Music has always been a part of my life. My father was a jazz saxophonist and conductor, my mother was a vocal music teacher. My uncle was the music director for "Mister Roger's Neighborhood" and one of the best jazz pianists of his day. For our family, music wasn't just something to listen to or to play; it was a way of communicating. I was exposed to so many styles — just by being immersed in the music around me.
I started playing the saxophone at age 10 — I wanted to be just like dad. He had a great way of teaching, and was a great, melodic player. He taught me to listen to other players, especially Stan Getz — he would say "always respect the melody, man". I loved it when he would talk to me like the jazz "cats". Jazz was the originator of the word "cool" and I thought my dad was "cool" in every way.
By high school, I already had so many opportunities to play and be a soloist. I began to realize that being a musician was a way to get noticed! I was really small for my age and really wanted to be accepted, so this became a primary motivation. I was invited to play in a wedding band at age 15, playing both bass guitar and saxophone. I saw that wedding jobs had two great benefits: They paid great and the alcohol was always free. From this point on, I began down a slippery path which was filled with success in music and a lot a failure in life.
I worked my way through college by playing in various bands and also played lead tenor sax in the Indiana University of Pennsylvania jazz ensemble. While on campus, a rock band approached me to play bass for them. To this point, I had never used drugs, and I knew these guys were heavily into drugs. However, they also were one of the most sought after bands, and I felt that I could stay clean. I lasted two weeks...the path of "success" now included marijuana, cocaine and other drugs.
Music was now completely utilitarian — only a means to get some sort of gratification. I thought I was really "hip", but my life on the inside was sinking lower and lower.
The band broke up but I continued to play in an acoustic duo with one of the members. On a trip to New York, we nearly had a fistfight over the last "roach" (the butt of marijuana joint). I told my partner: "Man, you are really messed up". I was completely blind to my own condition.
A few weeks later, in our hotel room, where we usually got high between sets, my partner pulled out a Bible and began to talk to me about Jesus. I thought he was kidding — we used to make fun of the "Jesus people", and he was particularly good at it. But he wasn't kidding. He told me he wanted to quit playing and that we were done after the next several weeks of gigs.
I was so angry! If there was a God, why was he doing this to me? I began to look at my life: I had been drunk or high for the past 30 days straight. I lied all the time. I had no job, a ruined relationship with my girlfriend and very little money. It was like I was living out the reality of the old Three Dog Night song: "Mama told me not to come".
I also couldn't help noticing the change my partner. Why was he so happy? No drugs, no alcohol. It just didn't make sense.
Then, sometime in the summer of 1984, a light began to dawn on me. Could this be true? — This whole thing about Jesus? I grew up in the church, but never really believed more than the fact that there might be a God. My partner had given me a little tract which talked about becoming a Christian. One night, alone in my room, I prayed to a God I didn't know: "Jesus, if you are real, and you can show that to me, I will believe in you and follow you". That's all I said. Yet, in an instant, through what I would later come to understand as the Holy Spirit, I knew that Jesus was who he said he was!
A New Life
From that day on, things began to change. Drugs were virtually gone. Alcohol, too. I found a joy that I never knew before. Yes, there were struggles and failures, but God was faithful to His promise to keep me. I got a job — a good one! My ruined relationship became a restored love and now my wife of 24 years. God gave us seven children!
What about music? I needed to stop for a few years. Everything around music was sinful for me. God had to clear a lot of that up. Then one day, someone asked me to play in church...was playing the saxophone in church OK? I prayed about it, and then played an arrangement of "Amazing Grace". From that day on, I knew that I could play a "new song" with this instrument!
God then opened many doors for me. I made a cassette of hymns, which eventually was signed by a small label and sold over 100,000 copies. Unbelievable. The owner of the record company was a gracious and well-connected man. Through him, I've had the honor to appear with many Christian artists such as Michael W. Smith, Amy Grant, Ron Kenoly and Rebecca St. James. I've had the privilege of playing all over the United States, and many places internationally, including Korea, Italy, and the Dominican Republic.
Why would God do all of this? It is hard for me to believe, but I know that it still goes back to that first hymn. It's all of His grace.
Growing in Grace — A Life of Power...
Through all of this, while I never once doubted my salvation, I wrestled often with day-to-day struggles. There were sin battles that I couldn't seem to win. When I would preach or teach, no matter how hard I studied, there seemed to be a lack of result. When I would play, there was often stress and anxiety. I had traveled to virtually the whole spectrum of churches — and seen and heard many doctrines on the Christian life. But my own personal experience was less than I saw in the Scriptures — less than I believed God had for his children. Why?
There is certainly some mystery to the working of God, but in regards to this area, it all boiled down to the reality of the Person and the work of the Holy Spirit. I really did not know what it meant to "abide". As A.W. Tozer once said, "The average Christian's understanding of the Holy Spirit is so small as to be virtually nonexistent."
By the mercy and grace of God, he is teaching me daily to live a life of unconditional surrender, total dependence on Him, and living by the Spirit (Gal. 5:16). Day by day, I am finding the freedom and joy that God intended, and the power for daily living that God provides abundantly. I thank God that I am beginning to be able to say: "...for me, to live is Christ...I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me." (Philippians 3)
If you've gotten this far in reading, thanks for taking the time to know my story. What's yours? I'd love to hear it. Write to me sometime!