Meet Chan and Tin. They 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 talk get help from the police, right? Oh, you mean, the same police who arrested them as illegal aliens because they didn’t have proper identification? They 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.
However, today I ask you to consider that the problem of modern 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.
Last week we read the first version of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, where it said the reason for the Sabbath is that God rested after creating the universe, so we should rest too. This week we are taking another look at the fourth commandment in the Deuteronomy version, but it gives a different reason for keeping the Sabbath. Listen closely.
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 recently 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. Sabbath still matters. It matters a great deal.
Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. 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).
I like the NIV here. It’s a little more direct: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. You reap what you sew.” 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 live like slaves. If you live like slaves, you feel like slaves. If you feel like slaves, you will most likely perform like slaves - not very well.
Do not be deceived. God cannot be mocked. 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. If you work like slaves, you will feel like slaves.
You reap what you sew. You harvest what you plant. Consider some of what we are harvesting.
- With globalization, stress levels seem to be 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.
But Korea does everything in the extreme. If you’re bowling, you get the robotic arm. If you’re studying, you stay up all night. If you’re working, you work 80 hours a week.
- Korea is famous for having the longest work week in the developed world.
- Compared to students in 30 other developed nations, Korean students study 3 hours more, sleep 1 hour less, and exercise 20 minutes less.
- Not surprisingly, then, a Yeonsei University study revealed that Korean students are the least happy of all students in developed nations.
- Korea’s suicide rate is among the highest in the world. And suicide is the leading cause of death in Korea for people aged 15-24.
Koreans are working harder than anyone else in the world, and we’re making our kids work harder than any other kids in the world. What is all of this extremely hard work 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 KPop music video that has become a global sensation.
This is a great video. It’s hilarious and has great music, and it’s catching on around the world. When I was writing this, it was approaching 100,000,000 Youtube views. Jay Leno even did a spoof of Mitt Romney doing the horsey dance!
But there is actually a deeply subversive message here. GangNam 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. 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. In one candid and very serious moment on the set he said, “Human society is so hollow, and even while filming 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.
If you make your children slaves to ambition, they will feel like slaves. They will understand the meaninglessness of that commitment, and they will resent you for it. They will grow depressed, and they will lose hope for a meaningful life.
If you act like a slave yourself, you will feel like a slave. Your work 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.
There is a very real slavery to work and ambition in this world. But it is a false slavery. It is 100% voluntary. 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.
Allow God to liberate you. Allow God to give you a whole new life back by giving him one whole day a week. Sabbath liberation. It is worth any cost. “So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free” (Galatians 5:1).