KOH2RVA: Day 293

Nancy Sehested2I’m back at my kitchen table this morning, having a cup of (really wonderful) coffee and getting ready to put tomorrow’s sermon into words, but before I do let me say a word about the annual meeting of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Greensboro, North Carolina, where I’ve been for the past few days.

On Wednesday night I attended the 30th anniversary celebration of Baptist Women in Ministry at First Baptist, Greensboro. One of the things I’ve appreciated about CBF from the beginning was its commitment to women, especially at a time when many who felt called to ordained ministry were being told they could not fulfill that calling within the Southern Baptist Convention. Nancy Hastings Sehested preached and started with a funny story about sitting on a plane beside a “chatty Texan” (she admitted that she, herself, is a chatty Texan, and that it takes one to know one). This Texan chatted on for some time before asking her what she did for a living. She said, “I’m a minister.” He said, “Really? What denomination?” “Baptist,” she said. He said, “I’m a Baptist, and my pastor tells me there aren’t any Baptist women ministers.” She said, “We’re in the witness protection program.”

We laughed out loud.

And then she said, “For thirty years that’s what Baptist Women in Ministry has been doing: protecting the witness of women.” And I turned to my daughter Catherine, who was there on the pew with me, just to make sure she heard that there was a place among Baptists where the gifts of women were not only acknowledged, but celebrated. Shortly after that Molly Brummett, a brilliant young seminary graduate whom Catherine has known all her life, received the Addie Davis preaching award.

Another reminder.

Not that Catherine will become a preacher. She’s getting ready to go off to graduate school in Aberdeen, Scotland, this fall to study anthropology and folklore. But as her father I have always wanted her to believe that she could do whatever she felt called to do, even if she felt called to ministry. I think she got that message throughout the CBF General Assembly. There were lots of young people there being honored and included in everything that was going on. The new Executive Coordinator of CBF, Suzii Paynter, is a woman. And everywhere she went Catherine was getting hugs from people who have known her and loved her since she was born.

We’re back in Richmond this morning, and Catherine is upstairs sleeping in, but as I think about how to bring the KOH2RVA I think how important it is to make a place for women, who have always had a place in God’s plan: Sarah, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Mary, Lydia, Phoebe, Priscilla, Lottie, Annie, Suzii, Nancy, Molly, Catherine, and many, many others.

God bless them, every one.

KOH2RVA: Day 290

CBF General Assembly

After lunch today I’m getting in my car to drive to Greensboro, North Carolina, for the annual meeting of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

I remember my first meeting.

It was in 1991, shortly after I had been called as pastor of Wingate Baptist Church in North Carolina. For the ten years I had been a Baptist—and for all the years I was in seminary—the Southern Baptist Convention had been engaged in a bitter conflict between the “moderates” and the “conservatives” where all we seemed to do at our annual meetings was fight over things like the authority of Scripture, the role of women in ministry, and the question of who would control the world’s largest protestant denomination. Long before 1991 I was ready to be done with the fighting. So when I heard that a group of Baptists were meeting in Atlanta to give up the fight and get on with the mission, I was eager to learn more. I drove from Wingate to Atlanta and was there at the Omni with 6,000 other Baptists when the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship was formed. On the cover of the program were those words from Isaiah 43: “Behold, I am doing a new thing.” I was ready for a new thing, and when I drove home from Atlanta I breathed a sigh of relief, feeling that at last I could quit fighting denominational battles and get on with the work Jesus had called me to do.

22 years later I’ve gotten on with my work, and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has gotten on with its work, and the Southern Baptist Convention has gotten on with its work. And, praise be to God, I believe we are all doing good work. Richmond’s First Baptist Church has not aligned itself with either the SBC or the CBF, but it does support missionaries through both entities. From time to time we get to hear some of those missionaries speak and tell us about the work they’re doing around the world. And when I hear them speak I can tell where their hearts are.

To a person, their hearts are in the right place.

The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is trying to be the presence of Christ in the world; the Southern Baptist Convention is trying reach the world for Christ; Richmond’s First Baptist Church is trying to bring heaven to earth, and part of the way we do it is by supporting SBC and CBF missionaries. The other way we do it, of course, is to roll up our sleeves and go to work right here where we are—as missionaries.

I’m going to leave that job up to you for a few days while I go to Greensboro. I won’t be blogging on Thursday or Friday. But if you’d like to know what’s going on at the General Assembly you can click HERE, and even if you don’t you can say a prayer for the work of all kinds of Baptists all around the world. Pray that it would be the kind of work that would make Jesus proud.

And thank God that the fight—at least, that fight—is over.

KOH2RVA: Day 288

TFH2Today is the first day of Vacation Bible School at Richmond’s First Baptist Church, and it’s bringing back some memories.

I remember going to VBS when I was a little boy. I remember hearing Bible stories, and going on nature walks, and eating those cookies with the hole in the middle so you could put one on your finger and nibble all the way around. I remember cutting construction paper with blunt-nosed safety scissors and the smell of Elmer’s glue. I remember singing “This Is My Father’s World.”

I loved it.

Years later, when I became the pastor of a little church in Kentucky, I found that VBS was a community affair: our church would host Bible school and the kids from the other two churches in town would come, and then they would host Bible school and our kids would go there. You’d see the same kids at every Bible school in town.

At the church I served in North Carolina we began to make an intentional effort to reach out to the kids at a nearby trailer park and that was harder. Those kids didn’t know how to behave at Bible school. They didn’t understand the rules. But we believed that the Jesus we were talking about would want those kids to be there, and so we kept taking the church van over there, picking them up, and bringing them to church.

At First Baptist, Richmond, we seem to have had that tradition for years—opening up our Bible school to anyone who wanted to come and going to get some of those kids who needed to be there. But this year is a little different. This year, because we are trying to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, we have invited some people from Waxahachie, Texas, to help us. Does that make sense?

Well, if you know the whole story, it does.

These are people from Park Meadows Baptist Church, and for years they’ve been going to Helena, Arkansas, in the summer to help out with a mission project called “Together for Hope.”* Well, so has First Baptist, Richmond. These two churches have worked side by side to help kids in one of the poorest counties in America, and over the years a friendship has developed. So, when FBC member Cari DuVal learned that a staff member from Park Meadows had written the very popular VBS curriculum called “Camp,” and that he had written a new curriculum called “Camp II,” she decided our friends from Waxahachie needed to come to Richmond and help us put it on.

But here’s the KOH2RVA twist: after putting on “Camp II” at First Baptist Church each morning, the VBS team is going over to Essex Village Apartments and do it there. I’ve written about Essex Village before: 544 kids, most of them living in single-parent homes. Don’t you know that having “Camp” come to them is going to be the best thing that happens all summer?

It’s not only “Camp” that will come to them; it’s the love of Jesus, shared by those missionaries from Waxahachie and those missionaries from Richmond. If those kids at Essex Village have a real experience of it—if they see it in the smiles, and hear it in the stories, and feel it in the hugs—they will want more and more. Maybe this will be the week when some of them start down a path that leads to life abundant, overflowing, and everlasting, and years from now they will be able to say,

“It all started at Bible School.”

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*Launched in 2001 by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Together for Hope (TFH) is a long-term commitment to working with people in 20 of the nation’s poorest counties in order to affect change and break the cycle of economic disparity. The ministry is about establishing long-term relationships, listening, learning, and walking alongside local leaders. The hope is that communities will be transformed as will the churches and individuals who serve in focal counties.

KOH2RVA: Day 271

PledgeI’m in Charlottesville this morning, on a 24-hour retreat with the Coordinating Council of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Virginia. We spent some time yesterday talking about our plans for this year including a partnership with CBF missionaries in Slovakia, something called “Mission Madness” for youth, “Mission on the Move” for the churches, and, finally, a Mission Immersion Experience in Slovakia (did you see the word mission in there anywhere?). I finally asked Rob Fox, our Field Coordinator, “What is our mission?”

In a book called The Once and Future Church author Loren Mead argues that there was a time when nobody would have asked that question. In the years following World War II Christians in this country were riding a wave of euphoria. “We won the war,” they thought, “now let’s win the world!” And they tried to do it in much the same way, sending wave after wave of heroic “Christian soldiers” to convert the heathen in other lands. The mission was clear; our efforts were focused.

But then, for a number of reasons, things began to change.

In a book called Resident Aliens William Willimon suggests that things began to change on a Sunday evening in 1963. He writes, “Then, in Greenville, South Carolina, in defiance of the state’s time-honored blue laws, the Fox Theater opened on Sunday. Seven of us—regular attenders of the Methodist Youth Fellowship at Buncombe Street Church—made a pact to enter the front door of the church, be seen, then quietly slip out the back door and join John Wayne at the Fox. That evening has come to represent a watershed in the history of Christendom, South Carolina style. On that night, Greenville, South Carolina—the last pocket of resistance to secularity in the Western world—served notice that it would no longer be a prop for the church. There would be no more free passes…no more free rides.”

That word Willimon uses—Christendom—contains the idea that the church and the community are essentially the same thing: that they have the same values and the same goals. While many people can remember a time when that seemed true, it doesn’t seem true anymore. And, like Willimon, many of us can remember the moment we realized Christendom was collapsing. For me, it was when I found out there was going to be a youth league soccer game on a Sunday morning in my town. I could hardly believe it. But these days it isn’t so hard to believe. If America ever was a “Christian nation,” it isn’t anymore. And it’s not just because people of other faiths have moved into our neighborhoods, it’s because our faith–the “Cultural Christianity” we used to take for granted–has moved out. When the pastor stands in the pulpit these days and says, “Let’s win the world for Christ!” the few people who are there might yawn and look at their watches.

That’s why we can’t go on doing business as usual, and why we have to take the time to ask questions about what our mission is, and why it matters, and who it’s for. That’s what we spent some time doing yesterday afternoon at the CBFVA retreat and when I can I’d like to tell you about it. Until then, let me give you this glimpse:

We were talking about that parable in Matthew 25 where Jesus said, “I was hungry and you didn’t feed me.” We talked about how often, when it comes to mission, we think of taking Jesus to people who don’t “have” him. But here was Jesus saying, “No, I was already out there. I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me.” I had to stop and think about that for a minute, and then I said, almost in a whisper,

“Jesus is out there.”

I don’t know what might come from that revelation, but I know that we need to keep talking about how to be faithful to Jesus and his mission in a world like this one.  Take a good look a the picture above, at those beautiful children singing the National Anthem.  You don’t have to look very long to realize:

It’s not 1963 anymore.

KOH2RVA: Day 224

Hands healingIt’s Sunday morning, April 21, 2013. I’m sitting at my kitchen table just a few minutes after 6:00, making oatmeal and putting the finishing touches on today’s sermon.

I’m preaching from Acts 9:36-43: the story about Peter raising Dorcas from the dead. I don’t think I’ve ever preached on that passage before, and I’m impressed by the lessons some of us other, ordinary disciples can learn from it. Here’s an excerpt:

When Peter was alone in that upper room with the cold, lifeless body of Dorcas he simply did what he had seen Jesus do. He wasn’t a faith healer; he was just full of faith in the One who once said to his disciples, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these” (John 14:12).

If we believed that, I think we would lay hands on more people and pray for them, and, to be fair, at our prayers for healing service we do. You’ve heard me say that it’s not a healing service. We can’t promise that. But we do promise to pray for healing and usually, when people come forward for prayer, we ministers listen to their requests and then put our hands on them and pray. Sometimes, at their request, we anoint them with oil. Why not? But if we really believed what Jesus said I think we would lay hands on people all the time, everywhere, and pray for them every chance we could. I think we would pat on them, and hug them, and shake their hands, and every time we did we might pray that God’s healing power would somehow flow through us to them. We’re not faith healers, but we could be full of faith in Jesus, we could believe that somehow he could use us—his disciples—to get his work done here on earth.

One of the people who seems to do that especially well is Suzii Paynter, the new Executive Coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. She’s going to be with us in worship today, and stick around for a brief reception afterward. I hope you will come, if you can, and meet her.

Another person who does that well is Mike Maruca, head of the Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School. I hear that he greets all 52 students at his school by name each morning, and if one of them is missing he goes to find him, just like a good shepherd. Mike is going to be with us in worship as well.

I hope that you can be with us, and if not in person then perhaps you could tune in to our live webcast at 8:30 or 11:00 a.m. by clicking HERE. Because it’s going to be a great day at First Baptist. We’re going to learn how Jesus can use us—his disciples—to get his work done here on earth.

See you in church!