Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Dependence day

The classes I am taking this semester are up on my on-line Blackboard page. This means I can take an early peek at the syllabus, assignments and textbooks.

Excuse me while I breathe in this paper bag for a minute . . . . . easy. . . . .calm down . . . .

I have already decided to drop one of the three classes I registered for because the first two have an enormous workload: 4 class discussions to lead, 5 papers, 73 readings and one large project. All I know about the third class is that it has 3 required textbooks and about 10 recommended. That is more than enough reason to save that class for another semester.

This time in the semester is not a good time for me. I know too much about what will be expected of me, but I have little reminder of the good parts of going to school. By next week I will still feel overwhelmed, but I will also have touched base with several people with whom I have developed a strong friendship. In seeing them, again, God will remind me that He has a plan on how to get me through this semester.

In the reading I did this summer, I came across an interesting idea. Much of Developmental Psychology of the last 100 years, or so, has centered on the idea that when we are born we bond, or attach, to our parents and spend the rest of our childhood going from complete dependence to independence. The point being made in the book was that the field is starting to realize the reverse may also be true. In other words, we are born, bond with our parents and that is the first step in learning how to work with, and depend on, others. In fact, the more we study learning, the more we realize that social skills, such as empathy, are a key component to good learning.

Becoming independent is not a theme in scripture; at least not a theme with a good ending. If we work toward independence we work ourselves away from God. Here is a good example:

For I solemnly warned your fathers when I brought them up out of the land of Egypt, warning them persistently, even to this day, saying, Obey my voice. Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but everyone walked in the stubbornness of his evil heart. Therefore I brought upon them all the words of this covenant, which I commanded them to do, but they did not." Jeremiah 11: 7-8 (ESV)

In our sin we want to be independent, but the effect is similar to a two-year-old insisting "me do it." We simply cannot do anything on our own. We are completely dependent on God.

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." They answered him, "We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, 'You will become free'?"

Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. John 8: 31-36 (ESV)

I am looking at this verse in a new way. I need to be enslaved (dependent on) to God in order to experience freedom (independence). So for now, I will go to God in prayer, begin my reading assignments, and meet with two good UNL friends for a picnic lunch, tomorrow. God's promise to love and care for me will filter into my brain and heart as I read and pray over His word.

Remember your word to your servant,
in which you have made me hope.
This is my comfort in my affliction,
that your promise gives me life. Psalm 119:49-50

Thank you, God, for new adventures (even scary ones), thank you for friends and thank you for complete and utter dependence on You.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The power and pattern of hope

Hope is an interesting concept. In the secular world it is a fingers-crossed kind of emotion where you make a wish and hope it comes true. In the education world hope can often be a glass-half-full optimism; if you have a strong sense of self-efficacy you will most likely succeed at what you try. In the Bible hope is something all-together different. It is not fingers-crossed or glass-half-full, it is a grave-completely-empty assurance of God's love for us. We have hope that heaven awaits our arrival because we have assurance that our entrance into heaven has already been earned for us through Christ's death and resurrection.

Here is a World Science Federation tape of Bobby McFerrin. In this activity where Bobby turns an entire audience of science nerds into a musical instrument where they can sing one line while he sings another is a fascinating thing to see. At the end of the clip Bobby gives us a reason why this works. Apparently the pentatonic scale is hardwired into our brain. When he proceeds to teach the audience how to sing this way he has confidence that they can access this information and put it to use in this situation.

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Jeremiah 31:33 (ESV)

and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:5 (ESV)

We are hardwired to know God. He has placed His law into our hearts and through the miracle of baptism has also placed His love and Spirit. Because of the faith He gives us, we have the possibility of knowing and feeling His love and care. We have the kind of hope that is an assurance, that is definite, that is as certain as God himself.

But there is more . . .

At the beginning of the clip Bobby talks about expectations. Bobby does not have to use any words to teach the audience the game. He uses his actions and their understanding of the pentatonic scale to teach them how to anticipate or expect the next note. The audience can instantly perform because of the many years of exposure to the scale. The audience is not lagging behind their teacher, but, is in sync with his teaching.

God has placed His word into our hearts but He has also demonstrated His love for us over and over, again. He has set up a pattern of expectations just as Bobby McFerrin set up an imaginary xylophone. God's pattern is complete and completely consistent. Our hope is an assurance and an expectation.

May you be led by God's teaching and rest in the assurance of His hope. He has great plans for you and has written those plans in your heart.

The LORD looks down from heaven; he sees all the children of man; from where he sits enthroned he looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, he who fashions the hearts of them all and observes all their deeds. The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue. Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love Psalm 33: 13-18 (ESV)