On earth as it is in heaven…

It seems as if every pastor at one time or another dreams of planting a church. I, too, had thoughts of church planting at one point and who knows…it may still happen! But, it is the conversations about church planting that led me to really imagine what it means for God’s Kingdom to be reality on earth as it is in heaven. Below you will not find my words. Below you will not see my short film. Below you will discover the beauty of theological expression from one theologian who considers the theological practice of ministry his art form. Below you will experience one filmmaker’s attempt to give expression to God’s mission on earth as it is in heaven. Both the words and the film come from years of imagining with friends, theologians, colleagues, and other practitioners, about what is meant by the Kingdom of Heaven found in the Bible. To me the Kingdom of Heaven is the essence of what is hoped for by the follower of Christ (Hebrews 11:1). Below may you see one expression of evidence of that hope.

The following was first published in October 2013 on the Virginia Baptist Mission Board Blog.

Art + Justice + Mission = Mission Possible VA

The following is a guest post from Josh Hayden, Associate Pastor to Students & Creative Technologies at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Warrenton, VA. We heard about Mission Possible VA and asked Josh to share more about this unique event.

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What if injustice exists not because of a scarcity of resources but a lack of imagination?

Artists have a unique way of showing us what they observe in the world by helping us to see what they see, to hear what they hear, and uncover a new perspective by shining the light at a different angle. Artists are great truth-tellers, helping us to hear the cries of the oppressed through song, showing us the brokenness of sexual exploitation through painting, or systems of injustice caused by slavery through film.

There is power in holding up a mirror to the world and bringing what is going on all around us into plain sight through the strokes of a paintbrush, a steady beat of a drum, or the texture of a film.

Artists help to show us, not just tell us, what is actually taking place in the world, even when it is uncomfortable.

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If artists help provoke our imagination, then an exploration of the biblical injunction to do justice is a second catalyst for systemic change. When Jesus taught us to pray, we learned that we are to pray that the kingdom of God would be on earth as in heaven.

As we do justice—set the oppressed free, loosen the chains of the slaves, release the captives—we participate in the new creation that comes down from heaven to make earth new.

At Mission Possible VA, speakers, storytellers, artists, musicians, and filmmakers will help connect the grand narrative of God’s story—which bends towards justice—to the call on every Christian’s life to ask what does biblical justice look like in 2013?

Like many different strands of rope coming together to make a stronger cord, the mission of God is made real through a community of people with a shared imagination for a changed world. The combination of insights from artists and the guidance of scripture lead to a sense of collaborative and shared mission.

By highlighting the work and stories of people on the ground in Newport News, VA, e.g.First Baptist Church Newport NewsChristopher Newport University International Justice Mission ChapterVirginia Beach Justice Initiative and The Network for Theological Education, along with people like Chris Folmsbee and organizations like International Justice Mission on a larger scale, a renewed scope of mission can be revealed. The mission of God includes all of us, and the telos (end goal) of the mission is that all creation is restored and redeemed.

While it may seem like there is a scarcity of resources, the good news is that there is a God of super-abundance who has promised that all things will be made new. The question is: are we willing to let God stir up our imaginations?

So, on November 2 in Newport News, VA, students, young professionals, and anyone trying to participate in the mission of God to renew all things are invited to a creative conference where art is connected to justice and the overall mission of God.

People will gather to help answer one question:

How can we join in the mission of God to restore the world to its intended wholeness?

There are two plenary gatherings, with breakout sessions, interactive worship experiences (i.e. opportunities to engage in film, prayer, stories, and art as a means of reflection and response), all wrapped up with a closing concert. The day is laid out to provide opportunities for conversation, listening, reflection, worship, questions, hope, and learning.

If you are wondering who is invited to Mission Possible VA, well, you are! Check out a film interpretation of Mission Possible by one of the featured collaborators, Katy Andres, and hope to see you and your church at Mission Possible VA on November 2 in Newport News. We are all invited to help make the connection of:

Tom Lynch lives in Henrico, VA with his wife and two children. He is a full-time Master of Social Work student at Virginia Commonwealth University with a focus in Administration, Planning, and Policy Planning. He works as the director of ministry rotations for the John Leland Center for Theological Studies. He holds a master of divinity from the Leland Center and a bachelor’s in communication from Michigan State University. He volunteers as a justice advocate for International Justice Mission and serves as the Vice President on the board of trustees for The Network for Theological Education.

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The Journey of JFK

This past Friday marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy. Any of us who were old enough to remember that tragic day were taken back in our memories to where we were when we heard the news that the President had been shot. I was in second grade and can still recall our teacher sharing that news with us in a way that was appropriate for seven year old children. For much of my life, the tragic death of President Kennedy was most of what I knew about his brief time in office. Only in recent years have I become aware of his own journey of growth and leadership in one of the most important aspects of the life of our nation – civil rights. For most of his first two years in office, President Kennedy hesitated to become involved with promoting the civil rights movement. As a Democrat, he counted on the support of Southern Democrats many of whom were staunch segregationists. Yet by the spring of 1963, President Kennedy grew to the point that he came out publicly in support of national civil rights legislation. This growth was nurtured by the witness of thousands of African Americans who willingly subjected themselves to physical, verbal, and emotional suffering through participation in faith based non-violent direct actions. In particular, the Birmingham campaign in April and May of 1963 captured the nation’s attention as people as young as seven years old were arrested and/or subjected to the violence of high pressure fire hoses and attacking police dogs. This led to one of the most important speeches of President Kennedy’s life. On June 11, he addressed the nation on television about the justice of civil rights. He pointed out various aspects of the inequality and injustice of segregation. Here is some of what he said to the nation:

The Negro baby born in America today, regardless of the section of the State in which he is born, has about one-half as much chance of completing a high school as a white baby born in the same place on the same day, one-third as much chance of completing college, one-third as much chance of becoming a professional man, twice as much chance of becoming unemployed, about one-seventh as much chance of earning $10,000 a year, a life expectancy which is 7 years shorter, and the prospects of earning only half as much.

This is not a sectional issue. Difficulties over segregation and discrimination exist in every city, in every State of the Union, producing in many cities a rising tide of discontent that threatens the public safety. Nor is this a partisan issue. In a time of domestic crisis men of good will and generosity should be able to unite regardless of party or politics. This is not even a legal or legislative issue alone. It is better to settle these matters in the courts than on the streets, and new laws are needed at every level, but law alone cannot make men see right. We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the Scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution.

Two aspects of this part of his speech are especially important for me as a follower of Jesus. In the last line, President Kennedy declared the cause of civil rights to be a moral issue connected to the Scriptures. Those same Scriptures had been used for centuries by some to support first slavery and then legal segregation. I believe that the President called us back to the original intention of the Scriptures as the revelation of God’s love for all people and God’s clear desire for justice for all. Secondly, the President lifted up the impact that segregation had on people’s lives in terms of economics, education, and even life expectancy. Although legal segregation in our country is long gone, disparities in economics, education, and physical health based on race still exist throughout our nation. In our area of metropolitan Washington, DC, African American households on average have only one tenth the wealth of white households. Public education in our city and most cities has largely re-segregated based on the racial implications of economics. There continues to be a disparity in health care and life expectancy according to race. All this adds up to say that the struggle for true equality goes on. This struggle is an essential part of the ministry of the Church because the words of President Kennedy still ring true, “We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the Scriptures…” As we remember the tragic death of a President fifty years ago, may we also remember his journey of growth in the commitment to justice and commit ourselves and our churches to this ongoing journey of faith, love, and justice.

Dr. Jim Melson, Director of Spiritual Formation

 

Connecting . . . with God’s Unfolding Creation

God is creative, continually bringing new things into existence. Creation not only began long ago, but continues today and into the future. Every new birth and every further development demonstrates that God is creative, seeking to bring new life into this world.

This creative God has described the consequences of this creation as “good.” Perhaps that is one reason why God’s creative activity generally follows a path begun long ago. God’s current creations connect to the past just as the work of Jesus connected to the promise to Abraham or as the risk of Esther connected to the promise of a nation. God’s creation connects to the past. When one perceives God’s creative work in the past, that person can move either with certainty in the present and with confidence into the future.

None should be surprised that identity is a key facet of moving with certainty in the present and with confidence into the future. Once a young adult has a good grasp on who they are, that person can begin to relate emotionally to others in positive ways and also can become productive in their life. Psychology teaches us this truth of identity and its importance.

In a similar way congregations experience life best when they come to know who they are. Such knowledge is complex, for there are many myriad parts of a congregation. Far too often, in our highly mobile and fragmented society, churches lose a sense of who they were and who they are. Change is always needed, but God’s change is most often built on an earlier foundation. Many change for the sake of newness, later finding themselves unattached from the past and uncertain of the future. Such experiences frequently result in frustration and loss, rather than in the unfolding of God’s creation.

The importance of self-knowledge, certainly for congregations, gives rise to the need to study courses that appear to be stale and tedious, such as Baptist History and Identity. Such is crucial for the congregations, as well as individuals and other groups. Each congregation needs to know who it is.

Still, congregations and other groups can discern how God created and developed them. Once they do so, they can relate intimately and productively with those they encounter. The self-knowledge is pivotal in order to become effective in the world. Once one knows where he/she is, that person can stand with God in confidence and productivity, whether they act as an individual or as the body of Christ.

– Robert D. Cochran, DCBC

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