Nothing Lasts Except the Grace of God; A Tribute to the Life & Music of Keith Green
I’m nearly 40 and have been living as a grown-up for what feels like a long time. Rushing to work with a mind full of the day’s obligations and deadlines—and feeling the weight of it all, I received reprieve in a wonderful encounter with my eleven-year-old self.
Really, it was the prodding of the Holy Spirit—reminding me of my 6th grade faith and a musical artist who spoke deeply into my life at that time. For the briefest of moments I longed to listen to his music again and didn’t know how—the cassettes and ghetto-blasters of 1989 as much a part of history as my CD collection. But then I remembered Spotify; And I time-traveled.
I found it hard to believe
Someone like you cared for me
You put this love in my heart
I tried but could not refuse
You gave me no time to choose
You put this love in my heart *1
In my listening history, before Bobby Brown demanded his rights in My Prerogative or Bobby McFerrin shrugged his shoulders in resignation with Don’t Worry Be Happy, there was Keith Green worshiping God telling me to give myself fully to Christ—and to others.
Open up open up
And give yourself away…
You see the need; you hear the cries
So how can you delay? *2
The messages (really doctrine) I received through music at the time in my life were not only conflicting—but oppositional—and while I jammed to New Edition and its spin-off acts and marveled at McFerrin’s talent, it is the lyrics and life of Keith Green who resonate.
Give Yourself Away
Despite his incredible musical talent and enthralling performances—after his conversion to Christianity, he was intentional about deflecting the glory that came his way to Christ. He wrote songs of praise and contemporary hymns but my favorites are the songs to the church. So often they are searing indictments of Christian believers who refuse to live a life worthy of their calling.
I’m thinking of Asleep in the Light—and the plea to Christians to care about the lost. The admonition given to believers who say “God bless you! Be in peace!” to those who are suffering, but hypocritically have no intention of being a blessing or providing a means for peace. Keith Green literally asks his (mostly Churchy) audience through song How can you sin such sin? And then he answers for them, “The world is sleeping in the dark that the church just can’t fight because it’s asleep in the light. (Then, mournfully) How can you be so dead, when you’ve been so well fed…?”
The precursor to that song—at least on my cassette, was the theatrical and theological masterpiece set to a jubilant piano melody that transitions to a dark and ominous minor key, inspiring both joy and terror.
The Sheep & The Goats is profound in its simplicity but wonderfully complex in its delivery and concept. Green is narrating a passage of scripture, mostly verbatim, from Matthew 25:31-46. The sheep represent those who live lives marked with the scars of loving others—feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned. At the end, they learn the care and love shown to others was actually done to Christ and for that, they receive an eternal reward.
The goats represent those who lived the life that Bobby Brown was extolling in the aforementioned hit. Sadly, the extent to which they did not serve others was the same as not serving Christ and for that they receive eternal punishment. The only difference between the two groups, Green dramatically points out, is what they did and didn’t do.
The subtext is that “believing in Jesus” (a phrase we Christians like to bandy about) is not so much about acknowledging his existence (both the sheep and goats know Jesus is real) but obedience to his instructions. Can you sense the conviction produced by the truth of his lyrics?!
When All Is Said & Done
He’s been likened to John the Baptist in older media clips and it’s easy to see why. His curly 1980’s hair, massive beard and passion for preaching that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand—encouraging all to repent, believe and live was reminiscent of the prophet who emerged from the wilderness—both beloved and despised. But there’s another characteristic both men share—and it grieves me to this day.
John was beheaded at the request of an impressionable little girl, and a man who played such a pivotal role in ushering in God’s promised Messiah was gone to the disillusionment of many.
On July 28, 1982 Keith Green, his four-year-old son Josiah, two-year-old daughter Bethany, visiting church planters John and Dede Smalley, their six children and the pilot of a small two-engine Cessna 414, planned to enjoy an aerial tour of their Texas ranch. The heavily-loaded plane barely got off the ground and when it made impact, the fireball could be seen for miles. No one survived.
Fans around the world mourned and wondered at the loss of such a blazing talent—but none more than his wife and musical collaborator Melody Green, who remained home that day with their one-year-old daughter Rebekah and was four weeks pregnant with a child who would learn of her dad’s incredible impact—in part the way I did—through his vast musical collection and video recordings.
You see, by the time my dad introduced me to the music of Keith Green and my young heart was being transformed by his lyrics— he’d been dead for seven years.
Separate me from this world Lord.
Sanctify my life for you.
Daily change me to your image,
Help me bear good fruit.
Every day you're drawing closer.
Trials come to test my faith.
But when all is said and done Lord,
You know, it was worth the wait. *3
He was 28 years old when he died—but he left behind a legacy of ministry gold pointing to the One he had come to love. And that’s why the music of Keith Green still speaks—even 35 years after his death. His music wasn’t about temporal trivialities like fame, wealth or sex--but focused on the ever-present reality of the person of Jesus Christ. The chasm between the two is too vast to quantify.
Rediscovering my affinity for Keith Green’s music that busy workday blessed others too. Later that afternoon, ubering my children around town I had a chance to engage their minds and hearts with the Sheep and the Goats and later the Prodigal Son Suite and our newest bedtime song, You Are The One.
Oh that God would raise up artists, writers, speakers, poets, preachers, teachers—who boldly and with great love communicate the story of the Redeemer who came to save!
“The only music minister to whom the Lord will say, “Well done, thy good and faithful servant,” is the one whose life proves what their lyrics are saying and to whom music is the least important part of their life. Glorying the only worthy One has to be a minister’s most important goal.” –Keith Green
Read Keith Green’s biography by Melody Green, “No Compromise: The Life Story of Keith Green” https://www.amazon.com/No-Compromise-Story-Keith-Green/dp/1595551646
*1 You Put This Love In My Heart
*2 The Sheep And The Goats
* 3 Rushing Wind
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"Lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily entangles and run with endurance the race set before you. "