Saturday Song: Now I Belong to Jesus

After reading this post from Desiring God, I felt inspired to play some old hymns that I haven’t sung or played for quite a while. I couldn’t help but smile fondly at the hymnal when I pulled it from my piano bag. I remember reading some of my first words out of a hymnal like this… but this one was mine.

Without looking, I can tell this book apart from its hymnal twin in my bag, just by the feel of the cover. I have been playing out of this little book for 20 years now. I know how each page falls open and where each dog-eared hymn is. The margins are full of my notes. It is full of the songs that helped raise me. It’s been my companion at funerals and weddings, at Christmas programs and my grandma’s living room. When I play the old hymns, I hear the voices who used to sing with me harmonizing with the notes – sweet echoes from the past.

As dear as this little hymnal and the memories are to me, the words in it remind me of a deeper affection. A longing that is universal: to belong. Not just to fit in to a temporary group or fragile social structure, but to belong securely, completely, forever.

Tonight the little hymnal reminded me that I belong to one who is more constant than the most faithful companion ever could be.

Jesus my Lord will love me forever, from him no pow’r of evil can sever; He gave his life to ransom my soul- now I belong to him!

Once I was lost in sin’s degradation, Jesus came down to bring me salvation; Lifted me up from sorrow and shame- now I belong to him!

Joy floods my soul, for Jesus has saved me, Freed me from sin that long had enslaved me; His precious blood he gave to redeem- now I belong to him!

Now I belong to Jesus, Jesus belongs to me. Not for the years of time alone, but for eternity.

…You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefather, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 1 Peter 18-19

Swirling Clouds and Songs

Great is Your Steadfast Love

Psalm 86 — A Psalm of David

1 Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me,
    for I am poor and needy.
Preserve my life, for I am godly;
    save your servant, who trusts in you—you are my God.
Be gracious to me, O Lord,
    for to you do I cry all the day.
Gladden the soul of your servant,
    for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.
For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
    abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.
Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer;
    listen to my plea for grace.
In the day of my trouble I call upon you,
    for you answer me.

There is none like you among the gods, O Lord,
    nor are there any works like yours.
All the nations you have made shall come
    and worship before you, O Lord,
    and shall glorify your name.
10 For you are great and do wondrous things;
    you alone are God.
11 Teach me your way, O Lord,
    that I may walk in your truth;
    unite my heart to fear your name.
12 I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,
    and I will glorify your name forever.
13 For great is your steadfast love toward me;
    you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.

14 O God, insolent men have risen up against me;
    a band of ruthless men seeks my life,
    and they do not set you before them.
15 But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious,
    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
16 Turn to me and be gracious to me;
    give your strength to your servant,
    and save the son of your maidservant.
17 Show me a sign of your favor,
    that those who hate me may see and be put to shame
    because you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.

In an Instant

He loads the thick cloud with moisture; the clouds scatter his lightning.  They turn around and around by his guidance, to accomplish all that he commands them on the face of the habitable world.  Whether for correction or for his land or for love, he causes it to happen. Job 37:11-13

It was sudden.  Even with sirens, there was no warning for what was about to happen. 200+ mph winds. Shattering glass. Roaring thunder. Pitch blackness.  Crying people. Leveled buildings.

And God’s amazing mercy.

This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life. Psalm 119:50

February 5, 2008

The first storm came that afternoon.

The forecasts warned of such strong storms that the city’s public schools let out early.  I was four days into student teaching.  My cooperating teacher and I were on the phone calling the numbers on our students’ information sheets to tell a parent – in Spanish – that school was closing early because of the bad weather.  The buses were leaving in 20 minutes.  Would someone be at home to let the child in?

As the children left, I held the door open for a group of second graders on their way to the bus. Wind gusts howled around the corners of the building and thunder stormed overhead from this, the first storm.  A little girl threw her arms around my waist, looked up with big brown eyes and asked, “Are we gonna be OK?” “Of course you are, baby,” I smiled at her. “But, you are gonna get awfully wet if you don’t go on.”  She laughed and move on.  The nagging truth of what I didn’t tell her settled in to my stomach.  I didn’t know if we were going to be okay, as we’d like to think of it.  It wasn’t my promise; it wasn’t her promise.

What was our promise that day? Safety? Preservation of possessions? Is it only with those realities we can say that God is good?

The First Song

Two songs stand out in my mind. The first was the last song I heard before the second storm came with its lasting changes.  On my drive back to my dorm room, Mark Shultz’s voice sang out,

You never said it would be easy, but you said you’d see me through the storm…

And even though I’m walkin’ through
The valley of the shadow
I will hold tight to the hand of Him whose love will comfort me
And when all hope is gone
And I’ve been wounded in the battle
He is all the strength that I will ever need

He will carry me…

“I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)  That was my promise.  I could plan, and prepare, and pray, knowing that at every second my God would be with me.  He would be with me for one of two ends: either to preserve my life or to bring me safely from this life into His presence.

The Second Storm

A little over three hours later, the sirens were going off.

In fact, they’d been going off for fifteen minutes.  Eight of us girls sat in the downstairs dorm bathroom (with our homework of choice), reading, talking, laughing.  Two other girls sat in the living room just outside the bathroom.  We’d been through this before.  The siren would run its course and nothing would happen.

Then we heard a train.

The lights flickered.

Our ears started popping.

We yelled for the other two girls to get in the bathroom just as they jumped in.  One of the girls slammed the door shut as the power went out and the windows exploded.

I remember when I first discovered how fast thoughts are.

I was a little girl trying to see how many thoughts I could think before four seconds went by on the microwave timer.  The tornado seemed to last an eternity, but it probably only took a matter of seconds.  I wish I could say that I wasn’t afraid when I heard the train coming, but I was.  It got louder – sounding more like ten trains – then even louder, until it sounded like nothing I’ve heard before or since.  It felt as if the sound were vibrating through every organ, bone, and muscle in my body. The wall I was leaning against for protection shook from the tornado’s fury.

Surely I had mere seconds left to live.  For a moment, I was filled with awe that the time had come.  I was going to see my Maker’s face!  I had waited for this for most of my life!  Then, I remembered what might happen in those intervening moments.

And I was afraid… afraid die in a building torn apart by a tornado.

Then I felt a voice say, “But then you will never hurt again.”  I felt courage from that.  That was my promise.

A couple seconds later, the tornado was gone.  I was still there, and so was the dorm.

It was so dark in the bathroom that we could not see one another.  We called family members to let them know we were okay. We prayed. We cried. We sang to our God because He had saved us.

Then we heard the news being shouted from outside. “Hurt and Watters are gone!

Five simple words, but I couldn’t understand them.  How could two entire residence complexes – fourteen dorm buildings – be gone?  On our evacuation route we soon saw with our own eyes.  The tornado had gone right through both complexes.  The buildings that weren’t leveled were missing walls and roofs. People were trapped in the rubble.  Paramedics were loading students into ambulances.  Surely dozens of our friends were dead.

Was God still good?

The Second Song

And in the end, the end is
Oceans and oceans
Of love and love again
We’ll see how the tears that have fallen
Were caught in the palms
Of the Giver of love and the Lover of all
And we’ll look back on these tears as old tales.

‘Cause after the last plan fails
After the last siren wails…
There is love.

Andrew Peterson, After the last tear falls.

The second song softly played over the speakers of the van as we drove back to the university the next morning.

The EF-4 tornado had gone through the rest of the town, and the morning light revealed the damage left behind.  Whole houses were gone.  Roofs had been lifted off and set down in a neighboring yard.  Debris lay everywhere.  Cars were flipped upside down and dragged across parking lots.

The view behind my dorm

At Union that day, search and rescue crews went through the rubble of the damaged dorm buildings.  Around mid-morning we got the news that everyone had been accounted for… and no one at Union had died.  Did this mean God was good?  Was that the proof of God’s love for us?

My Final Hope

Scripture is clear: God is love and his love never fails.

In every circumstance, God is good. He shows His goodness in fulfilling His promises.  Sometimes He shows that goodness by extending mercy to save from physical danger.  If this life were all that there is, then saving my life would have been the ultimate mercy.  If, however, there is life after death, then the ultimate mercy would be to save me for that life.

The truth is, I was an enemy of God from my birth and marked for destruction. I didn’t need my own actions to condemn me — although those came soon enough.  I was condemned because of my sinful heart.  God extended the ultimate mercy to me by awakening my heart and mind to believe in Him.  Because of Christ’s death for my sin, I am now saved from judgment to belong to God forever.

One day, I really will have only two seconds left to live, and then I will see my God.  And I will not be afraid, but stand before God as a beloved child.  That is my promise and I will rest in it because the steadfast love of God never fails.

 

His grace has brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

 

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.  For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

 

A Toy Piano and the Promise of Eternal Life

 

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Triggers can be unusual, capricious things.  At least for me, they are almost always unwelcome. Last Wednesday, my trigger was a small, worn-out, Little Tikes piano. A toy piano like the one I started playing almost from the time I could sit up by myself. A toy piano like the one my grandpa tried to teach me to play  by ear — even though I didn’t understand why this was necessary since I had perfectly good, color-coded music. Wasn’t it easier to just use that? Years later, I learned to appreciate that lesson from my first piano teacher. But it was too late. My suspender-wearing, organ-playing, book-reading, pocket-knife-carrying, even-tempered, loving grandpa with a wood shop in his basement was gone. Last Wednesday, that little, out-of-tune piano in the church nursery brought back what little I can remember of my grandpa’s voice… and it reminded me how much I could miss a man who has been dead almost 25 years.

Then, with a goodness and comfort that passes all understanding, the Holy Spirit stopped me from lingering alone in that hurt. He prompted me to also remember that there will come a day when I won’t miss my grandpa anymore. In my future, there is a day when both the pain of missing Grandpa and the joy of being reunited with him in heaven will be consumed by the unimaginably perfect joy of living in Christ’s presence.  And no one will be able to take that joy away from me. (John 16:22)

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17

Lord, tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait- the sky, not the grave is our goal. Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord! Blessed rest, blessed hope of my soul.

And, Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight, the clouds be rolled back as a scroll. The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend, a song in the night, o my soul!

– Horatio G. Spafford, It Is Well

If Christ can be trusted with such a future, then He is to be trusted with my present and my past, whatever the joy, pain, or memories… even the ones triggered by little toy pianos.

Therefore encourage one another with these words. 1 Thessalonians 4:18

Someone To Share With

Once there was a little girl who was loved by her mom and dad.  The three of them lived happily together, laughing and loving.  After two and a half years, a brother came along, and the three became four.

Even though she wasn’t ready to share her toys — at least, not at first — the little girl soon discovered that this little baby grew into a friend who could talk and laugh, hide in the curtains and make faces in the lamp with her.

As they grew up together, they sometimes fought — as sinful brothers, sisters, and friends do — but they never stopped loving each other.  In time, they not only had the unity of family to hold them together, they also had the perfect love of Christ to fuel the love they had for each other. As they grew up there was more to share: toys, jokes, lessons, secrets, road trips, laughter, tears, faith.

They shared college together: late nights, sick nights, nights of talking on the phone until morning.  They shared friends and professors … and road trips back home.

Then, last night, the girl watched her brother-friend walk across the stage and graduate from college.  And she couldn’t have been prouder.

So, dear brother, congratulations.

I’m so thankful to God for giving me you

as one of my oldest and dearest friends.

Wherever you go in life

know that God’s grace

and my love

(and the love of our mother, father, and sister)

will follow you to bless your hard work.

So, keep working, keep growing, keep pursuing truth,

for your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

I love you.