Music of Life

Music is a powerful vehicle with the capacity to transport us back to experiences spanning the entire emotional spectrum, both the happiest and saddest times of our lives. The soundtrack of my life has included all kinds of music…joyful, heartrending, playful, and contemplative. My mind recently traveled back in time as I sat on the garage floor looking through a box of albums collected by my parents over the years. I found within the well-worn album covers gospel music by the Bill Gaither Trio, Doug Oldham, and Sandi Patty that filled the air as we got dressed in our “Sunday best” for church. I rediscovered Christmas music by Ed Ames, Johnny Mathis, and Andy Williams that warmed our hearts while we decorated the tree, sipped hot cocoa, and drifted off to sleep during the holiday season. I came across popular music by Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Statler Brothers, and John Denver likely to trigger an all-out dance party in the living room when I was a child. Reflecting back on the most poignant occasions in my life, I find the chapters frequently punctuated by music.

I’m positive that a precious saint in the church nursery serenaded me with “Jesus Loves Me” within moments of my first visit. They no doubt knew the importance of instilling in me from even a very young age the truth of what the Bible says about me and my relationship with my Creator. I spent hours learning to play “Sweet Hour of Prayer” and “Count Your Blessings” on the piano under the watchful eye of my teacher, Mrs. Min Young Yang. As I pounded out the notes, stretching to reach each key and struggling to remember the accidentals, the words of the songs took root in my heart, reminding me of the awesome privilege of prayer and all the good things God had placed in my life. I still treasure the old hymns that instruct me in rich theological truths. The more of life I experience, the more the words mean to me. Songs like “Victory in Jesus” and “How Great Thou Art” take me back in time to the church of my childhood while simultaneously reminding me of how Jesus has won victories in my life and demonstrated His greatness to me.

As my husband and I started our own family, music wove itself into our shared memories. On our wedding day, he sang to me, promising to “Cherish the Treasure” of the gift God had given us in each other. Four years later, when we became parents, he made up songs for each of our boys based on their particular personality traits. One perpetually smiled, and the other loved to be held, and so we celebrated both of these attributes in song. As our boys grew up, the sounds of singing vegetables filled our home. Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber of VeggieTales fame serenaded us with tunes like “The Hairbrush Song,” “Love My Lips,” and “God is Bigger.” But they also taught our sons Biblical truth in the midst of all the silliness. We couldn’t take a road trip when they were young without listening to Elton John and hearing our sons belt out the chorus of “Crocodile Rock” from the backseat. If you’ve never had the privilege of traveling cross country with two little boys hyped up on sugar and caffeine singing “La lalalala la lalalala la lalalala la” at the top of their lungs, then you’ve missed out! I wouldn’t trade those demonstrations of pure joy for all the noise cancelling headphones on the planet.

Psalm 96:1 says, “Sing a new song to the LORD; let the whole earth sing to the LORD.“ We are commanded to lift up our voices to the Lord in song. In fact, the Bible is full of songs that mark occasions within the lives of God’s people. Songs of triumph and praise as well as repentance and mourning are recorded throughout its pages. As we look back at the song of Moses, we see him praising the One who was victorious over an oppressive ruler. David exalts God for His grace, forgiveness, and provision in his life. Mary the mother of Jesus sings a song of praise as she expresses awe that God would choose her to give birth to the Savior of the world.

I’ve always been drawn to acoustic music. Perhaps that’s because it so accurately mirrors the purity of the natural world. As I take time to close my eyes and shut out the chaos and clamor around me, God graciously infuses His own music into my life to remind me of His constant presence. The sound of birds chirping reminds me of His provision in caring for the smallest sparrow. The echoes of the waves crashing on the sandy shore remind me of His awesome power. The gentle whisper of the wind brings to mind his kindness in providing the breeze to cool me on a hot summer afternoon. The orchestra of bugs and frogs at night reminds me that God gave each of His creatures something unique to contribute to His concerto. Isaiah 55:12 says, “You will indeed go out with joy and be peacefully guided; the mountains and the hills will break into singing before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” As all of nature pauses to honor its Creator, we should join in the chorus. We may not all sing with the same tone, volume, or vocal quality, but the song just wouldn’t be the same without us.

Grace>Law

I have always been a rule follower, and I attribute that particular personality trait to genetics. My grandmother believed in following the rules, too. She was the warm and loving matriarch of our family, but behind that playful twinkle in her eyes was a woman firmly committed to making sure her grandchildren understood that life was best lived by adhering to certain standards. This philosophy also applied to some of our favorite past-times. I remember one occasion, during an intense game of dominoes, when this character quality caused great angst for my then seven-year-old son, Tyler. Nannie stood her ground, relentlessly refusing to alter the rules in his favor. Perhaps he wanted to draw an extra domino or two, or maybe play out of turn, but she would hear nothing of it. I can still picture the tears welling up in his eyes as he stared across the table, pleading with her to cut him some slack. She was determined that he would learn once and for all to play by the rules. I mean, can you just imagine the chaos that would ensue if we allowed kids to run around willy nilly, making up the rules to suit their fancy at any given moment! Painstakingly crafted Monopoly dynasties would crumble and strategically played checkers matches would be void of all meaning. Nannie believed that life lessons could be gleaned from even the most benign events. Fortunately, though, her lessons were always tempered with a healthy dose of grace.

When I finally grow up one day, I hope my bent toward following the rules is seasoned with as much grace as Nannie was able to display. But until then, certain circumstances magnify this tendency in me. Admittedly minor infractions can sometimes cause me to careen down the road into legalism, momentarily thinking I am better because I obeyed my particular rule of choice. But I don’t do right all the time either, and nothing would make the enemy happier than for me to live in bondage to my attempts to keep the law. If he can contain me within my own self-imposed prison cell, then he severely limits my capacity to demonstrate love, compassion, and grace to others. My inability to perfectly follow the law points me to my need for the one who reaches down with grace when I mess up. He offers to exchange the yoke of slavery to sin for His easy yoke and light burden, promising to provide rest for my soul. Paul says in Galatians 2:21, “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.” It is foolish for me to attempt to gain for myself what only Jesus is able to provide through His death on the cross.

As it turns out, parenting provides some poignant illustrations of the intersection of law and grace. When my younger son, Evan, was about three-years-old, we moved half-way across the country from Texas to Alabama. As you would expect of any outdoors-loving little fellow, he was eager to explore his new surroundings. Our backyard happened to have a beautiful, crystal clear swimming pool, thus he was instructed to stay near me, and away from the temptation provided by that big dangerous hole in the ground. In a split second, he decided that the freedom I had allowed him to explore his new environment superseded my instruction for him to stay close. As he attempted to peer into the shimmering surface of the pool, he got too close to the edge and fell headfirst into the deep end. Like any proud little Texan, he was decked out in his favorite cowboy boots and jeans. Because boots aren’t designed for buoyancy, they began to quickly fill up with water. As he descended to the bottom of the pool, weighed down by the water in his boots, I jumped in to pull him out. The ordeal gave him a healthy respect for water and taught a valuable life lesson. I had given him rules to follow, but he also had the freedom to choose whether to obey or disobey. At the moment, his curiosity to step a little too close to the edge enticed him to disregard my instruction. He realized the need to be rescued by his rule-giver, and in turn experienced grace by being pulled up out of a position from which he was unable to save himself. 

I wonder if this is how God feels when I ease too close to the brink of familiar temptations. Sin dares me to dip my toe in just a little bit, all the while seeking an opportunity to pull me under. It can happen in the blink of an eye when I let my guard down. I should be motivated by the knowledge that through grace I have been relieved of the unbearable burden of sin, but my tendency is to keep going back again and again. I’m reminded of the words of the great hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”  The fourth verse says, “O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be! Let Thy goodness like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to Thee.” A fetter is defined as a chain or shackle placed on the feet. When I picture grace this way, I realize that it keeps me bound to the one to whom I am indebted, and keeps me from fleeing to the one to whom I owe nothing at all. As I inevitably wander, His grace pulls me back to safety. I’m thankful for the law which points me to my need for grace, and for grace which draws me into the loving arms of my Savior and Lord.