Tag Archives: Labor

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.

Chapter-a-Day 2 Chronicles 8

Note to readers: This is an old post from back in 2010 that got lost in my “Drafts” folder and was never published. So, I’m publishing it today. Better late than never. Cheers!

Solomon built impulsively and extravagantly—whenever a whim took him. And in Jerusalem, in Lebanon—wherever he fancied. 2 Chronicles 8:6 (MSG)

My wife mentioned to the friend the other day that I tend to be more impulsive than she is. It’s true. I’m much more likely to make an impulsive decision while Wendy is much more likely to think through and reason everything out (sometimes until no decision is ever made). There are positives to both bents, and very negative consequences of both when they are pushed to the extreme. I guess that’s where we help balance one another out.

As I read today’s chapter, I’m struck by the foreshadowing taking place. Between the lines of Solomon’s grandiose building projects is a hidden and growing problem. Solomon’s projects are expensive in both money and labor. To accomplish his whim, people are forced into hard labor. There is growing discontent among the people. It was exactly what the prophet Samuel warned many years before when the people asked for a king (see 1 Samuel 8:10-18). Solomon is doing great, impulsive things for which others are paying financially and in blood, sweat, tears, and their own lives. His children will foot the bill after Solomon dies and the kingdom falls apart.

Today, I’m thinking about my own impulsive nature. I don’t want to be like Solomon; I don’t want to be so impulsive that I make foolish decisions. God, help me be wise and content.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and misterbenthompson

The Litmus Test

Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.
1 John 4:20 (NIV)

For a brief two-year period of my journey I worked as a youth pastor. I was not tremendously good at it. The evidence of this fact was the meeting requested one night by a few of the mothers in which they needed a legal pad to record all of the issues they had with me and my performance. It was a much-needed lesson in honesty and humility. Nevertheless, I loved the young people under my charge some of whom I still connect with from time to time.

I recall a young person in my charge from a fine, educated, upstanding white-collar family. I loved this young person and enjoyed the opportunity to build relationship. I recognized very quickly, however, that underneath a well maintained personal facade there hid a seething spirit of anger. It came out only on occasion, but when it did it was a scary thing to behold.

As time when on it was revealed to me that there was a generational spirit of hatred that descended through this young person’s father. There was hatred and suspicion of anything and anyone outside of the legalistic, straight-and-narrow norm. There was hatred of anyone and anything “different.” There was racial hatred, ethnic hatred, and you name it. What I eventually came to perceive was a warm-hearted, confused young person who was raging inside because of a very real spiritual conflict churning inside. I believe that everything this lovable, valuable and capable youth had been systematically taught to believe in the family system was at war with the truth John writes about in today’s chapter:

My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love—so you can’t know him if you don’t love.

I personally struggle with the concept of “litmus tests” as used in the political arena because it tends to reduce broadly complex people, issues and circumstances down to a singular thing. As I read this morning’s chapter, however, I couldn’t shake the fact that John is expanding on the “litmus test” that Jesus, Himself, provided: “They will know you are my followers if you love one another.” John simply takes that to the next step. If you have hatred inside you, you can’t possibly have received the love of God. When you experience the love of God, it transforms hatred into love.

This morning as I prepare for a day of presentations and coaching sessions I am thinking about the diverse group of people I have the privilege to train and coach. For the most part, they are very different from me racially, ethnically, in life experience, and circumstances. But what wonderful, lovable, valuable, and capable people. What an opportunity I have to make new friends, to inspire nervous young people in their first “real” job, to equip struggling leaders in their first managerial positions, to teach eternal truths that drive sound business principles, and to love others well.

There is so much hatred out there. Count me as a simple “grunt” in Love’s army.

As for the young person I referenced earlier in my post, I’m afraid I can only pray that love eventually won that battle. I’ve come to realize that we are constantly part of stories of which we will never get to know the end in this life journey.

Love well, friends.

“Labor” of Love

We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Thessalonians 1:3 (NIV)

Just this week our daughter Taylor publicly announced that she is pregnant with Wendy’s and my first grandchild. Her former husband, Clayton, is the father. We’ve known for several weeks, and have been eagerly engaged with her in processing this unlooked for curve in her life journey. When she showed up to tell us it came as a bit of a shock…well, a giant shock, to be honest. We had no idea that she and Clayton had seen each other while he was home from Africa. Taylor’s well-worded Facebook post nailed it: “Well, life is full of the hard, messy and unexpected. And yet experiencing all of that can also be full of goodness, beauty and purpose.”

I thought of this momentous new change in life this morning as I read the opening of Paul’s letter to Jesus’ followers in the bustling Greek seaport of Thessalonica. Paul begins his letter by expressing a trinity of goodness he and his companions observed in the Thessalonian believers:

  • work produced by faith
  • labor prompted by love
  • endurance inspired by hope

If the three motivators sound familiar, it’s because they anchor Paul’s famous discourse on love in his first letter to the believers in Corinth when he wrote, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

What really struck me however, was the fact that two synonyms were used in the triad. “Work” and “labor” can be defined in English as the same thing. So, I did a little digging into the original Greek words Paul used in this sentence. The Greek word translated as “work” (ergou) refers to more of a routine job. Think of it as daily chore on your task list that simply has to be done. The Greek word translated as “labor” (kopou) is more specifically defined as “laborious toil.”

Thus I find myself contemplating both work and labor this morning. I will “work” today analyzing a client’s phone calls, filling out an expense report, and attending a corporate Board meeting. I am doing the routine “work” of writing this blog post. I will “work” to carry out the tasks Wendy has for me on my trip to Des Moines. All of these are part of my journey of faith, doing what I need to do on the path I believe God has called me to tread on a day-by-day basis.

Both our adult daughters are out of the house and have been on their own for some time. The “work” of providing for them, making sure they’re up, making meals, doing laundry, driving them to activities, and et cetera are long over. These routine daily tasks were simple acts of faith, believing that we were raising capable young people who would be mature adults who would successfully follow the respective paths God would lead each of them. Mission accomplished.

But the labor never ends.

Last evening I happened to have conversations with both Taylor and Madison by phone. The work of parenting continues. It’s no longer the grunt work of daily provision. It’s different. It’s the loving labor of watching helplessly from a distance as they make their own decisions, choices, and occasional blunders. It’s the emotions that come from caring so deeply about lives you cannot (and should not) control. It’s the struggle of the protector in me wishing I could spare them the pains of “the hard, messy, and unexpected,” but knowing that it is that very hard, unexpected mess that teaches us the most important life lessons that lead to maturity. And so, I mostly labor from a distance as counselor, confidant, advocate, sage, comforter, cheerleader, and friend.

This morning in the quiet I’m thinking of the “work” ahead of me today and this weekend. I’m also contemplating the continued “labor” of love in the weeks and months ahead as father, and now as grandfather. I am so excited. I’ve learned along this life journey that the “hard, messy, and unexpected” usually produces life’s deepest, richest, most meaningful blessings.

Takin’ Care of Business

Then the high priest Eliashib set to work….
Nehemiah 3:1a (NRSV)

[cue: Takin’ Care of Business by Bachman-Turner Overdrive]

You get up every morning from the alarm clock’s warning…”

…walk through the kitchen and head upstairs.

I have labored in a non-traditional work environment for the past 22 years. My company has never had a traditional bricks and mortar location for our business. Every member of our group works from home. It has always been this way since our founder started the company in his own home. Our staff meetings began around his kitchen table.

Over the years we’ve had many group members who have struggled with working from home. Some, after trying it for a time, have opted to move on to a traditional job where they “go to work” in the morning and “come home” at night, which I totally get. I have had to forge a more non-traditional approach to finding the balance between work and personal life when they co-exist in the same space.

One of the qualities I’ve had to develop in my life is self-discipline. Our team operates on weekly, monthly quarterly, and annual project deadlines for our clients. The work has to get done and his has to get done on time. If I don’t set to work on a regular basis then I’m going to find myself in a world of hurt. And, I confess that a certain amount of my self-discipline development has come from learning the hard way.

In today’s chapter I was struck by the sheer number of people who were mentioned in the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls. The project took a host of people who “set to work.” Many took responsibility for the sections of the wall near their homes and/or businesses. It wasn’t left for others. It wasn’t hired out. The work wasn’t placed on the back of slaves. High priests, rulers, officials, businessmen, and laborers all set to work.

This morning I’m reminded of the value of setting to work. I observe a world and a culture that is constantly trying to get out of having to do anything. The temptation to procrastinate never goes away, and there is so much value in the simple discipline of getting the job done. Jesus said that the harvest is plentiful, but there aren’t enough people willing to do the work.

Now, if you’ll excuse me. I have some business to take care of.

The Lot Sometimes Falls to Smelly Tasks

source: James Warwick via Flickr
source: James Warwick via Flickr

Young and old alike, teacher as well as student, cast lots for their duties.
1 Chronicles 25:8 (NIV)

I have been actively involved in community theatre for a decade now and in leadership with community theatre for nine years. Wendy and I enjoy it, despite the long hours and weeks of production and the never ending tasks of administration. There is a lot to be done, and a lot of work that very few people see or realize. Wendy and I are a good team, and together we can get a lot of things accomplished.

Over the years I have been awestruck by the small company of faithful volunteers who do anything and everything to make our productions and organization successful. I have also been struck by two other types of individuals. There are a few who will only do one thing (usually acting) and refuse to do anything else for a production or the organization. Then there are a few who might be willing to do other things, but only those things that put them in control or in the spotlight. In both cases, these individuals appear to consider some tasks to be beneath them.

I found it interesting this morning that when David chose musicians for the worship, everyone cast lots for their assignment. There was no preference given to seniority and no preference given to talent. The lot was cast and they were expected to work with the team and the task they were given. There was a subtle message there for the musicians: you are no better than anyone else, and everyone is equal in the task.

No matter what your age or stage in life, I have found that there are times you may find yourself in the spotlight and there are times you may find yourself mopping up the overflowing toilet so that patrons have a clean, usable bathroom at intermission. Both tasks are necessary for the good of the whole. When the lot falls to me to pick up the mop and clothespin my nose, then it’s time to put on a smile and do the job well. In those roles, I have an audience of One and, for Him, I want to play my role well.

Foundational Inscriptions

2010 03 Playhouse BasementUnless the Lord builds the house,
    the builders labor in vain.
Psalm 127:1a (NIV)

When I was a teenager my parents began making regular summer visits to the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri. When I was just out of college and the girls were babies, my folks would rent a house for a week or so each summer and invite the family to join them there. I can remember taking long sunset boat rides during those years. Dad would gun the engine and we would jet off across the water. Conversation was nigh unto impossible, so I would sit in the bow of the boat just dream. I would day dream of owning my own place on the lake someday, though at the time I considered it a pipe dream.

By the time the girls were in elementary school my parents had bought a small trailer home on a lakeshore plot there. Just over a decade later they were ready to sell, and Wendy and I were in a position of investing in the place. What had only been a pipe-dream a decade or two before was actually becoming a reality. We pulled the trailer home off the land, had a walk out basement foundation poured and put a manufactured home on the foundation. In the spring of 2010, a group of friends gathered in the bare basement to begin a summer long task of finishing it.

The first morning of construction I gathered the guys together and handed them each a black Sharpie. With the above verse fresh on my mind, I asked each of them to pray for the place, to pick a verse from God’s Message and to write it somewhere on the bare cement foundation. The verses they each wrote on the walls are covered over with insulation, framing, and drywall, but we will never forget what is written there.

Next weekend I’m taking a small group of guys for a little winter retreat at the lake. In another month or so Wendy and I will begin making regular trips down to prepare for another season of family, friends, fun, rest, relaxation and sun. It’s become a part of the seasonal flow of life for us. I don’t know about Wendy, but I still shake my head with wonder from time to time. We have been blessed, and I don’t want to lose sight of the source of our blessings nor cease to forget what is written on the foundation. I want the love, laughter, tears, and conversations which take place in that house to have eternal value. I never want our labor to have been in vain.

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