Psalm 138

“it’s the potatoes” ” no, it’s the way they’re cooked” “no, it’s the potatoes” “no, it’s the way they’re cooked”.

When I was a child I sat through this tedious ad for Smith’s Crisps so many times, waiting patiently at the TV for the next segment of Road Runner or some such. It was supposedly an argument between two painfully exaggerated Irishmen about what makes Smith’s Crisps the best. Oh, and I think they said “praitees” instead of potatoes. Good grief.

Anyway, this psalm of David reminded me of it, because he suggests God’s decrees are more famous than he is. His decree being his love for the lowly and undeserving, including David. “It’s God” “no it’s his love” “no, it’s God” “no, it’s his love”…that means he’s worthy of praise above all the other so called ‘gods’.

David praises Jehovah above all others because of how he engages: this God answers, and the answers embolden him. With one hand he fends off enemies, with the other he lifts David up. He preserves him from trouble.

Out course in just as many psalms David says “where are you!” “Why have you abandoned me?”.

Or “I will wait. Patiently”

Monday morning, which will it be for me today? Everything peachy, everything a disaster, or somewhere in between? (There are a few a few “meh” psalms, but not many… I suppose “meh” doesn’t lend itself to songs).

I’m a bit anxious about work, but excited for the opportunities. I’m determined to function with family, I’m in an organisation mode for things like mess, bills etc, which is good, and very variable.

I had a good break away with Kelly that reminded us how much we love each other’s company, and what relaxation feels like.

Is it him, or his love? I’m certainly sticking with Jehovah!

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Psalm 126

Those who go out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with them.

A song trusting God’s blessing. A great way to start the week. They recall the joy when they came back from captivity – the return from exile in Babylon – it was like a dream.

Now they are asking God, surely, he will restore their fortunes again. The verse quoted above is the last in the psalm.

But I just finished re-reading the prophets from the end of the old testament, speaking to that rebuilt Jerusalem. It was a much more pessimistic place. In Malachi, the last OT book, God says ”You have wearied the Lord with your words.

Of course, Jesus would be the harvest, and the prophets’ glimpses of long term blessing, often just barely slipped into the dying verses of otherwise bleak books, was the seed.

And now? We have Jesus… Unalloyed joy, yes? I am stressed going into the week, just with silly stuff. Feeling a bit sorry for myself, just the usual.

My work, as worthy as it is, still involves unpleasant deadlines and me having to battle my ego and make comprises I’m not happy with.

I suppose the old song “we shall some rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves” is drawn from this psalm.

I’m not feeling it, but it is a promise and my hope, I’ll make it my prayer today. I mean I’m not even weeping really, just a bit glum. I’ll try to spend my time sowing seed.

Ecclesiastes 3

Oh chapter 3! Each bit feels like arriving at a moment of significant personal truth, but then at the end I also think “what was that?”

Puts you through the wringer and remains enigmatic. It’s quite an experience.

First there is the time for every purpose under heaven. Can’t help but hit play on the Pete Seeger/Byrds song, ‘turn turn turn’ in your mind’s iPod (unless you’ve absolutely never heard it).

I aways thought it was a cheat the way they added “I swear it’s not too late” after “a time for peace”. I thought “it’s not just about peace”.

But now I like that it ties it to a moment, civil rights and the peace movement of the 1960s. This passage is all about being tied to moments.

It’s such an evocative piece of writing.

It’s clearly about time, but also dancing on one spot, not making progress, because the series of opposites balance or cancel each other. A time to gather stones, a time to cast away stones. One day the stones matter, another day, they don’t.

You get its pattern straight away, and that rhythm creates a space in which your mind can wander and personalise the examples.

So it’s different every time you read it. Today I might think a about notre dame cathedral burning down, or how my son is slipping through my fingers and I can’t seem to connect with him, or regret not being more successful in the worlds terms, and mildly resent it.

Read it again tomorrow and your mind will go a bunch of different places.

Today it also reminded me of my mother’s use of the word “philosophical”. As in “I don’t like it, but I’m trying to be philosophical about it”

She wasn’t unique in using it to mean “coming to terms with a less than desirable outcome”. But it was while talking to her that I first wondered “how did the word for all the world’s collected efforts to understand the meaning of life become a word for shrugging your shoulders when things are out of your control?”

And at the same time, that memory gives me a warm sense of maternal comfort from beyond the grave.

Which is typical of the honest and emotional – cathartic I suppose – places this passage always takes me. While also supporting the general argument that life goes in ultimately meaningless circles.

Whew. Then comes the amazing bit!

How we are tortured by eternity. Because we can imagine it, conceive it – God put it there right in our hearts. But we live animal lives that just end one day. We are tied to time. And not.

That’s why “meaningless” is not a good enough translation for the frustration and restlessness the writer feels. If life were genuinely meaningless, it would be easier. He almost envies animals when he asks rhetorically if we aren’t the same? But the original word, Hevel, has the sense of life seeming like it’s going to mean something, but the meaning lying just beyond our grasp. Wisps of smoke.

I love that verse, it describes the human condition so perfectly. It explains almost everything. You can’t write off the Bible if it contains that verse, without telling yourself a lie.

Then the rest of the chapter talks about enjoying what you do have, and living a good life, calling out injustice because what little we know of eternity is the glimpses we have revealed to us of God’s unchanging character. He is just. He will will bring judgement for those wronged.

The writer seems to arrive at “We can’t know for certain what will happen when we die, but we do know what is good”.

And I have to get breakfast. Or should I say “a time for blogging, a time for tea”.

And to pray? Does God get a look in?

Too much! Use of time, relationships, mourning and dancing – connecting to eternity.

Proverbs 1

It’s an anthology of wise sayings. I have misgivings about whether reading it in this format will work. A bit like reading the phonebook, one letter of the alphabet per day.

I’ll make a rule that I’ll try to listen to the ones that describe me more than the ones that describe people I disapprove of.

The first chapter is clear enough. Says what it is, then a carrot and stick.

If you are heading down a bad path… And we’re talking being somewhat of a bandit here, this is a way back. An invitation to rethink your selfish existence.

And it won’t end well. This was my favourite verse: ‘Such are the paths of all who go after ill-gotten gain; it takes away the life of those who get it’

I’ve seen breaking bad, I believe it! This section promises that wisdom will give you hope.

The next section personifies wisdom as a woman pronouncing disaster in the public square for those who will not listen. ‘I in turn will laugh when disaster strikes you; I will mock when calamity overtakes you—when calamity overtakes you like a storm’

… You get the gist, strong words for thick skulls. Trying to talk young people out of being galoots here, subtlety not required.

I could use some wisdom, I’m sure there’s plenty for middle aged fools as well. I feel so frustrated writing all this good teaching for kids at work but being tongue tied and short tempered with my own kids at home.

Father, I wanna be wise!

Psalm 80

Sometimes the answer is ‘no’.

Its a psalm/prayer about the fall of the Northern Kingdom, which never was restored. When it fell, the few faithful jewish people immigrated and became absorbed into the Southern Kingdom.  Most lost their identity as a chosen people of God.

God is called Israel’s ‘shepherd’, the only other time in Psalms apart from 23.

Israel is compared to a vine planted from Egypt, It has been glorious, but now the vineyard is unprotected and has been overrun by strangers and its grapes stolen.

Its a plea for God to shine his face on them. For his anger to stop. For him to be the shepherd, to tend his vineyard again. To restore them.

The King of the Northern Kingdom, is compared to a branch of God’s vine, a Son of Man, God’s right hand.

But we know that only the prophets carried on God’s word in that time, none of the Kings were faithful.

The answer was ‘no’ until Jesus came, of Galilee in the former Northern Kingdom.

A melancholy return to work today. The daughter of one of the workers, who as a baby got a brain cancer diagnosis a year ago has died.  It was inevitable, but its also an unimaginably sad occurrence.  The memorial is Friday.

And the head of my department is not out of his medical issues, he’s been ordered two months off. Before Christmas, he was described as having a blood clot in his lung, now they have found multiple blood clots apparently.  I don’t really understand, but it doesn’t sound good.

I’m the sole survivor of a branch that has ceased to be, with no news of employment prospects. My supervisor is the wife of the guy who is so unwell.  She has 3 kids, her own job and worries, and is 1000 km south in Victoria. She has a lot to deal with.

I have stuff to go on with, deadlines in fact. But its not exactly an optimistic new year welcome.

Feeling adrift and somewhat forgotten, I’m braced for the answer to be ‘no’ to continuing to work here after my contract extension to Feb expires, and braced for the answer to be slow.

That’s how it goes sometimes.

Psalm 77

If this book of Psalms, starting from psalm 73, so far has had a theme it’s remembering.

Yesterday’s was about when Israel had military glory. Today’s joins the dots.

It narrates much more fully the journey from fear and despair in the night to remembering and calling on God to be in control.

At first the night time meditation on God produces distress, classic night fears that abandonment, rejection by God will go on forever.

But then appealing to the deeds of long ago starts to calm him.

He visualises the chaos of the sea. Dark stirring water is an abiding metaphor of losing control for all Israelites it seems. Then he visualises lightning and storms, the power of God over the sea.

It ends on a specific memory of the Israelites, led by Moses and Aaron, leaving Egypt by walking through the sea stepping in the invisible footsteps of God.

This image combines God’s power with his specific love for Israel, and calms him.

The mighty blue mountains, nature’s intimidating size, and a lifetime of memories, along with time to be with my family, is calming and restoring me, praise God.

Being aware of the movement of air, or the stillness of it. The heat has been crazy, but there’s always a stream to cool your toes in.

We’ve played board games and browsed antiques and clothes. Slowed down, remembered rituals, watched bad TV and found new things.

I think the psalmist is listening, letting God speak. Creating opportunities to hear him. We bought a funny antique glitter art framed verse to put on our wall yesterday ‘quench not the Spirit’.

Speak father, in this moment of our lives’ intersection, to all our different needs.

Psalm 57

This one takes flight. It’s from a moment when David has some quiet contemplation time during his fugitive period, hiding in a cave. His confidence that he has backed the right horse, God, is already strong at the start, fear is not urgent.

Poetry thrives on contrast, and from his dark lonely cave we get an increasingly exultant series of them.

And here, now, it’s spring. After weeks of rain, flu, a winter that won’t let go, all that cleared yesterday, for Friday and the weekend. I felt like singing myself as I had coffee in the park with a colleague, drinks and dinner with friends in the time-shifted sunshine after work.

The scriptures and my life don’t need to match up, but now I feel they have! It’s fresh and bright and new after weeks of gloom.

David compares the safety of the cave, as he hears lions outside, to feeling like a chick under the wing of God, safe and warm and loved.

Morning comes, he compares it to music, contrasting the dark silence of the cave to the rich breadth of the dawn, the awakening day awakens the sound of lute and lyre in his memory. After getting safe, he gets happy

You can picture him at the mouth of his tiny cave, so small his life has become, comparing the vastness of the lightening heavens to the greatness of God, the God of all nations who is above the highest he can see, feeling at one with that God.

He mentions the enemies, he compares them to the lions outside the cave. He is aware of their viciousness, like the lions teeth, and their plotting like the prowling, but he visualises them falling into a pit of their own making. Swallowed up by their own wrong choices. Shoulda trusted God.

So: Saturday, blue skies above, what an upbeat way to start a new day. May I be open to blessing, alert to possibilities. Did trust God!

1 Chronicles 29

The book ends with the handover from David to Solomon. Solomon asks for wisdom, in terms that acknowledge that God has made a great nation, remembering his love for David. This pleases God. He grants Solomon wisdom and he also promises great wealth.

They go to the tabernacle and offer sacrifices. I got mixed up earlier, there are two tents. This one Moses made in the wilderness, and another in Jerusalem that David made for the ark of the covenant.

The book concludes with a description of how wealthy and powerful Israel became during Solomon’s reign.

It’s a sweet fulfillment of God’s promises.

It’s such a brief period, is like the flowering of the American prosperity theology. God blesses them with wealth.

Indeed, he doesn’t only use poverty or suffering. I’ve mentioned before the English band the Housemartins who famously said they would be Christians only when they had nothing in their bank accounts, but that is not the only way.

Here is a period when gold and silver were as common as stone. However God also doesn’t only use wealth and success.

It’s tempting to think that this is where it was done right, where God is in control and his will is being done fully as he intended. But it isn’t.

He told them back in Samuel that even having kings in the first place was second best, plan B.

The bad Kings that would come, and the split, decline and fall of Israel, result in the soaring visions of the prophets, the wisdom literature, global redemption, the God who lives in hearts, not buildings.

It’s one of the few books about the Jewish nation’s history with a happy ending, until you read that the only reason it ends here is that the scrolls it was written on weren’t long enough to hold the whole story. It ends here for technological, not literary, reasons.

So I’ll enjoy the good things without guilt, and pray that I can accept the bad. Neither condition demonstrates or questions God’s existence, his favour, or his will.

1 Chronicles 7

Another list, will it never end!

This goes though the other tribes, having devoted a chapter to Levi, listing all their descendents with occasional biographical notes.

The numbers of fighting men they were able to provide is noted, I suppose to just give a sense of the relative size of the tribes as much as anything.

These are male blood lines, there are others that trace the female lines, which is more relevant to Jesus who had a human mother only. But I can see how in a patriarchy, the male lines were important for restarting society.

I had the thing happen where a day ago I was full of stress, vulnerability and pain, and Kelly alerted me yesterday that it’s the 3rd anniversary of my father’s death.

So you know, family, bloodlines, mean things to us, affect us in ways we don’t always understand.

2 Samuel 23

Davids last words express his confidence in God, his satisfaction that his house is right, referring perhaps to his confidence in the afterlife, as in Psalm 23, he will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

He also compares righteousness to bright morning sun, to light, brightness after rain, which brings new growth. Ever the shepherd, eh. I was instantly reminded of one of my favourite passages in Judges, Deborah’s song “…may all who love you be like the sun when it rises in its strength” There is a clarity to David, he sinned, but it was bought out into the light. He remained a strangely uncomplicated, poetic soul. 

The reference to daylight also recalled the discovery of his sin back in chapter 12, when Nathan the prophet compared David’s secret sin to the public judgement, bringing it out into daylight.

Then a list of all the mighty men he knew, who fought with and for him. Lastly Uzziah, who he had killed.  A credit roll on an amazing life.