It comes as a surprise to some that there are more Psalms in the Bible than the 23rd one. 149 more, in fact.
What comes as an even bigger surprise, should one dig into the Psalms, is the rich diversity contained therein. It’s as far from all “the Lord is my shepherd” all the time as one can imagine. One need look no further than the Psalm preceding the 23rd, which foretells Christ’s crucifixion in painful detail. Elsewhere we see frank admittance of the human condition, such as in Psalm 6 wherein David writes:
I am worn out from my groaning.
All night long I flood my bed with weeping
and drench my couch with tears.
My eyes grow weak with sorrow;
they fail because of all my foes.
Elsewhere there are cries of utter desperation; for example, Psalms 38 and 88. Also, we see pained laments such as Psalm 137, and bitter recriminations against God in Psalms 44 and 74. Yet these do not endure, as is noted in Psalm 73:21-24:
When my heart was grieved
and my spirit embittered,
I was senseless and ignorant;
I was a brute beast before you.
Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.
Translation: Sorrow is legitimate in God’s sight. Anger happens; it comes and goes. But the Lord’s patience is great, His understanding is perfect, and His love endures forever.
All of which leads to Undercover.
Undercover, veteran Christian rockers whose importance to the genre cannot be overstated, will play their first concert in ten years this June at House of Blues in Anaheim, California. This provides impetus for a richly deserved career-spanning overlook on the most recent episode of my Cephas Hour podcast.
Undercover burst out of the 1980s contemporary Christian music scene based at Calvary Chapel Santa Ana under the guidance of church pastor Chuck Smith, located in the city of Santa Ana in California’s Orange County. Whereas the first generation of musicians from Calvary Chapel Santa Ana was firmly rooted in the mellower side of the nearby Laurel Canyon folk/country/rock scene, Undercover was the spearhead of a second movement whose influences were what at the time was still labeled new wave. Louder, faster, and far more aggressive than their predecessors, Undercover started in a trebly pogo-pop vein that quickly developed into a powerhouse torrent of bruising riffs and rhythms minus metal’s excesses. The band’s lyrical evangelism matched its musical muscle, unashamed praise mixed with unapologetic reminders of hell’s reality and the need of Christ shared by every individual. Undercover’s music horrified old-school fundamentalists, but its message was right up their alley.
Smith decided to shut down his church’s rock music efforts in the mid-1980s, leaving Undercover and the other affected artists to fend for themselves. The band changed lead singers around the same time when original singer Bill Walden left after three albums to pursue other ministerial venues, a path he continues to this day as the now-retired pastor maintains an active teaching and music agenda. Sim Wilson came on board for 1986’s Branded, an album that left hardcore evangelism aside in favor of exploring a far greater scope of the human experience without abandoning Christ at its core. This trend continued with 1990’s Balance of Power and 1992’s Devotion, by which time the band was winding down from a seemingly unending time on the road that at one point saw it play slightly over 300 shows in one year. Forum with Rob Gallas on lead vocals came out in 1994, after which the band called it a day. The Devotion lineup reunited in 2002 for I Rose Falling, and since has performed the (very) occasional concert.
So what made Undercover like the Psalmists?
Another Biblical illustration. I once heard a Bible teacher mention the difference between the books of Kings and the books of Chronicles. Both cover Israel’s history, but that is where the parallel ends. Take, for example, how King David’s life is covered in each. In Kings, you get all the gory details of Bathsheba and later Absalom. Chronicles mentions neither. The only mark against David in Kings is when he attempted to take a census, something prohibited under Mosaic law. The Bible teacher commented that while Kings reflects history from man’s viewpoint, Chronicles is history from God’s viewpoint. Apparently, the Lord has a different set of priorities for noting what matters in life.
Undercover spoke of the whole spectrum of life, be it of God directly or the multiple aspects of the human experience. Its members share that experience, lives lived in different directions including at least one member setting Christianity aside. These are the things the world notes. Yet the Spirit remains, an unstoppable power transcending the band. It’s a power that brought me back to faith at the band’s 2005 concert after over a decade spent in a bitter agnostic fog. It’s a power that at the band’s 2011 concert lifted me into a Spirit-filled experience the likes of which I’ve never known in my sixty-plus years on this planet. These are the things God notes.
Lord willing, I’ll be at the Undercover concert in June. If you listen to the new Cephas Hour featuring Undercover, hopefully, you’ll gain at least a glimpse of why I want to be.