Ezekiel 4

Ezekiel is relieved from talking by God until told otherwise… He just has to do, errr… One or two other things.

Street theatre time!!! Can’t be a major prophet without it!

Though this is in his house, more like an art installation. Presumably word of mouth among the Israelites would spread, and they’d all come and see this bizarre display.

There is a picture of Jerusalem drawn in clay, with model armies and ramparts laying seige to it. This mirrors the real seige of Jerusalem simultaneously occuring in Israel.

Ezekiel and the other exiles he lived with in Babylon had been taken in an earlier, minor attack. The destruction of the temple and the removal of most of the people had not occurred yet.

He’s to lay on his left side, tied with ropes, for 390 days, symbolising him bearing the sin of Israel. He faces the clay model but with an iron frying pan between him and Jerusalem, symbolising beseiging the city.

He eats only special recipe loaves cooked over burning cow dung. God wanted human dung, but Ezekiel negotiated him to cow. Symbolises the defiled food the people of Jerusalem will eat in exile.

It doesn’t mention toilet breaks, but God is merciful.

After 390 days he does another 40 to bear the sins of Judah, which is an interesting ratio. Would have thought it was tilted more the other way. I suppose Israel just lasted longer.

So this display goes on for over a year. Everyone would have know about it. Ezekiel failed to preach when God gave him the chance. It’s like God said “OK we can do this the easy way, or the hard way…” Ezekiel probably regretted his choice…

The other day I was contemplating the salvation army flag, a Burgundy with gold banner with a star and the slogan “blood and fire”. I love that. I think it was also street theatre.

William Booth had these quasi military squads parade through town in uniforms of their own design, with brass, to gain maximum attention, holding flags saying simply “blood and fire”! Surely the ambiguity was intentional…

They entered places they were completely unknown seeming like a proto-fascist Guerilla junta seeming to threaten to slaughter you and burn your house down!

And as soon as you ask “what is this blood and fire about?”, which of course many will, the conversation turns straight to Jesus’ redeeming sacrifice and God indwelling in your heart! Boom.

Powerful, blunt, loud, provocative, weird, can’t ignore. As a gospel communicator, in an organisation with such a tradition, it’s very inspiring! And totally in the spirit of scriptures such as this.

Makes me think about my church too. The stereotypical Anglican village church, now in the middle of a bustling urban suburb, very prominent siting…

Of course, I’m making it sound fun. Ezekiel’s message was painful and utterly serious. It was about the destruction of hope. But the self-advertising power of it, the scale and commitment of going for a year with it. It’s extraordinary!

Psalm 126

Those who go out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with them.

A song trusting God’s blessing. A great way to start the week. They recall the joy when they came back from captivity – the return from exile in Babylon – it was like a dream.

Now they are asking God, surely, he will restore their fortunes again. The verse quoted above is the last in the psalm.

But I just finished re-reading the prophets from the end of the old testament, speaking to that rebuilt Jerusalem. It was a much more pessimistic place. In Malachi, the last OT book, God says ”You have wearied the Lord with your words.

Of course, Jesus would be the harvest, and the prophets’ glimpses of long term blessing, often just barely slipped into the dying verses of otherwise bleak books, was the seed.

And now? We have Jesus… Unalloyed joy, yes? I am stressed going into the week, just with silly stuff. Feeling a bit sorry for myself, just the usual.

My work, as worthy as it is, still involves unpleasant deadlines and me having to battle my ego and make comprises I’m not happy with.

I suppose the old song “we shall some rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves” is drawn from this psalm.

I’m not feeling it, but it is a promise and my hope, I’ll make it my prayer today. I mean I’m not even weeping really, just a bit glum. I’ll try to spend my time sowing seed.

Psalm 121

Climbing that mountain. We’re reading fifteen psalms of ascents. I always envisage these as the soundtrack of the pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem. The holy Hill.

I’m looking forward to these as cheer chants for the Christian life. A Christian life well lived should be about improving, becoming more holy, a better person. More loving, more unselfish, more generous.

Loving God with more and more of your heart. As close to all your heart as you can possibly manage.

And it seems the second great commandment will never be at tension. Truly loving your neighbour is, as Jesus says, like it; like loving God. Maybe, done right, it’s a ven diagram where the two circles sit directly over each other.

Anyway the abiding image of these songs is climbing a mountain to see God. Drawing closer, getting higher. It’s work, but it’s full of pleasurable anticipation, high spirits and optimism.

Coming from a bit of time out to summarise the books of the minor prophets which I’ve read so far, this feels a bit like sunshine after rain.

And I’m of a more positive frame of mind than I have been. I have achieved ‘flow’ at work, I feel functional and satisfied. A lot of the self doubt I had has gone away.

So this psalm says lift those eyes to the hills, to the goal and the source, as the feet walk step by step up the incline towards.

God will shade you during the burning day, comfort when things are harsh, and keep those feet from slipping during the darkness, when you can’t see.

Jehovah, watching over you with care, 24/7. I do still have lots to worry about, but clarity on so much that gives me hope.

So to the day!

Psalm 108

Good triggers.

I’ve suffered a bit of a rising tide of anxiety, a loss of self confidence, and some frustration of late.

It may be healthy – I have some sense of changing, of exploring different priorities in life, too. Sometimes the anxiety is linked to certain triggers of stressful failures and changes in my past. The fear that history is repeating.

It came on when my job situation stabilised. It could a kind of disappointment: certainty brings with it diminished possibility. Or a kind of growing pain: certainty allows the luxury of reflection and reassessment of unhelpful patterns in your life.

Anyway, it’s seems relevant to today’s Psalm, which is two sections of previous Psalms edited together. I recognised it straight away, because both had language and thoughts I was particularly excited by.

Both are about God being big.

The the first was a fugitive Psalm, 58. David, not yet king, hides in a cave, then in the morning has an awesome praise moment seeing the dawn illuminate the full size of god’s creation, as he sings the day in with his harp. Very memorable. I added it to my list of passages that night make a good Christian song one day.

This Psalm, 108, leaves out the cave, so we just get “in the morning I sing with my harp and contemplate how big God is”.

The second, Psalm 60, is from when David was king and fighting back ambitious neighbouring nations, as kings do.

He suffered a military reversal. The campaign was ultimately successful, but in the time of struggle he wrote this Psalm to give his fear, and the fate of the whole enterprise, into God’s hands.

It’s about god’s size, he literally visualised God as a giant using one nation to throw off his shoes and another as a basin to wash his hands in.

When I blogged Psalm 60 this rather comical image brought back lovely childhood memories of giggling at the language when I chanted the psalm as a cathedral chorister “Moab is my washpot”.

Who knows if David was even at war when he made this frankenpsalm. Maybe the conflicts he surrendered to god’s will were just the trials of a typical day at the king’s palace.

They edit together neatly because they are both moments of realising how big God is. Two moments of trusting God, one as fugitive, one as king, that delivered David to where he is now, singing a song in morning, in what remains his habit.

The quality of God that joins these three dots in his life is mentioned in the opening line: steadfast.

So I wake up in a Saturday, and I’m off to a conference at church, to think about a treaty with our indigenous brothers and sisters. And here is this message to think about how big God is, how he has been good in the past, and will be good again.

As I’m feeling unsettled by some stressful triggers, I will remember the good triggers. God has been steadfast to me too; twas grace that bought me safe thus far.

Proverbs 24

A whole bunch of random wisdom. 10 numbered, and then a bunch of unnumbered “further sayings”. We’re talking pre Dewey decimal system organisation here.

The general theme is sticking to a sober sensible Christian life through thick and thin. When good people fail, when bad people fail, when evil seems to triumph, when you’re winning and when you’re losing, when things are calm or disrupted. Whatever.

Consistency. Calm. Letting God guide your steps, aware of the eternal picture.

The last few sayings cover honesty, fairness, justice and diligence. It warns against the slow decline that comes from lazy habits.

The underlying spiritual principle is the fruit of the spirit – love, joy, peace, self control. Like yesterday, not much mention of God but everything points to his indwelling.

I’m working really hard to emerge from a feeling of inability to cope, to be self disciplined and regular in my habits. We’re starting lent today, is as good a prompt as any to think about self discipline.

I might cut down on lollies and alcohol.

I had a thing last year where I could only eat lollies offered to me when I’m out, I’m thinking to do the same for both lollies and alcohol. It’s a good way to cut down very privately, without making a public fuss about it.

Also it’s a step towards establishing a sustainable habit rather than a fast.

Very proverbs! Wisdom is personal. It’s about ethics.

Proverbs 18

On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.

This is a picture of the world with the blind leading the blind, the shepherdless sheep for whom Jesus wept.

Our gossip goes deep into our attitudes. We speak and speak, incurious, determined not to let facts contradict our beliefs. Spouting opinions for the sheer entertainment of our own voices being heard.

It’s a chapter about damaging words and thought patterns. Physical illness is less the enemy of our soul than our minds:

The human spirit can endure in sickness,
but a crushed spirit who can bear?

Rich people build up their secure domestic compounds but the security those offer is illusory. In the centre of it all, the actual solid rock:

The name of the Lord is a fortified tower;
the righteous run to it and are safe.

There’s good stuff in the world, it’s not damning or abandoning of it. It’s a competition. But there is an assault of foolish ideas coming at us.

Think carefully, be a source of wisdom to the extent a human can, it starts with your heart.

I can’t always talk God in every interaction I have with my children or people at large. But I can always strive for wisdom.

Proverbs 7

Something wrong with your heart.

A vivid story of a seduction. The woman is one who is in a relationship but goes out to pick-up joints, essentially, when her husband isn’t around. The guy is young and unattached, but hanging around places where he knows people go to find casual sex, so neither are innocent.

The point is that is a transaction, just about sex. Neither are looking for more than a one night stand.

The attractions of the arrangement are vividly portrayed, her descriptions of her scented, decorated bed, house full of food, husband away on a long trip, the invitation to ‘drink of love til dawn’ (one commentator said the original wording was ‘too gross to be literally translated’).

Surely the young men it was targeted at would have found it all quite triggering… I imagine them saying ‘so these dodgy streets in town I should avoid… Which ones were they again?’

But he’s saying it’s not that simple. He has a lot of slaughter metaphors… The house is a stairway to hell.

The warnings of death in this passage seem pretty dramatic. I feel a bit more psalms-y about it. ‘why do the people who ignore God have great lives?’

Though it reminds me of a teen discussion at Christian summer camp with my friend Peter Pattison, who said he found all the stuff about God attractive, but he planned to have lots of sex, so he couldn’t accept it. I was floored by his honesty, couldn’t in the moment come up with a counter argument.

By chance I shared an office with his wife years later. She even mentioned how he had a box of sexy magazines in the shed where he’d go occasionally – to her it was cute.

So was that what his bargain boiled down to? What if that discussion was the closest he ever got to connecting with the God of love, the author of life. Did he really say ‘no I don’t want that’, turn off the holy spirit and wind up – in the end – with a box of magazines to jerk off to? He coulda had both! I hope he revisits that wisdom he was on the edge of. It’s certainly a dumb dumb dumb deal.

The passage identifies it as a problem that starts in our hearts: ‘Do not let your heart turn to her ways or stray into her paths. Many are the victims she has brought down’.

Apologies – another anecdote.  The example of Andrew Broad, the conservative ‘pro marriage’ politician bought down last year for spending public money on dates he got through a ‘sugar daddy’ website – every time he went on overseas trips. The first time he did it, he was this guy.

You think: what’s wrong with you? How on earth was that worth it the risk? How do you get to that place?

His glands asked permission to override his heart, and he said yes. He killed something in his heart.

We live in a permissive sex saturated society. It’s confusing because this picture of guilt-free casual sex has been incorporated into the process of finding a life partner for many people.

The ideals of: sex when and with whom I want; and the dream of sex being an expression of a grand romance with an ideal partner who fulfills you, exist simultaneously. But they just can’t. Not in real life.

It’s complicated, and you eventually have to work on fixing up, and opening up, your hard and broken heart. I do believe most people naturally get to a place that is close to Christian morality, and those who don’t really do have something wrong with them, some missing thing in their heart.

Putting aside arguments about homosexuality and the Bible for the moment, it’s beautiful and significant I think that public declarations of monogamy became so important to the LGBT community. ‘Love is love’ says love is recognised as an ideal that sexual freedom is worth surrendering for.

I love the message of Song of Songs, about not stirring up the beast until you are ready, I think that’s a very deep truth that could be preached a lot more, and gets to a really honest place about the power of sexuality.

Because many of the biggest defenders of free love will still, surely, be able to point to pain, bad experiences, regrets and scar tissue they bring to relationships that could have been so easily avoided if they had just listened to and trusted their heart more.

A heart for God will steer me better, he really does want good things for me and those I love.

Job 42

Last chapter. Job has all his blessing restored.

Job understands that he had no idea what he was talking about when he cursed the day he was born and challenged God to make a case for how his suffering was fair.

God’s presence has given him perspective on his existence and confidence that he is loved by a wonderful powerful God who is right across the details of life.

He takes back what he said, repenting of his words.

It’s still one of the hardest things, putting your victim status on the altar, giving that to God. When he repents, Job is still destitute and covered with sores.

Feeling sorry for your self, poetically disillusioned, is one of the few benefits of things going wrong. But in that we aren’t to sin, it doesn’t give us a get out of jail free card to lash out or be indulgent or selfish.

Jobs acceptance of God’s sovereignty is a remarkable, Christ-like act, like when Jesus stays silent during his trial and death, or – is it in the garden? – when he says ‘not my will but yours father’

I recall a lecturer at uni whose parody of the stupidity of Christianity was ‘i don’t know, I just believe‘. It’s exactly what job is saying, you won’t know, you just have to believe.

We need to wear that with pride and resist the temptation to tie life up with neat moral lessons like an Aesop fable, or a woman’s weekly article.

That remains the friend’s error, trying to construct a fake, watered down Christianity, that makes more sense but cuts out what God is actually saying and doing.

I’ve run my reading of Job in parallel with comments about the things in life that worry me, that I hope will turn out right.

Am I bad at giving up control? I think a lot of human mischief comes from wanting to control more than we can. We justify selfishness and lack of empathy for our need to feel in control of life’s circumstances.

We can wish, hope and pray for things to be different. Jesus cried great sobs wishing he didn’t have to drink his cup of suffering. But he stayed focussed, he drank it as from God.

I was always uncomfortable with the blessing that is restored to job. New kids to replace those he lost. Though we know from life I suppose how that eases the pain of loss without diminishing the uniqueness of the ones who die.

And though we know why it’s fair that job gets back his health, wealth and family, he doesn’t. And because of what he has had revealed of God he doesn’t need to.

The Lord gives and takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord. His first reaction got tested, tortured, questioned but ultimately, he learned not to demand God’s blessing.

2 Chronicles 25

Love God you win disobey God you lose. It’s a story like that. This king is Amaziah.

He wins a victory trusting in the Lord. On a prophets advice he sends home a mercenary force he’s already paid for… Pale shades of Gideon who reduced his army dramatically in size to show how strong God was.

But Amaziah made lots of other mistakes and defied God in almost every other decision. He was not a good king and left Judah weakened militarily and spiritually.

The key word was ‘wholeheartedly’. This king loved God in one part of his heart but, it says, not all of it. So it’s a lesson about ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart’

I enter a time of trusting God because I have only 2 months and a week left in my contract at work. There will be some jobs I can apply for, but not sure if they’ll be filled before then or if I’ll get them. Do I look for other options? I feel god wants me to be at Salvos. I also, just personally, want to be at Salvos.

I test it out and see.

Jeremiah 32

Long term investment.

Jumping back to the seize of Jerusalem, Jeremiah is being held in the kings palace because of his negative talk. The King asks him why, why does he keep saying they will lose?

God has prepared him for this moment by getting him to do a sign showing his long term investment, literally, in the promised land. He’s got him to buy a field during the siege. He’s hidden the deed away, because God has promised one day it will mean something.

The King probably knew they would most likely be defeated. But he just didn’t want to hear it. Jeremiah became an external thing to focus his own fear on.

God and by extension Jeremiah are putting their money on Jerusalem in a tangible way that sort of turns the table on who is the fear monger and who is not.

But it also demonstrates the inequality of power, the king is losing his grip on his, but God never will. Why do we always fall for the earthly power?

Jeremiah is a book about listening to God. He often says the last thing you want to hear.