Why not study the Bible with Brian Blount…in your kitchen?

news_faith_house_churchLast Sunday we tried a “secret” vesper service at Richmond’s First Baptist Church, depending on word-of-mouth and social media to draw a crowd. Some forty people showed up in the chapel at 5:00 for a half-hour service that included music by George Winston and Joshua Bell, and a video sermon by Amy Butler, Senior Minister of the Riverside Church in New York City. The reviews were overwhelmingly positive: “Perfect!” “Wonderful!” “Amazing!” and “When can we do this again?” Well, not this week, because the chapel is already reserved for the Prayers for Healing service.

But here’s another idea: What about using this week’s “Sermon for Every Sunday” in a small group Bible study?

You could do it like this: invite two or three friends to join you at the time and place of your choosing. For example, you could do it in your home or apartment at 8:00 on a Thursday night. You could sit at the kitchen table and offer some simple snacks. You could start by looking at the Gospel lesson for this Sunday from Mark 1:4-11 and talking about it among yourselves. And then, after twenty minutes or so, you could watch Brian Blount’s sermon for this Sunday on your laptop, set up at one end of the table.

blount-brian_200x240Brian is president and professor of New Testament at Union Presbyterian Seminary here in Richmond.  His sermon for this Sunday is powerful, and brings together all his skills as a teacher, preacher, and scholar. I’m imagining how much better you and your friends would be prepared for worship on the following Sunday, when your own preacher announces his text for the day from Mark 1:4-11 and begins to preach on that passage. Worship would be far richer because of it, and your own faith and understanding deeper.

You can “rent” Brian’s sermon for $4.99 at http://www.asermonforeverysunday.com. You can pick up some simple, healthy snacks for about the same price. That’s less than $10 for an evening of soul-strengthening Bible study and you don’t have to teach! Ask everybody to chip in a dollar or two and you’re done!

I don’t know if this suggestion will change your life, but it’s a new year, and a good time to think about what kind of changes your life needs. Spending more time studying the Bible with friends sounds like a resolution worth making.

Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, Indeed!

Old friends, two happy senior women talking in parkGuest blogger Becky Payne, church organist and friend of the elderly, shares a story about a recent event that truly brought heaven to earth.

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When our pastor, Jim Somerville, challenged our church to “bring the kingdom”, one of our members at Lakewood Manor, Bernice Rodgerson, was a bit puzzled about what she might do to participate in the challenge. At that time Bernice was not well and didn’t get out much. She and I talked about the possibilities and decided she could write notes and make phone calls to other senior adults who are homebound. I gave her several names of ladies in other retirement facilities and she began her “ministry” of encouragement.

Earlier in this year we were discussing one of her ladies and Bernice expressed a desire to visit her. I assured her I could make that happen. On a Wednesday afternoon mid-August Bernice and I went to visit Anne Poindexter. I watched with great joy as these friends greeted each other and talked non-stop for a lengthy time. Anne was happy to share refreshments with us as we talked about our church, our families and Anne’s upcoming 99th birthday. The excitement of these ladies and the sweetness of that visit is etched in my mind.

As we drove back to Lakewood Manor Bernice and I talked a bit about the other ladies she had been writing. You guessed it: this Friday Bernice and I will make the short trip to Gayton Terrace to visit with Betty Grubb!

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 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?

KOH2RVA: Day 101

hugYesterday—Day 100 of KOH2RVA—we had at least 100 guests at the Ralph Anderson Memorial Christmas Breakfast for the Homeless in the dining hall at First Baptist Church, and that’s not counting Santa Claus.

I remember Ralph.  I used to see him in Community Missions on Wednesday mornings, taking down the names of our homeless guests and helping them check their bags so they could get a shower.  He loved that job.  He loved those people.  Shortly before he died he established a small endowment that would produce enough income to put on one big breakfast a year and yesterday that’s what we had—one big breakfast.

I watched as our guests filed into the room past a uniformed police officer and took their places at the tables.  They seemed eager, excited, their eyes shining in a way I rarely see on those other, ordinary days.

When it was time for the blessing I took the microphone and said, “Before I pray, let me say a personal word of welcome.  I’m really glad that you’re here.  And I want you to know that these volunteers who have come to serve you breakfast this morning have come because they love you.  They don’t refer to you as ‘clients’: they call you ‘neighbors,’ and ‘family,’ and ‘friends.’”

And then I prayed, saying something like, “Lord Jesus, you didn’t have a house.  You said so yourself.  You said, ‘Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.’  But if you did have a house I believe you would want to throw open the doors to these, your brothers and sisters.  And on a day like today I believe you would want to serve them breakfast.  And so, we’re going to do that for you, and we ask you to bless it, and them, and us, in your name.  Amen.”

And then the breakfast began, and it was wonderful.

I sat at a table and talked and laughed with the men who were there.  But eventually the talk came around to what happened in Connecticut last Friday, that terrible tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  The shock and disgust registered on their faces.  One of them said, “I can’t believe it!  I can’t believe anyone would want to hurt a child!”

It seemed ironic; I had just heard that a mother had decided not to bring her children to our weekday school that morning because “all those homeless people” were milling around outside the doors, waiting for breakfast.  She was nervous after what happened in Connecticut last week.  A lot of parents were.  And even though she is thankful we have a ministry to the homeless she just couldn’t bring herself to drop off her children while they were there.

I wish she could have seen the look on this man’s face as he said, “I can’t believe it!  I can’t believe anyone would want to hurt a child!”

Someday, when heaven comes to earth, that man and her children will be best friends.  They will get out of the car at school and come running across the parking lot, giggling, and calling his name.  And he will scoop them up in his arms with a big smile, and carry them to their classrooms like a guardian angel, looking back only long enough to reassure their mother as she waves and blows kisses.

Until that day comes, we’ve got work to do.

A Christmas Letter

This year's staff Christmas party had a "Scottish Highlands" theme

To the Members and Friends of Richmond’s First Baptist Church:

When I had completed my first year at one of my former churches, the chair of the deacons invited the congregation to come forward at the end of the Sunday morning service and express their appreciation to me and my family.  It was a little embarrassing.  I didn’t feel that I had done all that much and was afraid that most people would just slip quietly out the back door.  But they didn’t.  They came forward.  They patted my girls on the head and hugged my wife and shook my hand, and one of them said to me, “I don’t have the words right now to say what I want to say.  I’ll have to go home and think about it.”

That’s how I’ve felt in these last few weeks at Richmond’s First Baptist Church.  Christmas cards have come pouring into my office along with cookies, candy, and gifts, with bone-breaking hugs and heartfelt words of encouragement.  The members of this church seem to be in a competition to let me know how much I’m loved and appreciated.  I’ve been overwhelmed by it, and when I try to think of how I might respond I feel like that poor tongue-tied parishioner at my former church:

“I don’t have the words.”

The words that do come to mind again and again are these: “Life is good.”  Along with all the rich blessings I have received since coming to Richmond there is a deep sense of satisfaction that I am in the right place at the right time.  But how do I say to you, in a way that you can understand it, “Life is good”?  And how do I say to you, in a way that you can appreciate it, “You are the reason”?  

Maybe the best I can do in this season is to say it, and to hope with all my heart that you will understand and appreciate the warm, strong feelings behind those few feeble words:  Life is good.  You are the reason.  And may the Joy of the Christ whose birth we celebrate and whose love binds us together be yours at Christmas and always.  

Appreciatively,

Jim