Nov 18, 2019
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Thanks for joining me today for "A Little Walk with God." I'm your host Richard Agee.
In college, I worked for a moving company to make a few extra dollars in the summer. This particular company also stored tires for one of the tire companies in Nashville, and every few weeks, they were delivered to the warehouse in railroad boxcars. Because the task only happened occasionally, the company hired day laborers to help unload the cars rather than lose furniture moving business by using their permanent employees. Of course, someone had to oversee the operation, and I often became the stuckee as the sort of permanent employee, since I worked as often as I could, but not really permanent.
The boxcars would have about 500 tires each, and usually, we would unload two and sometimes three with each delivery. The mix of tires included car, truck, and tractor tires of all sizes weighing from tiny 10-pound boat trailer tires to giant 300-pound tires six feet tall. I don't know if you've ever worked inside a railroad boxcar in the middle of summer, but imagine standing in an oven covered in rubber dust and someone gradually turning the temperature up while you worked. It reminded me of living in Hanzel and Gretel, living in the witch's cottage. Good stuff was in the oven, but boy was it hot in there.
We would unload the first 75 or 80 tires laughing and joking. I'd get to know the day-laborers and learn a little about their families. But after a 150 or so, most quit talking. By the mid-morning break, I only heard grumbling and complaining about the work they agreed to do. In all the years I worked at that company unloading those boxcars with day-laborers, I only had one that didn't disappear at lunch. Every other worker headed to the office at lunch to draw a half day's wages with some excuse about needing to leave.
The rest of the day's task of unloading the boxcars fell to me. The joy of all joys! Whenever I entertained any thought that college was hard, I remembered those boxcars and drove on. Even now, if I think something is hard, I remember those days and know there are tougher things out there, and I can make it through whatever I'm trying to do. That was brutal work.
Why do I bring up that story today? It has to do with the lectionary scripture from this week. Paul wrote in his second letter to the church in Thessalonica some words that strike a cord to a large section of society today. As we try to find early retirement, four-day workweeks, more pay for less work, we should listen to Paul. Here is what he says:
Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone's bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.
Am I saying we should have no leisure time? That's not what I'm saying. We need leisure time, too. But we have become a society that seeks time, money, things, pleasures, everything for "me" without thought for anything or anyone else. We want pay without effort. We want reward with earning it. We expect things given to us without giving in return.
A 2017 Department of Labor study showed that US employees spend an average of eight hours a week checking personal email, social media, online shopping, or other non-productive time on the internet. That eight hours a week amounts to $15 billion of productivity a week stolen from their employees for which they are being paid to work. We can laugh it off and say, "They can afford it. I work hard enough for them. I bring in profits for them."
That's not the point. If we call ourselves Christian, I think it means we should work as if we work for Jesus. Would we steal time from him? I guess too many do today when we look at the number who come together to worship when we are admonished to worship together. Would we steal wages from him? I guess we would since we fail to "give to God what is God's" as he directs.
The point is: we become so self-centered we forget it isn't about us but God. We get the false idea that the things around us, the things found in our house or apartment belong to us. We think we own them. We really don't.
First, if you pay a mortgage, you don't own the property at all. The bank does. If you pay rent, the landlord owns the place in which you live. So, frankly, the vast majority of the people who hear these words do not own the home where you lay your head; someone else owns it. You just use it at their pleasure.
Yes, you have a piece of paper that gives you some legal rights, but how good is that piece of paper? It depends on how good the judicial system stands. I just read the history of the Mongols conquest of the Middle East in the Middle Ages. When they swept through a city, they killed every man, woman, and child in the city. It's why Christianity disappeared in Asia Minor.
Remember all those missionary journeys Paul took, Antioch, Ephesus, Lystra, and all those other cities in Asia Minor? What happened to all those churches? Where did all those people go? The earliest leaders didn't go to Rome; they went to the cities in Asia Minor. But then the Ghingus Kahn hordes came through.
How good were the contracts, treaties, legal papers established between the Christians, about 40 million in Asia Minor at the time, and the khans? Not worth much when a sword swept through your neck. The Christians lost everything, including their lives. The contracts they had with the communities they lived in didn't mean much. Their property disappeared anyway. They died anyway.
Second, the old saying, "idle hands are the devil's workshop" is more accurate than many give it credit. Work keeps the mind focused on things that add value to the community. Idleness provides the mind with the opportunity to wander into those areas Jesus warned about in his sermon on the mount, hatred, lust, envy, those base emotions that get us in so much trouble and lead us to actions that we almost always regret later.
Third, work brings fatigue at the end of the day, so we rest better. Rest is important. It's when our body recovers and repairs itself. But when we do nothing, when we are idle most of the time, we become restless. Our mind wanders through the night, and it becomes difficult to sleep. When we use our bodies and minds in physical and mental labor throughout the day, we can rest better and so rejuvenate our bodies for the next day.
Can we overdo work and sleep? Yes. Anything and everything can be overdone, but I see fewer in our country overworked as we search for more and more leisure in our culture. Do I long for the old days of unloading boxcars of tires? No, I don't think I could even physically do that today. But I do think we need to remember our work is unto the Lord and give a good days work for the pay we receive and never be one of those bending the statistics that take $15 billion of revenue from the pockets of our employers using our cellphones at work eight hours a week. It's not the boss watching what we do; it's God.
You can find me at richardagee.com. I also invite you to join us at San Antonio First Church of the Nazarene on West Avenue in San Antonio to hear more Bible-based teaching. You can find out more about my church at SAF.church. Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed it, tell a friend. If you didn't, send me an email and let me know how better to reach out to those around you. Until next week, may God richly bless you as you venture into His story each day.
Scriptures marked NIV are taken from the NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION (NIV): Scripture is taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™. Used by permission of Zondervan
 Gregory Bresiger, “This is how much time employees spend slacking off, 2017, https://nypost.com/2017/07/29/this-is-how-much-time-employees-spend-slacking-off/ (accessed Nov 8, 20