NASHVILLE, Tenn. — NewSong frontman Russ Lee was a special guest at the recent Drive for Dinger Kickoff Dinner and Silent Auction held in Franklin, Tennessee. Attending with his wife Mary, a five-year cancer survivor, Lee is pictured at the event with St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher. The dinner preceded the 2012 Inaugural Drive for Dinger Celebrity Golf Tournament.
Russ Lee is a singer/songwriter, a former vocalist for now-disbanded CCM group TRUTH. Lee also served as lead vocalist for NewSong from 1994-2000. He rejoined NewSong in 2008. Russ left the group in 2000, releasing his first solo album, Words in Time, which contained the Top 5 hits "I Smile" and "Live What I Believe". Lee followed up with The Second Mile in 2003 and Christmas album Hear Those Bells in 2004. Russ Lee's final album as a solo artist was Pictures on Mantles, in late 2004, which contained reworked hits from his tenure with TRUTH and NewSong, and several new songs. In late 2008, Russ Lee announced via his newsletter that he was rejoining NewSong. His first album back with the group, Give Yourself Away, was released in early 2010.
For the past 20 years, Russ Lee has been one of Christian music’s signature voices. Throughout most of the '90s, Russ sang lead vocals for CCM supergroup Newsong. He then pursued a successful solo career before returning as frontman for Newsong in 2009.
He tells The 700 Club, "Now more than ever from the depths of my soul, I have things to say about reality and about life and I can understand the people that I’m singing to and ministering to a lot better than I could before."
Russ’s passion for spreading the Gospel through music is the result of his own painful journey to become a Christian. When Russ was growing up, his mother suffered from severe depression. His father struggled with alcoholism. Like most boys, Russ looked up to his dad and followed his example.
"I thought that since my dad drank that every guy who was a man should try it and so I started drinking. I didn’t drink at my house. I didn’t want my parents to catch me, but I had other opportunities to find alcohol. As a 13-year-old boy, that’s what I did. I just thought it was the grown-up thing to do."
Once he reached high school, Russ desperately wanted to “fit in” with the older kids.
"There were two or three boys in my high school who played guitar. They were in a band, and I thought they were unbelieveably cool. They drank, smoked pot and they did drugs. I began to do whatever they did, because I thought what they did was cool and I wanted to be them."
Russ smoked his first joint at 15. Two years later, he started selling speed and marijuana out of the trunk of his car.
"I didn’t try to make any converts. I just looked for people who I knew were involved in that culture, and I would say the things that drug dealers would say, 'Hey, if you’re looking for some good pot, I’ve got this Columbian stuff. It’s amazing, and I’ll give you a great deal on it.'"
Russ enjoyed the money and sense of danger that came from dealing drugs, but what really drove him was his anger toward God.
"I resented the fact that, if He was a God who loved me, why would He put me in this situation and give me parents like this. He must love other people more, because they have nice parents and nice things and they don’t have to do what I have to do."
Russ also played guitar in clubs around town and was often paid in drinks from the bar. After graduation, however, he felt that his life was headed in the wrong direction. While driving home one night, Russ heard a song on the radio that opened his eyes.
"I was listening to Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones singing 'I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.' It dawned on me that that was my problem. I was looking for satisfaction, and it was like the truth slapped me in the face on my way home. The reason I was so uncomfortable and dissatisfied is that I was looking for something to just satisfy me. I had never found it. I tried everything I could get my hands on, and I had never really been satisfied.
"That night I said, 'God, I don’t know who You are and I don’t know if You know who I am and if You even care. I just wanna know if You’re there and You care that I’m alive. I just want You to show me. I don’t know how to find You, but if You’re God, You certainly can find me."
Two days after that prayer, someone paid Russ an unexpected visit.
"It was a friend of mine who I had grown up with and who I had always envied, who had the perfect family and perfect girlfriend and perfect life. He had never been to my house. Not ever. His parents wouldn’t let him."
He told Russ that he had also felt dissatisfied and was now a changed man because he had surrendered his life to Jesus Christ.
"I was overwhelmed. I was floored. That was the last thing I expected. Billy Graham at my door would have been less of a surprise as this guy saying these things to me. I knew that God had sent him to my house. I had no doubt in my mind."
Russ went with his friend to church that Sunday, and before the pastor could issue the invitation, Russ hurried down the aisle and gave his life to the Lord.
"That day, my parents still struggled with the things they struggled with. I still had a big garbage bag full of every kind of drug you can imagine in the trunk of my car in the church parking lot. But what changed that day were not my surroundings, but me. I changed that day. My whole outlook. I felt forgiven. I felt free. I felt like the man who had the world in front of him and an opportunity and a savior whose arms were open wide. He wanted to know me and wanted me to know Him. It was just the greatest day of my life."
Russ and his wife Mary have been married 26 years and have three beautiful children. Russ says, "Everyday I realize that my whole life is a gift of His mercy, because I know what I deserve and what I’ve been given instead."
Over the years, he has shared his story around the world and has helped thousands make the same decision to follow Christ.
"It’s amazing because, when you become a Christian, you just surrender your life to Jesus. When you think about that as a non-believer, you think 'surrender my life to someone? No, no, no. I guess I won’t get to have any fun then.' It’s amazing how much better God’s plans are for you then your plans are for yourself.
"The truth is in knowing Christ. I just want people to know Him."
Wiegman, W. (n.d.). Russ Lee: A Better Plan. Retrieved May 20, 2016, from CBN website: http://www1.cbn.com/700club/russ-lee-better-plan