In the moment

“I am now handing out the exams, do not start until I tell you to do so.  Please keep the exams face down.  Please remove all items except pens, pencils, or erasers,” the professor states.  The students shuffle papers away and clear their desks.  They appear anxious to begin.

“It is now 8 o’clock, you may all begin.  You have till 8:50, that is, 50 minutes.”

The students flip to the first page of the exam.  Some brows begin to sweat and furrow, a few pencils tap, some pensively stare at the ceiling, while others feverishly type on their calculators[1].  Nevertheless, there are always a collection of students that look like a seasoned runner: focused, steadfast, stressed but remaining calm, and diligently working toward the prize.  That determined look espouses confidence even if the student themselves do not feel that way!

Question: Where does that confidence come from? 

Short Answer: Preparation.

Long Answer: It stems from an investment of time learning the subtle nuances of the material.  It comes from working problems and understanding their extensions.  It comes from handling the frustrating moments of “I don’t get this” that, through hard-work, transforms into “ah-hah” moments.  Understanding often comes by the way of 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration.

This means that when the exams do come the diligent student draws from understood material.  They pull it from their banks of knowledge that have been seasoned through time and hard work.  That’s what comes to mind.  That is what brings forth an air of confidence to face the exam.

In the heat of battle or the exams of life what comes to your mind?  Vile thoughts? Empty thoughts? Despairing thoughts?  Self-righteous thoughts? Righteous thoughts? Noble thoughts? Godly thoughts?

Do you read the scriptures hastily just as a student crams for an exam?  Or do you read the scriptures with intention and diligence just as the confident student that prepares?  After all, understanding gained hastily dwindles but those that seek it diligently will increase it (Proverbs 13:11-12).

What came to mind when Stephen was about to be stoned in Acts 7?  What came to mind when the prophet Isaiah was about to be sawed in two?  What came to mind when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were about to be thrown into the furnace?  Or Daniel prior to being thrown into the lion’s den?  Or when you are singled out for your faith in Jesus Christ?  Or the other Christian martyrs of today and yesterdays?

I can tell you what came through their mind: The hope and peace that defies all human understanding in knowing that those in Jesus will overcome death itself and are assured victory in the end (Phil 4:6, 1 Cor 15:55-58).

 

1. This behavior always baffles me. Especially, since I know that their particular exam doesn’t require any calculator use. I often think, “What are they typing?” This behaviour is similar to going to work on a house with a wild chain-saw when you are tasked to work on a plumbing system!

 

 

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Dragging Jesus through the dirt

bostonIn the wake of the events of the 2013 Boston Marathon a chilling sadness rings throughout this country. The footsteps of thousands of runners should be all that echos in our memories, instead we are left with alternative graphic images etched in its place.  Many of us are compelled to action and help, regardless of distance or financial means. The tragic events provide a platform to offer support, empathize, feel compassion, and bring love.

There are, of course, many distinct ways of attempting to accomplish this end.  However, my stomach churned in agony, when I read that the Westboro Baptist Church, known for its extreme ideologies, announced that Boston received this bombing as a punishment for allowing same-sex unions, thus would be picketing the funeral processions of the deceased.  Rather then embarking on a full discourse of ideological differences let’s consider a scenario where Westboro Baptist did something different.  After all, the financial means are there if a group of protesters are making their way to Boston.

Suppose they came to each of the funerals and served them.  Suppose they sought out any invited guests that needed transportation and then provided a taxi service for them.  Suppose, they took care of preparing, providing , and cleaning up the ensuing meal after the service.  Suppose they offered to take care of the children during the service to free the hands of grieving parents. Suppose they circled the service in an air of prayer to our heavenly Father.  Suppose they tended to any household need in the forthcoming days.  Suppose this was the case and then they left to go back to Kansas.  Thus, I offer one question:

If the deep and heartfelt intention is for the affected people to turn toward God in the midst of this tragedy, which option will ultimately render a positive response to this end? Which one shows support, compassion, and brings the love of Jesus Christ evidenced by a transformed mind, heart, and soul? 

Consider Matthew 8:5 – “When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. ‘Lord,’ he said, ‘my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering.’ ”

Did Jesus say: “Be gone you polytheistic, hateful, persecutor of the one true God! Your sins have brought this suffering onto yourself!” or I will go and heal him.

Academic Lessons on Pain and Suffering

calvary_hillHow do you deal with temptation and trials? How do you view suffering or pain that you experience? Is the recognition of pain and suffering in the world render your belief in God futile?  Does the suffering in the world seem senseless random?  Why does the ‘good’ suffer while the evil prosper (Psalm 44:9-16)? As a lowly university mathematics professor let me offer an analogy from my regular experiences with students.  I implore the thoughtful reader to read the scripture references; you can access a bible for free at www.youversion.com.

In the beginning of each semester, during the first class I offer the student a class vision, even if they do not have the ability to understand it.  I ask them, however, to believe and put their trust in my guidance (Isaiah 55:9, John 3:12, John 6:47-51, Psalm 118:81 Pet 2:6-8).  You see throughout the term each student’s vision is incredibly short-sighted and cloudy (1 Cor 13:12).  Indeed, they will all struggle in different ways (1 Cor 8:9-13).  Often it is working with others that can make a big difference in their work (Prov 27:17), and I hope that they allow me to keep their paths straight (Prov 3:6). Oh, as my previous students can attest, they undoubtedly suffer through the work (James 2:14-26) and various tests (James 1:13, 1 Thes 3:3-5, Deut 8:2-3, Exo 20:20, Psalm 66:8-12).  They are all accountable and know this! In fact, they are disciplined/graded (Deut 8:5,  Rom 3:19) to provide additional instruction (Psalms 32:8).  Often, students will cry out for help and I do console them (Psalm 23), however, I assure them that they are never being tested more than they can understand or bear (1 Cor 10:13).  Consequently, each student is built up (2 Tim 3:16) and, thusly, learns endurance/perseverance  (James 1:4).  Unfortunately, some will fail, trusting that their way is simply better (Prov 3:5, Isaiah 8:15, Romans 1:21-32).  They no longer listen to sound teaching  and, in desperation they follow unsound paths (2 Tim 4:3-4).  The take the easy road rather than the narrow path to understanding and truth (Matt 7:13).  Oftentimes, the failing student becomes embittered to the success of other students (Matthew 24:10), they even make fun of the Way (John 15:18-25).  In contrast, to those who have endured (2 Tim 4:7-8) they look back and realize the immeasurable good that came out of their pain, suffering, trails, and temptations (Romans 8:28). Finally, the student comes to the realization the love that I had for them (Matt 6:26) and that I longed for them to allow me to lead them and serve them in this way (Matt 23:37).  In all, the semester starts with a student’s personal decision to receive (John 14:15-18), respond (John 3:16), and, subsequently, trust (John 12:35-36, Psalm 118:8).