The Sticks and Stones Fallacy

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Many of us heard these words spoken repeatedly on the playground as children. While it is a well meant sentiment intended to build resilience in the face of brutal verbal bullying, it couldn’t be farther from the truth. Such a statement is logically unsound, implying that only physical acts have consequences; however, words do have the power to move us to action. In history’s very first recorded words, God spoke light into existence. In His omnipotence, He could have chosen to snap His fingers or illuminate the world with a silent thought, but He spoke, indicating the importance He places on the spoken word. While we don’t possess the creative ability of God, our spoken or written words have the capacity to inspire chaos or calm. Consider Proverbs 15:1 which tells us that “A gentle answer turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath.” As much as we would like to think otherwise, words do have consequences.

Words are a currency that once spent, cannot be refunded. Many times I have wished it were so, but it’s impossible to snatch them out of midair once they leave my mouth. They are instantly etched on the heart and inscribed on the mind of the recipient. My grandfather had the following statement scribbled on the inside cover of one of his Bibles: “I’ve regretted often the things I’ve said…but I’ve never regretted my silence.” He was a wise man. Words can be wielded with the precision of a surgeon’s scalpel when spoken by a friend for healing, or with the carelessness of a machete when employed by an enemy for harm. Proverbs 16:24 says, “Pleasant words are a honeycomb: sweet to the taste and health to the body.” Technology further weaponizes words in online culture as we celebrate mic drops, revel in putting others on blast, and encourage the lobbing of truth bombs. WE OFTEN FEEL THE NEED TO GO INTO ALL CAPS MODE TO FURTHER EMPHASIZE A POINT. Given the arsenal at our disposal, it’s more important than ever to remember the power of words. My words matter, our words matter, and most importantly, God’s Word matters.

My Words Matter

Research reveals that women speak between 10,000 and 20,000 words per day. If I allow myself a very generous eight hours of sleep per night, that means I speak an average of 625 words per hour that I am awake. As I engage in conversation with my daily allowance of words, my main goal should be to point others to Christ. While the name of Jesus doesn’t necessarily come up in every conversation, my words are certainly an outward manifestation of Christ’s work in me. We are admonished in Colossians 4:6 to, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person.” Just as salt enhances the flavor of the food it seasons, my words should enhance the flavor of a life lived by grace through faith. Only then am I able to gently and respectfully give an answer for the hope that is in me (I Peter 3:15). Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias reminds us that behind every question is a questioner. Only when I have taken the time to listen to the person on the other side of the conversation can I chose words that adequately address the doubt, pain, or fear behind her questions. My words matter as I speak life to those divinely placed in my path each day.

Our Words Matter

With the advent of social media, we say things to each other online that we would never say face to face. We quickly tap out words on a keyboard, add a clever emoji or GIF, and press send before considering the impact on the person at the other end of the digital pipeline. Many times we are more interested in being witty or right than we are in being kind. Arguments escalate at gigahertz speed, and we forget that it is possible to disagree without being disagreeable. Colossians 3:16 provides a different approach as we are encouraged to “Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” As we consider that the living Word, Christ Himself, dwells among us, we become more aware of how we speak to each other, online or in person, and are inclined to treat each other with greater deference. We then understand that we can charitably seek clarity without insisting upon complete agreement in all things. The words we share between us matter because they are the outward demonstration of the emotions and thoughts we have settled in our hearts and minds.

His Word Matters

John 1:1 states, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Jesus, the Word wrapped in flesh, was with the Father when He spoke the world into existence. As the breath of God moved each inspired stroke of the pen, His earthly messengers inscribed this very Word throughout the pages of scripture. This Living Word then came to earth, lived sinlessly among us, died an excruciating death, and was resurrected on the third day. For us, the Living Word leaps off the pages of God’s written Word and embraces us with the truth of the gospel. As beneficiaries of God’s grace, the light of the gospel safely guides us through the dark valleys of this world, and serves as “a lamp for our feet and a light for our paths.” (Psalm 119:105) God’s Word, the gospel, matters most of all because it is the “power of God for salvation.” (Romans 1:16)

If words are so important to our Heavenly Father, shouldn’t we be more careful about how we use them in our daily interactions? We should select our words with precision, and consider their potential for both building up and tearing down. Just as a skilled sculptor chips away at the marble to reveal the masterpiece hidden within, our words have the power to bring the best in each other to the surface or to dredge up the less desirable attributes in our fellow image bearers. Keeping this in mind, let’s choose our words wisely, speak to each other kindly, and follow the light of God’s Word daily.

A Tale of Two Worldviews

In my former life as a high school English teacher, I enjoyed reading the Charles Dickens classic, A Tale of Two Cities, with my students. It is a work of literature rich with symbolism, allegory, and contrast, beginning with the famous line, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…” I believe that sentiment to be true today. We live in the best of times in terms of the wealth of information available to us. Anything we want to know more about is literally at our fingertips as we press a button and open up the World Wide Web. But this also puts us at serious risk of stumbling upon unhealthy and often dangerous information shared through the lenses of questionable worldviews. 

If young people unwittingly consume this information before being taught to think critically about it, they are susceptible to skepticism and doubt, wondering which truth claim they now believe will later be debunked by some new revelation. C.S. Lewis says in The Abolition of Man, “The best defence against false sentiments is to inculcate just sentiments.” So what sentiments and values are we imparting to our children as we prepare them to interact with people whose worldviews may be different from their own?

I attended two graduation ceremonies this Spring, the first at a public high school and the second at a private Christian university. The high school commencement highlighted the theme of self-helpism, a philosophy that claims that we have within ourselves all we need to succeed in life. The salutatorian claimed that, ”We are makers of our own success.” The school board member who conferred the degrees encouraged the graduates to ”Embrace being the captain of your own ship.” While I understand the encouragement toward personal responsibility, this struck me as a very self-centered philosophy.

By contrast, the speaker at the second ceremony advised the graduates to demonstrate three qualities as they entered their chosen vocation: objectivity, humility, and civility. Cultivating these qualities leads to the acknowledgement that there is an objective source of truth against which we measure our accomplishments. It also leads to the realization that we can only be truly successful when we put others before ourselves and treat them with kindness. Examining these two worldviews through the lens of scripture reveals how to most effectively engage the culture around us and point others to Christ.

Worldview #1:  Self-helpism 

Self-helpism (making our own success) is an empty philosophy cloaked within the false promise of self-confidence. It casts a broad net under the banner of “the power of positive thinking” through books, podcasts, blogs, and celebrity personalities. The message sounds appealing and often reels us in unaware of the consequences of adopting this worldview. Self-helpism ultimately promotes insecurity by placing the responsibility for success or failure squarely upon the individual’s shoulders. Self-proclaimed success is fertile ground for pride, while failure whittles away at self-worth. Contrary to popular belief, the Bible never claims that “God helps those who help themselves.” God’s Word instead says that His power is perfected in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9.) A Biblical worldview promotes confidence when we teach our children that their strength comes from God, and that their success is not dependent on them after all. It removes the burden from them and places it on Him. 

Worldview #2:  Biblical Objectivity, Humility, and Civility

Jesus says in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” If this is true, then there is only one source of objective truth. It is this source of truth by which we are to define success. By contrast, if we believe that we are makers of our own success and captains of our own ships, then objective truth loses its significance. We need no outside measure of truth, and are tempted to subjectively define truth in whatever way best suits us at the moment. We remake truth in our own image to fit our own purposes; however, when my truth doesn’t line up with your truth, we stand at odds with each other for lack of an objective standard. This naturally lends itself to chaos and conflict, while the acknowledgment of an objective source of truth points us in the same direction and leads to harmony.

Philippians 2:3 instructs us to, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves.” This is not a philosophy conducive with being the captain of my own ship. Any captain worth his salt puts the needs of his passengers and fellow travelers above his own. If we are to humbly travel through life, we must look around us and notice ways to build others up, rather than focusing on ways to make our own success. A self-centered attitude turns our focus inward and away from those traveling alongside us. This leads to a tunnel vision that blinds us to ways to follow the second greatest commandment, to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Paul says in Colossians 3:12, “Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience…” If we view ourselves as being makers of our own success, we tend toward an “end justifies the means” mentality, and civility is the farthest thing from our minds. After all, it’s a dog eat dog world out there, so we’d better look out for number one to ensure success. On the contrary, if we clothe ourselves with kindness, we recognize that true success is achieved by demonstrating love as we interact with others. Ordinary and consistent acts of grace point our fellow travelers to Christ, which is the ultimate goal in all we do during our journey through this earthly existence.

Looking to the Horizon

As our children embark on the journey of a new school year, will they be lighthouses built on a solid foundation of truth or battleships ready to plow down everyone in their paths? As we encourage them to engage the culture through Biblical objectivity, humility, and civility, the focus shifts away from them, and toward the one who has gifted them with all they need to succeed in life. God becomes the maker of their success and the captain of their ship. The one who spoke the oceans into existence is more than capable of guiding them through both the stormy seas and quiet waters of life. He sees every yesterday and every tomorrow as if it were today, and needs no compass to assist Him in guiding His children through the course of their lives. He only needs willing passengers who place their complete confidence in Him.

Why Apologetics Matters to Me

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is, Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other command greater than these. Mark 12:30

I am an occupational therapist by trade. As a practitioner in this often misunderstood profession (no, I’m not going to help you get a job) I recognize that each individual is more than just a body, or a mind, or a soul, but an integration of all three components. It is a holistic discipline in which an occupational therapist develops a plan of care while taking into consideration the complete person (body, mind, and soul,) in order to promote engagement in necessary or valued daily activities. Apologetics is a branch of theology that uses reasoned arguments to address doubt and remove barriers to unbelief. Many people view this discipline as having a singular focus on the mind; however, I have experienced a more holistic impact on my own spiritual journey. Perhaps I am drawn to apologetics because I recognize that it is a discipline like occupational therapy that integrates the heart, soul, mind, and body for one ultimate purpose…glorifying God.

I began studying apologetics about two and a half years ago after I attended a breakout session led by Mary Jo Sharp at the annual Lifeway Women’s Leadership Forum. When I returned home, I became burdened for the students I saw leaving the church in droves after graduation. Researchers in what is called the “youth exodus” report that up to seventy percent of students raised in the church leave their faith behind when they leave home. Among the reasons given are that they had doubts about their faith and did not feel that their questions were welcomed or adequately addressed. So I laid some groundwork in apologetics by reading works by well known apologists and theologians C.S. Lewis, A.W. Tozer, J.P. Moreland, William Lane Craig, Ravi Zacharias, and others. I facilitated a couple of home study groups for college students, but had not really started putting the ideas found within the books into practice in a personal way. I discovered there’s a profound difference between knowing something and making it very practical in your own life.

About one and a half years after I began my journey into apologetics, I entered an especially difficult season in my life. Painful personal loss and disappointing ministry crisis coincided for the perfect storm within a single twenty-four hour period. At that point, I felt as if my legs had been knocked out from under me. In hindsight, I realize that I had found too much of my identity in other people and position rather than in Jesus, so when those foundations were compromised my faith was shaken. I found myself stuck in an extremely dark place mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, and God felt very distant. Apologetics and knowing why I believe what I believe became very personal for me in those moments.

During those dark days my emotions were all over the place. I was reminded of the illustration given by Ravi Zacharias in Cries of the Heart, in which he describes feelings as a person walking beside us clasped within the hand of our knowledge. If the grip is ever reversed and feelings holds the hand of knowledge, we find ourselves in trouble. I did find myself in trouble and had to consciously reverse that grip and engage the knowledge I had stored away regarding God’s character, and the purpose of suffering in our lives. In my insecurity, I was reminded of God’s love for me. In my uncertainty, I was reminded that nothing ever takes God by surprise. I had to trust that He had a purpose for the path I was walking.

The studying I had done in apologetics was a lifeline to me in a sea of doubts. I felt like I was drowning, but was able to keep my head above water by reminding myself of the undeniable truth of God’s Word. As I have walked through the lows of the last year, my faith has been strengthened as I have gone back time and time again to knowledge and reason to combat what I was feeling at the time. God had prepared me for my own crisis of faith even as I was preparing to equip others. I believe God used studying apologetics to open my heart to a deeper level of compassion, enrich my soul through worship, and undergird my faith through the renewal of my mind.

Apologetics deepens my compassion for others going through similar circumstances. Wrestling with questions about the purpose of pain in this life causes me to long for the hope of eternity and encourage others to do the same. Norm Geisler says in If God, Why Evil:  A New Way to Think About the Question, “Simply put, that we don’t know a good purpose for some evil does not mean there is no good purpose for it. There are many things we don’t know. And there are many things we once did not know but now do know. So it should be expected that in the future we will discover good purposes for things for which we do not now know a good purpose.” Going through a crisis can cause us to question God’s goodness, but coming out on the other side reveals a new appreciation for His purpose in pain.

Apologetics enriches my worship as I study and reflect on attributes of God like His love, holiness, and mercy. A.W. Tozer says in Knowledge of the Holy, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” In other words, it takes the focus off of me and places it on Him. When I understand that behind the words of the hymns and choruses I sing there is both experiential and confirmable truth, I am able to worship with a confidence that wasn’t there before. As God shows Himself to be constantly present and verifiably true, my worship becomes more personal and vibrant.

Apologetics undergirds my faith as I discover that there is reasonable evidence for believing the truth claims of Christianity. The more I study and learn about arguments from philosophy, science, and history that all point to the veracity of the Christian worldview, the more I realize that my faith is anything but blind belief. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen.” I can be confident that my questions or doubts will be met with unshakable assurance from evidence provided by a God who does not fear my uncertainty.

I am thankful for the gift of apologetics that ultimately enables me to engage my heart, soul, mind, and strength in serving my Heavenly Father. It is only through loving God with every part of who we are that we can then live out the second greatest commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. If we are to truly love our neighbors, we need to be prepared to gently and respectfully advocate for the Christian worldview. It provides the best answers for the biggest questions of life. If we don’t, are we truly loving our neighbors? Just as I would not as an occupational therapist neglect to address something essential to the well-being of my patient, I should not as a follower of Christ fail to engage with those around me who may have doubts or questions. Truly living the abundant Christian life is dependent upon fulfilling both of the two greatest commandments.

30 Years

 A house is built by wisdom, and it is established by understanding; by knowledge the rooms are filled with every precious and beautiful treasure. Proverbs 24:3

Rick and I are celebrating our thirtieth anniversary on June 3, 2019. Our journey thus far has taken us across two states and seven towns where we’ve lived in eight houses. We have physically constructed one home during our marriage. The building process was stressful yet gratifying; however, the components for a physical structure are easier to come by than the materials that go into building a solid spiritual house. Bricks, steel, and wood are relatively cheap. Wisdom, understanding, and knowledge are obtained at a much higher price, but are worth every ounce of effort put into seeking them out. And so, by the grace of God, we started the process, swinging our hammers to bind together all that was worth hanging onto, and wielding our saws to carefully cut away anything that was not beneficial. We were not sure where it would lead, but we did know Who was leading us.

We started out knowing that we were going to have to strap our tool belts on tightly in preparation for our ongoing construction project. We came from two very different families of origin. He grew up as the baby in a family with older sisters. I was the oldest sibling in a home with younger brothers. He was a city boy from Dallas. I grew up in small town Mexia. Our personalities are almost polar opposites. He’s at ease in the public eye, while I’m intensely private. Despite our differences, God sovereignly crossed our paths knowing we would be each other’s perfect complement. We set out with the goal of relying on Him daily to provide all the necessary building materials for constructing our household of faith. It hasn’t always been easy and we’ve messed up plenty of times, but He has always been faithful to provide all we needed.

Along the way we discovered that sometimes building was fun and exhilarating. In the beginning as we were starting new careers, preparing for a life in ministry, and starting a family, things were very fast-paced and exciting. Other times construction became monotonous and tedious. The parenting years often seemed like an endless stream of changing diapers, driving to ball practices, and helping with homework. We found out that at times our project experienced unexpected delays, or proceeded at a pace that left us feeling unprepared. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that our voyage would bring us to Alabama, raising children 700 miles away from our closest family members, but we have been blessed by those who came alongside us in our journey. Our construction site got wonderfully messy when our boys came along, and then it got unexpectedly neat again when they left.

A house is built by wisdom…

Any well-built structure requires a firm foundation. Healthy reverence for our Lord demonstrates godly wisdom, and a home solidly constructed on wisdom is not easily brought down. When we build on this immovable foundation, we are able to sustain even the most dangerous threats to our families. Storms of life may come, but they are not able to shake our faith.

…it is established by understanding…

We develop understanding when we obey God’s commands and discover His truth about how we are to relate to Him and to each other. Our desire to obey points us to the greatest commandment, which is to love our heavenly Father and to love others. It is only when we first love Him that we can truly love each other. 

…by knowledge the rooms are filled…

As we gain knowledge of the things of God, grace and peace naturally flow out to those around us. A growing relationship with God demonstrates for us that we have been given much more than we deserve. We are then more willing to extend our hands and give to others from the abundance of what we have received.

…with every precious and beautiful treasure.

Our households are filled with treasures when we first do the hard work of learning wisdom through revering God, obtaining understanding through following His commands, and gaining knowledge by getting to know God through studying His Word. This last year has unquestionably been among the most difficult of our lives together, but I am still humbled when I think of the precious gifts bestowed on me by my heavenly Father. As Rick and I have faced the sting of loss in the death of loved ones, and the pain of personal disappointment, I have been reminded time and time again of the beautiful treasures God provides through a marriage in which we’ve sought, in our admittedly imperfect humanity, to honor Him. And when we haven’t done it exactly right, His grace has been there to catch us as we stumbled to get back on the right path again.

God gave me a husband who seeks to love the Lord with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength. He is my very best friend and the one to whom I can entrust my whole heart. He is a tender father and a courageous example for our sons. He is an unwavering defender and a gentle shepherd of both our family and the church flock entrusted to him. He is the one God knew I needed before I was even formed in my mother’s womb. A precious senior adult saint told us as we were leaving the church for our honeymoon, “Marriage is a wonderful institution.” Both God’s Word and experience have proven that statement to be true. I’m eager to see what the future holds as we continue to walk through this life together.

Ball Cap Wisdom: Life’s Too Short

I am sure of this, that he who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6

“Life’s too short to dance with ugly women.” Such was the motto emblazoned on the cap of a tow truck driver in Texarkana, Texas in the summer of 1992. I’d seen lots of things on ball caps before…allegiance to a favorite team, preference for a particular beverage, or memorialization of a vacation destination, but nothing like this bit of advice. Unfortunately, we met the man wearing this hat under disappointing circumstances. My husband had completed a challenging year of seminary and I had survived my second year of teaching high school sophomores. Our reward was to be a road trip out to Washington D.C. to visit my sister-in-law and her family. As we set out on our cross country trip from Fairview, Texas at the crack of dawn, the CD player in our car blared “The Great Adventure,” by Steven Curtis Chapman. Having saddled up our horses to blaze a trail, we were stopped dead in our tracks before crossing over into Arkansas.

A horrendous clattering came from the engine of our car, and suddenly our Honda Civic came to a complete halt. We coasted to the side of the road, flagged down a friendly passerby, and hitched a ride to the nearest mechanic. We had the car towed in, and the mechanic described a grim situation to us. Turns out a broken timing belt causes major issues with the engine. We decided our best option was to spend every dime we had saved to have the car towed all the way back home, and eventually have the engine rebuilt. And that was when we met our wise friend with the ball cap.

He was a friendly fellow, and was more than agreeable to drive us four hours back home with the condition that he could bring his wife along. By this point, it was already late in the day, so he understandably wanted company for the ride back home. The driver and his wife, who were both healthy-sized folks, sat on either side of my husband and me in the tiny cab of the truck. We had no hope of escaping the cheerful conversation they offered the whole ride home.“Why wouldn’t they be happy,” I reasoned to myself,  “They’re earning a hefty fee at our expense.” As a pouty twenty-four-year-old, I didn’t feel like talking or being friendly. But that didn’t deter our new acquaintances. They chatted and regaled us with stories the whole drive home. I realize now that I could have used the time better by listening and learning from those who had journeyed farther than I had at that point in my life. I don’t remember now much of what the tow truck driver and his wife said to us that night, but I have since reflected on the general sentiment of the slogan on his ball cap. Life’s too short.

A person’s heart plans his way, but the LORD determines his steps. Proverbs 16:9

Life’s too short to fail to pursue big dreams. My older son will graduate from law school next month. That was a big dream for him. Many late nights and early mornings went into pursuing his dream. I have watched him work hard to obtain this goal, all the while stretching his mind in ways he might have once thought impossible. I can’t wait to see how God uses the fulfillment of this dream for His kingdom purposes. Perhaps you and I have big dreams, too. What’s stopping us from pursuing them? God promises to be faithful in helping us leverage the gifts He has given us to advance His work here on earth if we let Him determine our steps.

Teach us to number our days carefully so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts. Psalm 90:12

Life’s too short to neglect to live with intentionality. I am convinced that many of us go about our daily lives just living moment to moment, not really thinking intentionally about what comes next. Jesus Himself was only on earth for thirty-three years, completing his world-changing, death-defeating ministry in the last three. While nothing we will ever do compares to what he came to accomplish, we should think intentionally about how God would have us use the time He has given us here on earth. We would be wise to have our hearts tuned to Him daily in order to pursue His perfect plan for our lives. I know I’m guilty of wasting way too much time on things that will vanish in an instant. I pray for a heart that would seek after that which will last for eternity.

I give you a new command:  Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. John 13:34

Life’s too short to neglect to express love to other people. I take my loved ones for granted as I hurry through life, knowing they will be there when I finish whatever “urgent” task is staring me down at the moment. Truth is, none of us can be certain when God will call us to our eternal home. What if we took the time each day to make sure the precious ones God has placed in our lives know we love them? A phone call, a text, a handwritten note, or even an unexpected act of kindness goes a long way. It takes time to give of ourselves, but we each have the same 1,440 minutes each day. We just need to choose wisely how to spend it.

Life’s too short to… You fill in the blank. Our friend with the ball cap wisdom really made me think. Life’s definitely too short to disregard the chance encounters God places in our paths. If I could go back, I’d ask the tow truck driver why he chose the slogan he so proudly wore on the front of his cap. Where did he find his joy? What other advice would he give to a pouty twenty-four-year-old riding in the cab of his truck? When we really think about it, life on this earth really is very short. But what about eternity? If we place our faith in Christ, we have an eternity to become the person God wants us to be.

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.