Thursday, October 20, 2011

Self-delusion Verses Self-condemnation

“The greatest enemy of the spiritual life is self-rejection BECAUSE it contradicts the Voice that calls you Beloved.” –Henri Nouwin

I've referred to this Nouwin quote before. It's poignant to me again today as I contemplate the opposite manifestations of a single theological problem. The manifestations are self-delusion and self-condemnation. The first characterizes us when we excuse our sin or talk ourselves out of it. Our view of ourselves and our God can't handle an honest assessment of our problems. We “can't handle the truth,” as Jack Nicholson famously says in A Few Good Men. So we blame shift and manipulate others' perception of ourselves. We manipulate our own personal perception of ourself as well. Then the day comes when we can no longer escape it. Maybe we took our anger out on our kid one time too many, and he gives us the finger as he walks out the door. Or we lost our job because our addiction to pain killers resulted in an undeniable lack in judgement. Or our husband walks out the door because we finally pushed him too far.

Those moments, when we wake up to our sin and its consequences in the lives of the ones we love, can be devastating. I have at times kicked myself over and over again at the realization of my sin and mistakes. It's self-flaggelation. I hate myself, but punishing myself brings NO relief. And it's just as bad for those around me as self-delusion. Self-delusion and self-condemnation are two sides of the same coin. Either way, I can't handle the truth, or what I believe is the truth about myself. Either way, those around me are affected by my sin and unbelief.

I'm convinced that our identity in Christ is the crux of our problems. We are not confident in what God has said over us, so we can't handle real self-examination. I have to be right, or good, or helpful. **I** do, because apart from me giving myself my identity, nobody's going to do it for me. Oh, how false and unhelpful! One of my favorite chapters in Scripture that clears it all up for me is Romans 8.

It starts off with a bang. “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). None. At all.

Condemn – to express an unfavorable or adverse judgment on; indicate strong disapproval of; censure. (dictionary.com)

God does not disapprove of me. He doesn't censure me or express unfavorable opinions of me. Why? Because He laid that all on Christ. And He in turn laid all of Christ on me. He sees me wearing Christ's righteousness, and Christ stands before Him daily as my advocate, showing His wounds that give me this privilege. And it is THIS privilege that allows me to face my sin and deal with it.

Do you have sin you need to face? I encourage you to read through Romans 8. First face the truth of all God says over you in Christ. I love the section headings of the chapter in the ESV– heirs with Christ, future glory, and everlasting love. Then after meditating on it and owning first the truth of God's love for you and His good plan for you through Christ, own your sin. You did it. It hurt others. Repent. Ask forgiveness of those you wounded. And repeat as necessary. Your sin doesn't define you. Christ defines you. And in Him, you can face your sin without either self-delusion or self-condemnation.

1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

 9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

Heirs with Christ

 12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!" 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

Future Glory

 18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
 26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

God’s Everlasting Love

 31What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised— who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

    "For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
   we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered."

 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Math and Theology

"Mathematics is the language with which God wrote the universe." Galileo Galilei

Every now and then, I write on something that is very personal to me that may not be important to readers of this blog. I wrote about my love for marine mammals last year, and I got the most unsubscription notices ever for the blog. I work on not allowing my identity to be tied to the approval or disapproval I get from readers of this blog, but I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a struggle. I have another post I want to write on whales, but I've decided to keep that one to myself. I've had similar fears about posting on math.

This week a student who loves God but struggled with math wrote me wondering what in the world I meant when I linked math and theology. So this is a word of encouragement to her and others on the value of sticking with it. Regardless of the value of math, not everyone will find it easy. This post is not intended to make anyone feel bad if math is hard for them.

I know as a veteran math teacher that few people are ambivalent on math. Some people love it. But many, many people had their worst experiences in high school or college in or around a math course. I've often thought that the main problem with math classes is that they are too often taught by people who never struggled with math. When math has only ever come easy for a math teacher, it's hard to identify with a 9th grader who tears up at the site of a beginning algebra problem. The most formative moment in my training to become a math teacher came while taking a horrible course called Numerical Analysis my senior year of college. I remember sitting in my dorm, studying notes for another class. I happened to look up and catch a glimpse through the front doors of my Numerical Analysis classroom across the street. I immediately burst into tears. Just looking at the classroom caused panic. My first or second year teaching Algebra, it dawned on me that some of my students felt the exact same way about my math classroom.

For a long time, I did math because it was easier for me than, say, English. I could never figure out what English teachers wanted from me, but in math, there was a right answer to every problem. However at some point, I needed a better reason for spending my life teaching math than the fact it came relatively easy to me. I loved God. I loved His creation. Over time, I started to see how fundamental math was to uncovering and appreciating the nuances of God's very complicated creation.

Math is a symbolic representation of a real concept. 2 + 3 = 5. But really, it started out as 2 fish plus 3 fish equals 5 fish or something like that. Non-math people often hate word problems, yet word problems are the culmination of the most useful aspects of math. We take some real problem in life we want to figure out. We assign the various parts of the problem numbers and symbols. Then we drop all the words and manipulate the numbers and symbols. Voila! We reach an answer, and we can attach back to the symbolic answer it's real world meaning. That's the power of math.

In Genesis 1, God creates His perfect world and crowns it with the creation of man and woman in His image. He then gives them the great task of subduing the earth, having dominion over it. “My creation has gravity, but you can subdue it. My creation has deep oceans, but you can have dominion over them. It has wind, and you can harness it for power. It has fruit trees. You can harvest the seeds and plant them where you wish.” This simple command from God is the foundation of all that is good and right in science, physics, biology, and so forth. And every Genesis-inspired scientific discovery and advance in technology is dependent on some form of mathematics. Fruit trees are planted in parallel rows, spaced evenly apart. Rockets follow the path of a quadratic equation. Ships displace water based on their volume and shape. We take a real problem, assign it numbers and symbols, manipulate it, and discover an answer that unlocks yet another piece of God's creation for our use.

My all time favorite intersection of math and theology is chaos theory and fractal geometry. These are newer branches of mathematics that give particular insight into the wonder of the mind of God and His incredible creation. Studies in these fields involve millions of numeric calculations we'd never do by hand and have taken off in the last few decades with advances in computer science. The resulting observations point to the existence of mathematical order behind seemingly random events in the Universe. Chaos Theory actually supports, not weakens, the belief in the great Engineer Who planned the Universe and set it in motion governed by mathematical principles.

“Contrary to the connotations implied by its name, chaos theory does not eradicate the possibility of order. It does not serve to propagate notions of chaos. Chaos theory is really a science about finding organization in seemingly complex systems. It serves to find order in disorder.“
(Library.advanced.org/12170; A. Davenport, S. Kraynak, B. Timko)

Consider this simple illustration of chaos theory. It's called the Sierpinski Triangle and is an example of finding order in events that seem to be random. Draw a triangle, and pick a point anywhere outside of the triangle. Then arbitrarily pick one of the corners of the triangle (it's important that the corner chosen be completely random). Find the middle between the first point and that corner. Then mark that as the next point. Repeat this process again and again. The points you plot seem random, but if you plotted 1000 points, you’d begin to see a pattern. Eventually you’d see that all of the points fall into the pattern shown here.


You can play it and see the progression from random dots to clear pattern for yourself here.

God and theology tend to make sense when we see the natural order of creation, when things work as they should, governed by known forces of the Universe. It's the random, unpredictable events in life that cause us to question God. It's the chaos. I remember the first time I played the chaos game on that unsophisticated German website. I did it one at a time, but that took too long. Then 10 at a time, but I didn't have the patience for that one either. It was playing 100 at a time that I started to see it. I was stunned, because the spiritual implications were immediately obvious. Order out of chaos. Meaning out of random nonsense.

The Sierpinski Triangle gave me perspective on Romans 8:28.

Romans 8:28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

Ephesians 1 speaks similarly. Before time began, God had a coherent, clear plan for you and I in Christ. But life appears so random at times, so chaotic. Yet, we have been chosen and our destiny set in motion “according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11).

Hudson Taylor said it this way.

“Learn to think of God as the One Great Circumstance in Whom we live and move and have our being—and all other circumstances as necessarily the wisest, kindest, and best because either ordained or permitted by Him.”


Forget math. It's served its purpose in my heart now. It pointed me to God. Now I'm just in awe of His sovereignty …

Proverbs 16:33
The lot is cast into the lap,
But its every decision is from the LORD.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Hugs and Affirmation

I am reminded daily of the interconnected nature of my parenting and my theology. Last week, I was at my wits end trying to figure out how to discipline my younger son, who is not normally the challenging child in our family. He was having a hard week, acting out angrily and then throwing out emotionally charged language at me when disciplined – “I hate you.” “You don't want to be my mommy.” “You don't love me.” And even more disturbing – “I don't like myself.” “I don't want to be in this world.”

What in the world?! Where was he getting that stuff? The acting out was escalating, along with the emotional verbal aftermath. I brought this burden with me into our mom's group Bible study last week. As we shared our burdens for our children, one mom told how she had been intentionally affirming and hugging her problem child multiple times a day and the difference that was making in her child's attitude. I thought, could it really be that simple?! But I felt burdened afterwards that I should do the same with my son.

I knew that giving him extra hugs and affirmation at random times of the day wouldn't change how I handled his outbursts. I wasn't going to hug and affirm him if he hit his brother. But I was hoping that if I hugged him and affirmed him when he was behaving, then when the time came to discipline him when he sinned, he would receive it from me without going into his You-hate-me-and-I-hate-myself routine.

I have been giving him random hugs and affirmation—when I first see him in the morning, when I send him to school, when I pick him up from school, and when we are getting ready for bed. And something unexpected has happened. Hugs didn't help when it came time to deal with serious behavior issues. Instead, the serious behavior issues simply DISAPPEARED. Though he hasn't been a perfect kid, and we've had some issues through which to work, I can't remember him hurting his brother or needing an extended time out ALL WEEK. Perhaps all that will change this afternoon, but for the week I've been trying this, I have had NO major discipline issues with him.

I'm still stunned at the simplicity of this fix. And I'm not naïve about the probability of similar issues in the future. But today, I am contemplating how affective hugs and affirmation have been at changing his behavior. THANK YOU, Mom friend at Bible study, for giving me a tangible way to parent my child the way God parents His.

And this IS how God parents us. It was a major observation I made when writing the Ephesians Bible study. Paul starts off Ephesians with a long, beautiful discourse on God's lavish grace and unconditional love poured out on us before time began. He prays we would know the hope that comes with all God has declared over us in affirmation. And it's only after that he discusses our sin and depravity. God's affirmation of us gives us the safe place we need to face our sin and need head on. Throughout Ephesians, this truth is reinforced.

I don't know why my son had such insecurities and needed my affirmation so much. But he did. And I do too. As I hug and affirm my son, I'm reminded of the beautiful things God has said over me, and I have confidence to face my sin and need head on, for nothing can separate me from the love of my Father in heaven.

Ephesians 1
7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, 9 he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.
 
11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.
 
15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Feasting

Our church feasted this past weekend. It wasn't a potluck lunch in the church basement (though we have those regularly, and I LOVE them). It wasn't a nice catered buffet, though those are great too. No, this was a feast. It was sumptuous food prepared by a sous chef that was a friend of our pastor from seminary. When the theologian chef prepares your church feast, you are in for a treat.

The day started off with a sermon from John 2 on Jesus turning water into wine at the marriage celebration. If you have a chance to listen to the whole sermon, I recommend it. The basic idea is how Jesus chose that moment of lack to first show Himself as the Messiah, and it sets the tone for the whole of His ministry. There is no wine, and He provides not just an adequate supply to complete the weekend celebration, but the best wine they had tasted the whole time. When He fed the 5000, there were baskets and baskets left over. He stepped into moments of utter need and provided an abundance.

As I drove to the church feast later that evening (my husband graciously watching the boys so I could go unencumbered), I lifted my hands in praise to God as I meditated on the gospel. I finally put it into words to my good friend who sat by me at my table. How was I feeling about things, she asked. Well, I felt like feasting and celebrating, and not because anything in my life felt reconciled. I still have serious health issues. Raising my boys remains hard. It's tough navigating spiritual abuse in my community. None of that has changed. But I think I'm getting at a soul deep level that, no matter what unresolved conflict, wound, or longing exists in my heart, the gospel always and forever makes up the difference. No lack or want or failure can separate me from the love of God. No lack or want or failure will define my life for eternity. The gospel was made for our LACK. It utterly makes up the difference. And that is great cause for rejoicing!

The first thing we did as a congregation at the feast was take communion. I relished that moment. THIS is why I am perplexed but not crushed, struck down but not destroyed. And I love that God commands us to, over and over, eat the bread and drink from the cup to REMEMBER. Remember that He has made up the distance between all that perplexes us, all that we lack, and REJOICE for our lack does not define us at any stage of life.

John 6:53-58
So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever."