Hosea 3

The size of God’s love.

Hosea is already married to Gomer. And we are already God’s children, in that we are made by God, we bear a family resemblance… His image.

Yet here Hosea buys her time, which, as a prostitute, is for sale to any man. He pays a fantastic sum, and has her time for many days. He paid for the exclusivity that she had anyway, by virtue of being hosea’s wife. And Jesus paid a fantastic price, the blood of God, the life of God, to purchase us, who were already made in God’s image.

Hosea’s life is bonkers. His reality tv social experiment lifestyle is over the top. But God is powerfully explaining the size of his love for us. It’s also bonkers.

I’ve been working on a 60 second Easter animation. That story, constrained to under 50 words comes out blunt and brutal. The Cross is such an offence to throw into a social media feed. The script won’t fall into place.

It’s ugly, amazing love.

Ezekiel 43

Something happens in the dream temple this chapter, the glory of God arrives. It is in the same form as the amazing visions that opened the book: a big gleaming stack of images of God with Jesus on top. Its reappearance brings the book to a full circle.

And there is, to me, a pretty big hint of why it doesn’t really matter whether this temple is ever actually built.

Son of man, describe the temple to the people of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their sins. Let them consider its perfection

The idea of it is powerful by itself, for illustrating god’s standard to the people. The vision then talks about being accepted by God, through the sacrifices in this unbuilt temple.

The vision is a reminder of what God hates, a call to recommit to God, and a promise of acceptability by God.

Spent a lovely holiday day with two friends, mother and daughter, on a road trip to the hot springs of Rotorua.

Here’s Kelly and Ren in the soda pool… Hotter than a comfortable bath in several places, from gas bubbling up into it from… hell? I dunno! With blessing from God coming down in the form of light, obviously, too.

Another day here, and then we head down to Wellington, the launchpad for the South Island.

The two 16 year olds are getting along fine, seem to have the ease they had in primary school, even though it’s been years.

Ren is asking some really stimulating and awkward questions about morality and religion that I find difficult to have the space, in the dynamic, to answer. It’s a pity because obviously I have a lot of thoughts about all that stuff, so I hope I get an opportunity to. But it’s really nice and comfortable and relaxing so far. And I’m loving the luxury of time. There is nowhere if rather be, no other people I’d rather be with.

Ezekiel 34

The good shepherd (John 10:11-18), the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46). Two of Jesus’ most beautiful and powerful teachings. Both have their origin in this chapter.

Jesus’ ideas come so deeply and so often from scripture.

It’s a wonderful promise of showers of blessing from God, but also a really vivid reminder of what God thinks of as an irresponsibly lived human life.

People are compared to bad shepherds and pushy sheep. The metaphors are a bit mixed up. In both instances though, ungodly people are criticised for selfish lives that don’t look after the weak, aren’t community minded; that prioritise #1.

Shepherds and rams don’t have to be powerful. In the human and animal scheme of power, they are reasonably far down the influence chart. But they must use the energy and influence they do have on behalf of others.

We need to do what we can do worthily.

And so often, the means of practical grace is community: shared burdens, multiplied energy and effort.

I am, regrettably in the light of this word of God, in a completely lazy and indulgent phase. My brain is definitely in neutral. I take ridiculous wrong turns on roads I know perfectly well, it’s just fuzz inside the noggin.

The only task I give any effort to is planning my new Zealand holiday. Oops on the worthiness stakes.

I’m theoretically writing a song based on Ecclesiastes called “Relax” (thanks Annie!). But the well of creativity is dry. I just keep mucking around. Chasing after wind, form is mimicking substance.

I’m theoretically finishing off a wall in my son’s room. He’s 16, he could use one. But everything in me rebels against being task- oriented, so I am making exceptionally lack-lustre progress.

In my defence, it’s very hot. And the doom of raging bush fires everywhere only increases the mood of existential pointlessness.

It will be a big year. Plenty to do at church and work and at home. This lull before the new year is never permanent.

I have noticed that the energy levels don’t come back quite as strong with the advance of years, but I’m working smarter, or at least more pragmatically, and that compensates.

It kills me that I will miss a planning day on Jan 20 with the indigenous group at work. But I will still get to help a lot no doubt.

In the meantime, I eat leftovers, chase Google rabbit holes for hours as I feel like it, have long, circular conversations and wait for the time to gather stones together. Can’t rush time.

Ezekiel 30

The sadness, for Israel, of accepting that this is how it is meant to be. Like death. That person you need most is not coming back.

God pushes us forward to trust in him. The Israelites hate this new adventure, where Babylon smashes their culture and their offspring. They want to go back to Egypt. A familiar, comfortable enemy.

This chapter of lament over the neutralising of Egypt as any sort of powerful ally is all about God emphatically saying that there’s no going back

We need to go forward, into God’s will, no matter how horrible it seems. Israel has the example of Abraham, who God asked to kill his son Isaac. So do we.

I do lack courage Lord, often. Give me fearlessness when seeking your will.

Starting to relax a little, going into the Christmas break. There is a sadness of things that won’t change. My hope for the children refuses to become God shaped.

The holiday is coming together, 3 weeks in New Zealand. I’m actually looking forward to it. But Kelly’s sister is in a really bad place, getting nowhere accepting the death of her marriage.

The weekend with the extended family in Orange was really quite enjoyable. Not a bad Christmas.

Family is an odd connection. As we all know each other less, our lives continue to run in parallel, and we connect on shared cultural history more than shared experiences. It’s great if the experiences we do have together are good ones.

It’s worth the effort. They are relationships that feel a bit random, we happened to grow up together. The extra time allowed by staying all weekend together allow us to renew a bit too.

Sadness, scars going forward, and a bit of hope too.

Psalm 127

“If the building is not of the Lord, there’s no use in starting the building”.

Verse one was used for an old chorus I recall singing. It had an odd melody that started solemn and then went cutesy and light. The two halves of the phrase were disconnected.

Similarly, the two halves of this 4 verse psalm challenged my brain to see the connection.

The start of the psalm, talks about building houses and guarding the city, and doing it in the Lord’s name or there is no point. And the second half talks about the benefits of having a quiver full of straight arrow children.

Unfortunately, the only way I can connect them makes me a little sad because it’s praising, I think, some of the very things I’m worst at in life.

It’s for people that want legacy.

We have various ways of reconciling our eternal and temporal natures. The grass is always there because it is replenished.Each blade has a life cycle, a circle of life.

But we are more complex than grass. We start to mourn the individual blades, and get invested in whether the blade has a long or short life. Because God had given us the desire to mean something.

And an answer, this psalm says, I reckon, is to invest in your legacy of offspring. Work, build houses, guard your stuff, for them. Have lots of kids.

But do it in the Lord. The commentators made the comment that an arrow isn’t just any old stick. It’s honed, worked, made perfectly straight and for purpose.

As if! I dream of that sort of influence.

That’s where I feel vulnerable. My kids aren’t exactly a quiver of straight arrows. Love ’em, recognise me in ’em. But the closest I get to fine is accepting that they will be what they will be. Particularly the older ones… 26 and 25.  I have a little fading influence over Ren, 15.  But he is such a typical teen – carving out his own identity.

I feel vulnerable, so for me I suppose this psalm is an encouragement.  I need to work at my relationships with the kids, but its in the Lord’s hands. And I could do a lot of stuff: financial support, coaching, moulding, pushing, bullying, encouraging, and it could come to nothing.  I’ll try to remember to pray, turns out that might be the best legacy.

I’ll cling to that!

Song of Songs 8

The blaze in every soul.

This is the chapter I return to the most.

I was moved, I always am, by the culminating praise of love itself:

Place me like a seal over your heart,
like a seal on your arm;
for love is as strong as death,
its jealousy unyielding as the grave.
It burns like blazing fire,
like a mighty flame.
Many waters cannot quench love;
rivers cannot sweep it away.
If one were to give
all the wealth of one’s house for love,
it would be utterly scorned.

Followed by the wonderful ownership of her person and her sexuality by the girl: “my own vineyard is mine to give”. I love that passage, it’s one of my favorites in the whole Bible. It says it all about who and what God created us to be. About the nature of his love for us.

It’s one of two books of the Bible that never mentions God’s name. There’s so many things it barely mentions.

It only incidentally refers to marriage, but it is all about monogamy. Passion is jealous, and the giving to each other is absolute, it has no place for casual sex.

It’s not prudish, no sir-ee… but it’s prudent. It acknowledges what unique greatness is unleashed, and what is at stake, when one loves deeply and completely.

And it has more in common in some ways with God’s love than earthly relationships. How often is he described as a jealous God? We’re told to “love him with all your heart, mind and soul”.

This book is all about young love: the blaze of romantic obsession, the power of attraction, delight in the newness and overpowering nature of it all; the yearning.

It doesn’t talk about the different beauty of long marriages: that survive hardship and changes, that bring up children and learn to adapt as life throws u-turns, that forgive failure and weakness, and face getting old, undesirable and sick together.

It made me sad and conflicted. I had to force myself to read it. I’ve loved it, but I had to take it slow, in doses. It’s made me feel inadequate, second best. I haven’t been in the mood, so to speak.

What does it mean for my relationship, which is at a very different phase? It’s a bit like the crummy feeling other people’s perfect lives on Instagram can give you.

I’ve had lot of valuable thoughts about God’s love, but maybe just as valuable is remembering and rekindling some of the intensity of that first love with my life partner. It’s certainly made me think about that. Complex feelings at the intersection of spirituality and physicality.

The open ended invitation at the very end, to come away and be like a gazelle and a young stag on the spice laden mountains… Maybe the whole thing has been a remembrance? Maybe that invitation is for us who need reminding of what it is to be young.

Song of Songs 2

Won’t be able to do this one justice, so many beautiful familiar images, so many keepers.

Two basic metaphors through the chapter.

A banquet under the banner of love. Together in a close embrace, abundant and frank natural imagery: she’s lilies, he’s an apple tree. Deliciousness, intimacy, joy, love, feasting. Time stands still, the moment is suspended together.

Strengthen me with raisins,
refresh me with apples,
for I am faint with love.

Then running: he’s bounding over the hills to reach her, her lover coming to waken her, at her window all urgency because… just because winter is over and spring has come. Because there is nowhere to be in the world but with each other running though nature like stags and gazelles.

He asking her to catch the little foxes that may ruin the vineyard, just as she probably literally did. More running. This time chasing away anything that could threaten their vineyard of love.

Two contrasting metaphors: stillness and urgency, it reminds me of a stream with pools and glistening rills.

Then I think of the songs I’ve sung from this: “he bought me into his banqueting table, and his banner over me is love… My beloved is mine and I am his…” Singing it in Sunday school! How dare they!

It is a picture of perfect love, an unsustainable dream of love. It’s a love that is actually dangerous in this world… The girl warns us not to stir up love like this before we are ready. The connection of joyous physical intimacy and complete trust is the ideal of romantic love. It takes people to divine places.

But you can’t fake that, and being addicted to the divine, trying to wring it out of imperfect relationships is more than they can bare. It’s a dream that has shipwrecked countless lives. Looking for love in all the wrong places, as the song goes.

Your can’t make your partner God, no one is that great. If it is to last you learn to live with their flaws. So this uber song, song of songs, puts you in a frame of mind that the holy spirit exists to answer: being able to imagine more perfect love, but being unable to attain it.

Which is how the writers of that Sunday school song about dream sex dared.

Psalm 109

The right place for anger

…is prayer. This is apparently the strongest of the imprecatory Psalms. Fancy word for wishing disaster for your enemies. There’s a lot of theological hand wringing about what to do with them. Glad I don’t have to decide when to sing or read them in church!

David was famous for his honour and mercy in practice. He was never harsh enough with rebellions started by his own children. And of course he rewarded Saul’s staggeringly unreasonable, mad behaviour – randomly throwing spears at him etc, with mercy on several occasions where he could have easily had vengence. There are lots of examples.

This Psalm contains a long series of curses on an enemy and his family, and the hope that his enemy will be judged by a really mean, evil person. The curses are exceptionally strong:

Let there be none to extend mercy unto him: neither let there be any to favour his fatherless children

Been re-watching some game of thrones episodes, and it’s worth remembering that a lot of the staggering cruelty and betrayal that made the series the most talked about television is simply drawn from history.

Our go-to embodiment of evil remains Hitler or possibly Pol Pot. Seems the ancient world had plenty of choices, who may have had a lower body count, but were more extravagantly sadistic.

This Psalm is written as a prayer. David takes his exceptional disgust and frustration at his enemies to God, which is what I take from this Psalm. It’s venting, and trusting god’s justice.

In a small way I’ve been lashing out a bit more than usual, a product of self doubt I think. It’s a good reminder. God is ready and willing to hear all that stuff. He knows we think it anyway. Trust God for fairness. The well of anger in your heart, laid on the altar, stops owning you.

Proverbs 31

Another named author, King Lemuel takes over for the last chapter. Or possibly half of it, not sure.

There’s speculation Lemuel is another name for Solomon, which would make the opening warning from his mother, Bathsheba, not to waste his energy on women just too rich in irony, given the trajectories of both their lives.

The advice on drinking which follows is really wise. I’ve been challenged about it since working for the Salvos, which are an unfashionably temperate organisation.

The gist of the passage is that drunkenness is inconsistent with a king’s responsibility.

There’s also lots of good reasons why Salvos too would want a strong hedge around alcohol, given the work they do particularly with addicted people. In an era where church hypocrisy is being constantly exposed, it’s a sign of commitment, sincerity and being set apart.

It’s a barrier to how deeply in the movement I can participate, but I’ve been very welcomed. I feel there is room for me.

The passage is honest about what excessive drink is good for… It neither glamourises or judges it:

Let beer be for those who are perishing,
wine for those who are in anguish!
Let them drink and forget their poverty
and remember their misery no more.

Finally, this section emphasises the obligation of those in power to have compassion and ensure justice for the vulnerable.

It’s a Monday morning, and I’ll have many opportunities this week to be part of just that in my work and church life, it’s just great!

The second half of the chapter is a famous description of the wife of noble character. These days it instantly brings to mind my mother, at whose funeral verses from this passage were read.

She was in some senses more than this description – it doesn’t refer specifically to the value of a wicked sense of humour, kindness or emotional supportiveness, all of which she had in spades.  I don’t think its intended as an exhaustive recipe for a perfect woman. And as for:

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Honor her for all that her hands have done,
    and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

Yes yes!

Reaching the end of Proverbs, I’m thinking so much of it is a “for instance”… specific reactions to a specific sets of circumstances, from which we are to learn models of how to respond, rather than literal lessons.  If Kelly, my wife, ever literally acted like the wife of noble character I would become confused and demand my real wife back. The thrust of this advice is to to look beyond the shallow to the things of deeper value. To be looking for a true life partner, not a decoration.

Yeah, its sort of sexist that the whole book appears to be directed specifically at young men, even though its theme – how stop being a fool – is a bit redeeming on that score. And as an older man, I’ve thought helpfully about how to live well, and contemplated how difficult and ongoing is aligning our thoughts and actions to the love of God.

Proverbs 18

On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.

This is a picture of the world with the blind leading the blind, the shepherdless sheep for whom Jesus wept.

Our gossip goes deep into our attitudes. We speak and speak, incurious, determined not to let facts contradict our beliefs. Spouting opinions for the sheer entertainment of our own voices being heard.

It’s a chapter about damaging words and thought patterns. Physical illness is less the enemy of our soul than our minds:

The human spirit can endure in sickness,
but a crushed spirit who can bear?

Rich people build up their secure domestic compounds but the security those offer is illusory. In the centre of it all, the actual solid rock:

The name of the Lord is a fortified tower;
the righteous run to it and are safe.

There’s good stuff in the world, it’s not damning or abandoning of it. It’s a competition. But there is an assault of foolish ideas coming at us.

Think carefully, be a source of wisdom to the extent a human can, it starts with your heart.

I can’t always talk God in every interaction I have with my children or people at large. But I can always strive for wisdom.