Matthew 7

Swallow your pride. God’s will be done. Switch off your worry. That was the thrust of Jesus’ sermon so far.

Today’s third part of the sermon on the mount is full of warning and promise. It’s for those who have heard or started to hear, God’s truth.

Even if you only have an inkling, some fragment of it that excites your spiritual longing; ask, seek and knock until you find more. Be seeking and doing God’s will.

It will be much easier not to. Many don’t, most in fact. And since the first step is swallowing your pride, don’t expect them to admit it. You’ll encounter false prophets and false disciples.

You’ll need brilliant discernment. We are all sinners, only God can judge – work on your own sin rather than judging others for theirs.

But be aware and steer clear of the wolves in sheep’s clothing who are presenting as the answer but don’t want to do God’s will.

Look at their fruit… more than their theology? Words are easier to fake than actions I suppose. And think carefully. They hear gods truth but it’s like pearls being given to a pig.

At the end of the sermon the people are astonished at Jesus’authority in teaching, so it’s pretty clear for that context these “pig” teachers are their usual teachers. What an insult.

It ends with the wise man building on the rock, which is Jesus’ words. And Jesus words? Seek God’s will.

It’s arguably circular: our work is to build solid houses in rock, and store treasure in heaven based on seeking and doing God’s will. And what is god’s will? That god’s will be done.

But at the heart of it is our inability to be righteous before God, and how that plays out into our life. It’s about honesty before God, and becoming agents, not blockers, of God’s love.

I do feel burdened by worry caused by my own inability to trust God and act. I feel very called on to act, very unequal to task. Give me strength.

Matthew 5

Love and perfection.

We’ve had the short gospel. Now it’s the sermon on the mount, part 1 and Jesus speaks and speaks.

We’re in the middle of the Trump impeachment crisis as I write. He is in trouble for a phone call that even his most blindly loyal deputies knew straight away was a political disaster. In his way, he’s made it all about fealty to him. So his defence is that is was a “perfect” phone call, which he simply repeats and repeats to make it clear what it takes to stay in his bully club while more and more contrary facts come out.

We saw yesterday that the Jewish leaders couldn’t get past the word “repent”. In their view they don’t need it, because they are sons of Abraham. Perfect people. Living by the Torah, that mountain of humanly impossible rules that opens the Bible.

The sermon on the mount is an all out assault on that view. It’s also an all out assault on human pride, the biggest stumbling block to God.

First the Beatitudes. They are not so much a celebration of being humble, vulnerable and marginalised as of the perspective it gives you. It progresses from blessed are the meek to blessed are those who thirst for righteousness, make peace and are persecuted for righteousness.

When a blessed person discovers things are broken, they actively try to make them better.

It’s humility and honesty designed to stand out with a disproportionate impact: salt and light. I think of art, it is like salt and light. A little bit influences the whole zeitgeist. Ditto a little bit of salt and light, A.K.A: us, is Jesus’ plan to break human pride.

Then Jesus’rules. He takes some of the impossible Torah rules, which humanity has only ever honoured in the breech, and does two things. Shows how they connect to love, and makes them even more impossible.

Murder/anger, life partners, honesty and justice. To have a truly loving take on these things allows no wriggle room at all.

He ends with loving others, even enemies. God the father is perfect, that is our standard. Perfection.

It is so much more than the Jewish leaders think. It’s clear that the only way you can think you are perfect is by corrupting the word itself, chipping it down the way Donald Trump wants to, until it fits what you have done.

God’s love and mercy removes our sin from us as far as the East is from the West. God promises to see us as perfect, which lets us enjoy the rightness of this vision of a perfect world.

This is the kingdom we are working towards, the one that is near.

Where not only is there no murder, there is no anger.

Where people don’t need to swear on a stack of Bibles, because everyone is honest.

Where you don’t have to work out the logistics of divorce, because everyone stays faithful to their nearest and dearest, and are properly loved by them.

Where oppression and enemies are things of the past.

Its impossible and wonderful. Despite the contradictions of the world around us, we can embrace and delight in the rightness of God’s kingdom.

Matthew 2

The familiar events directly after Jesus’ birth. Wise men, slaughter of innocents, flight to Egypt, settling in Nazareth. Each event methodically linked to a prophesy it fulfills. Piling up an overwhelming case that Jesus is Messiah.

The interplay of agency and prophesy reminded me of exodus, where Pharaoh’s refusal to let the people go virtually alternates between “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart” and”Pharaoh hardened his heart”.

The very strange visit of wise men happened in order to fulfill the prophesy, but Herod’s unspeakably cruel slaughter of the innocents was simply prophesied. Herod owns it.

The plot mechanics are very visible, but in this story Deus ex machina is literal. For me the Egypt loop has always been a tipping point. I mentioned yesterday the absence of an exodus pillar in the genealogy. How could I forget! There’s just so much in here. Like a checklist.

But Jesus’ birth is a messy disaster too. On the run, born into oppression and the worst political persecution, refugees, having to live in the boondocks. And kings of the Orient, with expensive gifts.

Like yesterday, where the royal bloodlines were blurred by grace, the promises of the conquering Messiah are undercut with humility and marginalisation.

I’m exhausted, yet stable, as I read this. We’ve had a recovering child on crutches and a big party to stage. I’ve been forgetting to enjoy life, succumbing to stress and unconfidence. Some great things have been happening this year.

God works with mess, just be trusting and obedient. Commit. Wholehearted.

Ezekiel 16

Love and despair.

This is a bitter attack in words that God has put in Ezekiel’s mouth. And we today are probably more deserving of it.

Also, as unsparing as it is, there is a depth of love in there.

Were doing a series of analogies to illustrate how God sees the Israelites.

This one is of a prostitute. God talks about the rescue of Israel from Egypt like saving a baby abandoned in a field, and the glory of Solomon and David as like giving the abandoned child all the advantages in life.

Then the serial rejection of God for the idols of Canaan as like becoming a prostitute.

The chapter ends though, with God promising his covenant to them anyway. Their punishment amounts to their deep humiliation when they accept God’s saving grace despite their actions. Gods love is extraordinary in the context of his awareness of human evil specifically directed towards him.

I thought, we have had more advantages lavished on us than David or Solomon ever did, and more of God’s truth revealed in Jesus than the ancient Israelites ever had, and yet we are just as faithless.

The Christians, those who aren’t completely corrupt, are like the remnant within Israel. The small group of those who ‘get it’.

Though to the extent we leave the world uninformed of God’s love by being weak and passionless, the humiliation of those who reject God surely passes somewhat to those who don’t effectively preach him.

It’s not without consequence, cheap grace, and God is saying it will be revisited on us as deep painful shame.

We are doing people a service if they at least know what we are telling them about God. Even if they reject it, they own their own rejection.

And God here seems to hold out some hope of them finding his love, even through the pain of facing their evil towards him.

Ezekiel 10

In this chapter the glory of the Lord literally leaves the temple. The big throne thing from chapter one collects it.

It is like a cloud, it goes from the holy of holies to the threshold and then it departs altogether.

The Messenger who marked the faithful people to skip destruction in the last chapter takes coals from the big throne-with-wheels thing and spreads them about the city.

This predicts the burning of the city, which did in fact happen a few years later. The bitter pill the Israelites have to swallow is that the judgement may be executed by invaders but it comes comes from God.

The sermon on Sunday was about losing your religion. From John 29:10, how we are sheep that can’t be snatched from God.

The key thing being that faith is on our part governed by free will. Nothing external can separate us from God, but we can choose to. And nothing outside of ourselves will put the belief back into us. But we can always choose that.

Most of the Israelites have chosen to worship the sun instead of God, in his own temple. But those who have despaired at those choices are kept from destruction by God’s mark.

God, Father I can understand, mostly, the challenges before me. But I really don’t understand your plans for those who choose to reject you. You have revealed your character, and that I love. And trust.

Ezekiel 6

Hope has to die before idols will lose their grip.

This is a prophesy against mountains, those most symbolic places to meet God, where the 10 commandments came, where Jerusalem stood, where Jesus was revealed as the Messiah to his followers and where he died.

So lost is Israel that every mountain and hill has idols, God-replacements, on it. The hubris! What a slap at Jehovah!

The prophesy is that only the few who are exiled after the destruction of Jerusalem will live to regret and repent of the idol worship.

A strange thing is that this prophesy is already being preached to exiles. Ezekiel is among some early Israelite exiles already transported away to Babylon.

We haven’t had the response of the people quoted yet, but God has predicted it: he says they will be stubborn and malicious.

And it’s because Jerusalem hasn’t fallen yet. While the old, corrupt, City they call home, condemned as it is by prophet after prophet, still struggles against a seige with an inevitable outcome, hope will not die that they might be returned to it.

Such is the depth of our wrongheadedness.

There’s a rather haunting prediction in this chapter of the bones of dead bodies of Israelites at the foot of the useless Asherah poles they hoped in.

So part of our time on the planet will be spent trying to break the tenacity of God replacements, preferably before God has to destroy all hope in them.

Some of the challenges as middle age ticks away is letting go of abilities, achievements, the home as you know it, maybe; relevance, children, at least the relationships as you’ve known them…

There’s a mountain of achievement you’ve climbed, peaked, and the trip down the other side has much uncertainty and confusion. You need to remember that success was the wrong mountain for hope.

Then there’s alcohol, unhealthy eating, low energy levels and an ever more creaky body tempting you with laziness…

Don’t want to trivialise Ezekiel’s message, but next time I’m lying on the sofa with a piece of pizza and contemplating a 3rd glass of cheap red, I’ll say a little prayer…

Songs

My hobby is songwriting – I may have referred to it deep in the early posts when I was recovering from the trauma of being self employed longer than I had the energy for it. I needed a conscious “me” thing to get a better work/life balance, and I’ve always written music since childhood.

Its a bit of an insular hobby. Maybe I can add performing at some point in my life. But I like it for now because I do it any time, and am completely free in my own creativity – or blandness as the case may be. Something I do that is not shaped by any brief or expectations other than my own.

I’m slowly, very slowly, writing a song inspired by each of these bible books I’ve read, and I may sprinkle a few more of my songs through the blog too.

If you see reference to 7pm Praise Team, that’s just a band I planned once. Maybe I’ll make it a real band one day – probably not… but the account was there. And it could yet prove useful if I ever convince someone with a better voice than mine to sing one of my songs…

All the entries with songs will collect at the link below – enjoy, if you like pop and can get used to my voice.

https://inheritingtheearth.wordpress.com/tag/song/

Reading boring books of the bible

Here’s a good article about reading the boring parts of the bible.

https://www.crosswalk.com/faith/bible-study/6-tricks-to-make-it-through-the-bible-s-boring-books.html

To which I’d add these points of emphasis:

1. Pay attention to God – its all about God revealing himself, Not everything that happens is holy because its in the bible. People sometimes claim to be good, but they are acting on their own? So always ask ‘Has God spoken? What is God’s role? What is being revealed of his character?’

Because boredom can arise  from reading long complex bits of writing that seem irrelevant.  Focusing on God, who is unchanging, can anchor you in a sea of confronting cultural and historical distance, and start to bring it back to something relevant and shared with the writer of the passage.

2. Also use commentaries for the really weird bits, and don’t be impatient.  Slow down when sometimes you get the urge to speed up. There is often more gold in there than you first think.  I’m looking at you, Ezekiel and Daniel. Often I’ve thought something was irredeemably stupid, and a little bit of commentary makes it pretty mind boggling.

3. Say to God your feelings, no matter how ‘wrong’.  Say the thing you think God doesn’t want to hear. If you find a passage boring, repetitive, needlessly violent or bizarre, say that to God and pursue the line of thought.

Because God is real, loving, slow to anger and wants the best for me, I’ve found this braveness in talking to him has generally opened up insight and blessing.  It means you wrestle honestly with the boring bits, and they actually can come to life in surprising ways.

4. The bible is reflecting you in unpleasant ways, because much about us is unpleasant to God. Its changing you in ways that you will fight and want to hold onto.  Its aligning your mind with God’s, and the ‘boredom’ may be your sinful nature rejecting God’s grace and teaching. Sometimes I stop for a bit, or carry on in pure stubbornness, passionless. I got that way last time I read Psalms actually, which I’m going back to finish next.

5. But also, boredom is just part of life, so sometimes its just part of the deal. The bible has bona fide boring bits, it just does. Accept it, and as the article says, skim the genealogies.

I say this having just finished 1 & 2 Chronicles, which were surprisingly less boring than I expected.  I was going to read Ezekiel next, but as I say I’ve decided to divert to Psalms. Time for some pithy poetry and ambiguity! Songs for all occasions.

Bible project

Just a shout out to this you tube channel.

Here’s a link to a playlist of all their videos in the same order as the Bible.

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLVpri7vfPPtKUOaqAAjEtZR4C-bO5Y_XQ

It’s a series of under-10-minute illustrated videos that give you really pithy overviews of the books of the Bible.

They’ve branched out of late and done words and themes and other Christian questions.

I’ve watched their two Isaiah videos (see the first below) twice. It’s like a drone shot of the book… You zoom up from the ground and see the whole landscape.

To find it you just search the name of any book in YouTube, or to be sure “Bible project” + book name.

Thank you Bible project, you’ve done humanity a massive favour!