Retelling the old story
2Peter 1: This is the post to which I’ve been assigned—keeping you alert with frequent reminders.
In the early days of my ministry the so-called “special days” were especially challenging to me. Every year Easter and Christmas came around and I felt challenged to come up with some innovative way to preach sermons on them. I was especially challenged by “civil” calendar events like Mother’s Day and Independence Day. Ultimately, I arrived at a two sided solution. For Father’s Day and the like, I don’t preach on the day, but acknowledge and observe it early in the service. Then, having done that, we move on to a regular worship event. “Spiritual” calendar events, though, need to be highlighted. I was still left with the challenge of preaching a sermon that would help people better process the meaning of the day. Finally, the Lord seemed to have mercy on this struggling preacher. It dawned on me that spiritual events come around as reminders. I don’t need to “dress them up” with some impressive new approach. Instead, I need to go back to the basics and retell the story. From that point on, I prepared sermons for those days with a sense of freedom. As I read this passage from 2Peter today I see that he set the example for me and countless spiritual leaders through the centuries. He tells his readers that some things need to be said again and again and that, to some extent, if the leader is successful in keeping people reminded of basic spiritual truths that leader has been successful, fulfilling his or her God-given assignment.
Take Away: We never progress to the point that we don’t need to be reminded of foundational spiritual truths.
The curtain falls, but Act II is about to begin
Malachi 4: Remember and keep the revelation I gave through my servant Moses.
Did Malachi understand that these words were to become, for Christians across the ages, the closing words of the Old Testament? It’s highly unlikely. However, I believe God, the Holy Spirit knew it. The last two paragraphs of Malachi are an excellent ending for the Old Testament. For those of that day, still living under the Law, one of the last words is “remember.” They’re to keep the “rules and procedures for right living” given them by Moses. If they do that they’ll have done what the Lord requires of them. However, there’s another last word. It’s, “also look ahead.” The Lord isn’t finished working out redemption for them and all that has happened thus far has prepared the way for the really big deal that’s yet to come. As the curtain’s falling on this, the first act we’re told that the next act is going to be both interesting and surprising. They’ll know it’s starting when Elijah shows up to usher it in. For the people of Israel, that’s a long 400 years distant in the future. As for me, all I have to do is turn the page to see what has, up to now, been the black and white picture of God’s salvation plan displayed in living color.
Take Away: Even to this day we are wise to obediently remember what the Lord has told us while at the same time look forward to what he has promised us.
Looking back, remaining faithful
Psalm 71: I’ll keep at it until I’m old and gray.
David’s story is one of the “complete” stories of the Bible. We know him as a child and then journey with him through his rich, eventful life to old age. This psalm is written in his later years and the long shadows of this evening portion of his life are evident in his words. The early part of the song is retrospective. David remembers his childhood and God’s blessings. Then, skipping his full life, David asks the Lord to continue blessing him in his senior years. There are no more wars for him to fight, no more giants to be slain, but David is now in a fight that he will not win. Is God only interested in young, energy-filled people? Will David, as his vitality slips away, be put on the shelf and forgotten by not only man, but by God too? David knows that’s not going to happen. Even as an old and grey headed man he enjoys the faithfulness of God. These days he isn’t out taking on the enemies of God in battle, but he has plenty to say. People need to be reminded of the story of God’s goodness and they need to know what it means to really worship. Gray headed or not, David sets out to lift the Lord, showing the way to praise and worship.
Take Away: The way to conclude life is to continue setting an example of trusting and praising the Lord.
Better for our kids than Disneyland
Psalm 48: Then you can tell the next generation.
This Psalm is one in praise of the City of God, Jerusalem. This, I’m told, is a place where worship abounds, and with good reason. Within its walls is the place of worship, the dwelling place of God on earth. This city is protected by the Lord even when powerful enemies come to destroy it. Every time the song writer looks at Jerusalem, Zion, he’s overwhelmed with the goodness of God. Then he suggests a specific course of action. He says people ought to carefully measure the city and count its towers. He wants them to make careful record of everything about this City of God. Why? So they can recount it all to their children. In other words, it isn’t enough for them to simply rejoice in the here and now in all God has done for them; they’re to record it all and then tell their children and grandchildren about it. We Christians have our own stories of God’s grace in our lives and churches, our families and our nation. It’s good for us to rejoice when God delivers us from some near disaster. However, we need to be more on purpose in passing our stories along. Surely with all the technology available I can make a video or record a mp3 in which I tell the whole story, detail by detail. Of course, beyond that, we need to have such conversations with our kids. For instance maybe on vacation we can make a stop at the church where we attended as children and, there, in the sanctuary, tell our kids about what happened and why. It may not be the same as Disneyland, and it doesn’t have to replace such a destination, but it just might have a greater impact on our kids than we realize.
Take Away: Tell your story to your kids, and tell it often.
Deliverance, protection, provision
Deuteronomy 8: If you start thinking to yourselves, “I did all this. All by myself. I’m rich. It’s all mine!” — well, think again.
The topic is God’s past blessings and his promise of future faithfulness. Their history is memorable: deliverance, protection, provisions. God has been good and that should be clear to them. After all, bread literally fell from heaven every day. But that may be the problem. Many of his listeners had not even been born when the bread started falling. A person in his audience can be 40 years old and every day (except on Saturdays) of his or her life they have gone out to collect manna to eat. These blessed people have never seen it any other way. Had you met one and asked them about their clothing: “Say, how long does a shirt last before it has to be replaced?” The response would have been one of confusion: “What do you mean, ‘last’ — I don’t understand the question.” Why? Because their clothing never needed to be replaced — ever! Is it possible that God can be so good to me that I forget that he’s the Source of the blessing in the first place? Once I forget the Source, the next step is for me to start thinking that I somehow deserve credit for it. Moses says that if I start thinking like that — well, I’d better think again.
Take Away: It’s okay to enjoy the blessing as long as I remember the Source of the blessing.