By Marsha J. and Russ Stevens
You said you’d come and share all my sorrows
You said you’d be there for all my tomorrows
I came so close to sending you away
But just like you promised, you came here to stay
I just had to pray
And Jesus said,
“Come to the water, stand by my side
I know you are thirsty, you won’t be denied
I felt every tear drop, when in darkness you cried
And I strove to remind you,
It’s for those tears I died”
Your goodness so great, I can’t understand it
And dear Lord I know now that all this was planned
I know You’re here now and always will be
Your love loosened my chains, and in You I’m free
But Jesus why me?
Jesus I give You, my heart and my soul
I know now without God, I’ll never be whole
Savior, You opened all the right doors
And I thank You and praise You from earth’s humble shores
Take me I’m Yours!
The song “For Those Tears I Died,” has been called by some as the “theme song” of the Jesus Movement.” However, there has been controversy over one of the writers of this great song that has touched many lives including mine. I surely cannot comprehend many things.
After becoming a born-again Christian, 16 year-old Marsha Carter was instrumental to leading her sister Wendy and friend Peter Jacobs to Christianity. Utilizing Carter‘s talents as a songwriter, the three formed a Jesus music group they called Children of the Day. With the addition of friend, singer and upright bass player Russ Stevens to the group, the band became a quartet and released their first album. Following the release of the album, Marsha Carter and Russ Stevens married. This was shortly after becoming a born-again Christian in 1969, that Stevens-Pino wrote “For Those Tears I Died (Come to the Water)”, a song that was to become widely known and sung in Christian churches and youth-groups across the United States.
Russ and Marsha Stevens‘ marriage produced two children, but the couple divorced in 1979. After the break-up of their marriage, Stevens-Pino publicly announced she was a lesbian. In The Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Music, editor Mark Powell referred to the incident as “Contemporary Christian Music’s first official scandal”. Christian Century Magazine’s Mark Allan Powell in a 1999 article stated that after coming out of the closet, Stevens-Pino became “conservative Christianity‘s worst nightmare – a Jesus-loving, Bible-believing, God-fearing lesbian Christian.”
After her divorce and subsequent vilification by the Christian music industry, Stevens-Pino formed her own music ministry, BALM (Born Again Lesbian Music) in the mid-1980s. It was at that time that Stevens-Pino began ministering within the predominantly gay and lesbian Metropolitan Community Church as well as other, independent Christian-Gay congregations not affiliated with MCC. The transition from being a celebrity within evangelical Christianity to being an open lesbian was not easy for Stevens-Pino. Along with losing custody of her young children after her divorce, Stevens-Pino reports that more than once she has received by mail ripped out and torn up hymnal and songbook pages upon which was printed, For Those Tears I Died.
During a Gaither Homecoming Concert in Phoenix, Arizona in 2002, singer/musician/songwriter Bill Gaither acknowledged Marsha’s presence in the audience along with her significant contribution to early Contemporary Christian music. When a backstage photo showing Stevens, Pino, Gaither, and Mark Lowry arm-on-arm circulated on the internet following the concert, a large backlash from conservative, fundamentalist, and evangelical Christians ensued. The controversy caused Gaither to issue a press release which included the statement, “someone snapped a photograph of the four of us, a picture Marsha has exploited on her Web site ever since.” In response to Gaither’s press statement regarding the incident, MCC moderator, Reverend Nancy L. Wilson, released a rebuttal statement in defense of Stevens-Pino
Thought of today: Psalm 42
“As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.” I’ve always been drawn to this opening line of Psalm 42. Every time I read it, I get an immediate sensation of longing and can see in my minds eye the image of the deer searching for water. At the same time, I can feel the dry places in my own soul and the thirst I have to be quenched by a more deeply connected relationship with God.
The Psalmist, whose words we in Psalm 42, had seen a deer, probably many of them, thirsty, nosing about, peering into dry riverbeds, searching for water – and he knew that he thirsted for God in the same way
I earn my living as a Water and Sanitation Specialist in an African Health organisation and I can go one describing how thirsty the continent is for water. There have been many times in my life I can remember being truly desperately thirsty for water. I am conversant of that feeling of complete and total dehydration.
The Psalmist is experiencing some sort of unrest – of parched dryness in his soul – “Why are you cast down, O my soul” we read twice. And we can imagine that he is remembering a time and place where water flowed more freely and his soul was fed.
In the second part of the reading, we can well imagine a powerful waterfall that the psalmist is familiar with, such as the one at the foot of snow-capped Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, the source of many rivers rivers. The flow of water conveys the quenching of thirst; the sound, the roaring; it all touches the Psalmist deep inside, somehow enabling him to express the chaos and clamor of his own soul as he yearns to have his thirst quenched.
We’re all thirsty in our own ways for this deeply nourishing, thirst quenching relationship with God. You don’t need me to tell you that most of us walk around with a gaping hole, or at least some small dry places, in our souls and we will pour anything and everything into it to fill it – material possessions, diversions to distract us such as TV or computer, food, alcohol, or drugs, surrounding ourselves with busy-ness all the time…you name it. I do it too.
It’s ordinary life stuff that isn’t necessarily inherently bad, but we sometimes get lured into believing that those things are the center of our existence. When anything other than God becomes the center of our living, we feel the dryness in our souls and we want a quick fix. We get frustrated when we feel emptiness and we see it as a problem to be solved. So, we turn to anything to fill the hole and quench the void.
But maybe this hole inside of us that we are trying to fill isn’t a curse so much as a gift. It seems to me that the hollowness might just be God crying out to us; our song is God’s song first! Maybe God’s Spirit has burrowed out a place, so we would seek after God. Otherwise, we might never sense any need for God. It gets mislabeled – but it is God’s call to us to come home. It is God loving us enough to put a place inside of us that can’t be filled with anything except God.
I find this very comforting because it means that God has already done the work for me. God has already reached out to me in loving relationship by putting this space in me and I don’t have to create it or figure out where to go to get it. I just have to accept the gift of that relationship already initiated by God and fill it with God’s never-ending loving presence.
We do, however, have to take some action and respond to this gift. And in my experience, it takes prayer to connect with God and fill the void of that space.
Prayer, connecting with God, is never quick and easy. Prayer is like a muscle. It requires use and discipline. All the great masters of prayer teach us this. Author and theologian Henri Nouwen said, “The only way to pray is to pray; the only way to pray well is to pray much.” Catherine of Siena, a 14th century mystic wrote, “You, O God, are a deep sea into which, the more I enter, the more I find, and the more I find, the more I seek.”
One of my games is living under the allusion that if I can just get everything else done on my “to do” list, then I’ll have time to pray. So, I work, work, work, thinking I can fill that void if just FIRST I can get all the emails answered and calls returned and errands run and family dealt with – THEN, I’ll have time for God. But, what happens is that I’m exhausted, so I sit in front of the computer or TV with what little time is left and do nothing.
It’s not true…It doesn’t work that way and I know it. I know that the prayer must come first and it is only in intentionally turning myself over in prayer to God that the space inside of me that rightfully belongs to God will be filled and then – only then – is my thirst quenched and my living full and joy-filled.
Think about our Psalmist again. The Psalmist knows that God is everywhere He references to knowing God in all places. But there is a specific place, somewhere he needs to go inside of himself. Henry David Thoreau (quote) “went into the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
None of us want to come to the end of our lives and discover that we never really lived. None of us who call ourselves followers of Christ want to go through life with a thirst so deep we feel the pain of separation from God who longs to love us. We go in prayer – we come to church – we commit ourselves to participating in the body of Christ in community – to quench our thirst and taste of that living water that fills our well.