July 18, 2017

People of Song

Sitting in the little chapel each week, her tired head usually hung down toward the floor – her shoulders slouched forward, her chin angled towards her chest, her eyes either closed or staring blankly. She was weary with age, and cobwebs had settled over her mind. And yet (memorably, beautifully!), when greeted, or handed a hymnbook, her chin would lift, and her deep brown eyes would brighten – maybe almost surprisedly, because she had been gently startled out of the fog … but softly and thankfully, because she was grateful to have been awakened by an act of kindness.

In the few times we met, she never spoke to me. I doubt if she spoke much at all anymore. But it was one of the highlights of my occasional trips to preach in that little chapel to see her eyes brighten when she was approached. I hope I shall see them again in heaven … and hear her voice responding, for the first time, to mine in conversation.

Thinking back on that day, I am reminded of the importance of singing in the Christian life! Yes, we must memorize scripture itself. And learning a catechism by heart is excellent as well. But singing is also so helpful in learning and retaining our theology! Music – and good poetry, set to it – seem to have a way of sticking with us, perhaps (like my aged friend) even when many other things have drifted beyond our mental grip. My elderly friend didn’t seem to be able to say anything, but she could still sing something! And praise God it was a hymn!

Now, it’s very possible that my elderly friend’s memory, by that date, was outdistancing her cognizance. That is to say that I am not sure how well she understood what she was singing. Her mind was, indeed, very tired. But, be that as it may, the singing seemed beautifully to touch her in a way that nothing else did, so that I think she must have gotten something out of it, even if it was just a brief memory of the Lord’s goodness, and/or of the pleasure of singing to Him – either of which would be an exceedingly valuable ray of sunshine, living most of her days, as she did, in the fog. I don’t know, in her condition, that she got much from my sermons (indispensable as preaching is), but she did seem to get something from that old hymn!

So what will you (and your children) have to feed on, some day, in the nursing home, if you get to the point at which most other forms of memory and communication are virtually gone? Oh, let us be people of song! Let us sing, not only in our church services, but in our homes and daily lives. And let us sing the best songs! Let us imprint good theology deeply upon our minds so that it will perhaps still be there when so much other memory is gone!

And let us imprint it there, too, so that it will be there in all these intervening years when we can pause and think about what we are singing, and what our God is like. My friend may not have been able to really grasp all that she was singing on that day. But, if she still knew the song then, when her mind was all but withered away, surely she must have known it ten and twenty years before, when she would have still had the faculties for thinking it through. And so let us have songs stored in our memories, too! Let us sing and learn and have on our hearts the best songs of the faith … such that we can meditate on good theology while we still can! Let us be people of song!

July 13, 2017

The Ministry of Refreshment

Are there people in your life who refresh you? People whose presence, or encouragement, or perspective, or hospitality, or kindness, or generosity leave you feeling energized and happy as you walk away from your time together? People who, when you are with them, you find yourself loathe to leave, and desiring to linger? I hope you know that feeling! I hope you know and are loved by such people!

The church family in Colossae knew such refreshment. They had experienced it in the hospitality of Philemon, in whose home they met (Philemon v.2), and by whom they were loved (v.5). Paul commends Philemon in these memorable words in v.7: “the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.” Isn’t that a wonderful compliment? Isn’t it one that you’d like to be written of you? “The hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.”

Sometimes we might pour out refreshment in just the way that Philemon did – by hosting church gatherings in our homes. We normally meet, of course, in the church building, rather than in homes. But there is a delight that takes place in those times when we do gather in someone’s living room, and are blessed not only by the activity at hand, but by the setting and the hospitality. And praise God for the folks who host us!

But there are other ways, too, in which we can refresh “the hearts of the saints”. Maybe we host, not an official church gathering, but an informal dinner or dessert or time of fellowship with a handful of brothers and sisters in Christ. Or perhaps we send someone a hand-written note of encouragement. Or maybe we prepare dinner for the family of a sick or nursing mother. Perhaps we notice a particular physical need (or even want) of a young family, and find a way to meet it. Or we watch the kids so that mom and dad can have a date night. Or we regularly invite singles over for Sunday lunch. Or take time to go visit old friends out of town, to remind them that they are cared for and nor forgotten. And you can brainstorm other avenues of refreshment, too, suitable to the needs of the people around you.

I and my family have experienced a great deal of such refreshment from God’s people, near and far. Thank you! And I have seen it on display, as an observer, many times in our church … as many of you refresh, and are refreshed by, one another. Again, thank you! Like Paul, “I have come to have much joy and comfort in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.” Let’s keep doing it! Let’s continue to excel in the ministry of refreshment!

July 4, 2017

"Power is perfected in weakness"

These were the Lord’s words to His servant Paul, as Paul quotes them in 2 Corinthians 12:9. And, in the context, the idea is clearly that it is the power of Christ that is perfected in the weakness of His servant! Christ shows Himself most strong in His people precisely when those people are weak! For it is then that we (hopefully) depend on Him most desperately. And it is in our weakness that it will be obvious that the strength comes from Him, and not from us (2 Corinthians 4:7). And so (2 Corinthians 12), Christ’s “strength is perfected in [our] weakness.”

Now that sounds really great, when rolling off the tongue, doesn't it? Christ’s “power is perfected in [my] weakness.” Marvelous! Print it on a greeting card!

But when we actually begin to be put in a position to experience this truth … well, that’s sometimes a horse of a different color, isn’t it? IBecause most of us don’t actually like to be weak! We don’t like the feelings of struggle or inability or feebleness. We want to be strong! We want to be able to do it! And so, quaint as it may sound to say: ‘O yes, Christ’s “power is perfected in [my] weakness”’ … it is not so quaint when we are actually confronted with our weakness, is it? What our flesh so often wants to say is not: “when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10) … but simply: “I am strong.”

Wouldn’t we often prefer that God prove Himself strong by taking our weakness away, rather than by manifesting His power in our weakness? There’s nothing wrong with asking Him to remove the weakness, of course. Three times Paul asked for God to do so; for God to remove his “thorn in the flesh” (vv.7-8). But God’s answer (v.9) was: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” ‘I’m going to leave you in weakness,’ in other words, ‘because it is in your weakness that My power is most gloriously manifested.’

What about that? What if God does that in your life? What if, in order to most gloriously demonstrate His grace and His might … what if God decides to leave you with “a thorn in the flesh” that “torment[s]” you (v.7)? What if He decides to show His power in and through your weakness, rather than by taking it away? Even though God will be showing Himself strong, you are still going to feel weak in the midst of it all, aren’t you? Because you are weak! And oh, my friends, I have to confess that I don’t like the sound of that! It’s not what I wish for. I don’t want to be weak. I don’t want to be frail, and afraid, and unable. And yet it seems, lately, that this has become my lot. And surely some of you could say the same. But let us believe the word of the Lord, and be “content with [our] weaknesses” (v.10) – and even embrace them – since it is in them that Christ shows Himself most strong!

And so the truth of 2 Corinthians 12:9 may not be as quaint as it at first sounds. But it is true!  And it is glorious, and best.