And now for something special.
Today, the 28th of July, is the 28th anniversary of the day Keith Green was killed in a plane crash at the young age of 28. Keith Green was one of those lights that burned bright and fast. In the brief years that he lived as a follower of Jesus, he wrote some of the best worship music of the 1970s, he influenced greats like Bob Dylan and Rich Mullins, and he inspired thousands of people to head out to the mission field. He also played a mean piano.
If you’re 40 or older, you will probably remember Keith as a zealous recording artist who wore his convictions on his sleeve. If you’re younger than 40 you may at least be aware that Keith wrote some of the songs we sing in church, classics like O Lord, You’re Beautiful and Create in Me a Clean Heart.
Keith Green was a firebrand for Jesus. People used to compare him to John the Baptist, and not just because of his passion. Keith had little time for hypocrites. Keith was very open and honest about his personal struggles, but if you weren’t on fire for Jesus, he was going to let you know what he thought about that! He was famous for saying things like this:
“If your heart takes more pleasure in reading novels, or watching TV, or going to the movies, or talking to friends, rather than just sitting alone with God and embracing him, sharing his cares and his burdens, weeping and rejoicing with him, then how are you going to handle forever and ever in his presence? You’d be bored to tears in heaven, if you’re not ecstatic about God now!”
Keith stepped on a few toes when he started holding concerts for free. He then proceeded to jump on those same toes by claiming that Christian musicians who charged for their concerts or Christian bookshops who sold records for profit were sinning. How could you put a price-tag on the gospel? Keith had strong convictions about things and those who didn’t share his convictions were likely to be judged guilty of compromising.
Of course Christian young people just loved it! Those who were too young to notice – myself included – got fired up about these things later when reading about Keith in the book No Compromise. We wanted to be as sold out and radical as he was.
But what many people don’t know was that Keith’s zeal often led to crushing disappointment with his own perceived failings. He’d promise God that he was going to pray for an hour or read five chapters of the Bible before breakfast and then, when he’d slept in late, he would be devastated at having let God down. Like many zealous Christians, Keith based his relationship with God on his own performance. If he didn’t “feel” right with God then he believed he wasn’t right. This self-centered view sometimes blinded him to the love of God. He once confided to a friend, “Sometimes I’m not sure if God loves me” (No Compromise, p.355).
Happily, in the final year of his life, Keith the Firebrand encountered the grace of a loving God who accepted him just the way he was. He met John Dawson, of YWAM fame, and through that relationship began to re-discover the love of Christ. As his wife Melody tells in The Keith Green Story, Keith softened and began to rethink his approach to ministry. He wrote letters apologizing to those he had offended, including those profiteering Christian book-sellers:
“My desire to not exclude anyone, has not decreased at all… I hope you can understand that I am a man of principle, and yet, like a pendulum, I have a tendency to go too far to make a point. I fear that in the past I have done just that.” (No Compromise, p.352)
Without compromising his beliefs, Keith became a giver of grace. Relationships were restored and he knew real peace. Having encountered the Father-heart of God, Keith released his final, and most worship-oriented album of all, Songs for the Shepherd. Remember, this was 1982, years before most Christian recording artists started releasing worship albums.
One of the songs on that album is There is a Redeemer. This song was originally written by Melody Green in the late 1970s. When she and Keith went to record Songs for the Shepherd, she introduced him to her song by singing these now-famous lyrics:
There is a Redeemer,
Jesus, God’s own Son,
Precious Lamb of God, Messiah,
Oh, Holy One!
Thank you O my Father,
For giving us Your Son,
And leaving Your Spirit,
‘Til the work on earth is done.
As Melody remembers in No Compromise (p.327), Keith loved the song but wanted to make it longer. Within a few minutes he had come up with the following verse:
When I stand in Glory,
I will see His face,
And there I’ll serve my King forever,
In that holy place.
Five short months later Keith was standing in Glory, seeing his Father face-to-face.
About 10 years ago I watched a film of Keith Green leading a Bible study. I guess it was recorded after his grace-awakening because he just shone with the peace of God. I recall he said something like this:
“When I was a new believer, people used to call me a prophet, and I liked that label. But after a while I began to realize that being a ‘prophet’ was just an excuse for being moody. I don’t want to be known as a prophet. I just want to be a Christian.”
Me too. Whatever your talent or field of expertise, whatever your ministry or platform, to be recognized by others as a follower of Christ is just about the greatest honor there is.