Tag Archives: Childhood

Jesus and the Religious Rule Keepers

Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.
Mark 2:27 (NIV)

As a child, I did a lot of walking and playing outdoors with the kids in my neighborhood. The neighborhood around the 3100 block of Madison Avenue was pretty much a virtual playground for us. I still remember who lived in most of the houses on our block and several of the houses on the blocks around us. We knew all of the “shortcuts” between garages, through fences, and how to quickly both get to other places and to disappear in need. We also knew the quickest routes, by foot or bike, to the woods, creeks, and green spaces that surrounded our neighborhood.

As we would play tag, hide-and-seek, or walk to the woods, I can remember nonchalantly playing with whatever plant I happened to walk over or past. Dandelions could be turned into a woven bracelet, and their dead blooms could be blown to the wind as a natural form of confetti. The leaves from corn plants in people’s backyard gardens could be held tightly between your thumbs like a diaphragm and made to make the most unusual noises when you blew through the hole between your thumbs. Of course, apples, cherries, and other fruit could be picked as you walked by for a quick snack. If you could spot one, a four-leaf clover was always a must-grab for luck in our next game of Freeze Tag, T.V. Tag, or Kick-the-Can.

What struck me in today’s chapter was the fact that, as Jesus and his followers were walking, “they began to pick some heads of grain.” Of course, they did. They were no different than me and my neighborhood friends as we walked through a neighbor’s yard. If you’re on a walk and you walk through a field your hands naturally reach out and caress the heads of grain to feel the softness across your hand. Your hand unconsciously closes around one and your fingers rub the grain loose from the head. You let the chaff fall from your palm or blow it like the natural confetti of a dandelion. You pop a grain into your mouth without thinking much of it. I learned as a child that interacting with creation as you walk through it is as natural as breathing.

How silly, then, that the religious people of Jesus’ day thought the natural act of picking heads of grain to be breaking “the Sabbath.” The “Sabbath” day was simply a day of rest each week. It follows God’s example in the creation poem in Genesis. God creates the universe in six days and then takes a day off. God later told His people in the Ten Commandments: “Do just like I did. Work six days, but make sure you take a day off, a sabbath.” The rule was meant to help perpetuate a healthy life. I need sleep each day. I need a day off each week. I need a few weeks of vacation each year. It’s part of the healthy physical rhythm that promotes mental and spiritual health, as well.

Along my life journey, one of the things I’ve observed is that religion likes to translate spiritual principles into strict, prescriptive rules of behavior. I remember one Bible college a friend of mine considered attending desired that their students stay sexually pure, so the rule was that if a member of the opposite sex is sitting in a chair and vacates it you must allow time for the chair to cool from that person’s body heat before you sit in it. I wish I was making that up. Without the rule, I would have never even thought about residual female body heat on a classroom chair. The legalistic rule intended to keep me “pure” actually ends up creating the illicit thoughts it was intended to prevent. The religious rules intended to ensure that I keep the spiritual principle actually become more perverse than the sin it’s trying to keep away from. It’s a perfect illustration of what Paul told the followers of Jesus in Rome in his letter to them:

The law code started out as an excellent piece of work. What happened, though, was that sin found a way to pervert the command into a temptation, making a piece of “forbidden fruit” out of it. The law code, instead of being used to guide me, was used to seduce me.

Read Romans 7:8-12 (MSG)

So, let me come back to today’s chapter. Jesus and the disciples walking through a field casually picking off a head of grain. The legalistic, religious rule keepers confront Jesus and point to the behavioral rules they’ve manufactured to give clarity to the earlier code of conduct which was born out of the one rule God gave them in the Ten Commandments in order to adhere to a spiritual principle of making sure you get some rest and stay healthy.

Jesus, in reply to the religious rule enforcers, simply points out an exception to the rule that those same legalistic rule enforcers chose to ignore (e.g. “You’re condemning me for doing the same that King David and his men did, but I don’t hear you condemning him.”) Jesus then cuts to the heart of the matter: the Sabbath was made as a principle of rest to help give you have a good life and keeping your heart, mind, and body healthy.

In the quiet this morning I find myself thinking of all the ways I once adhered to religious legalism. I confess, there was so much about what Jesus was teaching and getting at that I didn’t get at all. But, that was my journey. I had to walk through those stretches in order to learn, fail, struggle, persevere, grow, and mature in my own heart and mind. As the old hymn says: I was blind, but now I see. I have come to perceive that I, as a religious person, can be more spiritually blind than the “sinner” I believe that I am trying to save.

In this season of Lent, as I walk towards the annual memorial of Jesus’ death and celebration of His resurrection, I can’t help but think of the confessed thief hanging on the cross next to Jesus. The confessed sinner went with Jesus to paradise while the religious rule-keepers, who condemned and had Jesus executed, stood there hurling insults and condemnation at Him. They were blind, as I once was. Even Jesus said in those moments as he looked down at his executioners and the good religious rule-keepers condemning him: “Father, forgive them. They have no idea what they’re doing.”

I’m left thinking that this wayfaring stranger would rather hang on a cross, a confessed sinner next to Jesus, than religiously stand in condemnation of others for their breaking of the rules that were addendums to the previous code of conduct, which were additions to the one ancient rule, which was originally intended as a principle to spiritually guide people to Life.

I think I’ll go for a walk today. No dandelions out yet to blow to the wind, but I can pick a few leaves, and just maybe a four-leaf clover.

Anyone up for a game of kick-the-can?

All of Tom’s chapter-a-day posts from Mark are compiled in a simple visual index for you.

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A Common Complaint

Go to the ant, you sluggard;
    consider its ways and be wise!
It has no commander,
    no overseer or ruler,
yet it stores its provisions in summer
    and gathers its food at harvest
.
Proverbs 6:6-8 (NIV)

I am on the road again this week working with a client. One of my roles with this client is to mentor some of their young professionals. Most are in their first managerial role. Over the years, I have learned that there is a pattern to the challenges with which they struggle. Just yesterday, I heard one of the most common struggles: “What do I do with the poor worker?”

These are the frustrations and common complaints I hear from managers and supervisors regarding poor workers:

The poor worker is never on time whether it is first thing in the morning or returning to work from break. The only thing to which the poor worker seems to apply themselves is how to appear to be working while doing as little as possible. The poor worker takes thirty-minute bathroom breaks. Poor workers like to smoke because the fifteen-minute smoke break (immediately upon arrival, mid-morning, post-lunch, mid-afternoon) is treated as a smoker’s right on top of the normal breaks. When the manager returns to the floor from a meeting the poor worker can be seen scrambling to look productive. The poor worker encourages a general lack of productivity across their team so that the standard expectation of productivity will be generally lower.

I thought of the poor worker as I read this morning’s chapter and Solomon’s admonition to consider the ways of the hard working, diligent little ant.

At the risk of sounding like a grumpy old man, I admit that I look back on my life journey and observe a stark difference in the average experience of a young person in today’s culture. The economy of my childhood afforded opportunities and expectations for learning a work ethic. When I was seven and eight years old I was shadowing my brothers on their paper routes. At ten, I was substituting as a newsie for my friend, hawking papers twice-a-day in the wards of the local VA hospital. At eleven I had my own route in which I not only delivered papers, but also collected money from customers, learned basic accounting, kept a ledger, and was held accountable for the quality of my work and the accuracy of my figures. By thirteen I was working in a restaurant bussing tables. At fifteen I was working a cornfield. At Sixteen I working retail evenings and weekends. During college, I often worked three jobs while taking a full load.

I contrast this to the “poor workers” with whom my young protègès struggle. I also observe what appears to me to be a great number of young people who are employed for the very first time in their lives post-high-school or college.

In the quiet this morning I find myself contemplating the simple virtue of hard work which was instilled in my early, formative years. I confess, like all young people, I had to be prompted, required, reminded, and scolded as I learned the lessons of said virtue. Some of those lessons are burned into my conscience. And, for that I am grateful.

Speaking of which, I have a full-day of training, coaching, and reporting ahead of me today with a client. My day begins early and ends late.

Time for me to get to work, my friend. Thanks for reading.

<— Click on Solomon for an indexed list of previous chapter-a-day posts from this series from Proverbs!

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Maturity and Personal Responsibility

“What has happened to us is a result of our evil deeds ….”
Ezra 9:13a (NIV)

I have a vivid memory from childhood. I was around ten or eleven years old and was embroiled in a competitive neighborhood game of “kick the can.” I don’t know if it’s even played by kids anymore. An empty coffee can was set up in our backyard. One of the neighbor kids was “It” and tasked with protecting the can and tagging anyone “out” who attempted to successfully kick the can before getting tagged. If anyone actually accomplished kicking the can, then all those who had previously been tagged “out” would be free and the game would continue.

I was one of the last chances for all those who had been tagged. I made my approach around the back of the garage and waited for “It” to turn his back. I made my run for the can. I lunged in desperation, executing a feet-first baseball slide to try and avoid the tag. I fell short and was tagged out by my gloating neighbor.

“GOSH DARN IT!” I exclaimed at the top of my lungs.

Only I didn’t say, “Gosh darn it.” I screamed the actual bad phrase, cussing like a sailor in my anger and frustration. Looking up, I saw my father standing on the patio a few feet away coiling the garden hose.

Busted right in front of the judge, jury, and executioner. I was condemned to spend the rest of that glorious summer evening in my room listening to the rest of the neighborhood kids playing outside my window. Desperate, I pleaded the youngest child’s defense.

“But Dad, I’m only repeating what I heard Tim and Terry say! They say it all the time!”

My appeal was summarily denied. There was no mercy for the innocent waif who had been deceived by his elder siblings and led, unknowingly, down the path of sinful exclamations. I trudged up the stairs to my prison cell and an early bedtime like a dead man walking, sure that I had been wronged.

Wendy and I often find ourselves in the fascinating social position of being in a life stage just ahead of many of our friends. As such, we observe our friends parenting children in various stages of personal development from childhood to young adults; stages we’ve already traversed with our girls. I am constantly amazed to watch children develop and go through various stages of maturity.

One of the most critical lessons in personal development is that of taking responsibility for one’s actions. It’s amazing to watch kids in the defensive machinations like my own elder sibling defense (it never works). I have witnessed kids expertly play the excuse, denial, blame, and wrongfully accused strategies with their parents like Grand Master chess players attempting to beat Watson. What’s really interesting to watch is when they finally have to own up to responsibility for their own foolishness, and how they handle it.

In today’s chapter, Ezra and the returning exiles are faced with a social and religious problem. The Hebrews’ faith is unlike any of the local religions practiced by other tribes inhabiting the land. Theirs is a holy, imageless, all-powerful God who seeks obedience, personal responsibility, and moral uprightness. Around them is a plethora of local pagan cults whose worship includes drunkenness, ritual sex and prostitution, child sacrifice, and all sorts of licentious practices. Throughout their history, Hebrew men have intermarried with local women. They soon found themselves participating in the local cults their wives belonged to along with religiously attending to the rituals of their own faith. Eventually, many simply walked away from the faith of their ancestors and assimilated into the local culture

I found Ezra’s prayer of confession and petition is a great example of responsibility. He doesn’t make excuses. He doesn’t point blame. He doesn’t try to minimize. He confesses honestly, takes full responsibility, and places himself at the mercy of the Almighty.

In the quiet this morning I find myself doing a little soul searching. Where in my life am I still playing an adult version of the child-like chess match of excuses, blame, obfuscation, and justification? Where do I need to step up, like Ezra, and confess honestly and forthrightly? What are the areas of life that I need to make a change?

(No Need to) “Wait for It”

 For [God] says,

“In the time of my favor I heard you,
    and in the day of salvation I helped you.”

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.
2 Corinthians 6:2 (NIV)

I  hate waiting. I especially abhor needless and unnecessary waiting.

I confess. I’m convinced this particular disdain and impatience is rooted in being the youngest of four. Growing up I spent years watching my older siblings get to do things before I did. In most cases I can look back from a place of maturity and understand requisite age and size restrictions. Still, there were times when I rightfully argued that capability should have outweighed arbitrary age limits for certain activities. I’m sure of it. At least, that’s the whine of my inner child.

It never ceases to amaze me just how much our childhoods continue to subconsciously affect us in our adult years. Just this past year Wendy came to a sudden revelation about some inner thoughts she had, and their subsequent emotional reactions they created within. She realized that her thoughts weren’t actually her thoughts, but the voice of her mother playing on an endless loop in her brain. Fascinating.

I digress. Back to waiting.

As our local gathering of Jesus followers has been journeying through the book of Acts this year I have been reminded of two major paradigm shifts that happened when God moved humanity from the religious legalism of the Judaic system to the outpouring of Holy Spirit in the first century.

The first paradigm shift was the decentralization of power. Gone was a rigid system in which a human high priest and other humans, simply on the basis of their heredity, have spiritual power and irrevocable spiritual authority over everyone else. By the middle of the story of Acts we’re reading about common, everyday individuals we’ve never heard of, three or four social circles away from the twelve apostles, who God is using to move the Great Story forward. “Wait a minute. Who is this lady, Tabitha? Who is she and where did she come from?”

The second paradigm shift is the lifting of restrictions to experience salvation through Christ and participate fully in the organism Paul refers to as “the body of Christ.” Any and all who choose to follow Jesus have immediate and full spiritual access to all that God has to offer regardless of background, previous record, heredity, socio-economic status, race, gender, politics, education, or age. Any and all who follow Christ receive the indwelling of Holy Spirit, spiritual gifts, and a calling to use those gifts, in love, for Jesus’ good will and purpose.

This is a radical, transformative spiritual shift (that human organizations and institutions have continually found ways to reverse for two millennia).

In today’s chapter Paul quotes a verse from Isaiah 49. It’s a great messianic prophecy. I get why it would have been one of Paul’s favorite references. All of Paul’s readers who were raised in Judaism would have been raised waiting for the Messiah. It had been 400 years since the last prophet, Malachi, and since then they’d been waiting for what God was going to do. Paul writes to those in Corinth that there is no longer any need to wait for God. All that God has to offer is immediately available to anyone, anywhere, in this very moment.

In the quiet this morning I’m thinking about my level of patience. I’ve gotten better at waiting along my journey. “Patience” is a fruit of the Spirit that gets developed over time, and I can see how it has developed in me along the way. I’ve also come to embrace that while all that God has to offer is immediately available, this is still a journey. There’s still a story being revealed. I still have to wait for some things to be fully revealed and realized in this finite, time-laden existence. I’m reminded, once again, of the words of the wise Teacher of Ecclesiastes:

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

As for following Jesus, Paul writes to the Corinthians, there’s no time like the present moment.

Of Vows, Legal Code, and Secret Handshakes

Moses said to the heads of the tribes of Israel: “This is what the Lord commands: When a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said.
Numbers 30:1-2 (NIV)

When I was a kid growing up on the northwest side of Des Moines, we had a populous and active neighborhood. There were a lot of kids on our block and along the surrounding streets. We regularly hung out and played together. Freeze-tag, Statue-tag, Ding-Dong Ditch ’em, and any number of games might be in the cards on any given summer evening as a bunch of kids gathered to play until the street lights came on along Madison Avenue.

As kids, when you made a promise to one another there were always ways that we pledged ourselves to our word. Secret handshakes were a staple. When you pledged yourself with a secret handshake the deal was sealed. It was golden, and you were under obligation.

In the files I keep here in my home office I have any number of legal documents binding me to my promises, vows, oaths, and pledges. There’s a mortgage binding me to pay back the money I borrowed from the bank to build my house. There’s the agreement my partner and I made to buy our company from the founder. There’s a marriage certificate binding me in a legal marital obligation to Wendy. All of them are official, legal, and filed with the civic authorities lest I break my obligation and open myself up to the consequences.

Back in the day when Moses and the Hebrew  tribes were wandering around the wilderness, human societies were in the “neighborhood kid” stage of history’s life cycle. There were no well established and precedented legal systems. Writing things down, signing them, and storing a record of an agreement for were out of the question. Writing utensils and the ability to record and store the agreements were thousands of years away from being a reality. Moses and the tribes had basically been stuck making secret handshakes.

Today’s chapter is among the first ancient attempts in human history to create a system of rules by which it was determined if a persons vow was binding or not, and who had authority to overrule a person’s vow or oath. Of course, anyone who’s ever seen a library of legal codes or the tax code knows that over time we humans have a way of creating a dizzying complex system of laws, amendments, precedents, and loopholes.

The Jews were just as human. The fairly basic, straightforward text of today’s chapter became a burdensome cultural and religious system in which oaths and vows were taken seriously based on the specific wording you used. If you vowed “by heaven” it might be more binding than if you vowed “by earth” although not was binding if you swore “by my head” except in certain circumstances, in which case it would have to be determined by section C, paragraph 2, sub-paragraph Q…. You get where I’m going with this, right?

Which is why Jesus quoted today’s chapter and said,

“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”

Say what you’ll do. Do what you say. Freedom in simplicity.

Today, I pledge myself to that simplicity.

Pinky swear.

Photo Friday: Shoes on the Power Line

2017-01-palm-springs-w-kevin-and-linda-10

While in Palms Springs a few weeks ago I spied a pair of shoes tossed over and dangling from a power line. My head was suddenly filled with nostalgic images of years gone by when such iconic pranks were the stuff that childhood was made of.

The shoes and the power lines made an interesting composition against the cloudless blue canvas of California’s desert sky.

Memory Monday: The Birthday Gift

English: 1968 Schwinn Sting-ray Orange Krate 5...
English: 1968 Schwinn Sting-ray Orange Krate 5-speed (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Being the youngest of four, I got used to hand-me-downs. And, when I did get something that mom and dad bought me new it was usually built with growth in mind.

My birthday is on Wednesday this week and I’ve been thinking about birthdays past. One of my birthdays as a child became one of my most memorable, and it came with both good news and bad news. The good news was that my parents bought me a shiny, brand new Schwinn Stingray five-speed bicycle complete with banana seat that was the coolest, most unexpected birthday gift I think I’ve ever gotten. The bad news is that they bought it big so that I could grow into it and so it would last me a long time. In fact, I did ride it until I was almost in high school. But my little legs struggled to reach the pedals and I grew frustrated with my siblings who all took turns riding my bike (it seemed to fit them perfectly).

I guess sometimes when we get things “to grow into” the growth is more than mere physicality. Despite my frustration with the bike being to big to begin with, I did grow into it quickly and it became one of the most cherished childhood possessions. It became a tool of childhood freedom as I explored the streets and neighborhoods around my childhood home. It became a symbol of a young boy’s machismo as I learned to pop wheelies and ride with no hands. It taught me that some things you do grow into, grow out of, but never forget.

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Music that Educates

Schoolhouse Rock!
Schoolhouse Rock! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All this happened so they would follow his decrees
    and obey his instructions.
Psalm 105:45 (NLT)

Those of younger generations reading this post will have to forgive my “old man” reminiscence this morning, but reading this morning’s psalm brought back some enjoyable memories of childhood.

When I was growing up, television had four channels (ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS). Cartoons and children’s programming were reserved primarily for Saturday mornings between 7:00 a.m. and noon. My childhood ritual was to be in the basement in front of the television somewhere around 6:30. I would endure the final half-hour of U.S. Farm Report before my weekly cartoon binge would commence.

Even in those days parents complained that a five hour smorgasbord of television would rot our brains. So, one of the networks began airing a series of short cartoons called Schoolhouse Rock which taught lessons of history, math and grammar by packaging them into catchy songs with accompanying cartoons. I loved them, as did my entire generation. I’ll never forget my 8th grade Social Science class in which one particular test was to write out the preamble of the U.S. Constitution word for word. I can still remember an entire room full of kids muttering the Schoolhouse Rock song as they wrote out the words.

Using music as a mnemonic device to remember things has been used since ancient times. In fact, psalm 105 is a ancient version of Schoolhouse Rock. It was intended as a survey of Israel’s history in musical form which people could sing and remember. The song even ends with a nice little moral, calling people to obedience in light of all God had done.

Today, I’m thankful for my childhood, for Schoolhouse Rock, and the way that music can not only entertain but also educate.

 

Pursuit of Happiness #6

 

Awesome birthday. I was five or six and my parents bought me a Schwinn Stingray five-speed with banana seat and chopper handlebars complete with tassels. It was so big my feet barely touched the pedals. I grew into it and spent the happiest memories of my childhood tearing around the neighborhood, poppin’ wheelies, sitting in the driveway with Scott Borg watching cars bottom out on the dip at the end of the block, giving a 1 to 10 rating for the girls and the cars that drove by, and Delivering the Des Moines Tribune.

Best bike ever. Ever.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and Nels Olsen

Chapter-a-Day Luke 2

So he went back to Nazareth with them, and lived obediently with them. His mother held these things dearly, deep within herself. And Jesus matured, growing up in both body and spirit, blessed by both God and people. Luke 2:51-52 (MSG)

My daughter, Madison, called yesterday. It was good to hear her voice. Now that she lives in a city hours away, I relish the sound of her voice. I’m thankful that technology makes it so easy to connect. Then, in the afternoon, I heard voices downstairs and discovered that Taylor had stopped by and was chatting with Wendy. Getting a hug from her made my day brighter.

As I read today’s chapter, I found it interesting that Luke reminds us twice that Jesus’ mother “held” the experiences of his childhood “deep within.” Having interviewed Mary after Jesus’ death, I wonder if those were her words, or if it was Luke’s observation as he listened and watched.

After 30 years of consistently reading God’s Message, I have a greater appreciation for Mary’s experience than ever before. I’ve read this passage countless times and have given little thought these words. Time and experience never cease to provide a more expansive perspective to each chapter I read, and now the words leap off the page at me. 

With the girls grown and gone, I find my mind constantly accessing the hard drive of my memory to view in my mind’s eye the moments from their childhood which I hold dearly, deep within. Who they are today, and who they are becoming is rooted in the very first steps of their own journey. I hold the memory of those first steps dearly, deep within.