Archive for August 2013

A Musician’s Prayer

“Speak, for Your servant is listening.”
(1 Samuel 3:10, NASB)

Father, when I am asked to serve,
I will be willing.
When I am not asked,
I will accept it joyfully
as Your decision, my Lord.

You are always good,
and I am simply Your servant.
I will not crave a place of service
You have given to another.

Thank you for Your generous and wise love.

The Power of Influence: Dr. Thomas Scott Huston

As you read each post in this series,
I hope you’ll think with gratitude about those who have influenced you, and
I hope you’ll ponder your investment in the lives of others.

Bigger than life—those are the first words that come to mind when I think of “Doc” Huston. He was over six feet tall and slightly hump-shouldered, with thinning, wispy red hair. Some of his ways would have seemed brash and uncouth in a younger, less authoritative man. His smile was warm, his gestures often broad and dramatic, and his voice could boom with unapologetic passion.

He was given to definitive pronouncements, almost theatrical in their fervor, and when the situation demanded it, he had a temper to match his red hair. As he strode down the hall with his distinctive gait, everyone knew he was there, and when he arrived at class, he “made an entrance” without even trying. But he had a twinkle in his eye that seemed permanent, even in his wrath.

During my senior year in high school, I attended a Saturday music theory and composition class in the College-Conservatory of Music building at the University of Cincinnati—part of their preparatory school program. The teacher of that course introduced me to Doc Huston. Knowing I was about to enter the Conservatory with an interest in composition, he offered to let me to sit in on one of his composition classes during my freshman year. When school rules allowed me to switch my major to music composition at the beginning of my sophomore year, I officially studied composition with him for four more years, including one year of master’s study.

His composition classes were always held in his office studio. When he played one of his students’ compositions for that week, he would attack his studio grand piano with an energy totally unbridled by correctness. I remember once when a younger student tried to tell him he was playing his masterpiece incorrectly. Bad idea. His more experienced students knew that Doc was hearing far more than he was playing.

He always had a cup of coffee and a cigar in composition class. The coffee was often a victim of his passionate gestures and would end up inside the grand piano. A cursory mopping up was all the attention it got. Cigar ashes regularly fell on a student’s precious manuscript. Doc would brush them away without missing a beat.

How many times did I hear him rant about the five perfect compositions in music history! Bach’s B Minor Mass…Brahms’ Third Symphony…there was a Stravinsky in there, but I’m ashamed to admit I don’t remember the rest.

As a student, there were some younger profs I respected more when it came to knowing the technical details of music analysis. By comparison, Doc seemed more of a broad strokes guy. Sometimes I even wondered if Doc wasn’t using theatrical proclamations to cover his lack of detailed familiarity with the literature. Forgive me, Doc.

But 20+ years after leaving the Conservatory, when I turned from writing lyrics alone back to composing my own music, it was Doc’s oft-repeated broad strokes about music composition that proved unforgettable. Doc had majored on majors, not on minors, and I reaped the rewards of his wise investment. His basic principles lie behind every good hymn setting I’ve ever written. (I’ll take the blame for the rest.)

Externally, he was not a poster child for conservative evangelical Christianity. But he was outspokenly, unapologetically Christian in a place and time when profs more often sneered at God and openly mocked belief in Him. For a college kid struggling with his faith in a very atheistic environment, Doc was a light in a dark place, a homing beacon on the shore of a safe and welcoming harbor.

Secure

We go our own way.
We make our own plans
for our own reasons,
pursuing our own goals.
Then we build walls, protecting ourselves from every interference.
We are secure.
We are self-sufficient.
We can handle whatever comes.

But the unforeseen happens—it always does—
and we discover that no walls can keep out the evil that floods this world.
No matter how strong we are, we are vulnerable.
No matter how watchful we are, we are insecure.
We cannot control the reality that engulfs us.

But when our false security is stripped away,
we can rediscover the security on which creation itself rests—
the security that keeps the days and seasons revolving,
untouched and unthreatened by human hatred or pride.
We can rediscover that no matter what knowledge we accumulate,
God is our only wisdom.
No matter much power we try to harness,
God is sovereign.

He is love, and we are His children.
That is the only security we will ever have and
the only security we will ever need.

Listen…and sing if you want:
Hymn: Back to You
Recording
Printed Music & Lyrics

Faith: The Greatest Bargain in the Universe

I don’t normally post to this blog on Saturday. But all my blog entries are scheduled for the coming months, and I just had to share this little extra with you.

In preparation for a project I’m working on, I went through all the New Testament passages on faith. Wow—what a picture! What an incredible list of promises God makes to those who simply trust Him! And there are probably some I missed.

To help me digest it all, I quickly compiled the following list of blessings promised to those who trust God. As I got into it, I knew I just had to share it with you!

It may be too much to digest in one sitting. If so, come back to it and reflect on it a little at a time:

As we believe God,
as we believe that He is and that He rewards those who seek Him,
as we believe that Jesus is His Son and that God raised Him from the dead,
as we unite God’s word with faith,
as we entrust ourselves to Him:

  • We have eternal life: God’s boundless, timeless, endless life, here and now and forever. (numerous references)
  • We enter into God’s deep and endless rest. (Hebrews 4:3)
  • We can draw near to our Father God in full confidence. (Hebrews 10:22)
  • We are in the hands of the Great Healer. (numerous references)
  • We are children of God. (John 1:12 et al)
  • We will never hunger or thirst. (John 6:35-36)
  • We have the living water of the Spirit flowing within us. (John 7:38-39)
  • We know the truth, and the truth sets us free. (John 8:30-32)
  • We do the works of Christ and together, we do even greater works than He did. (John 14:10-12)
  • We will not be judged by Him. (numerous references)
  • We can move mountains (Matthew 17:20). All things are possible to us (Mark 9:33 et al).
  • All we have is His and thus is the common property of His people. (Acts 4:32 et al)
  • We are justified—declared by God to be completely innocent. (numerous references)
  • We have God’s own righteousness. (numerous references)
  • God cleanses our hearts. (Acts 15:9)
  • God enables us to obey Him. (Romans 1:5; 16:26)
  • He fills us with all joy and peace, and we abound in hope. (Romans 15:13)
  • We are sealed in Christ—marked as God’s very own and put under His protection. This sealing is by the Holy Spirit, who is our downpayment on our full redemption to come. (Ephesians 1:13-14)
  • The power of God that raised Christ from the dead is at work in us. (Ephesians 1:18-20)
  • We have been granted the great privilege of suffering for Christ’s sake. (Philippians 1:29)
  • The all-creating, all-powerful Word of God is doing its work within us. (1 Thessalonians 2:13)
  • We have an unchanging, unshakable hope for the future that is unthreatened even by death. (1 Thessalonians 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:12; et al)
  • We rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory. (1 Peter 1:8)
  • We are being built into a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, with Jesus Christ as the cornerstone. (1 Peter 2:4-7)
  • We know God’s love for us. (1 John 4:16)
  • Though surrounded by an evil world, we overcome. (1 John 5:4-5)
  • If we lack wisdom, all we have to do is ask God, and He supplies it gladly. (James 1:5-6)
  • We can remain confident and calm through the storms of life. (Mark 4:40; Luke 8:25)
  • We have the joy and privilege of encouraging our fellow believers. (Romans 1:12 et al)
  • We are children of Abraham and thus heir to all God promised him. (Romans 4; Galatians 3; Genesis 12:1-3)
  • We have peace with God and full access to His boundless grace. (Romans 5:1-2)
  • Jesus Christ Himself lives in us. (Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 3:17)
  • God is perfecting us by faith. (Galatians 3:2, 5)
  • We are given beautiful, life-giving spiritual gifts to share with other believers. (Romans 12:3, 6)
  • Our life foundation is not human wisdom but the power of God Himself. (1 Corinthians 2:4-5)
  • We can stand firm, no matter what problems or opposition we meet. (1 Corinthians 16:13 et al)
  • We are protected by a shield (Ephesians 6:16) and a breastplate (1 Thessalonians 5:8) that can deflect and extinguish anything Satan throws at us.
  • We can walk safely and confidently, even when we can’t see the path ahead. (2 Corinthians 5:7)
  • We can grow in faith (2 Corinthians 10:15 et al) and pursue more and more faith  throughout your lives (1 Timothy 6:11). Faith continues to grow as a natural fruit of God’s Spirit within us. (Galatians 5:22)
  • We become members of God’s family. In Christ we are one with all other believers of every time and place. (Galatians 6:10; Ephesians 4:5; et al)
  • God grows within us the precious quality of patient endurance (2 Thessalonians 1:4; James 1:2-3; 1 Peter 1:6-7, 9).
  • No matter how difficult life becomes, we fight the good fight and grab hold of eternal life. (1 Timothy 6:11-12; 2 Timothy 2:22; 4:7-8)
  • The words of faith nourish us. (1 Timothy 4:6)
  • Our example of faith is a heritage that we pass on to our children and grandchildren. (2 Timothy 1:5)
  • We are fabulously rich, even when we are poor. (James 2:5)

A Single Step

My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.
(Exodus 33:14, NIV)

Lord, sometimes I’m scared to follow You.
What You ask–or what I’m afraid You’re asking—
seems overwhelming.
It seems beyond my ability and
beyond where I feel safe.

But I’m learning that You don’t ask the impossible.
Your demands aren’t complicated.
Each time You lead, all You ask is a single step of faith.
You ask for only one step at a time.

Right now, as You speak, Lord,
I look into Your face.
Jesus, I take that single step of faith.

The Power of Influence: John Matre

As you read each post in this series,
I hope you’ll think with gratitude about those who have influenced you, and
I hope you’ll ponder your investment in the lives of others.

My “musical career” began in fifth grade with school band. When they demonstrated each of the instruments, only the clarinet seemed like something I might be able to do, so that was reason enough. I took up the clarinet.

My band director from fifth grade all the way through high school was Mr. Matre—John Matre. I liked him.

And I guess he liked my clarinet playing, for he encouraged me all along the way.

In fact, in seventh grade, he came to me and offered me free private lessons on the clarinet, on his own time. I was flattered and honored, so I took him up on it.

I don’t remember anything specific that he ever taught me. Perhaps it’s my spotty memory, or perhaps it was because he was a trombonist, not a woodwind guy. But that didn’t matter. With my temperament, I was never destined to become a world-famous performing artist on anything, clarinet or otherwise. By the time I was 18, I was good enough to be accepted into the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati as a clarinetist. But at the beginning of my sophomore year, when school rules allowed me to become a music composition major, the clarinet was abandoned forever. Not even my wife of 42 years has ever heard me play.

But what was important is this: because Mr. Matre thought highly of my clarinet playing, so did I. Because my music was important to him, it became important to me.

My music ministry began there and then—in the seventh grade with free clarinet lessons from Mr. Matre. Thank you, John Matre, for giving of yourself to me. Everyone I have ever touched with my music thanks you as well.

Pray as One of His Children

When I first started using the Lord’s Prayer on a daily basis, I was struck by one fact: there was no place for intercession. There was nothing that allowed me to pray for the needs of others.

Then I noticed that throughout the prayer, it’s not “I” or “my,” but “we” and “our.” Yes, I can still pray for my personal concerns. “I” am included in the “we,” and my Father asks me to come to Him. But the point is this: My prayers can be as broad or as narrow as my concerns at the time. My petitions can be personal. They can be universal.

How broad are your prayers? Or to ask it a different way, how low are your eyes? Are they focused entirely on yourself? Are they raised a little higher to take in those few immediately around you? Or have you looked up and realized that you are surrounded by an entire world of need, an entire race that’s lost, desperate, hungry, and dying? God is our Father. Every person is His as well. He is deeply conscious of them. Are you?

There is nothing wrong with praying for personal and family concerns. But each of the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer challenges us to lift our eyes, our hearts, and our prayers toward other people near and far. God is our Father. We all need His will in our lives, His daily provision, His forgiveness, His protection from evil.

Pray to your Father not just as His child but as one of His children.

Listen…and sing if you want:
Hymn: God of All People
Recording
Printed Music & Lyrics

A Present God

The Lord Almighty is with us.
(Psalm 46:7, NIV)

Sunday morning worship.
As we are singing glorious hymns of exaltation and praise,
I realize that I’m not thinking about Him,
but about me.
My thoughts are self-centered.

Forgive me, Lord.

How shameful such thoughts will be
when I stand before You face-to-face.
How foolish and abhorrent all pride will seem
in the blazing light of Your presence.

But Almighty God, You are here now.
I stand before You now.
You see my heart.
You hear my thoughts.
And I am ashamed.

Transform me, Lord.
Teach me.
Help me live and think and walk in the light of Your beauty and presence.
Fill every thought, every prayer, and every song of praise
with an active trust in a present God.

The Power of Influence: Dr. Morris Weigelt

In mid-June, 1975, my wife, my one-year-old son, and I moved to Kansas City, Missouri, so that I could begin my new job as music editor for Lillenas Publishing Company. We immediately began attending a little church in the suburbs, Grandview Church of the Nazarene. That same week, Dr. Morris Weigelt moved to KC to take up his appointment as Professor of New Testament at Nazarene Theological Seminary. He and his family started attending Grandview Church as well.

His influence on me began as I simply heard him preach and teach. Though I had grown up in the church, he opened for me a whole new dimension in Bible teaching. He laid open God’s Word in greater depth than I had ever imagined possible. He taught with warmth, practical relevance, and a sense of bubbling fascination. His considerable intellect was blended with a spirit that was passionate and contagious.

So imagine my surprise when in 1977, he came to me and asked me to team-teach an adult Sunday School class with him. Each Sunday morning for three years we sat side by side on stools and together taught a Bible lesson to a room full of adults. Our only coordination was a brief phone conversation on Saturday night to set general direction. Otherwise, the back and forth between us was completely unscripted. The format was his idea.

Tell me, why would a Bible scholar and expert teacher in the prime of his career approach a 27-year-old kid with such a proposal? I had never taught the Bible to adults—I had never even considered it before he approached me. But I’ve never stopped teaching the Bible since, both in person and in writing.

He has continued to be a guide, mentor, and encourager to me over the years. For more of his wise counsel, see Saturate Yourself with the Truth and Don’t Pick the Fruit Too Soon.

Most importantly, Morris’ example turned me on to creative communication of biblical truth. That passion is still alive and well in me and burns behind everything I do. He showed me that God’s Word could be taught with greater depth, warmth, and relevance than I had ever dreamed.

The Lord turned my life toward doing that same thing through hymns. Congregational music can be much more than a temporary emotional experience. The truth about Jesus Christ demands that it be more. Hymns can help nurture our eternal relationship with the Living God.

Dr. Morris Weigelt helped open my eyes to this possibility, and I thank the Lord God for his influence in my life. The Lord has used him to help me fulfill His calling.

Complete Freedom

Often we define freedom as the ability to do what we choose.
But even when we can choose, we are not free.
Though not bound by another human being,
our choices are bound by our own self-centeredness,
our weakness, and our addiction to sin.
These chains are the most binding of all.

Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? (Romans 6:12,16, NIV)

True freedom is the ability to choose the best,
to become all our Creator designed us to be.
True freedom is release from our addiction to sin.
It is a beautiful, constant oneness with Jesus Christ.
In Him we become all God’s love wants for us,
all His wisdom designed for us, and
all His unlimited power can make us.

That is true freedom!
Strenuous effort cannot win it,
strict self-discipline cannot achieve it, and
personal merit cannot earn it.
This freeing oneness comes only by simple, moment-by-moment trust in Jesus Christ.

Listen…and sing if you want:
Hymn: Freedom in You
Recording
Printed Music & Lyrics

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