Sunday, September 19, 2010

September 19

OT: Isaiah 30:12-33:12

I've been thinking of how you are not supposed to take verses out of context, but instead are supposed to interpret them, 1) in the light of the rest of the book, and 2) in the context of the rest of the canon. That makes Isaiah tough to me because I truly do not have a great understanding of the book. I understand the background (though only in the roughest of terms), but even so, Isaiah just seems like a mishmash of prophecies to me. There are prophecies about doom and destruction, and prophecies about eventual restoration. There are prophecies to this place, and ones to that place. The basic theme seems to be one of wrath toward the unrighteous and restoration to the righteous, but that theme is revisited with perplexing circularity. Every time Isaiah gets to a new round of prophecies, I want to know the specific context of the prophecy, how it was delivered and to whom, when and how it was (or will be?) fulfilled...basically, I want to know a lot. And I just don't know it.

And so that makes it problematic for me to pull out specific verses, as much as I love to do so. Isaiah 26:3, for example, is one of my all time favorites (though not from today's reading--sorry):

"You will keep in perfect peace
him whose mind is steadfast
because he trusts in you."

From today's reading, I also like,

"In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength" (15).

It is couched as a contrast from the people's rebellion and rejection of God's principles, but I still love it as an idea on its own.

I also love verse 32:17, which says,

"The fruit of righteousness will be peace;
the effect of righteousness will be quietness and trust forever."

Unfortunately, this would be one of those verses that I would be taking out of context to apply to my current life. This verse is part of a section that clearly seems to be prophesying some specific time. For example, the next verse says that,

"My people will live in peaceful dwelling places,
in secure homes,
in undisturbed places of rest."

Well, I know that that is not currently true for all of God's people, and that there is no guarantee that it will always be true for me. Thus, I can also surmise that the previous verse's promise of peace and quietness may not be applicable to me, either. Often, doing the right thing leads to turmoil and strife. Of course, perhaps the verse refers to internal peace and quietness, an interpretation that would be supported by the third characteristic, trust, which is internal. Hmmm...

My biggest question of applicability (Yes! That's a word! Spell check didn't shut me down!) regards chapter 30:18-21. Verse 21 has been a pet verse of mine since college, and I have banked a lot on it. It saddens me to think I might be misapplying it. The way I apply it is that when we turn to God and throw ourselves at His feet for mercy and guidance (in other words, when we dedicate our lives fully to Him), then He will guide us "whether we turn to the right or to the left" (21). That whole verse reads, "Whether you turn to the right or to the left, you will hear a voice behind you saying, 'This is the way; walk in it.'"

This verse has been my antidote to a specific mentality which I have repeatedly encountered, and one which I have sometimes been tempted to have myself. It is the mentality that says that God has ONE specific path for us, and if we make the wrong choice, if we step off that path, then we are out of His will. If we choose this college instead of that, if we choose this person to marry instead of another, if we choose career A instead of career B, then, oops! We blew it! And I just don't believe that. I do think that there is such a thing as a bad choice. But I just don't think that God's will for us works that way. And thus, I get comfort from the idea that "whether we turn to the right or to the left," we can still have God's voice in our lives, telling us how to walk.

If I'm misapplying this verse, let me know. Or on second thought, how about you don't?:) (Just kidding, though I do like my interpretation).

NT: Galatians 5:1-12

I love both verses 5 and 6. The immediate context of those verses is Paul's increasingly impassioned plea to the Galatians to stop seeking righteousness through obedience to the Law. Instead of trying to be righteous through the rigorous adherence to a specific, external code, Paul clarifies that, "by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope." I get three simple ideas from that verse. First of all, righteousness is important, which means that our actions are important. That seems obvious, but I think it can be forgotten in the heat of some of Paul's more forceful "grace alone" arguments. Secondly, our righteousness comes not from ourselves, but from God's Spirit in us. It is not the result of us "gritting our teeth and trying real hard." It does take effort and discipline, but even that needed self-control is a fruit of God's Spirit in us. And so, even when our actions are righteous and good, we are not to believe that they are from our own efforts. Rather, we are simply the jars of clay that hold God's love for the world. Third, righteousness is a gradual process. Sometimes I get confused when reading the NT and start thinking that if I really had God's Spirit in me, then I would be perfect and without sin. This verse, however, is one of several that remind me that there is some waiting and hoping involved in our pursuit of righteousness. It is definitely not an "all at once" thing.

I also love verse 6. This is one that my preacher pointed out a few years ago, and it totally shocked me and everyone around me. Specifically, he pulled out the phrase, "The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love." My mom, me, and the teen next to me were all flabbergasted. That was in the Bible??? I mean, it sounds biblical, but I just didn't remember that phrase--and I have read Galatians. A lot! I guess it always got lost in the larger biblical conversation about circumcision. Isolating that phrase had quite an effect on us. It is just so...elegant. So simple. So profound. My mom even went home and cross-stitched it and gave it to my preacher, and she doesn't even go to my church! This verse still helps me as I try to weigh the value of my actions. If my actions are a manifestation of my faith, expressing itself through love, then I can be sure that they "count." See? Simple!

Psalm 63:1-11

This is maybe my favorite psalm ever.

Prov. 23:22

About listening to and respecting your parents.

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