A number of years ago I was the host of an internationally syndicated radio show, called appropriately enough, "The Scott Ross Show." We were broadcasting on approximately 185 rock stations in the United States, and were carried on various outlets in twelve nations including military bases, and several ships at sea. In addition there were numerous pirated versions of the show circulating all over the world. My wife Nedra, a singer, had been a member of one of the girl groups of the Sixties, The Ronettes. They had sold many millions of records including, "Be My Baby," "Baby I Love You," and "Walking In the Rain." As a result, I often had the opportunity to circulate among musicians of all types and frequently spoke with them about music while attending concerts and sitting in on recording sessions. Music was my world.
On one occasion, three slightly stoned musicians visited the radio studio where I was recording my show in upstate New York. I played them a tape of a concert we had just performed the previous weekend, featuring the very gifted guitarist, Phil Keaggy. They were duly impressed with Keaggy's musicianship, however, one of the visitors commented, "It's not just Keaggy's ability, it's the music itself. I've never heard anything quite like that before. Where is he comin' from? Where's he gettin' this stuff?"
I honestly could have responded, "Well, it's not of this world," and I wouldn't have been overstating it. But I restrained myself. The guy was already "out there" on his drug induced high, and since I used to spend time there myself, I knew it would be difficult to penetrate and make myself clear. But it was interesting to me, that in spite of their whacked condition, these musicians were hearing a music they had never heard before. Music that transcended their high. In fact, it was higher than anything they had ever heard before.
Tap Roots and Origins
For those of us who accept the Bible as the Word of God, it is very clearly stated that all things are created for God's pleasure. Music is one of those things. In fact the book of Genesis refers to a man named Jubal, the first musician-the inventor of the harp and flute. Some translations say "organ" as well. Interestingly enough, Jubal was one of the son's of Cain who was infamous for being the first murderer, since he had killed his brother Abel. Even with Jubal's heritage, it didn't make music bad, as we shall see.
Music is a transcendent language that communicates spiritual reality beyond human understanding or limitation. Throughout history (His Story) God has communicated to man. Music is one of those modes of communication.
A number of years ago, I had a subjective experience that is hard to explain, but nevertheless true. I was in the midst of taping my radio program, playing an instrumental piece from Neil Diamond's, "Tap Root Manuscript." As I was listening to the music, suddenly I began to hear words on a track in my mind concurrent with the instrumental music. The ideas I was receiving conveyed an overview of the condition of race relations and how relationships could be reconciled if we were first reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. It was weird but made sense. As a result, when the song ended, I went on the air and spoke what I had just heard in my mind. Later, I discovered that what I had heard and spoke was not just my experience but was confirmed through scripture. I believe and therefore I speak. (2 Corinthians 2.14) And then God backs up His Word, by watching over it to perform it. (Jeremiah 1.12) Subsequent to this experience, I began to receive mail from numerous people, saying they not only heard the words I had spoken that day, but something inside them changed in their attitude toward other races. There was a new desire to understand, dialogue, and reconcile broken relationships.
Believe me I was surprised at the response. It really was bigger than me. Since that time I have realized this experience in regard to other subjects and circumstances with even greater results.
This kind of experience is not foreign to scriptural history. The biblical record shows that when God chose to speak to people, He often spoke through prophets. Prophets are God's spokesmen. A human mouthpiece through whom He speaks.
There is also a direct relationship between music and prophecy, both in Bible times and today. For example, the prophet Elisha was summoned by three different kings to speak for God. But before he prophesied Elisha said, Bring me a minstrel! When the minstrel played, the message of the Lord came to Elisha and he said, Thus says the Lord!' And he prophesied.
(2 Kings 3.15)
In another instance King Saul was walking to the hill of God. As he arrived there, he met a band of prophets coming down the hill playing a harp, tambourine, flute, and lyre, prophesying as they came. Samuel the prophet predicted: At that time the Spirit of God will come mightily upon you (Saul) and you will prophesy with them and you will feel and act like a different person. (1 Samuel 10.5-6)
The prophets were spokesmen who often stood on the wall of the city like watchmen and proclaimed the Word of the Lord to the people. Now we have c.d.'s, tapes, video, and the Internet.
I personally believe that a number of musicians today speak prophetically through their music. A number of years ago I certainly thought that in relation to Bob Dylan who spoke to many of the issues of the times in symbolic language reminiscent of the old testament prophets. Let me quickly point out that by no means am I saying that all the music we hear is prophetic. Even those who claim to be speaking for God have to go through a process that aligns their lives personally with the Words they are singing or playing. As David the sweet psalmist of Israel declared:
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord. (Psalm 19.14)
One of the first requirements of the prophetic calling as a musician is that you don't volunteer for this job, even with the best intentions, you have to be appointed to it.
King David appointed Heman, Jeduthan, and several others who were chosen by name to give thanks to the Lord for His constant love and mercy. They used their instruments to accompany the singers with loud praises to God. (1 Chronicles 16.41-42)
Ultimately it is God who gives us our gifts and abilities and the Spirit of God who energizes them. However, there is no question we can misuse our gifts.
Out of Tune
To be acceptable to God, a musician's music must be an extension of his life in Jesus, not reworked songs he or she heard on MTV with some Jesus words thrown in. The Lord has a way of working over our motives. Those visions of number one records and Carnegie Hall for Jesus are all processed. Unfortunately, there are too many of those stealing in the name of the Lord, out on the circuit. Rather, like Paul the Apostle, we need to Put aside all else, counting it worth less than nothing, or refuse, in order that I can have Christ. (Philippians 3.9) Only then can we be truly effective.
Isaiah the prophet put it well in the lyric of a song he wrote:
My beloved has a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He plowed it and took out all the rocks and planted his vineyard with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower and cut a winepress in the rocks. Then he waited for the harvest, but the grapes that grew were wild and sour and not at all the sweet ones he expected (Isaiah 5.1-2)
The issue here is fruit. Good fruit. As Jesus said, The way to identify a tree or a person is by the kind of fruit produced. (John 7.20)
Unfortunately I have known many a performer who has sung songs about the Lord, then went off after the concert, got stoned and jumped into the sack with a groupie. These types really are what Jesus called them: Wolves! And they do get in among the flock and rip them off.
Out of tune people, sing out of tune songs. They blow an uncertain trumpet.
Here's the scenario for those types and God's pronouncement upon them: I hate your show and pretense - your hypocrisy of honoring' Me with your religious feasts and assemblies. (and concerts) I will not accept your offerings. I will not look at your offerings of peace. Away with your hymns of praise - they are mere noise to My ears. I will not listen to you music, no matter how lovely it is. (Amos 5.21-23)
Well there go record sales!
Musicians are often pioneers. Frequently they bring attention to issues before they become mainstream issues. For instance think of the songs that were the harbingers of events to come. Civil rights, racism, war, the woman's movement, drugs, violence, environmental concerns, and most recently AIDS. Overall societal injustice is a reoccurring theme. Obviously not all musicians are so high minded. We still get a dose of the inane, yet it is interesting to note how often musicians have led the charge, articulating the thoughts of our time. The notes on a scale become the voice of an age. Songs become movements, or proclaim one.
Once again history speaks:
In the Old Testament, when the children of Israel made their exodus from the bondage of the Egyptians and began their journey to the promised land, Miriam, the prophetess, took up her tambourine and all the women went out after her with music and dance. (Exodus 15.20)
When King David and the people returned the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, David commanded the leaders of the priesthood to assign various musicians to sing and play joyful music. One man was also chosen to be in charge of the musicians, because of his skill in music. (1 Chronicles 15.22) Eventually 4000 musicians served in David's court.
This was no rag tag group. These were skillful musicians, as David himself was, and well rehearsed in their craft. Also these musicians had their act together personally before participating: They purified themselves. Their lives had to reflect their music, otherwise it was lip service.
With God's favor, musicians are to become an extension of their message.
Also, God's minstrels should lead. They are to be the head not the tail. After all, they carry the most important message that can possibly be declared, the "King and the Kingdom." Too, in their acceptance of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins, these musicians are not "unplugged;" they are hooked up directly to the creator of the universe. There is no excuse for shoddy material or musicianship. No need for borrowed or stolen songs. Rather these musicians are to set the trends and be the innovators.
But their music can only be as good as their relationship with the Source.
The Master and the Musician
Years ago, I had the joy and opportunity to be pastor and friend to singer-songwriter, guitarist extraordinaire Phil Keaggy. It was he who gave "The Master and Musician" title to an album of his back in the 1970's. The album was an expression of Phil's relationship with his God in and through Jesus Christ. Interestingly enough, the album was instrumental. No words were sung. However, the message was clear, personal and intimate.
It was rhapsodic in its highs and lows.
It was psalmody.
It was an ode to Love.
Some may find this strange. But why? Turn the radio on (as Ray Stevens once intoned) or listen to your favorite compact discs or cassettes. Read the lyric sheets. What are they saying?
By in large, a great majority of the songs we hear are about relationships. Man woman romantic stuff. And more often than not, it is a pledge to eternal love. How realistic is this? Many of these relationships go down the tubes in a short period of time and then the writer can cry in his beer and write about it. What Keaggy and others of his ilk are writing about is love too, but it won't lead to "tears in your beer." Rather it should be a toast of fine wine to true "everlasting love".
Of course this kind of love is based on relationship too. And the songs of the musician will only be as truthful as the depth and the maturity of the relationship.
If you want to read a love story, get a modern translation of the scriptures and read the Old Testament book of the Song of Songs, written by King Solomon. Talk about a love song! Little is left to the imagination. Or everything is. One commentator stated that this song describes a love that is "exclusive, spontaneous and unquenchable." It also describes God's very personal relationship with His people. The ultimate truth of this is depicted in the New Testament and describes Christ's relationship with His church. And we're not talking here about a brick building on the corner, with a steeple, stained glass windows and pews, that you visit on Sunday morning. This is intimate and intense and full of feeling. Almost embarrassingly we read of "heartthrobbing excitement, burning jealousy, empty longing and deep disappointment. Sensuous delight comes from kissing, embracing, hearing, seeing and smelling. Striking metaphors portray such feelings as tenderness, sweetness, comfort, and power."*
When was the last time you heard that preached in church or by a televangelist? Of course, one can't preach, write, or sing about what one hasn't experienced.
Yet this describes the heart of God who does desire this kind of relationship with His people. Learn something about this, oh musician, and you will truly be singing and writing a new song!
This then begs the question: "How much time do you spend with the Lover of your Soul?" Continuing the metaphor, when a man and woman are in love, you can't keep them apart. They are totally preoccupied with one another at the expense of everyone and everything. It is all consuming. It is the "A" number one priority! They do everything they can to please one another and all faults and failures are forgiven. Reality comes later. And even then, if it is true love, many waters can't quench it. It covers many sins, and is stronger than death!
Take the time to cultivate this kind of love and let it grow.
Master: Come away my beloved.
Musician: Oh feed me with your love, for I am utterly lovesick.
Master: Rise up, my love , and come away.
Musician: Call to me and let me hear your lovely voice.
Master: Open to me, my darling, my lover.
Musician: My beloved is mine and I am his.
This Song of Songs, more wonderful than any other, was composed by King Solomon. ( Song of Songs 1.1 Scott's free translation and adaptation)
The Warrior Musician
Another picture we see in Song of Solomon, is the King returning to Jerusalem. He is being carried, like a conquering potentate and he is surrounded by the mightiest heroic men of his army.
They are all skilled swordsmen and experienced bodyguards. Each one has his sword upon his thigh to defend his king against any onslaught in the night.. (Song of Solomon 3.7-8)
War is depicted throughout the Old and New Testament. Of course, in the Old Testament, the war is physical; in the New Testament it is spiritual. Yet the outcome of the spiritual is often manifest in the physical. But, whatever the realm of the battle there are principles that remain the same.
The Lord said to Moses, "When you go into battle against an enemy who is oppressing you, sound a blast on the trumpets. Then you will be remembered by the Lord your God and rescued from your enemies."
( Numbers 10.9)
In the New Testament, Paul the Apostle asks, If the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for the battle? (I Corinthians 14.8)
In this context Paul is using the trumpet as a metaphor for prophecy. Throughout Scripture, trumpets are used to represent the prophetic voice. Going back to our earlier statements about musicians being harbingers of things to come, musicians are a prophetic company that are sent to proclaim, "The Kingdom of God has come unto you." They are waymakers, much like the prophet John the Baptist. They often prepare the people for the Word of God that is to be preached later. They are warriors, waging war in the spiritual realm.
In the Old Testament there was an occasion when King Jehoshaphat was going to war, and Jehoshaphat appointed those who sang to the Lord and those who praised Him to advance in front of the troop. When they began to sing and praise, the Lord set an ambush against (the enemy) and they were beaten. (1 Chronicles 20. 22-23)
In other instances, God told Joshua and the children of Israel to march around the walls of Jericho with the priests blowing the trumpets and the people shouting and the walls of the city would fall down flat. They did and they did. Joshua was a man of war who knew how to use a sword, but in this case, God had another strategy. March and use trumpets a prophetic act that brought victory. (Joshua 6)
This is also true of Gideon and his 300 men who went to war against the Midianites by waving torches, breaking some clay jars, and blowing trumpets, and shouting. Then Gideon and his men just stood and watched the whole vast enemy army rushing around in a panic, shouting and running away.
This warfare also transpires on a more personal level.
When King Saul was terrorized by an evil spirit, that caused him to have depression and fear. Some of Saul's aides suggested a cure:
We'll find a good harpist to play for you whenever the tormenting spirit is bothering you, they said. The harp music will quiet you and you'll soon be well again.
David got the job.
And whenever the tormenting spirit from God troubled Saul, David would play the harp and Saul would feel better, and the evil spirit would go away.
(1 Samuel 16)
Subsequently, there were other instances, as David began to play, when Saul picked up his spear and threw it at David intending to pin him to the wall. However, David escaped. (1 Samuel 18)
There is no question this is a very real war. And to underscore what I said earlier, although it is spiritual, there is a physical reaction.
A number of years ago, I would travel around the country and speak at various kinds of events. Often I would have musicians accompany me. They would play and I would speak. On one occasion, we were appearing before a college audience in upstate New York, our band began to play a song about the power of Jesus. I was on the stage, and began to expound on this theme, the music playing in the background. All of a sudden some guys near the front row, stood up and began to yell, "we don't want to hear that crap!"
We didn't stop, and like Saul, the crowd became more vocal and demonstrative. However, instead of throwing a spear, they used chairs. One guy kicking his over. Another man was so angry, he began running up and down the aisle screaming. He ran right into the wall!
In the midst of this, I decided to be heroic, and challenged the spirits in these people. It got worse. But in the midst of this something else began to happen. All of a sudden, a woman in the rear of the auditorium, began to shout out, "I've been healed!", and she held up her back brace.
Now trust me folks in the middle of all this bedlam, I was not conducting a healing meeting. God was doing this all by Himself without asking for anyone's permission.
And then all sorts of other things began to happen.
Other people began to cry. Some wanted prayer. Some were rejoicing and clapping their hands. And the mad guys ran out screaming all kinds of interesting expletives as they went.
This wasn't your standard, so called church service, but it did demonstrate what transpired on numerous occasions in the book of Acts. The disciples literally caused riots, but they also imparted healing, miracles and salvation to the people.
The Healing Musician
On January 1, 1969, the Christian Broadcasting Radio Network Northeast, went on the air throughout Upstate New York. Our signal could also be heard in Canada, Northern Pennsylvania, and Connecticut. Our headquarters and broadcast site were located on a hill overlooking Ithaca, New York. Ithaca's claim to fame was the sprawling campus of Cornell University and in its shadow, Ithaca College.
A few miles outside of Ithaca, in a little town with the improbable name of Freeville, lived a widow named Peg Hardesty. Peg's home was a brown-shingle farmhouse sitting close up to the road next to a tumble-down barn.
For thirteen years Peg Hardesty had been crippled by arthritis so painful she couldn't even lift herself out of the bed in the morning but had to roll down onto the floor, then struggle to her knees and her feet. She got through the day on large doses of Darvon and Valium.
It happened the very first night we were on the air. Peg was twirling her radio dial trying to find a music station. Suddenly, to her surprise, she caught the word "Jesus." A man was talking. The man was me and I was talking about my daughter being healed of a death-threatening physical impairment some months before. I went on to explain that Jesus had come to set people free and be healed. As Peg lay on her couch listening, a great peace flooded her entire body. The next morning she sat up then stood. She walked about the house with no desire to take the usual drugs. The pain was gone.
Peg believed theoretically in God's power to heal, but she couldn't accept what had happened to her; people didn't get over arthritis with the snap of a finger. All that day, and the next, and the next, she gingerly went about her house and farm chores fully expecting the crippling pain to come back. It never did.
This was the beginning of a myriad of similar stories that were to follow. I was to receive phone calls, letters, and numerous personal stories of people who were being set free from all sorts of problems, physical and spiritual. Many of these people had documented evidence from their doctors as to the validity of their claims. An elderly man wrote that cataracts on both eyes had simply dissolved one night as he listened to the music, and heard me talking and praying with a girl on the phone.
Of course, there was also a negative reaction, especially from the religious crowd, who didn't believe that Jesus healed today, and that He certainly wouldn't use the devil's rock and roll music to do it.
I don't want to go off on a tangent responding to those criticisms now. Suffice it to say, that these events were simply the harbinger of things to come. Since then they have become part of my life. I believe that God does this stuff and so do the people that are recipients of His love.
Here are the facts. When Jesus commissioned His disciples to go and proclaim the gospel of the Kingdom, He told them to heal the sick and cast out demons. (Mark 16. 15-18) He then, Watches over His word to perform it and sends His word and heals them. (Psalm 107.20)
It's not Scott Ross' word, it's God's Word and He backs it up.
New Wine and Old Idols
On numerous occasions, I have been involved in other events where, as the musicians were playing and singing their "new songs," some rather inexplicable things began to happen in the audience. Miraculous things.
In one instance, we were in a public high school in New Jersey. I was told by the school authorities that I could talk about my former drug experiences and how I was no longer on drugs but I couldn't tell them that it was God that fixed me. That's like telling a drowning man that I too had almost drowned, but I couldn't tell him how I got saved! However, I went before the student body and told them my story about, sex, drugs and rock and roll, but that I wasn't doing that anymore. Then I opened it to questions. The obvious question was asked, "How did you get off drugs?"
"Through the truth," I responded.
"Well, what's the truth?" I was asked.
"It's a person," I said. "And here's a song that describes Him."
And the band played a song about the truth as a person. And I talked about Him without, of course, mentioning His name. Then I added, "You can know the Truth and the Truth will set you free!" And things began to happen.
One girl in the front row began to cry. A number of other students followed suit. Some others began to put their heads in their hands.
I remember one big guy standing in the back of the auditorium, with his head against the wall, his eyes shut, his lips moving. It appeared he was praying. And so were others. It was like a wave hit the auditorium. My bandmates and I just stood and watched. We did not try to manipulate anyone or make anything happen.
To their credit, the school authorities, recognizing that something unusual and unique was going on, shut down the school for the rest of the day. It was a sovereign act of God.
Interestingly enough, our band's name was New Wine. And it was flowing.
This kind of experience is not new to a number of musicians, including friends of mine such as Ricky Skaggs and Donna Summer, who work in clubs and stadiums. They often move into this realm transcending the "natural" into the "spiritual" dimension.
Certainly it is true that this occurs in the kingdom of darkness. A few years ago I was out on the road with the Rolling Stones as they played at Shea Stadium in New York City and in Atlantic City. In Shea, 58,000 people musically tore the turf up for three hours as the Stones cranked out some really heavy duty rock and roll. I have known them personally since their early days. They are professionals, and they know how to work an audience. Trust me, as one of their songs stated, it is more than "only rock and roll."
Going back to my rock roots, this was also true for Beatle audiences. As one of the emcees at their Shea performance in the Sixties, I was almost physically killed when we were chased from the stadium by crazed fans in pursuit of their idols.
I saw and experienced this mania for Bob Dylan, the many times I attended his concerts. And when I traveled with Eric Clapton. Or my wife Nedra with the Ronettes. When men and women came over the barricades just to touch them.
It was a spiritual experience. An epiphany.
Joshua came down from the mountain and heard the noise of the people.
Joshua thought it was war. But Moses said, "no it's the sound of
singing." The children of Israel, were worshipping and dancing before the
golden calf they had made. (Exodus 32)
In the time of King Nebuchadnezzar, the king made an image of gold and commanded all the people that when the music began to play, everyone-whatever his nation, language, or religion- was to fall to the ground and worship the idol. If you didn't you would be burned to death in a flaming furnace. Idolatry personified. (Daniel 3)
The issue is not the singing and dancing; it's who you worship.
I stated earlier that "music is a transcendent language that communicates spiritual reality beyond human understanding or limitation." That is literally true.
The New Testament talks about three kinds of music: psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. (Ephesians 5.19 and Colossians 3.16) Most of us know about psalms and hymns, however the spiritual song realm has remained relatively unexplored by most people. The majority of the spiritual songs that I have personally experienced are impromptu.
It started for me, very innocently, as I was driving my car on a beautiful sunny day, through the scenic hills of upstate New York. I was thinking about the beauty of God's creation and a little song began to run through my mind. I started to hum the tune and then whistle. Soon I was la la la la-ing my way along. The la la's gradually turned into lyrics. The lyrics and language of a song I didn't understand. And then I began to "hear" the English lyrics in my head. And then I sang them. I remember the song being about, "I am free, free, free, yes I am!" I was ecstatic. I went on for about ten minutes singing at the top of my lungs. When I looked down at the speedometer I was going well over 70 mph. I literally thanked God I wasn't stopped by a state trooper.
"Well you see officer, I was singing this spiritual song and I didn't realize"
Sure. As they took me away, hey, hey
But this isn't so crazy at all. Evidently Paul the Apostle practiced it as he walked or rode the roads, he states I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding. (I Corinthians 14.16)
I took my experience back to our musicians I was working with at the time, and soon they were playing music that was literally a "new song." We then began to come to an understanding of the spiritual roots of "plain song," "chants," "jam sessions," and beyond.
The New Song
Like a symphony, this is what everything in creation has been building toward. It is the crescendo. The climatic moment. THE Hallelujah Chorus, of which Handel's was only a foretaste of what and Who is coming!
Peering prophetically into the future, John the writer of Revelation saw Jesus. Then he heard.
"Men from every tribe, tongue, people and nation," singing and playing. Those who were formerly dead, are now resurrected, joining in a choir with the living. These are the people who have not sold out to the world system. They are disciples who have followed Jesus everywhere He goes. The songs that come out of their mouths flow from their hearts. They are virgins. They are not for sale. No lucrative record contract, no TV show, movie enticement, fame, fortune or any other foolishness can buy them. They have already been bought with a price.
And uniting with them are the voices of millions of angels loudly singing a new song surrounding the throne of Jesus Christ. This cosmic chorus, accompanied by harps, sounded like a waterfall or the rolling of a mighty thunder. And they sang, Worthy is the Lamb.! (Revelation 5 14)
Pay the price, join the chorus, and sing the song!
And they sang a New Song that has never been heard in the heathen world. (Isaiah 42. 10 Amplified Bible)
Scott Ross welcomes your feedback.
A caring friend will be there to pray with you in your time of need.