The Old Rugged Cross (for String Quartet)

In my opinion, these are some of the most powerful lyrics ever set to song, depicting the Christian faith.  I hope you enjoy this arrangement for String Quartet. 

On a hill far away, stood an old rugged Cross
The emblem of suffering and shame
And I love that old Cross where the dearest and best
For a world of lost sinners was slain

So I'll cherish the old rugged Cross
Till my trophies at last I lay down
I will cling to the old rugged Cross
And exchange it some day for a crown

Oh, that old rugged Cross so despised by the world
Has a wondrous attraction for me
For the dear Lamb of God, left his Glory above
To bear it to dark Calvary

So I'll cherish the old rugged Cross
Till my trophies at last I lay down
I will cling to the old rugged Cross
And exchange it some day for a crown

In the old rugged Cross, stained with blood so divine
A wondrous beauty I see
For the dear Lamb of God, left his Glory above
To pardon and sanctify me

So I'll cherish the old rugged Cross
Till my trophies at last I lay down
I will cling to the old rugged Cross
And exchange it some day for a crown

To the old rugged Cross, I will ever be true
Its shame and reproach gladly bear
Then He'll call me some day to my home far away
Where his glory forever I'll share

So I'll cherish the old rugged Cross
Till my trophies at last I lay down
I will cling to the old rugged Cross
And exchange it some day for a crown

Brass Quintet #2

It was a great honor to recently have my Brass Quintet #2 performed by the Lone Star Brass of the Midland-Odessa Symphony & Chorale at the Wagner-Noel Performing Arts Center.  Along with being excellent musicians, the piece was played by super-nice guys, some of whom I have had relationship with for decades.

I wrote Brass Quintet #2 approximately 13 years ago, and was pleased to have its premiere April 3, 2016.

The piece is written in four contrasting movements.  Mvt. 1 is Renaissance-like, Mvt. 2 is aggressively contrapuntal, Mvt. 3 is peaceful with a hint of jazz sonorities, and Mvt. 4 is motivically cumulative, finishing with a bright 16-note passage.

I hope you enjoy listening.

Antiphony (for Cello and Piano)

I recently had the privilege of having this piece premiered at Texas Tech by cellist Jeffrey Lastrapes.  I began writing the work back in 2001, as Lastrapes, a member of the Lindsayan String Quartet, had recently performed my "Vignettes for String Quartet", and suggested the possibility of my writing a recital piece around 7-10 minutes in length.  

I immediately began working on it, but after a computer glitch in the Finale file rendered a portion of the work inaccessible, together with Jeffrey moving to NYC and my usual busy schedule, I shelved the project. 

Several years later, when I heard that Jeffrey had moved back to Lubbock, I thought I would try one more time to open the file, now with a later version of Finale, and to my amazement, the file was retrievable, so I finished the work within a few weeks in 2005. 

After 10 years from its origin the work was premiered.  Not only was I elated to hear it played, but also was glad to put a 'check-mark' next to a completed project.

I love Jeffrey's playing, which I endeavored to highlight in the compositional process. He's a great musician and a great friend.  

 

To purchase sheet-music for Antiphony, click here

Noel

Here is a piece I wrote for Christmas using a poem by Anne Porter for the text.  It is in a modern classical style for SATB a cappella choir.  I endeavored to interpret the meaning of the poem musically, showing the stark difference between mundane traditions and that which is truly inspired.   Noel was sung by members of the Odessa Christian Faith Center choir, directed by Stephanie Carter, December 23, 2012.  Hope you enjoy! 

 

Noel

When snow is shaken
From the balsam trees
And they're cut down
And brought into our houses

When clustered sparks
Of many-colored fire
Appear at night
In ordinary windows

We hear and sing
The customary carols

They bring us ragged miracles
And hay and candles
And flowering weeds of poetry 
That are loved all the more
Because they are so common

But there are carols 
That carry phrases
Of the haunting music
Of the other world
A music wild and dangerous
As a prophet's message

Or the fresh truth of children
Who though they come to us
From our own bodies

Are altogether new
With their small limbs
And birdlike voices

They look at us
With their clear eyes
And ask the piercing questions
God alone can answer.

"Noël" by Anne Porter, from Living Things. © Zoland Books, 2006.

 

Vignette (for lever harp)

Here's a unique composition I wrote for my very talented wife who took up the lever harp little more than a year ago just for fun.  The interesting thing about a lever (or 'folk' harp) is that each note can be adjusted to sharp, flat, or natural.  I thought it would be interesting to write a piece that every note below Middle C was tuned to C Major, and every note above Middle C tuned to Ab Major. 

Here's what came out.

Vignette (for lever harp):

(performed by Katherine Hohstadt)

You Are My God (I'm jumping off)

(recorded by the Odessa Christian Faith Center music ministry)

Here's a recent song I wrote about trusting God when you step into new territories.   Even when things may be unfamiliar, foreign to us, it's going to be OK when we just learn to trust Him.  He'll keep us safe and He'll guide us, navigate us where we need to go.

Hope you like it.

You Are My God (I'm Jumping off) (©2012 Lowell Hohstadt) 

I’m jumpin’ off into the deep

That’s where my life is truly free

I’m livin’ life eternally

That’s where my heart is meant to be

 

I trust You, You only

I love You, You hold me safe

in all I am and all I do

 

Living my life to love You

Living my life to worship at Your feet

 

You are my God

You are my God

You are my God

You are my God

 

Here I will trust You

Here I am near You

Living my life with You

I’m holding onto You  

Leaning ev’ry part I am to You

 

 

We Win

(recorded by the Odessa Christian Faith Center music ministry)

“And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.  When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.” (Col. 2:13-15) 

“But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor power, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:37-39) 

“For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world- our faith.” (I John 5:4) 

It is evident that Christ has won the victory for us, both now and to eternity, in which we can confidently say, “We Win!”

 

We Win (©2011 Lowell Hohstadt)

In the darkness You shine Your light through

In the battle Your ev'ry word comes true

In the chaos You shine Your glorious light

With You on our side, we win the fight!

 

All the victory here

comes from victory there

All the promises here

You brought us the victory hanging on Calvary!

 

Takin' a walk of faith ev'ry day now,

Talkin' talk of grace, as I look in Your face

Set my eyes on things above this world

With You on our side, we win

 

We win, we win,

We win, we win,

We win,

We win the fight!

 

A Mighty Fortress Is Our God

Here's a string quartet arrangement I wrote using the melody from the hymn "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God."

(purchase entire string hymns album)

The hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”, written by Martin Luther, has had wide-spread influence throughout Christendom, having been used by many well-respected musicians throughout history, starting with J.S. Bach in his chorale cantata “Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott” (BWV 80). 

Other well-known composers include Dieterich Buxtehude, Johann Pachelbel, Felix Mendelssohn, Claude Debussy, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and more recently jazz pianist Bob James.

The message of God’s protection is as ancient as the Scriptural texts from which it is inspired.  Having faith in His capacity to protect and defend us against all forces that would attempt to bring harm to our lives is foundational to the Christian faith.  This protection even defies death itself: “That through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil; and might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.” (Heb. 2:14-15)  “But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?” (I Cor. 15:54-55)

This conviction is not only relevant for eternity, but also for our daily existence, as the following two passages reveal a truth beneficial to our personal relationships.

“The Name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous runs into it and is safe (set on high)” (Prov. 18:10)

“The fear of man brings a snare, but he who trusts in the Lord will be exalted” (Prov. 29:25)

The words “safe” and “exalted” in the Hebrew are the same word: sagab, which means to be inaccessibly high, having the connotation of security, a place of safety to the one fleeing or to the one at rest in a fortified height which would be inaccessible to beast and enemy alike.

How many people curry the favor of various communities and leaders, only to be let down in one way or another.  “Many seek the ruler’s favor, but justice for man comes from the Lord.” (Prov. 29:30)

Eventually, man’s ideas, communities, governments, authorities and protection all fail.  But there is an absolute foundation of strength and power to those who unite to Him by faith.  “For He Himself has said, ‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,’ so that we may confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid.  What shall man do to me?’” (Heb. 13:5-6)

Throughout the ages, thousands will attest that He is faithful to all who put their trust in Him.  “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” (Rom. 10:11)

 

 

 

 

The Solid Rock

Here's a string quartet arrangement I wrote using the melody from the hymn "The Solid Rock".

(purchase entire string hymns album)

With so many voices competing for our attention, so many good ideas and seemingly stable aspects to our culture or community upon which we can lean, there is only one truth that will withstand the test of time, and that is the solid foundation of faith in Christ Jesus. 

It surprises many when they see something they hold dear, something familiar just vanish from existence.  Maybe a familiar building that is destroyed to make room for something new, maybe a cultural style that has ceased to be mainstream, or maybe a close family member or friend who has passed away, all of these things can have an unsettling effect upon our lives.  As someone said, “The only thing constant is change.”

Even though everything in this world is perpetually changing, there is something higher than this world, something above the natural realm (i.e. super-natural).  These things, however, are spiritually perceived.  Though they are invisible to the natural eye, they are more real and more substantial than the things we can physically observe.

“While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:18)

“Now faith is the assurance (substance) of things hoped for, the conviction (evidence) of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1)

Even though everything around us is changing (seemingly impossible to keep up with) it is the spiritual realm that contains something solid as a rock.

When Jesus asked His disciples who people said that He was, Peter answered,

“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  And Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.  And I also say to you that you are Peter (lit. Petros, a stone), and upon this rock (lit. Petra, large rock, bed-rock) I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it.” (Matt. 16:17,18)

As Peter acknowledged Jesus as being the Christ, the Messiah, he was seeing the ‘unseen realm’, he was able to perceive beyond the natural.  Upon the bed-rock revelation that Jesus is the Christ, the true church is being built.  It is an unchangeable foundation.  Even though history and cultures change, Jesus remains the priest,

“according to the likeness of Melchizedek (king of peace and righteousness), who has become such not on the basis of a law of physical requirement, but according to the power of an indestructible life.”  (Heb. 7:16)

“This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” (Heb. 6:19,20)

He is the Solid Rock, an unchanging foundation in the midst of an ever-changing world.

 

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

His oath, His covenant, His blood
Support me in the whelming flood;
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my hope and stay.

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found;
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.

Refrain:
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.

 

Edward Mote

'Tis So Sweet to Trust In Jesus

Here's a string quartet arrangement I wrote using the melody from the hymn "Tis So Sweet to Trust In Jesus".

(purchase entire string hymns album)

A simple hymn of trust, “Tis So Sweet” challenges the believer to simply relax and release control of our cares, worries and all of life’s difficulties, placing them all into the hands of our loving Creator. 

It seems too good to be true, this message of God’s love, forgiveness and grace.  It’s so easily mocked because of its simplicity.  Many wonder, “Could there really be a way of escape from all the uncertainties of this life?”  Yes!  It’s in the simplicity of trust and faith in Christ.

“Now faith is the assurance (substance) of things hoped for, the conviction (evidence) of things not seen.”  (Heb. 11:1) 

God placed in each person the ability to perceive His goodness and to see that which is spiritual.  Some people call it “women’s intuition” or they say, “I just knew in my heart…” 

Modern science has proven multiple dimensions in the known universe.  Is it really that hard to believe that there are things happening the realm of the unseen?  After all, how many radio, television and cell phone waves are all around us, carrying messages, yet are imperceptible to the human eye?

The spiritual realm does exist, and God’s love, care and guidance are ever-present.  It’s really not that hard…take a deep breath, lean back in your chair and say, “I trust You, Lord.”

 

’Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to take Him at His Word;
Just to rest upon His promise,
And to know, “Thus saith the Lord!”

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him!
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er;
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!
Oh, for grace to trust Him more!

Oh, how sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to trust His cleansing blood;
And in simple faith to plunge me
’Neath the healing, cleansing flood!

Yes, ’tis sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just from sin and self to cease;
Just from Jesus simply taking
Life and rest, and joy and peace.

I’m so glad I learned to trust Thee,
Precious Jesus, Savior, Friend;
And I know that Thou art with me,
Wilt be with me to the end.

 

Louisa M. R. Stead

 

Just As I Am

Here's a string quartet arrangement I wrote using the melody from the hymn "Just As I Am".

(purchase entire string hymns album)

Many churches today have stopped doing altar calls, hoping not to offend anyone.  This is a departure, however, from the past century of American churches whose congregants became familiar with the hymn “Just As I Am” as it was either sung or played during an invitation for salvation.

In 1934 famed evangelist Billy Graham came forward to become a Christian while this song was being played, and subsequently used it in his own widely renowned crusades. 

I remember my own decision to step forward publicly, as I got up out of my seat to stand before a congregation.  It was both a bold moment and an awkward one.  I knew all too well my own insecurities, weaknesses and failures, yet when presented with the idea that I could approach the Creator of all things in a sort of ‘divine forgiveness/relationship’, it evoked desire, wonder and fear all at the same time. 

As I remember back, I’m glad I decided to get up out of my chair that day, even with all the uncertainty that that moment evoked.  As I continued to grow as a Christian, I remember coming across a passage in the Bible that said, “Everyone therefore who shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven.  But whoever shall deny Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 10:32-33) 

Knowing that I was willing, and am still willing, to be identified with Jesus Christ produced a foundation upon which I could continue to build my faith and deepen my spiritual roots.

That one awkward moment grew into a strength that has extended wonderful benefits, not only to my own life, but to those of my family, friends, co-workers in ministry, and many people I may never know.

My hope is that the American Christian will continue to require passage through that narrow gate of awkwardness for the unashamed.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” (Rom. 1:16)

 

Just as I am - without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidst me come to Thee,
-O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am - and waiting not

To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To Thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot,
-O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am - though toss'd about

With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
-O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am - poor, wretched, blind;

Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need, in Thee to find,
-O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am - Thou wilt receive,

Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because Thy promise I believe,
-O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am - Thy love unknown

Has broken every barrier down;
Now to be Thine, yea, Thine alone,
-O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am - of that free love

The breadth, length, depth, and height to prove,
Here for a season, then above,
-O Lamb of God, I come!

 

Charlotte Elliot

 


Amazing Grace

Here's a string quartet arrangement I wrote using the melody from the hymn "Amazing Grace".

(purchase entire string hymns album)

What is grace?  The Bible defines it as follows (from the Greek word Charis):

That which causes joy, pleasure, gratification, favor, acceptance, a benefit, thanks, gratitude, a favor done without expectation of return; the absolutely free expression of the loving kindness of God to men finding its only motive in the bounty and benevolence of the Giver; unearned and unmerited favor.

That’s what God has done for us by His love, through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for our sins and resurrection, having justified us before God.  As God sees Jesus, He sees us.  The Almighty God, perfect and complete, sees us through “Jesus-colored glasses”, if you will.  The same way He views His Son, in righteousness and completeness, is how he views all mankind.

You may not feel holy and righteous.  You may not always do holy and righteous things, and you may feel completely undeserving of total forgiveness, wholeness and peace.  But it’s God’s gift to you.

Like any gift, we can refuse it or accept it.  For those who choose to simply accept it, saying, “Thank You”, all the benefits pour in.  How could anyone reject such a lovely gift?

Receiving it inspires us with a new idea: we want to give a gift to someone else.  It's the gift of unmerited, undeserved favor, forgiveness and acceptance.  Our desire to do this is the evidence of whether or not we first received it for ourselves.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.  You are My friends, if you do what I command you…This I command you, that you love one another.” (Jn. 15:12-14, 17)

His grace is truly amazing, as it comes to us, but it takes on a whole new dimension when it flows through us to others!

 

Amazing grace!  how sweet the sound,

That saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost, but now am found,

Was blind but now I see.

 

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,

And grace my fears relieved;

How precious did that grace appear

The hour I first believed!

 

Thro’ many dangers toils and snares,

I have already come;

‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,

And grace will lead me home.

 

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,

Bright shining as the sun,

We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise

Than when we first begun.

 

Holy, Holy, Holy

Here's a string quartet arrangement I wrote using the melody from the hymn "Holy, Holy, Holy".

(purchase entire string hymns album)

Heaven is filled with the praises of God.  All of His created beings acknowledge His beauty and worth.  The book of Revelation gives us a glimpse of some of this activity: 

“And the four living creatures, each having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.” (Rev. 4:8)

The word Holy (Gr. hàgios) means: set apart, chaste, pure, clean, virtuous, blameless, without blemish. 

Living this human life, it’s hard to imagine anything (or anyone) being completely perfect.  Everyone has some flaw, some vice.  Even the creation itself seems to have imperfections, some quite noticeable, others less noticeable, but still there, nonetheless.

The only place true holiness can exist is somewhere outside our natural experience.  As perfect as man tries to be, he ultimately will fall short of complete holiness this side of heaven. 

The Apostle Paul shows the answer to this dilemma:

“Wretched man that I am!  Who will set me free from the body of this death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!...There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  (Rom. 7:24,25; 8:1)

God alone is holy, and He has extended His holiness to those who accept His love and forgiveness through Christ Jesus.  We are holy only through His benevolent forgiveness.

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (I Pet. 2:9,10)

Again, in Revelation, there was a book with seven seals that needed to be opened, and the question was asked, “Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?” 

“And no one in heaven, or on the earth, or under the earth, was able to open the book, or to look into it.  And I (John) began to weep greatly, because no one was found worthy to open the book, or to look into it; and one of the elders said to me, “Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.”  (Rev. 5:2-5)

Jesus, the spotless, pure Lamb of God sacrificed for the sins of all humanity, is holy, and He has graciously extended His holiness to those who trust in Him.

 

Holy, Holy, Holy!  Lord God Almighty!

Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee;

Holy, Holy, Holy!  Merciful and Mighty!

God in Three Persons, blessed Trinity!

 

Holy, Holy, Holy!  All the saints adore Thee,

Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;

Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee,

Which wert and art, and evermore shalt be.

 

Holy, Holy, Holy!  Tho’ the darkness hide Thee,

Tho’ the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see,

Only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee

Perfect in power, in love, and purity.

 

Holy, Holy, Holy!  Lord God Almighty!

All Thy works shall praise Thy name, in earth, and sky, and sea;

Holy, Holy, Holy!

Merciful and Mighty!

God in Three Persons, blessed Trinity!

How Great Thou Art

Here’s a string quartet arrangement I wrote based on the well-known hymn “How Great Thou Art”:

(purchase entire “String Hymns” album)

When we look up to the sky to see the stars, wondering how far the reaches of the universe extend, or when we see the beautiful mountain ranges topped with snow, or the beautiful flowing brooks of water, the trees, the birds, animals species too numerous to count, for those who can see the Creator through all of these things, it’s not difficult to acknowledge how truly magnificent and powerful God is.  But the miracle is not how immensely intelligent He is, or how much force He is capable of wielding.  It is rather that He was willing to meet with us on a level by which he calls us 'friend'.

 

“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down His life for his friends.  You are my friends…” (Jn. 15:13,14)

“And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God.” (Js. 2:23) 

“And Your gentleness (lit. condescension) makes me great.” (Ps. 18:35)

 

O Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder

Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made,

I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,

Thy pow’r thro’out the universe displayed.

 

Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee;

How great Thou art! 

How great Thou art!

Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee;

How great Thou art!

How great Thou art!

(Stuart K. Hine)

 

 


Destroying the Malachi Mindset

There is a mind-set that has unfortunately been pervasive regarding Music Ministry for a number of years.  It's similar to Nathanael’s remarks to Phillip when he said he had found the Messiah, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  Our culture, together with many musicians and artists have a similar disdain for the capacity of the Church to produce anything worthwhile, stating, “Can anything good come out of the Church?” 

The viewpoint is: if an artist wants true recognition and success, he or she must find it outside the realm of ministry or Church involvement.   Church ministry is not usually a consideration, and is even disdained by those who are serious about fulfilling their career pursuits and dreams. 

To make matters worse, many of those in Church ministry have accepted the premise that maybe they can’t ‘make it’ in the world, so they just settle for a non-competitive ministry position. 

All of this stems from the general conclusion that local church (or the Church at large) is irrelevant to current culture, even unnecessary.  It certainly is not viewed as a place where high artistic achievement can exist. 

There was a time in Israel’s history that people had a similar mind-set.  The people through whom God chose to carry His Name had come to a place of ambivalence and even neglect of His temple.  It was as if they had grown cold to their calling, nonchalant to the richness of their heritage.  The prophet Malachi wrote to the people of Israel: 

“ ‘A son honors his father, and a servant his master.  Then if I am a father, where is My honor?  And if I am a master, where is My respect?’ says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests who despise My name.  But you say, ‘How have we despised Your name?’  You are presenting defiled food upon My altar.  But you say, ‘How have we defiled You?’  In that you say, ‘The table of the Lord is to be despised.’  But when you present the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil?  And when you present the lame and sick, is it not evil?  Why not offer it to your governor?  Would he be pleased with you?  Or would he receive you kindly?”  says the Lord of hosts.  “But now will you not entreat God’s favor, that He may be gracious to us?  With such an offering on your part, will He receive any of you kindly?” says the Lord of hosts…You also say, ‘My, how tiresome it is!’  And you disdainfully sniff at it,” says the Lord of hosts, “and you bring what was taken by robbery, and what is lame or sick; so you bring the offering!  Should I receive that from your hand?” says the Lord.” (Mal. 1:6-9,13) 

The priests had grown weary in the administration of temple service, and the people were not bringing their best anymore.  They were giving God their ‘leftovers’.  The temple (which represented God’s presence in their midst) was being shunned for other ‘more important things’ in their lives. 

Today’s artistic community has become a place in which fame, finance and dissipation has supplanted discipline, sacrifice and a desire for integrity (even at the expense of obscurity).

The local church, to today’s artist, has come to represent the death of an otherwise successful career.  The path is an exact reversal of what today’s artist hopes to achieve. 

Our community, much like the Israelite’s in Malachi’s day, has willingly walked away from God’s presence, while still wanting to receive His blessing.

Even many of our priests (those called into the service of the local church) have longingly looked away from the altar of sacrifice, to the approval of pop culture and compromised integrity. 

What does integrity as a dedicated artist look like in today’s world?  What does pure dedication, holiness and honor look like for someone who is ‘sold out’ to God, having a passion for worshiping His Name and exclaiming His excellencies with whole-hearted commitment?  Is it even possible that the phrases: ‘dedicated Christian minister’ and ‘artistic excellence’ can be uttered in the same breath? 

King David, who established a pattern of whole-hearted worship in his reign in Israel, had become a distant memory to the Israelites in Malachi’s day.  His passion would have been distasteful to them.  Had David lived in their time, he may have even been persecuted or killed for his ‘extreme’ views.  (Interestingly, today’s media culture demonizes anyone who is ‘passionate’ in their religious convictions, calling them ‘radicals’ and ‘extremists’.)  

Here is just one of many accounts in David’s life revealing his whole-hearted passion for God’s presence: 

When the Ark of the Covenant had come to Araunah the Jebusite, David wanted to offer a burnt offering.  Araunah offered to give David everything necessary to do so, “Let my lord the king take and offer up what is good in his sight.  Look, the oxen for the burnt offering, the threshing sledges and the yokes of the oxen for the wood.  Everything, O king, Araunah gives to the king.”  But David’s response, “No, but I will surely buy it from you for a price, for I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God which cost me nothing.” (2 Sam. 24:22-24) 

David wanted to give God his very best.  Nothing less would be congruent with his heart of gratitude, respect and honor for all that God was in his life. 

At a time, historically, when numerous artists are struggling to be heard above the myriads of voices in the world, a time when community for the artist seems to be closing in with greater isolation and fewer opportunities, perhaps the long forgotten venue of the community of the local Church is prime for renewed artistic expression. 

Perhaps the hollowness of today’s secular ‘success’ will give way to a new generation of artists who are ‘sold out’ to a higher purpose of extreme spirituality, commitment, dedication and sacrifice, those who are willing to be motivated by the approval of God rather than the approval of man, willing to release the pursuit of fame for the motivation of pure craftsmanship in His Name rather than their own.

Perhaps the true prophetic role of the artist will return to those whom God can trust, vessels of honor through whom Almighty God will speak, artists who have become instruments in His hand, through whom He changes the course of human culture, yet are incapable of being changed by that culture.

Such artists are fearless among men, highly esteemed in secret places.

 

(for more, see The Three Uses of Music and the Arts)