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    Entries in Kingdom (3)


    Can Kingdom People from All 50 States Pitch In and Help a Church in Rural Texas? Let’s Find Out.

    St. Paul United Church of Christ - Marlin, TX

    This past weekend the Waco Tribune-Herald published a feature explaining the current dilemma faced by St. Paul United Church of Christ in Marlin, Texas.

    St. Paul’s building is 97 years old and the foundation of the structure is in jeopardy. The congregation is made up of senior adults, some who have been members their whole life long. On an average Sunday 10 to 15 people gather for worship. Their pastor, Ludy Manthei, drives from Bryan to be with them. He is 70 years old. They need $300,000 to renovate a lower wall that is in danger of failing and bringing the structure down with it.

    St. Paul is located on FM 2307, off Highway 6 and in between the communities of Riesel and Marlin. I have driven by, though that was years ago. The church has been photographed and featured in a couple of books (here and here). The structure is also listed in the register of the Texas Historical Commission.

    I read the article above in the Trib on Sunday morning. By the time I was through I had resolved to send a gift, and I asked my Sunday school class to pray for this congregation. Sure, St. Paul is a rural congregation. It is small. The Trib describes their fundraising task as “daunting.” But is anything impossible for God?

    While exercising this morning I had this thought: if I shared this story with my friends, how many states would be represented if those I had encountered through the years decided to join me in sending a gift of any amount to this small congregation in rural Texas? I have an acquaintance in Alaska, friends in Kansas, a pastor friend in Alabama, an artist in Tennessee, some buddies living in Missouri. An old neighbor of mine lives in Denver. I have relatives in Georgia. A guy who lived on my hall in seminary works in D. C. Beyond my direct connections, I am sure that those people know people, or have friends, in other states.

    Sure, this idea is whimsical, maybe even a little goofy. But that’s me.

    Who knows? Maybe if we partnered together, did something a little out of the ordinary, a tad generous, the result might be surprising and wonderful and joyous. Plain fun.

    So here is the deal. If you want to join me in blessing this congregation, with no strings attached, write a note, enclose a gift, stick it in your mailbox, raise the flag and smile. Say a prayer, too. I don’t care if you stick a George Washington in an envelope with a sticky note on it that says, “building” and “the kingdom of God is big.” Maybe you are someone of extraordinary means and you want to reach out to the church to fund a piece of history. Either way, do good and grin big.

    My letter goes in the mail today and is addressed to St. Paul United Church of Christ, FM 2307, Marlin, Texas 76661.

    If you plan to join in on the fun leave a comment and let me know what state you live in. I will keep track.

    And feel free to share the idea with friends and family.

    This little congregation has been bearing the light of Christ in rural America. They need help in preserving their gathering place. Who knows what God might do with them yet?

    Finding out could be fun.


    A Warming

    Soul awakes.
    Heart aflame.
    Love flows.
    Sin fades.
    Christ reigns.
    Kingdom, near.
    Call, clear.
    Good news.
    Favor, all.
    Blind, see.

    Originally posted to Twitter. Connect there: @bsimpson.


    Work and Christian Commitment

    Today I was a guest of Faith and Learning, a chapel-like forum at Friends University in Wichita.  I spoke to somewhere around 300 to 400 college students.  Below is my manuscript from today's talk, though I did ad lib at times.  I enjoyed my time at Friends, and am deeply grateful to Jim Smith and Friends for having me as their guest.

    §1 Introductory Remarks 

    I’m deeply grateful for the opportunity to speak here today at Friends, and I am particularly thankful for Jim Smith and the Apprentis Institute, for it is through the work of people like Jim that I have found my own commitment to Christ and his Kingdom strengthened and renewed.

    Today I’ve come prepared to talk to you about work, because, like most of you, I recognize that work is and will be a significant part of our lives.  The significance that work holds, however, is often unexamined, and therefore I hope that today we can raise a number of questions, and together seek a few answers, concerning how we think about work, and how we might undertake our work in a way that is informed and guided by commitment to Christ.

    Many of us will work, and as we work, we will be challenged by the demands work places upon us.  Work is a reality all of us face, either as part of the warp and woof of our own lives, or in our relationships to those near to us, as they punch the clock, collect their pay, and toil away.

    Today, we’ll reflect on four aspects of work through the lens of Christian faith: work and excellence, our experience of work, our expectations of work, and, finally, the redemption of work.

    §2 Excellent Work

    Tim Keller, Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, once relayed the story of a man who became a Christian underneath his car.  The man was an actor.  During a pastoral visit, the man asked Pastor Keller a question pertaining to his work  He said, “I’ve been having a tremendous struggle.  You see, in acting there is a debate about a form of acting called ‘method acting.’”  In method acting, you don’t act angry, you get angry, creating in oneself the thoughts and emotions of one’s character.  As a Christian, should I pursue method acting as a valid approach to my craft, or not?”

    Keller replied, “I have no idea.”

    Keller then had an epiphany.  He realized that he spent most of his time trying to get his people out of their work world and into his church world, rather than equipping his congregants so that the church world might somehow be integrated and revealed within the work world.  The question then became, “How could he help his people to do their work with a Kingdom focus, in a way that brings glory to Christ?”

    The book of Colossians 3:17 says, “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”  If we take these words to heart, then we must take “whatever you do” to include our jobs, our work.  And if this is the case, we will need guides who are able to instruct us not only in the competencies required for us to perform our work excellently, but who also can instruct us with regard to how we might offer such excellencies as an offering of thanks.

    Work, as a realm that will require much of our time and energy for most of our lives, demands critical reflection as a subject of inquiry.  How might we work in a way that is excellent; that brings honor not foremost to ourselves, but to the one in whose image we have been created?

    My current line of work is in the transportation industry.  I am a “student transportation specialist.”  Everyone knows what that means: I am a bus driver.  The job is not glorious.  But everyday my job fulfills a requirement.  I serve young people by delivering them safely to and from school.  And everyday, an excellent day of work does not happen without training, preparation, focus, and intentionality.

    As an aside: one day, while driving students to school, I looked up in my mirror, only to see one of my students removing a hot dog from his pocket, not the bun, only the frank, and waving it through the air.  The middle school girls on my bus were disgusted.  But this is my reality.  And how does one do excellent work in such instances; work that brings glory to God?

    Dallas Willard, with whom I am certain you are familiar, once wrote these words: 

    We have to come to terms with the fact that we cannot become those who ‘hear and do’ without specific training for it.  The training may be to some extent self-administered, but more than that will always be needed.  It is something that must be made available to us by those already further along the path. 

    Fortunately for you, Friends is a University that might offer you just such a form of training.  The training you receive will then be put into action.  Which brings me to our second topic of concern, the experience of work. 

    §3 The Experience of Work 

    My own experience of work has been varied.  Some experiences have been positive; others negative.  My employers have given me both encouraging and disciplinary reviews.  I’ve been fired.  Once.

    Has anyone here worked at a  coffee shop?  I have.  I probably shouldn’t reveal the company I worked for, for if any of you are hipsters, or have worked in locally owned places, you will associate me with the evil Galactic Empire.

    Confession: I worked for Starbucks.

    I’ve had other jobs as well.  I worked as a lawn man, having teamed up with a friend in high school to start a business and generate income, so that I could frivolously spend my earnings on car stereo equipment and music.  I worked as a cashier and sales associate for Service Merchandise, a one time box-retailer that now does business exclusively online.  I also worked as an office aid in the Department of Religion during my undergraduate work, as a special assistant to a retired history professor by the name of Robert L. Reid, and, at different times and in different places, I have worked as a minister to children and youth.

    As you have already discovered, I have also worked as a bus driver.  Each of my jobs could be described in different ways.  Yard work was hot, satisfactory, and hot.  I grew up in East Texas.  My work as a cashier and office aid were transient and fleeting, responsibilities I held for a short while, collected my paychecks, and moved on to other things.

    Starbucks was relational, irksome, and deeply revelatory of the human condition, particularly concerning sin.  It’s hard to discern the image of God in a person who orders a Ventí Green Tea Frappuccino with a glaze of chocolate drizzle over the top of their whipped cream.

    Our experiences of work shape us.  We either walk away from our jobs with a sense of satisfaction or disappointment.  Whatever our experiences have been, it is likely that those experiences, combined with other narratives that have been supplied by our families, electronic media, or other sources have informed the expectations we have of work.  Work is expected to fulfill us, to serve us, to satisfy us, to signify our lives as valuable, or as worthless.  For example, tt isn’t often that the son of upper-middle class attorney can imagine and embrace an occupation such as a garbage collector as dignifying and worthy of one’s upbringing.

    Our experiences and our expectations of work constantly inform one another in a kind of feedback loop.  Whether those experiences are first-hand or if they are gained by observing one’s parent or other adults as one matures, our expectations begin to crystalize into expectations, informing our identities and our lives.

    §4 Expectations of Work

    Let’s think more broadly for a moment.  What do we expect of work?  What do our peers expect of work? 

    In his book The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, Alain De Botton investigates a number of industries: aviation, accounting, logistics, entrepreneurship, art, and even “biscuit manufacture.”  He marvels that in an industry that we would associate with Nabisco (Oreo, Ritz, etc.) or Pepperidge Farm (Milano, Bordeaux, etc.) a vast range of specialized jobs exist, whether it be in marketing, research and development, or quality control, to cite three areas.  The jobs become highly specialized.

    As an example of specialization, de Botton observes a pair of women who have the responsibility of picking out the occasionally mal-formed cookie that emerges from the oven.  He wonders what affect such a job might have on the one who performs it.  Might it lead these people to wonder “how meaningful” their lives truly are?

    We want our work to be meaningful, and it should be.  Rightly so.  In addition to meaningfulness, we expect our work to make us happy.  Our jobs are burdened with the expectation that they will leave us satisfied and content.

    De Botton again writes:

    However powerful our technology and complex our corporations, the most remarkable feature of the modern working world may in the end be internal, consisting in an aspect of our mentalities: in the widely held belief that our work should make us happy.  All societies have had work at their centre; ours is the first to suggest that it could be something much more than a punishment or a penance.  Ours is the first to imply that we should seek to work even in the absence of a financial imperative.  Our choice of occupation is held to define our identity to the extent that the most insistent question we ask of new acquaintances is not where they come from or who their parents were but what they do, the assumption being that the route to a meaningful existence must invariably pass through the gate of remunerative employment.

    Do you see what he is saying?  Over any other distinctive, work has come to define us.  But if work is our source of ultimate definition, ultimate meaning, and ultimate happiness, that, my friends, is a danger.

    §5 The Redemption of Work

    So how can we approach work in a healthy way?

    After talking with numerous young adults, it seems that many of us have jobs that differ little from the type of work that Jesus did for the majority of his life.  Yet I imagine that Jesus’ attitude toward his work differed greatly from yours and mine.  Jesus surely took pleasure in a job well done.  His small accomplishments were surely something in which he delighted.  Jesus went about a craft (carpentry), and as he became more skilled with his hands, I am certain he found that work was enjoyable.

    Jesus spent three years of his life, the part of his life we know the most about, carrying out a different type of work.  He taught us about the Kingdom of a good, loving, and beautiful God.  We ask, “What does Jesus’ teaching and ministry have to do with the time that he invested as a common day laborer?”  The answer: more than you might think.

    In the Incarnation, you see, Jesus not only redeemed human souls through his death on the cross and his resurrection three days later.  He redeemed human work by working.

    Jesus has given us the resources to do “everything” by himself doing “everything” as human and divine.  Therefore, whatever work we might do, we can do that work redemptively as Christ is in us.  Work then goes beyond simple utility or hedonism; it is neither only useful or capable of bringing us pleasure and happiness.  Through work, we are given an occasion for praise, “giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”

    We would be mistaken to believe that the life-with-God that Jesus described for us in the Sermon on the Mount and demonstrated for us in his numerous miracles was anything other than the type of life-with-God Jesus knew and experienced while carrying out the daily tasks of carpentry.  There is no doubt that his experiences as a common laborer influenced and shaped how he talked about life in God’s Kingdom.

    Today, I have suggested that the preparation and training that you receive here at Friends is not only so that you might matriculate and move on to a job, a career, an occupation, and begin collecting your pay.  

    Rather, you are being prepared to enter into the workplace as an agent of the “new creation,” an evidence of a Kingdom that is coming, and, indeed, has come, a signpost to a reality and a grounding for identity that imbues your work with a sense of meaning that transcends all occupations, ranging from the highest to the lowliest of jobs.  

    You do this by performing your work excellently and through having right expectations of work.  These expectations have been shaped by your experience of Christ and your experiences of learning from those who follow after Him, those who prepare you to enter into and excel in the world of work in a way that gives witness to the redemption of the world.

    Therefore, your work is not an end in and of itself.  Rather, it is a means through which the glory of God might be revealed.  May your life, your work, be a conduit through which people see Jesus and the redemption he has brought, and that he brings.