A Wondrous Thing

It was a wondrous thing to behold! It wasn’t just what we saw and heard, but the meaning of it.

The Sons of Jubal came to our town (thanks FBC Blairsville!). Jubal Brass accompanied the men’s chorus. Over 200 musicians filled the stage. The Truett McConnell (University) Chorale joined them. The auditorium overflowed with young and young-at-heart.

The meaning of the event is found in this: “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:16). Whether it’s two or three, or hundreds gathered, music is a way for the word of Christ to dwell within you. The message of this evening concert was that God is holy and worthy of worship. Jesus is the Savior who died for your sins, the Good Shepherd who cares for your soul.

They invited the audience to participate in worship by joining in the singing. We voiced the lyrics, “The work is finished, the end is written, Jesus Christ my living hope!”  I was not familiar with the song, but it was becoming easier to follow with the lyrics projected and the chorus leading the way. The words began to settle in my soul. As we came to this verse, it moved me to realize what many grey heads in the audience were singing with confidence: “Hallelujah, praise the one who set me free! Hallelujah, death has lost its grip on me! Jesus Christ, my living hope” (Wickham/Johnson).

C. S. Lewis described Christian musicians as “the most enviable of men; privileged while mortals to honor God like angels and, for a few golden moments, to see spirit and flesh, delight and labour, skill and worship, the natural and the supernatural, all fused into that unity they would have had before the Fall.” I think that’s his way of saying skilled musicians bring heaven down to earth for a moment. When music is aligned with the word of Christ, that is a meaningful and wondrous thing to behold.


OK class, our lesson today is self-awareness. Let me show you a variety of ways it shows up. Then we’ll get personal.

Jerry Seinfeld is the master of observational comedy. Once, he was thinking about his role in a wedding. “Pretty good title, I thought … ‘Best man.’ I thought it was a bit much. I thought we had the groom and the ‘pretty good man.’ That’s more than enough. If I am the best man, why is she marrying him?” His self-awareness is funny.

On rare occasions, self-awareness shows up in politics. A woman politician, Tulsi Gabbard, came to a clarifying realization. She decided to disassociate from a group of people she believes lacks self-awareness. “It is the height of hypocrisy,” she said, “for those who claim to be champions for women over decades to deny that there is such a thing as a woman.” Her self-awareness led to action.

Here’s an example from my (other) profession as a civil engineering consultant. A group of homeowners invited me to discuss options for their failed dam. The lake was a mud bowl and the state regulators were bearing down. For the first 20 minutes we stood on the dam while one guy’s mouth was a pipe with no valve. They wanted to hear from me, but he wanted to hear himself. He was completely oblivious that he was wasting everyone’s time. I finally said, “Sir, you need to switch from transmit to receive. If you want to hear from me, you must stop talking.”

And yes, I’m guilty, too.  Not long ago I had one of those days that makes you feel harassed and unproductive. Rather than checking it all at the threshold, that evening I got snippy with the missus. It wasn’t her fault. I failed to be self-aware. She has her own story, too.  Once she did lunch with friends only for one of them to complain, “I just don’t have any friends.” Ouch.

Jesus did lunch at Simon’s house, only for the host to become critical of a certain sinful woman. Jesus set up a scenario about a banker forgiving the loans of two debtors. One owed much and the other owed little. “Which of them will love him more?” He asked. “The one he forgave more,” Simon answered. Jesus’ point was that the woman was more than a little self-aware. “Her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much, but he who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7).

This is the personal part. The more self-aware you are about your need for forgiveness from a holy God, the more you love Him for taking the penalty of your sin on the cross. Self-awareness makes you a happier and more likeable person. It also makes you a more steadfast and loving follower of Jesus.

Courage and Sacrifice

Show me a life of purpose and meaning, and I’ll show you a life of courage and sacrifice. Note that these two traits exist only in the presence of adversity.

While recuperating from a war injury, Andrew van der Bijl read a Bible to pass the time. That led him to believe in Christ Jesus. In the early cold war years, he began to smuggle Bibles into communist countries. His associates began to call him “Brother Andrew.”

Once, he stopped his Volkswagen in a line of cars at the Romanian border. He watched for hours as the guards ransacked the vehicles in front of him. After praying for a miracle, in a counter-intuitive move he placed some Bibles out in the open. Then it was his turn. He pulled the car forward and stopped. The guard glanced at his passport and waved him through, only to stop the next car and resume the ransacking. From that experience Andrew learned to pray, “Lord, You made blind eyes see. Now make seeing eyes blind.”

Over the decades Andrew’s ministry changed, but it always involved staring down adversity with courage and sacrifice. In recent years, he built relationships with leaders in the Muslim world, including Hamas. He spoke about Christ with them and prayed for them. “We know you love us because you come when no one else will,” one told him. The leader of Islamic Jihad sent a cryptic note after one visit. “I pray that God will give us the possibility to unite with you and the Christ.” Perhaps he had a life-changing dream about Jesus, as is widely reported among Muslims.

In Andrew’s mind, he only did what all Christians do – follow Jesus in the unique ways He calls us. “The Bible is full of ordinary people,” Andrew said, “who went to impossible places and did wondrous things simply because they decided to follow Jesus.” He rightly believed that every believer is called. “The real calling is not a certain place or career but to everyday obedience. And that call is extended to every Christian, not just a select few.”

This is in keeping with Jesus’ explanation of the ordinary Christian life. “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:23-25).

Brother Andrew’s work attracted like-minded people and continues as a ministry called Open Doors. He found purpose and meaning from a life of courage and sacrifice. In September 2022, he departed for the land of the living. He was 94.

The Torrent Burst

Many people in our mountain village have friends or family affected by Hurricane Ian. The damage and casualty reports are disturbing. This is an opportunity for people of faith to love our neighbors, some of whom escaped only with their lives.

The mountains are not immune to hurricanes. No storm surge happens at elevation 2000 feet, but high winds do. In 1995, Opal swept across North Georgia downing trees and powerlines. In 2018, we had some wind damage from Michael.

That calls to mind a remarkable post-Michael image from Mexico Beach, FL. The 160 mph winds and 14 ft deep storm surge destroyed over 800 homes and buildings. The aerial image shows a solitary home standing intact along a devasted beach front. Dr. Lebron Lackey built the home in excess of building codes – deeper foundations, stronger building materials, and a floodproof design. He expected the house to face a storm like Michael someday.

That’s not a bad approach to building a beach home. It’s a great approach to life. Just as beach and mountain will face the torrents of weather, you can expect to face adversity in this life. That’s reality. You can spend your life simply hoping nothing bad happens, or you can prepare as though it will.

Jesus offers the way to prepare. “Everyone who comes to Me and hears My words and acts on them,” He said, “I will show you whom he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid a foundation on the rock; and when a flood occurred, the torrent burst against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built” (Luke 6:47-48). What were His words meant for you to act on? Love your enemy. Turn the other cheek. Treat others the way you want to be treated. “The good man out of the good treasure of his heart,” Jesus summarized, “brings forth what is good” (Luke 6:45).

Adversity is your opportunity to bring forth good from a good heart. But wait! “Only God is good,” Jesus said. “The heart is more deceitful than all else,” Jeremiah declared. The source of a good heart is this: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature,” (2 Cor. 5:17). Through faith in the Lord Jesus and by his grace, you have a new perspective, a new heart.

Here’s the point. With a new heart set right with God, you build resilience by hearing and acting on the words of Jesus. You know life on this earth is not all of reality, nor does adversity have the final say. You rise above it as a loving, trusting, secure man or woman of God, and are not shaken when the torrent bursts against you.

On Curiosity

“The important thing is not to stop questioning,” Albert Einstein said. “Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality.” The reality of the natural world has fewer mysteries because of Einstein’s curiosity.

Einstein connected curiosity (a state of mind) and questioning (acting on that state of mind). An unasked question is an unanswered one that abandons you on the island of ignorance. That is a desolate place to be, given the mysteries of eternity, life, and reality as Einstein said.

Dr. Sy Garte, an American biochemist, is another curious scientist. Garte was raised to believe in Darwin and Marx. But as a young man, he found those philosophies contradictory. If humans are meaningless products of evolution, he wondered, how did the socialist goals of advancing human dignity make sense? If Christianity is so bad, why was the civil rights movement led by Christians?

Garte pursued an academic career and became a professor. For a while, he accepted the claims of scientism, which holds that science is sufficient for any knowledge humans need. But being curious, a question began to nag him. Does science hold the keys to unlock all mysteries? The answer from quantum mechanics is that some things are unknowable. That led to other questions. Where did the universe come from? How did life begin? What does it mean to be a human being? How did humans develop an ability to create and appreciate art, poetry, music, and humor? His worldview had no satisfactory answers.

Garte tells his story in “Christianity Today” magazine. His curiosity led him to read the story of Jesus in the Bible, which he found beautiful and believable. Then this rational, sane, and well-educated man had a kind of epiphany. He had an intense vision of himself as a preacher, appealing to a large crowd and saying things he had yet to affirm or even hear before. He began to listen to what the preacher (himself) was saying. His response was emotional, and his heartfelt words flowed. “I believe, and I am saved,” he said out loud. “Thank you, Lord Jesus Christ.”

Today Garte works with the American Scientific Affiliation helping people who are curious about the link between science and theology.

Are you curious? Jesus offers some questions to help you along. “What do you seek?” (John 1:38). “Whom do you seek?” (John 18:7). “Who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29). And my favorite, “Everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:26). Do you seek answers to the questions of life and eternity? I guess it depends on your curiosity.