Remembering One of the Greatest Ministers of Music of All Time — Andrae Crouch

Andrae Crouch, who died Thursday, impacted generations with the songs God gave him to minister the Gospel. I wanted to remember what impact he had my life as a young church musician.

Courtesy: www.positivelygospel.com
Courtesy: http://www.positivelygospel.com

Early this morning on the radio,  I heard the chorus to the song “Take Me Back, Take Me Back, Dear Lord.” But, they didn’t come from a Gospel Radio Station or a Christian radio program.

Those words were coming through National Public Radio, which carried a story about the passing Thursday of one of the greatest Christian songwriters of all time: Andrae Crouch.

While those of us who literally grew up listening to Andrae Crouch’s music were saddened, he wouldn’t want us to be sad that he’s passed on from this life.

All we have to do is listen to the words of “Soon and Very Soon” and know that he’s had his head pointed toward heaven for many, many years.   It is the ultimate confidence that we as children of God have.

As Christians, our whole attitude about death and passing from this life on into eternity is different and we know and testify to that just by singing some of Crouch’s songs.

I can vividly remember learning how to play the piano by playing some of Crouch’s music.  Like Crouch, I too played piano (and the organ) in church as a teenager.

There are so many songs from the 1970s and 1980s–“Take Me Back,” ” Through It All,” “The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power, ” “My Tribute”– that taught me the power of music to minister to one’s soul.

As a singer, songwriter, choir director,  Crouch set the tone for what it meant to worship through our witnessing about what He means to us.   He showed us how to let the words of our testimony minister to others.

One of his last greatest hits– “Let the Church Say Amen” is a song that like dozens of others resonates with people to the point that they are sung not only in sacred, but also secular environments.

Crouch reached across racial lines with his music, touching those from all walks of life.

Even though he has passed on,  he’s left so much behind for us as music ministers of the Gospel to carry on.   Some have called Andrae Couch the “Father of Modern Gospel Music.”

If that is so,  then we the “children of modern Gospel Music” have to carry on Crouch’s work in our own singing of his songs, sharing the lyrics with those who are unsaved and writing our own songs that God places in our spirit and heart.

We’ll see Minister Crouch again one day  “Soon and Very Soon.”

Let the Church Say “AMEN.”

Five Biggest Takeaways from 2014 Southern Christian Writers Conference

Reflecting on the 2014 Southern Christian Writers Conference in Tuscaloosa, I came up with five things that I will remember the most from the weekend event.

ednasigns1
Edna Ellison signs a copy of her new book, Called to Write, for Kathleen Jones (right)

For more than a quarter century, Joanne and David Sloan and family have labored tirelessly to produce one of the best Christian writers conferences in the nation.

The Southern Christian Writers Conference (SCWC) draws 200 or more people to Tuscaloosa each June.

In spite of a busy schedule this week, much of it out of town, I was pleased to make it back to Tuscaloosa in time for some potentially life-changing encounters and insights from the dozens who gathered this weekend at Tuscaloosa’s First Baptist Church.

Here are my FIVE (5) biggest takeaways from this year’s two-day conference:

Edna Ellison shares her principles to become a writer on a mission.
Edna Ellison shares her principles to become a writer on a mission.

1.  Edna Ellison’s SEVEN Principles to Become a Writer on a Mission
I first heard Ellison, the author of 31 books and more than 400 articles, several years ago at this same conference.   It was great to see her back in the conference line-up with a brand new book she co-authored with Linda Gilden, Called to Write: Seven Principles to Become A Writer On Mission.

This afternoon, from her new book, she shared seven principles to become a writer on a mission

  1. Spirituality
  2. Scripture Study: A Biblical Basis
  3. Worldview
  4. Relationships: God, Self, Family and Others
  5. Communication (Including Speaking and Writing)
  6. Ministry  (including our role as a “word professor)
  7. Leadership (including writing for multiplication and duplication

2.  Candie Price’s  Suggestions for Social Media Marketing Strategy
I’m so glad I had a chance to hear Birmingham-based PR, Marketing and Social Media Strategist Candie Price, who contextualized all of the usual social media tips with a plea for the two dozen or so attending her session this morning to have a larger marketing plan.

I say “usual” because the topic of social media– Facebook and Twitter, in particular, has been a part of the SCWC for several years.   (I’ve moderated discussions at past conferences)

But  there are so many out there and many writing consultants simply say “you need to be there” without making a compelling argument WHY.

Candie Price from Priceless PR & Marketing Consulting gave lots of great social media tips at the SCWC this year.
Candie Price from Priceless PR & Marketing Consulting gave lots of great social media tips at the SCWC this year.

Price made that argument and a lot more in her 45-minute seminar this morning.

“Social media is not an island,” Price said.  “It has to be integrated, part of a plan.”

According to Price, that plan starts by knowing exactly who your target audience is for your book or writing.

Gathering that demographic information is a key part of the development of a larger social media marketing strategy.

“Most customers are on social media,” Price said.  “They’re searching and you want to be found.”

3.  Deborah Malone’s Strategies for Marketing My Own Book

Georgia-based fiction writer Deborah Malone gave all of those at her session something to think about when it comes to getting the word out about our books, whether fiction or non-fiction.

Malone left no stone unturned as she explained everything from how to utilize a QR code to send potential readers to one’s web site to the way in which she contacts local libraries to organize events where she can read her books, which are tied to communities at popular destinations around Georgia.

Sometimes we, as writers, can forget the most basic things such as making sure our photos on our social media pages are up-to-date.   Up until recently, I was guilty of that– having the same Facebook photo on my page for more than four years.

4.  Don Aycock’s Suggestions for THINKING like a CHRISTIAN WRITER

A Friday afternoon severe thunderstorm let up just in time for me to get indoors and catch Don Aycock’s evening keynote last night.

“It’s a difficult thing to lose your words, ” Aycock said.  “To write is to find your words.”

He reminded us that words can create and words can destroy.

As a reminder of how important what we do is, Aycock let us know that just like God has called us to be writers, He’s also called individuals to be our readers.

For Aycock, thinking like a Christian writer involves thinking about her writing as a sacred activity.

Quoting Tom Stoppard:

WORDS ARE SACRED THEY DESERVE RESPECT.  IF YOU GET THE RIGHT ONES IN THE RIGHT ORDER, YOU CAN NUDGE THE WORLD A LITTLE

I think all of us at the Southern Christian Writers Conference want to “nudge the world” like Stoppard and Aycock are suggesting we can.

5. A Host of New Friends in the Christian Writing Area

As one of my colleagues noted today at lunch, some of the best lessons at a conference can come not from the speakers or facilitators, but the fellow attendees with whom you interact during breaks and meals.

Carol Weeks, a humorist, told her story at a breakout session Friday for non-fiction writers.
Carol Weeks, a humorist, told her story at a breakout session Friday for non-fiction writers.

Moderating a non-fiction book writer’s breakout session afforded me the chance to meet an author of a book on a Holocaust survivor in the Birmingham area, a Christian humorist and a writer from nearby Berry, Ala. who is preparing the story of her near-death experience.

THE REAL WORK BEGINS

Like any writers conference, this 2014 edition of the Southern Christian Writers Conference is just the beginning of the change that we as writers want to make in what we do.

We leave inspired to climb to higher heights with what we write hoping that we can report major progress in the days, weeks and months to come.

I certainly left today’s conference inspired, jumping right into a couple of writing projects awaiting me as I arrived home this afternoon.

 

 

 

Time to Celebrate The Impact of A Beloved Educator–Charlie Bjerregaard

Former Science Teacher and Principal Charlie Bjerregaard should be remembered for the legacy of love for science and a strong Christian foundation that he provided thousands of students at Richmond’s Luther Memorial School.

Charles Bjerregaard
Charles Bjerregaard

RICHMOND, Va.–  I just did an Internet search on the name “Charles Bjerregaard” or “Charlie Bjerregaard” and only an obituary in the Richmond Times-Dispatch comes up.

So, on this day that we, his former students, family and friends gathered to celebrate his life,  I thought those on the World Wide Web ought to know how great Charles Edward Bjerregaard was.

A memorial service was held this afternoon at Richmond’s Trinity Lutheran Church for the 66-year-old Bjerregaard, who served as both a teacher and principal at Luther Memorial School, where I attended both elementary school and middle school.

I am so glad I was in town and could attend the service and speak one-on-one with Mr. Bjerregaard’s two children, Sean and Shannon, who were playmates of mine and my brother, Gerald when we all attended Luther Memorial.

The service, which lasted less than an hour, took me back to the Wednesdays we wore ties at chapel at Luther Memorial when we’d sing hymns and participate in responsive readings.   Today, as we read The Apostles Creed, I remember learning all parts of it for memory work at Luther.   This was part of the spiritual foundation that Mr. Bjerregaard as my seventh grade teacher provided me.

My FIRST SCIENCE TEACHER

By my recollection, it would be in around 1982 or 1983 when I first had the experience of working with test tubes, bunsen burners and frogs in Mr. Bjerregaard’s science classes.  Even before seventh grade, we’d learn about science in Mr. Bjerregaard’s room.    I remember the pull-down poster of the periodic table.   Long before 11th grade chemistry, I learned from Mr. Bjerregaard that “NaCl” stood for sodium chloride.

His classroom was different from the rest of the rooms in the “upper building” at Luther (for grades 5-8) because we had stools on which to sit at high tables.   We knew when we got to Mr. Bjerregaard’s class, it would not be long before we would be eighth graders and moving on to high school.

I graduated from Luther Memorial School in June of 1984  and have done a very poor job of keeping in touch with my classmates.

Today was not the time for a reunion.  As Michael Pottschmidt, senior pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church said, it was a time to “Be Still” and Know that our Lord is God.

Pottschmidt shared a few words of encouragement from the 10th verse of the 46th Psalm.

The program from today's service celebrating the life of Charlie Bjerregaard
The program from today’s service celebrating the life of Charlie Bjerregaard

BE STILL

Even though our beloved Pastor Robert Wind (formerly of Bethlehem Lutheran Church) was scheduled to speak at today’s service but could not attend due to illness,  the words of Rev. Pottschmidt  are ones that those of us who attended can take back to our lives decades after we left Luther Memorial School.

No matter whether we’re mourning the loss of Charlie Bjerregaard of some other loss of disappointment or challenge, as Christians, we have the “peace” that Jesus spoke of in John 14:27

I can remember in seventh grade, participating in devotions in Mr. Bjerregaard’s homeroom/religion period.  that’s where I learned how to read God’s word and understand it for myself.    I learned the idea of doing devotions, a daily event at Luther that we all should do now as adults..

Mr. Bjerregaard would be glad to know that his lessons on how to live as a Christian stuck with me all of these years and that I draw on them (and those of my other teachers at Luther Memorial School) regularly now as a faculty member and administrator at The University of Alabama.

“Many people loved dad and especially his children loved him,” said Sean Bjerregaard, who along with his sister, Shannon, made brief remarks at today’s service.

pepsi bottle
Mr. Bjerregaard loved Pepsi. This is one of those old bottles I remember him having around school at Luther Memorial.

They told stories and had a few of us laughing about their dad’s habit of having a pepsi bottle nearby.  He loved Pepsi.

I don’t know much about Mr. Bjerregaard’s post-teaching days.   But,  I know that the impact he made on hundreds, perhaps thousands of young people at Luther Memorial School here in Richmond was enormous.

For that reason, we pause today to THANK GOD FOR CHARLIE BJERREGAARD!

‘Bargainomics Lady’ Provides Wonderful Writing Wisdom For Aspiring Authors

Birmingham’s Bargainomics Lady Judy Woodward Bates shared some great tips for writers during a presentation this week.

judybatesViewers of her segments on Birmingham’s Fox 6 WBRC-TV probably don’t realize “The Bargainomics Lady,” who regular appears on the top-rated station, has experienced a lot of rejection in her life.

Judy Woodward Bates vividly remembers having a desk drawer full of rejection letters from places she attempted to publish her work.

But, from those experiences as a writer, Bates has ascended to mentor other writers, now based on having published three books.

I had the great fortune to sit in on one of her writing sessions this week as she recounted stories from the early days.

She started talking about ways to save money on television and radio segments in the Montgomery media market.  People started calling about her tips that she picked up living frugally and not relying on parents’ money.

“I became a real professional dollar squeezer before I really knew what that was,” Bates recalled.

Bates7book Her Biblically-based tips on budgeting and spending are detailed in two books, which I hope to obtain copies for myself soon.

The Bargainomics book, which she passed around during her presentation, seems like a good read for any of us looking for an accessible resource that presents Biblical money management wisdom in a way that’s easy-to-understand.

She is careful to remind those at her sessions that she is always looking for ways to share her faith as she shares tips on how to save.   After all, it was God who allowed her to be where she is today, now working on her fourth book.

“God just laid all this out,” Bates said.

As for those of us who want to publish our first books– she has a lot of great suggestions.

“You want to be the author of a well-written, well-put together book not just a book,” Bates said.

She says having three friends who will give you honest feedback on your writing is a must.    Additionally, we have to be willing to let the “baby” in our writing go and open ourselves up to constructive criticism about the way we tell a story and the words we use.

“Nothing can ruin a sentence worse than the wrong word,” she said.  “Use a thesaurus, but don’t rely on the thesaurus.”

Here are a few of her other tips:

  • Be wary of personal pet words
  • Words are so powerful if we’ll just put them in the right place
  • There’s more to good writing than using spell-check
  • Read your writing out loud
  • Record and listen to your writing the way one would an audio book.

Even before I read her books, Bates has captured my attention on multiple levels as an aspiring book author.

Austin Boyd Address Caps First Day of 21st Christian Writers Conference in Tuscaloosa

Austin Boyd, an award-winning novelist and engineer, gave the keynote address at the Southern Christian Writers Conference Friday in Tuscaloosa.

A would-be astronaut’s testimony was one of the highlights of the first day of the 2012 Southern Christian Writers Conference.

Huntsville’s Austin Boyd told of his journey from wanting to be an astronaut to writing about an astronaut in the person of Captain John Wells, who is featured in his trilogy, The Evidence, The Proof and The Return.

“Life is not a destination, ” said Boyd, who when he’s not working one of his now six novels, serves as chief executive officer for Inergi, Inc., an engineering and design firm said.

“God calls us to a journey not a destination,” Boyd told the audience of nearly 200 in attendance at this year’s Southern Christian Writers Conference this evening at Tuscaloosa’s First Baptist Church  “God will never test you beyond your ability to endure.”

Even as he presented his testimony, Boyd’s keynote addresses was full of tips for current and aspiring writers.   Among those tips were the following :

  •   A personal story when it’s published needs to have a ‘why do I [the audience] care’ component
  • Writers should do their part to encourage young writers
  • Success comes in perseverance
  • Writers need to regularly attend writers conferences and encourage one another.

Will 2012 Be the Year The Church Really Goes High-Tech?

Some local churches are starting out 2012 will current and future high-tech ways of worship. Richmond’s First African Baptist and Nashville’s Mt. Zion are just two examples.

Because it falls on a Sunday, New Year’s Day has a spiritual ring to it for those of us in the Body of Christ (better known as “The Church”).  But, today is seems that ring has an especially high-tech feel to it.  

Can you imagine watching baptism on an iPhone?  What about one of the nation’s oldest churches doing away with the use of hymnals?   Wireless connectivity enabling computing anywhere in the church building?

These things are already the norm in many places of worship, especially so-called megachurches.   But, in 2012 it may not  just be the megachurch that’s going high tech . 

I couldn’t help but note the tweets of Bishop Joseph Walker’s parishioners at Mount Zion Baptist in Nashville.

@ Angelo1906 tweeted

Watching @MtZionNashville on my Mt. Zion iPhone app. Man oh man, how I miss Nashville! Watched nearly 20 baptisms this mornin. #GloryToGod

@06Chocolate Thunder also wrote

@MtZionNashville has an app. It’s free…. Go download it. #TeamAndroid and #TeamIphone.

These tweets from Mt. Zion Baptist in the Music City (which most would term mega-churches with multiple locations) came on the same day as Richmond’s First African Baptist launched a new media and technology initiative that will take advantage of the smartphones that more and more churchgoers are bringing to church even as others are reading their Bible on an iPad or other ereader. 

Photo Courtesy: ZDNet

“Most people come to church, they bring some sort of device,” said Rodney Waller, senior pastor of Richmond’s First African Baptist Church. “We want our church to become wireless.”

Waller says by Easter, which falls on April 8, he wants his hundreds of parishioners to be reading the scripture from a large screen in the front of the church, which is located in Barton Heights community on the city’s northside.   Instead of hymnals, worshipers will sing from words projected on screen and scripture references will be beamed so that everyone has the same translation of the Bible.

The shift in technology at the 231-year-old First African Baptist  may be  indicative of a move that is happening in more and more local churches, regardless of size.  The reality of churchgoers who use smartphones and tablet devices everywhere else mandates that the traditional ways of worship be brought into the 21st century.

Today is the first Sunday I can remember when there was no church bulletin at First African Baptist Church (my home church).  The bulletins are not distributed at every service, replaced by a monthly printed newsletter.

It will be an exciting year to watch places of worship as they gear-up for high-tech Bible Study, evangelism, mission work and community ministry.   Stay tuned.

A Double-dose of Faith Preaching from Richmond’s Waller Kicks Off My 2012

First African Baptist Church Pastor Rodney Waller delivered two messages on faith on both New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day 2012.

RICHMOND, Va.– Two sermons, same minister within a 12-hour period– a way to close out 2011 and open up 2012- talking about Faith.

The man doing the talking, Dr. Rodney Waller, the pastor of my home church, First African Baptist Church,  a 231-year-old congregation where I grew up.

Courtesy:First African Baptist Church

The rare occasion to hear the same minister in a 12-hour period came because New Year’s Day falls on a Sunday.  So, Waller delivered a message, “No Vacancy” on New Year’s Eve.    Based in prophetic book of Isaiah, the sermonic text in the first nine verses of the sixth chapter tells of what the prophet saw when King Uzziah died.

Waller said our faith shows us that there is “no vacancy” on the throne of God.  Because he’s in control, we as followers of Jesus Christ have to look upward (toward God),  inward (towards ourselves) and outward (toward others we can help). 

Our upward, inward and outward looks are reflective of the Faith Forward that Waller says we must have in 2012.  Last night’s message was followed the first Sunday sermon on the theme of Faith with a look Abraham’s faith when God asked him to sacrifice his son Isaac as a burnt offering (see Genesis 22).  

Waller challenged us that when it comes to our faith,  as we start 2012 to plan on the following:

  • Expect our faith to be challenged
  • Focus on the promise of God and not seek justification
  • Learn to depend on God to provide our needs