Posts tagged ‘Gene Veith’

Kicking Back

They’re doing terribly this year.  My fantasy football team, that is.  Last weekend, my quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, scored an underwhelming grand total of fourteen points.  My wide receivers are putting more points on the board than he is.  To add insult to injury, the other day, I caught a few minutes of a game on ESPN Classic when Roethlisberger was still in college playing for Miami University in 2003.  I wish he played now the way he played then.

Most people know that I am a football fan.  There is nothing like kicking back on a Sunday afternoon taking in an NFL game or two, dozing in an out of consciousness, especially since my Sunday mornings, as a pastor, are generally action-packed!  And of course, I love watching my beloved Longhorns take on their toughest rivals.  The pageantry and suspense of college football is unlike anything else.

I’m not the only one who loves a good football game.  The NFL’s popularity has been rising steadily and startlingly over the years, this year reaching an all time high of 59 percent of Americans who say that they follow professional football according to an annual Harris Poll.[1]

As a football fan, I would be the first to say that there’s nothing wrong with following the game.  I would also add that there’s nothing wrong with all sorts of other things people do to kick back and relax – from golfing to finding your favorite movie on Netflix to fishing to surfing the internet.  And yet, if these are the only ways we spend our leisure time, we are cheating ourselves out of something transcendent.

The Lutheran theologian Gene Edward Veith wrote an article recently titled, “The Purpose of Work.”  In it, he noted a disturbing trend in the way Americans view their leisure time:

In our culture today…most people probably do not use their leisure to contemplate the good, the true, and the beautiful.  Our leisure is filled with more entertainment than contemplation.[2]

Veith’s last line is key.  When we find leisure only in what entertains us – be that a football game or a golf outing or a movie or a fishing expedition or a favorite internet site – we miss the more profound blessings that leisure has to offer.  For a bit of contemplation – on family, on work, on friends, and, most importantly, on God – can yield key and transformative insights for life and engender a thankful heart for all the blessings God has given.  But first, we need to take time away from being entertained to think and to thank God.

The Bible’s portrait of leisure can guide our us on our journey from liesure as solely entertainment to liesure that includes contemplation:

Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God.  On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor the alien within your gates, so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do.  Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day. (Deuteronomy 5:12-15)

Notice that in Israel, the celebration of the Sabbath – a day to rest from the work of the week – is specifically tied to contemplation.  The Israelites are to remember their slavery in Egypt and how God brought them out.  For Israel, leisure was not just time to be entertained, it was time to spend with God.

How do you spend the bulk of your leisure time?  Entertainment is good, but not when it comes at the expense of reflecting on your life and on your Lord.  After all, He is the One who gave you that leisure time in the first place.  As the Psalmist reminds us, “God gives rest to His loved ones” (Psalm 127:2).  Maybe you should use your leisure rest not just to be entertained, but to say “thank you” to God.


[1] Michael David Smith, “Poll finds NFL more popular than ever,” NBC Sports (10.6.2012).

[2] Gene Edward Veith, “The Purpose of Work,” The Gospel Coalition (10.7.2012).

October 15, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – Harder Than A Hard Day’s Night

Christianity promotes and celebrates the value and the glory of work.  Indeed, the famed, even if sometimes maligned, “Protestant Work Ethic” has been instrumental in engendering much of the industriousness that has marked the history of this country.  From the faith’s earliest years, Christians have esteemed work and eschewed laziness.  The Didache, a manual of early Christian practice, doctrine, and discipline from the turn of the second century, lays down this rule for those who wish to join the Christian community:

Let every one that comes in the name of the Lord be received…If the comer is a traveller, assist him, so far as you are able; but he shall not stay with you more than two or three days, if it be necessary. But if he wishes to settle with you, being a craftsman, let him work for and eat his bread. But if he has no craft, according to your wisdom provide how he shall live as a Christian among you, but not in idleness. If he will not do this, he is trafficking upon Christ. Beware of such men. (Didache 12:1-5)

With these words, we hear a call to both charity and industry.  On the one hand, Christians are to receive even strangers into their midst and assist them as much as possible.  On the other hand, if Christians catch whiffs of idleness among a person who joins their ranks, he is to be disciplined.  Laziness will not be tolerated.

Certainly such a strict and demanding work ethic has raised more than a little ire among many.  Overbearing corporate policies and malfeasance among management types is the bane of many rank and file employees.  These troubles, in turn, often lead to a spirit of idleness.  After all, the reasoning goes, if a work environment is miserable and miserly, why would an employee want to give it their all?  If the powers that be won’t treat them fairly, they simply won’t offer their best.  They’ll just do what they need to do to keep their job until a better prospect comes along.  The difficulty with this kind of thinking, however, is that it is patently unbiblical.  The apostle Peter admonishes:

Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. (1 Peter 2:18-20)

A couple of words jump out at me from this passage.  First, the word for “masters” is despotes, from which we get our English word “despot.”  In our day and age, nobody likes a despot.  Dictionary.com defines a “despot” as “any tyrant or oppressor.”[1]  Peter says, despite the wickedness of some despotic superiors, we still ought to work hard.  Their vileness should not result in our laziness.  Second, the word for “harsh” in Greek is skolios, from which we get our medical term “scoliosis,” a condition which describes an abnormal lateral curvature of the spine, or, more popularly stated, a crooked back.  Peter knows full well that many managers are crooked.  Yet, he encourages us to be faithful in our work even when these managers are unfaithful in their leadership.

The sentiment put forth by Peter’s words is certainly not a popular one.  But is a Christian one.  Peter knows and admits that our work will not always be easy.  And yet, when our work is hard and the road is long, we have this promise:  God is working in us and through us amidst even the most adverse of circumstances.   As Paul reminds us, “For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose” (Philippians 2:13).  Our work, then – even our arduous work – is a place and a space for God to work.  God hides His glorious work in our sorrowful work.

Do you see your work this way?  By faith, you can.  I love the way Gene Veith puts it in his book on Christian vocation:  “It is faith that transforms suffering into a cross.”[2]  May we see the suffering we encounter in our vocations as a cross, gifted to us by Christ, redeeming our suffering for His glory.

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[1] http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/despot

[2] Gene Edward Veith, Jr., God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2002) 153.

October 3, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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