KOH2RVA: Day 351

breathing2A few years ago I told someone that if I were writing a manual for new members at Richmond’s First Baptist Church I would want to stamp one word on the cover: SENT! Because now, more than ever, I believe that’s what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.

What is the first word of the Great Commission? (Matthew 28:19-20): “Go.” What does Jesus tell his disciples in that upper room in John’s Gospel? (20:21): “As the father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” What does he say to his followers just before his ascension in the Book of Acts? (1:8): “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” I call these the “Three Great Commissions,” and in each of them Jesus makes it clear that disciples are not supposed to sit around singing Kum-ba-yah: they’re supposed to go.

But I also believe they are supposed to come.

I was reminded of that again in worship yesterday. Kaky Minter and Rob Reinstein shared testimonies of how the church had ministered to them in times of illness and grief. Later in the afternoon someone told me how much the fellowship of the church means to her, and how it’s just not the same to watch the webcast on her iPad. Last week Clint Smith, the vice-chair of the deacons, acknowledged that while people don’t seem to come to church like they used to in America, they will always be attracted to other people, and “love is the most powerful force in the universe.”

So, here’s Jesus, telling us to go out into the world, and here we are, coming back to the church. I’ve been trying to think of it not so much as a tension between going and coming, but rather a rhythm of going and coming, like breathing. You can’t live very long if you only breathe in, but you can’t live very long if you only breathe out.

It takes both to keep the body healthy.

In the same way, keeping the body of Christ healthy seems to depend on coming together for worship, study, nurture, fellowship, encouragement, healing, and then going out again to do the things Jesus told his disciples to do. Yesterday we came to church. For the rest of the week we will be on the mission field. If we do it right we will need to come back to church at the end of the week, for all those things listed above. And if we do church right, it will send us back onto the mission field, re-energized and ready to serve.

It’s not so hard, is it? Just breathe in.

And then breathe out.

KOH2RVA: Day 149

Personal TrainerMy friend Peter is a personal trainer at the Jewish Community Center.  He is also a committed Christian.  Yesterday he asked me how far he should go with the Great Commission in a place like that.

“Well, that depends,” I answered, “on whether you’re trying to make converts or disciples.

“When you try to make a convert,” I said, “you’re hoping to bring somebody around to your worldview.  You want them to believe all the things you believe.  As a Christian, you might want them to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that he was born of a virgin, that he rose from the dead, etc.  And if you try to do that here, at the Jewish Community Center, you might lose your job.

“But making a disciple is different,” I said.  “Look at the way Jesus made them: he didn’t ask those fishermen to believe that he was the Son of God, he just asked them to follow him.  It was only after months of listening to him preach and teach, watching him help and heal, that Jesus asked them, ‘Who do you say that I am?’  And that’s when Peter said, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!’

“So, why not simply invite people to join you in Christ’s mission, instead of trying to convert them to a Christian worldview?  Eventually they will come to see him for who he really is.”

And then I talked to Peter about his work as a personal trainer.  I said, “You don’t want people to sit out in the lobby and read fitness magazines; you want them to come in here and work out.  You don’t want them only to believe that exercise is good for them; you want them to experience it.  When they do, you won’t have to convince them; they will know it for themselves.  That’s the difference,” I said, “between a convert and a disciple.”

In yesterday’s blog I mentioned Warren and Julie Pierce, who have been helping refugees get resettled here in Richmond.  Today I want to share this invitation from Julie (below) to help out with a massive clothing distribution for New Americans (i.e. refugees) this Saturday.  This could be your opportunity to follow Jesus in discipleship and to invite someone else to come with you.  You don’t have to say, “If you died tonight do you know where you would spend eternity?” (the standard street-corner evangelist’s question).  You can just say, “Hey, I’m going to help distribute clothes to refugees on Saturday…

“Want to come?”

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Dear ones, this is a two part message –

(1) an opportunity for you to bring heaven to earth and

(2) an update on the New American ministry

We appreciate your time in reading this, and also your response whether in person or through much needed prayer.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35, NKJV).

We are offering another of our quarterly massive clothing distribution events hosted by Westover Baptist Church, 1000 Westover Hills Boulevard, just across the Nickel Bridge.

Saturday, February 9th

8:00-9:00am Team needed at Outreach Center** to load clothing bins & hanging clothes – transport to Westover BC and unload (trucks/station wagons needed)

9:00-10:30am Set up team needed to unpack and display clothing on tables and on hanging racks

10:30-11:30am Actual event

11:30am-noon Break down – load bins/racks and transport back to Outreach Center, all leftover clothing to Goodwill

12:00-12:30pm Sweep and clean church

All done in ½ day!

Any questions, please respond to this email and if you can volunteer for all or part, thanks for letting us know. If you have donations, you may bring them on that day to Westover BC, however, they must be received during the set up time between 9:00-10:30am. Thanks for bringing dresses, blouses, all coats and men’s shirts on hangers if possible on that day. We are in desperate need of coats, hoodies, sweaters; all sizes, all types. We have very few men’s clothes at this time. Please take a look in your closets and get those to us before February 9th.

**Outreach Center address: 2944 West Marshall St. 23230 3rd building back from corner faces Altamont, yellow w/brown doors.

–Julie Pierce

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Editor’s Note: Julie is being ordained as a deacon tonight.  Do you see what happens when you begin to follow Jesus and work alongside him to bring heaven to earth?  People notice.

KOH2RVA: Day 148

couchDo you think it was ever part of Jesus’ plan that most of his disciples would come to church and sit in the pews, sing some hymns, say some prayers, give an offering, hear a sermon, and then go home until the next Sunday when they would come back and do it all over again? Do you think it was ever part of his plan that most of us would be spectators, rather than participants, in God’s mission to love, and save, and redeem all of creation? I don’t think that it was. And I don’t think that when Jesus said to his followers, “Go, make disciples of every nation,” he was only talking to people who had the gift of evangelism, because I don’t think he meant primarily that they should go out and try to convert people to Christianity.

That paragraph comes from a sermon I preached a few months ago, before we launched our year-long, every-member mission trip at First Baptist Church. I was talking about how to make disciples and suggesting that, like Jesus, perhaps we could simply invite people to join us in our mission.

I wonder: what would happen if Warren and Julie Pierce, who have been helping refugees get resettled here in Richmond, were trying to move a couch into an empty apartment and somebody was just standing there watching? (let’s call him Lester). What if they said, “Hey, could you give us a hand?” and he did. And then what if he asked them why they were doing what they were doing and they said, “Well, these people are coming to this country from refugee camps in Nepal, and they don’t know anybody, they don’t speak the language, I mean, can you imagine? And so we thought this was the kind of thing Jesus would do: help them get settled in a new place. You know how he said, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you?’ Well, this is it. This is what we would want someone to do for us if we had to start a new life in Nepal.” And Lester hears all that and gets it, and even though he doesn’t have much use for Jesus—at least, not yet—he thinks maybe he’d like to help. He remembers how it was when he was just starting out.

And so for the next few months Lester helps Warren and Julie with refugee resettlement. He gets good at it. He learns how to pick up donations of furniture and household items and store them until they’re needed. He learns how to set up an apartment so that it’s ready for a new family to move in. He even learns how to give driving lessons to people who don’t speak English very well and it scares him to death. But he also learns something else from Warren and Julie: he learns how to share the love of Christ with people who desperately need it, and at some point he realizes he’s one of those people. And the next time they invite him to come to church he does, and the sermon sounds like it’s just for him, and when the invitation is given, he comes down the aisle saying he’d like to follow Jesus, and get baptized, and belong to a church like this one, where the love of God is not just something people talk about, but something they put into action every day.

I talked with someone yesterday who has been reading a book where the author suggests that people are more likely to come to know Christ not because someone invites them to join the church, but because someone invites them to join his mission.

I wonder if that’s true?

Loving the World God Loves

Matthew 28:19-20 is often called the Great Commission, and most Baptists probably know it by heart.  As Jesus sends his followers into the world he says: “Go and make disiciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (NIV).  But there is another commission in the Gospels that is also pretty great.  In John 20:21 Jesus tells his disciples: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

If that were the only commission we had we might spend more time asking, “How was Jesus sent?” and, “What was he sent to do?”  But as I thought about it recently I was reminded of the best known verse in the Bible, John 3:16, which says: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  The word gave is not exactly the same as the word sent, not even in Greek, but the ideas are closely related.  God loved the world.  He loved it so much he gave/sent his one and only son.  When Jesus tells his disciples that he is sending them as he was sent we can assume that it is for a similar purpose—to love the world God loves.

I was thinking about this recently as I walked around the block I’ve “adopted” in the church neighborhood.  I was praying for the people who live inside those houses and apartments, but not sure I was making much of a difference.  If only one of them would come outside so that I could make a disciple out of him, so that I could baptize him in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and teach him to obey all that Jesus commanded!  But no one did, leaving me with no alternative but to pray for those people.  As I passed a motorcycle parked outside an apartment I said, “Lord, bless whoever sits on that seat.”  As I passed a house with a porch swing I prayed, “And bless the one who swings on that swing.”  As I turned the corner and saw a half-open garage door I said, “And bless the one who comes in and out of that door.” 

As I made my way around the block I began to feel for those people I was praying for, those invisible people.  I wouldn’t say it was love I was feeling for them but it was something like it.  I was moving in the right direction.  And that’s when I began to think about John 3:16, and how God had given his one and only son because he loves the world, because he loves the person who sits on that motorcycle, and the one who swings on that porch swing, and the one who goes in and out of that garage door.  I made a connection in that moment, between John 3:16 and John 20:21, and it came out like this: “I’ve been sent as Christ was sent to love the world God loves!”

I got so excited about it that when I went back to my office a little later I typed it in as my screen saver.  Now if my computer is inactive for more than a few minutes these words begin to scroll across the screeen: “Sent as Christ was sent to Love the world God loves.” 

It’s not exactly the Great Commission, but it’s a good one, isn’t it?  Loving the world God loves?  If I keep it up I may eventually meet the person who sits on that motorcycle seat.  He may come out of his apartment one day with his helmet in his hand, just as I’m walking past, and I’ll say, “Oh, there you are!  I’ve been praying for you.”  And he’ll say, “What?”  And then I’ll have to explain.

It will be embarrassing, but when I’m finished telling him that I’ve been sent as Christ was sent to love the world God loves, and that I’ve been praying for whoever it was that sat on that motorcycle seat, he might get an odd little smile on his face, and strap on his helmet, and ride off thinking about it.  But that might be the first step in the twenty or thirty steps it would take to make a disciple out of him.  And it would be for the right reason: not because I’m trying to recruit church members, but because I’m trying to love the world God loves.  And if he parks his motorcycle in front of the sanctuary one Sunday morning, and comes inside to take a closer look at this strange church where they pray for people they don’t even know, well,

That would be for the right reason too.

Best Day of the Trip

bhutani_refugee_usThe staff of Richmond’s First Baptist Church has been on an in-town mission trip this week, doing our part to see that God’s kingdom comes and God’s will is done “in Richmond as it is in Heaven.”  One of the ways we have approached that mission is by loving our neighbors as we love ourselves (Matt. 22:39), and that’s why on Thursday most of the staff spent most of the day scrubbing down the walls and floors of Fox Elementary School right here in the Fan.  I had a previous commitment that day and wasn’t able to participate, but the staff let me know (over and over again) that I had missed the hardest work day of the week.  It didn’t go without notice, however.  The two custodians at Fox Elementary were extremely grateful, and acknowledged that there was no way they would have been ready for opening day without the help of First Baptist Church.  I hope that story will get around, and secure our reputation as “a good neighbor in a great neighborhood.” 

I was back on Friday.  That’s when we went out to Colonial Apartments to visit with the refugees.  Jenny Minor (financial secretary) and I went together to visit a refugee from Nepal named Som and his sister Tulasa.  Som was an English teacher in Nepal and carried the conversation effortlessly, telling us about his adjustment to the American way of life.  It hasn’t been easy.  He spends nearly two hours each day riding the bus to his job at a fast food restaurant where he works five hours and then turns around to come home.  His sister Tulasa has not been able to find a job (even though she’s really good with children), and so the few dollars he earns are all they have in a household that also includes his mother.  She came in near the end of our visit and sat silently in a chair in the corner.  Tulasa sat on the daybed in the living room throughout our visit, smiling shyly and getting up only once to offer us sliced apples and glasses of soda.  Som is worried that if she doesn’t find a job soon they will lose their apartment.  Still, he is hopeful.  “I have big dreams,” he said, smiling as if he were letting us in on a secret.  “I want to be a filmmaker some day.”

Before leaving I asked for permission to say a prayer.  I explained that Jenny and I were Christians, that we believed in God and believed that God had power to do things we couldn’t do.  “Do you mind,” I said, “if we ask God to help you and your family?”  No, Som said.  He didn’t mind at all.  And so I said a prayer that included every member of the family, asking God to bless them with life and health and work, and when I finished they all seemed grateful.

Jesus told his followers to go into all the world and make disciples (Matt. 28:19).  It’s one of the ways we are trying to bring heaven to earth at Richmond’s First Baptist Church.  But how wonderful it is when the world comes to us, when we can sit in an apartment less than five miles from Monument and the Boulevard and make friends with people from Nepal, when we can offer prayers for them and ask God to bless them in every way. 

I missed the work day on Thursday and I’m sorry about that.  I would have loved to help out at Fox Elementary School.  But on Friday at Colonial Apartments I was doing some Great Commission work, and that’s why, for me,

It was the best day of the trip.