KOH2RVA: Day 343

xy axisI came home from Preacher Camp a day early, just so I could participate in yesterday’s five-hour attempt to bring some healing to the fractured Richmond Baptist Association. I did it because I care about the Association. I want it to succeed.

At one point Bill Wilson, President of the Center for Congregational Health in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, asked us to create an X/Y axis of identity and mission and come up with some clever nicknames for the resulting quadrants (I know; I had a hard time picturing it, too). But eventually someone at our table drew a bold, vertical line down the center of a sheet of newsprint and wrote “Clear understanding of mission” at the top and “No understanding of mission” at the bottom. And then she drew a bold, horizontal line and wrote “No sense of identity” on the left and “Clear sense of identity” on the right.

And then we came up with clever nicknames.

We decided those in the bottom left quadrant were those who didn’t know who they were or what they were doing. We called them “The Clueless.” In the upper left quadrant were those who didn’t know who they were, but knew what they were doing. We called them “The Busy.” In the upper right quadrant were those who knew who they were and what they were doing. We called them “The Focused.” And in the bottom right quadrant were those who knew who they were but didn’t know what they were doing. We called them “The Feel-Good.”

The more we talked about those four quadrants the more obvious it became that the upper right quadrant was the place to be: that a clear sense of identity and a clear understanding of mission were essential to organizational health.

I couldn’t help but think of Richmond’s First Baptist Church in that moment. Who are we? Followers of Jesus. What are we doing? Working with him to bring heaven to earth. Currently, we are working with him on this year-long, every-member mission trip to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia. It couldn’t be much more clear than that, or more compelling.

One of the people at my table said, “That’s what we need: a mission so clear, so compelling, that it moves us from one quadrant to the other.” I think that’s true for every organization. We don’t want to be people who don’t know who they are or what they are doing. We want to be those who know exactly who they are, and exactly what they’re doing. That’s when things get done.

That’s when the Kingdom comes.

KOH2RVA: Day 236

Portrait of young boyNot long ago I had coffee with a church member who put it bluntly: “What do you think about homosexuality?” We had been talking about the recent decision of Ginter Park Baptist Church to ordain an openly gay man and she wanted to know where I stood on the issue.

I was caught a little off guard, so I asked, “What do you think about it?” She said, “I think it’s a sin.”

And that got the conversation started.

I can’t remember everything I said in just the way I said it, but I’ll try to capture the gist of the conversation below, and maybe even add a few thoughts. I said:

“I don’t think it’s a sin to be homosexual, but the Bible is pretty clear about homosexual behavior. It condemns it. But it also condemns a lot of heterosexual behavior, including adultery and fornication.”

I said, “Some people believe that homosexuality is a choice—that people choose to be gay. I suppose that’s possible. We humans are born sinners. We’re capable of almost anything. But in my conversations with gays and lesbians I haven’t talked to anyone who said they chose to be that way. They sometimes ask me, ‘When did you choose to be heterosexual?’

“The answer, of course, is that I didn’t. I didn’t choose to be this way; I discovered it, and, frankly, when I did I was mortified. I couldn’t believe the thoughts I was having about girls. I had always thought of myself as a ‘good Christian boy,’ but the thoughts I was having didn’t seem good or Christian. They seemed sinful, shameful. In those days I underlined long passages from Romans 7 in my big, green Living Bible, including this one: ‘I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway’ (vss. 18-19).

“That described me perfectly.

“I wept over my sin in those days. I prayed over it. I asked God to forgive me. Now imagine if my sinful, shameful thoughts had not been about girls, but about boys? What would I have done then?

“I don’t think homosexuality is a choice; I think it is a discovery. The question, then, is this: if you discover you are homosexual, what do you do with your homosexuality? It’s not that much different than asking, ‘If you discover you are heterosexual, what do you do with your heterosexuality?’ For me it was the biggest challenge to my Christianity, or maybe just the most obvious one. When the preacher talked about sin I would swallow hard and look away. I knew what he was talking about. But at least I had this promise in front of me: that someday I could get married and express my sexuality in a God-honoring way. The church (and the Bible) would bless that union. The minister would tell me I could kiss my bride. My friends and family would throw rice—a symbol of fertility—a subtle way of telling me to ‘get on with it!’

“But again, what if my thoughts back in those teenage years had been about boys and not girls? There would be no promise of future happiness, no hope of expressing my sexuality in a God-honoring way. I would have to do what I did then—suppress my thoughts and feelings as best I could and tearfully beg for God’s forgiveness when I couldn’t—for the rest of my life.

“That doesn’t seem fair, but my commitment to the authority of Scripture won’t allow me to dismiss the Bible’s teaching on homosexual behavior any more than I can dismiss its teaching on heterosexual behavior. The same Bible that says, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” says, “Thou shalt not lie with a man as with a woman; it is an abomination.”

“I have to deal with that.

“But I also have to deal with this: the young man who grew up at First Baptist Church, who went to Sunday school here, who learned to sing, ‘Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so’—this young man who sits in my study and looks up at me with tears in his eyes, asking, in a trembling voice, ‘Am I an abomination?’

“What do I say to him?”

KOH2RVA Day 192

disaster-responseLast night the Richmond Baptist Association voted to maintain fellowship with Ginter Park Baptist Church, a church that recently ordained an openly gay man to the ministry.

The vote was close—very close—but it was enough to establish a simple majority and settle the question, at least for last night: Ginter Park can stay in the RBA family. How the churches of the Association will respond to that news remains to be seen.

But here’s what I find myself wanting to say this morning: Baptists and Buddhists can work together if the cause is just and the mission is clear.

When Superstorm Sandy pounded the coast a few months ago, for example, Baptists from Virginia were among those who raced north to provide relief. But they weren’t the only ones. People of different faiths and people of no faith at all were working alongside them to provide food, clothing, and shelter for people whose homes had been lost in the storm.  They didn’t have to agree on every point of doctrine in order to work together; just on that point that insists that people who are hungry and cold need some help.

I remember my own experience with disaster relief after Hurricane Fran hit the North Carolina coast in 1996. I jumped in a car with a few other Baptist men and drove to Wilmington, NC, where I ended up washing out empty food containers after hot meals had been delivered. I worked side by side with a delightful older couple whose views were almost completely opposite of mine. If we had been in a Baptist meeting, we would have voted differently on every issue.

But we weren’t.

We were in a disaster-stricken area trying to provide relief to people who had almost nothing left in the world. We didn’t have to agree on everything to agree that what we were doing was both urgent and important.

I think Sterling Severns helped us see that last night. He said that when he came to Richmond as a pastor nine years ago he asked his new church why they supported the Richmond Baptist Association. “Because of Camp Alkulana,” they said. Because every year the RBA takes busloads of boys and girls from inner city Richmond to spend a week at camp—breathing fresh air; hiking, camping, swimming; and learning about the love of Jesus in a beautiful natural setting. For those kids, for that week, heaven really does come to earth. That’s one of the best reasons why Sterling’s church, and my church, and Ginter Park Baptist Church give money to the Richmond Baptist Association—so those kids can go to camp. We don’t have to agree with each other on everything to agree that that’s a good thing, and something worth doing.

So, in spite of all our discussion about homosexuality last night, and about what the Bible says, and about what we believe, in the end we voted to keep on working together on what we agree is important—those kids who go to Camp Alkulana, for instance. And if the Buddhists decide they want to send us a check?

We’ll take it.

KOH2RVA: Day 12

I had lunch with Mike Robinson yesterday.

Mike is the Director of Missions for the Richmond Baptist Association. I wanted to tell him about our mission to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, and to ask for his partnership.

It was a good lunch, at a great little place called Garnett’s, but as we talked I surprised myself with my passion. “A church has to have a clear understanding of its mission,” I said, banging the table for emphasis, “and its mission can’t be its own survival.” I told him I believe that attendance and giving are a by-product of doing what Jesus has asked us to do and cited several examples.

One of those was Tabernacle Baptist Church, right here in the Fan, where my friend Sterling Severns is pastor. When Sterling came church attendance was under 100 people on Sunday mornings. Now it’s double that. Why? He says it’s because they embraced Burmese refugees who were moving to Richmond, helped them get established here, and invited them to church. Thanks to Baptist missionary efforts in that part of the world years ago, many of those refugees were already Christian, and eager to find a church home. By showing radical hospitality to these Burmese brothers and sisters (remember they didn’t have much of anything and didn’t speak English), Tabernacle has been transformed into a vibrant, mission-centered, community of Christ. Attendance and giving are on the rise, but only because attendance and giving are not the point.

I told Mike that I had invited Sterling and Tabernacle to partner with us on our mission trip, and wanted to ask RBA to do the same. Mike was happy to say yes. The Richmond Baptist Association is already deeply involved in bringing heaven to earth in Richmond. There are three community ministry centers in the city and every summer hundreds of kids leave the city to spend a week breathing the fresh air and enjoying the great outdoors at Camp Alkulana.

I’ve listed the community ministries of the Richmond Baptist Association below. I welcome the RBA as a partner in our mission of bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia.

Thanks, Mike!

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COMMUNITY MINISTRIES

CHURCH HILL CHRISTIAN WELLNESS CENTER
(located in Mount Tabor Baptist Church)
2011 Fairmount Avenue, Richmond, VA 23223
Rev. Glinda Ford, Community Missionary
804-780-0053; glinda.ford@rbaonline.org

OREGON HILL BAPTIST CENTER
(located in Pine Street Baptist Church)
400 South Pine Street, Richmond, VA 23220
Rev. Jennifer M. Turner, Community Missionary
804-648-1353; jennifer.turner@rbaonline.org

SOUTH RICHMOND BAPTIST CENTER
(located in The Saint Paul’s Baptist Church South)
700 East Belt Boulevard, Richmond, VA 23224
Rev. Wesley R. Garrett, Community Missionary
804-232-0174; wesley.garrett@rbaonline.org

CAMP ALKULANA
111 Camp Alkulana Road, Millboro, VA 24460
Mrs. Beth Reddish Wright, Camp Director
RBA Office: 804-329-1701 ext. 206; campalkulana@gmail.com
Camp Phone: 540-997-9444 (June-August)