Psalm 11 – [Emphasis Added]

By Aaron Elder

Two bracketed words make the difference between a well written article and a fraudulent one. A writer will add this to a quotation after drawing attention to the particular part of a statement made by someone else – whether or not the original author intended the emphasis to be placed there. 

As I was reading Psalm 11, this thought came to mind and it made me curious. Every verse is communicating something to us about the nature of God and his world. To make an example, verses 6 and 7 communicate ideas that stand opposed to one another – one verse about the wicked and one verse about the upright. To which of these is my emphasis added? For that matter, when I read any part of the Bible, where is my emphasis added?

We need to zoom out so we can see the whole landscape a bit more clearly. There are many systematic theologies with a few garnering most of the attention. While these systematic theologies have much to offer, they necessarily add emphasis in some areas where other systematics add emphasis elsewhere. While this can be problematic, it doesn’t have to be. 

We all read things through a lens that has been developed through our upbringing, our education, and our relationships. Having a lens is part of being human. Recognizing I have a lens allows me to become curious. Where am I adding emphasis? Should I add it there? Is there a different way to understand what I’m reading? If I’m reading the Bible and everything lines up perfectly with how I think, I’m in desperate need of asking better questions [emphasis added].

The Fear of Being Without

By Rand Kreycik

I’m kind of freaked out right now.  Not supremely, but kind of.

It’s the empty shelves.  Having never lived in a communist country – having always had enough … this is freaky and a bit scary for me.

Okay, I’m one of those people who is OCD about toilet paper.  Always have been.  My family has always made fun of me, and it’s been an inside joke for years in our home.

And now the shelves are empty.  Always!  Oh, there are signs on them that say things like, “We are getting new deliveries of paper goods every Tuesday and Thursday.”  I haven’t seen them.  Sometime between delivery and when I can make it to the store, the locusts descend … and the shelves are ALWAYS empty.

My fear is, of course laughable.  Unless.  Unless the supply chains are disrupted and toilet paper stops coming!  If all the production workers are being told to stay home, who’s going to make stuff for us?  Who’s going to package it?  Who’s going to deliver it?

Apocalypse!

No, it’s not.  It’s still a First World Problem.  Stop, think about what people used to do.  We can still dig an outhouse.  We can still use the Sears catalog (wait, do they make those anymore??).  The point is, we are spoiled.  The rest of the world finds a way to survive, every day, without even one-tenth of the conveniences we deem vital.

And what does this say about my faith?  What about Philippians 4:6-7, which we’ve all memorized?

do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (ESV)

Are these nice, comforting platitudes, or is God’s Word real, active, sharp? (Hebrews 4:12)

And what about Luke 12?

22 And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 24 Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! 25 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 26 If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? 27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 28 But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! 29 And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. 30 For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. (ESV)

Do I believe it?  Will I ever truly be without the things I really need?  Jesus makes the answer pretty clear.

Will I rest and trust in Him alone?  That’s the question.  Good question.

Psalm 10 – Flexing

“Ariana Grande Just Released ‘7 Rings’ And It’s All About Being Rich As Hell.” That is the title of a piece written for Elle magazine regarding the release of a (then) new song by Grande. In the article, she is quoted as saying, “Seven rings is jus like…a flex.” I came across this song listening to Spotify and it was very puzzling. Is this song for real or is it a parody? Well, despite my hope for the latter, the article mentioned above gave me my answer. 

This song, as Grande mentioned, is all about flexing (see slang: flaunting wealth) which is afforded her largely on the backs of young girls. At the same time I first heard this song, I was reading and pondering Psalm 10. In many ways, ‘7 Rings’ would be an anthem of the wicked lamented and described by the psalmist. As you’re probably used to me doing, rather than pointing the finger at “them,” I want to turn it upside down and shake it and see where I have the opportunity to grow and mature. 

As a Christian living in a world of ‘flexing,’ I’m often tempted to think I need to flex back – and harder. Except that the currency I’m flexing isn’t cash – it’s ‘truth.’ To be clear, this is little ‘t’ truth, not the absolute capital ‘T’ truth of Jesus Christ and his gospel. In the same way that cash creates identity and status, so too does ‘truth.’ 

It is the ‘truth’ of topics like predestination, social justice, politics, eschatology (to name but a few) and my certainty about such that create a sense of identity and status. I will flex on my topic de jour even if it hinders my relationships. The reason I do so is the same reason Grande (presumably) does – I want to be seen in a certain way to fit in with a certain group. To be alienated from that group would be my ruin… or would it?

We take our cues from Jesus who elevated people above the ‘truths’ of his day. He was absolutely irritating to the religious leaders, not because of his theology, but because he refused to flex the way they did. He was willing to be misunderstood in order to include those with nothing to flex. His alienation ruined him – he died on a cross. It was a death surely needed for resurrection. 

So what about me? Is it ok to hold positions on these ‘truths’? Certainly. It is important (and necessary) for people to hold positions on matters of truth, but as a good friend commented, posture also matters. As someone who has had his mind changed on virtually every ‘truth’ topic (some more than once!), I’ll save my flexing… say, which way to the gun show?

Psalm 9 – Maybe

By Aaron Elder

I lied to him. As I filled my car with gas, a man approached me as he had the others at the pump. Respectfully he asked, “You got any spare change for a cup of coffee?” His clothes, his unshaven face and his two visible teeth suggested he was homeless. I said to him, “No, I’m sorry man,” trying to convey as much compassion as one can muster while lying to a man’s face about not having one dollar.

As the man picked up his backpack and walked away, I began to justify myself, “he’s creating a nuisance for the business owner anyway” and “there’s plenty of resources available to him.” I finished filling my car and I drove to work, wrestling with what I had just done to my fellow man. I have been praying for God to change my disposition toward those different from me, and opportunity showed me I still have far to go. 

For much of the day, I wondered about this man and his story. Did he really need (or want) that cup of coffee? Maybe. Maybe what he really wanted was someone to care. Maybe some faith in humanity could be restored. Maybe God is real. Maybe it is true that God hasn’t forgotten me. Maybe I can continue to hope for a better future.

Likely, I will forget this man as I go about my life. I know when I read verse 18 that at the end of all things God really will remember the needy and afflicted and I know that the saints will give thanks with all their hearts and tell of his wondrous deeds. I do know that God will set all things right. But is it enough for me to praise God for what will be and not act today? Maybe not. What if the way in which God desires to show his faithfulness and love to the needy is through his body – the church? It just may be.

Psalm 8 – Funny Business

By Aaron Elder

Funny Business. There are three main ways I use this phrase and as I read this Psalm, all of them strike a chord with me. Mostly it is in relation to verse 2 of the Psalm because it is so powerful yet seems so out of place.

With someone I don’t trust much, but I’m relying on them to be truthful, we might make an agreement that will be finalized with this saying, “And no funny business.” As I observe the comedy in my world through my kids and otherwise, with a generous laugh I say, “that’s some funny business!” Or In the midst of my work when things don’t go quite as planned on a particular day, I might say, with a shoulder shrug, “it’s a funny business.” 

Call me crazy, but in the context of Psalm 8, all of these come to mind when I think that through the praise of children and infants God has established a stronghold against his enemies.

I picture God joyfully sitting on his throne delighting in what he has made. And from the story of Job, I picture Satan as a curmudgeon coming to God as foe and adversary. I picture Satan, irritated as ever because of God’s joy, declaring his plans for evil. And knowing God’s pension for turning evil on its head, Satan leaves saying, “and no funny business.” The ultimate “funny business” took place at the cross and resurrection of Jesus when God took even the great trump card of death and turned it into the coronation ceremony of the Lord Jesus.

When God declares that it is the praises of children and infants that become his weapon against his enemy, I can’t help but think about my kids. I think about my 2 year-old who pronounces the word “raisin” as “sheh-vay” (what?). I think about my 4 year-old giggling uncontrollably as we wrestle in the living room and I think about my 7 year-old building a penguin instead of a snowman in the front yard complete with pine needles protruding from the top of its head because, “you know, some of them have hair sticking up.” I just chuckle and say, “that’s some funny business!”

As I read the bible and observe life – with all of its twists and turns, with its hurts and searing pain, with its celebrations and deep joys, with its observations of grandeur and the awkwardness of humanity stumbling through life – I’m humbled by the way God joyfully interacts with us. And seeing these miniature humans wrapped up in pure joy, it is their giggles and playfulness that become the powerful weapons that God uses to pierce evil and turn corrupt power on its head. And I can’t help but shrug my shoulders and say, “this life… it’s a funny business.”

Psalm 7 – Heritage

By Aaron Elder

I have missed out. I feel like we (the western church) have been missing out on a great treasure. What is that treasure? Jewish thought on the scriptures. The rhetoric goes like this: Jews don’t believe that Jesus was the Messiah, therefore their lens is broken and little can be gained, if anything, from their comments on the scriptures. I certainly held to this view personally. 

Friends, this is deeply unfortunate. It feels a bit like saying, “since none of my family members are Christian, I’m not going to engage deeply in a relationship with them.” Christian or not, we are who we are at this moment because of everything that has come in the past. This is certainly so when it comes to the church and God’s word. Especially when we realize that nearly everything Jesus said is a direct reference to Old Testament Scripture. Even Acts and the Epistles are dripping with Jewish thought and hermeneutic. 

In my English Bible, for example, I’m not alerted to the fact that Psalm 7 is always read during Purim. If you’re not familiar with Purim, not a worry, neither was I one year ago. It does make sense in the fact that I, an American Christian, don’t celebrate this two-day holiday. This holiday celebrates God’s rescuing of Israel from Haman’s schemes as described in the book of Esther. It doesn’t appear that this Psalm was written for that occasion, but it overlays the story of Esther perfectly. 

This is but a small taste of the treasure buried within the pages of our bibles. There are a multitude of resources out there to do some digging, and there have been a handful that have been particularly helpful for me.

If you’re a podcast listener, I recommend BEMA podcast (start at the beginning) and The Bible Project podcast (also check out the Bible Project videos on YouTube). A source I’ve sampled but not purchased is the DVD series, “That The World May Know” by Ray Vander Laan. And a website resource that has been insightful is Chabad.org. 

You will likely not agree with absolutely everything you hear or read, but there is much treasure to be gained. Here’s what these resources will not do: they will not give you all the answers. They will encourage you to wrestle with the text. And in the midst of that wrestling we will know ourselves and our God more.

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.