Psalm 6 – Foes

By Aaron Elder

Reading this psalm and a variety of thoughts of others on it, I was confronted with an unfamiliar and uncomfortable question. The first part of this psalm has David apparently repenting for some sin committed. The second part seems to be David praying for deliverance from his foes. The psalm, while powerful, can seem a bit disjointed. The question that confronted me was this: What if it was my sin that created my foes?

I had a taste of this idea two months into my new job. I spoke with a somewhat demanding and particular client who requested some information related to a sales opportunity. Because of my fears and insecurities, I did things the way the client requested rather than how I was instructed and I failed to include my boss on the call. It was not until after the phone call and a conversation with my colleague that I realized the error I had made. Even with that, I wrestled with what to do. Do I confess it to my boss or will it just pass? My boss wasn’t in the office, and I had other work to do, and as Friday drew to a close, I headed home to enjoy the weekend. 

When I woke up Saturday morning, the weight of what I had done hit me like a ton of bricks. What ensued was a war of emotions. On the one hand, I was grieved at what I had done and wishing I had done things differently. On the other, I was turning my boss into a hardened, unforgiving foe and being angry with him. 

What an odd emotional space to be in. I was simultaneously penitent on the one hand and vilifying my foe on the other… the irony being that it was my sin that created the foe!

So what to do? On Monday morning I went to my boss and I told him what happened. Any guesses of what I found? Here, a demanding, non-Christian boss with high expectations… extended grace, mercy, and forgiveness in abundance. 

Often as I read the psalms and come across foes and enemies, I tend to place myself as the innocent. Sometimes that’s true. More often, though, I create my own foes. God would you deal with my foes justly and show me where my own repentance and restitution is needed? May I be willing to be the first to step into the “firing line” to orchestrate reconciliation.

Psalm 5 – Wickedness

By Aaron Elder

Verse 4a of this psalm reads “For you are not a God who is pleased with wickedness… .” The word “wicked” or “wickedness” is a weighty word. When I read it in the Bible, I tend to swap it out in my mind for the word “evil” or “bad.” But as with any word, it can start to take on meanings that were handed to me from other sources. I think this word is incredibly important and deserves some unpacking.

Most English definitions will revolve around verbiage like “morally bad or evil.” To me that isn’t entirely helpful. How do you define what is evil? Because I’m a Westerner, my default is to find the list of items that make someone wicked. How about the Law of God in the Old Testament? God gave it so that settles it right? Well…

Jesus harshly rebuked the Pharisees for tithing all the way down to their spices and yet neglecting care for their parents. Clearly it can’t be simply failure of a moral code. In Hebrew writing, often the first usage of a word will under-gird its use in future passages. The first use of the word “wicked” occurs in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. We’ve come to think that the great wickedness of these cities was their sexuality. Not so. The wickedness of the people of Sodom was that they used other people for their own pleasure or gain. They pushed down the weak to elevate the strong.

This is the great wickedness of Egypt. Egyptian thirst for empire crushed the dignity of those individuals who made the engine run. This is exemplified when Pharoah orders the Hebrews to increase their brick quota without providing straw. Sadly, this too becomes the great wickedness of Israel as written about throughout the prophets.  

Wickedness is, at its root, a disposition to get what I want at the expense of another person. Further, it is action with the intent to dehumanize or rob the dignity of another person or group of people. What we read, then, in this psalm is not a broken moral code, but the variety of expressions of the dehumanization of other people. When David says, “Not a word from their mouth can be trusted,” he means, “How can I trust someone whose intent is to dehumanize another person?”

“Lead me, Lord, in your righteousness,” David says in verse 8. “Lord, make me the kind of person who lifts up the vulnerable, the weak and the oppressed.” What we find in Jesus is a man whose ministry was defined by this kind of righteousness. This is the kind of righteousness that has now been handed to us. We do battle against wickedness, not by sword and shield, but by restoring dignity where it has been stripped.

Psalm 4 – Forks

By Aaron Elder

What does trust look like? Until recently, trust, to me, meant having an intellectual Bible answer for everything in my life. I knew the equations that make life work well. However, failure at something significant in your life has a way of making you go back to double-check your answers. For the previous five years, I worked as a financial advisor. I suspect that the duration is of no consequence to you – but for me, five years was supposed to be something of a magic milestone. The failure rate as a financial advisor during years 0 – 5 is close to 90%. Once somebody reaches five years, the rate flips. The rate of success jumps to well over 90%.

Just over a year ago, I found myself in the unenviable position of confessing to my wife that we were accumulating debt because there wasn’t enough money to pay for the business and our household expenses. What was supposed to bring unlimited opportunity to our family, brought the opportunity to fail in a way that was a statistical anomaly. Somebody get me a medal.

I was at a proverbial fork in the road. What I didn’t know at the time, was that my vocational fork in the road was masking a reality – this was much more about a spiritual fork. I am deeply grateful to friends and family who helped me work through the ways God has gifted me. And I had a choice to make. Accept a similar role to what I had been doing with more financial potential and in the place I was familiar with, or a role that appeared to be a better fit for me (no promises!) in a location where I knew just 1 family. 

Spiritually, I had a similar choice to make. Dig my heels into the comfortable equations I trusted in or let them go and…??

Under the hood, I see this spiritual fork presented to me in Psalm 4. It is delusional to think that having all of the right answers is what God is calling me to – it would amount to trusting a false god (v.2). The invitation is to put the equations on the shelf and know Jesus more (vv. 4-5). To trust him so much that I stop asking, “Where will my prosperity come from?” but rather experience his delight no matter who prospers (or doesn’t) around me (vv. 6-7). It is in that place of trust that I can lie down, sleep, and weather any storm knowing that I dwell securely in the love of Jesus (v.8).

Psalm 3 – Enemies

By Aaron Elder

I thought enemies were simple. I’m good, they’re bad. They’re wrong, I’m right. And so I pray, “Lord, break the teeth of the wicked.” I’m learning that enemies are far more complicated. I love that one, but you hate him. You love this one, but I hate him. Less than a month ago, the U.S. bombed Iran and killed General Qassem Soleimani. Because of his ties to terrorism in the Middle East, much of the western world rejoiced. But Gen. Soleimani wasn’t just a robot pushing buttons. He was a man with family and friends just like you and I. He thought that what he was doing was right. He was defending his people and his religion, and in his home country and in various parts of the world he was beloved.

I don’t have any personal ties to Gen. Soleimani, and my point isn’t to defend or accuse – I had no idea who he was until this bombing occurred. My point of emphasis is that Psalm 3 forces me to think differently about enemies. 

If you’re like me, you may have missed who the characters are as this Psalm was penned. Take a minute to reread the introduction to the Psalm and let it sink in. The first character appears frequently in the Psalms, that’s King David. The second character we know a bit more abstractly as a wicked guy, that’s Absalom. David is fleeing Absalom. David is running from his own son.

Here is a challenging exercise. If you have a son (I do), take a few minutes to pull up some of your favorite memories – my son is 4 years old and he loves wrestling, snuggling, giggling and just being with his daddy. While those memories are fresh, read the Psalm again as though crying out to God against that very son. 

I’m struggling to do this exercise myself.

What I see is a man, David, deeply grieved with a shattered heart. Absalom was once 4 years old, wrestling, laughing and playing with his daddy. How did we get here? Why is this happening? I picture David’s mind flooded with memories of his son. I don’t picture a man defiant, but prostrate on the ground sobbing as he prays, “Lord, break the teeth of the wicked.”

 Jesus calls me to be committed to justice. To defend the helpless against the wicked. This Psalm is one I can and should pray in a world where all has not yet been made right. But Jesus also calls me to love my enemies. I will fail to love them well if I fail to remember that my enemies are men like me.

Die the Good Death

By Rand Kreycik

I am a latecomer to the Harry Potter stories, by J. K. Rowling. In my early days as a parent, I legalistically banned them from my children’s reading list, concerned about the magic, wizardry, and witchcraft depicted.

After watching through the movie series with my family in recent weeks, I am struck by the consistent theme of self-sacrifice Rowling has infused her stories with.  This focus has overcome the obvious theological problems in the series, in my mind.  The stories portray good things to live for … and die for.

In one of the most powerful scenes of the movies, Professor Dumbledore greets Harry after he has made the difficult choice to give his life for his friends, to defeat the enemy of all good, Lord Voldemort.  “Harry, you wonderful boy.  You brave, brave man!”

That puts me in mind of the greeting all true believers in Jesus hope to hear at the end of their race:  “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:23)  With the Apostle Paul, we all hope to be able to say, at our life’s waning, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race.” (2 Timothy 4:7)

Truth be told, I like the sound of “fight the good fight” because perhaps it means I can retain my pride and do it in my own strength.  “Look at me, Lord!  Haven’t I finished well?”  Finishing well, however, is clearly represented throughout Scripture as dying well.  “Dying the good death,” we might say.  Just as Harry Potter did, receiving the commendation of his master.  And on a far higher plane, the only way any of us will receive our Heavenly Master’s approval.

I’m coming to understand that living faithfully and loving fiercely actually involves dying, daily … and ultimately … for those we love.  That’s our calling, and that’s how each of us will finish well.  All in our Savior’s love and grace and power.  He who died the best death, crying, “It is finished!” (John 19:30)

Psalm 2 – Rise?

By Aaron Elder

This psalm (and many more to come) has some strong language regarding God’s judgment. My concern with this kind of language is that, through years of reading and hearing it taught in certain ways, my heart has become callous toward it. When I read this psalm, I think, “I’m glad I’m one of the blessed by taking refuge in God.” And I become quite comfortable with the idea of God judging and destroying “other” people. You know, the wicked_________. Fill in the blank with those I hate most.

If I’m reading this psalm and a person or people group comes to mind who will definitely be dashed to pieces, I’m in dangerous waters.

The issue here isn’t simply that they don’t believe a certain way about God, but rather the manner in which they rail against God by how they treat those made in His image. They degrade, oppress, and kill all in the name of money and power. This lust for empire would ultimately result in the rightful king, Jesus, being put to death on a cross. It was that cross that became his coronation and his crowning as the heir of all nations.

If I read this psalm and fail to see the power of the humility of the cross, I’m in danger, myself, of playing the role of the oppressor. If I am peering down at others because of my spiritual superiority am I not rising up like the kings of verse 2?

Dance Party

By Aaron Elder

Happy New Year! I wanted to get this thing started on the right foot…

I want a dance party. Well that’s not typically how I feel most of the time, but it is the daily (at least) request of my two year old daughter. I oblige a bit hesitantly, but when all is said and done, we’ve cut a rug for almost an hour with me displaying my vast collection of dance moves.

My particular dance party music is ‘90s country. There is a familiar moan when I play the songs my kids don’t like, but I always make sure to play their favorites. For my two year old, it’s the Tim McGraw classic “Ah fah vih, fuh vih, fah mo fuh vih.” You may recognize that song as “I like it, I love it (I want some more of it).” For my 4 and 7 year olds it is “I Shoulda Been a Cowboy,” complete with our own cowboy dance moves. 

It would not be 100% accurate to say that all goes well at our dance parties. We have the customary fussers about music choice and who danced longer with daddy, but this time is such a delight. I’m belting out old classics from my growing up. I’m swinging my 2 and 4 year old through my legs and back – up into the air as high as I can (without risking a hospital visit). I’m swing dancing with my 7 year old and lifting her in my arms every time Toby Keith sings the line, “stealin’ the young girls’ hearts…”

There is something about dancing that connects people in a unique way. For me it provides space to drop the pretense and delight in this life that God has given. So, go ahead, put on your favorite jams and bust a move!