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 332

2013-08-06 20.29.14Last night was National Night Out but that’s not why I ended up in front of Richmond’s First Baptist Church with a group of 20-30somethings. We had come for the Tuesday night gathering of RVA United—an outreach ministry to and through young adults in the Richmond area. I had been asked to tell them something about KOH2RVA and Lynn Turner had been invited to lead in prayer. Surrounding those “talking times” there had been music—glorious, thunderous, not-for-the-faint-of-heart music—offered up with abandon in praise to God. It was a powerful worship experience. We came out of the sanctuary with our hearts still pounding and found…ice cream.

That’s right: ice cream.

It was being dished out by graduates of the Ralph Starling School of Radical Hospitality. Ralph himself was in the crowd, meeting and greeting those 20-30somethings while his graduates (mostly 60-70somethings) served ice cream sundaes with a smile. The picture above is a little dark, but maybe you can see the RVA United sign on the front porch of the church and just to the left of it people standing in line to get ice cream. The others have come down the steps to eat their sundaes and enjoy each other’s company. They stayed for an hour after the service, until it was so dark nobody could see anything. Even then, some of them didn’t want to go home.

This morning, as I was re-reading parts of the Gospel of Luke, I found that place where Jesus says to his opponents, “If it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (11:20). Jesus had just cast out a demon, and here he seems to be saying that in that act, in that moment, the kingdom of God had come.

That’s how it felt to me last night when I stepped out of that powerful worship service and found some of our members cheerfully dishing out ice cream for young people they had never met before—as though in that act, in that moment, the kingdom of God had come upon us. If I were putting it in the form of a parable I might say, “What is the Kingdom like, and to what shall I compare it?”

It’s like an ice cream sundae offered to a stranger.

KOH2RVA: Day 319

2013-07-24 18.17.12This morning I’m thinking about all the ways our hands can be used to bring heaven to earth.

They can cook a meal for someone who is hungry. They can build a house for someone who is homeless. They can put a bandage on someone who is wounded. They can reach out to embrace someone who is lonely. But they can also do this:

They can be folded in prayer.

One of the people who is good about reminding me of that is our Pastor Emeritus Jim Flamming, pictured at right. When he retired from First Baptist Church Jim planned to spend his time on three things: teaching, writing, and praying. He’s been faithful to that plan. He still teaches preaching at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. He’s written a book called Healing the Heartbreak of Grief. And, at my urging, he’s continued to lead the Catalyst Prayer group at First Baptist on Wednesday nights. Last night that group prayed for Chase Ingram.

Chase is 14 years old. He loves little children and Krispy Kreme doughnuts. He and I have been talking about baptism lately which has given him an opportunity to ask all his questions about religion and the Bible and believe me, that boy’s got a lot of questions!

But there may be a reason for that.

I can’t remember the details but I know that Chase was born with a condition that keeps his bones from growing in the way they should. He’s had 40 surgeries to date. Today he’s having number 41.

And so last night he came to church and met with the Catalyst Prayer group. As Senior Associate Lynn Turner put it, Chase has a “special relationship” with that group. They’ve prayed for him a lot.

They prayed for him again last night and they used their hands to do it. Instead of folding them in prayer they laid their hands on Chase and prayed that he would be brave about his surgery, that the surgeon would do good work, and that the surgery would accomplish all that it was supposed to. As they prayed I’m almost sure Chase could feel the healing, strengthening love of God flowing through those people and into his body.

And sometimes that’s exactly how heaven comes to earth.

Praying for Chase

Would you pray for Chase today?

KOH2RVA: Day 256

I hope you will take five minutes to turn up the volume on your computer, click on the image above, zoom to full screen, and sit back to watch this remarkable video about a partnership between First Baptist Church, the Children’s Museum of Richmond, and Glen Lea Elementary School.

If this were the only thing we accomplished on our year-long, every-member mission trip, it would be enough.  But this is only one of the things.  There are dozens more, hundreds more, because every member of the church has been looking for a way to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia.

David Powers and his team of volunteers in our communications ministry made it their goal to produce one KOH2RVA video each week.  That’s how they wanted to “bring it.”  David confessed to me recently that their goal was a little too ambitious.  Making a video is a lot of work.  But I hope that as you watch this one you will appreciate all that it took to record it, edit it, and present it in a way that tells the story and also gives you that good, warm feeling inside.

I’ve gotten that feeling each time I’ve watched this video–four times this morning.  Now I’m going to publish this post, make some oatmeal, sit down to breakfast, and probably, just probably,

Watch it one more time.

Shall We Gather at the River? Maybe not.

It almost didn’t happen.

There were some who said it shouldn’t happen, who warned me, plainly, that when you hear the first distant boom of thunder at the public pool you have to get out for at least a half hour.

But this was no Sunday afternoon swim: this was the Fourth Annual River Baptism and there were twelve people lined up on the river bank ready to be “buried with Christ in a baptism like his” as Paul puts it.  That word, buried, seemed eerily appropriate as I waded out into the James River a little after five with the skies darkening to the west.  And just as the second hymn ended I heard it–the distant boom of thunder.

What’s a pastor to do?

There were those twelve candidates lined up on the river bank.  One of them had hugged me at church that morning and squealed, “Do you know what day this is?  It’s the day I get baptized!”  How could I disappoint her and the others who had waited so long for this day?  And what about Bill and Beverley Hundley, who had made their beautiful place on the river available to us and spent weeks getting everything ready, manicuring the lawn and even raking the river bed in preparation?  What about the members of the Baptism Team, who had brought robes for the candidates and helped them into makeshift changing booths and given them careful instructions about what to do and when to do it?  And what about those dozens, perhaps hundreds (Baptist preachers tend to estimate high), of family members and friends sitting and standing on the river bank expectantly, waiting for their loved ones to wade out into the water?  In the end I did the only thing that seemed reasonable at the time:

I ignored the thunder.

I motioned for Ralph Starling to assist me in the water.  He gulped hard and waded out.  And then the first candidate came, the one who had been so eager about her baptism day.  Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor hail was going to stop her from taking the plunge.  She came up out of the water triumphant, with a shout and a raised fist.  The others seemed just as determined, even when lightning flashed in the distance, even when the skies opened up briefly and the rain poured down.

“Welcome to the first mass baptism of 2012!” I shouted.  “Some of us are being immersed and others are being sprinkled!”  There was laughter from the riverbank and then the next candidate waded out, undaunted.

It was just after that shower that the skies cleared and the sun broke through the clouds.  When the last candidate had been baptized we sang “Amazing Grace” and Lynn Turner said a closing prayer.  People began to open up their picnic baskets and spread out their blankets and the evening was as soft and lovely as any you’ve ever seen.  I changed into some dry clothes and began to move among the crowd, meeting extended family members and friends, mooching food off of almost everybody, and breathing a huge sigh of relief that nobody had been struck by lightning at the Fourth Annual River Baptism.

On Tuesday morning our staff debriefed the event and agreed that next year we should definitely have a backup plan in case of inclement weather.  Definitely.  This year I’m just thanking God for watching over fools and children…

…and Baptist preachers.

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Photo courtesy of Julie Adams-Buchanan’s Facebook page.  Thanks, Julie!

Here We Go!

It’s Wednesday of Holy Week, and tonight we gather at Richmond’s First Baptist Church for the first worship service of five that will be held over the next few days.  Before I say another word, let me say thanks to Phil Mitchell, Associate Pastor for Worship, who did most of the heavy lifting in putting these services together.

Tonight’s service (at 6:30) is one of candlelight and contemplative prayer, interspersed with Scripture readings and singing by our own “cantor,” Robert Dilday.  It was “designed” by the Prayer Team at First Baptist Church, a group of lay leaders who work with Lynn Turner in praying for the church and keeping the church praying.

On Maundy Thursday we will gather at 7:00 for an impressive commemoration of Jesus’ last supper with his disciples that will include communion.  I’m preaching a sermon called “Washing the Devil’s Feet,” that refers not only to the foot washing before the meal, but also to the new commandment Jesus gives his disciples afterward: “Love one another as I have loved you.”

The Good Friday service will be held in the sanctuary at Noon, and will feature a reader’s theatre comprised of First Baptist staff reading the passion narrative from Luke’s Gospel, and a sermon delivered by my friend, former associate, and hip young pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church in the Fan—Sterling Severns.

On Saturday, we will host an abbreviated Easter vigil, celebrating this ancient ritual in Fourth-Century style by kindling “new fire” in front of the church at 7:00, lighting candles from the flame, and bringing the light into the sanctuary to begin our celebration of the Resurrection.  This is a service of “Fire, Word, Water, and Wine” that will include a sermon by Lynn Turner, the candlelight baptism of six new converts, and communion that will feature Welch’s grape juice instead of wine (it’s not the Fourth Century way, but it certainly is the Baptist way).

All of this slowly unfolding drama will build up to a jubilant celebration of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday morning, with two services in the sanctuary: one at 8:30 (for the early risers and those who hope to find a seat) and another at 11:00 (prepare for a packed house).  Both services will feature glorious music, multiple choirs, and an Easter sermon called “Dying for Resurrection.” 

If you live in the Richmond area I hope you will join us for each of these services.  If you don’t, you can still access the Easter service by webcast.  But please don’t let me lure you away from your own community of faith. 

There is no better place to be at Easter than there.