Saturday, September 24, 2011

What I have been up to

Hello! I’m back…for a moment. So, what have I been up to? Making music. The school year began a little over a month ago, and so I’m back at work. I work part-time at the local community college as an adjunct faculty member, serving as the accompanist and rehearsal assistant for the choral program. A surprise this semester is that I was asked (two days before classes began!) to teach a class in sight-singing and ear training. That’s been going well. This past summer, I picked up a weekly gig accompanying a chorus at a nearby retirement community. The dear ladies and gentlemen who sing in the chorus appreciated my assistance so much, they changed their rehearsal night so that I could continue once the school year started and my rehearsal obligations at the community college resumed. Finally, I serve my church as a worship pianist, worship leader, organist and choir accompanist. Probably, the most stimulating thing I do musically is play the organ at church. My primary instrument is piano, but organ has always been my love—a hobby of sorts. We don’t use the organ every week at our church, and I don’t get as much practice as I need or would like, but it’s always fun when I get a chance to play it. Here’s a video clip of me playing the well-known Toccata from Organ Symphony #5 by Charles-Marie Widor (1844-1937) as the postlude after worship service last Sunday morning.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Is it mid-July already?

It’s hard to believe that 2011 is halfway done already. Right now I’m enduring a hot, humid July evening at home—hot and humid not only because the heat index was around 100 degrees today, but because our air conditioning system decided to quit working this afternoon. I’ll be calling the repairman first thing in the morning.

It has been a while since I’ve blogged, because it’s been a while since I’ve felt like writing. If you think of it, pray for me and my family as we, like a multitude of others, go through financial difficulties (too much month at the end of the money). In spite of the stresses, I’m grateful for every blessing God sends our way, and I WILL rejoice in Him. Although financial situations change, God never changes, and He remains good toward us.

One of God’s blessings to my family this summer was the Annual Bible Conference sponsored by New Life Fellowship Church of Vernon Hills, IL. This year’s conference—“HIM We Proclaim: The Preeminence of Christ in the Book of Colossians”—was a real blessing to all who attended. The speakers, Pastors Thabiti Anyabwile, Anthony Carter and Reddit Andrews, were powerfully used by God as they delivered His word. Honestly, I think some of these messages quite possibly were among the best examples of biblical preaching that I have ever heard anywhere, by anyone—living or deceased—live or recorded. After hearing the preeminence of Christ expounded from Paul’s epistle to the Colossians, Christ seems more awesome and wonderful to me than ever before. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that way.

Although it’s not the same as being there in person, you can hear the recordings of these messages online HERE at the website of New Life Fellowship Church. I encourage you to listen. My suggestion would be to block out an hour or so of undistracted time, have a Bible ready, and prayerfully listen to the word of God.

It was also my privilege to once again lead singing for the Conference. My hunch is that there are very few Reformed Bible Conferences found anywhere on this planet where you can have the opportunity to sing good, ol’, down-home songs from the African-American Christian tradition like this:



Or hear soloists like this:

video

You will only find this kind of music (along with the powerful and rock-solid proclamation of the word of God) at the New Life Bible Conference. I hope this whets your appetite to consider attending NEXT YEAR.

Oh, and by the way: Registration is FREE.

The Lord willing, I’ll see you next June, here in Illinois.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

New Life Bible Conference 2011

An affordable (FREE!) & convenient opportunity to receive solid Bible teaching from nationally-known, Reformed Christian pastor-teachers is coming next week to Lake County, Illinois. For the past several years, it’s been my privilege to lead worship & song at New Life Fellowship Church’s Annual Bible Conference, held each June in Vernon Hills, IL. This year, the dates are June 23-25, and the speakers are Reddit Andrews, Thabiti Anyabwile and Anthony Carter.
This year’s theme is “HIM We Proclaim: The Preeminence of Christ in the Book of Colossians”, and blessing us during these 3 days with teaching from the word of God will be Pastors Reddit Andrews, Thabiti Anyabwile and Anthony Carter. Here is the schedule:

Thursday, June 23, 2011 – 7:00-9:30 pm
Anthony Carter: Colossians 1:1-23, “The Preeminence of Jesus Christ Over All Things”
Thabiti Anyabwile: Colossians 1:24-2:5, “The Preeminence of Jesus Christ in Pastoral Ministry”

Friday, June 24, 2011 – 7:00-9:30 pm
Reddit Andrews: Colossians 2:6-23, “The Preeminence of Jesus Christ in Justification”
Thabiti Anyabwile: 3:1-17, “The Preeminence of Jesus Christ in Sanctification”

Saturday June 25, 2011 – 9:30 am-12:00 noon
Reddit Andrews: Colossians 3:18-4:6, “The Preeminence of Jesus Christ in Our Relationships”
Anthony Carter: Colossians 4:7-18, “Jesus Christ: The Preeminent Reward of Faithful Servants”

Each year, those who have the opportunity to attend the New Life Bible Conference always come away with high praises for the great teaching and Christian fellowship. If you are able to get to the Chicagoland area, I encourage you to consider attending this very affordable and accessible Bible conference. More information can be found at New Life Fellowship’s website.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Happy Birthday!

“Happy Birthday!” to my dearest and best friend in the world (other than Jesus)—my wife, Catherine. I love you!

“If you want to know Jesus, be much in His word.”

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Lloyd-Jones on Whitefield

Wow! This is a rare treat (for me, at least): A short, 14-minute documentary on George Whitefield (arguably the greatest preacher of the 18th century) narrated by Martyn Lloyd-Jones (arguably the greatest preacher of the 20th century).

HT: Adrian Warnock

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Music to encourage the soul

The last couple days the Lord has ministered to me through YouTube and the old-school gospel choir music that I’ve been digging up at that site. Listen to these selections from back in the day, and meditate on the Scripture verses I’ve included with each selection. May the Lord encourage your soul.


“We Need to Hear From You”
(1990 - Andraé Crouch)

2 Chronicles 7:14
“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

Revelation 3:13, 22
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.'”





“God Never Fails”
(1967 - Harold Smith’s Majestic Choir of Detroit, with Harold Freeman & Charles Johnson on lead)

Hebrews 13:5-6
“Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’”





“I’ll Get Home Someday”
(1970 – George Jordan & the choir of Christian Tabernacle Baptist Church, Chicago)

Hebrews 13:14
“For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.”

Philippians 3:14
“I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”





“The Potter’s House”
(1990 – recorded by Tramaine & the late Walter Hawkins. Incidentally, this song is composed by V. Michael McKay, whom I had the privilege of meeting and talking to, just 3 weeks ago!)

Jeremiah 18:1-6
“The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: ‘Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I... will let you hear my words.’ So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do. Then the word of the LORD came to me: ‘O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the LORD. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.’”





“My Soul Loves Only You”
(1983 - Sandra Crouch)

Song of Solomon 3:1-4
“On my bed by night I sought him whom my soul loves; I sought him, but found him not. I will rise now and go about the city, in the streets and in the squares; I will seek him whom my soul loves. I sought him, but found him not. The watchmen found me as they went about in the city. ‘Have you seen him whom my soul loves?’ Scarcely had I passed them when I found him whom my soul loves. I held him, and would not let him go…”

Friday, March 04, 2011

Televised interview of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

John Piper called Dr. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “One of the greatest preachers of the 20th century” and, from what I’ve read and heard from him, and read about him, I would tend to agree.

Thanks to Adrian Warnock’s blog, I was made aware of this fascinating video which shows a portion of a televised interview from 1970 of Dr. Lloyd-Jones. My understanding is that Dr. Lloyd-Jones made very few appearances on television, so seeing him “live” on this video is a treat for those of us who never had the opportunity to know or see him while he was living. The Martyn Lloyd-Jones Recordings Trust produced this video to mark the anniversary of Dr. Lloyd-Jones’ death, 30 years ago this week—St. David’s Day, March 1, 1981.

At one point in this interview, Dr. Lloyd-Jones was asked about his call to preach: “Did you feel in yourself that you had the qualities that would make a successful preacher?” Dr. Lloyd-Jones answered:

“I really was never concerned about that. My concern was with what needed to be preached, and it was this—with burning conviction as to the message needed—that drove me on. I’ve sometimes told people of a story which will help to answer your question, how, having taken my decision to go into the church and to preach, someone very near to me was walking with me one night and asked me the question, ‘How do you know that you’ll be able to preach? You know what you can do as a doctor. Why not go on with that and exercise Christian influence? What if you find suddenly that you can’t preach?’ Well, I’d only tried preaching about three times, in very small places, and the only answer I could give was this: ‘I know what I want to preach and what I think must be preached and I have a feeling, somehow, that I’ll be able to say it.’”

Dr. Lloyd-Jones’ answer reminded me somewhat of my own call, 22 years ago, to preach, and the burden Christ laid on my heart for His church and for a lost world.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Do Not Abandon the Gospel


I was in Champaign, Illinois last weekend to participate in the Black Sacred Music Symposium held biennially at my alma mater, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. While in town, I also had the opportunity to preach at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Champaign, where I worshipped and served as organist and director of music, during my college and grad school years. You can listen to my sermon, “Do not abandon the Gospel” (based on Galatians 1:1-10), below.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Random thoughts on race (a re-post from 2007)

Here’s another article I wrote in celebration of Black History Month that I’m re-posting. This one was originally posted February 28, 2007. WWD

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The most forgiving people I’ve ever heard about were Black people.

For example, my great-great-great grandmother, Malinda Duncan, was a slave in Alabama, owned by the Armistead family. Malinda died in 1929, at the age of 86, and I’ve visited her grave in the Armistead Cemetery (on land set aside by the Armistead family for their slaves to bury their dead). Grandma (my great grandmother) told me that Malinda, who was her paternal grandmother, would tell her about the physical abuse she suffered at the hands of her “mistress”, Mrs. Armistead. It appears Mr. Armistead was prone to fooling around with his female slaves (which, obviously, was very common—just look at how many shades of color “Black” people come in). Mrs. Armistead, as a result, was very jealous and spiteful toward her female slaves. Well, one day Mrs. Armistead got a hold of my great-great-great grandmother (who was only a girl at the time), and burned her against the side of her neck with a poker taken from the fireplace. Grandma personally saw this scar. Grandma said when she was a little girl she used to cry as her grandmother would tell her about how the mistress burned her neck. After the slaves were free, and Mrs. Armistead was old, widowed and sick, and near death, Malinda went back and took care of her mistress (I assume until the old lady died).

The words of Scripture come to mind (Proverbs 25:21-22):

If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you.

Can’t you also hear the words of Jesus? (Matthew 5:43-45):

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

I ask you, would your Christianity enable you to do what my great-great-great grandmother, Malinda, did?


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Speaking of the old Black folks and church: The old folks believed that if you were going to “have church” you ought to really “have church”. They weren’t casual about their worship. God had been too good to them to keep it bottled up inside. Church was the place to let it all out! An old gospel song they used to love to sing at my home church went like this:

I said I wasn’t gonna tell nobody…
I said I wasn’t gonna run for Jesus…
I said I wasn’t gonna shout for joy, but I
Couldn’t keep it to myself
What the Lord has done for me.

Then, there was the refrain:

You oughta been there
When He saved my soul.
You oughta been there
When He put my name on the role.
Then I started walking,
I started talking,
I started singing,
I started shouting
About what the Lord has done.

When you think about the hardships, the heartaches, the pain… I believe contemporary folks would go insane under similar life pressures! It was unheard of, back in the day, for a Black person to go to a counselor or psychologist. So, how did they mentally and emotionally survive? They survived because the Lord was their psychologist and counselor and psychiatrist! They shouted and hollered, prayed and cried, walked and ran, and sang and moaned, until they felt better! They could go on for another week, facing racism and poverty and discrimination and deprivation every day of their lives, yet persevering in spite of their circumstances, because they had a friend in Jesus. It’s no secret that Black folks’ favorite verse in “Amazing Grace” has always been verse number three:

Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Twas grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

This reminds me of the last time my great-great grandfather, Richmond Duncan, attended church. When he was about to turn 100 years of age, the very day before his birthday, our church had a celebration for him during the Sunday worship service. That was Sunday, August 1, 1971. I have only a few memories from that day (I was only 8), but they still stand out vividly in my mind.

Grandpa Duncan was old and feeble by this time and was no longer able to attend church. Since he wasn’t able to sit through an hour-and-a-half to two-hour service, it was decided that the family would bring him to church at noon—half-way through the service. I remember the ushers escorting Grandpa Duncan into the church. On his way down the center aisle to the front pew where the family was seated, Grandpa Duncan saw an old friend, Mr. Charlie Ingram. Mr. Ingram was no longer able to attend church either, as he was about, I think, 96-years-old by this time, and blind and feeble; but he wanted to come and help celebrate his old friend’s birthday. Grandpa Duncan saw Mr. Ingram and the two old friends embraced right there in the center aisle and greeted each other warmly, striking up a conversation!

I also remember Grandpa Duncan partaking of communion that day. In Methodism, we knelt at the altar rail to take communion, and so, Grandpa Duncan was helped to his knees. Well, Grandpa Duncan “got happy” down there on his knees, and he was crying and verbally rejoicing in the Lord. The old man couldn’t hold it any longer. I can only imagine what was on his mind.

The Lord has promised good to me,
His word, my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

When I think of Black History Month (a re-post from 2007)

The following article was originally posted February 1, 2007. In celebration of Black History Month, I am re-posting it here. WWD

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During African-American or Black History Month, Americans recognize the many historic achievements and contributions of Blacks to the United States. The fact that a race of people kidnapped from their native land, separated from their families, tribes and culture, and subjected to forced slavery in this land could, in spite of such evil treatment, rise and achieve so much and contribute so critically to the building of this nation is nothing short of a miracle, and is a grand testimony to the grace and power of God. Ultimately, it was God who set Black slaves free in answer to their many prayers. It was the Lord who brought Blacks through Reconstruction and the emergence of the Ku Klux Klan. Almighty God delivered Black people from lynchings, “Jim Crow” and forced segregation. God, in answer to the prayers of our slave forebears, brought about the victories of the Civil Rights Movement. In a real sense, Black History is a vivid illustration of the grace of God.

But, Black History is not just about famous people and events, but about ordinary Black families. When I think of Black History, I think of my family. I think of my great-great grandfather, Richmond Duncan, who migrated from Florence, Alabama to North Chicago, Illinois (a small city some 35 miles north of the city of Chicago) in April of 1921, during the period American historians call “the Great Migration”. The son of former slaves, he was almost 50 years old at the time. His original intent was to settle in Michigan, but not finding anyplace to his liking, he decided to visit his wife’s uncle, Jack Fowler, in Waukegan. It was during this visit that he found a place that he liked in North Chicago, on the border with Waukegan. He purchased the house and sent a telegram summoning his wife, Frankie, and their two daughters, Minnie and Wylodine, and son, Fancie, to get their things together and come to Illinois.

I remember Richmond Duncan. I was almost 9 years old when he died in 1972. He lived to be almost 101 years old (100 years, 10 months and 7 days, to be exact). I’m thankful for pioneers like my “Grandpa Duncan.” I live in “Chicagoland” today because of Grandpa Duncan's desire for a better life for his family.

When I think of Black History, I also think of my great-great-great-great-great grandmother, Bettie Rice (yes, I used “great” 5 times). “Bettie” was the name given her by her owners, the Rice family. Bettie was a slave. I don’t think anyone ever knew when she was born, and there’s no one alive today who knows when she died. Based on what I was told, I think she died somewhere between 1899 and 1905. I own an old “tin-type” photo of her—the only picture of her—taken when she was an old woman, weary with years, but still carrying herself with dignity despite the horrors she had witnessed in her life. The other year, I made an enlarged copy of it, framed it, and hung it on the wall of our family room for all who visit our home to see. You see, Bettie holds a special place in our family for Bettie was born in Africa. She told her children and grandchildren that she was a Hottentot. The Hottentot were a tribe in southern and southwest Africa. I’m fascinated by an old story, passed down through the generations, that during slavery, Bettie once threatened to kill her own baby girl rather that have that baby sold away from her. Because of her fighting spirit, Bettie was allowed to keep that baby girl. Because an African Hottentot named Bettie refused to give up her child, our family remained intact and we still tell her story today.

Most of what I know about my family, I learned at the feet of my great grandmother—Richmond Duncan’s daughter, Bettie Rice’s great-great granddaughter—Minnie Duncan Gray. Minnie and her husband, William, raised me. Minnie had a phenomenal memory, and could talk at length about the family history. She knew both sets of her grandparents, all of whom had been slaves. I learned about slavery from one that had known and talked to former slaves. I learned from my great grandmother to appreciate family history and what my forebears had to endure so that I could be where I am today. I also learned from my great grandparents about the love of God in Jesus Christ, who died and rose again that I might have eternal life. This is the faith that has sustained many in my family since slavery days. This is the faith I am committed to passing on to my children.

Black people in the United States have come a long, long way. I believe strongly that Blacks should never forget those who came before us. And we should never, ever forget God who brought us through.

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Some of you may have noticed that I recently added a photo to my profile (I finally figured out how it’s done). This photo is one of my favorites. It is from the latter half of 1971, as I remember, and it shows 5 generations of the Duncan family. Seated, in the center, is Richmond Duncan (1871-1972), my great-great grandfather. He was 100 years old at the time this photo was taken. The two women are his daughters, Minnie (to the left) and Wylodine (to the right). Minnie (1896-1986) is my great grandmother. Her husband, William (1905-1989), is behind her. Minnie and William took me in when I was 2 months old, and raised me to adulthood. My great-great aunt, Wylodine (1898-1998), who lived next door to us, probably did more than any other person to introduce me to Jesus. I cannot thank God enough for my great grandparents and my great-great aunt; by God’s grace, and because of them, I am what I am today. Standing behind Richmond is Minnie’s only child, my grandfather, Barney Quentin (1919-2000). On the far left and far right are Barney Q’s two sons, my Uncles, Barney David (on the left) and Charles (on the right). In Barney Q’s arms and on Richmond’s lap are Charles’ two oldest sons, my cousins, Adam [1969-2007] and Gabriel. Finally, standing to the right of Richmond, is me (one of the extremely rare photos of me in shorts). I was 8 years old.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Standing Strong

This past weekend, it was my privilege to preach 3 times—Saturday evening and twice on Sunday morning—at my home church, Christ Church Lake Forest. This was my very first time preaching at Christ Church. And God honored His word! He so graciously blessed us at each service. My sermon was from Ephesians 6:10-18a.

You may listen to the audio here.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Blizzard of 2011

Starting yesterday afternoon until this morning, we got at least 20 inches of snow in Chicagoland. Combined with wind gusts up to 40 miles-per-hour, it was quite a storm. Here’s the view outside our house this morning.



Praise the LORD, O Jerusalem!
Praise your God, O Zion!

He sends out his command to the earth;
his word runs swiftly.
He gives snow like wool;
he scatters hoarfrost like ashes.
He hurls down his crystals of ice like crumbs;
who can stand before his cold?

(Psalm 147:12, 15-17)

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Learning contentment

“I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
—Philippians 4:11-13

Of course, I haven’t “arrived” where Paul was, but this is my goal. Over the past nineteen months that I’ve been without a fulltime job, as I've thought more deeply about the fact of God's absolute sovereignty over absolutely everything (including my employment status, and the resulting financial strain for my family) I've come to see that discontent is really a form of unbelief.

In other words, when I'm discontented with my circumstances, I'm ultimately questioning God's choice to place me in these circumstances of partial employment and reduced income. If God is truly sovereign (and He is: Psalm 103:19; Daniel 4:35; Ephesians 1:11), and if He has the power to cause all things to work together for my good (and He does: Romans 8:28), then I have absolutely no legitimate reasons to be discontented with and complaining about any circumstances which God ordains for my life. Sometimes that’s a tough pill to swallow, but swallow it I must! The Lord does “all things well”, and He makes no mistakes.

Contentment, however, shouldn't be confused with apathy (I’m sure Paul would have preferred freedom to imprisonment). Being content doesn’t mean that I don’t care or that I must like my situation. Contentment is recognizing that whatever happens to me has been ordained by a good and sovereign God for my good. Contentment is the realization that God’s design is that I be a better man, conformed to the image of His Son. Contentment is the confidence that comes from knowing that God is not against me; He’s for me. Contentment is simply trust in God’s word.

I admit it is exceedingly difficult for me to feel content with many of the things which are going on in my life right now. It’s no fun. But Scripture says I can be content, and genuinely feel contentment, “through him who strengthens me”—through the Holy Spirit (“the Spirit of Christ”, Romans 8:9) who dwells within me. How do I draw upon the power of the indwelling Christ? “The just shall live by faith”—faith in Christ.

I’m learning. I’m not “there” yet. Nevertheless, I know God is good and, through the past nineteen month, has been good to me and my family. And He is sovereign. I can trust Him.

“And Are We Yet Alive”—New Year 2011

A fond memory from my days as a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church was the Methodist tradition of singing, at the opening service of each year’s Annual Conference, Charles Wesley’s hymn, “And Are We Yet Alive”. As a way of marking the beginning of another year writing this blog, I think it also appropriate to recall Wesley’s words.

And are we yet alive,
And see each other’s face?
Glory and praise to Jesus give
For His redeeming grace!

Preserved by power Divine
To full salvation here,
Again in Jesus’ praise we join,
And in His sight appear.

What troubles have we seen,
What conflicts have we passed,
Fightings without, and fears within,
Since we assembled last.

But out of all the Lord
Hath brought us by His love;
And still He doth His help afford,
And hides our life above.

Then let us make our boast
Of His redeeming power
Which saves us to the uttermost
Till we can sin no more.

Let us take up the cross
Till we the crown obtain;
And gladly reckon all things loss
So we may Jesus gain.

—Charles Wesley (1707-1788)