Friday, March 23, 2018

Remembering Not to Forget

These are reflections on my morning quiet time with God for today.

Look: “...take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Deuteronomy 6:12)

Moses is imparting God’s commands to ancient Israel as the people are about to enter the promised land. God is enjoining Israel not to develop amnesia. He wants them to remember that it’s by His grace that they’re about to take the land He was giving to them, by His grace that they escaped slavery in Egypt, by His grace that these faithless people had been forgiven by God and not given up as a bad “project” long ago. God was committed to Israel. He wanted them to trust in Him so that they could have His good blessings and not the pain that’s experienced when we try to build lives apart from the Great Life-Giver.

God was concerned that Israel might forget its relationship with God and their need of God for a good reason: He was about to shower them with undeserved blessings. Deuteronomy 6:12 completes a sentence that goes like this: “...when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery…” (Deuteronomy 6:10-12)

Listen: Material comforts can delude us. As we rely on them and they provide us with a level of ease, we’re tempted to think several things.

First, we’re tempted to think that this stuff comes from us. It doesn’t. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17) No matter how hard we’ve worked in life for the things that we have, they don’t come from us. Even our capacity to work hard with sound and patient minds or strong bodies is a gift from God.

Second, we’re tempted to think that our stuff will insulate us from the realities of our fallen world. Jesus told a parable about a man who stockpiled his wealth, thinking that he could then sit back and live in infinite ease. But after he built all of his self-storage units, God told the man, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” (Luke 12:20) In this parable, Jesus isn’t telling us not to save or plan. He’s telling us to hold onto the things of this world loosely and to be willing to part with them and to not make them or the ease they can buy our gods.

And our stuff can become our deities. But to worship anything but God is fatal to our eternal health. That’s why Jesus told His disciples after their encounter with a wealthy man, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." (Mark 10:25)

Money, comfort, ease, and possessions aren’t the problem, though. The things of the world can’t make us forget God. The problem is our relationship with things like money, comfort, ease, and possessions, and how we use them.

The problem is the way, when we have the wrong relationship with these things, they can delude us into believing in our self-sufficiency or into thinking that these good things are the highest good in the universe, fogging our minds, cultivating forgetfulness of God and His goodness.

In a famous and famously-misquoted passage of Scripture, the apostle Paul doesn’t say that money is the root of all evil (no matter what the Pink Floyd song says). Paul actually says: “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (1 Timothy 6:9-10)

Love for money and other things in the world can supplant love for God, even among those who know and repeat the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer and join in the Order for Confession and Absolution at worship each week.

One of my favorite psalms asks, “What shall I render to the LORD for all his benefits to me?” (Psalm 116:12) The psalmist remembers the goodness of God.

I find myself, if not completely forgetting God, sometimes taking God and His grace for granted. I take the gift of life, an incredible gift, the scientific odds against which are so small that, when I remember it, I can’t help being overwhelmed and thankful. I take forgiveness from God for granted, sometimes ignoring the cost Jesus paid on the cross to give it to me. What can I give to God to show my gratitude for all that He has done for me?

The psalmist answers that question by saying, “I will lift up the cup of salvation [this refers to the “cup” of a saved life God gives to us; lifting it acknowledges it as a gift I can’t earn] and call on the name of the LORD, I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people.” (Psalm 116:13-14)

In other words, I won’t forget what God has done and is doing for me. I’m called to do this not because God needs my worship, praise, or gratitude. God really is a self-sufficient Being. Though God wants me, God doesn’t need me or my gratitude. 

I’m called to remember and thank God for all that He does for me because when I forget God, I fall for the lie of my own self-sufficiency, wandering away from the only One Who can give me life, “to the full” (John 10:10), prone to forget that I can call on the name of the Lord and be saved (Joel 2:32, Romans 10:13, Acts 2:21). In a very real sense, ingratitude toward God is suicide; gratitude is the way of life.

Respond: God, if there are things of this world I need to get rid of because holding onto them makes me forget You, show me what they are and help me to act accordingly. Remind me daily, moment by moment, of my need of You so that I am always calling on the One Who can save me from myself, from my sin, and from the worship of anyone or anything but You. Thank You for all that You have done and are doing for me. Grant that today, my life will be lived in gratitude for You and Your grace. In Jesus’ name. Amen

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

No comments: