Confession and Blessing

Psalm Tats LR

Praise the Lord.
Blessed is the man who fears the Lord,
who finds great delight in his commands.
Psalm 112:1 (NIV)

Years ago I read Psalm 112 as a part of my normal reading routine. I can’t explain it, but that day it penetrated deep into my soul. I memorized the psalm and I recite it regularly and prayerfully. I realized that the description of the “blessed man” that the lyricist describes is a description of the man I want to be:

  • God fearing
  • delighting in God’s message
  • successful father
  • gracious
  • compassionate
  • righteous
  • generous
  • confident
  • steadfast
  • fearless
  • secure

This past summer I had a tattoo inked on the bicep of each of my arms. On the left arm the tattoo reads Psalm 51 and the right arm reads Psalm 112. Psalm 51 is a song of confession and through ages the left hand has been associated with folly. Psalm 112 is a song of blessing and through the ages the right hand has been associated with favor. I placed the tats on my biceps because it is a muscle that men traditionally associate with strength.

My tats remind me daily that my strength for life’s journey is not rooted in my effort, social standing, intelligence, gifts, finances, career, or abilities. My strength for the journey is found in:

  1. Humility and daily confession that I am broken, make mistakes, and am in continuous need of God’s grace and forgiveness.
  2. God’s unmerited favor and blessing as I daily seek to be the man God calls me to be.

Confession and blessing. Every day. Every step. Confession and blessing.

Christmas 2013 (Part 2)

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This weekend was the culmination of our 2013 Christmas celebrations. On Saturday, the Halls came down from Boone for the Vander Hart gathering at Grandma Vander Hart’s. It was a small crew this year as many family couldn’t make it. There didn’t seem to be a lack of food, however, and we enjoyed lunch together and a game of cards. Brant and Amy’s newborn, Clayton, enjoyed his first Christmas with the clan and was a big hit.

On Saturday afternoon our friends, Kevin and Becky, arrived and we spent a quiet evening together here at Vander Well Manor. We made homemade pizza, opened a couple of bottles of wine, and enjoyed good conversation late into the night. Kev and Beck spent the night with us and attended church with us on Sunday morning.

After church on Sunday, Wendy and I ran to Des Moines to pick up Becky and Courtney from the airport, though their flight was delayed from Denver by about an hour. We then drove up to Boone with Taylor in caravan behind us. We feasted with Wendy’s family and opened gifts. Luke’s fiancé, Polley, was able to join us. It was, however, a relatively small crew as many of the family are scattered across the globe. We were able to enjoy Skype conversation with Nathan’s crew in Arizona and Josh in Korea. We watched football and enjoyed one another’s company into the evening. Wendy and I then headed back home to Pella. We watched our Vikings win their final game at the Metrodome against the Lions on the DVR before calling it a night.

Layered Stories of Redemption

Christmas Gifts[God] provided redemption for his people;
    he ordained his covenant forever—
    holy and awesome is his name.
Psalm 111:9 (NIV)

Scholars believe that the lyrics of today’s psalm (and tomorrow’s) were likely written by the same lyricist in “post-exilic” Israel. In the years after King David and his son, Solomon, ruled, the nation of Israel split into two nations (the northern kingdom of Israel, and the southern kingdom of Judah). The kingdom of Israel was eventually besieged by the Assyrian army. The southern kingdom was defeated by the Babylonians. The temple of Solomon was largely destroyed along with the walls of Jerusalem,  and their best and brightest were hauled off into exile in Babylon (e.g. the story of Daniel). Eventually, a remnant returned to rebuild the walls (e.g. the story of Nehemiah). Psalms 111 and 112 were likely written in this period of time when the exiles had returned to their home.

As I read and write this morning I am in Christmas hangover. We’ve spent a wonderful few days with family and friends. Gifts have been opened. Time has been spent with loved ones. There has been plenty of feasting, and my body is feeling the effects of it. Wendy and I have spent time in worship, remembering Jesus’ birth, and have served in worship. It’s been a great week.

In the bright wrapping of a story about a new baby, shepherds, angels, and wise men, it is easy to lose sight of the ultimate purpose this Christmas chapter plays in the epic story God is telling in history. God is a purposeful author, and I have observed that he layers history with recurring themes. The people of Judah had lived as slaves in exile, and God had provided redemption in returning them home. The whole of God’s story is about all of humanity being enslaved by our own wrong choices and exiled from our Creator and our spiritual home. God himself provides redemption:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 (NIV)

The larger story of Christmas is the story of God’s Son choosing exile on this Earth in the form of human flesh, in order to ransom and redeem we who cannot redeem ourselves:

[Jesus] had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion. Philippians 2:6-8 (MSG)

Today, I’m thinking of the interweaving layers and themes of God’s Message and story. I’m thinking about the celebration of gifts given and a baby born here in December, and how quickly it gives way to the commemoration of the death that same baby suffered and died just a few months later. I am thinking about old things passing away, about redemption, and about new things coming with a new year.

Christmas 2013 (Part 1)

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It’s been an awesome Christmas holiday, so far. More to come this weekend, but for now let me fill you in on the festivities. Christmas Eve day was fairly quiet. We worked in the morning and then prepared for our impending guests. Wendy and I volunteered to help video tape one of the three Christmas Eve services in our church sanctuary, which was at 4:30 in the afternoon. We returned home to enjoy a little dinner with Suzanna. At 9:00 p.m. I headed back to church where I had volunteered to help with a reader’s theater piece for the 11:00 p.m. service in the auditorium. By the time I got home the kids had arrived and everyone was sacked out (with the requisite sugar plums dancing in their heads, no doubt).

I was up early on Christmas morning to put the chicken in the crockpot and to get the breakfast casserole out of the fridge. Wendy was up not much after me and was quickly bustling in the kitchen. Taylor was up shortly thereafter and we enjoyed an impromptu daddy/daughter date over coffee in the early Christmas morning hours. Suzanna and Clayton were up in time to join us for Wendy’s amazing breakfast casserole and homemade cinnabon cinnamon rolls. We then called Madison on Skype and opened gifts together.

By late morning we were on the road for Des Moines. We arrived at Grandpa and Grandma Vander Well’s in time for a 1:00 Christmas feast which consisted of  Italian chicken, mashed potatoes & gravy, corn, rolls, homemade Italian bread, and a few garnishes (of course, Grandma Jeanne’s cinnamon rolls were a hit as usual).

After lunch we headed downstairs to open gifts. Desserts followed, including Wendy’s dark chocolate, peanut butter, and espresso cupcakes. Yum. The grandkids all began to disperse after that. Wendy’s folks arrived about 4:00 to escort Suzanna back to Boone where she’s visiting for a week. Wendy and I chatted with family a short while longer and headed back to Pella where we enjoyed a quiet evening together.

Messiah’s Soundtrack

The BlacklistThe Lord says to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies     
a footstool for your feet.”
Psalm 110:1 (NIV)

Now that Wendy and I have had a few nights free to sit on the couch together and enjoy some entertainment, we’ve been wading into the backlog of our DVR queue to enjoy a few of the new shows from this fall. This past week we’ve been making our way through The Blacklist, which we’re finding to be a unique and well written show. The other night we were watching one particular episode in which I thought that the music choices they made to play beneath the action were brilliant. At the beginning of the show, the anti-hero, played by James Spader, is seen being led in shackles by FBI agents. In the background we hear The Rolling Stones’ Sympathy for the Devil. Later in the episode as the plot is revealed in a flurry of action we hear the unmistakable rhythm of Nina Simone’s Sinner Man (“Oh sinner man, where you gonna run to?”).

Music makes such a huge difference in the telling of a story in television and film. It’s amazing how some songs become iconic and take on layers of meaning that were originally never intended in the writing.

In the catalog of David’s song lyrics (a.k.a. The Psalms), Psalm 110 stands out as one of the most unique and important that David penned. In the nearly 1000 years between it’s writing and the public ministry of Jesus, the lyrics had already be considered “Messianic” (e.g. about the coming messiah) by Jewish scholars. In particular, there are two verses of this song that are of particular importance.

The first verse (see above) was actually quoted by Jesus in an argument with the religious leaders who were trying to trap and kill him:

While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?”
“The son of David,” they replied.
He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says, “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”’ If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions. Matthew 22:41-46 (NIV)

In writing “The Lord said to my Lord” Jesus teaches that David was writing about two persons of the trinity: “The Lord (God, the Father) said to my Lord (God, the Son [Jesus])” having been inspired by the third person of the trinity (God, the Holy Spirit) to write the prophetic lyric. Jesus’ point was that David did not call the Messiah his progeny, his son, or his child. The messiah was “Lord” and authority above his own earthly throne.

The other important and prophetic lyric comes in the fourth verse:

The Lord has sworn
    and will not change his mind:
“You are a priest forever,
    in the order of Melchizedek.”

In the Old Testament there is a clear distinction between the offices of priest and king. God established in the law of Moses that only descendants of Aaron from the tribe of Levi could be priests. After the monarchy is established (which we just read about this past month or so in the book of 1 Samuel), God establishes that the messiah will come from the royal line of David. David was from the tribe of Judah. And so, we have a conundrum. The messiah cannot be purely from both the tribe of David and the tribe of Levi.

David provides the answer to the conundrum by writing in reference to a shadowy, footnote of a figure from the book of Genesis:

Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High…. Genesis 14:18 (NIV)

Long before the law of Moses was given, establishing the rules of who could become a priest in the sacrificial system of the Old Testament, there lived in Salem (an ancient form of “Jeru-Salem”) a king named Melchizedek who was also a priest of God Most High. Little is known of Melchizedek, but he blessed Abraham, the father and patriarch of Israel. The order of the priesthood from Melchizedek is far older and more mysterious. But David points to Melchizedek as the model of the messianic King-Priest combination, and in doing so also establishes his authority as God’s king on earth with limited, but very real priestly responsibilities.

Forgive me this foray into a little arcane lesson of prophecy and theology. As I mentioned in the outset of this post, soundtracks add layers of meaning to a movie or television program. The Psalms are the soundtrack of God’s story. The more you study them, the richer they become in depth and meaning. And, the more they compliment  your understanding of everything else you read in God’s Message.

Responding to Speculation and False Accusations

Tabloids a Twitter
Tabloids a Twitter (Photo credit: noodlepie)

Let them know that it is your hand,
    that you, Lord, have done it.
While they curse, may you bless;
    may those who attack me be put to shame,
    but may your servant rejoice.
Psalm 109:27-28 (NIV)

Those who live life as public figures or in the spotlight of leadership are likely to find ourselves in the midst of a whirlwind of speculation and suspicion at some point in our lives. People are people, and whether you lived some 30 centuries ago in Jerusalem or live in rural Iowa today you will find that some experiences are common to humanity. There is a particular kind of insanity producing frustration that comes with finding yourself at the center of others’ misguided gossip and false accusations.

King David, who penned the lyrics of today’s psalm, was no stranger to the spotlight of popularity and leadership, nor was he a stranger to scandal and public ridicule. For certain, some of the public ridicule David brought on himself. Like all of us, David made his share of boneheaded mistakes. Yet, even in the tornado of gossip the truth often becomes distorted and inflated into crazy tabloid speculation.

In my experience, there are only a few things you can do when you find yourself the subject of local gossip and speculation:

  1. Plead your case in the right place. Vent your frustration to God. That’s what today’s psalm was all about for David. Psalm 109 is an ancient example of a screaming, venting, thrashing Metalcore anthem. Get it out. Express your feelings. Tell God what you’d really like to see happen to those lying gossips talking about you behind your back. It’s okay. God understands your emotion and isn’t surprised by your feelings of vengeance. It’ll be good for you.
  2. Let it go. Once you’ve vented your anger and frustration, take a deep breath and then let it go. Believe me, there is nothing you can do to chase down and confront every source of gossip and every false accusation that you hear on the streets and behind your back. You’ll ultimately fail, drive yourself crazy in the process, and your efforts will only fan the flames of speculation. Like David, don’t just plead your case to God but also relinquish your desire for justice to the only True Judge.
  3. Stay the course. When Wendy and I were married (Eight years ago this New Year’s Eve!), it created a fair amount of talk in our neck of the woods. I was recently divorced at the time and I admit that the timing of our quick courtship did not do anything to quell the rumors and idle gossip. We heard the whispers and felt the self-righteous judgment and disapproval of others. At that point in time, Wendy’s mom gave us a sage piece of advice: Make like a turtle. Toughen up the shell, let it bounce off, and keep plodding towards what you know is right. Slow and steady wins the race.
  4. Give it time. Just this past week I was told that a young adult, who has watched Wendy’s and my marriage for the past eight years, commented that they see our relationship as an example of the kind of marriage they want for themselves. Wendy and I talked about that last night and marveled at how far we’ve come from those days when it was whispered that ours was a flash-in-the-pan rebound relationship doomed to failure. If you find yourself falsely accused, remember that what is true about you will be revealed in the test of time as others observe your faith, love, life, actions, words, and relationships.