Tag Archives: Math

Adding it Up

Adding it Up (CaD Matt 1) Wayfarer

Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah.
Matthew 1:17 (NIV)

I was good at math as a kid. I was always pretty good with numbers. I was mid-semester in the eighth grade when my teacher suggested that I switch to advanced math. She thought I was bored with class (probably) and really needed to be challenged (probably not). Despite my protestations of not wanting to switch classes, she kept at it until I agreed to make the switch.

As I recalled this memory in the quiet this morning, Pippin’s words to Frodo in The Fellowship of the Ring echoed within: “Short cuts make long delays.”

The shortcut I took to advanced math, created a long delay in my love of math. It was a waypoint in my education. By the time I switched to the advanced math class, I had already missed out on a number of foundational lessons. Without those foundational lessons, I was suddenly lost and confused. I may have been bored with the basic class, but now I was discouraged and felt stupid. Looking back, I realize that it was at this waypoint that I abandoned math as a subject I enjoyed. Through the rest of my education, I avoided math like the plague. I graduated from High School with only one year of math, and I graduated college with one remedial semester of the subject.

It’s ironic that my vocational career has been largely spent around numbers, data, and statistics. That which I was too discouraged to learn in the classroom I found I enjoyed learning on the job. I rediscovered my joy of numbers that withered in me all those years before. I grieve that it happened. The further I get in my spiritual journey, the more I’ve discovered that math is a core way God reveals and expresses Himself in Creation.

This came to mind in the quiet this morning as I begin a journey through Matthew’s biography of Jesus. Matthew was a tax collector. He was a numbers guy, so it makes perfect sense that he, just like God, uses numbers to express his purpose and reveal his themes. This, however, is largely hidden from a cursory reading of the text of the first chapter, which is mostly a genealogy (which, let’s be honest, most people skip over).

A couple of things to point out:

Three times Matthew refers to “Jesus the Messiah.” Three is a number of God (e.g. Trinity, three days in the grave, and etc.). Matt’s purpose in writing this biography was largely to explain to his fellow Hebrews that Jesus was the Messiah they had been waiting for. He makes this purpose blatantly clear in the first chapter in multiple layers. He says it not only with text but also with the number three.

The Hebrew people knew from the prophets that the Messiah would be a King from the line of David. Not only does the genealogy make this clear, but Matthew chooses to list fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the Babylonian exile, and fourteen from the exile to Jesus. In the Hebrew alphabet, letters perform double duty as numbers. If you take the Hebrew letters that spell “David” and add them together, they total fourteen. Three times Matthew numerically communicates to his Hebrew readers that Jesus was the “son of David” they knew the Messiah would be.

Time and time again in the Great Story I find that God is not who humans expect Him to be. He even says that through the prophet Isaiah: “My ways are not your ways.” The Hebrews of Matthew’s day expected the Messiah to be like human kings who lord over others through power and conscription. With his opening words, Matthew lays the foundation for revealing the Messiah that doesn’t look like the Messiah his fellow Hebrews expected. Jesus, the Messiah Matthew is going to reveal, came to be Lord of those willing to follow through love, servant-heartedness, and suffering. From the very beginning, Matthew expresses clearly that Jesus is the Messiah. From His family tree to His story to the words of prophets, it all adds up.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Gift, not Reward

Gift, not Reward (CaD Ps 127) Wayfarer

Unless the Lord builds the house,
    the builders labor in vain.

Psalm 127:1 (NIV)

Family is messy. It just is.

When I was a young man, I embarked on a fact-finding mission to better understand my families of origin. What I discovered was that underneath the veneer of stories that I’d been told (the good, polite, and acceptable ones) there was a whole lot of mess.

The Great Story is full of wisdom that reads like simple binary formulas. A+B=C.

Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.

The fear of the Lord adds length to life, but the years of the wicked are cut short.

I like simple formulas, and I’ve observed that most other human beings do too. That’s why name-it-and-claim-it televangelists get people to send them millions (“Give and you will receive!“). It’s how we get suckered into all sorts of things (“Just five minutes a day with the Ab Monster and you’ll have a six-pack like this dude!“). I’ve also observed and experienced that it’s how many institutional churches approach life. “Do this and you’ll experience God’s blessings; Don’t do that or you’ll suffer God’s punishment.” It’s no wonder the world is rejecting the church and screaming “It doesn’t work!”

Along my spiritual journey, I’ve come to the realization that the spiritual path, the path of wisdom, and following Jesus is not a simple math equation as it may appear on the surface and/or how it’s often presented. It’s more like actuarial science based on general rules, complex principles, earthly probabilities, percentages, and exceptions. Simple formulas are fubar’d when imperfect human beings enter the equation with our emotions, pride, passions, appetites, desires, fears, and free will.

Train up a child in the way they should go, and when they are old they will not depart from it.

It seems so simple that I want to name it and claim it. It appears so simple that when I witness someone’s child making poor choices it must be that his parents missed an ingredient in the good Christian, Focus-on-the-Family formula, or her behavior must reveal the proof I need that mom and dad are blowing it in the parental department. The simple train-up-a-child formula sounded so easy when my daughters were babes who were completely dependent on my absolute provision and authority. Then an adult child strikes out on her own path, making her own choices, and finding her own way. It looks nothing like the paternal expectations I anticipated as part of that simple formula when my head and heart were intoxicated with absolute authority over her life. It’s easy for me to feel cheated by what appeared to be simple math.

In my own life journey and experiences with messy family, Lady Wisdom has taught me a few things:

  • The path Jesus prescribed for His followers was never about moral perfection, an easy-life, and earthly abundance; It’s about selflessness, sacrifice, and love-in-action.
  • The only things I really control are my own thoughts, words, actions, and choices. The notion I control anything else is an illusion.
  • My family members are on their own spiritual journeys, just like me. If I want them to have grace and understanding with my shit, I have to have grace with theirs. If I want them to have patience and understanding as I navigate this stretch of life in my 50s, which I’ve never experienced before, then I have to let them navigate their 20s and 30s, which they’ve never experienced, with that same patience and understanding.
  • If I believe God is faithful and can be trusted, and I believe He is, then I can entrust others to God while I choose to let go of my personal expectations of them.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 127, is a song that the liner notes ascribe to Solomon, the son of King David. It is another one of the songs that ancient Hebrew pilgrims sang on their trek to Jerusalem. It is both a celebration of family and a reminder that all of life’s blessings and securities are gifts from God, not the In the quiet this morning, I’m making a little mental inventory of the family stories embedded in the Great Story:

  • Lot was incestuous with his daughters.
  • Abraham slept with his concubine at his wife’s insistence and the consequences are still being felt today.
  • Jacob (and his mother) deceived his father and stole his brother’s birthright.
  • Joseph was beaten and sold into slavery by his own brothers.
  • David committed adultery and refused to deal with the incestuous rape his own son committed against his half-sister.
  • David’s son, Solomon, was the offspring of his scandalous, adulterous, conspiratorial marriage to Bathsheba and murder of her husband.

And its Solomon who the wrote the lyrics of today’s Psalm. For me, reading the lyrics of today’s chapter knowing the unvarnished truth of Solomon’s family story strips away the notion of simple spiritual formulas with it comes to family.

Family is messy. It just is.

There are many spiritual principles that influence the outcomes I generally experience on this life journey, both positively and negatively. But it’s not always a simple equation. I can build a home and family, but it still won’t cure the mess. Solomon knew that as well as anyone. He reminds me this morning that life’s blessings and securities are gifts, not rewards.

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.