During the past few weeks I’ve been thinking about a word. It’s crazy how you can spend so much time thinking about one single word, but the word is so full of meaning, and so instructional for each of us, that I want to share what the Lord has been teaching me with all of you. The word is, “remember.”
I believe, with all of my heart, that one of the greatest gifts the Lord has given to us is the gift of memory. Because God has given us the ability to store things in our heart and mind we are able to recall important events in our lives. Let me give you some examples of what I am talking about.
Almost twenty-six years ago Connie and I were married at First Baptist Church in Lawton, OK. It was the best day of my life! I can recall so much about that day. The pastor, whom I spent less than two hours with before our wedding and never saw again after our wedding, was named Forrest Siler. I can tell you that John Doerner was my best man and Mike Stewart was my groomsman. I had traded my incredible Ford Mustang with my dad because we didn’t have any money and wouldn’t be able to afford the gas. In exchange for my super nice car we got a Subaru that was just a little bigger than a Hot Wheels car and couldn’t break the speed limit in a school zone. I can still remember our first house, our first dog, and even our first, well, our only raccoon, Bandit. See what I mean about how precious the gift of memory is for you and me?
One of the greatest influences in my life was my grandfather, Blackie Shawbell, my mom’s dad. While we were in seminary my grandfather was diagnosed with cancer and died. He’s been dead for many years now, but I can tell you 10,000 stories about my grandfather. I’m so grateful for those memories.
I can remember all kinds of important things that have happened throughout my life. I remember the birth of our three kids like they were yesterday. I remember moving to Oklahoma City and living in the church parsonage across the street from Rob and Arlene Meier. I could go on and on, but we have a limited amount of time so let me get to the point.
As important as all of these experiences have been in life, they are incomplete unless I trace them back, beyond the experience, to the One who has ordered my steps throughout my life. God has ordered my steps. He placed me in the family I grew up in and blessed me with the lessons I’ve learned. He guided me into Connie’s path at Cameron University. He opened a door for a Physical Education major, with a GPA less than the legal blood alcohol limit, to go to seminary. He sent Dr. James Smith from Duncan, OK. to Fort Worth, TX. to drive me to Plano, TX. where I met Dr. David Darnell, a man who changed my life with his knowledge of God’s Word and his willingness to teach me. He sent Harry Myers from Oklahoma City to Plano to redirect the course of my life. He has allowed me to be here in Oklahoma City for over 18 years and teach His Word to hungry folks who are as convinced as I am that He has called this church to be a “Lighthouse of Hope” to this city. Look what God has done. These are more than experiences from my life; they are evidence of the gracious hand of God.
Throughout God’s Word we read where He calls His people to remember. The Hebrew word that is translated, “remember,” in the Hebrew Bible, is used over 320 times. The word, “zakar” means, “to remember, to meditate on, to think about, to pay attention to, call to mind, to keep in remembrance.” The word helps us to understand that remembering is more than giving a passing thought to something. It means to ponder and meditate on what has happened or what is being taught.
I’ve read all of the places where the word appears in the Old Testament and I’ve noticed that God is very concerned that we remember who He is, who we are, and what He has done on our behalf.
When Moses was getting ready to die and turn the reigns over to Joshua who would lead the former slaves into the Promised Land—he told them to “remember.” Take a look at Deuteronomy 8:1-5 with me.
1 Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land that the LORD promised on oath to your forefathers. 2 Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. 3 He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. 4 Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. 5 Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you. (Deuteronomy 8:1-5 NIV)
You see, it wasn’t a Hebrew GPS system that led the former slaves to the Promised Land—it was God. It wasn’t a good pair of Nike’s that lasted for 40 years during the long walk through the desert—it was the graciousness of God that prevented their sandals from wearing out. It wasn’t a long line of fast food restaurants dotting the super highway from Egypt to Canaan that kept their bellies full—it was the provision of God. God wanted the people to always remember Who freed them, led them, and fed them throughout their 40 years in the desert.
God wanted them to remember these important events that He had orchestrated for their lives because, being omniscient, and seeing into the future, God could see a day when the people were settled, sassy, and satisfied. On that day, with not a care in the world, they would be prone to forget. Keep reading in Deuteronomy 8, beginning with verse 7 with me.
7 For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land– a land with streams and pools of water, with springs flowing in the valleys and hills; 8 a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; 9 a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills. 10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. 11 Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. 12 Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 15He led you through the vast and dreadful desert, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. 16 He gave you manna to eat in the desert, something your fathers had never known, to humble and to test you so that in the end it might go well with you. 17 You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18 But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today. (Deuteronomy 8:7-18 NIV)
“Your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” If we do not remember we will most assuredly forget. I’ve been thinking this past week about the times that I have forgotten the Lord. What led to my amnesia? What led to my turning away? Have you ever forgotten the Lord? Have you ever turned away from the Lord because of disappointment or pain? During all of the years that I have been in ministry I have learned that you can’t stereotype scenarios or behaviors. Some forget the Lord during the times of plenty, when things are going well and they don’t have a care in the world. For others, times of peace with a lack of trials cause them to be overwhelmed with gratitude. During hard times people can turn away, not forget, but turn away from the Lord in pain and disappointment. Others will cling to the Lord with all of their might.
In Deuteronomy 8, Moses warned the people about times of prosperity and how they would be prone to become arrogant and think they had accomplished everything on their own if they failed to remember the Lord. This is still a temptation for us today is it not? Apparently it has always been a temptation for God’s people because Charles Haddon Spurgeon wrote a sermon called, “Forgetting God,” in 1876 and from reading his sermon it is very apparent that times of plenty could be a stumbling block for those in his day. Spurgeon says,
You surely have known or heard of men and women who have loved the Lord when in poverty—or, at least, who have seemed to do so—and who were very fervent and active while they had to look up to the Lord from day to day and pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” But, in the order of God’s Providential dealings, they have been lifted up into another station in life. You would naturally have supposed that they would have loved the Lord more and have done more for His cause—and laid themselves out with a greater willingness for His service—but, instead of that, it has been the very reverse with them! When they were financially poor, they were spiritually rich—but now that they are financially rich, they are spiritually poor! As they have gone up temporally, they have gone down spiritually. Their barn has become full, but their heart has become empty! Their wine press has overflowed, but the joy of the Lord has departed from them. It is a sad, sad thing wherever this happens. Sadly, some of us know that it often happens. Let it not be so with any of you, Beloved. (Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Forgetting God, September 9, 1876.)
We would like to think that forgetting God is simply a lapse of memory, but God shows us that it is much, much more than that. To forget God is to ignore His will for our lives. To forget God is to place things or people on the throne of our hearts, in His rightful place. To forget God is to turn away from Him. The Hebrew word for “forget” is “shakach” and it means, “to forget, ignore, or to wither.”
We’ve learned, from Deuteronomy 8, that smooth sailing can lead to our becoming arrogant and forgetting God; becoming convinced that we have provided the good life for ourselves. There are other experiences in life that can lead us to turn away from God. Let me share a couple of examples with you. A pastor wrote about his experience of losing his marriage. Listen to his words.
I came home and found a note on the kitchen table from my wife. She said she didn’t want to be my wife anymore. So she had taken her things and left. I was devastated—I didn’t think this could ever happen to me. And what was going to happen to my ministry? In the months that followed, I pleaded with God about our marriage. ‘Lord, you can’t let this separation end in a divorce. I know that’s not your will. You’ve got to save my marriage.’ I prayed like that constantly. And I was convinced—I just knew God was going to come through. God didn’t save our marriage. It ended in divorce. And today I realized for the first time how my deep hurt, and especially my disappointment with God over my divorce, has affected my desire to pray.
Sometimes our disappointment with God leads to our forgetting God, not suffering from a lapse of memory, but consciously turning away from God.
Virginia was very involved in her church. She was a great leader and had a servant’s heart…until she suffered a great loss. Virginia writes about why she dropped out of church.
I was very active. I taught Sunday school. My husband and I, our two young children—we were there whenever the doors were open. Then one day, right here in this room, my husband, who was only forty, had a massive heart attack. He keeled over in front of me and was dead before the ambulance could get him to the hospital. I was devastated. At the time I wasn’t working. My husband was the sole breadwinner. Now it was up to me to provide for the family. I felt so frightened and alone, so abandoned by God. So I turned away from God and quit coming to church. That was fifteen years ago, and now I regret what I did. But it’s taken me all these years to get past my hurt and anger. I’m finally ready to open my heart to God again.
For fifteen years Virginia turned away from God. At the end of fifteen years was her situation any better? Had turning away from God improved her lot in life? Virginia says that she regrets her decision. Pain, loss, trials, and trouble can have a strange, insane impact on our hearts and minds can’t they? We know that turning away from God isn’t going to help us, yet we are prone to turn away when the pain increases if we forget who God is and what He has done on our behalf. Have any of you ever crossed your arms and turned away? Have any of you ever said, “God, don’t you care about me?” In your pain and suffering, have you ever walked away from God? You didn’t stop “believing” in God, but you simply ignored Him? I bet, if we could give each of you a shot of truth serum, that we would find out that every single one of us has done this at some point in our life. I would also imagine that every one of us would agree with Virginia—it didn’t do us a bit of good, did it?
What is the remedy for our ailment? Is there anything we can do to prevent our turning away during the good times or the painful experiences of life? Is there anything we can do to keep our mind fixed on the Lord so that neither prosperity nor pain can lead us to failing to remember? I believe so.
There is a beautiful story in Joshua that I believe can help us more than anything else. Joshua had taken over the mantle of leadership after Moses’ death. The Hebrews were crossing over into the Promised Land, but before they could enter the land they had to get across the Jordan River. We learn in Joshua 3:15 that the Jordan was at flood stage all throughout the harvest season. This would make it impossible for the people to pass through the Jordan without the intervention of the Lord. Take a look at Joshua 3:15-16 with me.
15 Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, 16 the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (the Salt Sea) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. (Joshua 3:15-16 NIV)
God stopped the Jordan. God held back the waters. God made a way where there was no way so that His people could cross on dry ground. It was a mini Red Sea experience for those who weren’t there to witness the crossing of the Red Sea. What a great story, but this is only part of the story. The part of the story that I think you and I can learn a great lesson from comes after all of the people are on the other side of the Jordan. Read with me from Joshua 4.
1When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the LORD said to Joshua, 2 “Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, 3 and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan from right where the priests stood and to carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.” 4 So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, 5 and said to them, “Go over before the ark of the LORD your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, 6 to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 7 tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.” (Joshua 4:1-7 NIV)
Did you notice what happened? God instructed His people to set up a memorial. They were to take twelve stones and set them together as a marker for themselves and for future generations. The Hebrew word that is used here, “zikkaron” is translated, “Memorial,” but the root of the word is “to remember,” the same word that we find over 320 times in the Hebrew Bible. The word we are looking here is a noun, not a verb. It’s not an action, the memorial stones were set in place to cause the people to engage in remembering what the Lord had done.
In the future the people of God would experience wonderful times of peace and prosperity, but they needed to remember or they would forget. In the future God’s people would experience difficult pain-filled times, but they needed to remember or they would forget. They needed to remember the times that their backs were against the wall and the Lord was with them. They needed to remember the times when they were hungry and the Lord provided them with the food they needed to make it through the day. They needed to remember when they were being pursued by their enemies and they learned that the battle belonged to the Lord.
They needed to remember not just for their own sake, but for the sake of the generations who would come after them, their own children and grandchildren. Joshua said, “In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them…”
We need to remember the Lord. There are many of us who are going through paralyzing trials right now. There are many of us who have suffered great loss during the past year and the pain of our experiences is blinding our memory. Carol Hicks can relate to your experiences and that is why she wrote these words.
Today, I’m in desperate need of reminding. “Remind me, Dear Lord, of TRUTH. Remind me of Your Promises. Remind me of Your GRACE and LOVE and HOPE. Remind me of YOU…because the enemy is prowling around, growling and intimidating, and he has already pounced a few times. And oh GOD, I need you to remind me that You are my RESCUER, my REFUGE, my REDEEMER, and my own ROARING LION OF JUDAH. Remind me, Lord…that You are with me, so it doesn’t matter who is against me. Remind me that You go before me to make the rough places smooth and the crooked places straight. Remind me that You hold me with your Righteous Right Hand … and you will not leave, you will not forsake me. Remind me that You are ever present, ever powerful, ever knowing…ever loving and so TRUSTWORTHY that I cannot imagine what You have in store for me. Remind me…of all your benefits. ( Carol Hicks, http://commonbond.wordpress.com)
We need help in remembering the Lord and His steadfast faithfulness, His extreme mercy, and His glorious love. God has given us His Word, His Spirit, and the memorial markers of our life to help us remember. We need to utilize the tools the Lord has given us so as not to forget my friends. If we fail to remember we will certainly fall into the pit of despair.
You can probably guess from the title of the book that Lamentations was not written by one of the prosperity preachers of our day. Jeremiah struggled with God. He struggled with his lack of success in ministry, the hatred he encountered whenever he opened his mouth and said, “Thus saith the Lord.” The circumstances of Jeremiah’s life could have easily led him straight into the pit of despair if it were not for his willingness to remember. Listen to these words.
19 I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. 20 I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. 21 Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: 22 Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 24 I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” (Lamentations 3:19-24 NIV)
Jeremiah thought about his affliction, his wanderings, the bitterness and the gall and it led to his soul being downcast within him. Then something marvelous happened. He remembered, he refocused his thoughts upon something else, something other than his plight. He thought about the Lord’s great love, he meditated upon the unfailing compassion of God, and he thought about the Lord’s mercy which is brand new every morning. In fixing his mind on these things he was able to wait on the Lord instead of making some foolish decisions in life.
In the few minutes that we have left I want to encourage you to sit and think. Think about your Jordan River moments in life when the Lord acted on your behalf. Has He been faithful? Can you think of a time when God showered you with His grace? Can you remember a time when you should have suffered for something you did and yet God showed you mercy? Can you think of a time when you were between a rock and a hard place and God made a way where it seemed there was no way of escape for you? Has God given you a sound mind? A strong body? Has He led people into your life who have proven to be friends, real friends? Has He saved you? Did He find you lost, lonely, misdirected, and misguided and draw you into His arms of grace and mercy? Did He humble you so as to show you that He is your strength and not yourself? Can you answer, “Yes!” to any of these questions? If so, then you’ve had a Jordan River experience and you need to mark it. You must mark it so that when your eyes are dry from crying and your heart is broken from suffering you can go back to the marker and say with Jeremiah, “Yet the Lord is my portion; Therefore I will wait for Him.”
This morning could be a Jordan River experience for someone here this morning who does not know the Lord as Savior of your life. Have you sensed this morning that God is calling you to fall into His arms of grace and mercy? If you’ve never accepted Jesus as Lord of your life then won’t you do that this morning?
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
November 30, 2008