It might seem to be fairly insignificant. We come together each Sunday to worship God, remember the Son and His sacrifice, to encourage one another to love and good deeds, and in the midst of that we sing. Sometimes our minds wander through the events of last week or the coming demands on our calendars. Life is so busy; it makes it easy to disengage and thoughtlessly sing the words. We make sounds with our lips while our hearts are sleeping.
It’s just singing. We might read the bulletin, write a check, make a grocery list or simply daydream. None of those are bad things but inappropriate for the important assignment of singing. God notices, “’THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME. ‘BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN (Matthew 15:8-9.’” It is a thought brought forth from Isaiah. If Jesus addressed a problem that God through the prophet pointed out hundreds of years before, it must be significant to Him.
Singing is much more than just an attempt to be melodious. “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord…(Ephesians 5:18-19).” The very first indication of a Spirit-filled life as described by Paul is singing which hardly makes it inconsequential. Skill is not emphasized. In fact, it isn’t even mentioned, but the heart is. The Lord is listening. Are we?
No, not to how well others produce a melody but to the words that are traveling off the page and out of our lips? Are they coming from within or are we offering them superficially? “I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also (1 Corinthians 14:15).” Do we? Are we soul-searching as we sing? Do we really mean it when we sing, “All to Jesus I surrender?”
The Lord’s people must pay close attention to His message lest we get off track. Drifting is subtle, dangerous and awfully easy (Hebrews 2:1-4). Singing is one of the safeguards against it. “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God (Colossians 3:16-17).” Embodying His word, sharing it with others and filling our hearts with gratitude are all powerful measures to maintain our focus.
Singing may seem to be just punctuation between the other elements of our assembly, but that is not an eternal perspective. Our audience is far larger than those in the room with us, and He is listening intently to our hearts.
A talking bush is a pretty big clue that God has a special assignment for you, especially when that shrub is on fire but not burning up. Suddenly, the ground on which Moses stood was holy. The Lord has a way about that, turning the ordinary into the extraordinary. After all, He took dust and formed a human. Who can begin to imagine what He can do with a person?
This baby-in-a-basket was all grown up. He had bounced around from the royal household to murderer to fugitive to shepherd, and now vegetation was telling him that he would be the great liberator of his people. Life’s experiences had prepared him for this moment, but he didn’t think so. His was more of a “Who me?” response. He felt woefully inadequate for such a task. So, God’s chosen deliverer lacked confidence; not exactly what we look for in a hero.
He resisted as he pulled out every excuse in the book. “What do I tell them when they ask who sent me?” “What if they don’t believe me?” “I’m the wrong man. I am not a very good speaker.” The Lord met every objection and pushed him out with Aaron, a more polished spokesman. Next stop: Pharoah. Surely, a mission from God’s own lips will meet with immediate success.
Well, not exactly. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Conditions for the slaves grew worse. The work was made even more difficult. Here is a hesitant, insecure freedom fighter and his sidekick confronting the power structure at God’s direction, and they instantly failed miserably. That was not exactly a confidence booster nor a situation that would build support among the people.
The slaves quickly turned on the liberators. The burdens became heavier, and everybody grew grumpier. Pharoah called the Israelites lazy as they looked at Moses and Aaron as the cause of their headaches. All-in-all, this has the appearance of a horrible failure of a mission. An unwilling leader and suspicious followers. These are God’s people and this is His plan? Seems doubtful.
Moses wondered, “Why?” His assignment had turned out all wrong. Why had the Lord hurt these people? Why was he sent? Nothing made sense. He offered words of reassurance but their discouragement and cruel bondage deafened their ears. That was about as low as it could get. Four centuries of slavery. A hard-hearted pharaoh. A beat-down people. And an old man who didn’t want to be there to begin with who had no support among the slaves. This is what God intended?
The rest of the story is even more amazing. The Lord stepped in with a dazzling demonstration of His power. He showed with increasing ferocity that He would free His people. It looked impossible, and it was…without divine intervention. It always is. Salvation demands a heavenly solution which only He can provide. For the Israelite slaves. For us, too.
It was a brutal collision when perfection ran into a creation that had been shaped by sin. Deity took on flesh and blood, and sparks flew. It started innocently enough with a baby born on the fringes of society among the animals. Oh yes, a few knew. Mary and Joseph were let in on the secret. Shepherds in a field were notified. Sometime later a star marked the way for wise men. An unnerved king butchered babies, and the infant Messiah was shuttled off to Egypt. There were clues along the way but nothing openly definitive.
Three decades passed before He went public and rocked the establishment. The Son of God met with perpetual conflict from the covenant people of God. He simply did not behave as they had determined that he should. The prophets had laid the groundwork and John the Baptist proclaimed His arrival, but this was not what they expected. He violated their self-imposed principles and exposed their hypocrisy. As we might have predicted, they did not receive it well.
He suffered in every way imaginable. He bore our sins. He was rejected. Beaten. Spit upon. He experienced it all. He had to. It was essential, “For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings (Hebrews 2:10).” For Jesus to become everything we needed, He had to suffer. It brought Him to completion.
He was educated through those experiences. We speak of “the college of hard knocks,” but He earned His degree in a way that we never will. He has a PHD in suffering. There is a vast difference between “book-learning” and being involved in the tussle. He knows the blood, sweat and tears that come with the warfare of this world. It is one troublesome place, and He overcame it. He leads us to victory and opened the door to the Lord of grace and mercy (Hebrews 4:14-16). His blood marks the trail.
He is everything for us because of His suffering. There is nothing apart from that. He learned through suffering. He was perfected in the same way. Having been schooled through the process, Jesus became the source of eternal salvation for the obedient (Hebrews 5:8-10). The offer is on the table for every soul who will yield. The Son of God stepped away from the glory which He had always shared with His Father so that He could suffer to save us. It is the story of a love so amazing that we can scarcely take it in.
It isn’t so much that we embrace the gospel as it is that the gospel embraces us. It seizes our hearts, and we are changed from the inside out. Suffering has always been an integral part of the program. Jesus first, and we follow (Romans 8:16-17).
It is a remarkable education to study the work of God in history. His people experienced extraordinary ups and downs. Their story involved centuries of slavery, a miraculous deliverance and decades of wilderness wanderings. They watched incredible plagues leading up to their liberation and inexplicable provisions in the wilderness. Their path included stops and starts choreographed by fire and clouds. He is truly the Lord of the unpredictable.
He used wicked men to carry out His plans. Who could have anticipated that His means of providing eternal life would be through the death of His own Son at the hands of ungodly people (Acts 2:23)? We think in worldly terms, and He acts on heavenly ones. The only means that we have of understanding Him is His revelation. Even then, our preconceived ideas can distort our perceptions. The Lord explained to His people through Habakkuk that they couldn’t believe His actions even if someone explained it to them (1:5).
He set forth both expectations and the promise of blessings to Abram (Genesis 12:1-3). It called for a combination of sacrifice and faith. God’s clock doesn’t run like ours. In fact, He doesn’t seem to have a clock or calendar at all. At least, not synchronized to ours. He has His own unique timetable. Twenty-five years after the initial promise to make him a great nation, a single child was born, and that one after Abram had tried to rush the plan along. Centuries came and went before the ultimate promise was fulfilled. Time is definitely not of the essence when it comes to our Lord’s schedule. For Him one day is like…well, you know (2 Peter 3:8).
Jesus encountered a blind man, surely the consequences of sin, right (John 9)? Wrong. He would be a revelation of God’s handiwork, a physical demonstration of a much-needed spiritual reality. The power to open eyes is in the hands of the Son of God. And just how did He take care of this man’s need? He spit on the ground, made mud and plopped it in his eyes. Really? Still, he couldn’t see until he followed the instructions to go rinse it out in a specific pool. The cause of his problem was not what was expected and the cure was anything but what could have been anticipated. We cannot second-guess the Lord.
The Son of God came as a visible, human expression of His Father, and He surprised people His whole brief life. He broke down social barriers and extended love to the outcasts and rejects. He had compassion for the lost and forgotten. He extended grace to the rich and powerful as well as the poor and suffering. We should not be surprised, “For God so loved the world…” All of it. Every bit. God saw the mess that sin created and rather than condemn He sent His Son to save us. Who would have ever guessed?
Welcome to the incredible journey. It begins today. Yesterday’s leg of the trip is over, and there is no do-over of those steps. Tomorrow exists only in promise. The here and now is all we have. Our course is up to us, but remember that whichever we choose has never-ending consequences. Many influences await to attract our attention. Distractions drag our focus to the temporary while the eternal fades into the background.
We have come out of the darkness with squinting eyes into the brightness of the Lord’s light. For some of us, it was decades ago and for others it was more recently. Either way, it is a radical change. The whole world appears different. Once attractive activities lose their appeal. We question the wisdom of certain friendships that add nothing to our ambitions in this new pursuit. Some of our buddies pull against us or even put hurdles in the way. This is unique and uncomfortable. Old comfort zones are inviting.
We learned that our lifestyles were out of harmony with the tune of our Creator. The notes were sour and painful to hear. His sweet melody drew us to the pursuit of something better, a quest that challenges our morals and tests our ethics. This is a trip like no other. The transformation from a purely fleshly perspective to a spiritual one is a struggle. Those old desires still tug at us, and yielding is an ongoing temptation.
Everybody has their own version of Egypt. God liberates His children from the slavery of sin just as He freed the Israelites from their captivity. They wanted to return almost as soon as they crossed the Red Sea. Freedom is unsettling and scary for people who are accustomed to captivity. There are choices to make. Different forms of enslavement always lurk around the next decision. Resistance to old habits is hard. We want to go back.
The children of Israel marched right up to the edge of the Promised Land and saw attractive land beyond the river…and massive opposition. Faith wavered. Fear took over, not enemies but fear. They never engaged the battle for the territory that God had for them. So, they wandered, four decades of shuffling around the wilderness. How much time do we spend in a spiritual wasteland? Fear will take us there.
Everyone has to negotiate the turf between slavery and the Promised Land, but fear makes it a much more difficult trip. Even Jesus had His own wilderness experience (Matthew 4). Temptation greeted Him as the devil taunted Him. He overcame with the word of His Father. We can, too.
It is a unique journey. From a dark, dead existence into the light; out of enslavement to Satan and his troops into freedom. The Lord leads us through the tough terrain that we cross on the way to our ultimate destination. It is a wondrous adventure like no other.