I love music. I've always loved music. But when I started playing a musical instrument in fourth grade I had no sense of rhythm. In fact, it took me many years to develop that sense. My mom and I would drive a half an hour to my private violin lessons with Mrs. Small, a tiny lady who used to be my mother's music teacher when she was young, and who insisted that now that she was over 85, she was allowed to subtract a year from her age for each birthday. I can still remember her asking me, week after week, "Are you counting this?" and "You didn't count this week, did you?"
The truth is, counting was something I reserved for math class, and I found the process of counting to four repeatedly, while playing the violin, to be very difficult. My mind didn't seem to want to do those two things simultaneously, and honestly, I didn't really see the point of it.
I was well into my high school years, I think, before I really began to develop a sense of rhythm. How did I survive all those years of playing recital pieces, and playing in an orchestra?
I used external cues. If Mrs. Small was accompanying me on the piano, I would listen for her to play a specific note/chord, and then I would know it was time for me to come in. If I was in an orchestra, I would often wait for the violinist next to me to lift her bow, and then I would know it was time to start playing. Of course, neither of these techniques were very good, and often resulted in me starting a fraction of a second too late, because I would hear, and then play.
As my sense of rhythm developed, it was not because my mathematical abilities improved (I was an award-winning math student and competitor, so counting to four over and over produced no mathematical challenges for me!), but because I started to feel rhythms internally. My toes started tapping, and my fingers started drumming, and my head started bobbing. And the more I felt those rhythms physically, within my body, the less necessary it became to count.
When playing with an accompanist, I didn't need to listen for a note to happen; I could predict when it was going to happen. If I was in an orchestra, I wasn't watching and listening for my neighbor to come in; I could feel the right time within my body.
Counting, under these circumstances, becomes something you do to help you understand the structure of a particular piece of music, rather than something you do because it's the only way to keep time.
I realized that this is very similar to my life as a Christian in this world. At first, nothing comes naturally. My behavior is not internalized. To know how I ought to behave, I watch the people around me to see what they do, and I take my cues from them. It's not internalized.
But God wants the Christian life to be internalized. This is why there are repeated statements within the Bible that say God wants to "write his word on our hearts, rather than on tablets of stone."
The process of internalizing the Christian life is very similar to the process of internalizing a beat. At first, it all feels unnatural, and you end up mimicking others in order to "fit in," but as God does His good work in your heart, what was once externally motivated becomes internally driven, because your character and your heart are more and more aligning with the one who was born with a perfect moral rhythm.
Where are you in this process? I'm not talking about what your behavior is; I'm talking about what drives your behavior. Is it driven by a follow-the-leader mentality? Is it driven by a desire to fit in? Or is Christ steadily (albeit perhaps slowly) transforming your heart, writing the rhythm of his own heartbeat onto yours?
Oh Lord, change my heart, make it ever true. Help my heart to beat in perfect synchrony with you!
Last Thursday I did something I've wanted to do for a long time. I got up early in the morning and drove to New Hampshire to hike one of my favorite mountains -- Mount Chocorua. I say early, and I do mean early. Normally when I'm hiking, I hike with other people, and they never want to get started as early as I do. I left the house at 4:45 a.m.
Why did I want to get started so early? Because I wanted to be on the summit while the sun was still low on the horizon, on a cool fall morning. I had something particular in mind...the contrast of light and darkness.
The colors on the mountains are always interesting, but there's something special about the colors early in the morning and late in the afternoon. When the sun is low on the horizon, much of the land is in shadows, because it lies behind hills that block the sunlight. These areas of darkness make the light stand out as all the more beautiful.
As I stood on the summit looking out at the scenery around me, enjoying the fall colors, and appreciating that visual interplay of light and darkness, it occurred to me that in this simple scene, there was an important spiritual lesson for me.
"You are the light of the world," Jesus says. What Christ wants of me is that I be like an autumn leaf, ablaze with color, standing out brightly from the shadows of the dark world around me. Except, to be honest, I don't always feel all that bright. And suddenly it dawned on me (literally and figuratively!). The leaf, by itself, is not much to look at either; its true beauty comes from having the full glory of the sun shining upon it.
So it is with us. I, in myself, am just another dried up, dying fall leaf. But I'm not "just me" anymore; the full, glorious light of the Savior shines on me!
And if the world around me is in shadows and darkness, shouldn't I stand out all the more? 2 Corinthians puts it this way:
Like a fall leaf, I turn my face to the glorious Light of the World, and let his brightness transform me with ever-increasing glory!
Recently I had a chance to visit with Nate, a young man who used to travel with me and run my sound system when I went out to preach, sing, and do ventriloquism. We were reminiscing about some of the things that used to happen when we were "on the road" together, and we recalled that it was not uncommon for people to say to Nate, "We sure do appreciate you and your dad coming today."
To which Nate would reply, "He's not my dad."
Frankly, I never saw much resemblance between us, and since I was only thirteen years older than him, I found it a bit disconcerting that people would think I was old enough to be his dad.
The day after I visited with Nate, day I took my nephew Daniel to a basketball game that our local Christian academy was competing in. During the half-time break, I took Daniel to the concessions stand, so Daniel could buy a cheeseburger. When the lady behind the counter gave us our food, she said, "Here's your cheeseburger, and here's your dad's french fries."
Once again, I don't think there's that much resemblance. But those two back-to-back events started me thinking about family resemblances. Do you look like your father? Your mother? What about your brothers or sisters? Do your children look like you?
Did you know that the Bible has something to say about family resemblance? It's true!
Colossians 1:15 says that Jesus is "the image of the invisible God," and "the firstborn of all creation." Think about that for a moment. God is Spirit, and as such, we cannot see him. But when Jesus Christ came to earth, he came as a man with a physical body. So what does it mean that Jesus is the "image of the invisible God"? That he physically looks like God the Father? Of course not! There is a "family resemblance" between God the Father and God the Son, but it is not a physical resemblance.
When Jesus came to earth, it was so we could see and understand the character of God. When we look at Jesus, when we read of His life, His deeds, and His sacrifice, we are seeing the character of God being lived out perfectly.
But that's not the only thing that the Bible says about family relationships. In 2 Corinthians we are told:
Nice little progression, isn't it? Jesus is the likeness of the invisible God, and we are to be transformed into the likeness of His Son, Jesus Christ. In other words, when people look at us, they ought to be able to see our family resemblance to God Himself!
What do you think? Is your character like the character of God? Or does it leave a lot to be desired? How does your character change to be more like His? Well, the answer is right in the verse: we behold the glory of the Lord. How much time do you spend looking on Jesus Christ, through reading of Him in God's Word? Take time each day to read of Him, and allow yourself to be transformed more and more into His image.