Psalm 143

Hear me, answer me – that’s the two halves of this psalm. They serve to step up the intensity and urgency of the prayer; put the screws on God to shuffle this prayer to the top of the priority list.

God gets a gazillion emails a day marked urgent with a read receipt.

It’s a middle of the night prayer, when everything seems impossible. At one point David asks the morning to bring a word of God’s unfailing love. Seems like there ain’t such a word coming to him now as he prays/panics into the night.

His utter lack of options for whatever problems he’s facing focuses him on having no claim to God’s grace; being totally undeserving. But also how totally reliant he is on it.

I think God probably loves it when we throw his character back at him this way. “Woah, this will certainly display your unfailing love” is a pretty positive way to react to bad news, when your own resources abandon you.

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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 124

Even Atheists have God on their side. Every breath comes from God.

Or doesn’t, if God is not real.

But it’s not like believers’ breaths come from God and unbelievers’ don’t. It’s one or the other.

Unless reality is subjective. Hmm.

I sometime toy with the idea that my faith is a construct. It’s certainly a culture I enjoy and am comfortable in. It’s an ethic I relate to, it gives me meaning and purpose. If it turned out not actually to be true, I’d still be ahead of the game, really.

But it’s when I contemplate actually trying to believe God is not there that I realise I’m a true believer. You can be frustrated with your spouse or your kids. You can think “if it weren’t for Kelly, I would eat pizza more often. I like pizza” But if they were ever actually gone, your love for them would be overwhelming. Pizza would taste like poisonous cardboard.

On a TV panel show yesterday they were discussing an experiment where they dropped wallets with money to test peoples ethics… Would they take cash and/or credit cards?

The panelists all said they would return it with cash and all, but none would say because it was the right thing to do. They came up with pretty far fetched scenarios about how it was actually to their benefit to hand it in. One of the panelists, a Muslim, didn’t comment. He would have put it in a moral framework, maybe he was embarrassed to link it to faith in God? It made me think that absolute right and wrong seem out of fashion, an uncomfortable reason for doing things.

Anyway this psalm is all about remembering and realising how we would be nowhere but for God. King David points to tangible examples of saving grace in the past. Then the last image, of a bird escaping a snare, and the snare being destroyed, opens up larger, more permanent aspects of God’s grace and love.

God’s presence, moment to moment. And in a larger, eternal sense, no more tears, crying or pain.

Free as a bird.

Proverbs 26

This chapter is more organised than others, it even includes a few unexpected twists in the way it is constructed.

You get 11 lines about fools… About how spectacularly useless they are, and deserving of contempt, then this:

Do you see a person wise in their own eyes?
There is more hope for a fool than for them.

It’s so easy to see the faults in others.

Similar with laziness, having attacked for a few verses it says essentially their worst trait is having no conception of how lazy they are… Oops, maybe it’s me?

The meta theme is humility. Like other chapters that barely mention God, there are underlying themes drawing out deeper spiritual truths from conventional wisdom.

The structure of many of these is particularly memorable, funny even. They read like lines from Rowan Atkinson’s comedy creation Black Adder:

Sending a message by the hands of a fool
is like cutting off one’s feet or drinking poison

The last bunch of verses is about lies, and the meta point is about our evil hearts.

Don’t kid yourself you are doing a favour to the person you are lying to, you show you hate them by your deception. Trying to hide your evil nature is futile. It’s only dealt with by exposure, by humility, as above. Lies block grace.

I was aware of lying, in a very small way, at work yesterday. I made a job sound more complete than it was because I was a bit embarrassed about how little progress I’d made

But the breach of trust I risked was a crazy high cost to preserve a tiny bit of pride.

Trust is so much more valuable than the illusion of perfection.

Proverbs 14

‘Glitched back from truth’. Don’t know what that means, I’m tired this morning and dreamed that title! It looked like a newspaper headline.

There are proverbs about deceit/ wickedness and about dumbness. These are a drum beat though the book, evil and weak-mindedness become interchangeable.

Some poignant, very nuanced observations about the human condition, our pain, are thrown in here:

Even in laughter the heart may ache,
and rejoicing may end in grief.

Each heart knows its own bitterness,
and no one else can share its joy.

And as with other chapters, more theological concepts as the chapter progresses:

Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker,
but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.’

… So that’s where Jesus got the ‘whatever you do for the least of them…’ idea from.

Whoever fears the Lord has a secure fortress,
and for their children it will be a refuge.

God as our refuge is mentioned a few times, like a response to the ‘joy and sadness’ observations from earlier in the chapter.

There is a deep vein of grace here at work, as well as good housekeeping tips.

At church last week they read Solomon’s prayer for the opening of the temple. He prays over the splendor of it, the blessing of the Jews.

But then he expands God beyond the temple and beyond one race. He knows his temple, his life’s work, can’t contain the true God.

There’s that ability to see multi-dimensionally, the Spirit-given leaps of insight coming out here too.

I’m coming face to face with what a deeply disorganised and flaky individual I am.

A good frank talk with my youngest, Ren, on the weekend.

If I could ever get it all together, I reckon I’d be such a great dad, church member, partner, worker…. But I’m a bit ‘all hat and no cattle’, as they say… And I feel stuck there.

Full of motivation however, up for fresh ideas, now my employment situation is receding from critical. Plus I’m daily barraged with advice about how to live a wise life…

When I make it through a two week pay period with some money saved and no need to dip into savings, I’ll know the book is starting to work.

Job 17

Who’s the victim here?

The second half of Job’s response to Eliphaz’s journey from sympathetic to emorionally sealed off.

Job has already reached the point where he realised he needed a Jesus-like intervention in the communication between God and man.

He started out absolving himself of blame – proclaiming his righteousness – now he absolves himself of the responsibility of fixing it. He needs grace, a stunning insight. He teases out the implications of that here.

He doesn’t fully understand God’s plans for him. He’s still both longing for, and bleak about, death. But he knows God is his only hope.

His friends haven’t even got that far, God has closed their minds. The tables have turned, Job in his miserable state is the one who has wisdom, even if incomplete and a poor compensation for his suffering.

I’ll appreciate the preciousness of God’s grace, and pray for my family and friends.

I’ll see a lot of old friends who don’t know God’s grace over the end of year period. Christmas is a time where God’s grace can be on the agenda, so I should be prayerful and thoughtful about that.

Isaiah 27

The third chapter teasing out the promise of restoration for the Jewish nation, and extending the blessing to all nations. This is the tenderest.

It moves from a city image in the last chapter to a vineyard, watered and cared for every day, and a God who prefers peace.

The nation is called Judah to remind them of the covenant promise, and the punishment like his wrestling with God made them stronger, their fruit filling the whole world.

So we have simultaneously a personal metaphor (Judah) and an agricultural one of abundant blessing, it keeps leading us to a Messiah figure.

The chapter ends with a promise of atonement, making right with God, so the foreign idols are crumbled like chalk, and all the faithful who were exiled are called home.

2 Kings 20

Borrowed time.

I don’t know how to take Hezekiah.

He’s a good, relatively godly king at a time when the kingship is doomed.

This tells the notable spiritual events of his reign, and it’s a strange story of the interaction of God and man, and we aren’t given neat moralising. It is what it is.

He gets sick, is told by God/Isaiah its his time. It is before he has defeated the Assyrians. He prays for more life and is given 15 years. He gets a very appropriate sign from God that the promise is real, the sun goes backwards on the sun dial for a day!

He uses the time to deal with the Assyrians – that was in the last chapter I think?

Next we have the story of him welcoming a Babylonian envoy, which was probably a political move to find alliances.

Hezekiah doesn’t seem that interested in politics but really enjoys showing them all his wealth, he’s got prosperous also in his extra time. He is a minor king, it feels lame, like he’s big noting himself when flattered that his loyalty would matter to Babylon.

Isaiah rebukes his pride with a stark prophesy that Babylon will obliterate the kingdom. His children will be enunchs in the Babylonian court. He simply reacts with relief that it will happen after his time.

Knowing the date of his death and knowing that God has ordained that the Empire will fall has made him fatalistic, predictably. It’s made him an island who takes his comfort from the present. Maybe that is why God doesn’t often tell us the date of our deaths.

I had a friend who spent a year or so on borrowed time knowing she would die from cancer. She got very good at accepting love from her friends, and letting them give her treats.

She got good at not thinking about the inconvenience when she didn’t die on cue and their life was made messy, because she didn’t have the time to worry about it. It was a gift she gave them which they have many years to treasure. The last year or so of her life was a very beautiful thing.

The biographical note about king Hezekiah mentions that he did engineer an clever water supply that made Jerusalem virtually seige proof, so it’s not like he completly ignored the future.

The commentary I read judged him for his pride, the bragging, which I understand. But I see a certain humility there too, because he accepted God’s judgment, he didn’t try to change it. He asked for and got a temporary stay of the judgement, and enjoyed it for what it was.

God gave him it because he was faithful, it was an answer to a godly prayer. But the prayer didn’t alter God’s uber plan to cut down the kingdom as a part of the slow revelation of the true Messiah.

It’s both a mercy and a curse to be given the date of your death. I sort of pray that for me God will come like a thief in the night.

I don’t know what to learn from this! It’s very interesting though, and it says something subtle about God, and our dialogue with him.

It reminds me of Jesus’ impractical compassionate healings – he would have a chance encounter with someone like the woman who was bleeding, and cure her on to the way to somewhere else, and then have to ban anyone from taking about it because he wasn’t ready to die yet. God can seemingly be distracted by his own compassion, and by our faithful prayers.

Deuteronomy 32

Moses’ song. Like the book it contains beauty and terror. 

The greatness of God is contrasted with the lousiness of the Israelites. It’s not a sentimental song. 

Their history is one of letting him down. Their future is being given great victories over the enemies God will judge, and then being judged themselves for squandering God’s grace by following other Gods. 

It ends by predicting that God will always stay faithful to a remnant of Israel. 

The song is not really a summary of the law, it’s a picture of God’s judgment and grace. These characteristics of God sit uncomfortably together. But understanding them is vital to get the significance of Jesus. 

Then sadly, Moses climbs a mountain to glimpse the land he will not inhabit because of his own sin. Few biblical characters have more grace, yet his judgment is unblinkingly recorded.

Grace costs. God is not a softy, who papers over evil, he looks at it, and recognises is destructive power. He fixes it, absorbs it, painfully.

Deuteronomy 6

Moses gives and elaborates on the commandment that Jesus would say is the greatest and contains all the law, love the lord your God with all your heart. 

He elaborates on it in a way that does not read like a sermon, but rather a heartfelt plea. His fear is the same as previous chapters, that they will forget because they will be so prosperous and comfortable. 

The irony that God’s grace and provision will be the cause of them forgetting is not lost on him, as they occupy large flourishing cities they did not build.

He pleads with them to remember the slavery that God rescued them from, and going forward to only love that God. 

Picking though all the rules, some of which are ridiculously culturally specific, this one has a giant arrow pointing to a huge red flag as a keeper.

Daily, please father let my heart overflow with love for you, remember your goodness, from every cup of coffee to every sunset and keep you as the only lord of my life.