Tag Archives: Class

Lessons in a List of Names

These searched for their family records, but they could not find them and so were excluded from the priesthood as unclean.
Ezra 2:62 (NIV)

The small community in which Wendy and I live was established in 1847 by a group of several hundred immigrants from the Netherlands. They followed their pastor to “the new world” to experience the freedom of religion that was found in America, along with the opportunities that the American frontier offered.

In our town’s Historical Villiage there is an entire wall that lists all of the original families who made the dangerous voyage. It was dangerous. Many died at sea or on the trek by foot across the still untamed American prairie.

There were relatively few families of any significant means among the original colonists, but for those that were there was a clear distinction between them and the poor and “common.” Today, I can look down the list. Most of the names I recognize. The families prospered and grew. They found the opportunities they were looking for. Most of them still have descendants living in the community.

I thought about that wall in the historical village as I read today’s chapter. I find that chapters like today’s are quickly dismissed and glossed over by most casual readers, but in context, they hold lessons to be learned.

In the Hebrew religion and culture, your family determined a lot about your life. They considered the land as “God’s” possession and they were merely tenants. When Moses led the people out of Egypt and they entered the “promised land” the land was divided by tribes. Religious offices were also determined by tribe and family. Only descendants of Aaron could be priests and only descendants of Levi could oversee the temple and official religious duties. Your family of origin determined much of life for the returning exiles.

A couple of things to note in the chapter. There is an entire list of men who are not numbered by family, but by their towns. They had no family distinction or genealogy to be listed among the families or tribes. They were “commoners” like many of the people who settled our community. Also, there were those who could not prove their claims as they had no family records. They were religiously excluded until a process could be set up to settle their claims. Then there’s the curious story of Barzillai who had married a daughter of Barzillai and took his wife’s family name rather than his wife becoming part of her husband’s tribe; A very uncommon situation in those days.

This morning I’m thinking about family, about history, and about the opportunities that I enjoy on this life journey that did not exist for most people in all of human history. My great-grandfather came alone to a new world. He was a young, poor, uneducated commoner with some carpentry skills. He started a hardware store and a family. How much do I owe to his daring to cross the ocean and half a continent to make a new life for himself and his descendants? How much do I owe to a country where one is not bound by a family name or trade, but free to pursue any path you desire?

One of the offerings that the ancient Hebrews would bring to the Temple that they returned to Jerusalem to rebuild, was a “Thanksgiving Offering.” This morning in the quiet of my hotel room I find my spirit offering a word, a song, a heart of gratitude to God for the incredible blessings afforded me that I daily take for granted.

 

Did I Just Strike Out, or Did I Hit a Home Run?

2013 06 08 Nathan VL Baseball 02

Then I said, “Sovereign Lord, they are saying of me, ‘Isn’t he just telling parables?’”
Ezekiel 20:49 (NIV)

For the past couple of months I have been teaching a class for a handful of brave souls from our local group of Jesus followers. The class was intended for a those who feel that they may have a spiritual gift in preaching or teaching. I have been asked to teach and to mentor them. I encouraged anyone interested in being a better communicator to join us and a number of people did.

In the first week of the class I announced to the group that we would be breaking some new ground and that there was the distinct possibility that I could really miss the mark. Most people are used to taking a class that follows a published book or video series of some kind. What we are exploring, however, is how God uses the language of metaphor. We’re talking about metaphors in creation, metaphors in the names we find in God’s message, metaphors in the sacraments, metaphors in prophecy, metaphors in parables, metaphors in the arts and creative expression, and etc. Along the way, we are also touching on some practical advice for preparing and delivering an effective presentation or message.

One of the most important points I have made to my class is that when you deliver a message the job is to prepare and communicate the material to the best of our ability and leave the response and results up to the Holy Spirit. That is easier said than done. We all have a natural desire to know if our words have accomplished their purpose. Last night as I left the parking lot I called Wendy to tell her how the class went. “I’m not sure,” I ruminated, “if I struck out swinging or hit a home run.”

The question still nagged at me as I read this morning’s chapter. For 20 chapters Ezekiel has been preaching, prophesying, and performing his metaphorical productions as God instructed. Then, at the very end of the chapter Zeke questions God about his audience’s response. I can feel his heart. “Is any of this landing? Are my messages having any impact? Am I making any kind of a difference? Have a stuck out swinging or am I knocking it out the park?

I’m sure Zeke would have been encouraged to know that 2500 years later his prophetic messages would still be having lasting impact as we read them, meditate on them, study and appreciate them. But, in the moment, he’s just a messenger wanting to know if he’s making a difference. How very human, and in that I am encouraged this morning as well as being reminded of my own words to my class: “Just keep doing what you’re called to do to the best of your ability. God takes care of the rest.”

Putting Our Gifts to Work

 

"It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child."
“It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”

Give your complete attention to these matters. Throw yourself into your tasks so that everyone will see your progress. 1 Timothy 4:15 (NLT)

It has be an interesting week of reading deprivation which was part of the assignment for a creativity class I’m teaching. The idea of the assignment is to break out of normal routines, to do other things with your time, to be less distracted in order to focus on pursuing new paths of action. For me the lesson was in how much of a routine Wendy and I have in certain parts of our day, especially mornings, and how disruptive it can be to disturb those routines.

The class last night discussed the fact that we all feel called to be creative in our own pursuits whether it’s writing, music, artwork, crafts, and etc. We talk about the idea of being creative, but the actual creative work seems never to start. The canvas remains blank and sitting in the corner. The piano gathers dust. The play does not get revised as needed. For this we have a million excuses:

  • Too busy this week.
  • Can’t think of anything to write/draw/play.
  • I’ll get to it tomorrow.
  • I’m waiting for inspiration.

Yesterday, in preparation for class, I was investigating Pablo Picasso who was notorious for cranking out artwork in steady, flowing streams of creativity. He was constantly painting, sculpting, crafting, and drawing. An art professor of mine once commented that the vast majority of the work Picasso created was “crap” but he made so much of it that his work was constantly evolving and once in a while he would have a breakthrough of pure genius. But, he never would have had the breakthrough of genius if he hadn’t been willing to produce all the crap.

“Inspiration exists,” Picasso once said, “but it has to find us working.”

I thought of my classmates and of Picasso this morning when I read Paul’s encouragement to his protégé, Timothy. Give attention to your calling, your talents, and your gifts. Throw yourself into the action of pursuing and developing them. Only then will you make progress.

“Give me a museum, and I will fill it,” Picasso said.

Now there’s someone putting his gift to work.

A Teacher’s Love

 

GDR "village teacher" (a teacher tea...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Oh, my dear children! I feel as if I’m going through labor pains for you again, and they will continue until Christ is fully developed in your lives.. Galatians 4:7 (NLT)

Several years ago my mother was greeting at church and a woman asked her if she was Tom Vander Well’s mother. “I am,” my mother answered. The woman told my mother that she had been my first grade teacher and she wanted my mother to say hello to me. I was blown away to know that Mrs. Avery would remember me after all those years. I loved her. She changed my life by giving me a love for school and for learning. I made a point of visiting her a few weeks later to tell her that and to thank her. Sitting in her living room, she pulled out my old class photo and began naming each student and talking about each one as if we were the previous year’s class. When she told me that she prayed for each of her students, I wasn’t surprised.

I’ve been teaching a class this fall on creativity. It’s been several years since I’ve taught, and I’ve been amazed to remember how intensely I feel for those in my class. In my morning quiet times I find myself thinking of each one, naming them individually and praying for them. During the week I feel concern. I wonder how their week is going and what God is doing in their lives through the assignments and material.

I identified with Paul when in today’s chapter he described his feelings of responsibility for those he taught in Galatia as labor pains. On one hand it seems a bit of an odd metaphor because, face it, neither Paul nor I can really understand true labor pains. I think Paul used the metaphor because as a teacher you realize that something is being birthed in your students. There are new thoughts, new perceptions, and there is new life emerging when God’s Spirit is at work. And that is the key. God and the students are doing that hard work. I’m just a facilitator and conduit. Nevertheless, when I’m involved in the facilitation of that process, I experience a love and commitment to those in my charge.

Playing the Roles We are Given

English: A painting created by Leonardo Da Vin...
English: A painting created by Leonardo Da Vinci depicting St John the baptist (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Look! I am sending my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me.” Malachi 3:1 (NLT)

I am teaching a Wednesday night class on creativity. In the first week I made a case for the truth that every human being is made in the image of the Creator, therefore every human being is creative. How the creativity plays out from one person to the next is determined by a whole host of variables, but we are all creative.

Last night our class talked about the fact that some people are creatively gifted in unique ways. A few individuals are prodigies and artistic geniuses in a way that the majority of us will never know nor experience. This does not mean, however, that our creativity is not necessary nor important.

When I read about the messenger in Malachi’s prophesy, I thought about John the Baptist about whom Jesus said the prophecy pointed. John lived a life scratched out in the Judean desert. His role was to prepare the way for and hand the spotlight over to Jesus:

The interest of the people by now was building. They were all beginning to wonder, “Could this John be the Messiah?” But John intervened: “I’m baptizing you here in the river. The main character in this drama, to whom I’m a mere stagehand, will ignite the kingdom life, a fire, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He’s going to clean house—make a clean sweep of your lives. He’ll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he’ll put out with the trash to be burned.” Luke 3:15-17 (MSG) [emphasis added]

I love that John understood his role, and played it well. We so often and unwittingly commit the sin of envy. We compare ourselves to others who have gifts and abilities that we wish we had. We feel less than. We choose to believe that because we do not have the lead role, because we are not in the spotlight, or because our gifts and talents go unrecognized that our gifts and talents do not matter. Nothing could be further from the truth. We each have a role to play, and when we do not play our role the entire drama is diminished.

Razing the Walls of Social Convention

2012 12 23 VH Family GatheringWhen you meet together, you are not really interested in the Lord’s Supper. For some of you hurry to eat your own meal without sharing with others. As a result, some go hungry while others get drunk. 1 Corinthians 11:20-21 (NLT)

This week has been a veritable plethora of Christmas gatherings and feasts. On Sunday, we enjoyed a huge multi-generational family gathering here at VW Manor. Our cozy little brick house was packed with family of all ages, from two to 85.

It’s always interesting to see what happens socially at large gatherings whether its family or community. Some people hang tight with certain people seem to avoid others. Some people are social butterflies while others are wallflowers. I spent a good part of the afternoon Sunday with the younger generation at the dining room table while most of the adults kept to themselves in the living room. It was fun to hang out with and talk to younger family members I don’t see or often speak with, especially as many of them are making the transition from young people to adults. It was great conversation and I enjoyed my time with them.

In today’s chapter, Paul was addressing similar social situations that were negatively affecting the local church potluck in Corinth. The early gathering of believers had a tradition called “love feasts.” All believers would gather and share a meal together, then end with serving the “Lord’s Supper” a which ceremoniously imitates the eating of bread (metaphor for Jesus’ broken body) and drinking of wine (metaphor for Jesus’ shed blood) which Jesus instituted the night before he was crucified. In the early church there was a huge social disparity at these Love Feasts. There were rich and poor, slaves and free peoples, Greeks and Romans and Jews.

Because of the diversity of peoples in the church, social tensions arose as people gathered in their cliques. The  wealthier believers brought good food and hoarded it for themselves, eating quickly while less fortunate believers waited for what amounted to the leftovers. In many cases, by the time everyone had eaten and the church was ready to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, some had consumed too much wine and were visibly inebriated.

People are people. As much as some things change, human nature doesn’t change all that much over time. I see shadows of the same social struggles at a church potluck or a family gathering today as the situation we read about in Paul’s letter. Today, I’m thinking about the gatherings yet to come this holiday season and social gatherings in which I regularly participate. I don’t want to passively regress into comfortable social conventions, but let love motivate me to tear down walls between peoples, generations, and social groups.

Chapter-a-Day Deuteronomy 7

WASHINGTON - NOVEMBER 17:  Joe Uva (L), Presid...
Image by Getty Images via @daylife

So don’t be intimidated by them. God, your God, is among you—God majestic, God awesome. Deuteronomy 7:21 (MSG)

When I was younger, I found myself easily intimidated by people. Perhaps it was from being the  baby of the family, but it didn’t take much for me to feel “less than” another person whom I perceived to be have some kind of power or authority.

Along life’s journey God has placed me in positions in which I’ve interacted with people at many different levels of worldly power and authority. I’ve worked with people in extreme poverty and have dealt with people of extreme wealth. I often work with both front-line employees fresh out of college starting their careers as well as Presidents and CEOs. I’ve had the opportunity to know leaders of business, well-known authors, and government officials.

One of the lessons that these experiences have taught me is that every person, no matter their position in life, has their own set of troubles, trials, and temptations. Means and influence do not make you a better person, and often I’ve observed how they create more problems. I’ve known some individuals in relatively impressive positions of earthly power and influence who are deeply insecure, while others with little or no earthly power and influence have incredible personal strength.

My experiences have made me far less likely to be intimidated by others. I am constantly reminded that God instructs me to be content, keep growing and be fruitful where I’ve been planted. Others may have more worldly power, more influence, more stuff, and greater means than I do, but in God’s economy we all stand on equal footing.

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