Joshua 4:14-24 – The Importance of Visual Reminders

That day the Lord brought honor to Joshua before all Israel. They respected him all his life, just as they had respected Moses.

The Lord told Joshua, “Instruct the priests carrying the ark of the covenantal laws to come up from the Jordan.” So, Joshua instructed the priests, “Come up from the Jordan!” The priests carrying the ark of the covenant of the Lord came up from the middle of the Jordan, and as soon as they set foot on dry land, the water of the Jordan flowed again and returned to flood stage.

The people went up from the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month and camped in Gilgal on the eastern border of Jericho. Now Joshua set up in Gilgal the twelve stones they had taken from the Jordan. He told the Israelites, “When your children someday ask their fathers, ‘What do these stones represent?’explain to your children, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan River on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the water of the Jordan before you while you crossed over. It was just like when the Lord your God dried up the Red Sea before us while we crossed it.He has done this so all the nations of the earth might recognize the Lord’s power and so you might always obey the Lord your God.” (New English Translation)

On my hospital office desk, where I can see it every day, is a scapular. “Scapular” is the Latin word for “shoulders.” A scapular typically consists of two small pieces of cloth, a few inches in size, which has a religious image on one, and a message on the other. There are two bands of cloth connecting the message or image.

The wearer places one square on the chest, rests the bands on each shoulder and lets the second square drop down the back. Worn by some Catholic faithful, the scapular serves to remind the believer of their commitment to live a Christian life.

The particular scapular I have in my possession was given to me by a patient when I was first starting out as a hospital chaplain. I was called to the room of a dying patient. He was afraid of death. So, we conversed together for an hour about his life, his fears, and his devotion to faith. At the end of the conversation, the patient took off the scapular he was wearing, which states, “Whosoever dies wearing this Scapular shall not suffer eternal fire.”

Regardless of what you think about scapulars and the particular message on this one, most important to me is what the patient said next with tears in his eyes: “I’ve worn this scapular every day for the past forty years. Here, I want you to have it. I don’t need it anymore. I am no longer afraid of death.”

The patient died. But he died at peace with God and without fear. I keep his scapular on my desk as a constant reminder of why I am a hospital chaplain, and how important the work I do is. Anytime I get discouraged or have a hard day, when I return to my office, the scapular reminds and reorients me that the spiritual care of patients is a privileged and sacred responsibility.

The ancient Israelites were finally ready to enter the Promised Land. The twelve tribes miraculously crossed the Jordan River on dry ground. God had stopped the water from flowing. After everyone crossed over, the river went back to flowing again.

Joshua, their leader, instructed people from each tribe to take a large stone from the river and place them in a heap for two didactic reasons:

1) To educate future generations inside Israel that God kept the promise to bring them into a land of abundance; and

2) To educate those outside Israel that God is mighty.

It’s important that we all have a continual awareness of why we are here on this earth and what our purpose is. Our history is significant and needs to be remembered.

Yet, there are many families and faith communities in which the children know little about how God worked in their parents’ lives, not to mention the many previous generations. Having tangible reminders of God’s past actions helps everyone remember. 

Just as people ask me about why I have a scapular on my desk, so having reminders of God’s grace in prominent visible places serves to aid all ages of folks to ask why those mementos are there.

It is good to have visual reminders of faith and the faithful people who influenced us around our homes, places of work, and communities so that others may discover and know the redemptive acts of God, that the Lord keeps promises.

Almighty God, we praise and magnify your holy Name for all your servants who have finished their course in faith and patience. May we remember them and their service well. We humbly pray that, at the day of resurrection, we and all who are members of the mystical body of your Son may be set on his right hand, and hear his most joyful voice: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Grant this, O merciful Father, for the sake of Jesus Christ, our only Mediator and Advocate. Amen

Revelation 3:1-6 – Remember, Hold On, and Change

Ruins in the ancient city of Sardis (present day Sart, Turkey)

Write this to the angel of the church in Sardis:

These are the words of the one who holds God’s seven spirits and the seven stars: I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, and you are in fact dead. Wake up and strengthen whatever you have left, teetering on the brink of death, for I’ve found that your works are far from complete in the eyes of my God. So, remember what you received and heard. Hold on to it and change your hearts and lives. If you don’t wake up, I will come like a thief, and you won’t know what time I will come upon you. But you do have a few people in Sardis who haven’t stained their clothing. They will walk with me clothed in white because they are worthy. Those who emerge victorious will wear white clothing like this. I won’t scratch out their names from the scroll of life but will declare their names in the presence of my Father and his angels. If you can hear, listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. (Common English Bible)

Many Christians reflexively think of good old Apostle Paul when it comes to biblical epistles (letters) to churches. Yet, contained within the first three chapters of Revelation are seven succinct letters to seven different churches. These letters are short and packed with a punch – and they don’t come from Paul.

What makes these short bursts of exhortation so powerful is that they come from Jesus himself. Yes, that Jesus – the Lord Jesus Christ, the head of the church. So, it seems to me that Christ’s observations about the church ought to carry more weight than anybody else’s thoughts.  

Christ was concerned about how far the church was from completing the work of God. So, he gave a pointed admonition, almost like a parent trying to awaken a teenager in the morning. “Wake up!” said Jesus because he found the church’s obedience incomplete and lacking strength. If this were the Apostle Paul talking, he would likely have framed it this way: “You have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

Our Lord went directly to the heart of the church’s life… and it’s death. The stark reality is that these statements from Jesus remain penetrating and relevant for today’s church.

So, what is to be done about the situation of spiritual deadness in the church? 

Jesus did not leave the church hanging but in a few compact words let them know exactly what they are to do to remedy their spiritual malady: Remember. Hold on. Change. Keep the memory of sound instruction alive, always adjusting the life of the church to it. The Christian term for this is “repentance.”

Sometimes, if not many times, we may tend to forget the things we need to remember and remember the things we must forget. We are to follow God in a pattern of remembering and forgetting. God has said:

I wipe away your sins because of who I am. And so, I will forget the wrongs you have done. (Isaiah 43:25, CEV)

I will forgive their wrongdoing and never again remember their sins. (Jeremiah 31:34, CEB)

I will forget their sins and never again remember the evil they have done. (Hebrews 10:17, ERV)

Concerning those who have wronged us, we are to emulate God’s grace, mercy, and kindness through forgiveness. To “forget” does not mean performing a personal lobotomy but simply not to hold an offense against another by continually bringing it to mind. On the other hand, God remembers divine promises made to people. Likewise, we are to constantly bear in mind what God has put before us to remember:

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26, NRSV)

We need an abiding remembrance of the Lord Jesus, the very person who spoke to the church hundreds of years ago. It is in those times when we become distressed that we must center our memory on Christ:

We must focus on Jesus, the source and goal of our faith. He saw the joy ahead of him, so he endured death on the cross and ignored the disgrace it brought him. (Hebrews 12:2, GW)

Remembering Jesus Christ sets us on the path to fulfilling the work of God and completing that which has been given us to do. This is precisely why I choose to follow the Christian Year and remember time by having it centered around the life and ministry of Jesus.

Always think about Jesus Christ. He was brought back to life and is a descendant of David. This is the Good News that I tell others. (2 Timothy 2:8, GW)

I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need by working hard. You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35, NLT)

Let us remember together in prayer:

Awesome Lord Jesus, your words penetrate to the core my being. Strengthen me by the continuing presence of yourself through the Holy Spirit so that my every thought, word, and deed is done in your holy Name. Kindle in my heart a vision of your love and shine the light of your victory over sin, death, and hell over this dark world. Continually take me to yourself. Keep me in your wounds and mindful of your presence so that I shall fulfill all the will of God for my life through your divine enablement. Amen.

Psalm 105:1-42 – Getting Rid of the “Meh”

Praise the Lord
    and pray in his name!
    Tell everyone
    what he has done.
Sing praises to the Lord!
    Tell about his miracles.
Celebrate and worship
his holy name
    with all your heart.

Trust the Lord
    and his mighty power.
Remember his miracles
and all his wonders
    and his fair decisions.
You belong to the family
    of Abraham, his servant;
    you are his chosen ones,
    the descendants of Jacob.

The Lord is our God,
    bringing justice
    everywhere on earth.
He will never forget
his agreement or his promises,
    not in thousands of years.
God made an eternal promise
    to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,
    when he said, “I’ll give you
    the land of Canaan.”

At the time there were
only a few of us,
    and we were homeless.
We wandered from nation
to nation,
    from one country
    to another.
God did not let anyone
    mistreat our people.
Instead he protected us
    by punishing rulers
    and telling them,
“Don’t touch my chosen leaders
    or harm my prophets!”

God kept crops from growing
    until food was scarce
    everywhere in the land.
But he had already sent Joseph,
    sold as a slave into Egypt,
    with chains of iron
    around his legs and neck.

Joseph remained a slave
until his own words
    had come true,
    and the Lord had finished
    testing him.
Then the king of Egypt
    set Joseph free
    and put him in charge
    of everything he owned.
Joseph was in command
    of the officials,
    and he taught the leaders
    how to use wisdom.

Jacob and his family
came
    and settled in Egypt
    as foreigners.
They were the Lord’s people,
    so he let them grow stronger
    than their enemies.
They served the Lord,
and he made the Egyptians plan
    hateful things against them.
God sent his servant Moses.
He also chose and sent Aaron
    to his people in Egypt,
    and they worked miracles
    and wonders there.
Moses and Aaron obeyed God,
    and he sent darkness
    to cover Egypt.
God turned their rivers
into streams of blood,
    and the fish all died.
Frogs were everywhere,
    even in the royal palace.
When God gave the command,
    flies and gnats
    swarmed all around.

In place of rain,
God sent hailstones
    and flashes of lightning.
He destroyed their grapevines
    and their fig trees,
    and he made splinters
    of all the other trees.
God gave the command,
and more grasshoppers came
    than could be counted.
They ate every green plant
    and all the crops that grew
    in the land of Egypt.
Then God took the life
    of every first-born son.

When God led Israel from Egypt,
    they took silver and gold,
    and no one was left behind.
The Egyptians were afraid
    and gladly let them go.
God hid them under a cloud
    and guided them by fire
    during the night.

When they asked for food,
    he sent more birds
    than they could eat.
God even split open a rock,
    and streams of water
    gushed into the desert.
God never forgot
his sacred promise
    to his servant Abraham. (Contemporary English Version)

This morning, did you get up on the wrong side of the bed? Or did you awake feeling refreshed and ready to seize the day?

Maybe it was neither. Seems like, most days, we are neither energized nor grumpy. We are somewhere in the middle, feeling something like “meh.” 

Just as the importance of a decent breakfast is necessary to get a good start on the day, so beginning the day with some good spiritual food is a must to fortify our lives and set them on a solid trajectory for personal happiness and blessing the world. 

We cannot simply rely on feeding upon God when we feel like it, for then we will succumb to all the vicissitudes and variegations of life, becoming a slave to the almighty “meh.” 

As we get out of bed and orient ourselves from sleep to work, we need to tend to our spiritual selves and prepare for the day, just as we need to daily clean up our bodies and begin focusing our minds on our future tasks.

One way of taking charge of our spiritual lives is beginning the day with some vitamin-packed whole grain goodness of the biblical psalms. 

Today’s psalm calls on us to:

  • Give thanks to God
  • Call upon the name of the Lord
  • Make known the mighty deeds of God
  • Sing to the Lord
  • Glory in God’s name
  • Seek the Lord
  • Remember God’s wondrous works 

Feeding upon the psalms will help shoo the “meh” away.

God faithfully keeps all divine promises. As we recall and remember those promises, realizing that God remembers us, praise, singing, and thanksgiving arise along with our bodies. The Lord never has a “meh” response to us.

Perhaps before even getting out of bed in the morning, we can reach over, grab our Bible, tablet, or smartphone and read these words of Psalm 105 so that our day is formed around the positive promises of God and not the negative thoughts of our minds. 

And at night, the same ritual could be done before falling asleep so that our day is bookended with remembering God’s works. For the Bible is not simply some old book to adore from afar, but a living word from God to shape our minds and form our hearts.

The “meh” comes when there is a famine of God’s Word. Whenever we find ourselves saying things like, “Not my circus, not my monkeys,” or “I’m sleeping until I feel better,” then its time to cozy up to the psalmist and have a heart-to-heart.

You’ll be glad you did.

God almighty, you have remembered your people throughout the millennia with wondrous works and powerful deeds. Today I give thanks to you for giving your Son, the Lord Jesus, and accomplishing the mightiest work of all: securing my deliverance from sin, death, and hell. May the Name of Jesus be praised! Amen.

Deuteronomy 9:6-14 – Remember and Learn

Moses and the Masks by Israel Tsvaygenbaum, 2002

So, understand this: It’s not because you’ve been living right that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess. You are impossible to deal with!

Never forget how you made the Lord your God angry in the desert. You’ve rebelled against the Lord from the day you left Egypt until you came here. Even at Mount Horeb you made the Lord so angry that he wanted to destroy you. When I went up on the mountain to get the stone tablets, the tablets of the promise that the Lord made to you, I stayed on the mountain 40 days and 40 nights without food or water. Then the Lord gave me the two stone tablets inscribed by God himself. On them were written all the words that the Lord spoke to you from the fire on the mountain on the day of the assembly.

At the end of the 40 days and 40 nights, the Lord gave me the two stone tablets with his promise on them. He told me, “Leave right away. Your people whom you brought out of Egypt have ruined everything. They’ve quickly turned from the way I commanded them to live. They’ve made an idol for themselves.”

The Lord also said to me, “I’ve seen these people, and they are impossible to deal with. Leave me alone! I’ll destroy them and wipe their name off the earth. Then I’ll make you into a nation larger and stronger than they are.” (God’s Word Translation)

Significant things happen on mountains in the Bible. In the anticipation of Transfiguration Sunday, in which Christ’s glory is revealed on a mountain top, today’s Old Testament lesson reminds us of a great mountain event. And it was not all bunnies and butterflies. 

The book of Deuteronomy is a restatement of the Law. Moses recalled and recounted an oral history of Israel. They were about to enter the Promised Land, and Moses wanted the people to remember and never forget God’s saving actions and God’s Law. 

Forty years earlier, God graciously met with Moses on the mountain and gave him the Ten Words (Ten Commandments). However, the ugly truth was that, while Moses was with God on the mountain, the people became impatient, insolent, and rebellious. They degenerated into a chaotic mass riot who quickly worshiped an idol. Definitely not Israel’s best moment.

In restating Israel’s Law and history, Moses wanted the people to remember the Mount Sinai event in all of its foulness and degradation. It was important for them to not forget how stubborn and pig-headed their parents and grandparents were in running from the one true God to a false god. The people needed to avoid the sins of the previous generation so that they could enjoy God and thrive in the new land being given to them.

It does no one any good to whitewash the past or to altogether ignore it. 

Whether it is one’s personal past, a previous generation, or even a national history, we must face the sins of our forebears, to remember and not forget. We must neither be so extremely individualistic that we disconnect ourselves from our generational moorings, nor be dismissive of past sins – as if they have no influence upon us today. 

Mountain experiences can either be glorious, turn very dark, or a bit of both. We are meant to learn from them all, to remember and not forget.

Yet not all remembered. Which is why, over a millennium later, the New Testament issued it’s own remembrance and warning so that we will learn and not forget – contrasting the two mountains of Sinai and Zion:

Unlike your ancestors, you didn’t come to Mount Sinai—all that volcanic blaze and earthshaking rumble—to hear God speak. The earsplitting words and soul-shaking message terrified them, and they begged him to stop. When they heard the words— “If an animal touches the Mountain, it’s as good as dead”—they were afraid to move. Even Moses was terrified.

No, that’s not your experience at all. You’ve come to Mount Zion, the city where the living God resides. The invisible Jerusalem is populated by throngs of festive angels and Christian citizens. It is the city where God is Judge, with judgments that make us just. You’ve come to Jesus, who presents us with a new covenant, a fresh charter from God. He is the Mediator of this covenant. The murder of Jesus, unlike Abel’s—a homicide that cried out for vengeance—became a proclamation of grace.

So don’t turn a deaf ear to these gracious words. If those who ignored earthly warnings didn’t get away with it, what will happen to us if we turn our backs on heavenly warnings? His voice that time shook the earth to its foundations; this time—he’s told us this quite plainly—he’ll also rock the heavens: “One last shaking, from top to bottom, stem to stern.” The phrase “one last shaking” means a thorough housecleaning, getting rid of all the historical and religious junk so that the unshakable essentials stand clear and uncluttered.

Do you see what we’ve got? An unshakable kingdom! And do you see how thankful we must be? Not only thankful, but brimming with worship, deeply reverent before God. For God is not an indifferent bystander. He’s actively cleaning house, torching all that needs to burn, and he won’t quit until it’s all cleansed. God himself is Fire! (Hebrews 12:18-29, MSG)

The old adage from the late philosopher, George Santayana, stated in his 1905 book, The Life of Reason, is true: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it!”

Winston Churchill, restating the phrase for the British House of Commons in 1948 said, “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”

Let us, then, ascend the mountain with Jesus and learn from him. And let us descend into the valley of the world remembering Christ’s words and ways for ourselves and for the next generations of believers.

God of history, your sovereign reign and rule extends to all creation and has existed for all time. You know the sins of my past, the heart of my present, and the soul of my future. Do not let me forget my sins, not because you hold them over my head, but because your grace has saved me from them all through Jesus Christ, my Savior. Amen.