KOH2RVA: Day 252

pentecosti-kosmos

It’s the Day of Pentecost, everyone! Get out the leaf blowers and flame throwers, because this is the day we celebrate the birthday of the church, that time when the Spirit came with a sound like the rush of a mighty wind, and tongues of fire hovered over the heads of the believers (Acts 2:1-3).

But that was just the beginning.

Peter, filled with the Spirit, preached a fiery sermon, and at the end of the day 3,000 people had been added to the church. In the chapters that follow we hear how the apostles healed the sick, raised the dead, confronted the authorities, smashed through the barriers of prejudice, and carried the gospel to the ends of the earth.

So, I’m thinking…today is the Day of Pentecost. If what happened to the early church happens to us the Kingdom of Heaven will come to Richmond, Virginia. There will be no stopping it.

Which makes me wonder what’s stopping it now.

Is it us? Are we unwilling to let the Spirit take charge? Is that why we don’t wait for it and pray for it as those early disciples did? Today may be a good day to realize that if we try to bring in God’s Kingdom under our own power we will surely fail. But if we couple our efforts with the power of God, anything is possible. Just looked what happened in the early church. Eventually their critics began to say, “These people are turning the world upside down!”

Maybe soon they will say the same about us.

KOH2RVA: Day 231

peter-cornelius-the-bibleIs it just a coincidence?

On the same day I’m preaching about the time Peter went to the home of Cornelius, a Gentile, someone who was considered “unclean” by the Jews, I have been invited to a reception for the retiring pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church—what some people call “the gay church.” After that I’ve been invited to serve on a panel at Congregation Or Ami—a reformed Jewish synagogue just off Huguenot Road—for a discussion on aging with dignity that will include end of life issues. After that I’ve been asked to say a few words at the ordination of Krista Mann Manuel, a recent BTSR graduate who is now serving at Tomahawk Baptist Church.

Fifty years ago there wouldn’t have been a “gay church,” I probably wouldn’t have been invited to serve on the panel at a Jewish synagogue, and a Baptist church would probably not have been ordaining a woman. The times they are a-changin’ as Bob Dylan might say, and the question I have to ask is this one: Is the church caving in to the culture, as some people fear, or is the Holy Spirit on the move?

Here’s an excerpt from today’s sermon:

The Jewish Christians, the ones Luke calls “the Circumcised,” wanted to know why [Peter] had been spending time with the Uncircumcised and eating with them. It was against the law!—the Law of Moses, that is—it was contrary to the clear teaching of Scripture! I was trying to imagine a comparable situation last Friday when I bumped into Victor Davis over at Clark Springs Elementary School, where I tutor. Dr. Davis is the Baptist minister who did our January Bible Study last year. I said, “Victor, in our time and place, who is it that would be considered ‘unclean’ by the church?” And without hesitating he said, “The gays.” And so, on the way back to church, I thought: What if a local Baptist minister went on a mission trip to New York and found out when he got home that pictures of him hanging out at a gay nightclub in Manhattan had been published on the front page of the Richmond Times-Dispatch? Don’t you think there would be a special called deacons’ meeting that very afternoon where the chairman would hold up the newspaper and ask, “What’s this all about?”

I don’t have time to tell you how the sermon comes out, not now, but if you’ll come to church at 8:30 or 11:00 this morning, or tune in to our webcast at http://www.fbcrichmond.org, you’ll hear the rest of the story. And maybe tomorrow or the next day I’ll tell you what happened at the pastor’s reception, and the panel discussion, and the ordination service.

It’s an interesting world we live in.

KOH2RVA: Day 220

sunriseI’m sitting in my room at Graves Mountain Lodge, in Syria, Virginia, watching the sky getting gradually lighter in the east. It’s the last day of a three-day staff retreat, and I’m almost sorry to see it end.

We’ve taken the time in these days to share our stories, to tell each other how things are going for us and what we’re struggling with. It always amazes me, when you take time for such things, how much there is to share. It seems that everybody is dealing with far more than you would know, which means that everybody is pretty good at keeping most of those things to themselves, most of the time. But the Bible tells us to “bear one another’s burdens” and that’s one of the things we’ve focused on during this retreat.

It’s been holy.

We’ve also been talking about the missional understanding of church, and I’ve tried to sum it up by using a phrase I learned from Alan Hirsch, one of the leading voices in the missional church movement. He says: “The church is not the goal of God’s mission, but the tool of God’s mission.”

That’s profound, and it represents a profound change in thinking. If Hirsch is right about that it means, first of all, that the church doesn’t have a mission, God has a mission, so that instead of asking, “What should we do?” we begin to ask, “What does God want us to do?”

Yesterday I said that I think God made the world and everything in it, that he loves the world and everything in it, and that it breaks his heart to see the world so lost and in such ruin. I said that I think God’s mission is to redeem all of creation. That’s why he sent his Son, but as Alan Hirsch and others add, that’s also why he and the Son sent the Spirit, and why he, the Son, and the Spirit sent the church.

If that’s true, then I can almost picture God—like a patient gardener—using Richmond’s First Baptist Church as a tool to redeem this part of his creation.

Do you see how different that is from thinking of the church as the goal of God’s mission? If it’s the goal then our job is to get everybody out there in here—get them into the baptistry, into a good Sunday school class, and into the habit of regular worship—and if we could do that we could probably do it while the world around us was going to hell. But what we learn from the story of Jesus is that God loves the whole world; he doesn’t want any part of it to go to hell. Paul says that the whole creation groans, awaiting its redemption (Rom. 8:21-22).

This morning, from where I’m sitting, the creation is not groaning, it’s singing. The sun has just come up over the mountains and the birds, the budding trees, and the gurgling brooks are rejoicing. But this afternoon I’ll be back in Richmond, beautiful Richmond, where there is still much work to be done, and where God may need a tool just like First Baptist Church to do it.

And where he may need all of us to help.

KOH2RVA: Day 214

dandelion_blowing_in_wind_1Yesterday I shared the prayer requests of church planters Jeremy and Monica, as they anticipated a gathering where they could talk to some “religiously curious” people about Jesus.  Jeremy’s report on that gathering, below, sounds like something right out of the Book of Acts (if Acts had been written by a hip twenty-something living in Richmond, Virginia, in 2013). Take a look:

Thank you for your prayers! Sometimes I laugh at how the Lord does things – He can be sovereignly and graciously eccentric (His ways are NOT our ways!). His love is spectacular to behold and to flesh out towards others! Here are the results of our faith talk gathering this past weekend:

It was so cool! (1) While the gathering was small, a larger number of people have now entered into deeper dialogue concerning Jesus. (2) One girl expressed that she wants to understand the Bible and find purpose in life. She is not connected to any church at the moment, and doesn’t know fully what it means to be a follower of Jesus, but the conversation is in motion and we will be following up with her! (3) One friend (who knows Jesus, and came to our gathering) expressed to us that he wanted to know more about sharing his faith with others. During this meeting he was actually a vital part of sharing Christ!!! He did an excellent job in opening up and sharing about his walk with the Lord. We were extremely blessed to have him on our team.

BUT IT GETS BETTER! After the gathering was over, one girl stopped by (she was not originally at the gathering). She opened up to us claiming that her “religious experience” was dismal. She’s been distanced from Jesus because of her lack of understanding. She claimed that no one can know anything spiritually, but yet she is searching with deep emotion. So we TOTALLY declared that Jesus is making HIS KINGDOM available to HER! It was SO COOL! The Holy Spirit moved and she was like, “dude, I TOTALLY GET IT!” We shared the gospel with her but there is still a hangup in her heart towards jumping in towards being a Jesus follower. She told us she is super interested in having more conversations like this and feels a deep need for more! PRAISE THE LORD for what He is doing in her life!!!

Then our neighbor (who also wasn’t at the gathering) invited all three of us to come up for an unexpected dinner. We went up and GOD WAS AT WORK! Other neighbors were up there and everyone started talking more about what it means to walk by faith. Another man in our building is a believer, and he was present and contributed greatly by planting many seeds of truth. One young lady (who we never met before) was up there and she opened up about serious issues in her spiritual walk and was listening to Monica share the gospel while I was sharing with another young lady about how we need Jesus to bring light and healing to our insecurities and fears. Meanwhile the other believing man was also sharing – it was as if the Holy Spirit was bouncing off the walls in that room, because there was a sweet team effort going on in sharing the glory of Christ! Hahaha, it was incredible!

What a great day! For those of you praying for us, please mark this past weekend as a turning point: there is now a growing multiplicity of Jesus conversations throughout our building, neighborhood and city! People are walking beyond the superficial relationships into realms of understanding more about JESUS! Praise the Lord!

Peace and grace to you all! Jeremy and Monica

PS – that other guy, is putting on an ice cream night for our building this weekend, so pray for more opportunities to share Jesus! It is great having another believer in our building working with us for the purpose of reaching those who are lost!

I love the way these two are letting themselves be used, and by the way they marvel every time God does something through them.  I wonder what God might do through us today if we let him have his way?  Would the Kingdom of Heaven come a little bit closer to Richmond, Virginia?

KOH2RVA: Day 112

snow-covered-fieldDo you know that song, “Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house we go”? Yesterday that’s what I did with my family, except we went over the mountain and through the woods to grandmother’s nursing home.

On a good day it’s about a three-hour drive from Richmond to Franklin, West Virginia, and yesterday was a good day. My daughter Ellie is visiting from New York and Catherine is home for her winter break. We all piled into the car yesterday morning (along with Ellie’s two dogs) and headed for the hills.

We had plenty to talk about on the way, and as we got off the Interstate and into the country there was plenty to see. There was snow on the ground! The roads were clear but the fields on both sides were glazed like a Krispy Kreme doughnut. Ellie saw a horse-drawn Amish buggy whizzing down the road. Catherine saw a deer head hanging from a tree (yikes!). We went over Shenandoah mountain through so many hairpin curves that everybody began to feel a little queasy, but from the top the views were breathtaking.

When we finally got to Franklin we were dismayed to learn that the entire nursing home was under quarantine because of the flu, and were told at the front desk that we wouldn’t be able to visit my parents. I said, “But I called yesterday! But we just drove three hours! But my daughter has come from New York!” And while I was protesting the director of nursing happened along and said that my mother, at least, wasn’t showing any symptoms and could come to the family room for a visit.

So, that’s what we had: a two-hour visit with my mother, who entertained us the whole time. She had us laughing like a stand-up comedian. When it was time to go I asked if we could walk around to the side of the building and at least wave to my dad through the window. One of the nurses said she would go to his room and open the curtain. So, off we went, hiking around the side of the nursing home through ankle-deep snow.

As we went Christy reminded the girls of those days when they used to visit the nursing home in Wingate, North Carolina, where we lived at the time. She would take them to be “spirit lifters,” and Ellie, at least, spent a lot of time painting fingernails, which the ladies there seemed to love.

I thought about how that was one more way of bringing heaven to earth. Long before our year-long, every-member mission trip to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, Christy and the girls were figuring out that when one person shares the love of Christ with another heaven touches down—however briefly–wherever you are.

And that’s what we had with my dad yesterday: a very brief moment.

The nurse pulled back the curtain and the four of us stood at the window to see Dad, lying in his bed, smiling up at us. Just because it seemed like the thing to do I began to sing, “We wish you a merry Christmas,” and the family joined in, and then, to our surprise, we could see Dad joining in, singing along with us. The nurse opened his window just a crack so we could hear him and he could hear us, and when we were finished singing we told him that we loved him and blew kisses and waved goodbye.

That was it.

That was all the nurse had time for but probably all my dad had strength for. He’s very weak these days. And to leave him with the image of four impromptu carolers wishing him a merry Christmas and a happy new year was probably about the best we could have done.

And so we drove back to Richmond, satisfied by the visit, having brought the Kingdom of Heaven a little closer to Franklin, West Virginia.

Today, I’m back in this city I love, wondering how I can be a “spirit lifter” here. What about you? Is there somebody whose spirit you can lift, even if you have to go over the river and through the woods to do it?