Facing a Task Unfinished

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I’m writing this mainly to pass along some info to my church, but this is a rich hymn text. Worth taking a look, even if you’re not participating in the global hymn sing!

This Sunday, February 21, 2016, our church (Colonial Baptist Church, Virginia Beach) will be joining churches around the world (nearly one million believers in 63 countries and in 10 languages, so far) in singing the hymn, “Facing a Task Unfinished.”

If you’re interested in registering your church to join in, click here.

Please take some time to give attention to this hymn and be prepared to really join in as we sing this together on Sunday. I’ve attached links to some resources that may be helpful to you as you prepare. Even if you can’t read music, you can meditate on the lyrics or listen to the audio. And below is an excerpt from the Getty Music press release with some background information to the hymn.

Half-page Hymn Insert (melody only) | 2-page Full Hymn | Official Lyric Video (YouTube)

“Facing a Task Unfinished” was originally written by China Inland Mission (CIM) worker Frank Houghton in the 1920s at a time when persecution and even martyrdom of Christians in China was extremely severe. In the midst of this darkness, the CIM issued a call for 200 new missionaries over two years, and Houghton’s hymn galvanized the challenge in song. By 1931 there were 203 new missionaries on the field, and the number of Christians now in China is estimated to be well in excess of the millions.

OMF International (Overseas Missionary Fellowship, formerly China Inland Mission) recently celebrated its 150th anniversary and invited Keith and Kristyn Getty to re-visit and re-write Houghton’s much-loved and still timely hymn. The Gettys have given the hymn a new chorus of response to help serve a new generation of congregational singing. Royalties earned by the song from all sources and uses will be donated to OMF International in support of their continued work.

“Songs have the ability to unite and move us…” says Keith Getty. “Frank Houghton understood this… ‘Facing a Task Unfinished’ provided inspiration to a generation of missionaries when it was first written, and it urges us on still, even as we also live amid persecution and martyrdom… Into these situations the call of Christ and His Kingdom is our only hope. His gospel is the window of light pouring into the darkened corners of this world. He is the good news we must sing and bring.”

 

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New Hymn Collaboration with Chris Anderson: “God Supreme”

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Several weeks ago, Chris Anderson (who pastors a church near Atlanta) posted a hymn text on Facebook that he’d written in the wake of the SCOTUS ruling on gay marriage. It caught my attention right away. At the nudging of one of my own pastors, I decided to try to set it to music. I recorded a little “sketch” of the tune on my phone and texted it to Chris, sparking about a month of back-and-forth tweaking of text and tune until it was ready for release.

I have admired many of Chris’s hymn texts, including “His Robes for Mine,” which my church has adopted with great enthusiasm (especially around the Lord’s table). And though we’ve enjoyed a “hymn writers camaraderie” for several years, this has been our first collaboration.

One of the great joys of working with a pastor-theologian on a hymn is the great depth of the text. Chris writes doctrinal notes for many of his hymn texts, and he wrote one for this new hymn as well. It is well worth reading!

Chris writes: “God Supreme” is a new hymn and my first collaboration with my friend Paul Keew. It’s a lament (as explained below), and Paul has captured precisely the right tone for the song. It’s not angry; it’s somber, almost mournful. But it’s also hopeful. The “folk” feel of his composition is perfect. It’s an honor to finally team up with him on a song we both hope will be a blessing to Christ’s church!

Take a look and hear a piano demo on our music page. The hymn is free for you and your church, as with all our music (the same goes for the music at churchworksmedia.com). We pray it will bless you and your church!

“Wand’ring Pilgrim”: An Interview with Joe Tyrpak about the Song

IMG_0145.JPG - Version 3I thoroughly enjoyed collaborating with Joe Tyrpak (of Churchworksmedia.com) on our recently released single “Wand’ring Pilgrim.” I asked Joe a few questions about the song from his perspective.

PK: At what point did you decide the poems in David Brainerd’s biography should be turned into a song?

JT: I’ve been considering the musical possibility of these two Brainerd poems since late 2011. I was reading through the Life of Brainerd during that season, and several facets of his example—his longings for holiness, his sufferings for the gospel, his passionate intercession for the lost—were challenging me. Because Brainerd was inspiring me (and because I’ve written some poetry for congregational singing), I desired to put these poems to music. It wasn’t until February 2014 that I considered combining the two poems into one song.

What kind of song did you envision for Brainerd’s words–not necessarily style, but feeling or mood? Did you have any inspiration to which you looked?

My priority concern with the music for “Wand’ring Pilgrim” was that churches could use it. Churchworksmedia.com is all about making freely available music that’s congregationally accessible. Going further, my initial target for the Brainerd song was a sober and meditative piece. It needed to feel like a prayer of “pining”—like the cry of a longing heart. I initially envisioned that it’d probably be in a minor key. When I first sent my ideas to Paul, I told him that I’d like for it to have a folk sound. I suggested the simple sound of Fernando Ortega’s “Just As I Am” (which shifts from minor to major) and the folk classic “Poor Wayfaring Stranger.” As we worked through the first few versions, I specified my concept. I told Paul, “We need to make sure the folk feel is more sophisticated.” I pointed him to R. Vaughan Williams’ tune for “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say” as an example of what I meant by that “more sophisticated” folk sound.

Why Watchsong?

I asked Watchsong to consider this project because I wanted it to have Paul’s distinctive sound. For the past several years the congregation I pastor has enjoyed singing some of Paul’s hymns. We love “O God My Joy.” We’ve sung his meditation on 1 Peter 1-2: “Chosen As His Children.” And, his version of Psalm 66, “Shout Out for Joy,” has become one of our church’s all-time favorites. It’s hard for me to enunciate what exactly comprises Paul’s style, but I know that each of those hymns has the sort of musical emotion I envisioned for “Wand’ring Pilgrim.” Finally, for Christmas a few years ago I was given a copy of Paul’s Broadway-like musical, A Christmas Carol. I think the emotion of a few songs on that CD further compelled me to ask him.

As the song began taking shape in someone else’s mind, how did your view of the song change?

Starting any creative project is a bit strange because, at one and the same moment, you have a pretty solid idea of what you want it to sound like, and yet you realize that within those parameters the project could go in a thousand (very) different directions. Between June and August of 2014 the Brainerd song went through about a dozen variations. So, while the song experienced significant development over those two months, looking back I’m not sure that my vision for the song changed all that much. Rather, certain ideas would get closer to the target, so those are the ones we’d further develop.

What do you like about the final version of “Wand’ring Pilgrim”?

I love that the final version of “Wand’ring Pilgrim” is expressive. I love that it feels authentic, even primitive. I love that it pairs substantive text and a sophisticated sound with the old words, “This world is not my home.” I love how the strings and voices synergize in the end to bring the song to its climactic expression. I love that “Wand’ring Pilgrim” somehow captures Brainerd’s experience of, what he called, “pleasing pain.” It captures his holy, yet unsatisfied cravings. And, it captures the message and (I think) the feel of Psalm 73:25 and Hebrews 11.

Help Me Write a New Hymn: July 4th

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Last year, right around this time, a good friend remarked to me that we could use a new hymn appropriate for the 4th of July. I’d like to give it a go, but I thought it would be fun to get your input!

Some of my immediate considerations:

  • I would like it to be Scriptural rather than sentimental/patriotic
  • It should apply more broadly than to just our country

What would make the “considerations” list for your ideal July 4th hymn? What ideas, themes, and Scripture texts do you think should be considered? What could the structure of the stanzas be? If it includes a chorus, what should be its “rallying cry?” What word pictures could be used?

I really would welcome your ideas! Leave a reply to this post, or leave a comment on our Facebook or Twitter page.

Also, if you have any phrase, wording, or musical ideas (motifs), send those along as well! If it’s easier, send them by email: paulkeew@gmail.com.

Who knows…maybe by this time next year, some of our churches will be singing a new hymn for July 4th written by, well, us!

A Year In Review…Lord Willing!

The Pre-Post

So, I started off yesterday with the goal of sending out a timely “year in review” post, and I finished off yesterday with the disappointment of not sending out a timely “year in review” post. Somewhere in between, the Lord had to deal with my idolatrous heart.

You see, I tend to look at people or companies that seem to be very productive and successful, and desperately want that for myself—so desperately, that I would sacrifice my relationships with God and others on the altar of productivity. That’s idolatry. And that’s what God in His mercy showed me yesterday when I didn’t get this post finished.

A few months ago, on New Year’s Eve, my wife and I were up north skiing as part of our anniversary weekend when she broke her wrist. Not only did this put a damper on some of our plans, but with the soreness of her fresh injury, I had to do just about everything for her. I was utterly shocked at the ugly rebellion and selfishness that rose up in me that first day or two. But as the Spirit helped me to submit my plans and desires to God’s, a real joy settled in. And even though January was one of my least productive months ever for some of my personal goals, it was one of the happiest in recent memory.

Now that my wife’s wrist is all healed up, it appears the cries of my old “productivity idol” are getting stronger again. But my productivity belongs to God, and He has the right to make any interruptions in my life that He wants to. My wife reminded me of something Jim Binney once said when he realized something about all the people that would interrupt his plans in the ministry: “These interruptions are my ministry!” God breaks in through various means to remind us that He and other people are more important than things or goals.

The Post

A year ago [yesterday], Watchsong.com was relaunched with a new facelift and some grand goals! While I am slightly disappointed that I didn’t reach several (okay…frankly, most) of those grand goals, I am thankful to the Lord (now, considering the Pre-Post) for what He allowed me and my friends and fellow-creatives to accomplish.

Added several new songs to the site

This, after all, is the purpose of Watchsong: to share with God’s people the songs that God gives to us. I am grateful for the wonderful people with whom I’ve been able to collaborate, and I’m just as pleased to share some great songs that others have written.

Started Watchsong Blog

You’re looking at it. Thanks for stopping by! As the Lord allows, we’ll bring you interesting, relevant, or just plain fun content. Consider signing up by email or RSS feed!

Made a movie

This short film was originally a creative way to state Watchsong’s mission, but I’ve heard many stories about how this has helped people in their thinking about music, worship, and creating new things for God’s glory. The Lord had bigger plans for it, and I couldn’t be more pleased! It also kind of helped me get a job…but that’s a story for another post…. I’m so grateful to Shane McMullin for making this happen. He has recently experienced some much-deserved recognition for his work!

Made more friends

Thanks again to those who have joined Watchsong’s Facebook page! “Like” us there, and stay informed about everything new at Watchsong. You can also follow us on Twitter. Just look for our handle: @WatchsongMusic.

The Post-Post

So, what will this year bring? Well, I have some goals (several recorded songs, several new choral octavos, several new hymns, to name a few), but I’m going to let God interrupt those if He wants to. May His name be praised and His will be done!

“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’–yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogance” (James 4:13-16). “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).

What’s New at Watchsong

Here are a few things we’ve been up to recently!

New worship song posted: The Light of Your Life

My good friends Ben Fetterolf and James Harris have agreed to let me share their song with you here on Watchsong. It contrasts the light of God with the darkness that we were in before He rescued us. Take a look and listen on the Music page.

New demo recordings

I’ve updated the demo recordings for See the Christ and I Will Make My Boast in Jesus. They are both live recordings from a small worship gathering with friends. I hope these will give a better idea of how the songs work in “real life.” I’ve also added an audio preview of the Galkin Team’s recording of Shout Out for Joy (Psalm 66).

Watchsong store now open

For four years now, I’ve been offering the recordings of O God, My Joy and Chosen as His Children for free, which I was happy to do even though I paid to have them professionally recorded and mastered. Well, I’m afraid the 4-year sale has finally come to an end.

These are the first two purchase items at Watchsong, and that means there now is a way to purchase them! Clicking on the “headphones” button for these songs (back at the Music page) will automatically take you to a product page where you can add them to a shopping cart and head for the checkout. It’s easy as pie and completely safe with PayPal‘s trusted checkout service. For a detailed guide to purchasing and other helpful info, just click on the link “How do I purchase and download music?” under the navigation tabs whenever you’re on the Music page.

If you have already downloaded the mp3 recordings of O God, My Joy and Chosen as His Children, they are yours to enjoy! I humbly ask, however, that you direct others to purchase them from Watchsong.com in the future rather than making copies of yours. Your support will help keep more top-quality products coming!

For the more nerdy among us…

The mp3s you purchase from Watchsong.com are encoded at industry standard levels and embedded with all the information they need to look great on your media player (like iTunes)! For more specs, click here.

New Hymns from Friends!

I wanted to pass along these new hymn offerings from some very talented friends of mine. I hope you can make use of them for your personal worship and congregational song times.

Keep Heart

This is a brand new hymn by Dustin Battles and Dan Kreider. Dustin’s text draws from several Scripture passages and aims at encouraging Christians who are going through trials of all kinds. Dan’s music is very fitting–complementing the text with a tender, modern strophic style. You can take a look and listen on Dan’s website.

Secured by Sovereign Love

My friends at ChurchWorksMedia just released this new hymn (or Psalm, rather) by Veteran composer and arranger Faye Lopez. It’s an adaptation of an Isaac Watts text on Psalm 139. You can take a look and listen at Chris Anderson’s website.

Hosanna to the King

This hymn is a result of the collaborative efforts of Chris Anderson and Rick Nichols. Rick adapted a tune by Alexander Reinagle for a majestic new octavo and asked Chris to write words that would fit the tune. Take a look at the hymn version and listen to Rick’s octavo arrangement here.

When God Works…

“Almost every hymn is a result of revival–whether personal, local, denominational, or regional.” (Fred Coleman, Head, Department of Church Music at BJU)

This is a striking statement. I would probably be a bit more skeptical if it didn’t come from Fred Coleman, a man who has done massive amounts of research in the area of hymnology. I should know: I took his graduate hymnology classes. I remember sitting through his riveting lectures, listening to him rattle off hundreds of years of church music history practically by memory. I had to think back through some of these lessons as I wrote the script for the recently released Watchsong film. Luckily for me, “Uncle Fred” is also my music pastor, so I was able to pick his brain as well.

Hymns are inspired by revival. The more you think about it, the truer the statement becomes. Look back through history, or think of David writing the Psalms–listen to the stories of hymnwriters past and present: when God works, people sing. The great periods of prolific hymnwriting through history correspond to periods of great revival. At the very least, hymnwriters testify to experiences of personal revival as their creative spark. This very website is the result of personal revival. The hymn that started it all, O God, My Joy, was written as God was lovingly leading me through a period of repentance and restoration. It’s a freeze-frame of what God was teaching me.

Singing is often a telltale sign of God’s reviving work. So is prayer. In fact, when God works, people exult and worship and weep and repent and preach and witness. Just yesterday, I was reading Luke chapter 1 where God was working in extraordinary ways in the lives of Zecharaiah and Elizabeth and Mary. All three of them were prompted to give blessing and pray and prophesy because of God’s work in their lives.

So, how is your singing these days? From my church’s choir loft, I get a chance to watch people sing. I try not to, actually–I need to focus on worshiping God myself, not wondering about everyone else–but sometimes, in my weakness, I glance around. I can’t help but wonder what’s happening in a person’s heart who isn’t singing or even looking responsive at all. I’ll admit, sometimes I need to stop singing and just meditate on the words I am supposed to be “praying” to God. But usually, the more excited I am about worshiping my Lord, the louder I sing (and, being a tenor, the higher I sing, too).

Perhaps you’ve forgotten what’s worth singing about. My wife and I both confessed to each other recently that we were in need of personal revival. Life happens, and before we know it, there are 1,000 things that distract us from seeking God. I was encouraged again by Hosea 3:6, a verse I return to often:

“Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD;
his going out is sure as the dawn;
he will come to us as the showers,
as the spring rains that water the earth.”

God is faithful and merciful and eager to restore and revive parched, thirsty hearts. The greatest revivals in history started in one heart–with one person. Humbly press on to know the Lord, and watch Him work in you and in others through you.

It is here, I believe, that Christian artists have a unique and wonderful privilege. As we respond to God’s work in our lives by creating, very often we are not the only beneficiaries of this God-inspired creativity. When God works, other people sing, too. How many sparks of revival have been lit by a song or a poem or a work of art or a book or a journal or even a single sentence? The influential Moravian leader and hymnwriter Nikolaus von Zinzendorf is said to have committed his life to Christ after seeing the painting Ecce Homo (“Behold the Man”) by Domenico Feti. Frances Havergal was inspired by the same painting to pen the hymn I Gave My Life for Thee. I wonder if Feti had any idea that his painting would influence thousands and thousands of people for Christ in the centuries to follow.

My prayer is that Christian artists would experience deep personal revival and be used of the Lord to inspire others through their art to “press on to know the Lord.” My prayer is that revival would break out in my own heart and in yours. When God works…well, I hope you can fill in what happens from your own experience.

What Is Watchsong? [Video]

Why should Christian artists and musicians continue to create new content? What motivates them to create? Why do Christians need new music? Why do you need Watchsong?

I wanted to find a creative way to share the vision and mission of my website, Watchsong.com, as well as encourage Christian artists that they are vitally important. That’s where this short film comes in.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting some more in-depth commentary about the film and some of the themes it presents. But first, I need to give credit to several people who made this film possible.

The “MVP award” goes to my friend Shane McMullin at NINTH HOUR Productions for bringing this project to life with such amazing skill and creativity and for the hours and hours he spent shooting, cutting, and editing this film. He also had to put up with me and all the crazy ideas I had, most of which he magically made happen.

Special thanks to: Christian Mülhauser (chrigu.org), who graciously let me use a few short clips from his stunning film Madeira; Doug Young (dougyoungstudios.com), my good friend, who let us shoot in his very unique studio space; and Fred Coleman, my pastor, mentor, and friend, who helped me think through the historical data and has always encouraged me in my writing.

Thanks also to: my friends, James Harris, Brian Pinner, Chris Barney, and Ben Fetterolf, who proofread my script and were very encouraging in this project; Ken Beale, who lent us his skill and expertise for an entire day in the mid-July heat working cameras and lighting for a Snickers bar and a verbal IOU; and my wife Heather, who also braved the heat to assist us and made sure you couldn’t tell how hot it was when you watch the film.

The end credits song is A Broken Vessel from Watchsong Music. You can find a lead sheet, lyrics, and an mp3 demo on the Music page. A full recording will be available soon on Watchsong.com.

Wedding Stanza

It’s been a pretty busy wedding season this summer (which included the wedding of my older brother Rob). I thought I’d indulge in a bit of nostalgia and share this “wedding stanza” I wrote to The Power of the Cross by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend, my wife’s favorite hymn. This stanza was sung as my beautiful bride Heather came down the aisle:

Oh, to see His face
Beaming on that day,
Splitting the sky with shouts of joy!
Oh, to see His bride
Fully sanctified,
Gleaming of clothes of white!
(invisible sentence I had to put in to format this!)

CHORUS:

This, the pow’r of the cross:
Christ, the Groom, slain for us.
What a love! What a cost!
We stand forever at the cross.
(invisible sentence I had to put in to format this!)