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Posts Tagged ‘work’

martin-luther-king2It was 50 years ago today that Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech. The way I heard the story he was going on and on about jobs and justice and the audience was losing interest when Mahalia Jackson, the blues singer, who was sitting right behind King, said, “Tell ‘em about the dream, Martin!” And that’s when he fell into the preacher’s cadence, and shared the prophet’s vision, of a day when this nation would rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: that all men are created equal. He said:

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

That speech captured the imagination of millions, and inspired them to do the kind of work that would make the dream come true. Fifty years later we’re closer, but we’re not there yet. There’s still a lot of work to be done.

King’s words remind me of another young prophet who used to tramp the hills of Galilee sharing his dream of the Kingdom. When people asked him what that Kingdom was like Jesus said:

The Kingdom is like a sower who went out to sow some seed. It’s like the shepherd who went out to look for his lost sheep. It’s like the treasure you stumble upon in the field, or the precious pearl you find at the flea market. It’s like the king who throws a party for outcasts, or the dad who kills the fatted calf for his no-good son. It’s that place where Samaritans pay your hospital bills and sinners go home from the temple justified. It’s where those who worked an hour get the same as those who worked all day and where the beggar at the rich man’s gate ends up in the bosom of Abraham. It is, finally, that place where the last are first, the least are great, and the lost are found forever.

Those words captured the imaginations of his hearers, and inspired them to do the kind of work that would make Jesus’ dream come true. And yet, 2,000 years later, there’s still a lot of work to be done.

So, I’m going to stop writing blog posts, and roll up my sleeves, and get out there and do some work. I’m going to see what I can do to help bring the Kingdom of Heaven a little bit closer to Richmond, Virginia. Because if there is one lesson to be learned in all this it’s that dreams don’t come true by dreaming:

Dreams come true by doing.

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Bookshelf BuildersOK, so this is probably not the most artistic picture I’ve ever posted, but it may be the best picture I’ve ever posted. Let me tell you why:

I told you that my wife, Christy, was going to Essex Village yesterday to work with some children who are having trouble learning to read. I didn’t tell you that she was taking nearly 300 children’s books with her, part of the bounty she gleaned from the library book sale at St. Michael’s Episcopal School (where she teaches kindergarten).

She realized she was going to need some help getting the books into the building at Essex Village and putting together the bookcases she had bought at Target, but she didn’t know that there were some willing and able volunteers just waiting for something to do.

That’s where the picture comes in.

I recognize Glen Scott as one of those willing and able volunteers, and it doesn’t surprise me. Glen is one of our most faithful members at First Baptist, and seems to be willing and able to do almost anything that will help. I didn’t know he was going to be at Essex Village yesterday and neither did Christy, but he was one of the first to volunteer. The other two Christy identified as Mr. Roy, a teacher who was helping his wife with the program at Essex Village, and a young man named Eric.

But look at what’s happening here: these three men are working together to build a bookshelf. They’re doing it simply because it needed to be done and they were willing and able. But look at what else is happening: they are so focused on their mission that they probably haven’t taken time to ask if they all believe the same things; it seems obvious that they haven’t set up any racial boundaries; they may not be aware that they’re doing this because Ms. Somerville is trying to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, by helping little children learn to read. They’re just building a bookshelf.

They’re focused on the mission.

It’s when we’re not focused on the mission that we begin to divide ourselves along social and racial and doctrinal lines. That’s when we start insisting that everyone look the same way and think the same way and believe the same way. But when the mission is clear and the cause is just we can simply put our shoulders to the wheel and push. And when we achieve our mission—even if it’s only getting a bookshelf built—we can celebrate. Or, as one of Christy’s children’s books might sum it up:

The more we work together the happier we’ll be.

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FrontPorchFrontofHse 042Today we will commission five different mission teams at Richmond’s First Baptist Church. Two will go to South Africa, one will go to Arkansas, one will go to the Philippines and then on to Singapore for the Baptist World Alliance Youth Conference, and one person (Skyler Cumbia) will go to Ghana. It’s a good reminder that First Baptist is not only interested in bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, but to the whole world. We focus on Richmond simply because this is the place where we live, and the place that we love more than any other place in the world.

Not that there aren’t some other wonderful places.

I’ll be leaving Richmond just after the 11:00 worship service today for two weeks’ vacation in the Green Mountains of Vermont and the Catskills of New York. I’m going to walk in the woods, sit on the front porch, read good books, eat good food, and rest, rest, rest. I won’t be blogging for the next two weeks, but it would be a great time to dig through the archives and be reminded of all we have accomplished together in the last 301 days.

I will be counting on those of you who are still in town to carry on the mission, and to surprise me with all the good ways you have brought heaven to earth when I get back. One of the things we’re going to do shortly after my return is gather at the river on July 21 for the Sixth Annual FBC River Baptism. Please be in prayer for those who are preparing to be baptized, and join us if you can for that very special event.

Know, as I go, that some part of my heart will remain here in Richmond, and that I will look forward to being back with you here and getting on with our mission. But for the next two weeks I’m going to do my best to rest, remembering that even Jesus withdrew from time to time. I think I understand now, more than ever, why he had to.

Bringing heaven to earth is hard work!

Thanks for your help.

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Book Buddies 2Tomorrow will be Day 300 of First Baptist Church’s year-long, every-member mission trip to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia.

How are we doing?

Well, the Kingdom hasn’t come, not yet, not entirely, but there have been many times when heaven touched down briefly, just long enough to encourage us. I sometimes think about that remarkable picture of the sixth-grade boy from the housing projects in the East End reading to one of our privileged preschoolers at First Baptist and realize that wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t been on this mission—if one of our members hadn’t been thinking about what she could do to help bring heaven to earth.

But that’s just one example. There are hundreds more, literally. So many of our members have been involved, and in so many ways. When I flip through the pictures I’ve posted on my blog in the last 299 days the stories come rushing back right along with them until I am almost overwhelmed by God’s goodness and grace and a glimpse of what is possible when his people put their shoulder to the wheel and push in the same direction, toward the coming of his Kingdom.

So I’m putting together a slide show for our closing celebration on Sunday, September 8. It’s going to feature dozens of those pictures and a song called “Heaven” by Michael Gungor that says, “I don’t know but I’ve been told, heaven is coming down to this world.”

There are days when I can believe it, and this day may be one of them. Why not seize the opportunity to do something on this day that is picture-worthy, story-worthy—one of those things that will stay in your memory forever as an example of how heaven can come to earth and sometimes does? And then do this: take a picture, write up the story, and send it to me at somerville@fbcrichmond.org. Who knows? It may be the Day 300 example of how “heaven is coming down to this world.”

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btsr graduationToday is graduation day for the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. Students who have been working for the last three or four years to acquire the tools of ministry will walk across the stage, shake hands with the president, receive their diplomas, smile for the camera, and then step onto the mission field.

It’s a different world than when I graduated 26 years ago.

Back then most of the graduates were white men, who would be called as pastors by churches that could afford to pay them a decent salary plus benefits. They might start at a church in a county seat town, but within a few years, if they did well, they could expect to receive a call from a larger church, in a bigger town, with an even better salary. Ministry in those days seemed almost like a reasonable career choice.

But today the graduates will include as many women as men, from a number of different ethnicities. Most of them will not have a job offer in hand when they walk across the stage. There aren’t a lot of churches out there that are hiring. And yet you can’t seem to discourage these graduates. I know; I’ve tried. I’m a trustee at the seminary and I’m around the students on a regular basis. I tell them it’s not going to be easy out there, but that only seems to make them more determined. They talk about all the creative ways they are going to engage the world with the gospel, many of which have nothing to do with traditional church ministry.

For example: Jay McNeal, who has worked as my intern this year, is planning to keep his job at the seminary library to pay the bills, but work in an unpaid staff position here at First Baptist (donations gladly accepted) to help us develop our Microchurch initiative. We have a dream of starting some 500 small satellite churches in the greater Richmond metropolitan area that would work together with us to bring the KOH2RVA. Jay may be out there week after week helping people organize their microchurches, access the technology, and join the network. It’s something that I couldn’t have dreamed of when I graduated.

So, pray for these graduates. It’s not going to be easy for them. But then, Jesus never said it would be easy, not for any of us. “If you want to come after me,” he said, “then deny yourself, take up your cross, and fall in line.” The surprising thing is that these seminary graduates are doing it with smiles on their faces, as if all they ever really wanted out of life was a chance to give it away for Jesus.

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