All Within Me

I love Psalm 103 for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is its passionate call to worship, and its poignant reminder of Deuteronomy 6, where Israel was commanded to love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul and strength.  You'll remember that Jesus called this to attention in Matthew 19:37 when He was asked about the greatest commandment. As worshipers, it's a strong encouragement to us today, isn't it?

Another reason I love this psalm is that it reminds us of all the reasons we have to bless (to speak highly of) the Lord:

       He forgives all our iniquities,

       He heals all our diseases,

       He redeems our life from the pit of destruction,

       He crowns us with lovingkindness.

By the way, that word used for "lovingkindness" is the Hebrew word, hesed. It's a rich and powerful word, but it's difficult to describe or explain. No single English word does it justice, but you can think of it in terms of tender mercy, dependability, or loyal love. It depicts God's care and compassion for us - unfailing and always faithful. It doesn't depend on what we've done; it depends on who He is. 

I can't help but be convinced that we, too, are to live lives of hesed for and toward each other. After all, hesed is not really something we feel, it's something we do. 

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O Come O Come Emmanuel


OK, this one was a lot of fun to work on. I took the centuries-old, classic Latin hymn, O COME, O COME, EMMANUEL, and set it in a sort of brooding 6/8 time signature. (Later on, though, it does get more robust and celebratory!)

    Oh, and there are short references to "Carol of the Bells" in the accompaniment and in the vocal parts. That little insertion just adds some sparkle and punch to the arrangement. A few additional lyrics make this a unique choice for Advent worship, or for a special spot in your Christmas presentation.

    And by the way, you can begin with the big fanfare opening, or start the piece at bar 8. There's a scripture narrative quote printed there, and you might want to incorporate that as part of the intro.

    All in all, I love the way this one turned out. I hope you do, too!


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Strength for Tomorrow Grace for Today


    I think the songs I like best are the ones that have been born out of experience. They're not fabricated in order to incorporate a catchy tune, an infectious rhythm or a trendy lyric. Those might be a part of the song, but its essence, its core, is birthed out of circumstances that may be glorious, or may be tragic. Whatever the experience, if we're careful to take note of what God's teaching us, then it's a lesson worth learning, worth remembering and worth sharing.

    In fact, scripture is full of references to a "new song," and those new songs are the result of God's working in the life of those who either wrote or  are singing the new song. Over and over we read the command, "Sing to the Lord a new song, for He has ..." You see what I mean, don't you? God moves powerfully, spectacularly, miraculously - and the result is a new song. 

    All this was certainly the case when it came to writing "Strength for Today, Grace for Tomorrow." I'm pretty sure you can relate to some degree to the circumstances that compelled me to write this piece. You've faced it, too in some fashion. It might be pressures, even conflicts, at home (raising kids, dealing with aging parents, scrimping to make financial ends meet); challenges in the work place (a tyrannical boss, uncooperative co-workers); discord or disunity in your church ("Why can't everyone see this as clearly as I do?"). You get the point, but the real point is this: we can't hope and pray that all these will go away so that we can live the life we dream of. This is our life, and in reality these are opportunities to help us grow more and more into the likeness of Jesus. Life calls for strength and it calls for grace. As always, how we respond to what life throws at us is much more important than what it is that actually comes our way.

                    And as we step out in faith on this journey,
                    We know that You'll be our comfort and stay.
                    Lord, give us strength for tomorrow,
                    And grace for today.


    Bottom line - extend grace ... everybody benefits. 

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You Are Welcome Here 

            The sad truth is, there are a whole lot of people who feel like they can't enter the doors of our churches because they just don't have it all together. They feel like they've made too many mistakes in the past, or that, in continuing  to make those mistakes over and over again, they've somehow arrived at a point that's beyond redemption. They're convinced that their life is too scarred and their reputation is too tainted for them to associate with "church folks." The Body of Christ could never accept them, they think. And Jesus? Well, He could never love "a sinner such as I."

            Sad. Tragic, really. The real truth is that we're a hospital for sinners, not a hotel for saints. And we're all in the same boat, you know. And where Jesus is, you are welcome there.

Come, you wounded, weakened and weary,
You are welcome here.
Come, discouraged, come, broken-hearted,
You are welcome here.
This is a refuge for grace;
   This is a harbor of mercy.

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Our Only Hope

When we lose sight of how we got to where we are today - for better or for worse - we're in trouble. Every one of us is the product and the result of thousands of experiences and just about as many influences. None of us has gotten where we are all by ourselves. 

            A couple of years ago I was asked to create a patriotic work for my friends at PraiseGathering Music. I jumped at the chance because 1) I love working with these guys, and 2) it had been a while since I'd flexed a patriotic muscle. We agreed on a couple of parameters, one being that this work would be in the 25 - 30 minute range. I gotta tell ya, sometimes it takes me 15 minutes just to say what I'm about to say! But I think it turned out OK and we settled on the title, "Freedom," for the entire musical. So, I got to work and wrote what I think is a pretty celebratory expression, complete with lots of orchestral fanfares, some stout choral writing and a version of our national anthem that includes more than just the first verse!

            When it came time to wrap it all up, I wanted to say something that would address our heritage and offer a word of encouragement for the future. I don't have to tell you that, as citizens of this great country of ours, we've got lots to be thankful for, as well as a few incidents we wish we could overlook. And we've got lots to look forward to, though at times, the days ahead can look bleak. That's when I remembered that we didn't really get here as individuals or as a nation exclusively by human ingenuity and effort. We've been too fortunate, too prosperous, too blessed to think we accomplished all this on our own. The undeniable hand of God has been on us, and surely He won't leave us now. 

            So as we look to the days ahead, we also look to the days gone by. We remember the great, great faithfulness of a great, great God. We recognize His hand in the lives of our ancestors, and we trust His hand in the lives of our children. I'll say it again: none of us has gotten where we are all by ourselves.

                                                Our only hope for tomorrow,
And the only praise that will last;
Yes, our only joy in the sorrow
Is in the One who led us in the past.

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