Tag Archives: Pretty Sin

Judicial Realizations

Judicial Realizations (CaD Ps 139) Wayfarer

Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

Psalm 139:23-24 (NIV)

Yesterday, I spent some time with a friend who is a bit further down life’s road than I am. He sees the finish line of his vocational journey fast approaching. The fact that his days are numbered and there are fewer days ahead than behind is not lost on him. We talked honestly.

“I just want to finish well,” he said to me.

We then quickly recounted the names of those we know who did not finished life well. It was a sobering thought.

If you ask me to share my individual, unvarnished story with you, I’m going to share things that are pretty unseemly. Along my life journey I have been guilty of both pretty sins and ugly sins. For about the first 15-20 years of my 40 years as a Jesus follower, I did my best to hide these things under a well-polished veneer of goodness. Eventually, things caught up with me. As I hit bottom and could no longer keep up appearances, I had a fellow believer and therapist tell me, “I’ve been watching the slow deconstruction of the image of Tom.”

I’ve learned along this journey that sometimes old things must be razed before new, fruitful things can begin growing.

The 23rd Psalm undoubtedly tops the Billboard Chart for all-time favorite ancient Hebrew songs. Today’s chapter, Psalm 139, is definitely makes the Top Ten. It might even be number two. If you’ve never read it, I encourage you to do so. The liner notes ascribe it to David, which adds an intriguing layer of meaning to the lyrics.

It’s easy to read Psalm 139 in the mind frame of the devotional and theological. But in the context of David’s day, the lyrics are judicial. Christian theology holds that God is omnipresent, meaning that God is present in all places at all times. While the lyrics of David’s song support this idea, the ancients of David’s world had no such notion. Rather, they considered that both gods and kings had access to all places and all knowledge. Therefore, no one could run and hide from justice. No matter how high, low, near, or far I try to hide, the Divine Judge has full access, even to see and know the person I am beneath the well-polished veneer of goodness.

Much like the 51st Psalm, David’s song is an honest and intimate confession. David is laying open his life, his heart, and his soul before God, who is the Divine Judge. In doing so, David is exposing and owning his own sins, both pretty and ugly. A man of violence and bloodshed, an adulterer, a murderer, a failed father, a failed husband, and a less-than-perfect king, David stands before God knowing that God doesn’t need the Freedom of Information Act to see it all. David asks God to search his very heart, which ironically is the thing that led God to choose David in the first place.

Which leads me back to my story, and my life, which is every bit as polluted with sins both pretty and ugly. There came a point in my journey that I had my own Psalm 139 moment. I could continue running, hiding, and polishing, but that never got me anywhere healthy. So, I owned my own shit. I processed my feelings, my failings, and my indulgent human appetites. Ironically, it was at that point in my journey that a number of really good things began to spiritually sprout within me.

In the quiet this morning, I can’t help but think about the fact that I’m writing these words on Good Friday. As I remember that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for me, so that in him I might become the righteousness of God,” I am reminded that it’s not about the things that I have done, but the thing that Christ did for me. The more honest I am about the things I have done, the more potent the thing that Christ did for me becomes. As Paul wrote to the believers in Rome, it is that kindness of Christ that leads me to genuine repentance, not judgement, condemnation, nor religious rigor.

This morning, I find myself thinking that if I want to finish well then I have to keep this spiritual truth before me this day, each day, until I reach the journey’s end.

Envy: The Pretty Sin

Envy: The Pretty Sin (CaD Ps 73) Wayfarer

When I tried to understand all this,
    it troubled me deeply
till I entered the sanctuary of God;
    then I understood their final destiny.

Psalm 73:16-17 (NIV)

Wendy and I were having a conversation early in our relationship and she used a metaphor that I’d never heard before. She spoke to me of “ugly” sins and “pretty” sins. It gave language to something I’ve always inherently understood but never really knew how to simply express.

Ugly sins are those types of moral failures that, when brought to light, are typically accompanied by public shame and humiliation. Ugly sins generate scarlet letter status within a community. We not may make modern day Hesters stitch the letter on their clothing anymore, but it doesn’t mean others haven’t stitched it there with their hearts and minds. Ugly sins generate gossip, slander, and hushed whispers behind the sinner’s back long after the secretly committed sin was made public and created sensational community headlines.

Pretty sins, in contrast, are shortcomings we largely ignore because we all do it and so there is an unspoken social and spiritual covenant we have with one another to turn a blind eye. No need to notice the speck of it we might perceive in the eye of another so that no one will point out the log of it in my own. Pretty sins are typically overlooked, dismissed if noticed on occasion, and sometimes we even find ways to make them virtuous.

Envy is one such pretty sin, and it’s at the heart of the song lyrics of today’s chapter, Psalm 73.

With Psalm 73, we start Book III of the Psalms. What’s cool is that the editors who compiled the Psalms put three symmetrical groupings together: six songs, five songs, six songs, with the middle song as the “center” of Book III. It’s the same way an individual Hebrew song would be structured. So they made Book III one giant psalm with individual songs as the “verses” of the structure. Psalms within psalms.

Psalm 73 is an instructional psalm in which Asaph confesses to the sin of envy. He looks at the lives of the wickedly rich and famous living in their Beverly Hills mansions, driving their Maserati, and jetting off to their summer homes on Martha’s Vineyard or their yacht in the Caribbean. Life is so easy for them. They don’t know what it means to struggle. On top of that, they are so arrogant looking down their noses on the rest of us.

I’m reminded of a conversation I had a week or two ago with a friend of mine who is a retired CEO. He lives near an elite golf club that caters to the jet-set and took a part-time job driving club members from their private jets to the luxurious private golf club. He told me how amazing it was to drive these billionaires around and routinely get treated like crap and stiffed for a tip. That’s the kind of people Asaph is singing about. Like Asaph, I confess that I’m envious to know what that kind of life must be like, even as I feel contempt for them.

As Asaph’s song continues, he goes into God’s Temple and it’s as if the Spirit of God gives him an attitude adjustment. He stops looking at the objects of his contemptuous envy with earthly eyes, and he opens the eyes of his heart to view them with an eternal, spiritual perspective.

Jesus taught that we who follow Him should maintain a similar spiritual perspective. On multiple occasions, he told parables warning about spending our lives “gaining the whole world” while we “lose our souls.”

Asaph ends his song of instruction understanding that it’s “good to be near God.” Along my journey I’ve discovered that contemptuous envy of others leads to destructive ends on many different levels. When I stick close to God, as Asaph instructs, it’s easier for me to keep both the eyes of my body and the eyes of my heart focused on things of eternal value. I can see my contemptuous envy for what it is, and can better perceive the spiritual price paid to gain this world and the things of this world.

In the quiet this morning I am looking forward to a simple feast with a few family members tomorrow. I’m looking forward to being home surrounded with love, joy, peace, and gratitude.

Wherever this finds you, I wish you and your loved ones a Happy Thanksgiving. I’m taking the next few days off. See you back on this chapter-a-day journey next week.

Cheers!

Indulgent Thought Both Then and Now

These are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit.
Jude 1:19 (NIV)

The letter Jude wrote to Jesus’ followers in that day was prompted by one specific reason. There were individuals coming to various local gatherings of Jesus’ followers and spreading the belief that if all their sins are forgiven then they have carte blanche to do whatever they want. In the minds of these individuals they had a spiritual “get out of jail free” card and they were going to use it wherever their unbridled appetites took them. This was, of course, a tempting message for those longing to unbridle their appetites with a neighborhood shrine prostitute. The result was trouble in River (of Life) City.

“There is nothing new under the sun,” we are told in the book of Ecclesiastes. Get any group of humans together and you’ll find a few (or more) individuals working the angles, looking for the loopholes, and seeking ways to twist things to their own advantage. This is human nature. The skewed thinking Jude addresses was not an isolated issue. Paul addressed similar troubles and similar lines of thought in his letters to Jesus’ followers in Rome and in the city of Corinth.

Fast forward 1500 years and we see the Roman Catholic church turning such thought into a lucrative racketeering opportunity. In those days the church sold “Indulgences.” These indulgences were basically guaranteed forgiveness, an actual “get out of hell free” card which could be used on demand with any future sin you might commit.

“Headed to your brother’s bachelor party at Brunhilda’s Bawdy Bordello? Stop by the church and stock up on indulgences, then have a great time!”

“Your friend’s spouse has been overly flirtatious lately and you’re tempted to see just how far things might go? Don’t go there until you buy yourself an indulgence from Brother Maynard over at the monastery! Come to think of it, buy two: one for you and one for your lover. You don’t want the threat of their soul being in mortal danger to cool off your mutually hot passions!”

Back in the day this lucrative money-maker for the Roman Catholic church and it was predicated on the same twisted thinking as what Jude was addressing in his day. In fact, it was this very religious racketeering that led Marty Luther to publish his medieval blog post on the local church door in Wittenberg (see featured photo) 500 years ago this October. His “95 Theses” post went viral and led to the Protestant Reformation.

Of course, along my life journey I’ve come to understand that human appetites come in all forms. There are “pretty sins” which we commonly overlook because they are covered in the religious veneer of self-righteousness. “Pretty sins” are simply appetites of human pride and ego-centric power which lead me to diminish and judge others in order to exalt myself and my ego. It was these same appetites which Jesus condemned in His rant toward the religious people of His day. Those “pretty sin” appetites are every bit as powerful and tempting as the “ugly sins” we routinely march out in order to shame people (and make ourselves feel better). In fact, I believe the pretty sins and their underlying appetites may be even more insidious and more dangerous.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. People are people. There is nothing new under the sun. The same human foibles Jude warned against in his letter were present in Martin Luther’s day, and they are present today. This morning is a heart-check for me. I don’t want Jude’s warning to stimulate my “pretty sin” appetites and send me off on a personal witch hunt looking for heinous local heretics who think such things today. I find myself more inwardly focused and asking:

“Are there any places in my life that I am glossing over destructive thoughts and behavior under the indulgent defense of ‘Oh well, I’m forgiven!‘?”