8 06 2010

What could be funnier than generating your own animated movie using text-to-speech technology, complete with camera angle changes, facial expressions, and awkward pauses?  I can’t think of anything!  A friend showed me this site, Xtranormal, where you can do just that, so I thought I’d share my first attempt.  Oh, and by the way, for those of you who may be slightly humor-challenged, remember that it’s satire!  It might not be good satire – you can be the judge of that – but it’s satire nonetheless…

Follow this link to take a look!


Awaiting a Birth

5 05 2010

Patience is not generally a strength of mine.  Then again, who among us can claim to be perfectly patient?  Right now the thing I’m waiting for is very special: the birth of our son.  The birthing classes are completed, the nursery is painted, the furniture is put together, the hospital bag is packed, the car seat is in the car and we are ready to go!  Of course, our son, who is due on May 16, has his own timetable.  It might be tomorrow, it might be next week.  But one thing is for sure, as a friend said to me recently: “She’s going to have that baby!”  Truer words were never spoken.

It occurred to me today how often we find ourselves in this exact position, waiting for the “birth” of something extraordinary in our lives.  We’ve bought the items, received the training, and made all the necessary preparations for something we hope and pray will take place, and yet we still find out that the circumstances don’t depend on us.  God, in his perfect timing, is still holding something back, waiting for the opportune moment to birth in us something beautiful.

But take heart!  God’s promises are steadfast and true, unwaveringly kept and unceasingly good.  No matter whether you are walking through a deep valley, or approaching the pinnacle of one of life’s mountains, God’s promise to you is true.  He will complete the work He has begun in you to make you more and more like Christ.

Yes, she’s definitely going to have that baby.

Is God a Jazz Musician?

8 02 2010

Last week I was having lunch with Peter Swann, a friend and the Executive Director of Aid Sudan, when we struck up a lively conversation about music.  We were both music majors in college, he a trombone performance major and I a contemporary Christian music major.  And in the interest of full disclosure, I must confess to being a giant music theory nerd.  (No doubt many of you would say that I could remove the words “music theory” and the phrase would still be accurate.)

Music theory is like the “rules” of music.  It tells you what notes sound good together and why.  It tells you what chords to play beneath a certain melody.  It tells you how to write four-part harmonies without using parallel octaves.  It’s quite a useful thing.

Of course, the downside to music theory is that it can become prescriptive instead of descriptive, that is, it can confine the creation of music to a set of handy rules, instead of simply describing why a certain musical creation sounds the way it does.

Our friend and producer, Scott Williamson, taught me an important lesson about this during one of our recording sessions for the BDA album back in 2004.  We were recording background vocals and he sang a suggested part that he thought sounded good.  I asserted that we couldn’t use that part because the notes weren’t a part of the chord that was being played underneath.  He responded by reminding me that music theory is only useful as long as it serves the music.  The music is what sounds good, not what looks right on paper.  And he was right!  His part did sound good!  In fact, far from serving the music, my dogmatic adherence to theory was hindering the music.

Jason Webb during the Dave & Jess Ray sessions

Jazz musicians know the truth of this statement.  Most of them know music theory inside and out.  But when they they improvise they don’t confine themselves to the four walls of theory.  Instead they let their musical creativity wander freely and sometimes find beauty in the most unexpected, dissonant places.  You can hear it in Jason Webb’s piano part for the song “Face of God” off the album Dave & Jess Ray.  You may not know the rules of music theory, but trust me when I say he breaks a few!  But the result is beautiful!

Do we ever act like that with God?  When He suggests a melody for us to sing and do we insist that it must be sung differently?  After all, we say, it’s not supposed to work like that.  God is not supposed to use circumstances like this, or people like that, or lead me to places like this.  But the Bible is filled with examples of God finding beautiful melodies in unexpected places.  Who else could have given victory to Gideon’s 300-strong marching band of trumpeters?  Who else would have chosen the youngest of Jesse’s sons to be the king of Israel?  Who else would have sent His only Son to be birthed in squalor, and achieve ultimate victory through the harsh dissonance of death?  Only our God.

Maybe God is a jazz musician.  Maybe He’s calling each of us to sing a melody that takes us to unexpected, even dissonant places so that He gets the glory.  Will you play along?

Do You Ever Despair?

1 02 2010

Is there room for despair in the Christian life?  What about doubt, depression, or even anger at God?  That’s the topic Duane tackled this week in his sermon, and it’s also the subject of the song “Restore Me,” off the album Dave & Jess Ray, which we played during the service.

The words of the song capture each of those emotions, words that echo the heart of the Psalmist in Psalms 42 and 43:

Restore Me
David Ray

Verse 1:
O God, my Father, return to me
Have You forgotten me Your servant?
Protect my life from the Enemy
Restore me to Your joy again

Verse 2:
O God, Deliverer, remember me
Have You forsaken me in bondage?
My will is broken my faith is weak
Restore me to Your joy again

God is my shield, God is my fortress
In loving-kindness You draw me in
I take my shelter under Your promise
Restore me to Your joy again

Verse 3:
O God, my Healer, return to me
Have you abandoned me in weakness?
My soul grows weary, my wounds are deep
Restore me to Your joy again

To some these words might feel uncomfortable.  Can you really ask God if He has forgotten you, forsaken you, or abandoned you?  Aren’t you risking a lightning bolt from the sky or some other kind of divine retribution?  I think the answer is an emphatic no.  In fact, when we avoid expressing our anger and frustration to God, what we’re really saying is that we don’t completely believe that He loves us unconditionally.  We’re saying that we somehow merit grace by how well we believe.  But that’s not the message of the Gospel.

Jesus himself cried out, “Why have you forsaken me?” when He was on the cross.  And when others doubted He didn’t answer them by turning away.  Instead He used it as a teaching moment, a moment to demonstrate once again that He loves us and is working for our good.  In fact, I would even say that God loves disproving our doubts.  But He will never get the chance if are never honest enough with ourselves to express them.

So if you find yourself in a place of despair, depression, or doubt, tell your Father in heaven what’s going on.  Cling tightly to His promises.  And keep your eyes open as God proves Himself faithful.

Three-Part Harmony

21 01 2010

Recently Jess and I have had the pleasure of singing with a new friend, Michelle Westbrook, on occasion during our weekend services.  It has been wonderful to have a third harmony part for the songs.  Creating rich three-part harmonies is one of my favorite things to do!

However, it’s not easy.  Two-part harmony is not easy, either, but it is certainly simpler.  In two-part harmony there are usually several note choices that will sound good with each step of the melody.  You might sing close to the melody on one part and then farther away on another.  There are many different combinations that will each create a pleasing sound to the listener.

But three-part harmony is much more complex.  Each step of melody and two harmony parts now creates a chord that must match what the band is playing and make sense within the movement of the vocals.  It takes a lot of painstaking work, often working slowly through each note of the song to make sure that each chord is correct.  But the payoff?  The payoff is glorious!  Rich tapestries of vocals that undergird each note of the melody with emotion and substance.  It’s a sound that two-part harmonies can never imitate.

It occurred to me that trying to sing three-part harmonies is a lot like trying to live in community with fellow believers.  When it’s just us and God, and God invites us to harmonize with his melody, we might find it fairly simple, like two-part harmony.  We can choose what notes make the most sense to us within the context of the melody the Father sings.

But as soon as we move into community it feels a lot more like three-part harmony.  We can’t just choose whatever we want anymore.  We have to listen to what other people are singing and figure out how we can sing something beautiful together.  We have to change what we’re singing when it sounds wrong, and we have to lovingly invite others to change when their notes stray from the chord.  It takes painstaking work!

But the payoff?  The payoff is glorious!  In community we create beautiful music that could never be imitated if we were left to ourselves.  And even better, the music we create is the music God intended us to create when He made us.  He intended us to live and work (yes, work!) in community, because He knew the beauty that could come from it.  Love.  Hope.  Peace.  Patience.  Kindness.  Goodness.  Faithfulness.  Self-Control.  How can we practice these virtues if not in community?

God knows the incredible blessings we receive from living in community.  Just like three-part harmony, it isn’t easy, but the payoff is glorious!

Song Story: Heart Cry Holy

1 12 2009

Two weeks ago in our worship services we debuted a new song called “Heart Cry Holy.” I thought I’d take a moment to tell you a little about the inspiration behind the song. The text is rooted in Psalm 103 where David exhorts his heart, his “inmost being,” to praise the holy name of the Lord, and then begins listing all the “benefits,” that is, the reasons for his heart to cry out in praise. As we studied the passage with Pastor Brooks in our services over the course of several weeks I was reminded that our gratitude to God is rooted in two simple things: who He is, and what He has done. And what He has done, namely redeeming our lives from “the pit,” was made necessary by who we are: sinners in need of mercy.

Realizing these things should immediately fill us with gratitude!  It should make our hearts cry out in praise of God for saving us even when we were sinners, all because of His steadfast and compassionate love.  And it should make us run to Him!  It should make us eager to draw close to Him, knowing that He desires to give us good things.  Yet so often we choose our own way, saying in essence, “I know what is good for me better than God does.”  How wrong we are!  This song is a reminder of the story of our “uncovering” by the Finder of Souls, and an exhortation to leave everything behind for the sake of Christ, the giver of life, the one who makes our hearts cry holy.

Heart Cry Holy
David Ray

Verse 1:
Oh You, Finder of souls
You have uncovered me
Opened my heart, traced all my scars
Straight to the core of me
Oh and I, I’ve had enough
Of secrets and sympathy
So I’m leaving, leaving it behind

All for You, Giver of life
The One who makes my heart cry holy
Lover of the lost
The One who gives the sinner mercy
You keep renewing my life
And I keep remember why
You make my heart cry holy

Verse 2:
Oh I, I can be weak
Faithless and faltering
I can be swayed, tempted away
To chase after lesser things
Oh but You, steadfast and true
Patiently loving me
So I’m leaving, leaving it behind

And if I were left to myself
I would settle for less, settle for less
But You beckon my heart
And I cannot resist, I cannot resist
I’m leaving it all behind
I’m leaving it all behind
I’m leaving it all behind
I’m leaving it all, leaving it all for You

Song Story: Victorious

3 11 2009

Two weeks ago we played a new song at Tallowood called “Victorious.”  It’s a song of corporate worship that praises God for His triumph over sin and death, and looks forward to the day when He will right every pain and injustice.  To those who have experienced pain and hardship in their lives this hope of victory is deeply personal and meaningful.  It was driven home to me during a prayer time with some friends that were experiencing a difficult trial.  As we prayed I was overwhelmed by a peaceful confidence and one simple word: Victorious.  Our God will be victorious.  And not only will He be victorious in the future, but He has already been victorious in the past through the cross and continues even now to be victorious in our lives over darkness and destruction.  This is the precious hope that each of us clings to in a world filled with tragedy and injustice.

After our prayer time the words to the song came quickly and easily.  The verses describe the continuing nature of our victorious God: past, present, and future.  And then the chorus gets to the heart of the issue: our God is victorious for the sake of His matchless name and the glory of His kingdom.  Strangely, the fact that it’s not all about us is reassuring.  If it were for my sake alone that God was victorious, would He be swayed by my disobedience and faithlessness?  But instead it’s not about me, and it’s not dependent on me.  It’s all about God, and that is a reassuring thought.  For the sake of His name, our God was, is, and ever will be victorious!


Verse 1:
There is one thing that I know
There is one hope that I trust
Though the weight of sin brings death to men
Our God has been victorious
For His power raised the dead
And He breathes new life in us
And no grave can chain nor death contain
Our God remains victorious

For the sake of His great holiness
By the power of His great love
And to make His kingdom glorious
Our God will be victorious

Verse 2:
For this world is filled with pain
But our God is true and just
And his enemies will bend their knees
Our God will be victorious

Highest King, Risen Lord
You will reign forevermore
God of love, we adore
Every knee will bow before
And I will bow in worship