KOH2RVA: Day 289

Essex Bible SchoolI didn’t make it to Bible school yesterday and it was my loss. Appointments and commitments that started early in the morning kept me busy until just before lunch. But I heard great things about the opening day of “Camp 2” at Richmond’s First Baptist Church and after lunch I drove out to Essex Village Apartments to see what happens when Bible school goes on the road.

In yesterday’s post I talked about the partnership between First Baptist and Park Meadows Baptist Church in Waxahachie, Texas, and how the two were collaborating to bring Bible school not only to First Baptist Church, but also to Essex Village Apartments, where there are 544 children, many of whom live in single-parent homes.

I got there early, before the afternoon session of Bible school began, but in time for a pick-up game of kickball. And once again I got to watch that old miracle occur, where people who don’t know each other overcome their initial awkwardness through some silly game, and then begin to laugh and play together, so that by the end of the day they are BFF’s (Best Friends Forever). What breaks my heart is that the kids at Essex Village are so hungry for attention Essex Bible School3they will accept it from almost anybody, even a youth group from Waxahachie, Texas. What fills my heart is the way those youth discover that they can make a difference in someone’s life, and how much joy it gives them. By the end of the week they won’t want to leave their new friends at Essex Village, and their new friends at Essex Village won’t want to let them go.

I predict tearful farewells.

But today is only Day Two of Bible school, and the end of the week seems a long way away. So, if you’re looking for a little joy in your life, and for a way to make a difference in someone else’s, then come on out to Essex Village around two o’ clock this afternoon. Bring your sunglasses and bottled water and big, floppy hat, because it’s going to be hot, but wear your kickball shoes, because it’s going to be fun. I predict that by the end of the day miracles will have occurred at Essex Village, and the Kingdom of Heaven will have come a tiny bit closer to Richmond, Virginia.

KOH2RVA: Day 288

TFH2Today is the first day of Vacation Bible School at Richmond’s First Baptist Church, and it’s bringing back some memories.

I remember going to VBS when I was a little boy. I remember hearing Bible stories, and going on nature walks, and eating those cookies with the hole in the middle so you could put one on your finger and nibble all the way around. I remember cutting construction paper with blunt-nosed safety scissors and the smell of Elmer’s glue. I remember singing “This Is My Father’s World.”

I loved it.

Years later, when I became the pastor of a little church in Kentucky, I found that VBS was a community affair: our church would host Bible school and the kids from the other two churches in town would come, and then they would host Bible school and our kids would go there. You’d see the same kids at every Bible school in town.

At the church I served in North Carolina we began to make an intentional effort to reach out to the kids at a nearby trailer park and that was harder. Those kids didn’t know how to behave at Bible school. They didn’t understand the rules. But we believed that the Jesus we were talking about would want those kids to be there, and so we kept taking the church van over there, picking them up, and bringing them to church.

At First Baptist, Richmond, we seem to have had that tradition for years—opening up our Bible school to anyone who wanted to come and going to get some of those kids who needed to be there. But this year is a little different. This year, because we are trying to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, we have invited some people from Waxahachie, Texas, to help us. Does that make sense?

Well, if you know the whole story, it does.

These are people from Park Meadows Baptist Church, and for years they’ve been going to Helena, Arkansas, in the summer to help out with a mission project called “Together for Hope.”* Well, so has First Baptist, Richmond. These two churches have worked side by side to help kids in one of the poorest counties in America, and over the years a friendship has developed. So, when FBC member Cari DuVal learned that a staff member from Park Meadows had written the very popular VBS curriculum called “Camp,” and that he had written a new curriculum called “Camp II,” she decided our friends from Waxahachie needed to come to Richmond and help us put it on.

But here’s the KOH2RVA twist: after putting on “Camp II” at First Baptist Church each morning, the VBS team is going over to Essex Village Apartments and do it there. I’ve written about Essex Village before: 544 kids, most of them living in single-parent homes. Don’t you know that having “Camp” come to them is going to be the best thing that happens all summer?

It’s not only “Camp” that will come to them; it’s the love of Jesus, shared by those missionaries from Waxahachie and those missionaries from Richmond. If those kids at Essex Village have a real experience of it—if they see it in the smiles, and hear it in the stories, and feel it in the hugs—they will want more and more. Maybe this will be the week when some of them start down a path that leads to life abundant, overflowing, and everlasting, and years from now they will be able to say,

“It all started at Bible School.”

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*Launched in 2001 by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Together for Hope (TFH) is a long-term commitment to working with people in 20 of the nation’s poorest counties in order to affect change and break the cycle of economic disparity. The ministry is about establishing long-term relationships, listening, learning, and walking alongside local leaders. The hope is that communities will be transformed as will the churches and individuals who serve in focal counties.

Jesus the Atheist

Several years ago, my mother-in-law found a handyman to help her around her house in Texas.  His name was Jesus (pronounced “hay-soos”), and even though we knew how his name was pronounced it was funny to get a letter from Lu telling us that Jesus had fixed her plumbing or painted the living room.  Over the years he got to be almost one of the family, and when we heard that he had solved some crisis or come to Lu’s rescue we would smile and say, “What a friend we have in Jesus!”

So, when we heard that he was bringing Lu’s furniture to Richmond in her recent move we were excited.  Christy said, “I get to meet Jesus!”  And she did.  He arrived with two helpers at mid-morning on Saturday and didn’t finish unloading the truck until six that evening.  Christy went with him to drop off the truck and pick up a rental car so he could drive back to Texas.  At some point she confessed to him that she had enjoyed knowing “Jesus” was taking good care of her mom.  He smiled and then said, quietly, “It is funny.  My name is Jesus.  I was born on Christmas day.  But I’m an atheist.”

And that caught Christy off guard.  It was one thing to think of Jesus helping her mom around the house, but another thing to think of Jesus as an atheist. 

I’ve been troubled about it almost ever since, and wondering what happened.  Did “Hay-soos” get tired of all the jokes about “Jesus”?  Did the other children tease him about being born on Christmas Day?  Did his mother ask him if he could multiply the meager supper she had prepared?  Did his grandpa complain about his aches and pains and ask him (with a wink) if he could do something about it?  Of course that makes me think of the other Jesus, who had to put up with a lot of that kind of thing himself.  Unbelievers were always giving him a hard time and the believers weren’t much better.  They kept begging him to heal them, to help them, to feed them.  There must have been some days when he wished his name wasn’t Jesus, and there were whole nights when he just had to get away, when he went up on the mountain or off in the wilderness to pray.  But every time he seemed to get up off his knees ready to face the begging, pleading, unbelieving world again. 

Maybe that would have worked for “Hay-soos” the Handyman.  Maybe if he had let those taunts and jeers drive him to his knees he would have grown closer and closer to God, rather than further and further away.  At this point in his life there probably isn’t much that would convince him that prayer is the perfect response to life’s hardships.  He’s probably just relying on himself and his own strength, on his own ability to deal with the world.  That’s fine for the little things, like how to get a load of furniture from Texas to Virginia, but it won’t help much with the big ones.  And so, if “Hay-soos” won’t pray, I’m going to say a prayer for him, and maybe you could, too.  I’m going to pray that he will learn to love the name he’s been given, and feel a kinship with the one who carried it before him.  And when I’m feeling bold I will pray for even more than that, that he will become a passionate believer.  Although I have to admit it feels a little odd asking God:

“Help Jesus become a Christian.”

Not Baptist Enough for Baylor?

I appreciated Wade Burleson’s comments on the recent appoinment of Ken Starr as the new president of Baylor University.  Even though he is a devoted follower of Jesus Christ, some people don’t think Starr is “Baptist enough” for the appointment.  It brought to mind our ongoing conversation at Richmond’s First Baptist Church about receiving members from other denominations who have not been baptized as believers by immersion.  Are they Baptist enough to be members?  Is Ken Starr Baptist enough to be president of Baylor?  I’ve attached Wade’s thoughts on the subject below.  I hope you will appreciate them as much as I did.

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It seems that the Ken Starr is a down to earth, conservative evangelical Christian with a brilliant mind and some pretty powerful connections throughout the United States. Unlike the media’s portrayal of Ken Starr during the Clinton era, Ken is no conservative ideologue. He has a legal mind second to none. He has demonstrated an ability to raise enormous amounts of money at Pepperdine, and the students and faculty love him. [My friend Brooks Douglass, a Southern Baptist “missionary kid” and former Oklahoma Senator] told me that two current United States Supreme Court justices had clerked for Starr, and if it had not been for the Lewinsky debacle, Ken Starr would be the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court today. Brooks said Ken Starr’s Christian values, established connections, and track record of superb leadership makes Ken Starr a five star hire by Baylor University. I was pleased to hear such a strong recommendation from a man I respect.

Then I begin to read the blogs of Southern Baptist religious ideologues about Ken Starr’s hiring at Baylor. Most of them are not happy. Why?

Ken Starr is not Baptist enough. Though Ken and his wife are devoted followers of Jesus Christ, that is not enough. Though he and Alice were longtime members of McLean Bible Church, a conservative evangelical church in Washington, D.C.– that still isn’t enough. The fact that he has been baptized upon his profession of faith in Jesus Christ isn’t enough, for he hasn’t been “baptized in a Baptist church.” The fact that he will be “joining” a Baptist church upon arrival in Waco doesn’t quite cut the mustard either. That’s just a “farce,” according to Bart Barber, a trustee and employee at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Ken Starr is not a true, blue-blood Baptist. He shouldn’t be President of Baylor University because being a Baptist is more important than being a Christian. {Edit: Bart Barber says that I have misunderstood the point of his blog. He writes in his post: “If you will no longer require that your presiding officers (at Baylor) actually BE Baptists, please stop coercing them into joining Baptist churches.” I freely admit not always comprehending things correctly, and apologize to Bart if I have misunderstood he was inferring Ken Starr wasn’t Baptist enough to be an approprate choice for the office of President of Baylor University.}

Listen to this quote from a Southern Baptist pastor named David Worley:

“Sooooooo, I wonder what (Baptist) Church might receive Starr and his wife without requiring them to be baptised first? Or, will they both willingly get baptised (sic) in this Baptist Church? Interesting, huh?”

That kind of thinking reminds me of the trustees at the IMB who said they would rather pay thousands of dollars to fly a Southern Baptist pastor from the United States to China to baptize a convert than to allow a SBC missionary who was not “properly credentialed” to perform it.

I think that we Southern Baptists, unfortunately, are becoming more and more known for being Southern Baptists than devoted followers of Jesus Christ. When we are more concerned about the President of Baylor University being baptized in baptist waters than we are the spiritual condition and maturity of the man who takes the office, then we have sacrificed our “Christian” heritage on the alter of religious ideology. Soon, there will be little difference between the ritualism of us Southern Baptists and that of Mormons who must baptize in special places, wearing special underwear, at the hands of a special under… er, well, you get the idea.

Take it from a person with the same last name as the first President of Baylor University in Waco, Texas–Ken Starr is a great hire.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson

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Click HERE to read Wade’s post in context on his blog.

Re-entry

Last week was a busy week for me.

  • I preached three times at the bicentennial celebration of Wingate Baptist Church in North Carolina, a church I served from 1991-2000.
  • I went from there to a sermon-planning retreat in South Carolina, where five other Baptist pastors and I planned our preaching for an entire year.
  • I went from there to an Episcopal camp and conference center near Houston, Texas, to lead a preaching workshop for a group of newly ordained priests.
  • I came back to Richmond in time to preach (twice) on Sunday, dedicate three children, and run with the 10K training team.

I can sum up the events of the week in a few bullet points, but it would take much longer to describe how it felt to step to the pulpit in the sanctuary of Wingate Baptist Church last Saturday night and look out over the beautiful, beaming faces of people I loved and served for nine years.  I told them it reminded me of a dream I’d had about heaven once, and it did—almost exactly.  Or to describe what it was like to share ideas with five of my closest colleagues as we sat around the living room of a lake house in Greenwood, South Carolina, bundled up in fleece pullovers, taking notes and jabbing our pens in the air for emphasis as the sun went down on a January day.  It would take too long to describe that moment when the nervous young Episcopal priest stood in front of our group and told the story of how she learned what ministry was about during a summer on the pediatric intensive care wing of a hospital, as the rest of us swallowed at the lumps in our throats and wiped our eyes.  And it would take even longer to describe what it was like to come home to Richmond, finally, and preach to a sanctuary full of people who feel—more and more these days—like family, to catch those winks and nods, those smiles and knowing looks, that can only come after you’ve spent some time together.

It was wonderful.

I will say this: it seems that every time I come back to Richmond from somewhere else I feel a little more at home here, as if you needed to say “I’m home!” out loud a few dozen times in a new place before you really felt it.  I’m feeling it, and it feels good, and except for the quick trip I’m taking to Orlando on Wednesday and the drive up to New York at the end of the month to take some things to my daughter,

I’m home.

Back!

Guadalupe Peak

I’m back from my backpacking trip to Guadalupe Mountains National Park and will be blogging again soon.  I just wanted to post this picture of Joe, Chuck, and Jim on top of Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas.  Hey, don’t laugh!  It’s 8,751 feet high, more than a mile-and-a-half, and a good 2,000 feet higher than any mountain east of the Mississippi.  On the day we climbed it the wind was whipping around the summit and the chill factor made us glad we had brought warm clothing, but what a trip!

More to come…