Chan and Tin worked most of their lives in the rice fields of Thailand. After working all year on the farm, there was barely enough money to feed the family. They struggled year after year in desperate poverty.
One day a recruiter for a company called Global Horizons came to their village promising high paying jobs on farms in America. In one month in America, they could earn what they make in a full year in Thailand. It was the opportunity of a lifetime to change the lives of their children and their whole extended family.
There was just one catch. To enter the program, they had to pay a recruitment fee of almost $15,000. They mortgaged their farms and their houses. They talked their relatives in to mortgaging their farms and homes. Tin’s loans ranged up to 80% annual interest, but Chan’s loans reached 152% annual interest.
When they got to the airport, Global Horizons forced them to sign a host of new documents - including a visa renewal fee of $8,000. When they reached America, the recruiters confiscated their passports “for safekeeping.” This meant that they had no identification and no way to prove that they were in the USA legally.
At first, there was plenty of work and on-time pay. After a few months though, the work began to run out and the pay started coming later and later. Often, they sent 100% of their pay checks back to Thailand so that their families could make the payments on their loans. That meant they often didn’t have enough to eat, so they caught wild animals for food and gathered wild vegetables from forests. They usually lived in overcrowded housing without enough beds for each person. Sometimes the toilet wouldn’t work for weeks at a time. They often lacked kitchens, washing machines, and sufficient heating. To limit their contact with outsiders, their handlers told them that Americans are greatly prejudiced against Asians and that leaving their housing grounds would be very dangerous.
Surely this couldn’t really happen in today’s world, right? They are free people. They could just change companies, right? Wrong. Global Horizons was their legal sponsor and guarantor. If they quit, they would lose their visas and be sent home to Thailand ... and their families would lose everything.
Well, then, they could complain. They could get help from the police, right? Oh, you mean, the same police who arrested them as illegal aliens until they could call Global Horizons to bring their ID to the police station? Chan and Tin thought that if they went to the police, then they would be sent home - either by the police or by Global Horizons ... and their families would lose everything.
Well, then, surely, they could at least go on strike and protest for better working conditions, right? Managers continually reminded them that if they complained, they would be sent home to Thailand. Then, they would have no way to repay those huge loans ... and their families would lose everything.
The U.S. Justice department decided that Chan and Tin were “victims of human trafficking.” They were officially, legally, modern day slaves ... in the United States of America ... in 2007.
They aren’t the only slaves. The US government estimates that there are somewhere between 4 million and 27 million slaves in the world today - at this moment.
This is a horrific tragedy, and the Church of the Nazarene and many other Christian and secular organizations are actively working to stop human trafficking and to protect those most vulnerable. With our church’s connections with Free the Girls, we know a little about modern day slavery.
However, slavery is far more widespread than we have ever imagined. I think you will begin to understand as we read our Old Testament lesson for today. Listen closely to Deuteronomy 5.
12 “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. 13 You have six days each week for your ordinary work, 14 but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your oxen and donkeys and other livestock, and any foreigners living among you. All your male and female servants must rest as you do. 15 Remember that you were once slaves in Egypt, but the Lord your God brought you out with his strong hand and powerful arm. That is why the Lord your God has commanded you to rest on the Sabbath day.
Keep the Sabbath because you are not slaves. You were once slaves, but God set you free, so don’t act like slaves anymore. Take a day off. Rest. Worship. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your servants, your animals, and anyone living with you. You are not slaves. Your children are not slaves. Don’t act like slaves.
But you are. We are. Many of us - anyway. Point Loma Nazarene University ran a series in their alumni magazine called “Reclaiming Sabbath.” In the opening article, Sharon Ayala calls Sabbath the “lost commandment.” “Sabbath has slipped away,” she says.
We know there’s only one God, and we usually remember not to murder or to steal, but what was that other thing about resting? Does that really even matter anymore?
Yes, it does. Rest is hugely important for a healthy family life. Here’s the thing about the semicircle of rest and work. If you don’t get the Sabbath right, you’ll never get the semicircle right. If you don’t practice a good Sabbath of rest, worship, and family time, you have no hope of living a balanced life. Your life will continually be out of balance, and you will always be out of breath spiritually - until you learn this most basic act of taking one day a week to rest. Living in balance takes more than Sabbath, but you’ll never make any progress with balanced living until you step off the treadmill one day a week.
Paul, the apostle who wrote about half of the New Testament, is very gentle sometimes. But other times, he kind of hits us between the eyes with the truth of God. We need that sometimes. Listen to what he says in Galatians:
Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. (Galatians 6:7-8).
God cannot be mocked. Nature cannot be mocked. Life cannot be tricked. You reap what you sew. You harvest what you plant.
If you work like slaves, you feel like slaves. There is no cheat sheet or life-hack or short-cut to get around the Sabbath. Sabbath is built into the DNA of creation, and life cannot be mocked.
You reap what you sew. You harvest what you plant. Despite our improving technology, most people, especially the so-called “professionals,” are working more, not less. Consider some of what we are harvesting with all of this hard work:
- With globalization, stress levels are increasing around the world.
- Depression is increasing so quickly that it will be the second most disabling disease in the world in 2020, just behind heart disease.
- Suicide rates have increased 60% in the past 45 years. Suicide is now one of the leading causes of death for people aged 15-44.
- Divorce is increasing around the world.
- In the USA, 70-80% of all doctor’s visits are because of stress-related illnesses.
When we are killing ourselves working so hard, what are we aiming at? Money, success and power. But this path has been tried and found wanting. Around the world people in developed nations are slowly realizing that money and achievement won’t make us happy. It’s time for us to wake up and see this reality.
More stuff and more power will not satisfy you. They are not satisfying you now. Your kids can see that even if you can’t. Younger generations around the world are growing more and more dissatisfied with the narrative their parents gave them: study hard, work hard, live rich. Young people have a growing intuition that academic or professional success will not give them what they really want in life.
This is brilliantly illustrated in the Korean music video that became a global sensation last year.
This is the most watched YouTube video in history, with over 1.7 billion views. Barak Obama and the UK Prime Minister David Cameron have both been filmed doing the “horsey dance.” The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon called “Gangnam Style” a “force for world peace.”
That, and it’s just loads of fun.
But there is actually a deeply subversive message here. GangNam is a neighborhood in central Seoul, and it holds 1% of Korea’s population and 40% of Korea’s assets. But if you look at what is happening in this video Psy is actually making fun of all this wealth.
It’s all a farce. The guy lounging on the beach is actually in a playground. The models walking through a snow storm are also dodging trash in a parking garage. The images slowly shift from the polo club to the merry-go-round. Money and all the toys that money can buy are just that - toys. No matter how much meaning we try to attach to them, they remain fundamentally meaningless and hollow.
In fact, just making the video seemed to really get to Psy emotionally. In one candid and very serious moment on the set he said, “Human society is so hollow, and even while filming [this], I felt pathetic. Each frame by frame was hollow.”
GangNam Style is KPop’s version of the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes: “‘Everything is meaningless ... completely meaningless!’ What do people get for all their hard work under the sun? ... Everything is wearisome beyond description. No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content” (1:2-3, 8).
Money and wealth are fundamentally hollow. They are mere tools and toys. They cannot bear the weight of our lives. Ambition is a dead-end road that brings us to various levels of dead living along the way.
You know how we talk about being busy as the daily grind, or being the hamster in the wheel? Well, here’s the thing. If you live like that, you feel like that. If you live like a slave, you feel like a slave. Shocking, huh?
The same thing holds true for your children. Don’t make them slaves to your ambition. Don’t make them slaves to what society expects from them. Your children don’t actually have to play three sports, practice two musical instruments, take all honors classes, and be in several clubs.
You don’t actually have to have a new car and a big house and designer clothes. You do have a choice in the matter. You are not a slave to our culture.
If you act like a slave, you will feel like a slave. Your work will feel like slavery. Even your play time and family time will feel like slavery. You will begin to feel like you have lost your power of choice, trapped in a life that you don’t want with no way to get out.
Let’s be honest. There is a very real slavery to work, to ambition, and to societal expectation in this world. But it is a false slavery. It is 100% voluntary. You can get out. You can get out.
Sabbath is the first step in the cure for false slavery. We are not slaves, so don’t act like it. Our children are not slaves, so don’t treat them like slaves. Step off the merry-go-round of work/sleep/work/sleep/work/sleep. Take a day of rest to reconsider life. Take a day of rest to recharge. Take a day of rest to strengthen your relationships. Take a day of rest to reconnect more deeply with God. Take a day of rest to love those who love you. Take a day of rest to regain the life you really want to live.
If your family doesn’t have a good Sabbath practice, start there. For one day a week, do as little as possible. It might mean some difficult choices. It might mean saying no to little league games on Sunday. It might mean turning down some overtime pay. It might mean letting the yard go unmowed until Monday or whenever you can get around to it. (OK, that might be an easy choice.)
Try this. Either Saturday or Sunday, just be together as a family. Or maybe, if you have small kids, the best way to rest will be for one parent to take the kids in the morning (so the other parent can rest), and the other parent takes the kids in the afternoon. Then, spend some time together as a family in the evening. But start with a Sabbath. If you want balance in your life, you have to start your fight here - with one day a week, every week.
If your family already takes a restful Sabbath, then sit down together today and think about the rest of your life. Are you getting enough down time? Are you sleeping enough? Are you taking time for prayer, exercise, and meaningful conversation? Do you feel stressed most of the time? Do you feel like you have enough margin in your life for something unexpected? Or if you get a flat tire, or if your neighbor needs help, is that going to completely ruin your whole week? What do you need to stop doing so that you can start having rest and margin in your life?
Let me be honest with you. Our family has been struggling for the past several months. On top of moving and getting new jobs, we’ve had guests in our home almost nonstop for about four months, and we’re tired. Rest and quiet and margin have been endangered species in our home. And that has taken its toll on us. We’re exhausted in every way.
So this fall, our focus as a family is simply to get back into balance. We’re trying to take as much rest and down time as we can. Of course, life goes on, and we can’t just take a long vacation in the middle of the school year. But we are trying to limit our weeknight and weekend activities. We’re trying to limit our TV so we actually go to sleep earlier. We are actively trying to do less so that we can rest more.
I’m not sure what you need exactly. But I know you need to address your rest/work balance. This is one of the key areas in which American Christians get out of whack. We get trapped into these cycles of false slavery, and it is just crippling for us.
Allow God to liberate you. Give God one whole day a week and just rest, and allow God to give you new life in return. Liberating our families is worth any cost. “Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free” (Galatians 5:1). Live with freedom - for yourself, for your children, for your family, for your church, for your world, for God.