Remember the source of Peace

Blind Faith (No. 21, 2017)
Weekly Devotional for May 25, 2017
Remember the source of Peace

The purpose of Memorial Day is quite clear from the name of the
holiday. This is a day for active memory. The primary emphasis is to
remember men and women who have given the ultimate sacrifice – their lives –
in service to our country. Remembering them reminds us of the precious gift
they have given us. They dedicated themselves to the way of life we take for
granted and enjoy on the first holiday of summer. Many of them dealt with
the dangers they confronted by consciously reflecting upon the values they
were defending. At their best they sought to defend God-given rights of
freedom, equality, and justice, to insure care for the common good, and to
secure hope that peace never again would have to be won through warfare. The
bitter irony that the cause of peace and determined pursuit of it can lead
to war and the sacrifice of lives we honor on Memorial Day should compel us
to more serious observance of the day. It truly should be a holy-day, not
merely a pool-opening, cookout-firing day off. Fly your American flag at
half-mast until noon, then raise it to full staff. Stop for a moment of
silence at 3:00 PM. Actively recall those whose lives were ended in service
to your freedom. Give thanks to God for those servants and the legacy they
have given us. Pray for the peace they sought to secure with their dying
breath. Do all of the things for which Memorial Day is designated.

But appropriate patriotic remembrances may not be the sole
beneficial pursuit for the day. Actively engaging one memory often has a way
of surfacing others. The notions may or may not seem to be directly related,
but our thoughts are drawn from one point of attention to another. As I was
thinking about Memorial Day and its explicit meaning and purpose I found
myself recalling people now deceased who laid the foundations of my faith in
God. Memories of their loving care, kindness, and the valuable lessons they
taught are key components of my living concept of peace.

An old memory verse kept popping into mind as I remembered those
Bible teachers from childhood. 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) I thought of faithful armed forces servants who
died clinging to God’s peace as they faced fierce storms of battle. I
recalled family members and dear friends who were lambasted by disease, or
tragic circumstances, or personal disappointments and failures but remained
secure and astonishingly serene because of their deep faith in God. Those
people of faith did not deny the reality of the dangers they faced, but they
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 rendered as a joyous
exclamation (“Peace! Peace!”) or as a pensive 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 “mind is stayed 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) The “stayed mind (Isaiah
26:3)” is the all-encompassing state of living 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 faithful
military servants. Remember departed loved ones. As your memory is engaged,
recall what you have learned about God’s grace and peace, and be thankful
for the faithful servants 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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