The Kingdom Just Keeps Coming!

partnershipRecently I challenged the staff of Richmond’s First Baptist Church to help me take our mission to the next level.  For a year the whole church was working to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia (KOH2RVA).  By the end of the year it was obvious that the job was too big for any one church to do alone, so we began a year of mission called KOHx2 (Kingdom of Heaven Times Two), with an emphasis on partnership.  In the same way that Jesus sent his disciples out two by two to do the work of the Kingdom, it made sense to us to work with other individuals, churches, agencies, and organizations to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond and beyond.

I call this new mission “KOHx2: Bringing It Together.”

I challenged the staff to collect pictures and stories that would illustrate this mission, and to share them with me so I could post them on my blog.  A few days ago I got this email from Senior Associate Pastor Lynn Turner:

Jim

I don’t know if you can use this or not in your blog, but felt compelled to write it just as a reflection from my heart this past week.  It has caused me to think about this partnership thing in a totally different light.

Lynn

What Lynn wrote came out of her regular work at church, which reminded me that church work at its best IS the work of the Kingdom, and sometimes church people step up and help out in ways that truly bring heaven to earth.

Take a look at what Lynn wrote:

Reflections on KOHx2: Partnership and Generosity

It began with phone calls this past week of various needs within our church family: One family, out of full time work, medical needs, and needing some help catching up on bills; Another family, having faced extraordinary medical circumstances, still in the hospital, and their heating system out in their home with no funds at this time to get it fixed: Another family moving into an apartment with need of furniture and the basics to get them on their feet; all members of our congregation and all legitimate needs.
And thus the partnership and generosity wheels began turning…

An anonymous gift to help with current bills, a heating company stepping in to donate a used system and time to install, and an envelope of money given to me by a church member this past week with the words, “Sometimes ministers just need some discretionary funds to help folks out, use this as the needs arise.”

I have been overwhelmed this week with the way God has revealed to me that bringing the kingdom comes with partners….all kinds of partners…with a spirit of generosity that just points to Jesus.

KOHx2 has been hard at work this week. Blessings abound!

KOH2RVA: Day 265

Maruca and ClemmonsOne of the surprises of our year-long, every-member mission trip has been a friendship and partnership with the Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School in Richmond’s East End. It started when Melissa Ansley Brooks, who lives in the neighborhood, chose the Cooper School as her KOH2RVA “project.” She began to volunteer at the school, and as she did she began to see the potential for a Kingdom-bringing partnership between the school and First Baptist Church. Her enthusiasm was contagious, and “infected” a number of people at First Baptist including Mary Hiteman, Director of Weekday Early Education, and Joyce Clemmons, leader of the church’s Generosity Team. It was Joyce’s idea to provide gifts and prizes for the school’s “Spring Bash” a few weeks ago, and to spoil the teachers with extravagant gift baskets during Teacher Appreciation Week. Here’s her report:

TEACHER APPRECIATION WEEK AT AJCES

The Cooper School enjoyed a marvelous lunchtime experience on May 8th as ten teachers were presented with mementos of that special week set aside for teachers everywhere.

The lunchroom was a beehive of eating, talking, and speeches. Head of School Mike Maruca introduced visitors from First Baptist Church who presented lavish baskets overflowing with gifts for each of the ten teachers. Joyce Clemmons, Generosity Team leader, asked the students to join her in rousing applause for the role each teacher plays in their everyday lives. She encouraged the students to continue to pursue an education and set goals for the future. Those two things will assist each student in having a high school diploma, an opportunity to attend college, and a bright future ahead of them.

Teacher AppreciationRichie Hilbert’s Bible Study group was represented by Nell Coffman. A majority of that group generously donated items to fill the bright yellow, red, lime-green, and blue baskets. Generosity Team members Joyce Clemmons and Chuck Dean added their gifts. A colored picture of each teacher was attached to the gift.
Items included Flying Squirrels tickets, Car Pool car washes, McBucks from McDonalds, and gender specific items for the school desk and at home.

Thank you teachers at AJCES for all you do. Thank you Bible Study group for your generosity. Thank you Nell Coffman for the delightful framed plaque—”A Teacher’s ABCs”—which can be displayed on the teacher’s desk.

It was a fun lunch time and George, Sr. fed us well. Thank you, George!!

I don’t think the teachers at the Cooper School are always so generously appreciated. I think it was Joyce’s intention to overwhelm them with appreciation. I think she succeeded.

I’m grateful for the way heaven has come to earth through this partnership, and I want to thank Melissa, Mary, and Joyce, for the way they keep it coming.  Who would have guessed that a big Baptist church on Monument Avenue and a little Episcopal school in the East End would form such a beautiful friendship?

It sounds like something Jesus himself might have dreamed up.

Blushing with Pride

I’ve got to hand it to the members and friends of Richmond’s First Baptist Church.

On the first Sunday in October I stood in the pulpit and told them we had a budget deficit of nearly $200,000.  And then I said:

“In a church this size that’s not necessarily a cause for alarm, and frankly, given the state of the economy, it could be much more.  Still, it is a cause for concern, and we need to catch up.  When there’s not enough money people begin to talk about cutting programs or staff, and I don’t think any of us want that.  So, we’re going to take up a special offering on November 6 to catch up on our giving, but please don’t feel that you have to wait for that day to give.  If you’ve fallen behind in your own giving over the summer this might be the perfect day to write a check or click the link on our website that lets you give online

“People often tell me that if everybody would only tithe we would have enough money, and I agree.  If everybody would tithe—that is, if everybody would give 10 percent of their income back to God through the church—we would have more than enough money, even in times like these.  But everybody doesn’t tithe.  In fact I heard recently that in the average church some 40 percent of the congregation gives nothing at all.  To be fair to those people I don’t think it’s because they are greedy, I think it’s because they are afraid—afraid that if they give even ten percent of their income back to God there won’t be enough for them. 

I can sympathize with those people, especially in times like these, but let me remind you that in the Christian faith there is no place for that kind of fear.  We believe that everything we have comes from a good and loving God who has poured out his love upon us with such abundance we can never thank him enough.  To give back ten percent seems like a tiny thing compared to what he’s done for us; it really is only a token of our gratitude.  Not to give it is to say that we don’t really believe God can provide for our needs, and that we trust ourselves more than we trust him to handle our money. 

“That is a faithless and fearful response. 

“So let me ask you to look toward November 6 with more faith and less fear, in fact, let your gift on that day be a gift of fearless love.”

On every Sunday in the month of October I made a similar appeal, being reminded along the way that some people don’t give simply because they have lost their jobs, they have no income, and ten percent of nothing is nothing.  It’s not because they are fearful or faithless.   

That point was well taken.

Still, on November 6 those who could give did.  They came down the aisles and dropped their offerings into baskets at the front of the sanctuary and the rear of the balcony.  I was moved to see young people and old people, wealthy people and poor people, people who are long-time members and people who aren’t members at all shuffling forward to give.  In the end we took up a “Fearless Love” offering of $228,000, which means that in this Sunday’s bulletin we will show a budget surplus of $11,555.

I’m blushing with pride, and I spent a good bit of my time at this week’s annual meeting of the Baptist General Association of Virginia talking to other pastors and bragging on a church that rises to a challenge as magnificently as any I have ever known. 

Thank you, First Baptist, for your faithful and fearless love.

Preachers’ Kids

Sometime during last week’s annual sermon-planning retreat we started calling it “Preacher Camp.”

I’m talking about the event I referenced in my last post, where I get together with five of my closest colleagues for a week to map out our preaching for the year.  The difference was that this year we brought the kids.  They were sitting at the breakfast table on that first morning still rubbing the sleep from their eyes when I said, “Welcome to Preacher Camp, boys and girls!  When breakfast is over we’re going to have Bible study, then take a nature hike, and then go to crafts.  We’ll follow that with lunch and rest time, and then we’ll all go down to the lake for a swim.  Sound good?”  I got a lot of blank stares in return, and only after several minutes did three-year-old Adam say, “You’re teasing, right, Mr. Jim?” 

Yes.  I was teasing.  But while the preachers sat at a table on the side porch and had Bible study (working through every Sunday of 2011) the children read books and drew pictures and played ping pong and took a hike, and after lunch and naps we all went down to the lake for a swim.  So, in many ways, it was like camp, especially the last night when we built a campfire and sat around it singing silly songs and roasting marshmallows. 

What I learned is that this collection of preacher’s kids is sweet, smart, kind, and funny.  Five-year-old Audra Ballenger was full of interesting questions and comments, and one of my favorite pictures from the week is the one of her delivering a long lecture to Russ Dean as she sat on his stomach while he lay on the couch.  Eleven-year-old Bennett Dean came into his own on Thursday night, busting some sweet moves at a spontaneous dance party and encouraging the rest of us to toss inhibition to the wind.  My own daughter Catherine (the oldest by far at nineteen) was sweetly patient with an adoring “fan club” of small children and happy to engage in conversation with their parents while sunning on the dock. 

Unlike some of the warnings you hear about “preachers’ kids,” these were the kind you would want to spend a week with.  It makes me think that this generation of preachers, or at least the ones I hang out with, have given up on the idea that their children will be neatly dressed and perfectly behaved at all times, that they will know all the books of the Bible and want to come to church three times a week.  They seem much more willing to let their kids be kids, and that’s not a bad thing, especially if they are the kids of people whose relationship with God and whose saturation in his Word has led them to be loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, generous, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled.  The fruit of the spirit is evident in the lives of their children, and the apples don’t fall far from the tree.

So, this is an expression of appreciation not only to those preachers’ kids I spent the week with, but to the preachers who are raising them.  Thank you Don, John, Russ, Amy, and Dorisanne—for being the people you are and for passing so much of that goodness along to the next generation. 

The world needs people like your kids.