I’ve been looking forward to tonight all week. That’s because I was invited to attend the annual Christmas program being held at the seminary I attended. Normally, I am really busy this time of year, but it turned out that I had to be on the south side of Indianapolis this evening and so I decided to head over to the school after my work for the day was completed.
You know, seminary is one of the few places on earth where I feel immediately at peace as soon as turn into the campus. It’s like a private sanctuary to me and tonight was no different. I had intended to arrive a little early, but it was not to be. I parked the car and headed into the chapel where programs of this type are held. From the opening prayer, given by my friend, Paul, the president of the school, I could tell I was in for an evening of relaxation, refreshment, prayer and communion with God.
There’s something special about being around my former professors and classmates. It just feels so right – there’s no other way to describe it. First a brass ensemble, followed by a trombone quartet and various chorale numbers sung by the music students. The program was rather interesting to me, as the theme of the evening was “Christ Died for Me.” After each number, Paul would recall a step in his own spiritual journey, similar to the steps that most of us have taken in our own search for faith – from his initial doubt about God existing; to his conversion – accepting Christ as his Lord and Savior as a senior in high school – to his worry about committing sin after his conversion; and even trusting God through the adversities in his life. The evening wound up with the audience singing Amazing Grace and Paul wondering aloud why anyone would choose a life without God.
The whole evening resonated with me. Now I’m sure that I am not adequately describing the whole experience – maybe you had to be there – but the theme of Christ dying for me really struck a chord. I think it is because I spend so much time during this season thinking about the material side of Christmas and not focusing on the real reason for the season.
And that is that God took on human form, born as Jesus, and died for my sins. If I can just let that sink in, it is beyond human comprehension. And this sacrifice was reinforced over and over again this evening as I relived my own conversion experience as Paul spoke about his. I remembered wondering about God. Then after my conversion, I worried about sinning and what would happen when I did. Well, it didn’t take long before I worried about whether God would take away my salvation and leave me. Not to worry, I learned that God would be with me forever. And then I started wondering why it took me so long to learn about God; and why I hadn’t been saved earlier in my life. And, of course, the ultimate question is why would I want to choose any other course for my life. Because my life is so much better with God than without Him.
I am sure that all of this sounds pretty elementary to you, but the fact of the matter is that things don’t have to be complicated. Sometimes simple messages have the greatest impact. God loves me – He sent His Son Jesus to live among us – His Son died for me – if I believe that, then I will spend eternity with God. Period….. And the beginning of God’s earthly journey is the reason we celebrate Christmas.
So to sit in a chapel, listening to beautiful music, sung to the Lord, in simple surroundings, without all the trappings of the season, just hit home with me tonight. God must have known my heart and what I needed – and He delivered it perfectly.
Much of the time, I just sat there with my eyes closed and listened. At various times throughout the program, people would stand and talk about their own testimonies. It was awesome. One woman even spoke about her life in prison and how she converted to Christianity in March, 2010. She was released in June, 2011 and I was wondering how the audience would react to such a powerful statement about a life of sin; and ultimately being delivered through an encounter with the living God.
I didn’t have to wait long to get my answer. Other people in the audience stood up and thanked God for her conversion and and prayed for her. It was genuinely touching.
My pastor friend Tim Boyd was there with his family, including his son, Jared. Jared has lung cancer and has had an incredibly difficult two years. He’s only 19 years old now. I met him for the first time and it was really something to shake the hand of such a courageous young man. So you can see that the whole evening was quite special to me. In fact, it gave me a chance to get my own spiritual batteries recharged. I need that sometimes – I just get worn out working in the “real” world every day.
The verse this evening is from Eph. 5:19, “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord.” I know that maybe you were expecting John 3:16, or something like that, but the Ephesians verse is just so right for the evening. Because the message tonight, reinforced through the singing of hymns and psalms, was quite clear.
My encouragement tonight is that I hope that you will sing to the Lord and to one another, especially during this time of year, with spiritual songs. Make music in your heart. And my prayer is that you will have eternal encounters with the living God; and that you will remember that He died for me – and for you… Praise God…