Destroy the Wicked – Reflection on Psalm 58

Psalm 58:1-11

Psalm 58

Watching the World Burn

People gravitate toward the Psalms because of their complete and utter realness. I was taught that if I didn’t have anything nice to say…then don’t say anything. The psalmist doesn’t follow such motherly advice. Instead, the psalmist lets his fury fly.

There’s a scene in The Dark Night when Bruce Wayne (aka Batman) is trying to understand the Joker’s motivation. Alfred (played by Michael Cane) shares a story about trying to negotiate with tribal leaders in Burma with precious stones. However, a bandit kept stealing the stones. When they went looking for the bandit and the stones, they discovered the bandit had been throwing the stones away.

Wayne asks, “Why steal them?”
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I have Sinned – Reflection on Psalm 51

Psalm 51:1-19

Oldie but Goodie

This Psalm, more than any other, takes me back to my youth. I can almost remember the first time I sang the line, “Create in Me A Clean Heart…Oh God…” I was changed. That song expressed the desire of my heart. Over 30 years later, it still does.

Traditionally, the Psalm has been ascribed to David, but, some scholars believe the Psalm was written later (verse 19’s petition to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem would be out of place if written by David). When I first learned that David may not have written it, I was disappointed. But now, after having time to reflect, I’m okay whether David wrote it or not.
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Loving Little….Loving Much

Right now I’m preaching a sermon series on Ephesians. Paul says that at one point we were all dead spiritually speaking (Eph 2:1). He even says we "were by nature children of wrath like everybody else." (Eph. 2:3) There’s no getting around it in Paul. We are all in the same boat. If we have not made the transition from death to life by appropriating God’s gracious gift (Eph. 2:8), then we are still dead.

This is really good news because Paul tells us that God made us alive even when we were dead! (Eph. 2:4) So even if we are dead spiritually, God is more than willing to make us alive in Christ.

In his commentary on Ephesians, N. T. Wright makes a connection between Ephesians 2:8-10 which discusses God’s gracious gift and Luke 7:36-51 which is the story of the ‘sinful woman.’ I think this is an appropriate link to the Gospel, but leaves me with a question that causes me concern.

The story is about a woman who comes in and pours perfume on Jesus’ feet while he is at the party of a Pharisee. Simon, the Pharisee, sees what is taking place and begins thinking that if Jesus was really a prophet, he would know what kind of woman this was and not let her touch him.

Well, apparently, Jesus did know what kind of woman this was and took her actions as a sign of gratitude that she had been forgiven. Jesus then puts Simon on the spot by asking him who would be more grateful (or love more), the one who was forgiven a debt of a few dollars, or of many dollars. Even Simon knew the one who was forgiven the most would be the most grateful.

Jesus then points out how Simon didn’t even show the smallest expression of graciousness or gratefulness in welcoming Jesus into his home. Yet, this woman continued to wash his feet with her tears and anoint him with her perfume. Why the difference? Simon didn’t see his need, but the woman did. Because of that Simon didn’t offer any expression of love, but the woman did.

As I reflect on being dead in my trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1), and how God has made me alive even when dead, I realize how much like Simon I am. That leads me to the question that causes me concern: What kind of response do I offer? It seems like going to church once a week, praying on the run, rushing through Scripture, or any other type of spiritual ‘guilt’ appeasement doesn’t reflect the kind of depth and gratitude God’s gracious act deserves. You know what I mean…the things we do to say we did them. Our hearts might not be in the act, or we might feel that we ‘just don’t have the time’ so we do what small things we can so we can call it done. Do our practices reflect what we know about our need and God’s response?

Maybe we love little because we don’t understand or realize the depth of our need and the extent of our dilemma. When we do get a sense of that dilemma and what God has done so we might be free, then we might be able to start living lives of grateful response to God’s act in Christ. I have a feeling our lives will begin to look vastly different.

Revisiting Holiness part 1

I don’t honestly know where to begin. My journey with holiness has been strained over the years. Of course, as a young Christian, I believed in the importance of holiness…I just couldn’t live up to my own expectations. As I attended seminary, I started viewing holiness (and the holiness tradition) as based on antiquated rules and regulations. Jesus, after all, came to forgive us of our sins and that IS Good News! Even though my seminary was founded on the basis of the holiness movement, I found myself shying away from even using the term.

Holiness was not a good term for me. It had negative connotations and way too much baggage. I began focusing on other areas of the Christian life. 1 John 1:9 was very good to me! I would tell people that God loved them…more than they knew. Every week we would pray about our sins; the things that held us captive, brought us down, and gave us shame. We would pray for forgiveness. The wonderful grace of God through Jesus was more than enough to cover all of our sins.

I still believe that too. I still believe that God loves all. Yet, I think I stopped short. I believe there is even more wonderful news than Jesus forgiving us. It took re-reading sermons by John Wesley to remind me of that Good news. Yet, it didn’t start there.

It started in a Doctoral class with Ken Collins. Ken said that not only did John Wesley preach that through Jesus we were released from the guilt of sin, but we were also released from sin’s power and domination. Ken’s new book The Theology of John Wesley: Holy Love and the Shape of Grace goes into even more detail on this point.

While I remembered something about Wesley preaching along those lines, I decided to check it out for myself. What I found in Wesley is still difficult for me to come to terms with because I believe Collins is right about Wesley. If Wesley is right, then there is good news for all who struggle with sin. God not only forgives us of our sins, He also empowers us to be victors over that sin.

I know many who read this will reject this whole thing as idealistic. Yet, what is the alternative life? A life characterized by failure, guilt, shame, and imprisonment by the sins that surround us. That is not “abundant life” (John 10:10). Yet, it is a life that describes many Christians I know. Since forgiveness is preached and not “new birth” or regeneration, most Christians never realize the gift that God is yearning to give to them.

In the second installment of this series, I will concentrate on what this gift is, and then discuss why I think I reacted so negatively to holiness all these years.