Numbers, Part 2

“How great is God—beyond our understanding! The number of his years is past finding out.” – Job 36:26

NOTE: A few weeks ago, I posted a blog saying our spirituality and our success in serving God are not measured in numbers. Some of you responded with thoughts reminding me that, while spiritual measurements are not usually given in numbers, numbers are very important to God. I completely agree – enough so, that I thought it a good topic for today’s blog. 

The Bible is full of numbers: God took a census of His people on several occasions. He recorded people’s ages when they died and length of reigns of kings. We’re told the number of people fed with Jesus’ loaves and fishes, the number of fish caught when the fishermen threw the nets to the other side at Jesus’ instruction. The book of Acts presents the initial growth of the church in ever-increasing numbers. Paul records specifically how many times he was beaten with 39 lashes. These biblical numbers can be taken as counts and records.

At other times they might be seen symbolically. For example, when the Bible says there are 10,000 x 10,000 angels, maybe it means there are so many they cannot be counted (like we might say “a zillion”). As we observe how God used numbers, 10 often seems to refer to present kinds of earthly governance (reflected in the 10 Commandments), while 12 seems to refer more to God’s kingdom plan (12 tribes, 12 apostles). Seven is the considered the number of completion (as in the creation account) and 6 is seen as the number of man. Forty often refers to times of trial (Israel’s 40 years in the desert, Jesus’ 40 days of temptation, Noah’s 40 days of rain).

But maybe the most important scriptural mathematical principle of all is how God shows personalized attention to His creation.

  • He knows the number of hairs on each of our heads.
  • He determines the number of stars and has a name for each one.
  • He sees even one sparrow that falls.

The great and glorious God who created a mathematically ordered universe, remains intricately involved in it. Isn’t He amazing?

“God used beautiful mathematics in creating the world.” – Paul Dirac (British physicist)

There’s So Much More!

What do we really know about God? All we can know is what He reveals: first, through creation, the Bible, and Jesus’ life and teaching. But there’s more: He seems to keep revealing Himself as we keep wanting to know Him better.

"As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." - Isaiah 55:9

“If You are pleased with me, teach me Your ways so I may know You and continue to find favor with You.” – Moses to God in Exodus 33:13

It’s a great adventure to experience God’s ongoing revelation of who He is. For example, He shows us His

  • . . . pleasure when He knows we are turning our hearts toward Him.
  • . . . joy when we discover something in His creation we never saw before.
  • . . . love when He answers a prayer way beyond what we even dared to ask.
  • . . . guidance when He brings wisdom from an unexpected source.
  • . . . grace when we try to overcome a sinful habit and fail yet again.

None of this revelation is predictable, manageable, or even made clear in Scripture, but it seems God is constantly showing us more about who He is and how He wants to relate to us. Because He never changes, we can be sure that what we have yet to learn will be consistent with what we already know. We can count on Him always to be loving, merciful, holy, just, faithful, and gracious.

We will never know all there is to know about God and what we do know is filtered through a dimly-lit mirror, but sometimes He shows us a little more. Mysterious? Yes. But also exciting. And the best part: He’s not hiding. If we want to know Him, He will never disappoint. Every time He shows us more of Himself, our response will be  amazement and thanks!

“The biggest human temptation is to settle for too little.” – Thomas Merton

He Chose the Cross

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus . . . who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame . . . ” – from Hebrews 12:2

As Jesus contemplated the cross while praying in Gethsemane, I sometimes wonder if He was thinking about the people He loved and the pain they endured because of Satan’s cruel power. Most recently, the sorrow of Mary and Martha at the loss of Lazarus – the pain so bad it caused Him to weep for them. But there were many others, too:

  • Demoniacs
  • Outcast women
  • Lepers
  • Blind and lame men
  • Widows and orphans

By helping those in most need, He had given a taste of life as it was meant to be – no sickness, sadness, pain, rejection. He was doing so much good. Why stop now? Why the cross? It had to do with the spiritual battle we cannot see, but of which He was keenly aware. He knew that doing good and teaching truth would not be enough to take the world back from Satan’s power. The only way to win was to die.

Maybe, as He prayed “not my will, but Yours be done”, He was remembering those He had helped in His few years on earth. Then He thought of the broken world still full of pain and suffering.  He thought of us – you and me – and wanted us to have the same opportunity of new life and joy Lazarus, lepers, and the Samaritan Woman had.

So, He chose the cross. For us. Offering forgiveness and relationship to all who would see and believe. The cross – His blood-stained invitation to life as it was meant to be.

“There is no sin, no weakness of soul or mind for which You do not have an adequate remedy, purchased by Your death.” – Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen

 

Pray or Bail?

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For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways”, declares the Lord. – Isaiah 55:8

When the storm came and Jesus was asleep, the disciples woke Him up, almost accusing Him of slacking (Mark 4:35-41). After all, He was snoozing while they were frantically trying to save their boat and their lives. As they roused Him, what do you think they expected Him to do? I imagine they handed Him a bucket and yelled, “Help us bail!”

He had a better idea. He simply ordered the storm to cease. It seems that Jesus was operating under a different paradigm than His disciples were. He still is.

We tend to tackle our problems in ways that seems so logical, so appropriate given our circumstances. If we just work more frantically, try harder, or grit our teeth, we can manage somehow.

But Jesus has a better way. His ways of approaching the troubles of our lives are beyond our ability to imagine. That’s why there are times when we should stop bailing long enough to go find Jesus and ask Him to work on our behalf or to show us His better way of handling the mess we are in.

If we believe God will respond to our needs only in ways we can imagine, we will doubt. If we simply let God be God, we will have faith. Doubt is condemned. Faith is rewarded. We get to choose. Do we turn to Him? Do we trust Him?

“God is hanging on to you. He’s not waiting for you to save yourself and mature into someone who no longer needs Him. He will not let you go, come what may.” – Tullian Tchividjian

A Prodigal Thanksgiving

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“Every good and perfect gift is from above.” – James 1:17

There once was a great thanksgiving feast that involved two sons. One had asked for an early inheritance and then took off, spending all his money partying and having fun. The older son stayed home and worked in the family business doing all the right things.

When the irresponsible son ran out of money and was desperate, Jesus says he came to his senses. Apparently he realized how much had been provided for him and how much he missed the privilege of being under his father’s roof. He went home, a humbled man, thankful beyond measure that he was invited back into the family.

The older son, though, was miffed. He’d been faithful all this time, but it seems not having any fun at all. He had been obedient, clean-living, and hard-working. Sure, he had a home, family, and satisfaction in his work, but he was resentful and bitter. He wouldn’t even come to the thanksgiving feast his father was throwing for his brother’s homecoming.

In this parable, the father was thankful, the younger son was thankful (I’m sure other family members were, too, though Jesus didn’t mention them), but the older son was not thankful. Instead, he was angry that he was not the center of attention and celebration.

Only the truly humble are aware of the blessings poured out on us by our heavenly Father every day. A humble heart is a thankful (and happy!) heart.

So, let’s celebrate with friends and family the blessings of our Father’s generous love. It’s time for a party – happy Thanksgiving to all of you!

“Sincere gratitude flourishes only in a heart that is humble, convinced of its own poverty and thoroughly aware that it is nothing and can do nothing without continual help from God.” (from Divine Intimacy)

Just thinking . . .

Have you ever stopped to think about what you think about? What thoughts move in as soon as you’re not intentionally thinking of something else? Very likely, those thoughts are controlling your life.

"You become what you think about all day long." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

“You become what you think about all day long.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Haman, in the book of Esther, helps us understand this.  He had everything he could want: wealth, power, and prestige. But he didn’t appreciate or enjoy it, because all he could think about was that Mordecai the Jew would not bow to him. That thought eventually consumed him to the extent that he conspired to kill Mordecai and all the Jews in Persia. As the story unfolds, we find that he is caught in his own conspiracy and it costs him everything, including his life.

We must not let a past hurt, a present situation, or a future concern rob us of all God has given us in this present moment. We don’t want to be like Haman – getting hung up on one troublesome thing and then missing everything else God has given.

Instead, let’s choose to think about things that draw us to God – His Word, His creation, and His actions in the world. In fact, Paul gave us a good list in Philippians 4:8 when he told us to think about things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy.

As we pay attention to our current thought habits and begin to develop new ones, we will notice that we become more joyful, useful, content, loving, and engaged. Everything changes when our thoughts change. Try it!

“Search me, O God and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. ” (Psalm 139:23-24)

Seeing and Being Seen

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“I would rather walk with God in the dark than go alone in the light.” ~Mary Gardiner Brainard

Do you remember Hagar, Sarah’s maid? When she and Sarah had a confrontation, Hagar ran away. As she sat despairingly in the desert, God spoke to her, told her to go back to Sarah, and then gave her promises about the son she carried and the descendants who would follow. Hagar’s difficult circumstances had not changed, but after she met God, she saw everything in new light. Her response was “You are the God who sees me . . . I have now seen the One who sees me.” (Gen. 16:13b)

I thought back on my own life and remembered all the times that “the God who sees” was with me just as He was with Hagar. I thought of times of financial stress, family crises, job pressures, and health issues. He was present at every turn for me. Seeing His hand, even in retrospect, is powerful. “Lord, You see, You know, You do not run away. You stick by my side and are more powerful, more loving, more consistent, and closer than any human companion could possibly be. Thank You for coming close to me when I felt lost and alone.”

The God who sees is also the God who lets us see Him. As we do, we become aware of His provision, guidance, and intervention. For Hagar it was promises about Ishmael and his descendants and direction to go back to Sarah. For me it has been reassurance, understanding, opened pathways, restored relationships, and wisdom.

My life is still messy sometimes, and I am sure yours is too. I am learning to look for God in the middle of the mess – I know for sure He is there! And He’s there in your mess, too. Stop and look – He wants us to see Him!

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:8)