Numbers 17

A symbol of hope in the midst of a plague. Each of the tribes of Israel are reprsented by a budding staff. Wood that was dead starts to grow afresh.

The aren’t barriers between God’s disasters and natural disasters, God made nature and set it in motion.

The people remain terrified of death, of God, of their predicament, despite the sign of hope. 

I’ve been swamped by a feeling of meaninglessness as I attended an after may when my birthday and that of my oldest son occur. He is a challenging and quietly suffering fellow who drains things of meaning – he can’t help it. 

Open my heart to hope father. Don’t let him, or me, despair.

Judges 6

Israel is so weak. The sermon on Sunday was from Jonah and in the set up Tom who was preaching compared Israel to a show home, an example of god’s blessing. So they had no natural ability at all to be warlike, to dominate the land. God’s outrageous blessing to them meant they triumphed, nothing else, and this would show people how powerful God is. In their weakness is he made strong.

And Gideon is a one person microcosm of that principle.

In his own estimation he’s the least son of the least house of the least tribe. He’s not only unwilling, he’s completely unbelieving that God really does want him to lead the renaissance in belief.

The people are being comprehensively dominated by the ex-locals. The midianites are deliberately destroying their crops to stave them and break their economy, they are hiding out in caves.

Spiritually it seems to be a chicken and egg situation. a prophet tells them they are being punished by God for unfaithfulness. Yet their response to the attacks seems to be to assimilate more and more with the midianites religion of worshipping baal. Which seems like a pragmatic response to the attacks as much as a cause of them.

God gets timid Gideon to do an act of protest vandalism against Baal, which he does under cover is darkness because he is so scared.

And not without cause, when they discover their altar has been destroyed and the best bull offered to one built to Yahweh they want to kill gideon. His father saves him with impeccable logic: let Baal kill him if he’s God. He lives.

But his action unleashes a surge in support for God, and by next chapter he will have collected 20 000 men.

His story reminds me a little of Jesus, the people around Jesus were always coming up with plans to start a nationalist movement, but he stuck with his 12 and witnessed to God.

Gideon will lead Israel back in a series of stunning reversals for the invaders, however the force of the story is that it’s all about God. The victories are his.

Gideon proves God really wants him, even after the altar event, by tricks with a fleece to show supernatural intervention. God goes along. It is a hobbit story: the weakest most unlikely person being used for the most important task, to show the victory of goodness.

I spent the weekend with random parents of my son’s school friends. Among them there was so much latent, quietly dying, Christian belief. I am timid like Gideon.

I pray that i will use my time, perhaps my music, to bring people towards God. I feel that there are so many people like the Israelites who probably just need a little shove from a timid person to rekindle some love of God in them.

I feel increasingly convicted about this.

 

 

 

Joshua 1

I get it, be strong and courageous.  Its repeated 3 times by God and echoed as the last words of the chapter by the people.

Joshua will lead the people to the promised land.  It will be exciting but tough, spiritually and practically.  He is taking over as leader.

The first thing he has to do is ask a tough favour. Separate two tribes’ men from their families, leave the families in the land east of the Jordan and march to claim the west.

The lord speaks to him, gives him Moses’ mantle, the people accept him as leader, we are away.

Courage is one of my wife’s favourite words.  It is strength without ego or aggression. We face huge stress at the moment, my son is crashing and burning big time in his first year at school.  We have been turning on each other.  Courage.

Its not just about leadership, its about making God’s word real on earth and in your own life. My own life. Courageous people don’t blame, they absorb.

Lord, give me courage and strength. 

 

Amos 7

A couple of chapters ago I was wondering how these words from the lord went down with the listeners. This chapter has the predictable answer.

First there are some striking examples of prayer in response to visions.

First utter destruction of the crop by locusts. Amos prays for the people, calling them Jacob, who was a patriarch identified by his weakness relative to his brother Esau. His argument to God is that they are too fail for such an extreme punishment. And he relents, if you are ever wondering whether it is worth praying.

Then same scenario, fire. Again Amos’ prayer is the agency by which god’s salvation is known.

The third vision is of a plumb bob, the builders tool for showing what is straight and what is crooked. I think it’s also a line of clarity, giving a sharp definition to what is in and out of the line God has defined. His people have become blurry, vagued out the difference between them and their neighbours.

Then we get to see how Amos’ message has been received. A false priest and advisor to the king sees the threat, and reacts in the time honoured template we see around us still, every day.

The truth or otherwise of the message is not considered, not an issue. It’s simply too hard to listen to, “too much for the people to bear”. Playing on the king’s fear of losing popularity – keep telling them what they want to hear. And shoot the messenger.

Amos is discredited as a power hungry conspirator trying to bring down the king… after all didn’t he say something about Jeroboam being bought to the sword?

Amos’ response is humble and gutsy. I didn’t want this, I’m just a nobody that God compelled to say these things. And by the way, your wife will be a prostitute, your children will die and you’ll all be killed or taken captive when god’s plumb line finds you crooked and the city is destroyed.

I really struggle with bravery over speaking out about God, even to my own kids. I must not let the predictable response stop me. 

Give me courage lord

Zechariah 4

Whoah, this is getting to be hard work. Fortunately Zechariah has pretty much no idea what he is seeing either. The angel is always saying “do you get it?” And he’s always “no”. Then it’s explained, but I still barely get it. I’ll guess, then research and see how close I was!

It’s a vision of the founding of the temple. The message is that laying one small foundation stone on one building may seem not much, but when it is part of the means of God’s grace it is a world event. So don’t despise the day of small things, because if it is a work of the Spirit, it’s an earth shaker!

Read a commentary, and yeah roughly there, minus much detail. The two who serve at the end of the chapter they say are prophet/king – spiritual leader; and priest – declarer of forgiveness. The roles were split at the time of Melchizedek, joined again in Christ.

So it is a huge encouragement to their work and ours on earth. Don’t be overwhelmed, live in the light service of the Lord (his yoke is easy!), and with the power of the spirit, not your own.

Zechariah 2

A season when things happen. The old testament has this sense of a plan that seems random from the outside. From the moment Abraham happens to walk one way and not another and sees a burning bush, the story of God’s intervention with the world just happens to god’s agenda, in his time.

This chapter has a sense of things all coming in a rush, and many of the plans of God on show.

A man is despatched to measure the size of the literal Jerusalem, but an angel rushes to tell of a cosmic Jerusalem that has walls of God’s fire and contains people of all nations.

It tells of the Messiah, of God sending god to live among us.

There is retribution coming for the nations who plundered Jerusalem, and justice for his people. But also salvation for all. It is a mighty vision of God’s power, and the season for it is now. “Be still”, it concludes, for god has roused himself from his holy dwelling.

A good response to the power of God.

Haggai 2

So the temple is a ruin and they have started building, long path ahead. Will the glory days ever be back? Do our tiny steps to climb an impossibly huge mountain make a difference to God?

Yes, they do!

It makes all the difference in the world. The Israelites have gone from being cursed and defiled to world shakers. Putting a few stones on each other towards the new temple has unleashed god’s plan of love and grace that will embrace all mankind.

God doesn’t need our strength or our achievements, he wants us to seek him. Turn to him. Acknowledge him. This is what the Israelites have done by responding to the call to build the temple, and it makes all the difference in the world.

It’s a hugely encouraging chapter. Do what you can, where you are. Trust and obey, as the song says, god will do the rest.

Lord I thank you for the simplicity of the Christian life, its a great thing knowing someone else is in charge of the big picture.

Nehemiah 4

Opposition to the wall is predictable and dangerous. It starts with ridicule, but driven by greed, fear and vested interests, it rapidly accelerates to plans of genocide.

Nehemiah can respond with confidence because he is confident god wants it to happen. I love the boldness that comes from understanding God’s will for you. The narrative flicks into prayer at the point where the plot is discovered. Then they organise and are ready to successfully deflect the attack.

His word of encouragement to the people is not to fear, to remember the Lord’s greatness and to fight for your family. Always the mix of spiritual and practical. What a leadership model!

They organise and finish the wall in a state of extreme readiness for attack. The beautifully economic and vivid prose adds the detail that Nehemiah doesn’t really change clothes until the wall is done: focus.

Psalm 27

With God on our side vs. being on God’s side

God’s goodness is like a rock to David.  It is the most concrete thing in his life, despite constant and very tangible threats all around.

Uber confident start. The lord is:

  • light (bringing clarity, direction, guidance)
  • salvation (bringing deliverance from enemies and fear as well as forgiveness) and
  • stronghold of life … source, protector of the soul’s existence

So he has nothing to fear and repeats that three times, which makes you think those he was addressing had plenty to fear.  Enemies will fail, stay confident, he says.  It is a psalm of confidence. Its like the St Crispians Day speech in Henry V.. a stirring rally by a leader, except the call is to rely on God’s strength not their own.

Til now it has seemed like a military psalm, but the next section seems to broaden it out because he talks about being in the tent, the tabernacle, in the presence of God and being kept safe there and being raised up above his enemies. He will be exalted above them by sacrificing to God and singing about him.  No doubt singing this very Psalm.  

As a literal military strategy, hiding in a tent and singing is unlikely to work.  He’s pushing this way past a “god is on our side” prayer before a battle in war… locking in God’s support to a human endeavour.  When he speaks of the one thing he wants god to give him: time gazing upon God’s beauty and seeking him, it is more like a love affair with God.  He doesn’t want God to lend support to his fight, he wants God’s will to supplant the fight.

He is following his heart, seeking God above all others, he asks God not to forsake him, confident that even his mum and dad would do that before God did.  The foes are identified as more than military… they are spreaders of malice and false witness.
Strong end focusses in on the theme succinctly: he is confident of the triumph of God’s goodness, so he will wait for him.  How many bad decisions do we make because of impatience with God?

Psalm 22

A problem shared is a problem solved.

If you took yesterday’s psalm (21) as a picture of God’s design for a blessed life, then today’s is a mistake. Because today god has deserted the writer, which wouldn’t happen if trusting in God was universally rewarded with wealth and power.

It starts with the quote Jesus made so disturbingly from the cross. My God, my God why have you forsaken me? But if yesterday’s wasn’t too be read as a rule of entitlement to blessing, equally today’s isn’t really an expression of any doubt in the existence of God, it’s more of a wake up call for God. Its a cry of pain and a massive “what’s going on?” “Where the hell are you?”

Father, you know me, all the moments of my life, help me to acknowledge you in them all

Is not a momentary thing either. He calls out by day and night.

Then this uniquely psalmy thing of God shaming. It starts out like flattery “you are enthroned, we have praised you, you heard us rescued us. I was born straight from the womb into your arms. So why am I a worm? What must people think? They know you are the one I trust, and see how you have let me down!”

It’s a very bold way of speaking to god, almost sarcastic “what a great creator you are, you made me a worm. Way to go God!” But it’s not sarcasm, it’s desperation. He’s totally stuffed, every which way, as depicted with a stunning series of “desperate straights” images, and there is no one to help him. It’s a plea “please don’t be far”.

The dire straights images include obvious pre-figuring of the cross, which in the full course if revelation is God’s ultimate answer to the ‘shaming’. When we say to god “you have no idea how hard it is” he can always say “yes I do!”

The time shifts abruptly to praise. There is no sense that the psalmist waited to be saved to shift tone, something like “see the wolves all around me are gone!” Now I will praise God in the assembly!

Also there is no sense of a deal with God “if you save me, then I’ll give you praise, tit for tat”.

It seems to be a straight emotional/spiritual journey. It’s a bit like the very act of crying out to god has reminded him that God is faithful and that he trusts God. It reminds me of conversations with my wife, she highlights all the worst aspects of problems we are having. Catastrophising. And afterwards, we have swapped roles: I have gone from feeling good to being burdened with the problems. And she has gone from miserable to positive about the future, because the magnitude of the problem has been shared and acknowledged.

The psalmists enthusiasm for God’s saving greatness goes spacey and grand: all nations, all generations. There are the Jesus pre-figurings again. The sheer limitlessness of his faith in the saving power of God’s grace puts the problems into perspective. It seemed really bad when his heart turned to wax and melted and his bones were all out of joint as he was poured out like water to dry like dust as the lions prepared to rip his corpse apart. And nothing objectively has changed, he’s just changed focus from venting about his very real problems to remembering “just a minute, this is God I’m talking to”. From self obsession to god obsession. That’s why a problem shared is a problem solved. The final phrase is perfect,a full stop of rest for his circling brain. “And God has done it”.