The Hills are Alive

Last week my family and I journeyed to Alaska's PAC (Performing Arts Center) to watch a Broadway production of the classic "Sound of Music."  I restrained myself from singing along with the performers - perhaps a few words escaped, but hopefully noticed only by a mere few.

Music inspires me.  Truly the thought of a world void of music causes a shutter within me.  Even as I write this, the sounds of Elijah Bossenbroek's "Falling Away" fill my ears. 

I believe our Creator wired us with the love of music.  Every culture on earth cherishes music.  One reason for this, I believe, is that God Himself cherishes music. 

Beginning with Jubal (see Genesis 4), "the father of all who play . . . instruments" and continuing all the way through the accounts of the angels and people of nations singing praise to God in Revelation, the Bible is full of references to music.  Perhaps the most prolific in music was David, the second king of Israel.  One of David's most familiar songs (psalms) is the last one included in the book of Psalms.  It reads...

Praise God in his holy house of worship,
    praise him under the open skies;
Praise him for his acts of power,
    praise him for his magnificent greatness;
Praise with a blast on the trumpet,
    praise by strumming soft strings;
Praise him with castanets and dance,
    praise him with banjo and flute;
Praise him with cymbals and a big bass drum,
    praise him with fiddles and mandolin.
Let every living, breathing creature praise God!
Psalm 150 (The Message)

David and Maria von Trapp both remind us to listen for the music and make the music.  Our God loves to hear us sing - even if we're off key.  God finds joy in our praise.  So go grab your banjo, cymbals, big bass drum, and 76 trombones (a tribute to another cinema classic) and ready your voice!  Praise God.  Sing to God.  Let the hills resound with song.


First Words

"Call me Ishmael."  With those three words, Herman Melville began his epic novel - Moby Dick.  Those words set the tone for a story of a man.

"In the beginning God."  With those words, the writer of Genesis, inspired by God, began his epic account - The Bible.  Those four words set the tone for a story of God.  Yes, the Bible is full of accounts of men and women, boys and girls, and even donkeys and large fish; nevertheless, the Bible is God's story.  God's story because He inspired those men who penned it and God's story because it is all about Him.  About His plan.

God, before the beginning of what we call "time," set His plan of redemption in motion.  God invites the reader of the Bible into His story.  The Bible is the true record of His revelation of Himself to His people. 

One cannot come near to an understanding of the Bible and all of God's story without first stopping to read and ponder those first key words of introduction.  "In the beginning God" communicates . . .

- that God is before all things.
- that God is in control.
- that God is.
- that God was the first to act.
- that God was the Creator of action.
- that God created.
Begin with those four words and they will prepare you for the remainder of the most epic of all epic writings.  In the words of the late Eugene Peterson . . .
"First, God.  God is the subject of life.  God is foundational for living.  If we don't have a sense of the primacy of God, we will never get it right, get life right, get our lives right.  Not God at the margins; not God as an option; not God on the weekends.  God at center and circumference; God first and last: God, God, God."


But With God

Love fills the air as Sweetheart Candies and chocolates in heart-shaped boxes exchange hands.  Bear balloons and rose arrangements are grasped as doorbells ring.  Valentine's Day arrives once again.  Some will be hugging; some will be kissing.  Others will be saddened by missing - missing the loved one who is no longer by their side. 

Valentine's Day brings many emotions.  Other days do, also.

One such day occurred for an inquisitive man who approached Jesus.

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” 
Matthew 19:16

As the conversation continues, the man hears Jesus' response to his follow-up question inquiring as to which of the commandments he should keep.  Jesus said . . .

18 . . . “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony,
honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Matthew 19:18-19 (NIV)

Upon hearing those words, the emotion of joy filled the man; he even experienced a bit of pride, I trust.  Yet the joy would give way.

When the young man heard this, he went away sad . . .  Matthew 19:22 (NIV)

Why the sadness?  Because he was wealthy and Jesus had just told him that in order to follow Him, he must sell his possessions.

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
Matthew 19:21 (NIV)

Why did Jesus demand such a sacrifice  We reason that, for that man, wealth was a barrier keeping him from following Jesus.  Barriers of many types hinder the way of would-be disciples.  Whatever they may be, the one who says, "come, follow me" offers a way to knock them down.

25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”
26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Matthew 19:25-26 (NIV)


Pig Stories

For the first time since 2007, according to the traditional Chinese New Year calendar, the animal for the year is a pig.  As one who knows very little about Chinese culture and one who places absolutely no value in the zodiac signs, I will pass on dedicating a year to swine.  I will, however, devote this day's blog post to our pot-bellied friends.

When I hear talk of pigs, three stories come to mind - two fictional and one historical.
- Charlotte's Web by E. B. White
- The Three Little Pigs by James Halliwell-Phillipps
- Jesus Casting out Demons by Matthew (and Mark and Luke)

Focusing on the latter story, I must confess that piece of inspired text puzzles me greatly.  I relate to the words of the late Halford Luccock, a professor of homiletics (preaching).  He wrote, "This story of Jesus' conjuring the evil spirits into the swine had best be left to the exegetes" (Interpreter's, p 715).

While things turn out pretty well for White's Wilbur and Halliwell-Phillipps' third pig, all the other pigs meet their demise from either the teeth of the Big Bad Wolf or the fall from the Gadarenes region's cliffs.  

The fable's less-than-bright pigs teach us the value of diligent work. 

But what do the pigs of the Bible bring to our attention?  We believe that the answer lies not with the pigs.  We fix our focus rather on the two demon-possessed men and then notice the one reaching out to those violence-prone men.  There stands Jesus.  Jesus sees past the violence and the external and internal filth of the tomb-dwellers and sees two men in need of restoration and love. 

I thank God that He continues to see past violence and filth.  As the Year of the Pig (whatever that means) begins, recall not the cliff-diving swine; instead, praise the Lord who restores and loves and keeps us from a fate far worse than falling off a bluff.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
1 John 1:9 (NIV)


Luccock, Halford E. The Interpreter’s Bible. Ed. George Arthur Buttrick. Vol.7. New York:   Abingdon, 1951.