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 23

A word from God that is a surprisingly vulgar and explicit analogy of Samaria and Jerusalem and prostitutes. Have no illusion, God understands all about the dynamics and details of that activity.

Jerusalem is worse because it courted more nations, who are depicted as the clients. So both accommodated the Assyrians, but Jerusalem also turned to the Chaldeans, Babylonians, and back to the Egyptians they came from.

These were all alliances. So it set me thinking about alliances as well as the gravity of sin. It’s who and how they got in bed with…

In message after message to the forgotten Israelites in Babylon, God is desperately saying he hasn’t abandoned them, they abandoned him. He’s allowing this out of desperation as the only way he can reach them.

Lust has a context in love, but can also be separate. God is rejecting our claim to be satisfied in a loveless life.

God wants us to respond.

From the time the Israelites were in the desert, he doesn’t force any of them to love him. He’s showing them the consequences of rejecting him while they can still choose.

The response can be shown in pretty much anything. Wordlessly touching the hem of Jesus’ cloak.

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 24

A whole bunch of random wisdom. 10 numbered, and then a bunch of unnumbered “further sayings”. We’re talking pre Dewey decimal system organisation here.

The general theme is sticking to a sober sensible Christian life through thick and thin. When good people fail, when bad people fail, when evil seems to triumph, when you’re winning and when you’re losing, when things are calm or disrupted. Whatever.

Consistency. Calm. Letting God guide your steps, aware of the eternal picture.

The last few sayings cover honesty, fairness, justice and diligence. It warns against the slow decline that comes from lazy habits.

The underlying spiritual principle is the fruit of the spirit – love, joy, peace, self control. Like yesterday, not much mention of God but everything points to his indwelling.

I’m working really hard to emerge from a feeling of inability to cope, to be self disciplined and regular in my habits. We’re starting lent today, is as good a prompt as any to think about self discipline.

I might cut down on lollies and alcohol.

I had a thing last year where I could only eat lollies offered to me when I’m out, I’m thinking to do the same for both lollies and alcohol. It’s a good way to cut down very privately, without making a public fuss about it.

Also it’s a step towards establishing a sustainable habit rather than a fast.

Very proverbs! Wisdom is personal. It’s about ethics.

Proverbs 13

Its a rich feast, too dense to consume, the courses start to pass by in a blur. But the consequences of missing these messages are dire: snares of death, destruction.

The most famous in this chapter is I suspect: ‘Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.’  The words that launched 1000 fascist households.  I mean, I’m a relatively laissez-faire parent, but I discipline my children, its inevitable, they are idiots. 

Most of the proverbs are contrasting couplets… this is good, that is bad.  The ones that aren’t take you by surprise – ‘A person’s riches may ransom their life, but the poor cannot respond to threatening rebukes.’ – sucks to be rich, but also sucks to be poor.  Brutal!

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.’  Its a subtle one. So many of the proverbs are about avoiding instant gratification, playing the long game. They aren’t actually contrasting statement, it isn’t an argument against deferring hope. Its expressing empathy for how hard it is, but saying that its worth it when the longing is fulfilled. 

And that is the meta message of this chapter, don’t go for the easy win, take it slow, bit by bit, and you’ll get the rewards in the long run.

Speaks to me as I settle into the expectation of a secure, but not high, income, and start to discipline our spending.  Impulse buys, begone! ‘Whoever gathers money little by little makes it grow…’


Job 22

The log in your own eye…

The friend and commentator on Job’s situation Eliphaz speaks a third time.

Fairly or unfairly he lists a bunch of things Job has done wrong.

The crimes are ones that could be levelled against many prosperous people. Turning away some of the poor and hungry, cautiously demanding security on loans to relatives. Lacking generosity to the vulnerable.

They match rather well the behaviours that separate the sheep from the goats when Jesus teaches (when did I see you hungry, naked, homeless, Lord?) They echo the strong practical compassion theme that runs through the Torah.

Then he has a section on ‘who are you to question God?’ he gives him ironic advice, telling Job to put away his wealth, study God’s words and accept his instruction.

Well God has already seen to the wealth, and job has been pleading for God to speak to him, alternating with, it must be admitted, requests to be left alone by God, which Eliphaz has seized on as a sin.

But Eliphaz’s advice seems more relevant to himself. He is still prosperous, yet he and his friends appear to have hardened their heart to Job. Would they not also victim blame the poor and hungry if they encountered them?

Instead of chastising Job for the wealth he no longer has, perhaps they should look at their own. Rather than Job’s fate making them wonder what he did wrong, they should treat it as warning from God to humble themselves lest the same happen to them.

The moralising is not wrong. Many of his points are like things Jesus would say. But his moralising is getting in the way of his ability to accept the truth in what Job is saying, and his self reflection.

There’s lots of talking, but little dialogue because no one is actually listening to each other in their haste to make points in support of their own point of view. It’s very familiar.

If the friends accepted the injustice of Job’s situation, they could start to become as Christ to him, helping him instead of attacking him.

Using God truth to avoid doing his will in the present moment, what a classic!

I pray for wisdom today in my job interview, all I can do is give a full account of myself and hope there isn’t a better candidate (for my sake… Not a problem for them!)

Either way, it brings a little more clarity to my situation.

Psalm 55

OK, King David may have been the most ideal king until Jesus, but his life was a mess.

Yesterday he was being hunted in the wilderness like a fugitive. Today he’s king, he’s in the city, but still asking God for salvation. Now from slimy political frenemies. They still want him dead, that’s a constant.

Its such a nasty nest of smarmy vipers, including one particularly close betrayer, that he longs for a concrete enemy like the good old days when king Saul simply threw spears at him.

The psalm is full longing. To be a dove and simply fly away. He dreams of being in the desert – at least it’s empty. He dreams of finding shelter from the storm.

But he will stay and face it, cast his cares on the Lord.

And indeed, I spend an unfortunate amount of my week on escape, if I think about it. Coffee, TV, dawdling. I’m a world class dawdler. Kelly (my wife) found me simply sitting in the street in the car after work yesterday. Not ready to come in.

Cast it on the Lord!

2 Chronicles 15

The detail of king Asa’s reforms. The God given victory of the last chapter inspires him to carry on in thanks, and a prophet reminds him of the zero tolerance of foreign religions.

The people him him in celebrating the sacrifices to Jehovah, and stamp out idolatry, even his own grandmother changes.

He has peace for the rest of his reign, and many believing northern Israelites come and move to the South.

I react a bit cynically, because it’s just a staging point in a downward path for Israel. But I’m looking too much at the big picture.

It’s a godly life and a godly time. That’s a good thing, even if, as currently, you can see an overall pattern of decline.

Jeremiah 35

An example of obedient Israelites.

Jeremiah shows Israel very publicly in the temple the example of the rechabites.

They are a sect within Israel, similar to hippies or Amish people, they style their life as the Israelites in the wilderness, living in tents.

They have a vow of abstinence, which Jeremiah demonstrates by placing wine before them in the temple and inviting them to drink. The high profile location and Jeremiah’s status as a prophet would have added to the pressure on them, but they decline.

He praises their obedience, and promises they will always”have a man to stand before God”, which I had to look up. It’s a reward particularly relevant to obedience, of always being able to serve God.

They shame the disobedience of the rest of Israel.

I compare them in some ways also to the salvation army who I work for. A little quaint, sticking to a vow of temperance.

It’s a good example of God attitude to a sect or a denomination. He respects the obedience. It’s not a question of whether their rules a more “right” than the rest, is the passion in their hearts to subject themselves to the discipline.

And I must face that I have a bit of a problem with alcohol.

Much to think about, speaking to me today.

Isaiah 63

I can get the drift of Isaiah 63.

It starts talking of God’s judgement. Dramatically he appears from Edom, a neighbouring country in clothes red with blood which he compares to trampling the grapes in a wine press.

It’s a grisly image, jarring after 3 glorious chapters about his love and salvation. But it’s making the point that God alone can judge the world.

And it is quick to make the point that there is much more to it than judgement. God reminds us in his self description that he is “mighty to save”. He has a day of vengence but a year of Jubilee.

Then there are passages remembering his mercy and promises in the past, and praying for his forgiveness and salvation now. The author goes so far as to blame God for his sin, wondering why God made us capable of rejecting him.

It’s a huge cry of pain. It’s a message to those of his chosen people either facing ruin, as their enemies grow stronger, or feeling bereft in exile having been defeated. People full of fear and anger.

And it’s urging them, shocking them even, into staying the course with God. Channel your fear into anticipating God’s peace. Channel your betrayal into trusting God’s justice.

To tell the truth I’m feeling a bit of betrayal and fear this week having lost my job. It’s tempting to let gloomy feelings about my situation blur into sadness over my children and aspects of the world in general.

I’m tempted to escape into achievable activities, or laziness, variations of putting my head in the sand. Or full on self pity, that advances my situation not a jot.

I need to trust God and act sensibly to remedy the situation.

Pray I will stay the course with God.