no, it’s not wrong to have a broken and contrite heart. quite the contrary

The sacrifice acceptable to God[d] is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Psalm 51:17

After we’ve sinned, and I refer not just to “great transgression” (Psalm 19:13), but to all sin, when we confess and repent we’re often told to forget about it. That our sins have been removed as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12) which is true upon genuine confession and repentance. But if we’re to take seriously the great penitent Psalm, 51, then we need to accept the fact that what pleases God is not only acceptance of God’s forgiveness to us in Christ, but also God’s acceptance and I would even say pleasure in a broken and contrite heart over our sin.

That doesn’t mean we should wallow in our sin, or hate ourselves. We hate what we’ve done, and not merely the consequences. If we hate only the consequences, then we certainly don’t have a broken and contrite spirit. For most sins the consequences are only a reminder that we haven’t arrived in this life, and that we do well to be more and more humble. For some sins the consequences may be greater along with the realization that there’s work for us to do to be rid of our tendencies without ever thinking we’ll come to the place in this life when we’re actually above the possibility of falling again.

No, with thanksgiving and praise to God we accept God’s forgiveness upon our confession of sin. But we also take our sins seriously, out of love for God and others allowing our hearts to be broken. So that our lives following will become different. Hating what we’ve done, and making amends as best we can with an entirely different life. Letting God, as the psalmist, probably David in Psalm 51 aspires, to do God’s work of thoroughly cleansing us on the inside, so that our hearts might be inclined in love toward righteousness and justice, wanting to avoid all wrong.

In and through Jesus.

a broken and contrite spirit (warning and blessing)

The sacrifice acceptable to God[d] is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Psalm 51:17

There are a couple of severe warnings, red signs I want to put up at the beginning of this post. First: Never ever under any circumstances say that the big sin is alright because of what can come after it. Secondly, never think for a moment that you are less close to God since you’ve never committed such, but be thankful you haven’t.

If you consider David’s story, and the tradition that says that this psalm is in conjunction with David’s great sin in essentially murdering Uriah, and committing adultery with Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, you will note that while God was merciful and did bring good out of it, yet much evil also happened in connection with it. And God told David through the prophet Nathan that because of what David had done, the sword would never leave his house. David paid an awful price. Yes, he may have had a deep sense of sorrow over sin, and the desire to live completely differently the rest of his life. But do you need to commit such a sin to have that? No. The blessing is that such a sin never leaves a person, that they should be humbled daily the rest of their lives over that. But really all of us need to be humbled, because everyone of us is capable of committing the same. Even if we haven’t, we know that in our heart sometimes along the way, we actually have, or at least have been sorely tempted to do so.

But now to dwell on the main point for a moment. God never despises the broken and contrite heart. Contrite as in deep sorrow over what has been done, not over the consequences at all, but this is sorrow over what one has actually done. One who has committed the great sin should never let go of that blessing, even as they remain with a brokenness and contriteness over it the rest of their days. And the rest should never look down on them, but seek to have such a heart themselves, realizing that they too are broken, that daily their attitudes fall short of always loving God and neighbor. While at the same time all being thankful for the truth that those who have committed the great sin can have a heart over it that God will never despise, so that God will help them, and can give them a depth beyond, sadly many of those who haven’t committed such a sin. In and through Jesus.

a true friend tells the truth to help

Well meant are the wounds a friend inflicts,
but profuse are the kisses of an enemy.

Proverbs 27:6

Wounds from a friend can be trusted,
but an enemy multiplies kisses.

Proverbs 27:6; NIV

On the surface, there’s probably nothing worse than wounds from a friend. But if we can get past that, there’s probably actually nothing better.

Sometimes the only way truth and needed correction can get through to us is through a wounding. How that’s inflicted requires wisdom that is beyond us, or we could say also comes through long experience with God’s help. And it depends on each situation. And it’s not like we get it completely right in doing so. Maybe there’s wrong along with right in what is said, how it’s said. We need to be doing so always with the attempt to love. But love is not about making people feel good or in affirming their every thought and action. Not at all. If we do that, we’re not a good friend, in the true sense not a friend at all. But oftentimes it ends up being that we’re just not the friend they need. We may even be well meaning, but amiss. Love includes truth, what is right and just as well as good. So we need friends who hold us to that standard, and in turn we need to hold each other to the same.

But if we’re not regularly praying for someone, or not in prayer for them, then we should never attempt to correct them. And if we try to correct another, it should be done gently. Though maybe there’s a time for rebuke. We have to be careful not to see ourselves as more than we are, just another human in need of God’s grace, or to think we’re God’s spokes person. If we’re ever on the giving end of this, we should do so with much concern, in prayer, ready for God’s correction of us. And seeking to love.

If we’re on the receiving end of it, of course that’s harder. But if we’re maturing in Christ, than we’ll seek to hear what good is there, what actually might be helpful for us. Ever mindful of our need to grow, of the reality that we have our blind spots as well. And that God intends for us to progress in the faith significantly through the give and take of each other.

All of this not easy, but the help we need. In and through Jesus.

in praise of not having it all together

…they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.”

2 Corinthians 10:10

Tim Gombis’s book, Power in Weakness: Paul’s Transformed Vision for Ministry is most helpful, and possibly even groundbreaking in giving us a view of Paul, pre and post conversion, and how that affected Paul’s service to God. And how that might speak to us today, even those who are in the trenches in ministry, and yet doing so in a way that is often more like Paul before his conversion to Christ, completely flipped after that conversion.

Too many of us have taken on the worldly attitude that we are out to sell something, have a big impact on our communities, be successful in terms of numbers: growing and growing, and just be the epitome of success inside and out. Win, win, win is a big part of that, being winners. Or having just that image that people imagine is good, maybe even Christian, and perish the thought: even like Jesus. After all, some have compared Jesus to images contrary to the “love your enemies” cross bearing picture given in the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).

We ought to not only much prefer, but accept nothing but honesty to God and to each other. And while we should pray and do our best to present the truth in Christ as fully as possible, faithful to Scripture, to what we’re hoping God has given us, that should be done in utter humility with a willingness to be ourselves, to be vulnerable, maybe to trip over our words some. That might encourage the kind of church the New Testament envisions in which everyone is a participant. We’re not out to impress each other, but to seek God together, and be faithful together in God’s covenant in Christ.

We need to get rid of the notion once for all that we’re to have it all together, whatever that means. What we do desire is to be growing together into the image and full maturity of Christ. Nothing else matters. What we need to see is not us, but Christ in us. No pretense, all real, honest, even when raw and most often with the sense of falling short. But God’s grace in Christ making the needed difference. In and through Jesus.

cut out the criticism and judgment

Do not speak evil against one another, brothers and sisters. Whoever speaks evil against another or judges another, speaks evil against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. So who, then, are you to judge your neighbor?

James 4:11-12

In this difficult to interpret (in my opinion) passage, we’re told in no uncertain terms to stop the judgment of others, indeed not even to criticize another. That hits close to home, because all too often we can be critical of each other, of those we live with day in and day out, who see the other’s weaknesses and sometimes eccentricities.

The passage makes the point that our business is to be intent in seeking to do what the law tells us to do, not to judge others as to whether or not they’re doing that. When we judge others, we actually end up distorting the law, because our judgment is so skewed, that it even fails to really understand the law, as well as failing to begin to understand our neighbor.

God alone is the judge. We are all subject only to God’s judgment. Our judgment is so off track, that it ends up making God’s law look bad. Only God knows perfectly and completely the true intent of the law. We are safe to say that it falls along the line of love for God and for one’s neighbor. And that being the case, we need to quit thinking we can judge others, but instead, if we see something that looks wrong from another, we should pray for them and for ourselves. Knowing that we too can be and all too often are caught up in either the same thing or something else that is off track.

An important heads up to me. In and through Jesus.

the focus is not on, nor is it about *us*

Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory,
for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness.

Psalm 115:1

This from David E. Fitch reminded me of this post I intended to do soon:

IF YOU CANNOT LIVE INTO THIS DAILY, PLEASE DON’T CONSIDER BEING A PASTOR 🙂
“You are at your pastoral best when you are not noticed. To keep this vocation healthy requires constant self-negation, getting out of the way. A certain blessed anonymity is inherent in pastoral work. For pastors, being noticed easily develops into *wanting* to be noticed. Many years earlier a pastor friend told me that the pastoral ego ‘has the reek of disease about it, the relentless smell of the self.’ I’ve never forgotten that.”
– Eugene Peterson, ‘The Pastor’
This week upon getting out of my car for work, the thought dawned on me how I tend to see myself as the center, and how if someone asks how I’m doing, and we have a kind of conversational relationship, I’m always ready to share something about myself, what I’m processing, or how I’m struggling. It occurred to me just then that such a mindset, or just natural sense for us isn’t necessarily healthy. Of course we don’t live outside of ourselves so to speak. And there’s a time and place to share our thoughts and burdens with others. But God is actually the center, and God wants us to turn our attention to others, pray for them, not seeing ourselves as central in what God is doing or trying to do, but at least including others, and stepping aside myself.
So I lifted up a prayer for the good ministry I am privileged to work at and for, Our Daily Bread Ministries, for the leadership there (I don’t write, but work in the factory part). And want to ask others how they’re doing, with ears open and mouth shut.
A good thought for me. In and through Jesus.

in praise of being lowly (and my change in my main Bible translation)

Let the believer who is lowly boast in being raised up, and the rich in being brought low, because the rich will disappear like a flower in the field. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the field; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. It is the same way with the rich; in the midst of a busy life, they will wither away.

James 1:9-11; NRSV

At first when reading this from the NRSV, I disliked the rendering “lowly.” I preferred the NIV‘s “the believer in humble circumstances” which after all, I’m quite used to. And a side note here: I am switching for the time being anyhow, to the NRSV as my own main translation. All of my opinions are gathered from experts. And I especially appreciate discernment formed within community. The NIV is great at what it does, both accurate and clear, good English basically accessible to all. The NRSV seems to be very good at what it does. But not good English and that’s because it gives us more exactly the way it was said, maybe the more precise meaning without trying to put it into the way we might say it today like the NIV attempts to do and I think does quite well. The NIV has been my main Bible the vast majority of my years (now decades) as a Christian. So I do grieve over the change, though I still always can and will at times refer to it. The NIV and especially the 2011 revision (in part from the TNIV, which used to be my favorite) is quite good. This seems to me to be a good take on a few current Bible translations: Choosing a Bible Translation.  We surely have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to English Bible translations. But now back to the main point of this post.

Lowly at first came across to me poorly, like an outcast within different cultures. It’s not necessarily more accurate than “in humble circumstances,” or the way the CEB translates it, “Brothers and sisters who are poor…” Maybe the last two more precisely catch what the issue is: those in need compared to those who have more than enough. But lowly also captures something of the twist James makes, that such are raised up or exalted. It is interesting how many of the poor have faith, whereas many of the rich struggle with faith, or so it seems. We see this in life, and it’s noted on the pages of Scripture, our Lord himself making that clear. So lowly here probably does mean those who struggle in this life, either not having enough, or just scraping through to make it day after day.

I like the term “lowly” because it seems to me that this can be a benefit for those of us who for one reason or another, probably a number of reasons are not well set compared to others. When compared with the rest of the world, like someone wisely said, those of us living here, at least the vast majority of us have won the lottery. So it’s relative of course. But the sense of being lowly is surely a blessing. It speaks of dependence on God, healthy interdependence in a give and take relationship with others, and the realization that all is a gift from God. In and through Jesus.

carry each other’s burdens

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

Galatians 6:2

We’re told explicitly in at least two places in Scripture to cast our burdens on God. So why do we need to carry each other’s burdens? As one of the ladies leading our church, and who is studying for the pastorate likes to say, it’s maybe not a question of one or the other, but both. We need to be present for each other.

How can we do this? In the context (click link) it is about those who are led by the Spirit gently restoring another who has sinned, doing so in all humility, not thinking for a moment that they’re better. And there’s a sense in which we are trying to help each other in our struggles.

Praying for each other is so underrated. And simply being present, listening, as well. Not necessarily having a word to say, but being sympathetic, by God’s gift empathetic. Taking seriously all their thoughts, seeking to understand their situation. Agreeing where one can agree. All this takes wisdom from God. We need to try to be steeped in God’s wisdom from the wisdom writings in Scripture, and from day to day interaction with God, seeking the wisdom we need here and there, ourselves.

This seems to be all but a missing art and practice in our churches. But when someone does it even a little bit, what a difference it can make. God can and will bless that honest attempt in love to help another. And we all need this from time to time, some probably more than others, but none of us excluded. In and through Jesus.

don’t confront anyone except…

“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”

Luke 17:3b-4

“Be alert. If you see your friend going wrong, correct him. If he responds, forgive him. Even if it’s personal against you and repeated seven times through the day, and seven times he says, ‘I’m sorry, I won’t do it again,’ forgive him.”

Luke 17:3-4; MSG

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.

Galatians 6:1

Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out.

Galatians 6:1; MSG

I think what the Lord tells us along with the rest of Scripture is that we’re to never confront or try to correct anyone except out of and in love. We should do so with tears so to speak, never imagining the falsehood that we’re better than the other person, not for one moment. We ought to know better than that. We’re all in this together, and it may not be long before we need some loving correction ourselves.

First though we need to pray and pray some more. We don’t jump into confronting people over a sin. At the same time we want to take all sin seriously. Or if we see something that might possibly be sin, that doesn’t look right, we might do well to ask questions. But only after prayer. And to do all of this within a relationship of love.

We should never be looking for what is wrong or might be in others. Yes, we need to keep our eyes open, but first and foremost we should be concerned about what is wrong with ourselves. And in prayer for God to reveal that to us, that we might always be sensitive to whatever is not right inwardly and outwardly through the light of discernment God gives us. And we’ll know better when we’re wrong, but we need God’s help in this. But we don’t do well if we fail to help others from what could end up being a devastating fall for them, affecting many badly.

Any confrontation and correction must be done gently, out of love. Not an easy task. I guess that’s why it’s not done. And we rebel against such. But we need to be committed to this, not only to give, but to also receive it when need be. But it’s not in the cards in our church life, or so it seems to me. Or it’s done in something other than a loving way, maybe perfunctory as mere duty, or even worse, in anger and arrogance. I’m thankful to now be part of a tradition which is committed to this, though not at all in some legalistic, threatening way.

May God help us in this. In and through Jesus.

one of the devil’s many but most effective lies

Soak me in your laundry and I’ll come out clean,
scrub me and I’ll have a snow-white life.
Tune me in to foot-tapping songs,
set these once-broken bones to dancing.
Don’t look too close for blemishes,
give me a clean bill of health.
God, make a fresh start in me,
shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.
Don’t throw me out with the trash,
or fail to breathe holiness in me.
Bring me back from gray exile,
put a fresh wind in my sails!
Give me a job teaching rebels your ways
so the lost can find their way home.
Commute my death sentence, God, my salvation God,
and I’ll sing anthems to your life-giving ways.
Unbutton my lips, dear God;
I’ll let loose with your praise.

Psalm 51:7-15; MSG

I don’t know why this is not included online, but this is Eugene Peterson’s rendering in The Message Bible of the ascription given to the psalm, part of the inspired text or not, but certainly steeped in tradition: “A DAVID PSALM, AFTER HE WAS CONFRONTED BY NATHAN ABOUT THE AFFAIR WITH BATHSHEBA.” This may well have been written by David during that time (2  Samuel 11-12). Whatever the case, the psalm itself lends its voice to whoever and whatever. It is general enough, that it includes all who have sinned grievously in big ways, as well as perhaps small yet willful acts which also need repentance and God’s cleansing, saving work.

One of the devil’s big lies, which we need to learn to recognize and reject is the lie that certain sins put people beyond the pale of usefulness to God. I know when a pastor falls there is disagreement as to whether after repentance and time for restoration he or she can be reinstated to their pastoral position. I tend to think so myself, but that’s not specifically what we’re dealing with here. There’s no doubt that such sins can haunt the one who is guilty as is evident in Psalm 51 itself, and that there will be fallout or consequences from it, as we see in the case of David (see 2 Samuel 13-15, also 12:10-14).

But we need to get rid of the notion and again outright lie for sure that such a person can no longer be useful in God’s service in love to others. I know this is old covenant, but David himself was not stripped of his position as king, nor of honor as we see Jesus himself called “the son of David” as not just a fact, but as likely an honorific title. How much more in the new covenant can such a one be restored?! I think of this passage about an erring sinner in the church:

Now, regarding the one who started all this—the person in question who caused all this pain—I want you to know that I am not the one injured in this as much as, with a few exceptions, all of you. So I don’t want to come down too hard. What the majority of you agreed to as punishment is punishment enough. Now is the time to forgive this man and help him back on his feet. If all you do is pour on the guilt, you could very well drown him in it. My counsel now is to pour on the love.

The focus of my letter wasn’t on punishing the offender but on getting you to take responsibility for the health of the church. So if you forgive him, I forgive him. Don’t think I’m carrying around a list of personal grudges. The fact is that I’m joining in with your forgiveness, as Christ is with us, guiding us. After all, we don’t want to unwittingly give Satan an opening for yet more mischief—we’re not oblivious to his sly ways!

2 Corinthians 2:5-11; MSG

We need to get rid of the notion, yes the lie, once for all that when a person sins bigtime there’s nothing left for them, except forgiveness of their sin when they confess it. Surely they should live in deep humility the rest of their lives. But they also need “to inhabit [others’] forgiveness and God’s forgiveness,” to accept that as a matter of fact and reality.

This truth must never be abused to mean that I can do what I please, even though it’s sinful, knowing that in the end full restoration will happen. That is both dangerous to the person doing it, who may in fact not see fit to repent, not to mention the damage that occurs. We can’t have both our way and God’s way. At the same time, we also must not set aside God’s amazing grace for all sinners, including those who have abused this truth, who return to him in genuine repentance, not just sorry about the consequences of their sin, but that they sinned against God and against others.

In and through Jesus.