Maidan, war and refugees

My heart for and involvement in Ukraine over the last years has been due to a number of things, chief among them sensing the call of God, but also through seeing the lives of believers as they have walked through incredibly difficult times for their nation.

I first saw that call lived out before me in the lives of the staff of New Life Church, Kyiv  (Anatoly, Nadia, Anton, Anya, Oleg and Oksana) and then in the lives of the leadership, staff and students of the Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary (UETS)(Anatoliy, Ivan, Oles, Denis, Marina, other staff and my students).

With all else going on in the world these days and in our nation, even the events of the last few years in Ukraine have somewhat faded from our ADHD culture.  I would like you to take a few minutes and get to know the clear thinking, passion and integrity of these brothers and sisters in Christ through 2 short videos that line out the history of the “Revolution of Dignity” as the protests in Maidan are now known, and the on-going struggle against the Russian-backed separatists in the eastern regions of Ukraine as Crimea was annexed by Russia.

UETS and its’ leadership have been honestly wrestling through these times with their hearts in God’s Word and their ears listening to his Spirit as to how they should respond in very difficult circumstances.  They have put together these videos that tell the story of the real issues they have faced and how they continue to respond.

The first video, Maydan: Response (13:22) talks of how they responded as Christians to an unjust government, and the second,War and Refugees (10:41) tells of how they have responded to those fleeing from attack in their own cities.

“We just wanted to tell our friends and partners abroad about what we came through in 2013-2014, and are still going through now.” – Oles Dmytrenko, Communication and Development director.

“Critical times for the nation challenged our theology and understanding of mission.” – Denis Kondyuk, Dean of Theology.

Take less than 30 minutes of your TV binge-watching time, meet my colleagues and some of my students here and I think you’ll understand why I keep going back.


Steve Ogne

This past Wednesday, this world lost a humble, passionate, Kingdom-minded churchman and I lost someone who was probably the best “best friend” of my entire life, Steve Ogne.

When I say lost, I mean it more in the sense of being “temporarily misplaced,” not “permanently irretrievable.” We know where he is, we just no longer have direct access to him. He has another occupation in God’s presence right now. At some point, we will join him. He did so much for the Kingdom of God in teaching, training, coaching and strategizing that I will probably have to wait in line to see him when I get there. For me, he was a faithful friend, wise counselor, long-time board member, encourager, coach, and confidant.

September 1982

I have known Steve since the late 1970’s, when we were both connected to Calvary Community Church in Thousand Oaks/Westlake Village, CA. Steve was on staff, and I was a missionary supported by the church and very much a part of the music program. Actually, together we helped start the church’s first singles group, where he met his wife, Jane. He was in our wedding in 1982, served as part of my ministry board for almost 9 years, he and Jane were a home for Judie and me in-between tours so many times, helped us move time and again, and he even spoke at my ordination. When I was in town, we would always try to go to the LA Auto Show every year–he was a true son of the LA area when it came to his cars! I would call him to work through things I was facing; he would share things in his life, but inevitably would wind up sharing something simply profound with me that would point me to God’s power and wisdom in facing the situation. He was so much more than just a friend. He would challenge and prod me. Years and distance did not dim the relationship–we could say anything to each other, knowing that we knew we would be understood and respected. I valued his input completely.

May 1988

Judie and I were itinerant for several years, later moved to the UK, and then to middle Tennessee while they stayed in Ventura County, California. I actually got to take Steve on his first overseas trip to the UK in the Spring of 1989, which opened up a whole new perspective for him. Later, he would teach and train church planters in Australia, Europe, and India (amongst other places), and thanked me for dragging him out of his homebody comfort zone.

His ministry to church planters, church planting coaches and denominations are well-known to those he poured into over the years. Steve strongly believed that the best way to reach people for Christ was to plant new churches and then make disciples; he followed through with that as his life’s passion. Others will expound on that, I am sure.

About 1996, Steve began to face many unusual and perplexing life-threatening illness in odd combinations. From then until now, he faced diabetes, flesh-eating bacteria, various leg bones being broken, staph infection, heart attack, triple-bypass surgery, cancer of the bladder/removal/reconstruction, kidney failure and last year, amputation of his left leg below the knee. I would joke with him and ask if there were any more major life-threatening diseases he had on his bucket list. It was a tough battle for him and for Jane and their sons–last year he spent quite a few months in the hospital and in rehabilitation. But he rarely complained; he just kept going in the new seasons that were presented to him.

In more recent years, his youngest son Greg and our son Joel both wound up at Belmont University in Nashville at the same time (having been born the same year), which meant that at least a couple of times a year we could see him and Jane here in the area. One of my most memorable times with him was taking the opportunity to be with him for a whole afternoon while he had kidney dialysis here. They let me sit with him the entire time and we talked for hours about family, ministry, our lives and the state of the Church–and also laughed our heads off. Even having dialysis three times a week, he continued to coach and encourage leaders on the phone the rest of the time.

By God’s grace and provision through a friend from the UK, I was able to be in southern California in July and then to spend the better part of two days with Steve. I had the honor of serving him by helping him in and out of the car with his wheelchair, having a long brunch, just talking and hanging out, and then helping he and Jane do little things around the new house they were just going to move into after being in the same home for 26 years. We talked about the future and the new seasons we were both facing, and I will never forget what he said–“This is your calling!! Don’t mess around, don’t put it off, step out in faith. You need to focus on it and do what you need to do to make it happen!”

Our time ended as it often did, with me helping fix something about his computer or other technology. I needed to go, but didn’t really want to, and I could sense that was the same for him–it was a very difficult goodbye.

July 2015

Steve died Wednesday, October 14, not too long after his 59th birthday, while back in the hospital waiting for the amputation of his remaining leg due to multiple issues. A celebration of his life will be held at Calvary Community this Friday, October 23 at 10:00 am. I can’t be there.

I am heartbroken that I will be unable to make it. That same afternoon at 1:40pm Central time, while the service will be wrapping up, I am scheduled to board a plane to Kiev, Ukraine to teach foundations of worship at Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary and be there for 12 days. It’s an amazing privilege that Steve knew about and saw as God’s special gift for me. I’ve tried for the last several days to change my flight and move things around, but that has proven impossible and impossibly costly. I hate not being there for Jane, Tim, Jeff, and Greg. I hate not being there for me.

However, all I can hear is Steve’s insistence ringing in my ear, “This is your calling; do what you need to do. Don’t put it off any longer.” I guess I will have to do just that to honor my friend, Steve Ogne.

Thanks, Steve. See you soon. You are a true friend. Well done.

History, nostalgia and praise! A few thoughts on CCM United.

[NOTE: This was originally posted on my Facebook page in late January of this year.  I thought it deserved to be re-posted here, with a few small edits.]

I’m basking in the glow of what several hundred of us experienced in person last night, joined by many thousands who saw the live stream of “CCM United – We Will Stand” here in Williamson County, Tennessee.  33 artists, 40 songs–some old, some new, most in the middle of the heyday of Contemporary Christian music.  Joy, tears, thanksgiving – it had all that and more.  [For a full list of who was there, and the opportunity to see the entire three hours, go to] Many thoughts are running through my mind this morning as I’ve been reading posts and posting videos myself.  They are a bit random, but I’ll share them.

  • I’m so grateful for relationships that allowed Judie and I to be there with last-minute tickets.  Thanks to Mike Harland and Sue Moser for being so generous.  What an experience…
  • Having been in and around Christian music and the “industry” since I was 16 (that’s 42 years ago, if you’re counting), and being part of events like the Christian Artists’ Seminar (Estes Park) and Gospel Music Week (GMA)–I know all the different issues that are part of putting this kind of event together.  Schedules, relationships (past and current), sponsorship, past hurts, logistics, egos, spiritual attack, personal interests and yes, industry pCCMUnited_grandeolitics all come to bear on this stuff.  In our brokenness and by God’s grace, we move ahead.  Thanks to Stan Moser and his dogged persistence in being point person and midwife in bringing this to birth, and to the whole team.
  • The room was filled mostly with people who were (and are) part of seeing all of CCM happen over the years.  Executives, publishers, songwriters, producers, managers, booking agents, pastors, group leaders, worship leaders and other artists all had a chance to enjoy, celebrate and reflect.  I know I left at 11:30, and folks were still hanging out, visiting, laughing and crying together.  So many good friends and associates who shared so much experience and so little time to hang…
  • A special shout-out to my friend, almost-team-member, and past board member Neal Joseph.  It really was like watching your life story tonight (obviously others as well), but seeing The Imperials, Sandi Patty, Dallas Holm, Michael English, First Call and Wayne Watson on the same stage tonight put it all in perspective.  Your love, care, talent and persistence in supporting, signing, arranging or producing these artists (and many others) has borne phenomenal fruit.  Thanks.
  • Great to see other artists who have been part of CCM history happy to be there, even though they were not up front–thinking of my friends Byron Spradlin (early artist on Light Records), Paul Johnson (arranger and writer extraordinaire) and Steve Fry (worship writer, artist and pastor).

Some thoughts about history and perspective on these past 40+ years.  Any time you talk about history, folks will have a different perspective based on their experience.  We need to fight to get context as we read or recall anything from the past.  Even historians have a perspective, and that’s what makes it interesting and more fully-orbed.  Think of it like different camera angles on the same scene in a movie…one shot is not better than another, but the different angles help to give a more 3D version of what happened.  You have to pick and choose the shots, and in any movie or documentary, some things get left on the cutting room floor–you can’t include them all in order to tell the story.

We had a great story told last night–nothing can take away from that, and it was most certainly true.  I wept and cheered with the rest, and memories of past ministry that I received and also gave filled my heart.  Praise God for that!  When it comes to Contemporary Christian music, these artists and songs are key to the core of it.  However, I walked away wanting to also acknowledge and challenge us all to remember some of the other pioneers and get to know their work and the investments they made to establish and confirm what we enjoyed last night.  There was absolutely no way to include all the artists who have contributed, and many were highlighted and named in the projections on stage. Even that couldn’t mention all.

Let me mention and honor a few and give you a resource that will help you with more perspectives, more camera angles.  First, 40 years is not the full history of CCM.  It did not start in 1975–the celebration was of 40 years of CCM, not of all of it!  Love Song, who were honored and performed along with Phil Keaggy (who actually was part of the group at one point) started before 1975. The Jesus Movement was a significant revival that started in the last 1960’s, and was the catalyst for many to come to Christ, as well as being a seminal source for what has become modern worship with Maranatha! Music as well as CCM.  Love Song and many others pioneers were part of a Jesus Music documentary done around 1999 called “First Love.”  Check it out at–a 2 CD and 2 DVD set that shares testimonies and stories of that significant move of God.  It features Love Song, 2nd Chapter of Acts, Barry McGuire, Andraé Crouch, Randy Stonehill, Jamie Owens Collins, Honeytree, Paul Clark, John Fischer, Terry Clark, Matthew Ward, Annie Herring, Darrell Mansfield, Chuck Girard, Randy Matthews and a Keith Green tribute with Melody Green.  If you don’t know this history, you need to.

And, from my perspective, there were others who paved the way both in making the church ready to receive music more closely allied to the culture in my lifetime.  I first think of Ralph Carmichael and Jimmy and Carol Owens, who were pushing against the barriers in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.  Light Records was the home for so many of the artists who were pioneers in CCM, and Ralph’s musicianship and commitment to excellence in ministry that both reached the culture and served the church laid a solid foundation for those who would follow.  And he’s still at it in his 80’s–check out the Ralph Carmichael Big Band!

Jimmy and Carol Owens–significant early mentors and encouragers of artists and musicians like Andraé Crouch (Jimmy produced his first album) as well as Paul Johnson (who was at last night’s event) and Michael Omartian (who was the musical director)–created projects like “Come Together” which basically took a contemporary worship service and put it on record, and “If My People” and “The Witness” which called the church to intercession, and told the story of Jesus in compelling, powerful ways.  Artists like Andraé, 2nd Chapter (Matthew Ward, Nelly Griesen and Annie and Buck Herring), and Barry McGuire made their house a second home where they laughed, played and prayed. (Not to mention their daughter Jamie Owens Collins, who made it her first home!)  They are also still at it, encouraging artists and songwriters (songs like “Holy, Holy” and “Freely, Freely” are theirs), and calling the church to intercession for the nation.

I was glad to see that Thurlow Spurr was in attendance last night, and Stan rightly acknowledged him for his contributions.  So many folks that we know as arrangers, writers, and artists in CCM cut their teeth on the road traveling with The Spurrlows, Festival of Praise or other groups he started–Larnelle Harris, Sharalee, Dave Williamson, Terry Winch, Jon Mohr to name only a very few.  But another who travelled with Thurlow pioneered a ministry that would eventually see 40,000 plus travel in music ministry around the world, Cam Floria, founder of Continental Singers (The Continentals, Continental Ministries) and Christian Artists.  Artists who were on the platform last night like Wayne Watson got their start in Continentals, while at least several dozen others in the room traveled as part of Continental tours (including me and my wife Judie).  Michael W. Smith came as a young artist to the Christian Artists’ seminar and got early encouragement there.  Thousands of church worship leaders also cut their teeth with Continentals and were shaped by their international and inter-denominational touring.

This is only the tip of the iceberg, only a few of the additional camera angles that will add perspective to what we saw last night.  Stan Moser’s book “We Will Stand” adds a few more.  Dig deeper and you’ll see even more to give thanks to God for.

Finally, I’ll share my two most enduring images of last night, separate from what was onstage.  Both spoke of humility and joy in the journey.  First, as I was chatting with Travis Cottrell about the evening, a gentleman stopped as he was walking out and said how much he had appreciated Travis’ contribution to the evening and the ministry of it.  I looked twice, and it was Steve Archer, lead singer of the family group he had with his brother and sister “The Archers.”  He was the Russ Taff of his day, and could probably still match him note-for-note.  Yet, he was not onstage–Russ (and Travis) were.  The humility of his sincere congratulations that I got to observe spoke volumes.  Second, it was only about halfway through the event that I realized in the back row of the string section, happy and joyfully playing his cello, was Greg Nelson.  Producer of Steve Green, Sandi Patty and countless others and co-writer of “People Need the Lord,” Greg was in the back row making what others might see as an insignificant contribution to a significant night.  But not to my friend Greg…he was happy just to be a part.

May it be so for all of us as we go and grow in our ministry of music and worship.

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