David’s Lamentation

This is the John Brown University Cathedral Choir singing at St. Mark’s Dundela in Belfast, Northern Ireland, during their May 2014 missions tour. I was greatly pleased that my daughter had the opportunity to be a part of this group.

And the king was deeply moved and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept. And as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son! … The king covered his face and the king cried with a loud voice, ‘O my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son!'”
(2 Samuel 18:33, 19:5)

David’s Lamentation

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Sojourn: ‘Over The Grave’ sees the glorious God behind the music

Over The GraveSojourn Church, based in Louisville, Ky., is another one of those groups (like Indelible Grace and Red Mountain Music) who take old hymns and refresh them. A few years ago they did the wonderful Advent Songs album, which was a great way to prepare for the Christmas season and the birth of Christ. They have produced another effort that sounds worth at least a listen called Over the Grave. According to the Sojourn Church site, the new CD is the “first installment of the Isaac Watts Project: songs inspired by and adapted from his hymns. The record was written and performed entirely by musicians from Sojourn Community Church — 35 in all. It is our hope that this project, like Watts’s hymns, will point us beyond the music and lyrics to see the glorious Savior who inspires them.”

Justin Taylor, at his blog, has posted one of the songs, Only Your Blood Is Enough, along with the lyrics. Give it a listen and see for yourself the fine work this group of musicians is doing.

On the way back: Jennifer Knapp is no longer a rumor

Singer/songwriter Jennifer Knapp, who seemed to fall off the face of the earth not long after her wonderful The Way I Am was released in 2001, is back with a new album, Letting Go, which will hit stores on May 11. Currently, she is touring with Derek Webb. In a post on her blog, Knapp talks about where she’s been all that time:

With every ‘old friend’ I run into these days there is the sudden rush of questions … How are you? Where have you been? Are you working? What have you been doing? What hole did you fall into? Were there any trolls? Did you have enough water? Is this a real jenniferknapp.com or just another ruse? Are you really coming back? Are you making a new record? And so on…

We’ve been flooded with emails and phone calls simply by putting up a humble little homepage. So much for my holiday, it looks very much like it may be over.

Despite what some may say, I didn’t actually disappear. I have truly been corporeal this whole time. I’ve just been travelling. I’ve seen many of the places I’d only previously flown over and eaten some fantastic cuisine that has pushed mashed potatoes down the list. I have spent many days sulking about how strange life is and many more discovering just how truly beautiful people can be. My experiences have been both wildly exotic and extraordinarily mundane.

I am grateful for the chance to get my feet under me. I took that time to discover more about myself and my own faith, without the pressure of expectations. Without writing a novel at this point, I’ll just say that I’m starting to think that I might actually be a songwriter, musician or artist of some kind. So, maybe I should do something about it?

It will interesting to hear what she has to offer, since her previous work was some of the finest songwriting out there. The clip below is an acoustic performance of one of the new songs on the album.

Hopeful harmony: Salve for the weary soul

I love to sing, and I love to hear good singing. While it is always a blessing for me to sing with other believers in church, it is especially sweet to hear those who sing harmony. A couple of weeks ago, I stood next to (we stand when we sing at my church) my wife at church and enjoyed singing while also listening for the sweet sounds of her harmonizing with the songs. She usually sings with the worship team and so I don’t always get to experience that.

Sadly, it is a sound that is going away it seems because fewer and fewer people sing harmony. I would point to the increasing use of PowerPoint and the decreasing use of hymnals as one theory. I don’t want to go down the path of arguing against the use of PowerPoint because we can still lift our voices and sing and praise God. But when you don’t see notes, you may not think of different singing parts and therefore little harmonizing happens. I miss it.

Thankfully, I had my spirits raised this morning by a wonderful clip that Robert Cottrill posted on his Wordwise Hymns site. On this date composer Joseph Philbrick Webster was born. Among many compositions, he wrote the music for Sweet By and By. I nearly cried when I heard this  — for the beauty of the words I was hearing and because it had been a long time since I had sung in a group that way: people singing parts with no accompaniment! I just savored that. Today, it was a salve for me as I live between two worlds.

We shall sing on that beautiful shore
The melodious songs of the blessed
And our spirits shall sorrow no more,
Not a sigh for the blessing of rest

In the sweet by and by,
We shall meet on that beautiful shore;
In the sweet by and by,
We shall meet on that beautiful shore.

By Thy Mercy: Indelible Grace Acoustic is almost here

By Thy MercyOne of my favorite groups of artists, Indelible Grace, is just about to release its fifth album, called “By The Mercy: Indelible Grace Acoustic.”  To hear the title track, you can go here.

If you have spent any time here, you know that I deeply appreciate the work of these artists. The group’s stated purpose is “to help the church recover the tradition of putting old hymns to new music for each generation, and to enrich our worship with a huge view of God and His indelible grace.

Kevin Twit, who is the campus pastor at Belmont University and is the founder of Indelible Grace, writes on the group’s Facebook page some of the background of the group and more of its goals:

Indelible Grace Music grew out of ministering to college students, primarily through Reformed University Fellowship (RUF). We saw many touched by the gospel, and gripped by the rich theology and great poetry of the hymns of the Church. As these students began to taste more of the depth of the gospel and the richness of the hymn tradition, many began to join the music of their culture with the words of our forefathers (and mothers!), and a movement was born.
But actually, this is not really a “new” movement at all! Up until the beginning of the 20th century, it was common for people to compose new music for each generation for many of the hymns that they loved. There is no rule that says each hymn can only have one musical setting, and in fact, hymnals are designed for you to be able to mix and match words and music — that’s why they have a metrical index. But unfortunately, we lost this tradition and got stuck in a more modern traditionalism of associating one particular tune with one particular hymn. I am reminded of an incident a few years ago at the national meeting of our own denomination after a worship group had played a new version of Wesley’s “And Can It Be” (the one that is on our 1st CD by the way.) Many were upset by the new music and one gentleman stood and protested the new music saying that Wesley had written this hymn to majestic music and that he must be turning over in his grave. At this point, the organist for the convention rose and told the man (correctly) that the critic had probably never heard the music Wesley wrote the hymn to (if he even did write it to music when he composed it), and that the tune the man thought was the original was actually a bar tune!
Our goal is not change for change’s sake, but to rekindle a love of hymns and to invite many who would never associate rich passion with hymns to actually read the words. We believe that we are impoverished if we cut off our ties with the saints of the past, and that we fail to be faithful to God in our own moment of history if we don’t attempt to praise Him in forms that are authentic to who we are.Read More »

Give me Jesus and nothing else

John Piper tweeted this by quoting his wife Noel: One of my daughter’s heroines honored by one of my husband’s fav songs sung by one of my fav singers.

I love this song so much and the way it is sung by Fernando Ortega. All in all, just a beautiful video. Go with God and lean on Jesus.

In the morning, when I rise
In the morning, when I rise
In the morning, when I rise, give me Jesus

Give me Jesus,
Give me Jesus,
You can have all this world,
But give me Jesus

When I am alone
When I am alone
When I am alone, give me Jesus

Give me Jesus,
Give me Jesus,
You can have all this world,
But give me Jesus

When I come to die
When I come to die
When I come to die, give me Jesus

Give me Jesus,
Give me Jesus,
You can have all this world,
You can have all this world,
You can have all this world,
But give me Jesus

My Friend, my Friend indeed

Click on the image to hear Matthew Smith's excellent rendition of this great song
Click on the image to hear Matthew Smith's excellent rendition of this great song

I am very excited that one of my favorite artists, Matthew Smith, will be releasing this fall a new CD comprised on songs off two of his “road” albums. If you’re not familiar with him, what he does is take hymns — many that have been long forgotten — and refreshes the music and smoothes out in some cases archaic lyrics. Great lyrics are wed with great music. The song below is a perfect example. Guitarist Clint Wells provides a musical vehicle for profound lyrics written by Samuel Crossman. I love this song and what it says about a wonderful savior we have in Jesus. I hope it speaks to you as well.

My Song Is Love Unknown

My song is love unknown

My Savior’s love to me

Love to the loveless shown

That they might lovely be

O who am I, that for my sake

My Lord should take, frail flesh and die?

O who am I, that for my sake

My Lord should take, frail flesh and die?

He came from His blest throne

Salvation to bestow

But men made strange, and none

The longed-for Christ would know

But oh my Friend, my Friend indeed

Who at my need His life did spend

But oh my Friend, my Friend indeed

Who at my need His life did spend

Here might I stay and sing

No story so divine

Never was love, dear King

Never was grief like Thine

This is my Friend, in Whose sweet praise

I all my days could gladly spend

This is my Friend, in Whose sweet praise

I all my days will gladly spend

O Canada: Our neighbors to the north

My mother-in-law has a creative touch. God made these flowers, but she has tended them well!
My mother-in-law has a creative touch. God made these flowers, but she has tended them well!

Because today is Canada Day, I would like to express my appreciation for what I consider Canada’s best export — my mother-in-law, Dorothy Harmon. Her overall good will, charm and knowledge of what is “proper” (in the British sense) would have been winning qualities in themselves. But add to that her decision to move over a thousand miles south to “The States” and stay here, meet my father-in-law and later have my future wife and that says winner in my book.

Another of my favorite Canadians, Tim Challies, posted today about another reason that makes our neighbors to the north unique — they have two national anthems. Of course we know “O Canada” because it is a cool sounding, more easily sung song than ours here in the USA. But, as Tim explains, it was written in French and English and the translations go two directions. What a country! Tim, as is his wont, is thorough in explanation and gives the topic its due:

Thus we have two official national anthems, one written in French and one in English. It must be noted that the lyrics of these songs, even when translated to the same language, bear little resemblance to each other. Beyond the first two words there is little correlation in language or underlying themes. It is also interesting to note that while the songs are written in different languages, they were also written by men of different theological backgrounds. The English version is Protestant and emphasizes hard work and duty. The French version, written by a Roman Catholic, emphasizes history and national glory.

Today it is common for performances of the anthem to mix the French and English versions of the song. This leads to a rather interesting mixture of thoughts that actually makes the song seem quite militaristic.

O Canada! Our home and native land!
True patriot love in all thy sons command.
Just as your arm knows how to wield the sword,
It also knows how to bear the cross;
Your history is an epic
Of the most brilliant feats.
God keep our land glorious and free!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.


In recent years the song has come under attack from various parties who claim that the anthem is either sexist or too religious. Some have suggested removing the words “in all thy sons command” to “in all of us command.” Others have suggested ways of removing the references to God. So far these suggestions have met with resistance, but it is likely only a matter of time before the changes are made. After all, this is the nation that has legalized homosexual marriage and has decriminalized marijuana. We’re on the forefront of political correctness.

In How To Be A Canadian, Will and Ian Ferguson suggest that a defining characteristic of Canadians is that they do not know their own anthem. Certainly they do not loudly sing it with pride as do our American neighbours (as I noted last night when I was at the ball game—barely a person there bothered to sing along). “First lesson as a newcomer to Canada: Whatever you do, do not learn the words to ‘O Canada’! Nothing will mark you as an outsider more quickly. Canadians don’t know the words to their national anthem, and neither should you.”

And, to finish the celebration, here is the talented Andrew Osenga (not Canadian, but still pretty good because he’s American) singing the praises of Canada:

Thy Blood Was Shed For Me (Because there was no other way)

Matthew Smith says it for me, but I know where he’s coming from. I have had this album, All I Owe, for awhile but it ministers to me greatly, particularly this song. Treasure Jesus.

One of the subtle ways I avoid God is by pretending that I’m not very sinful, or that sin is a minor issue in my life that I will overcome soon. I find myself taking comfort in thinking that I am a pretty good guy. But this is, of course, a total lie. The only thing I can cling to for hope in this world is the fact that Jesus shed his blood for me. Every virtue or bit of righteousness I try to create for myself will ultimately betray me, but Jesus’ blood has bought an inheritance for me that is kept in heaven, where it will never fade or perish (1 Peter 1:3-5).

Let the world their virtue boast and works of righteousness
I a wretch undone and lost am freely saved by grace
Take me Savior as I am
Let me lose my sins in Thee
Friend of sinners, spotless Lamb
Thy blood was shed for me
Thy blood was shed for me

Full of truth and grace Thou art and here is all my hope
False and foul as hell my heart to Thee I offer up
Thou wast given to redeem
My soul from iniquity
Friend of sinners, spotless Lamb
Thy blood was shed for me
Thy blood was shed for me

Nothing have I Lord to pay nor can Thy grace procure
Empty, send me not away for Thou knowest I am poor
Dust and ashes is my name
My all is sin and misery
Friend of sinners, spotless Lamb
Thy blood was shed for me
Thy blood was shed for me

Take Five: Still cool 50 years later

Dave Brubeck, now at 89, explains in an NPR interview the thinking behind his classic jazz hit “Take Five,” which topped the charts in 1959. I enjoyed listening to Brubeck and his music in the interview, and it reminded me of what I’ve told to my children as they’ve grown up and learned to play instruments that music is a lifelong skill. What I mean is that you can learn to play or sing and it is something you will have your entire life. Brubeck, talking about playing as much as he can and looking forward to his next gig, is an example of that. On the other hand, Brett Favre, at age 40, is nearing the end of his athletic career.