Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Eulogy for Dan Smith

One of my oldest and closest friends, Dan Smith, has lost his battle with cancer, but is now experiencing victory over death in the presence of the Lord. I am feeling so much as I write these words, but I want to capture some of what he meant to me…what he still means to me.

I met Dan in August of 1989, the Fall Semester of our freshman year at Howard Payne University. We were both outsiders, of sorts, who were thrown together in one of those “get to know you” small groups they put you in at college boot camps. For some reason we clicked, and became pretty close very quickly. It must have been Dan’s cool Tom Selleck mustache. I couldn’t grow a mustache. For about two years we remained inseparable.

Dan Smith taught me how to live in Christ. When I met Dan I was at a sort of crossroads in my life. I spent most of my teenage years as a juvenile delinquent, running from the Lord. By the time I wandered in to Brownwood to go to college I had stopped running and surrendered my life to Christ and to God’s call to vocational ministry. I was in that awkward transition of leaving one life behind and learning how to live a new life in Christ. I had not always been successful at this. In many ways I felt like a failure, and I was convinced that Christ would not want me on his team, let alone to represent him in some ministry endeavor. I hadn’t really had close Christian friends, and I wasn’t sure that I wanted any. A part of me wanted to go back to running from God, to self-destruct, and leave behind God’s plan for my life.

Enter Dan Smith. We became friends. He was so positive, upbeat, encouraging and accepting of me. Over time he taught me how to be 19 years old and be a follower of Christ. It was as if God threw me a lifeline in Dan. I am convinced that I would not be who I am today if it were not for Dan Smith.

I wish I could describe the time Dan and I spent together. I had never known anyone quite like him. Dan and I loved music, just not the same music. We spent countless hours driving across the state of Texas together listening to music. Dan tried to get me to like Country, which I detested. I preferred hard rock, which Dan had no interest in. We often settled for the Traveling Wilburys. Then Dan introduced me to his favorite Christian bands. He loved old school Petra and DC Talk. He would sing along to all the songs with such enthusiasm. I thought he was weird at first, but it eventually I was singing too.

Dan loved to laugh and be absolutely silly. I had never really heard of Monty Python until I met Dan. If we weren’t listening to music on our treks across Texas, we were listening to Monty Python. To this day I can’t hear someone say “spam” without singing the spam song (SPAM! SPAM! SPAM! SPAM!) and look around to see who else is singing. Of course no one is but me. I am comforted by telling myself that if Dan were there, he would be singing too (LOVELY SPAM! WONDERFUL SPAM!). We would be driving down the road and Dan would yell out “HAY!” and point out the window. I would look and there would be bales of hay rolled up in fields. I fell for it every time. Some of my favorite memories are of us sitting
in a room with Blake Hamaker and Jeremy McKewen playing Spades or Poker. We played and talked for hours with no cares in the world.

Dan never met a stranger and seemed to have no inhibitions about talking to people. Dan had a picture of the two of us standing in front of the Alamo as the sun was coming up. He gave his camera to some homeless man and asked him to take our picture. The man did, and as he gave the camera back to Dan he said, “There you go, a picture of two dudes in front of the Alamo.” Combine this with his sense of silly and you get Dan inserting himself in the backgrounds of people’s pictures with a terribly huge grin on his face. Dan had a way of making you feel special, important, and wanted. Dan made friends easily, many friends. And he had the ability to keep the friends he made. People wanted to be Dan’s friend.

Dan loved Jesus Christ. As an older teenager trying to leave behind one life and live a new life in Christ, I had never heard guys my age pray, really pray. I think I learned how to pray by listening to two guys: Dan Smith and Jeremy McKewen. They were so passionate, earnest, and sincere. They were not sissy or phony by any means. They meant what they said.Neither was Dan shy about his worship or self-conscious in any way. Dan carried around a big Bible and knew how to use it. He was the real deal. He made me want to know Christ and be like Christ.

Dan actually got me involved in ministry. He wanted to get involved in all kinds of things with the BSU. I didn’t. No matter how hard he tried, I wouldn’t join him. In the spring semester of 1990, Dan was involved with BSU Drama. He told me they needed me to play some part because I could do a voice like an old man. I said no, but Dan was persistent. So I got involved. Before long, Dan and I were writing skits together. Most of it was goofy stuff. Some of it wasn’t so bad, though. Best thing was spending time together writing material and making each other laugh. Dan was a good laugher. I’ve seen him laugh until he was beet red and the tears were running down his face. We spent a lot of time doing that. Dan really enjoyed the drama ministry and seeing people respond to how God was moving through a performance. A couple of years later Dan moved on to other areas of ministry, but I would be leading BSU Drama along with my future wife. All thanks to Dan.

Dan had an extreme sense of justice. It was like he had to make himself a part of every underdog’s struggle. The longer I knew him the bolder he got in standing up to injustice. The summer of 1990 we worked on staff at Mt. Lebanon Baptist Encampment.Dan had worked there in previous years and had spent some really great moments of his childhood at Mt. Lebanon. He told me it would be the greatest experience of my life if I worked there with him. Have I mentioned Dan’s ability to over-exaggerate in a bout of sincere enthusiasm? Well, apart from the great people who worked there with us, such as Jana Greenlee and Blake Hamaker, it was a terrible summer. So bad, in fact, that Blake and some others got fired and tensions were running high. The camp manager said something to Dan that set him off and he quit right on the spot! It was so unlike Dan and yet, so very much like Dan. He had enough of the OPPRESSION! Who knew Dan was such a fighter? Another time when we were living out in the country Dan stood up to a guy who was living in our house at the time. He was a big, and violent kind of guy who would eat all of our food off of our dishes and then complain because no one cleaned up the mess he left. One night Dan had enough and stood up to this guy and told him off. I was afraid Dan was about to get pummeled, so I took my stand right along with Dan, saying that if he fought Dan, he was fighting me too. Our housemate backed down. Dan had never been so bold.

Something I knew about Dan that other people may not have had opportunity to experience was how Dan was a hopeless romantic. One of Dan’s favorite movies was Can't Buy Me Love. We watched it many, many times. Afterward he would get that dreamy look in his eyes and sigh deeply. I went with him at least twice to watch The Little Mermaid. Dan loved Ariel. He would sigh and talk about how he wanted to be in love and have a family. It would pass and Dan would be back to hating women and talking about how he would never get married. He was going to be a camp manager and live alone or something like that. And yet…I always knew who Dan was crushing on during any given week because he would find ways to be involved in what they were doing, be near them in the cafeteria, and work their names into the conversation. As far as I know Dan never pursued any romantic connection with these young ladies and always remained a gentleman and a good friend.

Dan would get mad at me and others for not taking our relationships with girls seriously. It was true that I was a cad and a selfish turd and Dan would always call me on it. “You don’t know how to treat a woman!” he would say in disgust. He was right, of course. Dan was always much better at that than I. For instance, I was head over heels about one of our friends who wouldn’t give me the time of day. She was sick one weekend and spent some time in the hospital. When she got back to the dorm I wanted to do something to let her know I was concerned and thinking about her, but I was at a loss as to what to do. Dan, as always, knew her better than I and knew exactly what I should do: get her some coloring books and crayons. He was right! She loved it and colored me a wonderful picture that I kept a long time. I think, however, that she knew that the idea for the gift was too good to be mine and had to be Dan’s.

Another example: my wife, Kim, and Dan were good friends before Kim and I started dating. At Dan’s encouragement she and I dated for a while and then I lost interest. Dan was flabbergasted. Again, in disgust he told me what a fool I was and how I would regret being so stupid and selfish.

Dan: “You’re never going to find a better woman than her. You are so lucky! And now you are so stupid!”
Me: “What’s the big deal? You date her.”
Dan: “I would but she doesn’t like me, she wants YOU!”
Me: “She’ll get over it. You wanna go to Taco Bell?”
Dan: (with drool on his chin) AAAAAUUUGGGHH!!!!

Again, Dan was right. I never found a better woman than Kim. In another year I would be begging her to date me. Thank goodness for grace because Kim later became my wife. She is the best woman I know.

I believe Dan went through a period of depression for a while when it came to love and the future. He was a good man, such a very good man. He was faithful to Christ. He was kind and considerate. He wanted to be in love, and he had so much love to give. He wanted to settle down. He dreamed of having a family. He knew he would make a good father and he wanted to be one. As time went on, I wonder if he began to feel like it would never happen for him. He was always the odd man out, the fifth wheel, the guy girls wanted to be friends with but didn’t date. He would often withdraw and become sullen, which was out of character for Dan. He would speak with resignation in his voice, saying, “I’ll always be alone, won’t I?” I warned him that before he knew it, he would fall in love quickly with a girl he hadn’t even met yet.

Me: “You’ll end up marrying the first girl you date seriously.”
Dan: “No, I’m never getting married.”
Me: “Out of all our friends, you will be the first one to get married.”
Dan: “Impossible.”

This time, I was right. It all happened so unexpectedly. Dan came in late one night, or it may have actually been early one morning. I had been concerned because Dan didn’t usually stay out like that without letting me know what was going on. He came in and sat down at our table and had this dreamy look on his face.

Me: “What’s wrong with you? Where have you been?”
Dan:“I’ve been with Linda.”
Me: “Linda who? What are talking about?”
Dan: “Linda Manino, Hope’s sister.”
Me: “You've been with Hope's sister, Linda?”
Dan: “Yeah…we washed dishes and talked a long time…”

It was at that exact moment that I knew it had finally happened. Dan would never be the same. My first instinct was to protect him. Just who is this Linda, anyway? What does she want with you? What is she doing in Brownwood? Just what is her agenda?! My fear was that she would be one more in a long line of marvelous, wonderful women who wanted to be Dan’s friend, but nothing more. If Dan had that same fear he never showed it. He was all in and wide open, just like I predicted. Turns out my fears were unfounded. Linda would be something very special.

I have often wondered if Linda felt that I didn’t like her or trust her. That was never the case. I guess I just knew Dan well enough to know what was happening to him and I didn’t want to see him hurt. Far from being hurt, Dan’s heart burst wide open and his whole life blossomed. It was as if he came alive. He became even more outgoing, sillier and filled with more laughter, more like Christ, more bold and strong. In short, Dan grew up and became a man. Linda brought out all the best things in Dan and magnified them. She got him interested in meeting new people and involved in doing lots of different things Dan wouldn’t have been doing otherwise. Some of these things they did together had a profound influence on Dan and would shape the rest of his life, at least vocationally. She may not know it, but I have always secretly been one of Linda’s biggest fans for who she is, for what she meant to my friend, and for the way she loved him.

Dan and Linda got married in January of 1992. I was honored to stand up with him as his best man. God had blessed Dan with Linda, blessed Dan the way I always knew he deserved to be blessed. A year later Kim and I would marry and Dan would be my best man. After that we were busy perusing life and enjoying our families. Dan was positively giddy when Savannah was born. I knew this was something he
always wanted, and that his daughter would have a very fine father. I remember when the twins were born and what a scary time that was for a while. I’ll never forget being with Dan and Linda in the NICU and knowing how scared my friend was and yet how very brave and full of faith he was.

As time went on and God moved us around to different places of ministry, Dan and I lost touch for a while. I missed my friend but I was comforted by the knowledge that Dan was absolutely filled with joy at the way in which God had blessed him. His dreams had come true and he had the family he wanted. It was in Dan’s nature to be all in, wide open, and totally focused on what was going on in his life at the time. My nature was to withdraw and move on. Our nature’s worked against us as the years rolled by. Every year I would intend to make contact with Dan and Linda, but wouldn’t. I always thought I would have more time.

The internet and Facebook helps you rediscover people and renew contact, so Dan and I reconnected briefly online. Not long after that, like so many, I watched and prayed during Dan’s battle with cancer. A few days after they put Dan on hospice I asked Linda if I could come and see Dan. She graciously consented, and I made the seven hour trip to Fort Worth to spend a few hours with my friend and his family. Dan and I spoke of old times and laughed together again. He was always such a good laugher. I got to meet some of their close friends, which was such a blessing. Dan’s parents were there that day, and I had not seen them in years. That brought back memories of spending time in their home and eating at their table. The best thing for me, next to seeing Dan and Linda, was seeing their children. Savannah, especially, so brave, so focused on listening to her father, talking to him about things in her day, standing quietly in the room while Dan and I went on and on about the good old days. Dan’s parents brought Christmas gifts because they were not able to be together during the holidays. I was blessed to be able to watch them open gifts as a family. I just don’t have the words to describe how much all that meant to me.

I was able to tell Dan how much he meant to me and how much God had used him to shape my life. Dan expressed similar kinds of things. He spoke to Savannah of the importance of friendship and ties that can never be broken. We all prayed together. I told Dan I was absolutely committed to his family, even though I knew they would be well taken care of. He said he knew that, and he told me he loved me. Of all our years knowing each other, out of all the time we spent together, I can’t say for certain that Dan and I had ever said those words to each other. Felt them, yes…knew it in our hearts. But I don’t know we had ever
put words to it. I told him I loved him too. That was the last time I saw Dan.

Here are three things I am taking away from my story:

1. Make every effort to maintain relationships with people who mean so much to you, because few things are as hard to live with as regret. Time and distance combine with the natural ebb and flow of life and can draw people apart. It takes commitment and effort to counteract these natural life forces, but isn’t it worth it? Act now, before it is too late.

2. Here is how I am praying for Dan’s children and for my own children: when they need it most, I pray that God will provide good Christian friends in their lives who will help them to make good choices and follow after Christ. Further, I pray our children will be that kind of Christian friend to others.

3. As I read through the online tributes to Dan, I am encouraged that while my story about Dan is special and my own, it is far from unique. Dan touched many, many people. If it is true that I met Dan Smith when I was at a crossroads in my life, and if it is true that God used Dan to help me go in the right direction, then all of the ways in which God has blessed and provided for me are, at least in part, a result of Dan’s influence. I owe so much to him: my wife, my children, my calling. If God uses me for His purposes and His glory, then everything I do is a credit to Dan’s account in some way. The best way to honor Dan’s memory is for me to live my life, truly live it and live it well. And that is exactly what I intend to do.

Dear Lord, I want to thank you for allowing Dan Smith to be a part of my life. I thank you for his parents who raised him well, for the men and women who led him to Christ and helped him to grow, and for the many ways in which Dan bore fruit in how he influenced me. I thank you for giving me such a good friend. I pray that you would bless Linda, Savannah, Isaac, Sam, and Nate, their extended families, and all of their friends who grieve alongside them. We look forward to seeing our friend on the other side when he will be made new. Until that day, please find ways to remind Linda and the children that they are surrounded by so many people who love them. Thank you for being so good to us. We turn our eyes to you, we love you, and we trust you. Amen.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

New Sermon Series: Commencement

On May 23 we will honor our graduating seniors. In preparing my message for that morning I realized I had more to say than could fit in one sermon (even one of mine!). So, starting on May 16, we will have three sermons on commencement: answering the call to be in but not of the world. I will ask three questions I think are vital for those who intend to spend any amount of time engaged with the unbelieving world, either on the college campus or in the workplace. Here are the three questions:

May 16: Do you have a story of your own?
May 23: Are you capable of living for someone other than yourself?
May 30: Are you interested in giving your life to something larger than your hopes and dreams?

The answers to these questions could determine how the unbelieving world responds to us and the person we claim to worship.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

FBC Rockport in the Spring of 2010

Our strategic plan called for a lot of action in 2010. While we are not meeting all the anticipated deadlines, we are at work on a number of important and exciting things. In the midst of this activity we can see the Lord producing fruit as we seek to accomplish His purpose for our church. In fact, there is so much going on that it is possible to miss the forest for the trees, so to speak. So I have put together some information here that will hopefully allow you to get an overview of all that God is doing at FBC Rockport.


· In 2010 I have preached through the book of 1Timothy, and we are winding down our series on “Family Dynamics.” After Mother’s Day I will begin a new series called “Commencement,” which will be for our graduates and for every Christian who wants to follow our Lord to be in but not of the world. This summer I will preach through the book of Romans.

· Attendance so far in 2010 peaked at 900 on Easter Sunday. We are back to a regular mid 500s in attendance since the Winter Texans have gone back north.

· There were well over 1000 who attended our Easter Cantata, which was outstanding again!

· Enrollment in our Sanctuary Choir is up to 56. They are running out of robes!

· God continues to move in our Saturday night service at Charlie’s Place.

· Eric Scott and I have begun talking and praying about the possibility of starting a Saturday night service either in our church or off-campus somewhere in our community.

· Our Spring Prayer Gathering will focus on families in our church and community.


· Our new Connect Team led us in a church-wide fellowship on Easter Sunday evening. Many people of all ages came out and had a blast.

· The next church-wide fellowship will be on July 4.

· The Sunday School Council is meeting now and one of their first tasks is to help our church address our Sunday School space issues. Our strategic plan recommended a second SS organization on Sunday morning. There has been little enthusiasm for this, but we cannot allow our space to hinder us from connecting more people to the body of Christ though our Sunday School organization, which is our primary connecting tool every week. If not a second Sunday School, what can we do right now to provide more space? Pray for them as they seek the Lord on this matter.


· Our new Grow Team is finalizing plans for an adult class to help New Believers and others who want to focus on essentials for the Christian life, and a New Member Orientation for all new church members. They will then turn their attention to designing an over-all discipleship strategy that makes sense for our church right now. Once that is done they will be able to recommend to the church any necessary schedule changes.

· Various groups have been involved with different studies:

o Different groups have done Beth Moore studies on Revelation, Esther, and Breaking Free.

o A group of people went through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University.

o Our Thursday night Men’s Group continues a study Galatians by Dr. David Platt.

· AWANAs has finished another successful year.

· Vacation Bible School is only a month away!

· I have the Ministerial Staff studying some things too! We have been reading and discussing a book called Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership. We want to make sure that we are leading from the heart of our relationship with Christ. Next we will read and discuss a book on worship.

· In February, our students participated in the Mpact Weekend that focused on small group discipleship. Also, in March a group of students attended the Fuge Winter Camp in Glorieta, NM.

· On Sunday nights, at Tribe, the high school students just finished a study through the book of Colossians, and they are working on going through other books of the Bible as well.


· Our new Serve Team is working on several different things:

o There will soon be a bulletin board on display that will have all of the various ministry and missions opportunities available to our members.

o They are conducting interviews with some community leaders to get a sense of the many different needs within Aransas County. We will then lay these before the Lord and see where He leads us to join Him.

· Bob and Carole Crawford will join the Texas Baptist Men on a trip to Cuba, May 15-26.

· Joyce Roach will travel to the Dominican Republic to work in an orphanage, June 26-July 3.

· Jennifer Edwards and Carole Crawford will be teaching English in China, June 27-July 21.

· A group of youth and adults will go to Connecticut the last week of July to conduct a VBS and to participate in some prayer walking.

· We will help FBC Taft (where Dale Pogue is Interim Pastor) conduct their Vacation Bible School in July.

· John Jenkins and Herman Green have begun a ministry called “In the Garden.” John is a Master Gardener and Master Composter. Herman has been an Organic Gardener for 30 years. They will, as time allows, provide a consultation ministry for anyone in the church family who needs help with their composting, flower beds, herb garden, or vegetable garden. The consultation is free.

· One of the results of our ministry at Charlie’s Place is that we are looking into beginning a Christ-based addiction recovery and support group in Rockport.

· The Deacons have almost completed a fresh draft of our various Deacon policies and procedures. There has even been talk of a possible Deacon election this summer or fall.


· We have baptized 11 people so far in 2010, five adults, two youth, and four children. There are at least 4 more scheduled for the coming weeks.

· The Reach Ministry Team is considering outreach and evangelism possibilities for our church.

Ad Hoc Committees

· The Building and Property Usage Committee has completed its task and now has a document before the church for consideration. These policies will be discussed and voted on in May.

· The Phase 2 Study Committee met for several weeks and is now pausing in their work to give the various ministry teams time to develop some plans. They hope to get some insight into the kinds of recommendations to make to the church about developing our property.

· The Constitution and Bylaws Committee has met once and has had a hard time scheduling a new meeting (due to my schedule), but we intend to meet again soon.

Standing Committees

· The Transportation Committee has certified many of our members as official drivers of our church vehicles. Have you gotten your certification yet?

· The Personnel Committee is working on an update to our Personnel Policies and Procedures.

· The Building Committee is collecting bids for various repairs to our building. The wet winter really took its toll on our facilities.

· The Grounds Committee recently finished a new driveway for the bus barn and repainted the handicap parking spaces.

Of course this does not describe the totality of what God is doing in our midst, but does provide a snapshot. Please join with me in seeking the Lord and engaging with others as we set out in faith and obedience to accomplish the mission of our church, which is to help all people to be shaped by the love of Christ.

Serving you,

Scott Jones

Saturday, January 2, 2010

10 Questions to Answer Prayerfully in God's Presence

As 2010 begins, many of us are prayerfully looking forward to what God will do in our lives, families, churches, and communities in the new year. I emphasized in December how important it was that we not miss God when He speaks, acts, and moves in us and around us. So here are ten questions to pray over, meditate on, and then answer in God's presence. These questions are to help us connect with God's movement in our lives in the coming year. If God leads you to some answers to your questions, and you would like for me to pray with you about these things, please let me know! Here are the questions:

1. What's one thing you could do this year to increase your enjoyment of God?

2. What the most humanly impossible thing you will ask God to do this year?

3. What's the single most important thing you could do to improve the quality of your family life this year?

4. In which spiritual discipline do you most want to make progress this year, and what will you do about it?

5. What is your most important financial goal this year and what will you do to achieve it?

6. What is the most helpful new way you could strengthen your church?

7. For whose salvation will you pray most fervently this year?

8. What is the most important need you fell burdened to meet this year?

9. Who do you most want to encourage this year?

10. What habit would you like to establish this year?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Favorite Songs on My iPod

More challenging than it looks! Here is a current list of my top 25 favorite songs on my iPod. In the next post I will have the list of my REAL top 25 songs - the ones played most often. The songs here are not presented in alphabetical order. Let me know what you think and tell me the stories about your favorite songs.

"40" by U2. This song is based on Psalm 40, David's testimony of God's saving action, causing all people to sit up and take notice. May all God's people be able to sing a new song every day of what God has done for them.

"A Kiss to Build a Dream On" by Louis Armstrong. I love New Orleans Jazz, and Satchmo is one of the greatest. This song reminds me of all the wonderful memories Kim and I have of our time in the Crescent City, either on vacation or on mission trips. Good memories.

"All Because of You" by Kate Hurley. This song was included as a bonus track on some random collection of Christmas music by Christian artists, and now it has become one of my all-time favorite Christmas songs. Kim will sing this song this Sunday (Dec. 20) in the 8:30 service, by the way. The Christmas story is so familiar that we need to hear it again for the first time -- a passionate God becomes one of us, to live and to die for us, all because of His love.

"Cantata 140, 'Wacht auf, ruft uns die Stimme,' BWV 140: Sleepers, Wake!" by Johann Sebastian Bach. I love Bach's organ music. I love that he wrote these pieces as music for worship. I love the way the old pipe organs sound as his music bursts forth from the various registers. I love that his works are not easy to play on an organ - involving both hands and feet moving rapidly on the instrument. And I love to hear someone play it as Bach intended: to bring glory to God. Choosing a favorite piece usually depends on what mood I am in, and today I choose "Sleepers, Wake!"

"Farther Along" by Willie and Bobbie Nelson. This comes off the album of old hymns that Willie recorded with his sister, Bobbie. I love this album, along with Johnnie Cash's similar project. The songs are simple, spare, and powerful. I don't hold up Willie as any kind of a spiritual leader, but his version of this classic hymn is moving and hopeful.

"Hallelujah Chorus" from Messiah, by George Handel. I kid you not, every time I hear this I am moved to worship and end up weeping like a little girl. A moving and powerful expression of uncontained joy for the King of Kings and Lord of Lords who will reign forever and ever. I like to think heaven will sound a little like this.

"Hard to Get" by Rich Mullins. This song is taken from the last project Rich worked on before his untimely death in a traffic accident. He was making an album about Jesus when he died, leaving behind a cassette tape of the songs he recorded in an old church. Rich's voice is scratchy and haunting on the recording, and the lyrics are a brutally honest prayer to Christ about how frightened we feel during those times when he seems so distant from us.

"Heading for the Light" by the Traveling Wilburys. I have been a fan of the Wilburys since high school. This is George Harrison's tribute to his spiritual journey set to a wailing sax.

"Help Me" by Johnny Cash. Yes, I like the old Johnny Cash songs just fine, but the songs he recorded in his last years are especially powerful and moving. This song, for instance, is the prayer of a man who has tried everything his way and failed. Now he is desperately crying out to God for help. This is one of the last songs John recorded in the time between his wife's death and his own. Very moving.

"I Need Thee Every Hour" by Jars of Clay. This is Jars' version of the old hymn, included on their album of similar renditions of Christian classics. Somehow they are able to take the lyrics and tune of a familiar hymn and make it sound urgent, passionate, and sincere. In my opinion, the future of modern worship should include songs like this as we reach back into our heritage and find the songs of faith that have meant so much to so many over the centuries, and then reinterpret those songs so that they become an expression of our experience in worship.

"If I Stand" by Rich Mullins, performed by Jars of Clay. This is my all-time favorite song. I first heard Rich's version in college after struggling for a few years to leave an old way of life behind and live a new life in Christ. It was also the time in which I struggled to comprehend God's call upon my life, a life which seemed to me to be wasted and profane. The lyrics assured me that there is more to reality than what I can perceive, and I must stand on God's promises alone. The version by Jars of Clay is soft, subtle, and powerfully sincere.

"In My Life" by the Beatles. This is a long-time favorite for me and Kim. I actually enjoy other versions of this song than the Beatles'. I haven 't been able to find one I like better than others, but I think my favorite version is the one David and Celeste McCraw sing from time to time. You FBC Rockport folks have probably heard it.

"It's True" by Sara Groves featuring Toby Groves. This Christmas song is about the doubt people often feel as they ponder the love of God. Could all this supernatural stuff be real? Did God really come down to us as a child? Oh yes. Sara's son Tobey reads the Christmas story from the same children's Bible our son Michael uses. Beautiful.

"I've Been Everywhere" by Johnny Cash. The ultimate travel song sung by a man who has walked down many roads. Although this is a fun song to listen to, you can't help but notice the weariness in John's voice as he describes how he has been everywhere and seen everything. I pray that the Lord will keep me from the cynicism of weariness as the years go by.

"Linus and Lucy" by the Vince Guaraldi Trio. Who's Christmas wouldn't be complete without the Peanuts music? Joyful, playful, and enduring, like Snoopy himself, this song makes me think of my son playing.

"Maybe I'm Amazed" by Paul McCartney. As I have said before, I don't like all of Macca's solo work post-Beatles, but this one is greatness. A love song to his wife Linda, he captures that inexplicable feeling men often feel as they are falling in love.

"Piano Sonata #14 in C Sharp Minor, Op. 27/2, 'Moonlight,' - Adagio sostenuto" by Ludwig Von Beethoven. I first heard this piece when I was a teenager struggling to understand my own emotional swings. For some reason it meant a lot to me that Beethoven could feel melancholy so deeply. This music is moody and marvelous. One can almost see moonlight reflected on ripples of water.

"Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What A Wonderful World" by Isarael Kamakawiwo'ole. You would recognize this song if you heard it. Izzy's distinctive voice singing the lyrics to these familiar songs, accompanied only by his ukulele. Somehow the song manages to sound both melancholy and hopeful at the same time, a tension many of us have learned to live in.

"Speak, O Lord" by Keith and Kristyn Getty. The Getty's are worship leaders and modern hymn writers. They wrote this song to be sung at their church before the pastor gets up to preach. It expresses the desire of my heart as I approach the word of God.

"Symphony No. 3 in E flat, Op. 55, 'Eroica,' - 1: Allegro con brio" by Ludwig Von Beethoven. Beethoven originally wrote this piece in honor of Napoleon's armies marching across Europe. He loved the idea that democracy would replace aristocracy and the entitlement of royalty. As you can imagine, he was bitterly disappointed and disillusioned when a victorious and triumphant Napoleon then declared himself Emperor. He changed the title of this symphony and dedicated it to a no-named "Hero." How many of us have been let down by those we held in esteem? This music celebrates an ideal hero who may not exist, but should.

"Symphony No. 25 in G Minor, K. 183 (173dB) - Allegro con brio" by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. I discovered Mozart, like many of you, after watching Amadeus on HBO one day when I was a teenager. I was dazzled by the power, passion, and beauty of the music as well as the complicated life of Mozart himself. Up to that point I did not ever think that the great composers were actual people like you and me, at least a little! This selection from Symphony 25 is part of the music that begins the movie, and it remains my favorite of Mozart's.

"The Valley Song (Sing of Your Mercy)" by Jars of Clay. This song became a constant companion after Kim's second miscarriage, and it has remained a favorite ever since. God leads us through valleys of sorrow to rivers or joy, but you must still pass through the valley. Don't stop, my pilgrim friend, keep moving.

"Two of Us" by the Beatles. This is one of the first songs John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote together as boys in Liverpool, and one of the last songs the Beatles recorded before they broke apart. The song is about the sustaining power of friendship over the years. You can't help but wonder at the irony. Did John and Paul mourn the loss of their own friendship among the bitterness and animosity surrounding the breakup of the Beatles?

"Winter Snow" by Chris Tomlin and Audrey Assad. This is off the new Chris Tomlin Christmas worship album. The Almighty Creator of the Universe, the Infinite and Ultimate King of Kings could have come to us in great power and judgment, causing much fear and dismay among us. But He chose to come quietly, as a small helpless baby born almost unnoticed in the night, like a winter snow falling quietly to the ground.

"Worlds Apart" by Jars of Clay. Off of Jars' first album, this is still one of their very best. This song is sung by a person who has experienced failure at his or her own hands, and finally gives God permission to take their world apart and have His way with them. Anyone been there?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Music Revisited and Some Pictures

It has been a while since I blogged period, even longer since I blogged about the music I am listening to these days. Over a year ago I gave a list of the top 25 favorite songs on my iPod and then a list of the top 25 songs I actually listened to. I have been asked to do it again and I will do so as I have time during the next week.

My approach to music is much the same as my approach to all art: it should be experienced with a critical eye. Not critical as in putting it down and finding fault, but as in closely examining something. As Christians especially it is our responsibility to consider well what we expose ourselves to. Therefore we ask questions: Why do I like this song? What does it tell me about life, people, myself, the Lord, etc? What can I learn from it? What do I think about the way it makes me feel? And so get the picture.

What I will do is post a list of the top 20 or so songs on my iPod that are my favorites. Last time I did not include Christmas music or classical music, but this time I will. I will reflect on what these particular songs mean to me personally. Then I will post my real to 20 favorite song list - the list of songs played most often on my iPod. If you use iTunes then you know it counts the number of times each song is played. The two lists will probably not be the same.

I encourage you to do the same thing. What are your favorite songs and what do they mean to you? I would love to hear your stories.

In the mean is what most people really of the kids.
Micheal feeding Buddy
Kathryn at 3 months

Michael and Uncle Neal

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Simon Peter writes to us in 1 Peter 5:8-9, "Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings."

As a pastor, I am sensitive to the trials and sufferings of those in our church. As of late I have been troubled by the sharp rise of hardships among our people. As a church, and in the lives of many individual members as well, we have chosen to go down a path we believe will allow us to continue to be shaped by the love of Christ and then be the servants Christ created us to be as we lead all people to be shaped by the love of Christ. There is a renewed interest in worship, engagement with the body of Christ, Bible study and discipleship, serving, missions, and evangelism. In response to all this I believe the enemy has been actively at work in the lives of many. The result has been anger, bitterness, broken relationships, discouragement, fear, and all manner of things to distract our people from the cause of Christ. I have not really noticed a grand, large scale assault of evil upon us. Instead the enemy is working in small, subtle, insidious ways to discourage, dishearten, and distract us.

Like Peter, I affirm that what many are experiencing is suffering. But his advice is sound. Don't let the enemy get the best of you...resist him. And don't believe the lie that it is only you who is suffering. Turn to your brothers and sisters in Christ in order to offer and draw strength from one another. At the same time, stand firm in the faith. God is still in control and God is not finished yet. The enemy cannot win unless you quit.

The holidays are stressful enough without the added oppression of the enemy. Please know that I love all of you and I am praying for you. Don't give out, give up, or give in. Keep walking in the darkness, but keep your eyes on the horizon to watch for the light. A new day will dawn at just the right time.