Ezekiel 47

This is a picture of abundant blessing. In Ezekiel’s vision of the new temple, a river flows out from it, growing longer,wider and deeper the further, bringing life and blessing to all the land it passes through. The fruit of trees that grow near it bring healing, the leaves bring blessing.

It flows into the valley of the dead sea, so salty that not much lives there, and it makes everything new, a new creation.

At this point it’s obviously a spiritual parable about the hope that is revealed in the whole Bible about god’s love and promises.

It’s like Ezekiel’s vision picked up the deep longing of the exiled people, after the news in chapter 33 that the temple had fallen. It started where their hearts were, talking about restoration of the nation to a new better temple. But now the vision has enlarged to restoration of all creation.

We talked about heaven as a family the other day, the three of us. A rare event. We’ve seen it, we’ve seen it this week that this world is a blueprint for how heaven could be. Maybe heaven is a future plan of God, a new place of escape.

But we know what heaven is like, and there’s no reason not to start now, doing what we can to make our world match god’s blueprint for existence.

The last day in Queenstown South Island, before flying back to the North Island. We stayed in a airBnB that was pretty much a glass box with views about this wide, but water level, of this beautiful lake city. Rennie and I rode down that track on cute little carts. I remembered, on the gondola and chair ride up, that I’m more afraid of heights than I remember.

Ezekiel 40

Visions shouldn’t have too much detail in my view, so I’m not mad on this chapter. It is the start of a series of eight about god’s vision of the temple, given to Ezekiel.

It has a nerdy amount of detail. Of course various architects and historians have tried to visualise it, demonstrating that for all it’s detail, it’s still incredibly ambiguous.

It would have looked liked like this:

Or these

The last one’s my fave.

There have been two temples in Jerusalem, Solomon’s, and the second one they built upon return to Jerusalem. The return Ezekiel has been waiting for and prophesying about all though this book.

The second temple was so disappointing that the old people who remembered Solomon’s cried when it opened.

I think that is why this vision is here, personally, to make it very clear how disappointing the second temple was to God as well.

The Bible thrives on plan B’s, second best and paradigm shifts, as I have observed before.

The plan God’s gave to Ezekiel is many times larger than Solomon’s. The one they actually built was significantly smaller.

The whole tone of the end of the old testament history: Ezra, Nehemiah, and the return to Jerusalem, is of inadequacy. The O.T. ends with a whimper. And not by accident, I don’t think.

It’s saying, I think, that there must be more than these buildings and these animal sacrifices, surely. The second temple they built was manifestly NOT the temple God’s wanted. So what is the plan? It’s setting up Jesus. God in us, our bodies as God’s temple.

My beloved, generally not whacky, Enduring Word commentary takes the Millennial view: that there will be a literal 1000 year reign of Jesus on earth when he returns, and Jesus will spend his time project-manging the construction of a third temple to this literal design.

Some Christians even want to get on with it in advance. They see God’s work for us as creating conditions where the millennium can occur. That’s why some of the visualisations above are modern-ish, with 1980s shopping mall/ public-library-style materials and finishes. This dream is still alive!

I’m going to be doubting Thomas on that one: I’ll believe it when I see it.

Modern orthodox Jews have a very wise approach to the third temple, from what I can gather from Wikipedia. They reject all this scheming and say that if God wants to do it, then God will. It’s not for us to plan.

In the meantime, in practice the mosques that are there in the likely temple site are respected, and the access rules established in negotiation with Islamic leaders are enforced by the Israeli government and police.

I can live with that. It’s kind of a perfect outcome.

Today is the first day of my holidays. No more work until February!

The idea that we live in a rather broken world, of excellent intention, randomly offering glimpses of heaven, of mediocrity and disaster, seems inescapable right now.

Bushfires have skirted around the homes of a number of people I know and love, and taken many others

We get these visions of perfection, of completed patterns in our heads, but we live with a different kind of improvisational beauty that comes from bringing Grace to ordinary moments, and comfort to pain.

I think the perfection is a distraction from our work and purpose.

Jesus with his vague itinerary, his undisriminating approach to disciple recruitment, his generally by-the-seat-of-the pants approach to the specifics of his day, showed us that perfect execution of detailed planning will not necessarily set us free. Life about getting the spiritual priorities right.

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.

Matthew 6

I’ve had a bit of a break, working on musical things in the mornings. Reading Matthew 6, what balm for the soul though.

Chapter five emphasised how antithetical God’s beautiful kingdom is to the ones we live in.

It threw us on God’s grace, requiring one sacrifice on our part, pride. Possible loss of a hand or an eye as collateral damage.

Bringing down the wall of pride facing God lets his goodness flow.

It flows from God to us and through us. We don’t prove our goodness to him. Jesus’ first point was that we can’t.

The examples in this chapter show how reversing flow of goodness changes everything. The way we live every day that flows from being humble recipients of God’s grace.

We give in situations of need because of the need, not to show we are good.

We pray to acknowledge and understand God, not show God or anyone else how devoted we are.

We forgive others not out of big heartenedness to them, but because of God’s to us.

Did you ever hear the joke “the first rule of vegan club is tell everyone about vegan club”. Self control and self discipline are part of the Christian life, but they are not a show for others, they are between God and us.

Then the things that light up our soul. Jesus describes our eyes as lamps for the body, which seems very apt in the modern era of illuminated screens for everything… Those gleaming images from Amazon, eBay, Instagram shining into our minds. All the things we could have, creating desire.

Contrast treasure in heaven. It’s fleshing out the “as above, so below” guidance from the Lord’s prayer directly above the passage. Doing God’s will on earth makes an eternal difference. Buying more stuff does not, of itself.

Then the wonderful message about not worrying. God feeds the birds of the air and dresses the flowers more beautifully than the most elite fashion house.

It’s an overwhelming argument, it’s irresistible. Let God love you. Be a channel of his love.

But it’s also a battle to establish habits we’ll fight for the rest of our lives.

It’s been quite a spiritual time. Some setbacks at church, lots of deep theology at work, a funeral this week for a much loved and kindly father, the approach of the end of another year.

This chapter is about being alive to the spiritual significance of things. So many of the themes of the scriptures land here, it’s like getting to the chorus hook of a song that has had many verses.

Do not worry about tomorrow, every day has enough trouble of is own. Is that comforting or not? Jesus’ deceptively simple, endlessly reverberant sayings.

Matthew 4

From where you are, towards God.

These chapters are so jam packed.

We have Christ’s temptation, starting to preach (“repent, the kingdom is near”), calling disciples, and establishing his public program: teaching in synagogues, proclaiming the kingdom, healing the sick.

He starts to get fame.

The temptation setting is so weird and extreme. In the desert, starving, zooming here and there being shown visions by the devil. But the temptations are so ordinary.

They are how I’d run his ministry of global salvation.

Self care, get a good salary. You don’t need to be distracted thinking about where your next meal is coming from.

Networking. Make contacts, find influencers who will help your mission. Your people need to talk to their people, fundraising, professionalism, structure… Lobbyists, voting blocks.

Show us the power. You’re God, we’ve got to get the message out there with some concrete demonstrations. PR events.

Stability, influence, fame.

Instead he lives a small life. He networks with… err, calls with little introduction… some fishermen, just the random people where he is. He limps through on charity and community support, couch surfing, to sustain his ministry.

He gets fame as a healer as well as itinerant preacher. But he deliberately undermines it and slows it down at first, because he knows any fame without power and connections will lead to the confrontation that will have him killed. He starts away from the populated centres.

His top line message is such a short form gospel: repent, the kingdom is near.

We’ve seen so many places in the old testament where simply responding, recognising God’s voice and moving towards it, wanting to hear it, welcoming it with positivity; is all God wants. The gospel has variable theological content.

I think again of Rahab, who was of Jesus’ line, mentioned as a hero in Hebrews. Saved because she recognised God, somehow, in her brush with the kingdom, the Jewish spies. She responded by helping them.

And those disciples. Was their gospel presentation simply “follow me”? Were they the only ones called or the only ones who responded?

You may end up being Billy Graham, you may end up being Joe Blogs. That isn’t the point.

Small lives, advancing the kingdom in words and in deeds.

Ezekiel 14

I’ve taken ages to read this chapter! I’ve had a lot of ideas and projects in my head. Every time I start to read it, my mind flies off somewhere else.

It’s about God’s toughness, it’s about calling out what needs to be called out.

Israelite leaders have assimilated to life in Babylon. Then Ezekiel turns up with his year long art installation about the judgement of Jerusalem. Clearly it can’t be ignored, so they come to him to see what he has to say.

They get no word of Jerusalem or prophesy from the Lord other than the condemnation of their own hypocrisy and idolatry.

I read about Greta Thunberg, the 17 year old climate change activist who lead a protest outside the white house, but when invited to speak to the president refused, because she doesn’t speak to people who don’t accept the science.

That’s where Ezekiel is at here. And if he does prophesy to them, he’ll be complicit in their idolatry.

Then there is a lacerating image of the four judgements God is bringing on Jerusalem: sword, plague, wild beasts and famine.

Noah Daniel and Job would barely get out with their own life from any one of these, let alone save anyone else, let alone all four judgements at once.

Yet when Ezekiel and the others already in Babylon see the new exiles, the ones who do get out, they will understand. They will understand that God’s is in control.

I have a somewhat careering sense all of the plans and projects around. My family faces end of year stress. Years can be a marker of challenges and lack of progress, as much as opportunity. I have a to do list that feels well beyond me.

But things could be a lot, a lot worse and God could still be in control. I need to let the word of the Lord determine what first things will come first.

Ezekiel 6

Hope has to die before idols will lose their grip.

This is a prophesy against mountains, those most symbolic places to meet God, where the 10 commandments came, where Jerusalem stood, where Jesus was revealed as the Messiah to his followers and where he died.

So lost is Israel that every mountain and hill has idols, God-replacements, on it. The hubris! What a slap at Jehovah!

The prophesy is that only the few who are exiled after the destruction of Jerusalem will live to regret and repent of the idol worship.

A strange thing is that this prophesy is already being preached to exiles. Ezekiel is among some early Israelite exiles already transported away to Babylon.

We haven’t had the response of the people quoted yet, but God has predicted it: he says they will be stubborn and malicious.

And it’s because Jerusalem hasn’t fallen yet. While the old, corrupt, City they call home, condemned as it is by prophet after prophet, still struggles against a seige with an inevitable outcome, hope will not die that they might be returned to it.

Such is the depth of our wrongheadedness.

There’s a rather haunting prediction in this chapter of the bones of dead bodies of Israelites at the foot of the useless Asherah poles they hoped in.

So part of our time on the planet will be spent trying to break the tenacity of God replacements, preferably before God has to destroy all hope in them.

Some of the challenges as middle age ticks away is letting go of abilities, achievements, the home as you know it, maybe; relevance, children, at least the relationships as you’ve known them…

There’s a mountain of achievement you’ve climbed, peaked, and the trip down the other side has much uncertainty and confusion. You need to remember that success was the wrong mountain for hope.

Then there’s alcohol, unhealthy eating, low energy levels and an ever more creaky body tempting you with laziness…

Don’t want to trivialise Ezekiel’s message, but next time I’m lying on the sofa with a piece of pizza and contemplating a 3rd glass of cheap red, I’ll say a little prayer…

Psalm 150

Psalms starts with the word “blessed” and flows like a rich nourishing river of God’s word until it ends with “hallelujah” – praise the Lord.

And a little like a river, following the course of it can get a bit repetitive, but coming across it can be the best part of your day.

This simple burst of praise is one of my faves. We praise God in his sanctuary, and out of it. With every musical instrument we can grab, but especially the cymbals, extra especially the loud ones. AKA come on, feel the noise! With dancing, singing, music.

I want to dance more. I’m a terrible dancer, but I would like to dance more!

Everything that has breath. In my mind I always add “while they have breath”, and imagine praising God with my last breaths, as my sister reports my mother did, singing about clinging to the old rugged cross.

And I imagine all the animals praising God and dancing, like those happy visions from Disney, snow white and the seven dwarfs.

But even without anthropomorphism, animals are praise of God’s creativity, they give us comfort, joy, awe, amazement and fascination.

I imagine the Israelites chanting this over and over to some wild beat, dancing away into the night. Uncle Rex, a classic old Aboriginal Christian leader talked about dancing and praise under the stars deep in Arnhem land, all night, from dusk til morning. Timeless. This psalm is about praising like that.

And for me each day, praising God in the sanctuary means in my heart, practising the presence of Christ, taking him with me everywhere, being alert to the spirit, seeking to obey, looking for the joy.

Hallelujah!

Psalm 113

These all seem to be special purpose or novelty type Psalms. The next group, 113-118 were a set sung at Passover. Jesus would have sung them at the last supper, most likely. We just had two acrostic alphabet Psalms, and Psalm 119 will be the super long one that has a whole stanza per letter of the alphabet… The longest chapter in the Bible.

It’s an appropriate way to kick off passover because it’s praising that God lifts up the lowly.

Praise him: who? The lord. His servants, his name: praise.

Praise him for: who he is. Psalm 8 moment… He’s so big, above the stars, and he’s so loving he has to stoop down just to see heaven and earth, to think of us.

We’re told of the emotion Jesus felt on the night he was betrayed. To think he’d probably sung this. How low must I stoop?

Praise him for: what he does. God stoops down, and lifts up the poor and the needy, the most vulnerable. The miserable slaves in Egypt….

He makes them Princes.

He makes childless women happy mothers, settled in their home.

It reminds you that’s he did literally do that for Rachel, Elizabeth. It’s a sign of blessing about to be poured out.

The world remains a mixture of crappy and wonderful, with a lot of meh besides. Are these things God does happening? On some metaphorical spiritual level? Or literally?

Well was the rescue from Egypt practical salvation of a group of slaves or part of a plan to free the world from the grip of sin? Both.

When Jesus fed the hungry and healed the sick, was it because they were hungry and sick, or to show he was Messiah? Worked both ways.

This praise is the Bible’s promise of optimism, that things should be right, and will be. God is inherently abundant, caring, and strong enough to deliver on these. It a message to shout and a way to live.

Believe it, proclaim it by praising him all day and all night, and live it by doing what you can for the poor and needy in any dimension of those terms.

We won’t and can’t fix all the problems, Jesus didn’t try to feed all the poor, but it has this context of praise, of telling a great truth about the nature and existence of God, of hope that makes it work on multiple levels.

There’s a good start to the day. At work I’m busy, on stuff I’m glad to be doing, and that I’m not necessarily up to doing, it challenges some of my weak spots. I’m feeling keen!

Psalm 111

A straight praise Psalm. Talks of god’s goodness, provision, strength and eternal nature, and his kindness in revealing himself to us, “causing his wonders to be remembered”. That stuck out for some reason.

I think I have a massive case of overthinking. I was listening to Taylor Swift’s new song “me” yesterday and, yes it’s probably a cynical zeitgeist-driven money-making machine, but what a catchy chorus!

For me pure pop has always accessed a blissful euphoria that helps me feel, and let go a heap of complexity. These praise Psalms are like pure pop to me.

God, help me smile, help me relax and get on with the stuff I need to do.

I didn’t work worthily and vigorously yesterday like I hoped, I did stuff but it was piecemeal and poorly prioritised. Am I too hard on myself? Dunno. I’ve decided not to overthink today!

Sigh.