Music Playing Today on Truth for Life, Alistair Begg teaches us where we can find true hope and lasting treasure. The way pleasures are like poppies spread, you seize the flower, its bloom is shed, and like a snow falls in the river, a moment white then melts forever, or like the rainbow's lovely form, it vanishing amid the storm, reaching out for it, and it's not there. Robert Burns, Scotland's national poet, was well respected amongst the intelligentsia of Edinburgh, but he was notorious as a womanizer and as a drunk. And if you go to the Gress Market in Edinburgh, you know that this plowman from Ayrshire who wrote these amazing verses had been down this avenue, and he knew that it was a dead end street. Eventually, you see, the Marie Antoinette syndrome takes over, and men and women are forced to acknowledge the fact that nothing tastes.
I read this book some time ago now called Balsamic Dreams. Those of my family are sick of me reading it to them in the house, and other friends put the phone down if I reach for it to give them a quote. But I don't think I foisted any of it on you, and so I want to just for a moment—not because I'm looking for something to fill in a gap, but because it is my express purpose to show, especially to those of you who are wondering, that the key to effectively teaching the Bible is to be able to show how this book impinges upon this book. That our study of the Bible does not happen somewhere away in a box, unrelated to yesterday and tomorrow. But indeed, if our study of the Bible does not immediately impact yesterday and tomorrow, then there is something wrong with our study of the Bible.
The only way that I can effectively do that is constantly urge you in the direction of making sure that you're reading effectively both your Bible and what is going on in the world around you. Joe Quenan writes this book called Balsamic Dreams, which he refers to as a short but self-important history of the baby boomer generation. And he starts it quite facetiously in a prologue by telling how he wakes up one morning and he has a very bad cough, and he self-diagnoses lung cancer. And so having determined that he is now on the road out, he says, I'm going to have to get on and do something useful with my life. And so he starts taking piano lessons. He begins reading intelligent books.
He gets to Edward Gibbon's Fall of the Roman Empire and so on. He decides that he needs his ashes put somewhere. And after, he says, and I quote, I'd taken care of the piano lessons and the tai chi and the personal trainer and the airplane lessons and had made the relevant inquiries about a ceremonial trip to Kathmandu, I figured it was time that I got my wife and children up to speed mortality-wise. Here I hit some rough sailing. Seeing that I had only just entered my prime earning years and that my career seemed to be going extraordinary well after hitting a fiscal plateau in the mid-nineties, my wife was a little ticked off that I should have picked this time to die.
She suggested that I seek a second opinion, which is just as well, because when I did finally get the cough checked out, it was diagnosed as a generic allergy attack. Immensely relieved, I dropped the piano and cooking lessons, put off learning to fly an airplane, stuck the trip to the inscrutable Orient on the back burner, and Jan Marcel Proust back up there on the bookshelf with all those unread Robert Musil and Natalo Calvino novels. I informed my friend that on his next visit to Paris he would have extra room in his luggage since he would not be carrying my ashes. But that night my sleep was deeply troubled. My brush with death, however fleeting, however absurd, had brought me face to face with my own most jealously guarded values.
Look at how I had reacted to the thought I might be dying. Did I say to myself, now might be a good time to help eradicate poverty in rural America? No. Did I ask myself, wouldn't this be a good opportunity to spend some time in a leper colony? No. Did I ask myself, why not use your few remaining months to make this planet a better place than the way you found it?
Of course not. Instead, I embarked on a mad binge of self-aggrandizement. Rather than capitalizing on my remaining days and weeks to reconcile myself to my enemies, spend more time with my loved ones, consult wise men regarding the meaning of life, I had succumbed—listen—to the siren song of self-actualization. Yet, in my defense, I wasn't the only member of my age group who would have reacted in this way. For in choosing this pointless, self-involved course of action, I was, if nothing else, being true to the ethos of my generation. When faced with unsettling developments like death, baby boomers always react in the same way. We sign up for self-improvement classes. A baby boomer par excellence, a prototypical product of the me decade. I only knew how to respond to the world insofar as it responded to moi.
Everything I had ever learned as a baby boomer had oriented me in a single direction, further into myself. Now, my friends, and especially those of you who do not believe, ask yourself the question, Does that information match the deep longings of the human heart? Does it satisfy? Are we finding the answers within ourselves? Are we finding the answers in education?
Are we finding the answers down the pathway of pleasure? Look at the realities. That's what he's asking us to do. And I say a word to young people who are here this morning. The way the whole of our society is set up for you young folks is to call you down each of these dead-end streets. Now, it is important, of course, that you are educated and you're going to be, and you have choices to make concerning that. It is equally important that you do not succumb to the idea that education will answer the deepest longings of your soul. It's important that you learn to laugh and you have a wonderful time. It is equally important that you do not buy the idea that the answers to your existence can be found with a bunch of good-time Charlies laughing about everything. When the cynics call you and say, Nobody believes that anymore, it's important that you have a robust enough reaction to be able to stand against it. And when you look at those who've gone before you, who have reached the apex of the answers of materialism, and you find yourself distanced from that in your mind, it's important that you recognize the distinction between work as a means to an end and work as an end in itself.
Here's the deal. You may meet Christ at the crossroads, at the entryway to all these dead-end streets, and there are more. And you may meet him now in your youth, and you may be saved from the heartache that is represented down those avenues.
Or you may choose to resist the influence of your mom and dad who have brought you to this place. You may choose to turn your back on the information that has been provided for you by those who have only the longing, loving urgency of their hearts to bring to bear upon you, and you may go down each of these roads. I tell you, you will at the end of those roads end up bloodied, beaten, broken, and sad. And even if you should remain happy at the end of all of those roads, you will stand for they finally lead to one ultimate destination before the throne of God, when you will answer to God as to why it was that you chose to reject all that he offered at the crossroads in the person of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. I am an older man now.
I have both been down some of the roads, and I have watched others go down the roads. And I have sat with parents and with children and agonized as they have built for themselves elongated stories that have come about as the result of running away from this. I say to you today, make your parents' faith your own faith. Trust Christ for yourself.
This is not about what your dad is doing or your mother is doing. You will not stand in their custody before God. You will stand alone. You need a faith of your own. You need a Savior who is your very own.
You need help, because all of the bombardment of these things will not diminish, it will only increase as time goes by. I say to you, where you are today, in your heart of hearts, just cry out and say, Lord Jesus, be my Savior at the crossroads of my life. Before I go down into this educational world, before I go further into this pathway of pleasure and all that it offers, before I succumb to all the allures of cynicism, before I become just another disaster on the scrap heap of materialism, Lord Jesus, be my Savior, be my friend.
Will you do that, just where you are? Now the rest of you can start listening again, I'm going to finish. And some of you are sitting here, the parents, the fathers especially, saying, well, this is a wonderful talk. I'm glad that you did that. Terrific. I mean, I've been so concerned about my son and my daughter, they've been down these paths, I'm telling you.
Down the whole rotten lot of them they have, and some of them are down there just on Friday evening. I wish they could be like me. I've been trying to tell them, you know, there's only one answer to this great tyranny of life. Just become like me. Just give it all to your work. Just become a workaholic.
It's all meaningless in a chasing after the wind. Why don't you give it to your work? Listen, one of the reasons that your kids are down those streets is because you've given it to your work. Oh, you say, here we go, guilt trip for dad. No, no, no guilt trip for dad. But it is a legitimate response on the part of our children to look at us and say, is this really ringing my father's bell?
I mean, I'm grateful for my bedroom, and I love my room, and I like the wallpaper, and I'm glad that I've got money in my pocket, and it's good of him to give me this car that I can drive. But ultimately, look at what he's doing to my dad. I don't want to be that. After all, he's building castles in the air.
Look at verse 18. I hated all the things I toiled for under the sun because I've got to leave them to the one who comes after me. Some of you are attorneys, and that's how you spend all of your life. You're making a great deal of money, sitting with people who are phenomenally concerned because they're phenomenally successful.
And now the transition as they're facing death is such that they just don't know what to do. What am I going to do with this stuff? What am I going to do with my money?
How am I going to make a transition? Look at who's going to get it. My succession plan isn't working. What does a man get? Verse 22, for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun.
Remember, under the sun is so important. We're not saying at work where God is in control is in irrelevancy. We're saying that when that's the totality of it, verse 23, all his days, his work is pain and grief, and even at night, his mind doesn't rest. He wakes up in the night. He turns over in his bed. He has pills to get him to sleep, pills to wake him up, pills to get him to the airport without losing his temper, and pills to bring him home successfully to his wife.
And if he's not using those pills, perhaps he's gone down to one of the other possibilities and he's got 86-proof anesthetic crutches propping him to the top, where the smiles are all synthetic and the ulcers never stop. He said, well, where did you come up with that nonsense? Well, that's a song, but the nonsense is all around me. In London, just whatever, two weeks ago, I was sitting in the early hours of the morning, two hours ahead of my flight, and in came two fellows. And they weren't in the door a split second before I said, are you ready to hit it? And I looked around and I wonder what they're going to hit.
Then I saw what they were referring to. The big free drink steal, everything there, didn't matter what time it was in the morning. The fact that it's free, they must have been Scottish or something.
The fact that it's free, let's hit it. And so they hit it. Boy, did they hit it. I was looking at them. They can do what they like. I mean, I'm not condemning them, but I thought eight o'clock in the morning, how can you do this? And they said, by the time they get in their bags, you know. And we sat in the same section on the plane, and the lady said, can I get you something to drink before we take off?
Yeah, yeah, please. It was pathetic. It was tragic. You say, well, how come you can do a drunk so well? What's that about?
It's called growing up in Glasgow, which is the center of the Western world's center of heart attacks and the center of alcoholism in Western Europe. Just travel on public transportation as a small boy, and you can do it, you know. Let me end with a hint of hope, because our time is gone. The final little section, verse 24, gives us an indication that he's pushing beyond the canopy.
He's going up and out. He's essentially pointing out the fact that there is a way to live your life that is built on sand, and eventually everything will collapse. That's the story Jesus told, the picture he used in Matthew 7, and there is a way to build your house upon the rock, and that life then will stand and last. You see, it would be a dreadful misunderstanding if anybody was to take from this that somehow or another this was a story about how Christianity is disinterested in education, in pleasure, in laughter, and in work and employment. Nothing could be further from the truth. What the writer is saying is this, that none of these things will make sense of your life or answer your deepest longings if you approach them down these avenues. But when you understand the true and living God, and why it is you've been made, and why it is that Christ died for your sins, then all of a sudden, all of the enjoyment of these things becomes a magnificent and wonderfully attractive proposition. So it's quite wonderful. The saddest book that I've read in the last twenty-four months I have in my hand, The Private Diaries, Memos, and Letters of Howard Hughes. He was once the richest man in America, if not in the world. And in this book, and I don't recommend you buy it, I don't even recommend you get it out of the library.
I read it to the end because I was committed to it. It's full of so much that is sad and empty. He is ultimately the great hedonist, I think. You know, he's been down all these roads. For those of you who are saying, yeah, well, just get around a couple more corners, I'm sure that, you know, it's down there. Well, let Hughes tell you, he's been down there. Memo, from Las Vegas, Nevada, May the 12th, 1969, to Robert Mayhew, who was his key guy, to whom he had given everything and entrusted everything in terms of his business empire. Bob, I want you to remember one thing. I can buy any man in the world, or I can destroy him.
If that wasn't true, people like me wouldn't exist. Then the biographer goes on to say, in the two years that Howard Hughes had been in Las Vegas, his bedsheets had only been changed five times. The shag carpet in his bedroom had never been vacuumed, and the end table had never been dusted, and the bathroom never cleaned. His closets were beginning to fill with mason jars filled with urine, and the odor of rubbing alcohol barely camouflaged the stench from his rotting teeth and fungus-contorted nails. His greatest dilemma at this point was the transition, was the exact expression of the preacher here.
What am I going to do with all this stuff? And he was annoyed and frustrated, because this guy Bob, to whom he had entrusted so much, had begun to think for himself. And he knew, I can't have him thinking for himself. If he thinks for himself, he may think me right out of the equation. And so he continued to give himself to writing these prolonged memos that were about absolute nothing at all.
The tragedy of it is seen, for example, in this. He's in the Dunes Hotel—and with this I'm going to finish, so don't feel we're here for the rest of the afternoon—he's within the Dunes Hotel. And he's occupying the vast majority of his time rewriting instructions about tiny details. For example, the correct handling of the envelope, which contains the cord for his hearing aid.
And these are his instructions. The door to the cabinet is to be opened using a minimum of fifteen Kleenexes. Great care is to be exercised in opening and closing the doors there, not to be slammed or swung hastily so as to raise any dust.
And yet exceeding care is to be exercised against letting insects in. Nothing inside the cabinet is to be touched. The inside of the doors, the top of the cabinet, the sides. No other objects inside the cabinet are to be touched in any way, with the exception of the envelope to be removed. The envelope or package is to be removed using a minimum of fifteen Kleenexes. If it is necessary to use both hands, then fifteen Kleenexes are to be used for each hand. It is to be understood that these fifteen Kleenexes are to be sterile on both sides of each tissue, with the exception of the very outermost edge of the tissue. The center of the tissue only should come in contact with the object being picked up.
If something is on top of the package to be removed, a sterile instrument is to be used to lift it off. Now, this is only a tiny excerpt from the focus of this man. And then, says the biographer, the content of the memo on the handling of the hearing aid cord did not differ substantially from the one that Hughes had dictated eleven years earlier.
The major distinction lay in the fact that when Hughes was devoting days to the rewrite in 1970, he had not worn his hearing aid in over six years or asked for the cord. Now, says somebody, that is a wonderful rhetorical ploy you have just used. You're setting up the apex of it all—a weird, strange, psychotic individual—and then you're saying, so therefore. Well, you see, if we had time, I could show you what a wonderfully handsome young man this was. How excellent in sports, how clever in mind, how devoted in family life. He didn't get up one morning and decide he was going to end up dying on a plane as they hastened him to help at the end of his life.
No. He just went down all the dead-end streets, one after another, and eventually it ensnared him and killed him. The only solid joys, the only lasting treasures that may be discovered in all of the journey of life are those joys and treasures that are found in a personal living faith in the God who said, by means of this little book, careful, don't go there. Instead, trust my Son. I sent him to make your life all that it might be, to fill you with all that joy could be. So we must choose today whom we're going to serve. The key to a meaningful life, both before and after death, is the Gospel. You're listening to Truth for Life with Alistair Begg.
Alistair will be back in just a minute. To accompany this current study, we are recommending to you a book called Living Life Backward, How Ecclesiastes Teaches Us to Live in Light of the End. As the title suggests, this book is a further exploration of how we can move away from focusing on what's in front of us. It's too easy for us to get lost in planning the next thing, our next vacation or an upcoming promotion or a bigger house.
But the author of Ecclesiastes assures us that these things can be diversions. They can't offer us lasting happiness. Only living life backward can. Request your copy of the book Living Life Backward when you give a donation to Truth for Life. Just click the image you see in our app or visit us on our website truthforlife.org slash donate. Alistair ended today's message by explaining that the only solid joys and lasting treasures of life are found in a personal living faith in Jesus. If you'd like to learn more about what it means to follow Christ, visit truthforlife.org slash thestory.
There you can watch a helpful video that explains how Jesus' sacrifice on the cross frees us from sin and grants us salvation. Now here is Alistair to close with prayer. Father, we thank you for the word of God, which is the Bible.
We thank you for the truth that it conveys. We pray that you will draw to yourself, men and women, young people. I pray for young men that are buffeted by all of these advances who are wrestling, trying to figure it out, trying to make the shift from all that is represented in the faith of their fathers, whether it is their own, whether it will become their own. Lord God, I pray that you will grift to them such a sense of your welcoming and your beckoning and all of the joy and the reality that is found in Christ that they may lay hold upon your great and precious promises. And we pray that the grace of the Lord Jesus and the love of God our Father and the fellowship of our Holy Spirit may be the abiding portion of each one, now and forevermore, Amen. I'm Bob Lapine. The Bible teaches that the frustration and dissatisfaction we experience in this world is actually a God-given burden. Now why would He do that? We'll listen tomorrow to find out. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the learning is for nothing.
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