I don’t enter hymn contests as obsessively as I used to, but when I do, I usually lose. My entry into the Eastman School of Music’s hymn tune contest battled with 131 other contestants and fell to fellow Grand Rapids composer, Larry Visser.

My tune is called CHARMING FOURTH, because I wrote and rejected three other tunes; they say the third time’s the charm, but I was hoping for an exception to that rule. The tune went with a text called “Out of Silence, Music Rises” by Carl Daw. It’s really lovely and I hope he reads this blog post, falls in love with my tune, and declares me the unofficial winner. I’d like that.

If you’d like to play through the tune at the keyboard, you can get it here: PDF.

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T. L. Moody: Will Rise in Spring

Another collaboration with Tammy Moody. Like many of her songs, this one features vivid images of nature. In this, she takes us through the seasons, ultimately connecting spring’s budding new life to our hope of resurrection in Christ.

Besides writing wonderful lyrics, Tammy is also a professional photographer. She took this photo of the yellow boat. (You can read about the meaning of the boat in the previous post.)

1. Spent blossoms fall and then are swept away.
Light lingers late, as longer grows the day.
Sweet May’s near done, as are the cooler eves;
as spring wanes, the summer comes with plums and leaves.

2. Green shoot unfurls to welcome sun’s embrace;
so, turn my heart and bask in warming grace.
Join, too, my voice with larks in ceaseless praise,
and join stream, join meadow where the young lambs graze.

3. Crisp fall’s red leaves are fading now to brown;
Soon, skiffs of snow will kiss the sleeping ground.
Through brittle winds the breath of winter brings
and I pray what lies in earth will rise in spring.

4. I praise the One who paints the sunsets’ hues.
I praise the One who tints the lilac blue.
I join my voice with song creation sings:
For in Christ, what lies in earth will rise in spring.

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T. L. Moody: Hands Come Gleaning.

Tammy Moody wrote the lyrics for this new song. I love the way she ties together images of harvesting the land, social justice, and the Lord’s Supper. The more connections we can make between what we do in worship and in the world, the better.

Tammy also took the picture of a boat. Why a boat, you ask? As we discussed the relationship between words and music, she told me about someone who said lyrics are like a boat: they need music like a boat needs water; once the two come together, their journey. begins.

1. O give us eyes to see them,
forgotten bits of grain
discarded in the harvest
as chaff upon the plain

O let our hands come gleaning
the lonely little ones,
so precious in your eyes, Lord,
it’s you who bid them, “Come”

We gather them to you, Lord,
to celebrate your feast
For such as these, your children,
O let our love increase.

2. O give us ears to hear them,
faint, pleading, hungry cries
from outcast souls and beggars
before we hurry by

O let us go to seek them
until the last is found
and mercy’s hands not tiring
‘til all their wounds are bound

We gather them to you, Lord,
to celebrate your feast
For both the babe and beggar,
O, let our love increase.

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It Is Finished!

The 7th and final song of The Seven Last Words series is “It is finished.” (John 19:30). These were the final words Christ uttered as he died. It is important to note that the word he used is not one that means “That’s it–I’m done” but a word of completion. His work complete, he gave himself to death.

The crux of Christianity (pun intended) is Christ’s work on the cross. Let’s rest entirely on Christ for our salvation and life.

There is nothing we can do
to add to what you’ve done.
The sacrifice, complete–
the fullness of God’s love.

“It is finished!” “It is finished!”
were our Lord’s last words of pain.
“It is finished!” “It is finished!”
will forever be our theme.
In Christ we are redeemed.

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I Trust My Soul to You

This is #6 of The Seven Last Words, in which Jesus says, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46) In the drama of the crucifixion, these words meant, “I’m ready to die.” But there is another layer of meaning, for Jesus and for us: Jesus committed himself–trusted his whole being–to God’s care. That should be our posture, too, both in our living and our dying.

To you, O Lord, I trust my soul.
I trust my soul to you.

My Refuge, with my last breath
I will call to you.
My Savior with my last breath
I will worship you.

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May We Thirst in You

“I thirst” is the 5th word from the cross and the 5th song in my series of songs on The Seven Last Words. As I contemplated this short sentence, I was struck by a few things. First, Jesus–though God–still felt all the physical needs of being human, in this case, thirst. But that thirst points out a deeper spiritual question: How can the One who described himself as “Living Water” be thirsty?

I was always taught that having a relationship with Jesus would fill the “God-shaped vacuum” in my soul–my journey would be over and all the longings of my heart would be filled. I’m not so sure about that anymore. In fact, it feels like faith is simply the beginning of a journey on which there will be both thirsting and quenching.

The fact that Jesus felt his thirst in the midst of salvation’s work leads me to believe that it’s okay for me to continue to feel restless even as I have peace; unsatisfied, yet fulfilled.

1. Lord, you are the only well
From which living water flows;
But you were thirsty, too.
You were thirsty, too.

O Jesus when we thirst,
May we thirst in you.

2. We drink and the living streams
Well up within our souls,
Yet we are thirsty, too.
We are thirsty, too.

O Jesus when we thirst,
May we thirst in you.

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Set Us Free

This fourth song of the “Seven Last Words” project has Jesus speaking some of the most desolate words of the Bible: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34) So why is my musical setting so upbeat? (“Irresistibly catchy” is what my son called it–and I think he meant it in a good way.)

The words Jesus uttered from the cross are actually a direct quote from Psalm 22. Back in Jesus’ time, they didn’t have Psalm numbers, so they just used the first phrase as a title. So Jesus was giving us a clue–“look in Psalm 22.” There we find the Psalmist surrounded by enemies but ultimately saved from the grasp of death.

If Jesus could trust God even on the cross, certainly we can cry out for deliverance even in the middle of pain, doubt, and despair.

We have suffered, but have not been forsaken;
brought low, but not left alone.
We’re surrounded by darkness, despair of the night,
but not without promise of dawn.

We will trust in the Lord.
God will set us free.
For the death that surrounds us is rising to life.
You will set us free.
You will set us free.

Stay with us in our darkest night
Stay, Lord, stay. Lord, please stay by our side.


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Love One Another

#3 in the “Seven Last Words of Christ” series. The Gospel of John tells the story this way: “Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. (John 19:25-27)

It is touching that Jesus was taking care of his mother even while he was dying, but it is not surprising; John’s Gospel is all about love, from the famous “for God so loved the world” to the new commandment of the last supper, “love one another.” So a song about these last words of Christ should make us consider who our family is and how we can love them best.

Here is your son.
Here is your mother.
Here is your sister, father, and brother.
Hear Christ’s command:
love one another.
Love one another.

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By Your Side

“By Your Side” is song #2 in my Seven Last Words of Christ series. This one is based on Luke 23:43 “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” We understand what these words mean when Jesus speaks them to a criminal dying next to him on a cross, but what do they mean for us today? In this song, we respond to Christ’s words with dedication: Yes, Lord, we want to be with you in life and death, in paradise or cross.

May we remain with you,
Lord, when the day is o’er.
For we desire nothing more
than to be by your side,
than to be by your side,
O Lord.

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Psalm 118: The Lord’s Become Our Salvation

My friend Wendell Kimbrough and I co-wrote a song for the Calvin Worship Symposium. Go to 40:03 in this video to hear it.

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