Grace When You Don’t Do Anything

9 03 2009

 

sam_phillips1

Sam Phillips is like an old friend.  I even knew her when people called her Leslie.   Leslie Phillips was one of the biggest “Contemporary Christian” artists of the 1980’s until the artistic limits the industry placed upon her sent her into the mainstream market.  If Phillips’ music is anything, it is creative with spiritual themes flowing through her music like a “River of Love”.  Since leaving the Christina market, she has met incredible critical success but her commercial success has been limited, peeking with her stint as the in-house songwriter for the television series “Gilmore Girls”.  

Phillips latest album is not only creative but is brutally honest as well.  The album clearly is an open testimony of a life lived through the heartbreak of a difficult divorce from her husband, producer T- Bone Burnett.  Each song is like a journey through the valley of betrayal, loneliness, heartache, and stubborn faith through what Chesterton called the “dark night of the soul”.

Leslie Phillips may have left “Christian music” in 1987 and changed her name to Sam, but her lyrics have demonstrated that she never left Christianity. “Don’t Do Anything” is the strongest example of that.  On the surface, the album seems dark but, when one looks deeper, convictions about God’s grace are clearly stronger than the questions which are asked.

At first glance the title song ”Don’t Do Anything” seems odd and out of place on this album.  It is surrounded by other songs which delve into the frailties and inadequacies of human love.  But, it would appear that this was by design.  Phillips apparently understands the necessity to show “ungrace” and its painful effects before revealing the beauty of God’s grace. Human love can lead to broken hearts, often has strings attached, and offers no guarantees.  It is conditional.  However, God’s grace is unconditional; it is eternal and dependable.  Phillips states it well:

“I, I love you 

When you don’t

When you don’t do anything

When you’re useless

I love you more

When you don’t do anything

 

When you don’t move, when you don’t try

When you don’t say anything

When you can’t feel, When you don’t win

When you don’t make anything”

 

For those who have come to the end of themselves and realized their own frailties, it is as if God is speaking from heaven.  One can almost see a broken hearted wife and mother who sees her world has collapsed around her and, like Psalm 46, whose foundations have collapsed.   But, in the midst of her despair, she hears the voice of God say “I love you even when you have blown it, but I love you more than that.  Be still and know that I am God because I love you even when you don’t do anything.”

“I, I love you

When you don’t 

When you don’t do anything

When you don’t want, when you don’t lie

When you don’t make any sense

When you don’t go, when you don’t hide

When you don’t think anything

 

I, I love you 

When you don’t

When you don’t do anything

When you’re useless

I love you more

When you  don’t do anything.”

Go read Psalm 46 and then don’t do anything but know that you are loved.

 

 

 





Favorite Music for 2008

23 02 2009

 

 Below are my favorites for 2008.  If any of them are new to you give them a listen and let me know what you think.  Also, I would love to hear in a comment what your favorites were for last year.  

paintedred JJ Heller – Painted Red, I have just discovered JJ Heller but love her music.  The entire album is a refreshing change of pace and sound from most Christian artist out there today.  However, the song Painted Red is simply beautiful lyrically and musically.  Its simplicity adds to its strength.  Here are the lyrics:

If I could not hold a pen

I would write of you on my heart instead

You have bought me with your blood

And I am painted red by your love

Ooh …

If I could not say a word

My life would speak of love I don’t deserve

Hope means holding on to you

Grace means you’re holding me too

Ooh …

 

  Red Mountain Church–  Everything these guys put out is excellent.  My favorite album is probably The Gadsby Project; however, the newest release This Breaks my Heart of Stone is growing on me.  Depth of Mercy CD, This Breaks My Heart of Stone CD, The Gadsby Project CD, Help My Unbelief CD.  If you do not have time to listen to everything a few of my favorite cuts are:  Help My Unbelief, Lord Dissolve My Frozen Heart, Christ or Else I Die, Wedding Dress, Friend of Sinners. However, do not cheat yourself by listening to only these few songs.  Red Mountain Church was not the first to place new tunes and arraignments to classic and often long forgotten hymns but they are with out question the best.   Many of the hymns recorded here come from the Gadsby Hymnal.  You can learn more about William Gadsby on “An Uncommon Grace”’s “Great Lives” page and his biography can be found on the “Current Reading List“.  There is a link to Red Mountain Church under “Great Music” in the side bar.

 

 mindy-smith Mindy Smith is an artist that has been around a few years but I just discovered her music in 2008.  Below I have posted my two favorites which she does.  Smith is a committed Christ follower and her lyrics are raw, honest, authentic and genuine.  Let me know what you think.





A Love Supreme

15 10 2008

 

There were three pivotal moments in John Coltrane’s short life.  The first occurred sometime during his high school years when he decided to begin playing the alto and tenor sax.  Today, over 40 years after his death, Coltrane is still considered the greatest jazz sax player of all time.

 

The second turning point of Coltrane’s life occurred in 1948 when he tried heroine for the first time and soon became hooked.  Within the jazz community virtually every young player who began playing in the late 1940’s and 1950s felt a great deal of pressure to experiment with the drug.  It was widely believed that Charlie Parker, who was Coltrane’s mentor,  had become a better player because of his self professed heroine use and, therefore, musicians believed their playing would improve as well.  In addition to Coltrane, Miles Davis and Chet Baker became addicts to heroine because of their false belief that it improved their playing.

 

Needless to say, heroine did not fulfill its false promise to make Coltrane a better musician.  His playing, when he showed up, was erratic.  He would appear at the last minute for gigs unshaven, un-bathed and in smelly, wrinkled and worn clothes.  He achieved a reputation of falling asleep on stage.  Miles Davis fired him and Dizzy Gillespie complained bitterly about his unreliable performances but apparently refrained from firing Coltrane only because of their deep friendship and Gillespie’s respect for Coltrane’s talent when he wasn’t wasted on heroine.

 

The third key event in Coltrane’s life occurred in 1957.  John Coltrane had grown up within a Christian family and within the church.  Both his grandfathers were pastors and he attended a small AME church service every Sunday in High Point North Carolina.  During his teen years he practiced every Tuesday evening with the church band and his pastor.  So, when he hit rock bottom in 1957, Coltrane looked up and returned to the faith of his childhood through professing his trust in Jesus Christ.  Supported by his wife Naima, and friends, Coltrane locked himself away for days and kicked heroine. 

 

Coltrane would write latter “During the year 1957, I experienced, by the grace of God, a spiritual awakening that was to lead me to a richer, fuller, and more productive life.  At that time, in gratitude, I humbly asked to be given the means and privilege to make others happy through music.”  John Coltrane believed that “you can improve as a player by improving as a person,” and he believed that a transformation such as that only came through humble reliance upon God’s grace.  After his 1957 encounter with God’s grace, Coltrane would often speak of his playing as a prayer.  “That’s what music is to me,” he told his wife.  He would write of how his playing was an offering of thanksgiving to God.  Many of his albums and compositions after 1957 were clearly influenced by his Christian faith, most notably his classic A Love Supreme.       





“Will Franklin, Your father loves you!

28 09 2008

 

I was frantic!  It was my twin son’s ninth birthday and I had made a promise, tickets to a concert by Steven Curtis Chapman.  There was one problem, as a single father, I had neither the time nor the funds to keep the promise I had made.  Now, on their birthday AND the day of the concert I finally had the money and we headed off to Chattanooga for our tickets and to see Steven Curtis Chapman.  There was just one problem, I was now at the fourth ticket outlet and was being told, once again, that the concert was sold out.   I explained to the lady at the counter how I had made a promise to my sons and how disappointed they would be but she explained there was nothing which she could do.  So, we turned and started out the door and back to Georgia.  “Sir!  Sir!  Wait, I have three tickets here for store employees and, well, no one wants them.  Would you like them?”  So, God smiled on a Dad and his twin sons that day and we not only ended up with tickets but we ended up with center aisle seventh row tickets, backstage passes …. For FREE!

 

I often think of that day and smile.  In my memories I remember meeting Steven Curtis Chapman and how gracious he was.  I remember seeing HIS two sons playing and how close they were to my boy’s age.  I remember explaining to him what we had been through that day and him smiling and handing me a free t-shirt.  I still have that t-shirt.  It reminds me of a kind lady, a merciful God, and a famous musician who took time to show some grace to a stranger.  Scripture teaches that those who understand the grace they have been given by their Heavenly Father are the ones who most easily are able to be gracious themselves.

 

Recently, I turned on my television for one of those morning news programs and there was Steven but what caught my eye more was the young man behind him playing his guitar.  Caleb is the older of Chapman’s two sons and was one of those little boys I had first seen playing backstage alongside my own sons so many years ago.  He is no longer a boy but now a man, if not because of age certainly because of the tragic turn his life, and the lives of his family, had recently taken.

 

On May 21st of this last spring the Chapman family was celebrating, celebrating a birthday, a graduation, and an engagement.  However, as most know by now, tragedy struck on that day when Caleb’s younger brother, Will Franklin accidentally hit his younger sister, Maria, with one of the family cars.  Caleb ran and held his little sister in his arms as she took her last unassisted breath.  Soon, Steven and other family members began to apply first aid, medical assistance would arrive, and Maria was rushed to the hospital.  The family would explain latter that by the time Maria was flown by life flight to a nearby Nashville hospital, they held out little hope.  Steven and his wife Mary Beth quickly headed by car to the hospital.  Caleb, who had just held his sister before she died, was now holding his brother who had been driving the car when it hit Maria.  Somewhere in the trauma and madness of all that was occurring Steven Curtis Chapman glanced at the scene of his two boys and stopped the car to yell out the window, “Will Franklin,  your father loves you!” and then he was gone. 

 

 

Indeed, those who have encountered grace at the core of their being understand it at a level that those who have never known it can not imagine.  It does not come out in simplistic platitudes or through thoughtless “Sunday School” answers but rather as a natural flow from the center of who you are.  Like a simple, but kind, act to a father struggling to give his boys a meaningful birthday.  Like a Father, who in the midst of unspeakable tragedy, stops to remind his son that he is loved.    

 

 

 





What Can I Do For You?

2 08 2008

 

For a few months now, on and off, I have been reading The True Bonds of Christian Freedom written in 1645 by the puritan Samuel Bolton.  Last night, as I was coming to the end of the book, Bob Dylan’s song What Can I Do for You? from his 1980 album Saved came to mind.  Dylan takes a few poetic stanzas to say what Bolton expounds upon in his book.  When we encounter the transforming power of God’s grace in our lives duty becomes pleasure, obligation becomes offering, and performance becomes praise. Only those who have not encountered the freedom of grace continue to try to earn God’s favor under the taskmaster of legalism.

 

“You have given everything to me.

What can I do for You?

You have given me eyes to see.

What can I do for You?”

 

Dylan begins with the chorus and asks a question whose answer is obvious.  When we encounter love in all its truth and purity there is only one natural and true response to it and that is self sacrificing love to the One whose love we have encountered.

 

“Pulled me out of bondage and You made me renewed inside,

Filled up a hunger that had always been denied,

Opened up a door no man can shut and You opened it up so wide

And you’ve chosen me to be among the few.

What can I do for You?

 

You have laid down Your life for me.

What can I do for You?

You have explained every mystery.

What can I do for You?”

 

The song then moves from the truth of grace that has been encountered and transformational response which it brings to showing the complexities of sin and the depth of our separation from God’s grace.

 

“Soon as a man is born, you know the sparks begin to fly,

He gets wise in his own eyes and he’s made to believe a lie.

Who would deliver him from the death he’s bound to die?

Well, You’ve don it all and there’s no more anyone can pretend to do.

What can I do for You?

 

You have given all there is to give.

What can I do for You?

You have given me life to live.

How can I live for you?”

 

While I love this song, I believe the most moving verse comes at the end.  Dylan makes that point that true grace is so powerful that we can do nothing else but stand against all odds to proclaim it ourselves.

 

“I know all about poison, I know all about fiery darts,

I don’t care how rough the road is, show me where it starts,

Whatever pleases You, tell it to my heart.

Well, I don’t deserve it but I sure did make it through

What can I do for You?”

 

We don’t ask what we can do to earn God’s favor if we have encountered grace because we know His favor rest in Christ. When we have encountered His grace and, as sons and daughters of God, look up to experience our Father’s loving grace as it rest upon us, we cry out from the depths of our being and ask a question which can not be contained – “What can I do for You Lord?  I need to know.  I long to know!  What can I do for You?

Go to my “Current Tunes” page to see Bob Dylan perform this song.   

 

 

 





When Love Comes to Town

15 04 2008

The U2 – BB King song “When Love Comes to Town”, first released on U2’s Rattle and Hum album, tells a story of one who unmistakably understands their own depravity and need for grace.  However, the song goes beyond an  understanding of one’s human depravity and need for divine grace because the core of it is to tell the story of how once grace has been truly encountered it transforms from the inside out.

The song begins with the imagery of a sailor lost at sea who can only be rescued by an outside force bigger than himself and his abilities.  A sailor, by the very nature of who he is, is expected to know his location at sea and be able to find safety and his way home.  So the song, from the first line, shows clearly that there are actions which we take that can only be fixed by the love of a merciful God.

In the second verse the song moves from the abstract to the more concrete.  A young male lover tells how he betrays love in order to fulfill his sexual desires.  The writer uses the imagery of white and a wedding gown to reveal the level of  innocence which was betrayed.  This was a young man making empty promises to an innocent girl with no intention of fulfilling them.  His only aim is to receive what he desires at the expense of another.

In the final verse we see that we are not only completely lost, not only are we capable of the betrayal of the love of another, but we are at our core sinners who have betrayed the very God who provides the love which can redeem us.

“I was there when they crucified my Lord – I held the scabbard when the soldier drew his sword  – I threw the dice when they pierced His side – But I’ve seen love conquer the great divide.”

So, where is the grace here you maybe asking?  Grace is in the chorus.  It is between the sin, surrounding the sin.  What an amazing chorus it is because it masterfully reveals not only that love can redeem us from our sin but when we encounter grace it transforms us.  Once we have known divine love we become defined by it.  In just one line King and U2 show us the power of God’s grace. 

“But I did what I did before love came to town”

What I did before I encountered grace is gone, forgiven, redeemed.  However, the implication goes even beyond that because, now that love has come, I know better.  I am better.  I am better not because of anything I have done or can do but because of what Christ has done for me.  When love comes to town those who are lost become found.  When love comes to town our most sinful actions are forgiven.  When love comes to town our sin is laid upon the Savior.  When love comes to town we are changed and we will never again be as we were.





Cash Got Grace

4 03 2008

johnny-cash-hurt     

     On November 2, 1967 I was two years old and my grandfather owned a Texaco station in Lafayette Georgia, right down the road from the Walker County jail where Sheriff Ralph Jones had arrested and incarcerated one of America’s most famous musicians, Johnny Cash.  It was huge news in the small North Georgia town, and a story I heard repeated numerous times as I grew up.  I can still hear my Uncle Kenneth today, “You know, I know people who have stayed in the same cell that they put Johnny Cash in.”

     The remainder of his life Cash would point to that jail cell as the place where he accepted his inability to control his behavior and began to understand the gracious nature of God.  Before coming to Lafayette, Cash constantly switched his trust from drugs to his own inner strength.  However, sitting in a jail cell created by his own sin, he was reminded to trust in God’s grace working through him.  Two days after his release Cash walked down the isle of a church in Hendersonville, Tennessee and dedicated his life to Christ. 

     Can I tell you something which has always bothered me and I have never quite understood?  A lot of Christians I grew up around didn’t like Johnny Cash; in fact, a good many insisted that he was never a Christian at all.  He spoke, wrote, and sang about salvation found in Christ for almost forty years.  One of his closest friends was Billy Graham the most famous preacher of his lifetime.  But still, he drove many fellow believers crazy.  Why?  Well, although Cash was a Christian he was never religious.  While he and Billy Graham were indeed close, he had other friends also; friends such as Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, and Kris Kristofferson.  Although he sang about Christ, he also sang about sin, pain, and loneliness.  Cash ‘got’ grace and, to be perfectly honest, grace can drive the religious crazy sometimes.  For this reason, I believe, allot of ‘Christians’ didn’t like Cash very much.  His authenticity and honesty made the religious look, for lack of a better word, hypocritical, and religious hypocrites tend to not like it when they are revealed for who they really are.

     Denis Haack writes that “Cash never hid the myriad struggles in his life – addiction, divorce, failure – but faced them with disarming honesty.”  He “believed in grace, because he had experienced it, in his marriage to June Carter, in agonizing recovery from addiction, and supremely in Christ, whom he worshiped as Lord and Savior.”

    

     On the cover of one of his last recordings Johnny Cash stands with one dog at his right and another at his left.  One is black with a white stripe and the other is white with a black stripe.  Cash named them after the two dynamic forces of each of our lives:  Sin and Redemption.  He told Rolling Stone, “When I was really bad, I was not all bad.  When I was trying to be good, I could never be all good.  There would be a black stripe going through.”  Sounds a lot like Romans chapter seven to me.  Sounds like a man who ‘got’ grace, a man who understood that each of us are sinners saved only because of the gracious gift of a merciful God.  I wish more of us understood the gospel as well as this frail, fallen, sinful man did.  Johnny Cash ‘got’ grace, have you?

*Resources used for this post were:  The Man Called Cashby Steve Turner.  “Johnny Cash Clouded by Pain, Colored by Grace.”  by Denis Haack in By Faith July/August, 2005. “Cash Talks Love, God and Murder” Rolling Stone, June 30, 2000.  For more about Johnny Cash you can go to my “Great Lives” page.