> the songs

The songs on this album are modern arrangements of hymns. They are old words put to new music. Hymns not only connect us with the past but also testify to the reality of the Christian experience of God, which has been shared by many through different ages of time. Psalm 96:1 says "Sing to the LORD a new song." It is our hope and prayer that this compilation of songs is in the spirit of this verse. Click here to see the song lyrics.

Working on a project such as this requires spending many hours looking at and listening to these hymns. Over time, we felt like we were able to get a glimpse into the lives of the people who penned the words so many years ago. And in the process we also learned a lot about ourselves. We added the following essays to capture some thoughts and reflection. We hope you enjoy them! (essays by Ko Matsuo)

Finding God in the Ordinary

Fanny Crosby - "All the Way My Savior Leads Me"

This song was written for five dollars.

Fanny Crosby (1820-1915) was a blind poet who often struggled financially. During one of these times of need she prayed to God, soon after which a man offered her the exact amount she needed. She wrote a poem to commemorate this event, which became the hymn "All the Way My Savior Leads Me."

The remarkable thing about this hymn is how BIG the themes are. Crosby talks about "heavenly peace" "living Bread" and "perfect rest." The following words especially move me:

Though my weary steps may falter,
And my soul athirst may be,
Gushing from the Rock before me,
Lo! A spring of joy I see

When I think of financial struggles, I think of physical needs such as food, clothing, and housing. Physical needs drove Fanny Crosby to write this hymn; however, she seamlessly connects her physical needs with spiritual solutions. Though physically tired, she’s aware of being spiritually thirsty. Though physically blind, she rejoices in seeing a spring of joy. Ultimately, she clings to a promise of "perfect peace... in my Father’s house above."

In the 9th chapter of the Gospel of John, John records an incident where Jesus makes a blind man see. The man is questioned by religious authorities as to how he came to gain sight. Jesus then makes the bold statement that he has come into the world "so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind." He has harsh words for the religious leaders of the time, claiming that by focusing on the sin itself, they miss its solution. In other words they focus on the technicalities of a miracle and in doing so miss the big picture that a Savior has come to free people from the power of sin.

Fanny Crosby focuses on the big picture and therefore is able to rejoice in something a lot bigger than five dollars.

May I always see God's hand in the ordinary, that I may not miss the extraordinary.

Finding God in weakness

William Williams - "Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah"

William Williams (1717-1791) was a Welsh doctor turned preacher, who decided that his congregation would be the entire country of Wales. He spent 43 years of his life traveling the country on horseback, preaching and singing the Gospel. Williams was also a prolific song writer and penned over 800 hymns. "Guide Me" is one of the few that has been translated into English and is the only one that remains in our hymnals today.

When I think of a guy who spends the bulk of his life traveling on a horse, I think of a rugged individualist. Yet this hymn reveals a heart that is both trusting and uncontrived, through simple honest words such as "hold me", "guide me", "feed me", and "lead me". Williams cries out to God as his "Bread of Heaven" and his "Strong Deliverer".

Finding strength in weakness is a recurring theme in the Bible. I am reminded by Williams that the point is not that we should be self defacing or unnecessarily humble. At a very basic level it’s an acknowledgement that we are inherently dependent: our genetic makeup, how our parents brought us up, our environment, are all elements outside of our control that play critical roles in determining who we are. At a deeper level, it's a realization that human strength can be somewhat deceptive, because it tends to give us a false sense of sufficiency in being able to approach a holy God.

There is a story in the Old Testament in Numbers chapter 21 where the Israelites disobey God and God sends poisonous snakes to bite many of them. Moses makes a bronze snake and holds it up so that anybody who looks at the snake is healed. This story is a pointer to Jesus the true Healer, who took the eternal wrath of God on Himself so that if we trust in him, we can approach a holy God, despite our insufficiencies and weaknesses.

May I always find my Strength not in myself, but in the power of God.

Finding God when all hope is gone

William Cowper - "God Moves in a Mysterious Way" and "There is a Fountain"

William Cowper (1731-1800) was a manic depressive and suicidal poet who struggled with insecurities and a fear that God could never forgive his sin. His life was filled with tragedy and disappointment as he lost five of his siblings by the time he was five, his mother died when he was six, his father forced a career on him that he didn’t want when he was 18, and he courted a woman for seven years, only to see his request to marry the love of his life denied when he was 25.

In his book The Hidden Smile of God, John Piper describes four major battles with despair, suicide, depression, and paralyzing mental breakdown in Cowper’s life, each lasting for weeks or months. Cowper finds faith in Christ during one of these extended times of depression, giving him new hope that he is not completely forsaken. He is befriended and counseled by John Newton (the guy who wrote "Amazing Grace") who encourages him to write. And it is within these struggles that we have two beautiful hymns that are on this album.

Cowper’s life is a reminder to me that true Christianity does not promise health, wealth, and happiness, but rather grace to move forward in a trouble-laden world. Piper describes the impact of Cowper’s life as being "hope-giving fruit of feeling hopelessness". We see hope within hopelessness in his words:

His purposes will ripen fast
Unfolding every hour
The bud may have a bitter taste
But sweet will be the flower

There is a story in the book of Genesis involving Joseph, one of the twelve sons of Israel. Joseph is favored by his father, causing his brothers turn against him, throw him into a pit, and then sell him off as a slave in Egypt. If that isn’t bad enough, while a slave, Joseph gets accused for a crime he doesn’t commit, is incarcerated, and is forgotten about for years. It is within this hopeless situation that God provides dream interpretations for Joseph. Joseph ends up interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams, becomes Pharaoh’s right hand man, and ultimately saves his family from destruction. These and many other stories are in the Bible to show us, as William Cowper realized, that God is there even in times of utter hopelessness.

May I look to God as my True Hope in times of hopelessness as well as when times are good.

Finding God and a sense of wonder

John Newton - "Let Us Love and Sing and Wonder"

John Newton (1725-1807) was a sailor and slave trader who became one of the greatest writers, hymnists and preachers. He is best known as the author of the hymn "Amazing Grace". Losing his mother to tuberculosis at the age of six, Newton went to sea with his shipmaster father between the ages of 11 and 17. Newton was excessively rude and profane even for a sailor, leading to his being demoted, punished, publically humiliated, starved and eventually deserted. However John Newton’s life was changed forever when he encountered an especially violent storm, and all but gave up hope that his ship would sink. This experience led to his conversion and subsequent career change.

After his conversion to Christianity, Newton has a sense of wonder about him, a sense of incredulity that God could not only forgive him, but also love him. He expresses this sense of emotion and praise in the following words:

Let us love and sing and wonder
Let us praise the Savior’s name!
He has hushed the law’s loud thunder
He has quenched Mount Sinai’s flame

Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, points to this sense of wonder as an acid test of true Christianity:

If you are a Christian you have a spirit of wonder that permeates your life. You are always saying "how miraculous", "how interplanetary", "how unreal". You are always looking at yourself and saying, "me a Christian ... incredible, miraculous, unbelievable, a joke!" But a person who is trying to put God in their debt - there is none of that spirit of wonder at all. ... A moralist says, "what good is all my religion, what good is going to God, I have tried hard to be a Christian, I am trying hard to be obedient to God, and what good is it? God owes me."... But a Christian keeps that spirit of wonder. A Christian may say "my career has not gone too well, my love life has not gone too well, it's astonishing... It’s amazing that God is as good as He is to me.

May I always have a sense of wonder at the depths of God’s love in forgiving a "wretch like me".