Archive for September 2013

God, I Want to Know You

O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. (Psalm 139:1, NIV)

God, You created this entire universe,
so vast and beautiful,
so mysterious and wonderful.

You also created me.
You conceived me before I was born.
You knit me together in my mother’s womb.
And You patterned me after yourself.

You love me.
You know every thought before I express it,
every word before I speak it.
Yet You love me.

And You want me to know and love You.
You want that more than anything.
My Creator, I don’t want to ignore such an intriguing possibility.

God, I want to know You.

Listen…and sing if you want:
Hymn: Come and See the Works of Our God
Recording
Printed Music & Lyrics

Ask Anything in My Name

“I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” (John 16:23-24, NIV)

During Jesus’ final time with His disciples before His crucifixion, He talked to them about their ministry after His departure (John 13 – 17). Four different times (John 14:13-14; 15:7; 15:16; 16:23-24) He said,

Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.
(John 15:16, NIV)

These verses are intriguing because they sound like a blank check. Rub the lamp and make three wishes. But we seem to assume that either our faith isn’t strong enough, or that the “fine print” makes these verses of little practical significance to us. In any case, we don’t take Jesus’ offer seriously.

Recently, however, I looked into the context here to understand what He was so anxious to tell us.

1. He emphasized that we were to ask in His name; that is, within His will, and only for His purposes (14:13; 15:16; 16:23-24).

2. He repeatedly said that the reason our prayers would be answered is that the Father might be glorified (14:13; 15:8) and that we might bear fruit to Him (15:16).

3. Jesus makes it clear that we will share His own direct relationship with the Father (16:23-24, 26-27). As we live in His Spirit, depending on the Father, willing only what He wills, we can ask boldly and largely on behalf of His work.

In this light, these “ask anything” verses are not an option or an invitation to self-indulgence. They are a challenge to ministry.

Think of the ministry God has given you. Are your desires focused enough on Him that You truly want only what He wants, and only for His glory?

If so, is your faith aggressive enough to believe He can do more than you can do on your own? Do you limit your service to levels in which you can operate comfortably in your own strength? Or do you let Him lead you into tasks where you have to depend on Him?

As you follow Christ and serve Him, you’ll come up against needs that are bigger than you. At that point, you’ll either take His words on prayer seriously, or the job won’t get done. “Ask anything in my name” is His call to meet each of those challenges with simple, assured prayer.

Does Jesus repeatedly point you to an area of service or obedience? Perhaps you’ve tried to avoid it as being unrealistic or beyond you. But He gently, persistently brings it back to your mind. Face it with Him, step by step, prayer by prayer. You’ll be surprised at how He can work through you.

The Power of Influence: Charles Wesley

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.

As a music composition major at the College-Conservatory of Music, the University of Cincinnati, I trained to be a composer of classical music. To learn our craft, we intensely studied the works of classical masters. In the years before sound recordings, composers used to learn the techniques of classical masters by hand-copying their scores.

One of the best ways to learn hymn writing is to employ the same strategy: study the hymns of the best hymnwriters. Immerse yourself in their work.

Before I had any personal designs on being a hymnwriter, the Lord exposed me to the hymns of many, many hymnists. Since I grew up in a hymn-singing church, hundreds of hymns were already engrained in my emotional memory. Then in my 20’s and early 30’s, I collected old hymnals and read many of them. While at the University of Cincinnati, I used to take old hymnals out of their rare books collection and photocopy entire hymnals on the spot so that I could read through them on my own.

In my early 20’s, before coming to Lillenas and before having any designs on music publishing or hymn writing, I bought numerous newly-published collections of songs and hymns. Some were contemporary collections from the “Jesus music” movement here in the U.S., while others were the hymns of British hymnwriters from the “Hymn Explosion” of the time—Fred Kaan, followed by Brian Wren, Fred Pratt Green, and Timothy Dudley-Smith. I read through each and every song and hymn. Often I would make notes on what I liked and didn’t like about each selection. What great training the Lord gave me! I had no ambitions. I was just following my interests.

During my first 12 years at Lillenas, I consciously prepared for the next denominational hymnal by reading through uncounted complete hymn collections looking for potential hymns. Some of the best of these found their way into Sing to the Lord (1993), which I had the privilege of editing.

I say all the above to make this point: in my formative years, I read many thousands of hymns from a wide variety of traditions. But I particularly studied the hymns of one particular writer: Charles Wesley. In addition to encountering his work in older hymnals, two projects intensified my exposure to his hymns:

1.  Around the late ‘70’s, scholar Carl Bangs went to Bud Lunn, then head of Nazarene Publishing House, and suggested that the company release a new collection of Wesley hymns. I was given the joyful task of compiling such a book, which meant combing through many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Wesley hymn texts. Wesley Hymns was released in 1982.

2.  During that same time frame, Wesleyan theologians were debating whether John Wesley associated entire sanctification with Pentecost. I contributed to the debate by doing a comparative study of the two topics as treated in the Wesleys’ hymn publications. The fall, 1982, issue of the Wesleyan Theological Journal published my study, “The Wesleys’ Hymns on Full Redemption and Pentecost: A Brief Comparison”.

As I immersed myself in Charles Wesley’s hymns, they became part of me. He wrote hymns for public worship, as well as more devotional hymns, and both were infused with his deep desire for the fullness of God.

He so beautifully and naturally balances the objective and the subjective. His fervent passion was fueled by both reason and emotion, by scripture as well as personal experience. As a result, notice the wide variety of protestant traditions that still consider his hymns a high water mark. The sheer quality of his work has taken his hymns far beyond their theological home turf.

I’ve long wanted to infuse my own hymns with his balance. And how the evangelical church still struggles to find that balance! The Apostle Paul could have been talking about Wesley hymns when he wrote:

I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also. (1 Corinthians 14:15, NASB)

Father, thank you for providing the example and influence of Charles Wesley. Continue to keep our minds and hearts open to his lessons.

For You Alone

Lord, if all I do in Your service is done for You,
in response to Your grace to me,
in response to Your call to service,
in response to Your constant leading,
in Your strength alone,
for Your purposes alone,
then why do I still hunger for the praise
and acceptance of people?
Why, Lord?

Free me from such desires for praise that is
vain, empty, and undeserved,
based as much on ignorance as on truth,
misleading to those who offer the praise,
destructive to me who receives the praise.
Help me to find joy only
in serving You.

And when time has proven the irrelevance
of all other measures of success,
I will stand before You.
You will look into my eyes and say,
“Well done,
my good and faithful servant.
Enter into the joy of your Lord.”

Listen…and sing if you want:
Hymn: He’ll Understand and Say, “Well Done!”
Recording
Printed Music & Lyrics

Are You God or Not?

When John, while imprisoned, heard of the works of Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to Him, “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?” 

Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me.” (Matthew 11:2-6, NASB)

I read this passage of scripture and identify with John the Baptist. Often I’ve sat imprisoned by need, wondering if You were going to be the Savior I needed right then.

Jesus, You surprise us at times. You do not work as we expect or as we hope. You perplex and disturb us.

But when we stand back and watch what You do, it is always love. It is always redemption and healing and restoration.

Thank You, Lord. Help us to keep trusting You through our ignorance and pain.

The Power of Influence: C. S. Lewis

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.

I am a huge fan of audio books and have been for many years. That’s how I first came to know the writing of C. S. Lewis (1898-1963). At present I own recordings of 25 books by him and another five books about him.  I’ve listened to most of them multiple times. He is easily my favorite extra-biblical author.

I’m including him among my major influencers, even though I never met him. I’ve written elsewhere about how his ideas on reason and imagination have enlightened me (see Reason and Imagination). But that’s only one of the ways his writing has enriched my thought and my life.

When I began reading and listening to his books, the first thing that struck me was how clearly he thought and wrote. He dealt with complex ideas and chains of reasoning with amazing clarity and simplicity. That’s what I need to do as a hymn writer. Hymns must express complex and lofty ideas in a way that is understandable and natural for the average lay person. C. S. Lewis shows that it can be done and points the way. For me, his apologetic works do this best, especially Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, and Miracles.

I rarely read or listen to fiction, but Lewis is a shining exception. His fiction inspires me to see the world from a broader, loftier perspective. His stories give me hope. He unselfconsciously shows Almighty God working His loving will in the real, physical world in which we live. Again, this points the way for my hymns. His Chronicles of Narnia are justly famous along this line, but I love The Great Divorce for the same reason. And don’t miss his space trilogy, Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength. For years I avoided them, thinking that science fiction written before 1960 would seem primitive. How very wrong I was!

The Screwtape Letters is still unique after all these years. How could a book on so dark a subject as temptation be so whimsical and even funny? Writing can be both entertaining and profoundly meaningful!

But the main reason I find C. S. Lewis so enriching is his insightfulness. With most books, even excellent ones, you are likely to get fresh, provocative insights only every once in a while. With Lewis, the insights are an almost continuous stream. My impression is that this comes not just from his great mind and great heart, but from the fact that he read deeply and widely. He seemed to synthesize insights gleaned from the entire body of Christian literature.

It’s not surprising that Lewis has inspired a number of my hymns. To give them a look and listen, just click on the links below. Both the printed copies and the downloadable recordings are free (see the upper right-hand quadrant for the “Listen” link).

Christ Is Come
Ever Full and Overflowing
God My Father
Longing for Jesus
Our Lord I AM
See the Father Walk Among Us
The Heart of Christ
We Choose Joy
What Will You Do with Jesus?
You Came to Us

One with Christ*

God’s goal and desire is to make us one with Himself. Each of us. All of us. That has always been His amazing purpose.

But for many believers, Jesus is like an unnoticed guest, shut up in some little-visited closet in a corner of their house. He has been there since they believed in Him and received Him. He longs to make Himself known to them, to be one with them in their daily lives and share in all their interests. But He will not force Himself on anyone.

They walk through their lives unaware of their Guest, ignorant of their marvelous privileges. They come and go, lay their plans, make their decisions, pursue their joys here and there, long for peace, stumble through relationships, and inwardly mourn their unsatisfying lives, all with little reference to Him.

Believer, hear this beautiful, life-changing truth: the Lord is with you! The Lord is in you! Throw open every door to Him. Make Him the center of every part of your life. Talk to Him. Thank Him. Consult Him. Trust Him. Lean on Him. Get to know Him.

But this picture of Jesus as a guest doesn’t fully express the reality. He longs to join His innermost life—His very breath—to our innermost life, to the essence of who we are. Through a living relationship, built on trust, He will come more and more into real union with us. His will becomes our will. His actions become our actions. His love, His passion, His holiness become increasingly ours—not in theory, not in ecstatic emotion, not someday and far away—but now, in living, daily reality.

Like every part of salvation, this happens by God’s love, through simple faith. It comes by turning to Him and trusting Him, one step at a time.

*”One with Christ” was inspired by chapter 17 of “The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life”, by Hannah Whitall Smith, 1875.

Listen…and sing if you want:
Hymn: One in Purpose, One in Passion
Recording
Printed Music & Lyrics

Always Working for Good

We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.
(Romans 8:28, NIV)

I’ve come through a long ordeal.
The result: I feel I’ve been wronged.
Anger wants to boil up inside me.

But, Lord, I look to You.
I accept this decision as from Your hand,
as Your perfect and merciful will for me.
I thank You for the wisdom and love that
even now is using this pain for my good.

And that person, Lord—
I accept them as Your servant.
If they were mistaken or insensitive,
I forgive them.

Most of all, help me think and act as Your servant,
trusting You,
rejoicing in You.
Anger and self-protection are burdens too heavy to bear.
I cannot serve You and continue to carry them.
I give them to You.

Thank You, Lord! You are always good!

The Power of Influence: Tom Fettke

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.

Previously, he had taught high school choral music in Oakland, California. But when we started working together, Tom Fettke was selling pianos and organs out of a store showroom. When we needed to talk business, I had to call him there.

During the early years when he worked such full-time jobs outside music publishing, he sometimes wrote third shift, between late night and early morning hours. That’s how dedicated he was to his writing. When I met him in the summer of 1975, soon after I became music editor at Lillenas Publishing Company, he had already had a Christmas musical published by Lillenas, Love, Joy, Peace, as well as several anthems.

We hit it off from the beginning. Our ideas and personalities were radically different in many ways, but we were both secure enough to be completely honest with each other. That candid communication has taken us through all the years and all the situations since.

At that point, Lillenas was going through a changing of the guard, and by the late ‘70’s, I was not only director but also in charge of product development. Whenever I had an idea or needed a sounding board, Tom was my first stop.

He and I grew up together in the church music publishing business. Tom has always been a superb composer, arranger, and producer. But what made him unique was his avid interest in the behind-the-scenes aspects of publishing. Most writers only wanted to write—forget the business end. Tom was the opposite. He was insatiably curious about the rest of publishing—product development, marketing, song selection, copyright, and more. Thus he was absolutely invaluable to this young publisher who by now had more than he could possibly handle.

Basically, my 38 years in church music publishing have been more interesting, fun, and fruitful because of my close personal and professional friendship with Tom Fettke.

But he has also had a profound influence on my writing. Coming to Lillenas out of the Conservatory, I brought with me a handful of Christian songs, with original words and music. Tom quickly praised the lyrics but asked to be allowed to do his own musical settings. Thus our relationship as composer and lyricist began early and continued through perhaps 100 songs, give or take. A number of my earlier hymns, still in print, were written at his request.

Tom was and is a perfectionist. He would ask for a lyric to fit certain criteria, or I would offer one I had written, and I could count on the fact that he would call me and name multiple spots he wanted “re-examined”—which meant redone. He forced me to be much tougher on myself in every area of lyric writing, but especially when it came to the singability of my words. I learned that I had to be unflinchingly aware of the flow of the sounds of the words, how easy and natural it was to sing those consonants and vowels to those notes, in that context. If I didn’t iron out those problems before I sent him the lyric, he would force me to address them. Over the years, I came to examine the exact motion of the mouth required to say or sing each sound and each syllable. Could that sound be easily and naturally sung to that pitch, at that tempo, in that context? If not, it had to be replaced, no matter what the sense demanded.

That training in Tom’s school of lyric-writing has proven invaluable in my later years as I’ve focused on hymn writing. Hymn writing is like building a ship in a bottle, with every word having to be exactly right in relation to a long list of criteria—denotation, connotation, singability, meter, rhyme, etc. Anything I know about writing singable lyrics was learned under the tutelage of this dear and very exacting friend.

Thank You, good Lord, for Tom Fettke!

Justice

How do we know what is just and right in any particular situation? What is justice after all?

We usually think of justice as a certain standard of fairness, of right and wrong. We say that God is just because He consistently adheres to that standard.

But God is the creator and source of all. There is no separate standard of justice to which we compare Him. There is no outside set of rules by which He must abide in order to be “just”. He Himself is the standard of justice. Justice flows from His character and is seen in all His actions. We say that He is just because we see that He is always consistent with Himself. His actions are always consistent with His perfect wisdom and perfect love.

So how can know and live just lives?

We are just when we are like Him. Our actions are just when we act like Him.

We often think of justice and mercy as opposites…or at least as two competing values that must be balanced. We see justice as absolute rightness, and mercy as a kindly compromise with justice. But when we realize that justice and mercy are both descriptions of God’s nature, we see them not as opposites to be balanced. They are two facets of the same jewel. God is always merciful and always just.

Thus when we are called to seek justice in this unjust world, we are not called to a specific social agenda. We are called to think and live and be like God. We are called to be holy as He is holy, to live and speak the truth as He is the truth, to love as He loves. We are called to be His children, His ambassadors, His servants, His hands.

The Old Testament beautifully pictures our just and loving God, reporting His words and actions over many centuries. But He is most completely revealed in Jesus Christ. He is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15) and the exact representation of His being (Hebrews 1:3). What is more, Christ enables us not only to see and know God, but to live in Him, and He in us. He gives us the Spirit of God so that by simple faith, we can live just and loving lives in this present world. Through His people, and above His people, God is creating the just world that He has promised.

Listen…and sing if you want:
Hymn: Justice Hymn
Recording
Printed Music & Lyrics

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