Ezekiel 27

Oblivion mocks us.

A lament for Tyre, the flourishing city destined for oblivion.

It details its sophistication. A functioning trading place, producing and distributing things of beauty. There is a magnificence to the whole system by which an economy thrives and supports whole communities. Creating places of tenderness, safety and delight.

Their mastery of the sea was the key to their brilliance. All so poignant that it would claim it all, drown it. Their magnificence serves to further emphasise the horror of their destruction.

The imprint of the divine is in our creativity, our pattern making, our ordering of the chaos. But the curse of death is on us, the chaos wins.

That’s all resonating with me in ways I can’t quite articulate.

The stress of a normal December, taking stock. While being reminded constantly of our breaking environment and our societies inability to find consensus on all sorts of facts these days.

Knowing whole towns are being destroyed by fire, which we judge each day by how thick is the pall of smoke in the direction we are looking.

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.

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 16

The most famous classic this chapter? ‘Pride comes before a fall’.

Some big topics here, the interaction of our will and God’s will, and the interaction of political power and righteousness.

For example, at first blush this sounds like a pretty verse for a poster:

In their hearts humans plan their course,
but the Lord establishes their steps.

But what does it actually mean? There are several such conundrums:

To humans belong the plans of the heart,
but from the Lord comes the proper answer of the tongue.

Jesus had a habit of speaking this way too, seemingly straightforward statements that don’t tease out as easily as they seem they should.

It seems to be embracing the mysteries of predestination: we have control over our actions, and they are within God’s eternal plan.  Plus, I suppose, if you are looking at the difference between what we think about doing vs. what we end up actually saying and doing… the plan can turn on a dime, but the actions are written in eternity.

Maybe its like the difference between temptation and sin, but with a positive spin: thinking about doing the right thing vs. doing the right thing.

That’s not a king… this is a king!

The characteristics attributed to a king make one doubt that most earthly kings are kings at all: speaking justice like an oracle, detesting wrongdoing, & maintaining the throne through the value they place on righteousness, honesty and truth. The mere brightening of their face brings life – like a raincloud in spring.

There are a lot of proverbs about humility interspersed. I mean, said no earthly king virtually ever:

Better to be lowly in spirit along with the oppressed
    than to share plunder with the proud.

Maybe that is the point. We’ve had a few proverbs about the character of the Lord just before this group: the Lord atones for sins, engineers peace, works out everything for a proper end and sees the true motives behind our actions.

The ideal of kingship could only be fulfilled by God. For us citizens, following the king’s ethic is associated with all sorts of rewards – prosperity, blessing, a fountain of life, healing.

So we have here this complex interplay of responsibility for our choices and actions,  being governed by higher authority and inspired by holy example.  Its urging us to be mindful before we act, and remember that our actions are eternal and become God’s plan for good or ill.

Proverbs 10

Oh that’s right, we’re in proverbs. Random two line gems of wisdom. I’d forgotten after the nine chapter introduction.

They are so random yet similar, the format is so repetitive, that I panic a bit at how to make sense of them. They seem wasted, they don’t sink in.

Just read and let the spirit lead.

This chapter doesn’t contain the saying ‘pray as if you never planned and plan as if you never prayed’ but it is a good description. Sayings of diligence and blessing are side by side.

As I read I think I really must catch up last year’s tax, big refund would be a help. And I’ve got to be more diligent and organised at work. It’s not weak to be patient and loving.

The most memorable I found was ‘hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs.

So I’ll just let the wisdom flow, directly and simply into my life. Maybe this book is like the parable of the sower, throwing out handfuls of seed and seeing what takes root.

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.

Job 14

The end of 3 chapters, a long poem of Job’s response to his the friend’s first round of advice. Spectacularly bleak.

At this stage Job definitely subscribes to the ‘life sucks then you die’ school of thought.

Blue tack that to your youth group wall!

He has learned that he has sinned, that much is clear. He understands that God removes sin, seals it up in a bag, he says.

And he is questioning about life after death. Literally he asks ‘if someone dies will they live again?” He likes the idea of the grave claiming him, and then some sort of ‘renewal’.

But then he descends into self pity, including the verse above.

I’m writing in the evening of Sunday having had a lovely productive day. At church I showed some friends my Job meme to some amusement.

I’m glad the Bible has these things. It’s ok to go there. I feel known and understood.

Interested to see if the second go round of the three friends and responses advances things further.

I’m really living it, in that, not all the arguments are straw men.

I really engage with some of them, and then I see another point of view when that is argued. It’s more psychologically subtle than I expected.

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!

Psalm 67

This short psalm is a neat refinement of the themes from 66. It’s this generous wish that everyone will know God’s blessing.

It struck me as a sunshine metaphor, God’s face shining on the chosen people at the start, a reference to harvest being tangible evidence of God’s blessing at the end.

But the shining metaphor also reminds me of the moment your dad smiles, or when the judge on a reality show drops the po face and beams his approval of a contestant.

God answered this prayer request for global praise with the Messiah. The department I work in is called mission resources. I should run this through my head as I am working occasionally,

It is surprising that the ancient Israelites sat around praying that the whole world would know God’s blessing and love. They weren’t a missionary religion, they didn’t imagine the blessing as being their religion world wide, as far as I can tell.

It’s declaring the truth of their monotheism. That Jehovah is the one true creator of the whole earth, source of all that is good. The hope that God will guide all nations as he has guided them.

The happiness of praise and celebration sparks this overflow of good to all, like Christmas. I kind of don’t want to unpack my reaction more than a happy sense of optimism for the world. Despite everything, ‘he’s got the whole world in his hands’.

2 Chronicles 23

In the last chapter, an evil woman bought to the South by a marriage alliance with North tried to kill everyone in the house of David. One heir was hidden in the temple by his aunty, wife of one of the priests. 7 years pass.

They stage a perfect coup, and the boy is made king.

God is in the background, he’s promised a great destiny for the Davidic Kings. But he’s not mentioned and doesn’t speak.

It is a religious struggle, the usurper has established a temple of Baal, which is a folk God from the north.

Levite guards kill the usurper and the Baal priest when the boy is declared king.

I find out the restructure of the salvation army section in which I work today, it may mean that it is clear I have to leave, or that there is a clear position for me to apply for.

It could be the road to uncertainty or security.

I’m nervous about it but I do have a sense of God being behind the future, so I’m quite resigned and calm about it too.

True then, true now.