““From Which Direction Does The Ministry Grow?”


Meditation for August 24, 2014, the 11th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)

Exodus 1: 8 – 2: 10, Romans 12: 1- 8, Matthew 16: 13 – 20

This is for this coming Sunday.  I am trying to get back into a writing mode.

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In 1970, while I was a student at Northeast Missouri State College (now Truman State University), there was a transfer of power in the office of the President. But this was more than simply a change in the person who was in charge; it marked the beginning of a change in the attitude and perhaps the intellectual direction the college was taking.

When I began classes at Kirksville, it was known as Northeast Missouri State Teachers College and its primary goal was the preparation of teachers. In 1968, the “Teachers” part was dropped, though I suspect that the purpose and goal of the college remained the same. Ultimately, the goal changed and the name changed to reflect that change. I think this all began when Charles McClain became President of the college in 1970.

Now, during the first four years that I was at Kirksville, three individuals served as President. I knew who each of them were but I had never met them and the odds were very good that I would never actually meet them.

Each one of those three gentlemen operated on the theory of an “imperial presidency”. They may be on the campus but they, to the best of my knowledge, never interacted with the students and with only limited interaction with the faculty. The only time that they may have interacted with the students was on those occasions when they ate in the private dining room off the student dining room in one of the dormitories.

So, for some reason, when Charles McClain became the new President of the college, I decided that I would invite him to be my guest for dinner in the dormitory one evening. And with this in mind, I went over to his office one afternoon, found that he was free for a few moments, and offered the invitation for him to be my guest that evening for dinner. Much to my surprise, he agreed.

As I recall, I went about my business for the rest of the afternoon and then came back to his office around 6 or so to meet him and walk across the campus to the dormitory cafeteria. I do not recall what we talked about that evening though it was probably about college life. What I do remember is that no one recognized him as the new President of the college and assumed that he was my father.

Even the cafeteria workers, employees of the college, did not recognize their new boss. And quite honestly, that would have been expected. The overall “bosses” of the college never interacted with the staff and the only adults that came to dinner with the students were the parents. So it would have been reasonable for them to think that this gentleman in the suit accompanying me to dinner was my father and not the President of the college.

I cannot say how much change happened after that evening. The college would become a university in a couple of years and then ultimately drop the direction from its name when its mission and direction were more clearly defined. But something had to change when the new President did something that none of his predecessors (or the ones that I knew) had ever done.

In the 1980s we would see changes in the business world that spoke of new management ideas, one of which was the involvement of the top level managers in the day-to-day operations of the organization.

Now, I have written about this before (I told the dinner story in “What I See” and the nature of change in “To Search For Excellence”) but it bears repeating, especially in light of the situation that the Israelites face in the Old Testament reading for today. When the upper levels of an organization do not know what is going on, that organization is really in trouble.

And what studies on excellence have shown time and time again is that the best change comes from the bottom up, not from the top down. And if upper level management is going to embrace change in the organization, then they must be actively involved in the process. They cannot simply make a decision that change will occur and then expect it to take place.

The United Methodist Church is faced today with perhaps two problems. But being an aging church is, in my opinion, not one of the problems, provided you see age as a number on the calendar and not a state of mind. You can be young according to the calendar but have a relatively old state of mind. And this is evident in how they view the world.

Too many people in positions of management and/or power hold onto a world view that is outdated and limited. These individuals view the Bible as a fixed and unchanging law book. Theirs is a view of a world some two thousand years ago, when knowledge of the world was limited.

The second problem is that the size of the United Methodist Church makes it impossible to facilitate change and almost encourages a top-down model of operation.

But such models very seldom work and by the time the instructions are delivered from the top to the bottom, the meaning behind the instructions is lost. Now, I am fully aware that the only way the Israelites, wandering in the wilderness, could receive the Ten Commandments was from the top down. But later on, when it came time to implement laws based on the Ten Commandments, then things got confusing.

Second, I also recognize that not much can be done about the present structure of the United Methodist Church. But we can either be bound by the structure, in which case, we lose, or we can, at the lower levels, where all the fun is, take it upon ourselves to do what it is that must be done, remembering the wonderful quasi-biblical phrase that is is better to seek forgiveness than ask for permission. And as I was writing this, it occurred to me that if any one of the Bishops of the United Methodist Church were to wander into my church on some Sunday, I probably wouldn’t know who he or she was. But that wouldn’t stop me from introducing myself and finding out if they needed anything or information about the church.

When you read the Old Testament reading for this Sunday, you can quite easily get the impression that the Pharaoh had no clue why the Israelites were even in Egypt. And because he did not know why they were there, he had ever reason to fear them. What happens when change is occurring at the lower levels of the organization and the upper levels of management don’t know what is going on?

The same is true for the United Methodist Church today. We still hold to a view that everyone should be in church on Sunday and when they are somewhere else, we get worried and scared. But we have forgotten the mission of the original church and what it is that we are supposed to be doing as people who have chosen to follow Christ.

All the talk about splitting the church over sexuality only amplifies the one problem that I mentioned above; an outdated and limited world-view. And as long as we think that limiting who can be a part of our church, we are showing our age and that we don’t know the mission of the church.

We can, if we want, wonder who the next Peter might be. Who will be the person upon which we can build, or in this case, rebuild the church? Quite honestly, I don’t see another Wesley, Whitfield, Boehm, Otterbein, Asbury, or any one of the many founding fathers and mothers of our denomination stepping forward.

I think it would be folly to look for one person to revitalize and/or change our church. But this isn’t a call for one individual; it is a call for many individuals. It has always struck me that as this denomination has gotten older and bigger, it has forgotten from which the strength of the church came, the laity. And maybe it is time for the laity, individually and collectively to step forward and do what they should have been doing all along.

What was it that Paul wrote to the Romans? Use the skills and talents that God has given each of you to the fullest possible extent? I wouldn’t wait around for someone at the top of the organizational pyramid to come up with an idea and hope that it will somehow work in our environment.

What works well for one church often times will fail in another. It isn’t about the lack of people or the lack of motivation; it is how well one mission idea fits within the scheme of each church. A plan that calls for 1000 people will not work in a church with only 10 members. But the church with 10 members can do a lot if it works with other churches, providing talents and skills that the other churches don’t have.

Not everyone can go on a mission trip but everyone can support a mission trip. But for this to work, the people who go have to meet the people who are supporting the trip. We need to start putting faces on the people that make up the church and not simply put a statement in the bulletin. We really need to get back to our roots, to that which helped the church grow.

Any organization that forgets where it came from is bound to fail. The church grew from the bottom up, with its roots in the soil of its community. Each community is different so each ministry is different. But the results of each ministry, unique and different, is the opening of the doors to the Kingdom for all the people.

So take the words that Jesus spoke to Peter so many years ago and put them in your heart. Each one of us is the rock upon which the church will grow and as it grows from our hearts, with all of our love and care, we can see the direction the ministry will take.

“Simplifying A Complicated Life”


First off, let me say that this will probably not offer the solution that you think it might. But that’s because I don’t think the “normal” solution works or that it has ever worked.

Let’s face it, our lives have become overly complicated lately and each day it seems as if they get more so. We long for a simple life, one where we can make easy decisions and troubles are limited. But I don’t think those days ever existed. No matter what age we may have been, each day brought about some sort of complication.

When we were just beginning to walk, it was a complicated process of being able to stand and keep our balance. And when we could keep our balance long enough, then it became a matter of moving one foot in front of another while still maintaining our balance. But once we could walk, boy (or girl) did we begin to move.

Then when we were older, we started riding our bicycle. We may have moved up from riding a tricycle but the process was still the same. Maintaining balance and then learning how to move our legs while keeping our feet on the pedal. Each step more complicated than the next. But walking by ourselves and riding a bicycle seem so simple now.

Our lives are inherently complicated, both externally and internally and we try to find simple solutions. Unfortunately simple solutions may not always be the best answer. We live in a violent world but I personally don’t believe that violence is the natural state of the world. Some may disagree with me, pointing out that in nature life is often times violent.

But is that how we should view things? Doesn’t the fact that we are supposedly a highly evolved creature with some sort of intelligence mean that we can see other alternatives?

Can we not see that violence is the product of other facts? Can we not see that violence is not always the answer to violence? Or have we allowed ourselves to believe, mainly because other people tell us, that violence is the answer? I have come to believe that, in this complicated world that we live in, we have become complacent in our actions, choosing, in the name of simplicity, to let others do our thinking for us and accepting the first option rather than thinking through the process.

Stop and think about it. Our world is full of experts telling us what to think and how to think (and I suppose that this qualifies in some way). But I am not telling you what to think or how to act; I am simply asking that you first think and then make the decision yourself.

I remember when I was growing up that there always seemed to be a controversy when certain families moved into certain neighborhoods with the comment being made that if that were allowed the property values would go down. I think that attitude still holds true today. But I thought to myself, how could that be if the family moving in had the money to buy the house in the first place? Let’s just say that I didn’t see the logical in that argument.

There are too many people making that sort of argument today and it still doesn’t work. I know today part of the reason why that argument was made and it is called fear, fear of the unknown, fear of the different. And what has transpired today is that when one person’s response is out of fear, it is likely that the next response will be made out of fear as well. And the circle, pardon me, will never be broken. It will only get bigger and out of fear comes violence and hatred. Out of fear comes greed as we are unwilling to share our lives with others, even if we know them.

Life is a complicated process and in our attempt to simplify it, we have made it more complicated. But I do believe that we have the capability of changing things, of making life, no matter how complicated it may be, simpler. We start by thinking and we then add a component of love to our lives. We will quickly find that it is an easier way to lead a complicated life. Will it happen overnight? Of course not! First, we have let the bad become to much a part of our life but if we keep pushing, it will disappear.

Second, we tell those who push anger and violence as the solution that they are wrong and that we won’t listen to them anymore. Pretty soon, the voice of reason will be louder than the other voices.

Simplifying a complicated life is not easy by any means but it can be done.

“Why Are We Surprised?”


Readers of this blog know that while I am not from St. Louis, St. Louis and Missouri play an important part in my life. So I am a little surprised and perhaps shocked by the activities in Ferguson over the past week.

But, to some extent, I am not surprised by the responses by both parties and their representatives. And why should I be surprised? After all, the actions of the police and the protestors are what we have come to expect in incidents and actions such as this.

Let’s face it, we have created the environment and culture in which we live today. We live in a culture of fear; we do not trust anyone who is not like us in any way. We see those who are in someway different from us as a threat to our way of life. We have become greedy because we see anyone coming close to us as a threat to our stuff and we are not quite prepare to share.

Our politicians feed on this fear. They paint a picture so frightening that we cannot do anything but live in fear. And the answer that most politicians offer, that we will combat this fear with force and strength, only makes the level of fear higher.

We live in a culture of violence. While we would hope for non-violent responses, we find that violence is often the first and immediate response and not by one side of the argument but by both sides. And the combination of fear and violence is a very bad mixture.

We live in a culture of guns. Not withstanding the 2nd amendment, we have created a culture were guns are the answer (which was never, I believe, the intention behind that amendment). We have allowed guns to dominate our lives. Our fear of what might happen, our fear that they only way that we counter the unknown is with massive power on our part has lead to many police departments becoming mini-armies, supplied by the Department of Homeland Security and the Defense Department.

We have allowed, through our silence, our acquiescence, and our apathy this world of fear and violence to encapsulate and consume us. And perhaps it is too late.

The only voices speaking right now are angry. I am not saying that they should not be angry but I sometimes think that words spoken I anger carry a different message from those spoken softly.

There are reasons to be angry; all one has to do is look at the world around us and know that there is a great deal of anger in this world. It comes from a world that lives in fear and depends on violence to solve its problems.

We need to stop and take a step back so that we can see what we are faced with. We need to listen carefully to the words being spoken and make sure that they are words of peace and solution rather than words of hatred and anger and discord.

We need to look at what is going on in our communities, both at home and abroad. How much better would the world be if the monies that are spent on armaments were spent on taking care of people? How much better would the world be if monies spent on death and destruction were spent of life and construction?

There will always be evil in this world but it cannot be left to infest the world. We, the people, must begin by saying that things must change. Monies spent on war must be spent on peace and those who promote hatred (in all forms) and such that we must have more power than any one else must not only be told they are wrong but shown that they are wrong.

Then we won’t be surprised when the world becomes a better place.

Understanding Advent in the 21st Century

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You are invited to join us during the four Sundays in October (October 5, 12, 19, and 26), from 5 to 7 pm, in the tradition of the early United Methodist Church, at the home of Tony Mitchell and Ann Walker for a four week Bible study to prepare for Advent.

Amidst the trials and tribulations of the world today, let us read the Scriptures for each week of Advent and consider the following questions:

  1. Why do we celebrate Advent?
  2. What is the meaning of Advent?
  3. How do we prepare for the coming of Christ in the 21st Century?
  4. What will our response be?

You are welcome to come for one, two, three, or all four sessions. Please let Ann and me know that you are coming.

“A Pre-Advent Bible Study”


All the details haven’t been worked out yet but we are thinking of hosting a pre-Advent Bible study at our place in October.

#1 Yes, I know Advent doesn’t start until November 30th but weather issues suggest having the study in October.

#2 I have come up with the following questions/thoughts:

Amidst the trials and tribulations of the world today, let us consider the following questions:

  1. What is the meaning of Advent?
  2. Why do we celebrate Advent?
  3. How do we prepare for the coming of Christ in the 21st Century?
  4. What will our response be?

#3 What questions would you cover during such a study? (For those reading this on Facebook, I would appreciate it if you would also add your comments on the blog page as well. Thanks!)

An Anniversary We Need To Remember


We are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. For the next four years or so, we are going to be reminded about the death and carnage that circled the world one hundred years ago.

In one sense, I am more attuned to World War I than World War II simply because I have my Grandfather’s diary that he wrote while in France and Belgium in 1918 and 1919. (I have photos from that period in his life on a backup file and if I can find the software to recover the files, will be able to recover them and publish them even though they aren’t pretty by any means.)

What I find interesting is not that this world went to war 100 years ago or how it began. What I do find interesting is how it all developed into what it became and what happened when it was all over.

First, think back to the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 and how John Kennedy was worried that what was happening between Cuba, the Soviet Union, and this country could easily escalate into a major conflict. He pointed out the leaders of Europe felt that they were so attuned to each others thoughts that they could anticipate what they were going to do. Obviously, the outcome of that particular thought process didn’t work and millions died as a result.

The other thing that I find interesting comes from a series of comments for the post “Study War No More”. In response to my comment that wars did not solve problems, one commentator replied “except for slavery, Nazism, fascism, and communism”. I didn’t realize that his comment came from a bumper sticker.

When we look at the map of the world before and after World War I, we see the loss of two empires and the expansion of others. The African and Pacific colonies of Germany were given to other European countries and Japan; the Middle East was re-mapped to favor British and French interests (especially considering oil). The concerns of the people living in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia were ignored in favor of the winning colonial powers. And the burdens placed on Germany by the Allied Powers definitely contributed to the beginning of World War II.

So here we are today, watching wars and conflicts in the Middle East that have roots in a conflict in Europe 100 years ago. How different would the world have been if we been more attuned to the needs of the world instead of mankind’s selfish interests?

So this is anniversary we should remember. Maybe we will learn something this time around.

I published my Grandfather’s thoughts for the day of the Armistice on November 11, 1918 here – “My Grandfather’s Diary entry for this day, 11 November 1918”

“How Many Methodists”


Does It Take To Change A Light Bulb?

This all came about because of Dave Faulkner’s Sermon on Acts 11: 1 – 9, “Acts – Explain Yourself!”. I think he makes some very good points about how we view change and what we need to consider about this process. But for the moment, my focus is going to be on his opening questions.

He begins with four essential changing light bulb questions:

  1. How many Christians does it take to change a light bulb?

    Three, but they are really only one.

  2. How many agnostics does it take to change a light bulb?

    Agnostics question the existence of the light bulb.

  3. How many fundamentalists does it take to change a light bubl?

    THE BIBLE * DOES * NOT * SAY * ANYTHING * ABOUT * LIGHT BULBS!

  4. How many Methodists does it take to change a light bulb?

Change? What’s this word change?

This prompted me to look for other Methodist and the art of changing light bulbs and this is what I found. It should be noted that several of these have been attributed to other denominations and religions as well but, for now, we will limit ourselves to the United Methodist Church.

How many Methodists does it take to change a light bulb?

  • Twenty-two: One to hold the ladder, one to climb the ladder, ten to form a committee to evaluate the effectiveness of the old light bulb, and ten to form a committee for a pot-luck to welcome in the new light bulb.
  • Change a light bulb???? Why…my grandmother gave that light bulb!!!!
  • “Change?!?” “You can’t change that light bulb! Harry Finnigan’s family gave that as a memorial during the big merger.”
  • Undetermined. Whether your light is bright, dull, or completely out, you are loved — you can be a light bulb, turnip bulb, or tulip bulb. A church-wide lighting service is planned for Sunday, August 19. Bring bulb of your choice and a covered dish.
  • This Statement was issued: “We neither affirm nor reject the use of a light bulb. If you have found a light bulb helpful in your journey, that is good. If one would wish, they could submit an original poem or interpretive dance about their light bulb, or light source, or non-dark resource, for the annual light bulb celebration, where a variety of light bulb traditions will be explored, including long-life, incandescent, three-way, and tinted, all of which are valid paths to luminescence.”
  • I think that about covers it for changing the light bulbs in a United Methodist Church. If I have missed one, please let me know.

“It’s A Matter Of Priorities”


Meditation for July 13, 2014, the 5th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)

Genesis 25: 19 – 34, Romans 8: 1- 11, and Matthew 13: 1 – 9

For some, the Old Testament reading today gives proof of the fixed outcome of life. After all, it will be Jacob who becomes Israel and fathers the twelve sons who will be the foundation of that nation. So there has to be a reason for Jacob trying to get Esau’s birthright; for without it, Jacob will never have the means and resources to become the one to father the nation.

But what if Esau hadn’t been hungry, what then? And what if Jacob had just given his older brother the stew without question or cost? Would the story still have turned out the same?

In cosmology, the study of the universe, a idea that says that this present universe is just one of many universes, one of many possible outcomes. And in this scheme of multiple universes (or multiverses), this present one, the one in which we live, is just an accident of time and place?

I have a hard time with that idea, if for no other reason than I believe that God did create the universe in a particularly unique way. But the story of life is a matter of choices, good and bad, right and wrong. It is entirely possible that the story of how we would have gotten here would have come out the same even if Esau hadn’t been hungry or Jacob had been kind enough to give his brother a meal.

The one thing we know at this point in the story is that Jacob’s future may be very bleak. As the second son, he doesn’t get a whole lot in the way of an inheritance. And his encounter with God, the encounter that results in his name becoming Israel, is still in the future.

And how much of the family history do he and Esau know? They are the second generation of Abraham’s family and they may not have a viable understanding of the covenant their grandfather made with God so many years before. As I was growing up, we knew very little about the history of our family before either of my parents’ grandparents. It wasn’t until some twenty years ago that I discovered my family lineage traces back to Martin Luther and that my calling to the pulpit, which I answered before I discovered my family’s history, was part of a long line of ministers. So we might want to know what Esau and Isaac knew about their family. Did they know that their father had a brother?

For me, it would seem that they didn’t know much of the history and Jacob was more concerned with his own life at this moment that he was with the future of his family. Because as the second son, his future wasn’t that bright. And Esau comes home one day very hungry. And Jacob has the opportunity to gain what he might not otherwise have, the birthright of the oldest son.

I know I am reading a whole lot into this story but why else would Jacob do what he did? His priority at this point is himself and only himself; he has no idea that in a few years he is going to encounter God and his life is going to change. While I am sure and certain that we know when we encountered God and made the decision that changed our lives, up until that moment, did you know that in the next moment that you would encounter God?

Now, we might know when it is that we will encounter God but we certainly need to be in a situation where that encounter can occur. And at this point, I want to jump from being the one who encounters God to the one who prepares the moment.

Do we, in the way we live our life each day, show people the presence of God in our lives? One of the points Paul makes in his letter to the Romans is that the way we live our life has a lot to do with this. After all, if we are only interested in ourselves, we are not likely to find God at all. And if we are not preparing the ground in the right way, it is not very likely that our efforts will produce anything.

Preparing the way is more than just telling people about Christ. Of course, if you don’t tell people about Christ, they will never know that He existed but you have to show people, especially in today’s world, that He does exist. Look around and tell me what you see in the morning. The peace and calm of the rising sun is disturbed by news of fighting and violence around the world. Even our own denomination is dominated by hatred and exclusion and talk of schism.

Is it any wonder that people don’t believe there is a God or that He even cares for us? If the people who claim to be God’s children are fighting among themselves, what hope is there for others who think that they have been cast aside?

So we must prepare the ground so that our efforts to help others find Christ are not wasted. It will take more than simply opening our hearts or our minds or our souls. It will take learning who we are and what we are called to do.

It means getting beyond the law because the law only restricts us, it does not help us grow. It means looking beyond the moment and seeing what the future holds. Esau cared very little for the future because he felt he was dying at the present.

Right now, the future doesn’t seem to good and I think that is because we are more worried about the present. What will it take to bring people to Christ? It will be a group of people who show the presence of Christ in their lives through their words, their deeds, and their actions. They will be the ones who help the homeless, the hungry, the sick, the needy, and the oppressed. They will not worry about the color of the person’s skin, the state of their bank account, or the lifestyle. They will say that all are welcome.

They will know that those who were called Methodists have been doing this for over two hundred years. It is the call that they have received and the call they have answered.

I truly believe that too many people, Methodists included, have forgotten what their priorities are and have gone back to the old days. I think it is a matter of priority that we 1) remember who we are and have been and 2) get back to doing what it is that we are supposed to be doing.

There are some who are not going to like that, who feel that adherence to the law is far more important that welcoming all who seek Christ. The law cannot save us but it can keep us from being saved.

I stare at the words Paul wrote to the Romans and I envision him writing the same letter to each one of us. What is our priority?

“What Is The Role Of The Church Today?”


Thoughts on the state of the church in today’s society

I am prompted to write the following as I continue on a study of the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and think about what this all means to us today.

What is the role of the church in today’s society? Is it the moral authority of the world? If it is and it does nothing to condemn evil and injustice in the world, how good is that authority?

Can a church dictate to individuals how to live one’s life when it offers no alternative or refuses to see alternatives?

What is the individual’s responsibility in all of this?

If the church is the ultimate authority, then do individuals have any responsibility at all? On the other hand, if each individual takes responsibility for their own moral conduct, where does that leave the church?

“The Real Final Exam”


Meditation for June 29, 2014, the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)

Genesis 22: 1 – 14, Romans 6: 12 – 23, and Matthew 10: 40 – 42

To say that I am not a fan of the present teaching model would be something of an understatement. But, perhaps not for the reasons you might think.

I was not happy with the way that the Common Core Curriculum was “imposed” on the teachers of this country. It seemed to me that very little was done in the way of preparation for teachers, students, and parents alike. That there needs to be a common core should go without saying but you don’t change the curricula model without some sort of warning or preparatory system If there was such a warning or preparation period, I am not aware of it.

Personally, I didn’t have any problems with the curriculum but then again, I was working with my kindergarten age grandson and most of what we did was pretty simple stuff. I think the problem that most people had was simply with the fact that they had to think for themselves and weren’t able to adjust to the change.

Too many people today don’t want to take on new tasks, especially when it comes to learning. They are quite content to do it the way it was done when they were students and that is all they expect. And when a student, especially a college-age student, encounters a new way of learning, there is much rebellion. And that’s what makes it so easy to have a test-oriented curriculum; all you have to do is present some knowledge to the students, have them memorize it, and then test them on it. Once they are tested on it and they achieve a reasonable success level, then we move onto a new topic. That leads to the quote from “Teaching As A Subversive Activity”, written by Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner way back in the good old days of 1969,

The Vaccination Theory of Education – English is not History and History is not Science and Science is not Art and Art is not Music, and Art and Music are minor subjects and English, History, and Science major subjects, and a subject is something you “take” and, when you have taken it, you have “had” it, and if you have “had” it, you are immune and need not take it again. (This and other sayings I have found interesting are at “A Collection of Sayings”.)

If we simply test our students, we don’t have to get involved in the learning process and that is the problem. Learning is an active and interactive process between people; testing is not.

Some of this saw this coming almost thirty years ago. When I was teaching in Missouri, the State Board of Education, in its infinite wisdom, created the Basic Essential Skills Test or BEST test. Now, the rationale and purpose for this test were valid; every student needs to have a certain basic set of skills for life after school. But the manner in which the BEST test was done required a response.

So we created the Scholastic Education Council on New Directions Basic Essential Skills Test – 1) I will let you figure out the acronym and 2) the actual questions are at “THE BETTER TEST”. Clearly, our response was satire but it went to the point of what students should learn, how they should learn, and how that learning should be measured.

There was an episode in the TV series, “The Paper Chase” that speaks to this point. It was the final exam in Contract Law and Professor Kingsfield had created an exam with 100 questions covering a myriad of law-based topics in areas such as real estate, medicine, theology, and probably a few areas that one would not relate to the study and practice of the law.

To get the answers required the students search not only the law library but practically ever other library on campus. And because the students were competitive to the point of insanity, when they found the answer to one of the questions, they kept the resources for themselves so that other students would not be able to answer the question.

You can imagine the chaos that ensued because students were unable to answer all the questions (certain in their own minds that completion of all the questions was necessary for success). In the end, the students or rather the various study groups began to work how ways to share the work that they had with other groups so that they could get the answers for the questions. In the end, they wrote a series of contracts.

And what you have to remember was this was a course in Contract Law. The purpose of the exam was not to obtain all the answers individually but work together and develop solid and viable contracts, which was the purpose of the course.

A second example occurred while I was a graduate student at Memphis State University (now the University of Memphis). The Memphis Fire Department had agreed to take away several 55-gallon drums filled with chemical waste that the Chemistry Department had collected over the years. But before they could take them, the contents of each drum had to be identified.

Chemistry graduate students at that time took a series of monthly exams that measured their knowledge and competency. The solution to the problem of identifying the contents of the drums was to give each student a drum and tell them to apply their analytical and organic knowledge to the identification of the contents. (Of course, while this solved the department’s problem, it may have created problems for the individual students.)

I am not entirely certain that our present model of teaching can do that. In the end, our students learn to solve problems that already have solutions but they are not capable of solving problems that haven’t been solved.

And what perhaps bothers me more than anything else is that there will be a point in our own personal lives where we are going to be faced with such a problem. We shall be asked a question for which we may not know the answer and then what will or shall we do?

There really isn’t a question in the Old Testament reading for today but it is quite clear that God is testing Abraham. It is as if God is asking Abraham to prove that he, Abraham, will fulfill his part of the covenant. This covenant is the promise that Abraham’s descendants will outnumber the stars in the sky and yet God has directed Abraham to take Isaac to Mount Moriah and sacrifice him.

What must Abraham have thought? After all, as far as I know, Abraham believes that his oldest son, Ishmael, is dead and now he is about to kill his other son. The promise, the fulfillment of the covenant is clearly at stake at this point.

How would we respond in such a case? How would we respond if we had to put our faith on the line and just hope, without a single piece of evidence that God would fulfill His part of the covenant. And that is the real final exam! It is the one question that we have no way to study for; there is no book in which we can find the answer.

We could, I suppose, not worry about it. As Paul pointed out, you could lead the life we want, do what we want and ignore God. That way you wouldn’t have to worry or bother about right thinking or right living. But what do you get for all of that? Not much and when that moment comes when you have to answer the question you have avoided all your life, you won’t have the time, let alone the ability to think about what to say.

In the end, what you do, what you say, how you think shows where Christ is in your life. Many years ago I taught a course in how to teach science (a methods course). Most of my students expected me to lecture them on the various ways that one could teach science and sometimes I did just that. But a lot of times, I used the method that was the lesson, having the students do what they were going to be doing later on in life. I thought it was more important to do the method than simply speak about it. Not all my students got the message.

I would like to think that this is what Jesus was doing, having his students, his disciples do that which He taught them. It wasn’t easy for them to learn (and we know that many dropped out over the course of the three years). But in the end, enough understood and when the Holy Spirit came to them on that first Pentecost, they understood what they needed to do and then went from there.

Are you prepared today to take all that you have learned and go out into the world to show others who Christ is? The class is dismissed and the course begins.