A Christian Perspective on Mathematics

I recently had the privilege of completing a College Algebra class through Christian Leaders Institute. As I worked my way through the videos, reading assignments and exercises, I was reminded of my first love in school. Throughout my elementary, junior high, and high school years, mathematics was easily my favorite subject.
I am not a role follower, per se, but I do appreciate systems that provide consistent results: they provide a comfortable predictability. I like to know what results my actions, words, or other inputs are going to produce.
As I was growing up, I discovered that people were not predictable. My mother’s response to me were much more dependent upon her mood than my actions, attitudes, or words. I learned often times to avoid her (or shamefully, to lie to her) to avoid a situation that I could not predict.
Likewise, my athletic endeavors were frustrating at best. I was not a coordinated child, and I could never throw a ball the same way twice. I might feel like I was moving the same way each time, but the truth was that I never knew where a ball I threw was going to land.
In school, I struggled with learning grammatically correct English. To, too, or two; there, their, or they’re; and hors d’oeuvres are just some of the examples of English inconsistencies that drove me nuts! In geography, sometimes borders would follow nature delineations. Other times, they would be the arbitrary result of a political negotiation, cultural ideation, or a war time compromise. Spelling included the usual rules of phonics, but there were so many exceptions: “’I’ before ‘E’ except after ‘C’ or in…” The “or” always frustrated me.
Fortunately, mathematics did not seem to have any exceptions. Math was completely predictable. It made sense. It followed a consistent set of rules that yielded consistent results. Math made sense, and as a result, I grew to love math. It was one of the few oases to be found in my tumultuous adolescence.
These rules are helpful. Given an expression such as 10 – 2*3 (ten minus two times three) to solve, consistent rules create order and consistent results. Absent the order of consistency, one could just as easily produce the errant answer of 24 (twenty-four) as the correct answer of 4 (four). The brilliant solution to yield consistency is known as the order of operation.
The order of operation set the consistent standard by which all mathematic expressions should be worked. This order is often remembered as “PEMDAS.” PEMDAS is an abbreviation that reminds mathematicians of the consistent order of operations: Parenthesis, Exponents, Multiplication / Division, Addition / Subtraction. Applying the order of operations to all mathematic expressions allows a universal, orderly manner to achieve consistent results. Performed correctly, the expression 10 – 2*3 will always be done to yield the correct result of 4. Multiplication is done before subtraction, so 2*3 is 6. Subtraction then comes and 10 minus 6 is 4. Every time. Orderly.
God, the Creator and sustainer of life is likewise a God of order. He created a universe with consistent results. Gravity is consistent and reliable. If I jump up, I will land. The sun rises and sets, the moon waxes and wanes, the stars twinkle. Consistent. Reliable. Predictable. Orderly.
1 Corinthians 14:33 tells us that God is not a God of disorder but of peace. While I hesitate to remove this verse from its context, the truth presented does reflect the character of God. God created a vast, complicated, unfathomable universe – but a universe that is predictable and orderly because He is predictable and orderly. God is a God of order. Perhaps that is why mathematics has always been so appealing to me: because I see in the chaos of life a hint of God’s character revealed through the science of mathematics.
As I completed this most recent course of mathematics, I was again reminded of the beauty to be found in math. Algebra certainly adds more coefficients, variables, and rules; however it does so in a consistent order that reminds me of the character of God.

Submit to Your Spouse

February is upon us, and with it comes one of the most intimidating and daunting days of the year. Awkward teenage boys fear this day while young women everywhere anticipate its arrival with great excitement. Wives all across our nation are heartbroken by a plague of men who NEVER understand the meaning and importance of this day.

Valentine’s Day, February 14th every year, is coming and it will bring a surge in the sales of chocolate, roses, and Kleenex. A friend of mine suggested one time that Valentine’s Day was created by a couples’ counselor who needed extra work.

In reality, Valentine’s Day is a remarkable time of year for us to celebrate the most important relationship God has given us (with any person). Whether married, engaged, courting, or “just friends,” this is a day in which we can intentionally pour honor, love, respect, and appreciation upon that one special person in your life.

When a Christian couple is dating, courting, or engaged – the primary purpose of that relationship should be the preparation for marriage. When a couple is married, the marriage relationship should be the most important interpersonal relationship. Period. Your spouse is a gift from God (Proverbs 19:14), fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14), for you to love, honor, cherish, adore, and submit to (Ephesians 5:21-33).

Yes, husband, your wife is to submit to you, but you are to submit to your wife as well. Husband, you should honor your wife, sacrifice yourself for her, love her, cherish and nourish her, and give yourself up for her. What does this mean in your relationship? I don’t know, but your wife does. Ask her.

Wives, yes I know that your husband can sometimes be an insensitive jerk. Often, he doesn’t even seem to respect your time or ideas. How can you submit to someone you are having a hard time respecting? How can you respect a man who doesn’t seem to respect you? By choosing to serve him in love. By choosing to appreciate what he does for you, rather than resent what he doesn’t do for you.

Marriage is a difficult relationship for us, sinners, to get right. Thank God for His Son, gifted to us so that through His life, death, burial, and resurrection we might become the righteousness of God and learn to live this life well. Thank God that at the cross, He gives us hope for marriage.

Men often ask how it is that they can love a wife who does not respect them. Women often ask how they can respect a husband who does not love them. The answer for both is the same: Lead in love, choosing to submit yourself to your spouse out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21) because He loves you. And maybe Valentine’s Day this year can give you an excuse to practice.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Resolve

A new year is upon us. Again. And again, many of us may be thinking about change. Perhaps breaking a bad habit or forging a good one. You may be looking to discover the healthier “me,” becoming the best version of yourself that God made you to become. Often our goals are about spending more time with family or less time at work. Others commit to kicking a tobacco habit or to stop using credit cards. Some even write down goals about spending more time in the Word of God. I am confident that you can achieve the good and godly goals that the Spirit lays on your heart and that you set yourself to.

I know that I would like to eat a healthier diet, exercise more regularly, lose weight, and once again fit in my “someday” jeans. Do you have a pair? Or maybe there is something else that you hang to, hoping that someday you may achieve some nebulous goal, but never really making any long term commitments… The truth is that many of us, most in fact, make “resolutions” every new year. We write down goals to eat healthier, to lose weight, to exercise more, to be better husbands or mothers. In reality,  most of us set lofty and admirable goals every January, and the great majority of us fail before Groundhog’s Day.

Why is that? Three reasons initially come to my mind. The first reason we fail to reach our new goals is a matter of priorities. When a goal is so unimportant that we are willing to wait until a turn of the calendar to begin pursuing it, often waiting months, it is not a priority for us. What is a priority is our complacent conquest of comfortable normalcy.

The second reason we fail to reach our goals is a function of habit. New habits take 90 days to become entrenched into our behavior. This has two implications: First is that you may have already inadvertently formed a bad habit of delay and procrastination by waiting 90 days or more to begin. Yes, delaying the pursuit of your goals is as much a habit as the daily pursuit of them. Even making excuses for failure becomes a habit. Second, you really need to stand firm in the pursuit of your goals for 3 months before they become an engrained habit. Cling to your goal through March, with a daily reminder of what you are striving for and why.

The third is one of resolve. In Daniel chapter 1, the great man of God was a mere young man taken captive by the conquering Babylon. Rather than giving in to the pagan and evil practices that his captors were trying to force upon Daniel and all the captives, Daniel resolved or “purposed in his heart” to seek God. As a result, every dilemma of conscience Daniel faced was easily decided by considering his resolve. God also poured favor upon Daniel as a response to Daniel’s resolve toward God. In the New Testament, Paul often writes about this purpose of heart, using phrases like: stand firm in your faith, putting on the whole armor of God; straining toward the prize heavenward in Christ Jesus; and fight to lay hold of the eternal life.

I pray that as you examine your goals for this new year of your life that you would not delay, that you would resolve in your heart to reach your God given goals. Stand firm, strain daily, and fight to overcome our complacent conquest of comfortable normalcy.

As for me, I am seeking a healthier me: physically, emotionally, intellectually, socially, and spiritually. But most importantly, I am purposing in my heart to seek God with everything I am, that He may lead me and teach me to be a man after His own heart.

Lead me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation. Psalm 25:5

Let us go up to the mountain of the Lord that He may teach us His ways and we shall walk in His paths. Isaiah 2:3, Micah 4:2

Commission of the Church

I have been wrestling with the topic for this article over several days. I have started writing many times, adding one or two sentences before deleting them to begin again. Do you remember the times when doing so would have meant removing a sheet of paper from the typewriter and inserting a clean sheet?

I almost did it again. I nearly laid my finger on the ←backspace key to start again. Progress. It comes in ways we rarely expect, it is often resisted fervently by some, and it always comes.

My dad tells me a story of his childhood. He was cranking the telephone (yes, he had to do that before using the phone), when a lightning storm rolled in. Lightning struck the telephone line somewhere nearby by, sending a surge toward the house. A ball of lightning rolled out of the phone, across the floor, and up into the stainless steel sink. Talk about a shocking experience.

I am only 21 years younger than my father, but I have never had to crank a phone to be able to use it. I have never seen a ball of lightning roll across the floor. In fact, when I was a teenager, I had my own personal phone in my bedroom. The phone had a clear plastic case that allowed me to view the electronics inside. And while I had to plug the phone into the wall to use it, I never had to turn a crank.

Today, most of us carry a phone in our pocket (or on our waist). The phone does not have a lever to crank and only needs to be plugged in long enough to charge a battery. We can now communicate long distances while on the move. We can even carry on a phone conversation with a friend on the other side of the country while we race down the road at 70 miles per hour.

Many of us even have a smartphone, a powerful computer and phone in one. Remembering the size and cost of computers only 20 years ago, this is truly incredible! The ways in which the telephone has changed over the past 60 years has been amazing! The truly amazing thing is, more than they have changed, phones still work on the same principles.

I speak into small microphone. The microphone captures the vibrations of my voice and uses a magnet to convert those vibrations into electrical signals. A speaker on the other end receives the electrical signals and decodes them into sound waves. The phone still works on the same principle it has worked on since Alexander Graham Bell’s famous first words.

In like manner, the commission of the church has not changed. Jesus great commission to the church is recorded in Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, and Acts 1. In this commission, Jesus commands the church to preach the Gospel (repentance and forgiveness of sins in Christ’s name) to all nations, to baptize those who have repented and believed, and to make disciples. As the principle behind the phone has not changed, the commissions of evangelism and discipleship from Jesus will never change. The Gospel message (repentance and forgiveness of sins in Christ’s name) never changes. Baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit never changes.

The message does not change, the principles do not change, but the “phone” may change.

Fruit of the Righteous

Autumn is arguably my favorite season of the year. As the air begins to chill and the trees begin to fill out with a rainbow of colors, a crisp aroma fills the air. The sun sits a little lower in the sky, and the days begin to shorten. I love this time of year! Everywhere I turn, I am blessed to witness the glory and majesty of God’s Creation with all of my senses.

Of all the blessing that come with the end of summer, perhaps my favorite is the ripening apples. Sweet and soft, tart and crisp, or anywhere in between; I love apples: whole apples, fresh apple cider, pies, cobblers, dumplings, and more. Apples are, perhaps, my favorite fruit.

In Pennsylvania, we had three apple trees in our back yard. Our first year in the home, the nearest apple tree produced a sizable crop of apples. For each year following, this particular tree produced fewer and fewer apples. Two autumns ago, it produced very few apples. That winter, during a snow storm, the entire tree was uprooted and fell. It was dead. The fruit it produced was an indication of the health of the tree.

Psalm 1:3 tells us that the righteous are like “a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season.” (ESV) Jesus tells us that He is the living water. In John 7:37-38, Jesus says “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me,… Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” (ESV)

Jesus is the source of living water. When we abide in Him, we are like trees planted by streams of water. In another analogy, Jesus compares Himself to a vine and tells us “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit.” (John 15:5, ESV)

But what fruit should the righteous life produce? In the vine and branches analogy, Jesus follows His words “go and bear fruit” with the words “love one another.” In one sense, the visible fruit of a righteous life is love for one another. Another measure of the fruit produced by the righteous life is given to us by the apostle Paul in his Epistle to the Galatians.

In Galatians 5:22-23, Paul writes “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Note that when Jesus talks about the living water in John 7:37-38, John goes on to explain that the Holy Spirit is the living water. As such, the righteous in Christ are filled with the Holy Spirit. Like trees planted near a stream, they bear much fruit: love, joy, peace, patience…

This autumn, as we enjoy the bountiful harvest of apples and other fruits, please take some time to prayerfully ask, “Am I bearing much fruit?” If not, please repent, turn to Jesus, and abide in Him. He is waiting and ready for you to abide in Him, and He in you. He loves you, as do I.