Bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia
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Senior Pastor Dr. Jim Somerville explains:
Since my arrival in Richmond I have been pointing out Jesus’ emphasis on the Kingdom of God, mentioned some 120 times in the Gospels. In the Lord’s Prayer he teaches his disciples to pray that God’s Kingdom would come, and God’s will would be done, on earth as it is in heaven. It is my conviction that Jesus wanted his disciples not only to pray for that, but to work for that. I have said repeatedly that I believe—as children of the Heavenly Father and with the help of the Holy Spirit—we are called to “labor alongside the Lord Jesus in the joyful work of bringing heaven to earth.”
How does that mission align with the Great Commission, the idea that we are sent to make disciples of every nation? Perfectly. But let’s be clear: a disciple is not merely a convert. A more helpful translation of the word disciple might be “apprentice.” In the same way an apprentice learns a trade from a master craftsman, the disciples learned a trade from Jesus. What was it? Bringing heaven to earth. And this is how he did it: wherever Jesus went he would show and tell people what the world would be like if God were completely in charge. And so sick people were healed, hungry people were fed, the eyes of the blind were open, the poor had good news preached to them.
In Luke 10 Jesus sent his disciples out to say and do the same things they had heard him saying and seen him doing. When they came back, they came back with joy, which suggests that doing the Lord’s work doesn’t have to be burdensome; in fact we may discover that it’s what we were born for. In a similar story in Matthew 10 Jesus calls his disciples (“apprentices”), gives them authority over unclean spirits and over every disease and every sickness, and then sends them out on mission. From that point on they are called apostles (“sent ones”). When, at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, he tells his followers to go and make disciples of every nation he sends them, as apostles, to make apprentices who will learn the work of the Kingdom so that they, too, may be sent.
I look at it this way: apprentices are meant to become apostles. We who are learning the work of the Kingdom are ultimately meant to go out and do it (or to stay in and do it—there is lots of “kingdom-bringing” that goes inside the walls of the church building and not just out there in the world), and to call others to join us in that work, because this job is too big for any one person or any one church to do alone. It’s going to take all of us working together—joyfully laboring alongside the Lord Jesus with the help of the Holy Spirit—to bring heaven to earth. At Richmond’s First Baptist Church I believe that our first responsibility is to this place where God has put us—Richmond, Virginia. That doesn’t mean we can’t bring heaven to earth in other places; it only means we ought to focus our efforts here. In the same way a heavy stone can make a big splash, and the ripples can travel outward to every part of the pond, I believe we are called to make a big splash in Richmond, with the ripples traveling outward to every part of the world.
In the end, according to the Gospels, Jesus was killed by those who were jealous of his power and popularity, but God vindicated his life by raising him from the dead and promising that same gift to all who believed in him. In a very real sense, his life, death, and resurrection made possible our “friendship” with God, and the abundant life that flows out of it. Before he ascended, Jesus commissioned his disciples to carry on his mission until his return, when God’s kingdom will come finally and forever.
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It is possible to do more harm than good, even though our intentions are good. How can we practice compassion in a Christ-like way? Our Associate Pastor for Christian Compassion, Steve Blanchard, gives us some pointers.
Connecting Life and Faith
Reaching out in ministry to others can help us grow and mature as Christians. Steve Booth, Associate Pastor for Christian Formation, talks about how to reflect on mission experiences.