Ezekiel 13

These chapters are each a “word of the Lord” and end with “then you you know that I am Lord”, a phrase I associate with an almighty thud, like an anvil falling in a Warner brothers cartoon.

Today’s will be the exposure of false prophets, the ones who are selling comfort and peace.

Those are good things, unless they are works of the imagination that mislead people, give them false hope, are motivated by being invested in the power and wealth structures of the status quo, and lead people to act against their own best interests.

Climate change deniers come to mind, in the modern world.

In the church I suppose wishy washy theology comes to mind, people who know more than they let on about the love of Jesus, because of the gospel’s tendency to divide opinion. There are some prices too high for a positive vibe.

And I don’t say that easily, as someone who values it more than many.

A lot of the chapter is taken up with a wall metaphor. Very apt, considering they lived in a walled city under threat of siege.

God talks about the folly of whitewashing over weaknesses to gain false comfort, rather than acknowledging risk and danger, and actually making a strong wall.

As someone who has always lived in old houses in a termite prone area, I know all about walls that are held together just by paint. It’s amazing how plausible they can look, and how easily they crumble.

I got cathartic with my boss at work yesterday at our regular meeting, and it felt like such a good thing. I’m a conflict avoider, and he’s worse! He wasn’t going to raise it. But I jumped in at the end. We’ve been struggling, and the whitewash of smiley patter just hasn’t been cutting it.

I think we strengthened the wall, I hope so.

Psalm125

Jerusalem as parental hug. To a child, a parent is the most reliable, indestructable good thing on earth. Ditto Mount Zion, the temple, the presence of God. And the mountains surounding Jerusalem are like God’s arms holding us, his surrounding protection and love. And peace reigns.

The reign of evil will cease and lose its influence on the righteous. Anyone not good will be banished along with the evildoers.

I was thinking how that “gated community” image of Jerusalem: it’s just for the perfect, sits oddly with Jesus’ teaching about loving your enemies and going an extra mile with them.

The Jerusalem Jesus actually lived in was subject to roman rule, and he surrendered to Caesar what was his, and accepted the death penalty from his unfair trial without fighting back. The ‘sceptre of the wicked’, as the psalm calls it, certainly seemed to be over the land, and rather than banish them, he wept for the citizens because they were like sheep without a shepherd.

Maybe the talk of banishment is an extension of the parental vibe. It’s directed primarily to the inhabitants after all. Parents inevitably say stuff like “if you don’t do your homework, you’ll never get a good job”, and then ban the tv or something. Maybe these aren’t threats, more warnings and corrections, and should be read with the tone of parental love?

I remember being appalled when my eldest brother said he was a universalist, as in, all people go to heaven, when I was a child. He was the one from whom I learned such theology even existed. It had never crossed my mind.

I’d seen those Warner Brothers cartoons where characters nearly went to hell after death, and had to deal their way back to heaven, and they seemed to accord roughly with the Bible descriptions mum read at night before I went to sleep.

These days I would summarise my belief as “dunno – don’t expect to know this side of heaven”. But I cling to idea that whatever the afterlife is like, it will be fair.

I think God definitely wants us to have the fear of God in us for things… Evil, blasphemy, injustice, cruelty.

He wants us to have an urgency and a mission for the ‘lost’, both physically and spiritually – that I can’t say I’m very good at personally. As its turned out, strangely enough, I have a support role in that, both at work and at church.

And the deeper into the scriptures I get the bigger and less conditional God’s love appears to be revealed as being.

So I’ll enjoy the enveloping warmth of love in this psalm, and live as God has prescribed: at war with selfishness and pride in me, and doing my bit to bring the gospel of judgement and grace to the world. And He can figure out how the new Jerusalem works.

Psalm 56

I’ve lost count but this is about the 5th psalm of David in a row where he is in Struggle Street.

It’s the second specifically about the desperate moment when he had to pretend to be insane to escape the Philistines because of his fame as a warrior. The strategy of a person truly out of options.

The variation of emphasis here is how unrelenting the pressure is. The classical pattern, I noted before, he cries out, then remembers the nature of God to calm himself. Here, it takes two goes.

He cries out, says how great God is, how he’ll trust him and be saved saying ‘what can mere mortals do to me?’ But then he goes ahead and answers his rhetorical question …Actually put quite an insane amount of pressure on me!

Lurk, scheme, watch his every move, twist his words in their relentless desire to ruin and kill him. All day long, all day long, all day long. He returns to the phrase 3 times.

He checks that God is keeping a record of his tears, there is a bursting wineskin of them.

To end he returns to trusting and salvation and his rhetorical question, but it’s in the present tense, you have delivered me from death, not you will.

The end idea – ‘that I may walk in the light of life’… What is that? It’s cosmic, it’s eternal life. The opposite of walking through the valley of the shadow of death from palm 23.

The double take means he’s gone from trusting God to just rescue his body to trusting God with death, to rescue his soul. He’s desperate enough to embrace death as a real possibility. And that salvation, he’s confident, has already happened.

Unfortunately for me, raised in the wonderful theology of Jesus’ salvation – a revelation that David can only reach towards through deep prayer – the message of the psalm is also that God doesn’t necessarily promise to save you from intense pressure in life.

I have to admit I long for a nice full-time permanent job with the Salvos because I’m tired, so tired of pressure.

Sounds small potatoes in David’s context, but there I am. My contract with them ends a year, virtually to the day, when I was unceremoniously made redundant – don’t come tomorrow – at my previous job. I would really like a job that pays enough, matches my skills, and I can trust to last.

I can pray for it, but it is not necessarily the salvation God has promised. I’ve protected myself, telling myself ‘it’s just a roll of the dice’ take what comes. And I’ve already been blessed with a far less miserable life than most of the Earth’s inhabitants. My wineskin of tears is really not even a little bit full, relatively speaking.

Such are our small prayers I suppose ‘thanks for eternal salvation, now what about that job?’ God shouldn’t have told us he knows how many hairs we have on our head.

Psalm 38

Not so neat. This Psalm of David catches a moment when he is in a bad way in multiple senses.

He’s sick, with horrible symptoms that disgust his friends. He is also overwhelmed by guilt over some personal failing.

He’s bringing his shame and his pain to God. It couldn’t contrast more with the alphabetized moral neatness of the previous Psalm, where he said in all his many years on earth he’s never seen the righteous forsaken.

There’s no sermonising, it is a private dialogue addressed to God.

We’ve lost the moral certainty. He says he only wants to do good, but he admits his own sin is like a burden too much to bear.

There is no closure on God forsaking him. It ends with him still pleading with God to come quickly. It’s a messy unresolved cry of doubt, self pity and guilt.

The placement of these psalms next to each other can’t be an editorial accident. So good, it’s the brutal honesty you read Psalms for. A real life example of ‘praying without ceasing’ per 1 Thess 5:17.

…For work I had to write a short video on prayer. I researched lots of biblical prayers and verses about prayer and concluded that relentlessness and honesty was all they had in common. So I settled on that as the summary verse on the subject.

Isaiah 43

Tough love.

A beautiful description of God’s character. It reaches back to Moses’ burning bush and escape though the sea to talk about God’s protection though trials of fire and flood.

The refrain of “fear not” from the last few chapters is repeated. So are images of the gathering of the nations, being loved and known since birth, the unique omnipotence of the one true God.

The image of a highway in a newly verdant desert comes back, which is described as a new thing God will do.

Then, right at the end we hear God has grown weary of them. The North has ignored him, and the South has kept up an empty religion.

Therefore both will be destroyed and reviled.

Bam. End of chapter. It puts everything in context.

Fear not… Because much to fear is coming.

Remember that God is in charge, fire won’t consume you, water won’t drown you…  because both are coming, etc.

The destruction coming is not only God’s judgement, it’s his love.

And he offers to have it out with them: let’s have witnesses, let’s state our cases.

So much to teach us about difficult times, but the lesson I’m taking is: stay in contact with God, yell at him if you have to. Have it out, he’s saying he can take it.

Isaiah 2

The great correction.

A poem about greatness with a returning altitude metaphor.

The things that are high, lofty – rich, honoured, successful – false, will be put into perspective when all nations see God on the highest of all mountains and worship him.

Solomon wirh all his wives and false gods established “high places”, outside Jerusalem to compete with the temple and Jehovah. And god regularly spoke to people in mountains, it’s where Moses got the commandments.

The temple in Jerusalem was built on the site of an old high place.

Hence the talk of height and competing claims on our spirituality.

But the prophet’s role is to turn everything to metaphor, and he is standing on the outside of a successful society saying how God is going to turn the social order upside down. Bring justice and judge sin.

It’s where the church is rapidly moving today, to the outside. It’s a very relevant poem.

The central tragedy for me this week in a week of a lot of sad 2 is the death of one of my wife’s school friends from alcoholism. A sickness with a spiritual aspect to it.

2 Kings 17

12 tribes in the promised land are whittled down to one.

King Hoshea presides ineffectually over the end of the northern kingdom – all of Israel except Judah.

First he becomes a puppet king under the Assyrians, who are the Empire builders of the era, then he makes a feeble attempt to betray them with an alliance with Egypt. He is imprisoned and the people are exiled.

The writer retells all the ways in which the people have earned their fate since the time of exodus. They have at best treated Jehovah as one of many gods. Worst, and often, they have openly rejected him. He’s sent many prophets but it’s made no difference.

The Assyrians send various people to occupy the land and eventually send back an Israelite priest because lion attacks are viewed as a sign of Jehovah’s displeasure. The priest teaches the new residents of Israel the way of the lord as much as he can.

I don’t have a lot to say. The story has been heading here since, well since the people first left Egypt in a way, but definately since the kingdom split.

I have Christian friends on Facebook who almost daily link to what I think of as Christian apocalypse items…. About how the world is going to hell in a handbasket. But I think it’s important to remember that God remains sovereign and his salvation is eternal.

This is one of those moments, like how the disciples must have felt after Jesus was crucified, when you wonder if God’s plans will ever work out. Yet, here we are.

There is reason to be passionate, but not to despair, to be busy but not overwhelmed.

Help me be functional father… I’m feeling  like I have more in than I can handle, but at the same time I’m aware that a have it very easy, and feeling a bit guilty too.

Deuteronomy 7

My God can be terrifying God from the perspective of being one of his people. 

Here Moses describes how will root out the stronger people in the land and put in the weaker Israelites, making them strong. But if they don’t obey him, the same fate awaits them.

God is a gardener. We don’t hesitate to pull out annuals that have done flowering. Some plants we feed, others we prune, some we remove. The gardener knows that is best for the garden. The gardener’s plans are for the garden to thrive and survive and for it to be something the current garden can’t imagine being. 

We didn’t actually make the plants in our garden, or the dirt or the sun or the water. Yet we are the masters of its fate. But God made us and our world. 

Contemplating the idea that you are a creation is a shocking idea if you are used to the idea that you are god of yourself. But God has completly the right to act that way.

The process of taking the holy land is often understandably disparaged as racial cleansing. But God makes it clear here that it is not because of racial superiority that he chose the Israelites. It’s because of his plans, not their worth. 

I’m not a Jew, but I believe Jesus, who was, was also God and died for me. This is part of the story of God’s love for all mankind. It’s not racial.

He knew the number of hairs on the head of every one of the “ites” who were already in Canaan. He formed them, knew them and loved them in the womb.  Like plants in a garden, they will all eventually die, but that does not mean they are not known and loved. We love and enjoy our plants, but we didn’t make them. How much more would we if we had.

The people he desired to make way for the Israelites are in his hands. The God I see here, the one I was inspired by the last chapter to love with all my heart, is an all mighty, all powerful God of love and kindness.

Numbers 16

This feels like the sequel to chapter 14 where the people reached a low point and wished they never left Egypt.

The leaders of the rebellion are swallowed up by the earth. So there is no doubt that Moses is not lording over them, the lord is. And a plague hits Israel.

Moses leadership is directly challenged and Egypt is called the land of milk and honey… They have lost hope in any future. The selective past is fertile land for populists. It’s #MIGA.. make Israel great again.

A sink hole and an epidemic. These are spiritualised and serve as a reminder that God is in control. I must remember, we all die. All born into sin. It’s about recognising God. Without him, even no disaster is a disaster. With him, no calamity is a calamity.

Leviticus 24

 

Oil lamps and temple bread. Oil burning is like the spirit of God, his presence… a hang over to high anglican churches which often have lamps in the holy end of the church.

The stoning of a blasphemer. Cursing god is still the unforgiveable sin in jesus teaching, but the stoning bit is gone, fortunately.

I suppose its related to how the system, the religion of Israel is a model of god’s perfect system. The wages of sin are death, jesus said.  For adam and eve, that meant leaving the garden, the presence of god. For the Israelites here it means literal ending of life.

A brutal lesson.