KOH2RVA: Day 197

Brian McLarenI mentioned Brian McLaren in a recent post as someone (else) who is spreading the good news that “Jesus didn’t come just so we could go away to some heavenly kingdom when we die, but so we can help make that heavenly kingdom a reality here on earth, right now.”

McLaren is a prominent pastor, author, and speaker, and a leading figure in the “emergent church” movement. In what is perhaps his best-known book, A New Kind of Christian, he chronicles his lengthy question-and-answer email exchange with a young woman who didn’t have much use for the traditional church.

I haven’t read much of what he’s written, and I’m not sure I had even heard of his book The Secret Message of Jesus: Uncovering the Truth that Could Change Everything, but it sounds provocative, doesn’t it? Kind of like The Da Vinci Code. I looked it up on Amazon.com and considered buying it, but then I thought to look on my young adult daughter’s bookshelf upstairs and there it was. I texted Catherine for permission to read it (should have texted before I looked), and she texted back, “Sure! Feel free to pillage my bookshelves anytime!”

Love that girl.

I’ve only had time to read a few chapters, but something in chapter 2 rang true for me immediately. You know how I keep saying, “There must be a thousand ways to bring heaven to earth”? Well, that’s been one of the wonderful surprises about this year-long, every-member mission trip—that people can engage it in so many different ways. I talked with a woman last week who hasn’t even joined the church yet, but who had the brilliant idea of inviting students from Glen Lea Elementary School to submit their artwork for exhibit in the show we’re having at First Baptist April 20-21. It was with that experience fresh in mind that I read this paragraph in McLaren’s book:

I’ve become convinced that if the good news of Jesus were carried in a newspaper today, it wouldn’t be hidden in the religion section (although it would no doubt cause a ruckus there). It would be a major story in every section, from world news (What is the path to peace and how are we responding to our neighbors in need?) to national and local news (How are we treating children, poor people, minorities, the last, the lost, the least? How are we treating our enemies?), in the lifestyle section (Are we loving our neighbors and throwing good parties to bring people together?), the food section (Do our diets reflect concern for God’s planet and our poor neighbors, and have we invited any of them over for dinner lately?), the entertainment and sports sections (What is the point of our entertainment, and what values are we strengthening in sports?), and even the business section (Are we serving the wrong master: money rather than God?) pp. 10-11.

I love that paragraph, because it underscores what I’ve been learning this year. As I’ve blogged about bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, I’ve told stories about the many different ways people are doing it. On Thursday of last week I quoted Chris Harris, who said you can bring heaven to earth with a basketball. Yesterday I posted Linda Moore’s story about sharing her bread with a homeless woman and getting a blessing in return. The members and friends of First Baptist Church have pursued this mission in every section of the newspaper, so to speak: in the religion section, the business section, the lifestyle section, in regional and local news, the food section, and the sports and entertainment section. They seem intent on proving my point that there must be a thousand ways to bring heaven to earth.

But maybe they are proving McLaren’s point, too: that the good news is not just “heaven after you die,” but God’s determined effort to bring heaven to earth here and now. Maybe that was “the secret message of Jesus.” And if it was,

Why has it taken us so long to hear it?


p.s. Brian McLaren will be preaching at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church this week as part of their Lenten Lunch Series–12:30 on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday with lunch served before and after.  If you’re in town and have the time it would certainly be worth the trip.  I’m planning to go today.

KOH2RVA: Day 156

On MissionOn Sunday I spent three hours with the Ministry Planning Team at Richmond’s First Baptist Church. We were trying to draft a mission, vision, and values statement for the church, something we’ve been working on for a while.

We were stuck on the “mission” piece.

What is it that we, as a church, are trying to do? Are we trying to bring heaven to earth? Are we trying to make disciples of every nation? Are we trying to be Jesus’ witnesses from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth? Are we trying to save people from eternal damnation?

We looked at mission statements from Coca-Cola (“To refresh the world, to inspire moments of happiness and optimism, to create value and make a difference”) and Starbucks Coffee (“To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time”). We talked about “aspiration” and wondered if our mission statement could be about something people really want, rather than just about something they ought to do. We thought we were getting close at one point, and then our conversation ricocheted off in another direction.

We’ve still got work to do.

But I woke up Monday morning thinking about our mission, and ended up writing the litany that’s printed below. It’s not our mission statement. It’s just Jim’s thoughts on a Monday morning. But I hope you will read it and let me know your thoughts. Does any part of it refresh you, or inspire you…or make you want a Coke? (smile).


Leader: Jesus taught his disciples to pray that God’s Kingdom would come and God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

People: Richmond’s First Baptist Church wants to be an answer to that prayer.

Leader: Jesus knew what a big job that would be. He told his followers to go, make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey all that he had commanded.

People: Let us never be content with making converts alone.

Leader: Jesus breathed on his disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit; as the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

People: We are sent as Christ was sent to love the world God loves.

Leader: Let us go in the grace of God, the love of the Lord Jesus, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

People: Amen.

KOH2RVA: Day 37

At the end of Sunday worship these days I often say something like this:

“Let me remind you that we are on a mission trip, and that once again this big bus we’re riding on is about to come to a stop, the doors are about to swing open, and we are about to step off the bus and onto the mission field.”

And then I remind the congregation of our mission:

“I believe that as children of the Heavenly Father, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, we are called to labor alongside the Lord Jesus in the joyful work of bringing heaven to earth, and I believe there are a thousand ways to do that.”

In worship yesterday we heard about one of those ways. Bucky Neal, who is not a member of the church but someone who went through our Divorce Recovery Workshop, gave a testimony about how much that ministry had meant to him after the tragedy and heartbreak of his own divorce. He said that it was there, at DRW, that he began to recover “a future with hope.”

It was an eloquent testimony, and right at the end of it Bucky said, “I want to encourage you in your mission of bringing the KOH2RVA. It’s happening. Through the ministry of this church the Kingdom of Heaven came to me.”

That’s what it’s all about: the Kingdom coming—one person at a time. And sometimes all it takes is one person, working in one of those thousand ways, to bring heaven to earth.

That’s what I ask myself sometimes: I see someone who is struggling, suffering, or sad and wonder, “What could I do to make that person say, ‘Heaven just came to earth!’?”

And what about you? What could you do?

200 New Churches in the Next Year?

Yesterday I stood in front of a television camera and recorded this announcement to go out with our Sunday broadcast from Richmond’s First Baptist Church:

Often when I’m out and about I bump into someone who says they watch our worship services on TV.  Sometimes they tell me that they go to the early service at their own church and then hurry home to watch, and although I’m honored, I secretly wonder if that’s not overdoing it a little (smile).  But sometimes they tell me First Baptist is their only church, and although they never actually come to our building, they watch every week.  If you are one of those people, then this message is for you.

I want to invite you to take part in something we’re calling “Microchurch,” a bold new initiative of Richmond’s First Baptist Church.  Here’s how it works.  Before next Sunday, think of one or two friends who might be able to come watch the broadcast with you.  Invite them to bring food—something simple and easy—so that after the service is over you can sit down and eat Sunday lunch together.  After lunch take time to share your concerns with one another, and then ask someone to lift those concerns up to God in prayer.  Finally, take up an offering, and talk about how you might use it to put God’s love into action right where you are—in your subdivision, your retirement center, your apartment complex, or your neighborhood.  If you need suggestions, give us a call at 355-8637, ext. 203, and when you do maybe you can tell us how it went for you.  If it works, try it again the next week, and then the week after that.  Make it a regular habit.  Give it a name.  And remember, it doesn’t have to be big to be church.  Jesus said, “Wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am also” (Mt. 18:20).

Our hope is to start 200 new Microchurches in the next year, and I’d like to ask for your help.  I’m not asking for your money, just your participation.  I believe that when Jesus asked his disciples to pray that God’s kingdom would come, and that his will would be done, on earth as it is in heaven, he really meant it.  But it’s going to take all of us to bring heaven to earth, and not just the people who come to worship in our building.  I understand that some 20,000 people watch our services on Sunday morning.  If only one percent of those people would accept this challenge we would have those 200 Microchurches I’m talking about, and we might have them not by next year, but by next week.  As those churches start working with us to put God’s love into action I believe heaven will come a little closer to earth, and that those of you who join us in our mission will become part of the answer to the Lord’s prayer. 

How about it?  Think of one or two people you could invite to your home next Sunday, ask them to bring some food, something simple and easy, watch the service together and talk about it over lunch, share your concerns with one another and say a prayer, and then take up an offering and talk about how you might use it to put God’s love into action.  Again, if you need suggestions, call 355-8637, ext. 203, and when you do tell us how it went.  It may seem like a small thing to you—your Microchurch—but it could be the start of something big.  

Really big.