KOH2RVA Day 185

KarenGAt last night’s deacons’ meeting we talked about joy and agreed that it was not the same thing as happiness. Happiness seems to be dependent on circumstances whereas joy does not.

At one point I reminded the deacons at my table of that place in Luke 10 where Jesus sends his disciples out to do what he, himself, has been doing: curing the sick, cleansing the lepers, raising the dead, casting out demons, and proclaiming the good news of the coming Kingdom. Luke says the disciples returned “with joy,” and I said, “That’s why I keep insisting that the members of Richmond’s First Baptist Church get off the bus and onto the mission field: because I believe there is joy in it.”

That certainly seems to be true in Karen Grizzard’s case—Karen, who had such a hard time finding her way of bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia. After the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, she made up her mind to volunteer at a local elementary school. Since then she’s been going to Glen Lea Elementary at least once a month and lately she’s been reading to second graders.

I’ve shared some of her letters before but this one seems to capture the essence of the joy we were talking about at our deacons’ meeting last night. Listen:

Hi, Jim. I hope you won’t grow tired of my KOH2RVA updates. I am so glad I got off the bus. I took a break today from a hectic workweek to read to Ms. Caison’s second graders at Glen Lea. They were so attentive, displayed their best manners and clapped after each story! The cute girl in pigtails to my left grabbed me by the waist and asked me to come back again to read. You know my answer. Regards, Karen.

Did you hear what she said? She took a break from a hectic workweek to read to Ms. Caison’s second graders. In other words, she took a break from a hectic workweek to see if she could find some joy, and she found it in giving her time and talents to a group of second graders. Notice that she didn’t say, “This was just one more thing I had to add to a busy week.” She didn’t say, “Why do you keep nagging us about bringing the KOH2RVA?” Instead she said, “I am so glad I got off the bus.”

There is joy in this work, real joy, but you may never find out for yourself if you don’t take that first step. Still looking for ways to do that? Visit the KOH2RVA section of our church website and see what you can find. Or just do what Karen did:

Make up your mind.

KOH2RVA: Day 113

Amish BuggyThis is how it happens sometimes:

  1. A shooting takes place at an elementary school in Connecticut.
  2. You feel the pain the whole nation is feeling, but don’t know what to say.  On one side are all your liberal friends, screaming for gun control.  On the other side are all your conservative friends, pleading the Second Amendment.  All you know is that you don’t want one more child to die.
  3. Over the Christmas holiday you take your family to visit your parents at a nursing home in Franklin, West Virginia.
  4. On the way your daughter spots an Amish buggy whizzing down the road, and wants to know more about these fascinating people.
  5. You do a Google search when you get home and find a whole website about the Amish and the Mennonites.
  6. You find this section that seems eerily relevant to Number 1 above:

Q: I understand your belief in nonresistance and pacifism. Does this principle extend to personal situations where you are confronted with imminent evil, say a known murderer confronting you and your family in your home? Can you use force to preserve your life in this situation? To what extent? What is the Biblical basis for your position?

A: Both Amish and Mennonites are committed to a lifestyle of peace and non-violence. Yes, this pervades every aspect of life. However, no one can predict with certainty how anyone would really react to an absolutely unprecedented crisis such as described above. Emotions as well as thoughts are involved and the situation is personalized. Having said this, we would hope that as people who have practiced a lifestyle of peace, we would not resort to force and violence in a crisis situation such as the one described.

We must briefly make several points:

  1. There is no assurance that use of force would save my life or the life of my family if confronted by an attacker.
  2. We could recall many accounts of unhoped for deliverances, whether by mediation, nature, or divine Providence, when Christians refused to use force when confronted by an attacker.
  3. If the result is death at the hands of the attacker, so be it; death is not threatening to us as Christians. Hopefully the attacker will have at least had a glimpse of the love of Christ in our nonviolent response.
  4. The Christian does not choose a nonviolent approach to conflict because of assurance it will always work; rather the Christian chooses this approach because of his/her commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord.

Some of the Biblical references for peace and non-resistance are: Matthew 5:38-48; John 18:36; Romans 12:18-21; and I Corinthians 6:18.

I still don’t know what to say about the shooting in Connecticut, or what our response as a nation should be, but I’m impressed by the way the Amish and the Mennonites approach the subject.  I love their line, “If the result is death…so be it; death is not threatening to us as Christians.”  That sounds gutsy, and a whole lot like something Jesus might say.

As we work to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, this year, maybe we can remind people of that—that faith in Christ can set you free,

Even from the fear of death.

KOH2RVA: Day 99

pink candleToday was the Third Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of Joy.

A group of International students from VCU had been invited to light the Advent candle. They processed slowly down the aisle as the Youth Girls’ Ensemble sang. They mounted the steps and gathered around the Advent wreath. They held the lit taper to the pink candle and we all watched and waited for the wick to catch flame.

It didn’t happen.

I don’t know that I’ve ever felt so much suspense in church. I kept watching, willing the wick to catch. The student who was holding the taper seemed to have it in just the right place, but even so another student reached up to help. They adjusted the flame, moved it ever so slightly back and forth, but no matter what they did they couldn’t seem to get it to work. Finally, the song ended, and they had to step down from the chancel, the pink candle still unlit.

It seemed shockingly symbolic, that on a day when most of us were still grieving over the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, the candle of joy wouldn’t stay lit, almost as if God himself were saying, “How can the flame of joy dance on its wick on a day like this?”

Maybe those students didn’t fail. Maybe they lit the candle over and over again and God kept snuffing it out, whispering, “No, not today.”

You can’t really schedule joy, and unfortunately you can’t really schedule grief. It comes when it comes. And it came today:

The Third Sunday of Advent.

KOH2RVA: Day 98

Sandy HookFirst Baptist Church has spent nearly 100 days working to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, in a year-long, every-member mission trip. I don’t know that every member has been involved, but it certainly does seem that way. Many of them stop me in the hallway to tell me about the work they’ve been doing. They’re excited about it. You can hear it in their voices. You can see it on their faces. And that’s good, because on a day like today I’m thinking about how it takes all of us working together with Jesus to make this world more like heaven while it only takes one of us to make it more like hell.

It happened yesterday.

While we may never know what drove him to do it we know that 20-year-old Adam Lanza opened fire on Friday morning at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, killing 26 people—many of them children—before turning the gun on himself. It’s hard to imagine a more horrifying, or hellish, scenario.

How long will it take to undo the damage Adam Lanza did? Forever. While it will take days to restore some semblance of order at Sandy Hook Elementary, weeks to memorialize the 26 people who died in yesterday’s shootings, months to get things back to “normal” in Newtown, some things will never be the same. Parents who lost children will never get them back again, not in this life. And that’s when I become grateful to tears that it’s not all up to us.

While we can “labor alongside Jesus in the joyful work of bringing heaven to earth,” Jesus can do some things we can’t. He can bring earth to heaven. He can take the tragedy of yesterday’s shootings and lay it before his heavenly Father. And the Father—who loves little children—can take them in his arms, breathe new life into their broken bodies, and welcome them into his eternal presence.

“God will wipe every tear from their eyes,” writes the author of Revelation. “Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more” (Rev. 21:4).

Until then we keep working with Jesus to bring heaven to earth. We renew our determination. We strengthen our resolve. We know as we didn’t know two days ago…

…it’s going to take all of us.

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Photo by Adrees Latif/Reuters