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.

The Blank Page

"For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?" ~ Luke 14:28

“For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?” ~ Luke 14:28

The blank page is meant to have the blankness taken away.

I love paper and pencils and pens. Maybe love is a strong word. I genuinely enjoy them. I’ve worked with all sorts of paper: plain bond, vellum, and mylar film. I once got to work with a set of drawings from the 50’s that were inked onto linen, which the old timers called cheesecloth. It had an almost waxy feel that reminded me of a liquid-impervious tablecloth you might find draped over a sad and wobbly two-seater at a cheap spaghetti house.

I’ve worked with woodcase pencils, plastic lead holders, and mechanical pencils. In my earlier days I preferred thin and sleek, but in my later days with gout, carpal tunnel, and such, I prefer a thick grip and enough heft that I don’t get hand cramps from using it. I’ve used various graphite and plastic leads and inks.

I’ve used technical pens for inking drawings, cheap Bic’s for everything from writing to firing spitwads. I’ve used a number of different fountain pens for, gasp, writing by hand. Good paper, a good pen, and good ink has a way of inspiring you to write something good.

Oh, what could be . . .

I haven’t done it for a long time, but I always loved taping down a fresh sheet of vellum, squaring up the drafting machine, considering what that sheet of paper would be in a few hours or a few days, depending on what needed drawn. I enjoyed taking a good mechanical pencil with downward pressure and a slight twist along a straightedge as most of the lead left a line and a little of it crumbled along the edge. No worries, a quick whisk with a horse hair brush and all was right.

I’ve been around the sun enough times to be able to reflect on some things that are past. Unfortunately, I’ve found many things have already slipped beyond recall. So while I love good paper, pens, and pencils, what I really love is the possibility that these bring. Some are intimidated by a blank page but it’s full of wonderful possibilities. These implements represent a great potential.

Potential: it’s what could be. The sky really is the limit. It could be anything, everything, or nothing. If you can imagine it, you can imagine it. I don’t think I’m alone. We love potential. We rejoice in it. We brag about it. We celebrate possibility more than reality. Not a few sheets have betrayed the vision of my mind and ended up in a crumpled ball and banked off the wall into a metal can.

If we think wisely about this, might the dreamy potential be hindering us from actually doing something? Solomon advises us wisely, “Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof” (Ecclesiastes 7:8). The beginning of a thing is the potential phase. It is the dreaming and planning phase where we are swept away with possibilities.

If we linger too long in the possibilities of what might be, we end up not knowing what is (Proverbs 14:23). The end of a thing is something. Something has been made, written, drawn, painted, produced. It has tangible existence and no longer abides only in the talk of the lips.

But what if what’s made is lesser than the dream imagined? The thought daunts us. We take solace in the vision because it’s perfect. It’s just the way we want. The reality is almost certain to disappoint. Yet here, if I may stretch Solomon’s meaning a little, “a living dog is better than a dead lion” (Ecclesiastes 9:4).

Oh, what might have been . . .

Solomon teaches us repeatedly that it is our portion in this life to enjoy the fruits of our labors (Ecclesiastes 3:22; 5:18-19; 9:9). Fruits of labor are the results of work, not the results of talk (Proverbs 14:23). To enjoy the fruit we have to do the work. So Solomon admonishes us, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest” (Ecclesiastes 9:10).

Paper and ink and lead are called consumables, because they exist for that purpose. They are meant to be used up. The paper should be marked on. The pen should run dry and the pencil should end as a nub. They are serving their purpose that way. Our life is also consumable. It’s meant to be used up. Celebrating possibilities can keep you from celebrating realities, which is far better, and as with pen and paper there comes a time when it is too late.

Consequences of Finite Knowledge

As children, mathematics is one area where we begin to grapple with the concept of infinity. Negative numbers add a completely new dimension to our world and we realize that numbers go on without end in all directions. It is amazing what little minds can do with that.

I had already been introduced to the infinite before I ever encountered it in academic textbooks. I was taught from birth about the eternal God—He Who has no beginning and no end. Isaiah said that God inhabits, or dwells in, eternity (Isaiah 57:15). I cannot say that I am any closer to comprehending this today than I was in my youth, but this is what is revealed to us by God in His Word.

Being infinite, God has all knowledge. So, there is no new knowledge possible for God. He knows everything about everything. It is not as though there is some scenario that He has not pondered. It is not as though He could find out something that would change His mind. Well did the Apostle ask, “Who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been his counseller?” (Romans 11:34). I recall hearing preachers ask, “Did it ever occur to you that nothing ever occurs to God?” While perhaps trite, that statement is nonetheless true.

Man, on the other hand, is a finite being. His knowledge is measured and limited. For this reason, he has the capacity to learn and grow. Obviously, the finite can never fully grasp the infinite. Let us ponder for a moment some of the consequences of finite knowledge.

Finiteness means that no man knows everything. We could further clarify that no man knows everything about anything. Not even in one subject can any man claim full knowledge (not truthfully anyway). One consequence of this is that there are different levels of knowledge—one man may know more than another in a particular area. One may know next to nothing in a discipline and another possess a large body of knowledge in that field.

Another consequence is that our minds are not closed, so to speak. We do not know everything about anything and new information is possible. New information can expand our understanding and even change our opinion. I am using ‘new’ as a relative term. There is ultimately no new knowledge to the infinite God, but there may be new knowledge to us.

Another consequence is that we must trust God. Some have supposed that we should test the various religions, experiment with the diverse ways, and choose the best for us. This is an impossible task given the multiplicity of religions and ways. We could only ever gain a limited knowledge of a limited number of religions and we could never actually be certain that we have found the best one. However, God reveals to us not only the best way, but the only way (John 14:6). We must believe and follow the bare Word of God. This is demonstrated in the life of Abraham. When God called Abram out of Ur, He told him to go to a land that would be shown to him. Abram obeyed and went, not knowing where he was going. He trusted and acted upon the bare Word of God without personally possessing all knowledge and that is faith (Hebrews 11:8).

Finally, finiteness for the Christian means humility. Let us not equate humility with vacillating. There is a great difference between saying no one knows everything and saying that no one can know anything. The all-knowing God speaks the Word of Truth and we can have complete confidence in what He has spoken. Humility keeps a proper perspective of our humanity and humility sits at the feet of a teacher to be instructed. Humility knows it is wisdom to know that we do not know as much as knowing what we do know.

Next Page »