Tag Archives: Charity

The Simple Honor of Labor

We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you.
2 Thessalonians 3:7b-9 (NIV)

As I’ve mentioned in recent weeks, my local gathering of Jesus’ followers has been digging deep into the book of Acts and the history of the Jesus Movement’s early years. As part of that, I have been reading and studying the life of Paul, the brilliant maverick who was transformed from the Jesus Movement’s staunchest enemy into its most powerful and productive advocate and member.

In my study of Paul’s life I’ve come to an appreciation of how Paul lived and labored. My whole life l’ve always pictured Paul as spending most of his time, day-after-day, teaching, preaching, writing letters, and preaching the gospel. I’ve come to learn that nothing could be further from the truth. Most of Paul’s time, day-after-day, was spent making tents.

As most people of his day, Paul was apprenticed into the family business which was the making and repairing of tents (and presumably awnings and other textiles used to block the sun). It was a trade that could be plied anywhere, and Paul carried his tools to ply his trade wherever his missions took him. In today’s chapter, Paul reminds the believers in Thessalonica that he and his companions labored “night and day” to provide for themselves.

Paul reminds the believers of his example because the followers of Jesus were proponents of generosity and giving to those in need, especially the poor and widows. Now, there were individuals who were happy to keep taking from the believers’ fledgling system of charity with no intention of contributing.

I was raised in a family with a strong work ethic. I also come from Dutch heritage, a culture historically known for its work ethic. I’ll spare you the litany of my labor history, which date back to my pre-teenage years. Suffice it to say that I appreciate Paul’s attitude. Other leaders of the Jesus movement had begun to work solely on the contributions of other believers. Paul accepted that this was an appropriate practice. He even helped collect money and deliver it to Jerusalem. Nevertheless, he steadfastly chose to work to pay his own way. Today, he states clearly his intent. He wanted to live as an example to others. His message to the Thessalonian believers was consistent through both of his letters: Work hard. Be productive. Contribute to good of the whole. Be content.

In the quiet this morning I’m thinking about the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday that we Americans will celebrate on Thursday. I recognize the blessing of living and laboring in the richest part of the world. I’m grateful. I’m also mindful and thankful for my father whom I watched struggle through multiple vocational setbacks, yet he always worked hard at whatever job he may have needed until he could get to a job that was more of what he wanted. I think of my great-grandfather risking everything to come to America, by himself, to eek out a living for he and his family as an immigrant. I think of one grandparent striving to make his way through college, the first member of his family to do so, and then working into his 90s. “The day I stop working,” he was fond of repeating to anyone who would listen, “will be the day I die!” I’m also remembering another grandparent (that’s him, first from the right in the featured photo of this post) taking the only work he could find in the Great Depression and laboring at that job for 40 years. Daily, he went about the simple task life selling and servicing tires. Not once did I hear him complain.

We live in a rapidly changing, complex world. Yet, along the journey I’ve come to appreciate the simplicity of some things that never change: Work hard. Be productive. Contribute to the good of the whole. Be content.

Oh yeah. And: Give thanks.

Have a great week, my friend.

Diversity, Unity, Liberty…Love

But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.
1 Corinthians 14:40 (NIV)

Along my journey I have attended worship gatherings across a diverse spectrum of Jesus’ followers. I’ve worshipped at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin and at small rural churches in the middle of Iowa cornfields. I’ve participated in worship at raucous Pentecostal meetings and in the relative silence of a Quaker Meeting House. I’ve worshipped with fellow believers in the African American community, in the Arab Israeli community, among the American country club set, among native Americans on their reservation, with homeless in urban shelters, in suburban mega-churches, and among small groups of believers meeting in their homes. I’ve worshipped with children at camp, the elderly in nursing homes, and some version of almost any Christian denomination you can name. As I recall all of these memories, I am a bit amazed at the veritable plethora of worship experiences I’ve had with other followers of Jesus across my lifetime.

I have always been what traditional believers would regard as a “non-denominationalist.” I choose to love and fellowship with any who follow Jesus, no matter what brand of Christianity they hold onto. I have long followed the wisdom of St. Augustine who taught: “In the essentials: unity. In the non-essentials: liberty. In all things: charity.”

In today’s chapter, Paul is addressing a fledgling group of believers at the very beginning of the Christian faith. There were no long standing traditions. There were no well-established rules. Organizational structure is loose, at-best. Worship was a bit of a free-for-all. To this chaos, Paul attempts to bring some sense of order. After laying out his basic thoughts on structure, he sums it all up with: “everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.”

This morning I am thankful for the wide range of experiences I’ve had with followers of Jesus in all sorts of cultures, sub-cultures, social strata, and faith traditions. I’ve appreciated every one of those worship experiences in one way or another. I may have disagreed (in some cases, quite strongly) with some non-essential doctrines of the faith, but I still loved hanging out to share laughter, conversation, and stories over a meal with them. And, I respect our differences. Diversity can teach all parties in relationship an increased clarity of self, a greater perspective of others, and an expansion of love.

Great Opportunity to Help Haitian Orphans on Black Friday!

Tom Vander Well and Tom Vanderwell
Tom Vander Well and Tom Vanderwell

Note to the reader – Tom Vanderwell and Tom Vander Well met online when, as bloggers, they started seeing each other’s name show up on the web. Since then, they have met once and continue to be friends and keep in touch online. To the best of their knowledge (meaning as far back as they can trace their roots), they are not related.

Tom Vanderwell (the guest blogger today) lives in Michigan and from there works for God’s Littlest Angels, an orphanage outside of Port Au Prince Haiti that typically cares for 120 to 160 children. Tom’s role is raising awareness and the associated support that helps them do what they do. You can read more of what he does at God’s Littlest Angels.

Friday, November 29, the day after Thanksgiving, has taken on a life of its own. It’s known as Black Friday – and is the busiest day of the year for retail shopping. Well, this year, you have the opportunity to make Black Friday not only about buying gifts for your loved ones but also an opportunity to help kids in Haiti who don’t have a family.

Family Christian Stores is donating 100% of their profits from both in store and online sales from November 29 through December 1 to God’s Littlest Angels. Their goal is, in 3 days, to raise $500,000 so that we can get a LOT farther on building our new facilities and provide the kids with a better living environment while they are waiting for their families. (Note to local Iowa readers, there are two Des Moines area locations for Family Christian Stores: Ankeny and Jordan Creek WDM -TVW)

Will you do me two favors?

  1. Watch the video at the bottom of this blog post – Karen Kingsbury says it a LOT better than I ever could.

  2. Mark it on your calendar for some time during those three days – November 29 through December 1 to go to Family Christian and either make a donation (they’ll match your donation dollar for dollar) or buy something to support the orphans in Haiti.

Thank you for taking the time to read this and watch the video.

On behalf of the kids at God’s Littlest Angels, thank you for your efforts during the three day challenge,

Tom Vanderwell (the OTHER one)

Plant Much, Harvest Much

Corn growing, Minnesota, USA
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. 2 Corinthians 9:6 (NLT)

Driving through the fields of Iowa yesterday I paid special attention to the fields. Dry weather has caused the corn to prematurely turn to a golden brown. Many of the other crops maintain a deep green hue while the tall corn has turned a golden brown. The contrast of color and texture is striking in the hot September sun and cloudless sky.

Make no mistake, the corn fields are dense with corn. There appears to be little or no room between stalks and rows. Over the years, agricultural technology has helped farmers maximize the amount of corn they can successfully grow per acre in order to maximize their harvest yield. The Iowa Corn Growers Association estimates that Iowa farmers will harvest 2.45 billion bushels of corn this fall across just under 14 million acres. Contrast that with one friend of mine, a self-described “gentleman farmer,” who shared with me last week about the tiny patch of  corn he planted in his back yard. His harvest was a paltry few ears of corn that had already been half eaten by deer.

Contrasting the Iowa Corn Growers with my Gentleman Farmer friend, I have a perfect visual illustration of the word picture Paul used in his letter describing the truth about financial generosity: “Plant a little, harvest a little. Plant a lot, harvest a lot.” When we give our money to those in need, the amount of good that others harvest from our gift is in direct proportion to the amount of money we have planted in their hands. We can all give more.

 

 

Charitable Work

English: Ruth and Boaz (Ruth 2:2-20) Русский: ...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then Boaz asked his foreman, “Who is that young woman over there? Who does she belong to?”

And the foreman replied, “She is the young woman from Moab who came back with Naomi. She asked me this morning if she could gather grain behind the harvesters. She has been hard at work ever since, except for a few minutes’ rest in the shelter.”
Ruth 2:5-6 (NLT)

Part of the story behind the story in today’s chapter is an ancient practice of charity. In the days before a central government and welfare, the society itself had to find a way to provide for the poor. In keeping with God’s laws, Farmers would leave part of their crop unharvested, or would allow the poor to follow behind the harvesters and pick up grain that was missed. Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi, both being widows, had no choice but to depend on this charity. Ruth followed behind the harvesters Boaz sent into the fields and gathered the scraps they left behind.

I am largely of Dutch heritage, and I sometimes think that “the Protestant work ethic” is knit into my DNA. There is honor in working hard. If you work hard as though God is your employer, you will be blessed. That’s what I’ve been taught since I was young along with being reminded of another simple teaching from God’s Message: “If you don’t work, you don’t eat.”

I find it interesting at how this simple principle was put into practice in ancient days. There was no entitlement. Ruth and Naomi had a recourse to get food, but it required labor and Ruth was working hard to provide for herself and her mother-in-law not realizing that she was about to be blessed in unexpected ways.

Chapter-a-Day Deuteronomy 23

My own Work کار شخصی
Image via Wikipedia

When you enter your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat all the grapes you want until you’re full, but you may not put any in your bucket or bag. And when you walk through the ripe grain of your neighbor, you may pick the heads of grain, but you may not swing your sickle there. Deuteronomy 23:24-25 (MSG)

Readers of my personal blog may not know that I write a professional blog, as well. I have been blogging about our business in customer satisfaction research and quality assessment in contact centers for several years. The blog is a way of establishing our presence in the marketplace and developing potential clients. The idea is simple. I share a few morsels of wisdom and knowledge for free with the hope that companies may appreciate what they’ve been given, respect the knowledge and experience, and pick up the phone to give us an opportunity when they need the services we provide.

What has been interesting over time is to be faced with those who expect me to give everything away. I gave them an inch of advice and they want me to give them a mile of my experience without charging them for it. I find it highly disrespectful when people refuse to realize that I’ve got skin in the game here. I’m sometimes amazed at the incredulity I face when I tell people I’d be happy to give them a proposal for my time. I don’t mind sharing, but I’ve got to make a living.

What’s been even harder for me over the years is to watch both churches and para-church ministries do the same thing in taking advantage of their own members, followers, and supporters. If  you do something for a living, we’ll be happy to have you give us your services free in the name of the Lord. In fact, we’ll expect it of you. I’m sure it’s not a big deal for you. You’re good at it. It’s what you do for a living, for crying out loud. It shouldn’t take too long and it won’t be hard for you. Come on, give us your time, energy and talent for free (but please don’t expect anything in return – it’s all for God). There’s a tipping point at which gratitude for gifts freely given turns to expectation that takes advantage of others.

I thought it fascinating that God made it very clear in today’s chapter that we are to be careful not to take advantage of others. If they give you a inch, don’t ask them to give you a mile. They may share a grape from their vineyard, but don’t expect them to give you a bucket to take some home. Be careful with your expectations, compensate people for what they give you, and don’t take advantage of the goodness of others.

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Chapter-a-Day Psalm 147

Celebrity visit. He heals the heartbroken and bandages their wounds. He counts the stars and assigns each a name. Psalm 147:3-4 (MSG)

Many years ago I was at a Minnesota Vikings game in Minneapolis. It was back when star wide receiver, Randy Moss, played for the Vikings. I remember watching him catch a touchdown pass. On the side of the field was a severely handicapped boy in a wheelchair. After running, leaping and making a spectacular catch, the famous player ran immediately to the boy who, in this life, would never know the joy of running, leaping and catching a football. Moss bowed down and gave him the football.

I am always glad to see when celebrities and big name athletes take the time to make the day of children who are sick or soldiers serving their country far from home. I was reminded of it when I read the third and fourth verses of Psalm 147 and was struck by the contrast. The God of the universe who creates the stars and names each one still has time, love and energy to heal the broken hearted and bandage their wounds.

It's quite common to feel lost and alone in this crazy world. How comforting to know that the all-powerful God of creation, whose exhaustive presence knows each star by name, also cares for me so much that he intimately knows each hair on my head.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and kawetijoru

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