Exodus 15

A moment of unalloyed joy and celebration that they got though the red sea away from the Egyptians.

Of course, having sung of god’s “unfailing love”; as soon as they get thirsty and get to an oasis, one with foul tasting water, they are all negative again.

Moses fixes the water and they drink, but this pattern of complaint is set to repeat.

We’ve had a hard couple of weeks. My mother in law had a health crisis from which she did not recover. It is a good time to remember the good things God has done, and not turn on him or let pain send me to apathy.

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Joel 1

A poem about a disaster, waves of locusts destroying all the crops.  I get the impression is an urgent warning, they are imminent. On the northern border, and have destroyed wild pastures there.

Chapter 1 runs through something like the stages of grief, from the disbelief (has anything like this ever happened?) initial shock (wake up, wake up! It’ll all be gone) realising the implications, grieving.

All done with wonderful vivid language: forget figs, the trunks of the fig trees are white because the bark is gone. New wine is being snatched from the lips of drunkards sleeping off the old, cattle and sheep wandering about aimlessly with no crops, olive oil failed, trees withered… like our joy.

And the cry of anguish and the wail to God. The people, the flocks even the panting wild animals, all run out of options but to cry to God.

Got it. I see people there in the news, it happens to friends, and I myself have felt at times I’m there, even though my objective circumstances were not as bad. The place of utter seemingly inevitable disaster, absolutely zero resources other than a voice to cry to God.

Next chapter!

Psalm 22

A problem shared is a problem solved.

If you took yesterday’s psalm (21) as a picture of God’s design for a blessed life, then today’s is a mistake. Because today god has deserted the writer, which wouldn’t happen if trusting in God was universally rewarded with wealth and power.

It starts with the quote Jesus made so disturbingly from the cross. My God, my God why have you forsaken me? But if yesterday’s wasn’t too be read as a rule of entitlement to blessing, equally today’s isn’t really an expression of any doubt in the existence of God, it’s more of a wake up call for God. Its a cry of pain and a massive “what’s going on?” “Where the hell are you?”

Father, you know me, all the moments of my life, help me to acknowledge you in them all

Is not a momentary thing either. He calls out by day and night.

Then this uniquely psalmy thing of God shaming. It starts out like flattery “you are enthroned, we have praised you, you heard us rescued us. I was born straight from the womb into your arms. So why am I a worm? What must people think? They know you are the one I trust, and see how you have let me down!”

It’s a very bold way of speaking to god, almost sarcastic “what a great creator you are, you made me a worm. Way to go God!” But it’s not sarcasm, it’s desperation. He’s totally stuffed, every which way, as depicted with a stunning series of “desperate straights” images, and there is no one to help him. It’s a plea “please don’t be far”.

The dire straights images include obvious pre-figuring of the cross, which in the full course if revelation is God’s ultimate answer to the ‘shaming’. When we say to god “you have no idea how hard it is” he can always say “yes I do!”

The time shifts abruptly to praise. There is no sense that the psalmist waited to be saved to shift tone, something like “see the wolves all around me are gone!” Now I will praise God in the assembly!

Also there is no sense of a deal with God “if you save me, then I’ll give you praise, tit for tat”.

It seems to be a straight emotional/spiritual journey. It’s a bit like the very act of crying out to god has reminded him that God is faithful and that he trusts God. It reminds me of conversations with my wife, she highlights all the worst aspects of problems we are having. Catastrophising. And afterwards, we have swapped roles: I have gone from feeling good to being burdened with the problems. And she has gone from miserable to positive about the future, because the magnitude of the problem has been shared and acknowledged.

The psalmists enthusiasm for God’s saving greatness goes spacey and grand: all nations, all generations. There are the Jesus pre-figurings again. The sheer limitlessness of his faith in the saving power of God’s grace puts the problems into perspective. It seemed really bad when his heart turned to wax and melted and his bones were all out of joint as he was poured out like water to dry like dust as the lions prepared to rip his corpse apart. And nothing objectively has changed, he’s just changed focus from venting about his very real problems to remembering “just a minute, this is God I’m talking to”. From self obsession to god obsession. That’s why a problem shared is a problem solved. The final phrase is perfect,a full stop of rest for his circling brain. “And God has done it”.

1 Thess 3

Paul is absolutely dying to know how they have been going. He’s heard they have been facing trials. The tone starts to make sense. They are the church where he saw the most positive response to Jesus, facing real testing. A mixture of love and excitement has been obvious from the start.

He couldn’t go so he sent Timothy. I love the repeated “when i could stand it no longer”. You really get a sense of his emotions outrunning his eloquence.

But before the big report back from Timothy, he tosses in teaching about suffering. He warned them it was inevitable. So often that is missing from modern teaching where Christianity can come off sounding like a self help regime.

Timothy’s report is sensational. They are standing strong in their hardship, and, sweetly, they have “pleasant memories” of Paul – they don’t hate him! He has a sense of relief. I imagine he worried sick when the gospel he brings causes suffering: “Do they now hate me?” “Is this whole gospel thing a big mistake?”

Their triumph restores his faith and makes his own problems seem surmountable.

How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?

 
He has a blessing prayer for them…. May their love ever increase and their hearts ever be stronger. And may he get to see them himself again.

Christianity almost always happens in community. Everything we do has an impact. When it’s real in our lives, is real in everybody’s. Paul made it real for them. They probably didn’t realise as they acted on what they learned from him that they were restoring his faith in return.