Saturday, March 27, 2010
Ever been on a farm, or seen an animal herd? Take cattle, for instance. I rounded up Holstein dairy cattle on a farm near Belmont, Ohio just about every day during the 1970’s so they could be milked. I, a human being, did this. Ever imagine or seen one of the herd doing this instead, one of the cows or perhaps a single sheep in a flock of woolies? Not a sheepdog, I mean, but one of the herd acting very unlike the rest of its kind. It would be truly strange to see an animal calling, maybe whistling to the others to enter the barn or a fenced lot. That would be a unique animal, right? Taking this to another plane, how does Jesus manage to be a lamb and the Great Shepherd at the same time? I wonder if Twila Paris thought about this when she composed “Lamb of God” in the early 1980s. From what we can read of the song’s composition, Twila Paris was in fact in her parents’ living room at a piano, not on a farm watching a herd of livestock. She was 22 years old, single, still living with mom and dad, and using her early-life experiences and heritage in music ministry taught her by family that day. She says ‘it was almost like taking dictation’ to write the song, an ease which she remembers God’s spirit must have granted her in those moments. It’s a route in which the follower on earth identifies with the Holy Creator in the artistic process. You catch a glimpse of His genius, and ‘Wow, did I write that?’ is one’s reaction, Paris recalls. You’re just a conduit for Him to communicate something special to His people. The song has become well-loved across the globe since it first appeared on the 1985 album “Kingdom Seekers”. Paris says “Lamb of God” is a like a child that has grown and gone off to do things totally independent of her, like when she hears of its use in another language, like Romanian. That’s more gratifying than getting some award, she tells – an attitude that says much when one recalls that “Lamb of God” was nearly at the top (# 2 on June 25, 1986) of the contemporary Christian/inspirational music charts at one time. Was it an accident that Twila Paris thought about the Lamb in family surroundings? After all, the John the Baptist who coined the “Lamb of God” name (see John 1:29, 36) was a relative or near-relative of Jesus, through his mother (Luke 1:36). He leapt in recognition of Jesus, the Lamb. The unique Lamb. To the doubter, why would God, of all beings in the universe, need to offer sacrifice? And, how could He justify offering Jesus -- incarnate -- as a sacrifice? Wasn’t that repugnant, according to His own law given through Moses? This Lamb is so incredible, a paradox and revolutionary. And so, “Lamb of God” raises questions, draws my curiosity.“Kingdom Seekers” seems appropriate for the album on which the “Lamb” song appears, for I am drawn to Jesus, to fathom Him. The last verse of Paris’ song reminds me that I too become a lamb – to mimic the Lamb. I search for my purpose here, because of Him. Nothing has ever been before, or will ever be like Him. More clarity will come in the Lamb’s kingdom, I guess. The source for Twila Paris’ “Lamb of God” song story is the book “Our God Reigns: The Stories behind Your Favorite Praise and Worship Songs”, by Phil Christensen and Shari MacDonald, Kregel Publications, 2000. See her biographic information on her website also: http://www.twilaparis.com/. See information on her life also at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twila_Paris
Friday, March 19, 2010
Ron Block has seen ups and downs, ins and outs over the last 15 years, and he discovered how to maintain a healthy perspective through all of it. His music-writing is a mirror of his walk, he says, of the closeness that he’s been nurturing with God. If that process sounds like a recipe for prayer, then it’s no accident that his song “A Living Prayer” has struck a chord with listeners who identify with its lyrics. And, it’s no surprise either why it received a 2006 Gospel Music Association Dove award for the Bluegrass Song of the Year. The song was part of a record titled “Lonely Runs Both Ways”, which Block recorded with Alison Kraus and Union Station. What was Block thinking about when he wrote it? Was he feeling alone, as the record’s title and the song’s lyrics suggest?
Here’s what Block says briefly (see the link here: http://www.ronblock.com/site.php?em2643=145169_-1__0_~0_-1_3_2010_0_0&content=writings&em2642=
). Block does say that he’s alone, and that rough roads and griefs abound, but yet he doesn’t dwell on these realities. Jesus is the answer, Block’s biographic sketch relates on his website, and as he talks in detail about this song. Instead of wallowing in downbeat emotions, Block leads the worshipper to feel secure in the God-to-human relationship, to let one’s life reflect this trust. Block’s goal is to find at life’s end that he’s been ‘a vehicle or vessel of His Spirit’. And so, Block’s words ‘take my life and let me be’ are his ambitious lifelong plea to Him. This is one we seldom hear even believers say --‘Lord, just use me’. ‘Protect’, ‘heal’, or ‘show’, but not too often ‘Use’ me, are the words that stick out in my conversations with the Almighty.
Here’s something you might not expect to hear from a Christian. Block says the song’s life message isn’t that I “try to do good and avoid doing bad”, nor that I “try to be a witness”, nor “try to be Christ-like”. No, the idea is not that I try to do anything. Isn’t it strange that in God’s calculus, I become a living prayer by giving up my life? Block’s song conveys that there is true peace and contentment in giving up, in submitting to God. Stop striving, and just let God’s presence and purpose wash over and through me, I muse out loud to Him and to myself. Prayer’s heart is surrender, I’m told. Jesus did this too…another good reason to pray like this.
Saturday, March 13, 2010
From ABC television cameraman, to worshipper, to fallen hero and bipolar sufferer, and back up once again as a grace-saved and more introspective writer-composer-believer – that’s how one might sum up Australian Geoff Bullock’s adult life. Though he accepted God’s grace in 1978, he was a senior cameraman with ABC, and thought that he’d eventually be a director or producer. Ten years later though, he was part of the Hillsong phenomenon, the first worship pastor at Hillsongs church in Sydney, Australia from 1987 until 1995. It was during this time that he wrote “Glory”, one of many songs he wrote that he now says were his expression of trying to draw closer to God. Bullock’s life has come through a valley, and now he sees the relationship with God from a different direction than when he wrote the song.
The song “Glory” was recorded on “The Power of Your Love” album in 1992, the first of the live performance praise and worship albums that the Hillsong worship ministry has produced annually. Just listen to the words of “The Power of Your Love”, perhaps Bullock’s most well-known song and a companion to “Glory” on the same record, and you sense Bullock’s life was intimately directed toward the Lord. The songs were sung at a conference for 1,000 people in 1992, a conference that grew to 5,000 by 1997, and then to 30,000 in 2006. This conference started with just 150 delegates in 1986 and its notoriety blossomed under Bullock’s and Mark Zschech’s direction. Seeing one’s life purpose succeed must have been exhilarating for Bullock, to sense that God’s glory was moving among a church, and even world community. The Hillsong church went international in 1992 as Hillsong Kiev began in Ukraine, the same year of “Glory”. In interviews that now look back, Bullock reflects that the early years of Hillsong were focused on how to experience more of God. He was striving to achieve God’s grace’, rather than receiving it, a misperception he now admits.
By 1995, Bullock left the Sydney church, and he struggled in his personal and spiritual life for a time; his marriage failed, he was diagnosed with a bipolar disorder, and he suspended his work in ministry. But, he’s come through all the aftermath of the Hillsong years, and now has a different slant on God’s work in his life. Now, it’s not so much trying to experience more of God, but rather thanking Him for what He’s done to extend grace in Geoff Bullock’s --and every believer’s--direction. It’s not just idle talk with Bullock. He’s taken some of his early songs and modified the lyrics (including those in “The Power of Your Love”) to reflect how he feels about this change in his spiritual walk. The key is what God has done, who He is, and not what I do, Bullock is saying. So, would Bullock revise “Glory”, to emphasize his discovery? It’s not really clear that Bullock has been re-engineering “Glory”, at least in interviews that he’s given since his reemergence into Christian music performance. And, perhaps the song’s changes would be minor -- maybe a praise of God for showing us His throne and His majesty, rather than a proclamation of what we see with unveiled eyes (verse 2). Yet, the names of God that Bullock stressed in the song’s original version are still true. He’s Lord, King, Emmanuel, Holy One, Prince of Peace…all as ‘spot on’ today as they were in 1992, and long before that. Geoff Bullock is just like the rest of us believers. Struggle might make me re-dig some wells, but God’s identity remains firm.
See the following site for information on Geoff Bullock: http://www.geoffbullock.com/
Many other links to information about Geoff Bullock via press reports, interviews, articles he has written and the album “The Power of Your Love” on which the song “Glory” appears, are at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geoff_Bullock
Saturday, March 6, 2010
Kirk and Deby Dearman were missionaries in Brussels, Belgium in 1988, during the time that “Above All Else” was written and published. So, they were seeing the world, perhaps as they’d never seen it before. Placing oneself and family in a vocation with a mission for the Lord…can you imagine another profession with more commitment to the cause of Christ? There’s lots of imagery in the song that conjure up mental pictures of warfare, suggesting it was a difficult period for them, whether physical or otherwise. Here’s what they say was going on, writing in their own words (although in the third person), which they shared with me on March 6, 2010. Above All Else came spontaneously - at least the first part! - while Kirk & Deby were living as "musicianairies" in Europe. The dollar had dropped suddenly and they had just lost their main source of support in the same month. So they had to move out of their apartment, stay with friends, and store belongings in the friend's garage. Not long after, the garage flooded in a heavy rainstorm and most of their belongings were damaged. Among those belongings was their electric piano. Then the call came to write for a worship project. The only piano they could get to was an old clunky, out of tune relic. Kirk sat down and began to pray for God's heart in the midst of their own turmoil. Deby started praying and then singing, "You are exalted, Lord, above all else. We place You at the highest place, above all else." Kirk said, "Wait! Sing that again!" She did . . . and the rest of the song was quickly written on the spot. Kirk and Deby then began singing the song in outdoor concerts- most notably in the downtown city square of Brussels, Belgium, the capital of Europe, where they lived, as a declaration of God's sovereign lordship over every city and nation, and over their own lives and circumstances. I have been a foreign missionary just once, for a week. It was exhausting, at least partially from the lack of sleep I got that week. But, it was also a little scary to know I was seen everywhere I went, because of the reputation of the on-site missionaries, as a visiting ‘ambassador for Christ’. A misstep wasn’t really allowed, at least in my mind. To exalt the Lord ‘above all else’, and ‘so the world will know’ who God is – that’s a pretty BIG responsibility. Can I say that every day where I live? Everywhere I stand, and everywhere I go, as the song has me vocalize? Some might say Europe has become darkened and cold to Christendom in the modern age, in contrast to earlier times. Genuine armor is something I’d be looking for, but the Dearmans’ words indicate they held out the Lord as their standard for protection. God comes through for us, the Dearmans’ song reminds me. Nothing can withstand His light and the saving blood of Jesus. In most battles I can think of (the movie ‘Patton’ is on the tube as I write this), more blood is spilled by the losers (like the soldier in the picture), while the victors try to minimize this. Jesus did the opposite. Jesus’ mighty warrior status prevails precisely because He bleeds for me. Now, how can I fail to place Him, the eternal soldier, above all else ? Biographic information on Kirk and Deby Dearman and their music ministry can be found at the following site: http://www.cometothequiet.com/aboutkirk.cfm