Misuse of Memory

I was listening to a song by Citipointe Live this morning on the way to church.  It’s been out for a few years now but that doesn’t mean it expired or lost it’s impact.  It took me back 5 years to our church plant in Ohio.  My friend Chris had just moved his family up from Arizona to join us.  That summer and the following two years were some of the most memorable times I’ve had in the ministry.

Chris and his family were such a huge part of those early days at New Hope in Ashland.  Listening to the song I mentioned this morning was introduced to me by Chris that first year of his ministry in Ohio.  Music has a key to open scores of memory banks.  It has been said that music is the universal language.  It would be tempting to memorialize those days as “glory days” and equally tempting to tag the song with an undue amount of reverence.

If I’d had someone older or younger than I in the car this morning getting my jam on to that song, it would have been possible to polarize my riders with my musical tastes.  Music is like pizza when it boils down to preference.  Some like thin crust, others like pan.  Some prefer top 40, others bluegrass (God’s music… kidding!).

I can’t think of a more powerful tool to unite or divide people with than music.  Slews of churches have waged war over hymns vs. modern worship music.  The interesting thing is that music grows like an intricate vine in our memories.  I will play Tom Petty’s version of Free Fallin’ before John Mayer’s version anytime.  My daughter and I have a standing argument over who’s is better.  Tom Petty takes me back to 1989 in South Florida but it does not mean that John Mayer’s version is worse.  For the record, I love John Mayer’s music but a classic remains a classic.

While I dream of the glory days of 7th grade or the first few years of my church plant, I have to remind myself that the glory days weren’t all that glorious.  On the other hand, we live in a culture that sums up expiring sentiment in 140 characters or less.  We live in a generation with no recollection of last week.  Both are a misuse of memory.

One of the Old Testament prophets was Haggai. The Israelites were set free by God 20 years earlier to return to Jerusalem and start the work on rebuilding the Temple.  They had laid the foundation, but then became discouraged and quit building because they focused on the opposition instead of on God and His promises.  Just like us they became distracted by materialism (e.g., home remodeling vs. Temple rebuilding).  As a result God sent Haggai to call them back to Himself and to their mission.  They responded and resumed building the Temple.  

Haggai 2:1-3 “On the twenty-first day of the seventh month, the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: “Speak to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, to Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people. Ask them, ‘Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing?”

There’s a three-fold question here in the passage: “Who… among you saw this temple in its former glory?  How do you see it now?  Does it not seem to you like nothing in comparison?”  Through these questions, God is helping them (us) to see that the primary reason for their low morale is misplaced nostalgia. [1]

Disclaimer: I am not saying that all reflection on the past is wrong.  God wants us to remember many things.  Pilgrim in Pilgrim’s Progress would remember four things when faced with discouragement.

Yes, when I think what I saw at the cross, that will do it; and when I look upon my broidered coat, that will do it; also when I look into the roll that I carry in my bosom, that will do it; and when my thoughts wax warm about whither I am going, that will do it.

  1. Remembering “the cross” (Eph.2:11,12) gave him gratitude.

Ephesians 2:11-12New King James Version (NKJV) Brought Near by His Blood

11 Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands— 12 that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.

  • Do you remember when you got saved
  • Faith and family day 11,000 people, 200 people got saved
  1. Remembering his “broidered coat” or being sealed by the Spirit (John 6:27, 2 Cor. 1:21-22) gave him confidence of grace yet to come in this life and the next.
  • John 6:27New King James Version (NKJV)

27 Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.”

  1. Remembering “the roll” The Bible (2 Tim 3:16) gave him assurance of salvation.
  • 2 Timothy 3:16New King James Version (NKJV)

16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,

  1. Remembering “whither I am going” Heaven (2 Pet 1:13-14) gave him hope beyond the grave.

2 Peter 1:13-14New King James Version (NKJV)

13 Yes, I think it is right, as long as I am in this tent, to stir you up by reminding you, 14 knowing that shortly I must put off my tent, just as our Lord Jesus Christ showed me.

– The City of Heaven description

Our memories are tools to access graces that God has set aside for us at different times in life when we need them.  Nostalgia can become an idol and not remembering the past strips us of something that God intended for us to treasure.  Francis Schaeffer explains a present “moment by moment” trust in God.

“Life is a succession of moments, one moment at a time… So when I talk about living the Christian life moment by moment… there is no other way to do it… We must believe God’s promises at this one moment in which we are.  (We must) apply them… for and in this one moment – one moment at a time.  If only you can see that, everything changes.”

IN THE END:

Do you glory in the past or do you have chronic spiritual forgetfulness?  Either is a misuse of memory.

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