Fire does more than burn. That’s what the Lord tells us in Malachi 3.1-5. And we also get a hint at the coming of Jesus! Some advice for handling our own periods of refining, and awaiting the second coming of Jesus, can be found in the message that’s part of this worship gathering. The whole worship gathering can be viewed below, or you can catch the message alone below that.
There’s a very important word in the Old Testament that not many people think about, but to the Hebrew people of old, like the Jewish people of today, it’s a word that’s deeply grounded in their culture.
It’s the word remember.
One of the earliest examples is during the exodus, and the reminder of the Passover meal: “This is a day to remember. Each year, from generation to generation, you must celebrate it as a special festival to the Lord” (Exodus 12.14, NLT).
Another early example is right in the Ten Commandments: “Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” (Exodus 20.8, NLT).
When the Israelites did not remember their past, they disobeyed the Lord. “After that generation died, another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the Lord or remember the mighty things he had done for Israel” (Judges 2.10, NLT). This story repeated itself over the course of history.
Of course, the most common remembrance today for Jewish people (for us outsiders) comes in the remembrance of the Holocaust. If you’ve ever visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, or any of the other similar museums around the world, you were moved by the exhibits that will preserve the memory of the death of six million Jewish people for all time. The same could be said of the prison camps in Europe: they exist as reminders of the past.
The Jewish people want to remember the past, both for the sake of their relationship with God and for avoiding the repetition of evil.
Thus am I troubled when I see news reports of people wanting to rename streets, take down monuments, and find other ways to attempt to erase history, because it is through that history that we learn. “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it,” said Spanish philosopher George Santayana, famously. While we may not want to glorify people for atrocities committed, we must keep those things which enable us to remember those atrocities, lest they be repeated.
Context is important, too. If we remove all memory, for example, of John A. Macdonald or Egerton Ryerson (here in Canada), how will we remember the many good things they did for our country? Rather than erase history, let’s put it in context, so we may be inspired by the good, and discouraged from the ill.
As followers of Jesus and people of the new covenant, we are called to remembrance as well. Among the greatest of these remembrances comes whenever we gather around the Lord’s table, mindful that Jesus celebrated the last supper and called us to celebrate “in remembrance of me” (Luke 22.19, NLT).
As long as the church celebrates the Lord’s Supper, we will have a visual reminder that cancel culture has no place among God’s people.
As more and more people receive vaccinations against COVID-19, people are starting to sense that the end of the pandemic is in sight. I hope that’s true! And it prompts me to ask a question: What have we learned from all this?
I’m sure the answer to that question would be a list as long as my arm, but I want to focus on the spiritual end of it. Perhaps I might frame the question this way:
How has my walk with God been affected by the pandemic, and what have I learned as a result?
The answer to that, too, can and perhaps is long and complicated. But let me focus on one particular area: rest.
For the last number of years, “busy” is a badge that people have worn with honour. And there has been a cost involved.
Early in the pandemic, when everything was shut down and (let’s face it) many people lived in fear, there was a sense of equilibrium returning to nature: the air got cleaner, the dolphins returned to the canals of Venice, the traffic was manageable.
People were slowing down.
But as the first wave ebbed, and a limited reopening took place, we seemed to forget the serenity and peace that came with that first shutdown. The pace picked up. While people worked from home, the boundaries were blurred.
Where I live in Ontario, the economy begins reopening today. Stores will be open with a limited capacity. Outdoor patios will be open, within limits. And our church will be open to 15% capacity! It’s a start!
But before we try to “get back to normal” – whatever that’s going to look like – let me encourage you to take a step back and look at what you’ve learned about your spiritual rhythms from the experience of the pandemic. Spend some time in conversation with the Lord over that in the coming days.
Then – and this is the difficult part – apply what you’ve learned to the “new normal.”
“So God’s rest is there for people to enter, but those who first heard this good news failed to enter because they disobeyed God. So God set another time for entering his rest, and that time is today. God announced this through David much later in the words already quoted:
‘Today when you hear his voice,
don’t harden your hearts’” (Hebrews 4.6-7, NLT).
Today, we have a guest post from my wife, Diana, who had an experience last week worth sharing.
Desiring to follow the health directives of my doctor, I attended a medical lab for a couple of tests. This was not prompted by any concern, but was part of my “tune up”, as my physician referred to his requisitions.
As a part of the pre-test screening, the technician asked me a number of questions, including when my first COVID-19 vaccine had been administered. When I told her, we both commented on the shortened waiting period between shots, and what that would mean for travel plans.
As she continued the preparations for the imaging, I told her that we have talked about taking a road trip to Arizona when time allows, and the border is re-opened. She wistfully told me that she longs to go to Sedona, wanting to experience the spiritual healing people report there. I said that I didn’t know about those things, but that one of my favourite sights is the first glimpse of the mountains as one heads out of Calgary toward the Rockies along the Trans-Canada highway.
My explanation of what that view does for me is “a complete centering of my being.” Her reply to this (remember, all of this is happening while I was in, well, not the most comfortable of positions) was that she feels exactly that way when she goes into a church. She was quiet for a moment, and then said, “I was raised Hindu, but that is similar to how I feel when I am in a church.” I said that when I am able to soak in such a glorious part of God’s creation, it is a reminder of just how great He is, but just how important I am to Him.
And then, after another moment of quiet, she said, “I’m sorry, you are the only the second person I’ve ever told that to. The other was my husband.”
That trusting statement, after such a brief encounter, was a sacred one for me. I responded to her with a smile and said, “Thank you for sharing, but let me tell you that my husband is a pastor, and I am a long-time friend of Jesus. I think what you experience is Him wanting to spend time with you.”
She sighed and smiled, and said, “Imagine!” It was at that point we were finished, and I headed to the next part of my time at the lab. Telling Jeff, the sacredness of that moment fully hit me. There I was, in a fairly vulnerable setting, apparently being safe enough for this lab technician to admit something that in some parts of the world would see her severely punished! To top it off, God opened the door for me to sow the seed of Jesus wanting a personal relationship with her. The conversation was as natural as one about the weather, but I think maybe, just maybe, God spoke to her – He certainly reminded me of his presence and desire to be in relationship with all of us.
Pray that God will position you for a conversation like that, and watch what happens!
“The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship” (Psalm 19.1, NLT).