Chasing the Willies

Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not enquire wisely concerning this.
~ Ecclesiastes 7:10

Where did that thrill go?

Those who know me now see me as a smooth, confident man of affairs and it will be jarring to learn I have not always been so. It might be impossible for you to believe, but it is true. Around third or fourth grade I was a chubby kid in an ill-fitting polo shirt, squirming in a wood and metal desk while listening to a very near-sighted teacher go over multiplication tables. I had hardly been anywhere in life to that point, but I began to hear rumors of a field trip.

Class field trips were usually the sort of event where kids and adults, called chaperones, were shuttled to places like the public library, Cultural Center, or state capitol building. These fine establishments were ready for the influx of pupils and would give out plastic bags with colorful information you would never read and a pencil you would probably lose before you got back home that evening. Chaperones sounded interesting until you saw them and they were just normal people. Of course, after the trips were over, the next item was writing up the dreaded report on the trip. Those reports often went the same way.

“The capitol building is big.”

“The library has a lot of books.”

“The Cultural Center has many old and interesting things inside.”

If there were page or word count requirements, the capitol would become “very big,” the library would have “a whole lot of different books,” and the cultural items would be “very old and very interesting.” One would think teachers would quit requiring such reports, if only to show themselves the mercy of not reading them.

Field trips have been going on in that vein for generations, but the rumors of this field trip were different. It was rumored we were going to a place called Camden Park. If you grew up in the ’80s in south-central West Virginia, you are familiar with Camden Park. You’ve had your hand stamped, rode The Big Dipper, and maybe even listened to Freddy Fender rendering his international hit, “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights.” Camden Park is an amusement park in Huntington, WV. It has a long history going back into the early twentieth century when it began as a picnic spot by the railroad and grew by adding rides. Its signature ride was a wooden roller coaster named, The Big Dipper.

The rumors were true and we loaded up one day to drive the hour or so it took to get to the state’s only amusement park. That was an exhilarating day. The park seemed enormous to a kid’s eyes and the rides provided a whole day of thrills. I didn’t muster the courage on that first trip to ride the big roller coaster, but I would ride it later. I would visit that park many times over the next few years and it was always a great day.

I drove by the place a few years ago and was underwhelmed. The park looked old and tired and not very big. I appreciate the childhood experiences I had there but know it wouldn’t be the same for me to go there now. No amusement park today could recreate that feeling I had as a kid at such a place. I have taken my own kids to those kind of places and I have a great day with them, but it is a different experience from what they are having and I had when young. No matter what I do, I can’t have that experience again.

Grasping Wind

If next I told you I was going on a quest to recapture the old thrills of my childhood experiences, you might think I’ve cracked up, or you at least know I would be pursuing futility. I can’t become a kid again. If I looked up all my old classmates and headed to Camden Park, it wouldn’t be the same. I can have new experiences but I cannot re-have the old ones. Besides, have you ever noticed the best experiences are had when we are not tying to have an experience?

The thrill comes when we are not trying to have the thrill as an end in itself. Whenever we try to contrive or manufacture a particular experience, it never works. A husband and wife will sometimes try to recapture their honeymoon experience years later on some milestone anniversary. They may end up having a nice time, but it will not be the same. They might even have a better time for some reason, but no matter how much effort they expend to make everything just like it was back then, everything is not like it was back then and neither are they. It really is like trying to grab the wind and hold it in your hand.

What would you say to someone spending a lot of time in life trying to recapture experiences they had previously in life? It’s a vain pursuit. It’s a waste of time. It’s also limiting. We grow and age and leave things behind we can never regain, but there are also things ahead we will never gain if we don’t put our faces into the wind. If we are primarily seeking the thrills, we seem to be missing the point of life as well. Thrills will come and go and as we mature we realize thrills are not ultimately satisfying. This is what C. S. Lewis was getting at when he wrote, “But if you decide to make thrills your regular diet and try to prolong them artificially, they will all get weaker and weaker, and fewer and fewer, and you will be a bored, disillusioned old man for the rest of your life.” 1

As a kid, I thought I wanted to go to Camden Park everyday. I could ride non-stop and inhale the sugar air known as cotton candy until dark. As an adult, I know the folly of those childish thoughts. The thrills would wear off and I would get tired of the park. The steady diet of high sugar in various forms would make me sick to my stomach. On a different level, I know I would be supremely wasting time. I wouldn’t be accomplishing anything worthwhile. I would be losing opportunity to grow, learn, work, do, and become.

Long ago, Solomon pursued pleasure with everything he had, and he had a lot. He found it empty and unsatisfying (Ecclesiastes 2:1-3). To constantly pursue experience and thrills is childish and foolish, even when done in the name of religion or spirituality. When cloaked in a spiritual guise, this folly is not easily recognized. Rather than being decried, the vain pursuit is applauded and promoted as being on fire for God, or experiencing the presence and power of God, walking in the Spirit, etc.

The Holy Ghost Theme Park

Is the Holy Spirit the proprietor of an amusement park? Is he the broker of chills and thrills? Is he the ultimate adrenaline and pleasure button we can push so that a simple church service becomes the setting for exhilaration like that of riding the world’s fastest roller coaster? Is the primary work of the Spirit in a believer’s life to give them the willies every so often? Does the Spirit inspire chaos and confusion?

Paul corrected the Corinthian church for their abuse of spiritual gifts and misunderstanding of the work of the Spirit in their midst in 1 Corinthians, chapters 12 to 14. There was confusion and conflict in the assembly at Corinth and Paul concluded warning them that was not of God, “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints” (1 Corinthians 14:33). Paul’s argument was that if they were experiencing the power of the Spirit, then the results would be consistent with the nature and character of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:4-11).

The result of the Spirit’s work is not confusion, strife, and disorder because the nature of the Spirit is not that. We know what the fullness of the Spirit means by the prophecy of the coming Messiah, who would be filled with the Spirit.

1 And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots:
2 And the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD;
3 And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the LORD: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears:
4 But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked.
5 And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins.
– Isaiah 11:1-5

The fullness of the Spirit does not mean ecstatic excitement, but wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, fear of Yahweh, righteousness, and faithfulness. The Spirit’s empowering and enabling is not for some mystical experience, running around, jumping, and hollering. His empowering is for service, just as we see with those who built the tabernacle.

1 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
2 See, I have called by name Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah:
3 And I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship,
4 To devise cunning works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass,
5 And in cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of timber, to work in all manner of workmanship.
6 And I, behold, I have given with him Aholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan: and in the hearts of all that are wise hearted I have put wisdom, that they may make all that I have commanded thee;
7 The tabernacle of the congregation, and the ark of the testimony, and the mercy seat that is thereupon, and all the furniture of the tabernacle,
8 And the table and his furniture, and the pure candlestick with all his furniture, and the altar of incense,
9 And the altar of burnt offering with all his furniture, and the laver and his foot,
10 And the cloths of service, and the holy garments for Aaron the priest, and the garments of his sons, to minister in the priest’s office,
11 And the anointing oil, and sweet incense for the holy place: according to all that I have commanded thee shall they do.
– Exodus 31:1-11

The fullness of the Spirit here is seen in terms of wisdom, but also in terms of hard work. What the Spirit inspires is subject to the Father’s will and in step with the Father’s purpose. This was Paul’s prayer for the Spirit’s work in the Colossian church members, and the members of the church in Ephesus as well (Colossians 1:9-12; Ephesians 1:16-17). Paul reminded Timothy of the work of the Spirit resulting in a sound mind, which means self-control (2 Timothy 1:7). Jesus taught the Spirit rebukes and judges sin (John 16:7-11), guides believers into truth by understanding his written word (John 16:13-14; 17:17), and leads believers into obedience to God’s word (John 14:15-26).

Wherever the power of the Spirit is, there will be conviction and repentance of sin, a prevailing of wisdom and soberness, and serious service for the work of God’s kingdom. Will we continue to be as children seeking thrills and trying to prolong them? Or, will we be mature and seek the Spirit that we may grow in understanding of revealed truth, that we might walk in righteousness before God, and zealously serve him for the glory of his name? We don’t need the Holy Spirit to feel all tingly. A two-story drop or a high-speed loop can give us that. However, no roller coaster, bungee jump, or sky dive can ever increase our wisdom and understanding of God’s truth.

Notes:

  1. Lewis, C. S.. Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis Signature Classics) (p. 111). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

A Shoe in the Hand is Worth Two on the Feet

Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things.
~ 2 Timothy 2:7

A parable about marriage…maybe.

A certain young man sat down by the way to look at the sky and to think. A neighbor of his happened to walk by. “Good morning.” The young man still stared at the clouds. The neighbor sat down his parcel and leaned closer to the young man’s face. “Hello. Good morning. You seem lost in your thoughts.” The young man blinked, looked at the neighbor, and smiled. “Oh, hello, good morning. I didn’t see you. I was thinking.”

The neighbor straightened to full height. “Well, thinking is always good, though it has gone a little out of fashion. What were you thinking about?” The young man tilted his head and moved his mouth, but no sound came out at first. “I was thinking about a wife.” The neighbor tapped his chin twice. “And whose wife were you thinking about?” The young man’s head leaned back. “What? No. I was thinking about my own wife.” The neighbor put his hands in his pockets. “Oh, I see, but I thought you were unmarried.” The young man gathered his hair from his forehead and smoothed it back. “That’s just the problem. I don’t have a wife; I want a wife.” The young man rubbed the back of his neck and dropped his hand back to his lap. His hair sprang back to drape his forehead.

The neighbor adjusted the waist of his pants and rested his hands on his hips and relaxed his elbows. “Well, sooner or later, a young man will want a wife. What have you done to get a wife?” The young man’s eyes scanned back and forth. “So far I have sat down here and thought about it.” The neighbor stretched his back and then scratched his head about the crown. “What are you going to do after that?” The young man sat still. “I don’t know. I don’t know how to get a wife. How do you get a wife?” The neighbor spread his hands out with palms upward. “What? Have you never read how Boaz got Ruth to wife? He went to the gates of the city and plucked off his shoe. If you’re going to do this the right way, the Bible way, that’s the only way to do it.” The young man’s eyes widened. “Thanks.” He got up and ran off. The neighbor paused a moment, picked up his parcel, and continued on his way.

***

After some time, this same young man once again sat down by the way. As expected, his neighbor came along after a while. The young man this time was alert. “Hello, sir.” The neighbor stopped and rested both hands atop his walking stick. “Good morning, young man. How is the search for a wife getting on?” The young man pushed his lips out like he was going to whistle. “Not very well.” The neighbor wiped his forehead with a handkerchief and replaced his hat. “Oh. What has happened? Did you not take my advice?” The young man placed his hands on the ground. “Yes, I took your advice. I took it all over town. I took it to everyone I met. I even took it to the Bible.” The neighbor’s eyebrows followed the ups and downs of the young man’s words. “Well? What did you find?”

The young man leaned back against the old oak. “I walked many miles, consulted every aged person I met, and went at last to the maps and the city archives. I found that our city does not have gates and never has, as far as the records show. If I could not find the gates, I did not know how I would go there, how I would pluck off my shoe, and how I would get a wife.” The neighbor cleared his throat, but the young man continued before he could speak. “I figured I must be missing something, so I tried to find you but couldn’t find you anywhere.” The neighbor coughed. “Ah, I have been out of town. I’m sorry I missed you.”

The young man sat back up. “Well, I couldn’t find you so I got out the Bible. I read to see what it said about getting a wife. I could not find any other mention of the gates of the city or plucking off shoes to get a wife. Now I wonder if that really is the way.” The neighbor straightened and interrupted. “You’re getting confused by the silence. The Bible doesn’t mention it in those other passages, but it doesn’t say it didn’t happen in those instances.” The young man tilted his face up to his neighbor. “Wait. That’s confusing.” The neighbor relaxed slightly. “Let me explain. In the case of Boaz, the Bible says it did happen. So, when the Bible is silent about it in those other passages, we have to assume that it happened the same way. You see?” The young man scratched his head. “Hmmm…let me ask you a question. Are you married?” The neighbor tilted his head to the side. “No. I have never been married.” The young man looked at the clouds. “Well, maybe that’s the problem.”

He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

The World’s Trouble: Chapter 11

And it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: - Hebrews 9:27

And it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:
– Hebrews 9:27

Chapter 11

Many efforts have been made to distill Christianity to its irreducible essence. Can we find the one or two things to point to that are essential? Of course, there has been no consensus on the conclusions of such searches. I can’t speak for everyone’s motives who have taken up the task, but I am suspicious of the effort. No one has a moist and beautifully iced piece of cake set before them and wants to know the one essential ingredient and just have that instead of the whole piece. The whole piece has many ingredients that have been mixed together, baked, cooled, and iced. To speak of the essence of the cake is to make no sense, for it all put together and on the plate is the point. Just as there is no getting the spilt milk back in the jug, there is no breaking down the baked cake and just getting the salt out. It all hangs together.

So, when I speak of breaking down the atonement into four parts and considering them, I’m not making an effort at finding irreducible essence. I’m not making a case for any one of the parts standing alone. In keeping with the confectionary analogy, I’m not trying to get the salt out of the baked cake but rather trying to explain the part the salt plays, or the reason it’s mixed in to begin with. I don’t know why I’m talking about cake so much. Perhaps I’m hungry. Nevertheless, I better leave off this analogy because I don’t know what part salt plays in baking a cake and am frankly surprised that it’s an ingredient at all in something that is supposed to be sweet.

At the heart of salvation is the truth of substitution, by which I mean the voluntary sacrifice of Jesus Christ in the place of the sinner. Though it is a hard truth, it is also a beautiful truth. Various cultures throughout history have recognized the beauty of sacrifice—one laying down his life for another. Oral and literature traditions celebrate it as noble. Not all see it this way. Well known atheist and writer, the late Christopher Hitchens, used to denounce what he called “vicarious redemption” as immoral and evil 1. He had an uphill battle to convince people that the concept of sacrifice for another was ugly as an immoral evil and his charge petered out before he made the first bench.

The early teaching of the law in Scripture was the necessity of sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. The author of Hebrews emphasized this when he wrote, “without shedding of blood is no remission” (Hebrews 9:22). He pointed out the necessity of sacrifice, such that without it there is no remission or forgiveness. The law identified different kinds of sins and the sacrifices that had to be made for them.

And it shall be, when he shall be guilty in one of these things, that he shall confess that he hath sinned in that thing; And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the LORD for his sin which he hath sinned, a female from the flock, a lamb or a kid of the goats, for a sin offering; and the priest shall make an atonement for him concerning his sin.
– Leviticus 5:5-6

And the priest shall make an atonement for him as touching his sin that he hath sinned in one of these, and it shall be forgiven him: and the remnant shall be the priest’s, as a meat offering.
– Leviticus 5:13

The Levitical system was a repetitive system of sacrifice with all the regular sacrifices and the Day of Atonement sacrifices, which were repeated annually. The author of Hebrews pointed out that the Levitical system made a remembrance of sins and did not do away with sins since the sacrifices had to be continually repeated.

For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.
– Hebrews 10:1-4

He went to say that if sins were actually forgiven by these substitutionary sacrifices, then there would be no more need of sacrifices (Hebrews 10:18). The blood of bulls and goats was not an acceptable substitution for men and women. Therefore, the law shows the need for a better substitute and a better sacrifice.

The prophets foretold of the coming Messiah who is the perfect substitute and who would make the perfect substitutionary sacrifice. Isaiah wrote of him as being the one who could bear sins in the place of people to secure actual forgiveness of sins and the blessing of the new covenant that sins are done away completely and remembered “no more” (Jeremiah 31:34; Hebrews 8:12; 10:17).

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.
– Isaiah 53:3-11

Jesus made clear he was the promised Messiah and substitute for sinners. He said, “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). He went to say more explicitly, “I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:15). All those whom Jesus laid down his life for will have “eternal life; and they shall never perish” (John 10:28). He is the perfect substitute and only needed to make one sacrifice to secure eternal salvation (Hebrews 10:12, 14).

The substitution of Jesus Christ in the place of sinners is at the heart of the Gospel. Paul wrote, “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Paul further explained this substitution, “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). There is no greater news than that there is a Savior who is able to take our place by bearing our sins and satisfying the wrath God that through believing in him we have forgiveness of sins and eternal life with God (Colossians 1:14; John 3:36).

This is a portion of a book that I have been writing. I have decided to post it here in serial form. It is intended to be evangelistic. If the book has merit, I may seek to publish it in some form. Please feel free to share it and I welcome any feedback.

If you wish to read all the chapters in order you may do so here.

Notes:

  1. Hitchens, C. & Wilson, D., Is Christianity good for the world? (Moscow, Idaho: Canon Press, 2009), 22-23.

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