KOH2RVA: Day 173

Song_Sparrow-27527-2I’ve been looking through this morning’s Richmond Times-Dispatch. The big news is that the federal government is going to cut $85 billion in spending, beginning today. It remains to be seen how those cuts will affect us locally or how much they will slow our progress in bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia.

But that’s an interesting thought in itself, isn’t it? That the actions of the federal government could have an impact on the coming of God’s Kingdom?

The Times-Dispatch reports that “Henrico County could lose between $1.1 million and $2.1 million in grant funding used to support special education, the Head Start preschool program, programs for at-risk children and other federally funded efforts…. In total, roughly 20 to 30 positions could be jeopardized, many of them teachers. Money for equipment and materials would also be reduced” (page B1).

So, yes, if you’re at an at-risk child in Henrico County federal budget cuts could mean that you don’t go to Head Start, or you don’t get a free or reduced lunch. If you’re a Head Start teacher it could mean that you lose your job. And when you sit in my office a few months from now and say, “Pastor, I lost my job because of federal spending cuts!” it’s going to feel like heaven is a long way away.

But here’s the good news: God does not depend on federal funding.

On Wednesday morning I went downstairs to Community Missions at First Baptist Church, where I found about 75 of our homeless neighbors waiting for showers, hot coffee and pastries, and some of the love of Christ that is so generously shared by our volunteers. I told them I had been reading Luke 12 that morning, where Jesus says, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear, for life is more than food and the body more than clothing.” In that same passage he asks his disciples to consider the ravens and the lilies, and to notice how God feeds and clothes them. “If God feeds the ravens and clothes the lilies,” Jesus says, “then how much more will he feed and clothe you!”

“Is that true?” I asked. “Has God ever fed and clothed any of you?”

Every hand in the room went up, and for the next few minutes I heard testimonies of how these people had been cared for by God or by God’s people when they had little or nothing of their own. I finally had to call time, but even as I made my way out of the room some of them crowded around to tell me their stories.

This was two days before the sequester was scheduled to take effect, two days before deep cuts in federal funding would cost some people their jobs. Financial disaster was looming on the horizon but at Community Missions heaven was coming to earth. The brothers and sisters of the one who had “no place to lay his head” were bearing witness that God cares, and that he can and does provide.

There haven’t been a lot of hymns written about the federal government, but there have been a lot of hymns written about the Heavenly Father. Here’s one that will leave you humming:

I sing because I’m happy,
I sing because I’m free,
For His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me.

KOH2RVA: Day 111


Have you seen this video? I love the way these First Baptist members bring heaven to earth by delivering Meals on Wheels. I’ve been with them once, and it really does make a difference to the people who receive these meals. They not only get a hot, nutritious meal, they get a friendly greeting, a handshake or hug, and often a “God bless you,” on the way out. Think about how much that improves the quality of life for each one.

My parents have been on the receiving end of this service when they were living in Summerville, South Carolina, and I remember what a huge difference it made for them. I’m going to try to bring a little bit of heaven to earth today by visiting them in Franklin, West Virginia, where they live now. Maybe I’ll ask them if they remember Meals on Wheels, and when I do I will be grateful all over again for these First Baptist “missionaries,” and the way they are bringing the KOH2RVA.

KOH2RVA: Day 85

Bake and Take2I went to Richmond’s First Baptist Church yesterday for the International Missions Prayer Breakfast, and to hear missionary Ann Lovell speak about her ministry among women working in the sex trade in Thailand. What I loved about her presentation was the simplicity of it: how one thing simply led to another and then another.

It started when she began to drive through the red-light district in Chiang Mai and pray that the brothels and massage parlors there would be closed down, but then her heart was broken by the plight of the women themselves, and she began to feel led to talk to them and pray with them. She found a brave friend or two to go with her and soon she was striking up conversations with prostitutes on the streets, asking them about their lives, and offering the possibility of another kind of life altogether—the abundant life found in Jesus.

The work has been slow, the results have been small, and yet you could see the joy on her face, you could hear it in her voice, as she talked about the lives that have been changed dramatically through her efforts and the help of the Holy Spirit.

When I came out of the Dining Hall I bumped into seven or eight of our members coming out of the Adams Room pushing a cart full of cookies. It was the “Bake and Take” group, which is exactly what it sounds like: a group of people who bake cookies and then take them to nearby homes in a little bag they hang on the doorknob with a friendly message from First Baptist Church inside. It’s not really evangelism; just a “sweet” way of loving our neighbors.

And as I walked across the parking lot to my car I saw Rick and Kim Peters unloading the food they had cooked for our homeless neighbors the night before, getting ready to serve it up for lunch in our Community Missions suite on the basement level. If you haven’t seen the video about their ministry you should see it now by clicking HERE.

I drove away from First Baptist yesterday thinking I had been in a beehive of mission activity, from learning about this ministry in Thailand, to loving our neighbors here in the Fan, to feeding the hungry and homeless among us, First Baptist was busy!

And I couldn’t have been prouder.

This year-long, every-member mission trip is gaining momentum, and there are some days, like yesterday, when the Kingdom comes as God’s will is done, on earth as it is in heaven.

KOH2RVA: Day 54

Today is All Saints’ Day, and I’m thinking about that song: “Oh, When the Saints Go Marching in.” Do you remember the part that says, “Oh, Lord, I want to be in that number,” meaning the number of saints who go marching in? Well, how could you be sure that you would be in that number?

As a Christian pastor I can tell you that the very best way to be sure is to put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ. The Gospel of John assures us in various ways that Jesus is the way to life abundant, overflowing, and eternal. “For God so loved the world,” John says, “that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). At the Last Supper Jesus prays to the Father, “Now this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3). And when Thomas asked the way to the Father’s house Jesus answered, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me” (John 14:6).

So, if you want to be in that number, put your faith and trust in Jesus. I know of no better “Way.” But this morning I’m thinking about that parable in Matthew’s Gospel where the Son of Man separates the sheep from the goats. It’s in Matthew 25, and it’s not so much about believing in Jesus as it is about showing compassion.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

While some of us at First Baptist Church are trying to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, by leading people to believe in Jesus, many of us are doing it by showing acts of compassion—by feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and welcoming the stranger. We believe that it’s not enough to help people find life in the next world; we have to help them find life in this one, too. We can’t leave off that first part (otherwise we become just a bunch of secular “do-gooders”), but we can’t leave off that second part, and Jesus tells us why:

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

Ouch.

On All Saints’ Day, if I want to be sure that I’m going to be in that number, I’m going to put my faith and trust in Jesus and then get out there and do the kinds of things he did: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick, and welcome the stranger. Because as surely as I do it for the least of these brothers and sisters of his,

I do it for him.

Is It You, Again?

homeless-billYesterday’s sermon from Matthew 25 hinted at the idea that Christ is in every hungry, thirsty, shivering, lonely, sick, or imprisoned person we encounter.  It reminded me of a paragraph from Kathleen Norris’s book Dakota that has brought a smile to my face over and over again through the years.  Let me share it with you here:

Visits to monasteries are as old as monasteries themselves.  We think of monks as being remote from the world, but Saint Benedict, writing in the sixth century, notes that a monastery is never without guests, and admonishes monks to “receive all guests as Christ.”   Monks have been quick to recognize that such hospitality, while undoubtedly a blessing, can also create burdens for them.  A story said to originate in a Russian Orthodox monastery has an older monk telling a younger one: “I have finally learned to accept people as they are.  Whatever they are in the world, a prostitute, a prime minister, it is all the same to me.  But sometimes I see a stranger coming up the road and I say, ‘Oh, Jesus Christ, is it you again?'”

If you say it with just the right inflection, it sums up everything we often feel when we are confronted with the needs of the world.  But if you say it often enough it will also remind you of who is watching and why it matters that we respond with compassion.