Tag Archive for Ken Bible

Fulfilling a Dream

At age 59, the Lord began fulfilling a dream He had been pressing on my heart for my entire adult life: reading the Old Testament in the original Hebrew. I had taught myself Greek when I was ages 23-25, and the process went relatively smoothly. (I still use it daily.)

So soon after I tackled Hebrew. I got through the initial grammar, but then life’s other demands moved in, and I couldn’t make the time to continue into reading from the Hebrew Bible. Without that exposure to the Hebrew text itself, the grammar was soon lost.

That pattern repeated itself perhaps a half dozen times over the following decades. I would get through the grammar, only to lose it because I couldn’t carve out enough time to continue into translation.

Finally, at age 59, having been forcibly freed from my “day” job, I had the time to tackle Hebrew and follow through with it. But as I began the grammar again, I found that I no longer had the memory to master the myriad of verb forms involved. They just wouldn’t stick in my aging mind. Sadly, reluctantly, in great disappointment I began to face the fact that my lifelong dream would never be fulfilled.

But the Lord wouldn’t let the dream die. He continued to prod me toward learning Hebrew. Then He made clear to me that while I no longer had the memory to forcibly conquer Hebrew, if I repeatedly exposed myself to it over a period of time, I could gradually absorb it.

I began using that approach, with the help of some excellent tools (first, A Reader’s Hebrew Bible from Zondervan, then Hebrew tools for my Kindle from OliveTree.com). At first I read two-to-three verses per day, then worked up to ten verses per day. As a bonus, since I knew Greek, I decided to daily read the same Old Testament passage from the Greek Septuagint immediately after reading it in Hebrew.

I began reading straight through from Genesis 1, and as of this writing (November, 2015), I am in the last chapter of 1 Kings. Am I a Hebrew expert? Not by anyone’s definition! But what an enjoyable process! I’m finding that having to patiently plow through the text a word or phrase at a time has some of the benefits of meditation. Such a slow, systematic approach to the text, necessitated by my primitive Hebrew skills, is helping me see many truths that I would have missed during a quick reading in English.

This process is helping me realize again several important truths:

  • The Lord delights to give good gifts to His children (Matthew 7:11).
  • If we allow Him, He will bring to completion every good desire that He instills in us (2 Thessalonians 1:11).
  • God’s Word is absolutely marvelous and will richly repay all the time and effort we invest in it.
  • The Old Testament is a treasure house full of riches. God is a God of action, and He reveals Himself by what He does. If you want to understand Him better, watch Him in action. In the Old Testament we watch Him over a period of perhaps 1,500 years or more (compared to about 60 years in the New Testament). All the foundations of the New Testament are in the Old Testament. If you want to more fully understand the New, read the Old.

Interesting postscript: during these recent years while learning Hebrew, I listened to an audiobook of a biography of the hymn writer, John Newton (writer of “Amazing Grace”). I was fascinated to hear that my fellow hymn writer, born two and a half centuries before me, also felt compelled to teach himself Greek and Hebrew. He conquered both, even without the wonderful language tools available today. It seems that God is very serious about giving His hymn writers broad and deep Biblical training.

Only by the Lord

I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5, NIV)

My fruitfulness flows from the presence of Christ within me. I am completely dependent on His working in and through me.

That’s why my devotional life is so critical – not just in those special private times but also as I look to Him throughout the day. Such prayer keeps me in touch with Him and open to His influence. Without it, I tend to sink into preoccupation with myself and lesser concerns.

Writing teaches me this dependence more than anything else ever has. Every morning when I get up and begin, I have to face my own inability and release the work to Him: “Lord, this time is Yours. I can only work as You enable me. I look to You now and will just follow as You lead.”

This is especially necessary when the task gets difficult. When I get stuck at a spot, my first instinct is to press harder. I want to get past the frustration and finish the job. But I’m learning I have to stop and pray: “Lord, I did not choose this task, nor can I make it happen. It is Yours. I am simply available to You.”

I have to open myself to Him and wait, letting Him work in His way and time. And He does – beautifully, bringing me solutions and directions I never could have found on my own.

Frequently the wait is relatively short. Something unexplainable just happens when I release the task to Him. He works so naturally and perfectly.

Yet sometimes the wait is longer. I’m forced to live with unfinished business, and I can become anxious and discouraged. During such times, I repeatedly go to Him, intent on talking about the doing. But He wants to talk about us. He reminds me to look at Him, enjoy Him, and be at peace in Him. He invites me to just rest in His doing.

I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5, NIV)

Remain in him by praying to Him throughout the day. It will help keep your heart set on Him. And you will know that He, himself, is life’s sweetest gift and the source of all your fruitfulness.

Listen and sing:
Hymn: As I Pray
Printed Music & Lyrics

Your Unique Place of Service

For years I felt that God had called me to one specific task. I would get impatient with Him when He seemed intent, as He often did, on diluting my focus. Why did He continually drain away my precious-little time on other obligations, other responsibilities outside my one, all-important “calling”?

At age 65, I finally have a little perspective on that issue. I look honestly at myself, and I freely admit that I am not the world’s best at anything I have done. I am not the world’s best composer. I am not the world’s best author or lyricist. I am not the world’s best Bible scholar or publisher or teacher. I never will be.

But I am one of the few people whom God has specially prepared to combine and integrate all those abilities. My uniqueness is not in one special ability, but in one special combination of abilities. In my college years, when He drew me to study classical music composition, far outside my musical comfort zone, He had a purpose. When He led me to leave the conservatory halfway through a masters and teach at a small Bible college, He had a purpose. When He sent me to Kansas City, far away from family support, to work in the demanding field of church music publishing, He had a purpose. All those years when I longed to spend every spare moment writing, and He had me invest those hours studying the Bible to teach an adult Sunday School class, He had a purpose. Through every twist and turn and mystery of my life, He had a purpose.

Stay flexible as the all-wise, almighty God stretches you in various directions. Be patient through all the waiting and all the side-trips, through the alluring successes and discouraging failures. You never know what skills, experiences, and perspectives He is combining in you for some very special role, some very special ministry He has reserved just for you.

Turning Points

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.

Divine Coincidence

Have you discovered that Almighty God wants to take part in your daily work? Here’s one example from my own experience.

Matching a hymn text with the right tune can be tricky, painstaking business. But years ago I began receiving tune ideas from the Lord. Sometimes I would hear an original tune in my head. Other times I would feel prompted toward a folk or classical tune in one of my sources. I would set the tune aside in my “pending” pile, put it out of my mind, and go on with my work.

Then within days the Lord would give me a lyric idea separately, from my Bible study or from an audio book I was listening to. Sometimes it happened the other way around. The text idea would come first, then the tune.

What was amazing was how often I’d find the perfect match for the text or tune there near the top of my “pending” file. I had forgotten about the first one until the second showed up and I went looking for a mate. The two had come to me entirely separately, though in the same time frame.

At first, I considered it mere coincidence. But it began to happen so regularly that I coined a term for it: divine coincidence.

But it wasn’t just texts and tunes that came together so marvelously. Often a thought or scripture would come to me from my daily reading or listening that was exactly what I needed for some current writing endeavor. I hadn’t gone looking for it. It just jumped out at me.

Some would explain such phenomenon as the subconscious working of the mind. And I can’t claim to explain all the workings of this amazing brain the Lord has given us.

But God regularly uses divine coincidence to remind me that He deeply, personally, constantly cares about my daily activities. My work is His work, and He doesn’t abandon me to it. He works beside me all day, every day. The Spirit of the sovereign, almighty, universal God works through me. He will work through you as well. How wonderful is that!

Father, all our work is Your work. Keep us open. Keep us listening. Keep us dependent on You.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21, NASB)

Consider Fresh Sources

What raw materials do you use in your creative work? They may be physical materials, or they might be sources of ideas or inspiration. Have you considered using fresh materials or fresh sources? Let me tell you about my experience.

Though my formal training is as a composer, in my earlier years I primarily wrote lyrics for other composers to set to music. On the rare occasions when I wrote hymns on my own, I primarily wrote them to fit familiar hymn tunes. Of course, I am always careful to only write lyrics to tunes that are already in the public domain. “Public domain” means they are too old to still be under copyright. Thus they are free for anyone to use however they wish.

I still write lots of hymns to familiar hymn tunes. Many congregational song leaders strongly prefer these hymns because they involve no teaching. The congregation already knows the tune, so you just give them the new text, and they’re ready to sing. I try to write a steady supply of such hymns. It’s a way I can serve those congregational song leaders who would gladly use a new hymn if they don’t have to struggle to teach a new tune.

But I enjoy going beyond the finite supply of familiar and well-used hymn tunes. I find it creatively stimulating, and it is an investment in the future. Sometimes I write original hymn tunes myself.

But many years ago I discovered folk tunes. It began with Christmas carols. I realized that many familiar Christmas tunes either lacked Christian texts entirely, or their texts were so archaic that congregations rarely sang them. So I began writing accessible new hymn texts to these tunes. Here are just a few of many: Peace, Peace, Peace; Infinite Lord; Here We Come Rejoicing; Jesus, the Gift of Christmas; and My Soul Exalts You Lord. Our most widely used hymn is one of these: Love Has Come!

Beautiful Christmas tunes in the public domain drew my attention to folk tunes in general. I began buying printed collections of folk tunes and going through them, tune by tune, looking for those that might make interesting and singable hymn tunes. I had had no idea how many multiplied thousands of public domain folk tunes are to be found in various cultures around the world! What an incredible resource! I started a file of tunes that might work as hymn tunes, broken down by tempo (“down”, moderate, and “up”). Most needed arranging. Many needed some degree of revision to work for my purposes, and some needed almost complete rewriting.

But the arranging and rewriting were well worth the effort. This massive body of tunes from various times and cultures provided far greater variety and creative range than a single composer like me could ever hope to match. And because they were written for the common folk to sing, they were often inherently congregational.

In the years since, I’ve written hundreds of hymns based on folk tunes. Here are only a handful of samples: O Living God; All We Need; By Faith; Christ the Lord Is with Us!; and Ephesians 1.

Then I discovered that classical melodies could also be a rich resource for hymn tunes. Unlike folk tunes, they are not inherently congregational. They require more patient searching and more thorough rewriting. But they richly repay the effort. A few of my favorites are: Be Still, My Child; Bless This Seed; Breath of Life; Christ and His Bride; Isaiah 53; Jesus, Full of Truth and Grace; Our Destiny Is Jesus Christ; and The Father’s Face.

But folk and classical melodies have enriched my writing in another way. When I write to familiar hymn tunes, I generally start with a lyric idea, then go searching for a tune to match it. With folk and classical tunes, I’ve grown to enjoy starting with a tune that moves me. Then I write a text that fits it. This change has been creatively stimulating and enriching.

The point is this: whatever your field of creative endeavor, don’t overlook the beautiful, infinitely varied raw materials all around you. You may find them fresh, inspiring, and deeply relevant, no matter what their age. Apply your imagination to transforming what is already available. Give it your own touch. Or let these existing materials inspire fresh directions for your own work.

If the existing material has a copyright notice, or if it was created in the last 90 years, you should probably leave it alone. But don’t be afraid to draw from resources that our Creator has already placed at your fingertips.

A Study in Failure, Part 6

In response to God’s call, we had published a line of pocketsize books for evangelism and spiritual growth. Sales never grew strong enough to sustain the company, and we had to quit selling the books after ten years. But God miraculously fulfilled His calling and purpose through us, getting many thousands of books into the hands of soldiers, inmates, and hungry readers in poorer countries around the world. (See “A Study in Failure, Part 1”; “A Study in Failure, Part 2”; “A Study in Failure, Part 3”; “A Study in Failure, Part 4”; “A Study in Failure, Part 5”.)

The company that God had called us to start, Living the Natural Way, didn’t die when we stopped selling physical product. We simply switched our focus to online resources, especially hymns. Back when I was still in my 20’s, God had called me to write hymns. Throughout all the seasons of my life, He had kept His thumb in my back regarding that call. Now, with the pocketsize books having run their course, He had freed me to focus on my first love: hymns.

Today, the website that started as LNWbooks.com is now LNWhymns.com. It currently offers 420 of my hymns, with 355 of them recorded, plus a variety of companion resources. Everything on the site is free. We have returning visitors from all fifty states and 135 countries.

In spite of all the red ink generated by the pocketsize books, God was faithful to supply all our needs. We’ve never missed paying a bill. We’ve never even been late, as best I remember.

During those years, we had refinanced our house in order to support the publishing ministry. But a few years ago God directed us to a beautiful, spacious house here in Olathe, Kansas, just five minutes from a Christian college. I’m sitting here in a comfortable, roomy study where I’m blessed to sit and write all day, every day. Our publishing ministry still isn’t self-supporting, but it’s moving that way, and I’m confident it will get there. In the meantime, God is generously meeting our needs through my wife, who is a successful real estate agent.

Have I answered my earlier question—did I fail? If my goal was profit, I certainly did. If it weren’t for my weaknesses, perhaps our publishing ministry would have been financially viable. But I’m encouraged by this verse:

We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (2 Corinthians 4:7, NIV)

Like Paul, I had prayed that God would take away my weakness and make me “successful” as a publisher. But His response was, and is:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
(2 Corinthians 12:9, NIV)

Remember, God spoke our entire physical reality out of nothing. He never runs low on resources. What He wants, what He is constantly seeking, is people who will love Him, trust Him, and obey Him, people who will do what He says one day at a time and leave everything else to Him. Weak people. Ordinary people. Human people. Obedient people.

Lord, I’m available! Count me in!

A Study in Failure, Part 5

I had felt a definite call from God to start a specialized publishing ministry to draw people to Christ. But after ten years of mounting red ink, we had to throw in the towel. (See “A Study in Failure, Part 1”; “A Study in Failure, Part 2”; “A Study in Failure, Part 3”; “A Study in Failure, Part 4”.)

Had I failed? Had I not truly heard God’s call? Or had I simply not carried it out well? The result had been limited sales, a ministry with a short life, and a huge financial loss.

But there’s more to the story than I’ve told you. Consider these additional factors:

1. While LNWbooks was operating, we had stumbled across a market we had never intended: the U.S. military. We had learned that military chaplains absolutely loved our books because they were perfect for soldiers: small enough to easily slip into their pockets, yet substantial enough to offer thought-provoking substance. While John Ashcroft was a senator from Missouri (before he became Attorney General under George W. Bush), we had written to him asking for the addresses of U.S. military bases. We were residents of Missouri at the time, so he was our senator. His office diligently worked with the Pentagon to get us such a list. The result was that during our few years of operation, we had shipped thousands of books to military bases all around the globe. We got emails from chaplains telling us how popular the books were and how much they meant to the soldiers.

2. At the very end of our company’s life, we had offered our remaining books to selected ministries for shipping costs alone. We got one big response: Prison Fellowship, the charity founded by Chuck Coleson. They took over 15,000 of our books to put into the hands of inmates and their families.

3. When all other outlets had been exhausted, we learned about a charity called Love Packages. They take donations of religious books and ship them all around the world to people hungry for such literature. We were donating over 100,000 books, so they sent a truck from Butler, Illinois, to Kansas City, Missouri, to pick up the books. A bit later we got an email from the head of the organization, which read:

Just a note to let you know that we have been shipping your books out every week. Tanzania, India, Philippines, Ghana, and South Africa have gotten some so far. 

God had called us to provide Christian literature to people who wouldn’t walk into a Christian bookstore and buy and read a book. Due to no brilliance of our own, He gotten them to many ministries, but especially into the hands of soldiers, prisoners, and hungry readers in numerous economically-disadvantaged countries. In fact, God had fulfilled His purpose through us in a greater way through our company’s death than He had through its life. Not until we had completely turned loose of all income from the books did He fully accomplish all that He had intended.

Isn’t God good…and utterly amazing?

The story is not quite over. The final installment is coming next time.

 continued on Friday

A Study in Failure, Part 4

In response to God’s call, we had started a small company to publish pocketsize books to draw people to Christ. In spite of excellent product, we were failing to attract a broad enough market to support the company. (See “A Study in Failure, Part 1”; “A Study in Failure, Part 2”; “A Study in Failure, Part 3”.)

Our financial concerns about our struggling young company grew to a crushing certainty: it would not be profitable. Indeed, it would not be sustainable at all. From the beginning, my wife and I had been supporting it from our personal incomes, but we simply couldn’t continue.

By early 2008, the company was hundreds of thousands of dollars behind and bleeding more red ink every month. The time had come. We set 8/31/2008 as the date we would quit selling any physical product, then spent most of 2008 selling off as much stock as possible at a huge discount. After that, for two months we tried donating product to selected ministries if they would simply pay shipping cost. At the end of October, it was all over but the nagging questions.

Fortunately, the company had no debt. It had never taken out any loans. Gloria and I had always taken a “pay as you go approach”. But there was no hope of recouping the mountain of money we had poured in. And the book publishing ministry to which God had called us was no more. We had to give up.

Had I mistaken God’s call to this publishing ministry? Had I let my personal desires cloud my judgment?

Or had I simply been a personal failure?

continued on Wednesday

A Study in Failure, Part 3

In response to God’s call, we were starting a small, specialized publishing company. Our focus was getting Christian materials into the hands of people who wouldn’t go to a Christian bookstore and buy and read a book. God had led us through the planning stages. (See “A Study in Failure, Part 1”, and “A Study in Failure, Part 2”.)

In the fall of 1998, we released our first two pocketsize books, Knowing God and Simple Prayers. The following February we released For Servants of God and The Satisfied Life, then another two in August, The Most Beautiful Way to Live and Step by Step. In 2000 through 2002, we published six more: Seeing God in the Darkness; Christmas Is Jesus; Your Will Be Done; Daily Love; Make Music to the Lord; and Help Me Pray. These twelve included evangelistic books and devotional books, both seasonal and non-seasonal, touching a variety of topics and uses.

In spring, 2000, we published the first issue of a free quarterly newsletter, Knowing Christ. Then in late 2001 we launched our website, LNWbooks.com, containing only the 12 pocketsize books. A fellow employee named Ross Kimbrough built that first edition of the website. It was soon taken over by my daughter, Kindra Bible, then a young computer programmer.

My wife, Gloria, my partner in the business, helped as much as her time allowed, primarily taking care of our mailing list.

People seemed to love the product. It was meaningful, fresh, attractive, and very practical. The website gradually built up good traffic.

But the company was only a few years old when I began to realize that I couldn’t make it profitable. Running my own business, being responsible for most of it by myself, had brought me face-to-face with my own weaknesses and limitations. It was only me, and even with my years of experience, there were important publishing functions I couldn’t do well. I’m weak in marketing, and in sales I am the world’s worst! That’s right: THE worst. In high school I couldn’t even sell band candy, and who doesn’t love a chocolate bar?

The product was beautiful and had great content, but I lacked the ability to get the circulation up to profitable levels. Hiring someone was out of the question.

After 12 books, we quit releasing new titles. We let the program continue for several years after that, and we did our best. But we knew that a difficult decision was coming. Without God’s miraculous intervention, the company could not survive.

continued on Friday