Hopefully in the next year or so Russ Ramsey and I will publish an Advent book loosely based on the Behold the Lamb album. You may remember Russ wrote a series of Advent pieces for his church (and for the Rabbit Room) last year. Well, he’s expanding those writings a little, we’re adding Evie Coates’s artwork, and part of my job was to write the foreword. In light of the release of the special edition of Behold the Lamb of God (which is hot off the press), and the upcoming 10 year anniversary of the tour, I thought I’d share the foreword. Many of you have seen this concert and heard me talk about this more than once, so this post may bore you to tears. But for those of you who haven’t, the following tells the story of how this tour was born.
It’s not very often that someone stumps me with a question. That’s not because I know a lot of answers, because I don’t. It means I’m the kind of person who blabs too much. Too many times I have blabbed ineloquent when I should have just said, “I don’t know.” This time, though, I thought for sure I knew the answer, but when I opened my mouth, nothing came out. I tried again. I cocked my head and furrowed my brow and said “Well…” but nothing else came. I didn’t know. And that bothered me.
I was sitting at a table with Ben Shive, someone who probably knows the musical ins and outs of Behold the Lamb of God better than I do, and Sara Groves, a songwriter for whom I have the utmost regard. Sara asked me, “So what was it like writing these songs? How did they come about?”
I nodded eagerly and took a sip of coffee, settling in for a long, insightful discourse on the creation of this work–and was stumped. I sat back from the table a little embarrassed, wishing I had some colorful anecdote or spiritual insight. But after those few awkward moments passed the conversation turned to something more interesting (like the color of the carpet or the turkey sandwiches), and I was left wondering why I couldn’t think of an answer.
It would be easy to say these songs wrote themselves. But that’s not true. They didn’t come easily, and they didn’t come overnight. My first clear memory of all this was singing “Gather ‘Round, Ye Children, Come” for Fernando Ortega backstage at one of his concerts in the Fall of 2000. He listened graciously and made a few suggestions that vastly improved the song. I remember almost nothing about writing “Passover Us”, or “Deliver Us”, or “It Came to Pass” or “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks” except that I knew I couldn’t perform the songs alone and that I had serious concerns about whether or not my hare brained scheme would work.
What was the idea?
At its core, it was to present the story of Christmas in a new way. I wanted to reach deep into the Old Testament and sing about the Passover, and King David, and Isaiah’s prophecies. I wanted to capture with song the same thrill that captured me in Bible college when the epic scope of the Gospel story first bowled me over. But I didn’t just want to dwell on what came before Jesus’ birth. I wanted to sing about what came after. His crucifixion and resurrection were the reasons he was born in the first place. You can’t have Christmas without Easter. So there was a lot of ground to cover with a handful of songs, and I had my doubts.
I didn’t doubt the caliber of musicians on the tour. I didn’t doubt the story that was being told. I did, however, wonder whether the idea was a good one. The band Silers Bald, with whom I had played several shows, agreed to join me, my wife Jamie, and my friend Gabe Scott on the tour even though none of us really knew what we were getting into. I remember when they arrived in Nashville they wore looks of amused confusion, and after a few days of rehearsal were only a little less confused. “The concert has two parts,” I told them. “First, we’ll break the ice by playing in the round. You do a few songs, I’ll do a few songs, we’ll tell stories and let the audience get to know us. Then after the intermission we won’t talk anymore. We’ll just play the songs.”
Now, if you’re familiar at all with concerts by Christian artists, you know that if there’s one thing we love, it’s introducing songs. Sometimes the introduction is several times longer than the song itself. Sometimes this is good, most of the time it’s bad. For the Behold the Lamb half of the concert, though, I was resolved that the songs should do the work of telling the story. I wanted the audience to lose themselves in the story (which, by the way, is a good picture of what our response to the Gospel ought to be). Let me tell you, that was a scary thought. To play ten songs in a row with narry a word between meant there was no way to gauge the audience, no way to change songs mid-set to accommodate a lukewarm crowd, no way to break the ice with a good joke. We had to trust that the story was good enough.
And, of course, it is.
That first tour in 2000 was an act of faith on the part of the promoters who brought us in. It was an act of faith for Silers Bald, who drove to Nashville to rehearse a bunch of songs that hadn’t even been finished. And every night we took the stage it was an act of faith that the audience would listen close, connect the dots, and open their hearts to a new telling of the old Story. It was a rough tour in many ways, but to our great relief, the idea worked. The audiences got it.
The next year I wrote “Labor of Love”, “So Long, Moses”, and (with help from Laura Story) “Behold the Lamb”, which more or less completed the song cycle. Again, I have only a vague memory of writing these songs. I thought “Labor of Love” was too simple, and I thought “So Long, Moses” was too complex–but the band liked them and they served their purpose in the narrative. Again, we took the stage and prayed each night that the audience would connect. And, even with all the feedback and the wrong notes and the odd structure of the concert, they did.
By the end of the second tour in 2001 I was convinced that the songs were ready to be recorded, but there was a problem. I was under contract with a record label. I didn’t think they’d let me record the album without seeing the show first-hand, or if when they saw it nobody showed up. So I invited some special guests, artists who would draw more of a crowd than I ever could alone. I called the great Phil Keaggy, Fernando Ortega, Ron Block, and Jill Phillips and Andy Gullahorn, a couple whose music I had long admired–and to my amazement they all said yes. I also asked a graduating Belmont student named Ben Shive to arrange a string quartet. Looking back, I’m grateful beyond words for the friendships that grew out of that night. The crowd was amazing, the inclusion of these artists made the show more beautiful, and we were all glad to be a part of it.
But the label wasn’t sold. For two more years we performed the concert to increasing audiences, fine-tuned the arrangements, invited more special guests and hoped the label would let me record it, but they didn’t–to my eternal gratitude. In 2004, after I was released from my contract (read: dropped from the label), I was able to record Behold the Lamb of God: The True Tall Tale of the Coming of Christ. Part of the reason I’m grateful to the label is that those five years of touring this concert were basically pre-production for the album; the arrangements were fine-tuned, lyrics were tweaked, screws were tightened. The album is better for it.
But the main reason I’m glad for those five years is that I began to discover the blessing of an artistic community. You see, by then I no longer felt ownership of this project. I considered myself blessed to be a part of this Kingdom work, this culmination of the gifting of so many people–drummers, violinists, writers, singers, producers, sound technicians, and guitar players. But it wasn’t just the sonic side of things. I also met graphic designer Roy Roper, who skillfully assembled the packaging, and Evie Coates, the artist responsible for the beautiful images in the CD booklet and now finally showcased in all their beauty in this book. Both these people had seen the concert more than once, were moved by it, and thus poured themselves into their work. Evie listened to the songs again and again as she collected old wood, odds and ends, throwaway scraps, rusty artifacts, and in another rich metaphor for the work of Christ, made the broken beautiful.
So many artists dropped by the studio to sing or to play, many of them free of charge, and the same is true of the concerts. We’ve been honored to be joined over the years by the likes of Alison Krauss, Stuart Duncan, David Wilcox, Pierce Pettis, Randall Goodgame, Bebo Norman, Buddy Miller, Derek Webb, Sandra McCracken, Mindy Smith, and two-thirds of Nickel Creek, and not one of them cared a hoot for how much they’d get paid. They did it because of the story we were telling, and because it was a community telling it. Derek Webb sang “Deliver Us” better than I ever could. Ben Shive, who has become one of my best friends, brought his formidable musical gifting to the string arrangements, piano and production. Andrew Osenga’s passionate voice and guitar playing still gives me goosebumps. Jill Phillips’s performance of “Labor of Love” still makes me cry. How could I in good conscience call this an Andrew Peterson album? It’s not. It’s the fruit of many peoples’ work, and I got to be the lucky guy to pluck it from the vine. These humble souls have gathered with me for a decade now each December to sing this story again and again; wives and children have kept the home fires burning; churches across the country have opened their doors and prayed that people would come with ears to hear–all for the glory of Christ. Is there any higher call for an artist? For anyone?
Once again, God proves to me that he knows what he’s doing. And I think that’s why I can’t answer Sara’s question. I don’t know how I wrote these songs. God zapped me with the blessing of amnesia, probably to keep the swagger out of my step; he knows I’m prone to take credit where credit is not due, and so he’s keeping me from more temptation than I can withstand. When I’m asked about writing these songs I can only shrug and say, “I don’t really know. Would you pass me a turkey sandwich?”
What I do know is this: not long after I finished recording my second album I was given a burden. I was compelled to tell Jesus’ story with the gifts he gave me–the biggest of those not being my songwriting at all but the community of the Kingdom itself. And telling that story hundreds of times has changed me. I love the Gospel more for it. If you’ve been to one of these concerts you know I can hardly make it through a night without a lump forming in my throat (something that makes my voice go terribly flat). It usually happens when I look out in the audience and see someone with tears on their cheeks, and I realize that, by God, that dream I had ten years ago has come true: the story connects. The Spirit moves. The apostle says in John 20:31, “But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” However the songs were written, I remember well the reason for the writing, and that was so that men, women, and children would believe that the stories are true, and that by believing they would find life in Jesus’ name.
Andrew Peterson is a singer-songwriter and author. Andrew has released more than ten records over the past twenty years, earning him a reputation for songs that connect with his listeners in ways equally powerful, poetic, and intimate. As an author, Andrew’s books include the four volumes of the award-winning Wingfeather Saga, released in collectible hardcover editions through Random House in 2020, and his creative memoir, Adorning the Dark, released in 2019 through B&H Publishing.
I have a personal rule for music listening… a resolution really: Three full-length listens to an album before passing any judgment, good or bad. When I first got “Behold” in the mail, i had to do a bunch of clean-up at the church, so i put the cd on to accompany the process. From the very first moment I heard the line “so sing out with joy to the brave little boy…” I have loved this record. I sat down in a chair in the sanctuary and listened to the whole thing start to finish.
Behold the Lamb of God is a life-changing work. It’s changed mine. I love Jesus more because of it. Labor of Love is possibly the best song ever. Thanks for this record. You and all your friends rock.
I get chill-bumps just reading the names of the songs of the album, I am so excited for Thanksgiving to pass and for it to be time to put it on. I can worship and weep while I cook! What greater joy is there than that? All I can say regarding your unanswered question is the Holy Spirit was working through your weakness…the fruit is a tremendous blessing to us.
I remember the first time I heard Love and Thunder. I remember distinctly sensing God that He said he had had these people write these songs for me and I really needed to listen. I did. I really listened. Its been these years since and I’m still hearing. I’m hearing that He still “stoops to show his face” and that “just as I am, just as I was, just as I will be He loves me He does,” that yes He’s silent sometime but then there is Love, Love, Love, Love.
You (ya’ll) write these songs because you must. It is the Christ that lives in us all that is breaking forth from these vessels of clay. Christ in us, the hope of the manifestation of God.
I also remember the first time I saw BTLOG. It was in Greenville SC right after the album came out. I remember when it was over and you started the audience in a hymn and quietly walked off stage. I was immediately reminded that it was not about you or me or anyone else but Him.
You wrote these songs because if you didn’t the rocks would cry out.
All I can say is that God changed my life in the first few months I had this album. Being a worship leader (and an Anglican), I was always looking for music that would articulate and embellish The Story. Like you Andrew, I can’t remember how it took root in me, but I do know that during the Fall of 2004, and through listening to BTLOG over and over, I became a different person in regard to my love and respect for, and awe of the coming of Christ. As Advent came that year, I found myself with this burning desire to sing “Labor of Love” at our Christmas Eve services. I am not a bold person, but I think out of my own desperation and God’s prodding, I mustered up the courage to email you and ask; no beg you for the music to “Labor of Love”. To my great surprise, within the week I received an email from Ben Shive with the lead sheet to this song attached. When I opened that email, I wept. Not only because I’d gotten the music, but mostly because of the generosity of you guys to share this with someone you didn’t even know!
If you know anything about the Anglican church, you know that they press into the Liturgical Seasons of the year, and all of the beautiful symbolism, Lectionaries, prayers, etc. Now, mind you, I am not one to go for empty and idle worship that can all too many times be found in the Liturgical churches, but it’s a totally different story when one knows the Christ about Whom it’s ALL centered.
I have to say that the Advent/Christmas services of 2004 were the most beautiful and meaningful I’ve experienced, and I know it’s mostly because of how God changed my whole perception of His-story: then and now (make sense?) by listening intently, and with intention to this album.
A tradition we perpetuated for the Christmas Eve services in that church was that after all the hoop-la of the service, there would be one solitary song sung at the end that would bring the reality of the whole reason for the service into perspective. That year was particularly indescribable because God totally fell on every person in that service. As I sang Labor of Love, this “thing” happened. It was as if God came and sat down by every person present and put His arms around us. When the song was over, EVERYTHING was silent, and I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a room with 300 people and there not be a single sound, but it was LOUD with the presence of God. I think God spoke so many things to so many people in those short moments that we’ll never know all of the healing, comforting, transforming, eye-opening, heart-changing things that happened. Thanks be to God!
Since that year, as long as I was worship leader in that place, we sang so many of the songs from BTLOG, and not only during Christmas, but during Advent, Lent, and Holy Week. It just made sense to do it that way.
After many years of leading worship in that place, and for reasons known only to Him, God took me and my family out of that body. The first year ( 2007) I was not a worship leader, I flew from Tulsa to Houston (where one of my best friends lives), and attended my first BTLOG concert in person. I was the most excited person there. . . I’m sure you could tell who I was! (JK, LOL) I saw that you guys were going to be in Houston in November, so I emailed my friend, told her about you guys, and asked if she would go with me to the concert if I bought her ticket. She said she would, and let me tell you, she has become one of the Square Pegs’ biggest fans. She was so taken by God during the concert that she never even spoke to me during the whole thing. She was probably one of those people you talked about, Andrew, when you said how you looked out at the audience and saw tears flowing down the face of someone. Or it could have been me, but either way, God ruled that night, as I’m sure He does at each concert on the tour.
Thank you, and thanks to all of the many people who do this tour with you. Please know I’ll be praying for you all this year as you travel about without your families, and as you continue to tell the true tall tale of the coming of Christ.
Sadly, I have never been to the show. I hope to one of these years (but since there’s barely a Marylander who reads this blog, you’re probably not racing up to Baltimore for 2010). I do however, own the CD of BTLOG, and it is indeed my favorite Christmas album (at least in some ways – sometimes you have to have the traditional favorites too). I thought to myself as I listened, “he gets it! finally someone gets what it’s all about!”
But let me add that my favorite song on the album is one that is not mentioned above. It’s Matthew’s Begats. And I don’t love it just because it’s cute and catchy, but because it is that Bridge (thinking back to the Bridge post from a few weeks ago – this is a terrific example). All the longing in the OT, and wondering when we will be delivered, and now, and now… God is fulfilling, he is sending that redeemer! It gives a very “boring” passage of Scripture all new life. We should rejoice at these names. Look, don’t you see, God has been working all the time, and He really is bringing his Deliver! Hallelujah. This song captures it so poignantly, that it often makes me cry.
Andrew, “The epic scope of the gospel story,” yes, the scarlet thread running through the entire Bible, not just the first four books of the NT. That’s why my favorite part of the concert is the finale, where you hear pieces from each of the songs throughout, a beautiful culmination. Can’t wait to see what y’all come up with for the Advent Book, and looking forward to seeing the concert again this year.
Dan, my husband and a friend drove down to Nashville for the weekend to see the concert when we lived in Pasadena, MD. The show was at RocketTown then, and they had a blast!
Victoria, you don’t have to wait ’til after T’giving. We broke out BTLOG at our house over a month ago!
I just realized that maybe what John meant in John 21:25* may have also story telling by song. it is very fortunate to be apart of the story that continues to be told.It is very deep to be the listener as well.
*(“Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”)
I have not been able to be at a live performance (West coast? Anyone? *crickets…desert winds*) but there is inevitably a time during the Advent season that somebody from my circle needs a ride to the airport. My annual tradition is to listen to the album start to finish on the way home. “So long Moses” kills me every year! There are very few songs that communicate the weight of the culmination of history in Jesus Christ…there are a few though and you guys caught one. Thank you.
To add a goosepimply moment to the unplumbed collection of goosepimply moments on this record, I shall say that I can’t ever get past the haunting and weatherworn repitition in the Reprise of “Let your judgement pass over us….pass over us” without forming a lump of my own.
One of the glorious things about the community brought to bear in the making of this record/concert/idea is that it can’t be manufactured. In many ways, I have been a part of artistic communities, and I’ve also tried to formulate them for my own satisfaction in their beauty. This is probably a more grievous sin than I give it credit for being. Yet all my attempts at organizing were somewhat akin to romping around with a wooden horse in hopes it would become a Clydesdale. But upon those rarer times when I inexplicably found myself in the middle of something larger, I found a quiet and deep-seated hope that would not be moved. My greatest sense of Church, of a community betrothed, has often come upon me in the company of other artists.
AP already knows this because I’ve told him so many times before, but I think BTLOG is a master work that will still be performed and listened to hundreds of years from now, just like we still sing All Creatures of Our God and King today.
And I am also greedy with thankfulness for how it brings so many of my dear friends together (at the Ryman, no less) every year during a season otherwise preoccupied with busyness.
I tell everyone that I know to come see the show every year, and I talk it up by telling them that there is no way I could overstate the coolness and beauty of the evening. Sorry for piling on, AP, but that’s what you get.
And incidentally, I remember when we were sitting in the den in that old house on the Christian Church property where squirrels kept getting caught in the drywall, and you told me about your hopes for this thing and I just thought, well that’s pretty cool, and brave to try. And then you played Labor of Love and It Came to Pass and it came to pass that I almost pissed my pants. I’m so proud to be associated with it, even in the smallest way. Happy 10 year Anniversary BTLOG tour!
I’ve been listening to the live BTLOG download. You know the one part that gets me every time is not any of the songs…which I love dearly! Yet it was in the intro, when Andrew says that “every story in the Bible whispers His name” Every story is in the Bible for a purpose, maybe infinite purposes, but they all point to the center…Christ. Every story is a picture of Christ’s work from Creation, to Noah’s Ark, to Abraham/Isaac, to Moses/Joshua, I could go on, but they all contain a glimpse, a picture, a whisper of what was to come and what is yet to come. Praise God! This is why BTLOG is my favorite album of all time…not just my favorite Christmas album, because I really don’t consider it for a time of year. This is why we worship! It’s a good thing to worship, but when you are led in “why” we worship, that brings in a new level of revelation of who God is.
This is why it’s so important to be in the Word, as we take in more, the revelation of who He is becomes more deep and intimate. This is our response to who God is, and what He’s done for us!
I am so very thankful to God for you, Andrew Peterson, for your friends, and for the music that all of you make.
I remember becoming a fan of your music several years ago in college, knowing of the “Matthew’s Begats”, and yet somehow missing the fact that there was a whole set of Christmas songs as well until last year.
It’s great to hear of all those who had a hand in it. I rarely make it past “Behold The Lamb of God” with dry eyes. It’s nice to actually hear the WHOLE story of Christmas!
AP-I listen to this body of work every week as I prepare communion bread for my church. I still find tears on my cheeks all the time. When the live version from the anniversary edition went into my CD player last week, I couldn’t have been prepared for it to move me even more. Or to hear the earnestness with which you read-the story is true. Thank God it is, and thank God for you and your gifts. Stuart is again so looking forward to being a part of something so amazing. Thank you.
Behold the Lamb is always on my top favorite Christmas CDs list, even though I have been know to listen to it at any time of the year, to be reminded of the great story of my redemption. I have been a fan of Andrew’s music since I first saw him open up for Bebo Norman in Knoxville, TN (when he was taking pre-orders for Carried Along). Since then, my wife and I have seen him at least 10 times and have introduced his music to many a people. I am grateful for the way God uses Andrew to draw people back to Himself. I am excited that this year we are going to the Behold the Lamb concert at the Ryman in Nashville, a show I have been wanting to see for a while. It will be a blessing I am sure.
Woohoo! We have a show within 2 hours of my home this year! What makes this even more exciting is that my seven-year-old daughter wants to go along (she asked if we would get to meet you, AP). The only thing better than this would be making it to the Ryman, which honestly feels like sort of a microcosm of the great ingathering of the saints — to which we all look forward with a longing we don’t even fully understand.
BTLOG is one of the many reasons that I love this time of year. Sure, it’s good for the whole 365, but this makes it even more spine-tinglingly wonderful. Lord willing, we’ll see you and the gang in Cleburne.
When I read:
“It usually happens when I look out in the audience and see someone with tears on their cheeks, and I realize that, by God, that dream I had ten years ago has come true: the story connects. The Spirit moves.”
I realized that I was close to tears just reading *about* the concert!
Any chance you all will ever perform near the St. Louis area?
Where do I begin? My wife went to BTLOG several times before we were married. She went with people from the Caedmans forum. (Ashley Hayes before we were married.) Then since we were getting married in the month of December we decided to honeymoon in Nashville and we went to the show. I had heard the album and seen the DVD but being there live and talking with folks afterwards was wonderful. I most recently was inspired to start writing thoughts I had from the album in to a devotion of sorts. This has been my first attempt at writing anything and I haven’t gotten very far. Getting down to writing something is far harder than I ever expected and has given me a new respect for the authors of my favorites. By the way Andrew if you are interested in reading any of what I have, cool. No pressure it’s more just for me and to see if writing might be something I could do on the side. I’m not sure I have the resolve. Thank you for pouring your faith into what you sing.
Thank you, thank you thank you for this work – and for the background story. I can’t wait for the advent book – it will compliment the Begats book nicely!
This is my BY FAR my favorite Christmas album…period. The lyrical picture is HUGE and the tells the complete Christmas story – which is (sadly) overlooked by most (including those who call Christ Savior and Lord). The awesome thing is BTLOG is who Christ would tell the story: http://dennarr.wordpress.com/2009/11/09/how-would-jesus-tell-the-christmas-story/
(ps: it would be so great to have BTLOG com to CA!)
There are two things I take from this much-appreciated back story. First, how much work and touring went into the creation of this collection–five years! Wow, I’m not in the music business, and I had assumed that tours followed the albums. I’m going to demand that Malcolm Gladwell add a chapter to his next edition of _Outliers_ describing the 10,000 hours that went into BTLOG.
Second, I realize how much AP, his colleagues and even Evie are driven by their artistic gifts. When they started on this journey, there was no guarantee they would still be earning a living as musicians or that their efforts would be successful by the world’s standards. It took a lot of courage to step forward in faith, put your ideas out there, and have the patience to see them honed into a very beautiful work of art.
I am deeply appreciative of this inside look.
6 months ago I didn’t know your name. Now my kids (11, 8, and 5) might almost call you uncle Andy. We read Dark Sea of Darkness. Your songs have given us great times of listening and singing on the road as well as substantive conversations about the glories of the gospel and the Savior. Thank you for writing these songs. On many occasions they’ve reawakened wonder and worship. I trust they are being used of God to push the seed of the gospel further down in each of our hearts and can’t wait to watch the kids ‘get it’, one by one, and join their parents in singing the good confession from the heart.
New Orleans, LA
Andy – I have had the pleasure of listening to your music still 1997 ish (way back when it was you, Jamie and Gabe). I was at one of the BTLOG concerts in MI just after the CD came out in 2004 (?). It was a snowy nite and the crowd was not huge. I had just got the cd and we listened to it on the way their (it was a great prep). I remember at the end when you led the crowd in O Come let us adore Him and walked off the stage, it was one of the most beautiful experience and God glorifying moments I have ever seen at a concert! I can’t wait for BTLOG this year! We hope to see you in Nashville this time! Thank you and God bless.
Thank you. Somehow, every year at least once (even when it is not the Christmas season) I find myself laying on my back on the floor of my living room, listening to the Story, and crying as I remember that its scope has reached even to me.
My son accepted Christ in our home while we were watching the BTLOG DVD. Just when I didn’t think I could possibly love this music any more…
The story is true!
Thank you, Andrew.
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