The Day I Lost My Friend – A Tribute to Keith Green

Michael Beck

Forty years ago today, my friend died. I never met Keith Green, but like so many others, I mourned the loss of this twenty-eight year old man after God’s own heart; a brother I felt so close to and whose passion for Christ mirrored my own.

We were both from Brooklyn – Keith, a few years older than me, was born into a Jewish home; while I grew up Catholic. But it was an encounter with the living Christ, and a surrender to His call, occurring when we were both twenty one, that created a bond of sweet fellowship.

Proverbs 27:19 says, “As in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man.” My heart immediately connected with Keith’s heart through his music. All through my youth I had been a massive rock and roll fan, but when I got saved I had no use for any of it. The musicianship was great, but the messages which reflected my former life of vanity, no longer had any resonance for me. And then I discovered the music of Keith.

In November 1978, the month of my conversion, Keith released his second album, “No Compromise.” When I first heard it, I felt like Christian in Pilgrims’s Progress. I had found a kindred spirit for my journey. Keith was my brother ”Faithful” who like me had fled the City of Destruction and was now walking on the same narrow road that led to life. What comfort and encouragement he brought me! Oh, to have such a traveling companion, who was equally head over heels in love with the Lord!

Oh, to have such a traveling companion, who was equally head over heels in love with the Lord!

To think that by this time Keith had only been saved for three short years, but was already penning beautiful songs like, “Your Love Broke Through.” Oh how I related to the incredible, surprising entrance of God’s love breaking through the darkness of a heart far from Him:

Like a foolish dreamer, trying to build a highway to the sky
All my hopes would come tumbling down, and I never knew just why
Until today, when you pulled away the clouds that hung like curtains on my eyes
Well I’ve been blind all these wasted years and I thought I was so wise
But then you took me by surprise

Like waking up from the longest dream, how real it seemed
Until your love broke through
I’ve been lost in a fantasy, that blinded me
Until your love broke through

I could not get enough of Keith’s music. It was so relevant to where I was and where I had been. It echoed all my hopes and desires in Christ. In songs like, “I Can’t Believe It,” and “Because of You,” Keith expressed his gratitude and wonder at what the Lord did for him. I could so relate. I never saw myself as having any affinity for anything religious – and now I was a sold out, unashamed lover of Jesus. As Keith sang, “You Put This Love in My Heart” I was 100% in sync:

I found it hard to believe
Someone like you cared for me
You put this love in my heart
I tried but could not refuse
You gave me no time to choose
You put this love in my heart

Well I know
The loneliness I had before
Is gone now
I’ll never feel it anymore
‘Cause your love has released me
From all that’s in my past
And I know I can believe You
When You say I’ll never be forsaken
Your love is gonna last

There’s so much more I should say
If I could just find a way
You put this love in my heart
Is all this real or a dream
I feel so good I could scream
You put this love in my heart

Amen! I too felt so good I could scream. Nothing I ever dreamed or hoped for could compare to the joy I now possessed. The world’s music was always placing that one romantic relationship on a pedestal. But no human relationship I’d ever had or could have would top the love affair I now had with God Himself. Keith’s songs constantly breathed this same sentiment. He gave expression to the yearning of the Bride for her Bridegroom. The search for both of us was over. Keith’s simple love song “You Are the One” so perfectly expressed this rescuing love of Jesus.

How I love you,
You are the one,
You are the one.
How I love you,
You are the one for me.

I was so lost,
But you showed the way,
‘Cause you are the way.
I was so lost,
But you showed the way to me.

I was lied to,
But you told the truth,
‘Cause you are the truth.
I was lied to,
But you showed the truth to me.

I was dying,
But you gave me life,
‘Cause you are the life.
I was dying,
And you gave your life for me.

I loved how centered Keith was on Jesus. As talented and creative as he was, he never made it about him – it was always, only about the Lord.

I loved how centered Keith was on Jesus. As talented and creative as he was, he never made it about him – it was always, only about the Lord. So many songs such as, “You,” “Easter Song,” “The Victor,” “There is A Redeemer,” and “Jesus is Lord of All” glorified the one Name given under heaven by which men must be saved.

Jesus is Lord of all, Jesus is Lord of all,
No sin is too big, no problem too small,
Jesus is Lord of all.
Jesus is King of Kings, My Lord is King of Kings,
Presidents, princes, paupers will sing,
Jesus is King of Kings.

And like every person who has experienced the life-changing power and presence of Jesus in their life, Keith was compelled to tell others about his discovery. He was a true ambassador for Christ, beseeching men, in Christ’s stead, to be reconciled to God.

With passionate appeal, he spoke directly to the alienated in songs like, “Soften Your Heart,” “Song To My Parents (I Only Want To See You There),” “Run to the End of the Highway,” and “Don’t You Wish You Had the Answers.” But more than any other song, “Altar Call” is Keith’s most earnest, no-nonsense entreaty to the lost:

Some people don’t find out ’till it’s too late
That someone has to pay the price
You can pay it yourself
Or let someone else
But who would be that nice?
To pay a debt that isn’t his
Well I know someone like that
And He’s your best friend
He really is, He really loves you

Most people don’t find out ’till they’re half dead
That they need another life
You say you’ve heard everything
That’s ever been said
About the Way, the Truth, the Life
You say you’ve heard lots of preaching all before
So many times
But did you ever open up your door
Give Him a chance
To prove Himself
Well He’s real you know

I hope you find out before it’s too late
That there is really nobody else
You know it’s breaking His heart
The longer you wait
‘Cause you’ve only been lying to yourself
‘Cause no one believes a thing you say
Not even you
You know, you’re gonna find out that He’s the way
No matter which way you choose
But I pray you find out by His love for you

If Keith sometimes came across as angry, his anger was not directed at a deceived world, but toward Satan, the god of this world. You could always count on Keith to come up with a song to stick it to the devil; pulling off his disguise and warning of his evil tricks. Anyone who was once duped could well relate to “Lies,” “Dear John Letter (To The Devil),” and “No One Believes In Me Anymore (Satan’s Boast).” And what saint can’t heartily join Keith in his vengeance song to God – “Cut The Devil Down”?

Keith well expressed the sorrow and heaviness in a believer’s heart for those who are content without Christ. He marveled at such a phenomenon, asking “How Can They Live Without Jesus?”

How can they live without Jesus?
How can live without God’s love?
How can they feel so at home down here
When there’s so much more up above

Throwin’ away the things that matter
They hold on to things that don’t
The world has gone crazy
But soon maybe
A lot more are gonna know

For maybe they don’t understand it
Or maybe they just haven’t heard
Or maybe we’re not doin’ all we can
Living up to His holy word

‘Cause phonies have come
And wrong’s been done
Even killing in Jesus’ name
And if you’ve been burned
Here’s what I’ve learned
The Lord’s not the one to blame

For He’s just not religion
With steeples and bells
Or a salesman who will sell you
The things you just want to hear

For His love was such
That He suffered so much
To cause some of us
Just to follow, follow

Keith was not shy about blaming the church for failing to give the witness we should be giving. We have a responsibility, not only to preach the gospel, but to rightly live it out before the world’s eyes. People have seen enough religion and hypocrisy; what they need to see is real-deal Christians who walk the walk.

Keith spoke powerfully in his songs to both sinner and saint. It was indeed remarkable that this young man, saved for such a short time, could hear and declare so plainly what the Spirit was saying to the church. The message he hammered home was that mere religion would not do. If the world was going to be evangelized, the church would have to be revived. We had to return to real fellowship and friendship with God. The Holy Spirit used Keith to call out lukewarmness and pretense and exhort God’s people to repentance and obedience in songs like “To Obey is Better Than Sacrifice.”

To obey is better than sacrifice
I don’t need your money
I want your life
And I hear you say that I’m coming back soon
But you act like I’ll never return

Well you speak of grace and my love so sweet
How you thrive on milk, but reject My meat
And I can’t help weeping of how it will be
If you keep on ignoring My words
Well you pray to prosper and succeed
But your flesh is something I just can’t feed

To obey is better than sacrifice
I want more than Sunday and Wednesday nights
Cause if you can’t come to Me every day
Then don’t bother coming at all

To obey is better than sacrifice
I want hearts of fire
Not your prayers of ice
And I’m coming quickly
To give back to you
According to what you have done

Keith pulled no punches and with the bluntness of an Old Testament prophet, spoke to the church in the person of a spurned, jealous God.

Keith was an evangelist, but he was also a powerful prophetic voice. In “You Love the World,” Keith pulled no punches and with the bluntness of an Old Testament prophet, spoke to the church in the person of a spurned, jealous God.

I want you here with Me
But you’ve been keeping other company
You can’t sit still, it’s plain to see
You love the world and you’re avoiding Me

My Word sits there upon your desk
But you love your books and magazines the best
You prefer the light of your TV
You love the world and you’re avoiding Me

You used to pray, you were so brave
Now you can’t keep even one appointment we’ve made
Oh, I gave My blood, to save your life
Tell Me, tell Me is it right? Tell Me
Will you leave Me here alone again tonight?

Well, I love you, still more and more
But you’re fighting everything I’m working for
You’re acting like My enemy
You love the world and you’re avoiding Me

These other loves, they’re hurting you
If you end up losing Me, then what will you do?
Oh, I gave My blood, to save your life
Tell Me, tell Me is it right? Tell Me
Will you leave Me here alone again tonight?

Yes, Keith could summon the church to fulfill their call to be radical lovers of God and sold out disciples of Christ, but he held himself to the same high and holy standard. He could give a blistering, prophetic rebuke to the church in “Asleep in the Light” and immediately follow it up with “My Eyes Are Dry.” Many of his best songs were honest, raw confessions of his own falling short. There was no acceptance of lukewarmness for Keith. When he felt himself being anything less than all he should be, he repented and cried out in songs of consecration such as “I Want to Be More Like Jesus,” “Draw Me,” “Rushing Wind,” “Oh, Lord, You’re Beautiful,” “Lord, I’m Gonna Love You,” and “Make My Life A Prayer To You.”

Make my life a prayer to You
I wanna do what you want me to
No empty words and no white lies
No token prayers no compromise

I wanna shine the light You gave
Through Your Son You sent to save us
From ourselves and our despair
It comforts me to know You’re really there

For Keith, salvation was such a precious gift. To think of going back to the vomit of one’s former life was not only abominable, but ridiculous. He brilliantly lampooned such folly in the title song from his third album, “So You Wanna Go Back to Egypt.”

So you wanna go back to Egypt
Where it’s warm and secure
Are sorry you bought the one way ticket
When you thought you were sure
You wanted to live in the land of promise
But now it’s getting so hard
Are you sorry you’re out here in the desert
Instead of your own back yard

There was nothing that seemed to perturb Keith more than God’s people not moving forward to fulfill their destiny. The great commission was in desperate need of fulfillment. Exhortations to go into and be the light of the world sounded forth in his songs “Jesus Commands Us To Go,” “Open Your Eyes,” and “When There’s Love.” But no song carried the weight of the Lord’s own burden for lost souls than the heart-rending plea of “Asleep In The Light.”

Do you see? Do you see?
All the people sinking down?
Don’t you care? Don’t you care?
Are you gonna let them drown?

How can you be so numb?!
Not to care if they come
You close your eyes,
And pretend the job’s done

“Oh, bless me, Lord!
Bless me, Lord!”
You know, it’s all I ever hear!
No one aches, No one hurts,
No one even sheds one tear
But, he cries, He weeps, He bleeds,
And He cares for your needs
And you just lay back,
And keep soaking it in

Oh, can’t you see such sin?!
‘Cause He brings people to your door,
And you turn them away
As you smile and say,
“God bless you! Be at peace!”
And all heaven just weeps,
‘Cause Jesus came to your door,
You’ve left Him out on the streets

Open up! open up!
And give yourself away
You see the need,
You hear the cries,
So how can you delay?!
God’s calling,
And you’re the one
But like Jonah, you run
He’s told you to speak,
But you keep holding it in
Oh, can’t you see such sin?!

The world is sleeping in the dark,
That the church just can’t fight,
‘Cause it’s asleep in the light!
How can you be so dead?!
When you’ve been so well fed
Jesus rose from the grave,
And you!
You can’t even get out of bed!

There was the feeling that Keith was somewhat “without the camp,” but he was not. While he was firmly part of the church, he never came across as a partisan voice for a church.

Keith passionately loved the Lord, but He also loved the church. There was the feeling that Keith was somewhat “without the camp,” but he was not. While he was firmly part of the church, he never came across as a partisan voice for a church. His message was a clarion call to every true believer to walk worthy of the Lord who deserves our all.

Keith was an exhorter, and through the Last Days Newsletter which he published, he introduced multitudes to fellow exhorters like William Booth, Charles Finney, David Wilkerson and Leonard Ravenhill. Their passion for Christ and His cause resonated with him. His mission was to stoke the fires of true revival through any means possible.

Those who heard his heart, never saw Keith as a self-righteous scold. Yes, he wanted God to speak through him to others, but his songs presented a man who wanted God to first speak to him. Songs like “Until That Final Day” and “Dust to Dust” reveal Keith’s earnest seeking for personal help.

Sometimes it’s hard to see
Sometimes it’s hard to get through to me
But I want to do
All that You ask me to

Help me to follow through
Make every day a devotion to You
Cause it’s dust to dust
Until we learn how to trust

Sometimes I wander away
And I’m lost in the dark
My faith starts to sway
I don’t know what to do
So I cry out to You

And I reach out in the air
And I call Your name
And you’re always there
Then You send down your light
Then You tell me
Walk by faith not by sight

And then You come shining down

Keith was a modern day David. In his day, a young David inspired his nation by his mighty feats on the battlefield. But perhaps even more inspiring are the songs David wrote, revealing his own intensely personal relationship with the God of Israel. Keith’s zealous deeds powerfully impacted and mobilized his generation; but like David, it is his songs that have had the deepest effect. Keith put some of David’s psalms to music with a passion you’d imagine David sung with. You can hear the real, raw heart of a true worshipper when Keith sings, “The Lord is My Shepherd,” “How Majestic Is Thy Name,” and “Create In Me A Clean Heart.”

Like David, Keith knew how to encourage himself in the Lord. He  heard what God had to say to him, both in correction and comfort. The Lord was his shepherd and he did not want. In “When I Hear The Praises Start,” we hear the Lord’s voice break through with just the word Keith needed to hear.

My son, My son, why are you striving
You can’t add one thing to what’s been done for you
I did it all while I was dying
Rest in your faith, my peace will come to you

For when I hear the praises start
I want to rain upon you
Blessings that will fill your heart
I see no stain upon you
Because you are my child and you know me
To Me you’re only holy
Nothing that you’ve done remains
Only what you do for Me

My child, My child, why are you weeping
You will not have to wait forever
That day and that hour is in My keeping
The day I’ll bring you into Heaven

Before the Lord brought Keith to heaven there was much he did to practically impact his generation. Last Days Ministry was at the forefront of advocating for the Lord’s causes in the earth. With his wife Melody, Keith was one of the earliest and strongest voices to speak out against our national sin of abortion. Keith heard the cries of the oppressed and afflicted. In the song, “A Billion Starving People,” he declared he would not turn away.

I find it hard to turn away
A billion starving people
But what can one do?
I’ve heard you say
You can’t save someone’s life

I want to save a life today
I want to get someone close with my Father
Feed them the bread of life today
I want to help them get stronger
Help them last longer
And give them a chance to see Jesus

I find it hard to just ignore
The murdered unborn children
Yes, times have changed
But still God warns
You shall not take a life

I want to save a life today
I want to keep one alive for my Father
Who will avenge the blood
Of weak and helpless ones someday
Whose lives are spilled out like water
Lambs in the slaughter
And each one is handmade by Jesus

Keith wrote epic songs, like “The Prodigal Son Suite,” “On the Road to Jericho” and “The Sheep and The Goats,” that took one on a biblical journey,  It was not only his message, but also his delivery that moved you. When Keith sang the majestic, “Holy, Holy, Holy” (a hymn I loved and sang as a Catholic boy sitting in mass,) my heart swelled along with his in adoration to the God we had finally come to know.

It was the Spirit of Christ so powerfully at work in Keith that thrilled the same Spirit at work in me.

It was the Spirit of Christ so powerfully at work in Keith that thrilled the same Spirit at work in me. I heard the rumblings of some in the church, even my pastor at the time, that something was “off” about Keith. He was “too much,” but he wasn’t too heavy for me. He was the big brother I needed, a living hero of the faith, my role model. Thank God, he didn’t cave to those who were critical of him. He was humble enough to examine himself, but he would not be deterred in shining as brightly as he could for the Lord. He obeyed the exhortation of Paul, “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12)

How we need real-deal Christians. We need quality over quantity.

Like John the Baptist, Keith was a meteor that quickly arose, burned intensely, and then was gone. “He was a burning and a shining light: and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light.” (John 5:35)

Forty years ago today, I could hardly believe the news that this larger than life figure had died in a plane crash with two of his children, Josiah and Bethany, and nine other precious souls. As Christian tragically lost his companion Faithful in the town of Vanity Fair, so Keith was too soon taken away from me and so many others who loved him. What did he leave in his wake? A shining witness of the way Christianity is supposed to be done.

God makes His ministers “flames of fire.” Jesus envisioned no other type of disciple than one who was red-hot, completely sold out for Him. Keith was that kind of Christ follower. He lived ready to die. In the song,“Pledge My Head to Heaven,” he makes clear that he, and all he holds dear, is already on the altar of sacrifice.

Well, I pledge my head to heaven for the Gospel,
And I ask no man on Earth to fill my needs.
Like the sparrow up above, I am enveloped in His love,
And I trust Him like those little ones, He feeds.

Well I pledge my wife to heaven, for the Gospel,
Though our love each passing day just seems to grow.
As I told her when we wed, I’d surely rather be found dead,
Than to love her more than the one who saved my soul.

I’m your child, and I want to be in your family forever.
I’m your child, and I’m going to follow you,
No matter whatever the cost, I’m gonna count all things lost.

Well I pledge my son to heaven for the gospel.
Though he’s kicked and beaten, ridiculed and scorn.
I will teach him to rejoice, and lift a thankful praising voice,
And to be like Him who bore the nails and crown of thorns.

I’m your child, and I want to be in your family forever.
I’m your child, and I’m going to follow you,
No matter whatever the cost, I’m gonna count all things lost.
Oh no matter whatever the cost, I’m gonna count all things lost.
Well I’ve had the chance to gain the world, and to live just like a king,
But without your love, it doesn’t mean a thing.

Oh no matter whatever the cost, I’m gonna count all things lost,
Oh no matter whatever the cost, I’m gonna count all things lost.
Well I pledge my son, I pledge my wife, I pledge my head to heaven,
I pledge my son, I pledge my wife, I pledge my head to heaven, for the gospel.

What so struck me about Keith, and still does, is his pure heart for God. He was not about lifting up anything but Jesus; nor advancing any cause but Christ’s.

What so struck me about Keith, and still does, is his pure heart for God. He was not about lifting up anything but Jesus; nor advancing any cause but Christ’s. His ambitions began and ended with loving the Lord with all his heart, and living in simple obedience to Him. Once again, he warned the church in “Unless the Lord Builds the House” to do the same.

Unless the Lord builds the house,
They labor in vain to try at all,
Building anything not according to His call.

Unless the Lord wants it done,
You better not work another day,
Building anything that will stand in His way.

You love the Lord and it seems like He’s been leading,
You’ve asked Him to bless all your plans.
But are you so sure you’re not just doing what you want to,
Building your house on the sand, the sand.

Working so hard at the things that you believe in,
No one can tear you away.
But don’t you lose sight of the very one who calls you,
You may be sorry some day, some day.

For wood, hay and stubble, will all burn up in the fire.
But to love the Lord with all your heart, should be your one desire.

After Keith died, I was shocked and saddened to hear some say it was the judgment of God upon him. A close relative told me Keith had died out of the will of God because scripture promises us at least seventy years. In the face of life’s mysteries, I still take comfort in the words of Keith’s song, “If You Love The Lord.”

If you love the Lord, you will love His will for you.
Instead of questions why, there’ll be praise for all He brings you through.

And if you love the Lord, you will love His holy commands.
Delight yourself in them, and everything you do will surely stand.

We are His workmanship, created for good works in Christ.
He calls us to offer up ourselves a living sacrifice.

Well if you love the Lord, His discipline you won’t despise.
Cause it will prove to you, that you’re a child in His eyes.

And if you love the Lord, you’ll seek His face with all your heart.
And even when you’re old, from His Holy place you won’t depart.

Dear Keith did not live to see old age, nor his children grow into adulthood. I am now sixty five. I have seven children (including my own Josiah and Bethany!) I am about to see my eighteenth grandchild come into the world. While Keith is no longer with any of us in body, his love and zeal for God continues to ignite a flame in our hearts. My children all grew up listening to and loving the music of Keith Green. Hopefully, my grandchildren will do the same. Let each generation pass on such passion to their children!

This life was not only short for Keith, it is short for all of us. Keith made the most of the opportunity God gave him. He packed into a few short years a mighty and enduring witness. The day he died, he left us all much richer.

The event of crossing on to the other side can appear frightening to us. What is awaiting us in that moment when our life will pass before our eyes and eternity will stare us in the face? This earth, with all its beauty and sorrows, will one day disappear from the view of each one of us. In “I Can’t Wait To Get To Heaven,” Keith wrote longingly of the day when he would trade the beauty of this earth for the greater glory above.

Seaside sunset, silver linings round the clouds
Birds fly, singing, making such a joyful sound
Thoughts of Heaven somehow seem to fill my mind
But I can’t even imagine what it is I’m gonna find

I can’t wait to get to Heaven, when You’ll wipe away all my fears
In six days You created everything
But You’ve been working on Heaven, two thousand years

Deep green forests, mountains reaching for the sky
Grasslands and deserts, Your creation fills my eyes
Thank you, thank you Jesus, though this beauty is just a taste
Of all Your, all Your glory I’ll see when I pass through those gates

Forty years ago today, my dear friend passed through the gates of glory into the Celestial City, to behold there the face of the God who he so loved, and who so loved him. I can’t wait to get there too – to see my best and heavenly Friend, and to finally catch up, once again, with my fellow pilgrim.

Photograph copyright of ©Melody Green, Last Days Ministries

Michael Beck is a pastor in the Dallas, TX area and the main author on Signpost. Receive a daily devotional he publishes every morning via email.