|OUNTRY MUSIC IS changing. If when you hear the term "country," you immediately picture an endless number of stories about countless ways to get drunk and leave your wife, you couldn't be more wrong.|
How do I know? Well, I have a confession to make. I'm a Christian and I listen almost exclusively to country music. Why? Because it ministers deeply to me in a way that "Christian" music doesn't.
Let me give you some examples. Here are some of the lyrics from the hit song titled "Three Wooden Crosses," by veteran country singer-and Christian-Randy Travis. The first time I heard this song I wept. I think you may too.
"A farmer and a teacher, a hooker and a preacher, ridin' on a midnight bus bound for Mexico. One's headed for vacation, one for higher education, an' two of them were searchin' for lost souls. That driver never ever saw the stop sign. An' eighteen wheelers can't stop on a dime.
"There are three wooden crosses on the right side of the highway, why there's not four of them, heaven only knows. I guess it's not what you take when you leave this world behind you, It's what you leave behind you when you go."
That song has always caused me to think about why I do what I do, how I spend my time and what sort of impact I am making on those with whom I come in contact on a daily basis.
I believe "Three Wooden Crosses" is one of the most powerful songs of our generation. I have a suspicion that there might be some people who will have a place in heaven because of the powerful ministry of that song, and even more who were encouraged toward a deeper walk with the Lord.
Then how about Josh Turner's current hit "Me and God." There have been days of deep discouragement when I've cranked up the stereo in the car and listened to Josh Turner belt out these awesome words (which are encouraging me even as I'm writing this. Yes, I'm in need of lots of encouragement today).
Josh sung, "There ain't nothing that can't be done by me and God. Ain't nobody gonna come between me and God. One day we'll live together where the angels trod- me and God.
"He my Father and He's my friend. The beginning and the end. He rules the world with the staff and rod. We're a team, me and God."
Wow, think again about what Josh is singing - God's Word. And he's not just sharing with a few small select groups and on Christian radio stations, but on huge country stations and in large auditoriums reaching hundreds of thousands of people all around the nation and even worldwide.
And then there's the beautiful Martina McBride song "Anyway." How many times have you prayed and things didn't turn out like you hoped?. Perhaps after doing so a number of times you thought, "What's the point?"
Well, listen to these words from Martina. They hit me right where I'm at. Have you ever been there too?
"God is great but sometimes life ain't good. And when I pray it doesn't always turn out like I think it should, but I do it anyway."
Martina continued, "You can spend your whole life buildin' something from nothin.' One storm could come and blow it all away. Build it anyway. You could chase a dream that seems so out of reach and you know it might not ever come your way. Dream it anyway."
What terrific words of encouragement. As I was reading them I was reminded of the verse from God's Word that reads, "Without a vision the people perish." How true that is. You need something to set your sights on and look forward to.
I remember that one year after starting Joy Junction Homeless Shelter I was given the opportunity to double our capacity by using a formerly abandoned building located on the same property. I was so excited and made the mistake of sharing my enthusiasm with the wrong person.
That individual looked at me and caustically said, "And how are you going to pay for it? You're having a hard enough time taking care of what you have."
It's true that everything could have come tumbling down around me, but I decided that I would do it anyway. And now just over 19 years later we have many more buildings than that one we added back in 1987.
But then there are always those times when things don't work out and while you know God still rules the world, it seems that the Rodney Atkins' song "If You're Going Through Hell" is a whole lot more helpful to you than anything else.
Here's some of what Rodney sung. I can certainly identify with the words as I think of some of the experiences I have gone though personally and professionally during the last couple of years.
"Well you know those times when you feel like there's a sign there on your back. Says 'I don't mind if ya kick me, seems like everybody has.' Things go from bad to worse. You'd think they can't get worse than that and then they do.
"You step off the straight and narrow and you don't know where you are. Use the needle of your compass to sew up your broken heart. Ask directions from a genie in a bottle of Jim Beam and she lies to you. That's when you learn the truth.
"If you're going through hell. Keep on going, don't slow down. If you're scared, don't show it. You might get out before the devil even knows you're there."
Ah, some of you may say, it doesn't say the Name of Jesus. How can you say that "ministers" to you? Because Rodney Atkins takes the pain of being a human being and dares to say what many of us have felt like doing even if we never have.
Recently, along with my friend and assistant Roseann Vona Page we taught a message at Joy Junction on the reality of hell. To graphically illustrate the teaching I was dressed up in a devil costume and Roseann was clad as an angel. As I made the way around the building trying to illustrate the temptations offered by the devil, "If You're Going Through Hell" were booming out from the loudspeakers.
And as Rodney sang the words, " Ask directions from a genie in a bottle of Jim Beam and she lies to you. That's when you learn the truth," there was a whole lot of nodding and recognition in the audience. They knew just what he was talking about. What a powerful song!
Then think about Alan Jackson's song "Monday Morning Church" It's been my experience that the church as a whole doesn't do a very good job of ministering to divorced people. It seems that those who do take the plunge and try and talk to those individuals experiencing separation or divorce either end up embarrassed and tongue tied, or trotting out Scriptural "comfort" so glibly that it comes across as pious platitudes.
With that in mind, who could address the pain of a divorced man better than Alan Jackson does in the touching and poignant song, "Monday Morning Church."
Alan sung, "You left your Bible on the dresser so I put it in the drawer, cause I can't seem to talk to God without yelling anymore. And when I sit at your piano I can almost hear those hymns. The keys are just collecting dust, but I can't close the lid.
"You left my heart as empty as a Monday morning church. It used to be so full of faith and now it only hurts. And I can hear the devil whisper, 'Things are only getting worse.' You left my heart as empty as a Monday morning church.
"The preacher came by Sunday said he missed me at the service. He told me told me Jesus loves me but I'm not sure I deserve it. Cause the faithful man that you loved is nowhere to be found, since they took all that he believed and laid it in the ground."
That song just touches the very core of my being. When a relationship breaks up or is going through a rough patch, haven't we all wanted to yell at God? And if we're honest, many of us have heard and believed the devil's whisper, "Things are only getting worse."
The analogy that Alan uses is so powerful. We all know how empty a church is on Monday morning. It's totally dead and lifeless, just like a defunct relationship. Even though I have heard this song countless times it still touches me profoundly every time I listen to it. Why? Because I identify with what Alan is singing about, just like I suspect many of you reading do also.
Country music also addresses so well the agony of losing a spouse in death. I remember the first time I heard this beautiful song by Mark Wills that I cried and cried. And then I played it again and again, and cried more and more. Read the words and I think you will quickly see what I mean.
It's called, "Wish You Were Here," and begins "They kissed goodbye at the terminal gate. She said, 'You're gonna be late if you don't go.' He held her tight, said, 'I'll be alright. I'll call you tonight to let you know.' He bought a postcard, on the front it just said heaven. With a picture of the ocean and the beach and the simple words he wrote her, said he loved her and they told her how he'd hold her if his arms would reach.
"Wish you were here, wish you could see this place. Wish you were near, I wish I could touch your face. The weather's nice, it's paradise. It's summertime all year and there's some folks we know. They say, 'Hello, I miss you so, wish you were here.'"
Then Mark delivers the news. "She got a call that night but it wasn't from him. It didn't sink in right away, 'Ma'am the plane went down. Our crews have searched the ground. No survivors found,' she heard him say. But somehow she got a postcard in the mail. That just said heaven with a picture of the ocean and the beach. And the simple words he wrote her. Said he loves and they told her how he'd love her if his arms would reach."
How many times do we bid a spouse, children or another family member a cursory good bye and take it for granted that we'll see them later that day or sometime soon? Every time I hear these heart wrenching lyrics I am always reminded to tell the loved ones in my life that I love them, because it may end up being the last opportunity that I get to do so while on this earth.
This next song I heard for the first time a few weeks ago and fell in love with it right away. It could be applied equally to our relationship with a loved one as well as with our Heavenly Father. It's called "In This Life" and sung by Collin Raye.
"For all I've been blessed with in this life there was an emptiness in me. I was imprisoned by the power of gold but one honest touch could set me free. Let the world stop turnin',let the sun stop burnin'. Let them tell me love's not worth going through. If it all falls apart I will know deep in my heart only dream that mattered had come true. In this life, I was loved by you."
Why do I like country music? Because it deals in a gut wrenchingly honest way with relationships-both of the human kind and the relationship we have with our Heavenly Father. And relationships are what life is all about. There is nothing else that we can take to heaven with us.
So if you haven't tried country music give it a listen. While there are admittedly still some beer drinking songs, I think you'll be very pleasantly surprised at what you find.
© 2007 ASSIST News Service, used with permission.
Jeremy Reynalds is a freelance writer and the founder and director of Joy Junction, New Mexico's largest emergency homeless shelter. He has a master's degree in communication from the University of New Mexico, and a Ph.D. in intercultural education from Biola University in Los Angeles. His newest book is "Homeless in the City: A Call to Service." Additional details about "Homeless" are available at http://www.HomelessBook.com He lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
More columns by Jeremy Reynalds