measure in love

*Five hundred twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes,
Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear.
Five hundred twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes,
How do we measure, measure a year?

We have some great opportunities ahead of us. A whole new year with fresh months, weeks, days, hours, minutes and even seconds to do something meaningful and life-changing. How exciting is that? But maybe I'm jumping the gun.

I've never seen the Broadway play Rent. But I have seen the movie version, and I really liked it. I loved the music, and the talents of the actors/singers/musicians/dancers left me jealous and inspired. To me the story-line was dark, sort of depressing and mostly presented only one side of some pretty serious issues. But the lessons learned while I looked in on the gritty lives of a group of struggling but determined friends were invaluable. The presentation was very in-your-face, and the way some of the issues are raised and handled may go against your ideas and convictions. But I'd recommend catching it if you think you can see these characters as living real life in a real world. You'll either feel deep compassion for them in their struggles, or as one of my notable Christian friends said, "They brought their problems on themselves. They were just reaping the fruits of their lifestyles."

Distrust for the system, abundant trust in each other, dedication to their beliefs, and unconditional love among friends were the more obvious points I gathered while in the theater. You couldn't miss the obvious bonds that were formed among those who were living a tough, unforgiving inner city life together. Death, disease and disdain from the "normal" world were very real. But the less obvious thought that kept crossing my mind was how all of these characters seemed to value and treasure their time together. It's like they knew their days and opportunities were limited, so they took full advantage of every moment. Thus the song, "Seasons of Love," and the lyrics about all the minutes.

This brings me back to the great opportunities that are ahead of us. Imagine our minutes were the talents Jesus spoke about in Matthew 25. The Master has trusted you with something very valuable. So, this year you and I will have 12 months or 52 weeks or 365 days or 8,760 hours or 525,600 minutes or 31,536,000 seconds to risk ourselves while we show charity and mercy to those who need it most, or we can waste every moment on protecting what we have for one more year. I'd like to be able to look back at this time in 2006 and say I invested and spent my minutes wisely - measured in love.

Seasons of Love
Five hundred twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes.
Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear.
Five hundred twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes,
How do we measure, measure a year?

In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee,
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife.
In five hundred twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes.
How do we measure a year in the life?

How about love?
How about love?
How about love?
Measure in love.
Seasons of love.

Five hundred twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty-five thousand journeys to plan.
Five hundred twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes.
How do we measure the life of a woman or a man?

In truths that she learned, or in times that he cried,
In bridges he burned, or the way that she died.
It’s time now to sing out tho’ the story never ends.
Let’s celebrate! Remember a year in the life of friends.

Remember the love.
Remember the love.
Remember the love.
Measure the love.
Measure the love.
Seasons of love.
Seasons of love.
*Seasons of Love from Rent by Jonathan Larson.


happy birthday grace!

I love the music. I love the commercials. I love the specials on TV. I love the lights, the ribbons, the holly, the poinsettias, the ornaments and the candy canes. I love the cider and the cookies. I love the gifts, the giving and the shopping. I love the feeling and the opportunities to serve. I just love this time of year. I love everything Christmas!

I don't usually join the chorus when I hear well-meaning believers complain that our society has conspired to rob us of the true meaning of Christmas. I actually see it the other way around. Without even realizing they've done it; our society, its commerce and government has acknowledged the most world-changing event in the history of AD.

I'm sure it wasn't their intent, but millions of shoppers got up early and thousands of stores opened their doors because a savior was born. Businesses stake their survival on it, and families plan reunions around it. Government, commerce, banks and post offices take the day off regardless of their religious beliefs - on Christmas day.

It was a mark in the history of the world that will forever be celebrated. Whether we gather around a nativity, a tree or both, we all declare that our lives are better and worth living because of the events of that otherwise normal day. But oh, what a day it was when grace was born.


pay it forward

I'm feeling anxious. Some friends and I have decided to volunteer again to serve at the Salvation Army on Christmas day. Debbie, the person in charge of operations at the Lexington center asked me to come sing to their guests while they enjoy their Christmas dinner. I jumped at the chance, then invited some friends along to help dish out the courses and be real servants on the day that marks giving more than any other. Now we're anxious to get to work.

Not everyone has the opportunity to do something like this on Christmas day. Family and other things require their attention. And that is fine. Those obligations are important, and should be encouraged. But for those of us who have the chance to do something for someone else on such a special day, we should take advantage of it, ante up to the challenge, and thank God for the opportunity that we have to manifest the love of Christ to others who deserve nothing less than to be honored and served regardless of their label or status.

A friend of mine is the host of a local morning radio talk show. As a matter of fact, next to Rush Limbaugh, his hours on the air everyday are probably the most listened to in central Kentucky. He covers everything from local, state and national politics to University of Kentucky Wildcat sports to hot topics like replacing "Merry Christmas" with "Happy Holidays." (He's also a national sports broadcaster that most college sports fans would probably recognize.) Dave Baker is a shaper of thought in his coverage area and beyond.

Not long ago Dave had a caller on the air who challenged every listener to pay it forward. I'd seen the movie of the same name several years ago, so I was familiar with the idea. But I hadn't practiced the concept routinely. I'm glad I was reminded of it again. It is a simple and kind thing to do - paying it forward. All you do is make the decision that you are going to help someone in some way, indiscriminately. No one is disqualified from your generosity. You do not preselect who you are going to bless, you simply say to yourself, "The next person I come into personal contact with, I am going to pay it forward." We do it all the time with our frustration and anger when we cut someone short or offer rude stares. Let's do it with our kindness.

I've paid for gas, bought coffee, covered an electric bill, treated someone to a meal, and even purchased a coat for a cold Salvation Army bell ringer. You get some strange looks when you do such things. I've been stared at and even been held in suspicion by a person or two. One guy wanted to know if I thought he didn't have the money to pay for his own food. He wanted me to know that he did. I told him I had been touched by others, blessed by the Lord and wanted to pay it forward. I encouraged him to do the same since he could afford to. That is the object of the concept. Just the other day I was praying in my car and told the Lord I wanted to pay it forward with the next opportunity I had. I turned on the radio and heard of a local toy drive. I thanked the Lord and went to Walmart.

We've all been blessed. Most all of us work hard, and some are able to do more than others. But according to what we can do, we should help the neighbors we've been blessed to know, honor the strangers we hope to know better, and reach out to anyone who has a need we can supply - even if only in small ways.

Let me encourage you; without hesitation, without prejudice, without pride, without selfishness, go ahead and pay it forward.


thankful to serve

Like most American families, ours gathered around the matriarch/patriarch house to share a Thanksgiving meal that gave us plenty to be grateful for this year. Like most of those same families, pretty much the only time every member of the clan is in the same room is when the prayer is offered and the digging in begins. After each Bishop has taken their portion out of the bowl or off of the bird, everyone scatters around the house to find a place to settle and eat.

The football fans find the tube with the games, the kids park in front of the cartoons. Some grown ups sit in the kitchen, others in the dining room. Clusters of family are scattered here and there - everyone sorted by their interests and entertainment. Not really the Norman Rockwell scene we'd all like to emulate, but the family is together, and that is good.

This year was even a little more scattered than usual. My daughter Casie, my youngest brother Chris and I decided to try and give this year by feeding others before stuffing ourselves. The Salvation Army typically feeds a hearty Thanksgiving meal to over 500 family members and loners in the Lexington area at their Main Street shelter downtown. So, the three of us volunteered to help. We signed up to serve tables, greet the guests and honor them like the precious jewels they are. I ended up singing eight or ten songs to one of the most beautiful bouquets of people I've ever had the opportunity to share a room with.

As I stood on that little platform and made my music, I watched Casie and several other teenage volunteers learn the value of life at every level and background. Casie told me later that even the migrant workers whom she couldn't understand were able to communicate their appreciation to her and the others who treated them with unbiased dignity, compassion and respect. Several widows and widowers who'd lost their companions since the last holiday season didn't want to eat alone, so they volunteered to serve others this year. Whole families who appreciate their own fortunate circumstances decided this year to bless others who've not known like comforts. Even Governor Ernie Fletcher and his wife Glenna left the Governor's Mansion, donned red aprons and became servants to a room full of people who most likely don't even vote.

The Salvation Army truly lives compassion and servant-hood. I have such enormous admiration and respect for anyone and any organization that acts and gives as Christ-like as it preaches. Every year they plan, organize and implement a simple idea that is a very complex task. And they trust that God will provide all of the parts to make a bounty like this available to those who would consider a KFC snack feast enough.

The three of us eventually made it back to the family table. But we were certainly able to enjoy our own heaping plates more fully because of our own experience as servants to others. I hope your Thanksgiving was just as blessed.


praying for the judge (me)

A friend sent this prayer to me today. I wanted to share it with you.

Heavenly Father, help us remember that the jerk who cut us off in traffic last night is a single mother who worked nine hours yesterday and is rushing home to cook dinner, help with homework, do the laundry and spend a few precious moments with her children.

Help us to remember that the pierced, tattooed, disinterested young man who can't make change correctly is a worried 19-year-old college student, balancing his apprehension over final exams with his fear of not getting his student loans for next semester.

Remind us, Lord, that the scary looking bum begging for money in the same spot every day (who really ought to get a job!) is a slave to addictions that we can only imagine in our worst nightmares.

Help us to remember that the old couple walking annoyingly slow through the store aisles and blocking our shopping progress are savoring this moment, knowing that this could be the last year that they go shopping together.

Heavenly Father, remind us each day that, of all the gifts You give us, the greatest gift is love.

It is not enough to share that love with those we hold dear. Open our hearts not to just those who are close to us, but to all humanity.

Let us be slow to judge and quick to forgive. Help us show patience, empathy and love.



really good gossip

If gossip were a fuel there'd be no energy shortage at all. What is it that makes a person so ready to share someone else's embarrassment, misfortune, grief and issues? Does it give them a sense of value to feel they own a bit of information that comes across as entertaining at best and destructive at worst?

I don't expect to open a newspaper and read that an elected official has done a good job at governing. It's not because that public servant isn't getting good things done. That sort of news just doesn't sell papers. (And certain newspapers have vendettas against certain elected officials.) It's not routine for the television news to report a great act of charity. Good news doesn't get ratings that translate into revenue. Gossip magazines and television shows that circle celebrities like vultures twenty four hours a day are willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for that one photo of an A level star in a moment of apparent (or not) compromise. And the courts have basically freed them all from any standard of truth telling. But regardless, it is the hope of dollars that motivates the professional gossips. But what motivates a gossiping person who has nothing apparent to gain?

There was a time when I was a willing participant when it came to sharing the failures and faux pas of others with a group of willing and curious ears. The satisfaction and even the delight of having a bit of information on a so-and-so that others didn't have gave me a sense of esteem. Then knowing that the juicy little bit of tale toting that I'd just shared might be retold (with me getting the credit of course) made me feel even more important. It should've made me ashamed.

The destructive force of gossip had to be reason enough for Paul to list it as a top level offense. And even if such a man of God didn't mention it, knowing the harm and hurt that it causes is reason enough for a person with compassion or a desire to be like Christ to never let it be their practice.

There aren't very many days that go by that I don't hear some sort of unnecessary chatter about someone I know. Honestly, most of the time much of the information I hear is about me. Which is fine. I'd much rather they bring their blather about me to me than to continue the tale-chain. Maybe it's because I've been the subject of so much unforgiving and painful talk that I've decided not to participate in the easy evil any longer. It serves only the purposes of the person whose lips are moving. It says a lot about their heart too.

Gossip has destroyed a lot of reputations. Mostly the ones of those doing the talking.


read john fischer

I've just finished reading John Fischer's book 12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee (like me) for the third time. I can't seem to put it down. I expect I'll read it again just as soon as I finish reading another of his books Love Him in the Morning.

I knew who John Fischer was before reading these books, but I didn't really know who he WAS until I started looking for his materials and keeping up with his writings. I'd read a couple of his pieces in CCM magazine and other publications, but this 12 Steps... book has really turned me on to his way of thinking and responding to grace. You've gotta get it and maybe even be like me and read it more than once. Every time I reread a chapter (he calls them steps) I get the wow! of a first time read.

From Step 7: (Bible reference 1 Corinthians 15:9-10)
More of God, more awareness of sin. The more I see of God, the more I am aware of that in me that is not of God. That's why Paul's statement here is in the present tense: "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners - of whom I am the worst." Paul experiences a continual awareness of his sin nature. I would want to say I was the worst of sinners... but not Paul. The reality of his sin was as current and fresh as the reality of God's grace. Paul knew that he couldn't really know God's grace without knowing his sin and how little he deserved what he was receiving. Deserve it, and it is no longer grace.

Is that powerful or what!

John has several other books that I am anxious to get hold of. His newest is called Confessions of a Caffeinated Christian. That's the next book on my list. When you get a chance, take the time to visit the Fischtank at
www.fischtank.com. You'll be able to spend hours reading John's previous periodical writings, going through the lyrics of his many songs, and get an idea of why God is using him to open lots of eyes and expose us to our own sense of religious pride - the kind that has kept many good hearted believers safe in their pews and out of the dangerous places.


my girl is growing up

The most lovely and gorgeous girl in all the world turned seventeen today. My baby doll daughter Casie is a beautiful young lady now. Her attitude, spirit and demeanor are just as beautiful as her pretty face. I couldn't be more proud of her. Happy birthday CayRay!! You'll always be Daddy's girl forever and ever.


recording grace

The excitement is building on this end as we begin the actual recording process for my first solo recording in nearly ten years. I was in the studio earlier this week beginning the tracking process. In case you aren't really sure what tracking is, the first step of actually recording only comes after weeks and sometimes months of preplanning that includes negotiating contracts; praying for creative and message direction; putting out feelers to song writers; selecting a producer; writing, gathering and choosing song material; creative meetings; booking musicians, studios and engineers; and arranging music. Now we are ready to make some noise.

This week I was at Masterfonics Studio Six in Nashville with my producer Woody Wright, engineer Pete Green and his assistant Chris Carroll and musicians Gary Prim on the piano and keys, Paul Leim on the drums and percussion, Mark Hill on the bass guitars and Biff Watson with Jeff King on the guitars. There are several more instruments to add before the music is finished. We had a blast!

I am really so anxious to let you hear the music we made. But there is still a lot more that has to be done. We have the basic rhythm tracks and a few lead instruments down now. But the additional instruments, along with some great background vocals and guest voice appearances to record will make it a super project. The record won't be ready for consumption until late spring next year, and waiting is gonna be a booger. As a matter of fact, Woody and I were talking yesterday about our excitement to finish the recording. I think we're both feeling really inspired right now.

This record is all about grace, mercy, love, forgiveness and acceptance. I think at first there were some who were a little concerned that I wanted to keep the message so singularly focused. They were worried that people would get bored with ten songs that basically say the same thing. However, I think those folks are going to be really happy with our decision to make this project so message driven. Grace covers a lot of ground, and there is a lot to be said about it. I think you'll be thrilled with what you hear too. How can anyone ever get too much grace?


really important choices

It's been a while since I've been to a high school football game. In the south, the weekly ritual of fans, bands, teams, cheerleaders, mascots and local politicians gathering around a manicured, painted and roughed-up field to root for their local favorite is akin to a Sunday morning church experience. That's where I was last night.

The hottest ticket in town this weekend was to watch the University of Kentucky basketball team take the floor and, well, practice. It wasn't a game - just practice. But it's an annual tradition that native and transplanted Kentuckians all over the country plan for all year long. It's called Big Blue Madness, and they come from everywhere to watch the future champions begin their journey to the Final Four. According to the local paper, over twenty-three thousand tickets were snatched up in less than four days. (I have to tell you, the Lexington newspaper is not known as a reliable source for unbiased info on much of anything. However, their coverage of Wildcat basketball and the obituaries are usually fairly accurate.)

But why would I want to be there when I could be in Irvine, Kentucky watching the Estill County Engineers play their hearts out at a high school football game? The team was getting thumped. But I was there to see the cheerleaders. Well, one of them anyway.

I had just had a conversation earlier in the week with my daughter Casie. I told her that I was disappointed that I hadn't been able to see her cheer this season. She said she'd let me know when the next game was so I could watch her in action. I learned yesterday it was last night. The same night as the Madness. And four of those hot, in-demand tickets had my name on them. In fact, they were proudly in my pocket when I got the call that notified me of Casie's upcoming performance. This was a conundrum for sure. Until I thought about it.

Huge, must-see annual event featuring future star athletes,lights, lasers, smoke and hot nachos in a massive, state-of-the-art arena!
- VS -
Chilly, weekly event that showcases the athletic talents of a future teacher or engineer (Estill countians will like that) while sitting on cold, metal bleachers sipping pop/water.

Obviously, I went to the football game. For one thing, Casie was there. And so was Christian. That was reason enough. But I also had the chance to visit with friends I hadn't seen in weeks, show pride for the most important girl in my life, support a local school club with my concession stand splurges and wipe hot chocolate off my son's face. Now what could be more valuable than that?

blind loyalty

It's just a truck. And the only reason I'm even driving it is because mine is on the fritz. I have a weekend full of stuff going on that takes me from Lexington to Alexandria, Indiana to Detroit and back, and I had to have something reliable to drive. The car rental folks didn't have the smaller car I'd reserved, (gas prices and all) so they upgraded me to a nice big Dodge Ram truck (so much for the gas idea). That's when I became aware of what seems to be the battle of the big trucks.

Evidently the folks who drive the big Dodges, Chevrolets, GMCs and Fords are all in direct competition with each other. There must be some features and traits that make a person want one truck over another, but from what I've learned these last couple of days, it seems to be more of a pride thing than anything else. It didn't take me long to learn either. I hadn't been behind the wheel but just a few minutes when I got the thumbs up from a fellow Ram tough driver and a couple of direct challenges and snarls from some non-Dodge men in their own non-Dodge trucks. I couldn't tell you the differences in them myself. So I wasn't even aware of what was going on at first.

Labels. They make for great marketing. People will pay a lot more for their favorite logo, and pledge allegiance to their brand of choice many times simply because it is the popular thing to do. Younger folks need to be seen in the right clothes to be accepted by certain groups. Their jeans, shorts, shirts, shoes and even their underwear has to have the hip logo somewhere in view, or they just won't fit in. Any business executive who wants to appear successful has to flash the proper signature or their credentials could be called into question. Look at their briefcases, sunglasses, luggage, suits, shoes and ties for proof. I've talked to enough of them to know how important this is to them and their image.

If it isn't pride that causes us to choose one brand over another, it's probably our loyalty to heritage that does. I know life long Republicans and Democrats who are what they are just because their family always has been. Party platforms aside, they will find a good reason to be loyal even if they don't believe it themselves. I wait with a great sense of longing for a time that most likely will not come when allegiance to principle will mean more than the proper name of the political group. Sometimes even when they agree on an issue, the leaders of our government can't say it publicly for fear of supporting an opposing party's initiative. If we all hope to achieve the same thing, working together would be a great way to do it.

We do it in church too. There are a lot of political parties in our country. There are a million times as many different types of churches. How many times have you been to a gathering of Christians to hear someone get up and ask how many Baptists or Methodists or Pentecostals are in the house? We label ourselves. I understand that we have to call all of the varieties of belief something. But I actually know some who feel their denomination is superior to the others. Most don't feel they are exclusive, but some actually do. And some wear their denominational affiliation like a teenage preppy does their branded clothes. If we all hope to achieve the same thing, working together would be a great way to do it.

Loyalty is admirable. I am loyal to a lot of things and people. Some folks may feel my loyalties are valid, and some may not. But I hope my allegiance will not be a barrier to anyone. And I certainly don't want them to be cause to challenge the guy driving the other brand of truck when I don't even know why he's driving it.


just because they belong to me

I wonder if God enjoys spending time with me the way I love being with my own kids. This is fall break week in my kid's school district, so we've had a chance to hang out and spend more time than usual with each other these past few days. I've had a blast. Christian and I traveled to North Carolina together this past weekend. All of those hours in the car with my son were a treat for me. I think he got bored. Casie and I have watched movies, shopped and eaten more in the last couple of days than is probably legal. Our excuse is the occasion. Daddy-daughter time.

I often lay down at night wondering what is on my kid's minds. What are they thinking? I can ask, but they don't often tell. I can't imagine that they are always thinking of video games, cars and boyfriends. But then again, maybe they are. I don't expect them to have me on their minds all the time, but do they ever think of me the way I think of them?

If you have kids, you know that it is impossible to think of life without them. Of course, I know some folks who don't have kids, and don't want any. They couldn't imagine life with them. But I'm in the former group. My life without my children in it would simply be incomplete and void of a certain element that I can't even explain. I get frustrated sometimes with my inability to express to Casie and Christian how very, very deep my love for them is. I wish there was a word for it. Or at least one they could understand.

I could imagine how corny it would sound to them for me to say, "You are my child, my blood, my creation. My love for you is agape." They'd say, "When do we eat?" They have no idea what agape means. But that is the closest word that explains the passion that I have for my children. They don't have to earn it, pay for it, manipulate it, convince me they deserve it, work it up or even appreciate my love. They don't have to understand what motivates it, or why it is so dependable. They are in a position to simply receive my love. And just as they can't do anything to make me love them any more, it is impossible for them to force me to stop loving them - try as they might. They are my children, and I will love them through the worst decision they will ever make, the ugliest moments of their lives and even when they resent it. That is agape love. Sound familiar?


a very proud brother

Did you hear the news? Most of you know that I recently signed a recording agreement with Daywind Records. I'm thrilled about that, but that's not the news. I told you that to set up the scenario.

This past Thursday night I was sitting with a passel full of Daywind Records folks watching the Singing News Fan Awards show at the National Quartet Convention. These folks are loyal to their artists. Now that I am one, I can say that they treat us well. So, I sorta felt like the visiting fan sitting among the home team faithful when the nominees for favorite soloist were read and the winner was announced.

Dr. Jerry Goff: "And the winner of the 2005 Singing News Fan Award for favorite soloist is... - pause for effect, or opening the envelope or reading a novel (it seemed like I was under water looking for air until he finally said) MARK BISHOP!" I coulda swore the earth stopped spinning. What a moment! The earth might've stopped on its axis, but I didn't. I had an old fashioned Pentecostal shoutin' spell right there in front of my whole new record company. I'm surprised they didn't go into executive session to renegotiate my deal.

I think the last time I was as proud was when my then nine year old son Christian was playing on a twelve year old little league baseball team and the coach called him in from the outfield to finish pitching a game. We still lost, but the whole team rushed the mound when it was finally over and carried his tiny frame off the field on their shoulders. Or the time my daughter Casie made her debut as one of the Gaither Homecoming Kids, singing and dancing her way into the hearts and homes of millions via video and CD. These were some of the single proudest moments of my life. And now I have this new one to look back on. The fact that MY BROTHER was the only soloist to perform alone on that big center stage all week long did a lot for me too.

*NOTE TO EVERYONE WHOSE NUMBER IS STORED IN MY CELL PHONE - The frantic and incoherent call you received around seven o'clock this past Thursday night was me having a very spiritual moment. Thanks for not calling the police.


compassion instead of contempt - helping the victims

Hurricane Katrina has done a number on me. I won't pretend that I've been affected in the same ways or to the degree of the devastated people in and around New Orleans, south Mississippi and Alabama, but this terrible tragedy has not come and lingered without reaching into my home in Kentucky.

I was laying in my bed the other night, looking at the endless footage of displaced families, destitute mothers and hopeless hearts, thinking about how fortunate and blessed I am to be laying in my comfortable bed, viewing it from a distance. I didn't see anyone on the screen that I knew. No face looked familiar to me. No names came to mind as I watched. I wasn't personally affected, so why did my heart feel so heavy?

I was both amazed and saddened the next morning when arrogant and safe people who were thousands of miles from the heartache called the local radio talk shows to complain about the people in New Orleans. They called their demands for hastened relief unreasonable and impatient. "They should've got out while they could," one man said. "Seems to me they didn't have enough sense to get in out of the rain," said another. The more I listened, the angrier I got. As much as I believe there is absolutely no excuse whatsoever for shooting, looting and raping, especially in such a time of crisis, the harsh and insensitive words of these callers revealed to me that they were no more honorable than the outlaws in the streets of that city.

I can't imagine, and neither can they, the enormous grief, sense of loss and utter despair that these people have all-of-the-sudden been forced to confront. Regardless of whether it could have been averted, now is not a good time to offer a sermon on how to be better prepared for the coming storm. (I could make some tremendous personal parallels to my own life here, but this is not the place or time.) Now is the time to offer shelter, comfort, life necessities and, most importantly, love to these human beings who've just had their lives scarred forever. These are deep gashes. Little children have just witnessed, firsthand, scenes that most of our own kids will only see from a distance on a screen. Some of them will never get over it.

As Believers, we now have the opportunity to be more than mouthpieces and cheap ministers. Some people have practical skills and services to offer. Many of them are in the middle of the devastation now, doing what they know how to do to help. I feel I'd be in the way there. So I am doing what I can to help from here. I have volunteered to serve in one of the FEMA call centers that is located here in Kentucky. I have also given financial resources to help some of the displaced families. And I am also participating in a fundraising concert event that will take place in Knoxville, Tennessee on September 27th at the Chilhowee Hills Baptist Church. Several other artists are appearing as well. We all should want to do what we can with the abilities we have. Our worship to God requires nothing less.


friends who sing and care

There have to be more pleasant things to do than standing exposed to the scrutiny of a crowd you aren't sure is even in the house to see you. I might've been on the program, but no one bought a ticket because I was there.

Most everyone knows that Kirk Talley is one of my best friends. He invited me to join him and the rest of the Trio (Anthony Burger & Shane Dunlap) for a good night of singing and sharing at their concert in Maryville Tennessee this past weekend. Thing is, no one knew I was gonna be there. At least they weren't supposed to. This was my first time on a stage in the east Tennessee area since coming off the road so many years ago. I didn't know what to expect. And the uneasiness was made a bit more intense because of an email I had endured from a former fan with some spikes and a hammer just before heading out my Kentucky door. I had a few travel hours to contemplate her meaningful words.

Joyce Martin is another great friend. Our stories are remarkably alike. We've both enjoyed riding the highs of our public careers while keeping very private battles tucked deep. We've had our fairly recent God encounters though. Now we are facing the music, and the people, anxious to tell our stories. The stuff we've been preaching and singing for a couple of decades has come home to at least two of us.

That's one of the things we talked about. Joyce, Kirk and I could write some amazing verse if a book were ever put together. If the chapters flowed as the emotions have, you'd be sick from the inclines, loops and all-of-the-sudden steep drops. All three of us have called one or the other of our little trio in the middle of the night just to cry or vent it out. The moment's high is usually tempered by the expectation of the next hard knock or crushing email. But that doesn't mean we won't enjoy those good times while we have them.

After the concert, Joyce, Shane and I went to Kirk's house to finish off the food that had been left over backstage. That gave us opportunity for another round of bucking each other up. And we took advantage of it. I wondered what Shane was thinking just listening in to our happy, sappy, crappie tales. He's had his own share of serious injuries in the SG business, but not with the issues the rest of us know.

When we started repeating ourselves (around 4 am) we decided that a little rest would give us all fresh perspective. Shane drew the short straw. He got the floor. Joyce got the guest room And I got the couch. We heard Kirk snickering from his own room. Shane obviously couldn't sleep. I know he said something about camping when he was a kid, but I was nearly making firewood by then.

Sunday morning church was just sweet. Kirk's pastor, Tommy Patterson, is the perfect picture of a fiery Pentecostal preacher. He preaches hard, keeps you involved, and commands authority. I loved him. As hard as he preaches to you while on the stump, he loves you just as much afterwards. And he's funny too.
After lots of laughing as friends, a little crying as comrades, and even a little brow beating as fellow artists, we all packed up our own bags of dirty clothes and tough life issues and ventured off in different directions. But we'll get together again before long. And we'll talk about good days, booger days and the beautiful things that God is showing us.


a night in the valley

Last night was simply fantastic! I made the 50 mile drive south out of Lexington to Renfro Valley. "The Valley," as folks around here call it, has hosted nearly every big name in country and gospel music. So many legends have been across the stages of both the "old" and the "new" barns that it would be tough to list them all. Even though Connie Hunt, who has been running the shows at the entertainment complex for quite a few years could probably rattle off a bunch of them. The Bishops performed there quite a bit, and it was always a blast. In fact, there was a much earlier version of Bishops that performed on those legendary stages many years before there was an official group using the name. Dad, his sisters and his brother took their own tight family harmony to Valley audiences long before he was thinking about a family of his own and coming back.

I went down for the annual All Night Gospel Singing. This event has been going on for a lot of years. It used to start at midnight and run 'til about six in the morning. That's back when the Bishops (later version) were doing it. They still call it an all night singing, but now it's a 7 PM till midnight show. I don't know if the ticket buyers wanted the change or the artists. But knowing our thoughts on it, I'd say the singers probably asked for it.

There are lots of great shows in the Valley. Last night's lineup was the Freemans, Crossway, the Booth Brothers and Jeff & Sheri Easter. Danny Jones was there too. I didn't buy a ticket. Couldn't. The show was sold out. But I didn't plan on sitting in a paid-for seat anyway. I was there as much to visit friends as I was to hear the music.

As always, the first thing I did when I arrived was tap on Jeff & Sheri's door. Back when my name was only spoken in hushed whispers among many in the SGM artist/industry circles, (it actually still is by some) and the phone stopped ringing, I'd still hear from Jeff & Sheri. Jeff has invited me out on the road with them at least a hundred times. So have several other groups. But I've always been able to confide in these sweet people. And they've always been honest with me. I didn't always like their advice. But I always knew they'd steer me with their hearts.

I visited with Jeff, Sheri, Charlotte, Greg, Madison and Landon for a while, (don't know where Morgan was) then went inside to hear one of my favorite groups. Crossway is just good. They look good, they sound good, the smell good. They're just good. I told them last night that their song, It Looks Like Love absolutely blows me away. Matt stood center stage and flatfoot sang right into my heart with it last night. They've staged that song very well. I was actually back in the Booth Brothers' green room when I heard the intro to this fantastic song. I left the hilarity for a moment to listen. If the whole night was spent visiting friends, I was bent on hearing that one song. I plan on having Paul's hair when I grow up.

Speaking of whimsical, wacky, Willie Wonka wonderment, did I mention my friends the Booth Brothers? Maybe it's because these two brothers used to travel with their dad. Maybe it's because the Booths and the Bishops both started, or at least spent time with, the same record company. Maybe it's because Michael and I are brothers who, for the sake of society's safety, were separated at birth. But I get these guys. I connect with them. Besides their music, which is some of the most pleasant in the market, they have the most attractive personalities out there. My magic moment came when, during the Booth Brother's stand, Michael called me out on the stage to share some of the things going on in my life, work, family and ministry, and he gave me an opportunity to invite folks to visit me here on the site. I've always known them as very selfless and giving.

Some of the groups I grew up listening to and enjoying the most as a kid were the ones I saw every Sunday morning on the Gospel Singing Jubilee. But they didn't seem to come to our area as much as the Singing Cookes, the Primitive Quartet and the Freemans did. I loved 'em all. I remember singing with the Freemans just outside of Grundy, Virginia once. All of the other groups on the program had been there since early morning for the all-day singing. Darrell rolled in with the Freeman's bus sometime about mid-afternoon and ran straight to the promoter and asked if he could sing real quick so he could get home to see his new baby. Chris had just delivered their firstborn son and Darrell hadn't even met him yet. Now the kid is sixteen years old and playing drums for the family. I couldn't believe it has been sixteen years.

I've always loved hearing this family sing. I can't think of another family group out there who showcase such very distinctively diverse voices. But they all compliment each other. Chris can bellow for me all night. Darrell sings like a radio DJ and Joe is simply solid, smooth and on perfect pitch. Then there is Misty. Anthony is a friend of mine who loves SGM. He goes with me to a lot of the area's concerts. He's a HUGE Misty Freeman fan. We decided last night while listening to Misty sing that Gospel music is where the real talent is. I don't know if all of it is there, but last night proved to me that this kind of music is no second to any other genre.