Never-ending Studies

Martin had the office across the hall from me during my one year as a teaching assistant at the University of Kansas. He was practically an institution at the school. The most long-standing graduate students in the department reported that Martin had been an old-timer when they began their studies. Supposedly, he had been there, finished with course work and working toward completing his dissertation, for so long that his foreign-language qualifications expired and he had to retake them.

What is the point out going to school endlessly, paying your fees and supposedly making progress on the degree for year after endless year? It took me five years to complete my doctorate, which seemed like too long to me. Martin must have had about 15 years in when I last saw him.

It strikes me that many churches have people who are a lot like Martin. These people go to Bible study classes every week. They sit and nod appreciatively as a teacher shares whatever nuggets of wisdom are available. Then they go home and await the next week’s class.

Is there something wrong, you might ask, with going to Sunday School? Isn’t that what good Christians are supposed to do? I’d like to argue the answer to both questions might very well be “yes.” Yes, there might very well be something wrong with going to Sunday School. And yes, that just might be what Christians should do. Confused? Let me try to unconfuse.

Imagine if you will the Apostle Thaddeus. We always think about Peter and James and John, but nobody says anything about Thaddeus, so lets consider him. He probably sat with Jesus at the Sermon on the Mount. He listened attentively and perhaps even asked questions. Maybe he asked Jesus who sinned, the man born blind or his parents, in John 9:2. In short, we can picture Thaddeus going to his version of “Sunday school.”

But then, in Luke 9, when Jesus sent the twelve out “to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick,” what if Thaddeus had said, “You know, I think I’d rather stay here and just keep learning from you”? In short, what if Thaddeus had just decided to keep going to Sunday school rather than serving?

Christians should continue, from the day of salvation until the day they die, learning more about God’s Word. It’s important, but if that’s all we do, then what good are we? What is the point of being a Martin, learning and learning and learning but never actually putting all of that learning to use.

I mention this today, because I know of many people who should be going out of their comfortable and comforting classes in order to serve God. Are you not quite ready? Guess what? Neither was Thaddeus or the other disciples. Jesus didn’t send them out because they were ready. He sent them out to help get them ready.

For all I know, Martin is still lurking around the bottom floor of Wescoe Hall at KU. For all I know, he never finished that degree of his. We don’t need a waste of potential like that in the church.

Children’s Hour

Kids are cute? Who says? Kids cry. They argue and fuss and fume. Kids are often dirty, often impatient, often demanding. Honestly, the only thing worse than kids is the adults they grow into!

A church that I attended early in my adult life, during years that I had small children at home, used to have that “kids are cute” mentality etched onto their brains. Mostly this attitude was maintained by grandparents and other people who didn’t have kids at home. These people didn’t attempt to teach kids in Sunday School, they didn’t sit with kids during service, and they didn’t struggle to coax cooperation out of kids 168 hours during the week. Those people would smile and parrot back a particular teaching of Jesus without giving much thought to the paradoxical nature of it.

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “So who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child and had him stand among them. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child—this one is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.–Matthew 18:1-4

I can remember people from the “Kids are Cute” Church stroking their chins and affecting a look of profound wisdom. “And why are children great in the kingdom of heaven?” they would ask. They’d pause for effect. “Because children are humble.” Then they’d look at you as if they’d just imparted the most amazing truth. Never mind that the idea of humility is right there in the passage.

The people at that long-ago church were nice enough, but they were a little too enamored of their own learning. They knew better than all these foolish teachings of the old fashioned Christianity. They tended toward the “Serene Jones” view of the gospel. And that fact gets me to my takeaway for this teaching on the kingdom of heaven.

  • The kingdom does require humility and a childlike level of dependance. Just as a child would have a very difficult time surviving without adult help, the child of the kingdom cannot hope to survive with God’s provision.
  • The kingdom, on the other hand, does not require a great deal of knowledge.

As a person with many years of education, with a number of letters stringing off behind my name, I’m eager to believe that you really have to know a lot to enter the kingdom. But if a child can do it, then the knowledge must not be the key. Children know very little. They can’t read. They can’t explain the difference between free will and predestination. They certainly cannot intelligently discuss the concept of penal substitution.

Yet there they are in the front row of the kingdom.

When we seek the kingdom, we are not primarily seeking knowledge. Knowledge is good, and Jesus never suggests that His followers remain as unknowledgeable as those children. You can learn a great deal, but when your learning causes you to move out of childlike dependance on God, you’ll be drawn to that former church of mine.

Light for the Path (Psalm 19:8)

The precepts of the LORD are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the LORD are radiant,
giving light to the eyes. (Psalm 19:8)

I’ve been reading a little bit of the English biologist and writer T.H. Huxley, a man known as “Darwin’s Bulldog” and the grandfather of Aldous Huxley, the author of Brave New World. When he wasn’t championing Darwinian evolution in England and abroad, Huxley also promoted broader education, claiming that “artificial education” (or school) helped prepare people for the “natural education” of life. That makes a certain amount of sense to me.

When I look about me, I see a number of people who stumble along life’s ways for want of the various sorts of education that I was blessed to receive. Having been raised by astute and moral parents, I learned beforehand  to avoid a good number of the obstacles that life (nature in Huxley’s formula) would have placed in my path, leaving me a bloodied lip and little if any explanation.

To make my way down this twisty track we call life, some light in the form of instruction is helpful. The problem, however, is that all light is not created equal. I think of the “light” that Pinocchio received on his way to school. I think of the “light” given to young people today equating easy sexuality with happiness. That sort of light seems to show the way but leaves dangerous tangles unrevealed.

The commands of God, however, are radiant. They give us true and revealing light. Where Huxley trusted in the partial light provided by science, we must trust in the full light of God’s counsel.


Information Barriers

When I where my college-professor hat–and no, I don’t where a hat when I’m professing–my colleagues and I notice the students who seem destined to pay for a couple of semesters of school receiving virtually no benefit from the ordeal. Some of us might dismiss such students as “just not college material.” Others wag their heads at the inane things those students do–you know, like skipping four weeks of classes and then asking, “Did I miss anything?”

On reflection, we tend to recognize that these “not-college-material” students tend not to be mentally deficient but instead informationally deficient. These kids typically come from families where college and academic achievement are not family traditions.  It’s not that their brothers, sisters, parents, uncles, aunts, and so forth don’t want their family’s students to succeed. These supportive folk just don’t know where, in the great Wal-Mart of life, the keys to academic success are shelved.

There are barriers–information barriers–for people who don’t come from academically inclined families. These barriers tend to keep those students from achieving success as easily, as fast, or as flawlessly as those whose families have made them academic heirs.

I’m reminded of this information when I put on my agrarian hat–and yes, I do wear a hat most of the time in that role. Recently, Penny and I have decided to buy a couple of feeder pigs. In reading up on the matter, I’ve recognized that I don’t know a thing about raising pigs. Until recently, I didn’t know a barrow from a gilt. Most notably, I had no idea of how to procure a pig. You can’t mail order them like you do chickens. But where do you find a source.

We’ve scanned the bulletin boards at Tractor Supply and read through the items on Craigslist (where, it seems, the only pigs ever listed are potbellies). To date, we’ve encountered no likely sources. I mentioned this to a friend from church, who works at the nearest feed store, hoping she’d know where to direct us.  She suggested that I talk to her husband.

So Wednesday night, at the close of a church service, her husband, Scott, approached me. The resulting pig talk gathered Brad and Nessa around us. Joe and Kathy came in toward the end. Everybody had their input. Somebody suggested the Kingsville Auction while several mentioned local pig people. “You ought to call the Dents,” somebody said. “The Van Horns have always had a few sows,” somebody else offered. What I realized in short order was that I had come from a porcine-impaired family.  Apparently, I existed in the midst of a land of swinish plenty, but had no direct access to that information.

I strongly believe that the information necessary for academic success should be a possession coveted by everybody and bequeathed by every parent to every child. On the other hand, I’m not so sure that hog information needs to be quite so universally valued. Still, I look at the vast amount of information–about gardening, livestock, and much more–that has been lost from the knowledge stores of average American families. I see plenty of people who can work wonders on Facebook and name the last thirty winners of the NCAA basketball tournament, but who have no clue how to do simple plumbing or boil water.

Information barriers are inevitable. We can’t all know everything. We can’t bequeath an infinite store of knowledge to our progeny. This shouldn’t be our goal, but identifying and breaking through the most important information barriers we face in our lives should be a constant concern and mission.