Psalm 81

I’m at a depressing phase of new years: knuckling back down to work, family bored and restless in the hot, wet weather, facing the bills and bank balances I ignored over the break.

But here is a festival Psalm. Sing joyfully to God because it’s new moon, and because God says to. Just because God, really.

The festival was the day of atonement, closest thing they had to Easter I suppose.

This was followed by the festival of the booths, like a two week picnic with tents.

And it comes with a plea to the people to listen to God. If only they would do that, it would unlock so much blessing.

Well day two back at work.

I have some goals… Two enjoyable pieces of work I want drafted by the end of the week.

I got a good night’s sleep having adjusted my clock backwards a few hours.

Sing joyfully, I can do this!

I loved singing this setting of the first 4 verses as a child. All the joyous lines pile on top of each other so you can’t even make out the words for all the sweet weaving notes.. 2 minutes of bliss!

Lyre,timbrel, viol, trumpet!

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Psalm 73

I’m back to Psalms, Book 3.

New year’s Day and a wonderful journey of encouragement to kick off the even more than usual uncertainties of 2019.

My key verse, a great one for someone getting to the cardiac arrest years of life:

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

I’ve made mainly unstartling doctor’s-advice type new year’s resolutions: less alcohol, more exercise sorts of things. Maps say I can ride bike to work faster than bus, keen to give that a go.

The narrative of this psalm is a common theme of many of them, though here expressed in a particularly touching, relatable way.

The author says his feet nearly slipped, he nearly lost his foothold, because he envied the arrogant when he saw the prosperity of the wicked.

You could swear he spent too long on Instagram before he sat down to write: “They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from common human burdens; they are not plagued by human ills.

This is their reward for laughing at God, living for greed and cheating their fellow humans. Sigh

Holidaying in Wentworth Falls, a beautiful place in the middle of blue mountains national Park, you think about your feet not slipping.

I couldn’t look at the sight of 20s-something tourists, foolishly cavorting atop Katoomba Falls. Dancing on wet rocks, in water that, less than a metre from their feet, plunged spectacularly down to the valley floor.

But I didn’t turn my eyes from Pirramirra, or Whispering Pines, spectacular mansions, slices of heaven on earth carved out by some seriously wealthy people, private paradises fenced off so I could only crane my neck and glimpse.

The second scenario is the dangerous one for me. A big component of my longing to hear about job prospects hanging over from 2018 is the sweet promise of financial security. My wife finishes her course this year and may even find work herself.

A few dominos fall the right way, we could be more prosperous this time next year than we’ve ever been. Hard not to feel that dream would fix everything. Tantalising, but surely resistable for someone who’s just read Job? And psalm73:

“When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.” Tick.

“Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.” Double Tick!

Keep your mansions I’m not without temptation, but I know who I want to be in 2019.

Psalm 57

This one takes flight. It’s from a moment when David has some quiet contemplation time during his fugitive period, hiding in a cave. His confidence that he has backed the right horse, God, is already strong at the start, fear is not urgent.

Poetry thrives on contrast, and from his dark lonely cave we get an increasingly exultant series of them.

And here, now, it’s spring. After weeks of rain, flu, a winter that won’t let go, all that cleared yesterday, for Friday and the weekend. I felt like singing myself as I had coffee in the park with a colleague, drinks and dinner with friends in the time-shifted sunshine after work.

The scriptures and my life don’t need to match up, but now I feel they have! It’s fresh and bright and new after weeks of gloom.

David compares the safety of the cave, as he hears lions outside, to feeling like a chick under the wing of God, safe and warm and loved.

Morning comes, he compares it to music, contrasting the dark silence of the cave to the rich breadth of the dawn, the awakening day awakens the sound of lute and lyre in his memory. After getting safe, he gets happy

You can picture him at the mouth of his tiny cave, so small his life has become, comparing the vastness of the lightening heavens to the greatness of God, the God of all nations who is above the highest he can see, feeling at one with that God.

He mentions the enemies, he compares them to the lions outside the cave. He is aware of their viciousness, like the lions teeth, and their plotting like the prowling, but he visualises them falling into a pit of their own making. Swallowed up by their own wrong choices. Shoulda trusted God.

So: Saturday, blue skies above, what an upbeat way to start a new day. May I be open to blessing, alert to possibilities. Did trust God!

2 Chronicles 35

King Josiah’s greatest moment and his death.

His greatest moment is his Passover, which is twice the size and more perfectly in line with the law than Hezekiah’s. They use a rare phrase indicating that everything was done as God pleases.

It involved the logistic challenge of sacrificing and cooking one lamb per each household in one day. The planning and the flair, such as providing music, which was not strictly required, made this a stunning national barbeque.

No king, since Samuel, had done a more perfect one. It’s a representative act of one of the most loved and devout Kings.

His death was foolish, fighting Egypt on behalf of the Assyrians, when it wasn’t his battle. It’s clear he was displeasing God by being there, as the text quotes the Egyptian leader himself prophesying God’s judgement on his participation in the battle.

The Assyrian Empire was waning, Babylon we on the rise with Egypt allied, and it would signal the end for Jerusalem.

So returned to the ruined Jerusalem, temple rebuilt, reading this book, that Passover must have been an incredibly poignant climax to it. A standard to inspire and aspire to.

I had a challenging weekend. The family is indeed not happy. I did do a few things to make ren buck up, we’re making the shed into a bit of a man cave/ dude retreat for his mates, plus he found a good bargain on sneakers, shopping therapy!

I think my dissatisfaction is symbolised by my song writing project, which is going terribly. I’m forcing it, there’s no genuine feeling there. It’s an escape, not a gift. How can I say? It should be enhancing not distracting from life. I’m not enjoying my hobby. Just feeling inadequate and unable to improve, and too much in my own head.

Can’t really articulate but will pray.

2 Chronicles 30

Reunification done right. This is a moving story.

Through the book there have been several attempts to reunify the nation of Israel since they split after Solomon. But they were all political or military attempts to regain the earthly glory of that time.

Now, with the northern kingdom under siege by Assyria, with people already being carted away into exile, they unify spiritually, based on their shared beliefs.

All of Judah, and a rag tag bunch of people from the north who responded to Hezekiah’s invitation gathered in Jerusalem for Passover.

I loved how they didn’t quite do it right, wrong month, couldn’t do some of the prior cleansing, but they realised God is ultimately interested in the heart.

I visualise those church services in war movies like Mrs Miniver, singing hymns in the bombed out church, faith during threat and adversity.

And it unleashed such a joy in the people, together praising God’s saving grace in a way not seen since Solomon’s time, and praying for the safety of those already taken away, that they spontaneously extended it for another week.

The King delivered huge amounts of food, meat he could probably barely afford.

An abundant feast, a burst of pure celebration of God in the hardest of times.

Gather together in what we share, God’s love. Don’t panic, celebrate.

2 Chronicles 6

Ok I’ve been a bit cynical about the temple as a second best effort, a stage towards God’s full revelation of himself as a god who lives in our hearts, not in buildings.

But Solomon’s dedication prayer here is very impressive. He really gets it.

God is still out there, in the highest heavens, but the cloud of his presence shows that his name is also at the temple.

It’s a place for contact, for asking for forgiveness and mercy. Solomon has built the greatest house for God he can, but he knows it can’t contain him, he’s proud of the building no doubt, but knows it’s a place to be humble before God.

And he’s generous. I criticised him a few chapters ago for using a foreign slave labour force to build it. But he invites all people, all nations to share in God’s blessing, not at all exclusive.

If the Jews ever wanted to keep God to themselves, i think it would be now. They’ve been saved from slavery, given a land, nationhood, a holy city, they are top of the economic heap, wildly prosperous, and now they have a temple for the one true God.

But no, he sees it as a blessing to all nations, God is God of the whole earth.

The theology is very tied to earthly rewards. It’s easy to think that way when you are rich and healthy.

He imagines various scenarios, like famine, war, falling into captivity, sickness. He says that will happen because of sin, and tells them to direct their prayers to the temple, and if God hears he will fix it.

Well as things develop, for the rest of the old testament, this doesn’t work, and the poets, philosophers and prophets are left to develop and write a down an understanding of God that is less neat, that includes delayed reward and God sanctioned hardship.

It’s also deeper, more wonderful, bigger than this.

But Solomon really gets repentance. He gets that it all goes back to the need to acknowledge the evil and rebellion in our own hearts, that everyone is in the same boat before God on that score.

It’s a beautiful dedication prayer. It’s Monday and I’m pumped for the week.

How many more chapters before we start to slide downhill outside the comfort zone, where everything they have believed is challenged and lost?

2 Chronicles 5

The dedication of the temple in Jerusalem.

The ark and the other bits and pieces dedicated by king David, who never got to build the temple, are bought in.

The contents of the ark seem a bit vague. Here its the stone tablets given to Moses, with the law carved in them by God hand.

But elsewhere it’s said also to have a jar of mana, the food God caused to appear on the exodus trip, and the staff of Aaron, which showed God’s power to the Pharaoh so he would let the Israelites go.

Anyway, I suppose no one dared look inside to check, it had a habit of killing those who mistreated it.

All the priests are present for the dedication of the temple, they usually served in shifts.

Music, sacrifices, and then at the height of the proceedings a cloud of God appears. He has made the temple his home, he is present.

The cloud is so rich they have to stop and leave. The glory of God filled the house of God.

This account is written for later generations of Jews who were rebuilding the temple after Jerusalem was gutted and it was destroyed. It wasn’t as grand. I should check whether the cloud appeared a second time. ( Ezra 6… No)

It’s struck me as more remote for God than we are used to. We are used to him speaking conversationally with Moses, and directly to David, or to him though prophets.

But this is a big public miracle, a sign for the people. It’s how he appeared in the days of the exodus, the pillar of cloud led them though the wilderness.

God has come home. It’s not all of him, the last thing Solomon said was that he could not be contained in a temple. But he is present.

1 Chronicles 15

Ark done right. Listening to God, David had learned his lesson and consulted God about how to carry the ark, after the attempt in chapter 13 resulted in death from God’s anger.

It’s carried on the shoulders of Levite priests on poles. Pretty nervous priests I’m guessing, but it doesn’t go wrong again

But the message is clear, consult God, follow his word.

I wondered if we’d get the detail that Saul’s daughter disapproved of Davids joyous dancing. We did.

Palace disloyalty, and his lusts will prove his weakness.

But this day is one of his best, a day of huge significance, joy and celebration.

David has established Jerusalem, God’s capital of his promised land, and bought into it the ark that they carried through the wilderness, the artifact of their epic journey from slavery.

I’m not doing it justice. Bit of a chemical sleepiness this morning, took a drowsy headache pill. At least the sadness from earlier in the week has largely passed.

But I need to get onto some things, I motivate myself with how good it will feel. I need to be light. It feels like a step in my journey I need to take. My life has come down to battles of fear vs bravery at the moment.

Isaiah 58

A life of service is a life of joy, of rich blessing.

The chapter takes fasting, a religious discipline, and looks at what God’s actually likes about it.

Merely abstaining from food if you remain quarrelsome and greedy in life means nothing.

But further, merely being humble, telling God you realise how unworthy you are, that is not what he is after, self denial as an expression of being aware of your weakness, not enough!

He wants it to signify a determination to live a life of servanthood. Of inviting the poor into your home, of pouring yourself out for the needy.

I’m stating all this very baldly. In Isaiah it is wrapped up in poetic expression. God doesn’t just like this attitude. You will be riding high in the heavens, your bones strengthened, ruins rebuilt, gloom turned to a rising light, you’ll be an unfailing stream of water, quenching the desert.

We’ve had the servant, the contrary means by which God’s victory will be won.

Now we have the life of servanthood for all believers. The discipline and self denial by which our lives will be made rich and our world will be renewed.

At a crossroads in my life, it is an important message.

Isaiah 28

A condemnation of the tribe of Israel who made up most of the southern kingdom. 

Mainly a diatribe against drunkenness. I sometimes use drink to escape, and we had an old school friend of my wife’s due from alcoholism this year. Wine is so familiar but so dangerous. My older body cannot process it as well as a younger one.

They talk about that here, describing drink’s ability to impair judgement in the short term and fade ability over the long term.

Like the “2 ways to live” tract, it talks about swapping the crown of drunkenness for God’s crown, and promises that his strength will replace what wine has taken away: beauty, wisdom and determination.

Drunkenness is a symbol and a symptom of self obsession, of pride, ironically, given that it can humiliate. I’m ashamed of how much I feel I need it sometimes, I know that I perversely decide to drink too much sometimes. It makes me lazy. 

The rest of the chapter seems to be about fresh starts. He mentions how drunkenness has turned the priests into spiritual babies, and how he will have to teach again slowly, bit by bit, and maybe by strangers.

It’s about self discipline, the slow path back from the easy drift into bad habits. But bit by bit he will give us strength to change. It’s a merciful passage.

He talks about different grains requiring different forms of violence to produce, crushing wheat, beating cumin with a rod, Dill with a stick. But in all instances, it ends, it doesn’t go on forever. We all have our own way back.

And he powerfully reminds the reader of why it is worth it. God is the cornerstone, he will sweep away the refuge of lies and build a solid building in your heart. He will annul your covenant with death. 

Alcoholism, like so many self destructive behaviours, is like a pact with death. You see it so often in the lives of the rich and famous, and we saw it close up this year.

Pray for wisdom obedience and insight to see myself.