A Brief Thought On Psalm 39

I said to myself, “I will watch what I do
and not sin in what I say.
I will hold my tongue
when the ungodly are around me.”
But as I stood there in silence—
not even speaking of good things—
the turmoil within me grew worse.
The more I thought about it,
the hotter I got,
igniting a fire of words:
“LORD, remind me how brief my time on earth will be.
Remind me that my days are numbered—
how fleeting my life is.
You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand.
My entire lifetime is just a moment to you;
at best, each of us is but a breath.”
Interlude
 
We are merely moving shadows,
and all our busy rushing ends in nothing.
We heap up wealth,
not knowing who will spend it.
And so, Lord, where do I put my hope?
My only hope is in you.
Rescue me from my rebellion.
Do not let fools mock me.
I am silent before you; I won’t say a word,
for my punishment is from you.
10 But please stop striking me!
I am exhausted by the blows from your hand.
11 When you discipline us for our sins,
you consume like a moth what is precious to us.
Each of us is but a breath. 
Interlude
 
12 Hear my prayer, O  LORD!
Listen to my cries for help!
Don’t ignore my tears.
For I am your guest—
a traveler passing through,
as my ancestors were before me.
13 Leave me alone so I can smile again
before I am gone and exist no more.
Psalm 38 (NLT)
Have you ever promised yourself (of God) that you were going to do better? Perhaps you slipped up and did something you knew was wrong and the guilt was eating you up. You got down on your hands and knees and told God that you were done with that sort of thing. You were going to put it behind you and never do it again. I have. In fact, I have done it more times than I can count. It’s not like I didn’t try to change either. Oh I’m sure there were some insincere apologies and confessions along the way but for the most part I really meant it. I really wanted to stop doing those things.
Verse two of this psalm really smacks me upside the head because I know what that feels like. I have felt the temptation boiling inside of me and I know what it’s like to fight with everything I have only to have it explode. I know the guilt that comes afterwards. Why couldn’t I stop myself? Why did I do THAT again?
The other thing that jumps out at me from this psalm is the fact that we’re only here for a blink of an eye. Life is too short to waste it trying to fix everything by ourselves. When we go off on our own and try to make something out of this life we usually mess things up. We chase after things that aren’t important and we lose sight of why we’re even here. We’re just passing through and we’re supposed to use the things that God blesses us with the bless others. If we’re wasting time storing up riches for ourselves or pursuing all the lusts of the flesh then we’re…well..we’re wasting time.
God is our refuge. He’s the one we should put our hope and trust in. Even when He disciplines us it’s because He loves us and wants us to get back on the right track. He’s the only one who can help us get there. No matter how hard we try on our own we slip. I am so thankful for His grace and His mercy. I pray that I can reflect some of it in my own life so that others can see Him.
Grace and peace
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Would I Feel At Home In Sodom?

This post was inspired by THIS post I read yesterday. I want to thank my friend Mickey Witcher for sharing it on Facebook. If you take the time to read the post I linked you will see that the author (Jordan Hubbard) discusses what the Bible actually says about the folks in Sodom. I confess, I always assumed that the sin which brought about their destruction was completely sexual in nature. The account found in Genesis 19 all but says so…right? In that passage we see Lot sheltering two angels (who are disguised as men) from a mob that wants to take them out and rape them. That’s what it says…right? Lot then does something equally baffling, he offers his two daughters to them. The mob refuses and insists on taking what they think are two men. That’s why God rained down fire. That’s what I have always been taught to believe.

Hubbard, in his post (you really should take the time to read it) offers Ezekiel 16 as the root problem in Sodom. Beginning in verse 44 it reads:

44 “Behold, everyone who uses proverbs will use this proverb about you: ‘Like mother, like daughter.’ 45 You are the daughter of your mother, who loathed her husband and her children; and you are the sister of your sisters, who loathed their husbands and their children. Your mother was a Hittite and your father an Amorite. 46 And your elder sister is Samaria, who lived with her daughters to the north of you; and your younger sister, who lived to the south of you, is Sodom with her daughters. 47 Not only did you walk in their ways and do according to their abominations; within a very little time you were more corrupt than they in all your ways. 48 As I live, declares the Lord God, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done.49 Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. 50 They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it. 51 Samaria has not committed half your sins. You have committed more abominations than they, and have made your sisters appear righteous by all the abominations that you have committed. 52 Bear your disgrace, you also, for you have intervened on behalf of your sisters. Because of your sins in which you acted more abominably than they, they are more in the right than you. So be ashamed, you also, and bear your disgrace, for you have made your sisters appear righteous. (ESV)

Ezekiel was in captivity in Babylon when he wrote those words. The prophet seems to be saying that Sodom’s sin was rooted in pride, greed, and lack of compassion. In his post Hubbard contrasts the way Abraham and Lot treat these angelic visitors. Abraham, not knowing who they are, provides a feast. He offers the best he has. Lot, on the other hand, gives them unleavened bread. Remember, Lot is the most righteous man in Sodom and even he is somewhat stingy. There does seem to be some sexual deviancy going on in Sodom but Hubbard suggests that it was a symptom of a much larger problem. It alone wasn’t the reason God wiped them off the face of the earth.

I admit, I am still thinking about Hubbard’s post. I’ve read it a couple of times now and I want to make sure I’m understanding exactly what he’s saying. I want to close with a portion of the original post (in case you haven’t read it) because it gets right to the point I believe Hubbard is trying to make. It is also the part that really grabbed me and inspired my own thoughts. He writes:

We are Sodomites whenever we exchange the humanity of others to exploit them as objects. Whenever I view pornography I am a citizen of Sodom. Whenever I ignore the homeless I am a citizen of Sodom. Whenever I allow unexamined racism to slip into my language I am a citizen of Sodom. Whenever I spew venom through the anonymity of the internet I am a citizen of Sodom. Whenever I seek my own financial benefit at the expense of underpaid workers I am a citizen of Sodom. Whenever I demonize the other side I am a citizen of Sodom. Fleeing from Sodom means seeking to understand others as real humans and giving grace to others as bearers of the Image of God.

I guess the question we all need to ask is, “Would I feel at home in Sodom?”

Grace and peace

Electric Light Orchestra – Zoom – Fifteen Years Later

I discovered Zoom accidentally one day while my buddy Phil and I were scrounging around the old CD Warehouse in Wilson, NC. We used to hit up pawn shops and used music stores hoping to find good deals. I remember briefly glancing at the new releases and seeing a familiar logo. I stopped and looked again, not believing what I was seeing. An updated version of the classic ELO spaceship graced the cover.

I picked up the CD and looked to see if it was a new album from the inappropriately named ELO Part Two. I knew that Bev Bevan and some former members had released a couple of albums under that name but I wasn’t seeing the Part Two anywhere. I looked on the back and smiled when I saw Jeff Lynne’s name. It had been fifteen years since Jeff Lynne had released what I assumed would be the last ELO album. That one was called Balance Of Power and had come out when I was sixteen.

I bought it without even thinking about it. Outside of a few unreleased tracks on a box set I hadn’t heard new music from ELO since I was in high school. Jeff Lynne had produced music with the Traveling Wilburys, Tom Petty, and others but this was ELO. I didn’t know what to expect and could hardly wait to get home and pop it in the stereo. The first thing I noticed when I read the liner notes was that Richard Tandy was the only former member who played on it. There were guest performances from both George Harrison and Ringo Starr and I thought that was pretty cool.

I know some longtime fans didn’t care for Zoom when it came out. Many of them didn’t care for Balance Of Power back in 1986 so it made sense that they wouldn’t like what essentially was a Jeff Lynne solo album with the ELO name tacked on. Some of these same fans made the same complaint last year when Alone In The Universe was released. I confess that I really don’t care who is playing on the album if Jeff Lynne is writing and singing the songs. To me, that is what makes it ELO. Using that criteria, Zoom was exactly what I wanted to hear.

The production is textbook Jeff Lynne. It pretty much sounds like everything he’s done since George Harrison’s Cloud Nine in 1987. The drums, the guitars, and the vocals are classic Jeff Lynne. I would argue that Zoom is more of an ELO album than Time, Secret Messages, and Balance Of Power and I love all three of them. Zoom is a more organic album and a much warmer vibe than any of the three albums I just mentioned. It even has moments when the strings come in and make it feel like an old school ELO album. I honestly don’t know why it didn’t sell well or why the planned tour get scrapped. At least one show was filmed and it is a killer.

Personally, I think the album has aged well. It’s not “classic” ELO but it’s better than the most recent album (which I love) and it’s probably better than the one before it (which is a personal favorite). Zoom probably didn’t make any new fans but I have to believe that most ELO fans were happy to have it. I sure was.

Grace and peace

A Little Something About A Wee Little Man

Jesus and Zacchaeus small

Jesus entered Jericho and made his way through the town. There was a man there named Zacchaeus. He was the chief tax collector in the region, and he had become very rich. He tried to get a look at Jesus, but he was too short to see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree beside the road, for Jesus was going to pass that way.

When Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. “Zacchaeus!” he said. “Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.”

Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy. But the people were displeased. “He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner,” they grumbled.

Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!”

Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”

Luke 19:1-10 (NLT)

 

The story of Jesus and Zacchaeus is probably one of the first that we teach our kids in Sunday School. I learned it by watching various teachers act it out using a flannelgraph board and paper cut outs. It helped that there was a catchy little song (with hand motions) to go along with it. It’s a story that people who don’t go to church know. You could say it’s one of the classics. It’s a good one too. A guy wants to see Jesus so bad he climbs up in a tress and then Jesus ends up going to his house. How could it get any better?

As I’ve gotten older (and hopefully wiser) I read the account of Zacchaeus and something else jumps out at me. In Jesus’ day tax collectors were despised. They were considered traitors because they worked for Rome. Many of them abused their position and cheated people out of their money. The religious leaders of the day REALLY hated them. Tax collectors was considered the worst of sinners and good Jews were to have nothing to do with them. That’s what makes this encounter so interesting to me.

Jesus knew who Zacchaeus was. He knew his profession. He knew more about Zacchaeus than Zacchaeus realized. Notice that Jesus is the one who initiates the conversation. He tells Zacchaeus to come down. He says that he’s going to his house. Imagine what Zacchaeus and all those standing there must have thought. They don’t hide their displeasure. Jesus is going to THAT guy’s house. They are not happy.

Zacchaeus seems to be the only one who gets it. Zacchaeus knows what people think. He knows that he has done things that he shouldn’t have. He also knows that Jesus still wants to be with him. He is experiencing grace and mercy for perhaps the first time in his life and it has changed him. He offers to repay everyone he has cheated FOUR times more than he stole. Jesus calls him a true son of Abraham. All those “righteous” folks who grumbled about Jesus going to Zacchaeus’ house really wouldn’t have liked that.

My favorite part is the final thing Jesus says. He came to seek and save those who are lost. As a Christian I believe my purpose is the same. I am supposed to point people to Jesus. How can I do that if I am grumbling and complaining or worse, condemning others. I believe I’m supposed to respond to people with the same grace and mercy. The truth is that I can’t change or save anyone in the first place. Only Jesus can do that. I am supposed to make sure that they see him.

Grace and peace

Jesus and Zacchaeus 2

Hey Jealously

This entire post is dedicated to one song off of the Gin Blossoms’ 1992 major label debut album New Miserable Experience. I can remember being captivated the very first time I heard it. I was 23 years old and my life hadn’t exactly gone in the direction I thought it was going to go. In high school I had dreamed of teaching English and writing books. It wasn’t long after I graduated that I started playing in a band and writing songs. I got married in 1991 and was playing in a band. I was still writing stories and thought that I would eventually publish a novel. By the time June 1993 rolled around (that’s when the single hit the airwaves) I was struggling with a growing alcohol problem. I had lost my job due in part to my excessive drinking. I was singing in a different band and I kept telling myself that we were going to “make it” and I would play music for a living. My marriage was strained and my drinking didn’t do anything to help it. My life was literally unraveling at the seams. That is where I was when I heard Hey Jealousy for the first time and it made an immediate impact on me.

The lyrics seemed to speak to my current situation and seemed to predict where my life was heading. The first verse goes like this.

Tell me do you think it’d be all right
If I could just crash here tonight
You can see I’m in no shape for driving
And anyway I’ve got no place to go
And you know it might not be that bad
You were the best I’d ever had
If I hadn’t blown the whole thing years ago
I might not be alone

I don’t know how many nights I sat up with a bottle in my hand listening to those lyrics and thinking that they had somehow been written about me. I was still married and had found another job (back at Pizza Inn) but I could see myself ending up as the narrator in the song. I wasn’t that far off. Two other lyrics really jumped out at me.

The past is gone but something might be found
To take its place… Hey jealousy

And

If you don’t expect too much from me
You might not be let down

I don’t know if a pop song had ever spoken to me like that before. There have been many since then but that was the first one where I sat down and thought, “Man, that’s about me.” The ironic thing is that in spite of the depressing sentiment expressed in the lyrics the music is upbeat and sunny. How could a song about such a sad situation be that happy? Like I said, it really left its mark on me. It’s no surprise that it was one of the very first songs I learned to play when I got a bass guitar for Christmas two years later. It is still one of my favorite songs even though my life has turned for the better over the last 23 years.

That is enough to make me stop and write about the song but there is more. I found out the story behind the song a few years after it was a hit. It was originally recorded in 1989 and included on the Gin Blossoms’ first album Dusted. It was written by Doug Hopkins, who was the guitarist for the band at that time. When the band signed with a major label they re-recorded a few of their older songs to include on their debut. Hey Jealously was one of them. Hopkins was then fired not long after the album was finished because his alcohol use had become a serious issue. Apparently he struggled with depression and self-medicated to deal with. One of the original lyrics to Hey Jealousy was:

You can trust me not to drink and not to sleep around

“Drink” was changed to “think” in the final version. Hopkins also wrote the Gin Blossoms’ hit Found Out About You. He was instrumental in the success that the band achieved in 1993 but watched from the outside. In December 1993, not long after receiving a Gold record for writing Hey Jealousy, he shot himself after sneaking out of a rehab facility. I mentioned that the songs is one of my favorites but it is also one of the saddest I have ever heard. It’s probably #2 right behind Hank Williams’ I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry. Unlike Hank’s classic, Hey Jealously sounds like a slice of sunny pop greatness but it goes so much deeper than the music. There is pain and honesty. There is the realization that things could have been different. It really is heartbreaking when I think about. It’s one of those “If Only” tales that are told way too many times. Only God knows what Hopkins could have achieved had he been able to defeat his inner demons. I am thankful that I was able to overcome mine and I continually pray for those who struggle.

Grace and peace.

Skillet

I still haven’t gotten back to writing on a daily basis but I am slowly working my way back to it. I am trying to write something every day but I haven’t really come up with anything significant. I was listening to the new Skillet album on Spotify yesterday when I realized that they have been around for twenty years. I still consider them a “new” band so it’s kind of strange to think about. After I finished listening to the new one (Unleashed) I decided to listen to their first one.

I remember buying the first Skillet album (on cassette) back in 1996. I picked it up at the Christian bookstore at Golden East Crossing mall. It was called Lemstone and I got to know the guy who owned because I hung out there so much. They had a listening station where you could pop a new album into one of the cassette players and check it out before buying it. I actually bought quite of a few of the demo cassettes when they finally sold them. I honestly don’t know how many Christian cassettes I had at the time but it was a lot. I did have a CD player by 1996 so I don’t know why I bought the Skillet album on cassette. There’s a good chance that it was one of those demos. As I sit here listening to it this evening it is hard to believe that it has been twenty years.

I wasn’t a stranger to Christian music. I had been listening to Petra, Stryper, Whitecross, and other bands for ten years. However, I was no longer a teenager and I had made a conscious decision to be more serious about my faith. I had been married for five years at that point and I had just become a father for the first time. It had been a little over a year since I had dropped out of Bible college and nearly given up on Church. I was also trying write my own songs and start a band. The first Skillet album was right along the lines of what I was trying to accomplish. People would probably call it grunge or post-grunge now but to me it was just modern rock. There was a Seattle influence if you want to call it that but they weren’t trying to sound like Nirvana.

By the time their second album (Hey You, I Love Your Soul) came out in 1998 they had added an overt electronic influence (think NIN Lite) and had altered their appearance to match. 2000 brought a straight worship album and Invincible, which built upon the electronic (industrial) sound. 2001’s Alien Youth moved them closer and closer to something similar to Marilyn Manson but not as dark and heavy. It also marked the second major line up change. Collide came out in 2003 and moved towards a modern hard rock sound. The line up remained together and recorded Comatose in 2003. A final line up change (as of now) took place in 2008. Since then Skillet has released three studio albums (2009’s Awake, 2013’s Rise, and Unleashed). Each of these albums maintains the tight, highly polished hard rock that Skillet are now known for.

Skillet aren’t a great band (there really are very few) but they are solid and consistent. Even with the various style shifts they have gone through over the years they have put out good music. They continue to do see. I have seen them live several times. The first time was back in 2001 after Alien Youth had just come out. The most recent was just a couple of years ago while they were touring for Rise. Like the Newsboys, they put on a very entertaining show whether you are a true fan of the music. I like what I’ve heard of the new album and if I get the chance to see them live again I probably will. I’ll close by sharing a few photos I found online of the band throughout the years. It’s interesting to compare the one from 1996 to the one from 2016.

Grace and peace

Skillet-band-1996

skillet2

328193-skillet

Skillet-2016

The Connells

I can remember what I was doing the first time I heard The Connells. I was riding around the back roads of Nash county with my buddy Ken. We were seniors at Southern Nash and occasionally we would drive around, listen to the radio, and talk. We usually listened to WRDU out of Raleigh because they were a serious rock station at the time. This particular evening they were doing a segment featuring local artists. I can’t remember who the on air guy was that night (it may have been Bob the Blade) but he played Scotty’s Lament and the song was immediately burned into my brain.

I didn’t become an instant fan because the song didn’t get regular airplay. It may have gotten spun a few times on the local segment but I don’t recall hearing it more than a few times that year. To be honest, I totally forgot the name of the song and who sang it. I tried to tell some friends about it but for some reason I kept thinking it was by Guadalcanal Diary. “Scotty” is never mentioned in the song so I continued to draw blanks. It would be a couple of years before I heard them again.

My friend Roger played me the second I heard from The Connells. He worked in a trendy clothing store at Golden East Crossing mall in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. I had been out of high school for almost a year and was working at Pizza Inn. Roger and I were in a band together so we spent a lot of time together. I was hanging out with him one afternoon when a frenetic rock song started blasting out from the speakers mounted in the ceiling of the store. The jangling guitars immediately caught my attention.

I asked Roger the name of the song and he told me it was Upside Down by The Connells. I quickly made the connection and realized it was the same band I had heard back in high school. I went out and found the Fun & Games album and became hooked. Even though I was more into hard rock at that time there was something about The Connells that touched me on a deeper level. I went to go see them live a couple of times with my old buddy Ken and they were soon one of my favorite band. We saw them time (can’t remember where) and a weird band called Nine Inch Nails opened for them. Imagine my surprise years later when they exploded on the scene and The Connells were still relatively unknown.

I honestly thought that was going to change in 1990. I was working night shift at Abbott Labs (a pharmaceutical company) and was engaged. I was still playing music and trying to find guys to start another band. I remember the night Stone Cold Yesterday premiered on 120 Minutes. I thought they had finally made it. I don’t know how many times I saw them between 1989 and 1991. My wife and I were there on July 4, 1991 (newlyweds actually) when they played the very first show at Walnut Creek. Even though my musical tastes continued to evolve as I got older The Connells were a constant.

The one thing that always baffled me was the fact that just couldn’t seem to break big. I was sure that One Simple Word was going to blow up and we were going to lose our local band to the world. I really felt that way in 1994 when I saw the video for ’74-’75 the first time. I remember thinking that it was one of the greatest videos I had ever seen. It was getting some airplay and I was certain that it was only a matter of time before The Connells were one of the biggest bands in the world. I was continually baffled as other bands (like Hootie & The Blowfish) sold millions and no one seemed to know who The Connells were.

By the time Weird Food & Devastation came out I was father and had gone back to work at the same Pizza Inn I worked at in high school. I had dropped out of college a couple of times and my bands had all imploded. My concert days were in the past and I pretty much lost track of my favorite band. I did pick up George’s excellent solo album it became one of my favorite albums but it wasn’t like the good old days.

Still Life had been out for almost two years before I ever heard it. It didn’t really resonate with me at the time because I was into much heavier stuff. It took me nearly four years to find a copy of Old School Dropouts. By that point both George and Peele were gone and I had totally lost track of them. As far as I was concerned, the most underrated band to ever exist was gone. I knew they still played the occasional show but I was never able to see them. My wife and I did get a chance to catch them a few years ago in Nashville, North Carolina. That was a great evening. It was good to be in a room full of fans and to hear everyone collectively singing the songs back to the guys on stage.

It’s been almost thirty years since I first heard Scotty’s Lament on WRDU. I popped the CD into the car stereo when I drove my son to town earlier this evening. As soon as those first guitar chords rang out I was transported back in time. For three minutes and twenty-four seconds I felt like I was seventeen again. It was almost like I was cruising those back roads with Ken, dreaming about what life was going to be like when we got older. That’s the magic of music. I will never outgrow it.

Grace and peace

Another Month Is Here

July is gone and summer is one month closer to being over. I’ve been listening to the new albums from Relient K and Switchfoot this afternoon. I also drank my first Crystal Pepsi in over twenty years. I knew that Pepsi had been talking about bring it back but I honestly didn’t expect to see it in stores anytime soon. It’s actually not supposed to be out here in the U.S.A. for another week but I guess it shipped early. I was giggling when I saw it in the soda cooler. I bought four (two for today, two for tomorrow)se they were buy one and get the second one for $1. They were as good as I expected them to be. Truthfully, I don’t really remember what the original tasted like but I think this is pretty close to what I remember. We’ll see how long it lasts this time.

I hope to have reviews of the Relient K and Switchfoot up before the week is over. I’m also hoping to give Needtobreathe’s new album a listen and review that one as well. Jamie and Robin will be at Camp Brule’ starting tomorrow. It will just be Chris and me until Friday. I hope to get some reading and writing done. I started my new monthly Bible reading plan this morning. I read through the Gospels in June, Paul’s letters in July, and am doing the Major Prophets in August.

Let me head home. I’ve got to start working on these album reviews.

Grace and peace

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