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.’” (NIV) 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.’” (NIV)

 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.

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!

Presents

By Aaron Elder

The Christmas season is here and that means only one thing: Presents! Actually there’s a whole lot more to Christmas, but as a dad of young kids, presents do much to illuminate the inner lives of all ages. 

I have two girls (7 and 2) and a boy (4). My girls are much more difficult to shop for. It isn’t that they are picky, but actually that they are surprising. The gifts my girls receive that I expect they’ll like, they do, but it is often something else that captivates their minds and imaginations. My son is quite the opposite. Last Christmas, he was giving us adults a tutorial on how to experience life. Quite literally, EVERY present he opened was met with the words, “this is the best present ever.” This wasn’t the adult version of people pleasing, he was absolutely enthralled in every gift he received.

As I prepare for another Christmas with my kids, the shopping becomes a delight. For my girls, I know that what I choose they will like, but I also know that I will get further insight into who they are. For my son, I know that he’ll be caught in wonder and imagination with anything he receives.

All of this makes me think differently about that first Christmas and the gift of Jesus. I imagine God as a giddy father watching the world unwrap his most precious gift. As he watches, he sees the way each person responds to the gift and he gets to interact with each on a very personal level. In a sense, he gets to know us by how we respond.

And I imagine God, with sheer delight, preparing and wrapping his precious gift. Like me with my son, he waits in eager anticipation for the joy that will spring forth. And like my girls, he waits to see what will capture their imaginations. In many ways, it feels like the present is still being unwrapped. Some have seen it for what it is and have received it, but are still discovering the fullness of what it is. Some don’t see it fully yet because their vision is clouded in some way. My prayer is that, like the apostles, we too will all see the gift completely with unveiled faces and our joy too be made complete.

A Jumbled Mess

By Aaron Elder

Christmas in the real world might be described this way. It certainly looks much different than the Christmas cards for sale or even the ones we’ll send and receive. As I write this, I’m staring at the foot of our Christmas tree. Scattered are three ornaments fallen from the tree. Jumbled into a heap is the kids’ nativity set. Two of the magi lie face down, a donkey rests unassuming on a toppled palm tree and baby Jesus lay upside down inside the tipped over manger scene with two other figures and a plastic bale of hay. And one gift from an extended family member sits just behind with its view obscured because of my angle.

Shooting up from the floor is our Christmas tree – medium bodied and raw from the forest yet full of ornaments, every one with a story to tell. Many of them look a bit awkward or bruised. Tucked to the left is a brown and green snowman I made at around 8 years old whose head was broken off – but now glued – hanging firmly on a branch. A silver ball handed down from generations prior rubbed and worn. And several made by our kids (ages 7,4 and 2) with a mix of colors and varying degrees of stability.

As I ponder this scene, my view turns to the cross of Jesus. Scattered like ornaments were those standing aloof beneath the cross, unattached to the event taking place. Jumbled into a heap were the hearts and lives of Jesus’ relatives and friends. Broken. Crushed. Prostrate on the ground. And, obscured by the view, was a gift. Shooting up from the ground, that tree, once an instrument of scorn, now held the whole world as a set of ornaments. Those scattered will be added. Every one with a story and every one wholly dependent on the tree for life, beauty and meaning. And just as I can restore the nativity scene with little effort, so too Jesus rose from the dead as if waking from sleep.

For now, though, I leave the scene as it is. It is advent season. We are waiting. We are hoping. It is busy. It is a bit of a jumbled mess. It is in the midst of this jumbled mess that we find Jesus, even now, making everything new.

Psalm 1 – Subtleties

By Aaron Elder

When I read the Psalms I’ve begun to notice subtle, but dangerous, tendencies in my response and reaction when reading. Psalm 1 hit me a few years ago, and it has become a great checkpoint for me.

As I read over Psalm 1, my first thought is “I want to be the man described in verses 1-3.” This is a noble aspiration – a worthy thing to desire. Here’s where things get dangerous for me: If I’m honest with myself, I’m far more interested in being viewed this way by others than I am in actually knowing God more intimately. I often end up doing spiritual activities, not because I think it will create added intimacy with God, but so that I will build “street cred” with other (read: certain) Christians whose praise I desire most.

I define walking uprightly by how many boxes I can check in my spiritual life. Rather than delighting in God’s law, I parse it out to define more easily who is blessed and who is wicked. In place of prospering in Christ, I can’t stop thinking about how important I am.

The irony is that the man of whom these things is described is one who is lost in the depths of his relationship with God and uninterested in his status. We would think it silly if we waxed poetic about marriage yet were rarely home to get to know our wives. So too with God.

As I write this I find I’m lacking in this way with both my wife and with Christ. I do look forward to growing in this way that I might know my wife and my God more deeply.

A Journey Through the Psalms

By Aaron Elder

I’m not completely sure why, but I’ve felt a strong desire to write about the Psalms. I do know that over the past 3 years or so, I have found great joy in reading the Psalms. I think what has drawn me in particular is that we probably get the most real, tangible and obvious display of emotion than anywhere else in the Bible. It is definitely there in other places, but it is front and center in the Psalms.

Personally, I think American Christians struggle with what to do with emotions. We’re often not given permission to deal with negative emotions in particular so we suppress them only to see them come out in highly destructive ways in the future. I think we need the whole Bible as much today as ever, and I think the Psalms may be as important as any book to our spiritual and emotional well-being.

So I want to take a journey through the Psalms. One at a time. I’m not a theologian so I will not be writing a commentary. What I will be doing is reading them and, based on a number of factors, I’m going to respond. You’ll get to know some patterns in how I think and you’ll get a sense of what I’m working through in my everyday life. I will also likely being throwing in some other thoughts in between.

What I hope to give through this process is two-fold: 1) Permission to walk into your emotions in a healthy way knowing that God is strong enough and loving enough to handle all of them and 2) An invitation to look beyond the surface. We’re used to making Scripture fit into our own systematic theology and frankly, it just isn’t that simple. I hope you feel me challenging your systematic theology because, well, mine is challenged with every Psalm I read.

With that – enjoy!

Covenantal Husband Part 3: How God works with Man

By Aaron Elder

 

I live in the United States and I am incredibly thankful for the culture that we live in that is almost entirely built on the foundations of Christianity. There is, however, an aspect to our Western world that has clouded our understanding of the way God works with men. What is that aspect? Individualism.

Now, individualism by itself isn’t a bad thing, God calls us to be responsible for ourselves, to work with our hands in such a way as to honor God. The problem it has created in our faith communities is the idea that God’s primary dealing with men(people) is individual. God’s primary way of working with men is corporate while still dealing with the individual.

The interesting thing is that we actually see this played out in our world, we just don’t call it “covenantal.” Amazon.com functions the way it does corporately because of its covenantal head – Jeff Bazos. And every individual has imputed to them the benefits (and curses) of the corporation. The benefits may include insurance, 401(k) and certain discounts. The curses could include long work hours. And the culture could be a blessing or a curse depending on the company! There are certain conditions to the covenant between the corporate and the individual (put on your Genesis 15 lenses). If the individual substantially violates the covenant, the individual will be excluded from the corporation. If the corporate substantially violates the covenant, then you have Enron. All parties of the covenant are torn in two until the proverbial blood runs out.

In terms of how God deals with mankind with regard to salvation, Romans 5 is a very helpful chapter. God’s view of men is that every individual is included under a covenantal head – either Adam or Christ. Whether we are in Adam or in Christ, the traits of the covenant head are imputed corporately, but expressed individually. Every individual is born into “Adam, Inc.” That corporation is run on cowardice and every evil intention as imputed from the founder, Adam. Unless we are brought under Christ’s Lordship to have His righteousness imputed to us, we will be irrevocably torn and excluded from the covenant people of God. We are effectively telling God that we will walk through where Abram would not, come what may. Yikes.

You may be thinking, what does this have to do with my marriage? How about everything… When we enter into a marriage covenant, we do so as individuals with our respective wives. But that isn’t where it ends. Marriage is also a covenantal relationship with God and is thus corporate. And men, God has named you as corporate representative. God has given us an awesome responsibility to work with Him to love and lead our families.

Covenantal Husband Part 2: The Glory of Covenant

By Aaron Elder

 

Both the Hebrew and Greek words used in the Bible translated “glory” in the English carry a sense of weightiness, of substance. It isn’t the type of weight you’d lift at the gym, it’s the type of weight you feel when you’re halfway through your first day on the new job and the excitement wears off as you realize just how unfit you are for this role… unless someone intercedes for you to make you fit for the role you were called (hired) into.

Let’s travel to a powerful passage of scripture that we’re not very familiar with – mostly because I’m not sure we really understand what’s happening. That story takes place in Genesis 15 (go read it!). God is making a covenant with Abram regarding Abram’s offspring. He tells Abram to get five animals and Abram cuts them in two and arranges the halves opposite one another. Notice God didn’t tell him what to do with the animals – he already knew. Which tells us that this was a common practice in Abram’s culture. What was that practice?

Abram knew that God was laying out the ritual for a covenant. During that time, when people made a covenant, they would take animals and cut them in half, lay them opposite one another and the blood would pool. The individuals making the covenant would then splash in the blood – first one, then the other. What they were communicating is this: “If I fail to uphold my end of the covenant, you can cut me in two and splash in my blood just like we did with these animals.” Be honest, is that what you were thinking when you made your covenantal vows to your wife?

Back to Abram. Abram laid out the animals and then he stood there. Long enough that birds of prey came down and he had to chase them away – at least several hours I presume? And then Abram pass – wait a minute, Abram never passed through. Why? Abram knew if he set foot in the blood he was a dead man because he knew he couldn’t uphold his end of a covenant with God. So God passed through twice. Once for God. And once in place of Abram. If this sounds a lot like Jesus, it should, because that’s what Christ did for us.

Are you feeling the weight of a covenant? Does it begin to feel like more than just words said at a ceremony? We should feel its weight… but we should also feel its glory. And to borrow from C.S. Lewis, the weight of glory is this: “To please God, to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness, to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son – it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is.”