A Scripture Passage and Good Memories

I wrote earlier this week about a Scripture verse and a sad memory. This morning I had just the opposite experience. In the mornings I read the Word to Ariel. Mark 2:1-12 was our morning reading. As I was about to read it, a flood of good memories came back to me. I shared those with her before I read.

First, this is the first passage that came to my mind in 2007 when I awoke from back surgery. For the first time in nearly three weeks I was not in excruciating pain. As I began to realize the agonizing pain was gone, Jesus’ words from Mk. 2:5 came to mind, “My son, your sins are forgiven.” I was overwhelmed with the grace of God in Christ at the forgiveness of my sins. The surgery and the relief I felt only underscored the beauty of “My son, your sins are forgiven.”

Second, Mark 2:1-12 was the first sermon I preached after I recovered. The themes were that sin is worse than suffering, therefore forgiveness is more important than healing. I preached it out of my own sense of immense gratitude to the Son of God.

Third, I almost immediately re-ruptured the disk and I was in pain. It was depressing to have my back hurt again, although not to the same degree. One night we had driven to Reno, and on the way back I began to feel quite a bit of pain. As a walked gingerly into the house I felt overwhelmed. I sat on the couch and began to cry. I felt like I would never get better. Ariel sat down next to me and cried with me. I got up, walked into our bedroom and Pilgrim Radio was on, and was playing the sermon I had preached from Mark 2:1-12! I laid on the bed and listened to the sermon as God’s Word to me. It brought me out of the depression and encouraged me. Yes, God used my own sermon from Mark 2:1-12 to help me.

Fourth, I was in Israel and we were going through Capernaum. Galilee was my favorite part of the trip. I was assigned to preach a few short sermons at different sites. The synagogue in Capernaum was one such assignment. I preached Mark 2:1-12, because it was in Capernaum that our Lord healed the paralytic. It was a surreal experience and one of great joy. To be standing in that synagogue, a stone’s throw from the house where the paralytic was let down through the roof, was amazing.

This passage, Mark 2:1-12, is woven into my Christian experience and my walk with Christ. He has used it in many ways. As I came to it this morning, the experiences came back to my mind, but most importantly, I was reminded, “My son, your sins are forgiven.” Sin is worse than suffering, therefore forgiveness is more important healing.

A Scripture Verse and a Sad Memory

I am reading through Jeremiah in the mornings and, except for the book of Consolation(chapters 29-32), the book is a sad one with very few bright notes in its melody. There are fascinating sections that I would love to preach through. But as I was reading yesterday morning, I read a verse that brought back a flood of memories to me.

The verse was Jeremiah 32:20, “Obey now the voice of the LORD in what I say to you, and it shall be well with you, and your life shall be spared.” Over 20 years ago I used to meet with a man in our church every week. We would memorize Scripture, pray, and on occasion go and evangelize together. This is one of the texts we memorized, Jer. 32:20.

The context: King Zedekiah calls for Jeremiah, he wants a word from God. Jeremiah gives him the word: submit to Babylon, go into exile, and God would spare Jerusalem from being burned to the ground. The king and his family would survive. This was the promise, although it was hard. The threat however made clear the cost of disobedience. If Zedekiah disobeyed, the city would be handed over the Babylonians, it would be burned to the ground and the king and his family would not survive. When Zedekiah expresses concern over the Jews who were already in exile, Jeremiah promised the king that he would not be given over to their hands. That’s where Jer. 32:20 comes in. “Obey now the voice of the Lord.” Zedekiah’s obedience was to be immediate. But the promise of obedience was shalom and a spared life. Submitting to Babylon was hard, disobedience was harder. My friend and I memorized this verse among many.

In Jer. 39, Zedekiah and his family try to flee Jerusalem. They were going to secure their own safety. Zedekiah did not obey the voice of the Lord. He and his family were captured, his sons were killed in front of him, and then his eyes were gouged out. God’s threats are never empty.

That friend, a man with whom I prayed and memorized Scripture, went the way of Zedekiah. This friend of mine seemed to be blessed by God, until he wanted to go his own way, choose his own idols, and worship at the altar of immorality. He rejected the very call to obedience from Jer. 32:20. His life is empty now. He has sown to the flesh; he is reaping crops of bitterness and pain. He may eventually reap the crop of eternal judgment. I hope not. I pray not. But God is not mocked.

God gave His Word of promise to Zedekiah to spare him from something worse than submission to Babylon. God gives us His Word of promise to save us from eternal Hell. Will we hear it, heed it, and live?

Twenty Hymns that You Should Know and Teach Your Children

I love both old and new worship songs. We sing old songs and we sing a lot of new songs in our worship. We do old and new on purpose. I love the Gettys, and I love Bernard of Clairvaux; I love Isaac Watts, and I love Fernando Ortega. I love Charles Wesley, and I love Sovereign Grace Music. You get the point. But one thing I am convinced of is that a hymnal is one of our best friends for private and family worship.

When our kids were little it was a ritual: who would have the privilege of passing out the hymnals? Sometimes fights would break out, but then we would sing “Blest be the tie that binds.” Hymns have memorable qualities to them, and we should know hundreds of them. Yes, hundreds. That’s not to say that all hymns are great, some are real stinkers. But overall, a hymn gives you memorable words to memorable tunes.

Everyone who knows the hymns will differ on their top twenty, but I think these are mine (they might change if I picked again tomorrow). My suggestion in giving this list is not to create a hymnal canon, but to encourage you to think about giving the gifts of these nearly immortal songs to your children. My plea is for parents to teach their kids the hymns.

A Mighty Fortress

This was the battle hymn of the Reformation, written by Martin Luther, and is filled with robust theology set to a bold, manly tune.

Amazing Grace

This is one of the most famous hymns ever written. It was composed by “the old slave-trader” John Newton. It is a hymn of the heart.

And Can it Be

Charles Wesley was a hymn-writing machine, but this one is one of his best. The revised version (same tune) in the Trinity Hymnal improves on Wesley’s theology. It is a hymn of the triumphant love of God in Christ.

Be Thou My Vision

This is a great Celtic hymn, probably going back to the 8th century. It is a joyful celebration of what God and Christ are to the believer as he runs the race and fights the fight.

Come Thou Almighty King

This is one of those magnificent Trinitarian hymns that is a glorious prayer, a true invocation in song.

Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing

This is one of my favorites, written by the troubled Baptist pastor, Robert Robinson (1735-1790). The song expresses longing and honest reflection on the weakness of the human heart and power of remaining sin and the glory of our redemption.

How Firm a Foundation

Reported to be Robert E. Lee’s favorite hymn, this is one of those that has comforted millions with its powerful words of confidence.

The Church’s One Foundation

Great truth about the Church and the head of the Church, Jesus Christ. It is worthy of mediation and great familiarity.

Great is Thy Faithfulness

This is simply one that a Christian should know by heart. It celebrates the faithfulness of God, in good times and bad.

Holy, Holy, Holy

Again, another Trinitarian hymn, and also one that is filled with praise and adoration. It is the song of heaven! (Isa. 6:3; Rev. 4:8).

How Great Thou Art

Although this is a newer hymn (1949), it is such a powerful declaration of praise. I know a man who was born again while singing this hymn in church one Lord’s Day.

It is Well

If hymns were a mountain, this is perhaps the peak of Mount Everest. It is full of soul-comforting Gospel truth and is sung in the dark nights and sunrises of the soul. The story of Horatio Spafford writing this hymn is legendary. It never, ever, gets old.

Man of Sorrows, What a Name

Philip Bliss captured Christ-centered truth with the suffering, death, resurrection, and return of Jesus in this hymn. Its melody is stirring.

My Jesus I Love Thee

The believer’s journey with Jesus all the way to death is beautifully captured in this hymn. It has been one of my favorites for over 30 years.

O Sacred Head

This gem is from Bernard of Clairvaux from the 11the century. It centers on the suffering and death of Jesus. It ends with, “Lord let me never, never outlive my love for Thee.”

Rock of Ages

Whether the old tune or the new, Augustus Toplady’s hymn is hard to beat. There are so many theologically pristine lines in this Christo-centric hymn.

There is a Fountain Filled with Blood

William Cowper was a friend of John Newton’s. He knew deep depression. But he also had deep faith, and this, with God Moves in a Mysterious Way, are two of the best-known hymns in the English-speaking world. This hymn is a feast of the redeeming work of Christ.

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

Isaac Watts was a hymn-writing wonder (I was going to say, “rock star”). He wrote over 7,000 hymns. This is my favorite Watts hymn (and I have many). This was J. Gresham Machen’s favorite, and for good reason. Perhaps no hymn captures the glory of the cross quite like this one.

How Sweet and Awesome is the Place

Here is another Watts hymn and I add it because it celebrates the doctrines of grace and evangelistic zeal. It is not as well known as some of his others, but those who have used the Trinity Hymnal know it well.

O For a Thousand Tongues

Another Wesley hymn, and one that should be sung regularly. Wesley masterfully puts together this paeon of praise. The lines throb with the Gospel.

There are so many good new songs, new hymns. The Church should always be singing new songs, but we should never neglect the old ones!     

Come up with your own list. Sing them in your devotions, in family worship, and corporate worship. The hymns are our friends, which are always quick to take us right to Christ.