295) Don’t You Wish It Was True?

     Today’s song is not from the 60’s or 70’s, but it is by one of the best songwriters from those years, John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival.  Fogerty began a solo career after CCR broke up in 1972.  He wrote “Don’t You Wish it Was True?” for his 2005 album Revival.  While John Lennon wanted us to imagine how nice it would be without heaven, Fogerty imagines how nice it would be if there was a heaven.

DON’T YOU WISH IT WAS TRUE by John Fogerty

For official video go to:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4cyZvqetODY

I dreamed I walked in heaven just the other night
There was so much beauty, so much light
Don’t you wish it was true?…

An angel took my hand
Said you don’t have to hurry
Got all the time in the world don’t worry
Don’t you wish it was true
Lord don’t you wish it was true

What if tomorrow everybody was your friend
Anyone could take you in
No matter what or where you been
What if tomorrow everybody had enough
The world wasn’t quite so rough
Lord don’t you wish it was true

He said the worlds gonna change and it’s startin’ today
There’ll be no more armies, no more hate
Don’t you wish it was true
Don’t you wish it was true

And all the little children will live happily
There’ll be singin’ and laughter
Sweet harmony
Don’t you wish it was true
Lord don’t you wish it was true

What if tomorrow everybody under the sun
Was happy just to live as one
No borders or battles to be won
What if tomorrow everybody was your friend
Happiness would never end
Lord, Don’t you wish it was true…
Alright!… What a beautiful day!

     John Fogerty is just imagining how nice it would be if this was true, but his song gives a beautiful description of heaven as it is described in the Bible.  In a previous meditation I wrote about our frustration with time.  The song says, “You don’t have to hurry, got all the time in the world, don’t worry.“  Fogerty sings, “What if tomorrow everybody was your friend, anyone could take you in, no matter what, or where you been;” and that is a wonderful description of the Gospel.  When you turn to God, God accepts you no matter what, no matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done.  And then, “No armies, no hate, everyone lives as one, happiness would never end– Don’t you wish it was true?”  There is a longing there not only for more time, but for a better world.  I am  indeed frustrated by the swift passage of time, but I don’t think I’d want to live in this sad world forever.  In fact, I am sometimes getting a little tired of it already.  Our longing is not only for more time, but for a better place, and John Fogerty has written a beautiful song about that longing.  Sadly, I am quite sure that for John Fogerty this is only a wish.  I’ve seen nothing about him in any interviews, or on his website, or anywhere, that even hints at any kind of faith.

     But what is expressed as a mere wish in this song, is a solid hope for those who believe in Jesus.  I did not always believe in this hope of eternal life in heaven.  It is rather incredible to think that a dead body can live again.  But after many questions and much study, I did become convinced of the truth of the New Testament accounts that Jesus, at a specific point and time in history, did rise from the dead; and that he promises the same resurrection for all who believe in him.  That is another story for another day, but this is not just a wish for me, it is a solid hope built on something I believe to be true.  This is not just based on what I have imagined, but but on what I have examined.

     One more thing about this song.  The video that goes with it (see above link) is wonderful.  It goes back and forth between John Fogerty playing the guitar, and a bunch of kids running around, playing on a farm.  Perhaps these are his own grandchildren (he’s 68 now).  I like that, because it has been the kids in my life that make me more than anything wish that time could stand still; first my own kids, and now my grandkids.  Kids have to know who is boss or they can make your life miserable; but then once that is established, kids are wonderful; so cute, so trusting, and so loving.  I love my four grandchildren and they love me, and I wish I could stop the time right now.  They are carefree and fun and so full of the joy of living right now, but I know what is coming for them.  I know how they will grow up, and become teenagers and rebellious.  And I know how they will get hurt and have many troubles, and I worry about them.  Soon they will be adults and then not have any more time for grandma and grandpa.  I know how that goes.  I wish we could just find a good time in life and then hit a pause button.  Kids are at the perfect age for just such a short time, and that time goes by so quickly.  Just like all of life.  

     But in heaven, “All the little children will live happily,” and “you don‘t have to hurry, got all the time in the world, don’t worry; don’t you wish it was true?”

     It is true.  

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Revelation 21:1, 3-5  —  Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea…  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look!  God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.   He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”  Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

John 14:1-3  —  (Jesus said), “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  You believe in God; believe also in me.  My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

John 3:16  —  For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

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Lord Jesus, you have prepared a wonderful place for us.  Prepare us, also, for that place.  Amen.

294) Imagine That

     “Eternity is in our hearts,” was the theme of yesterday’s meditation.  We are frustrated and saddened by the swift passage of time, and the Bible tells us of a place beyond time that God has prepared for us.  But John Lennon was not interested.  In one of the biggest hits of all time Lennon proclaimed a very different message.

IMAGINE by John Lennon

Listen at:    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RwUGSYDKUxU

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace

You, you may say
I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world…

     This song by John Lennon came out in 1971, the year after the Beatles broke up.  Lennon called it as good as anything he had ever done.  Rolling Stone magazine has it at #3 on their list of the 500 all-time greatest hits.  It has a wonderful melody, but one must think carefully about the words.  Just try to imagine, he sings, no heaven and no hell.  And where do we hear about heaven and hell?  From religion; so he adds, imagine ‘no religion, too.’  ‘It’s easy if you try;’ and then, with that nasty old religion out of the way we can all live as one, be at peace, and share.  So what’s the problem?– religion.  Get rid of that and we will be all right.  The wonderful world John Lennon dreams of, a world with no hunger, greed, or killing is possible only by imagining no heaven, no hell, and no religion.  Then we could live only for today and all together in brotherhood.  Who could want anymore than just ‘today?’

     What rings more true for you?– the description of our frustration with time in yesterday’s meditation, or, John Lennon’s Imagine?  I have a friend who has terminal cancer.  He is grateful for every day he gets; but do you know what he would like?  More days.  More time.  And his hope and comfort is in the Christian promise of something more beyond the death that awaits him.  John Lennon might see the hope of heaven as a problem.  But if there is such a thing as heaven, I want to know about it, and, I want to find out whatever I need to know, do, or believe so I can be in on it.  It saddens me to think of those people whose hope for heaven might have been destroyed because this wonderful melody led them to believe these foolish lyrics.

     John Lennon was not only one of the most talented musicians of the 20th century, he was also a world-class smart aleck.  He was always making arrogant and infuriating comments on a wide variety of subjects.  Here is a famous Lennon quote from 1966, a few years before he wrote Imagine:  “Christianity will go…  It will vanish and shrink.  I needn’t argue the point; I’m right and I will be proved right.  We’re more popular than Jesus now.  Jesus was all right, but his disciples were thick and ordinary.”  So there!  Christianity is on its way out and we will all be better off without it.  But I am sure Jesus was thrilled to hear that the great John Lennon approved of him anyway, even though his followers weren’t up to Lennon’s standards.  Actually, despite the church’s many failures, a strong case could be made that it has been the Christians through history who have brought more sharing, peace, and brotherhood to the world than any other movement or group.

     The song wants us to imagine living for today only, with no religion and no hope for heaven.  The song makes this all sound so pleasant and wonderful, but there is, of course, an unpleasant side to such imaginings.  John Lennon could have told the whole truth by adding another verse that could have gone something like this:

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
When you’re dead, you’re dead, that’s all
Nothing to hope for, no where to go
Just a body in a box in the ground, or ashes in a urn
Yoo-hoo, oooohhh

     As for me, I’d rather imagine a heaven, and not only imagine, but examine, and question, to see if it might be really be there.  Tomorrow, we’ll imagine that.

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Ecclesiastes 3:18-20  —  I also said to myself, “As for humans, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals.  Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both:  As one dies, so dies the other.  All have the same breath; humans have no advantage over animals.  Everything is meaningless.  All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.”

James 4:13-15  —  Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”  Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.  What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

John 3:16  —  For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 

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Lord, here we are, do with us as seemeth best in thine own eyes; only give us, we pray, a penitent and patient spirit to expect thee.  Lord, make our service acceptable to thee while we live, and our souls ready for thee when we die.  Amen.  

–William Laud  (1573-1645)

293) Eternity in Our Hearts

THOSE WERE THE DAYS  by Mary Hopkin

Hear it at:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AyaTIXdN5fI

Once upon a time there was a tavern
Where we used to raise a glass or two
Remember how we laughed away the hours
And think of all the great things we would d0.

Chorus:
Those were the days, my friend
We thought they’d never end
We’d sing and dance forever and a day
We’d live the life we choose
We’d fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way

Then the busy years went rushing by us
We lost our starry notions on the way
If by chance I’d see you in the tavern
We’d smile at one another and we’d say

Chorus (2):
Those were the days, my friend
We thought they’d never end
We’d sing and dance forever and a day
We’d live the life we choose
We’d fight and never lose
Those were the days
Oh, yes, those were the days

Just tonight I stood before the tavern
Nothing seemed the way it used to be
In the glass I saw a strange reflection
Was that lonely woman really me?  Chorus…

Through the door there came familiar laughter
I saw your face and heard you call my name
Oh, my friend, we’re older but no wiser
For in our hearts the dreams are still the same.  Chorus…

     Those Were the Days is based on a Russian song written over 80 years ago.  It was translated by an Englishman Gene Raskin, and sung by Welsh singer Mary Hopkin.  It rose to #2 on the American charts in 1968.  I can still remember hearing that song at a party in 1968 and thinking, “Someday I will be looking back on these days, just like the songs says.”  Now I am.

     The song sings of the swift passage of years, the dying of dreams, and the sharing of memories with old friends.  You don’t have to be very old to begin relating to some of that.  I once heard a 12-year-old saying how Christmas wasn’t as much fun as ‘when he was a kid.’  Twelve years old, and he was already missing the good old days.

     This is a sad song, and you have probably felt that same sadness.  She catches herself in the mirror; ‘in the glass I saw a strange reflection, was that lonely woman really me?’  I once saw the reflection of a chubby old guy in a big store window, and then was unpleasantly surprised to realize it was me.  ‘Am I looking that old?,’ I wondered.  In the song she has abandoned her dreams and plans; ‘we lost our starry notions on the way.’  When you are in your 20’s you have big plans for the future, and then, before you know it, you find yourself thinking about how to wind it down.  You graduate from high school and think, ‘Oh boy, I am going to do this and that, and I am going to go here and there, and do a whole bunch of other stuff someday;” and then pretty soon it’s “Well, too late for this, and, no time for that, anymore.”

     We can all relate to this song because we all have the same basic frustration with time.   We never have enough of it, it goes by too fast, and, we are always so surprised by its passage.  “Was that two years ago already?,” we ask.  Or, “It still seems like 2013 was just beginning, and here it is 2014.”   Or on every birthday, “Wow, 59 years old!  Where did all that time go?”  We all know the feeling– even the 12 year olds.  We look back longingly on the good old days, we are irritated by the swift passage of time, and we have anxiety about the shrinking future ahead of us.  But WHY?, we should ask ourselves.  Why do we have such a problem with time?  Why does it surprise us and bother us and scare us?  Why can’t we just be content to live in the moment, like our dogs?  We fuss and fret about the past that is gone, and we are anxious and worried about a future we may not even be here for.  Why does our heart ache when we hear a song like Those Were the Days?

     The Biblical answer, which makes a lot of sense to me, is that we were not made for the confines of a few years.  We were not created to die at all.  And so our frustration with time is that our hearts were made for eternity, and we just cannot get used to the fact that time will end for us.  We can deny that fact, ignore it, and seek all sorts of diversions; but every once in a while the blinders come off and we grow sad.  We hear of a tragic accident, we lose a loved one, we get an unfavorable report from the doctor, or, we hear a song about the good old days; and we sigh and say “Is this all there is?– Can it really be going by so quickly?”

     In the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve rebelled against God by eating from the one tree in the garden that was forbidden, and they were then cast out of the Garden.  But there was another, far better, tree in the garden from which to eat.  Genesis 2:9 says, “The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground, trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”  In verse 16 God says, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden, (including that tree of life) but (God said) you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”  But Adam and Eve did eat of that forbidden tree, and they were cast out of the garden with these words from God in 3:22:  “‘The man has now become like one of us knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take from the tree of life and live forever.’  So the Lord banished them…”  Did you get that?  God made us so we could eat from the tree of life and live forever.  We weren’t made for 80 years, we were made to live forever, so it is not going to feel right to live within such limits.

     Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, “God has made everything beautiful in its time.  He has also set eternity in the hearts of men.”  Eternity is in our hearts.  This longing points us beyond this limited life and this little world to the God that is above and beyond all time and space. We are made in the image of God, says Genesis; and we have eternity in our hearts, says Ecclesiastes; and that is why we can never reconcile ourselves to the swift passage of time.  The problem is we are homesick, homesick for Eden, a place we have never been, but the place for which our hearts were made.  And God invites us, by faith, into the new Eden he has prepared for us in heaven.  The tree of life from Genesis, the first book in the Bible, appears again in Revelation, the last book of the Bible.  It will be there that the eternal life we were created for will be restored.

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Ecclesiastes 3:11  —  God has made everything beautiful in its time.  He has also set eternity in the hearts of men.

Genesis 3:22-23  —  The Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil.  He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”  So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.

Revelation 2:7  —  Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.

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Teach us to number our days, O Lord, so that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.  Amen.

 –Psalm 90:12

292) I Like That Old Time Rock and Roll

OLD-TIME ROCK AND ROLL  by Bob Seger

Hear it at:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=62diHTKQ-N8

Just take those old records off the shelf
I’ll sit and listen to ’em by myself
Today’s music ain’t got the same soul
I like that old time rock and roll

Don’t try to take me to a Disco
You’ll never even get me out on the floor
In 10 minutes I’ll be late for the door
I like that old time rock and roll

(Chorus) Still like that old time rock and roll
That kinda music just soothes the soul
I reminisce about the days of old
With that old time rock and roll

Won’t go to hear ’em play a Tango
I’d rather hear some blues or funky old soul
There’s only one sure way to get me to go
Start playin’ old time rock and roll

Call me a relic call me what’cha will
Say I’m old fashioned say I’m over the hill
Today’s music ain’t got the same soul
I like that old time rock and roll. (Chorus)

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     What a great tune and what great words!– a Rock and Roll song about the good old days of Rock and Roll.  But think about it.  Bob Seger wrote that song in 1977– 37 years ago; and way back then he was already looking back on the good old days.  The Baby Boomers are getting old (see photo below)!

     And I do agree with the song: ‘I like that old time rock and roll,’ and ‘I’ll sit and listen all by myself,’ and ‘Today’s music ain’t got the same soul.’  But there is one line that I don’t agree with.  In the refrain Seger says ‘that kind of music just soothes the soul,’ but I don’t think it can do that.  Even though Classic Rock can be very good at pointing out what is wrong in your soul, it seldom offers anything that will really and truly soothe the soul.  I do love those old songs and they can do a lot for me.  That music can bring back old memories and put me in a good mood, it can wind me up and it calm me down, it can give me a sense of well-being and it can inspire me, and it can even make me want to ‘twist and shout’ (remember that one?).  But those things are all on the surface of life, and while they are all important and enjoyable aspects of our lives, they don’t go all the way down into your soul.  This music cannot touch that soul of yours in any significant way.  Your soul is the deepest part of you, it is the eternal part of you, and not even the good old Rock and Roll tunes can soothe that.  That requires something more.

     Our deepest problem, that which is at the root of all our other problems and needs, is that we will die.  There is only one thing that can soothe our soul’s anxiety about that, and that is Jesus.  The only one who can really ‘soothe your soul’ is the one who gave you your soul.  St. Augustine prayed, “Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they rest in you.”  I don’t get that kind of rest or peace of mind from Rock and Roll, but only from the Rock of Ages.  The body and the mind, and the ears that hear the music, will last only a little while.  But the soul lasts for all eternity, and so we must know and look to that eternal hope we have in Jesus.  Jesus once said (John 14:27):  “I give you peace, the kind of peace that only I can give. It isn’t like the peace that this world can give.  So don’t be worried or afraid.”  Those are the words that can truly ‘soothe your soul,’ and we hear them from Jesus and no one else.  Music is a real blessing and delight, but the pleasure of it, like life itself, lasts only so long.

     A friend of mine was at a concert in the Twin Cities.  He said it was a good concert, but he was disappointed that the performer used his platform to mock Jesus and make fun of Christianity.  And then the performer said an interesting thing.  He said, “Music will save you.”  What he seemed to be saying, in the context of his other remarks, was that you do not need Jesus to save you because music can do that.  Really?  Can music do that?  Save you? In what way?  It can, perhaps, soothe you and help you bear the burdens of this brief life in this sad world for a little while.  But the Christian message is that Jesus saves you by giving you a new life that is not brief, but eternal, in a new world that is not sad, but perfect.  No music can do that.

     That musician was not a Christian.  Neither was the ancient playwright Euripides, but he had more sense.  Euripides died 400 years before Jesus was born.  He wrote these words in the play Medea:

It is right, I think, to consider
Both stupid and lacking in foresight
Those poets of old who wrote songs
For parties and dinners and banquets,
Pleasant sounds for men living at ease;
But not one of them has discovered
How to put to an end to grief
with their singing and musical instruments;
Bitter grief, from which death and disaster
Cheat the hopes of a house. Yet how good
If music could cure men of this!…

     Everyone experiences what Euripides describes as that “Bitter grief from which death and disaster cheat the hopes of house.”  And then not even the old time rock and roll can soothe your soul.  Euripides asks how one can put an end to grief.  Poetry and music cannot do it, he says.  

     Something else is needed.

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John 14:27–  (Jesus said), “I give you peace, the kind of peace that only I can give.  It isn’t like the peace that this world can give.   So don’t be worried or afraid.” 

Matthew 11:28-30  —  (Jesus said), “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Psalm  119:50  — My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life. 

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O Lord, never allow us to think we can stand by ourselves and not need you, our greatest need.

–John Donne

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Bob Seger today (age 68)

291) Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me

     My first classic song from the 60’s is Rock of Ages.  Actually, this one is from not the 1960’s, but the 1760’s.  Rock of Ages was written in 1763 by Augustus Montague Toplady (1740-1778), and was first published in 1775.  The story is that Toplady got his inspiration for the hymn when he was caught in a thunderstorm walking on the road one night on the way to his home in the village of Blagdon in England.  There is a rocky gorge along that road, and he took refuge from the storm in a crevasse, or ‘cleft,’ in the rocky cliff.  The safe refuge he received there reminded him of the refuge we have in the Lord our God, as it says in Psalm 18:2:  “The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,” and so he wrote “Rock of Ages, Cleft for me.”

     The Rock of Ages, Burrington Combe where

Augustus Toplady is reputed to have sheltered from a storm.

     There are many other verses that refer to God as the Rock of our salvation.  In Psalm 95:1-2 this image of God as our rock is linked with music:  “Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.  Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.”  The old hymns are great at praising the Lord, our ‘Rock of Ages.’  Most Classic Rock does not praise God, but it often does raise the questions that are answered by faith in God.  Rock (and Roll) of Ages, my title for these meditations, blends those two themes from Psalm 95– ‘the Rock of our Salvation,’ and, ‘music and song.’

     The words to that great old hymn are included below as today’s prayer.  The last verse, as in many of the old hymns, refers to the last things– death and the promise of eternal life.  That will be the main theme in these meditations.  There are many other Biblical topics we can find in rock music:  lifestyle and obedience, love and relationships, true gods and false gods (or priorities) and more.  I may, at times, get into some of those other themes.  But for now the focus will be on the themes of life and death and eternity.

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Psalm 18:2  —  The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge.

Psalm 95:1-2  —  Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.  Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.

Psalm 62:7  —  My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge.

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Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure;
Cleanse me from its guilt and power.

Not the labors of my hands
Can fulfill thy law’s commands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and thou alone.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to thee for dress;
Helpless, look to thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.

While I draw this fleeting breath,
When mine eyes shall close in death,
When I soar to worlds unknown,
See thee on thy judgment throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in thee.

290) Rock (and Roll) of Ages

        I feel sorry for kids these days– and by kids I mean anyone younger than 50 years old.  I feel sorry for them because they missed out on all the best music.  These poor kids did not get the chance to grow up with great music like we more fortunate Baby Boomers.  When we were young, terrific songs were coming out all the time by the Beach Boys, the Beatles, Chicago, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Three Dog Night, the Rolling Stones, and so many more– all at once for about a dozen years in the 1960’s and early 70’s.  We didn’t even need to buy the music.  Everything on the radio was great.

     Not only do I feel sorry for the kids, I also feel sorry for the Baby Boomers (those born 1946-1965) because the 60’s were a long time ago, and we are getting old.  Even though we grew up with the best music a kid could want, we aren’t kids anymore.  Many of the Boomers, therefore, are now doing some serious thinking about life and death and what God says about what comes next.  When the body starts to wear out, one does start to think about the soul a little more.  

     A couple of years ago I did a seminar at my church called Rock (and Roll) of Ages.  This is what I put in the church bulletin to announce it:

THE GOSPEL FOR BABY BOOMERS

     Are you feeling like you just “can’t get no satisfaction?”  Does it seem sometimes that people are treating you like “nothin’ but a hound dog?”  Does it look as if there might be a “bad moon rising” in your life?  This day might be just what you need to “soothe your soul” so you can start “feelin’ groovy” again.  Come and “reminisce about the days of old with some old time rock and roll.”  Each session will begin with a song from the 60’s or 70’s.  Pastor Leon (an aging Baby Boomer himself) will then use the lyrics from that song to reflect on what the Bible says about the “Spirit in the sky” (our ‘Rock of Ages’); and why you “gotta have a friend in Jesus,” so that “when you die, and they lay you to rest, you can go to the place that’s the best.”  In other words, the music will serve as a springboard into a somewhat off-the-wall look at what it means to believe in Jesus, both for now and for ever.  (NOTE to youngsters:  “words in quotes” are lyrics from old songs.)
     The style of music will probably appeal more to Boomers than to other age groups; but if you are younger, come and see what you missed; and if you are older, you can learn something about the music your kids were always playing way too loud.  It is hoped that everyone will get new insights into how the Gospel of Jesus Christ meets the needs and longings expressed in this music.  There are great lines in some of these old songs, words you may have missed back then.  I’ll play the songs, and then we’ll discuss how the Bible speaks to the questions raised.  Even if you aren’t into Classic Rock, our look at these songs will illustrate a way of listening to and thinking about all kinds of music in light of our faith.

     Over the next few weeks, several of the EmailMeditations will be taken from that seminar.  I will also do a few other meditations based on other kinds of music, along with continuing the usual hodgepodge of meditations from a wide variety of other sources.  Lyrics for each song will be printed in the meditation, along with providing links to music videos whenever possible.

     Music, like nothing else, has a way of getting not only into your ears, but also into your head and into your heart.  It can influence, even determine, what you believe, and we need to be very careful about that.  There are many types of music, and we can’t look at everything.  Classic Rock is the music I know something about, and it will help me say what I want to say.  And then, I hope, these meditations can serve to help you learn how to listen to whatever kind of music you like, and discern the what is true and what is not true, and what may be harmful to your soul.  We can then still enjoy the music, while at the same time disregarding (or affirming) its message.

     One more thing must be said.  Even though that ‘old time rock and roll’ was in many ways just great, the 1960’s did a lot of damage to our culture, and the music contributed.  So to talk about how wonderful the music was back then makes me more than a little uneasy, because a lot of those songs did much to unravel the fabric of our society and worse yet, to undermine our Christian faith.  Many of the lyrics reflected a morality far removed from the teachings of Jesus, and the rockers themselves were usually not very good role models.  A lot of the songs were way too positive on drugs, sex, and irresponsibility; and way too negative on the USA, authority, and religion.  The tunes were often great, the words often were not, and the overall ‘drugs, sex, and rock and roll’ scene was a mess.  But the music could still be very good at raising the big questions of life; for example, questions like ‘why can’t I get no satisfaction?’  The songs were good at pointing out the emptiness of not only the lives of the writer’s parents, but also their own lives; and, the despair of life without God, even if they seldom acknowledged that was their problem.  And sometimes– not very often– but sometimes, the music even pointed to the answer.  It did this all in a fun, entertaining way, and it became so influential was because it was so very good.  And of course, a lot of the music wasn’t at all wicked, but just plain fun.  We do, however, always need to listen with a critical ear.

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 Job 34:3-4  —  For the ear tests words as the tongue tastes food.  Let us discern for ourselves what is right; let us learn together what is good.

 Romans 12:2  —  Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Philippians 4:8  —  Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 

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Save us, Lord, while waking, and guard us while sleeping, that awake we may watch with Christ, and asleep we may rest in peace.  Amen.  –Roman Breviary

289) Honoring Our Father

By James Mulholland, Praying Like Jesus: The Lord’s Prayer in a Culture of Prosperity, Harper Collins, © 2011, pages 36-38.

     One day, after we had visited with my grandfather, I heard my father comment to my mother, “I hope I can be as good a man as my father.”  Sitting in the backseat of our car, I thought, “I want to be as good a man as my dad.”  A good parent is always an attractive model for their children.  Paul wrote, “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love” (Ephesians 5:1).  Whenever I claim God as father, I also accept the responsibility to be like him.  Jesus taught his disciples to pray with intimacy and responsibility.

     I grew up in a small town where everyone knew my grandfather, Spencer, and my father, Royal.  This was an advantage when I walked into the bank as a young man and asked for a loan.  The bank officer looked at my long hair and torn jeans with obvious suspicion.  But when I told him my name, he smiled and said, “You must be Spencer’s grandson and Royal’s boy.  I think we can help you.”  He gave me the amount I requested without any further question.

     Of course, if I had profaned that blessing and defaulted on the loan, I would have abused my relationship with my father and grandfather.  I would have dishonored our family.  When those of us who are blessed by God fail to imitate his character and compassion, we dishonor God.  When we have the audacity to pray “Our Father,” we must also have the courage to live as his children.

     I remember occasions when I was tempted to do something I knew was wrong.  In those moments, I was restrained by the thought, “I don’t want to bring any shame or embarrassment to my grandfather or to my father.”  What I wanted most was for people to see the good things I was doing and to tell my grandfather or father, “I saw your boy the other day.”  I wanted nothing more than to make them proud.

     What makes God proud?  It isn’t rigid compliance with religious rules and ordinances.  Jesus was critical of those ‘who strain out gnats and swallow camels.’  It isn’t magnificent religious rituals and ceremonies.  Jesus spent more time eating with sinners than sacrificing at the Temple.  It isn’t religious organization and efficiency.  Jesus collected a ragtag group of religious “nobodies” and societal rejects…

     When Jesus was asked to name the greatest commandment, he answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”  This is the first and greatest commandment” (Matthew 22:37-38).  Intimacy with God should be our greatest desire.  Without this intimacy, we are left to live for ourselves alone.

     Then Jesus added, “The second (commandment) is like it; ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:39).  In so doing, Jesus moved us from intimacy to responsibility.  The primary responsibility of the children of God is to love their neighbors.

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Matthew 6:9 — (Jesus said), “This, then, is how you should pray:  ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name…’”

Ephesians 5:1-2a — Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us… 

Matthew 22:35-39 — One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:  “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”  Jesus replied:  “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it:  ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

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Almighty and most merciful God, grant that by the indwelling of your Holy Spirit we may be enlightened and strengthened for your service; and, forasmuch as without you we are not able to please you, mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

288) The Limits of Experiencing God in Nature

By C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, 1952

     I remember once when I had been giving a talk to the R.A.F., an old, hard-bitten officer got up and said, “I’ve no use for all that stuff.  But, mind you, I’m a religious man too. I know there’s a God. I’ve felt Him:  out alone in the desert at night: the tremendous mystery.  And that’s just why I don’t believe all your neat little dogmas and formulas about Him.  To anyone who’s met the real thing they all seem so petty and pedantic and unreal!”

     Now in a sense I quite agreed with that man.  I think he had probably had a real experience of God in the desert.  And when he turned from that experience to the Christian creeds, I think he really was turning from something real to something less real.  In the same way, if a man has once looked at the Atlantic from the beach, and then goes and looks at a map of the Atlantic, he also will be turning from something real to something less real:  turning from real waves to a bit of colored paper.  But here comes the point.  The map is admittedly only colored paper, but there are two things you have to remember about it.  In the first place, it is based on what hundreds and thousands of people have found out by sailing the real Atlantic. In that way it has behind it masses of experience just as real as the one you could have from the beach; only, while yours would be a single glimpse, the map fits all those different experiences together.  In the second place, if you want to go anywhere, the map is absolutely necessary.  As long as you are content with walks on the beach, your own glimpses are far more fun than looking at a map.  But the map is going to be more use than walks on the beach if you want to get to America.

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Psalm 19:1-4  —  The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.  Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.  They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them.  Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.

Psalm 119:105  —  Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.

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A PSALM OF PRAISE

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!  You have set your glory in the heavens.

Through the praise of children and infants
    you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.

When I consider your heavens,
    the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
    which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them?

 You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor.

You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
    you put everything under their feet:

 all flocks and herds,
    and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky,
    and the fish in the sea,
    all that swim the paths of the seas.

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

–Psalm 8

287) It is Useless

     The story is told of an old man who lived on a farm in the hills of Kentucky with his young grandson.  Each morning, grandpa was up early, sitting at the kitchen table reading from his old Bible.  His grandson, who wanted to be just like his grandfather, imitated him in any way he could, and so he too would sit there and try to read out of the Bible.

     One day the grandson said, “Grandpa, I try to read the Bible just like you, but I don’t understand it, and what I do understand I forget as soon as I close the book.  So what good is it to read the Bible?”  The grandfather, quietly turned from putting the coal in the stove and said, “Take this black old wicker coal basket down to the river and bring back a basket of water.”  The boy didn’t think that would work to carry water in a wicker basket, but he did as he was told.  And just as he expected, all the water leaked out of the basket before he could get back to the house.  The grandfather laughed and said, “Well, you will just have to move a little faster next time,” and he sent him back to the river to try again.  This time the boy ran faster, but once again, the old wicker basket was empty before he returned home.

     Out of breath, the boy exclaimed to his grandfather that it was impossible to carry water in a wicker basket, and offered to get a metal bucket instead.  But the old man said, “I don’t want a bucket of water, I want a basket of water.  Why can’t you do this one little thing for your old grandpa?  You’re just not trying hard enough.”  Well, it’s a good thing that that boy loved his grandfather, because even though he was getting very frustrated with the old man, he was obedient, and again did as he was told.

     Grandpa went out onto the porch to watch the boy make yet another attempt.  At this point, the boy knew it was impossible, but with his grandfather watching, he was determined to show him that even if he ran as fast as he could, the water would all leak out before he got even close to the house.  He scooped the water out of the river and took off running hard, but when he reached the porch the basket was again empty.  “See grandpa,” he said, all out of breath, “It is useless!”

     “So you think it is useless,” the old man said.  “Well, just take a look at that basket.”  The boy looked at the basket and for the first time he realized that the basket looked different.  No longer was it the blackened by the coal dust.  Now it was clean and back to its original tan color.

     “Son,” said the grandfather, “that’s what happens when you read the Bible.  You might not understand or remember anything, and you might not be able to hold it all in your mind, no more than that wicker basket could hold the water.  But as you read the Bible, it changes you, it cleanses you, and it works on you from the inside out.  God’s Word will do you a world of good as it passes through your mind, even if all the facts and all the verses don’t stay in there but run right on out, just like water out of a wicker basket.”

     There is much to be known about the Christian faith, but not very much that one has to know.  There is enough in the Bible for a lifetime of study, and many people have spent their entire lives studying it.  But most people have had to spend most of their time doing other things, and have not been able to make such a lifelong in-depth study.  Not only that, but some people are gifted readers and learners and can remember what they read and study.  And many others are like the little boy– they sincerely want to make a good effort, but just cannot remember very much of what they hear or read.  God has given different people differing abilities and talents, and God does not expect everyone to know everything in the Bible.  We are saved by faith, says the Bible time and again, by what we believe, and NOT by how much we know.  And Romans 10 says that faith comes by hearing the Word of God– by hearing it again and again and again.  Even if you don’t remember it all, even if you may not be a reader or student, and even if you would get a D- on a test on Biblical knowledge, you can still have faith, a faith given and sustained by the hearing of God’s Word.  That is what grandpa was trying to teach his grandson with the wicker coal basket.  It seemed useless to the boy to keep going down to the river to get water in a basket which just could not hold water long enough.  I have had confirmation students that no matter what I would do to try and help them learn their lessons, their heads were just not made to hold very much book learning.  But some of those kids who did the poorest on tests, had a deeper faith than some others who, with just a little study, would know all the answers.  Knowledge and faith are two different things, and even if the truths of God’s Word do not stay in one’s memory, one’s faith is kept alive and strengthened by the ongoing hearing of it.  Therefore, God has commanded that we hear it.  And just as the basket was cleansed by the water that passed through it, our faith is strengthened and our hearts are cleansed by the Word that passes in, and sometimes, right out of one’s mind.

     You may not remember everything said in every sermon, or everything you read in the Bible.  But as Grandpa said about going to get water in the basket, it isn’t useless.  Facts may not accumulated, knowledge may not be built up, and after a lifetime of going to church you might still be hesitant to speak up in a Bible study.  But that doesn’t mean listening to God’s Word has been useless.  God has promised to be in that Word, and so the hearing of it is not useless.  Rather, faith in his eternal promises is created and sustained by just such seemingly useless listening.

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Isaiah 55:10-12a  —  As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish…, so it is with my Word that goes out from my mouth.  It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it…

II Timothy 3:14-15  —  But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

II Timothy 3:16-17  —  All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

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O gracious God and most merciful Father, you have given us the rich and precious jewel of your holy Word.  Assist us with your Spirit, that it may be written in our hearts to our everlasting comfort, to reform us, to renew us according to your image, to build us up into the perfect building of Christ, and to increase us in all heavenly virtues.  Grant this, O heavenly Father, for Jesus Christ’s sake.  Amen.  –Geneva Bible, 1560

286) Don’t Worry, Be Happy

The primary part of today’s meditation is from Randy Alcorn’s blog on January 20, 2014, entitled Three Things We Can Do to Deal with Worry (see:  www.epm.org )

     The Greek word for worry means literally “to divide the mind.”  The worried mind is a torn, and therefore worn, mind…  Ironically, much of our worry is unrealistic.  We “catastrophize” by making the worst of situations and anticipating the worst possible outcome.  Montaigne, the French philosopher, put it this way:  “My life has been full of terrible misfortunes– most of which have never happened.”

     Much worry comes from carrying today the burdens of yesterday and the dreads of tomorrow.  This is unnecessary and unhealthy.  Lessons from the past can be learned without living in it.  We can plan for the future without dwelling on it.  Now is all we have.  Let’s invest it, enjoy it, profit from it.  Let’s not lose it to worry.

     The most striking characteristic of worry is its absolute powerlessness.  No tornado has been stopped, no drought averted, no plane crash prevented; no child was kept from falling off his bike, no teenager kept from skipping classes or trying drugs; no heart attacks have ever been avoided through worry (though a great number have no doubt been caused by it).

     My brother was missing for seven years.  I loved him and was deeply concerned for him and his well-being.  I had to face the possibility of many unpleasant outcomes, including his death.  When my concern degenerated into worry, I had to remind myself that my worry would not do him one shred of good, and it would do me and my family considerable harm.  That realization relieved me of the sense of obligation to worry, and freed me to move on.  I was overjoyed when, in an act of providence, God reunited me with my brother.  But no matter what had happened, my worry would have accomplished nothing.  Prayer matters, love matters, but worry matters only in a negative sense.

     Of course, many things do merit our attention.  Concern for our family can help us take action to enhance their safety.  But concern is not worry.  While concern spurs us to take productive, positive steps, worry is a counter-productive and unhealthy reaction that inhibits constructive action.  So how can we deal with worry?

     #1. Rehearse God’s past acts of faithfulness to you.  Recount how He provided for you in difficult times.  Will He let you down now?  Of course not!

Praise the Lord, O my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits.  –Psalm 103: 1–2

     #2. Count your blessings, not your burdens.  You’ll find you have much to be thankful for.  Worry rarely takes root in a thankful heart.

     #3. Bring your worries to God in prayer.

Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you.  –Psalm 55:22

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.  –1 Peter 5:7

     There are several directions we can cast our worries.  We can cast them on ourselves, creating guilt, fear, depression, fatigue, ulcers, and illnesses.  We can cast our worries on others in a negative way, in anger and resentment.  This will alienate them from us, and likely contribute to their worries while not alleviating ours.  But we can share our burdens with others in a positive way.  “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).  Best of all, we can do what Psalm 55:22 and 1 Peter 5:7 tell us to do– cast our cares on the Lord.  His heart is infinitely big and His shoulders are infinitely broad.  Philippians 4:4–7 says it all:  “Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again:  Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all.  The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

     Long ago there was a stress expert who never charged for his lectures and whose convention centers were the dusty roads and green fields of the countryside.  This is what He said about worry.  Though many have tried, no one has ever improved on it:  “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.  Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not much more valuable than they?  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?  And why do you worry about clothes?  See how the lilies of the field grow.  They do not labor or spin.  Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?  So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’  or ‘What shall we drink?’  or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.”  –Jesus in Matthew 6:25–34

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Just for the fun of it, here is Bobby McFerrin’s Don’t Worry, Be Happy which went to #1 on the charts in September of 1988:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yv-Fk1PwVeU

Bobby McFerrin

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AN EVENING PRAYER: O God, who hast drawn over weary day the restful veil of night, enfold us in thy heavenly peace.  Lift from our hands our tasks, and bear in thy bosom the weight of our burdens and sorrows; that in untroubled slumber we may press our weariness close to thy strength, and win from thee new power for the morrow’s labors; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Service Book and Hymnal, 1958, Augsburg Publishing House