Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Soundtracking the Bible Part VIII: Zephaniah - Malachi

The last four books of the Old Testament are often over looked by the most popular four books of the entire bible, the Gospels.

Themes that close out minor prophets are just as important then as they are now.  Dealing with issues of injustice, corrupt leaders, and money.

The subjects addressed are layered in prophecy and judgement but God's truth and faithfulness still shine through. 

35. Zephaniah - Bulls on Parade: Rage Against the Machine

In the times when you lose trust in authority and become disenfranchised with people it is not uncommon to project those feelings on God.  Zephaniah words can be solace in time of cynicism.  King Josiah was trying to bring reform as Judah was heading for exile, but his leaders undercut his intentions with idolatry and corruption.

A similar theme in Zack de la Rocha's anthem Bulls of Parade which a is a direct response to his belief that America is becoming a nation built on war instead of peace. The line "Rally round your family with a pocket full of shells," is a response to how the political leaders and the media use fear as a vehicle for war.

Zephaniah balances that tension of war with words of peace..."Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility (Zeph 2.3)."

36. Haggai- Fell on Black Days: Soundgarden

The book of Haggai is a spiritual fork-in-the-road.  After being in Exile the Jews returned to Judah and began to rebuild the Temple but in the process they hit a wall.  It is not easy to return home and face your insecurities but God can rebuild what is broken.  

Chris Cornell, the cathartic voice behind Soundgarden, shares what causes those Black Days. " It is a feeling that everyone gets. You're happy with your life, everything's going well, things are exciting—when all of a sudden you realize you're unhappy in the extreme, to the point of being really, really scared."

Much like the rising chord structure in the song that shines thru there are verses of hope sprinkled throughout the book of Haggai. "The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,' says the LORD Almighty. 'And in this place I will grant peace,' declares the LORD Almighty (Haggai 2.9).

37. Zechariah- Given to Fly: Pearl Jam

The prophet and priest Zechariah grew up while God's people where in Exile under the Babylonians.  Struggling with a sense of significance can come out of a lack of identity. Zechariah offers hope and motivation for a nation trying to pick up the pieces as they return home, thru subtle predications and phrases paint a picture of the coming Messiah.

Given to Fly is a song that also uses obscure phrases and words to convey a message of hope.  Some say Eddie Vedder wrote this song about Jesus.  Some say it is about about Vedder quitting smoking or even surfing.  It is interesting to note that all of those ideas convey freedom, something that we all want for ourselves, especially for a man who grew up in Exile, encouraging a nation to find their identify in the Messiah.

"And he still gives his love, he just gives it away/ The love he receives is the love that is saved."

38. Malachi- No Excuses: Alice in Chains 

The message of Malachi reads as clear as our reflection in the mirror.  He gives his readers a choice to have a wholehearted love for God or a life lived halfhearted.  Malachi presents the question, will we be people who are indifferent or people who make a difference?

"Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord Almighty (Malachi 3.7)."

Alice in Chains was a band full of potential but also full of problems.  Jerry Cantrell brought a sense of depth to their music but it was Layne Stanley whose conviction and charisma drove the band in both good and band directions.  No Excuses was written by Cantrell in response to Stanley's pervading substance abuse.  The acclaimed MTV Unplugged performance captured this beautiful and heartbreaking irony as his drug addiction would soon after take Layne's life.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Soundtracking the Bible Part VII Obadiah- Habakkuk

The minor prophets can easily be over looked in the shadow bible legends like Isaiah and Jeremiah, but  the roots of these treasures go deep.  This collection of works also called "Book of the Twelve" or Hebrew Trai Asar (The Twelve) is often studied together. The first six books raise questions and the final six offer resolution.

The title 'minor' is given to these final books of the OT because of there length but their message is strong.

30. Obadiah- What's So Funny ('Bout Peace Love & Understanding): Elvis Costello

Obadiah may be one of the shortest books of the OT but it's backstory is deep. In the wake of being overtaking by Babylon a neighboring country takes particular delight in Israel's misfortune, Edom.  The interesting piece of history about Edom is that the country's roots date back to Esau.

Despite the peace that Jacob made with his older brother Esau it seems some hurts are hard to let go and surface in this book.

The short and potent pop song by Elvis Costello is an ironic backdrop to this bittersweet book, with lyrics like,

 "And as i walked on
Through troubled times
My spirit gets so downhearted sometimes
So where are the strong
And who are the trusted?
And where is the harmony?"

Edom may be laughing at Israel's misfortune but God is still faithful and does not turn a blind eye to Judah,

v.12 ""You should not look down on your brother in the day of his misfortune, nor rejoice over the people of Judah in the day of their destruction, nor boast so much in the day of their trouble."

Check out this all-star lineup with Costello featuring Jacob Dylan & Zooey Deschanel

 31.  Jonah- Bullet with Butterfly Wings: Smashing Pumpkins 

Jonah would have fit right in with the 90s Anit-Hero culture adorned with flannel shirts and ripped jeans.  The four chapters in the book of Jonah are full of angst and frustration.  Although he is not a "rat in a cage" he sure did find himself trapped in a big fish en route to evangelize Ninevah. 

The lyrics to Bullet with Butterfly Wings reflect this tension,

"Now I'm naked, nothing but an animal
But can you fake it, for just one more show?
And what do you want?
I want to change
And what have you got, when you feel the same?"

What made the phenomena of Grunge unique is that the music artists of the day never wanted to be famous and Jonah had the same mentality.  He is responsible for one the biggest revivals in the Old Testament and never enjoyed it.

32. Micah- Where Is The Love: Black Eye Peas  

It was troubled times for the Kingdom of Israel as they face social injustice, idolatry, and a corrupt leadership. The message of Micah is of judgement but also hope.  The Assyrians destroyed northern Israel and also routed the souther kingdom as well forcing Israel into exile but God saved a remnant.

Micah uses a mix poetry and narrative to showcase God's mercy and justice, much like what is found in the song by the Black Eye Peas, "Where Is the Love."

It was this single that propelled the Black Eye Peas career to another level.  The message of the song resinated with people of different backgrounds and cultures at it reached number one in Europe and Australia and was also a top ten hit in The States.

The verse found in Micah 6.8 is timeless reminder of how God wants people to live then as well as today...

"8But he's already made it plain how to live, what to do, 
   what God is looking for in men and women.
It's quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, 
   be compassionate and loyal in your love,
And don't take yourself too seriously— 
   take God seriously." -(The Message)

33. Nahum- Everybody Hurts: R.E.M.

In this life there is pain, there is hurt, everybody hurts. Sometimes everything is wrong, but there is hope there is comfort.

Nahum brings a remedy to a troubled nation; after all Nahum means comfort.

In this beautiful book balanced between hurt and healing is hope.

Hope that God understands when you angry.
Hope that God restores in the midst of abuse.
Hope that God encourages when the world tears you down.

God uses Nahum to remind us of that.

"The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. 
He cares for those who trust him... v.7"

The lyrics penned by REM in "Everybody Hurts" echoes a common theme...
"Sometimes everything is wrong
Now it's time to sing along
When your day is night alone (hold on, hold on)
If you feel like letting go...hold on."

The song is a departure from their typical abstract style of writing.  REM mentions in the liner notes of the Best of Album 1988-2003 the reason that the song was intentionally straight forward to be a message to teenagers.

It is not only a message to teenager it is a message for all of us to remember.

(Check out this rare Coldplay cover of Everybody Hurts)

34. Habakkuk- Lightning Crashes: LIVE

A prophet that is not afraid to ask difficult questions, Habakkuk perhaps asks the most difficult of all...
"God if you are in control why do bad things happen?"

Habakkuk means wrestler and for three chapters he wrestled with God.

Christians like to have answers not more questions, but the beauty of Habakkuk is his ability to be at peace with the tension with a just God in a world that is so unjust.

"Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds O Lord. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy. v.3.2

Ed Kowalczyk were not afraid to tackle the spiritual in the summer of 95' with their breakout album Throwing Copper.  One song in particular struck a chord in its message of loss and hope. Written in response to a childhood friend who was killed by a drunk driver, but who donated her organs one of which was her heart.

Often prophets speak on behalf of God, but Habakkuk is unique as he speaks to God on behalf of the people.

May we never stop asking questions.
May we never lose the wonder in the midst of the why.

(The video parallels that tension of life and death depicting a mother dying and a child being born.)

Friday, June 29, 2012

A Drought Resistant Church Plant

"Church Plant"
Recently following a VCC service a hip couple gave me a most unusual and most inspiring gift, a Cactus. They explained it was drought resistant, like VCC.

A drought resistant church plant.

I love a good pun.

They also gave me a letter and usually in my experience a letter from someone in your church is never a good thing, but this letter was different.  

This letter was map.

Three key landmarks for VCC to follow.

And I'd like to share this treasure with you.

Below are some excerpts from the letter, because I believe they are truths worth sharing.

Three key points of wisdom for a drought resistant church plant.

1. Planting Take Patience 

"Copious, absurd amount of patience.  The plant grows on it's own time. It is a test of faith.  But grow it will, it has no other choice." 

The temptation with any test is to look at your friends paper.  When the nerves come and clock ticks, sometimes all you need is a peak at another sheet to see if you are on the right track.  To see if you are where you are supposed to be.  To see if there really are a lot of 'C' answers.  

It's hard to not notice other church plants growing faster; getting noticed and getting ahead. 

Growing faster may make headlines but growing healthy makes strong roots.

There is a culture at VCC growing.
We are now laying the groundwork with a system of volunteers to support the growth that is coming.

That each volunteer plays a part to help those Find Hope in the Valley. 

2. Nourishing the Plant

"The ego of humans can get in the way of this process.  This is natural, and must not be taken personally.  God wants to see you getting your hands dirty."

A very obvious truth, but also deeply profound.  The definition for NOURISH is...  provide with the food or other substances necessary for growth, health, and good condition. 

We tend to gravitate to the first two health and growth, but what about good condition?

I want to check my ego at the door.
I want to be in good condition so that my church can be in condition.

I am interested in discovering the other substances necessary...

And that takes help.
It takes others.

Knowing that I do not have everything figured out.

Resting on the shoulders of God and those around.

My hope is for VCC to be a bridge not an island.

3. Planting is Trusting

"You are learning to listen to and trust your voice. To trust the still, small Voice."

There is a trend in the church to copy what is successful.

What is the latest series from the latest great pastor/speaker/author and lets do that in our church and see the same results.  How many pastors out there today are preaching someone else's message and passing it off as their own.

Either intentionally or unintentionally.  And we all have a tendency to want to copycat what 'works.'

My wife's grandfather has told me many times to be a Voice not an Echo.

His words reverberate in my head.
That is what I want for VCC.

David lamented to sing a "new song."
Jesus declared "I make all things new."

It is time for VCC to sing it's song and do something new.

(Thanks Gabe & Nikki)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Jesus in the Bathroom: A Blog About Kid's Ministry

I always was a fan of Kid's Ministry.

It wasn't until recently that I became a believer in Kid's Ministry.

The impression of Kid's Min I had over the years was spiritual babysitting but with better snacks.  Following our services I always like to check in with our volunteers to see if the kids had fun, but then I started to receive feedback about the kid's having more than just fun, they really love the bible lessons; love Jesus.

As a church planter I knew we needed to have something for kids, I didn't realize it could change their life.

Last week this revelation really came to fruition.

We have been featuring The Circle Maker, by Mark Batterson with our volunteer team during our service planning meetings, watching the DVD and reading the book as a team.

The Circle Maker has inspired my prayer life and our team.  No other book has redefined my approach to prayer like this one, and it has been encouraging to see what God has done with Batterson's church from the early stages in a school to the transition to the theater with 7 campus across Washington DC.

Last week I was engergized by Mark's prayer walk around Front St and Union Station in DC to do a prayer walk of my own around the community center grounds where VCC meets.

I took my two year old son and we started to walk.

When we reached the front of the community center he started to pull my hand to go inside and said repeatedly, "Net's house! Net's House!"

"Net" is one of our head Kid's Min volunteers, her name is actually Lynnette.  I always have confidence in her and know that she does a great job with kids; however this gave me a whole new perspective when I heard my son call VCC, "Net's House."

One of the most telling quotes from Orange a conference that focuses on Kid's Ministry was,
“What you do with kids now will have a profound impact on how they define church later.”

As a kid we all have that family member or neighbor whose house was cool and fun; where everyone wanted to hang out.  For my son and other kids VCC is that place.

Another comment I heard last week that made me tear up and crack up was from a post on our Facebook page from Sarah, a mom who attends VCC...

"So today we came home from church and my son told me " Jesus loves us mommy" I replied with "yes your right he does". He continued on to ask me who Jesus was and I wasn't really sure how to give an answer to a 4 year old that he would understand. My reply was "Jesus watches over us and is with us all the time". He wanted to know if Jesus was here right now and I said yes. Now he has been coming to me all day telling me that Jesus is over our house, and so far he's been on the couch, in Cason's room, in the shower and peeing in our toilet LOL!!"

I love it!

I love that at such a young age my son and other kids at VCC can have special connection to church, and that is because of people like "Net."

I love having a great Kid's Ministry not just for kids to have fun,
but for them to love a great God.

Friday, May 4, 2012


I've seen a trend.

It was a perception I felt as a youth pastor.
It is a reality that seems to be true now as a lead pastor.

Maybe HATE is a strong word.
Maybe MISUNDERSTOOD is more palatable.

At times I see a lack of respect.
A total distaste for youth ministry.

There is an analogy that runs in circles that Pastors are like coaches.
And coaches hire and fire their staff at will.

Assistant coaches are just cogs in a larger machine, replaceable.
Hours are greater than their opinions.
And pay is less than well, its just less than.

Youth pastors are seen as less than...

It works for the NFL but not for the ministry.

Another approach maybe to view Lead Pastors as Principals and
Youth Pastors as Teachers.

Teachers are noble and honorable.
Teachers are essential in developing education.
Teachers are molding the next generation.

Donald D. Quinn, professor at Akron University says, "If a doctor, lawyer, or dentist had 40 people in his office at one time, all of whom had different needs, and some of whom didn't want to be there and were causing trouble, and the doctor, lawyer, or dentist, without assistance, had to treat them all with professional excellence for nine months, then he might have some conception of the classroom teacher's job."

Sounds like youth ministry to me.

I believe the best schools have the best teachers.

I believe that churches would be much healthier
if they treated their youth pastors with the respect they need.
The respect they deserve.

Here are some of the quotes and opinions I've heard first hand in regards to youth ministry,
some are from pastors and some are from church officials.

-"Youth Pastors should be seen and not heard in church board meetings."
-"The Senior Pastor is King."
-"Youth ministry is not a priority at this church, anyone can do it."
-"He was a good youth pastor because he always did what he was told."
-"We are excited to have these youth pastors at our church we got them for a bargain."

Despite the discouraging perspective on youth ministry there is a shift taking place.

One of the best opinions I've heard on youth ministry was not on the internet or in a book, but it was from a pastor of over 25 years experience talking to another pastor; that I had the privilege of listening to their conversation.

"I do not understand my youth pastor, and I am not supposed to...
he speaks a language to a generation that I cannot reach."

Youth Pastors may not be hated,
but they are certainly misunderstood,
and maybe that is a good thing.

"...To reach a generation that I cannot reach."

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Free Fallin' & Church Plantin'

It's like reaching the peak of a roller coaster one link at a time and then...
It's like stepping inside the batter's box adjusting your swing and then...
It's like jumping out of an airplane and there is no going back. 

It's like church planting.

We planted, launched or jumped in faith Valley Community Church April 1, 2012 and it was no April Fool's joke.  It is one thing to TALK about church planting, it is another to DO church planting.  Four years of talking and planning lead up to this moment, and I was sick, sicker than sick.  On the surface it looked like any other church service but we did it...and there was no looking back! 

The day was a success, but now the reality is hitting me in the face at over 100 mph. 

I feel like Jerry Maguire stepping out of the comforts of his job and into the dream of the unknown. 

The dream of doing things different.
The dream of meeting a need.
The dream of Hope in the Valley.

Each service is another exercise of praying like it depends on God and working like it depends on us.  It is amazing how I've come to value each person, each soul that walks thru the Community Center doors.  I have to be honest, it's hard to remember to do an official count of how many people there are on a given Sunday, but I never forget to make a conscious effort to talk and connect with our VCCers. 

There is pressure to get this church off the ground, much like there is pressure to get anything that is new  stable and moving in the right direction.  Although this feels like a scary ride I just have to sing and remind myself that the scariest rides sometimes make the most memorable rides. 

I am Free Fallin'. 
Free Fallin in Faith.

(I find myself singing in my car like this a lot, and just as off key too).

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Soundtracking the Bible Pt. VI Ezekiel - Amos

The genre transitions from wisdom literature to the writings of the major and minor prophets.

The prophetic writings fit together to connect the Old and New Testament like a Swiss watch who's value comes in the intricacy and complexity as numerous parts work together to create seamless movement.

These are books that can be easily passed over because of the cryptic writing and bizarre visions. However, underneath surface lies the inner workings of the gadgets and gears that keep the bible in time.

25. Ezekiel - Stairway to Heaven: Led Zeppelin 

One of the most controversial songs and yet popular of all time is Stairway to Heaven.  Surrounded in rumors of mysticism and backward masking,  the original message was about materialism and inspired themes by Tolken's Lord of the Rings.
Ezekiel is a prophetic book that a good portion of the theology of Lucifer is derived and end time prophecy.  The core of the book is God's faithfulness. How he would rather forgive than judge.

(Check out this amazing cover at LCBC a church Central PA)

26. Daniel - Ring of Fire: Johnny Cash

More than just a play on words as Daniel was thrown into a "Ring of Fire," he is a character that stands for integrity and truth.  Written during a time of the Israelites being in captivity, the main theme throughout is how God's love remains faithful even though His people may not. 
Ring of Fire echoes that same theme of faithfulness.  Written during a time of addiction for Johnny Cash, his wife June Carter wrote this song to her husband.   The title may seem ominous but it is actually a song about falling in love.

(The song takes a more tender tone performed by June Carter)

27.   Hosea - Pretty Woman: Roy Orbison 

The life of Hosea plays out like a modern love story as the song of the same name was featured in the movie "Pretty Woman" about a man who falls in love with a prostitute.  Hosea was also a man that fell in love with a prostitute despite her cheating ways.  The picture of being faithful to the unfaithful mirrors God's love that is the same for us.
The song Pretty Woman by Roy Orbison was about his wife Claudette and has a similar history to Hosea as well.  Written when Orbison and his wife had a falling out.  She cheated on him and filled for divorce but Roy's loved never failed and the couple remarried.

28. Joel- Is It Any Wonder? : Keane

Often thought as the "Prophet of Pentecost," because of the connection with v. 2.28 and Acts 2.16 and the outpouring at Pentecost in the New Testament.  Digging deeper into the book you find a people struggling under a corrupt young king Joash and manipulated by his father.   Joel had a mind like a chess player seeing a couple moves down the line and brought a message of judgment but also promise.
The UK band Keane pens a similar note in the song "Is It Any Wonder?" Tim Rice-Oxley, the main lyricist for the band, said in article for Q Magazine, "It articulates something that a lot of people have felt over the last few years: being powerless and totally misrepresented." The song is also said to have have another message of a trouble relationship between two people, much like God and his people in the book of Joel.

29. Amos - Get Up Stand Up : Bob Marley 

This book is a response to the social injustice of Amos' day.  Amos speaks of how God has a special interest for those who are poor and exploited, as the northern kingdom was oppressing the people of the southern kingdom.  The message of Amos is a timeless one as their are still volatile social issues today when it comes to racial minorities, social classes, single moms, and even the elderly. 
Bob Marley was voice much like Amos speaking to the injustices of his day.  "Get Up Stand Up" was a song about taking action against the oppression in his country of Jamaica and Marley transcended generations as a voice fighting for respect and acceptance.

Next week will close out the Old Testament and the remaining books of Minor Prophets.