Thus far in my series of posts on the ten most influential albums from my childhood and teenage years I’ve taken you through some of the earliest musical recollections—CTA, Boston, Elton John and Seals and Crofts (all of which I encountered before my tenth birthday). Today I’ll take you back to a day in my teenage life deeply ingrained in music … Friday August 19th, 1983.
Post five of ten: Not of This World by Petra
If you know me personally you’ve heard the story of my conversion to faith in the early summer of 1983. The story involves a tiny little two-person fishing boat in the middle of the most alligator infested body of water in North America, and the gentle evangelistic persuasion of my brother, offering, “I’m going to tell you about Jesus … and if you don’t want to listen to me you can swim for shore.”
Leading someone to Jesus? Alligators.
One more thing about my conversion to share—it was the beginning of a pretty miraculous healing in my relationship with my dad. I was a rebellious teen. The old man and I pretty frequently locked horns. I’d gotten to a point of avoiding him as best I could.
As a new believer, I prayed very specifically to see my heart and my father’s heart soften. And what an amazing answer to prayer! Those next several weeks were filled with healing.
Little did I know, just as all things were being made new, I’d have my first real faith-crisis—on the morning of August 19th, 1983, my dad got involved trying to stop a violent altercation at his office and collapsed. He died of a heart-attack.
I remember the feelings of profound loss and emptiness like it was yesterday. I even struggled to believe he was gone—I halfway expected his car would pull in the driveway any moment and we’d all learn it was a big misunderstanding. His presence was larger than life for me. His absence, inestimable.
Right after I’d come to faith in Jesus, I found my way into a little Christian bookstore near my house. There, the dear old couple who owned it took every opportunity to love on me as a new believer. One day when I was in the store, they presented me with a small collection of cassette tapes, saying, “It’s just music some young people like you are listening to.” Turned out to be a treasure-trove of early CCM music. Among the titles, a brand-new release, Not of This World by Petra.
I wore that tape out, top to bottom. From the title track Not of This World through the album’s last track, Godpleaser, I had the tunes and their lyrics memorized in no time. Not to mention, Petra had put Bible verse references in the album jacket for each song—I’d memorized many of those passages. This music had me looking up Bible verses, learning what they meant and how they applied to my life.
That night, August 19th, alone in my room with my Bible open on my lap … I cried out. “God, if you’re really real … I need to know it right now. I need You to show up. Right now.”
I leaned over and pushed play on the cassette deck. Starting where I’d left off the last time I’d listened—when dad was still alive—the next song began. Graverobber.
There’s a step that we all take alone
An appointment we have with the great unknown
Like a vapor this life is just waiting to pass
Like the flowers that fade, like the withering grass
But life seems so long and death so complete
And the grave an impossible portion to cheat
But there’s One who has been there and still lives to tell
There is One who has been through both Heaven and hell
And the grave will come up empty-handed that day
Jesus will come and steal us away
Where is the sting, tell me where is the bite
When the grave robber comes like a thief in the night
Where is the victory, where is the prize
When the grave robber comes
And death finally dies
Many still mourn and many still weep
For those that they love who have fallen asleep
But we have this hope though our hearts may still ache
Just one shout from above and they all will awake
And in the reunion of joy we will see
Death will be swallowed in sweet victory
When the last enemy is gone from the dust will come a song
Those asleep will be awakened – not a one will be forsaken
He shall wipe away our tears – He will steal away our fears
There will be no sad tomorrow – there will be no pain and sorrow
The verses that accompany this song in the album lining were Hebrews 9:27, John 4:14, 1 Peter 1:24, Romans 8:11, 1 Corinthians 15:26, 51-55, Revelation 7:17. Go ahead. Look them up.
The most difficult day in my life, beginning a most trying season—God showed up. Powerfully for me. And to this day, Petra—more specifically this album—takes me back. There’s sadness for the loss of my dad, but great joy in knowing death doesn’t have the last word.