Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Legacy of Work

Legacy of Work
Can you remember your first paying job?  I can I was. 14 and got a job as a pile it.   You might think that is a strange first job for a 14 year old but it is what it is. 
We lived in Hammond River just outside of Saint John New Brunswick and the Jr. High School I attended was overcrowded and so we did split shifts.  You either went to school from 8:00 until noon or from 12:15 until 4:15. 
Because of that I had a lot of free time.  The farmer down the road from us, Murray Crowley owned a team of horses and in the winter he worked in the woods.  And so he hired me to help, he would cut the wood and I’d pile it.  What were you thinking?  I mean, who in their right mind would let a 14 year old fly a plane? 
Any way that was the beginning of my employment history, and I discovered that I liked stuff and the money that I got from working would buy stuff and so I’ve worked pretty much continually for the past 41 years.   And during that time I have pumped gas, sold clothes, sold vacuum cleaners, for about a week, sold cars, worked as a bell hop and front desk clerk at the Admiral Beatty Hotel in Saint John.  I’ve worked on tug boats, fishing boats and oil tankers, served in the Military Police in the reserves while I was in college, have been an assistant pastor, a solo pastor and a lead pastor.  Technically we were missionaries during our four years in Australia, and during time we have been at Cornerstone I sold clothes at Tip Top Tailors and worked as a freelance writer for six different magazines and taught at Kingswood University.
For most of us work, is something we do, and for some of us work is something that defines us.  You don’t just work as a policeman you are a policeman, you don’t just work as a nurse or doctor or teacher, that’s what you are. Perhaps not in your eyes but certainly in the eyes of others. 
This is week two of Money Month at Cornerstone.  Just to highlight, since 2002 we have taken the month of April to focus on the theology of our money.  How we make it and what we do with it after we have it.  And what that means for us as Christians. 
I realized that for the first seven years that our church existed that the only time I spoke about money was when things were tight.  And then there was always an air of desperation about it. 
And it really came across as scolding people or trying to guilt them into giving.   What usually happened was that those who were giving gave more and those who weren’t giving just became resentful.
So in 2002 we adopted a new model where I take the month of April to discuss the biblical view of money and giving.  And at the end of the month, we offer those who call Cornerstone their church home an opportunity to let us know what they estimate they will be able to give in the year ahead and that figure is what we will use to create our budget for the new year. 
Our theme this year is “Your Legacy, Your Choice”  and last week we started looking at how we each shape the legacy that we leave.  And I mentioned that Everybody Leaves a Legacy, it might not be apparent but it is there, and it is far reaching.  And then I spoke about how We Leave a Legacy By How We Spend Our Lives, and talked about choices that we make and how the choices we made yesterday have shaped our today, which means the choices that we make today will shape our tomorrows. I guess that means, “Choose carefully”.  And then I spoke about how We Leave A Legacy By How We Spend Our Money.  And my main point there was that We will all choose to spend our money somewhere. 
And some folks can’t understand how Angela and I can afford to tithe our incomes to Cornerstone, that is we give 10% of what we make back to God.  Notice that I said that we give it back, because it truly is our understanding that what we have we receive from God.   So I guess truthfully we all choose to spend God’s money somewhere.
In the same way that some people can’t understand how Angela and I can afford to tithe I can’t understand how some people can afford to drink, smoke, play the lottery or for that matter play golf.  Most of us can’t imagine how others can do what we don’t do, but they do, because they have chosen to.
This morning we are going to shift our gears a bit and look at “The Legacy of our Work”.
In the scripture that was read earlier Paul is addressing a problem in the Thessalonian church.  He is actually re-addressing a problem he had addressed in his previous letter to the same people.    In 1 Thessalonians we read; 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12  Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before.  Then people who are not Christians will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others.
And apparently not everyone got it, because in his next letter Paul gets a little stronger,  for those who missed it the first time he reiterates.  2 Thessalonians 3:10  Even while we were with you, we gave you this command: “Those unwilling to work will not get to eat.”   Wow, that does sound very biblely, “Those unwilling to work will not get to eat.”  To soften it a bit, he does not say those unable to work, he says those unwilling to work.  And there is a world of difference between the two.
Abraham Lincoln once received a letter from his step-brother asking for a loan of $80.00.  This is part of Lincoln’s response, “Now, this can only happen by some defect in your conduct. What that defect is, I think I know. You are not lazy, and still you are an idler. I doubt whether, since I saw you, you have done a good whole day's work in any one day. You do not very much dislike to work, and still you do not work much merely because it does not seem to you that you could get much for it. This habit of uselessly wasting time is the whole difficulty;”
It wasn’t that the folks in Thessalonica were lazy, but they were idlers. 
The back story here it seems is that there were those in the church who were waiting expectantly for Jesus to return and they felt that there was no need to spend that time doing something as unspiritual as earning a living.  So they were sponging off the rest of the church while they waited.  And that was causing problems in the church, resentments were building and because these people weren’t working they were using their free time stirring up unrest in the church.  Because while it’s not in the bible it is true, Idle Hands are the Devil’s hands

And so Paul tells them to get a job, but he’s also telling others in the church to stop enabling these folks.  The command that those who did not work should not eat was a warning for some and instruction to others. 
And I would expect that if you had of talked to those who weren’t working that they would have offered all kinds of “Spiritual” reasons for doing what they were doing.
That there were able to spend more time in prayer, or in studying the scriptures.  Perhaps they felt they were showing more faith by not being concerned about worldly things, after all Jesus had reminded the people that God took care of the birds of the air.  Or maybe they thought they were being obedient in putting aside the things of the world while waiting for Christ’s return. 
We really don’t know their rationale for why there were doing what they were doing. 
But I do know that sometimes we try and separate our secular work from our Christian walk.  People put work in one area of their lives and they put their Christianity in another area of their lives.  Never the twain to meet. 
And what Paul wrote next was not a hint or a suggestion, it was a command and it was coached in the strongest of terms.  2 Thessalonians 3:12  We command such people and urge them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and work to earn their own living.   Paul is so serious that he actually invokes the name of Christ, because he knew that these idlers weren’t just causing problems within the Christian community that they were giving Christianity a black eye. 
Because sitting around all day isn’t what God intended.
Work is a major theme through the story.  If we go back to the story of creation we read Genesis 2:15  The LORD God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it.   We Were Created to Work  So when God created man, he created him to work tending the garden, I don’t know what that entailed but it seemed to require some effort.
And God knew that man needed something to do, that’s how we were created, in the image of God, the creator.  If we go back to the beginning of the story it begins with God working, he creates the heaven and the earth and everything in heaven and earth and then after six days we are told that he rested.
Rabbi Daniel Lapin wrote “Man is most in God’s image when he is creating things.”
And through the bible we see people working and being commended for the work they do.  They were farmers, shepherds, fishermen and administrators.  And God commended them for it and rewarded them for what they did.
And through the bible you will find admonitions to work.  Proverbs 13:4  Lazy people want much but get little, but those who work hard will prosper.  And Proverbs 21:5  Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity, but hasty shortcuts lead to poverty.
Throughout this book of wisdom it is reiterated over and over again that the result of being lazy, or idle is poverty. And so the plan seems to include work.
Dave Ramsay, the financial guru wrote “Your greatest wealth-building tool is your income.”  He goes on to say that too many people get distracted by get rich quick schemes or high risk ventures because they want to get rich overnight.   But ultimately we are told in Proverbs 10:4  Lazy people are soon poor; hard workers get rich.
And that doesn’t mean that we will never need help and never need to help people.  There are times that we hit a rough spot, perhaps we lose our job or illness or some other circumstance prevents us from working.  
I’ve told story before, I went to college with a guy named Mike Ward who was from Louisiana, and Mike wasn’t allowed to work in Canada.  So there were times that things would get tight for Mike and he’d pray, “Lord, you know that I’m going to run out of toothpaste and shampoo, and I need a new pair of jeans cause my old one have a hole in them”  And then two days later a package would arrive with a note saying “Mike I was praying the other day and the Lord impressed on my to send you this.”  And there’d be toothpaste, shampoo and a new pair of jeans and an American ten dollar bill.
So I thought I’d try it and so I prayed the same way, and I got a job. 
But the plan, is for us to work to earn our living whenever it is possible.  And sometimes that means working at jobs that you think are below you if that’s all you can find.   
And maybe you are thinking “I hate my job and there is nothing I can do about it.”  Well the first part of that statement might be a reality.  And if it is then it probably goes back to the choices that you made at various points in your life.  But the second part, the part that says “there is nothing I can do about it” is only a perceived reality.  History is full of people who have changed careers in midlife.  But it’s like changing canoes in mid-river, it can be done but it should be done carefully and it’s not without risk.
My father is my hero in many ways but in particular in this instance.  Dad quit school in grade six and went fishing with his dad.  When he was old enough he joined the army as a cook for 17 years and then he got out and then did whatever it took to provide for his family.  He cooked in and then managed restaurants, he drove cab and dump trucks, worked on fishing boats and operated heavy equipment. 
And then when he was 37 he decided to go navigation school.  With a grade six education he began to study and learn things like trigonometry and navigation.  And eventually he became Captain Guptill and sailed all over the world. 
You see, Dad knew the reality that you can’t start over but you can start again.  You can’t change the past but you can make choices that will change your future.
Colossians 3:22-23  Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything you do. Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you. Serve them sincerely because of your reverent fear of the Lord.  Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.
The second thing that we need to discover is that Our Work is Our Witness Let me say, let’s don’t get hung up on the word “Slave” here, the word can mean servant as well.  For most of us, we spend most of our waking hours at work, or getting to work or back from work.  That’s just a reality and for most of us we do it for more than forty years. 
And there are some folks who begrudge that time, and they’ll say things  like “I wish I had more time to do things for God.”  Or “When I retire, that’s when I will be able to do ministry.”
But that is where God has put you, and it’s not separate from our Christian life it is a major part of our Christian life.  Sometimes I’ll be talking to someone and they’ll tell me how pagan their work place is, the language that is used and the crude stories that are told.  And they’ll say “You don’t know how dark it is, I wish I could find a Christian company to work for.” 
And I will remind them that we are called to be light, Jesus told his followers in Matthew 5:14  “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden.”  And then I’ll ask them, “Where does a light do the most good?  Somewhere where it is already bright or somewhere where it is dark?”  And that’s a no brainer, the light from a single candle will chase away the darkness. 
Every one of us has the opportunity and the responsibility to be light and and to be the light where God has placed us.  It might be the hockey rink while your kids are playing, it might be the golf course while you are playing, and it while always be where you spend the majority of your time, and if that is your place of employment then shine as bright as you can, because Jesus went on to remind people in  Matthew 5:15-16  No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.
But it isn’t just about being a good Christian it’s about being a good worker.  You are there to represent Christ and how hard you work, the language you use, your demeanour and your attitude will ultimately reflect on Christianity and the church.
Through the years I have met unchurched folks who have worked with people from the church I was pastoring at the time.  And there were times that that made me proud to be there pastor and to be truthful there were times that made me cringe.  And you can only imagine how it make Jesus feel.

Deuteronomy 8:17-18  He did all this so you would never say to yourself, ‘I have achieved this wealth with my own strength and energy.’  Remember the LORD your God. He is the one who gives you power to be successful, in order to fulfill the covenant he confirmed to your ancestors with an oath.”
Work is From God and For God    God wants you to be successful.  Now I don’t mean that God necessarily wants you to drive a Maserati, live in a 50 room house and own a jet.  But he does want you to be able to support yourself and your family and to give back to Him. 
There is nothing spiritually edifying about being poor.
I talked about this last week, the bible is not opposed to money, but it consistently warns us to be careful about our priorities and the choices we make, which is why Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:24  “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.  That statement is not a warning about money, it is a warning about priorities and who or what we will serve.      
And I believe that God blesses those who are responsible with their money and are faithful with their money.  But he expects us to do our part. Even when miracles happen in the bible and a little becomes a lot, it starts with someone giving the little to start with.
From the beginning of the book God’s work has been supported by God’s people, whether it was building the temple, or operating the temple or ministry in the early church, the funds came from the people of God.  And it was seen as returning a portion of what God had allowed them to earn.  It was set as a percentage, and so it really benefited God’s work when folks who were faithful in their giving earned more. 
I can’t count the number of times over my ministry that someone has told me how they will start to give when they get that raise, or the better job or win the lottery.  But as one wit wrote, “It’s not what you’d do with millions if riches ere be your lot, but what you are doing at the present with the buck and a quarter you’ve got.”
So who will God bless?  The answer is given by Jesus in  Luke 16:10-11 Jesus said “If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities.  And if you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven?  When we are faithful, God trusts us with more.
When we stop viewing work as something we have achieved and see it as a gift from God and that we have it so that we can make a difference in our world the we begin to see it as a part of our legacy.
Let’s finish with a portion of the scripture we read last week where Paul told the believers in Corinth,  2 Corinthians 9:10 For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you.
He just wants you to trust him, so that he can produce a great harvest of generosity in you.
And so I leave you with these words of wisdom from Josh Billings, “Never work before breakfast. If you have to work before breakfast, get your breakfast first.”

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