Ezekiel 35

New years Day.

I pray for my children, Rennie overnight at a new years eve party: for safety, wisdom and enlightenment, bro, and for lewes at home, for clarity, opportunities and courage. For Daisy, happiness, stability, prosperity and a few breaks. For Kelly, satisfaction, joy, peace, the husband she deserves. Myself wisdom, energy and patience.

I would like to be more carefree, but if not, that this sense of melancholy will be productive of care and empathy. Openness, rather than the glum stoicism I revert to.

For the world… A mixture of undeserved blessing and thoroughly deserved justice, based on whether I like the part of the world in question.

In today’s passage God promises that Edom, Israel’s neighbor that opportunistically joined in the downfall and plunder of Judah will get the historical obscurity it deserves. With God, justice executed on a person or society deserving it is a last resort, the most horrible of judgements.

They have only just recently found archaeological evidence of Edom, it became so thoroughly obscure.

Being human,I tend to prefer justice on those I don’t respect. And grace for those I admire. God’s patient way is far more generous and fair.

It’s possible in a few ways for our family to thrive more in 2020 than last year. May God give us grace and blessing.

Historically, the thing most likely to bring about spiritual renewal is to write God off.

Between the historical corruption and naked political opportunism of much of the church, to an extent I would not have thought possible as a child; and the increasing malice towards Christianity in mainstream culture I don’t know who is doing a better job of rejecting God. Probably the church.

But maybe it heralds some sort of revival in the coming decade.

When the heavy apparatus of religion, temples, kings, priests and things, failed in Israel, the wild outsiders, the prophets came in with the beautiful magnificent revelation of god’s plan of grace.

Maybe again?

Too much to pray for!

Psalm 1

I’m jumping back to psalms 1 – 5, because for some reason I started at 6.

I know this psalm so well, I went to a church that sang it a lot. I could still probably play it in my sleep, as I was organist there, it’s the church I learned organ at.

The abiding image is of the tree planted by water. This is the Christian who is mature, who delights in God’s word. It changes him/her, they become distinct from the unbelievers around them. A mighty, wonderful tree

In my mind it’s strong, with deep roots, lush foliage, birds in its branches, reliable, constant, making a beautiful shady spot of rest next to a lovely flowing stream, people and animals alike instantly recognise that being under this tree is a great place to stop and be happy and calm.

It’s a great image for a mature Christian, and a great start to a book of songs reflecting the nature and character of God.

This tree believer is contrasted to the insubstantial loud cynical scoffers, who’s main contribution to the world is try to throw shade on God. Starved of spiritual nutrient, they will not stand at the day of judgement, but will blow away like chaff.

This insubstantiality of body comes to us all, dust to dust, ashes to ashes. This is a very gentle and sneaky hellfire and brimstone damnation sermon, because of that central soothing image of the strong, happy and abiding tree. The lingering effect is not scary, but warmly inviting “read on, get the good stuff. Sit awhile by this stream”.

“Blessed” is the seed, the opening promise from which this whole book will flow, like the stream of God’s word which abundantly feeds the tree. The state of God’s favour, of being generously provided for and watched over by God. I was surprised that the word is used just once, because the psalm hangs off it, is all about it.

This psalm is a keeper, for sure.

Psalm 134

In the night kitchen. It is a children’s book by the ‘where the wild things are’ guy, very evocative about the bakers who make bread while we sleep and the child who is being read the story going to them in a dream.

This is the last psalm of ascents. I’ve loved them, this pilgrimage playlist, full of optimism for coming into the presence of God.

In a literal sense it praises the priests and temple assistants who do the night shift at the temple, and calls on God to bless them. For the pilgrims coming to Jerusalem, I imagine it fuelling images of relentless activity while others sleep, like the night kitchen. The 24/7 temple.

Maybe it was a method of expectation management… If we get there and you wind up offering your sheep at 3 in the morning, that’s ok.

Applying it to my situation, I am now a servant of God, my body is a temple where God dwells and my ministry is my obedience.

And the night shift is the less easy shift, the one while others rest, the hard yards, the one where it is dark and you can’t take warmth or illumination for granted.

I felt a little like we were doing the hard yards yesterday when a combination of upset stomach and anxiety made my son unable to do his second day of work experience. We got as far as entering the building.

May the maker of heaven and earth bless us!

Psalm 132

This psalm reads a bit like an excerpt from a talk. It’s about David, one of the few that mentions a third person other than God.

It’s how finding a dwelling place for God was very important, David named where the temple would be built. And God did choose mount Zion.

I recall it was also a vulnerable moment for him, where he repented of the arrogance of wanting a legacy to his greatness, as an older man, by doing a counting of the people. God sharply taught him that was not right.

The psalm ends by affirming God’s promises, for David’s sake, that he will dwell in and bless Zion and David’s crown forever. It’s a promise that was fullfilled in Jesus, the Messiah, and in the new, not the old Jerusalem. I’m not sure the psalmist here had any inkling of that, the language is consistent with him believing in a literal fulfillment of that promise.

Whatever the visions of the new Jerusalem in Revelation are about, for now and part of the future is god living in us.

So I suppose… I should have thought this through before writing, it’s a praise of grace. By favouring his kingdom, and growing it in strength, God is favouring little old me.

It’s Monday and I’m nervous / keen to get back to work with a renewed focus.

Rennie is coming with me for work experience in the in house cafe. The guy who serves there is a really great bloke, so I’m hoping he’ll have a good time and make a good friend.

So you know, praying for abundant provision, satisfaction and salvation, just like the psalm says.

Psalm 112

I didn’t look at the commentary yesterday and missed the background to these two Psalms.

They are a pigeon pair, each are twenty two lines long in the original, and both are alphabet acrostics, ie: in the original language, each line starts with a letter of the alphabet in order. Twice through the alphabet.

The great preacher Charles Spurgeon pithily nailed both – as he so often does – calling them the sun and moon. 111 looks directly at the glory of God, 112 sees his glory reflected in the life of believers.

I felt sad at the first couple of verses because it talked about the success of the believers’ children and how wealthy and rich their houses will become.

I’m sensitive about my children but I need to be positive and take this as a promise to trust in their value as human beings and love them for who they are. Other ways, madness lies, for me.

The wealth is relative of course. I can be worrying about making ends meet and still be very much among the richer on the planet…

And the psalm turns out not to be unrealistic about the Love God=#blessed equation, going on to say that that believing in God can make light dawn in the darkness. I took it to mean that even if a believer is in a dark time, the light of Christ will make it better.

The rest of it talks about security in God, which is a thread that links the good and the bad times for believers. It talks about not needing to fear. Even the worst news will not shake us badly because we know god’s love and steadfastness.

You have the confidence to be generous and just. None of the other things people long for will be as rewarding.

Better with God, that what I hear, and so true, better with God.

Psalm 85

God and people, up and down. God above, people below.

The first half talks to God, remembering blessings past and asking for restoration again. Specifically for God’s anger to pass, for him to show his unfailing love, revive and save the people.

It was clearly written during a time of distress.

Second half talks about our part in it. The author promises to listen to God, to fear him and not be foolish.

Then you have these lovely pictures of God’s grace and our response kissing. Godly people being the meeting place of God’s righteousness and the faithful responses on earth.

It may have been a prayer for an actual drought, or a metaphor, but you have God’s blessing coming down and the fruitfulness of the fields reaching up.

The sense of mutuality, of my part to play, is a great way to launch into a new week. I’ll give it my all!

Since we’re doing so much music of late, here chance the rapper’s blessings song, which this psalm bought to mind.

Psalm 77

If this book of Psalms, starting from psalm 73, so far has had a theme it’s remembering.

Yesterday’s was about when Israel had military glory. Today’s joins the dots.

It narrates much more fully the journey from fear and despair in the night to remembering and calling on God to be in control.

At first the night time meditation on God produces distress, classic night fears that abandonment, rejection by God will go on forever.

But then appealing to the deeds of long ago starts to calm him.

He visualises the chaos of the sea. Dark stirring water is an abiding metaphor of losing control for all Israelites it seems. Then he visualises lightning and storms, the power of God over the sea.

It ends on a specific memory of the Israelites, led by Moses and Aaron, leaving Egypt by walking through the sea stepping in the invisible footsteps of God.

This image combines God’s power with his specific love for Israel, and calms him.

The mighty blue mountains, nature’s intimidating size, and a lifetime of memories, along with time to be with my family, is calming and restoring me, praise God.

Being aware of the movement of air, or the stillness of it. The heat has been crazy, but there’s always a stream to cool your toes in.

We’ve played board games and browsed antiques and clothes. Slowed down, remembered rituals, watched bad TV and found new things.

I think the psalmist is listening, letting God speak. Creating opportunities to hear him. We bought a funny antique glitter art framed verse to put on our wall yesterday ‘quench not the Spirit’.

Speak father, in this moment of our lives’ intersection, to all our different needs.

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 65

This is a beautiful psalm. Its a praise psalm, but praising more what God does than who God is, and at the end it goes into wonderful tumbling raptures about the abundance and provision of nature.

It navigates the relationship between the chosen people and all people. God is God of all the earth, creator of all, blesses all, and all will come to him. But he finds specific praise and those who will keep vows to him in Zion, and they appreciate being blessed that way.

There is a creating/taming section and an abundance section.

They stand back in awe at the one who made and tamed mountains, roaring waters and nations. His power, size and eternal nature is a source of joy. I always think of the elation you feel when you go to an impressive lookout or see a big storm, or fly over lands.

But then it goes human scaled, the sweetness of abundant provision, of spring and harvest – spring is described as crowning the year. We sang a gorgeous anthem when I was young, set to these words.

I had a sense of the streams and creeks being like fingers of God’s blessing, spreading out life and gentleness over the earth, resulting in hills of gladness, covered in flocks and harvest carts overflowing with bounty.

Suits my mood, nicking off church to do – an admittedly self serving – DIY project.

Finally, after years, paving our backyard, in the happy anticipation of a summer of hospitality and enjoying meals outside in the warm evenings. Hashtag blessed!

Oh here is a vid of the anthem. I don’t think it’s the first time I’ve linked it, but it’s so sweet. Under 2 mins, just one verse of text, and the vid is of a slightly rough but keen choir… That was us. Visualise young me in the front row.

And the lines of polyphony, criss crossing melodies, remind me of those bright playful fingers of streams running though the hills and fields, the life blood of blessing.

2 Chronicles 9

Behold! The Queen of Sheba.

The visit of this exotic personage, from a far flung and wealthy kingdom… (they think it was in present day Yemen, pretty much the edge of the known world to them) …lends massive credence to the honour and fame they have achieved.

This nation of former slaves, transformed by God’s blessing so that all the world acknowledges his greatness.

More descriptions of Solomon’s stunning opulence follow. It goes on for 40 years, Israel’s high period, and then Solomon dies. The Queen sums it up:

“Praise be to God who has delighted in you”

It’s what God wants for us. The garden of Eden is described in similar abundant terms, as is the new earth and heaven described in revelation.

The history of Israel is a huge lesson that people’s hearts don’t become loving if you pour out massive blessing on them.

Look at the wealthiest, most blessed nation on earth today. The US are desperate to become “great” again. Yesterday I read they slapped trade tariffs on Turkey because the world trade system is ‘so unfair’.

Great wealth has begotten more greed and bullying of nations poorer than themselves. Their policy of ‘America first’ belies the fact that they already are first. It’s actually America further first.

And Australia is not better, look at how we treat refugees while shrinking or foreign aid. If the West is in decline is because our rich diet is so bad for us.