Songs of Salvation
by Brett Armstrong
Welcome to Songs of Salvation! Each Sunday I will feature a Christian author sharing a "Song of Salvation" to uplift and encourage believers and glorify God.
And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death. Revelation 12:11 NLT
Authors, find out how to share your Song of Salvation here.
“There is no doubt that Marley was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.”
That is an excerpt from the opening to A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. We’re a long way off from Christmas, but there’s a lot to learn there I think. Like Marley, Scrooge was dead, though he didn’t know it at the start. Equally, we were all dead in our sins when Christ made the way of salvation in Himself. All of us are dead in our sins when we come to Christ and the wonderful story of our salvation is told.
As a rule, we tend to focus on the transformation Scrooge undergoes, and we should. But A Christmas Carol leaves us with a brief summary that “Scrooge was better than his word…He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man as the good old City knew…” It sounds like he lived happily ever after. In this end summary lies something really important we all too often zoom past. For the changes Scrooge underwent to truly impact the rest of us, he had to live out that summary, which was undoubtedly many years. It’s worth noting, Dickens included the note that some people laughed at Scrooge for his change. Scrooge could have relapsed and had he, we could be skeptical and say, “Bah! Humbug!” to his story. Through this summary, we know he didn’t relapse. In the same way, we must live out a summary, fill its space in such a way as to reflect on our antecedent change. It isn’t always easy. The things we think we can rely on initially can fail us, people laugh. I would like to share some of my summary, in the hopes it will be an encouragement as you live out yours.
Scrooge had it rough in his early life, but truth be told he did enjoy the benefit of his family’s example. That certainly isn’t true for all of us. Not too long after I accepted Christ, my maternal grandfather, 86 at the time, married a woman he had known for two weeks. She was supposed to be his caregiver and was in her seventies. The decision divided the family. Then we found out she had a number of previous husbands who all died suddenly. It was a nightmare playing out in our lives. Even after my grandfather died and she was long gone, the schism in the family didn’t fully heal. In the midst of the bitterness and loss and backbiting, God worked on me. These were people I knew and loved, I had to try to see things through their eyes. Surely they couldn’t be as cruel and awful as they seemed at times. I’d like to believe I’m right about that and for it I learned forgiveness, forbearance. Even family fails us at times, but God is a place of refuge, a home when such an idea seems far away.
“Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.” – Psalm 84:3 (ESV)
Scrooge had a good friend. Jacob Marley was as close to a brother as Ebenezer had. I had a friend who was like a brother. We were friends from elementary on. Both of us are Star Wars and Lord of the Rings fans, both us like basketball, math, etc. In high school, he would give me rides home and hangout at my house before heading home. I got him started in going to church and we both raised our hands to accept Christ on the same night as 11 year olds. Years later in college, he introduced me to apologetics. Like a lot of friends we had a sort of falling out and drifted apart. Keeping in touch was easy because we had a lot of classes together and would still text every so often. Part of me still saw him as my brother. Then one day not long ago, I saw on Facebook he had publicly revealed his decision to be an atheist. It’s silly, and perhaps it’s because we grew up together being fans of Star Wars, but I suddenly felt I understood Obi Wan’s emotions when Anakin went to the dark side. I met with my friend soon after and he was still the same person to a degree, same personality and interests, but I still will never escape the feeling that I truly lost my brother. I pray for him quite a bit. Through it all, I learned the hard lesson that sometimes friendships don’t turn out how we expect and in those hours we need the “Friend Who is closer than a brother.”
“I went about as though I grieved for my friend or my brother; as one who laments his mother, I bowed down in mourning…How long, O Lord, will you look on… I will thank you in the great congregation; in the mighty throng I will praise you.” Psalm 35:14, 17a, 18 (ESV)
“The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant.” Psalm 25:14 (ESV)
Scrooge was quite the businessman, and undoubtedly was still yet after his transformation, if less shrewd. Money-making tends to beget further desire for wealth, I think. Success of any kind is addictive that way. For a few years now, I was privileged to self-style myself as the infectious disease data manager of my state. I started working in the Division of Infectious Disease Epidemiology as a web developer, but when the previous data manager left, he taught me the peculiarities of the data system we use and coupled with my degrees in computer science and computer engineering, I became his successor. Had I been older, with more years of experience I could have taken the job outright, but I was still fresh out college so instead of getting a pay raise and a title I picked up the work he had done and stayed where I was at in the office. Over the years, I got to do quite a few special projects that have endeared me to the epidemiologists. I won a few awards within the office for my contributions. It really made me feel special, important.
A month ago, our office gave the application I was working on over to a cloud hosting vendor. It was to fill a directive the CDC gave us before I even got to work on the application so that didn’t sting too much. Far more painful was the realization that suddenly everything I felt made me special at work had been taken from me. I’m just the web guy again. Coming to grips with that has been a huge lesson in humility and what it is to be a servant. Sometimes the Lord gives us a role we are to put our all into, but we never know how long we have such honors. What makes us special isn’t what we achieve, even in the skill the Lord imparts us. Rather it is in being prized by God, in spite of our comparatively homely nature. What Scrooge gained when he stopped clinging to his wealth was far greater. If we try to hold onto our lesser treasures then we cannot lay hold of the greatest treasure as surely. After all, isn’t our heart where our treasure lies?
“Deliver my soul from…men of the world whose portion is in this life… As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.” Psalm 17:13a,14b,15 (ESV)
Life after our big transformation isn’t assured to be easy. In fact, we are promised troubles in this world. No one would think anything all that wonderful had taken place for Scrooge if after the book’s events he went back to his old self. The summary revealed he lived all the more his transformation in all the days after it. I think our salvation experience is like that. We live out the change every day after, even when things of significance fail us, even when it is hard. Especially when it is hard. Then, when others see our summary, they will understand just how wonderful our transformation is and even more so the One behind it.
“May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.” 2 Thessalonians 3:5 (ESV)