Proverbs 9

Ok I’ve had a break for a week and I’ve been a little down. Also focusing on music, though it’s too much of an escape, I need to keep it in check.

Down because of good news, really about work. It seems I will have a full time job, exactly the job I am doing now. Which will make permanent a stop gap job I went to a year ago.

The down side is that it doesn’t pay quite enough, so to carry on will require some careful belt tightening for the whole family. We only survived last year by dipping into savings.

So it’s a little sad not getting the more highly paid job that I had no expectation of getting …until they dangled it as an exciting possibility for over a month….

It will seem good soon. I’ve been praying about it, and there are many up sides.

Also it was really only yesterday that I heard it was real, is just been a quite likely outcome, so I’ve been very uncertain for some time now. The uncertainty has eaten me up a bit.

On Saturday I went to the Aboriginal service at church. The visiting pastor was quite Pentecostal. We wrote our hearts prayer requests on a sheet of paper and put them in a bowl that he and other ministers present prayed over and claimed the answer to.

I put in concern about the job and my kids, unsurprisingly. Sunday morning he was there and I thanked him, and he and his wife wound up praying over my job a second time.

Then Monday I heard about the job! And I’m ungrateful enough to feel prevarication about it. Perhaps the Lord is speaking to me, an uptight old Anglican, through this prayer bowl.

Another reason I’ve been down just this last day because I made an uncharacteristically harsh Facebook post, criticising the Anglican church and I feel a bit exposed.

They sold the archbishop’s palace an old Gothic pile that looks like Hogwarts, for $17 million and I read in the paper that they have commissioned one of Sydney’s smartest architecture firms to build a new ‘palace’ in glebe, where my church is, for $7.3 million.

I linked to the article and said ‘strikes me as obscene, and I’m in the club!’

I just thought, why not take the opportunity to make a very normal house for the archbishop? The second most extensive fancy house in glebe sold recently was $5 million, the average is $1.5m, to put it in perspective.

The comments shot back saying the new compound included a 200 seat hall that would be used for University work (it’s across the road from Sydney Uni), and extra accommodation that would be used for visiting missionaries or church dignitaries and that the article hasn’t taken all that into consideration.

The discussion was pretty civilised actually, at least.

But that was how it struck me in the moment of reading it, and I wanted to preserve that reaction. I knew if I spoke to people I would move back inside the churchy bubble where it made sense, But most of the world is outside the bubble.

I did doubt my wisdom in doing that though. I wonder if there wasn’t an element of feeling frustrated at being so long at the mercy of indecision over my job, feeling powerless. I don’t know.

Proverbs chapter 9 refers to two houses.

Wisdom’s house calls people in to food and wine, it appeals to the simple to leave their foolish ways and gain insight.

Folly also has a house, offering stolen food and drink, which promises to be more delicious, but which leads to death.

It’s easy to see it as the choice to avoid immorality, sexual as per the last few chapters, or dodgy ways to get money.

It’s also talking about whether your heart is seeking truth, moving towards God, or fighting truth, hardening your heart to God. That’s why it can talk about the way of the simple, those who go into folly’s house, as leading to death. The ultimate foolishness is rejecting God.

In the middle was a section that seemed to speak to my fears over Facebook. About not arguing with scoffers or rebuking mockers.

Basically not having pointless arguments where you dispute the views of people who hate God. It’s a dead end if it just hardens your opposition to each other.

Also describes a fair whack of Facebook. It’s just people stating their prejudices at each other and getting angry at others who don’t agree and never will. It’s not constructive.

And I wondered if I was foolish for attacking my own church in front of non Christian friends. I also got to stand up for my faith very publically. So it’s not a clear situation.

Out maybe it is, maybe I’m in folly’s house.

My pastor invited me to the pub for a drink on Thursday. I thought ‘how great’ but then I worried – is this about the Facebook post? His wife personal messaged me a contribution to the argument, so it’s in his radar. Time will tell.

So there’s my start-of-year joys and blues, wisdom and foolishness, certainty and mystery, all woven with proverbs in a long ramble.

At least now I can also start on concrete, optimistic planning elements of a new year.

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Proverbs 3

It’s advice to a son, so I read it through twice, thinking about me and then them.

It makes the point most emphatically that God is the key to wisdom: trust him for decision making, acknowledge him with your wealth, accept his discipline… And all will be the best it can.

God’s insight is precious, it was the basis on which the universe was made.

The last third is some practical implications, saying not to be a tough guy, but merciful and kind, based on the revealed nature of God.

My sons are both funny about Christianity. Neither of them straight ahead embrace it, but both have a lot of time for it. I can say I’ve modelled it in a way that they don’t just write it off, they see the value of it.

Lewes my oldest is not coping with many aspects of life, and the church is one of a long list, so it’s hard to know outside of those issues what his view of church would be. He gives a lot of respect to my views, even vigorously defends Christianity to others. He is a careful thinker about things.

Rennie is more of your classic teenager, rebellious and needing to make his own path. He doesn’t like being forced to go to church, but whether in his own steam he eventually believes my faith remains to be seen. Though I’ll continue to model Christianity to him and encourage him to engage, I also have to let him be him and pray.

Both of them are in practice more like the wise person in terms of not violent, ethical etc.

Of course, in today’s world it also applies as much to my daughter as well, in our society she is as independent as a man. She accepts Jesus more clearly, but does struggle to find ways to nurture and express her faith in the church. Her faith is a pretty wonderful thing I enjoy sharing with her.

I long for them all to thrive and to know God, I’m not the best parent in many ways. ‘lean not on your own understanding’ the verse says here. Indeed.

I’ll pray.

Psalm 76

A psalm describing the golden period of Israel’s power, when other nations feared to arm against them because they knew God was on Israel’s side.

It recalls those battles where Israel had faith and the Lord granted them victory by simply bringing confusion on their enemies. These sorts of things inspired fear of Israel, and fear of God.

A peace based on the futility of fighting Israel reigned. For a while.

Of course that still was the true deeper power structure of the universe after Israel the nation became shattered and fell to the Assyrian and Babylonian empires. It remains so today.

But the psalm doesn’t go metaphysical, not explicitly. It’s literally a snapshot of the glory days.

The commentators drew out a verse that, now I think of it, did strike me, about God being more majestic than the mountains rich with game.

Creation is bigger than the squabbles of mankind, and God is bigger again, 2 steps beyond the fray.

They said this psalm has inspired Christians to be brave and true when marginalised or under attack, which made me feel a bit faithless.

I instantly thought: ‘this psalm describes a truth we hardly ever witness’ whereas others think: ‘this picture of man’s proper response to God’s power inspires me’

Whatever.

Maybe that response reflects how powerless I feel in world affairs generally.

Like that sense of pointlessness you feel when you hover over the wrong bin with a piece of rubbish. You know literally the environmental impact of putting one small bit of cardboard in the general waste bin is virtually nil.

I know the right way to live, I’ll live the right way as much as possible, but I’m not expecting to see my actions result in a significant shift towards an earthly recognition of the power of God any time soon.

Am I too old for this psalm? God is a lot older than me. Now, new years, is time to rekindle some crusading zeal, so I’ll pray about that.

Job 28

A stand alone poem about wisdom. No one is quite sure if it’s Job’s or the narrators voice. It’s one of the passages that instantly conjures up an anthem I sang as a choirboy, though listening back to it theres a reason I can never remember more than the opening and closing sections, they’re the catchiest bits.

It starts relating about what man finds precious, and the lengths he goes to to obtain it: gold, silver, precious stones.

Hidden in obscure places, yet man finds the places and uses all his energy and ingenuity to extract these things.

Yet nowhere in earth is wisdom found, and it is of greater value than all the precious wealth we mine.

Death and destruction have heard a rumour of wisdom… Maybe this is a hint at the silver lining in what Job has been through, and validates his position of being more authoritative than his friends because he has less certainty, is more aware of how much we don’t know.

God knows where it is and what it is. It was in the beginning, and part of the creative process. This he says to us: wisdom is to fear the Lord and to depart from evil.

Maybe this is the most basic revelation to man, knowable without the specifics of the light of Christ, or the salvation stories of Israel. Any human is capable of rejecting or acknowledging their innate awareness of God, and moving away from their evil urges.

I’m not turning this into a universalist creed. If you are being presented with committing to Jesus’claim to be God’s son and you choose instead to believe in a God of your own making and entirely conveniently defined according to your preferences, at a certain point you are rejecting the revelation and the promptings of the spirit.

And if wisdom includes departing from evil, it implicitly accepts original sin, that evil is in us all.

What is this? I think I need help. This is the most precious thing anywhere. But how does it relate to the rest of my belief system? Where is Jesus? Where is Jehovah?

Sheesh! Read the commentary, not much help.

I think I’ll hold that thought. I’m very tired after a long weekend and much to think about. Day off tomorrow on lieu of weekend. Unscramble brain.

Job 17

Who’s the victim here?

The second half of Job’s response to Eliphaz’s journey from sympathetic to emorionally sealed off.

Job has already reached the point where he realised he needed a Jesus-like intervention in the communication between God and man.

He started out absolving himself of blame – proclaiming his righteousness – now he absolves himself of the responsibility of fixing it. He needs grace, a stunning insight. He teases out the implications of that here.

He doesn’t fully understand God’s plans for him. He’s still both longing for, and bleak about, death. But he knows God is his only hope.

His friends haven’t even got that far, God has closed their minds. The tables have turned, Job in his miserable state is the one who has wisdom, even if incomplete and a poor compensation for his suffering.

I’ll appreciate the preciousness of God’s grace, and pray for my family and friends.

I’ll see a lot of old friends who don’t know God’s grace over the end of year period. Christmas is a time where God’s grace can be on the agenda, so I should be prayerful and thoughtful about that.

Job 10

In the second half of Job’s response to Bildad he rails against God more than his friend.

The opening sections contrast the tenderness and love with which Job was created by God with the lousy life he is having.

While the discussion of justice in Job is sophisticated, his take on the afterlife seems rudimentary from my perspective.

He believes that after death he’ll go to “the place of no return, to the land of gloom and utter darkness“. The Jewish Sheol idea, not like heaven as we understand it

My favourite image in the last chapter was of his days going too fast, they ‘skim past like boats of papyrus’. It reminded me of making paper boats after rain when I was young and watching them zoom down the gutter at the side of the road with the storm water and disappear down drain.

It made me wonder though, why if he was suffering so badly, he wouldn’t LIKE the idea that his days went quickly. It’s preferable, isn’t it?

But this explains that his days on earth are all he thinks he has. He ends the chapter praying that God will leave him alone so he can have ‘a moment’s joy’ before death.

This theology makes you realise why their expectation of earthly blessing is so important to them. If God takes that away, they have no blessing, they never experience it.

Compare the greed of today’s prosperity theologians, who promise God’s blessing of wealth during our time on earth AND after you die. Having your cake and eating it too.

With such a gloomy view of the afterlife, no wonder Job is so emotional.

God sort of reveals himself on a need to know basis. We still only understand him in part, as Paul says. But job knows even less than us.

It’s interesting: what is the bare minimum revelation God gives to mankind, what are the essentials?

Remember, Job isn’t being portrayed as one of the chosen, he’s outside the covenant of Abraham.

He knows there is an all powerful creator, God the father. He knows that we are known by God, and that ethical living matters to the creator. He knows God can forgive.

Doesn’t seem to have a strong sense of original sin or afterlife.

Australian Aboriginal peoples, disconnected from the scriptures for 60000 years, got to similar places, though I think they had a good idea of an afterlife. The word for caterpillar is a traditional child’s name, for example, because apparently they thought of butterflies as a metaphor for the spirit of people who have departed.

Job has got to the same place as the psalmists and the prophets; of realising that a simple theory of reward for righteousness does not stand up to empirical experience. So he is seeking more. He’s longed for a Messiah figure but not revisited his attitude to the afterlife yet.

I don’t exactly know where I’m going with this, but it’s interesting.

After ending yesterday’s notes sarcastically, I did actually find Job comforting yesterday when I was notified that I didn’t get even an interview for one of the three jobs I applied for so far. God’s promises are great, abundant, tender and as strong as solid rock; but that job is not one of them.

Psalm 71

Waking up in the country, in Berry, a much needed break. The psalm is about plotters trying to kill the writer in the later part of his life. It’s not attributed to David but it’s surely gotta be one of his.

Can I relate? There are exactly zero evil possies bent on my destruction, so not really. David had a very unrelaxing life.

It’s someone who has always loved God since childhood – that I can relate to. And like the psalmist I’m pretty convinced nothing would make me give up that love now.

That ex addict who spoke at chapel on Thursday talked about the constant hunger of his addiction, and made no bones about the idea that he used Jesus to fill the place drugs had, that he just had an addictive personality. He said he filled the hole with something good

It reminded me of a thought circle I have about that which ends in me not caring.

God is my refuge and my comfort, I share that with the psalmist. The troubles that do come my way… (‘Many and bitter’, he calls them, the verse that jumped out most) …they don’t stop me praising God with the Lyre and harp.. well, guitar piano and Ableton Live, anyway.

It’s the old man I intend to be.

But what if I’m just addicted to the pattern of it. Going to church, praying. What if the comfort and refuge are a mind trick, and God’s not real?

None of the people im away with in the weekend, other than Kelly, think God’s real, at least more than in the most general sense if at all.

It doesn’t matter to me any more. I love being in this place so much, even if it’s all a huge confirmation bias, or if, as I actually think, its the holy spirit who says ‘but God is real’ everytime I wonder if he isn’t, I’m not going to change, so it doesn’t matter for my part.

I saw my parents get old in the faith, their strength fail in the faith, die in the faith, and right now at least, it doesn’t frighten me at all. I actually look forward to it. Talk about God being my strength and refuge, eh?

I’m have this feeling of relaxing into my skin at this point in my life. It’s a good feeling. I still have enough energy for life (if barely for paving), but I feel like the ambition and ego of my youth are at least getting small enough now for me to see other people around the edges of them. I’m content to win smaller battles. I feel I’m becoming a better listener. I feel like that means I’m of more spiritual use to God in some ways than I have been in the past.

Where am I going with this? I don’t know! It’s just the time of day when I write about the Bible! Oh dear, maybe I AM just addicted to the ritual!? Still, is one I like so….

Psalm 47

A jolly praise Psalm about God becoming king of all nations.

It starts with clapping: an international language, all beings praising.

It talks about God first choosing the Israelites, giving a special inheritance to the pride of Jacob.

The covenant with Abraham was to be a father to all nations. His grandson Jacob was the father of the 12 tribes, Israel’s is a story within the larger promise.

Then in this quick praise filled version of the larger story God ascends to his throne as king… Like Jesus actually did… Amid the shouts of joy of all nations, and trumpets. He reigns. All people gather. They praise, and praise some more.

It is the story of the Messiah, and our gentile ears should tingle (while we are clapping, shouting and praising) because he is the revelation of God to all of us.

I’ve been thinking about universalism in my old age, whether it’s possible everyone is saved. I don’t think that is probably true, but I feel less hard on people who do. I don’t think it makes a heap of practical difference to the life you lead or the message you preach.

It’s just a an awareness of this feeling of stories within stories, smaller blessings within larger ones. God is always managing our revelation.

Like the layers of creation stories, from being made in God’s image to the dishonest temptation to be like God by eating of the tree of Knowledge. What does that mean? If someone is an image of God but out of the garden, do you address them as being God’s? I face this problem of address regularly at work.

I’m contemplating that many more or many less people may be believers, or saved, than I would have thought. Which makes sense. I mean, how on earth would that be something I would know?

But you grow up thinking you do. You know, all Anglicans are in. Well, the evangelicals, the ones we know. Other protestants, good to go. I’m not intolerant.. as long as they believe something ( looking at you Uniting). Catholics pentecostals? Depends on the moment… Is this a conversation about theology or demographics?

For example, Abraham goes back 4000 years, but Aboriginals have lived here most likely 60000 years. What did they know of God those 56000 years? That’s a very lot of years. I’m totally with my brothers and sisters, when Captain Cook arrived, God was already here.

But equally, reading about the ‘chosen’ people in the old testament this past few years, the majority never seemed to have got it. Many spent a lot of time worshipping other Gods, or just being blatantly nominal Israelites who did religious duties, enjoyed the feasts, but behaved with total self interest, spiritually hollow. True believers always seems to have been a tiny subset.

We think the church is in decline, Australia doesn’t identify nearly as Christian as it did a generation ago. But I don’t think God is failing, perhaps nominalism is failing.

We meet each week in our sandstone cave in glebe point road, 70 of us in a population of 1000s. I don’t think God’s mission is a failure, I do what I feel led and taught to. I trust and obey.

St Paul’s image of us seeing through a glass darkly frees me from overthinking this. It’s an awareness that, yes we still don’t have the full story, but I have my story, and God is very happy to run with that.

I’m aware of my failings and challenges. I spend a lot of my time either boosting the salvation army or my beloved local church, or praying for and sharing life’s ups and downs with my family.

I share in this international vision of praise of a mighty God of love and justice, everyone’s King. But I don’t really have a clue how it literally plays out on that level, just an evolving sense of how it plays out in my little patch.

Psalm 39

David on the edge of eternity, uncomfortable with the world and with God.

One of my favourite parts of Jeremiah was when he tried to stop prophesying doom, but the message burned in his bones. David has a near identical experience here.

He breaks his silence with other people to talk to God, and is overwhelmed by a sense of eternity, of how short our lives are. He returns through the psalm to describing our lives like a phantom, a shadow.

He’s enough aware of the futility of a Godless life to feel like a stranger who has nothing to say to the people around him. But enough aware of his own impure and rebellious nature not to be able to stand God’s correction. He asks God to stop looking at him.

Any Christian can relate how he’s feeling. But we also have so much more revealed to us.

We’re told from birth that Jesus, the Messiah, was God dying for love of us. That we are participants in eternity, God’s children in a new heaven and earth where there are no more tears. And we’re still only seeing these things through a glass darkly.

David has an intimacy with God I’ll never have, but his glass is even darker. His honesty and clarity about what he knows of God’s truth leads him to the edge of all the missing pieces Jesus has filled, and he will be as saved by Jesus’ blood as I am.

But he’s miserable as he writes this. He’s has a vision of how meaningless are most of our earthly pursuits, he’s bowed out, but it’s resulted in the intensity of his sense of inadequacy before God increasing to breaking point. And there he leaves it.

Perhaps those moments when God seems like too much, when you just want to be ‘normal’ but you can’t – are the very hardest to bring honestly to God. It’s brave enough of an example to us that David has done it, of course there is no neat answer.

2 Chronicles 1

Solomon asks for wisdom. He is promised it, and also unprecedented wealth and success.

They start to describe it.. gold and silver everywhere, the expensive horses and chariots.

I was struck by the things God listed that could have been the hearts desire of the new king… Wealth, possessions, honour, death to his enemies, a long life. God praised Solomon for not asking for these.

It’s pretty much the lyrics of “God save The Queen”. God knows us, and through the millennia we stay very predictable.

I’ve felt on the brink of something new of late. Makes me wonder if I am, or if it’s just a feeling. Is it my wisdom request, a la Solomon, or my request for a long life, a la any king.

All of our lives are battles for kingship, us vs God.

I suppose the test is ‘does it tend to make me live a life more for others or more for me?’