I was surprised by how many seemed to know about our efforts to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia.

But suppose we were successful? Suppose that by the grace of God, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, and through the tireless leadership of the Lord Jesus Christ we were able to bring heaven even one inch closer to Richmond? What then? What if children were lifted up out of poverty? And racism became a thing of the past? What if no one was hungry or homeless in our city? What if the hospitals were empty? What if the streets were clean? What if strangers greeted one another as friends? What if the love of Christ were known and felt? What if sins were forgiven, and hopes restored, and lives made new? What if the presence of God lit up the city like sunshine, and the Spirit of God became the very air we breathed?  How many more people would know our story then?

If being known as the “heaven to earth church” moves us one inch closer to that vision, then I’m for it.

KOH2RVA: Day 213

Wind_blowing_by_xpuszakxI’m preaching an Easter season series called “The Acts of an Easter People” (thanks, John Ballenger, for a great title).

One of the things I love about Acts is the way the Spirit not only blows where it will, but seems to blow God’s people wherever it wills. After the stoning of Stephen in chapter 7, for example, some of the disciples end up in Samaria (of all places) where they preach the good news to the Samaritans and make a number of converts. Later Philip preaches the good news to an Ethiopian eunuch (of all people) who also becomes a believer.

Crazy, right?

It’s one of the reasons I love hearing from Jeremy and Monica, the church planters I’ve told you about before. They are a young couple who don’t look much like evangelists, and yet they can’t stop talking to people about Jesus. They talk to all kinds of people. The Spirit blows them wherever it wills.

I wanted to share with you today a prayer request Jeremy sent out before a recent event, and then tomorrow follow up with the results, just so you’ll have the satisfaction of finding out what happened. First, the request:

Yes! This is so cool! Please pray!

1. This Saturday is our FIRST gathering for people who are seeking answers on questions of “faith.” It’s an open discussion, yet oriented toward defending and defining a Biblical understanding of faith. The sorts of people we invited are from a range of pantheist, pluralist, atheist, agnostic, post-christian, post-catholic, apathetic, NOT apathetic (some of them REALLY care!), some are ignorant others are well informed “religiously,” and others who have been invited are somewhat neo-pagan (spiritual consumers just taking whatever they want, ignoring what they don’t want, and ignoring their own inconsistencies). Pray that the Holy Spirit will move and that nothing prevents them from coming to the gathering! Depending on who comes, we will also be partnering with a few people from Imago (our local church) who will also be there for the purpose of being a light.

2. Due to the recent opportunities in sharing Christ, I am developing a small follow-up handout to give to people AFTER we have a gospel conversation. This is NOT a tract, rather it is a handout that will keep the dialogue open and provide a few directions for those we talk with (the goal is to keep the gospel at the forefront and point them towards more questions/answers and scripture!). Pray for me for wisdom and brevity as I create that.

So just an example of why that follow-up info is needed: This week we explained passover and the gospel to two neopagans and one girl who is starting to believe in Christ. In our conversation, the gospel was core and we were able to enter into a deeper understanding of the lives of each person present. Recognizing that the Lord has just provided an excellent window of opportunity into their hearts, we want to provide a few follow-up directions on PAPER so that they can take something with them (especially because this community is HIGHLY transient, so opportunities may disappear quickly)! Obviously we will follow up anyway in person, but this is just one way to practically keep planting the seed and keep the gospel in FRONT of them!

And so the Excellent news continues to go forth in Richmond!

May the peace and joy of Christ be with you all!

Jeremy and Monica

Tomorrow: what happened on Saturday!

KOH2RVA: Day 196

Pat

If you look closely, you can find Pat just under the “P” for Parking (or is that “P” for Pat?)

I loved this KOH2RVA experience shared with me by the Rev. Linda Moore—BTSR graduate, hospital chaplain-in-waiting, and member of First Baptist Church. I wanted to share it with you.

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“Can I just close the book on this day now? I got to sleep in this morning. Then I worshiped at St Paul’s and got to hear the holy most Dr. John Kinney preach. I got to say “Hi” to a dear Rector, an Episcopal Priest, and a good Baptist pastor friend. Dr. Kinney called me his sister and I was filled because He moved a rock for me. I spent a prayerful journey walking around Richmond with my camera, searching for ‘signs.’ Duke won their game and now I am at the Bottom of the Up, reading on a beautiful day. Can I just bottle this up and go to sleep?”

That was the status I put on Facebook around 3:15 Friday afternoon. I was content with the day I had and ready to close it all up and put it in my pocket. It had been a great day, inside and out. I didn’t want anything to ruin the spirit, the life, and the light of what I had experienced.

I finished watching the Duke game and got an order of breadsticks for my roommates. I decided to go for a cup of coffee at Shockoe Espresso and do some writing. It had been a great day and I needed to write it down. The red light at Cary and 14th stopped me as I searched for a parking space. I noticed a woman standing there asking for help. It’s not surprising to see folks in downtown Richmond standing at the intersections. It’s been a tough time and folks are asking for any assistance possible. Who am I kidding? It’s always been tough for a lot of people in Richmond and today was no exception. I wish life weren’t so hard, but every single day we remember that it is. Whether it’s temporary or terribly permanent, God’s people are hungry, cold, and suffering. This woman was no exception.

When I can help, I normally don’t like to give cash. I would rather give something more tangible like a gift card for food or coffee or even a meal itself. However on this day, I quickly grabbed the few dollars I had, rolled down my window, and offered it to her. I’ve learned over time that it’s not my business what people will do with the money. You give what you can and leave the rest of it up to God and the recipient. The woman was gracious and thanked me for the gift.

She was dressed in yellow fleece, a denim coat, a pair of jeans and her cardboard sign. A wrapped scarf protected her head but nothing protected her hands. Yes, it was the second day of spring, but she was standing in the shade and it was a rather breezy and cool March afternoon. There was a bucket in front of her that I imagine was a temporary place for her to rest. I asked for her name. “Pat,” she said and she gave me God’s blessing as she asked for my name. I said I would pray for her and she offered to do the same for me. The light turned green and we said goodbye with “Have a blessed day” trailing behind. Something kept pulling at me though. I looked in my passenger seat and there was the carryout box with the freshly baked breadsticks and sauce. I could give her more than just money I thought. I could give her a meal. It’s not much, but it was something more than a few dollars.

I rode around the block and found a space by the coffee shop, grabbed the box of breadsticks and headed down the street to see Pat. After I greeted her she exclaimed, “Linda, what are you doing here?” I offered her the still warm breadsticks. Pat was so grateful for the gift and pointed to a sub sandwich that someone had left for her earlier. We talked for a few minutes about the weather. Then I asked how she was doing and if she would be protected from the cold weather this weekend. Times are a little rough she said but assured me she had a place to stay. Pat was looking for some money to get kerosene for the week. We both wished the weather would cooperate as the calendar told us it was spring. Maybe she wouldn’t need too much more of the kerosene. We laughed about God’s sense of humor in the temperatures and she complimented my beautiful smile. I couldn’t help but think that it was a smile I hadn’t seen in a while and was glad I was able to share it with her. More importantly, she shared her smile with me. We laughed together at God’s gentle breeze that was bringing cooler temperatures. Then her spirit became clear.

“We do what we can and let God take care of the rest,” she reminded me. Yes Pat, you are right. You are absolutely right. We do what we can and let God take care of the rest. Pat reached out and gave me a hug. It was her sweet and gracious thank you for the meal and conversation. Then something happened that I wasn’t expecting. As she held me, Pat started to pray out loud. She prayed to Jesus and asked Him to watch over me as He had watched over her with this day and meal. She thanked Jesus for my presence in her life today. She thanked God. She thanked God for me. After we embraced Pat said, “I’ve never done that before, prayed out loud. I just felt led to. I’m sorry.” It took all I had not to cry, “No, Pat. Don’t apologize. I’m glad you prayed. You have blessed me today.”

We said our goodbyes and thanksgivings. I went back to my car and she continued to do what she needed to make it through the day and night. On my way home, I couldn’t help but think about my wanting to bottle up my earlier experience and end the day. Good thing I didn’t. Look at what I would have missed.

I updated my Facebook status when I got home: “Well, I was wrong on wanting to close the book on today. God had other moments for me to encounter and to keep finding Him in just the right places. Wow. Humbled and grateful.”

–Linda Moore

KOH2RVA: Day 164

tea-or-coffeeI’ve told you about Jeremy and Monica before, the church planters who agreed early on to be a part of our year-long, every-member mission trip. It’s not because they are members of First Baptist Church (they’re not), it’s because they are trying to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, and I’ve been fascinated by the way they are doing it. Their “strategy” (if you can call it that) is to make friends with people who don’t go to church, and who wouldn’t call themselves “Christians.”

Here’s their latest update:

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Last Tuesday night, we had a coffee night for some unbelieving friends. Here are JUST A FEW of the amazing results:

  1. One girl, E, asked us to meet with her privately and pray for her. She is a pluralist (believes in many pathways to “god”) but she really is in need of some advice and love in her life right now, she has been walking down a very dark path for a number of years and it is taking its toll on her. Please pray for E, we have been connected with her since we first moved into the building. This is a great step forward, we already have also shared the gospel with her, so THIS STEP, her asking for prayer, is an excellent opportunity for us to love her and help point her further to Christ!
  2. Another girl (a recovering alcoholic and substance abuser), told us that she “randomly” started reading the Bible. But she is in “need” of someone who can explain what it means to her! HAHAHA!!! This is like, directly out of the book of Acts (think of when Phillip talked with the Ethiopian eunuch). So here we are! The Lord plopped us here in this particular part of the city especially so that we might reach this girl right now as she is in need of clarity regarding the meanings of the scriptures! She has been in connection with us since last year. Pray for her to know Jesus!
  3. One guy (J), is in his 50’s and has lived a really intense and foul sort of life. But he really connected with us and wanted to do a brunch for the apartment complex (in conjunction with us) on a weekend and also wants to watch a few movies with us. He hasn’t yet indicated how open he is to talking about Jesus, but he knows what we are doing here and he mentioned that he has had a Roman Catholic background.
  4. A neighboring couple we never met before came in also. You can think of them as M&B. M&B are really cool, and we are hoping to do a “dinner party” with them, one other unbelieving couple (W&J, I met them through E), and one couple from our church. There will be many more steps taken with them in the future, Lord willing!
  5. A bunch of girls want to paint, so we will host a painting night as a missional opportunity with some of the believers from our church and with the rest of those girls.

Pray for the following: (1) Five more opportunities that arose from the coffee night! (2) Opportunity for Monica to pursue teaching “body attack” (a group fitness class) at local gyms in order to open up more gospel oriented relationships! (3) A pantheist girl we shall call Sarah – she is super-open to talking about Christ! (4) The continuing relationships where the gospel is being shared. (5) A gathering of people who want to “discuss” issues of faith. We have a number of seekers who are wanting to know more. These are the beginning steps of what can lead towards a church plant, yet, most of the people have not yet met Christ. (6) Pray for new believers!

Keep in mind, we are taking a difficult road – but it is SO COOL BECAUSE THE HOLY SPIRIT IS AT WORK!! We are not trying to find Christians, rather we are trying to immerse ourselves with unbelievers and lead them to Christ. We are partnering with our church here to multiply social surface area with unbelievers in order to increase the amount of gospel content that can influence the culture! Pray for salvations! We hope to eventually have a small church being planted straight out of the harvest (not by gathering Christians from other churches, but by seeing the Holy Spirit create new true Christians!) God is moving! It has taken a LOT of hard work to get to this point relationally with our new friends. But we just keep loving them and standing on the truth of His Word! We cannot help but speak out about Jesus!

Jeremy and Monica

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I love it that Jeremy and Monica are trying to make friends, and not just converts. I love it that they invite people to their apartment for coffee, rather than corner them on the street. I love it that they are trying to plant a church of new believers, rather than simply stealing old ones. I love it that they “cannot help but speak out about Jesus!”

Suppose we all had that problem. Don’t you think the Kingdom would come sooner, rather than later?

Thursday, December 17

It’s a little after six a.m. on my day off.  I don’t know why I’m up, but here I am, sitting at the kitchen table and sipping some freshly brewed Caffe Verona as I contemplate the day ahead.

I’m remembering that before I ever started blogging I used to do something called “Jim’s Online Journal,” and I used to do it on my day off.  Typically, I would go for a mid-morning run, and then while I was cooling off afterward I would sit at the computer and highlight the previous week, writing about significant events, discoveries, and breakthroughs.  When I was finished I would send it to twenty or thirty friends and family members by e-mail.  Some of them read it and some of them didn’t, but it did me good either way to reflect on the events of the previous week. 

I remember hearing Tony Campolo talk about a survey conducted among people ninety years old and older who were asked: “If you had your life to live over again, what would you do differently?”  There were lots of answers, but the majority of them fell into three categories: 1) I would risk more, 2) I would reflect more, and 3) I would do more things that would live on beyond my death.  The online journal was a way for me to “reflect more,” to think about my life instead of just living it from day to day.

In some ways it was a continuation of the journaling habit I started in seminary: at the suggestion of one of my professors I began a prayer journal that I kept up more or less faithfully until just a few years ago.  I filled up a dozen or more notebooks and composition books with my prayers for the day which often, of course, included the details of my life, the struggles I was facing, the thoughts I was having.  I miss that, and I’m not sure how I fell out of the habit except that life can get busy and we often neglect the things that are most important in favor of the things that are most urgent.  Maybe 2010 will be a good year to get back into that good habit.

Anyway, I’m almost to the bottom of my coffee cup and starting to think about cooking some oatmeal, but let me leave you with a brief excerpt from “Jim’s Online Journal.”  And like those people I used to send it to, you are free to read it or move on to other, more important things.  Like breakfast.

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Monday, July 6, 1998

In the last few weeks I have been to the mountains with my friend Jim Eastin, entered and finished a triathlon in Charlotte, been to the beach with my own dear family, been to Houston with a bunch of Baptists, and been to work day after day after day.  Even though summers are easier around Wingate, this is one summer where things have been only slightly easier.  I find my tongue hanging out at the end of a hot day, and find myself wondering when the relief will finally come. 

I thought I would have a break last week with a day off on Thursday and a long holiday weekend.  I found out on Wednesday that we would be closing on our construction loan today (Monday).  So the next day I got up early, borrowed a chain saw, went to the lot and began to cut trees, clearing a space for our new home.  I worked all day, until I was cross-eyed with fatigue, but I wasn’t finished.  I went back the next day and worked until dark.  Still not finished.  Saturday at 2:00 p.m. I dragged the last limb to the brush pile and drove home, sweat-soaked and bone-weary.  Even though the rest of this project will involve considerable time and energy, I hope it’s not this kind of time and energy.  I went to the office this morning in a starched shirt and silk tie feeling as though the vacation had come at last.

And one more thing.  That same Saturday that I came home so hot and tired we had a cookout at the house for the kids from the trailer park–two more hours of sweating in the sunshine.  One of them, a new kid named Jason, confided in me that his only real problem was his dad.  “He’s been in prison since before I was born,” Jason said, matter-of-factly.  “He’s going to get out this summer.  We talked on the phone.  We talked about building a log cabin together.  But last week he called me and told he was just going to disappear.”  And once again, my heart breaks for one of these kids.  But that’s not all.  “My mom lied to me,” he says later.  “She told me my grandmother died of a heart attack, and the death certificate did say something about her heart, but I found out her husband shot her a couple of years before I was born.” 

“How old was your mother?”

“Twelve.”

“So, when you were born she was . . .”

“Fourteen.”

“Fourteen.”

“Yep.  She was pregnant once before that, when she was ten, but she miscarried.”

This from a boy who says he has only one problem. 

Whenever I hear these stories my own story seems hardly worth mentioning.  So what if I spent three days working with a chain saw?  So what if I’m building a house, going to the beach, entering a triathlon?  All these things seem irrelevant beyond description in comparison with this one life, this eleven-year-old life that has been so hammered by hardship you wonder where that lopsided grin, that wayward lock of hair, came from.  How did they survive?  And what can I do to make sure they don’t get lost in the weeks and months ahead?

Pray for Jason, friends, and pray for Jim.  Don’t let me get so caught up in my own life that I fail to catch those who are falling.

Worshiping by Webcast

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It’s my daughter Catherine’s fall break, and the rest of the family is using it as an excuse to spend a long weekend at the beach.  It’s a little cool here, but the breezes blowing in off the water are the kind that make you close your eyes and inhale deeply, and then let it all out in a rush of relaxation.  It was in that frame of mind, and with a fresh mug of hot coffee, that I logged onto the First Baptist website on Sunday morning for the live webcast of our 8:30 worship service.

I was impressed by the quality of the feed: full screen video and sound that came in loud and clear through my earbuds (thank you David Powers and the rest of the Communication Team!).  I heard Ralph Starling welcome us to worship, Eunice Kim play the prelude, Millie Flinn read the Bible.  I heard the Men’s Chorus sing, watched Bob Higgins dedicate the offering, listened to the choir sing the anthem.  And then I heard Lynn Turner preach, and even though I wasn’t there in the room I felt the full impact of her sermon.  At one point I laughed out loud.  At another point I felt a lump rise in my throat. 

All of this was happening in the sanctuary of Richmond’s First Baptist Church while I was more than a hundred miles away, participating in worship through an open laptop computer, with earbuds in my ears.  And I was doing it while sitting at the kitchen table, in my jammies, with a cup of hot coffee.  I can see how some people might decide to worship that way all the time.  It beats getting up and getting dressed, doesn’t it?  Looking for a parking place and sitting on an uncomfortable pew?  Plus, no one passes an offering plate when you’re sitting at home alone.  But there is something missing, and that something is the human touch.

I never read it, but I remember a book called Megatrends by John Naisbitt, published some thirty years ago.  One of the chapters was “High Tech/High Touch” which I understood to mean that as our society becomes more and more high tech, we will crave the human touch more than ever.  All those hours sitting in a cubicle at work, entering data on a Microsoft spreadsheet; all those hours in an empty apartment, watching what you TIVO’d the week before; all those hours playing “Farmville” on Facebook, while you wait for status updates from your Facebook Friends.  I can see how that kind of life would make you so lonely you would rush into the arms of the church on Sunday morning, and how important it would be that—when you got there—someone offered you the love of Jesus, a bone-breaking hug, and a cup of hot coffee (a reminder to all of us to give in the same way we would like to receive).

So, as good as this time at the beach with my family has been, I’m looking forward to being back at church next Sunday.  Worshiping by webcast is a wonderful option, but it’s no substitute for the real thing.