Ezekiel 3

Ezekiel’s preparation for ministry is elaborate because God knows the message is hard and Ezekiel is not up to the task. The chapter is God doing everything he can to help Ezekiel to make brave choices.

The Israelite people, carted away from Israel into exile in Babylon, no doubt feel abandoned: that God wasn’t real. Or if they do still believe, his plans make no sense.

So Ezekiel coming and telling them “God is very disappointed and angry with you” is highly likely to make him a target for much of their bitterness and misery.

First he eats the scroll of God’s word he got yesterday. It tastes sweet like honey (didn’t The Psalms say the law was sweeter than honey? Hmmmm… Mind you I called it a poison pill yesterday!)

God promises him hardness to match the hardness of the people. So he has the word inside, and the armour of God outside.

The spirit lifts him and the great glorious contraption of wheels and winged creatures delivers him to the people.

Ezekiel is full of bitterness and anger… At God I’m thinking. For seven days he sits among them, deeply distressed. No message.

It’s what I would have done I think, I’m also a coward. It’s why being a writer suits me so well. Giving other people the scripts to deliver.

God takes him out of there into the desert and ratchets up the pressure with the watchman argument: if the people reject your message, it’s on them. If the people never hear your message, that’s on you.

You are simply the watchman, your only job is to warn them of danger, even if you know they’ll reject it.

It ends with a weird scene of Ezekiel being tied up in his own house, unable to leave, and God making him unable to speak.

If you won’t use your legs and tongue for my mission, God’s seems to be saying, how about you don’t use them for anything else for a while!

At this point is it were me, I would start to be persuaded. It a theme from all the major prophets, God knows being a prophet is his suckiest job. He knows a normal person will find it almost impossible.

So it’s quite a threatening chapter to read. Please God, I don’t want to be a prophet!

I’m reminded of our discussions about the best sign to put out the front of our church.

I suggested “lay down your burdens” which was a big hit. Talking about comfort in a very abstract way. It did start some conversations, engagement with our community, it must be said. I certainly intended the any engagement that occurred would lead to a less abstract message in time.

The next one is probably going to be “Jesus loves you”. Still positive, but it confronts head on that Christianity is about responding to Jesus.

If we ever take that out, we aren’t being watchmen.

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Psalm 142

Never alone. This is why it’s great to be connected to God.

Key moments out of 6 verses to me were: 2, ‘I pour out before him my complaint’ and 5 ‘you are my portion in the land of the living’. As in, I am in dire straights, I have no one. But: you are all I need.

I’m not, as David, in some miserable cave, public enemy number one, knowing everyone wants me dead. But I’m feeling kind of sorry for myself, stuck.

I should be planning retirement, looking forward to the rest of my life, but I can’t see past the older two children who show no sign of ever leaving. I’m not exaggerating, that’s literally the case.

And it’s a tension and a strain, obviously on me and Kelly. The drumbeat of questions about the future isn’t quite deafening, yet. I’m 57, but sometime in the next 3-8… 13? years, I’ll like to retire if I can.

I’ve have had an interrupted career, not a lot of Super. We won’t be well off, but I can do poor. However, I can’t imagine the future, and that’s a big problem, blocking me from moving ahead on all sorts of things.

For me, part of the Lord being my portion means stepping up to these issues.

Psalm 119

Here we go, the longest chapter in the Bible.

22 stanzas, one for each letter of the Jewish alphabet, and each about the law, the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. I should have read this first, it’s a phenomenal sales pitch for the law.

It’s a prayer, addressed from one individual to God, full of intimate and vulnerable language.

One line summaries of each stanza:

  • You’ll be blessed, aka not forsaken, if you follow the law.
  • Meditate on, delight in, seek & follow the law to stay pure and true
  • Help me keep longing for the law, don’t let me become like the cynics around me
  • I’m low and sorrowful, may the law give me understanding and strength
  • Keep me learning & focused on what is right, the worthless things don’t bring life
  • I’ll boldly and freely speak the law to Kings: keep your promises of love and salvation
  • I’m mercilessly mocked for keeping the law, but my hope comes from you who promises life
  • You are all I need Lord, the world is about your love, the wicked can bind me but won’t change me
  • You taught me though affliction, I had strayed, but now I value the law more than gold.
  • You made me who I am, an example to others, a target for the wicked; and your love comforts me
  • I’m fainting from waiting, blind from looking for your promise, save me from persecution so I can love you more
  • Your word is eternal, boundless perfection, it saved my life before and will again.
  • The law is sweeter than honey, it made me wiser than enemies, teachers and elders
  • Your law lights a path though constant danger, and I’m determined to keep it ’til the end.
  • Only the law is solid, everything else is a delusion that will come to nothing.
  • I’ve lived your law and I’m under attack, it’s time to act on your promises Lord!
  • Your law is wonderful unfolding light. I’m confident of deliverence and cry over disobedience.
  • I’m exhausted, people ignore you, but the lasting rightness of your law withstands all tests.
  • The wicked are near, but so are you Lord day and night, and your word will last.
  • I love you Lord, unlike the wicked, show me compassion
  • Kings persecute me but I obey and praise you all day, and I have peace – how I love your law!
  • I’ve strayed, but not forgotten your law, hear me, save me and so I can continue to praise you.

Some things that struck me:

It’s like a portrait of the god revealed in Jesus. I remember the sense of God’s compassion and justice coming from so many of the laws, as well as weird rules about skin diseases etc. But here we have the full character of God revealed to this person through the law. Gives resonance to Jesus’ claim to be the fulfillment of the law, it was always pointing his direction.

It’s a detailed picture of the life of a believer. Aware you aren’t perfect. Determined to be obedient, aware of God’s love and relying on his truth, compassion and steadfastness. Finding peace under attack, being grateful for God even in hard times and the sense of revelation continuing to unfold to moments of overwhelming joy.

I liked how it is so intimate, the private prayers of one believer, but clearly with the acrostic structure designed as a teaching tool, an encouragement for many. It’s testimony, not doctrine, and so powerful for that, as the personal feelings about God aggregate.

For all that it is feeling a bit inadequate to my circumstances this morning. My frustration with my oldest son boiled over into ugly anger last night that is unresolved, and is a long ongoing drag on his and everyone’s mental health and happiness. I struggle so profoundly to come to terms with it.

His 27th birthday a week or so ago, with the prospect of him maybe never launching into a life outside his room, and perhaps the death of my fondly remembered youth group aquaintance feed into the feelings of dissatisfaction I’ve been having of late.

Praying for wisdom. I suppose the life of the writer of the psalm was as challenging. The lives of others often seems simpler from the outside. He said God’s law was enough, his portion, but it doesn’t feel it today.

I need to say some of this stuff to him.

Psalm 116

This psalm contains the first verse ever preached on Australian soil, by Rev Richard Johnson, fresh off the first fleet of convicts to arrive in Australia.

What shall I render to the Lord for all his goodness to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.

I’m not sure what the convicts made of the reference to God’s goodness, criminals on the other side of the world permanently separated from all they knew. At least they were alive, they had survived the trip.

At the conference on treaty last week at our church, pastor uncle Ray Minniecon told us to think carefully about the verse and read this psalm, in the context of the interest we had expressed in hearing about the cause of treaty.

Johnson was apparently a sensitive man. I don’t know much about him. He and his wife were friendly to the natives – they gave their daughter an Aboriginal name, Milbah. It was however the start of great trauma that nearly wiped out the Aboriginal race and smashed their elaborate and astoundingly ancient culture.

230 years later, shamefully, there is still no formal agreement over the land. They are now at least counted and vote as humans, not just part of the flora and fauna (since 1967) and the courts have recognised their original ownership of the land (Mabo decision, 1984). But they are asking us for a treaty, and so far we’ve said no.

The title to all our Christian churches still goes back to the moment when, without the inhabitant’s consent, Captain Cook planted the union Jack and claimed Australia for the King. It’s land taken without consent, still, and the practical effects of the trauma significantly impacts Aboriginal lives.

The narrative of the psalm starts with praise of God’s rescue from crisis. From impending death; from tears, trouble and sorrow.

I think back on my own hard times, and the Lord has been there. Through deaths of family members, lost jobs, financial strains, times I felt brought very low. Not as low as the psalmist I’m guessing, but low. Sometimes I’ve felt active guidance, at other times, comfort and peace.

Then comes the verse I quoted, about what I can give back. And the first thing you can give God when you accept he has been guiding your life is to receive more from him: salvation.

The commentators remind us to recall that Jesus probably sang this directly before going to the garden of Gethsemane, and praying that if there was any way, he’d rather not drink the cup of salvation. But that God’s will should be done.

Then the psalm goes on to talk of a life of grace and obedience in response to God’s saving presence, keeping your vows, accepting that you are God’s child, not his servant, valuing your life and death as much as God does.

What we give to God in gratitude for his redemption is to receive the revelation of his mind, trust his promises and act on them. Humble acceptance is a strange service, but it’s what God wants from us.

And it’s critical to a treaty between the first and later possessors of this land. Us, the later being truthful, and humble, accepting from the first the land we already took, and accepting forgiveness for taking it. We’re finding it harder than it sounds like it should be, given what a passive service it is to render.

Ecclesiastes 10

This seemed like a series of random bits of practical advice.

The commentary tried to make a case that it was starting to bring all that had gone before to a conclusion, to a place of meaning after so much meaninglessness. But I was unconvinced.

It was one of those days or chapters that just didn’t grab me. There was little about God directly, in fact nothing.

It kept bringing to my mind 1 Corinthians type statements about wisdom which seem to contradict it “Since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.

Many of Jesus’ parables challenged conventional wisdom, such as the one about the workers all being given the same generous payment for different amounts of work. I’d never call grace meaningless, but it does have an irrationality about it.

One thing that stuck me was the attitude to kingship. It was quite essentialist in a way that jarred with my 21st century sensibilities.

So it said that it was a great evil under the sun that a commoner would be in a ruling position, ‘blessed is the land whose king is of noble birth.’ When low born rule, they get drunk and sleep in, never happens to the toffs, apparently!

The writer has never heard of democracy, but really, it’s not that bad! Jesus of course was born of David’s line and of God himself. David was low born and had kingship destined for him by grace.

Commentators suggested it was a model model about ideal kingship… I guess.

There’s another bit about how the foolish display how stupid they are just by the way they walk down the street. Wisdom or script of mean girls?

It ends with a warning against gossip and laziness, a hearty recommendation of feasting and wine, plus “money is the answer for everything”. What am I supposed to be getting from this?

It’s partly me… I’m very flat at the end of holidays. Having trouble with priorities. Maybe I’m feeling betrayed because the commentary is right .. the book is getting back to a more balanced place and I don’t want to go there! I’m still in the mood for angsty bleakness…

Anyway, I don’t feel like any great revelation will open up from continuing to rabbit on. See what tomorrow brings!

Proverbs 27

Wounds from a friend can be trusted,
but an enemy multiplies kisses.

There is a vibe of things you can trust, tough love vs the things that deceive, or are insubstantial.

It starts with things said, including self praise (better to let others praise). It moves to things unsaid… (better to know, to have things out).

As iron sharpens iron,
so one person sharpens another.

There are a few verses about the value of good friends, and how the true nature of people is revealed over time:

As water reflects the face,
so one’s life reflects the heart.

It’s an egalitarian chapter, advice for the prols and Kings alike.

It is plugging into the things that are of eternal value.

It reminds me of 1 Cor 13, how after the things of this world have passed away, all that will remain is love. Or Jesus talking about storing up treasure in heaven that won’t decay.

One of my favourite hymn couplets is:

“Solid joys and lasting pleasures, none but Zions children know”.

It was a stressful weekend, all of the children were quite miserable in turns. We ended up going out a bit, a friend had spare theatre tickets, others invited us to eat out. But every time we got home there was acrimony and sadness.

The contrast between the wise cautious sensible calm in the book and the news of life is poignant and extreme.

Give me wisdom!

Proverbs 17

It’s not proverbs’ fault.

I have found a book that is deeply unsuited to reading a chapter at a time first thing in the morning.

Like taking a car manual to a book club, this book has exposed that my rigid formula for Bible reading does not match every kind of writing.

Proverbs of all things, having made it though Numbers and Daniel!

I’ll try taking the maxim that has helped in the past – focus on what it says about God – but here I’ll adjust to real time: what is God saying to you?

More than just “what is your favourite proverb?” – I’ll ask: “what speaks to my soul?”  The murmurings of the unquenched Spirit.

So scan proverbs 17 again, here goes:

God refines out the spirtual gold and silver in my heart.

These proverbs illustrate living in a state of spiritual sensitivity.

There is a control of anger, of temptation to ungodly shortcuts to happiness, like bribes or cheating, or simply ignoring the injustice and misery around you. But those will kill the spirit.

If we listen to God he will soften our hearts and purify our minds.

I worry about my family a lot, but I need to connect more. I have trouble connecting.

I’ll talk to Kelly about how to connect.

Father help me be a channel of your peace.

PS: And though I’m trying not to do ‘what was your fave proverb’ there was one I don’t want to forget:

‘A present is a precious stone in the eyes of its possessor;
Wherever he turns, he prospers.’

The present is the same word for bribe – its at the least a gift to curry favour. Its quite obscure but its saying the person who makes a bribe or manipulative gift thinks of it as a precious stone, when they imagine all sorts of opportunities opening up for themselves by giving it.

The image of ‘wherever he turns…’ is of turning a precious stone in your hand, and seeing gleams in every facet. Its not judging it, though in context its scarcely the kind of behaviour the godly are advised to undertake.

I think its just observational, saying how life is. You’ll encounter people big noting their influence, their ability to be slick, and one step ahead of the system. Somehow to me, thinking of it as them turning their jewel puts it in context, makes it easier not to find threatening.

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 78

Ok very much continuing the theme of remembering. This is a recap of the whole history of Israel from exodus to David.

It’s a song to teach young people their history and their identity.

Asaph has studied the scriptures deeply and reduced giant portions of them down to these 70 verses.

The history we get is of God’s saving deeds for Israel, his harsh judgement when they despise him and his generous provision.

He notes that when God slew them, they returned to him and tried to obey, but then the praise would devolve to empty flattery not matched in their hearts.

It’s a picture of God’s patience as time and time again he doesn’t give them what their faithless hearts demand, abandonment.

God’s mercy is partly in account of their ephemeral nature “He remembered that they were but flesh, a passing breeze that does not return.

The selective winnowing of God’s people comes down to Judah, to David. The psalm ends with him guiding Israel with skillful hands, a bit like #76 the other day, a snapshot of the glory days.

One theory is that the book of Psalms was assembled as a sort of portable temple for the period of exile when the real one was destroyed. If so this section has been about the value of suffering, of judgement, and how it doesn’t mean God has abandoned you.

I feel a bit coddled and guilty when I read about the Israelites, because I feel like I live in a time of relatively cheap grace.

A bit like as the youngest child in my family, the parents I knew were much softer and gentler than the severe parents my eldest brother remembers.

But that jarring perspective of God’s, that we are a passing breeze – that’s why he goes easy on us, wow. The old testament is good at reminding me how loved I am, how wild yet patient God is. The cost of love.

What can I give this year?

Job 12

Job responds to Zophar. He talks about God being in control. The response goes for two chapters.

So far, I’d guess that the difference between Job’s and Zophar’s attitude to God and Job’s suffering it’s that Zophar is saying ’tis a mystery’ and Job is saying ’tis a mystery I need to try and understand!!!’

He is a bit sarcastic about his friends – he accuses them of banalities, and comments on how easy it is to pontificate from the outside of misfortune.

His many examples of God being in control, of nature, of people, shift from good things to terrible things. Yes, God is in control of all of them!

We’ll see where he takes it tomorrow.

I did marginally better at feeling positive, productive and efficient at work yesterday, but still find it extraordinarily hard. It’s hard to explain how it is.

The place is at the pointy end of a major 4 year change, the planning has taken most of the time, so now at the end, everything is in an uproar and flux. Like the moments on a reality show like the block where the clock is ticking down the last few minutes. Most of people supervising are quite distracted and I am quite forgotten.

Plus home is a bit weird too. Kelly (my wife) is sympathetic but frantically busy finishing her own assessments for her course, and she has her own sense of existential pondering in the mix too.

In a week or so at work is a mega gathering in Melbourne to launch the new unified national version of the church. Within that I, and many others I notice, are quite in limbo.

Various people get positions, and they are happy about that, but they seem fairly dangling too, as they try to figure out what the new postitions are.

I can’t really plan anything because I don’t know what the future holds, which exacerbates the usual sense of end of year tiredness and feeling overwhelmed that kicks in towards Christmas.

When I was self employed and very negative about work I used to program my time very tightly. Break my projects down to a series of hour and half hour deadlines though the day. I’m going to try that today.

Plus it’s the weekend tomorrow!