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August 28th, 2014
Quick–what was your first job? Mine was entering credit card applications into a bank database. I remember becoming fairly nimble with the numeric keypad, but I left each day feeling as if I’d had a small section of my brain excised; the monotony was mind-numbing. Fortunately my supervisor liked the sound of my voice and thought it could convince anyone to buy something. So I was soon “promoted” to the rank of telemarketer (Deus misereatur) selling some sort of subscription to veterinary offices. Following that I remember working for a putt-putt golf spot near my home in West Houston. Ringing up rounds, scooping up ice cream, and cleaning up bathrooms comprised the work–all with the expectation that I’d keep pristine throughout the shift my white cabana shirt and khaki shorts. I look back at those early days of formal employment with both gratitude that they’re in the past but also for what they taught me about responsibility.
Why do we work? Why fill our days with tasks, appointments, projects and reports, and then return home either trying to leave it behind or to keep it ever before us? Aside from the more obvious purposes to our labors–means for a living, fulfillment in the use of aptitudes, militating against boredom–does work appeal to anything higher than the purely utilitarian?
And if the gospel has implications for all of life, how is it to inform and shape our work?
Since it’s Labor Day this weekend we’re taking a brief pause from our series on Galatians to refresh our sense of the gospel’s relevance to our labors, whatever they may be. Next to sleep, work commands most of our waking hours–even our sleep hours sometimes. Like all else in life work has the capacity both to reflect the life of God in us and to obscure it.
So we’ll listen to Paul’s summary of the Gospel from his letter to the Philippians–specifically 3:1-14–and reflect on how that purported good news has foundational implications both for the meaning of our work and the manner in which fulfill it.
Part of the curse outlined in Genesis 3 entailed an added toilsomeness to all our labors; work would now be rife with friction, frustration, and even futility. Nonetheless, work would still retain a kind of sacramental character, ennobling the One who gave it to us as it is itself ennobled through its fulfillment.
Why do you work–and why at your present employment? How do you think of that work? Would you do it forever or escape it if you could? We’ll be making some inferences about our work from Paul’s letter, to be sure, but I think the gospel has undeniable applications for how we think and approach our labors. Have a look at the passage and ask yourself how you think the gospel matters to your work.
It’s been almost a year since we outlined our vision for Faithful Presence in a sermon series. New faces have found their way into our midst since then. And while we continue to mention that phrase from time to time, unless we keep finding concrete ways both to explain and to demonstrate it, the phrase will turn into something like a trophy on a wall: there, but practically unnoticeable.
We’ve sought the Presence of God not only in worship, but in Q&A and our monthly times of corporate prayer. We’ve only just begun a more concerted effort in becoming present to one another through our inaugural set of Community Groups. Our prospective officer candidates (more on them soon) have recently read through Tim Keller’s Ministries of Mercy, a comprehensive look at how churches can take substantive steps to enacting the crucial call of mercy both within and without.
These are small but important steps to putting FP in practice among us. But there’s more to imagine for it to work its way into our community’s DNA.
So we’re starting a little thought experiment to which we’d like you to contribute. Faithful presence in all three of its dimensions (to God, to one another, to our worlds) has innumerable applications. We’d like to begin composing a list of ways we can practice FP so that those who join us in the years to come can be brought up to speed on what we mean by it, and how it means to define the “culture” of CtK. Think of it like a little Frommer’s guide-book to a particular locale. This list will explain how things are “done” here in CtK. It will decode for visitors our cultural cues and practices
We’ll do this for the sake of others who’ll draw near along the way. But I’d say this could be as helpful to us who sat though that long series in how the brainstorming can help crystallize its meaning.
So without further ado, let me share just a few ideas for each category. Then consider it a standing invitation for you to add to what I hope will be a helpful list of how FP looks in action
Present to God
- memorize a passage
- pray a Psalm back to God
- write a “psalm”
- turn everything off, sit in a chair, and be still
- take a walk
- read a biography of someone’s pilgrimage
- come pray with us at monthly corporate prayer
- go on a silent retreat
- “work” on your soul by letting the Psalmist’s question in Ps 42 be one you ask yourself
Present to one another
- ask someone their name
- write a note of gratitude or encouragement
- ask someone what’s been greatly on their mind of late
- pray for what they tell you–then in time follow up
- take someone for coffee and ask them their story
- when they ask you yours, tell them
- participate in or consider becoming a facilitator for a Community Group
- when requests go out to be of service to someone within our body, answer the call
Present to our world(s)
- take a walk in your neighborhood–make note of names and needs you encounter
- invite a neighbor for dinner
- share a meal with colleagues at school or work
- if you have children, teach them what you know of the bible
- become involved in an effort of mercy or justice
- listen to the common objections to believing in Jesus and imagine how you’d respond if you encountered someone with that objection
- ask God how the skills you employ at work could be used for the sake of the Kingdom
- help us imagine ways of corporately serving the needs of our vicinity
See–uncomplicated. Don’t worry about which category your ideas might fit into; some of them engage multiple dimensions simultaneously. Just help us build a big, long list of concrete ways we enact what it means to be Faithfully Present. It will matter to all those who join us. It matters to us now.
How can you add to our list? Two ways:
- leave a comment on this post (or any post hereafter)
- email us with ideas
Margaret Doria entered into formal membership last Sunday by standing before CtK to take her vows. To inaugurate our new practice of incorporating into this column stories of struggle and redemption from members of CtK, we share with you a moment of Margaret’s life. Her story is part of Our Story. Hear her words. Consider sharing one of your moments with us, too. If you need a refresher on what we’re looking for, just click here.
I was the mother of three young children living in a beautiful, crumbling and dangerous neighborhood in Philadelphia in the late 1980’s. My husband was irresponsible with money and I was waitressing part-time to pay the bills, but it didn’t seem to help. I’d been a Christian for a few years – two or three – and deeply involved in Bible-study, working with kids in the neighborhood and learning what it was to have believing women friends. We ladies would hold Bible Club on my porch or in my living room. The neighborhood kids, all sizes, shapes and colors, would join our kids to hear Bible stories and sing great old Gospel songs: “There is Power! Power! Wonder-working power in the Blood (in the Blood) of the Lamb (of the Lamb)…”.
So on one hand my life was very hard. But my inner life was thriving and exciting – every time I opened the Word I learned something new and unexpected! And the Lord used my circumstances to bring what I was reading to life in very vivid, 3-D, unforgettable ways.
One fall when the kids were about 8, 2 and a few months old I knew I had no winter clothes for them. Winter in Philadelphia, and in our drafty old house, was a serious matter. The temperature inside the house kept us in sweaters and heating oil was expensive. I could see no way to buy the clothes they needed. I felt like a terrible parent, unable to supply the basics for my kids. I worked hard to keep them from realizing how bad the situation was, but I’d hit the place where no amount of positive thinking or cheerful attitude would keep them warm.
I drove to the local thrift store with $9 in my purse: nine dollars to buy a winter wardrobe for three children. I’ve never liked thrift stores. I have friends who love to find great bargains there, but to me the place smelled like poverty and hopelessness – a sea of grey, greasy polyester. I sat in the car outside the store and cried. How could God have let this happen? Didn’t he tell me repeatedly “I will never leave you nor forsake you”? What about “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added unto you” – food, clothing, shelter? And what about “Cast all your anxieties on me because I care for you”?
With deep despair and bitterness I cried out to the Lord. I then got out of the car and walked into the store red-eyed and miserable. I scanned the racks trying to see beyond the obvious – that I had reached the end of what I could do for myself or what I could expect God to do for me. Here I was, scrounging other people’s cast-offs. I looked for the kid’s section, to the right of the store, next to the brick-a-brack and dirty toys. What I found was a little surprising. There were some unusually nice items in the children’s section. It was as if a very wealthy person had donated all last year’s outfits – goose down jackets, brand-name shirts and pants, winter coats – showing almost no wear. These clothes were in my kid’s sizes. Every nice thing I found I put in the cart, knowing there was no way I could buy them all. I decided I would work it out at the cash register, making the decision at that point what I brought home and what I left behind. I didn’t even look at the price tags – I was too afraid.
With my cart piled high I went to the cash register, feeling anxious. I knew I was going to have to put a lot of things back and the joy of shopping and providing well for my children was about to come to an abrupt end. As I handed each item to the check-out person I asked how much I’d spent. Like the widow’s oil in 2 Kings, the money just didn’t run out. When she had rung up every item in my cart I handed her my $9 and she gave me back change. I couldn’t figure it out. She said to me, “It’s Red Dot day. All your stuff had red dots.” And she pointed to the sign on the wall.
The sign showed the days of the week and corresponding colored dots – Monday yellow, Tuesday blue, Wednesday red, etc – each day’s colored dot represented a huge discount over the already low thrift store price. Each piece of clothing I had chosen had a red dot on the price tag.
I carried by bags back to my car, got in and rested my head on the steering wheel, crying for the second time that day – shocked and amazed by God’s promises made true.
If you haven’t been around CtK too long you may not know our community supports several home missionaries whom you sit next to and drink coffee with each Sunday. Together they represent a wide array of skills and regions in which they’ve applied them. They also have stories to tell of what they do and where. Coming this September you’ll begin hearing from each of them on occasion during a portion of our 2nd hour Q&A time. Our conceptions of the church tend to be either too provincial or, if we think about world outreach at all, without much sophistication. Hearing these stories will serve to change that.
Among the needs you might pray for, consider these, too:
for Kevin and Marisol Gladding at the birth of their first child–a daughter, Sofia, born Wednesday, August 27th
- for peace, mercy, and justice to fill Ferguson again
- for our prospective officer candidates as they undertake the next phase of training this fall
- for our Community Groups that have recently or will soon form(ed)
- for FBC and our neighboring churches