Sunday, August 31, 2014

Meet the Flintstones!

Our seven year-old has been taking piano lessons since late last year.  She has some musical gifts and we delight in seeing her develop them as she learns to play the piano.  Her teacher is very good with her and was able to recognize that our daughter has a good ear.  She tends to learn and play music as she understands the melody and harmony in her head.  The downside of that is that she sometimes relies on her ear to the point of not paying much attention to the notes that are written on the page.

One of the songs she learned was a simple version of the Doxology.  It has a easy melody and she was very familiar with it from singing it in church each Sunday.  After she learned it we invited her to play it one morning in worship.  While the notes were right, the tempo was much too fast for us to sing along with!

Over the past two weeks we have seen how hard it is to take a melody you know in your head and play it on the piano, paying it the way the notes are written and not the way your head tells you to.  The tune has been the theme song for the Flintstones, and learning it has been hard.      

If a person counts the notes as it is being played it seems like it should be easy. One, two, three, four.  One, two, three, four. 

It seems like such a simple melody, but it has a little quirk, a hiccup, that has made it a challenge.  Every once in a while the music has a place for a rest, a moment when the person doesn't play any notes at all.  And there is something about these rests that has made it a struggle.

We have tried a number of ways to help Kat learn this.  Sitting next to her.  Playing it for her.  Counting it out with her.  Changing the counting so that I say "One, two, three, four, rest, two, three four."  Slowly counting, while moving my finger to point out each note as I sing the melody.  The last method is the one that seem to have finally worked. 

This episode with the Flintstones reminded me of how important it is as a Christian to have someone we can turn to and help us understand things.  Sometimes this is just someone we can talk to, some who will listen to what we have to say and speak back to us with honesty.  Sometimes it is someone who has more spiritual maturity and wisdom, someone who can help us wrestle with parts of the Bible that may be hard for us to grasp.  There may be a section of the Bible that is calling us to act in a certain way, perhaps to forgive when forgiveness is the very last thing we want to do. 

We may not want to forgive and yet we sense that is what God may be calling us to do.  A friend who will walk us through a text, helping us to clearly see, phrase-by-phrase, word-by-word, what it is truly telling us, is a precious gift from God.  I have been blessed to have several of these friends in my life.  May God also provide one to you.

Friday, August 29, 2014

A Job Nobody Wants

It's my day off and part of what I did today was tackle a job that nobody wants. 

This week we had a problem with the drain line in our house.  The big trees in our yard have a history of allowing their roots to grow into the drain, and so it was recommended that we clean the drains each fall.  Last November we did so.  This year the roots made an unplanned appearance, so that part of what was supposed to go down the line backed up into our basement. 

Yuck.  Actually, double yuck!  So yesterday Robin and I used an industrial-strength snake and cleaned out the line under the house and out into the street.  And now that the basement was nearly dry again it was time to clean up and disinfect the remainder, something I decided to do while everyone else was gone for the day. 

I could say I have experience with this kind of clean-up.  When I was in the Navy drain lines occasionally backed-up on the ship and when I was of low rank I was assigned to the clean-up crew.  Experience notwithstanding, cleaning up the remains of a backed up drain isn’t the kind of job people seek out. 

It’s a job nobody wants.  It’s a job nobody wants but one that has to get done, by someone.  I'm no hero.  I'm just someone with rubber gloves, bleach, and a bucket, doing one necessary thing for my family.

I have been reading Lamentations this week.  There is a lot of pain and sorrow in Lamentations.  The people of God have been defeated.  Jerusalem has been captured and God's people have been carried off into exile.  

This morning I read chapter 5, which ends with these words in verses 21-22:

"Restore us to yourself, O LORD, that we may be restored!  Renew our days as of old - unless you have utterly rejected us, and you remain exceedingly angry with us."

The writer of Lamentations knows the sorrow of defeat and separation from God.  And he knows that the only way restoration will ever come is at the hand of God.  And while he is writing at a specific moment in time in the history of God's people, when we read these words today we see that they also point our vision forward, to the full and complete restoration of the people of God, a restoration achieved in the finished work of Jesus.

Restoring God's people is a job that can only be done by Jesus.  The separation that sin causes between people and God is something that no individual people can never repair. 

No one can be good enough.  No one can try hard enough.  All a person can do is to come to God by faith in Jesus and receive what he holds out for them…the free gift of redemption and restoration with God.

Restoring God's people is a hard job.  It is a harder and dirtier job than any earthly job I can imagine.  It is a costly job.  It is a job that no human can do.  And when we pause to consider the costs it is a job that no human would want. Not ever. 

Yet it is a job that Jesus takes on.  Not because He wants to, which is clear when we read His prayer in the garden:

"And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”

It is a job that Jesus doesn't want, but which He takes because God the Father has called Him to it.  "Not as I will, but as you will."

I am glad that He was willing to do that one job that no one else could ever do.  I am glad that His obedience covers all of my disobedience.  And I am glad that  because of His finished work one day I will see Him in all His glory.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Steadfast Love

" Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts the Lord."
            Psalm 32:10

Recently, when I was reading Psalm 32, the tenth verse seemed to jump out at me.  There was something about it that caught my attention.  There was something about the words that begged me to look more deeply into what they were saying.

Verse 10 speaks of a contrast, which is something that is found frequently in the Psalms as a whole.  It presents "the wicked" on the one hand and "the one who trusts the Lord" on the other.  And it might be said that these two kinds of people are in possession of two very different things.  "The wicked" have "many sorrows," while "the one who trusts the Lord" has "steadfast love."

Okay, I get that.  Wicked…sorrow; those who trust God…steadfast love.  Nothing remarkable here.  Just move on along to the next verse, please. 

But it's not that simple.  God has something more profound going on here.  There is more than what first meets our eyes.

What the psalm doesn't say is that the wicked have many sorrows, sorrows that they bear without any comfort from God.  And it also doesn't say that the "one who trusts the Lord" also has many sorrows in life.  No one lives a life that is pain-free.  No one lives a life that is absent any heartache or heartbreak. 

The difference that the Psalmist points to is that the "one who trusts the Lord" is never alone in their sorrow.  Even in sorrow, perhaps particularly during times of sorrow, times of hardship, they find that they are in the steadfast love of God. 

When we feel lost in pain, when it seems as if our life is falling completely apart, it is good to remember the promises of God that there is never a time or place when those who love Him are absent or apart from Him.

What does God's steadfast love look like?  I think  one place where it is summed up well is in Question-and-Answer 1 of the Heidelberg Catechism, which asks, "What is your only comfort in life and in death?"  The answer is rich and full of hope for God's people, saying:

"That I am not my own, but belong - body and soul, in life and in death - to my faithful savior, Jesus Christ.  He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.  He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact all things must work together for my salvation.  Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him."

Thanks be to God that His steadfast love truly surrounds the one who trusts the Lord.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

"It's what my mom said to do"

The picture on the right is the floor of our daughter's closet.  This is not the way it usually looks.  While things are often scattered on it there is not usually this much stuff.  And shortly before I took this picture it was much worse.  When I asked her why she replied, "It's what my mom said to do."

I had to ask a few questions before I understood what was going on in the closet.  The closet was a mess, particularly the shelves.  As a part of the instructions to straighten things out my wife told our daughter to "clean off the shelves," which the little one understood to mean "put everything on the floor and start from there."

While the way our daughter understood and applied her mom's directions may not have been the best way to reorganize her closet, she did understand and obey the instructions when they were given to her.  This is not always the case.  Sometimes things need to be said a number of times, in a number of different ways, for a number of reasons, some more valid than others.

I have been reading Jeremiah lately, one chapter at a time.  I read Jeremiah 35 on the day of this incident with our daughter.  Jeremiah spends a lot of time carrying the same basic message to the people of God.  He  repeatedly calls them to repentance, with the warning that they will suffer greatly if they don't.

In Jeremiah 35 he tells of a group of people called the Rechabites who have been faithful to the instructions of their father, even in the face of adversity.  Jeremiah uses them as an example as he then tells the people of Judah this message from God in verses 14-15:

"The command that Jonadab the son of Rechab gave to his sons, to drink no wine, has been kept, and they drink none to this day, for they have obeyed their father's command. I have spoken to you persistently, but you have not listened to me. I have sent to you all my servants the prophets, sending them persistently, saying, ‘Turn now every one of you from his evil way, and amend your deeds, and do not go after other gods to serve them, and then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to you and your fathers.’ But you did not incline your ear or listen to me."

The people of Judah have been disobedient to God over and over and over.  But God has been gracious and held out His mercy to them time after time after time.  God called the people to turn from their sin and to turn towards Him.  It is a call He is still making today. 

My daughter had a number of methods available to her when it was time to clean her closet.  But it all began with listening and then obeying the basic command.

And so it is with us.  We each have many things we need to abandon when we follow God.  Each of us who follow will do so in a way that is faithful to God but different from others around us.  

But it all begins with hearing His voice, turning towards Him, and turning away from those things that lead us in other directions.  Through Jeremiah and the other prophets God called His people repeatedly.  And He is still calling people to Himself today. 

Is He calling you?  What will you do when you hear His voice? 

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

"…, has conquered,…"

Last week  Tuesday I preached from Revelation 5:1-5.  The occasion was a funeral and as I was selecting the text the phrase "has conquered" jumped out at me.

I have been reading Charles Spurgeon's Morning and Evening as a devotional lately.  It is available free online here.  Time and again Spurgeon takes a verse, or a part of a verse, and connects it to the Good News of God in Jesus.  His words are filled with power, passion, and great truth.  His method may have its weaknesses but he writes with a passion that is rare, passion that always points his reader to Christ.

So, feeding on Spurgeon, those words, has conquered, jumped out at me from the text in Revelation.  John the Evangelist is making reference to Jesus as the one who has conquered, so that Jesus is then the only one who can open the seals of the scroll.

And that makes all the difference.  Because Jesus has conquered sin and death Paul says that we who believe in Him are "more than conquerors."  We will be raised up with Him to an eternal life that is better than anything we could imagine.   

We have had some hard times recently in our community.  But amidst the pain, the sorrow, the heartache, the truth remains.  

Jesus has conquered.  To God be all the glory!

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.