Tag Archive for autobiographical

Turning Points

The Lord is my shepherd. (Psalm 23:1, NASB)

Sometimes 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 retrospect.

I 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.

The 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.

I 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.

Of 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.

Soon 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.

When 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.

After 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.

Soon 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.

But 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 hymns.

Our 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
something higher,
forever glorifying its Creator.

Hymn: Thank You for Your Perfect Will

Fresh Views of Timeless Truth

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Free pdf of A Study in Failure
Complete list of available volumes in Fresh Views of Timeless Truths

Knowing the Transcendent God: My Personal Story 4

As we begin looking at our magnificent, transcendent God, I am reflecting on how He has patiently drawn me toward Himself. Here is the last of four major turning points.

On February 20, 2015, our thirty-eight-year-old son, David, took his own life. I will not recount the shock and trauma and the depths of grief that have gripped our lives in the aftermath. But within months, I began trying to process my struggle the way I had always processed my struggles: by writing about them. But as I wrote about my grief, I found myself overwhelmed. The river of sorrow that normally flows quietly within me would overflow and flood my heart. Writing about my grief proved counterproductive. It dragged me down. It only made my grief worse.

The Lord then told me that instead of focusing on my grief, I should focus on my joy in Him. Instead of dwelling on my loss, I should dwell on all that is mine in Him – permanently, completely, joyfully, irrevocably. I should fix my eyes on Him. He is the joy that never changes.

Each day as I began to pray “Our Father in heaven,” I found myself hungry to see Him and know Him again. I needed to fix my eyes on Him again. I craved it the way I crave a refreshing morning shower. Only by refocusing on Him could I regain a true perspective. Only by seeing Him could I see everything else clearly (Psalm 36:9).

Over the years I have become increasingly aware that being a Christian is not obeying a set of rules. It is living as Jesus lived: in loving, wholehearted response to the Father. Our son’s death brought this need into focus. As I remember who God is, I remember who I am. Only then can I live in response to Him – simply and naturally, in humility, trust, and joy. Only then can I live in that ongoing connection with Him that Jesus enjoyed, and that I deeply desire more than anything else in heaven or earth.

Each and every day I want to walk in the full light of all He is. Each and every day I need to connect with the Transcendent God.

That is why all the reflections that follow were written. I want to draw you and myself to the Magnificent God who longs for us to know Him, love Him, trust Him completely, and walk in Him forever.

Listen and sing:
Hymn: We Need You, Holy God
Printed Music & Lyrics

Knowing the Transcendent God: My Personal Story 1

On Fridays during the coming months, I will be blogging reflections on the transcendent God. To begin, let me reflect on my personal journey toward Him.

All my life God has been drawing me toward Himself. He has been working to help me know Him and trust Him and walk constantly with Him. But as I look back over the years, several key turning points stand out. Here is the first.

I became a Christian at age 10 and was active in my faith throughout my public school years. But about the time I started at the University of Cincinnati, I began to doubt. Were all the Bible’s fantastic stories really true? During my first two years in college, I was a sincere atheist, though I continued to attend church.

However, I came to realize that in my human limitations, I could not rationally know whether there was a God or not. The human mind, the human perspective is far too limited. Without even knowing the word, I wrestled with His transcendence and came to admit that He was beyond me.

But when my reasoning reached its limits, the living witness of God’s people took over. I became firmly convinced that God was real because He was real in the lives of my parents and the people in my home church.

There was no emotional crisis moment when I returned to God. His Spirit spoke to me quietly, personally, and I responded in faith. I decided to believe in Him. It was that simple. I decided to trust Him, and my life changed forever. I’ve never looked back.

Listen and sing:
Hymn: Simple Faith
Printed Music & Lyrics

Only for the Lord

If we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. (Romans 14:8, NASB)

Though I have never been a pastor, I know God called me to full-time Christian service. He has led, prepared, and commissioned me. He has given me a burning desire to communicate His truth in a way that is fresh and penetrating, yet practical.

As a result, I’ve spent my entire adult life employed by Christian organizations. I consider that a great privilege and joy. But that doesn’t mean all has been sweetness and light. My bosses have been thoroughly human. My jobs have been filled with stress, frustration, and unending setbacks. I have been unappreciated and treated unfairly. Often I have felt my employers were not worthy of the dedication I was giving. Many times I have feared that in the end, my efforts would prove meaningless.

Because of all this, I have reminded myself of the following over and over again throughout my working life:

I do not work for my bosses.
I do not work for the company.
I do not even work for the church.
I work for the Lord.

Do my bosses seem unfair and misguided? I do not work for them. I work for the Lord. Does my pay seem far less than I deserve? I work for the Lord. He provides abundantly for me, and I owe Him everything. Does my work seem trivial and meaningless? The Lord of the universe has called me to do it, and He feels it’s important. My work is a personal “Thank You!” to Him. I trust that He will bless it as a seed and make it fruitful.

During my frustrations I can lift myself and my job to Him. I can release them to Him knowing He has put me here. It is His work, and He is here with me. Such prayer helps me look in a different direction. It turns my heart away from my selfish interests and toward His purpose and glory. Doing the work then becomes a prayer in itself, a way of acting out my trust and love for Him.

No matter what your present job, use it to serve your Lord joyfully. Bring your work to Him, and do it for Him. He is a wonderful employer!

Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men.
(Colossians 3:23, NASB) 

Listen and sing:
Hymn: I’ll Sing of You
Printed Music & Lyrics