Wind Instruments

Phil Nagy is a musician’s musician. I’ve heard him play any number of stringed instruments, carry the beat on drums, and sing some pretty difficult tunes. He can also pick up the flute, oboe, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, trombone, baritone, and tuba! Did I mention Phil includes “band director” in his repertoire?

Every horn Phil picks up produces its own sound, different from all the others. The trumpet excites with confident blasts of high-pitched energy, the flute softening their sharp edges with soothing sensibility, and from the oboe wends an alluring enchantment one can neither mimic nor ignore. Each brass brings its own purpose, and every woodwind leaves its own effect. Yet all of his instruments share this in common: none is capable of producing even the first note by itself; it is Phil’s exhale into each horn that frees it from its silence and releases from it the great purpose for which it was crafted. And at this one man’s breath, every implement shows itself distinct.

There was a time when I favored conformity, preferring people who dressed a certain way, spoke a certain way, and lived a certain way. I surrounded myself with a circle of sameness, be it a fraternity of French horns or a clique of clarinets. Over time, however, I’ve come to savor the unique among us—the lonely bassoon with his melancholy contemplations, the piccolo who flitters in unannounced, alights in sanguine cheer, then departs as quickly as she came, and the tuba, who goes about his duties in a workmanlike manner, largely unnoticed despite his conspicuous size. For the Director has selected each in its own beauty and united them all for His composition.

In preparation for this Pentecost Sunday, take some time to sense and to savor the body of Christ, for the Holy Spirit calls and gifts each believer for the common good, just as He determines. Enjoy those who carry the tune, of course, but listen also for the softer sounds of those who serve in the background, those who, under the mastery of the Maestro, turn a mere melody into a magnificent masterpiece.

Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. Romans 6:13.

The Source

I wish I had counted the number of people who approached our son simply to say “thank you.” Completing his MBA studies, Matthew was honored to speak at his pre-commencement ceremony. He warmly recalled the shared closeness among his classmates and the care they exhibited toward each other. Then he offered his friends three charges, the first of which was this: find the source of your love. “We cannot give and give indefinitely without having a source from which we receive love; we will burn out. My source of love comes from my faith—I follow Jesus Christ who loves me so much that he died for me even though I do not deserve it. That is a source that will never run dry.” Matthew did not anticipate the applause that followed, and his parents were struck by the appreciation expressed by both friends and strangers later at the reception. His comments had found their home in welcoming souls that day.

It was Jesus’ friend, John, who taught of our union with God in Christ, the most loving provision of Him who is love by His very essence. “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God,” wrote the apostle, “God lives in him and he in God.” This is the heart of God toward us, evidenced through the Spirit of God within us. How could we become any closer to Him, or He to us? What could He possibly do that would be any more loving than to unite us with Himself in Spirit?

We marvel at God’s promises—in this case, the assurance of His Spirit alive in us—yet truth always travels with a companion command, an imperative, a call to respond. John continued, “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.” For as God loves us and unites us to Himself, so we are called to love others as ourselves. Truth be told, however, on our own, we’re not all that good at loving others, for our human nature falls far short of the nature of God. So John says to us “know and rely.” To which I say, thank you, John. For when I simply accept God’s love for me, I experience an inner freedom: the onetime pressure to love gives way to a newfound desire to love, and what I once considered a demanding obligation to love becomes a welcome opportunity to love.

Recalling Christ Jesus before him, John says, “love one another.” Relying on Christ Jesus within him, John says, “We love because he first loved us.”

Yes, Matthew, He is, indeed, our source.

Father, grace me to know your love—to accept and experience it in faith—and to rely on your love as, living in the Spirit of Christ, I engage the world today. Amen.

[Click here to read 1 John 4:7-21, John’s insights into true love.]

Before Christ

Correct me if I’m wrong. I’m guessing that, every once in a while, you stop and reflect on the change God has brought about in you since you entrusted your life to His Son. The transforming work of the Spirit in us is beyond remarkable, and we can neither plan nor explain the inner wonders He performs in silence. We can only marvel at Him.

Yet I think it is equally important to consider the work God did in and around us before we came to believe in Christ Jesus. How many people did He send our way with the message of salvation and life? I think of Dave and Barb, Gary and Sue, Pat, and countless others. How did He spare us from catastrophe, or how did He sustain us through it? Personally, I recall the moment when, through a dream, God turned the sting of my father’s early death into both the assurance of his never-ending life in Christ and a hope for my own.

Reading the Biblical story of Cornelius and his family, I wonder how often they looked back on the amazing things God did in their lives before they came to a saving faith in Christ Jesus. Though “devout and God-fearing,” these Gentiles knew nothing about His sacrificial atonement or the eternal life that is found in Him, but God was working in their lives, anyway. Through a breathtaking series of visions, He called Cornelius and the apostle Peter together for one momentous occasion with two astounding outcomes—the salvation of Cornelius and his family, and the spread of the gospel to the Gentiles.

God always inclines Himself toward us before we ever incline ourselves toward Him. He pursues us, He calls us, and He prepares us. Then when our hearts finally warm and open to Him, He pours His life-giving Spirit into us and saves our souls. And as God used others to reach us in our search for Him, so He blesses us to reach out to others with the life and peace that we ourselves have found in Christ. For in His time, God changes people’s “before Christ” into their “anno Domini”—their own personal “year of the Lord.”

Take a moment today to appreciate all the work God did in your life before you came to know Him through Jesus Christ, His Son.

Lord God, I remember my “before Christ” years and how you worked through so many people and events to draw me to yourself. Use me now to bring to others the hope and assurance I have found in Christ Jesus, the Savior. Amen.

[Read the story of Cornelius and his family in Acts 10.]