Tag Archives: structures of community

Isaiah 32

Scripture: verse 20

Happy are you who sow by all streams,
letting oxen and donkeys roam freely.

Observation:  Someday God will reign as King, and He will be what each person needs in the place that they are, and those who need healing in body or mind will get it, and everyone will be righteous and “the effect of righteousness shall be peace” (verse 17).

And then there’s this bit: they will sow by all streams and let their animals wander freely, implying that both crops and herds would no longer be owned and managed by individuals, but by whoever was around at the time.

In other words, the hippies had it right.

Now, the hippies had it wrong, too.  Their communes failed because humans are sinful and the world is not safe.  This passage speaks of a time when righteousness and justice win.  Peace and communism are the result of righteousness, not the other way around.

Application:  Seek first the kingdom of God, and all things will be given to you. (Matthew 6:33)

Prayer:  Yeshua, thank you for bringing peace.  Thank you for making it possible for humans to love each other and work together.  Thank you for giving us beautiful ideas, even if those ideas are not for who and where we are.  Help me to seek you first. Amen.

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Isaiah 25:6-12

Scripture: from verse 6

On this mountain AdonaiTzva’ot (Lord of Hosts) will make for all peoples a feast of rich food and superb wines…

Observation:  There’s a number of wonderful promises here: that God will swallow up death forever, that He will open our eyes to see clearly, that He will wipe every tear from our eyes.  But…I like this one.  Maybe I’m just hungry.

My family recently had our Strawberry Shortcake Day – we went out in the morning to pick strawberries, and then in the evening we had strawberry shortcake for dinner, with fresh whipped cream and shortcakes my sister and brother had made the day before.  Each year we invite some of our favorite people, and we all have our strawberry shortcake and sit on the porch and eat and talk and eat some more.

This verse is a promise of that kind of meal.  Not just food eaten to keep from being hungry, but a meal that combines the sensory pleasure of good food with the harmony and connection of being with people who love each other.  The rich cream and the soft breeze and the warm sun and the happy conversation and the long satisfying drinks of tea or wine or homemade lemonade and the knowledge that there is nowhere to go and no one to impress and I might as well just relax.

There’s no magic on earth that can make that happen for everyone, for all time.  But God can.

Yeshua said that the peacemakers will be called children of God (Matthew 5:9).  It’s not an arbitrary designation – by creating peace, we are doing God’s work.  Strawberry Shortcake Day would not work these days if Mom hadn’t taught us to appreciate it and work together to make it happen each year.  She started it, and now it’s our job.

And when we live at peace with those around us, we help God make this feast for all nations.  We help create the harmony that makes food into a meal.  We help Him make Strawberry Shortcake Day for everyone.

Application:  Live at peace with those around you.

Prayer:  Yeshua, thank you for making peace.  Thank you for making harmony between humans possible, and for promising to finish your work someday.  Help me to respond to others out of peace.  Amen.

Isaiah 19

Scripture: verse 24 and 25

On that day Israel will be a third partner
with Egypt and Assyria a blessing here on earth;
for AdonaiTzva’ot [Lord of Hosts] has blessed him:
“Blessed be Egypt my people,
Assyria the work of my hands
and Israel my heritage.”

Observation:  This chapter started out with yet more death and destruction, this time for Egypt.  But it ends with this promise.  We’ve had chapter after chapter of God promising devastating punishment for Israel, Egypt, and Assyria.  They would be conquering and decimating each other in turn (they are, after all, traditional enemies), and in between God would be hitting them with plagues and famine and confusion and in-fighting.

But God promises something that’s an even greater miracle than fighting and death: He promises peace.  He promises that we who have rebelled and continue to rebel will be brought close to Him.  He promises that these people groups who have had millenia of conflict will work together and friends and equals to serve the Lord and bless the world.

I did not have the best day today.  I made a critical remark that may have been overheard by the wrong person, and I taught a children’s class that included a boy who is more difficult than average.  Neither of these things is especially surprising – in fact, they are common enough that they have their own pages on tv tropes, which I have linked to.  And God is using these things to point out places where I am not loving people the way He loves them.

But God’s promise is here: that someday, at the end of all the bad days, we will all stand together as friends and equals and servants of the Lord.  Someday the staid leaders and the rebellious children and the slightly-crazy intellectual women like me and all the rest of everyone will be a blessing on the earth.  Someday God will be bigger than all of our differences.

Application:  Love other people, I guess.  You’ll end up there in the end anyway.

Prayer:  Father, thank you for loving me even when I am not loving to others.  Thank you for promising harmony in the end.  Thank you that everything really will be all right.  Please help me to love others the way you love them.  Amen.

Isaiah 11:9-16

Scripture: from verse 13

Ephraim will stop envying Judah,
and Judah will stop provoking Ephraim.

Observation:  God decided to make a people for Himself, and he chose a man, and that man’s son and grandson, and then the grandson had twelve sons so God made each brother into his own tribe and told them to live in harmony with each other.  Because that never ends badly.

So now, centuries later, two of the tribes (and realistically, probably all of the tribes) are in the habit of annoying each other.  And God is saying that when Yeshua comes and establishes peace, they’ll stop.  And it isn’t even that they’ll stop attacking each other, like two children told to sit on their hands in the back seat of a car.  They’ll stop annoying each other because their hearts will change.  Envy and jealousy will be replaced by love.

Lots of kings have imposed peace.  It takes the King of Kings to create peace.

There’s a frequently-quoted section in this chapter about the peace that Yeshua will establish in nature: the lion will lie down with the lamb, and so on.  And that’s a beautiful image, but it doesn’t really illustrate how good God is at making peace happen.  Lions eat lambs because that is their nature; it can’t be all that hard for God to just reprogram their nature if He wants to, though I suspect there’s a little more to it than that.  But this is God creating internal harmony in people and families and nations, without changing who those people are.  This is laser-guided heart surgery.

Application:  Ask God to bring peace to your relationships with others.

Prayer:  Yeshua, please help me live in harmony with those around me: my children, my husband, my siblings, my parents, my in-laws, my friends.  Help me to love them without fear or envy or annoyance.  Amen.

Isaiah 7:1-12

Scripture: from verse 4

…stay calm and unafraid; don’t be demoralized by these two smoldering stumps of firewood…

Observation:  The book of Isaiah was written during the time that Israel was split into two countries: Israel and Judah.  In this chapter, the son of the king of Israel and the king of Aram (one of their pagan neighboring countries) teamed up and attempted (unsuccessfully) to attack Jerusalem, which was the capital of Judah.  The people of Judah were understandably frightened, and this verse is part of Isaiah’s word of encouragement for them.

I liked the description of the two men as smoldering stumps.  All of their “blazing anger” was unable to conquer anything while God stood against them.  They could burn and rage as hot as they wanted, but all it accomplished was to make themselves weak.  Without God, they were just lumps of wood.

I mean, I can see the appeal.  I find it quite easy to get angry about the foolish decisions of others.  Being angry means I don’t have to think clearly (because everything is already perfectly clear) and I don’t have to worry about the other point of view (because obviously there isn’t one) and I don’t have to love.

But that anger accomplishes nothing.  Well, that’s not quite true.  I suppose it entertains me for an evening, and if I’m not careful it irritates my husband when I’m *still* talking about that.  But it certainly doesn’t change the situation, and it only makes me weaker.

If I want to change the situation, the only way I can do that is by stopping and praying and asking God what to do.  He generally tells me to stay out of it, of course, and if He does tell me to do something it is generally loving and mild and certainly not in line with what my anger was hoping for.  But if I’m not moving with God, I’m about as useful as a lump of firewood.

Application:  Stay calm in the face of anger – your own or others’.  Ask Him what to do instead of doing what makes sense.  Emotions like fear and anger tend not to give very good advice anyway.

Prayer:  Father, thank you for taking away my fear and giving me a spirit of power and peace and a sound mind (1 John 4:18, 2 Timothy 1:7).  Help me learn to move with you instead of against you.  Amen.

Isaiah 3:1-13

Scripture: verses 4 and 5

I will put children in authority;
capriciousness will govern them….
The young will be insolent toward their elders,
the insignificant arrogant toward the respected.

Observation:  More punishments: God will chastise His people by removing the support system of wise leaders and advisers.

I don’t really want to get into culture-bashing here.  Modern Western culture is fairly awful in places, but so are most other cultures I’ve come across, so take your pick.

But.  The insignificant are arrogant toward the respected.  The people who don’t know much insist that they know better than the experts.  The people who have little experience deny that they could use advice from people with more experience.  It happens all the time.  And it’s a really dumb thing to do.

We are not all experts in everything.  We have not all done everything and tried every option.  We can’t predict the future.  And when we insist that we are and have and can, we are ruled by caprice and whim.  And we get in trouble.

It takes humility to seek advice from others.  But we have to know our own limits.  We can’t survive otherwise.

Application:  Respect your elders.  Know your limits and get help when you need it.

Prayer: Yeshua, thank you for creating your community, so that I have people I can ask for help.  Thank you for creating cause and effect.  Thank you for creating a world where things can be known and knowledge can be useful.  Help me to know it and correct it when when I’m being an idiot.  Amen.

Colossians 4:6-10

Scripture: verse 6

Let your conversation always be gracious and interesting, so that you will know how to respond to any particular individual.

Observation:  I don’t know why we say the rules in Leviticus are strict.  The most God ever said about our speech there was that we shouldn’t lie or curse each other.  Here, everything we say has to be gracious and interesting and take into account the needs of the hearer.

I would say that I have interesting all taken care of, except it turns out not everyone is interested in detailed descriptions of our recent experiments with henna body art, or whatever it is that I want to talk about.  I can’t exactly blame them, either.

Gracious is maybe a little easier, since it means being generous towards others and making allowances for their mistakes, and I’m usually sufficiently conscious of my own mistakes to not get too worked up about theirs.  But sooner or later someone says something I disagree with, and then it turns out I’m not as good at gracious as I’d like to be either.

It has always been easier to follow the Law than to actually love people.  I can avoid lying and cursing and even gossip and boasting (usually), but unless I’m genuinely paying attention to other people and taking an interest in what is important to them, I’m not doing God’s will.  It takes thought, and patience, and God’s supernatural love to actually live the way He wants us to live.

Application:  Rely on His love to help you love other people.

Prayer:  Holy Spirit, I’m not as good at loving people as you want me to be.  But no one is.  Thank you for covering over my faults, so that I can be confident in your love anyway.  Help me to be interesting and gracious and responsive to others’ needs.  Amen.

Colossians 2:20-23

Scripture: from verse 23

[Traditional rules ]have the outward appearance of wisdom, but they have no value at all in restraining people from indulging their old nature.

Observation: Here is the guideline we should be using when we choose what rules and traditions to follow: does it help me avoid my sin nature?  Does it help me love others and love God?

I find it easier to love people after I post on this blog.  Apparently spending a short time thinking about God’s grace and love helps me see others in a more gracious light.  Sometimes I even do it right before a social situation that might be difficult, in the hope that I’ll navigate it more easily.  It seems to help.  So that’s why I do it.  I miss days, and I will probably keep missing days for as long as I do it, but I’m not doing it as a demonstration of how disciplined I am.  I’m doing it because it helps me to love better.

My husband keeps kosher (avoids eating the animals listed as unclean in Leviticus) because it helps him love God and love others.  I don’t really get it, to be honest, but I keep kosher to support him.  Because it’s good for our family and our community.

And there’s a lot of rules out there about what Christians should eat and not eat, wear and not wear, read and listen to and do and visit.  I generally ignore them, unless I find one that helps me love God better.  Because that’s the only thing that matters.

Application:  Pursue love.  Don’t worry about things that don’t help you love God and love others.

Prayer:  Holy Spirit, thank you for being there to guide me.  Please help me to live wisely.  Amen.

Colossians 1:26-29

Scripture: from verse 28

…we warn, confront and teach everyone in all wisdom…

Observation: Paul is describing his ministry.  His primary (and perhaps only) goal is to see people united with Messiah.  To that end, he draws on God’s wisdom as well as his own to speak to people.  And that speaking may not always be pleasant.  Some people just needed to be taught, but if a more aggressive or confrontational approach was required, he used it.

We don’t like confrontation.  Certainly I don’t.  There are conversations I fear enough that my husband offers to handle them for me, for which I am incredibly thankful.  But the fact that confrontation is unpleasant does not mean that we can always avoid it.

Sometimes it takes a cold bucket of water to wake us up.  If the blunt truth will bring us healing, then that’s what we need.  And if it is our job to give that to others, then we have to do it if we love them.

Application:  Follow God’s lead, even if that means saying something you’d rather not.  It might be exactly what they need to hear.

Prayer:  Yeshua, thank you for having the wisdom to know what people need.  Please give me the words to say to people, since we both know that I screw it up if I’m left to my own devices.  Amen.

Colossians 1:1-5

Scripture: from verse 4 and 5

The love you have for all God’s people…springs from the confident hope that you will receive what is stored up for you in heaven.

Observation:  We don’t always like people.  I certainly don’t always like people.  I don’t like people when they don’t listen to me, or when they talk too much, or when they refuse to think clearly about some subject.  I have the unfortunate tendency to think ideas are more important than people, and I can ride roughshod over the needs of others if I’m not careful as a result.  Sometimes listening is more important than being right.

And I think that’s one of the things that is stored up specifically for me in heaven: answers.  Clear, elegant truths that make sense of everything that happens on Earth and unlock new and fascinating questions to explore.  And (I hope) the knowledge that everyone else around me also sees God clearly, and God is Truth so because they see Truth and I see Truth we’ll be able to think about things together and not get caught in weird circular logic and human anchoring biases.

Stupid anchoring bias.

And so I can love people even when I don’t like them.  Even when they are wrong – not just mistaken (which I don’t mind) but actually refusing to see reason – I know that someday I won’t have any biases and they won’t have any biases and the conversation that I’m finding so frustrating will be long gone and forgotten.  Because Truth is waiting.

God already counts me as perfect.  I’m not.  Hopefully I can love others for how our relationship will be, even if I don’t like where it is.  It’s not like I’m perfect either.

And this is different for every person, but God still has stored in heaven exactly the treasure you are hoping for.  Time.  Affection.  Pleasure.  Power.  Creation.  Sleep.  Everything we desire – everything we dislike other people for interrupting – God has stored up for us.  The current delay is just a drop in the ocean of promise.

Application:  Look to heaven.  God has what you need.  You don’t have to push at others or take from others to get it.

Prayer:  Yeshua, help me to be better at seeing things from your perspective.  Help me to know that you have all the answers, and that all things will pass but your Truth.  Help me to love others the way you do.  Amen.