"Shell Games"    [ 16 ]   
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Aug 2010

Books rain into my life like silver pachinko balls, bouncing into my hands at random. They drop down one after another, while the next bunch lines up to clatter down as I'm still reading these! Might be brand new releases, dated novels, archived instructions, ancient tomes, contemporary or historical fact or fiction, fantasy, sci-fi, secular, religious. It's always great fun to discover what my 'literary dream catcher' will snag next!

Back in the early 80's, I read a book by Leo Buscaglia entitled simply "Love" (©1972), which helped to shape my mid-teen perspective on this tantamount need / drive / perception. Even then I did not agree with all he proposed, but I still found him to be an engaging and inspiring writer, always hoping to check out more of his material someday. A travelogue he released the following year fell into my backpack last month just before Jessi and I flew to Hawaii, so I read it while on vacation: "The Way of the Bull" (©1973). In it, he recounts his travels through the Far East, exploring not only the diverse countries and peoples there (some 40 years ago now, another curious angle by which to view it), but also embracing their cultures and religious/mystical rites. And yet, while immersing himself freely in the "feeling" and "seeing" and "openness" of Zen, for instance, by the end of his book he extols the peal of a tremendous gong through a Tibetan valley to be as moving and portentous as his initial foray into "the way of the bull" (Zen). Along his travels, he met an incredible array of personalities and situations. I longed to see the "small, well built, slim, graceful, literate and joyful" saffroned women of Saigon, and meet Lat in person as he so delightfully described her. I shuddered at the dark, groaning spirits permeating the jungles of Bali, marveled at the thousands of souls paying unending homage in a monumental temple built around the "Sacred Tooth of the Great Buddha" in Ceylon (Sri Lanka), and wondered at the fabulous alien ways detailing common lives in Thailand, Cambodia, India. Yet for all his 'embracing' of these many peoples and their cultures, he seemed (to me, anyway) patently unchanged by the end of his journey. Culturally enriched, certainly —(you would have to be dead to be unimpressed by such strange lifestyles and devotions)— but fundamentally unaffected by anything for all his travels and "openness". What struck me most was his seeming lack of resolve of conviction regarding anything I might recognize as 'devout' or 'religious' in nature. I'm not busting on the guy, he is who he is (or was: 1924-1998), but I find it rather amazing that someone with his obvious passion and intelligence, his wide-eyed wonder in the vast expanse of our world, would be satisfied in simply sampling his way through so many conflicting convictions without finding purchase in any self-proclaimed truths. I for one think he would return home from Tibet (or India, or Japan) with at least a modicum of resolve regarding Something Spiritual within his soul. If such a thing did occur, it was not reflected in his chronicles.

 

book: "The Way of the Bull"
book: "Don't Waste Your Life"
Book: "Be Still" (devotional)
The Way of the Bull
Don't Waste Your Life
Be Still and Know
That I Am God

A certain quote was bouncing around in my own soul during our trip to Hawaii, something I had picked up along the way from the internet or some sermon or something, about how God is truly, Ultimately, IN FULL AND COMPLETE CHARGE over the lives and times of, well, everybody! ~ Consider this:


"Everything is necessary that He sends;
  nothing is necessary that He withholds.
—  John Newton


Some Christians out there may find it surprising to learn that God Himself takes the credit for a good number of "bad things" that happened in the lives of many as recorded in the Bible. I think of Joseph's perspective of his own lost years after his brothers sold him into slavery (Genesis 50:20), God's claims for sending horrid afflictions upon entire nations (Amos 4, Haggai 2:17), even individuals in the New Testament who were afflicted simply so that God's Glory could be demonstrated on some long-awaited day in their adult lives (Matthew 8:1-3, 12:22-23, 15:29-31, Mark 3:1-5, 8:22-25, Luke 8:40-56, 13:10-17, John 5:1-15, 9:1-11, 11:1-45, Acts 3:1-10, etc) This of course just blasts to pieces so many of the world religions Leo illuminated in his travelogues.

Another pachinko book that dropped out of the sky into my lap recently is "Don't Waste Your Life" by John Piper. He's big on espousing humanity's need to embrace "Christian hedonism" — namely, making GOD and Him Glorified our definitive aim and purpose, finding our Ultimate Delight in communing with our Creator. — We were all created by God, For God, to give glory to God . . vs. the self-idolatry marketed the world over. There's a LOT to this idea, worth any time spent exploring his views, but one of the things that caught my imagination toward the beginning of his book puts a contemporary spin on Jesus' teaching that *ONLY* what we do for His sake (ie, the kingdom of God) will have any lasting worth - ever - (see John 15:1-8 and 1 Corinthians 3:11-15, even all of Luke 12):

  Only one life –
 `Twill soon be past;
   Only what's done
   for Christ will last.


Jesus fulfilled some 300 individual prophecies made about Him hundreds of years *prior* to his arrival on the 'earth scene' 2,000+ years ago. This same Bible is filled with references to His imminent return, this time to judge and rule in righteousness over all mankind. (you may have heard about this: "Every knee will bow, every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord" - Philippians 2:5-11). As if that weren't Sovereign enough, this next passage really deflates man's greatest ambition to somehow avoid death by our own devices, and God's rightful authority over even this:


Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment,
so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people;
and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salva-
tion to those who are waiting for him.
—  Hebrews 9:27-28  


There's more I will share from John Piper's book below, but first I must introduce the third book (also pictured above) which is, "Be Still: 31 Days to a Deeper Meditative Prayer Life" compiled a couple of years ago by Judge Reinhold and his wife, Amy. Yes, THAT Judge Reinhold . . "Fast Times at Ridgemont High", "Beverly Hills Cop" 1, 2 & 3, and more... According to crosswalk.com, his wife and he wanted to introduce others in today's modern church to the practice of Getting Quiet and Being Still in the presence of the Living LORD God Who Created Everything:


"Be still, and know that I am God;
  I will be exalted among the nations,
  I will be exalted in the earth."

—  Psalm 46:10


Now, I am the first to admit that the world is already ~ swimming ~ in Christian devotional materials. I normally wouldn't have given this a second glance, but Jessica had it on loan from a dear friend of ours, and of course she read a couple entries to me. As my children grow and mature, I am pleased to discover they are deeply spiritual individuals. They actually inspire me to a closer walk with Our Lord. Not only did some of these entries mirror in eerie ways some plans we had already made for this day or that (such as their scuba story on the morning of our own scuba adventure), but a number of these just hit me SQUARELY where I've been growing spiritually lately. Take a look:

Stillness. Perfect stillness. It is a very great gift, not always available to those who would most appreciate it and would find joy in it, and often not appreciated by those who have it but are uncomfortable with it. I think it is possible to learn stillness — but only if it is seriously sought. God tells us, "Be still, and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10). "In quietness and confidence shall be your strength" (Isaiah 30:15). The stillness in which we find God is not superficial, a mere absence of fidgeting or talking. It is a deliberate and quiet attentiveness — receptive, alert, ready. I think of what Jim Elliot wrote in his journal: "Wherever you are, be ALL THERE. Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God." — Elisabeth Elliot (pg.164)
 
Teresa of Avila talked about the soul as an "interior castle" where God wants to enter in to live. In his "Confessions", St. Augustine writes, "The house of my soul is too small. Enlarge it, Lord, that you might enter in." That is what the rich tradition of contemplative prayer is all about. Our understanding of God is always puny if He is infinite and we are finite. C. S. Lewis says, "I want God, not my idea of God. I want my neighbor, not my idea of my neighbor. I want myself, not my idea of myself." There is a humility that grows out of this. Humility is a synonym for honesty. When we are honest, we realize we don't have all the answers. — Dr. Jerry Root (pg.158)
 
Being alone with God daily is the secret of true prayer, of true power in prayer, of real, living, face-to-face fellowship with God, and of power for service. There is no true, deep conversion, no true, deep holiness, no clothing with the Holy Spirit and with power, no abiding peace or joy, without being daily alone with God. What an inestimable privilege is the institution of daily secret prayer to begin every morning. Let it be one thing that our hearts are set on. — Andrew Murray (pg.192)
 
The word "bathos" gives its Greek form to the word bathysphere. A bathysphere is a steel-walled diving bell in which oceanographers, armed against the crushing pressure of the sea, may safely descend and study the depths. Not only is the ocean depth quiet and still, it hides a wondrous mystery . . . Hushed by the watery vastness, divers learn a splendor they can never communicate to snorkelers. The inscrutable glories of the deep cannot be described to those hooked on the safety of shallowness. But do such seekers enter the silent deep world to solve or experience the mystery? In 1 Corinthians 2:7, and twenty other times in the New Testament, Paul speaks of the mystery of God. We do not go deep to study God, we go deep to taste his reality. But we do, ultimately, define ourselves. In the depths we meet our smallness, our powerlessness, our need. On the positive side, we discover the folly of trying to find our satisfaction in surface relationships. We learn, to our credit, that God hides neither his greatness nor our self-understanding in three hurried minutes of Bible reading a day. — Calvin Miller (pg.194)
 
Are you satisfied with your relationship with God? If you continue with the same habits you have today, will you know God more deeply a year from now? Five years from now? What is one simple thing you can change today to begin to know God in a deeper way? Knowing God comes from spending time with Him. The more time we spend with Him, the deeper our relationship becomes. Knowing Him more deeply means coming to terms with our smallness, but it also means tasting the beauty of His reality. Praise Him for the depth of His love and beauty. Ask the Lord to give you courage to brave the depths of a deeper relationship with Him. (pg.195)
 
Once your heart has been turned inwardly to the Lord, you will have an impression of His presence. You will be able to notice His presence more acutely because your other senses have now become very calm and quiet. Your attention is no longer on outward things or on the surface thoughts of your mind; instead, sweetly and silently, your mind becomes occupied with what you have read and by that touch of His presence. Oh, it is not that you will think about what you have read, but you will *feed* upon what you have read. Out of the love for the Lord you exert your will to hold your mind quiet before Him. When you have come to this state, you much allow your mind to rest. In this very peaceful state, swallow what you have tasted. At first this may seem very difficult, but perhaps I can show you a simple way. Have you not, at times, enjoyed the flavor of a very tasty food? But unless you were willing to swallow the food, you received no nourishment. It is the same with your soul. In this quiet, peaceful, and simple state simply take in what is there as nourishment. — Madame Guyon (pg.200)
 

 

 Phineas X Jones

While suffering in captivity under Babylonian rule, Daniel was known far and wide as a man who walked with "the Living God". He was known to pray three times daily or more "as was his custom" (Daniel 6:10). Joshua was another guy who, having come to know God so richly and personally as he did, longed to simply remain in the presence of the Lord always (Exodus 33:11). Even three of Jesus' own apostles, upon seeing Jesus revealed in His full glory prior to His crucifixion, were so blown away by the experience that they just wanted to remain there and build shacks (Matthew 17:1-8, Mark 9:2-8, Luke 9:28-36).

I find myself wondering about this GOD of all, wishing I was so enamored not by my McDonald's insta-life expectations, but rather entering *freely* the Presence of The Living God . . so much so that even my own children would know this, see the love of God radiating from my own countenance as I would rather be in His presence than anywhere else in the world.

This hasn't happened yet. I would just as soon flop down to watch a 4-hour block of Star Trek reruns as consider spending half-an-hour alone in prayer. And I know for a fact I am not alone in pondering such character disparities under the gracious wing of our Almighty God. How he loves us so . . and is so incomprehensibly patient . . . yet how we so quickly chase after sparkly things that have no life, lead to nothing but wasted time, wasted effort . . worthlessness. With so many fantastic temptations choking out the Light, opting to   s l o w   d o w n   to spend some time with the LORD will not 'just happen'. It is a choice, one that requires specific planning aimed at superseding all the distractions of life to tune in to the Author behind this world AND the next. There is a reason Jesus was "led by the Spirit into the desert" after His baptism – led by the Spirit mind you: namely, to spend time alone focused on His Father, as the enemy of God prepared unique temptations for this God slipped into man-form . ..

At the end of their "Be Still" devotional, the Reinholds present a 25-point suggestion list for the harried soul, meant as practical advice for planning time to be with God. Half a dozen of these speak directly to my own need to Prioritize time with my Lord:


1. Identify the best time of the day for you to pray. Some people are best in the morning, others seem to have their most intimate moments with the Lord late at night. Whatever you do, give the Lord your best time of day.
2. Let others know it is your quiet time, and let them know why it is important that they respect that time.
3. Have your Bible, a pen, and a notebook on hand.
4. Find a place where you are comfortable but not so comfortable that you will fall asleep.
5. Take stock of your quiet time area. Try to de-clutter so you won't be thinking about the mess and all the things you have to do.
6. Your quiet place needs to feel safe — a place where you can let your defenses down.
7. If you don't have a location you can reserve only for quiet times, change something around to set your time with the Lord apart. If you usually sit in a certain chair to work, turn the chair a different way, open a window, or light a candle.
8. Take a noise inventory. As best as you can, eliminate all the unnecessary noise from your time with the Lord.
9. Turn the phone, email, and answering machine off. God will not be calling or emailing during your time alone with Him.
10. Set an alarm so you won't watch the clock. Forget about time and be with the Lord.
11. Take a few deep breaths before you start your quiet time. Don't race into the Lord's presence. Ask the Holy Spirit to cover you as you pray.
12. Read a favorite Psalm aloud to start your time with God.
13. Download your "to-do" list into a folder marked "later" in your mind. If things keep popping into your head while you are trying to be still with God, write them down and forget them. They will still be there when you get finished with your time with the Lord.
14. Find places within your day to take back your time. One place is in the car. Don't just jump out when you get home. Sit and take in a few moments of silence after turning off the engine and before getting out.
15. Start a spiritual notebook or journal.
16. Remember to stop and breathe throughout the day. Try taking five deep breaths as the beginning of each hour. Say to yourself, I am breathing in the Holy Spirit's peace and breathing out all the cares of the world.
17. Check email after praying if you pray in the morning and before praying if you pray before bed. Let your time with God be unburdened with competition.
18. If you need to forgive, forgive.
19. If you are in any kind of pain, cry out to the Lord.
20. Are you anxious? Write it down and give it over to God.
21. Find a quiet place to pray, if possible. This is not always possible, however, and God still blesses your prayer time in the midst of distractions.
22. Be accustomed to periods of silence, and don't be afraid of pauses.
23. Pray out loud if you find your mind wandering in prayer. Read Scripture out loud.
24. If you don't know what to pray, then pray the prayers of the Bible and make them your own. Pray the Psalms. Like all songs, sometimes it is better to hear them aloud for the words to reach the heart.
25. Change your posture. If you are dozing off regularly in your devotions and prayer times, then stand, stretch, and walk around the room before you sit [or kneel] to pray.

 

The great haunting fear woven through the lives of Christians these past 2,000 years is the dread of an ineffectual impact in our time and culture in which God has placed each of us. To be conscribed into the "Lord's army" for the sake of spreading the Good News about His Redemption for our lousy sakes (free for the asking!) and NOT carry out one's calling sends chills up the spine of a Christian. One day, we *WILL* stand before God Almighty and give an account for every breath, every idle word, every thought, deed, motive and ambition during all our years here scrabbling around in the mud. This is no simple human opinion; the Bible spells this out Quite Clearly in more accounts and references than I can list. (Try looking up Jesus' parables about 'weeds', 'talents' and 'soils' in the Gospels for some authentic enlightenment) What will we tell Him on that great and fearful day, when the 'goats' are separated from the 'sheep' and our lives are subjected to His piercing, inescapable, all-knowing gaze?

John Piper tells a couple poignant stories early in his book "Don't Waste Your Life":


You may not be sure that you want your life to make a difference. Maybe you don't care very much whether you make a lasting difference for the sake of something great. You just want people to like you. If people would just like being around you, you'd be satisfied. Or if you could just have a good job with a good wife, or husband, and a couple of good kids and a nice car and long weekends and a few good friends, a fun retirement, and a quick and easy death, and no hell — if you could have all that (even without God) — you would be satisfied. That is a tragedy in the making. A wasted life.

In April 2000, Ruby Eliason and Laura Edwards were killed in Cameroon, West Africa. Ruby was over eighty. Single all her life, she poured it out for one great thing: to make Jesus Christ known among the unreached, the poor, and the sick. Laura was a widow, a medical doctor, pushing eighty years old, and serving at Ruby's side in Cameroon. The brakes failed, the car went over a cliff, and they were both killed instantly. I asked my congregation: Was that a tragedy? Two lives, driven by one great passion, namely, to be spent in unheralded service to the perishing poor for the glory of Jesus Christ — even two decades after most of their American counterparts had retired to throw away their lives on trifles. No, that is not a tragedy. That is a glory. These lives were not wasted. And these lives were not lost. "Whoever loses his life for my sake and for the sake of the gospel will save it" (Mark 8:35).

I will tell you what a tragedy is.

I will show you how to waste your life.

Consider a story from the February 1998 edition of Reader's Digest, which tells about a couple who "took early retirement from their jobs in the Northeast five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on their 30 foot trawler, play softball and collect shells." At first, when I read it I thought it might be a joke. A spoof on the American Dream. But it wasn't. Tragically, this was the dream: Come to the end of your life — your one and only precious, God-given life — and let the last great work of your life, before you give an account to your Creator, be this: playing softball and collecting shells. Picture them before Christ at the great day of judgment: "Look, Lord. See my shells." That is a tragedy. And people today are spending billions of dollars to persuade you to embrace that tragic dream. Over against that, I put my protest: Don't buy it. Don't waste your life.

 

The theme of his book, as intended for American audiences in particular, illustrates the true cost of pursuing the "fatal success" perpetuated in our prosperous, self-serving, decadent culture. So you gain the money, the titles, accolades. He (like countless voices before him) exhorts us to aim for something Better, something Higher, something Unfathomably Longer-Lasting . . the ultimate return on investment in every real sense imaginable: to Live For Christ and the furthering of His Glory. Jesus Himself said:


"If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.
  What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?  Or what
  can a man give in exchange for his soul?  For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's
  glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done."

—  Matthew 16:24-27


Exploring these themes, these new directions in my personal struggle to seek after God . . . this will be the primary content reflected in my entries from now on. Oh sure, I still feel free to bust out an animation if time and inspiration strike, or share about just something cool I've discovered (per previous posts, per 1 Corinthians 10:31), but mainly it's all about pursuing Him now, reflecting His glory because my own is nothing so much as glop-sopping grimy rags. ANYTHING done for self-serving gain "will be shown for what it is, because the Day of God's Judgment will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss..." (1 Corinthians 3:13-15)

 

Rescue those being led away to death;
hold back those staggering toward slaughter.
—  Proverbs 24:11
 
The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life,
and he who wins souls is wise.
—  Proverbs 11:30

 

Will this site turn into some Preacher Zone web·fest? — Knowing me, I seriously doubt it. I just mean to pass on these experiences in my own fumbling walk with God in hopes that it may help someone consider the shells in their own life. With each setting of the sun, we all march another step closer to that great and amazing day when we will literally face our Maker, quake in the hands of the One True and Only Living God, and in accordance with what He has told us in His own Word, give an account for the time He gave to us, here at the very start of our eternal existence . . .

 

 

 

 little shell    

 shells

 

 

 

 little shell  


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