Godliness: Living in Awe of God

22 Aug

Climbing the Eight Rung Ladder, 2 Peter 1:5-7

2 Peter 1:3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.

In front of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem

In front of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem

“Godliness” is a word we don’t hear much anymore, and that is a shame because godliness sets a standard of excellence for us. Like all good goals, this one will always be out of our reach, but rather than discouraging us, the standard of godliness should cause us to always keep stretching, keep growing, keep reaching.

In this series, I’ve pointed out that each virtue builds on the previous one. First comes faith, but faith requires action which leads us to excellence (virtue). Excellence in turn produces understanding (knowledge) and understanding results in self-control. The goal is always growth and that requires endurance (steadfastness), but how does endurance lead us to godliness?

Our usual picture of godliness is a little cherub with folded hands looking towards heaven, but let me suggest this virtue is made of grittier stuff than that. It’s a manly quality. The Apostle Paul told Timothy to “train yourself for godliness,” (1 Timothy 4:7). He compares this spiritual discipline to working out in the gym: “for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”

So what is “godliness”? One lexicon describes it as the “awesome respect accorded to God.”[1]  Notice: this respect comes from the heart. It’s not just a matter of appearing to be pious. Again, Paul told Timothy there are people who have “the appearance of godliness, but deny its power. Avoid such people,” (2 Timothy 3:5). Did you catch that? Genuine godliness is a source of power. The early Christian Clement understood this when he admonished the Christians in Corinth: “Therefore let us unite with those who devoutly [our word] practice peace, and not with those who hypocritically wish for peace.”[2]

Many people think of godliness as synonymous with performing godly acts, but it is imperative we recognize godliness is more than that. In Peter’s last letter he asks, “what sort of people ought you to be as you live your lives of holiness and godliness?” [my translation] We shouldn’t think, “Today I’ll do something godly.” Rather, we must pray that we will be godly every day because a life colored with the awe of God is a life of focus and power.

What does godliness look like? Is a man wearing a cross and carrying a study Bible godly? Maybe, but to really see a godly person, we need to “look under the hood.” Godliness doesn’t consist of actions and deeds. It is something deep within the heart of the believer. Do you remember when Moses came down from Mt. Sinai after seeing God? (Exodus 34:29 ff.) He had the two tablets with the Ten Commandments in his arms and, although he didn’t realize it, “the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.” So it should be with people who have “awesome respect” for God. It comes shining through in their lives and their actions. There is something different about the people who know God. For Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, their godliness resulted in incredible boldness and courage when faced with the fiery furnace. For the quiet, little widow who gave the Lord everything she had, it was serene trust that God would provide. For Isaiah standing forgiven in the throne room of God (Isaiah 6), it was an eagerness to do (and be) anything God required. Like the blood that flows through our veins, godliness animates everything we do and everything we are.

So how can we become godly? W.D. Mounce observes:

The chief means of training oneself in godliness is sound instruction (1 Tim. 6:3) and knowledge of the truth (Tit 1:1), especially knowledge of God (2 Pet. 1:3). While eusebeia leads to a life of contentment and gain (1 Tim. 6:6), it is an end in itself, not a means.[3]

Finally, godliness is not a means to an end. It is an end in itself. We might practice the spiritual disciplines like prayer and fasting to become more spiritual, but godliness is something we are not something we do. Thus, as we climb the eight rung ladder, faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control and endurance create godliness within us and the exciting part of this process is what comes next. Becoming godly allows us to love as God loves and learning to love describes the last two steps on Peter’s eight rung ladder.

 

[1] Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 412). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[2] Holmes, M. W. (1999). The Apostolic Fathers: Greek texts and English translations (Updated ed., p. 45). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[3] Mounce, W. D. (2006). Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words (p. 298). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Endurance

19 Aug

Climbing the Eight Rung Ladder, 2 Peter 1:5-7

2 Peter 1:3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are two words often translated “patience” in the New Testament. The first is makrothumia – often translated “long-suffering” as in the classic King James Version. Sometimes all God expects us to do under trial is hang on. As Winston Churchill admonished, “Never, never, never, never, never, never, never give up!” Like sitting in the dentist’s chair, all we are expected to do is endure for the hour. But the word that is used in 2 Peter is different. Rather than just hanging on, hypomone, encourages us to thrive in the face of adversity. A sponge works best when it is squeezed and Christians are at their best when times are rough.

Think about it. When do we grow the most? It’s not when times are good. Where is the incentive to change? We grow when we are challenged; when times are tough! For a kite to fly the wind must blow. Paul, Peter and James all recognize this principle:

“suffering produces endurance [our word], and endurance produces character,” Paul, Romans 5:3, 4.

“the testing of your faith produces steadfastness [our word]. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing,” James, James 1:3, 4.

“make every effort to supplement … self-control with steadfastness [our word], and steadfastness with godliness … For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful,” Peter, 2 Peter 1:6, 8.

In fact, Jesus goes so far as to say, “by your endurance you will be saved,” Luke 21:19.

We all experience tough times. People may disappoint us. Circumstances may conspire to ruin us. Relationships sometimes fail despite our best efforts, but what counts for the Christian is how we deal with those tough times. Sometimes we can only hang on, but for those climbing the eight rung ladder, tough times are an opportunity to thrive and grow and follow in the footsteps of Jesus.

Marcus the Therapist

14 Aug
The Western Wall of the Temple

The Western Wall of the Temple

Marcus the Therapist sat down with Simon the Zealot. Simon was honing his short sword with a stone, then testing its edge by shaving the hairs on the back of his arm. “Simon, you seem to be a little upset right now.”

Simon rubbed his thumb along the blade drawing a bead of blood as he looked up. He clenched his teeth, narrowed his eyes and spat, “Right about that!”

“Would you like to talk about it?” Marcus asked.

Simon drew a deep breath and then let it out slowly. “Do you think in would help?” he asked.

Marcus smiled knowingly. “It just might.”

“Well,” the Zealot began, “those pansy priests are taking advantage of the poor pilgrims” he said. Marcus cringed at the word “pansy” but nodded and said, “Hmm. Go on.”

“Ya see, the pilgrims walk for hundreds of miles to worship in the Temple,” the crusty Simon observed. “Some of them are leading or carrying precious little lambs they have raised themselves.”

Marcus rolled his eyes. “How will we ever mature as a race if these bloody sacrifices continue?” he thought to himself.

“Well, think about it Doc. The people love those little lambs, but they hate their sins. They are consumed by guilt …” At the word “guilt” Marcus perked up. “That precious lamb will be their sacrifice to atone for their sins. Can you imagine?” he asked.

Marcus shuddered. He could hardly believe this was the first century! Hadn’t mankind progressed past such barbarity? “Continue,” the therapist nodded.

“When the poor pilgrim and his lamb get to the temple, the bleeding priest looks at the pilgrim’s sacrifice, shakes his head and points to some so-called ‘blemish’ on the little lamb. The sacrifice isn’t good enough. Then the priest points the pilgrim to one of the official lamb dealers where he can buy a ‘pre-approved’ lamb – mangy beasts,” Simon spit. “Naturally the priests are getting a kick back on the deal, but that’s not all!” Simon stood up gripping his razor sharp sword. “The pilgrim can’t even use his money – it being tainted foreign money and all. He has to exchange it – at a fee – for so-called Temple money. Only it ain’t even real Temple money. It’s a Tyrian shekel it is!” The Zealot raised his sword in holy anger. “I could just run somebody through!”

Marcus took a deep breath. “I see,” the therapist began. “Why don’t you sit back down and breathe deeply for a moment. That’s right. Try breathing in slowly and letting it out in one big exhale.”

With Simon sitting down again, Marcus continued. “Life’s not fair Simon,” he started. “Sometimes things don’t always go the way we think they should. That’s no excuse though for your losing your temper. You have a choice. You can choose to become angry and lash out and hurt others, or you can be in control. By not reacting to other people’s choices, you are really winning! Doesn’t that feel better?”

Marcus looked down at his sundial. “Well Simon, I think you’ve made good progress today.” He stood up, looked out the window and wondered, “Who is that Galilean with a whip over at the Temple?”

The 85 Year Old Giant Killer

9 Aug

raising the sailThe metal rolling door to the storage unit slammed shut and I fastened the lock. Even though we gave away half of the books in my library and most of our furniture — even though we had the garage sale to end all garage sales. It still seemed like we had way too much stuff. How much do we really need? For that matter, what do we really need? Pondering that question we said good-bye to our little dog Charlie, (He’s staying with our daughter Holly in San Diego) and dropped our old sailing cat, Phoebe, at the kitty hotel. Then we drove north and pulled in to a beautiful country house to stay with friends and collect our wits for a week.

I know God has an exciting life planned ahead for us, but it would sure be comforting to know a little bit more about it. However, I suppose that wouldn’t be “walking by faith” would it? Still some details would help settle my anxious mind. I’m sure Abraham and Sarah had similar thoughts on their way to the Promised Land.

Please pray for us — now more than ever! Some exciting possibilities are unfolding and I’m always up for a good adventure and that reminds me of the story of Caleb (Joshua chapter 14).

After six long years of war, it was time to divide the Promised Land. The people were looking forward to a time of peace and settling on their land, their inheritance. The Israelites gathered at Gilgal, their center of operations about a mile from Jericho and five miles from the Jordan River. There they would be assigned their new homes, but after six years of war, the hill country still wasn’t conquered. The giants (Anakim) lived there in “great fortified cities.” No one wanted to live on the mountains.

Just then Caleb appeared among the people. It was his birthday! He and Joshua were the only two people to cross over the Jordan River of those who had begun the journey over forty years before. By rights, he should have had the first choice of the land and what would the old man choose? A shady glen where he could finish his days in peace? No! Listen to his speech to the people:

“And now, behold, the Lord has kept me alive, just as he said, these forty-five years since the time that the Lord spoke this word to Moses, while Israel walked in the wilderness. And now, behold, I am this day eighty-five years old. I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming.” (Joshua 14:10-11)

And then Caleb’s fiery request, “Now therefore give me this mountain!” (verse 12, KJV)

Why? Why would an eighty-five year old man ask for such a challenge? Because Caleb wasn’t done yet! Caleb knew growth comes during difficult times and in the midst of foreboding challenges and Caleb never stopped growing. Besides, Caleb trusted God – the Giants didn’t have a chance!

Interesting Times

31 Jul

WoodsThere is an old blessing/curse: “May you live in interesting times.” This past week has certainly been “interesting.” As many of you already know, Jan and I have resigned from our work at Canyon View and we are moving on. The house is nearly empty now. There has been a flurry of packing and saying “Good bye” to dear friends. I wish we would have had time to visit everyone, but that just wasn’t possible.

If you have read my book, Changing Tacks: Lessons I’ve Learned from an Old Wooden Boat, you know about our amazing calling to minister in San Diego (Shameless plug but it’s available from Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.) We were ready to work here forever, if that was God’s Will, but sometimes God drags us “kicking and screaming” someplace else.

The Apostle Paul loved nothing more than preaching and teaching and evangelizing for Jesus. That’s something every faithful minister understands. Paul would have continued walking around the world and doing what he loved, but God needed him to stop and write half the New Testament and the only way He could do that was by chaining him to a Roman guard. Think about it. God dragged Paul “kicking and screaming” into his most enduring ministry through what appeared to be something awful, so Jan and I are excited to discover what God has planned for us next. In the meantime we are moving back to Washington State, to our little cabin on a tiny island. There, while I am searching for a new pulpit, I plan to finish a couple of books I just haven’t had time to work on.

It’s hard to say good-bye, but we have received such an outpouring of love. I’d just like to share a few of them because they remind me why I became a minister in the first place:

Dear Jan & Jan,

We’re sad to hear that you are leaving San Diego, and we are so very grateful to have known you here. John, your sermons are grounded in truth and have helped us grow as Christians. Jan, your friendly face was always a comfort when we saw you. Your dedication to MOPS [Mothers Of PreSchoolers] is incredible too! The 2 of you have a heart for people that is so evident. Thank You for your ministry. Thank you for your hard work at Canyon View…

A MOPS Mom

John and Jan

Thank you for your dedication to Canyon View and excellent teaching. You brought stability to the pulpit, when we really needed it.

A Former Elder

“… You two were extremely important in [our] lives. …  I know God brings us all together for reasons we may not know at the time, but I am sure that without your mentorship as a Christian couple, [my husband] would likely not yet be saved and we may not be married. …”

A Young Couple

John, when I first had the privilege to hear you preach at Canyon View Church of Christ, I felt as though I had been swept away across oceans and unknown lands, until I was sitting at the feet of Peter or Paul, or perhaps – Jesus. … You made me feel like I was right there. … I felt like the people around me at church had shared the movement of the Holy Spirit speaking to us through your sermon.

A Middle-Aged Couple

To J & J.

  • Sailed in
  • Sowed Wisdom, Love & Compassion
  • Sailed Out
  • Left behind great treasures

A Senior Saint

Dear John & Jan,

Words cannot express the sadness I feel at the thought of no longer having you near. Who do we call when we must visit the ER? Who will comfort us (as only you can) when tragedy strikes? Who can preach those intriguing sermons? 

A Senior Couple

John, Jan and Dixie,

When I started coming to Canyon View, the way you, John, spoke to me of God touched my soul and encouraged me to live a better life, in HIS light

A Young Mother

After reading just some of these letters, you might begin to understand why I love ministry so. Finally, most touching of all, were the coloring pages and the hugs the children gave us when we left. There will always be a place in my heart for Canyon View.

I will try to make regular posts and share pictures of the exciting journey we are beginning.

Blessings!

John & Jan McKeel

Our little cabin on Center Island, Washington

Our little cabin on Center Island, Washington

Self-Control

31 Jul

Santa Teresa's Bow

Climbing the Eight Rung Ladder

Perhaps there is no virtue harder to practice than “self-control.” Sometimes it seems like our very bodies conspire against us (Romans 7:14 ff.). Who doesn’t wrestle with cravings? “Just one more cookie” has been the downfall of many diets. From a more serious perspective, drugs, alcohol, pornography, gambling are all very real addictions that war against us. We desperately need to learn self-control so let’s open God’s Word and find some help as we reach for the fourth rung of Peter’s Eight Rung Ladder (2 Peter 1:5-7).

There are many Greek words in our New Testament that are translated “self-control,” but the specific word Peter choses to use in 2 Peter 1:6 is relatively rare. Paul used it in Galatians to describe part of the “Fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22, 23) and Peter uses it here to describe the fourth step:

5 make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love,” (2 Peter 1:5-7).

The final place we find this word in the New Testament is in Paul’s sermon to the Roman Governor Felix:

Acts 24:24 After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, and he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. 25 And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, “Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you.” 26 At the same time he hoped that money would be given him by Paul. So he sent for him often and conversed with him.”

If there was one virtue Felix lacked, it was self-control! Felix had been a slave in Rome, but was freed by the Emperor Claudius and was actually appointed to serve the Empire as Proconsul of Judea. He was a man of appetites. A Roman historian, Tacitus, observed, “Antonius Felix practiced every kind of cruelty and lust, wielding the power of a king with the instincts of a slave” (Histories, 5.9). He was married three times. Felix divorced his second wife and seduced the Jewish princess Drusilla, from Azizus, king of Emesa, when she was only sixteen years old. He needed to hear Paul’s bold sermon on “righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment.”

So how do we gain control of our emotions and appetites? Peter gives us the answer in our text. Each of the eight virtues mentioned builds on the previous virtue. We begin with faith: what we believe, and put our faith into action with virtue: moral excellence – what we do. From this we gain understanding: “knowledge” and knowledge helps us learn self-control. Peter says, “if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful” (v. 8). “For if you practice these qualities you will never fall,” (v. 10). Spiritual growth isn’t easy, but it is essential! Let’s keep climbing.

Understanding

24 Jul

Climbing the Eight Rung Ladderasa_john

As we climb the “Eight Rung Ladder” of virtues in 2 Peter 1:5-7, the third step is supplementing “virtue with knowledge.” The Greek Christians in Peter’s day would have immediately connected this step with their common proverb “virtue is knowledge.” We’ve already seen how growth begins with “faith” – what we believe – and continues with “virtue” – what we do. Now, as we practice our faith, our understanding grows. We truly begin to “get it.”

Let’s look at our text again as the Apostle Peter encourages us to “5 make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love,” (2 Peter 1:5-7).

What is this knowledge Peter is talking about?

Men are funny. When we get together we talk about “guy stuff.” We bat around terms that we have absolutely no idea what they mean. For example, in talking about old cars, guys might talk about “turning the rotors” on the brakes, “adjusting the venturiis” in the carburetor (we’re talking old cars) or “adjusting the bands” in the transmission. I have used those phrases, but I have absolutely no idea what they mean. I’m not alone. You probably do too. Who really knows what the “cloud” is? How broad is “broadband”? Where is the on-ramp to the “information superhighway”? So we may have a great deal of information and facts, but we’re still clueless.

Now let’s return to Peter’s instructions as we climb the eight rung ladder. The third phrase the apostle uses in this text primarily refers to “understanding,” the very word the Contemporary English Version uses in its translation of gnosis. The Greek lexicon defines gnosis as “comprehension or intellectual grasp of something, knowledge.[1] This meaning is more clearly illustrated later in 2 Peter where the apostle will encourage husbands to “live with your wives in an understanding way,” (2 Peter 3:7).

It will not do for us to just fill our minds with Bible facts. To have true knowledge, to truly understand, we must apply those facts. It is what we do with our knowledge that truly matters!

 

 

[1] Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 203). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

The Excellent Life

18 Jul

 

DSC_0086The Apostle Peter’s last letter is especially concerned with spiritual growth. He encourages us to “5 make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love,” (2 Peter 1:5-7). Last week we looked at “faith,” and this week we look at a word that almost defies definition, arete (ἀρετή).

A quick survey of the different English translations shows the breadth of meanings. The earliest English Bibles used “virtue” to translate arete (Wycliffe, Geneva) and more recent translations (RSV, NKJV) have revived that meaning. God’s Word uses “integrity” while the International Standard Version has “moral character.” Arete has been the focus of many recent business books on “Excellence” and the New English Translation uses that word. The Lexham English Bible narrows the focus a bit with “excellence of character” as does the New American Standard Bible and New Living Translation, “moral excellence.” Most of the recent translations (CJB, CEV, GNB, HCSB, NCV, NIV, NRSV, TNIV) simply read “goodness,” but I don’t think that adequately describes the virtue Peter is describing here.

The ancient Greek, Homer, uses arete to describe “consummate ‘excellence’ or ‘merit’” primarily in a military context, but later the term is used of “distinction for other personal qualities and associated performance that enhance the common interest[1].” Stoic philosophers observed, “all excellence lies in uprightness, and a good person is one who is upright.”

Lexicons define this virtue as “uncommon character worthy of praise.” It is such an uncommon virtue that it must be a “manifestation of divine power, miracle.[2]” In other words, we begin climbing the eight rung ladder by taking the first step of faith. As we grow in faith, God develops within us the uncommon virtue of moral excellence. This in turn provides the foundation for continuing spiritual growth. I like the description, arete is “performance that elicits praise.”

While the first step on the eight rung ladder, faith, is what we believe, the second step, arete, is defined by what we do. Christians influence the world by the excellence of our lives.

 

 

[1] Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 130). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[2] Above.

An Eight Rung Ladder

11 Jul

Santa Teresa under sail in San Diego

2 Peter 1:3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.

 

Peter promises us in the next verse, “if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In other words, if you want to be an effective, fruitful Christian, we need to garner these eight virtues. Think of them as an eight rung ladder. In the weeks to come, in this column, we’ll spend some time focusing on each of them.

Faith

The first step to take on the path to discipleship is faith. The word “faith” simply means “belief” and we need to be very careful because there are many different things to believe in and many different expressions of belief. For example, James says, “Even the demons believe – and shudder!” Their faith doesn’t do them any good at all! Why? Because their belief doesn’t lead to proper action.

So what kinds of belief are there? In Rubel Shelly’s wonderful book, Prepare to Answer, he describes some of them:

  1. A credulous belief has little to commend it. Some people believe the earth is flat, but that seems silly to most of us.
  2. Mere belief rests on flimsy evidence. As much as I hate to admit it, belief that the Padres will win the World Series seems like a mere belief.
  3. A substantive belief would take strong contrary evidence to change what we believe. “I believe George Washington was the first president of the United States” seems substantive. My belief rests on strong evidence.
  4. Of course there are mistaken beliefs. I’ve walked up to red Jeeps in the parking lot and put my key in the door only to discover, it wasn’t my car. I was mistaken.
  5. Finally, there are statements of personal faith. “I believe in Jan.” That statement is based on years of personal experience and trust.

So when you say, “I believe in Jesus” is that just wishful thinking (1 or 2)? Is it just a statement of fact as in “I believe Jesus really lived 2,000 years ago” (3)? Could it be a statement of misplaced faith (4)? No, Paul calls this the “Good Confession” (1 Timothy 6:12, 13). It is the realization that God has reached out to us in love and that belief opens a whole new world to us.

Faith is the first step. Let’s keep climbing the ladder together in the weeks to come.

Pie and Biblical Interpretation

1 Jul

PieWhen I first heard the US House of Representatives passed HRES 224 in support of National Pi Day (March 14th), I became very excited. Visions of apple, cherry, Dutch chocolate and banana cream pies danced in my head. Then Ray Caswell explained, “The number pi is a mathematical constant, the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, commonly approximated as 3.14159.” I was so disappointed, but also intrigued.

In fact, there are two national holidays for the number pi. March 14th – which represents the first three digits of pi: 3.14, and July 22nd which is national Pi Approximation Day, (22/7 is commonly used to approximate pi.) But why is there a national holiday for a number in the first place?

Pi is a crucial constant in so many formulae in trigonometry and geometry. For example, imagine you are trying to make a table cloth for your new round kitchen table. You will need to use pi (3.14159 …) to compute the area to cover your table (πr2) and you’ll need to use pi to figure out how big around your new kitchen table is (circumference = π × diameter = 2 × π × radius). Mathematicians also point out pi is both irrational (it’s decimal representation never ends and never settles into a permanent repeating pattern) and transcendental (“a number that is not the root of any non-zero polynomial having rational coefficients” – ask Ray).

Over the centuries, mathematicians have competed to solve pi. (You can try it yourself by dividing a circle’s circumference by its diameter. The result will be 3.141592653589793 and on and on and on.) In 2015, using a super computer, scientists solved pi to over 13.3 trillion (1013) decimal places! And that brings up the sad case of amateur British mathematician, William Shanks (1812 – 1882).

In the days before computers, William Shanks spent 27 years calculating the value of pi, by hand, to 707 decimal places. Each new calculation was based on the results of his previous calculation. At long last, Shanks published his results in 1873. However, in 1944, D.F. Ferguson, using a mechanical desk calculator, checked Shank’s math and made a horrific discovery. Unfortunately, Shanks had made a mistake in his math at the 528th decimal place and spent the last years of his life calculating the next 179 decimal places in vain.

Poor Mr. Shanks’ mistake has caused me to wonder about spiritual matters. It is essential we keep an open mind in our interpretations and sometimes examine our assumptions. Could it be we made a mistake somewhere in the past that has dangerous consequences for our interpretations in the present? A fundamental principle of the Restoration Movement is: each generation has the responsibility to examine the Bible’s teachings for itself.

I remember a speaker from my youth who pointed out how a movement can only last for five generations. He held up his hand with fingers spread as he ticked off each generation. The first one “discovers” a basic truth. The children, the second generation, are nearly equally excited about the principles their parents unearthed, but by the time we get to the third generation, tradition begins to take over. We begin doing things because we have always done them that way. By the time we reach the fifth generation the discoveries have grown cold and it is time to resume the quest again.

Jesus warned the church in Ephesus: “I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first,” (Revelation 2:4, 5).