I wanted to share with you, in its entirety, what I read for my time with the Lord this morning. First because it features three of the most profound and powerful wordsmiths in history--the prophet Isaiah, Charles Spurgeon, and Martin Luther (with God behind it all, of course). Secondly because it cut me to the core after a Father's Day when I struggled deeply with thoughts and feelings of depression when I should have been trusting and praising God, like these literary giants reminded me.
I also wanted to share it because I know I'm not the only one who struggles in that way. "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation," as Thoreau famously said, and though he was using "men" in a general sense, middle-aged males and fathers in particular may be some of the most susceptible targets for depression (especially the "quiet" kind). But, of course, what is said in this excerpt from Spurgeon's comments on Isaiah 41 applies to everyone, regardless of gender or age. The Scripture verses are in bold and Spurgeon's comments (including a great story about Martin Luther and his wife) are in italics...
17, 18. When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the Lord will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys: I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.
See what God can do. Men are thirsty, they have no water; and lo! on a sudden, behold rivers, fountains, springs, pools, floods; for God does nothing in halves. He is an all-sufficient, overflowing God. When he gives, he gives like a king. He does not measure his gifts of water by the pint and by the gallon; but here you have pools, and springs, and rivers. When he has given waters, he will give trees to grow by the waters. When God gives blessing, he makes other blessings to spring out of it.
19. I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, the shittah tree, and the myrtle, and the oil tree; I will set in the desert the fir tree, and the pine, and the box tree together. Making a paradise of streams of water and lovely trees, evergreen trees of the most comely aspect, and of great variety.
See what God can do. Where there is a wilderness, where there were hills and valleys, and all was dry and parched, he makes woods and forests, rivers and fountains. He can do all things. Oh, that we had faith in him! But we forget him: we turn not to him; we look everywhere but to God; we try every method except that of trusting in the living God. Have we a God? If so, why do we act as we sometimes do?
Martin Luther was a very cheerful man, as a rule; but he had terrible fits of depression. He was at one time so depressed that his friends recommended him to go away for a change of air, to see if he could get relief. He went away; but he came home as miserable as ever; and when he went into the sitting-room, his wise wife Kate, Catherine von Bora, was sitting there, dressed in black, and her children round about her, all in black. “Oh, oh!” said Luther, “who is dead?” “Why,” said she, “doctor, have not you heard that God is dead? My husband, Martin Luther, would never be in such a state of mind if he had a living God to trust to.” Then he burst into a hearty laugh, and said, “Kate, thou art a wise woman. I have been acting as if God were dead, and I will do so no more. Go and take off thy black.”
If God be alive, why are we discouraged? If we have a God to look to, why are we cast down? Let us rejoice and be glad together; for God will do all that he has promised, for this reason:?
20. That they may see, and know, and consider, and understand together, that the hand of the LORD hath done this, and the Holy One of Israel hath created it.
God wants you to know that he is at work on your behalf. He wants you so to trust him as to see how his promises can be applied to your case, and what his right hand can accomplish even for you. Let us trust him with all our hearts.
Saturday, June 20, 2020
(Are there some songs that never get old for you? You can listen to them over and over again, even after you've just listened to them, and you still enjoy them? When they also make you think about interesting and important stuff, you get the kinds of songs I'm talking about in this series of blog posts.)
I'm not a fan of pop music in general, and someone might think that Owl City is the epitome of pop music. But not really, for several reasons. Adam Young's music is just quirky and unique enough to set it apart from typical pop fare--maybe there's something like it out there, but I haven't heard it personally. Admittedly, I'm not heavily versant in pop music, but for me Owl City is unlike anything I else I've listened to. And then there's the fact that Adam is a committed Christian who is not afraid to say that publicly (see this recent Instagram post, for example). That alone takes him out of the category of typical pop star.
Adam might also be criticized for being a sentimentalist, but that doesn't stop me from loving many of his songs. I am, after all, a big Charles Dickens fan, and like Dickens, Adam manages to pull off his sentimentalism in an effective and (again) unique way. No artist I know communicates an innocent sense of wonder and optimism better than he does. And when Adam's sentimentalism is being expressed in lyrics that are truly encouraging spiritually, because they come from God's Word, those songs really hit the sweet spot for me in a big way.
Even though "Always" is tied for my favorite with another song I'll mention below, I've chosen it for this blog entry because it mentions a verse I've studied recently--Isaiah 40:31. It says, "They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint." A rare thing happened when I read Charles Spurgeon's comments on that famous verse recently in my time with the Lord: I actually disagreed with Spurgeon! He said that the "running" we do is unfortunate and the "walking" is better, but after looking at the passage further and reading Edward J. Young's commentary on it, I think Isaiah is saying that we will be given grace both to "run" in crisis situations when we're weary and also to "walk" during the normal course of life. In other words, the strength God gives us will not only be a temporary one in a time of crisis, but will continue throughout our "walk of life."
Another great insight I discovered while studying that verse, by the way, is that the Hebrew text uses terminology indicating that God exchanges our weakness for His strength, echoing and presaging the "Great Exchange" of the gospel (see 2 Cor. 5:21). He freely gives us something we didn't have before, something that was completely foreign to our nature--namely, wings in Isaiah and righteousness in the gospel.
The other song that is tied with "Always" for my favorite Owl City song is the short but oh so sweet "Meteor Shower." Even after hundreds of times listening to the song, I still get goosebumps on my skin and in my soul every time I hear it...
Most of Adam Young's songs are not directly about God or spiritual issues, but many are also favorites of mine because of their quirkiness and uniqueness, and because they just make me feel good listening to them. If you could use some of those good feelings right now, check out this playlist of Owl City favorites I made on YouTube. I hope you enjoy them and will feel encouraged...as Adam's music says to us, "There's hope!"
Monday, June 8, 2020
“The growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”
First, I wanted to say that I’m so glad that I didn’t wait until after his death to say these things to and about Jim (don’t let that happen to you!). I often told him how loved, admired, and appreciated he was, and just as often he seemed somewhat embarrassed by it (but never as much as when I awkwardly hugged him). I even called him “Dad” since he’s been my only living father for the last 20 years.
On a long flight to Africa a few months ago I thought I was just killing time by watching the three-hour movie A Hidden Life, but I ended up being deeply moved by it (and also loved how almost every frame looks like a painting). It’s a true story about a conscientious objector in Austria during World War II who, as an “unsung hero,” embodied the quote from George Eliot above. After the movie was over and that quote graced the screen at the end, I thought of Jim Hallman.
More importantly, my father-in-law embodied this quote from Scripture: “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands” (1 Thessalonians 4:11).
Jim’s work ethic was legendary among those who knew him, all the way up until he could not physically work anymore. He was also known for his quiet demeanor, except when an opportunity arose to talk about his baseball career. But actually, though he would discuss sports to get a laugh or make conversation, you could tell that his favorite topic was Jesus and the Scriptures. He listened regularly to Bible teaching on the radio and loved to share about what he had heard.
I don’t want to make him out to be a saint (in the Catholic sense), as if he was perfect. I remember him crying with regret a number of times, several of which were because he was physically unable to take care of our property anymore (okay, he was a saint). But, seriously, I remember him crying one time after his health problems began, wondering if it was because of sins he had committed. No, he was human, which is important for us to know because many of the stories you’ll hear about him make him seem superhuman, and rightly so.
Walking almost five miles to work when there was too much snow to drive, writing a letter to Jill every single week for over ten years while we lived in California and he in Pennsylvania, doing all the landscape work on our big property and others well into his 70s, and of course all those legendary baseball stories. He also had an amazing trust in God and the gospel (the fears mentioned above were just an understandable speed bump on his spiritual journey). He faced death with faith and thankfulness, which he expressed over and over, and some of his last words were a prayer in which he mentioned every member of his family by name and begged God that we would all be true believers in Christ.
Though Jim was a superhero in those ways and many others, there weren’t many people who knew about it. His multiplied good deeds will not go down in the history books and there won’t be large crowds of people at his gravesite. But the depth and quality of his influence on those of us who knew him and the exponential effect it will have on countless others through us will be obvious in eternity, which started for Jim recently when he heard these words: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord” (Matthew 25:31).