Friday, February 24, 2012

Geometry, Justification, and Other Closely Related Topics

Yesterday my mother and I were preparing a demonstration for a geometry class which we were going to be teaching together. We decided it would be interesting to prove the formula for the surface area of a sphere by showing the students that four paper circles could cover a rubber ball with the same diameter. We were very excited about it when we started the project. We had our ball and our compass and our scissors and our tape. We carefully measured and cut the circles then proceeded to affix them to the rubber ball. That is where the fun abruptly ended. Twelve paper circles, two tape-covered balls, and a pile of confetti later, we had pretty much determined that the formula for the surface area of a sphere was one of the greatest hoaxes of all time.

Finally, I tapped into my inner tangram and figured out a way to make our circles cover our sphere closely enough to vindicate the formula. 

As I reflected later on our bumbling attempts, it occurred to me that this wasn't the first time my mother and I had struggled to reconcile a theoretical truth with a seemingly contradictory reality. Over the years we have had countless conversations during which we struggled to reconcile God's glorious statements of truth about us with the balls of crumpled paper and tape that made up our daily experiences. For example, God says, "If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things are passed away and all things have become new." But as we sat helplessly looking at the paper circles of bad habits, poor choices, pet sins, and chronic mistakes, it seemed they could never be reconciled with the "sphere" of a being a new creation!

God's statements about our holiness and righteousness in Christ sometimes appear to be as false as that formula did to my mother and me as we tried and failed repeatedly in our attempts to demonstrate it. But eventually, those paper circles did cover that sphere. We had to admit, the problem was never in the formula. It was in our attempts to appropriate it. 

God's promises are most certainly true and His statements trustworthy. If they do not appear true in my life right now, it is not because they are false. It is because I am not appropriating them correctly. 

But as I grow in grace and in the knowledge of God by walking closely with Him and persevering in faith, I will enjoy periodic moments in which suddenly something falls into place which was previously an impossibility. I will learn and experience growth. 

In spite of the fact that my Christian life has often seemed frustrating and hopeless, when I look back over the years I have to admit that I can see the progress. I can see promises realized and the theoretical made fact. I can see times in my life where positional truths became practical realities.

My mom and I triumphed over the surface area formula only to be stumped by the volume formula a few minutes later. In the same way, we may appropriate one of God's promises only to stumble over the next. This dynamic will never end this side of heaven. The important thing is that we continue to learn and make progress. 

Oh, one more thing: The thrill of seeing God's Word proved true in our lives is far greater than the thrill of seeing a mathematical formula proved true. That may be very hard to believe (especially for my tenth grade geometry students) but you can take my word for it!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Last Towel

"What's that SMELL?" I complained to no one in particular for the third day in a row as I entered the bathroom.
I had scrubbed the fixtures, replaced the shower curtain, disinfected the surfaces, and even lit a candle. Nothing would get rid of that smell. Where could it be coming from?

 Then one day, I was scooping the dirty laundry from the bathroom hamper into the washing machine. The washing machine was getting fuller as I neared the bottom of the giant hamper. Finally, the machine was jammed so full that I could not fit another thing in it. But the hamper wasn't empty.

Coiled up at the very bottom was a stiff, nasty, old towel. My subconscious mind nudged me, and I had a thought. I stuck my head down into the hamper and then jerked it right back up again. Mystery solved. I had found The Source of The Smell!

Since my washing machine's capacity was slightly less than my hamper's, whatever was in the very bottom almost never got washed. This one last towel had been here for ages, stinking up the entire room because I never quite got down deep enough in my hamper to get it out and wash it. As I peeled that towel off the bottom of my hamper and threw it into the trashcan (it seemed like the only sensible thing to do at the time!), it occurred to me that perhaps this wasn't the only towel stinking up my life. Maybe, just maybe, there was something I'd allowed to fester in the bottom of the deep, dark hamper of my heart. Something that hadn't been washed in a very long time. Something that needed to be disposed of decisively and finally, like this towel that I was tying up in a plastic trash bag right at this moment.

I think if we're honest, we all have something like that. And the scary thing is, we know what it is. We know what it is, but we don't want to touch it. We spray air fresheners and light scented candles to mask the smell -- and that works for awhile. But over time, the smell becomes stronger and stronger and refuses to be covered up. It must be rooted out. It has to go! I've decided it's time to get rid of the last towel. I can't stand the smell any more, and I'm running out of candles.

Oh, by the way, if you are dying to ask me what my "towel" is, I have one thing to say to you:
Go find your own!!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Power of a Godward Gaze

The trainer at the gym was explaining how to do a kettle bell exercise called "the windmill". The exercise involved holding a kettle bell up in the air with one arm while bending down sideways toward the floor in the opposite direction. As he demonstrated, he made this statement: "Keep your eyes on the kettle bell. Your body will always exert force in the direction of your gaze."

In another session, we were doing squats with a heavily weighted bar on our shoulders. The trainer emphasized the same point: "Look UP at a point high on the wall and drive toward that point." I located an empty nail way up near the ceiling and fixed my gaze firmly on it. As I drove my heels down into the floor and pressed upward against the weight toward that nail, I thought, "There's a lesson in here somewhere!"

 Hebrews 12:2 instructs us to "fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith." It's a commonly quoted verse -- one we probably think very little about. But since tackling a serious exercise program at a gym, I've come to appreciate this verse far more. There is more to the fixed gaze than most of us ever experience. Whole books have been written on the subject -- from Practicing the Presence of God written by Brother Lawrence in the 16th century to The Godward Life written by Piper in the 20th. Those who have the greatest power in their spiritual walk are those who live each moment with Jesus in the front of their mind -- not the back.

 To switch metaphors a moment, think of a computer. When I am typing a document like this one, I am aware of the Microsoft Office program on my computer. But in the background, where I never give them any thought, half a dozen other programs are constantly running. They are running so that I can open them at a moment's notice and they'll be ready for service; but presently they are out of sight out of mind. Isn't that what our Christianity is for many of us? A program that runs in the background of our lives, out of sight and out of mind until we need to quickly open it in an emergency? Or on Sunday mornings? That kind of life will never have serious power for God.

In order to really progress toward power in prayer, self discipline, sacrifical love, a submissive heart, pervading peace, consistent joy -- we need to fix our conscious, present gaze upon Christ. His example, His imminence, His Word all need to be right there in front of us all the time. When we have Him there, our lives will press toward Him. Our entire being will exert force in the direction of our gaze. Like an athlete in training, we will grow steadily stronger in all the things that truly matter.

But -- is it possible to live consciously of Christ 24/7 in our busy, noisy, crazy lives? I guess the more important question is, have we really ever tried?