Jesus doesn’t sell

Many of today’s “Christian” songs aren’t about Christ. Or even about God.

They are all about you. And me. Just like “secular” songs are.

It’s hard to find God on the radio.

I listened to our local Christian radio station one recent morning. The playlist included songs such as these:

Contemporary Christian songs

I Am Waiting – John Waller

I’m waiting
I’m waiting on You, Lord
And I am hopeful
I’m waiting on You, Lord
Though it is painful
But patiently, I will wait

I will move ahead, bold and confident
Taking every step in obedience

While I’m waiting
I will serve You
While I’m waiting
I will worship
While I’m waiting
I will not faint
I’ll be running the race
Even while I wait …

The emphasis is on the songwriter, who is waiting, not on God, whose timing may differ from ours.

Or, this one:

Something Beautiful – Need to Breathe

In your ocean, I’m ankle deep
I feel the waves crashin’ on my feet
It’s like I know where I need to be
But I can’t figure out, yeah I can’t figure out

Just how much air I will need to breathe
When your tide rushes over me
There’s only one way to figure out
Will ya let me drown, will ya let me drown

Hey now, this is my desire
Consume me like a fire, ’cause I just want something beautiful
To touch me, I know that I’m in reach
‘Cause I am down on my knees, I’m waiting for something beautiful
Oh, something beautiful …

“…this is my desire …” Not God’s desire, but mine. This is little more than pop psychology.

Does the songwriter really think God will let him drown? He doesn’t know God very well if he does. God may push us off the deep end, but He will provide the lifeboat. The Bible says so. In so many words.

I also heard this one:

Everything Comes Alive – We Are Messengers

In the mirror all that I see
Is Your grace looking back at me
I’m not the man that I used to be

You are the song, You are the song
Rising from my heart

Everything comes alive
Everything comes alive
Everything comes alive
In You

In the evening when my bones are tired
You’re my strength and my heart’s desire
You’re the light when the sun expires

I remember how far I’ve come
I’m not lost with You I’m home
I didn’t find You on my own

I’m made alive
Now I’m by Your side
I’ve come alive
I’ve come alive …

We assume that because this song plays on a Christian radio station, it’s about God. But God is not mentioned in the song. It could be about a girlfriend. Look at the lyrics that way. It could fit.

That thought also applies to this song:

How Sweet the Sound – Citizen Way

Yea though I walk through the valley
I know that You are always right beside me
And I will fear no evil
You’re my rock and my strength
You comfort me

Amazing grace how sweet the sound
I hear You singing over me
I once was lost but now I’m found
And it’s beautiful
Amazing grace how sweet the sound
It covers every part of me
My soul is silent, I am found
And it’s a beautiful sound
It’s a beautiful, beautiful sound …

Here’s another one that’s all about the singer, about you and me:

Fix My Eyes – For King & Country

I’d love like I’m not scared
Give when it’s not fair
Live life for another
Take time for a brother
Fight for the weak ones
Speak out for freedom
Find faith in the battle
Stand tall but above it all
Fix my eyes on You
On You

I learned the lines and talked the talk
(Everybody knows it, everybody knows it)
But the road less traveled is hard to walk
(Everybody knows it, everybody knows)
It takes a soldier
Who knows his orders
to walk the walk I’m supposed to walk

And love like I’m not scared
Give when it’s not fair
Live life for another
Take time for a brother
Fight for the weak ones
Speak out for freedom
Find faith in the battle
Stand tall but above it all …

It’s like I’m my own savior. I have to look in the right places and do the right things.

What if I am scared? Does that mean I’m not a Christian?

Here’s one more:

You Lead – I’ll Follow, Jamie Grace

I’ve got waves that are tossin’ me,
Crashin’ all over my beliefs,
And in all sincerity, Lord,
I wanna be yours,
So pull me out of this mess I’m in,
Cause I know I’m wanderin’
Lead my soul back home again,
I’ve always been yours,

And this world may push, may pull,
But your love it never fails,

You lead, I’ll follow, Your hands hold my tomorrow,
Your grip, Your grace, You know the way,
You guide me tenderly,
When you lead, I’ll follow,
Just light the way and I’ll go,
Cause I know what you got for me is more than I can see,
So lead me on, on, on and on,
Just lead me on, on, on and on …

At least she said “Lord” in the third line. Otherwise, this could be written about a boyfriend. (Do we worship our boyfriends/girlfriends? Be honest.)

It’s no wonder Christianity is hard to follow. It’s hard to find in today’s pop culture, even among Christians.

My college roommate put together a cassette (yes, a cassette) of songs from several artists written about four decades ago. Here’s a sample. Hint: You won’t hear any of these on the radio, or in a worship set on Sunday morning. Not because the music is old-fashioned – but because the lyrics actually challenge the thinking and lifestyle of followers of Christ.

For example:

Older Christian songs

Too Late – Amy Grant

… Oh, the time has come for making a decision,
And you say you’ve found the light.
But the talk is cheap when I see the way you’re living,
Walking in the night.

Well, it’s too late for walking in the middle,
Too late to try.
Yes, it’s too late for sitting in the balance,
No more middle line.

Oh, it’s too late for thinking you can walk the middle line.
Better get wise.

You may think that you can live by your feelings,
Different every night.
But an emotional religion will crumble at our feet,
We’re made to stand and fight.

Well, it’s too late for walking on fences,
Time to choose you side.
Yes, it’s too late for flirtin’ with the darkness,
Make up your mind.

Well, it’s too late for thinking you can walk the middle line
Better get wise …

Amy Grant wrote this before she went pop.

Keith Green is one of my favorite Christian artists. He died in a plane crash in 1982. Here are two of his best (in my opinion):

To Obey is Better than Sacrifice – Keith Green

To obey is better than sacrifice
I don’t need your money, I want your life
And I hear you say that I’m coming back soon
But you act like I’ll never return

Well you speak of grace and my love so sweet
How you thrive on milk but reject my meat
And I can’t help weeping at how it will be
If you keep on ignoring my words
Well you pray to prosper and succeed
But your flesh is something I just can’t feed

To obey is better than sacrifice
I want more than Sundays and Wednesday nights
‘Cause if you can’t come to me every day
Then don’t bother coming at all …

Or how about this one, written from Satan’s viewpoint. Blatantly:

No One Believes In Me Any More – Keith Green

Oh, my job keeps getting easier as time keeps slipping away
I can imitate the brightest light and make your night look just like day
I put some truth in every lie to tickle itching ears
You know I’m drawing people just like flies
‘Cause they like what they hear

I’m gaining power by the hour they’re falling by the score
You know, it’s getting very simple now
Since no one believes in me anymore

Oh, heaven’s just a state of mind; my books read on your shelf
And have you heard that God is dead? I made that one up myself
They dabble in magic spells; they get their fortunes read
You know they heard the truth but turned away
And they followed me instead

I used to have to sneak around but now they just open their doors
You know, no one’s watching for my tricks
Since no one believes in me anymore …

Another of my favorite musicians is Don Francisco, a true storyteller. If you want songs on how to live a Christian lifestyle, try these two:

I Don’t Care Where You’ve Been Sleeping – Don Francisco

I loved you long before the time your eyes first saw the day
And everything I’ve done has been to help you on the way
But you took all that you wanted then at last you took your leave,
And traded off a Kingdom for the lies that you believed

And although you’ve chosen darkness with its miseries and fears
Although you’ve gone so far from Me and wasted all these years
Even though my name’s been spattered by the mire in which you lie
I’d take you back this instant if you’d turn to Me and cry.

I don’t care where you’ve been sleeping, I don’t care who’s made your bed
I’ve already gave My life to set you free;
There’s no sin you could imagine that is stronger than my love,
And it’s all yours if you’ll come home again to Me …

Does that encourage you? It took me a long time to agree with that song, because I was judgmental of people living in sin. Until I realized that I’m living in sin too, even if my sins aren’t the specific ones this song mentions. And God loves me, even still.

Here’s a heart-stopper:

Steeple Song – Don Francisco

I don’t care how many buses you own
Or the size of your sanctuary
Doesn’t matter how steep
Your steeple is, if it’s sittin’ on a cemetery

I don’t care if you pave your parking lot
Or put pads upon your pews
What good is a picture perfect stage
If you’re missin’ all the cues

I don’t care if your pastor is super powered
And your program’s always new
What you need is love and truth
And men are gonna come to you

It doesn’t matter if you know the Bible
If it’s all just in your head
But the thing I need to ask you
Is have you done the things I said?

Do you love your wife?
For her and for and for your children
Are you layin’ down your life?
What about the others?

Are you livin’ as a servant
To your sisters and your brothers?
Do you make the poor man beg you for a bone?
Do the widow and the orphan cry alone?

I don’t care if you pray for miracles
I don’t care if you speak with tongues
I don’t care if you’ve said you love Me
In every song you’ve sung

It doesn’t matter if your sacrifice of praise
Is loud enough to raise the dead
The thing I need to ask you
Is have you done the things I said? …

You won’t hear this one on a Sunday morning. But is it truth? I would say yes.

Finding Jesus

None of these songs on either list mentions the name of Jesus. Even on a Christian radio station or in a Christian worship service, it’s hard to find Jesus.

And we wonder why the United States is going to hell in a handbasket.

Jesus does not sell. That’s why radio doesn’t play Him, and why no one writes about Him (any more).

It’s all about me, and my effort to find Jesus and the meaning of life. It’s about overcoming my struggles. Emphasis on me.

It’s not about the Jesus of the Bible, who died on the cross to offer eternal life to whomever accepts that gift. We don’t sing about His attributes; we sing about our failures and shortcomings.

I don’t know about you, but I already know my failings. They are many. You don’t have to convince me I’m a sinner, or that my life isn’t what it should be.

Instead, give me hope. Give me a reason to “live like I’m not scared.” Tell me about heaven. Jesus Christ. His life. His death. His resurrection.

Why are those themes not compelling, even among Christians?

Let’s look up.

It’s not about me. Please. If it is about me, I’m in big trouble.

Thankfully, God wants us to find Him. But we have to look outside of ourselves to see Him. It’s not about us waiting for Him, but about Him waiting for us. To look up. We’ve got it all backwards.

In the words of Rick Warren, founder and senior pastor of Saddleback Church in California, “It’s not about you.”

No more pop psychology, please. Just show me a little faith. Something to believe in.

Fantasy, reality often blur

Detroit Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera hits a two-run home run in 2013. (Associated Press file)

“Miguel Cabrera steps to the plate. Bases loaded, one out in the eighth inning, Tigers down by two. No place to put him.

“Cabrera takes ball one. Here comes the second pitch – a line drive over the shortstop’s head! Two runners score, tying the game. The Comerica Park faithful jump to their feet and praise their hero, who comes through again!”

Are you among those cheering when the Detroit Tigers first baseman gets another crucial hit?

If you root for the Tigers, yes.

If you love to see excellence in action, yes.

If he’s on your fantasy baseball team, yes.

… what was that last one?

For the uninitiated (including me), fantasy sports are all the rage these days. Not just baseball, but fantasy football and basketball are big too, as well as other sports.

During the NFL season last fall, we saw numerous ads for DraftKings and FanDuel – which are fantasy sports games. Participants pick their sport, then pick players they think will do well that night or that week. If the chosen player has a good game, the gambler wins money. If not, he loses.

Aficionados dropped millions – if not billions – on fantasy football, either through those sites or in private leagues set up by friends. Many people are involved in multiple leagues of their own making.

That’s not my thing, but it is for many diehard sports fans.


Among the younger set, video games are the “in” thing. Those are fantasy too, even though they aren’t labeled as such.

We did not have video games in our house when our three sons were growing up, but we aren’t naïve enough to think that our guys never played a video game at a friend’s house.

Is fantasy a good thing as an escape from our everyday lives?

That’s almost a moot question. We can hardly avoid it.

I was raised on fairy tales, in books and TV shows – Bugs Bunny, Cinderella, the Three Little Pigs, Thomas the Tank Engine, the Little Engine That Could, and many others.

“Fairy tales,” by definition, are fantasies.

Some of those stories had a moral to them. Many did not.

One of my favorite Saturday morning cartoons involved Road Runner. That high-flying rabbit (“beep beep”) escaping Wile E Coyote’s violent attempts to obliterate him time after time … would that even be allowed in today’s politically correct climate?

Here’s a clip:

Some people live most of their lives in a fantasy world. When we spend our lives texting while driving – ignoring the very real traffic conditions around us – we are putting ourselves and others in danger. Are we not willing to open our eyes to the world around us?

The world is not all evil to escape from. There’s plenty of beauty to behold, in nature and in people.

Do our presidential candidates even understand reality? Sometimes the lines get blurred. Really blurred.

las vegas

Here’s another one: the slogan “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.”

Oh, really now. When we engage in “fantasies” there, won’t they catch up to us back home?

What is reality, anyway?

It’s what exists. A job (or lack thereof), marriage and children, our bodies, our minds, our homes and vehicles and everything in them – lots of things. The people in our lives, whether we appreciate them or not.

Not everything that exists is visible. We know that air exists, even though we can’t see it. So is gravity. God exists too, and we don’t have to look very hard to see evidence of him. Really.

Reality is true whether you or I believe it or not. We breathe air. That does not depend on my belief or lack thereof. It just is.

But fantasy is part of life. We can’t escape it, nor should we, necessarily.

Yet when something fantasy becomes all too real and begins to define us, perhaps we’ve crossed a line. Sometimes it’s hard to know what’s real and what isn’t.

Talk with a friend. Lift your head up and look around. Read. (Not everything you read is real, so choose your books and publications wisely.)

Let Miguel Cabrera be your hero because he truly is, not because you’ve rented him on your fantasy team for a week or a season. Can you cheer for the Tigers – or any other team – if you have a fantasy team that consists of players from multiple “real” teams?

The Chicago Cubs haven’t won a baseball World Series since 1908. That’s real. They’re the favorites to do it this year. If the entire 25-man roster contributes, they could.

The roster includes substitutes who aren’t on anyone’s fantasy team. Those are the guys who will decide the World Series champion. The superstars don’t always hit or pitch with the season on the line. The middle reliever and the pinch-hitter have to do their part, too.

That’s reality. And that’s what makes baseball so much fun. It’s the little guys, the underdogs, the players who don’t get the headlines every night.

Like me, in my life. And you too. We will decide whether life is worth living. One person at a time.

Facing a challenge

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Every so often, I like a good challenge. I got one last week.

I drive a six-person van for a day program for people with developmental disabilities. One spot in the van is reserved for a person in a wheelchair.

Our company has a second vehicle, a bus that holds two wheelchairs and up to a dozen other people. I’ve driven it several times around town, mostly to a weekly outing at a bowling alley.

The phone rang about 5 a.m. last Thursday. My supervisor wanted me to drive the bus route that morning, picking up 10 people, including two in wheelchairs, at six homes.

Even though I’d never done that route before – I had never been to five of those six homes – I said, “Sure.”

Both of our vehicles contain a binder that includes detailed instructions on who to pick up each morning, and how to get to his/her/their house. I’m pretty good at following directions, so I spent a half-hour studying the route I would take, then started the engine and away I went.

At the second stop – I got there on time – I picked up our individual. His house is on a corner lot. I pulled into the driveway with the big bus; I was told I should stay on the street. Also, there’s a cul-de-sac I can turn around in, which I didn’t see because it was still dark when I picked him up.

I figured all that out on the afternoon drive home, when I dropped him off.

A couple of other times that morning, I missed a turn. Actually, I turned too soon, fearing that I would miss a turn. I didn’t trust the directions far enough. I know Lorain County well enough to figure out when I made a mistake, and was able to turn the bus around (not always easy) and get back on track.

I arrived at the day program with everyone I was supposed to pick up, a little late – but I got there.

Then, I took a deep breath.

I made it.

At my first stop, I picked up a man in a wheelchair. I pulled into his driveway, then had to do a three-point turn in the driveway to get out. I should have done the three-point turn before I loaded the individual on the bus, but that first time I didn’t – which made it harder for me to lower the wheelchair lift and get him in the bus.

Little tricks like that I learned on the fly. Again, I got it right when I took him home that afternoon.

I did the bus route for two days, while our regular bus driver was off.

Did I mention that the second day it rained? The route takes me on the Ohio Turnpike for a little bit. Rain coming down, water splashing up from passing semi-trucks – what fun! I hung out in the right lane and got to my next stop on time.

I’d be glad to do the bus route again, if ever I’m needed. I was stretched, and I learned. I hope this makes me a good employee.

The experience reminded me of my newspaper copy editor days at The Saginaw (Mich.) News. My favorite days were the mornings after a presidential election. Call me crazy, but those mornings were not normal.

My typical starting time was 6 a.m. each weekday. After a big election – besides the president, the ballot included numerous state and local races and tax requests – I got to the office at, oh, 3 a.m. Several reporters worked all night to get election results. Photographers did their thing. Our graphics guy made the results simple to read by listing candidates and their vote totals in charts, highlighting the winner in bold type.

The metro editors arrived in the wee hours to edit the stories and organize it all. Then, the copy desk came in to lay it all out on the appropriate pages.

The newspaper was much thicker the day after such an election. Most of these mornings were pre-Internet, so we were the best – and often only – source for the election results. (TV and radio covered the presidential and state races, of course, but most did not hit all the local elections that we did.)

I like to be pushed sometimes. I designed twice as many pages those mornings as I did on a regular shift.

When it was over and the paper was in the newsstands and on the way to our subscribers’ doorsteps, all of us in the newsroom took a deep breath and patted ourselves on the back for a job well done.

We were a team; each of us did our part, and did it well.

Our readers were the beneficiaries. We knew we had done something that mattered.

Even today, in the Internet age, newspapers are the primary source for local election results. The city where I live now doesn’t even have a local television station, or an all-news radio station.

So, we at the newspaper went beyond our normal job duties to provide that service to our readers. We were good.

Sometimes, life takes us outside our comfort zone. Don’t be afraid to go there. That’s how we learn. That’s when we find what we are truly made of, what we are capable of.

And that’s why it hurt so much when my newspaper job was eliminated, along with many others, and our team was broken up. We had something special, and it’s gone.

Time to make new memories, find new challenges.

When a challenge presents itself, step out in faith and accept it. The result: Everyone wins.