Monthly Archives: May 2011

Focus

Memorial Day is a time for . remembering. Specifically, it is a day dedicated to honor and remember women and men – thousands of them only teenagers – who have been killed while serving our nation in armed conflicts. In many communities, the weeks preceding and following the national Memorial day holiday broaden the remembrances to family and friends who have died, whether in military service or not. “Decoration Day” celebrations, mostly in rural communities, feature special days to lay flowers at the graves of loved ones and to perform maintenance on cemeteries to honor their memories.

I encourage you to make a special effort to reserve part of your Memorial Day holiday for actively remembering people whose gifts of life have been expended. Remember how your life is different because of the service they gave, far too often costing them their own lives. Remember patriots who loved liberty enough to defend it to the end. Remember saints who loved God deeply enough to extend God’s love and grace to you by what they said and the way they lived. Still enjoy the barbecue or homemade ice cream or other activities (they would have wanted it that way!), but don’t miss the particular blessing of remembering people whose lives have prepared the way for the life you live today.

Remembering can turn up all kinds of surprising blessings. My preliminary recollections in preparation for Memorial day led me to thoughts of Bible teachers and church leaders who laid the foundations of my faith in God. I am saddened by how many of them are now deceased, but that sadness is overwhelmed by the memories of their kind and loving care and the value of the lessons they taught.

An old memory verse kept popping into mind as I remembered childhood Bible teachers. The verse as I learned it in the King James Version is: “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee.” (Isaiah 26:3a KJV) Recalling the verse was a special blessing as I thought of recent testimonies of people confidently declaring that they are facing each day with hope because of their faith in God, even after losing homes and possessions and sometimes loved ones in the storms. I thought of military men and women stationed in countries where most of the population is hostile to Christian faith and around whom gunfire and IEDs steal precious lives, but who live with profound inner peace because of their faith in God. These people of true faith do not deny the reality of the dangers they continue to face, but they have learned to live in a higher reality of God’s provision of all that is good, whole, right, and lovely – God’s perfect peace.

I wanted to know more about this memory verse and its striking promise. I found out that the Hebrew text of Isaiah does not contain the equivalent words for “perfect peace.” Instead, the Hebrew sentence simply repeats the rich word, “shalom shalom.” Since biblical Hebrew lacks punctuation, I wondered if the sentence should be read as a joyous exclamation (“Peace! Peace!) or as an arresting reflection (peace . peace). The Hebrew word shalom carries the meaning of God’s complete desire for wholeness, tranquility, blessing, and rest. Peace is the state of being in which god intends us to live. Repeating the word twice in Isaiah 26:3 emphasizes that the peace God gives is perfection piled upon perfection, far more than we can make of peace by our own efforts. It is, to use a phrase Jesus used to describe God’s blessings, peace that is of “good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over.” (Luke 6:38 KJV)

I also found that the Hebrew text does not contain words to translate as “upon Thee.” The context certainly indicates that focusing one’s thoughts upon God is the act of faith that God rewards with his gift of “peace peace.” But the Hebrew word translated mind is another richly inclusive word. It involves all of a person’s thoughts, all the things we can dream or imagine, everything we are created to be. Later Christian mystics would describe the concept as being centered upon God. A focused, centered mind open to all the wonders God created for us to know and enjoy is a mind conditioned to experience God’s peace. The apostle Paul put it this way: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. {9} . And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8, 9b NIV) It is a settled mind that lives in concert with God.

Isaiah was writing to people who were soon to see their nation and beloved city, Jerusalem, decimated by Babylon. Isaiah honestly said how dire the conditions would be. But he also delivered God’s promise that he would redeem his faithful people. God’s salvation is the context for the memory verse encapsulated in Isaiah 26:3a. A modern version of the surrounding verses offers assurance of God’s good designs for us:

At that time, this song will be sung in the country of Judah: We have a strong city, Salvation City, built and fortified with salvation. Throw wide the gates so good and true people can enter. People with their minds set on you, you keep completely whole, Steady on their feet, because they keep at it and don’t quit. Depend on God and keep at it because in the Lord God you have a sure thing. (Isaiah 26:1-4 MSG)

So stretch your memory this memorial day. Honor fallen heroes. Remember departed loved ones. As your memory is engaged, recall what you have learned about God’s grace and be thankful for who taught you those good lessons. And focus your thoughts on God’s perfect peace. Peace peace . what more could you want?

-J. Edward Culpepper

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