KOH2RVA: Day 296

David PowersI had a long talk with David Powers yesterday and got an update on his dream.

David heads up the Communication ministry at First Baptist Church, which includes the weekly telecast of our worship services, the development and maintenance of our website, our social media presence, the streaming webcast of Sunday morning worship and Bible study, and the internal and external publicity of events. And those are only the most obvious things.

But for several years now David has had a dream of making a movie based on the parable of the Prodigal Son from Luke 15. And for even longer than that David has been studying that parable, peeling back layer after layer in search of its core, which he believes is the very heart of the gospel. It has changed the way he looks at Jesus. It has changed the way he thinks of God.

And so, as we began to talk about this year-long, every-member mission trip called KOH2RVA he began to dream that within this year the members and friends of First Baptist Church could make a movie. He called his dream “the Prodigal Project,” and spun out scenarios involving hundreds of volunteers and dozens of crew members—an epic film on the order of “The Ten Commandments.”

The first few drafts of the script were essentially re-tellings of the original parable, and they were good, but it turns out someone releases a cinematic version of the Prodigal Son almost every year. I was telling my brother Gray about this last August when we were at the beach together and he suggested, jokingly, that we should make a movie about a church making a movie about the Prodigal Son.

And that changed everything.

The last three or four drafts of the script have used that basic premise in a way that surprises and delights, with a Jewish kid from the Bronx—a graduate of NYU Film School—coming to Alabama to help a Bible-thumping Baptist preacher make a movie about the Prodigal Son. David hired a professional screenwriter to polish it up and work out a few plot problems and yesterday he dropped the finished product on my desk.

So, it might not happen in the next few days, but within a few weeks or months I think we’re going to start shooting a movie. David was telling me yesterday about the money he’s been raising and the cameras he’ll be using and the number of extraordinarily talented people who have agreed to do the sound, lighting, music, and photography.

Suddenly, everything seems to be coming together.

That’s all very exciting, but I remember the reason David dreamed up this project in the first place, and that excites me even more. David was concerned that 20-30-somethings—his children’s generation—were dropping out of church. He began to wonder: “If they won’t come to church, what will they come to?” His answer? The movies. Young people will come to the movies. And if there was a movie that wasn’t too obviously a “Christian” movie they might watch it. And if, in that movie, the radical grace of God could be communicated—the kind that welcomes prodigals, and throws parties, and causes angels to rejoice when sinners repent—then they might decide that they want some of that grace for themselves.

It’s a huge challenge, and nobody—least of all David—knows if he can pull it off. But this is his hope: that someday, somewhere, some young person will watch this movie in a darkened theater and feel his heart breaking open and the tears sliding down his cheeks as he realizes that this grace—the joyous, unrestrained, party-throwing, prodigal-welcoming grace of God—is for him too,

And heaven will come to earth.

KOH2RVA: Day 259

FBC members Tom and Nancy Chewning are bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, through their love for sports, their love for kids, their love for Christ and a place called U-Turn that brings all three together. This may be the perfect story for Trinity Sunday! Thanks, Tom and Nancy, for all the ways you bring heaven to earth, and thanks David Powers for producing this video.

KOH2RVA: Day 256

I hope you will take five minutes to turn up the volume on your computer, click on the image above, zoom to full screen, and sit back to watch this remarkable video about a partnership between First Baptist Church, the Children’s Museum of Richmond, and Glen Lea Elementary School.

If this were the only thing we accomplished on our year-long, every-member mission trip, it would be enough.  But this is only one of the things.  There are dozens more, hundreds more, because every member of the church has been looking for a way to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia.

David Powers and his team of volunteers in our communications ministry made it their goal to produce one KOH2RVA video each week.  That’s how they wanted to “bring it.”  David confessed to me recently that their goal was a little too ambitious.  Making a video is a lot of work.  But I hope that as you watch this one you will appreciate all that it took to record it, edit it, and present it in a way that tells the story and also gives you that good, warm feeling inside.

I’ve gotten that feeling each time I’ve watched this video–four times this morning.  Now I’m going to publish this post, make some oatmeal, sit down to breakfast, and probably, just probably,

Watch it one more time.

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.

KOH2RVA: Day 221

This was the blog post I had scheduled to go up on Tuesday, Day 219, but I was on staff retreat at Graves Mountain Lodge with a spotty Internet connection and it didn’t work.  So, I’m posting it today, instead, with gratitude for those people who understand technology, who make the most of media, and who find creative ways to get the Gospel to the people.  Thanks, TV crew!


I’m on staff retreat today, and it seems only fitting that I share with you some of the good work our staff and volunteers do every week to help bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond and and the surrounding region.

I can’t tell you how many times people approach me in public to tell me what a gift our television ministry is to those who can’t make it to church. In hospitals, prisons, nursing homes, and even some retirement communities, the weekly broadcast at 11:00 Sunday morning on Channel 8 is a window into a world some people miss terribly.  They love it that the broadcast is a full hour, and that it includes the hymns and prayers.

Of course, for those of you who can make it to church, and who live in the area, I hope you will turn off the television and come!

There’s nothing quite like being there.

KOH2RVA: Day 155

KalenaYesterday was a full day for the pastor of Richmond’s First Baptist Church.

I left my house at 8:00 to walk the four-and-a-half blocks to “Mission Central” (that’s what Billy Burford, our administrator, calls the church campus at the corner of Monument and the Boulevard. I like it). I got there in time to meet with our worship leaders and clip on my wireless microphone before the service began at 8:30. It was Commitment Sunday, and at the end of the service people streamed forward to lay their pledge cards, tithes, and offerings on the altar. And Cari DuVal told me that yes, she thought she would like to become a full member of First Baptist.

That’s another story altogether, but a good one. Cari grew up in another denomination. She’s been one of our most committed Watchcare members for years now. The recent change in our membership policy allows her to join without being re-baptized but she told me yesterday she would like to be immersed in the swimming pool in Helena, Arkansas, where she has been participating in an annual mission trip for the last several years. The catch? I have to come do it.

I’m checking my calendar.

Between our two morning worship services Dot Smith brought me coffee and a plate full of treats to keep me going. She does it every Sunday, but yesterday it was especially appreciated. The day was just getting started.

The third-grade Sunday school class knocked on my door around 10:15. They were on a prayer walk, and wanted to pray for me. How sweet!

The 11:00 service followed the same order as the 8:30, but the two services are never the same. At the end of the second service people streamed forward again with pledge cards, tithes, and offerings, but this time Rob and Katie Courain told me they were ready to join the church.

Rob and Katie are the young couple who head up the powerful city-wide worship celebration called RVA United, and it felt like a great compliment to First Baptist that they would choose to join a church that doesn’t worship with drums and guitars (usually), but instead sings hymns out of a book (gasp!). There must be something good going on at First Baptist. Rob and Katie say it’s our mission, that they, too, are trying to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia.

After worship I went to a three-hour meeting of the Ministry Planning Team, where we worked on a mission, vision, and values statement for First Baptist Church. It’s hard work, but good work. We spent a lot of time talking about who we are, what we’re trying to do, and the challenges we face as we do it. We didn’t finish our statement, but we came a lot closer.

My next meeting was with the Communication Team, thirty minutes later. They wanted to hear my thoughts as we anticipate David Powers’ retirement in September. David has been doing this job nearly twenty years. He is the driving force behind our television broadcast, our webcast, our website, our in-house publications, and our printed pieces. It’s hard to imagine the post-Powers era, but we did. We spent a full hour talking about the ways technology is changing and how it impacts communication. Jim Norvelle told us how he tuned into our webcast from the west coast last week (at 5:30 Pacific Time), watching the service on his iPhone even before he got out of bed. What will it be like five years from now, ten, fifteen?

From there I went to the Prayers for Healing service in the chapel, and spent a little more than an hour in that candlelit room praying, singing, listening to Bev Carroll talk about the work of spiritual rehabilitation, lighting a candle for my dad, praying with those who requested it, serving communion, and offering the benediction. It was a solemn, holy experience, followed almost immediately by…

Crazy dancing in the youth suite!

I had been invited to drop by for Kalena Porter’s surprise birthday party and when I got up to the third floor I found the youth line dancing. I watched as long as I could stand it and then just jumped in, much to their delight (there is nothing quite so funny, apparently, as seeing the senior pastor dance). Just before Kalena arrived we turned out the lights and waited to yell, “Surprise!” I think Kalena was surprised. The picture above was taken seconds afterward, as she was being rolled down the pink carpet created by Chloe Buchanan (at left in the photo).

Kalena has a terminal illness. She’s not going to be in our youth group much longer. But last night the youth poured out all the love they could on her and she was able to receive it gratefully. I couldn’t have been prouder.

Yesterday was a full day for the pastor of Richmond’s First Baptist Church. I didn’t get home until 7:00. But this morning I find myself savoring almost every detail of a day that was filled with worship, work, and witness.

A day when heaven came to earth.

Hangin’ with Roslyn at First and Broad

Image courtesy of Google maps

I did a crazy thing last Tuesday.

I rounded up David Powers, our media minister, and Allen Cumbia, his right hand man, and the three of us jumped in David’s car with two cameras and a microphone and drove down to the corner of First and Broad.  I wanted to do some “man on the street interviews” with people who live in the heart of the city.

I started by asking them if they knew the Lord’s Prayer, especially that part that says, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  Everybody knew that prayer.  I said, “It sounds to as if Jesus was asking his disciples to pray that God’s kingdom would come to earth—right here where we are—and not just stay up there in heaven.”  They agreed that it did sound like that.  I added, “And maybe he even wanted them to help him do that, to bring heaven to earth.  What do you think?”  They thought that maybe he did.  And then I asked, “If the people of Richmond’s First Baptist Church wanted to help Jesus bring heaven to earth what could they do right here in your neighborhood to make things a little more heavenly?”

Many of them laughed out loud when I said that.  They looked around that street corner and shook their heads as if heaven were a million miles away from First and Broad.  But some of them were more practical.  “You could do something for the homeless,” they said, and one of them added, “I don’t think there will be any homeless people in heaven.”  Others suggested doing something about all the abandoned, boarded-up buildings in that part of town, or helping people find work in these difficult times.

Some people had trouble understanding the question and David suggested that I ask, “What would you do for Richmond if you were God?”  That’s what I asked Roslyn, who stood there wearing a loud clash of colors and a big, big smile.  “I know you!” she said.  “I come to your church for showers” (First Baptist offers hot showers, clean clothes, and a generous helping of Christ’s love to our homeless neighbors four times a week).  Roslyn told me it was her birthday and right there in front of the cameras I sang the Happy Birthday song.  She seemed pleased.  “Now,” I said, “if you were God, what would you do for Richmond?”

“Buy me some lunch,” she said, with that same big, big smile.

You probably know how this story turned out.  David, Allen, and I agreed that if God would buy Roslyn some lunch then maybe we should chip in and do the same.  We did.  And when Roslyn got her lunch she was so grateful she gave me a kiss on the cheek—a big, red, smeary, lipstick kiss that I would have had trouble explaining to my wife.  But for a little while on Tuesday, in the warmth of Roslyn’s smile and the kindness of that meal,

Heaven came to earth.

See the man-on-the-street interviews by clicking here.  Hear me sing Happy Birthday to Roslyn by clicking here.