"I want to fulfill this calling that drives the longing in my heart to do something that matters for the glory of God," Russ Lee explains.
With the release of his latest recording, the retrospective Pictures on Mantles: The Best Of Russ Lee, this husband and father of three, ordained minister, acclaimed singer/songwriter and new record company president is getting one step closer to that destiny. A striking contrast to the drug dealer lost in a wilderness of rebellion during his youth; today Russ is a living testament to God's grace and mercy. He's a man on a mission to share that Hope with the world.
Featured on more than 10 #1 hit singles over the years-including songs recorded during tenures with two of Christian music's best-loved groups, NewSong and TRUTH-Russ' distinct, soulful voice is instantly recognizable on Christian radio stations everywhere. Pictures On Mantles captures the best of the Dove Award-nominee and honored songwriter's career to date. Featuring Russ' Top 5 hits, "Live What I Believe" and "I Smile" from his 2000 solo debut, Words In Time (Sparrow), the collection also includes several career-spanning signature songs.
Alongside two of NewSong's biggest hits, "Love Revolution" and "Miracles", both of which showcase Russ on lead vocals, Pictures On Mantles offers an updated version of "Living Life Upside Down", a song Russ originally recorded with TRUTH in 1991. "That song has such a timeless message and it becomes more and more relevant as the years go on," Russ says of his decision to re-record the hit single. "There's a whole new generation of Christian music listeners who need to hear that message."
Russ also includes a new, more organic rendition of NewSong's "Can't Keep A Good Man Down." He explains: "I wanted to re-approach this one because we took it in a different musical direction with NewSong than I had initially envisioned performing it when I co-wrote it."
Pictures On Mantles contains the new compositions "Faithful Love" and "Sweetest Sound", both co-written by Russ and respected songwriter and friend James Isaac Elliott, as well as the gripping title-track, written by Weston Harvey, Scott Lynch and John Barner, which is also featured on Russ' 2004 Christmas release, Hear Those Bells. The song drives home the importance of family and the legacy we leave for others. "The first time I heard it, it absolutely knocked me down with impact, and I thought, 'Everybody needs to hear this truth'," relates Russ. "Our family is a gift from God, and our history and our heritage is what makes us who we are. This song reminds us of that in a powerful way."
Both the greatest hits collection and the Christmas recording are the debut releases from Vertical Vibe Records, Russ' newly formed company. Yet another milepost along his Christian music journey, as the label's president, Russ hopes this endeavor will be a vehicle by which the heart of God is shown and ministry is fostered.
And ministry is what Russ is all about. Those who have heard his powerful testimony of searching for satisfaction in money and drugs until Christ ultimately transformed him know that his life's calling is unquestionably purpose-driven.
Also an ordained minister, Russ feels that this vocation helps keep him accountable in his music ministry. "My ordination is a stamp of commitment from me to say, 'I'm answering a call that I know is there; I need to answer it with my whole heart, and I'm going to do that'," Russ states. "But it's also a statement of commitment from my friends and peers that they will hold me accountable, pray for me, support me, and that they're welcoming me as a viable minister."
Two life-changing ministry opportunities for Russ were his trips to Iraq in November of 2003 and 2004 to visit and present concerts for soldiers from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, near Nashville. The experience reminded Russ of the great cost of freedom, both in a material and a spiritual sense. "When people are shedding blood and giving their life for the sake of someone else's opportunity, you can't help but parallel that with what Jesus Christ did for all of humanity," he relates. "It was like getting a wake up call that I didn't know I needed. It just reminded me of what's important, and it reaffirmed and reassured me that living what you believe, even if it costs you everything, is important."
Above all else in this life, Russ focuses on making his wife, Mary, son Casey, and daughters Addy and Ana his top priority. "It doesn't seem like success to me if the whole world loves you, but the people who love you the most don't know who you are," Russ says. "My kids are a beautiful gift from God, and my wife is an awesome gift and friend and my greatest supporter on this earth. To exclude them from the process would be my loss. I want to make sure that I keep building my relationship with my family and that I don't miss out on any part of their development. I want to meet their needs and serve my family well. I live by the statement an old missionary said: 'The light that shines the farthest shines the brightest at home'."
The Lee family is faithfully committed to their home church, New Vision Baptist in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Russ and Mary coordinate the JV program (a ministry for junior high and high school students), he pitches in with the AWANA clubs for children that Mary oversees, and Russ also helps organize an annual father/son camp-out. This 110% effort could easily be compromised by Russ' hectic touring schedule, but he doesn't underestimate for a single moment just how important it is to be plugged-in to his church family.
"The Great Commission was given to the Body of Christ, and the agent of the Great Commission is the local church and the individual believer," Russ says directly. "He called us to have a support team around us, which is the local church. It's so important to make a contribution to the people you're expecting to make a contribution to you."
When he's not on the road, Russ is hard at work on the homefront. Whether it's a morning walk around the neighborhood with Mary, helping with the kids' homeschooling projects, a songwriting or recording session, spending some time in the Vertical Vibe Records office, or leading an AWANA meeting at church, Russ is driven each day to leave a legacy for his family while glorifying God through his ministry.
"I think God's working on a tapestry or a picture that my life is supposed to be, and I believe it's supposed to reflect His glory," Russ concludes. "I know I'm not a perfect picture yet, but I feel like if I allow God to work on me and through me that one day I'll be able to stand before Him and hear Him say, 'Well done'. That's my goal-whether it's running a record label, writing songs, being a Dad, hanging out with kids, or traveling to Iraq-whatever I do, I want it to help finish this picture."