Tag Archives: Ethic

Labor for the Good of the Whole

The next section was repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors.
Nehemiah 3:5 (NIV)

Over the years I’ve come to learn that there are three issues that create more marital issues than any other: money, sex, and the division of labor. Each of these marital land mines contains a potentially explosive form of relational power and/or control that can be exhibited in both passivity and aggression. I have found that most couples somewhat expect the conflicts around money and sex, but the division of labor often catches them by surprise.

How we go about dividing roles and responsibilities for the everyday tasks of life together can be as unique as the individuals involved. I’ve found that there are all sorts of elements that factor into both the conflicts and the resolutions including history (how it was modeled in our homes growing up), personalities (and the respective concern with order and detail), giftedness (the ability or lack of ability to do certain things well), interest (one person’s desire/need to have things done a certain way), character (the willingness of an individual to work for the good of the whole), and spirit (the willingness to submit my needs/desires for the sake of my partner).

In today’s chapter, Nehemiah describes all of those who pitched in to help repair the walls of Jerusalem. Different individuals and groups took responsibility for certain sections of the wall that surrounded the city. What stood out in his list is the one group of “nobles” (the Hebrew word used here means “magnificent” or “mighty”) who refused and were unwilling to throw their back into the manual labor. Nehemiah’s calling them out points to an issue of character. The nobles of Tekoa appear to have been unwilling to work.

In the quiet this morning I find myself thinking about the work required for the success of a marriage, a home, a team, a business, and/or a community. I’ve observed on many levels that when an individual and/or group refuse (or are not required) to get their hands dirty in the grunt work required for the well-being and success of the whole, then a chain reaction of issues are likely to be set of which will strain the system and may even threaten to destroy it.

I am reminded of the words of King David to his son, Solomon, whom his father tasked with the construction of the temple that the exiles we’re reading about rebuilt. It’s become a life verse for me:

“Be strong, and courageous, and do the work.”

King David (1 Chronicles 28:20)

Which reminds me. I have work to do. And, I imagine you do too. All the best to you in your labor this day, my friend.

Responsibility and Need

If any woman who is a believer has widows in her care, she should continue to help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need.
1 Timothy 5:16 (NIV)

Early in my life journey I worked at a number of different churches and different denominations. One of the common struggles I observed was how each church handled those who would regularly come to the church asking for a handout. In every church I served there was a sincere and loving motivation to help those in need, but there was also the realization that responsible generosity also required  wisdom and discernment. While some individuals were people truly in need, others were not. There were individuals who were perfectly capable of getting a job and supporting themselves, but they were more than happy to avoid the work and simply make the rounds of every church in town seeing how much money they could talk the churches into giving them.

Along the way I’ve observed a simple reality of human nature. If you create a system of welfare there will be those who will try to take personal advantage of the system. Even Jesus encountered this when He fed the multitudes by turning a few loaves and fish into to a  miraculous Filet o’ Fish fest. He quickly recognized that many were following Him simply for the free lunch. John 6 describes Jesus confronting the crowd and questioning their motivation. He appears, at that point, to have shut down his miraculous fish sandwich program on the spot.

It’s so easy for me to get stuck thinking about “church” in context of what I have known and experienced “the church” to be in my lifetime. I default to thinking of buildings and denominational institutions with varying takes on theological issues.  It’s critical as a reader of Paul’s letter to Timothy for me to understand how different the circumstances were then. There was no institution, no denomination, and no church buildings. Small groups of Jesus’ followers were “the church.” It was a flesh and blood organism. Followers of Jesus gathered in homes where they ate together, worshipped together, and shared life together. They were loosely structured and yet they quickly gained a reputation for collectively caring for those in need who were marginalized and outcast by society of that day: widows, orphans, the sick, the diseased, and the disabled.

And, true to human nature, there were those more than willing to take personal advantage of the corporate generosity.

There is a theme woven throughout Paul’s life and letters that I rarely hear discussed today. It’s threaded through the entire chapter today. Until late in his life Paul always worked for his living and supported himself. His family were tentmakers by trade and no matter where he went he could pull out his tools and ply that trade. He expected Jesus’ followers to take personal responsibility for the needs of one’s self and one’s family so that generosity could be given to those “truly in need.”

In the quiet this morning I’m whispering a prayer of gratitude, as I recognize that I am blessed to have been raised in a culture and a family system that taught and modeled personal responsibility, hard work, and generosity. My gratitude extends to giving thanks for my job, my clients, and my colleagues. Finally, I’m thankful for the reality that, thus far in my entire life journey, I have never known what truly means to be what Paul described as “really in need.”

featured photo courtesy of IIP Photo Archive via Flickr

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.