John R. Cash

Sergeant, USAF, Gospel Evangelist
[12 September 2003]

Almighty God, who hast called thy servants to spread the Gospel into the ends of the earth; we remember the work of thy servant Johnny Cash, who served his country as a Non Commissioned Officer during the Korean war, and served his fans throughout his lifetime, using his personal failings and weakness as examples to encourage others to repentance, faith, salvation, trust, and peace in Christ. Grant us courage and strength to examine and renew our lives, so that we might see thee more clearly, follow thee more nearly, and love thee more dearly. Through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour. Amen

Sergeant John R Cash, USAF

"For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live."
[Romans 8:13, Cash's favorite verse]

No one is better known in Country Music than Johnny Cash, "The Man in Black." John R. Cash was born in Arkansas on February 26, 1932, the son of a sharecropper. He grew up helping his father with a small farm. His father a Baptist, and his mother a Methodist, he grew up in a faithful household. He made a public confession of his faith in Christ at age 12. After graduation from high school, he went to Michigan to work in the Automotive Industry briefly, and when the Korean War started, he joined the Air Force to help defend his country. He was assigned to Germany working in decoding with a Top Secret clearance, and was promoted to Staff Sergeant before his discharge. While in the Air Force, he began his musical career and was one of the "Tops in Blue".

When Cash got an interview at Sam Phillips's Sun Records in 1955, he told the Phillips he was a gospel singer. "You know, I love gospel music," said Phillips. "But unless you're Mahalia Jackson, or somebody that established, you can't even cover the cost of the recording."

By 1957 he had made quite an impression on the Country Music scene. In 1958, he wanted to record a Gospel Album, but his label would not allow it, so he left and signed with another company. His success continued, but the rigorous schedule affected his marriage and life... resulting in divorce and addictions.

Cash wrote that by 1967, "there was nothing left of me - I had drifted so far away from God and every stabilizing force in my life that I felt there was no hope." He crawled into a cave to die. "The absolute lack of light was appropriate... My separation from Him, the deepest and most ravaging of the various kinds of loneliness I'd felt over the years, seemed finally complete... It wasn't. I thought I'd left Him, but He hadn't left me. I felt something very powerful start to happen to me, a sensation of utter peace, clarity, and sobriety -Then my mind started focusing on God. He didn't speak to me - He never has, and I'll be surprised if He ever does - but ... I became conscious of a very clear, simple idea: I was not in charge of my own destiny. I was not in charge of my own death."
[compare Jer 23:23-24]

Cash's first marriage ended in divorce, and subsequently remarried June Carter. She helped him to overcome his addiction and was a force in his religious life. Johnny and June became more active in social and religious activities in the early '70s, and worked often with the Evangelist Reverend Billy Graham. They worked as missionaries in the Montego Bay area of Jamaica making it their second home. Johnny was ordained in 1977.

He frequently confessed his faith in Christ on stage, and was warned by his producer to stop. "You're producing the wrong man here, because gospel music is part of what I am and part of what I do," Cash replied. "If you don't like it, you can always edit it." They did not edit it, but Cash paid the price for his witness. He later wrote, "The worldly consequences of my declaration were severe, not just in lost record sales but also in some of the reactions from religious people." He had several Gospel albums by then, but none came easy. He said, "My record company would rather I'd be in prison than in church."

In 1993, Cash released the Album "Redemption," he sang, "The blood gave life to the branches of the tree. And the blood was the price that set the captives free. And the numbers that came through the fire and flood. Clung to the tree and were redeemed by the blood." Cash wrote a novel about faith entitled Man in White - the story of Cash's hero, Saint Paul. He also wrote an autobiography in which he spoke of his addictions and struggles and healing through God's grace in Cash.

In 1994 he wrote, "I am not obsessed with death; I'm obsessed with living...The battle against the dark one and the clinging to the right one is what my life is about."

Billy Graham told him, "Don't apologize for who you are and what you've done in the past...Be who you are and do what you do." In 2000, Cash said of his addiction, "To put myself in such a low state that I couldn't communicate with God, there's no lonelier place to be. I was separated from God, and I wasn't even trying to call on him. I knew that there was no line of communication."

Cash worked through the troubled years. He said, "The greatest joy of my life was that I no longer felt separated from Him. Now he is my Counselor, my Rock of Ages to stand upon." For another impression of his life and devotion to Christ, see this article Keep on Pushing

In 2002, Cash released American IV: The Man Comes Around. The first song went, "There's a man going 'round taking names. And he decides who to free and who to blame. Everybody won't be treated all the same. There'll be a golden ladder reaching down. When the Man comes around." The album sold 500,000 copies before Cash died.

Sergeant Cash loved his country, and it came out in his work. Listen now to Johnny, and read the words to this narrative he wrote Ragged Old Flag. Veterans will enjoy it.

John R. Cash died on September 12, 2003. His wife of 36 years, June Carter, had died just four months earlier on May 18th. John's daughter, Rosanne Cash said her father had lost "his dearest companion, his musical counterpart, his soul mate and his best friend."

I commend this article, Real Hard Cash by Russell D. Moore, Dean of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, concerning Cash's appeal to young folk because he refused to saccharine-coat the Gospel.. Cash, and his message, was real, hard, and from the heart.

The Far Side Banks of Jordan
Sung at June's Funeral, written by Johnny and June and recorded in 1970s.

I also strongly commend the documentary film: Johnny Cash: The Man in Black ISBN 0-7411-1077-6; it is a 51 minute film that covers Johnny's life, work, and faith.

Cash once said, "I believe what I say, but that don't necessarily make me right. There's nothing hypocritical about it. There is a spiritual side to me that goes real deep, but I confess right up front that I'm the biggest sinner of them all."

In contemplating this confession of faith, I think of this passage by Paul in his epistle to the Romans. For me it epitomizes the life of Sergeant Cash, his faith in Christ as Savior, and his victory in Jesus to eternal life.

For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.
[Saint Paul in Romans beginning at 7:14]

Sources: Christianity Today
First Sunday after Easter MMVI
Thanks to Centurion Joseph Tribunus h.c. (Militant) of Indiana