Matthew 7

Swallow your pride. God’s will be done. Switch off your worry. That was the thrust of Jesus’ sermon so far.

Today’s third part of the sermon on the mount is full of warning and promise. It’s for those who have heard or started to hear, God’s truth.

Even if you only have an inkling, some fragment of it that excites your spiritual longing; ask, seek and knock until you find more. Be seeking and doing God’s will.

It will be much easier not to. Many don’t, most in fact. And since the first step is swallowing your pride, don’t expect them to admit it. You’ll encounter false prophets and false disciples.

You’ll need brilliant discernment. We are all sinners, only God can judge – work on your own sin rather than judging others for theirs.

But be aware and steer clear of the wolves in sheep’s clothing who are presenting as the answer but don’t want to do God’s will.

Look at their fruit… more than their theology? Words are easier to fake than actions I suppose. And think carefully. They hear gods truth but it’s like pearls being given to a pig.

At the end of the sermon the people are astonished at Jesus’authority in teaching, so it’s pretty clear for that context these “pig” teachers are their usual teachers. What an insult.

It ends with the wise man building on the rock, which is Jesus’ words. And Jesus words? Seek God’s will.

It’s arguably circular: our work is to build solid houses in rock, and store treasure in heaven based on seeking and doing God’s will. And what is god’s will? That god’s will be done.

But at the heart of it is our inability to be righteous before God, and how that plays out into our life. It’s about honesty before God, and becoming agents, not blockers, of God’s love.

I do feel burdened by worry caused by my own inability to trust God and act. I feel very called on to act, very unequal to task. Give me strength.

Matthew 1

T’was grace that bought us safe thus far…

I’m having a break from reading Ezekiel to read a bit of Matthew. The first time I have ventured into the new testament for years.

Chapter one, first chapter of the new testament. What a moment!!! Sound the trumpets, prepare the feast. The story is not over, its coming to it’s climax! Yes?

Well it is, but the transition is not as dramatic as that, in fact quite the opposite, it’s much more about establishing continuity with the old testament.

I mean, way to start with a genealogy! We’ve already had so many. I’ve found it boring in the past, but after so much reading of the OT I actually found it comforting and rich. So much more so would the original jewish readers.

3 times 14 generations between the pillars of the narrative thus far: Abraham to David, David to exile, exile to Messiah. The only thing I’m missing is a link to exodus… Maybe that will come later.

I remember in genesis saying how the narrative of god’s intervention was the slenderest thread running though so much compromise, murk and cruelty.

Yes! It’s not a story of glorious bloodlines, it’s a story of grace.

You can’t help but notice a few women singled out in the chain of father to father. And what a crew.

Tamah, widowed, rejected and forgotten, had to pose as a prostitute to have a son with her own faithless substitute husband.

Rahab, actually was a prostitute, of Jericho. Chosen by faithful response, not race. That’s a tangential, ironic even, link to exodus!

Ruth, the Moabite, widow, the least likely but faithful responder to grace. Again contradicting a racial interpretation of the chosen people. The outsider, preparing all of us for acceptance into the family of Judah.

Bathsheba, not mentioned by name but singled out to remind us that the noblest part of Jesus’ line, David and Solomon, is mired in a nasty story murder, lust and sin.

So much seeming contradiction. The ultimate perhaps is that the chapter goes on to detail that the last link in the chain, Joseph, is not Jesus’ biological father, the holy spirit is.

The least, the rejected, the weak, the humble, outsiders, sinners, the failures of the powerful. These are God’s power players and power moves in saving the world.

An inheritance of promises and mercy. Of grace.

Saviour, if of Zion’s city
I, through grace, a member am,
Let the world deride or pity,
I will glory in thy Name:
Fading is the worldling’s pleasure,
All his boasted pomp and show;
Solid joys and lasting treasure
None but Zion’s children know.

Thank you!

Ezekiel 18

It doesn’t have to be this way.

In Adam all die, the doctrine of original sin means we’re all going to fall short of God’s glory.

It’s a kind of curse, and heresies based on this doctrine embellish the idea of the cursed generations. Bad seeds, bad blood, karma being revisited on the children of bad people.

Grace blows apart original sin. At any time we can throw ourselves on God and ask for the renewal of our hearts.

This chapter is about how we need to take responsibility for our own response to God… to Jesus, for us. We can’t use the idea of original sin to blame Adam for our evil, and certainly not some superstitious curse.

Here sin is exemplified by a list of practical life attitudes. Personal morality: not cheating, fair with money, obedience to the true God. And community building: sharing with the disadvantaged, not being oppressive. It’s written in a mixture of poetry and prose. It’s designed for teaching.

Our sin is our’s alone, our responsibility. But more significantly it’s a freedom. We can choose to turn to God, we can do it daily, we can do it with clarity:

Rid yourselves of all the offences you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!

No need to stay cursed.

Ezekiel 11

Flip the script!

In this chapter the vision of the past 11 chapters all comes into focus.

Ezekiel is far from Israel, carted away by invaders from Babylon. He’s feeling deserted by God.

No. The foreign land is God’s sanctuary, he’s actually one of those who are marked as God’s child.

His vision of Jerusalem shows the idolatrous sun worshippers in the temple. They would agree that the likes of Ezekiel are the losers.

They describe themselves with an only semi-comprehensible metaphor of a cooking pot. The gist seems to be: we are where it’s at, we’re cooking, we’re the choice cuts, not the scraps who have been rejected.

They feel safe, protected within the city. But they are not.

So the vision is good for Ezekiel, bad for those still in the city. God has flipped the script in their near history, by marking the seemingly unlucky ones as in fact the first to be saved from the destruction of Jerusalem.

And in the meta revelation of his character, he’s talked about making our hearts his dwelling, turning hearts of stone to hearts of flesh. Great verse! He’s not in a building, he’s in our hearts. And he’s literally showing that by destroying the temple, and blessing Ezekiel, who is seemingly remote from God, with this vision showing that God is right with him.

My emotions are regrettably out of sync with this book. This chapter is the first one with any hope. I’ve been quite happy and upbeat while reading all the doom and gloom, and now there is a ray of hope in the book I’m sad.

My bank app has a very helpful summary of money in and money out that showed me we’ve been living beyond our means. I kind of knew it was true, but seeing it laid out there in black and white was a shock. I’ve already gone broke once and it was very stressful, so it made me alarmed. Bought up a lot of ongoing inadequacies.

But I have to look at the good side: things are far from dire, I can respond.

So maybe there is some sort of connection: this vision in my bank app enables me to flip the script. I’ll pray.

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.

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.