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 chargers 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.

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Proverbs 20

Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise.

Do not love sleep or you will grow poor; stay awake and you will have food to spare

Got me there!

There is a recurring theme of real politic… About pleasing or displeasing the king. It’s quite crawly, but true in an observational way.

A king’s wrath strikes terror like the roar of a lion; those who anger him forfeit their lives.

Most chapters have a few of these, and I tend to skip them. Obviously God encouraged the prophets to ignore this. They were sometimes public enemy number one and had generally terrible relations with the kings.

And I think I rebel generally against the wisdom that is in the “you-may-not-like-it-but-that’s-the-way-it-is” category. What does that teach us of God? Choose your battles? Be practical?

It lets in a bunch of competing priorities. You have Joshua saying “choose today who you will serve” and then proverbs saying “and keep one eye on the king”.

Though I suppose you could argue it is saying to be aware of the consequences. Accidentally or needlessly provoking the king is just foolish.

It is a trap to dedicate something rashly and only later to consider one’s vows.

Ha, can’t deny that one, I was moaning about it only yesterday.

This chapter actually upped the tempo on insightful spiritual sayings, addressing the spirit, love, guidance, being pure of heart. It places great value on reflection as the truest part of life.

The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.

Many claim to have unfailing love, but a faithful person who can find?

The ultimate wisdom is God, always:

A person’s steps are directed by the Lord, How then can anyone understand their own way?

 

Psalm 79

Just read the Wikipedia article about Asaph, the author of these Psalms. It has a good pithy commentary on all the recent Psalms.

Today’s is a lament.

We start with a crane shot like the one showing the civil war in ‘Gone with the Wind’. The defiled temple, Jerusalem in rubble, dead bodies and blood exposed to the sky for animals to attack.

That what got me reading about Asaph. They said it may have referred to a number of temple musicians, not just a single person.

Unless this is a prophesy, he was there for the destruction of Jerusalem. I was surprised at the late date.

The Psalm appeals to God’s mercy and fairness.

It acknowledges God’s anger, which is an acknowledgement of human sin and the possibility of destruction at all times, held off by God mercy. If God is angry, he allows the inherently greedy powerful empires to attack.

It expresses their dire need for help. It reminds God of the shed blood and the groans of prisoners.

It appeals to God’s defence of his reputation. What will other nations think, there is no vergence? It calls down on the perpetrators 7 times what they have inflicted.

So it’s ok to tell God that life is not matching what was promised in the brochure.

The previous Psalms have had judgement and remembering the past blessings as themes. If this is the now, then it’s a bitter context.

It certainly makes my wistfulness at landing back into the literal and symbolic mess and complexity of home pretty minor. We had a really good holiday, I enjoyed the time with two of my kids (oldest, Lewes, stayed in Sydney… But he’s so complex, holidays don’t work with him).

I’ll move forward on the employment front, go back to work, and undertake a big task at church over the next month or so, moving the church offices. A big commitment of serious organisational input of the kind I often feel inadequate about, which needs to be done very well as part of our church’s long term to some very vulnerable people around where we live.

The challenges begin.

Let me stay connected and thoughtful about my children, let me listen and work with Kelly about what’s best for them and for us.

Let me appreciate how blessed I am, how without God’s ongoing love and mercy, so much could be gone and broken.

Let me shun evil.

Psalm 64

This is all about treacherous people. I was thinking, God already has largely protected me from that. I have very little treachery in my life.

I work at the salvation army (I ended the week with two job applications done, including the manger position that scares me a little, but which would also be great… And 3 or 4 more that I could do). Hard to imagine a less treacherous workplace. Apart from that, there’s family, old family friends, church people.

David describes tongues like swords, words like arrows. The key pivot is where he says God will turn their words against them.

David encourages people to be righteous rejoice in the Lord.

It’s a particularly good thing for me, because I don’t handle that sort of stuff well, I’m not very protective in the way I relate to people. I get stressed just reading the psalm.

It’s paving weekend here. I’m hopefully going to lay lots in my back yard. I shall use this prayer time to be thankful for the many blessings I do have and pray for my family.

I’m going to keep reading Psalms until 72, which is the end of book 2 of 5 divisions. Then I’ll flick to job, a bit of light reading there, and back to Psalms. I’m going to bounce around the poetry books for some time: Ecclesiastes, song of songs, two of my favourite books! But first, a bit more Psalms then job.

They caught a guy in the US who sent 12 bombs to critics of Donald Trump. He is my age, 56, and exactly who you would expect, a pathetic crazy little racist pizza delivery man with lots of hate in his life, no grace, and none coming from Trump worship. I’ll pray for the US election too.

Psalm 59

This psalm comes from the time David was first openly being hunted down by king Saul. The king sent assassins to stake out his house and his wife had to let him out a high window to escape with his life.

He’s clearly terrified, the metaphor of dogs prowling for a kill is about a literal as a metaphor can be. He’s also super indignant because he done nothing to deserve this.

His prayer has three stages of urgency: safety, then vindication: being shown to be right publicly, then ‘in the morning’ to love God.

Turning the story into a dramatic song here, to revisit and learn from, the lesson is God’s strength.

So I start reading annoyed with the repetition, thinking ‘enough with the enemies’! It’s all becoming a blur.

But I’m directed… 3 times I think to think of God as my high tower, my fortress, strong and safe.

And the innocent man accused scenario, the anointed king treated like a criminal, inevitably conjures up Jesus.

He collected so many enemies, enough to kill him.

His silence at his unfair trial. His strength to bear all he had to, to be God’s love and also take the meting out of his justice.

And I think about my kids, not enemies, but ever present concerns I must return to and deal with more than is interesting to anyone else. So repetitive it’s a blur.

As the year nears an end, it’s a marker on areas that haven’t progressed, or gone backwards. I don’t need as much strength as David, I have a wife I don’t have to leave behind, who shares it all the way.

But I do need to remember it is not just our strength that is just at play here. As I consider my inadequacy for the task, I pray for you guys!

Psalm 46

These psalms of the Sons of Korah are a hit parade. This is one of the best known. Almost impossible for Christians of a few generations not to hear Dambusters theme as you read it.

3 stanzas, like Psalm 42 they have the violent water and the calm water. Earth’s overwhelming flood and cataclysmic shifts. Environmentally, and as a parable of life.

Then the calm of heaven, God’s control with a soothing river, unmovable.

Then the chaos of Earth again, but the promise of peace.

There is heaven and earth, calm and chaos.

God is present in each, so here in the chaos, calm down, be still and remember his presence.

All pithily done as a song with a returning chorus. A cheer up ditty to hum though the day and rouse up group optimism when the faithful gather.

So what are my worries?

The news this morning presents urgency over the environmental clock. The world seems incapable of focus.

Politics is sort of in turmoil. The way news is consumed, via algorithms that, in the hunt for clicks, endlessly pander to everyone’s confirmation bias. Perfectly designed to undermine fundamental institutions of tolerance, majority consensus, civility. Polarised ungenerous thinking everywhere you look, into which sweeps opportunists.

Personally, the family seems incurably sad.

I don’t know if it’s daylight saving, but I am overwhelmed, too many balls in the air, ironically sapping my energy.

Prone to blank panic when I get discretionary time. What should I be doing? Why is my head so blank? Should I make a list? Maybe this is what early dementia feels like?

Economic uncertainty going into the end of the year, don’t know if I’ll have a job, we keep spending too much money.

God is with us. The mountains may be plunging into the sea, but he promises wars will cease. He’s bigger than all of it, it makes sense to him. All will be well.

Be still, know he’s there.

He’s present, he’s present, present.

Psalm 36

The small and the big. David has a message about the evil ones… They so don’t count.

He talks about them 3 and a half verses in which the evil does just sound pathetic, not to be feared. They confuse themselves with self flattery, not only bad but foolish, and somehow small, lying in their bed at night stuck in the minutiae of their own plotting.

Then 6 verses of contrasting praise of God – no contest. Boundless love, justice, rightness of cosmic dimensions An abundant feast, a fountain of Life feeding a river of delight for us to drink. It’s over the top, the contrast makes the evil ridiculous.

It’s like self talk, king David convincing himself and us we’ve made the right choice in rejecting evil.

What a boost, a reminder of the cosmic power situation. Combating fear by remembering God’s overwhelming blessing. A great mantra: God is love, God is justice, God is bigger.

Psalm 34

One by David, about one of his most desperate times. He was Israel’s most wanted, king Saul wanted to kill him, plus he was a feared warrior, enemy #1 in every country outside Israel. Nowhere to hide.

He is surviving by wits, trusting few, scrounging bread by the loaf and feigning madness in a desperate scheme to escape a foreign king.

From that this Psalm of praise.

It’s similar to the last two, a sense of God caring and watching, delivering his people from their problems. But the problems are obviously more desperate: being poor, afflicted, brokenhearted, crushed in spirit… They seem to ratchet up as the psalm continues.

So when he promises the Lord will deliver us from all our troubles, it is as much testimony as theology: by the time they were singing about it, they knew that David was in fact saved from this huge heap of problems.

And in dark times when the concreteness of our problems seems to overwhelm the intangible nature of God, is great to think about some real life instances of him at work.

Got news yesterday that the baby daughter of one of our writers at work may shortly die. She’s had brain cancer since before she was one, she’s two and a bit now, blind, pretty much silent and fed intravenously.

None the less, she visited only a week ago, and looked remarkably healthy. She got to share a few months on earth with a new baby brother an answer to prayer in itself.

But she’s taken a turn for the worse. May the Lord deliver her.

When I talk to Nicky her mum, it feels both impossible to be her, and scarily random, and I hope my faith would be as strong as hers. You pretty much can’t stop the prayer at some point ‘thank God I’m not you’, and Nicky seems to have an understanding look behind her eyes that she’d pray that too if she could.

A sober praise Psalm as I head off to a happy birthday weekend with Kelly: ‘I will extol the Lord at all times’

2 Chronicles 34

So we get the story of King Josiah, the last believing King before Jerusalem falls. He rules 31 years, a substantial period but in the sweep of the book it is just like a staging post to the end, fall of Jerusalem. The pattern has become predictable now, a zig zag between followers of idols vs the true God.

At 20 he takes action, ridding all the idolatry. Burns the bones of the Baal etc. priests on their own altars. The violence jolted me, it reminded me of British history of the struggles between catholic and protestant, how deft you had to be not to be on the wrong side of religion.  I suppose the common folk maybe just had to try and keep up: Jehovah, Baal, Jehovah, Baal…

Amid the temple renovations we get a book and a prophesy. The book is the law, a book from the torah is unearthed, probably Deuteronomy or Leviticus or Numbers. It has that powerful mirror effect God’s word does, and the King instantly sees how much he needs God’s forgiveness.

How did it get lost? I hate to be critical, but there are some problems with the Jewish national religion God instituted.

First, just one church – the Temple, where God lives. Practically, people want to worship locally.  That might partly explain why these multiple high places keep popping up.

Second, I can’t see it involves much teaching. The books keep getting lost, and keep being rediscovered from scratch. Josiah is devastated when he hears the Law – even a devout king appears to have had little direct instruction in the word of God.

By Jesus’ time there were Synagogues, which served both needs, but they didn’t start til after the temple was destroyed, apparently in response.

I mean, I know its deeply impertinent telling God how to run his religion better. But working for a church, we do every day, in a way.  In one sense, every denomination is a human take on what God could do better. In yet another sense I suppose, each denomination is part of God’s uber plan. It’s an odd plan, that includes a lot of bizarre input from us.

It warrants thinking about the proper attitude, and God’s larger purpose.  

Josiah calls a prophet – who turns out to be female, just by-the-by (do Anglicans even read these passages?) Speaking with the voice of God, she sees the doom over Jerusalem, but the piety of the King will hold it off during his lifetime.  He becomes all the more devout.

What a strange feeling that must have been, knowing it would all be lost after his time.  We leave the meta plan in God’s hands. Josiah was ultimately saved by the blood of Christ, but he could never have imagined it.

Yet presumably what he did know of the nature of God from the law meant that he did not despair despite being told of disaster for the religious practices and nation he gave his life to fighting for.

When we read the word of God, any of it, in any time period, the eternal interacts with the temporal. We see the eternal true perspective of our current situation, and God’s character is one of love fairness and hope.

A big theme of this books seems to be practical holiness, and there is lots of inspiration.

Different human takes on God’s mighty plan. Australian, female, Salvation army General Eva Burrows meets her Catholic counterpart, Pope John Paul – That’s the Salvation Army salute shes giving him… the Orthodox guy seems quietly amused. Forget gender – which is God’s preferred hat?  eva-pope2

2 Chronicles 20

Various neighbouring countries seek to take advantage of Judah’s relative weakness to attack. God engineers a ‘Lock stock and two smoking barrels’ victory. That was a film where all the baddies killed each other.

It’s another example of godly leadership.

Jehoshaphat calls everyone together. This verse he says to God before the people is a keeper ‘We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you’

One of the people has a prophetic utterance, and lays out how victory will occur without them having to fight. This guarantees peace thoughout his reign.

Jehoshaphat tries another alliance with the North, but gets rebuked and it fails.

He goes soft on folk religion. But all in all, one of the best, a forgotten example of leadership.

I’m planning a two part song about chronicles, it’s going to be about the church and leadership. Catchy content! It will also be a personal history, as I am trying to make all the history songs.