Keith Green was a talented musician, singer, and prolific songwriter. His poignant words illustrated a pure motive. His message was simple and yet profound. Seldom have I come across a Christian musician quite like him.
Green’s music lifts the spirit, and his words will inspire you to look deep within your soul. His songs provoke the conscience and can be convicting at times, like a sword piercing the heart. But his music can also quench the soul and comfort the spirit, like the staff of a loving Shepard leading you home. Green’s music penetrates deep beyond the ears, embracing the heart and galvanizing the soul.
A Voice Crying in the Wilderness
In a vast sea of cookie-cutter musicians performing under the banner of “Christian” artists, few boldly take the narrow path. Calling themselves Christ-followers, they produce a watered-down version of the Gospel. Their songs sound more like sanitized renditions of secular tunes than worship. With motives of fame and fortune, many get what they desire but miss out on the true reward.
Every so often, however, someone will be obedient to the call of God. His (or her) words will have an impact like “A voice of one calling: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD.’” Keith Green was one of those voices. He died on July 28, 1982, along with ten other people (including two of his young children) in a plane crash. Although Green has been with the Lord for over 30 years, his music is as relevant today as it has ever been.
Lyrics from the Keith Green song How Can They Live Without Jesus?:
“How can they live without Jesus? How can they live without God’s love? How can they feel so important down here, when there’s so much more up above? . . . So many laughing at Jesus, while the funniest thing that He’s done is love this whole stubborn, rebellious world, while their hate for Him just goes on. . . . “
The Sheep and the Goats
I was introduced to Green’s music in the early 80s when I was a new Christian. I remember attending a Bible study at my local church one evening, and I recall the pastor saying that he wanted us to listen to a song. I imagined I would hear a lovely hymn, like Handel’s Messiah—I was in for a surprise. The song began with a fast-paced piano solo, the notes sort of fluttering and the tempo was upbeat and lively; it reminded me of a carnival. My first thought was, “What in the world . . .?” and I bit my lip in an attempt to hold back from giggling. The piano intro lasted about 20 seconds and was followed by a voice, which also reminded me of a carnival. I imagined a person speaking through a bullhorn to get the attention of the crowds. But then I began to listen to the words of the song:
“And when the Son of Man comes — and all the holy angels with Him, then shall He sit on His glorious throne and He shall divide the nations before Him as a Shepard separates the sheep from the goats – and He shall put the sheep on His right but the goats on His left . . .”
I continued listening intently to the lively tune with the rest of the group. The music, sound of the voice, and the words all gleefully portrayed a jubilant image of Christ welcoming His followers, inviting them to enter into their rest and inheritance in God’s Kingdom:
“For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me something
to drink. I was naked, and you clothed me. I was a stranger, and you invited me in. I was sick, and I was in prison, and you came to me. . . . Enter into your rest. . . .”
I imagined the followers, portrayed as sheep, being wide-eyed and a bit befuddled when they answered; “When?” They wanted to know when they did all this for Christ. While they could remember doing these things for several people, they could not remember doing them for Christ.
“In as much as you’ve done these things for the least of my brethren, you’ve done them unto me.”
By this point, I’m pretty sure I was tapping my feet, feeling jubilant, and thinking, “What a fun song.” But then, something happened. A startling change in the tone, voice, and words of the song caught me off guard and surprised me once again. The tune changed from joyous to somber in the course of one note, as the song now portrayed a solemn image of Christ addressing the “goats.” These individuals were clearly not welcomed in the Kingdom, as Christ said to them:
“Depart from Me you cursed ones into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For, I was hungry, and you gave me nothing to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me nothing to drink. I was naked, out in the cold, and you sent me away. I was a stranger, and I knocked at your door, but you didn’t open, you told me to go away. I was sick, wrapped in pain upon my bed and I begged and prayed and pleated that you’d come, but you didn’t. I was in prison, and I rotted there. I prayed that you’d come. I heard your programs on the radio and read your magazines, but you never came. Depart from me.”
The goats had the same reaction as they sheep and asked; “When?”
“In as much as you’ve not done it to the least of my brethren, you’ve not done it unto me. Depart from me!”
The song continued with the sober message that the goats would have to go away into everlasting fire.
Then, once again, the tune returned to the original jubilant melody:
“But the righteous (will enter) into eternal life.”
The prophetic song ended with a sobering message:
“The only difference between the sheep and the goats is what they did—and didn’t—do!”
Inspired by the parable of the sheep and the goats as told by Jesus and chronicled in Matthew 25:31-46, this song was my introduction to Keith Green. As I drove home that evening, I thought a lot about the words of the song, and I wanted so much to live like the sheep and to serve my Shepard.
There is a certain type of music that can soar far past the superficial melodies of most music and awaken the dormant spirit. It’s a tune that is in-tune with the soul, a soul that is searching for meaning. I call this music “soul” music. Most folks have heard the term soul music as a label by the music industry, and while much of that music is entertaining, it does little (if anything) to quench the insatiable thirst of the spirit.
What type of music does your soul crave? If you don’t know, you’ve never had the experience of listening to true soul music. The majority of the public has probably not heard as much as a single note of genuine soul music. In its purest form, soul music is a tune or melody that has no other purpose but to glorify God.
Keith Green’s songs can be interpreted as genuine soul music. It is difficult to close your mind and just listen for entertainment purposes to Green’s songs. The words are both exhorting and healing, and Green could be called a true “soul singer.”
Icon and More
Keith Green released five Christian albums between 1977 through March of 1982. The first of several posthumous recordings was released in 1983 and Icon was released in 2013. In the past, I’d purchased a number of Green’s LPs, and I can remember the shock and sadness I felt for Green’s young wife, Melody, and the rest of his family when I heard the news about the plane crash. I’d also heard that she was expecting another child, and I could not imagine stepping into her shoes.
It’s been more than 30 years since Keith Green and the others were taken home to be with the Lord. Over the years, I listened to several musicians, and there was a time when I no longer listened to Green’s songs. But for some reason, I was compelled to purchase Icon, and as I listened, a flood of memories filled my mind. However, more than memories, listening to these familiar songs has restored a desire to serve Christ without compromise. These songs, unlike others, truly speak to my soul, and my only criticism of Icon is that it does not contain the song that introduced me to Green, “The Sheep and the Goats.” There are, however, eleven other inspiring and thought-provoking songs on Icon that will speak to you, including another of my favorites, “Asleep in the Light”:
“Do you see? — All the people sinking down? Don’t you care? — Are you gonna let them drown? How can you be so numb, not to care if they come? You close your eyes and pretend the job’s done. . . . The world is sleeping in the dark that the Church just can’t fight ’cause it’s asleep in the light! How can you be so dead when you’ve been so well fed? Jesus rose from the grave, and you –you can’t even get out of bed! . .”
Icon is for the Christian and non-Christian alike. To the non-Christian, the music invites him or her to get to get to know Christ. To the Christian, there is a strong admonition to love the Lord with all your heart, soul and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself. — Sound familiar?
About the Author
Deb Wax is a Christ-follower, wife, mother, daughter, daughter-in-law, sister, sister-in-law, aunt, cousin, friend—and hopefully a kind person.
Deb describes herself as a “procrastinating perfectionist who is also introspective.” She is a “professional amateur photographer.” She recently completed the 2016 Dogwood 52-Week Photography Challenge, and is currently participating in the advanced challenge. Deb is a photo contributor on Shutterstock, and you can find a number of her photos, including the challenge pictures, on her blog: Introspective Pics @ https://introspectivepics.wordpress.com
Deb has written for several online publications, and her writings cover a hodgepodge of topics from the hot-button issues and cracker-barrel philosophy of today’s coffee culture to the Gordian Knot on the secular view of faith and religion.
Deb is also a “’70s music junkie,” and she wrote for the former website Squidoo as the “70s Disco Queen Contributor.” Deb has been married for over twenty-five years and describes her existence as a Darby and June life.
You can follow Deb on Twitter, Google +, Flickr, Instagram, and Shutterstock @DebW07
The Greatest Gift comes from the Purest Love—The Gift is Salvation, and the Love is from God