Weighed in the Balance and Found Wandering

Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God concerning them is for their salvation.  I can testify about them that they have zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. Since they are ignorant of the righteousness of God and attempted to establish their own righteousness, they have not submitted to God’s righteousness. —Romans 10:1-3

A friend of mine has been struggling for quite some time with a religious rift within his home. While he is a diligent, Bible-believing Christian, his wife is . . . how should I say it? She’s out in left field. More specifically, she’s managed to get herself connected with a sect that “majors on the minors.” These people think it is super important that REAL Christians worship on Saturday rather than Sunday. They insist on calling Jesus Yeshua and keeping some of the Jewish holidays.

I realize that someone could make a case for Saturday worship, and I know people who pray in the name of Yeshua and observe Passover. To my mind there’s nothing at all wrong with those things, but when we make one or more of those things the litmus test for True Believerhood, then I think we’re doing the exact sort of thing that Paul lamented the Jews of his day doing.

You don’t have to look around the Christian world very far to find examples of this sort of thing. My Church of Christ friends decline to have instrumental music in their churches (which is certainly their right), but they tend to make that practice a dividing line. Some Pentecostal friends insist that one absolutely must be baptized in the name of Jesus–and only in the name of Jesus–for a baptism to count. Do they honestly believe that Jesus suffered and died on the cross for me and then will leave me high and dry because Pastor C. baptized me with the wrong words way back when?

But lest I get too full of myself, too sure of my own rightness, I have to confess that I take a dim view of churches that baptize infants. I’m pretty confident that infant baptism is not scriptural, but is God going to reject a Jesus-believing Episcopal? And along the same lines, what of baptism by immersion? That’s the scriptural pattern, but if you believe in your heart and confess with your tongue, is God going to throw you into Purgatory because you were sprinkled?

I’m pretty sure that my friend’s wife is walking down the wrong road, but I’m also sure that the God of Creation will indulge some error on the part of those who believe. My prayer is that this woman, and those with whom she worships, will actually make that connection.

Faulty Connections

Recently I shared a bit about my experience in replacing the alternator in my wife’s vehicle. While I believe my initial post got across the idea that I am a far better English teacher than mechanic, I didn’t include one slightly embarrassing part of the endeavor.

After completing the installation, including attaching the two electrical connections, I re-charged the battery and took the newly powered vehicle for a test drive. All went well as I drove around the neighborhood. I pulled back into my driveway, switched off the ignition, and then started it up again. Still no problem. With my triumph nearly confirmed, I asked Penny to take a ride with me. We started up the vehicle again, although I noticed a bit of sluggishness this time. Pulling out of the driveway and putting the beast into drive, I saw matters go wonky. The gas and temp gauges started to rock as lights dimmed. After pulling back into the driveway, I grumbled. Apparently the alternator wasn’t the problem after all.

As I reflected on my wasted afternoon and the money I’d dropped on the new alternator, it occurred to me that the car was behaving in exactly the way it had before and that we had previously done the test to assign the blame to the alternator.

“Wait . . . ,” I said, startling my dog. “What if I didn’t get those wires connected properly.” One wire screwed on securely, but the other was a plastic plug with several smaller wires trailing from it. That plug had been a chore to disconnect. Walking out to the car, I raised the hood and reached down to the suspected culprit. When I pulled it to the right, it slid out easily. Pushing it back in, with some force, I felt it click into place. There was my problem.

Now, several weeks later, the car is operating perfectly. Like I said, I’m a better English teacher.

Before I made that connection, the new alternator had been sitting in the engine compartment, spinning under the power of the serpentine belt, and generating electricity. It was doing its job, but my failure to connect it to the devices that wanted to use that electricity made it useless.

In Philippians 4:13, Paul offers one of his best quotable nuggets: “I am able to do all things through him who strengthens me. ” How does God strengthen me? He strengthens me through the Holy Spirit. In fact, in Acts 1:8 we learn that the Holy Spirit will give us power–electricity, if you will allow me some latitude.

As a believer, I have the Holy Spirit and its power within me, but sometimes I don’t have the wires connected properly to make use of that power. Sometimes, the power just goes wasted within me.

Fixing that bad connection to tap the new alternator’s power was pretty simple. It’s slightly harder to restore my connection to the Holy Spirit when I’ve allowed it to shake loose. However, unlike in my driveway mechanic work, I have the master mechanic ready to assist me in making good that connection.

Many Problems; One Solution

Recently, I took a rather frenzied call from my wife as she drove home from downtown Kansas City. My memory of it is as an echo of the lead-in to the old Six Million Dollar Man TV show with the aircraft crashing to earth: “I can’t hold altitude. She’s breaking up. She’s breaking up.”

In reality, Penny just informed me that everything in her car was acting strangely. Needles were rocking, lights were flashing, and the navigation screen was blanked out. “Should I pull over?” She asked.

I determined that if the engine kept running she should just drive on toward home. She made it home and left the engine running to allow me to experience the show. The air conditioner cut in and out. The gas and temperature gauges were going crazy. In short, nothing seemed to be working properly. And then the engine sputtered and died.

My first thought was that some hyper-expensive computer unit, something more costly than the car, had died. Such a problem would have fouled up our summer budget. But then I wondered about the alternator.

What made me blame the alternator? I don’t know, but, after charging the battery, I checked. (Start the car. When running, remove the negative cable from the battery. If it dies, the alternator is no good.) Sure enough, I had a bad alternator.

As I replaced that unit, I had time to think. Since I’m a rather slow and inexperienced mechanic, I had a great deal of time. What symptoms did the car show? It showed many. In the end, everything that required electricity was failing or acting strangely. It seemed that the vehicle had many problems. Yet in the end, there was only one.

What does an alternator do in a car? Basically, it’s a little electric generator. A tiny fraction of the engine’s energy drives a belt that turns a wheel that creates juice. The resulting current sparks the spark plugs, powers the air conditioning fan, keeps the radio playing, and does everything else that involves electricity–which is basically everything.

When I look at the problems in my life or the lives of people around me, many of them can be traced back to the alternator. When we do not receive sufficient current from the source of power–God–then we’re going to experience a variety of miscues and failures.

Can’t stop smoking, eating, watching porn, or drinking? Sounds like a power problem.  Can’t maintain relationships, jobs, or other responsibilities? It’s the alternator. Can’t get excited about a life of worship or genuinely care about the people around you? Again, it’s that power source.

Just as not all problems with a car can be traced to the alternator, not all those in life can be blamed on the connection to God’s power. Still, many problems that seem to have various sources are really focused on that one connection.

 

Full of Years–A Mathematical Excursion with the Patriarchs

As we learn in Genesis, the patriarchs of the Hebrew nation lived to ripe old ages. Abraham passed on at 175 (Genesis 25:7). Isaac was 180 when he died (Genesis 35:28). The next generation, Jacob, lived to age 147 (Genesis 47:28), while Jacob’s most celebrated son, Joseph made it to 110 (Genesis 50:26).
Aside from the fact that these men would have almost single-handedly bankrupted the Social Security system had they lived in the United States, what can we learn from these numbers?
The bit of mathematical conjuring that follows is certainly not original to me, but its origin is, from my research, obscure. Let’s look.

Within the Ages

Looking at those credibility-stretching ages, we see that each of the first three can be expressed by a formula: Age=X * Y2. In other words, each each age is a multiple of a perfect square. What are the odds of that happening by coincidence? I checked out every age from 1 to 184, dividing each by the numbers 2 through 9. That is 1,472 possible combinations. And of those 1,472 possibilities, only 46 yielded perfect squares. That’s 3.1%. The likelihood of two generations in a row being like this? It’s less than one tenth of 1%, and the chances of three in a row matching are .0031%. That’s just north of 3 chances in 100,000–more likely than a lottery win but still very unlikely.

Not Just Unlikely But Following a Pattern

Looking more closely, not only do all three of those first three patriarchs have such X * Y2. ages, but there’s a pattern to their ages.
Let me demonstrate.
Name
Age
X
Y
Y
Sum
Abraham
175
7
5
5
17
Isaac
180
5
6
6
17
Jacob
147
3
7
7
17
So if you noticed, the value of X decreases by 2 with each generation while the value of Y increases by 1 in the same generation. I’m not sure how to calculate the probability of that progression, but it is clearly far less probable than even the .0031% we saw above.

All that and 17 Also!

A great deal has been made by previous writers of the fact that this pattern also features all of the digits adding up to equal 17. When you think about it, however, that consistency is simply a feature of the progression. If X decreases by 2 and Y increases by 1 but is counted twice, then what else can that “Sum” column do but remain steady. Still, if there’s significance to the number 17, there might be something to it.
It turns out that 17 is a significant number for a couple reasons:
  • It is a prime number.
  • It is the seventh prime number: 1, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17.
  • It is a combination of 7 (the number of the divine) and 10 (which appears several times in Genesis). E.W. Bullinger explains this sum as a combination of “spiritual perfection, plus ordinal perfection, or the perfection of spiritual order.”

Have We Forgotten Joseph?

I know that you’re wondering if Joseph, our fourth patriarch, fits the pattern. If the progression continued, then we would expect Joseph to be 1*(8*8) or 64 years old when he died. Instead, of course, he lived to be 110. So is Joseph the pattern buster?
Perhaps it is nothing but Joseph’s age can be expressed with the expected X (1) and the sums of the three preceding squared Ys (5, 6, and 7). That is, 1*(25+36+49)=110.
Of course, even though I suggested that might signify nothing, I don’t really believe it. What are the chances that happens by accident?
Let’s assume that we’re adding up three numbers hoping to reach 110. We could use dozens of different combinations if we didn’t care about those perfect squares. But if we restrict ourselves to perfect squares, there are only three combinations: 2 (4), 5 (25), and 9 (81) on one hand, and the 5,6, 7-combination noted above. In short, there is very little chance that Joseph’s age just happens to combine the squares that were found in the ages of his three preceding ancestors.

So What Does It All Mean?

Hopefully I have convinced you that the numerical play afoot in the ages of the patriarchs is not just an accidental occurrence. Assuming that it is not an accident leaves us with the sense that some intent lay behind these numbers.
The mere presence of these numbers does not prove anything about the interpretation of these numbers and it does not prove or disprove the hand of God in the creation of the Genesis text.
  • Could a human author have deposited mathematical Easter eggs for readers to discover? It’s possible.
  • Could God have controlled the ages of the patriarchs in order to produce these numbers? That’s possible as well.
Either way, what does it mean? That’s a question for a later post.

The Rich Fool’s New Car

I’m buying a new car today. It’s not actually new but new to me. It’s a sweet ride and a bit of an indulgence. Do I really need it? Not exactly. Is it okay for me to buy it? Good question. Let’s weigh the options.

After using the parable of the rich fool to opine about binge TV and wasting time, I found myself looking back to the actual parable and what it says about possessions. So let’s remind ourselves of it:

A rich man’s land was very productive. He thought to himself, “What should I do, since I don’t have anywhere to store my crops? I will do this,’ he said. ‘I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones and store all my grain and my goods there.  Then I’ll say to myself, ‘You have many goods stored up for many years. Take it easy; eat, drink, and enjoy yourself.'”

But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is demanded of you. And the things you have prepared—whose will they be?” (Luke 12:16-20)

What a fool! We can all agree on that, right? But what should the rich fool have done? What actions in response to his great harvest would have earned him God’s approval rather than disdain? What could this man do with his bumper crop other than use it to coast into the sunset? Let’s explore the possibilities.

He could leave it out exposed to the elements where the rain and the rats would compete to ruin it first. Surely we can agree that God would not be pleased with that sort of stewardship.

He could give it away to the needy. Is that a good use of the crop? Apparently the rich man was going to be able to feed himself and his entourage for many years to come. It stands to reason that he could have fed a much larger group for a shorter span of years. That would be nice, wouldn’t it? But of course when it’s gone, it’s gone. You can’t spend or give away the same dollar (or bushel of grain) twice.

He could sell it and then invest the proceeds. If this man had a hundred acres, perhaps his excess could be sold in order to fund the purchase of a hundred or two hundred more acres. Whatever good could be done with the crop from the smaller lands could be magnified on the larger lands. But is purpose of profit simply to generate a bigger empire to create ever-bigger profits?

He could store it for a time of need. This is how Joseph saved Egypt in Genesis, isn’t it? The rich man could store his grain and then keep on producing more for future consumption. Then, when a bad situation arises, he could draw from those reserves and save the day. The downside to this approach is that he still has to build storage facilities and protect this reserve until bad times come.

Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t tell us what the rich fool should have done. He just lets us know that the man made the wrong choice. Is there a right answer to what he should have done?

Is there a right answer to what I should do with the extra money that appears in my bank account from time to time? In the past year, I’ve done some of all of these things. I’ve indulged a little bit. I’ve given some money and goods away. I’ve invested some money toward tomorrow, and I’ve simply stuck some into a savings account for an unforeseen need, like the opportunity to buy a car. Did I do it right?

Since Jesus didn’t give us exact instructions for dealing with whatever plenty he provides, I have to assume that he had a different way for directing us. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 2:16 that through the Holy Spirit, “we have the mind of Christ.” The mind of Christ lets me know when I’m mishandling both my money and my time. I just have to ask and then listen to the response.

What does that say about the car? In reality, this choice is a no-brainer. The car pleases me, is priced right, can be purchased (easily) for cash, and should keep me driving reliably for another four or five years. And did I mention that it pleases me? Jesus never said we shouldn’t enjoy life a little.

…and my lungs and limbs and all the rest of me.