Category Archives: Music

Joy to the World…or is that even Possible?

poinsettias-and-orchids-at-meijer-garden-12-16Yesterday I shared about how I’m feeling this Christmas, but how are you feeling this Christmas? Are you happy and full of good cheer, or are you finding it hard to sing “Joy to the World”? I thought you might be encouraged to know that even the author of “Joy to the World,” Isaac Watts, had a very difficult life! He grew up England during the 1600’s, and his father was twice incarcerated for holding non-conformist (Huguenot) religious views. As a small child Watts had to be lifted up outside the prison by his mother so his father could see him through the barred windows. As a young man, Watts was denied entry to Oxford or Cambridge because he was not Anglican. isaac_watts_from_npg-london-public-domainThroughout life, Isaac Watts was small and weakly. Although he was a great preacher and considered the Father of Hymnody (composing some 750 hymns), the only woman he ever wanted to marry declined his proposal with the cutting remark that while she loved the “jewel” of his mind, she couldn’t admire “the casket that contained it.” Talk about pain and sorrow. Still, Watts discovered inner joy despite the rejections and difficulties in his life.  He learned that true joy doesn’t come from an easy life or pleasant surroundings but rather from embracing the wonder of our Lord coming to earth to save us! When we allow Christ to reign in our hearts, He overcomes the sin and sorrow that would otherwise consume us, filling our hearts instead with joy and hope!poinsettias-and-orchids-at-meijer-garden-mi

“Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

“Joy to the world, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

“No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

“He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.”
(—Lyrics by Isaac Watts, 1719; Music by George Frideric Handel)

But let all those that put their trust in thee rejoice: let them ever shout for joy, because thou defendest them: let them also that love thy name be joyful in thee” (Psalm 5:11).

Are You Backlit?

shineshine-and-autumn-leavesDo you ever have revelations during the night? Since ArtPrize started, I’ve been sleeping so hard I don’t even wake once up during the night, but I still have semi-conscious moments of thought. I woke up this morning thinking, “I know what’s going on!” Okay, so maybe I don’t really, but no fewer than twenty people, while viewing my mural, have asked me, “Are you using back lighting on your photos?”

“No,” I respond a bit sheepishly, “but I wish I could figure out how to do that!”

“Well, they look like they’re backlit!”

I’ve puzzled over that response, because one of my frustrations has been lighting. I installed LED bulbs with more lumens in the Holiday Inn’s ceiling fixtures above the mural, and the curator graciously allowed me to put footlights on the first half, “January to June,” which is in the alcove of the front lobby. However, fire codes and respect for traffic flow made it impossible to install footlights for the “June through December of Life” half of the mural, which is in the only softly lighted south entrance hallway. I’ve been worried that the colors don’t pop the way they need to, so it’s always a surprise when people ask if the mural is somehow backlit.

Here’s my thought: Maybe they’re seeing the radiance of God emanating from the photos. Could that even be possible? Are they picking up on something spiritual? Now I wish I could go back and ask each of them where they’re at on their spiritual journey. Because, in fact, the mural is named “From the Rising of the Sun” and is all about the beauty of God’s creation and his love for us, as demonstrated by this glorious planet that He’s given us. Backlit? No. Radiant? Well…maybe! Wouldn’t that be wonderful?!

Similarly, we’re just “jars of clay,” and I find myself frustrated that I’m not more luminescent. Perhaps, despite our own frustrations, others can see the radiance of God shining out through us, even in the shadowy hallways where we live. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?!

“Shine on Us” (—Phillips, Craig, and Dean)

“Lord, let Your light
Light of Your face
Shine on us

“That we may be saved
That we may have life
To find our way
In the darkest night
Let your light shine on us.

The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: The Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace” (Numbers 6:24-26).

Outcry: Unusual Places and Unusual People

Hillsong Outcry Praising God!Hillsong’s “Outcry” woke up Grand Rapids last night!
Hillsong Outcry Taya SmithHockey games are fun, but nothing to compare to the energy
glowing through the veins Capacity Crowd at Van Andel for Hillsong Outcryof   the 12,000 of us who flooded the Van Andel Arena and pretty much stood on our feet for five hours singing, lifting up the name of Jesus, and celebrating the love of God through Christ.Hillsong Outcry. Van Andel ArenaDo you know Hillsong?Brian Houston preaching at Outcry in GRThirty-two years ago it was a little church planted by a couple, Brian and Bobbie (who’s a lady) Houston, way down under in Sydney, Australia. Hillsong Outcry God's Perfect LoveAfter a month, their congregation had dwindled from about 75 to 45, and Brian figured at that rate, the church would have disintegrated in another month. Hillsong Outcry We lift you higherHowever, the Lord had other plans, and now this church produces music
that is loved and sung around the world.Hillsong Outcry at Van Andel ArenaAlan and I visited Hillsong in Australia 12 years ago,
but it wasn’t until last night that we actually got to hear Brian Houston preach.Hillsong Outcry God never fails It reminded me just a little bit (minus the glitz) of thirty years ago when Alan and I sat transfixed at Pontiac’s Silverdome, listening to a simple gospel message by Billy Graham that resulted in hundreds of people coming to faith in Christ. Hillsong Outcry SingingLast night, Brian Houston used the example of Hillsong to encourage us to let the Lord make something unusual out of us. As Dwight Moody used to preach: “The world has yet to see what God will do with a man fully consecrated to him.”  Are you ready? I am!!  Hillsong Outcry Lifting Hands to God“Consecrate yourselves today to the Lord, even every man upon his son, and upon his brother; that he [God] may bestow upon you a blessing this day” (Exodus 32:29).  Hillsong Outcry Shining Lights“Then Hezekiah answered and said, Now ye have consecrated yourselves unto the Lord, come near and bring sacrifices and thank offerings into the house of the Lord (2 Chronicles 29:31).

Experiencing the Spirit of Christmas with Michael W. Smith and the GR Symphony

Michael W. Smith The Spirit of Christmas 6                                      Have you heard of Michael W. Smith? Michael_W._Smith_in_June_2014 To me, he is to contemporary Christian music what Louis Armstrong was to jazz or DJ Kool Herc is to rap. In 2014, the ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) honored Michael W. Smith as “the cornerstone of Christian music.” His accomplishments are legion: 3 Grammy Awards, 45 Dove Awards, 31 #1 hits, 13 books, 3 movies, and on and on! Michael_W._Smith Although his music is distinctly Christian, he’s also been recognized by American culture at large, including being named as one of People magazine’s “Most Beautiful People” in 1992. His worship songs have been sung in churches everywhere for the past 25+ years, and I love both the lyrics and ethereal orchestrations he composes.debbiemichael One of the things I most admire about Michael W. Smith is that he’s remained married to his one and only wife, Debbie, and he lets everybody know that being with his wife and kids is what makes for his happiest Christmas memories. He’ll be home for Christmas. Michael W. Smith The Spirit of Christmas 4However, last night Alan and I had the opportunity to see him in person…a first for us! In concert with our own beloved Grand Rapids Symphony and Resurrection Life’s glorious choir, Michael W. Smith led a congregation of some 4,000 worshipers in experiencing The Spirit of Christmas.Michael W. Smith The Spirit of Christmas 1 As we were leaving, Alan said he couldn’t remember ever being more moved by musical program…and that’s saying a lot, considering we’ve enjoyed venues like the Sydney Opera House, London, Boston, Hillsong in both the U.S. and Australia, etc. Michael W. Smith The Spirit of Christmas 2I was bubbling over about our experience while talking with my “Little Sister” Lizzie this morning, and she said she and her husband have tickets to see Michael W. Smith with Amy Grant on December 20 in Washington D.C. I see he’s got about 9 more stops on his tour scheduled between now and then, and I have no clue if you live anywhere near one of the cities, or if the tickets are already sold out, but if you’re looking for a memorable Christmas program, The Spirit of Christmas definitely warmed the cockles of our hearts.Michael W. Smith The Spirit of Christmas 3 On the other hand, my son Joel and a bunch of his friends went to hear the Boston Symphony’s “Holiday Pops” last night, and they had a great time together too. Michael W. Smith The Spirit of Christmas 5Maybe what I’m really trying to say is this: I hope you get out and have a magical, musical experience sometime this Christmas…whether it’s hearing someone famous in person for the first time or gathering with a group of friends to go caroling door to door. The spirit of Christmas is really the Spirit of Christ, who is Love, Light, and Life, so you know it will be awesome no matter how you celebrate! Joy to the world, the Lord has come!Michael W. Smith The Spirit of Christmas 7

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,
singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Colossians 3:16).

(Pictures of Michael W. Smith from Wikipedia
Picture of Michael with his wife from Christianity Malaysia,
I took the pictures of Michael W. Smith at The Spirit of Christmas, Resurrection Life Church, 12.08.15)

The Piano Tuner

Playing MusicWhen my mother was a little girl (nearly 100 years ago now), she was so moved by her father playing his violin after dinner that sometimes she’d run outside lest anyone notice her crying. I believe music speaks the language of the soul: It can muster men to war or persuade them to peace. It can arouse love or lust, inspire courage or fear, and splash long shadows of light or dark across the canvas of our hearts. Like my mother, I find music’s energy and passion so evocative that I have  to be disciplined about what kind of music I hear, knowing its powerful influence can be used in both positive and negative ways. For instance, soothing music can lull me even when I’m wakeful, but epic themes arouse me even when I’m sleepy. Do you love music? How do you respond to it? Baby at Piano The musical centerpiece in our home is a piano that Alan bought me when he started his residency. It has weathered 35+ years of use and abuse as all 7 of our children learned to love, read, sing, and play music. During our “Second Sunday” years of having the youth group over, we had to move it to the basement, where there was more room for a band and 25 singing kids. 354 A Stephen Playing Piano (1) Our sixth-born, Stephen, fell in love with piano and practiced by the hour and year until he left this fall to work on his PhD at Eastman School of Music. Playing and Singing And so, 20 years later, we’ve moved our beloved piano back upstairs, where it can again be a part of our sunlit living room. Steve Jewell. Piano tuner However, after the piano tuner finished tuning it a few weeks ago, he mentioned that the action wasn’t right and the keys weren’t perfectly level. So, he came back again to repair that problem. However, just before he left, we noticed that the right pedal squeaks. Piano tuner tools He took some time trying to fix it by improvising with a piece of leather but was candid enough to explain that the piano might not be worth what it would cost to have it repaired properly, since part of it is broken and would require factory parts…which probably aren’t made anymore. Sigh. Piano keyboardWell, we still love our piano, but it is getting old. In our youth, we couldn’t afford the type of instrument that would have lasted for generations. Now Alan and I are trying to decide if it would make sense to try to have it replaced. Meanwhile, the thought came to me that even though our piano is getting old, when Stephen plays it, it sounds awesome! I feel like I’m living in a music hall when he’s home!Piano lessons? There will come a day when my aging body will no longer be worth repairing (not meaning to be macabre, and I hope not for another 25 years or so), but in the meantime, I’m thankful that under “the touch of the Master’s hand,” my life still has the potential to produce sweet music. Piano. Action repair“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)

(P.S.—If you’re looking for a good piano tuner in the GR area, let me know. I can definitely recommend this man, who learned the business from his grandfather and has been tuning pianos for 50 years now!)

The Piano Men Bring out the Best at GR’s Picnic Pops

The GR Symphony Picnic PopsJPGTrue Confession One: Last Friday morning I couldn’t have named 5 songs composed by either Elton John or Billy Joel. Picnic Pops True Confession Two: I totally loved going to the Picnic Pops last Friday night, Jim Witterwhere Jim Witter’s Piano Men—in concert with the GR symphony— John Varineau and Jim Witter brought the house down with their tapestry of ’70s classic hits by John and Joel. GR Symphony Picnic Pops Dinner We went early and enjoyed our usual awesome picnic dinner and lively conversations with dear friends. Elton John glasses at GR Symphony Picnic Pops Sue had the bright idea to bring us all outrageous sunglasses to commemorate Elton John, which we used with such enthusiasm that a lady from theMaking New Friends at Grand Rapids Symphony Picnic Pops  symphony press asked permission to take a picture of us for their website. Lights at the Picnic Pops By the end of the evening, cell phone lights were bobbing above the expanse of audience like candles on the water… Fun at the Grand Rapids Symphony Picnic Pops beacons emoting happiness from the sea of hearts
who were definitely feeling the love that night! Dancing in the aisles at Grand Rapids Symphony's Picnic Pops Some of the more free spirits were dancing in the aisles. Dancing Together at the Grand Rapids Symphony Picnic Pops Some of the more romantically inclined were dancing with each other. Singing Most of us were smiling broadly…or singing along
(when we knew the music, which I didn’t for sure). The Piano Man  Lots of toes were tapping…mine for sure! Standing ovations at the Grand Rapids Symphony Picnic Pops The end wasn’t really the end because people commenced with standing ovations until the musicians rewarded everybody with numerous encores. The End of a Great Evening at Grand Rapids Symphony Picnic PopsWe all agreed it was just a great evening, and since last Friday
I’ve been pondering what made it such a positive experience. GR Symphony Picnic Pops I’m sure the pleasant weather, excellent food, and big crowd set the stage, Elton John Glasses at the Grand Rapids Symphony Picnic Pops and a lot of the pleasure was just in spending time having fun with dear friendsMeeting Old Friends at Grand Rapids Symphony Picnic Pops (including making some new friends as well as renewing friendships with some we hadn’t seen for a long time)… The Piano Men at the Grand Rapids Symphony Picnic Popsbut I think the biggest plus of all was that the musicians did a super job The Piano Men at the Grand Rapids Symphony Picnic Pops and truly seemed like they were enjoying themselves and the audience.Elton John fans at the Grand Rapids Symphony Picnic PopsWhen those leading are doing a great job, having fun and engaging others—
well, happiness is pretty contagious. LaughingI bet that would work in families too!

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother, which is the first commandment with promise: that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.  And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:1-4, NKJV)).


Rich Mullins: Ragamuffin and Kid Brother of St. Frank

ragamuffin-the-true-story-of-rich-mullinsEarlier this year (2014) Color Green Films released a heart-rending, heart-warming feature-length docudrama on the life of Rich Mullins, entitled Ragamuffin. It’s one of the most touching movies I’ve seen in a long time! Rich_MullinsAlthough he was just five years younger than I, and a fellow Hoosier, I never knew much about him. Rich Mullins was the son of a rough, verbally abusive Indiana tree farmer and a tender-hearted Quaker mother. He grew up in the church and had a deep faith, although he never fit the image of fine and fancy church-going Christians in his day. But, he truly attempted to live honestly and to follow Jesus and was greatly influenced by the life of St. Francis of Assisi. RichMullins-WindsOfHeavenStuffOfEarth In fact, after his song, “Our God is an Awesome God” hit the top of the music charts and his music started earning millions, Rich entrusted the profits from his tours and record sales to his church, asking only to be paid the average salary for an American each year and that the rest be given to charity and missions to help the poor, such as Compassion International. His thought was, “Jesus said whatever you do to the least of these my brothers you’ve done it to me. And this is what I’ve come to think. That if I want to identify fully with Jesus Christ, who I claim to be my Savior and Lord, the best way that I can do that is to identify with the poor. This I know will go against the teachings of all the popular evangelical preachers. But they’re just wrong. They’re not bad, they’re just wrong. Christianity is not about building an absolutely secure little niche in the world where you can live with your perfect little wife and your perfect little children in a beautiful little house where you have no gays or minority groups anywhere near you. Christianity is about learning to love like Jesus loved and Jesus loved the poor and Jesus loved the broken-hearted…” May+1993+LW+with+Rich+Mullins+in+Edman+Chapel+at+Wheaton+College+1000x700Last Monday I wrote about the empty nest syndrome and our need for intimacy, so I was especially touched by his frank commentary on human love: “I would always be frustrated with all those relationships even when I was engaged. I had a ten year thing with this girl and I would often wonder why, even in those most intimate moments of our relationship, I would still feel really lonely. And it was just a few years ago that I finally realized that friendship is not a remedy for loneliness. Loneliness is a part of our experience and if we are looking for relief from loneliness in friendship, we are only going to frustrate the friendship. Friendship, camaraderie, intimacy, all those things, and loneliness live together in the same experience…” Rich_Mullins_black_and_white_short_hairAlthough Rich Mullins grew up in the church and never wavered in his faith, he struggled with depression, radical non-conformity, loneliness, and eventually Because his own father didn’t understand him, Rich leaned heavily on the love and wisdom of two father figures. One was the father of his roommate at Cincinnati Bible College, and the other was Brennan Manning, who also brennan-mannings-quotes-3wrestled with alcohol addiction and wrote a marvelous book called b958abc2864756d9bf3e988654c66636 The Ragamuffin Gospel (thus, Rich’s group became the Ragamuffin Band.) The book is also very gripping, although I think the movie impacted me even more. Ragamuffin would be a special balm for anyone who feels lonely in their faith journey, had/has a hyper-critical parent who is never satisfied with you, of if you struggle with self-worth or addictions. 5e9074a638322452c32cc185b23b0761Rich was never happier than when he was barefoot, helping native American youth learn music on remote reservations. He also felt a closeness to believers in both the Protestant and Catholic churches. Although he considered becoming a Roman Catholic, he never did:  “A lot of the stuff which I thought was so different between Protestants and Catholics [was] not, but at the end of going through an RCIA [Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults] course, I also realized that there are some real and significant differences. I’m not sure which side of the issues I come down on. My openness to Catholicism was very scary to me because, when you grow up in a church where they don’t even put up a cross, many things were foreign to me. I went to an older Protestant gentleman that I’ve respected for years and years, and I asked him, “When does faithfulness to Jesus call us to lay aside our biases and when does it call us to stand beside them?” His answer to me was that it is not about being Catholic or Protestant. It is about being faithful to Jesus. The issue is not about which church you go to, it is about following Jesus where He leads you.” Amen to that!

dbc28bac04cb92285496732dab562997Rich Mullins died in a car accident at the age of 41… a deep loss for the Christian community. d1855004501784a122460d2cbd5cdec5Ragamuffin helps extend his legacy of radical faith, and it’s inspired me to a deeper commitment to charity and honesty…hallmarks of his life.

“For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith” (Romans 12:3).