To Live By Words and Numbers.

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The Phantom Tollbooth (1969)

I recall watching the movie, The Phantom Tollbooth, several times as a kid.    In the movie, Milo, the main character, eventually comes across the King of Words (from dictionopolis), and the King of Numbers (from Digitopolis), and they’re in a heated debate over who’s got more influence in life: numbers or letters.

That debate inspired discussion in my sixth grade language arts class: if you could have an army of numbers or an army of letters, which would you choose?

I recall choosing numbers, because numbers are infinite.  But, then a classmate told me that for every number, there’s a word (meaning, multiple letters): “2” would lose in battle with “T-W-O.”

Nonetheless, it is now many many years later, and I still recall the discussion –and, perhaps she had a point.  After all, I’m not blogging in binary code, am I?

As I woke this morning I had a few thoughts.  First, I reflected on this past week, and thought of how my desk is just absolutely covered in papers and notes and note-cards all related to my study for the Montana Real Estate License Exam.  Then, I thought of going to my church right in the middle of my week and playing music for my Lord.  While, it may have seemed like an interruption to my studies for some, to me, it was necessary to abandon myself for about an hour.

That night of worship became a night of surrender.  I prayed, intently, asking for God to go before me.  To lift the fear, and the opportunity of fear from my week, and allow me to conquer the state exam.  Some friends prayed with me and as I left to return home (to study), I felt like a Spartan warrior — minus all the chiseled abs.

A few verses have been floating around in my head over this past week.

Romans 8:28 (NIV)

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, whohave been called according to his purpose.

This verse has given me security, knowing that my ends are not God’s ends.  And, therefore, my means, are really not mine at all.  In fact, I can have faith (and, therefore, confidence) that God is working a great work in my life, because I love Him.  Then I notice some of the fear withering away.

Psalm 46:10a (NIV)

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;

This verse, like the above, reassures me that God is in control.  He’s got stuff figured out, and really, I just need to chill out.  I love this verse because the command is simple:  chill.  I’ve got this, He says.

And, finally, Proverbs 16:3

Commit to the Lord whatever you do,
and he will establish your plans.

I quoted this verse in an earlier blog-entry, and, really, it’s a recent favorite of mine.  My wife must have recently stumbled across this one, or became moved by it and decided to write it on a post-it note and stick it to the bathroom mirror.  I noticed it some time ago.  At first, I just read it, and moved on.  But, in no time, I noticed those words echoing in my head: He will establish my plans.  Just commit!

This verse has helped me find that there’s victory in submission to the Lord.  Just let go.  Scripture tells us to cast our fears upon the Lord (see: 1 Peter 5:7 and/or Psalm 55:22), and even Jesus said:

Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

That’s Matthew 6:27, by the way.  I love that question!  It’s even a bit humorous: who can add a single hour to your life by worrying?  Ha!  Jesus is laughing at adversity!  I love it!

Now, if I may digress, or better-yet, regress (to the point I originally thought I had); notice all these numbers (in the form of Bible verses).  I’m sure you already knew this, but think about the fact that the original Scriptures were NOT written in verse form.  It’s not like back in the day people shouted: Psalm 46:10 when they needed a spiritual-pick-me-up!  No.  These passages, many of them, were written like letters.  And, do we number our paragraphs or even our sentences when we write letters?  Nope.  Not since grade-school.  Yet, today we like to remind ourselves of the Love God has for us by plastering “JOHN316” on a license plate.  Or tattooing Psalm29:11 on our arm so we can feel “stronger.”  Or, perhaps we buy a new house and notice the address is 2415, as in Joshua 24:15.  (That would be cool!)

Numbers are reference points (to use a Real Estate term: benchmarks).  They refer us to a truth in WORD.  The idea behind the numbers is to give us an easy way to recall the Truth of God: that He LOVES us, and He fights for us!  (Ezekiel 14:14) 😉

So, maybe my classmate was right after all, with every number, you’ve got WORDS describing it.

In the beginning was the WORD, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

John 1:1

Thirteen and Luck.

Not that long ago, I was boarding an airplane with my son, and I had explained to him that on the ticket it identified our seats as ‘17A’ and 17’C’.  So, while we were walking down the aisle, I had him view the aisle numbers and count.  “10….11….12….—14?,” he asked.

Since we were in a bit of a hurry to find our row, I shuffled him a few more rows and collapsed onto our seats in row 17.  After fastening seat-belts and securing our luggage, I began to explain that on planes there’s no 13.  And, then I reached the limit of my explanation, for there really is not reasonable explanation.

Jesus had 12 disciples, making Him either #13 or #1.  Either way, someone was #13.

To the Jews, 13 signifies the age at which a boy matures and becomes a ‘Bar Mitzvah,’ and, interestingly, and perhaps related, according to Rabbinic commentary on the Torah, God has 13 attributes of mercy.

Interestingly, the calendar year is broken up into 12 months, making the 13th the beginning of a new year.

This is an oil on canvas painting of George Washington receiving the first US flag from Betsy Ross, painted in 1950 by Walter Haskell Hinton.

Thirteen is also the first of the ‘teens,’ again, marking something new.  And, may I suggest it is also the beginning of repeated numbers, meaning “twelve” is unique, but “thirteen” is really just the combination of “three” and “ten.”  Again, marking something new.

Our country, America, declared its independence with 13 original colonies, and is also the number of guns in a gun salute to one of the US military.  Interestingly, while the original ‘American flag’ consisted of 13 stars (one for each original colony), the number of stars increased as the number of US States increased.  However, the original number of stripes–13–has remained the same.

Colgate University also considers 13 to be a lucky number. They were founded in 1819 by 13 men with 13 dollars, 13 prayers and 13 articles.  (To this day, members of the Colgate community consider the number 13 a good omen.) In fact, the campus address is 13 Oak Drive in Hamilton, New York, and the male a cappella group is called the Colgate 13.

However, trivia aside, I always felt it was a bit silly to pay so much attention to the number 13.  In fact, many times I find myself filling up at pump #13, and intentionally trying to end my dollar amount with $0.13 because I feel the number is left out!

In any event, I hope this letter finds you in good fortune (notice, I chose the word ‘fortune’ rather than ‘luck.’)  As luck would have it, though, I did find $20 in my pants this morning, which calls to mind that old adage, “luck is merely the intersection of preparation and opportunity.”  I prepared to surprise myself by forgetting the $20 bill, and therefore, gave myself the opportunity to be surprised when I reached into my pocket!

I used to work at a bar with a small casino attached to it.  So, often times I would find myself serving the gamblers as well.  Although, it was a rather easy job (bring a beer to a gambler, change a hundred, toss an empty bottle), it was a bit more difficult to me not being a gambler.  Some would enter and ask to know which machine has been paying out lately.

A typical Keno screen

Other’s would question their luck, or ask me if I’m lucky and then suggest picking their Keno numbers.  Again, this is an illusion that ‘luck’ is an essence that floats around like a butterfly, never knowing where it’s going to land, but lands, definitely, and then embracing this chosen individual with it’s blessing.  It’s rather silly, don’t you think?

Some will comment, “Oh, you don’t have to worry about your diet, you’re lucky.  You’re skinny and healthy.”  Could it be, perhaps, that I’m skinny and healthy because of my diet?  Could it be that because I chose to pursue a college education that I’m, therefore, more qualified for the job?  Ultimately, could it be because of the conscience decisions I made in the past that I have the celebrations and the sorrows I do today?

Now, I’m not trying to eliminate the avenue for God’s divine reach.  He certainly has the ability to reach into our lives, transform them, and work in us in a way we’d never expect.  How do I know?  Because he did to me!  While some would regard my intersection with Corylene as pure luck, I see it as nothing less than God’s divine working.  But, before I leave that, let’s consider the similarities of luck and God’s work.

1.  Both appear to be the work or result of an external force – one that supersedes our grasp or possibly even our understanding.

2.  Both require a level of faith.

3.  Both, often times, become apparent only after an event, in a way, post-result.

Now, if I may add a fourth, and perhaps most pertinent, reason; that, both, can result in either a positive or negative outcome.

Consider, for a minute, Roy Sullivan.  Ok, certainly not a household name, but maybe if I told you that he holds the record for being struck by lightening the most he becomes a bit more interesting.  Turns out, in his lifetime, Roy was struck seven times, and the interesting thing is that it wasn’t lightening that ended up taking his life.  Turns out he accidently shot himself in the stomach.  Poor guy.  What a way to go, especially after defeating lightening seven times!

Roy lived in Virginia and worked as a park ranger in the Shenandoah National Park.  Now, being amongst nature can certainly increase your chances of being struck by lightening, but being in Virginia, apparently, can significantly increase those chances, too.  Turns out, in the entire country, the South-East coast is the ‘hot-spot’ for lightening flashes.  So hot, that even Roy’s wife was stuck once!  Wow, out of all my friends on facebook, I don’t recall any of them updating their status claiming a personal experience with lightening!

Status Update: I wass strucckk by lighttteening today.  Kinnnda tinnggless.

Now, as you read more about Roy, and may I suggest for convenience, just plug his name in Wikipedia.com’s search engine (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roy_Sullivan), you’ll find that by the fourth strike, he began to feel a bit ‘[un]lucky.’  So much that he started to carry a jug of water around all the time.  In fact, after one lightening incident he was able to extinguish the flames on his head with his water jug in his truck.

I mention Roy, and his oddities, because here’s a man who would more than likely suggest he’s rather UNlucky.  However, consider the opposite: maybe it’s because he’s SO lucky that he was able to withstand seven strikes of lightening?  Really, who are we to say what is and isn’t good luck?  Or, perhaps, God’s divine reach?

I indicated three, actually four, similarities in luck and God’s working.  Roy would indicate that the lightening, in his life, was certainly the work of someone, or something, beyond his grasp, perhaps even his understanding.  It’s safe to assume that if he had any control over this situation at all, he would have elected to NOT be struck.

That being the case, he undoubtedly began to question God’s intention.  What’s the meaning of all this?  If, perhaps, he was not a believer in God, then certainly we could expect some type of divine rationalization (or even irrationalization) for this unique set of circumstances.  Therefore, the element of faith enters.  I’ll explain the element of faith a little later.  And, finally, it’s really only in the aftermath that we (and Roy) are able to put some of the evidence together in efforts to understand what just happened.

In 2001, I was a victim to a violent robbery at a pizza store in Wilmington, NC.  It was a friday night.  I was one of the last delivery drivers on duty, and it was near the end of my shift.  I was given the opportunity to go home early, but I decided to try and get a few more deliveries in before the end of my shift.  After all, it was a really good night for tips!

A little after 10:00 PM, I returned to the store, entered through the side-door (not visible to the carry-out customers, and therefore, utilized commonly by the delivery drivers), and approached my tip box.  Just as I was going for my keys to unlock my tip box and begin sorting my bills for check-out, three men entered the store, rather suddenly, too.  What caught my attention was that within seconds, they were behind the counter.  Before a thought as to why they were possibly behind the counter could begin in my head, I saw one man raise his hand to expose a gun, draw back the trigger and fire a bullet at another co-worker.

They just shot Nate!

As I panicked, I dropped to the floor, buried my head in my arms and closed my eyes.

Do you recall playing hide-n-seek with your friends, or brothers and sisters when you were younger?  Did you ever get the feeling that you weren’t visible to others if you, yourself, couldn’t see anything?  Many times, while playing, I’d hide in a cupboard, or under a table, and while sitting on my butt, I’d hug my legs, bury my head between my knees, and close my eyes.  It was as if supernaturally I acquired the ability to be invisible if I just closed my eyes.

Eventually, well, really, in a matter of seconds, one of the men made it to the back of the store.  He had the store manager in is control.  She was crying excessively.  Lisa may have been 25 or 26 at the time.  She had a young son and a husband, and worked at Domino’s as a store manager.  It was a good job for her and her husband.

I turned my head to see if she was injured just in time to see the assailant strike her face with the pistol.  I jolted.  He caught me, and immediately, I was staring at the barrel of a stub-nose revolver.

Get up!

I jumped to my feet.  He began asking about the camera tapes, and the hidden safe, and where all the money was.  As polite as I could reply, meanwhile getting beat in the back of the head by a pistol that I was increasingly becoming convinced was going to go off, I informed the man that we don’t utilize any security cameras, not do we have a hidden safe, or even a visible safe that we utilize.  Each night, after the store closes, the store manager, and the closing driver, drive to the bank and deposit the excess cash, leaving, at best, two hundred dollars in the store.  The intention, behind this thinking, is to deter theft.  A lot of good it was doing now!

The tragedy ended within minutes and I was left unconscious in a small pool of blood on the cold, concrete floor of the Ogden Domino’s Pizza, Store #8944, in Wilmington, North Carolina on March 16, 2001.

Now, what I learned about that night in the months to follow was evidence that, really, it’s God’s working, and not luck.

Verse to consider:

Romans 8:28..

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.