Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Easter and Beyond

Time is still flying! Easter comes and goes. The solemnity of the event – the days of Holy Week and the attention and sharp focus on the reality that Christ really did live, really did walk the earth as a human while still wholly Divine, that He was brutalized and still offered no resistance – is real but passes quickly.

We watched the film “The Passion of the Christ” days before Easter. I was going to play a guitar instrumental version of the old hymn “O Sacred Head Now Wounded” during the service at church and planned to pull together some short video clips from the movie to show. I’d forgotten the graphic depiction of the punishment meant for me - inflicted upon Him. Before this movie came out, I met Jim Caviezel who played the part of Jesus. He showed me an early trailer from the movie on his MacBook. I was speechless. The consensus among those who made the movie, it was said, was that the real punishment was far worse than they could ever show on a movie screen.

And I ask “How could that be possible?”

It’s no wonder that we came up with the Easter Bunny. All soft and cute. So far removed from the blood and reality of innocent sacrifice that makes little, if any, logical sense to those who’ve never tasted. Easier to eat chocolate filled with marshmallow cream than to humble oneself and accept the Sacrifice – to take of His flesh and blood to wash away my sin and guilt.

Our church was packed on Easter for all the services. There were overflow rooms with video feeds to accommodate the latecomers – groggy from parties the night before – overwhelmed with cocoa hangovers. I hear the comments every year from the regulars that point out the masses that only show up on Christmas and Easter. And I think, “Hey, better then than never.” And you never know which particular Christmas or Easter their hearts will be especially open and ready to know the Truth – to feast on the bounty of Christ. We can hope, can’t we?

I was backstage (for lack of a better term) waiting to sing an old song that was on my third album. Songwriter Phil McHugh wrote “Love Found A Way” back in the early 80s. I heard it at a songwriter showcase that year at Gospel Music Week. It was a chance for writers to play unrecorded songs for a small audience of artists and record execs. When I heard the song, I leaned forward to a friend and cast my vote to cut it myself. I hadn’t thought of it until the week before Easter and decided it would be perfect. Different from other Easter Sundays where I had lots for which to be responsible, lots to do, this Easter, I simply sang one song in three services. I waited each time and simply thanked God that I had this opportunity to use what He has given me. There is peace in gratitude.

Speaking of Gospel Music Week, I was there last week for a couple of days. Mostly to present a Milestone Award to Sandi Patty for her thirty years in Gospel music. I arrived on Wednesday before the Dove Awards the next day. To say that GMA Week was different from years past would be an understatement.

In years past – and I’ve been going to GMA Week, off and on, for 29 years myself – the convention center would be buzzing, navigating the lobby at the Renaissance Hotel downtown Nashville would be a challenge, having a meaningful conversation uninterrupted – impossible, seeing lots and lots of old friends and coveys of new bands and new artists decked out in the coolest clothes with questionable hair would be very entertaining. Questionable hair?? Who am I to question anyone’s hair?? Have you seen some of those old albums? Don’t know what I was thinking.

This year, the lobby of the hotel was quiet, few radio stations sent teams to interview artists, few record companies put on lavish lunches and showcases of their lead horse artists. I don’t know if it’s the economy, or just what has nailed down the lid on this institution called GMA Week but there’s change in the air.

The business of music has radically changed. The way people listen, the way people buy has changed forever. There was a seminar held last week that was called “The Death of the CD.” Maybe these drastic changes are forcing everyone to re-evaluate how they do business – radio, sales, marketing – ministry.

But I’ll tell you, while we have to grow (change) or die, there are always those who will forge ahead, utilizing the tools before us in this new century, bent on telling the Story, focused on singing the Word. My feeling is that when we’re faithful to the call, God will take care of the details. We still have to pay attention to the work and to the details, but God looks at the heart and the motives and blesses and grants favor as He wishes. The Apostle said “Forgetting what lies behind, I press on . . .” So I press on.

The Dove Awards were fun. Saw lots of old friends and made some new ones. There were lots of smiles and some tears. Life has broadsided some families, taken children, brought trial and heartache. But people can be incredibly resilient and strong in the middle of it all. While it’s hard to sing and praise Him through trouble, He is faithful anyway.

In years past, when the award show ended, artists, fans, record company folks would scatter all around Nashville. Some would end up in restaurants rented for the night for private celebrations. Others wound up in decorated hotel ballrooms with catered feasts and live bands. One year at the Word festivities, there was even a dance floor which mildly shook and disturbed my Baptist sensibilities just a little. I’ve since recovered and reformed. My feet have been seen tapping every once in a while.

After the show ended this year, it seemed like everyone just went their own way. Some loaded on buses and took off for the next night’s concert destination. Others that call Nashville home, simply went home to sleeping children, happy to be in their own beds for another night.

All is well.

Well, maybe not. But it will be. God is in ultimate control. He seats kings and rulers. He breathes life into us, warms us with the sun, waters the earth as He sees fit. Supplies our need if not always our want. This fragile planet full of fragile mortals is in His hand.

I’m learning to love Him, not so much for what He has done, but for who He is.

Love to you all.


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Worth of One.

I watched a film last night called “The Endurance.” I’d read the book by the same title several years back. For some reason, I was on a run of reading about ships of all kinds from whalers to expeditions to “The Perfect Storm.”

I’ve always been sort of a water person. For several years, I owned a fishing boat and enjoyed being on the water even if the fish weren’t biting. They (you know who “they” are) told me that the two best days of a boat owner’s life are the day you buy it and the day you sell it. The day I sold it was a good day but also a little sad. Ultimately, it spent most of it’s life, near the end, sitting in my garage – batteries drying up and dying, gaskets and rubber molding cracking, dust covering it’s beautiful red and black paint.

This thing was fast. It looked fast sitting still in the water. There was a two hundred horsepower outboard on the back that was happy going 70 miles per hour or idling at a crawl but not much in between. I tried to pull my kids on skis once not realizing that 45 mph made the motor groan as it didn’t get the boat up out of the water where it could run as it was made to run - and that was a little too fast for teenagers skiing. Man, when they fell, they skipped like rocks on glassy water. It was really hysterica….I mean, it was horrible to watch.

I can spend hours sitting near the ocean, the gulf or, like yesterday, Lake Livingston near Houston. I don’t consider it wasted time.

In 1914, Sir Earnest Shackleton set off on an expedition with the goal of crossing Antarctica. The crew of 27 men were lured into this dramatic and exciting prospect by an ad that read:



OK…Where do I sign, Ernie?

Early in their journey, the ship, The Endurance, was stranded in an inescapable ice pack. What followed was a battle for survival. As the ship was hopelessly wedged into the ice, the crew settled in for the 7 month wait for winter to pass.

At the coffee place the other day, you know the one, I was a little bothered when they told me it would take 3 or 4 minutes for them to brew some fresh decaf. THREE OR FOUR MINUTES!! OUTRAGEOUS!

Seven months? And that was without the complete assurance that all would be well after the thaw. I can’t go into the details of how these men coped with this dilemma but would recommend that you watch this movie. It’s inspiring. You might not book that vacation trip to Antarctica, but it is inspiring.

Ultimately, the crew and it’s leadership abandoned all hope of accomplishing their goal of crossing the continent. Now, the target was survival. Their leader, Sir Ernest, carefully monitored the morale of his men, instituted strict standards of rationing food and supplies and made decisions almost completely without emotion. His attitude was, “This is the hand we’re dealt.”

On one particular night, while the entire crew was camped on an ice pack, a crack developed and one man, sleeping bag and all, went into the frigid water. Knowing that within minutes he’d be dead, Shackleton pulled him out and saved his life. While the survivor was thankful and glad to be alive, his only regret was that his store of tobacco was now at the bottom of the sea.

When supplies were passed out, knowing that their only hope was to trek the ice back to civilization, lots were drawn for the limited number of fur sleeping bags. To the crews quiet amazement, Shackleton and the others in leadership all drew the wool sleeping bags, leaving the warmer fur bags for the crew.

Ernest Shackleton put himself at great risk to make sure every single one of his party got home. When, in the final weeks, Shackleton and a small portion of the party made their way in a 20 foot boat to try and find help, leaving 8 men on Elephant Island, the odds seemed insurmountable. When they finally procured a large enough ship and crew to return to the island to rescue the remaining men, they approached and saw that all 8 were still alive. They had been waiting for ten weeks to be rescued - not even knowing if their captain and comrades had survived the trip for help in one of the most dangerous oceans on the planet.

These were not necessarily important men. They were, to some degree, misfits and hardened sailors looking for adventure. Leaving home and family for, what turned out to be, almost two years, wouldn’t be an option for just anyone.

They did not know fame or glory or wealth. What did they contribute to the betterment of the world?

Yet, when all seemed lost, Shackleton risked everything to save them . . . all of them . . . every single one of them. After abandoning his dream to cross Antarctica, the thing that drove him, more than anything else, was his desire to return his men to their homes and families.

Such regard for life. Such value in every soul. Even those that seemed to be simply ordinary.

Easter is coming.

The inexplicable sacrifice of the Lamb of God, the Only Son, for, not only the gifted, the special, the noble and upright, but for the ordinary, the typical, the fallen, the hopeless.

God, finding value in every single one of us . . . in you. You were worth the search. You were worth dying for.

Not just a sacrifice of a mere mortal. The Blood of an Innocent shed for the forgiveness of sin.

Mine . . . yours.

“Thank you.”