Tag Archives: Ethic

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.

Industrious Generosity

When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all your undertakings.
Deuteronomy 24:19 (NRSV)

It’s harvest time in Iowa. As Wendy and I have been driving through the countryside the past few days the combines are busy bringing in the corn and beans. Look across the horizon at the right time and you’ll see a haze of dust from the corn being harvested. It’s the nearest thing we have to smog in the otherwise clean Iowa air. The silos are full and the corn is being piled up in huge mountains of golden grain.

Perhaps that’s why it struck me this morning when the chapter discussed the harvest. In the law of Moses, farmers were not supposed to take all of the grain from the fields, pick all of the olives from the tree, or harvest every grape. They were to leave some for those in society who have nothing so that they could come and eat or sell what they harvested to make a little money.

The thing that I appreciate about the ancient welfare program was that it still required those in need to be industrious if they wanted to benefit from the farmers’ excess. You still had to make your way to the field and then had to do the work of harvesting what you needed.

I have observed along my life journey that those who are capable of being industrious but are not required to do anything for a handout soon come to routinely expect something for nothing. Today, I am appreciative of the Law of Moses which made provision for those in need, but expected that every capable member of society be industrious in providing for themselves.

chapter a day banner 2015

featured photo: catdancing via Flickr

When to Close Up the Filet-O-Fish Stand

source: roslyn via flickr
source: roslyn via flickr

For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”

We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat. And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good. 2 Thessalonians 3:6 (NIV)

I recently had several conversations with a friend who is on the leadership team for a local group of Jesus’ followers. They were having issues with a particular individual who has established a pattern of expecting the group to pay for things. A month’s rent, a tank of gas, or a new piece of furniture were common expectations from this person. The individual doesn’t ask for help, it is just an expectation. Ironically, this same person appears to have no expectation to actually work to provide for their own needs or to contribute to the group in any meaningful or tangible way.

Jesus was a giver, and I get that. We are called to give and to help those who need it, and I am continually challenged and convicted to do more in that department. I find, however, that we often fail to remember that after a couple of instances of miraculously providing fish sandwiches  to the crowds, Jesus stopped the welfare program with a blistering tirade. Jesus chided the crowds for following him simply because he filled their stomachs while they had no intention or hunger to fill their souls.

Today I’m reminded that even in the early days of the faith, a period of time I often find idealized by Jesus’ followers today, there were some of the same nagging, human issues we grapple with today. People are people. Wherever there is generosity, there will be those who seek to take advantage of that generosity. I find it interesting that in today’s chapter the leaders in Thessalonica were commanded to take a strong stand with such individuals. If those who were able didn’t develop an industrious work ethic, then the generosity had to end.

These are difficult issues, especially when it’s not just a debate of principles but becomes a real person you have to confront, encourage, and admonish. It gets messy. There is inevitable conflict. If there is to be real spiritual growth in human hearts and lives then sometimes conflict is necessary. Iron sharpens iron and it is not a gentle process. Jesus not only drove the crowds away when he effectively closed up his filet-o-fish stand, but even had his inner circle scratching their heads.

I think of wise King Solomon and his reminder that there is a time for everything. I guess there is a time for giving, and a time for withholding generosity. Today, I’m praying for wisdom to know the difference.

Simple Virtues; Simple Joys

A Des Moines Tribune headline from the Iran Hostage Crisis in 1981 I still have in my archive.
A Des Moines Tribune headline from the Iran Hostage Crisis in 1981 I still have in my archive.

You will eat the fruit of your labor;
Psalm 128:1-2a (NIV)

This morning as I went to the front door to gather the newspaper off the front porch, I was hit by a sudden wave of nostalgia. The simple joy of gathering the paper off the porch on a frigid January morning, and reading it over morning a hot cup of coffee is deeply rooted in my soul. I got my first job when I was almost twelve working as a paper boy for the now defunct Des Moines Tribune. There were two Des Moines newspapers when I was a kid. The Des Moines Register was the morning paper and the Des Moines Tribune was the afternoon paper. My buddy Scott Borg and I would categorize people in our neighborhood into “morning paper” people and “afternoon paper” people. Me and my family were afternoon paper people until the Des Moines Tribune closed up shop.

As a paperboy for “The Trib” I picked up my bundle each afternoon after school at the corner of Madison and Lawnwoods Dr. With a big yellow canvas paper carrier that was slung over the shoulder and a bag of rubber bands (or plastic bags on rainy days), I would begin my trek each week day west up Madison Avenue to Lower Beaver Road, then south to Douglas Ave. I would make my way back north on Lawnwoods Drive, as I zig-zagged up and down the side streets of Garden, Seneca, and Fleming Avenues. Delivering The Trib also meant you had to deliver the giant Des Moines Sunday Register early every Sunday morning. The slug who delivered The Register each weekday morning got to sleep in.

Map of my old paper route.
Map of my old paper route.

Every two weeks I was tasked with making a personal visit to each of my Tribune customers to collect their subscription fees. They would pay me and I would give them a little receipt torn from a perforated sheet of receipts. I would have to count the money, balance the amount, and turn it in to my regional manager. I got to know many of the people in the neighborhood around my home and even got a tip from time to time.

I come from a family in which the protestant work ethic was firmly engrained. Work was a virtue to be pursued at an early age. From my early career in the newspaper business I became an “Inventory Specialist” for my dad’s sign company. The monotonous task of counting hundreds of screws, bolts and washers out of large bins taught me very quickly that I just might want to do something different with my life. Paperboy, bolt counter, corn pollinator, lawn maintenance, film duster, actor, babysitter, bus boy, and retail clerk. By the time I left high school and headed off to college I had a wealth of work experience. By the time I left college I could add librarian’s assistant, cook, dishwasher, resident assistant, waiter, caterer, and voice over talent to the list.

There is honor in doing a job. There is even greater honor in doing a job well. That was the example of my grandparents, parents, and older siblings. That was the ethic of my Dutch ancestors. I’m grateful for that. This morning I’m thinking about simple virtues like doing a job, and about simple joys like opening up a newspaper with your morning coffee and reading your news “the old fashioned way.”

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Chapter-a-Day Acts 18

Paul lived and worked with them, for they were tentmakers just as he was. Acts 18:3 (NLT)

I love the fact that Paul did what he had to do in order to fulfill the task God gave him. Not willing to be completely dependent on others, he worked diligently at the menial task of tent making so he could provide for himself. Coming from my Dutch Protestant heritage, I learned a lot about the worth of working hard and doing a job well no matter what the task. Being faithful with a small, menial task is generally rewarded with the opportunity to be given more responsibility with greater reward.

I’ve worked a lot of different jobs in my life. I’ve been paid to do a lot of different things:

  • Delivering newspapers
  • Babysitter
  • Lawnmower
  • Envelope stuffer
  • 35 mm film inspector/duster/splicer
  • Outbound telemarketer
  • Counter of nuts/bolts/screws for inventory
  • Corn pollinator
  • Package sorter
  • Bus boy
  • Book store clerk
  • Library clerk
  • Cook
  • Janitor
  • Driver
  • 35 mm film inspector/duster/splicer
  • Voice talent on radio commercials
  • PA Announcer for sporting events
  • Speaker
  • Writer
  • Napkin folder
  • Table setter
  • Cameraman
  • Photographer
  • Actor
  • Director
  • Administrator
  • Pastor
  • Counselor

I’m sure there’s more.

I sometimes get a kick out of people who sit in relative paralysis and endlessly wonder “what does God want me to do?” The longer I live the more I’m convinced that we are a lot like a jet ski. You can’t steer the dumb thing unless it’s moving forward.

Do something. Do anything. Just GO! God will direct you if you’re moving, working, and doing. He can’t direct us if we’re sitting dead in the water.

Chapter-a-Day Proverbs 6

Bruegel Proverbs
Image via Wikipedia

Take a lesson from the ants, you lazybones.
      Learn from their ways and become wise!
Proverbs 6:6 (NLT)

I often tell the story of my Grandpa Vander Well. A life-long educator, when he hit mandatory retirement from teaching he took over the school lunch and bus programs. Years later he was told that he had to retire from that position. He promptly found a job as bailiff at the county courthouse. He held that job until he was in his 90’s and the judge called him into chambers to tell him, “Herman, I’m tired of having to wake you  up to take the jury out. It’s time for you to retire.”

A short time later he was moved to a nursing home where he gave himself the job of welcoming committee for new residents. He would take it upon himself to show people around and teach them the ropes. “The day I stop working,” he was fond of saying, “is the day I die.” He wasn’t far off.

As a young man I underestimated the generational impact that my Dutch Protestant heritage had on me. The work ethic that my grandfather inherited from his Dutch immigrant father and the culture of his upbringing was impressed upon his children and his children’s children. There is a lot to be learned and profited from a willingness to work and the honor of doing a job well.

I feel a rant coming on. I will, however, spare you the reading. Today, I’m thankful for the example of my parents, grandparents, and ancestors who honored both work and rest. I’m thankful for both my labor and my leisure.

It’s Monday morning. Time to get back to work.

Chapter-a-Day Leviticus 23

NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 25:  A general view of the...
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“Work six days. The seventh day is a Sabbath, a day of total and complete rest, a sacred assembly. Don’t do any work. Wherever you live, it is a Sabbath to God.” Leviticus 23:3 (MSG)

I like to think that I’m the Energizer bunny. I want to think that I can keep going, and going, and going, and going. The reality is that every one of us runs on rechargeable human batteries. We can go all day, but our bodies, our brains, and our souls need sleep before we face another day.

God is a God of creative labor. God is a God of redemptive work. Today’s chapter also reminds me that God is a God of rest, and we are a creative reflection of God even in our need of it. Resting for our individual health, the health of our household, the health of our families, and the health of our community requires regular periods of rest. Each day requires a certain number of hours of rest and sleep. God also designed that we should have regular day of rest woven into our week. Regular weeks of extended rest were woven into the year. There were even prescribed years of rest woven into the fabric of time. God’s message is clear: we need rest.

Today I’m in self-examination mode. I want to works hard and enjoy the fruit of my labor, but I also want to rest regularly and rest well that I might enjoy Life abundantly.

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