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Come Higher - the Denver Experience (repost from 2005)


Well, friends, I have been to the mountaintop, and I can tell you it’s a glorious experience! Denver, CO is “The Mile-High City”, and it is really something to behold. Located in the Rockies, with snow-capped mountains in view, it’s quite a place. Actually, I only saw a small portion of it, as we were staying in a hotel downtown, a few blocks from the Colorado Convention Center. But that was enough. For I was there for a mountaintop experience of another kind - to perform at the American Baptist Biennial Convention. A musical mountaintop for me, to be sure!

I want to thank my good friend and brother in Christ, Todd Andrews, for going with me on the trip. He helped keep me focused, was my photographer and guide, prayed for me, helped carry CDs and whatever else I needed in his backpack, ran the CD player at my morning showcase performance, and whatever else was needed. I could not have done it without him.

We arrived in Denver on Thursday afternoon and checked into our hotel, then walked to the Convention Center, not realizing that there was a free bus that would have taken us there. (We made use of the bus many times after that!) There weren’t many people around on that late afternoon, so we went back to the hotel. Friday morning we went back to the Center, and met with Connie Sauls-Wilkins, the Music Coordinator. Connie is the one who decided what artists would be asked to perform at the Convention, and she has become a dear friend. We also met several of the other artists that were to perform, some at the music “showcases”, to be held Saturday and Sunday mornings, or in the evening gatherings, or (in my case), both. I was one of the artists scheduled to perform in the Saturday morning showcase, each for 20 minutes. But there was a major obstacle: the CD player needed to play my background music was missing. However, as I am learning, obstacles are just opportunities for God to show His power, and I bowed my head right there and prayed that He would resolve this issue.

He did. But not like I expected. (Just the first of many such instances.)

I asked Him to provide a CD player, but He had other ideas! I had mentioned to Connie earlier that I played the piano, but wasn’t planning on it here at the Convention. But she suggested that I go up and play anyway and lead the audience in a few songs, and she would give me a spot in the Sunday morning showcase so I could do the songs I planned on doing. My “flesh” wanted to say, “No - this wasn’t what I expected to do. I don’t have my notebook of songs with the words and music to go by! I can’t do this!” But God said, “Do it. I will help you. This is all part of my plan”. So Todd and I took a piece of paper and went out in the hall and scribbled down the words and basic music to three songs, and I was ready.

The audience loved it! I sang the songs, they sang along, and after that I announced that I would be singing in the evening gathering that night and also would be back for the Sunday showcase. That’s how God works: He asks us to do something a little different, maybe somewhat uncomfortable, then He helps us to do it, and rewards us with more!

Saturday about 5 pm we went to the “Lecture Hall” for sound check and rehearsal. There were several artists and choirs that needed to get ready for the evening worship gathering, and it was hectic to say the least! Again-not what I had envisioned or expected. I had expected an “arena”, like the Pepsi Arena in Albany, for example. But this was a large (huge!) fan-shaped room with seating that sloped up from the stage, in concert hall style, that held 5,000 people. There was a massive sound system, and concert-style lighting of course. Todd and I spoke with the sound and lighting people about my song, and I ran through it so everyone could hear it and know what to do. The song Connie had asked me to perform was “We Come To Praise” (on the album “Blessed”). I wrote the song back in 1999 for that album, and had hoped and prayed that someday God would allow me to perform it in a setting like this. (It’s the kind of song that is best performed in a large setting).

When the time came, and the music started, and I walked out on that stage, it was wonderful and scary all at the same time! Of course I had prayed, and Todd was praying (and some of you, I know), and I knew that God was with me, without a doubt. The room wasn’t full - actually about 2,500 people, but that didn’t matter. I was doing what God brought me there to do! And the experience was everything I had hoped for, and more. From the first few beats of the music, the audience was on it’s feet, clapping with the beat and cheering for Jesus! It wasn’t about me, or about the beat of the music, or the lights circling and chasing around the hall (although all those things helped everyone focus)- it was about Jesus!

There were awards, a sermon, and more music by groups and choirs, and then Karen Shipp, a worship leader, and I led the congregation in “How Great Thou Art” to close the service. Over 2,000 voices singing that song is also an exhilarating experience! After it was over there were lots of hugs, and Todd and I walked back to the hotel. We went down the 16th street Mall, with it’s many shops and restaurants. I developed a taste for “smoothies” (strawberry is best), and they make the best ones at this little shop on one of the corners.

We thought it would have been nice to rent a car and go out of the city all day to see some of the mountains on Sunday. I originally had nothing scheduled for Sunday, but now I was going to be in the morning showcase. We thought that we could still see some sights in the afternoon, and that was the plan until we got to the Center to get ready for the showcase. We were talking again to Connie who said, “Would you like to lead worship tonight again with Karen?” Again the “flesh” thought - “no, I wouldn’t. I didn’t plan on this. I don’t know what song Karen is singing. No. No.”

But God said, “Yes”, and that’s what came out of my mouth. I’m continually amazed at how He works! Again, he was “raising me up” to bring glory to him, and to demonstrate His power in my life! The showcase went very well. The CD player was found, Todd ran it for me, and the audience enjoyed the five songs I sang, especially “In The Garden”, when I asked them to join me. The harmonies that came out of that crowd were stunning! Just as on Saturday morning, there were over 200 people there, and we had a great time. We talked to Connie and several of the artists who had also performed in the showcase afterwards, and made more friends in Christ.

We had to be back to the Lecture Hall around 5 pm to make plans for the evening gathering, so we decided that the only sights God wanted us to see were the hotel, 16th Street and the Convention Center. (If you want to make God laugh, just tell Him your plans!). But we both knew that we were there “for such a time as this”, and we were happy to forget about doing anything else. Karen and I talked about the opening song, which was “Bless The Lord Oh My Soul”. She said she had a solo to do later in the program and was feeling very stressed at that point, and wondered if I could lead the opening song myself! Well, by that time I was starting to get used to God asking me to do “more”, so I said “Sure, no problem”. I rehearsed the song with the organist, drummer and bassist, and we were ready! The song went fine, and Karen’s solo was wonderful as well.

Again, I have to say how amazing God is! I was planning on singing just twice that weekend, while He had plans for me to do even more! But that’s what He does - He uses those who want to be used by Him. On the plane from Chicago to Denver, I was sitting back with my eyes closed, and just meditating on what was happening to me. Here I was, on my way to use my gifts at the largest gathering I had ever performed at! I thought about all the artists that could have been chosen for this, and wondered why I was the one that was going. So I prayed, “Lord, there were hundreds, thousands of people You could have chosen for this. And lots of them sing better than I do and have more experience at this. I’m nothing special. Why did You choose me?” And the thought came so quickly, so strongly that I knew it was Him: “Because you asked”.

Another very special encounter I had with Him was leaving Chicago on the flight to Albany. We had been delayed for many hours in Chicago, and were finally leaving the ground. As we took off, I could see the ground clearly from my seat by a window. I thought, “this must be how God sees us”. I asked Him to show me what He wanted me to see, to speak to me in some way through what I was seeing out the window. He made me realize how He sees the big picture, that He knows where the roads go, that He can see the destination, while we can’t. All we see is what’s right in front of us. And then suddenly the pilot accelerated the plane and started climbing higher! I felt very strongly His presence, saying “Come higher”. Now clouds blocked my view of the ground, and it was just me, and God. Those few moments helped me focus on Him, as though He wanted me to just be with Him for a few moments. Then, just as suddenly, the clouds were gone, and I could see an even bigger picture of the earth below. As if He was showing me an even bigger picture of the “territory” that He wants me to cover for Him. I noticed how, even though we were up so high and I could see a huge portion of the earth below me, the horizon stretched far beyond what I could see. But He sees it all.

“Come Higher”. We had been at the same altitude for some time, and I thought that we were already as high as we would be going for the rest of the flight. But the pilot knew that we would be going higher. That sudden surge of power from the engines, the plane tipping back as we climbed - I know without a doubt that God wants me to come higher with Him. To experience His greatness in my life in new, powerful ways. “Come Higher”. Even now, writing this, I feel His presence guiding my thoughts and words. And I welcome Him! I want to be used for His glory. I don’t want to just be on the ground stumbling along on my own - I want to fly!

On Sunday I was greeted several times by people who recognized me from Saturday night’s service and said, “Oh, you’re the singer”, and thanked me for blessing them with my music. As I think about that, it’s clear to me that God was using them to confirm what He wants me to do: sing. That’s what they saw me as, and that’s how He sees me, as a singer for Him. So many times over the past 10 years or so I’ve struggled with the question of how best to use my gifts. Should I sing, should I forget singing and just do my radio show, or focus on my studio and record albums for other people? I’ve never thought of myself as a great vocalist, or a great anything for that matter! But it’s becoming clear that my voice is what God wants to use, along with my songwriting and skills in the studio to bring the music He gives me to a world that needs to hear His message.

We experienced delays at the airports, tired feet from walking, and separation from loved ones (though He reminded us both that we are all in His care) for both Todd and myself. But for both of us, it was all worth it. Todd and his family are feeling the call to be missionaries overseas, while I want to be used by God to sing His praises anywhere He leads and pray that He will allow it to be my full-time work. I think about people who travel to perform secular music concerts, who may be doing thier “dream”, but yet experience the same delays, problems, separation from family, etc. It seems so pointless to work hard, even at something we love, for “worldly gain”. But when done for Jesus, it’s all worth it, and the rewards will be eternal!

I hope that God has spoken to you through these words and through my experience “on the mountain top”. Ask Him to use you as well. Give up those expectations, that feeling that you’re not good enough, or smart enough, or experienced enough. All He wants is your willing heart, and that’s something that anyone can give Him. Say “Yes” to Him and keep saying it, and then watch Him work! Feel the surge of His power in your life. Take your hands off the controls, for He is the Pilot. And then, just when you think you’ve reached the mountaintop, look off in the distance. Denver may be the “Mile-High City”, but off in the distance you can see the snow-capped mountains, and you can hear Him saying, “Come Higher”.




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