This is a place for me to share and document personal interests such as music, technology, and other writing. Please enjoy; I love to receive comments and hear back from you! And if there is something you'd like me to record or a tech question, please let me know! For more of an overview, see the "Who Am I?" and "Ministry Passions" tabs above.

Remember This Gift

This is the fifth of my efforts in the "12 Song Challenge," a group I joined in 2020 to encourage songwriting. The prompt for May was "communion songs." I looked to Paul's passage on the Lord's Supper in 1 Corinthians 11 for the lyrics.



Remember This Gift
1 Corinthians 11:24-26

This bread is my body, broken for you
This cup is my blood, a covenant new
Do this and remember
Do this and remember
Do this and remember me

Whenever you eat it, this bread of Life
Whenever you drink it, blood shed for you
You tell out the Lord’s death
You tell out the Lord’s death
Until he shall come again

This is the gift of God
For the people of God
This is the gift of God
Remember this gift!

Hope in the Wait (Psalm 13)

This is the fourth of my efforts in the "12 Song Challenge," a group I joined in 2020 to encourage songwriting. The prompt for April was "solace and hope" - spurred in part by the challenges of COVID-19 around the world. I chose to adapt Psalm 13, which cries out "How Long?!" to the Lord.



Hope in the Wait
Psalm 13
How long? How long? How long?
(O) Lord, how very long?
(My) heart is not so strong
(To) keep me hanging on

(But) I will trust in love
I find joy in peace
I will sing for grace
I’ll hope in the wait

Do you even hear me?
And do you even see?
The others mock and tease
Rejoicing at my tears

(But) I will trust in love
I find joy in peace
I will sing for grace
I’ll hope in the wait

We will trust in love
We find joy in peace
We will sing for grace
We’ll hope in the wait

Bless Us With Peace

This is my third effort in the "12 Song Challenge," a group I joined in 2020 to encourage songwriting. At the first of each month, the organizers provide a prompt. For March the prompt was "Lenten Themes." I adapted the words from Psalm 118:24-29. The context is the "Hosanna" of Palm Sunday (which comes from Psalm 118).



Bless Us With Peace

O Lord, we ask for you to save
Lord, bless us with peace today

This is the day, Lord, yo have made
With joy and gladness we do pray

Blessed is the one bearing your name
We sing your blessing from this place

O Lord and God, giver of light
You ask and give the sacrifice

We thank you good, eternal Lord
Love given life forevermore

You Are Our Good Shepherd

This is my second effort in the "12 Song Challenge" - a group I joined in 2020 to encourage songwriting. At the first of each month, the organizers provide a prompt. For February it was to write a congregational worship song as a "theme song" for your church. I chose to use the theme of "Good Shepherd" - it is the name of our church after all! I also picked up one of our key phrases, written on the picture wall right inside the doors of the church: "ordinary people; extraordinary God."



You Are Our Good Shepherd – Robert Austell

You are our Good Shepherd - extraordinary God
You lead us, your children - ordinary people
You lay down your life - showing us true love
You are our Good Shepherd - Shepherd of the Sheep

May we see
Where you move and work
May we move
Joining in with you
May we be
Light against the dark
May we love
Love in grace and truth

Rachel's Prayer

This is the first of my efforts in the "12 Song Challenge" - a group I joined in early January to encourage songwriting. At the first of each month, the organizers provide a prompt. For January it was one of the scripture or themes connected to Epiphany. I chose to write about the grief around the Herod's slaughter of the innocents in Matthew 2:16-18. I focused on the reference to Jeremiah of Rachel's weeping for her children. I also picked up on God's words of hope in Jeremiah. My hope is that this could be a congregation song and prayer of hope for those who are grieving a loss. As I started writing about Rachel's grief, I chose imagery of wind and waves (of grief and tears) and tapped into the story of Jesus calming the wind and waves when his disciples were fearful in a storm in Mark 4.



Rachel’s Prayer – Robert Austell
Matthew 2:18; Jeremiah 31:15-17; Mark 4:39

Rachel’s tears: cruel channel through my skin
Comfort gone, what seemed safe lost again

Peace, my breath, my tears
Calm the sea and sky
No more cause for fear
Hope and light, please rise!

Rachel’s breath: whistling wind of the night
No more hope, dark blots out dwindling light

Peace, my breath, my tears
Calm the sea and sky
No more cause for fear
Hope and light, please rise!

God of love, God of mercy, even as we turn away
God of love and compassion, Ever dawning, hear me pray

Peace, my breath, my tears
Calm the sea and sky
No more cause for fear
Hope and light, please rise!

Cloud Storage for Ministry

MINISTRY TECH

People are increasingly using "cloud storage" for personal and business use, and I have found it to be a very useful tool for ministry as well as for personal use. In this post I want to focus on ministry use. Many churches and ministries pay for cloud storage and don't have a well thought-out approach to its use, so I'm writing to address both those aspects of cloud storage: COST and USE.

I want to focus on three cloud storage services: Box, Dropbox, and Google Drive. There are many others, but these are among the largest and are different enough that I would use all three whether I paid for storage or not. Fortunately, each comes with some free storage and, to date, I have not had to expand beyond the no-cost options, either personally or at church.

So I will primarily be giving an overview of the free features of each service and how I use them in ministry. Subsequent posts may go into more specifics for each one.

BOX - Individual Free Plan (https://www.box.com/pricing/individual)
Image result for box.com icon
  • 10 GB storage
  • 250 MB max upload per file
  • Has desktop version that syncs with cloud version
  • Can share files/folders with another box account without counting against that accounts storage limit
  • Can share links to individual files or folders and allow download; can also embed files online
  • File Recovery/Previous Versions: 30 days
Recommended ministry use: long-term archival of files. Each staff member at church has an archive of their ministry files and we share those archives with each other (as appropriate) so that we can all see all archives. So, the admin assistant has all our old newsletters and bulletins archived, but I can see and access them because they are shared with me.
 
DROPBOX - Individual Free Plan (https://db.tt/rJk63xu5 <== that's a referral code so my church will get a little extra storage space!) Related image
  • 2 GB storage (growable up to 16GB through referrals, social media sharing, taking 'tour', installing desktop version, etc...); if you use the code linked above, we'll get 500 MB extra storage! (You can do that once you have an account to grow your free storage space.)
  • Has desktop version that syncs with cloud version
  • Can share files/folders with another dropbox account, but it does count against that account's storage limit
  • Can share links to individual files or folders and allow download
  • Can edit files (Word, PP, Excel, etc...) online, though there are some feature limitations
  • Can not work on a file at the same time as another person (you can, but it will create a separate copy of the file).
  • File Recovery/Previous Versions: 30 days
Recommended ministry use: current files shared by a group (e.g. bulletin, presentation file for worship service, pictures, etc...) that do not require work at the same time.We have 3-4 people that work weekly on the bulletin and the service PP file. Each puts there info in on a certain day (and we can see if someone else has the file open).

GOOGLE DRIVE - Individual Free PlanRelated image
  • 15 GB storage (shared with your Gmail account)
  • Must create or have a Google account to activate (you don't have to use Gmail, but I recommend it!)
  • Can share files/folders with another person who does not have to have a Google account
  • Can store any file type and can edit Google docs, presentation, spreadsheet (this is different than Microsoft Word, Excel, PP) at the same time as another user. This is a game-changer!
  • Has desktop version that syncs with cloud version
  • File Recovery/Previous Versions: 30 days or 100 previous versions
Recommended ministry use: planning docs that would benefit from group collaboration and work but where fine-tuned graphic design is not needed. We use this for worship planning, volunteer lists, officer note-taking, presbytery committee resource hub, etc... This is particularly handy for planning with the music director and pastor, for looking at upcoming service themes and scripture. We put congregational music ideas in on a rolling basis, then touch base the week of the service to finalize. Children's ministry and others can also reference the ongoing planning for things they might be planning in the service.

SUMMARY

Box - archived files
Dropbox - current files; exp. MS Office
Google Drive - current files; esp. for collaborative planning 

 

Cries in the Darkness - choral composition

About a year ago a Presbyterian pastor colleague in East Tennessee (Dwyn Mounger) asked in a music forum I am part of on Facebook if anyone would be willing to compose some music for a hymn text he had written.I offered to look at it - he sent three texts, and I chose one to try to turn into a hymn. That turned out alright, though with six verses it got a little repetitive. I started thinking that it would be much more interesting to write as a choral arrangement. So a year later, that's what I have; an SATB arrangement of his text, "Cries in the Darkness." It's a different take on the nativity scene, in contrast to a "no crying he makes" baby Jesus. And then Dwyn makes a nice turn in the last two verses to our cries in a world full of suffering and pain. It's a nice connection to the incarnate one who came to live among us rather than over or apart from us.

We'd like to offer it to anyone interested in trying it out. If you are a music director, would you consider it? If you are not but know a music or choir director, would you share this e-mail with them? You are free to make copies and we just ask that you include the attributions included in the PDF. We'd also love to know that you used it and what you think! If you have any questions, please reach out to me (robert@robertaustell.com). Dwyn and I would be honored if you would like to use it. The choir at my church is singing it on Dec 8 and I should have a recording after that to share.

Two Christmas Pieces on Piano

When I was in college I decided to record about 10 Christmas songs on piano to give to friends and family. A few have told me they still have that cassette! recording these many years later. (A later digitized version lived in iTunes for a while... don't think it's still there.) At any rate, last year (2017) on Christmas Eve I decided to record video of a few songs. Two of them are below: Go Tell It (wait for the chorus... it's got some good rhythm) and "What Child is This?" (you can prob tell I listened to a lot of George Winston in college!).




Young Life

One of the ministries I am most passionate about is Young Life. I have been involved with it in some way or another since I was about six years old! Currently Heather and I serve on the support committee for Young Life of Matthews/Mint Hill. At this year's metro banquet (of which our area is one of about six) I took part in a video meant to convey how Young Life has shaped whole lives. They interviewed four adults around that question and my story is one of them, interspersed throughout this video. One of the big self-discoveries as I responded to their questions was how much involvement with Young Life has shaped my own theology and understanding of the Church, missions, and how Christians should interact with the world around them. I hope you'll check it out! (and the other stories on the video are awesome!)

Silent Night

A few years ago I stayed in a house at Montreat to do some song-writing. One of the things I experimented with was an alternate tune for "Silent Night." I realized that it was such a familiar song that the alternate tune would need to be also familiar so I modified the tune for "Amazing Grace" to use with it. No one I've played it for could pick that out, but they said it seemed familiar and singable, so I guess it worked! Our worship team did the arrangement the following Christmas with the congregation. During the next year our music director asked me if I would arrange it for SATB choir and that is what is below. (LINK)





One feature of this choral arrangement is that, in digging into the lyrics, I believed the second verse with the heavenly hosts singing was the climax (and with a choral arrangement each verse can be treated differently), so I tried to reflect that with the dynamics and accompaniment.

I also realized in digging into the lyrics of verse three that I had not been correctly reading one line that is intended as one thought: "love's pure light radiant beams from Thy holy face." When we sing the hymn we pause between 'light' and 'radiant' and it sounds like baby Jesus is shooting light beams from his face rather than radiant love. ('beams' is a verb!) Anyway, that's a fine point that I got to sharpen in my adaptation of the text.

The audio above is a recording of the Good Shepherd choir singing the arrangement, with Rick Bean playing the piano accompaniment and Eric VanderHeide directing.



And if you'd like the simple worship team arrangement, here's a link to that. (LINK) and audio (sorry for a few crackles as the audio was adjusted during the service):



Also, here's a piano version of that worship team arrangement that I did on Christmas Eve 2017:

Confirmation Sunday Song

In 1997, Gerrit Dawson and I wrote this song for our Confirmation class. I've continued to use it on Confirmation Sundays throughout the years. The lyrics are below the video.


NOW YOU MAKE IT YOUR OWN (Dawson/Austell)

God chose you in Christ before the world was made
He came here for you... the Word was enfleshed
In Jesus, on the cross, your sins were laid
So dying, then rising with him, you are kept

Long love foresaw this day, parents vowed before the throne
Friends in Christ showed the way; now you make it your own

God told his story through those in your home
Christ showered love as water was poured
The Spirit brought friends, you’re never alone
So in the Church, you share one faith, one Lord  CHORUS

The world will insist that you turn its way
But dear ones resist, remember this day!!

Before God and us, you make holy vows
The name of Jesus you confess in Word
And in your heart.  Each day you will follow
The Savior whose call to serve you have heard  CHORUS
I'm a little bit young for the early 70s era of "Jesus music" - except my parents played some of it in our house and I loved it. I couldn't play the guitar then, but by the time I was 7-8 I could sound out some things on piano and learned a few Chuck Girard, Pat Terry, and Keith Green songs. One of my all-time favorite songs was "I Can't Wait (to see Jesus)" by the Pat Terry Group. I think my dad had the album. But I loved the sound of it and the pictures of Heaven, as folksy as they were ("get my sleeping bag and roll").

It's very hard to find the song any more, even on YouTube. But I printed off the lyrics and learned it because I wanted to sing and hear it. I'll include them below under the video.



"I Can't Wait"
Pat Terry, 1975-ish

Just as the lightning comes out of the East,
And branches even to the West;
So shall the coming of the Son of Man be.
So put on your Sunday best,
Put on your Sunday best.

I can't wait to see Jesus;
In His glory as He bursts from the sky.
I can't wait to be held in His arms;
And see the glimmer in His eyes.

Tell me, how it's gonna be;
Read it from the Bible again.
I can't wait to see Jesus;
Cause Jesus is coming again.


I can't wait to hear trumpets;
Cause I know what they mean when they sound.
I can't wait to cast off my burden;
And feel my feet leave the ground. Chorus

I can't wait to see Heaven;
And to walk those streets of gold.
I can't wait to check into my mansion;
And get my sleeping bag and roll.

Emmaus Road (Burning Hearts)

I haven't recorded a song video in a while, but had some time off this morning. With Easter just behind us, I remembered that story of Jesus appearing to the two on the road out of Jerusalem. They had not yet heard of the resurrection and found themselves marveling at the conversation with this traveler until they finally recognized him. They said to each other afterwards, "Weren't our hearts burning within (as he walked and talked with us)."

I wrote this song with my friend, Gerrit Dawson years ago (1998) to use in a worship service. It has remained one of my favorite "sermon-songs."


new CD


I am excited to announce the release of The Depth of Worship, vol.1 - you can download for free on bandcamp (enter $0 when you name your price) and you can give it a listen there or in the player below. A short link for sharing is bit.ly/rmacd16
Some of these songs started more than 10 years ago; most were recorded in my first sabbatical in 2008, and I was able to finish the mixing and mastering this past summer during a second sabbatical, thanks to my wonderful congregation at Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church. (I also have about 8 new songs in the hopper... but still some work to do on them!) Here are the liner notes, and explanation of why the project is sub-titled, "A Journey Home": 

The album began as a collection of contemporized hymns, most of which are early on in the album. As original songs were added and organized, a theme emerged of journeying home. Like the father in the prodigal son parable, the songs reflect the persistent, merciful, gracious, and abundant love of God for His children, even when they are far from home. The song lyrics move from the nearness of worship at the beginning to the presence of God during the wandering, to the joyful return to a loving Father's welcome. While I hope the hymns are useful in worship, I also hope the album as a whole will offer an opportunity to reflect on God's extravagant love that welcomes even the most prodigal wanderer home.

2015 Round-Up

2015 has been a full and different kind of year. Last year at this time I wrote about finishing renovations, new patterns of exercise and recreation, and looking forward to being fully staffed at church. For both myself and the congregation, 2015 felt like a 'recovery' year from a pretty exhausting 2014. Though that language seems to fit a personal workout rather than the overall experience of a community, it seems apt nonetheless. And where I anticipated being fully staffed early in the year, it was fall before we had new staff in place. (And they are wonderful!) So as I look back on the year, I see myself leaning back into core ministries of preaching and leading worship, struggling (a bit) to maintain weight and exercise routines, and only rediscovering time and space for recreation and music late in the Fall. So what follows are some highlights of this past year.

Sermon Series: I don't always preach in series, but when I do, I often enjoy the cumulative effect of building on a theme or digging deep into a topic. We had several this year; here are the indices:
  • Holy Habits: the Law as Teacher: patterns and practices God established that still cultivate and develop a healthy spiritual life
  • Tested with Us and for Us: on the benefits of Jesus' humanity to identify with us
  • What is the Good News: a basic look at several aspects of the Christian message
  • Teach Us to Pray (The Lord's Prayer): our longest series by far, we looked at scriptures to understand (and pray) each phrase of the Lord's Prayer
  • Welcome Wanderers: working through Ephesians 2 to see how extraordinary is the gracious welcome offered through Jesus Christ
  • Psalm 24: a three-week study on Psalm 24 that really covers the whole biblical story
  • Advent: a look at the hope, love, joy, and peace of God w/personal testimony
Individual Sermons: three sermons that stood out as "most downloaded" as well as meaningful to me. It is interesting to me that two of them came from our 'number' series early in the year and that the three represent a nice range of interests (spiritual struggle, spiritual discipline, spiritual health).
  1. "40: Waiting on God" (Psalm 37:1-7a, Acts 7:20-36) - three stories of having to wait on God
  2. "10: Tithing" (Deuteronomy 14:22-29; Matthew 23:23-26) - this was the first time I had preached on tithing not during the "stewardship season" of the church; it was a profound text for me to work through
  3. "Fit for What?" (Hebrews 12:1-11) - what does spiritual health look like? and how do we get started?
Testimonies: this was a year of meaningful testimonies shared in and with the church; some are included below; I started to note "this is amazing!" next to them, but they are all amazing and really significant testimonies of God's goodness!
  • Cynthia Roberts (audio link, 7 min) - responding to the question "Where have you seen or experienced the Good News of Christ?"
  • Marty McKenzie (audio link, 5 min) - responding to the question "How have you experienced the HOPE of God?"; Marty shares personal loss and struggle and how hope in God has sustained her
  • Karen Katibah (audio link, 6 min) -  responding to the question "How have you experienced the JOY of Jesus Christ?"; Karen, a senior in college, shares about the uncertainties of graduating from college and the joy she has discovered in following God's leading
  • Cynthia Roberts (audio link, 4 min) - responding to the question "How have you experienced the PEACE of God?"; Cynthia shares about the loss of her mother and God's peace
Music: one of the goals/habits I cultivated in 2014 was trying to regularly write or record music; I called this "Sundays for Singing," trying to post something each Sunday. I certainly didn't generate a post weekly, but it did get the wheels turning again. Here are a few unpolished examples:
  • "Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul" - a worship song by Kevin Twit (Indelible Grace) to a text by Anne Steele; wonderful words for those struggling in this world
  • "Hail the Day that Christ Arose" - an encouraging song by Steve and Vikki Cook (adapted from a Wesley hymn text) about the benefits of Christ's resurrection
I was also excited for my friend, John Duncan, to get a life-long dream up and running in Beathaven. It brings the opportunity of professional interaction, review, and submission of ideas to amateur musicians. I was pleased that John used several of my instrumental tracks (here's one example) in setting up the site and interacting with him around the Beathaven service has spurred some enjoyable musical creativity.
    Health/Fitness - Just a few benchmarks to mark (for myself) where I am. Still running and walking regularly, though I've put some weight back on this year. (here are last year's data also shown +- below). Everything is a little shorter and slower, but still a significant amount of work. Big goals ahead for 2016!
    • Jan-Dec: approx. +5 lbs ...but still down 25 from pre-2013
    • 279 (-61) workouts in 213 (-40) hours
    • 155,000 (-49k) total calories burned
    • 502 (-153) mi. running + 400 (-71) mi. walking = 902 (-224) total miles
    • Longest Run: 10.1 mi. [did this 2x, but no 13.1 runs this year]
    • Fastest Runs:
      • 1mi: 7:59 min/mi
      • 5k: 10:09 min/mi
      • 5mi: 10:07 min/mi
      • 9mi: 11:35 min/mi
      • 10mi: 12:18 min/mi