What if there was a new baseball team being formed in the county for those who don’t enjoy baseball but have always wanted to be on a team? The news article might read, “These folks enjoy the experience of being at the park and sitting in the dugout. They like the smell of the concession stand and hearing the roar of the crowd. They can’t stand baseball, though, so they won’t actually play. They will just, uh, you know … gather.”
Or, what if there was a new birthing class at the hospital for women (and men, for that matter, because we must not discriminate, right?) of all ages. The advertisement might read, “You don’t have to be pregnant to be in the class. In fact, this class is for those who don’t believe in having babies and honestly think the whole world would be better off if nobody had babies.” Why the class, then, you ask? Well, there is a wealth of information in a birthing class that really has nothing to do with birth! I mean, there is the whole nutrition aspect. Un-pregnant women need to watch what they eat, too, don’t they? Then there is the whole breathing thing. Hey, you don’t have to be going through transition to appreciate having healthy breathing techniques. There are lots of applications for this, like when you are stuck in traffic, 15 miles from your next sales appointment, and in exactly ten minutes you will be late. Who couldn’t use some healthy breathing at a time like that? And just think about how much a good coach would help! “OK, go ahead and take an organizing breath — a big sigh as you feel yourself about to scream at the traffic jam. Release all your tension — that’s right, go limp all over — and don’t worry about that guy in the Miata who is staring at you.”
If you are wondering where I am going with this, you are probably not alone. If you thought, “That would be strange” as you read the what-ifs above, count yourself in the “normal-thinking” category. So, I will go out on a limb and suggest that at least a few of you might have a similar reaction to a real article that ran in the Times-News a few years back entitled, “God-less ‘congregations’ planned for humanists.” The AP story stated that Greg Epstein, the humanist chaplain at Harvard University, is “building a God-free model of community that he hopes helps humanists increase in numbers and influence.” These humanist centers will “perform many of the community-building functions of a church, only in service of the humanist creed.” Epstein traveled the country back in 2010 to promote his book, “Good Without God.” When answering skeptics as to whether such congregations would find members, Epstein replied, “Salvation is here on earth. We have evolved over 14 billion years without purpose. Now if we want purpose, we need to build it into our own lives.”
A baseball team without baseball? A birthing class without pregnancy? A congregation without God? A search for significance and meaning and purpose that begins with the conviction that there is no God, no uncaused-cause, no Creator, no everlasting Father, no Savior, no cross, no forgiveness for sin?
Let’s give the Bible the final word on this, shall we? And to be clear, the “Word” in this passage refers to Jesus Christ. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
Now that is truth upon which a congregation can gather, and stand.
He stood only five feet tall in his socks, and his huge head looked too large for his body. His nose was crooked, his eyes small and piercing, his body frail. Physically there was nothing appealing about him. He fell in love with a young woman and proposed to her, but her insensitive response was, “I like the jewel but not the setting.” He never married.
His name was Isaac Watts, considered the father of the modern hymn. If so, then Mr. Watts had over six hundred children. Watts was born in England in 1674 and his father was a schoolmaster with strong Christian convictions for which he was imprisoned twice during Isaac’s childhood. Often the mother—baby Isaac in her arms—could be found sitting on a stone at the prison gate. Isaac inherited strong convictions and cut his teeth on biblical principles. Family devotions at the Watts home was sacred time and the children were taught to be attentive, but one night during family prayer Isaac opened his eyes to see a mouse running up a bell rope by the fireplace. After the ‘amen,’ the young boy surprised everyone by quoting a rhyme he had just made up:
“A mouse, for want of better stairs, ran up a rope to say his prayers.” Isaac’s parents recognized his talent for verse and when he complained about the church music, his father said, “If you don’t like our songs, why don’t you write some?” As a side note to all of you in the “hymns-only” camp: two hundred years ago you would have been considered a bit radical if not heretical to be singing anything other than the Psalms. Now would you look down your noses at we “radicals” who sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs? See Colossians 3:16.
During the two years that followed his father’s challenge, young Watts wrote most of the 210 hymns contained in his “Hymns and Spiritual Songs,” published in 1707, the first real hymnal in English. At 24, Isaac Watts preached his first sermon and a few years later his health began to fail, leaving him a semi-invalid the rest of his life.
Humanly speaking, Watts had many strikes against him: he suffered ridicule for his appearance, was rejected by the woman he loved, and struggled with poor health. In spite of all that, Watts led a richly productive life as a hymn writer, a pastor, an author of textbooks, and a noted theologian. The night before he died he said, “I am a sinner; Christ is my Savior. I can let all else go; the finished work of Christ is all my hope. To depart and be with Christ will be far better.”
Isaac Watts never had children, but his work was used by God to produce countless numbers of believers. One was Fanny Crosby, the famous blind hymn writer. She dated her conversion to the singing of the hymn, “Alas and Did My Savior Bleed” on November 20, 1850. She had attended numerous revivals and answered many an altar call, hoping to find the peace of salvation. On this night, as the congregation sang the last stanza of Watts’ hymn, “But drops of grief can ne’er repay the debt of love I owe; here, Lord, I give myself away, ’tis all that I can do,” Miss Crosby realized that all she needed was to yield herself to the Lord Jesus. Later she said, “I surrendered myself to the Savior, and my very soul flooded with celestial light. I sprang to my feet, shouting Hallelujah!”
As parents, we need not grieve over our children’s flaws and imperfections. In fact, we can rejoice that God uses our weaknesses for His own glory.
Near the end of his magnificent description of what love looks like when it goes to work every day, Paul writes, “Love bears all things.” We would assume that means that love puts up with or endures difficult people or circumstances. Of course, love does that as well. But this phrase could also be translated, “love covers all things.” It means to conceal, to cover over in silence. Love hides the faults of others and covers them up, doing the very opposite of what gossip delights in doing. Solomon wrote, “Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.” Peter writes, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” What does it look like to cover sin?
I think about John 8, and the woman who was caught in the act of adultery by the Pharisees. Remember? They dragged her to Jesus to expose her in her sin, but also, they hoped, to expose a weakness in Jesus. Would he do what the Mosaic law required and have this woman put to death by stoning? They were looking for anything they could to bring a charge against the Lord. Jesus bent down and wrote something on the ground. We are not told what he wrote, but I look forward to hearing the full story in heaven. The Pharisees continued to press Jesus about this woman’s sins and what was he going to do about it? He said, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” He bent down and continued to write with his finger on the ground. Then one by one, starting with the oldest, the Pharisees walked away, and Jesus was left alone with the woman. Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She replied, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
The Pharisees exposed the sin of the woman; Jesus covered it. He loved her, not by dismissing her sin, but by welcoming her into forgiveness, and restoration. By the way, only Jesus can do that for any of us. He alone has authority on the earth to forgive sins and to change lives. He gave her a new start, a new way of living, a new love that she had never experienced before. His love covered her and gave her hope.
Jon Bloom writes, “Every day we hear stories of offenders who have tried to cover their own offenses with lies. And every day we hear (sometimes from our own lips) people repeating a matter. We call this gossip and it fuels whole media industries. All around us are shattered relationships that exploded in the ‘repeating.’ But how many examples can you think of where a friendship was preserved because someone did not repeat gossip about an offense? Not many, I’ll wager. Why is this so rare?”
May it be less rare with you and me. When we bear with one another, we don’t agree with them in their sin, or encourage them in it. We cover them and help them to grow from that place. A husband and a wife who love each other are careful to cover the other in the way they speak. That means they speak well of their spouse in front of them, and they speak well of their spouse behind their back. They don’t put the sins of their spouse on display for others to hear and wag their heads and condemn. Their love covers.
It’s an amazing gift, this love that God gives his people.