Isaiah 41

I think the book of Eclesiastes must be pretty concerned right now.  Because it is about to lose the title of “Jeff’s favorite book of the old testament” to the book of Isaiah.  I am sure, if you’re a book of the Old Testament, there is nothing more important than having the high regards of some random dude who lives in Massachusetts.

In seriousness, I was moved by several things in Chapter 41.  I decided maybe I’d share.  This chapter begins with God declaring some of the things he’s done.   God often does this: reminds his listeners and readers who he is and what he’s done.  I wonder if this is a challenge for an all knowing intellect.  An exhaustive list of what God’s done would be endless.  It’s kind-of an absurd task, I think, for God to narrow this down.

At anyrate, there’s kind-of an interesting thing in verse 3:
Let the nations renew their strength!
Let them come forward and speak;

4 Who has done this and carried it through,
calling forth the generations from the beginning?
I, the LORD -with the first of them
and with the last—I am he.”

5 The islands have seen it and fear;
the ends of the earth tremble.
They approach and come forward;

6 each helps the other
and says to his brother, “Be strong!”

7 The craftsman encourages the goldsmith,
and he who smooths with the hammer
spurs on him who strikes the anvil.
He says of the welding, “It is good.”
He nails down the idol so it will not topple.”

I think what I find so interesting here is there’s a warning that hits home to me.  I think God is saying, “Look, you all can think you’re up to something great.  You can all pat yourselves on the back, and tell each other that you’re doing good things.  But if I’m not there, you can’t do it.”

Those final couple lines are funny, in a scary kind of way.   Even today we have our idols.  And we tell ourselves all sorts of things can achieve greatness.  (Money, wealth, fame, etc.)  The idea of an idol that can’t even hold itself up is so great.  The implication is, “Sure, knucklehead.  You’re going to tell me that this idol can create out of nothing; it can change hearts and change lives; it can impact the world around you.  You’re going to claim all these things, and yet, the stupid thing won’t even stand up straight without the craftman nailing it down.

The part that really impacted me, though, the part that just found me where I think I needed to be found, happens a little later.  I read this on my last day of my old job.  If you know me in the real world, or have read any recent posts here, you’re probably sick of my whining about the situation… But my point here is how comforting those words are:

10 So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

13 For I am the LORD, your God,
who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you, Do not fear;
I will help you.

14 Do not be afraid, O worm Jacob,
O little Israel,
for I myself will help you,” declares the LORD,
your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel”

17 “The poor and needy search for water,
but there is none;
their tongues are parched with thirst.
But I the LORD will answer them;
I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.

18 I will make rivers flow on barren heights,
and springs within the valleys.
I will turn the desert into pools of water,
and the parched ground into springs.

19 I will put in the desert
the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive.
I will set pines in the wasteland,
the fir and the cypress together,

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jeffsdeepthoughts

The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

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