Tag Archives: Education

“Just the Way it Works”

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They slay the widow and the foreigner;
    they murder the fatherless.

When anxiety was great within me,
    your consolation brought me joy.

Psalm 94:6, 19 (NIV)

While a college student, I took a semester off of classes and worked as an abstractor. My job was to take the abstract of a property that was being bought or sold and search the county records for the property, the buyers, and the sellers with regard to most recent taxes, liens, contracts, or transactions. While I worked for an abstract company with an office in the county office building, most of my day was spent visiting various county offices.

The county I worked in had long been under the tight control of a political machine, and my daily observations were a harsh life lesson. There was a law against smoking in public buildings, but some county employees continued to smoke at their desks as much as they wanted without consequence. I remember one office in which a county employee told me she wasn’t going to help me simply because she didn’t want to do so that day. I was told by my employer that there was nothing that could be done about it. “That’s just the way it works,” he said. Then there were the employees who sat in offices and pretty much did nothing all day knowing that they were “untouchable.”

Along my life journey, I’ve observed that corruption exists everywhere. It exists in governments, business, education, healthcare, and religion. Wherever you find a human system you will find individuals who will rig that system for personal power and gain. There is no perfect system because there are no perfect people. I’ve come to believe that the best we can do is to have systemic accountability through checks and balances.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 94, is a song of lament from of one who sees a corrupt system, and those who suffer because of it. In particular, the songwriter calls out the three most vulnerable groups in the Hebrew society of that day: widows, orphans, and foreigners. What is both fascinating and depressing is that the Law of Moses clearly instructed the Hebrews to take care of these three vulnerable groups. The writer of Psalm 94 laments that the system isn’t working.

From my own experience, it’s a helpless, hopeless feeling.

“That’s just the way it works.”

The song shifts in verse 12, and the songwriter places his hope and trust in God being the eternal “Avenger” who will ultimately bring justice to a corrupt world. In placing faith in God’s ultimate plan, the psalmist’s anxiety gives way to joy.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself grateful that I live in a representative republic in which individuals have some opportunity to address systemic corruption through the voting booth, the courts, speech, protest, and press. At the same time, I recognize that there are some places, even in the best of human systems, in which corruption is “just the way it works.”

This leaves me responsible to do what I can, within the systems I’m in, for those who are most vulnerable. That’s what Jesus calls me to. It also leaves me trusting Him who was crucified at the hands of a corrupt human system, to fulfill His promise of ultimately bringing justice and redemption at the conclusion of the Great Story. Joy, like that the psalmist expressed in the lyrics of today’s chapter, is experienced not in the absence of negative circumstances and human corruption, but in the midst of them.

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

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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

Mysteries Within Mysteries

Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, [Jesus] became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.
Hebrews 5:8-10 (NIV)

The further I have progressed on this life journey the more I have come to understand that I must embrace mystery if I am going to progress spiritually in certain places. This flies in the face of a system of reason in which I was raised and educated. Our culture is one that places what I have come to understand as an undue premium on knowing. Theories are stated as certainties quite frequently whether they come from the institutions of religion, education, politics, or science. I find that our culture has lost sight of the value of embracing the knowledge of knowing that we do not know or cannot know.

I have found that the desire to try to replace mystery with false certainty is a fool’s errand. I see this repeated over and over again in history. It leads down all sorts of silly and hurtful paths. Minor issues become major battlegrounds, honest exploration is sacrificed on the altar of exclusionary social litmus tests, and institutions make all sorts of embarrassing mistakes (sometimes with deadly consequences). Embracing mystery, on the other hand, has pushed my heart and mind to new avenues of possibility, exploration, discovery and faith. I love how Catholic mystic Richard Rohr puts it: “Mystery is not something we can not understand. Mystery is something we can endlessly understand.”

The letter to Hebrew believers has always been shrouded in mystery, not the least of which is the identity of the author. Two centuries after it was penned we are still not certain who wrote the letter. My fundamentalist Bible professors taught me that I must believe it was Paul who wrote it. Textual critics in education laugh at such a claim, telling me it certainly couldn’t be Paul. Arguments have been made for a host of first century figures (i.e. Luke, Apollos, Barnabas). More recently, some scholars have argued that it was most certainly a woman, Priscilla, who was among Jesus larger circle of 70 disciples and travelled with Paul. I find this possibility fascinating and stimulating. It has led me to discover more about this amazing woman through whom God did amazing things. I know, however, at least one of my fundamentalist professors would have said it most certainly wasn’t Priscilla and would certainly have marginalized and subtly punished me educationally had I steadfastly held to the possibility in his class.

I do not know who wrote the letter to the Hebrew believers, and that’s perfectly fine for me. It is a mystery that has much for me to discover in its exploration of possibility.

In today’s chapter we encounter yet another mystery in the revelation of Christ as eternal High Priest. The Hebrew believers who first received this letter would have intimate knowledge about how the Hebrew priestly system worked as prescribed by the Law of Moses. Only descendants of Aaron (Moses’ right-hand man) were to be priests, and the High Priest could only come from those genetic ranks. According to the prophets, however, the Messiah was to come from the tribe of Judah and the house of David as Jesus did. Remember Christmas? Mary gives birth to Jesus in Bethlehem, the “City of David.” Joseph and Mary had to go to Bethlehem for the census because they were both descendants of David in the tribe of Judah.

But now the mysterious author of Hebrews lays out a claim that Christ is our eternal “High Priest,” the cosmic conduit between God and man. But the Hebrew readers would know that Jesus was not from the line of Aaron, so how could He be High Priest? The author reveals Jesus as High Priest “in the order of Melchizedek.” In Genesis 14:18 Abram (who would soon be known as Abraham) meets a mysterious King of Salem named Melchizedek who was “priest of God Most High.” He serves Abram bread and wine (remind you of anything?) and blesses Abram. Abram in return presents the priest Melchizedek an offering of a tenth of everything.

That’s all we know about Melchizedek. This mysterious person was “priest of God Most High” before Abram was Abraham, before Israel was a people, before the Law of Moses was given, before the Hebrew priesthood was defined as descendants of Aaron. It’s a mystery, and the author of Hebrews attaches the mystery of Christ the cosmic High Priest to the lineage to the mysterious Melchizedek who appears within the Hebrew tradition but outside the system of Moses.

This morning I’m once again perplexed, stimulated, and inspired by the mystery of Melchizedek, of Jesus, and of Hebrews. As I humbly embrace the mystery I push deeper into that which can be endlessly understood and so take another step forward on the path of faith and Spirit.

The Challenge in the Way We See the World

The earth will be completely laid waste
    and totally plundered.
The Lord has spoken this word.
Isaiah 24:3 (NIV)

Over the past week in the United States we have seen a clash of peoples with very different world views; People who see the world very differently. The presidential election has brought those stark differences into the spotlight, along with our continued struggle to to love those with whom we disagree and to let discourse rule over discord.

I don’t hear people talking much about world views any more. I had an entire class on it in college in which we defined many of the more popular world views, discussed them at length, and weighed their differences. My impression is that higher education has changed a lot in the past 20 years. At the liberal arts college I attended we were taught that the loss of an election to those who saw the world differently was reason for fascination, personal challenge and understanding rather than fear and loathing.

World view is the primary way we see the world. World view is the lens of our core religious, political, and socio-economic views. Our world view is the filter through which we see the world and process news and events. It is a very human thing to assume that our world view is right and others world views are wrong; to struggle with those who don’t share our own personal view of the world.

There is, however, value in understanding how I view the world and to have it challenged. This is where discourse is a worthwhile friend.

Today’s chapter highlights a piece of world view that has been challenged in recent years. I had a discussion about this with Wendy and one of my daughters this past week in light of the surprising results of our election. Many followers of Jesus hold to what is essentially a medieval world view as it relates to our view of the future. This world view holds that things are going to get progressively worse and worse until there is apocalypse, and then Jesus will return and redeem everything in a eucatastrophic climax to the Great Story.

There is another world view I’ve been reading from some modern day mystics which takes an opposite view. God is progressively redeeming things. Things are getting better all the time, though we can’t really see it. Despite our fears, worries and a media bent on showing us all that is sensationally wrong with the world things are actually getting better as God’s resurrection power spreads in an ever-expanding universe.

So which is it? Apocalypse and eucatastrophe or evolving redemption? Isaiah’s prophetic words today certainly lends itself to the former. The world laid waste in desolation, but in the end the Lord is reigning in Jerusalem.

This morning I’m mulling over these things in my  mind. I’m pondering how I see the world and weighing what I read in God’s Message. I’m watching the news of the day and trying to see them both in context of my personal world view while understanding how those same events are perceived by those who see the world differently than I.

chapter a day banner 2015

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.

 

Chapter-a-Day Acts 4

education
education (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. Acts 4:13 (NLT)

Our culture is blessed by ancestors who believed in the need for education. Before public education was available, virtually all of America’s private educational institutions were founded by followers of Jesus who felt that education was a crucial need for their children and for the successful future of generations who would come after. Today, between private colleges, community colleges, public universities, education for working adults, and on-line coursework, a higher education is more readily available than any time in history.

I have, however, come to realize that our belief in higher education can easily and subtly deceive us. Education is not spiritual knowledge. A diploma does not give you wisdom. A higher education is not equal to, nor superior to spiritual giftedness. I have witnessed many men and women who were placed in positions as teachers and pastors because they had the right educational credentials, but those individuals failed and their churches suffered because they were not spiritually gifted for the task. I have likewise known successful pastors and teachers who never darkened the door of a college or seminary, but who were blessed with spiritual gifts that more than enabled them for the task. Education is important, but a institution of higher learning is not Holy Spirit. Having a string of letters behind your name should never be confused with spiritual knowledge, wisdom or giftedness.

I find today’s chapter fascinating and heartening. Peter and John, these uneducated, blue-collar fishermen from the sticks, had been transformed in a matter of weeks from fearful, skulking followers into bold and capable leaders who would change the course of human history. We can all be encouraged by that. What any of us may lack in education and abilities is nothing compared to what the fullness of God’s Spirit in us makes possible.

Chapter-a-Day Proverbs 12

English: Large amount of pennies
Image via Wikipedia

A hard worker has plenty of food, 
      but a person who chases fantasies has no sense.
Proverbs 12:11 (NLT) 

I one knew a man who chased fantasies. He did not go to college even though he could have done so free of charge because of his parents positions with a local university. Intelligent and personable, he could have easily made his way through school and found success in any number of life endeavors. He chose instead to chase after quick money in a number of schemes both legal and illegal.

For several years I had opportunity to run into this gentleman every year or so. Each time we spoke there was another get rich quick scheme he was chasing after. If there was an infomercial on at 3:00 a.m. claiming to make you rich in 30 days, my friend was putting up his money for the books, cassettes and DVDs and giving it a whirl. Of course, they never worked because he never worked.

Seeking endlessly after the fantasy job that will pay you more for working less will not lead to good places. Working hard at the job you’re given; Proving yourself faithful, reliable and willing to do the task you’re given leads to more rewarding opportunities.

As I read the proverb above from today’s chapter it struck me that “a person who chases fantasies has no sense,” he also has “no cents.”

Chapter-a-Day Jeremiah 23

Dove of the Holy Spirit
Image by hops_76 via Flickr

I don’t want to hear it anymore. Only the person I authorize speaks for me. Otherwise, my Message gets twisted, the Message of the living God-of-the-Angel-Armies. Jeremiah 23:36 (MSG)

Many years ago I knew of a church who was in between pastors. The son of a church member had been educated and ordained in this particular church’s denomination. He had no job at the time and was living at home. So, the denomination and the church board tagged him to help fill the pulpit. The man was a nice person and extremely intelligent. But, he was not a gifted communicator. He had all the head knowledge and denominational credentials, but the words died on his lips each Sunday morning as the congregation struggled to figure out what he was trying to say.

In this particular congregation was another man. He lacked the denominational credentials and had not attended the denomination’s seminary. But, everyone in the church agreed that he was gifted in communicating God’s Message. When he spoke, God’s Message was alive and active. The Holy Spirit moved in the congregation. And yet, this man was eventually banned from the pulpit because he lacked the approval of the denominational authorities.

I am all for doing things decently and in order. I believe in education. Many times, however, I’ve watched as human organizations confuse their authority with God’s. I’ve observed how easy it is for us confuse man’s approval with God’s. Those who are gifted by God will be used by God. On the contrary, no amount of education or denominational credentials can manufacture God’s spiritual gifts.

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