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.

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Ecclesiastes 4

Here the teacher, our guide on this journey in search of meaning (and/or into the mind of a depressed person), looks at 4 big topics.

He makes thoughtful observations on each, but they all leave him numb in terms of larger significance. It’s still all meaningless.

The topics are justice, work, relationships and fame. The last particularly seems to include some wry self mockery.

He finds injustice, oppression simply appalling. He says it would be better to die, or not to be born at all, rather than experience a world that contains such evil. This verse is actually used as evidence that the real king Solomon didn’t write this book… It’s in the “…said no actual king ever” territory. It’s brief, but he is devastated.

On work, he’s a fan of what we would now call work-life balance. Laziness leads to ruin, but too much work destroys your tranquility. Indeed he seems to say working less will make life feel less meaningless – the first concession I think we’ve had to the possiblity of a somewhat satisfying life. And touching that tranquility is the opposite of meaninglessness… It’s a restless search, he’s deeply dissatisfied.

I appreciated how he said ambition springs from envy. Yesterday I confessed to mildly resenting my relative lack of career success, today a little gift/prompt from the holy spirit.

What he says about relationship highlights the question of tone. I can’t tell if he’s being rhetorical and ironic.

It’s the “two are better than one” quote often used at weddings. But it probably applies to platonic friendships too… (At least I hope so, since he moves on to three strands being stronger again… Oh Solomon!)

He says relationships are good because they make you wealthier, stronger, better able to defend yourself and warmer at night. No mention of love? We’re a long way from where st. Paul got to when he held up marital love as the closest spiritual equivalent we can comprehend of Christ’s love for the church.

Or is his omission of love deliberately leaving the elephant in the room? Is he asking “is that all there is?” or is he stating “That is all there is!” Ironic or cold? I don’t know!

On kingship, which I think also suits fame or celebrity… he tells the age old story of a star is born. The old king who’s lost touch, the new king who everyone follows. Twist: they are the same person. He switches the first person from being the old king in decline to remembering being the young king on the up and up, challenging the previous king in decline. Neatly illustrating his theme of endless, pointless cycles.

So what does it tell us of God? Nothing! To such a perverse degree that his absence is suffocating, God is the elephant in the room. It’s no accident that every human culture has reached for him. Thinking about his absence too much gets you to an aggravated, inflamed sense of cruel pointlessness that is so wrong, you ‘d rather you’d never been born.

In contrast, we gathered around a bonfire under the old old tree at church to sing and wash each other’s feet yesterday, re-enacting what God’s love is like in a human form. Intimate and unglamorous.

Psalm 100

“The sheep of his pasture.”

It’s a five verse psalm, and that’s about it’s only metaphor.

It catches the three observations about God on which the action of the psalm hangs: He made us – we’re his; He’s good, and He’s faithful – His love endures forever.

The action is: being glad to worship him, singing joyfully, being in his presence with an attitude of gratitude. And the whole earth shouting to him.

Like sheep we will never not be in the pasture of a caring shepherd. Eternal safety and provision.

Sheep don’t express gratitude, but they feel it by not being stressed. There the metaphor breaks down, because we can express our praise and gratitude, but we do experience knots of stress even though we have a faithful shepherd.

I think I always subconsciously read this sort of thing as a series of absolute and impossible commands: Shout to the lord. All the earth. Always be praising him and having grateful thoughts. I said always, mister eye roller!

Or a sweet but impossible dream: forever on a high about God. As if.

But it’s more like a party Psalm – how we’re spending these moments together. It’s not a future objective, it’s an inclusive now. The experience will become a memory, a mental balm to take with us into the contradictions.

The only shouting in our house last night was me shouting at our daughter. I was frustrated with her negativity. She has some good reasons to feel negative, but I was frustrated with it anyway, and saying that it is a dead end to be all about nursing your bitterness. She objected to that characterisation.

It was either – best scenario – a tough lovin’ slap of reality or – worst case – kicking someone while they are down.

And I do love her, I pray for her and want good things for her. I know she loves me. We are both sheep in god’s pasture.

But our now for now includes shouting at each other. Shouting to the lord is a factual backdrop, we’ve actually done it together, many a time. May he keep us safe.

Psalm 86

‘I will praise you Lord my God with all my heart’

Deep in praise. I can imagine its the sort of thing king David was saying during those stories of where he spent days and nights in the sanctuary of the Lord, lost in praise,

I had to read the psalm a few times to make anything stand out, because it’s such a pile of praise phrases.

There is a spine of supplication through it. He’s in a pickle and he wants God to help, every stanza refers to it.

But in the presence of God, his mind gets so attuned to God’s mind that his problems fade and go into the background, while God’s character overwhelms everything in the foreground.

It’s like I came to you to butter you up for a favour by flattering you, but then the flattery became an end in itself ‘you’re a helpful guy, can I borrow five dollars? You’ve always lent me money in the past. You’re generous, you’re the best friend a guy ever had. You’re so amazing, you’re actually incredible…’

I’ve had a bit of this. Being very engaged with my church, reading here each day, working for a Christian organisation. I’m so Christian! It’s a deep dive. I’ll observe two things.

The human will is incredibly resislient against the promptings of the holy spirit.

It’s good brain washing. The closer I align my mind to God’s, the more I find my own identity and my humanness. Christianity is a massive process of finding out what’s wrong with you and setting yourself free from it.

‘Great is your love towards me’

Psalm 71

Waking up in the country, in Berry, a much needed break. The psalm is about plotters trying to kill the writer in the later part of his life. It’s not attributed to David but it’s surely gotta be one of his.

Can I relate? There are exactly zero evil possies bent on my destruction, so not really. David had a very unrelaxing life.

It’s someone who has always loved God since childhood – that I can relate to. And like the psalmist I’m pretty convinced nothing would make me give up that love now.

That ex addict who spoke at chapel on Thursday talked about the constant hunger of his addiction, and made no bones about the idea that he used Jesus to fill the place drugs had, that he just had an addictive personality. He said he filled the hole with something good

It reminded me of a thought circle I have about that which ends in me not caring.

God is my refuge and my comfort, I share that with the psalmist. The troubles that do come my way… (‘Many and bitter’, he calls them, the verse that jumped out most) …they don’t stop me praising God with the Lyre and harp.. well, guitar piano and Ableton Live, anyway.

It’s the old man I intend to be.

But what if I’m just addicted to the pattern of it. Going to church, praying. What if the comfort and refuge are a mind trick, and God’s not real?

None of the people im away with in the weekend, other than Kelly, think God’s real, at least more than in the most general sense if at all.

It doesn’t matter to me any more. I love being in this place so much, even if it’s all a huge confirmation bias, or if, as I actually think, its the holy spirit who says ‘but God is real’ everytime I wonder if he isn’t, I’m not going to change, so it doesn’t matter for my part.

I saw my parents get old in the faith, their strength fail in the faith, die in the faith, and right now at least, it doesn’t frighten me at all. I actually look forward to it. Talk about God being my strength and refuge, eh?

I’m have this feeling of relaxing into my skin at this point in my life. It’s a good feeling. I still have enough energy for life (if barely for paving), but I feel like the ambition and ego of my youth are at least getting small enough now for me to see other people around the edges of them. I’m content to win smaller battles. I feel I’m becoming a better listener. I feel like that means I’m of more spiritual use to God in some ways than I have been in the past.

Where am I going with this? I don’t know! It’s just the time of day when I write about the Bible! Oh dear, maybe I AM just addicted to the ritual!? Still, is one I like so….

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.

Jeremiah 17

Heart of darkness, never at rest.

Starts by describing the unstoppable, indelible nature of sin. It’s carved deep with sharp diamond, defacing our holiness.

Certainly we’ve spent the whole Bible, since the garden, with a relentless beat of rebellion under all the stories of the great moments and inspired leaders.

The folk religion, the idols, never stop. It’s fruit is human sacrifice, sexual exploitation. Can’t clean that stain alone.

Jeremiah writes the anti Psalm 1. Blessed is the man whose delight is in God. And cursed is the man whose trust is in men, they will wither.

Trust in idols is really trust in men for people who have had the true God revealed. If they choose another ‘god’ they are choosing their own rebellious heart.

Despair comes into Jeremiah’s awareness of the sickness and deceitfulness of his own heart, he asks God to search it. He makes an intensely felt plea for his own mercy and forgiveness. When he asks God for refuge, you sense again how hard he finds his life.

A similar point is made with treasure metaphors, heavenly treasure is like the highest throne, a kingdom of peace that lasts forever.

Those who love earthly treasure are compared the Partridge, which had the reputation of sitting on other birds eggs. Earthly wealth flys away.

Jeremiah is sent to the streets to do the crazy-prophet-with-the-sandwich-board thing again. This time he is to call them to one of the 10 commandments, the Sabbath.

Why that? Hebrews expands the concept, it is God’s rest. Israel’s observing of the Sabbath is a symbol of their rest in God, the end of rebellion, the end of fighting.

There are 3 positive images in this chapter of God’s world: a beautiful tree planted by a river, a kingdom of peace above all others and rest, sweet safe rest.

But always in Jeremiah the bleak conclusion that the people won’t choose life, the message will go unheeded.

Jeremiah 2

OK you wonder what the rest of the 50 chapters are going to hold. Jeremiah has become a noun describing a negative person “don’t be a Jeremiah”.  Because of chapters like this.

Israel have rejected God and will be judged.

Mind you, it is beautiful.  There is a gentleness and patience in the way God feels he must plead his case, and he can only do it beautifully in poetry.

The general theme is of wasted effort, needless insecurity.  Like a rich person begging for money, God’s chosen people keep acting like they are un-chosen.

I loved the water motif.  God is already reminding them of Exodus, and he refers to his love and promises as springs of living water. But he says, you made your own cisterns, your own plumbing – which they literally did contemporaneously in Kings instead of preparing for the enemy by trusting God.

Then he extends the metaphor by saying they drank from the Euphrates and Nile rivers, referring to political alliances with Syria and Egypt, instead of trusting God.

Its like a verse of “looking for love in all the wrong places. Indeed there is the image of a bride who has forgotten her jewellery, a prostitute comparison, its all there.

But focus is so hard.  Do I not do the same?  I’m trying hard to get a new job, which is appropriate, but why sink into panic or despair?  Its in his hands. I can’t even listen to a sermon all the way through. Just reading chapter 2, I diverted off to google stray thoughts that crossed my mind multiple times.  Its hard to stay fixed on God.

Give me perspective Father. Thank you that you are patient, love beauty, and love me. 

 

Isaiah 54

Big rap for Israel and/or God’s people generally. He’s speaking of their abandonment by God, their time of exile, how it will be temporary. 

Like a husband who is briefly angry with his wife, the larger, stronger relationship will prevail.

He talks of loving and teaching the children/generations. There are descriptions of architecture built with precious stones that sound a bit like the holy city in revelation. 

There is talk of safety and military protection, something that would have been top of mind to those in Isaiah’s time.

It’s a pile on of God’s care for and love for his people. 

I start back in the full swing of work today after leave, my time of complete leisure and liberty at an end. I’ve got a big year helping church to move and much complexity at work to stay on top of.

I love my family and I want good things for all of them. I can only face it by relying on God’s promise of love and compassion for his people.

Isaiah 7

A story of the options of trusting or not trusting God when you are scared, and how many steps ahead God really is.

Isaiah lived in the smaller Southern Israelite kingdom of Judah. They faced an attack by an alliance of the Northern kingdom, Israel, and Syria. The king and the general population were in mortal terror.

Isaiah meets the king, Ahaz, and through Isaiah God says he’s got it sorted.

The threat is all smoke and no fire. Ahaz is given a promise… The child of a woman who conceives and gives and gives birth will not be yet eating solid food before the threat is disposed of. Max 2 years, problem solved.

But the king does not trust God. In the end he makes an alliance with Assyria, giving them most of the kingdom’s treasure for protection.

They prove to be an unreliable partner, and eventually Judah is attacked by both them and Egypt at the same time, a far worse result than the original attack the alliance was designed to avoid.

The simple lesson is “trust God”.

You can sometimes still get good stuff by trusting yourself, like love, wealth, good times.

But God is mightier, stronger, more able to bless, and ultimately loves you more than you could love yourself, so you are better off trusting him.

The twist is that Isaiah knew the king would not trust God. To his meeting he bought his son, whose name “a remnant will survive” pointed to the outcome, and the ultimate fate of Judah.

Furthermore, remember the sign about God saving them by the time a child was eating solid food? It has a familiar cadence that jumps out at you in the text “a virgin will give birth to a son, and he shall be called ‘Immanuel'” ( God with us)…

That prophesy had a near and far meaning, being quoted when Jesus was born.

Because God is always several jumps ahead of our fear and our plans. And his salvation is eternal.