Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Importance of Remembering

The past can be a tricky thing.  It clearly forms us, but how much? Do we need to remember in order to move forward? Do we need to forget?  Is our history control our destiny or does it merely influence it? And most importantly, whatever has happened in our lives up to this point, is there hope?

Bob Kelleman, a Christian counselor, author, and speaker, has a great perspective on this. His claim is that the Bible reveals the importance of remembering, reflecting, repenting, reinterpreting, and retelling the story of our life in its entirety.

Remember (humbly)

“Remember” is used 167 times in the Bible (at least in the NIV), reminding us of the importance of remembering. We see it both in the Old Testament and the New. Usually, it has to do with remembering events in order to remember that God was at work in the midst of those events

  • “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.  Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 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.  He 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.  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. You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.”  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 8:11-18)
  • In Deuteronomy 32, God warns Moses that the Israelites will break their covenant with him. He tells Moses to write down a song of God’s presence (with all the interaction, faithfulness, and blessings and cursing of the covenant) and teach it to all the people so it will be a witness. One portion of the song says, “Remember the days of long ago; think about the generations past. Ask your father, and he will inform you. Inquire of your elders, and they will tell you.” (Deuteronomy 32:7)
  • When Jesus and disciples participated in what we call the Last Supper, Jesus said, “Keep doing this to remember me.” (Luke 22:19)

There are times we read about forgetting the former things, but this idea is often misunderstood. Here are the two verses I hear quoted the most:

  •  After citing all the ways He has redeemed or saved the Israelites, God says through Isaiah, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)
  • Paul writes in Philippians that “…forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14)

The writers were not urging people to develop amnesia. In both cases, it means not being distracted by success and blessing. Isaiah was referring to good things, not bad ones (and actually tells them several verses later to “review the past for me”). Philippians is referring to good things in Paul’s life that could lead to self-righteousness, pride in personal accomplishments, and complacency. Bruce Springsteen was right: Glory days really will pass you by.

Remembering the past is important for at least two reasons: our past clearly forms or informs who we are today, and God was present (and He is worth remembering).

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Jesus The King

Though Christmas is a time when we focus on Jesus meek and mild, a baby lying in a manger, we can overlook that language of royalty that is associated with his life from the very beginning. We see the kingliness of Christ woven throughout the New Testament from before Jesus was even born.

  •  The angel told Mary: "[Jesus] will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David… his kingdom will never end" ( Luke 1:32-33 ).
  •   Gold, frankincense and myrrh were standard gifts: gold as a precious metal, frankincense as perfume, and myrrh as anointing oil. There was a spiritual meaning that came to be associated with them as well: gold as a symbol of kingship on earth, frankincense for deity, and myrrh (an embalming oil) as a symbol of death. The popular Christmas carol "We Three Kings" includes this interpretation as part of its lyrics: "Glorious now behold Him arise/King and God and sacrifice."
  •  When Jesus entered Jerusalem, John records that it was the fulfillment of a prophecy: "Fear not, daughter of Zion. Behold, your King is coming” (John 12:14).
  •  When Pilate asks him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus basically says, “Yes” (Luke 23:3). Then that phrase is used as a mocking sign on top of Jesus’ cross.
  •  John writes in Revelation that when Jesus returns in the fullness of his power and glory he will have King of Kings printed on his robe and tattooed on his thigh (Revelation 19:16). That’s symbolic imagery, but there’s something going on there.
  •  Paul describes the coming arrival of Jesus as the arrival of the King of the World, or the King of Kings (1 Timothy 6:15).


I think we bring a lot of baggage to our perception of Jesus when we are asked to think of him as a king. When I recently asked my family what came to mind when I said the word “king” or "royalty," I got the following responses:
  • crowns and purple robes
  • crowns and a red capey thing with fur (apparently a nod to King John in Disney’s Robin Hood)
  • Queen Elizabeth – stiff, stuffy, pretentious, controlling
  • relaxing – they always sit in a throne room

We generally think of royalty with a mixture of fascination and judgment– fascination because how cool would it be to be a king or queen, and judgment because of the class arrogance that we assume comes with this. Lorde sang that we’ll never be royals – we will never be spoiled, out of touch with tigers on a leash, wearing diamond watches and drinking Gray Goose. And why would we want to be that pretentious?

Then there are king in the Middle East who rule with violence and anger, and the Burger King and King Juilian from the Madagascar movies. It’s not really a great time to build an image of a king that is compelling. They are elitist, violent, or silly.

I suppose we could appeal to King Arthur, Aragorn, King Leonidas and Ned Stark – but those are whitewashed charicatures of real people or just flat-out fictional characters. They might show us what a good king could be or do (at least in some ways), while in the real world we can’t seem to find a king that is that good, kind, or noble, or has great one-liners and chiseled abs like Leonidas. For every Ned Stark there’s a bunch of Lanisters lurking in the wings.

Generally, I don’t trust kings. Everywhere I look around me, kings fail. Royalty is corrupt. And I don’t mean to point fingers – if I were a king, I’d be part of the problem too. (It probably doesn't help that I've grown up in a system of government that is theoretically based on the will of the people, not a monarch).

C.S. Lewis said he realized something was wrong with the universe only because he had a concept of what right looked like. I wonder if kings disappoint me because I expect more of them. After all, I actually know what a truly good king should look like – and I see this by looking at the King of Kings. In the life of Jesus we see the character and nature of a true King of Kings on display for the world to see.