“When the world was all dark, your music got me to the sunlight.” I heard this on a TED Talk podcast, and while I haven’t had a lot of darkness in my life, most of my sunlight has come through music. I was in Tyler, Texas, last Saturday, for an event called the Instrumental Convergence. Eight of us traveled from First Baptist in Midland to join about 100 other musicians for an opportunity to play through the latest church instrumental music. It was my first band trip since the 1979 Orange Bowl.
It was a wonderful experience … to play with other good musicians … to be directed by an excellent clinician who not only inspired us to play well, but worship well.
We were led by composer/arranger Camp Kirkland, who said he no longer thought of himself as a conductor, but as The Unifier. He said all of us were the ones making music; his job was to unify our efforts.
For me, he was exactly that. He unified my love of playing good music with good musicians, with my life-long faith and Christian practice.
Camp quoted from the 1981 movie, Chariots of Fire, about Eric Liddell, the Olympic runner who later served as a missionary in China until dying in a Japanese internment camp in 1945. In the movie, Liddell told his sister: “I believe God made me for a purpose. For China. But He also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”
That’s why we all gave up an entire Saturday to play together, because music is one of the ways we feel his pleasure.
Camp Kirkland said he regretted that most people stop quoting the movie at that point, but Liddell went on to say, “To give it up would be to hold him in contempt.”
It isn’t enough that we feel His pleasure … but we are obligated to give back to God what he has given to us. Poet Jane Kenyon said it well when she wrote that we should “be good stewards of our gifts.”
The last line from Liddell in the movie scene is this: “To win is to honor Him.”
We are not only obligated to give back to God, we are also directed to perfect our art, to learn the skills, to honor God. Psalm 33:3 instructs us to “Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy.” (Special emphasis on the word “skillfully”)
So Saturday morning, as I looked around the room of musicians, I noticed at least half of them were older than me. I was firmly entrenched in the median age of the group. That was encouraging – reminding me I have lots of playing years left.
I told Cyndi that I was sitting with an entire row of vintage trombones held by vintage trombone players. (As for me, I was holding my favorite (of four trombones that live in my house), my King Silver Sonic 3B that I’ve played since 1970 (manufactured circa 1965). Cyndi has now decided my new Trail Name should be Silver Sonic, which is much better than my old Trail Name …Crotchety Bad-knees Gray-Head.)
As leaders, we wonder when we will age-out of personal ministry. I ask myself that all the time. How will I know when it’s time to step down from teaching and let the young bucks take over? But seeing so many fellow mature (in age, if not behavior … we were trombone players, after all; hardly known for mature behavior) musicians reminded me of what Dallas Willard wrote: “Aging is not loss; it is a time to add spiritual substance to the soul.”
I thought of Moses, whose life crashed at age 40, who was called into full-time ministry at age 80, and whose retirement plan consisted of leading the nation of Israel until the day he died.
Let’s all of us keep running fast and playing long, giving back to God to honor Him, for the rest of our lives. To do any less would be to hold him in contempt.
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32
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