Ezekiel 3

Ezekiel’s preparation for ministry is elaborate because God knows the message is hard and Ezekiel is not up to the task. The chapter is God doing everything he can to help Ezekiel to make brave choices.

The Israelite people, carted away from Israel into exile in Babylon, no doubt feel abandoned: that God wasn’t real. Or if they do still believe, his plans make no sense.

So Ezekiel coming and telling them “God is very disappointed and angry with you” is highly likely to make him a target for much of their bitterness and misery.

First he eats the scroll of God’s word he got yesterday. It tastes sweet like honey (didn’t The Psalms say the law was sweeter than honey? Hmmmm… Mind you I called it a poison pill yesterday!)

God promises him hardness to match the hardness of the people. So he has the word inside, and the armour of God outside.

The spirit lifts him and the great glorious contraption of wheels and winged creatures delivers him to the people.

Ezekiel is full of bitterness and anger… At God I’m thinking. For seven days he sits among them, deeply distressed. No message.

It’s what I would have done I think, I’m also a coward. It’s why being a writer suits me so well. Giving other people the scripts to deliver.

God takes him out of there into the desert and ratchets up the pressure with the watchman argument: if the people reject your message, it’s on them. If the people never hear your message, that’s on you.

You are simply the watchman, your only job is to warn them of danger, even if you know they’ll reject it.

It ends with a weird scene of Ezekiel being tied up in his own house, unable to leave, and God making him unable to speak.

If you won’t use your legs and tongue for my mission, God’s seems to be saying, how about you don’t use them for anything else for a while!

At this point is it were me, I would start to be persuaded. It a theme from all the major prophets, God knows being a prophet is his suckiest job. He knows a normal person will find it almost impossible.

So it’s quite a threatening chapter to read. Please God, I don’t want to be a prophet!

I’m reminded of our discussions about the best sign to put out the front of our church.

I suggested “lay down your burdens” which was a big hit. Talking about comfort in a very abstract way. It did start some conversations, engagement with our community, it must be said. I certainly intended the any engagement that occurred would lead to a less abstract message in time.

The next one is probably going to be “Jesus loves you”. Still positive, but it confronts head on that Christianity is about responding to Jesus.

If we ever take that out, we aren’t being watchmen.

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Psalm 131

An arrow to my heart. Thank you Lord! Waves of clarity and blessing in my head already.

I’m going to reproduce David’s little poem in full:

My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.
Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore.

I have been struggling, struggling, with pride at work. Part of it is getting used to hierarchy. It’s been 20 years really, since I was as far down the org chart as I am in my current job. When I last had as much hierarchy, it was in the public service, where it is so absurd it teaches you no practical life coping skills.

So I’m struggling with people having a say over my work and getting approval for everything, not having much sway or autonomy. Partly just with the habit of it, partly with the acceptance of it.

But also I care. It’s Gody stuff, transforming lives physically and spiritually for the better. It’s the bloody salvation army. The last job I had was for a construction contractor. I could check my my soul at the door and just be their comms and marketing technician.

When I sit down, as I did on Friday, to write a prayer, as a template for churches across Australia, for more inclusive relations with Australia’s First Nations people, I bring all that I am to the task. And then someone fixes it. It’s a vulnerable place to be.

In this psalm, humility is described just right: it’s concerning yourself with what is before you, not with things beyond you. Focus, I suppose, but wise, careful and prayerful focus. I’m not 100% Salvo. But there is a large area of overlap, surely, where we can both be completely us, and have hearts for the same outcomes.

And heck, even the General probably has a little bit of himself set aside, a little teensy percent not Salvo. 

In this psalm, humility is a discipline. David just have known how much talent God gave him, how superior his judgement and insight was to pretty much everyone around him. I don’t have his talent, but I got some.

He has calmed and quieted himself. He is mature. A weaned baby comprehends love that is not an instant gratification of need. They have been able to let that go, and probably experienced anxiety, cried in panic, during the process of learning.

I can do this. I can give more of myself to this job than I ever have before, satisfying myself but also being what they, and what God wants me to be. My own tiny part of his presence on earth, focussed on the things before me.

May I hope in the Lord, now and forever more! May I say it, learn it, and mean it: ‘I am content’.

Ecclesiastes 8

It’s the same ideas again largely, and more in a jumble than other chapters. Elsewhere he talks about his mind being restless, but here I feel I experience that restlessness. Maybe he wrote this one in the middle of the night… He mentions people getting no sleep.

He talks about civil obedience, a bit Paul-like per Romans 13, including the criminal justice system. He notes there are both holy and pragmatic reasons to submit to the social order. But he also comments on how easily it can go wrong.

He turns the evocative “time for this, time for that” into ghastly sort of puppet show / nightmare life, with God pulling the strings. We don’t know the plot of our story and we don’t have choices. It may be time to live miserably under an oppressive ruler. It may be party time.

His advice is essentially, if it’s party time, enjoy it a lot. If it’s not party time, maybe it will be again, but there’s nothing you can do and don’t even try to understand it because it won’t make any sense.

How about I try to note the bits that speak to me.

I loved the opening verse about wisdom brightening and softening the hard appearance of a person’s face. One of life’s most affirming things is seeing kindness, comprehension and gentleness in a face.

We watched a documentary on ABC yesterday about disabled people getting employment, and I saw that wisdom light up the face of a wonderfully driven and focused downs syndrome woman who they tracked through getting a TAFE certificate and a job as a carer at an aged care facility. When she did her trial time with the residents, she was so switched on, and they responded so warmly, it was beautiful.

I was struck by the wisdom of the verse: “When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, people’s hearts are filled with schemes to do wrong“.

It reminded me of the angst and opportunism that Donald Trump’s brazen shamelessness over lying, being dishonorable etc has caused. It’s almost worse for the souls of those, such as many evangelical Christians, who struck an ungodly bargain with him to advance their agenda, than it is for those he outright marginalises and bullies. But the fact that he gets rewarded for being so indecent has shaken many people’s faith in justice, and emboldened many others.

The world is increasingly riven by violence been ‘Christians’ and ‘Muslims’. Blessed are the peacemakers, DJT!

And this is notable: “I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun.” Simple food and drink always tastes good, but especially so when times are hard. There is a reason all churches involve themselves in simply handing out food and drink.

Lord in this tumultuous world, help me cling into the good things, give them time, and see you brightening and softening them, giving me hope in the eternal value of goodness.

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 75

Praising God’s judgement.

The psalm starts and ends with praise by the author Asaph. In the middle God is quoted speaking about his judgement.

The opening praise is of God’s name and his marvellous deeds. The closing praise is more precisely his character as a God who exalts the righteous but cuts off the horns – or the strength – of the wicked.

I was struck that God is described as provoking judgement and limiting it. Because he makes the earth and all its people quake, but he also holds its pillars firm.

God is in charge of the timing, he makes the appointment. We can’t force it.

God is in charge of the content of judgement: it’s a cup of spicy wine in his hand that no one anywhere can avoid draining to the last drop. A bitter process to be gone through for those who defy God.

It’s about God’s justice, he weakens the strong, cutting away their strength, and strengthens the weak. Not our sense of fairness though, it’s the affirmation of God’s rule and power.

What does it mean to embrace, to praise God’s judgement as this psalmist has?

A big part of it of delight at leaving every aspect of it to God. We don’t have to be concerned that in the long run everything will be fair and just. And we don’t have to make it happen.

We are allowed to see God’s hand in some real world situations where evil is bought low, and consequences play out, we can praise God for that.

At the same time, understand, in fact ultimately rejoice if we can, that the bits that don’t make immediate sense are in God’s hands.

I also plan to listen to the Spirit for moments to declare God’s judgement, all of it down to the last dreg. No holding back!

This psalm talks about it being a painful, disempowering, equalising process people will go though, which didn’t necessarily sound like it will always end in destruction for the arrogant to me.

Maybe I’ll have to drink a cup of it myself on occasion, to learn about my arrogance and defiance, I don’t know.

But certainly, if the timing is right for me to be part of the voices leading a defiant person to repentance, that is another thing I must trust God about, and be bold.

I sometimes get afraid because I’m over empathetic. I think ‘oh no, the truth about God as I understand it will break you’. And I hold back.

But it’s better to be broken before you die, if it’s your pride that is breaking, than leave our godless friends to risk the shrouded, unknown judgmental process that will occur after our years on earth are done.

Father, can I praise your fair, just judgement by being bold to mention it at the right times.

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.

Job 15

Eliphaz speaks a second time to Job and is more aggressive than the first.

I’m guessing he took offence at Job saying he was not inferior to his friends, because he doubles down on attacking Job for a mixture of arrogance and corruption.

I’ll talk through the flow of his argument, because I’m struggling to follow a bit at this point.

First he says that wise people don’t do what he does: speak empty words that drag other people down. We are being shown that Eliphaz finds Job’s questioning an offence and a threat.

He claims the elders. He says they are on his side … So where could have Job’s attitude have come from? He’s marginalising him.

He gets theological, but unfairly so by saying only God can be righteous and pure, when Job has already agreed he’s not perfect.

To this theological point he adds the elder’s traditional teaching that bad people get bad things..

If evil people seem to be thriving, it’s an illusion. It will all fall apart, they’ll get theirs.

He doesn’t once refer to the Job’s suffering personally or directly. Job has made a very emotional appeal. Eliphaz’s response is impersonal.

Empathy is a luxury for the unthreatened. Because simply acknowledging the seeming injustice Job is suffering would threaten his world view, he can’t. He throws up religion, tradition and majority consensus to justify switching off from job.

It is so still thus. Very easy to view this as an indigenous story. And to relate it to the demonization of refugees and immigrants, or the ‘other’ whatever form that may take. Eliphaz started out sounding more sympathetic, but underneath was this resistant hardness.

Suffering a touch of Monday-itis. What will the week bring? Have a fun trip to wyong to look forward to on Wednesday, and a few other nice things. And Kelly will finish all her assessments.

Speaking to me from the passage is the need to respond to the things in front of you. What you encounter. The good you can do now, like Jesus did. Don’t close yourself to the moment.

Rattling round in my head is a Christian thinker who claimed in a video last week that all human creativity and achievement is social, relational. I’m feeling like I’m too much of an island.

Job 6

Job responds to the last two chapters over the next two chapters. This one addresses the friend’s arguments. Next chapter he seems to return to thinking about his situation.

First he addresses their criticisms of his language… Of course he’s been a bit salty!

He goes further and says how he’s longed for death, just so he’d die without denying God’s words. They are underestimating how little strength he has not to curse God. He has no fight in him at all.

He’s making them aware how deep their lack of empathy is.

By the way, Job is an experience, it’s so well done! I have to read it a couple of times to get my concentration in, but it’s not actually difficult. It deserves to be just read, it is the prime experience of it, a summary is so much less.

So next he assures his friends he has not got some great hidden sin, he accuses them of being fair weather friends, of just being afraid of his misfortune – which is so true, sometimes people treat misfortune like it’s contagious, or need to assert a sense of control over life by saying it’s somehow deserved.

He ends this section saying ‘look at me! It’s your ol pal speaking, I’m not lying!’ I’m certainly not prepared for how precisely – and freshly- this ancient poem pinpoints my foibles.

I have lots of opportunities to comfort those suffering various kinds of misfortune at church, at work, even at home. Job’s message is:

don’t fear me,

don’t get desensitised to my words so they mean nothing to you.

I do crave honesty, but don’t give me facile, dismissive answers.

Don’t be unreliable.

Don’t fight the truth that I am the same as you: there but for the grace of God…

Time to pray.

2 Chronicles 25

Love God you win disobey God you lose. It’s a story like that. This king is Amaziah.

He wins a victory trusting in the Lord. On a prophets advice he sends home a mercenary force he’s already paid for… Pale shades of Gideon who reduced his army dramatically in size to show how strong God was.

But Amaziah made lots of other mistakes and defied God in almost every other decision. He was not a good king and left Judah weakened militarily and spiritually.

The key word was ‘wholeheartedly’. This king loved God in one part of his heart but, it says, not all of it. So it’s a lesson about ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart’

I enter a time of trusting God because I have only 2 months and a week left in my contract at work. There will be some jobs I can apply for, but not sure if they’ll be filled before then or if I’ll get them. Do I look for other options? I feel god wants me to be at Salvos. I also, just personally, want to be at Salvos.

I test it out and see.

2 Chronicles 17

The start of several chapters about the reign of Jehoshaphat. Compared to Kings, the book, there are only half the number of biographies, but much more detail.

He loves God, gets a lot of respect, the nation prospers. He looks after security, fortifying a number of the towns.

He’s set up as an average good king, the interesting stories will come in the next chapters.

I’m somewhat care worn. Running on without much inspiration. My musical project is going terribly.

I think I’ve perhaps been approaching music the wrong way, emphasising personal creativity rather than group music making.

Work is good but the uncertainty is nagging. It will probably go fine as in, I will probably have an ongoing role there, but we aren’t actually there yet, and the responsibility and implications for the family if it doesn’t work out are terrible.

I feel our relative poverty affects everyone every day, and there’s nothing I can easily do about it.

But you know, glad Jehoshaphat was a good king.