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. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Pearl Jam Pastor

Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam
I loved the music of the 90's.

Bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Smashing Pumpkins changed music over night from hair-bands and ballads to crunchy guitars and flannel.

Interesting enough, most of those bands did not set out to be famous.

The "Grunge" movement was counter-cultural and these artists were in it for the music not the fame.

“We didn’t write to make hits. But those fragile songs get crushed by the business,” Eddie Vedder frontman for Pearl Jam told Carmon Crowe in an interview for Rolling Stone.

They just wanted to have integrity and make great music.

As a Pastor I struggle with the need to be famous.

I want to have a mega church.
I want to write books that sell millions of copies.
I want to speak at large ministry conferences.

It is frustrating that even myself and ministry can get sucked into the "Fame Machine."

The other side of the "I wants..." leads more out of my heart than my ego.

I want to be a good family man.
I want to have integrity in my craft.
I want to serve my church and community.

This is the place that I want be, but the culture of the day pushes me to not be happy, to want more.

Despite the pull to be bigger and have more it is the small that fuels America in business and in the church.

A recent study by the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Office of Advocacy counted 26.8 million businesses in the United States.

Of those, 99.9% have fewer than 500 employees and as such are considered small businesses. This means that only one-tenth of one percent have more than 500 employees. Yet, more notable is the fact that according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 98.2% have fewer than 100 employees. And if you are impressed with that number, you may be amazed to learn that in the same report it states that 89.3% of the businesses in America have fewer than 20 employees! Bear with me for just a moment more as I drive this point home. Even more amazing is the fact that 78.6% have fewer than 10 employees and 60.8% have fewer than 5 employees.

A recent study by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research reported 300,000 Protestant and other Christian churches (excluding Catholic Churches) in America.

Of those, 94% have fewer than 500 worshipers and are considered a small church. And to break that number down even further 59% of churches have 99 or less worshipers on a given Sunday.  The Mega Church that is considered to have over 1000 worshipers makes up 2% of the churches in America. The Joel Osteen and the Craig Groschel churches of 10,000 worshipers or more make up .01% of the church population in America.

I may never get that book deal, because quite frankly I am not a good writer, or speak at an awesome church conferences like Catalyst...

but I love my family.
I love my church.
I love what I do
and that Rocks.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Soundtrack the Bible Pt. V: Ecclesiastes - Lamentations

One of the hardest things to do is understand tone from text.

How often do you misinterpret an email or a text message because you cannot hear the inflection in a persons voice?

The same can be said about certain books of the bible, especially Ecclesiastes and Songs of Solomon.  Two books that are definitely not on the Junior Bible Quiz reading list.  The content is deep, poetic, and mature;  and yet, insightful and true.

The songs that cover this collection of books play out like a 90's movie; complete with grunge and classic rock soundtrack.  It was music that was misunderstood, but music that gave a generation a voice.

20. Ecclesiastes- Loser: Beck

You cannot be more straightforward than, "Meaningless, meaningless everything is meaningless."(Ecc 1.2)
In relation to Beck's chorus, "I am a loser baby/ so why don't you kill me."  The voice of Ecclesiastes is a very wealthy man (almost beyond wealthy) at the twilight of his life in contrast to the voice of "Loser" who is young and very poor.  Ecclesiastes was a book Hebrews used for instruction; to find significance when the world can make you feel insignificant.  Beck's anthem did the same for Generation X. 

Both are often misinterpreted.
Both are speaking of time.
(It's interesting that song will find it's way to be a voice of another generation of "losers")

21. Song of Songs- Crash Into Me: Dave Mathews Band

I remember discovering this book of the bible as teenager and it was probably one of the first times I actually got excited to read the bible, and quote some scripture.  The picture of love and beauty is raw, graphic and yet also poetic and enchanting; without being pornographic  Dave Matthews Crash follows the same tension of desire and love.  Crash was the song that began the genesis of thought for this blog series.  When I hear this song or read this book, I see a love story.  

The meaning of Songs of Songs has been highly debated, but great art often does that very thing.

22. Isaiah- Dream On: Aerosmith

The first in the series of four books labeled Major Prophets, Isaiah is a haunting and prophetic book.  The two fold message of judgement but also promise of a Messiah.  The language is poetic but also has a bite, challenging the nation of Judah to live right. "Dream On" by Aerosmith originally released in 1973 was the blueprint for power balleds to come.  Is it a love song or is it something more? "Half my life
is in books' written pages/Lived and learned from fools and from sages/ You know it's true/All the things come back to you."  This song is as relevant today as it was almost 40 years ago.

23.  Jeremiah- All Apologies: Nirvana

Often called "the weeping prophet," because he is one of the most persecuted characters of the Old Testament.  Jeremiah's contemporaries cursed him, beat him and even threw him in prison (Jer 15, 20, 32, 37).  Kurt Cobain's troubled soul is similar to Jeremiah's struggles to know God's plan for his life.

The refrain "I wish I was like you/ Easily amused" echo's Jeremiah's anxiety.  Underneath the unwanted label of the leader of Grunge, Cobain often struggled with the artistic vision of Nirvana be misunderstood.  It is bittersweet to find that Jeremiah never got to see his prophesies come to fruition; and Cobain's life cut short before he could see the influence of his music on future generations.

24. Lamentations- Long December: Counting Crows

Jeremiah's writings are elegantly dramatic, much like Adam Duritz prose style of writing with Counting Crows.  They say misery loves company, and you can picture them both merry in their melancholy.  It is unfortunate that in the American translation loses the aesthetics of an acrostic poem covering his pain and sorrow "literally from A to Z" in the first four chapters. 

Long December was written during a time when Durtiz spent many nights in the hospital visiting a friend who was hit by a car.  This song came out of that experience. "The smell of hospitals in winter/ And the feeling that it's all a lot of oysters, but no pearls/ All at once you look across a crowded room/To see the way that light attaches to a girl."

There is comfort in knowing that someone understands your pain. That is the hope Lamentations and the hope in the music of Adam Duritz, "like a lot of songs on the end of an album it's not about everything turning out great, but it at least it is about hope... and the possibilities."

What are some songs that bring you comfort in the midst pain?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Soundtracking the Bible Part IV

The Old Testament was written in Hebrew.  In that culture collections of books were organized by theme not chronically as cultures in the West prefer.  The next five books in this post transition from the Historical books of Nehemiah and Esther to the Poetical books of Job to Proverbs.

The Poetical books of the bible are just that poetry, they are not commands.  They should be read with the filter as one listening to good advice or a beautiful song.  It gives wisdom.  It encourages.  However, people have a mind of their own and do not always listen, and what happens in love songs does not always happen in real life. 

It's refreshing to find the Bible not just about facts but also about emotion, passion, and love.  

If the historical books are the mind of the Bible the Poetical books are the heart.

15. Nehemiah- All Along the Watchtower: Jimi Hendrix 

Originally written by Bob Dylan All Along the Watchtower  was penned after his motorcycle accident.  The track was part of the album John Wesley Harding that featured a number of songs that had biblical allusions.  Inspired by the birth of Dylan's children and marking a new phase in his life this song mirrors the nation of Israel, as they were also turning the page and starting a new chapter.   Nehemiah focuses on one man's passion and drive to rebuild the wall surrounding Jerusalem.   The book is perfectly balanced between the spiritual and the practical with verses like "We prayed to our God and posted a guard (4.9)".  The Jimi Hendrix version is the most popular for his spirited guitar solos that echo the dramatic structure of the song written without choruses. 

16. Esther- Lady Gaga: The Edge of Glory

The book of Esther rewinds back to when the Jews where in Exile under the Persian Empire. Written in a short-story style similar to Ruth where the main protagonist is also a female. The word "God" is never mentioned in the book however His presence is felt throughout all the drama and intrigue as Esther risks her life to become Queen to Xerxes and save her people.  Lada Gaga's soulful anthem Edge of Glory was inspired by the death of her grandfather and the life of Rocky.  She says the song is about "looking at life directly, with the feeling that he or she is a champion," and that is exactly how Esther lived her life. 

17. Job - Comfortable Numb: Pink Floyd

The book of Job is one of the most well known stories of the Bible, and possibly on the oldest as well.  The story unfolds over 40 chapters filled with vivid imagery, poetic laments, and dynamic confrontations to address the question of suffering.  The Wall by Pink Floyd, which Comfortably Numb climaxes the double album, is also grand in scale.  Thought to believe that the song was about drug use, David Gilmour says, "this song can be divided into 2 sections, dark and light. The light are the parts that begin "When I was a child...," which Gilmour sings. The dark are the "Hello, is there anybody in there" parts, which are sung by Waters."  Job is a tale dispelling the fallacy of sin equaling suffering.  It is a story of Light overcoming Dark, it is story of God believing in us to prove the Devil wrong.  (The imagery during the live performance is breathtaking especially at the 6.30 minute mark when the Wall breaks to become a bridge.)

18. Psalms - Bohemian Rhapsody: Queen

The main author of Psalms is King David (total 73) writers also include Moses, Solomon, Asaph, and anonymous contributors as well.  The range of emotion is vast from sorrow and joy to anguish and peace.  It is comforting to the reader knowing these words come from the Saints of the Old Testament.  The rock-opera Bohemian Rhapsody is a complex pop song that matches the emotional range of Psalms as well as the variety in arrangement.  Freddie Mercury never said officially what the song was about, but guitarist Brian May shared some insight, "Freddie was a very complex person: flippant and funny on the surface, but he concealed insecurities and problems in squaring up his life with his childhood. He never explained the lyrics, but I think he put a lot of himself into that song." The 150 books that make up this musical and artistic work are more about expressing one's feelings than searching for doctoral meaning.

19. Proverbs- Blowing In the Wind: Bob Dylan

Proverbs is more than the fortune cookie of the bible filled with pithy sayings.  The wisdom is deep.  The topics are wide.  The advice is timeless.  Proverbs is a book of maxims written for a young Jewish audience, with truths compacted into a few lines scripted in an indelible fashion.  Bob Dylan's Blowin in the Wind is also a song that transcends generations with powerful truths layered upon verse and chorus.  Dylan played the song for Pope John Paul II in 1997, upon being greeted, the Pontiff said this,"You say the answer is blowing in the wind, my friend. So it is: but it is not the wind that blows things away. It is the wind that is the breath and life of the Holy Spirit, the voice that calls and says, 'Come!'"

The next part in Rock of Ages will focus on Ecclesiastes to Lamentations. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Soundtracking the Bible Part III

What happens in the next five books of the Bible will send ripples through the pages of history. The nation of Israel reaches highs as King Solomon builds a vast kingdom only to find a nation torn in two and then sent to Exile.

It is a story of lost and found and how God can use ordinary people to do extraordinary things

The characters that take stage range from Kings and commoners to prophets and priests who all play a part in this story; God is an author who never wastes words or an opportunity.

10. 1 Kings - Kings & Queens: 30 Seconds to Mars

Written during the Babylonian exile of Jews, 1 Kings opens with King Solomon and his quest for wisdom. Author Jeremiah does not hold back tracking the positive and negative choices of the Kings of Israel. This historical book is grand in scale and mirrors the anthem of Jared Leto's Kings and Queens.   "We were the kings and queens of promise/ We were the victims of ourselves/ Maybe the children of a lesser God/ Between Heaven and Hell."  It is here that the split of Israel (North) and Judah (South) begins and sets the stage for the struggles of Israel to come.

11. 2 Kings - Viva La Vida : Coldplay

There is not a main character in the second book of Kings, however human nature is the major theme throughout.  Israel is a broken mosaic of choices made that set a nation of promise into a nation in captivity.  Chris Martin's bittersweet symphony matches the tone of nation searching to pick up the pieces, "One minute I held the key/ Next the walls were closed on me/ And I discovered that my castles stand/ Upon pillars of salt and pillars of sand."  If there was a bright spot in the dark cloud over Israel it would be Elisha and Elijah, a beautiful illustration of how God can use us despite our insecurities.

12. 1 Chronicles - Iris: Goo Goo Dolls

It is said that Ezra wrote these next two books of the bible, and at first glance could look like a retelling of OT texts, but there is more.  The audience of this book was written for a nation returning from Exile.  Like an artist putting together pieces of a mosaic, Ezra rebuilds the fractured history of Israel to show how they fit together into God's plan. "And I don't want the world to see me/ 'Cause I don't think that they'd understand/ When everything's meant to be broken / I just want you to know who I am," there is a common thread of wanting to belong that echoes thru Chronicles much like thru the song Iris; and that's something we all can relate to.

13.  2 Chronicles - Sigh No More: Mumford & Sons

The second part to Chronicles focuses on Judah.  The book is very historical, but there is a purpose to giving the past a second look.  It is amazing how seeing things from a different persecutive can make even the toughest parts of the past find meaning and purpose. "Love; it will not betray you/ Dismay or enslave you, it will set you free/ Be more like the man you were made to be." The lyrics from Mumford & Sons are a poignant epilogue to Chronicles that although a nation maybe in downfall, it is not the end.

14. Ezra - My Hero: Foo Fighters

After years of exile under the Babylonians the Israelites were allowed to return home and find second life.  Ezra is a reminder that even the ordinary can be a hero.  Ezra was a humble low-profile leader, that played key role in bringing together a community to rebuild a temple and also a nation.  "There goes my hero/ watch him as he goes /there goes my hero/ he's ordinary." Some thought that "My Hero" was written about Kurt Cobain, but Dave Grohl says the song is a "celebration of the common man." We all want to make a difference, but most of us lead ordinary lives, Ezra shows us that we can do both. (Check out the acoustic version of "My Hero" which brings out the heart and message of the song).

What songs today remind you of characters in the bible?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Soundtracking the Bible Pt. 2

The next set of books of Bible after the Pentateuch (the first five) play out like a great drama or a summer blockbuster.

It is amazing to see how God continues to use flawed characters to overcome challenges and accomplish great feats.  The people who take a major role are multidimensional.  They have have problems.  Doing the right thing is not always done, and there are consequences for decisions made; but Grace is the main dynamic throughout. 

The God of the Old Testament has a stereotype for being angry and judgmental but again and again he proves to be a God of second chances. 

God never gave up on Israel and he never gives up on us. 

5. Joshua - Wake Up : Arcade Fire

The book of Joshua opens in epic fashion as a new generation has a new leader; Joshua.  A nation that has been marked with 40 years of failure will now be a generation of promise.  The song Wake Up plays a dynamic backdrop as a Israel becomes a nation walking into the Promise Land and in an ironic way finally wakes up to be the people God called them to be. The reprise in Wake Up would also play well in contrast to the anticipation of the wall of Jericho falling... cue for the horns.

6. Judges - Heroes : David Bowie

People who say that the bible is a boring book haven't read Judges.  This book breaks all the rules.  The melodramas continues with graphic depictions of violence and sex, but also of redemption and hope.  Perceptions are turned on their head as the underdog becomes the hero and women become empowered.  The lyrics from Heroes by David Bowes are the cliff notes to this amazing book..."though nothing, nothing will keep us together/ We can beat them, for ever and ever/ We can be Heroes, just for one day." (I prefer the Wallflowers version because I love the 90s and this song was the only good thing from the movie Godzilla).

7. Ruth - I Was Meant For You : Jewel

The story of Ruth is a brilliant bookmark in between the larger than life stories of Judges and 1 Samuel.  It is a tender story of woman who in the eyes of society is a nobody only to find her true love to help her become somebody.  Ruth lost her husband and her country, and what happens next mirrors the words of Jewel, "Dreams last so long/ even after you're gone/ I know you love me/ And soon you will see/ You were meant for me/ And I was meant for you." Boaz would not only redeem Ruth but the nation of Israel (however the guy in this video is no Boaz).

8. 1 Samuel - Paranoid : Black Sabbath

King Saul on the surface had all the characteristics of a great king.  He was tall, charismatic, and intelligent.  However, underneath Saul was a tortured soul.  Ozzy Osbournes Paranoid, tells a story of a  protagonist who pushes people away but longs for support. "All day long I think of things but nothing seems to satisfy/ Think I'll lose my mind if I don't find something to pacify /Can you help me occupy my brain?" Enter David.  Who would come to pacify Saul's internal struggles but over time would intensify his insecurities. The lyrics and pace of Paranoid play an erie contrast to the conflicted character of Saul, "I need someone to show me the things in life that I can't find /I can't see the things that make true happiness, I must be blind."

 9.  2 Samuel - Mr. Brightside : The Killers

David was the bright side to Saul's dark side of the moon.  That being said, David was not without his faults. The second book of Samuel is split into two parts; David's triumphs and David's tragedies.  His downward spiral began with his failure to go off to war and instead decided to go off the the roof and give in to temptation.  Brandon Flowers lyrics paint a picture of a sinful tale with an upbeat melody, much like David's life. "Jealousy, turning saints into the sea/ Swimming through sick lullabies/ Choking on your alibis / But it's just the price I pay/ Destiny is calling me/ Open up my eager eyes /‘Cause I'm Mr Brightside." (I was torn to go with All These Things That I've Done because the message fits well too, but my wife liked Mr. Brightside better).

What songs make you think of stories and characters from the bible...?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Soundtracking the Bible Pt. 1

Last year I wrote a blog called The Top 50 Non-Worship-Worship Songs, listing Pop songs that could be Worship songs.  It started with 25 and turned in 50; honestly it was hard to stop there.  

It turned out to be my most popular post.

People love music.

This year I was inspired to write a similar blog when driving in the car with my wife.  I heard a Dave Matthews Band song and thought to myself, "that sounds like a book of the bible." 

After that moment my mind was racing thinking of songs and books of the Bible that could match in theme and style.  I mentioned this crazy blog idea to my wife and she loved it (always a good idea to listen to your wife) and on the car ride home from Philly to the Poconos all we talked about was books of the Bible and Rock songs.

Research for this musical series has brought a lot of excitement to my devotional life which at times can be pretty predicable and lacking inspiration.

We serve a creative God and creativity brings the Bible to life.

This look through the bible is an artistic approach and the ideas expressed are open to interpretation.  I understand that through the years Rock music has been seen as unbiblical, but hopefully you can see truth in the art and read in between the lines.

"Both read the Bible day and night, but thou read black when I read white." -William Blake
Rock of Ages: A Rock & Roll Look Thru the Bible: 

1. GENESIS  - Sympathy for the Devil : Rolling Stones
  • Taking a page from C. S. Lewis's Screwtape Letters, Mick Jagger's role of the narrator is from the Devil's perspective.  Interesting thing is that the word Devil is not mentioned in the song and Devil is not mentioned in the book of Genesis but you know that his influence is felt. The line "What's puzzling you is the nature of my game," is a brilliant observation that is throughout the first book of the bible from Eve and the fruit to Abraham and his missteps with Hagar.  Sympathy... is probably one of the most accurate descriptions of the Devil and also the most controversial. 

    2. EXODUS - People Get Ready : Curtis Mayfield
    • Written at the height of the Civil Rights Movement in 1965.  Mayfield pens an anthem that parallels the plight of the African-American in 1960s America with Jews in Exodus from Egypt to the Promise Land, with lyrics like "People get ready for the train to Jordan/ It's picking up passengers from coast to coast/ Faith is the key, open the doors and board 'em." As Moses transcends culture and time as a symbol of hope for people under oppression so does this timeless soulful song. 

      3.  LEVITICUS - I Fought the Law : The Clash
      • Leviticus is a book that focus on the Law and at first glance, may be be a book that is tedious in detail but underneath reveals a dynamic relationship between God and man.  I Fought the Law was originally written by Sonny Curtis in 1958.  The Clash version is the most popular and plays nicely against the backdrop of Moses as a character that has a punk rock spirit; and he of all people knows that the Law wins. 

        4. NUMBERS - We Didn't Start the Fire : Billy Joel
        • It is no mistake that Billy Joel's refrain of "We didn't start the fire, it was always burning since the world's been turning" has biblical illusions to the Old Testament.  The book of Numbers and the lyrics of We Didn't Start the Fire read like a phone book and at first glance can be overlooked but behind the names are powerful stories.  We may connect with the names that Billy Joel mentions but both are significant to God.  Interestingly enough Numbers and We Didn't Start the Fire cover a span of 40 years in history mixed with both despair and also hope. 

          5. DEUTERONOMY - Old Man : Neil Young   
          • Old Man was inspired by a conversation a youthful Neil Young had with an old ranch owner in regards to purchasing land.  Deuteronomy also focus on a transaction of "land" from an old Moses to a younger Joshua.  The lyrics of this song are haunting as the dialogue conveys imagery of hardship and testing but also promise and trust much like Moses' life.  The book ends with the death of Moses but there is also a sense of hope much like the tone that is throughout this poignant song. 

          Part 2 will focus on the next five books and songs covering Joshua to 2 Samuel. 

          Friday, January 6, 2012

          Keep It to Yourself

          'Tis the season for resolutions and New Year commitments to be a better person.  Which usually include a diet,  gym membership, or a new device for $19.95 that works your abs without really working your abs.

          It is refreshing to hit the restart button.

          Sometimes in our enthusiasm to conquer the New Year we fail.

          Sometimes we should keep our resolutions to ourselves.

          We actually might have a better shot of reaching our goals.

          "According to most Psychologists, telling someone your goals make them less likely to happen."  says Derek Sivers.

          We actually have a better chance if we keep it to ourselves.  The reason is because in our enthusiasm by telling others we already get that sense of accomplishment, and we create a "Social Reality" where the goal is already achieved.

          I found this principle to be true when I struggled to quite smoking when I was in college.

          Usually smoking and being a college student is not an uncommon thing, however at a bible college, not a good idea.  Following my freshman year and a messy breakup I started smoking on my summer break.  I continued to smoke into my sophomore year.  The administration soon found out because well, you smell when you smoke. No matter how much cologne or incense you may use... you smell.

          I worked with the Dean of Men all year to try and kick the habit.  I would tell others constantly I quit, then soon after I would start smoking...again.  It was a vicious cycle. So vicious that I was asked to "transition" after my sophomore year, which in Christian terms means "kicked-out."

          The interesting thing is that two weeks after my departure from bible college, I actually did quit smoking.

          The reason...

          I told no one.
          I kept it to myself.
          I didn't mistake "the talking for the doing."

          Check out this short TED TALK that really breaks down this idea of "Keeping it to yourself..."

          After a month or so I started to tell others I quit, after I was on the other side of the smoking mountain.

          I did make some resolutions this year...
          1.  _________ everyday.
          2.  _________ every week.
          3.  _________ every month.
          4.  _________ this year.

          but I'll fill in the blanks for you later.