Monday, 2 September 2013

Psalm 1 and two ways to live

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
But they are like chaff which the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the wicked will perish. (NASB)

I've studied this Psalm both in biblical counseling but also in a course in OT wisdom literature, and it is one I often come back to when pondering my own sinfulness and wanting to reorient myself.

It's split in half, considering the role of the wicked. This might seem rather black and white to some, but to the Psalmist, life is about either following the law of the Lord (Torah) or not. Being bible based has a long history in both Jewish and Christian communities. All complexities of interpretation vanish from view here, it is about fundamental orientation in life.

The three-fold walk, stand, sit in verse one cautions us against pulling it apart too much, all of life is to be about avoiding bad advice and counsel and soaking ourselves in the bible (v2). Avoid wicked advice, sinful habits and scoffing at the righteous. Discernment in what is right and what is self-righteous and legalistic is important, and this will result from a daily, deep reflection on the law, prophets, gospels and epistles as we seek the whole counsel of God.

This Psalm is wisdom literature in that it tells us what should be, but isn't always. Meditating on the bible waters us like a tree in the desert, and we do not wither, but don't always prosper. Indeed to be watered by God is to be withered by the world at times. The perishing of the wicked shifts into the future; no blessing without judgement it seems. Yet grace abounds, be wary to call for someones perishing when God wants them to prosper.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

When is good, good enough to speak

This post has been in my head for ages, in fact this kind of issue is always on my mind given I dare to speak in churches, at conferences and so on.

I posted this on my Facebook a while back. The response of a friend was to tell me (actually I knew by wasn't reflecting on the fact at the time) that MLK Jr had been an adulterer. It made me reflect upon a couple of passages I'd heard in sermons on 1 Peter. In particular chapter 4 (NASB)

15 Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; 16 but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And if it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved, what will become of the godless man and the sinner?

This also brings with it echoes of what Paul says in 1 Corinthians about being saved but through fire, with works not based on the gospel being burnt up.

It raises a few issues I'll briefly summarise.

  1. How sinful is too sinful to be useful? For example, was MLK Jr's entire ministry undone to his adultery? More pointedly, what about you or my own sin? What disqualifies us from being of value, particularly in leadership roles?
  2. Given we all sin and fall short of God's glory, and Paul says elsewhere (2 Cor 4:7) that the gospel is a treasure in a jay of clay, then obviously sinless perfectionism is not the goal before we speak or act (but is the goal)
  3. Don't be paranoid, be assured of salvation and faithful. And be confident in your gifting by the Spirit.
  4. Being tempted is not the same as falling, though thinking and doing are equated, doing is full blown sin
  5. The tongue is particularly damaging (see much of James), so keeping a reign on that will avoid undercutting your ministry.
I think in particular we can't simply retreat into quietism and our own inner spiritual lives. I was once pulled up for having said something stupid (what's new say my friends) and then commenting on something I equated as empire. I was told 'empires come and go but you should ....'. But it can't be an either/or, but a both and. Keep my tongue in check and call out empire, for the gospel confronts all empires, from the ones I build in my own life to those of corporations and companies.

So back to the starting image. Although MLK Jr should have kept his own lusts in check, and adultery destroys lives, his comments on militarism and spiritual death are still true today with interventions, drones and spying on a countries own citizens as it was during the Vietnam warm with agent orange,  napalm and the very war itself.

So to my own thoughts, words and actions I tend. But do they silence my tongue in public? By no means!