“This tape will self-destruct in five seconds…”
For some of you that will be a familiar line, voiced at the beginning of each episode of Mission: Impossible by a tape recorder that started smoking even as its reels continued to turn. But even before the tape began to roll, you already knew what was going to happen. That tape recorder was manufactured to carry only one message and play it only once. That tape recorder was made to self-destruct.
Have you ever stopped to consider that you are no different than that tape recorder? Your body, down to the last cell, has been pre-programmed to self-destruct. It is in our very genetic structure, and in the nature of the current physical universe. No matter how healthy you are, no matter how well you take care of your body, you will eventually grow old and die. God has already programmed you to self-destruct.
The Bible speaks very pointedly to this fact:
What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. (James 4:14)
Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble. (Job 14:1)
We must all die; we are like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. (2 Samuel 14:14)
Is this simply indulging in despair, to think of death? No, or else God would not have inspired these words to be recorded in the Scriptures. These words are in the Bible because God wants us to consider the nature of our lives. The poet-warrior David even prayed to God to help him grasp his own mortality in Psalm 39:
O Lord, make me know my end
and what is the measure of my days;
let me know how fleeting I am!
Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths,
and my lifetime is as nothing before you.
Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath!
So, we are like that tape-recorder in that we are programmed to self-destruct. But we are also like that tape recorder in another way: we have a message. Each one of us has a message to give to the world in our life, a message of love & hope & worship & joy & obedience toward God. Each one of us is unique, and each one of us is important, and each one of us can glorify our Creator.
But guess what— there is one way we are different from the tape recorder. The tape recorder knew how much time it had. It knew when there was only five seconds left. We don’t. We don’t know when the message of our lives will be finished, and the tape will stop rolling. We know our time is brief, but only God knows how long our tape is.
You have only one message, and you only get to play it once. Give it all that you have, starting today. Your tape is running, starting now…
Tick, tick, tick.
Marcus Buckingham is great at putting a life-transforming concept into a simple, doable package with zing.
In his latest offering, The Truth About You, he returns to his core message: Learn Your Strengths. In the package is a 20 minute DVD, a book, and a memo pad. The DVD is a well produced film that dynamically drives home both the importance and the process of learning your strengths and then having the courage to order your life by them. Buckingham is an arresting speaker and he is in top form in the video.
The Truth About You book is a short read but is one you’ll take plenty of notes on which reinforces the film’s message about strengths, describes Buckingham’s model of finding strengths, and has several chapters on how to practically apply a knowledge of your strengths to your work environment.
The last part of the package is a little memo pad to record your strengths. Basically, Buckingham tells you to take the memo pad with you wherever you go for a week and jot down activities that you feel strong doing, and then use that as the basis for defining your own key strengths. Even though I had done a lot of work in the past few years at identifying my strengths, I actually found the exercise to be enlightening and empowering.
I really liked this package. It would be useful for anyone from teens trying to gain direction as to career choice to the person dissatisfied in their current job and wanting to get a better “fit” to the person wanting to really optimize his joy & his performance in a position that is already a good fit. My only criticism is the inflated price: if the publisher had simply marketed a paperback book and then linked to a website video it could have been much more affordable.
You can find out more about the book at Amazon.
And what came out of reading the book myself?
Here is my list of strengths:
I feel strong when I create, craft, organize & build, especially when I bring ideas into reality.
I feel strong when I communicate truth, especially truth geared to leading a better life.
I feel strong when I connect with people, especially to help, share, support, & guide.
I feel strong when I’m learning, digesting information, making sense of it & rebuilding it in my mind, especially when I’m feeding my other strengths.
I read today a list of five things a grandson states he has learned from his 90 year old grandfather. He penned this short list with obvious admiration and sincerity. Here is what he wrote:
1) Humility: He (his grandfather) has always been keenly aware that God is God, and he is not. He has always been conscious of his smallness and God’s bigness, his imperfection and God’s perfection.
2) A love for the Gospel: He has always had a deep sense of his own sin, which has led him to a deep love for his Savior. He has always exemplified the sweet reality that you can never know Christ as a Great Savior until you first know yourself to be a great sinner. God’s amazing grace still amazes him — and that amazes me!
3) Faithfulness: Although he has had the opportunity to do many things, he has never wavered concerning God’s call on his life to be an evangelist. He knows he’s not a scholar or a theologian; he’s never tried to be. He has always remained true to God’s calling.
4) Never show favoritism: I have been with him in numerous places with numerous people, and I have never, ever seen him show favoritism. He treats all people the same, whether they are rich or poor, weak or powerful, socially significant or socially insignificant.
5) Be real: He is normal! He gets mad; he gets sad; he’s fun to be around. His favorite restaurant is Morrison’s Cafeteria. His favorite movie is “Crocodile Dundee.” His favorite drink is orange juice, and he loves catfish. He’s just another man with all of the limitations and idiosyncrasies that the rest of us have — and I love him for it!
When I read over this list, I thought, “When I am 90 years old, what will my grandchildren say they learned from my life? What is my life teaching those closest to me?”
Think about it: what five things do you want your grandchildren to say they learned from you and your life? What do you think those closest to you would say they are learning from your life today? Why not make a list of five things you want to pass on, and then make a list of five things that need to change in your life so that you can have that heritage for your grandchildren and all those in your life.
By the way, that list was written by a guy named Tullian Tchividjian (I found it here).
You might know his grandfather, who turns 90 this week— Billy Graham.
Walking is a oft-used metaphor of life’s journey. Over the years I’ve come to realize that my most important goal is to walk with God. But what does that really mean, to walk with God? What does it actually entail to structure the focus, the rhythm, and the path of my life to a relationship with an infinite being? I will doubtless spend the rest of my life learning the answer to this question (and then trying to live it out!). But at 43 years of age, this is the framework of what I have so far:
First, to walk with God means to follow Him. Twenty times the Bible records Jesus uttering these two words: Follow Me. If my life is focused on God, then I will be looking toward Him, as Jesus looked to the Father, to sense where He is moving in the world, to know the path of love, the path of obedience, and sometimes the path of suffering He would want me to take. If I am to walk with God I must endeavor to follow Him.
Second, to walk with God means to be shepherded by Him. Psalm 23 is one of the most beloved pieces of sacred poetry, and for good reason. We all have a desire to be led by still waters; we all must pass through the valley of the shadow of death. To go through the good and bad of life, the blessing and the trial, with a loving Shepherd by my side is precious indeed. But as the prophet once spoke, just like a sheep I am prone to wander off the path, and I must purpose to focus on God and let Him shepherd me.
Third, to walk with God means to abide in Him. The night before He died Jesus took great pains to explain to his disciples the mystery of abiding in Him, and how vital it would be to their lives. Just as a branch is created to draw life and vitality from the vine, my spiritual life and vitality comes only from Christ. I cannot walk with God without the practice of abiding in Him.
Lastly, to walk with God means to see Him as the goal and destination of my journey. There is a reason why mystics throughout the ages have used a labrynith as a spiritual exercise. To walk through a labrynith is to encounter many twists and turns and seeming changes in direction, and yet to know there will be an end to the journey within the center, and that every step taken will have actually been a step toward that blessed center. So it is with life. Though my steps be many, and often seemingly take me away from my goals, I can look toward God as my center and my destination. I can rest secure that my journey will surely lead me to Him.
Beyond the words “You are loved” and “You are forgiven” I believe the words “You are needed” are the most important that can be spoken to us. They are also the most important for us to believe that are true.
So many things in this life seemingly conspire to tell us that we are not really needed, that our lives are a mess. Life is often hard and confusing, and at the end of a year you look back and sometimes doubt whether you made any progress yourself or made any difference to others.
Not many of us can have an angel come down and show us what the world would be like without us, like George Bailey had in It’s A Wonderful Life. But we can all be an angel to someone else. We can all let someone know that they are needed, that our own lives would not be the same without them.
We can also look at our own life, and let God speak to us, and tell us that we do matter, and that we are needed, that we have strength, and love, and wisdom, and beauty to give that is uniquely our own.
Wouldn’t that be a great way to start off the New Year? To have a refreshed sense that we are needed, and to tell the people who are special to us that they are needed too?
God has created thousands upon thousands of waterfalls on this planet, many of thunderous majesty like Niagara Falls, some taller than the tallest skyscraper like Angel Falls. But, God delights in all He has created, the big and the small, the extraordinary and the ordinary. Take Grotto Falls, a little waterfall nestled deep in the Smoky Mountains. Not the tallest, not the biggest, but happens to be the only known waterfall in the Smokies that you can walk behind, and that made some children’s (and their father’s) day just a little bit sweeter yesterday. God has created us and delights in us just like that waterfall. We may not be the most impressive, most famous waterfall on the block, but if we can reflect God’s glory in our own way and make another’s life a little sweeter today, we will have God’s delight.
Well Dilbert isn’t the only person having trouble finding a meaningful life.
Meaning, purpose, fulfillment, achievement— from comics to movies to books to sermons our society seems to be filled with both bemoaning our lack of meaning and varied attempts at discovering or creating it.
But, it seems that in both the media and real life, meaning never lives up to its name. Dilbert finds his xbox to be broken, Homer Simpson finds no beer in the fridge, one more celebrity ends up in divorce, one more scandal destroys the life of the famous (or not so famous), one more job falls through, one more teen runs away from home, one more promotion or house or vacation or publishing contract or marriage or ministry or conference or whatever else we had been secretly hoping to give us meaning turns up short.
With so many different approaches to a meaningful life turning to ashes before our eyes, have we ever considered that the reason every answer seems wrong is that we aren’t asking the right question?
No matter what you turn to for an answer to meaning in life, if your goal is meaning in your life then it has to do with you: either something you are doing or something that is being done for you.
We are asking “What is the chief end of man?” and answering it “To find meaning & purpose & fulfillment for me.” and if we are Christians we tack on “that is, by using Godly things like ministry and worship and books and conferences to find meaning and purpose and fulfillment for me.”
Wrong. The chief end of man is the glory of God. If we consume ourselves with the glory of God, then along the way we find that “personal meaning” and “a life of purpose” don’t even seem to be important anymore, just God, just His glory, just His kingdom, not as a means to our agenda or fulfillment, but His.
For everyone who doesn’t follow Smallville, young Clark Kent has his super-powers, but isn’t yet Superman. Why? He doesn’t yet have a purpose, a vision that grips his life. In the episode Arrow, Oliver Queen (The Green Arrow) challenges Clark:
There’s a whole world of people out there, Clark. They need us. With your potential…you can’t wait for them to come to you.
Clark is comfortable with helping out his family and friends in his spare time, but dedicating all his energy and time, his very life, to the world? To everyone? To people he doesn’t know, who might not even care or even know what he is doing or why he is doing it? Clark isn’t sure he is ready for that.
Wait a minute. That sounds uncomfortably familiar.
The gospel of Jesus Christ and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit is something better than x-ray vision. It’s something every single person in the world needs. And it’s something that I have, and that you have.
Are we ready to leave Smallville and go out into the world?
This film documentary could be titled “Extreme Extreme Famiily Makeover.”
It shares a basic premise with all of the “reality TV” shows— fairly typical American dysfunctional family gets thrown into lifestyle and situation totally foreign to them.
But then the REALLY extreme happens— God shows up.
Not in a fire or earthquake, but in a still small voice.
In plowing a field together. In sharing meals and reading stories.
In playing in fields and ponds. In conversation at a country store.
In living a radically different life, not for money or a new house or to be ogled at by millions of people, but to walk with God.
Six years before this film was made, Tommy Waller left his suburban job and suburban house and suburban income and suburban lifestyle and took his family to a house without electricity in a remote Tennessee Amish community.
The results? A Journey Home– a journey to a true home, to a place and a lifestyle that became a lot closer to God’s original intent for a home and a family than many of us in Western culture today experience and live.
Is this video telling you to sell your house and give up electricity and have 11 kids?
No, and neither is God.
Am I going to sell my house and buy a horse and plow?
No, God isn’t telling me that either.
But am I willing to listen to God, to the still small voice that is so hard to hear in the midst of this awful din of Western culture, to carve out whatever time and space, whatever lifestyle that would help me best walk with God and glorify Him, no matter how counter cultural or difficult?
I think that’s the question this video is asking, and the question that God is asking me too.
Interested? This award winning documentary is available for purchase here.
One of the popular catchphrases in pop culture right now is “It’s All Good.” I’m not sure whether this is a variation of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” or what, but might I suggest that Paul had his own catchphrase 2000 years ago:
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. (Phillipians 3:7-8 ESV)
The word “count” in the Greek has a meaning of “getting out in front to lead”—and the word “rubbish” is literally “dung”, “manure” or (you get the idea). So what Paul is actually saying is “my life strategy is to consider everything in my life as dung.” So, for Paul, instead of saying “It’s all good” he might reply “It’s all dung.”
Obviously, Paul had counted everything in life as dung “because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ as my Lord.” But look closer—this is not some comparison or mere use of flowery language—-Paul says he has “suffered the loss of all things”—all these things in his life—comfort, prestige, security, you name it, he had purposedly assigned the value of “dung” to, not as a gesture, but actually “in order that I may gain Christ.” Consider this carefully: Paul had in fact purposefully taken actions which had caused him to lose everything which he had once held as valuable.
In this era of “Jesus has a wonderful plan for your life if you will just accept Him” Paul’s actions seem strangely foreign. Paul seems to say that he had to plan his life and actions according to “It’s all dung” in order to know and gain Christ. Paul seems to believe that there was no other way to truly become Christ’s intimate friend apart from this radical mindset.
Why? Why was Paul compelled to consider a lifestyle of “It’s all dung” to be the only way to the heart of Christ? Might it be because the gospels are filled with the same thing?
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26 ESV)
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:45-46)
Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” (Matthew 19:27)
There are many more passages we could cite—this is one of the major themes of Christ’s ministry and teaching, that His followers must abandon all allegiances, desires, goals, that all must be considered dung to gain Christ.
This isn’t lip-service; this is real; and this is hard. A.W. Tozer in The Pursuit of God used words like “bleeding” and “terror” to describe what needs to take place in our hearts in order to know God:
Father, I want to know Thee, but my coward heart fears to give up its toys. I cannot part with them without inward bleeding, and I do not try to hide from Thee the terror of the parting. I come trembling, but I do come. Please root from my heart all Those things which I have cherished so long and which have become a very part of my living self, so that Thou mayest enter and dwell there without a rival.
The question on the table is, Has this really taken place in my heart? Have I considered all that is in this world, all its toys as Tozer puts it, are they all as dung in my heart, not for the purpose of some pious asecticism or simple living or for my own peace or well-being, but only that I may gain Christ? Have I taken that beyond mere lip-service into the plans and actions of my life? Could someone look at my life and immediately say, “Yes, I can see by his life that He considers nothing of value besides Jesus Christ.”?
As with all else in the Christian life, this change in perspective from valuing the things of this life to cherishing only Christ can only come from the new birth. We must look within to our new hearts, and see that God has implanted a love for Him there that is faithful and all-consuming, and then learn to live in it. Let us pray for the eyes to see that everything but Christ truly is dung, for us to be able to say it not because we’re supposed to, but because it in reality becomes the earnest, excited, joy-filled cry of our heart to God—”Jesus, it’s all dung; compared to you nothing else matters!”