Rock the piano recital grace

(This is a repost from 2009.)

Eph. 2.8 says:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

I read this the other day and for some unknown reason a picture came to mind of God like a loving parent at a piano recital. I have now been on both ends of this deal, as the kid sweating through “Shenandoah” or the theme from “Chariots of Fire,” and now as a parent watching Emily and Katelyn. If you’ve been either parent or recitalee, you know how this goes down. The kid gets up there and plays, maybe well, or okay, or not-so-okay, or train-wreck. But this has no bearing on the reaction of the loving parent, does it? They clap and cheer and hug and video and shed a few tears. And they keep shelling out for those lessons, even if it is a futile endeavor. They may justify it as a good experience or something like that, but it’s really an act of love.

God treats us like that, accepting us no matter how badly we’ve done (or how well we think we’ve done). God’s grace is free and generous, lavish and never-ending, well beyond the patience of even the best human parent. And God’s not like the tone-deaf parent who doesn’t really know how bad the recital went; God knows exactly how it should be played, aware of how all the notes, rhythms, and phrasings are supposed to go. Yet, God cheers us and hugs us and loves us anyway.

As true as that is, that’s not the end of the story. As comforting and encouraging as it is to have parents who support you as you mutilate the music, how much cooler is it to totally rock? It won’t make the parentals love you any more, but isn’t it always better to rock than not to rock? Should the kid take their love and acceptance as a free pass to stink it up, or as a secure foundation from which to pursue excellence boldly?

See the very next verse in Eph. (the one right after we usually stop quoting) says:

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

God’s grace is not contingent on our works; our works don’t earn us anything. But God’s grace does not give us an excuse to slack off and not do any work either. We were created for good works. Our sin wrecks all that, but God pours grace into us to re-enable us to do the good that we were created to do.

When you’re playing music, the surest way to mess up is to be afraid that you’re going to mess up. As soon as you think to yourself, “here comes that hard lick, I hope I don’t blow it” – – BAM – – you blew it. Just like you knew you would. Knowing that the people you’re playing with believe in you and won’t blink if you do slip up frees you up to play really well, often times better than you thought you could play.

God believes in your ability to do good because God created you and knows what you are capable of doing and being. God’s grace enables you to do good and is there to cover you when you do slip up. There is absolutely nothing to fear, nothing to lose, by taking the risk to do what God is telling you to do. There is actually everything to gain because with God’s grace supporting you and cheering you on, you will totally rock.

Monday meditations Heb.12: do the hard work of a disciple

Hebrews 12 (NLT, with alterations)
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.2 We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.3 Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up.4 After all, you have not yet shed your own blood in your struggle against sin.
  5 And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said,

“My child, don’t make light of the LORD’s discipline,
  and don’t give up when he corrects you.
6 For the LORD disciplines those he loves,
  and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.”

7 As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father?8 If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children at all.9 Since we respected our earthly fathers who disciplined us, shouldn’t we submit even more to the discipline of the Father of our spirits, and live forever?
10 For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness.11 No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.
12 So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees.13 Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but be healed.

14 Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord.15 Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.16 Make sure that no one is immoral or godless like Esau, who traded his birthright as the firstborn son for a single meal.17 You know that afterward, when he wanted his father’s blessing, he was rejected. It was too late for repentance, even though he begged with bitter tears.


This is by far the longest passage I have posted as a meditation. I want these to be short enough that you can repeat it back to yourself many times through the week. What I’m hoping this week is that one of the bold sentences will stay with you as the mnemonic device and that the meaning you fill with it will be the call to action we see toward the end (with all the bolded verbs).

What is on my heart right now is how easy we have made it to be a follower of Jesus, not any harder really than making any other selection in our consumer culture (another post for another day right there). We evangelize and work to make converts – just get them in, get them saved, and get them giving and volunteering.

But this is not how Jesus went about things. The Gospels depict him as elusive at times, making hard demands, delivering hard teachings, making meanings harder to understand (the opposite of the typical sermon these days), testing the resolve of his followers, pushing them farther and farther into faith.

We don’t make these demands of ourselves or others often enough. Worse still, those who think they are making these demands of others are often completely off base, demanding religious/cultural conformity, theological uniformity, or pro forma piety. These are not the demands the Gospel makes of its disciples, but are quite literally the work of antichrist.

The key here is that no one can tell you when, how, and why you are being disciplined, except the One doing the disciplining. So I encourage you to meditate this week on these metaphors:

  1. shed my own blood in struggle against sin
  2. enduring divine disciple as a child of the Father
  3. take a new grip with tired hands
  4. strengthen weak knees
  5. mark out a straight path for lame feet

I am hoping one or more of these resonates with you. Ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten you about this with regard to your own situation. I think you will find the Spirit leads you to something specific within these categories the passage gives us:

  1. work at living in peace with others
  2. work at living a holy life
  3. look after each other – so each receives grace
  4. watch out that no bitterness grows between you and someone else
  5. make sure no one is immoral – selling out their inheritance for a pittance

These are fairly broad and can cover a number of situations, so allow the Spirit to direct your thought to something specific. This includes defining what “a holy life” means to some extent. Let the Spirit lead you to an understanding of this, you’ll be better off than if a religious busybody does so.

In short, do the hard work of a disciple, which is never anything more, less, or other than exactly what your Lord requires you to do.