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Monday, September 3, 2007

Laboring man
Photo of Bennett's Valley Labor Day parade float in mid-eighties.

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"Sweet Labor"

"Then man goes out to his work, to his labor until evening. How many are your works, O LORD! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures" (Psalm 104:23,24).  "The sleep of a laboring man is sweet" (Ecclesiastes 5:12).

Today is "Labor Day" here in the United States.  It's a beautiful day and I am sure many will be having picnics and gatherings. We are going to have a meal around the fire this evening.

I don't know whether other countries have holidays similar to Labor Day.  For most Americans it's just another long three-day weekend and the unofficial end of summer.  But over the years in my ministry I've  seen it as a good time to examine what the Bible says about labor and I often preached a sermon on that theme the Sunday before when I pastored.

Some 25 years ago when we were establishing a new congregation in northern Pennsylvania we looked for creative ways to have a witness for Christ and promote our young church. Bennetts Valley, a string of small towns in a narrow valley near us, always had a parade on Labor Day and we felt perhaps we could get in a witness by participating in the parade.

We sought to develop a creative setting in dealing with the theme of the day as we based it on Scripture. So we pulled a trailer behind our church van and set it up like a working man's bedroom. Ken Ginther, a great big lumbering man in our church, volunteered to lay on the bed pretending to be sleeping. His work boots and other evidence of a laboring man were next to the bed. We had a tape player playing his loud snoring and a big banner on each side of the float declaring, "The sleep of a laboring man is sweet." I am sure that this was the most unusual float that Bennetts Valley parade ever had to this day!  However we did not win any prizes for the most beautiful float.

We were seeking to make a point based upon the theme of the day and the teaching of Scripture.  There's just no sleep like the sleep that follows a hard day of work.  I particularly recall those times in my life when I did hard physical labor such as farm work in my college years and later several elements of construction. There's indeed a special sweetness to the sleep that follows these activities.

Today you may be off work and perhaps you've given little thought to labor but I hope when you return to work you thank God for your job including the work hard.  I believe that's one way we please and honor God!

Psalm 104 recounts God's works in the natural world, showing His providential care over all His creation. I find it interesting that the picture of man in this account is at work. Some see work as a curse or a necessary evil. But God has ordained work into His created order. God said "six days shalt thou work." Solomon said "the sleep of a laboring man is sweet" and Paul said (in a context concerning secular work) "serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men." In the book of Revelation we read of a future time when the faithful "will rest from their labor."

I pray that each of us will work diligently at whatever tasks God has called us to as an expression of our faith, obedience, and gratitude.

Be encouraged today,

Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

Daily prayer: Father, we thank You for the privilege of working with our hands and engaging our minds.  Work is ordained by you and carried out in our homes and places of employment. Help us to make a positive difference in our home and workplace as we live out our Christian testimony while diligently performing our work duties.  Amen.  

A Special Service

Brooksyne's Note: Yesterday we enjoyed an unusual setting in the House of the Lord. Our neighbor invited us to attend a church service held in a large barn on her rental property.  Debbie is a member of a group known as the Old Order River Brethren. She hosts the service twice a year and has invited us repeatedly but we always had other commitments before yesterday. 

The River Brethren do not have church buildings but rather meet in houses and barns.  They do drive cars and use modern utilities.  I suppose for comparative purposes it was similar to the Amish in dress but is quite distinct from the Amish order of service though the men sat on one side and the women on the other like the Amish and old order Mennonite.

Much of the service was personal testimony intermingled with hymns (most of which we were not familiar with) and they were sung acapella. The solemn voices of about 150 parishioners singing was full and beautiful. There was no amplification but the barn sounded full of rich melody and blended harmony.  They provided small, thick hymn books published especially for this group. Many seemed to know all the songs from memory. Needless to say they did not have PowerPoint! The singing attracted the birds as they gathered just inside the upper windows of the barn.  Several panes were broken which allowed them entrance where they could witness the singing of praises to God.

Over 20 men and women throughout the congregation stood to give testimonies that expressed earnest faith and piety, though a couple of them demonstrated a pride and judgment of other groups that made us uncomfortable.  The main message by the bishop was a solid exposition of Lamentations 3 spoken very well and with deep conviction. The ministers are not "professional" but deeply studied men with a firm grasp of Scripture. The service lasted about 2 1/2 – 3 hours (a bit longer then we're accustomed to.)

The children and babies (there were lot of them) sat with their parents during the service and at times the babies made loud noises but the congregation just seemed to accept it, the parents taking them out
only if they got extremely loud for an extended period. Amazingly there was not a nursery or children's church (imagine that!) The younger children quietly sat although somewhat fidgety at times. The older children and teens respectfully followed along during the entire service.

The three older ministers sat in the front and each had a role in the service. One touching scene was when a grandchild went up during the service and sat on one of the leader's laps. I am not sure I have ever seen that in the types of churches we attend.
 After all, children are  ushered off early in the service in most of our churches.  This also happened at an old order Mennonite church we attended months ago. 

The church had a meal following the service but we prepared to leave since we really didn't know anyone. One of the elders followed us to the car and with great hospitality insisted that we stay. He introduced us to others and took us to the front of the line and then seated us with him and his wife. We had a great time of sharing over the luncheon and visited with other friendly parishioners who sat near us. He is a farmer who grows produce and invited us over to come over to his place today for some butternut squash.  We like to buy enough to last us for the winter months.

This group also believes in distinctive dress. The men wore black pants and white shirts and some had vests. In that regard Stephen probably fit in somewhat. However the men had long flowing beards similar to the type Moses is often pictured with in art and their hair was cropped. Stephen's closely trimmed beard surely marked him as an outsider!  The women in their modest apparel looked much like the Amish women though there was a little more variety in color. They all wore head coverings.

All in all it was a great day in the House of the Lord.  We prayed three different times as each time we knelt at our chairs.  When the minister prayed aloud and thanked God for being in the "House of the Lord" I couldn't help but compare the barn to a multimillion dollar structure that is also referred to as the House of the Lord.  Bottom line – where God's people gather to give praise and glory to Him and seek to do His will, this is indeed the House of the Lord.

Barn serviceHere's a photo of the inside of the barn where the River Brethren held their service yesterday. This photo was taken at last year's neighborhood hymn sing. The service yesterday was set up the same way but there were more people and of course the men sat on one side and the women on the other.

Becky with goatsHere's a photo of our neighbor's daughter, Becky, with the twin baby goats born on the farm several days earlier.

Here's another description of the Old Order River Brethren

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Scripture references are from The Holy Bible: New International Version. © 1984 by International Bible Society; NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission; and the King James Version.
Personal Mission Statement: "I am created by God to bring Him glory. Through God's Son Jesus Christ I have been redeemed and I make it my life's goal to please the Lord. My mission in life is to honor God through my faith and obedience and to prepare myself and all whom I may influence for eternity."

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