losing anthony...

Even with a daily listing to remind us that our lives are not without limit, it is when the hand of death comes so close to us that we are shaken awake and reminded that we have only a few real opportunities to do the thing we are certain God has created us to do. He calls. He equips. We do. That's what Anthony Burger did to the very, very last moment. He did the thing that God had called him, and most certainly equipped him to do. And he did it till the end of his life.

We wanted him to do it a lot longer. We expected the energetic entertainment, the masterful music, and the special spirit that Anthony shared from the stage so many days and nights of his life to last many more years. Many of us depended on his friendship, his counsel and his wit to lighten our personal loads. His family needs his guidance, his support and his love because that's what family members do for each other. Now all of us are devastated by the abrupt ending, and broken by the terrible loss.

I just took a look at my local newspaper. I scanned the obituary page to see if there was anyone listed there that I knew. There were probably thirty or so names mentioned with just enough information to make me ask myself if that was the so-and-so I knew as a kid. Friends of mine who work at the newspaper tell me it is consistently the most turned to and read page issue after issue.

I was relieved to find a page full of strangers today. But, no doubt, someone opened the page and gasped at the news as they learned for the first time of a fallen friend, neighbor or relative. Depending on the closeness they knew, they may have been able to move on and live the rest of their day with a sense of normalcy. Those of us who knew Anthony well won't enjoy that feeling for some time to come.


recording grace

I woke up this morning to more snow. The snow is not the news. Neither is the fact that I woke up. That I woke up this morning, however, is a bit surprising to me. I got in pretty late last night from three intense days of recording in Nashville. I was sure, and honestly, hoping, that I'd sleep at least until noon or later. But I didn't.

The last two or three recordings the Bishops made were based pretty much on a theme. We hadn't always taken that approach early on, but later we found it was a successful formula and helped the record companies and distributors market the recording. The last recording we made together, Stories, was probably the single best recording we ever put together. Every song was built around the idea of sitting around and sharing stories of faith, struggle and victory.

With an even more determined mindset, I wanted to do the same with my first solo recording in over ten years. When I started talking with the folks at Daywind Records, I had to work hard to convince them that what I wanted to try and do was worth the risk. They acknowledged a little concern, but ultimately felt good about the idea of putting together a record that makes grace and mercy the only thing you see - or hear. I'm grateful for their confidence in me. And now that we've chosen our songs, arranged the music, recorded the tracks, and put some singing on it, I'm more convinced than ever that this was the right thing to do.

Grace is just so huge. I mean, without it there would be no Southern Baptist Convention, no Roman Catholic Church, no Nazarenes, Methodists, Pentecostals, Mennonites, Adventists or anything else that teaches unconditional mercy. But grace is even bigger than all of the different flavors of Christianity. It's bigger than can be described in a sermon, a song, a book or a denominational creed. It goes and comes in so many different directions. It is given to us. We give it to others. There is the grace that sees past our sins to save us. The grace that sustains us in trouble and worry. There is even a grace that orders our steps. Grace is huge.

At first we were worried we wouldn't be able to find ten songs that say it the way we wanted to. In the end, we were disappointed that we had to keep it at such a limited number. We heard so many fantastic songs that gripped us, blessed us and made us shout. But we had to choose the ten that we felt said it best within the context of the complete recording. We could do quite a few records on grace. I'm really anxious for you to hear what we are putting together. A lot of my singing friends are joining me on several of the songs. I've been praying that God would make this the record that reaches the used-to-be believer. I've also been asking Him to use it to drag all of us who've been satisfied in our state-of-grace complacency, into the more dangerous places where grace can really abound. That has to be its real intent anyway.

We still have a bit more work to do on the recording. But grace will remain the focus, the message, the intent, the theme. I woke up excited about it way too early this morning.


saying goodbye to doug

It's snowing now. Just a few hours ago - this time yesterday in fact, it was sunny and pushing the mid-fifties. But now it's snowing and cold. Some people at the store this morning were complaining. Many had to change their plans. They'd enjoyed a few unusually warm and sunny Kentucky winter days this week, and planned for a few more. But now it's snowing.

Life is good for me now. I enjoy my work with the Governor's office; I have a lot of loyal, fun and honorable friends; the two most beautiful, talented and smart kids in the entire world call me daddy; I am awarded the grace of a loving God who believes in me. Life is good.

I woke up one morning this week to the same terrible and tragic news that you did. One of Christian music's most talented musicians, friends and believers stepped away from us. Had we known that Tuesday would be so sad we might have laughed a little more on Monday. Had we known, we'd probably have made one more call before bed. Had we known, surely we would've done something different, something at least to try and either prepare for the loss or avoid it all together. We wanted Doug Riley to stay with us. Had we known...

All of those people pushing their carts and whining about the weather had the luxury of a forecast. They had plenty of time to adjust their agendas. It was unreasonable to think that winter weather wouldn't show up in the winter. Complaining may have given them a sense of release, but the plows are still pushing snow to the side and spreading salt down the middle. The warmer days were a midwinter treat indeed, but putting the boots and shovels away was not ideal. Maybe they wouldn't have, had they known.

I didn't get to go to Doug's funeral. Another friend here in Kentucky said good-bye this week too. I was at his funeral. We had lots of time to plan for his passing though. He'd been very ill for quite a while. The news of his death was not unexpected. As sad as it was, it seemed much more natural and not nearly as difficult to believe. The thought of someone as alive as Doug, playing the drums or manning the mixing board or cracking a joke, taken so abruptly has left us all numb. The family of my friend in Kentucky had the luxury of a pretty reliable forecast. The family of my friend in Alabama did not.

It's still snowing. The forecast says it will for the next couple of days at least. But even if the experts told us differently, it's still winter in Kentucky - we might as well plan for it.