The Lord is my shepherd. (Psalm 23:1, NASB)
God’s hand is only visible in the rearview mirror. Life’s major turning points
may masquerade as the small and ordinary. They only loom large when seen in
was 22 and in my first and only year of graduate school, pursuing a master’s
degree in music composition at the College-Conservatory of Music at the
University of Cincinnati. My life plan was to compose classical music and teach
at the university level.
course was “Introduction to Graduate Studies”, designed to teach us some of the
basics of graduate-level study. The instructor had assigned us to prepare an
annotated bibliography—a bibliography with brief descriptions for each book
entry. Any subject would do.
was also minister of music and youth director at a small church in Cincinnati.
Killing time before an appointment, I was sitting alone in my pastor’s study,
idly looking over the books on his shelf. One caught my eye. It was a thin,
black, clothbound book with “Wesley Hymnbook” on the spine. I began reading the
introductory material, and it caught my interest. Methodist hymnody seemed as
good a subject as any for my assignment.
course, to prepare the bibliography, I had to find and familiarize myself with
other books on Methodist hymnody. Up to this point my interest had been
classical music, not church music. But the more I read about Methodist hymns,
the more I got hooked.
I was haunting local used bookstores, hunting for old hymnals. (Side note:
nearly 15 years later, having built up a collection of about 1,000 hymnals, I
sold them to friend and composer Tom Fettke and purchased my first computer.)
In addition to old hymnals, I bought newer collections of hymns and Christian
songs and hungrily perused them. I even went to the rare book room at the University
library and photocopied entire old hymnals for study.
that school year ended, so did my classical music studies. Instead, I accepted
a job as college music instructor at God’s Bible School there in Cincinnati.
Among the courses I taught were hymnology and the history of church music, with
my personal study as my only preparation.
two years teaching, I decided to apply to Nazarene Theological Seminary in
Kansas City. I was driven by a strong interest, not in pastoring, but in
biblical languages and theology. Some at the seminary saw my application and
connected me with Nazarene Publishing House, which was looking for a music
editor at the time. I started work there in June, 1975, and stayed until the
end of 2009. I never went to seminary, except to audit a course now and again.
after starting at NPH, I learned that Wesley
Hymnbook had been one of their biggest flops ever. My pastor had a copy in
his study only because NPH had given them as gifts to graduating seniors at
Nazarene Theological Seminary.
that terrible publishing investment got them a music editor, director, and
product developer for 34 years. And it ignited in me a lifelong enthusiasm for
magnificent, incomprehensible God changes and redirects lives every day. Sometimes
He reveals Himself through a dramatic divine encounter. We are struck down by a
brilliant light like Saul on the road to Damascus, or we suddenly find
ourselves on holy ground, standing before a burning bush. But sometimes God’s
hand is artfully subtle. He lights a tiny fire deep in the heart of a young
person—a fire that in time becomes an all-consuming passion.
Our lives are so brief that
we have no idea what is important.
Accomplishments that seem so major are
quickly washed away by the river of time,
while minor events,
seen in context,
take on great significance.
But in this dark world,
a Christ-like life is like a
shining star, pointing people to
forever glorifying its Creator.
Hymn: Thank You for Your Perfect Will