Sunday marked the end of our In the Beginning series – a journey through the opening stories of Genesis. I’m kind of sad to see this series go. I don’t know if I’ve spent as much time studying the first 8 chapters of Genesis as I did in preparation for these sermons. And I could have easily added four or six more messages to this series. But to every thing there is a season and Advent is just around the corner.
After the worship service, Aiden came up to me and said, “Dad! I can’t believe you forgot my suitcase!” Of course, I couldn’t believe it, either. But it happened. If you haven’t figured it out, I’m a very forgetful person. If I don’t have it written down on a list in front of me, I’m likely to forget it. Of course, I also tend to forget my list – so I guess I can’t win. That’s why I’m thankful that God has given us regular reminders so we never forget or take for granted what He has done for us. That was the focus of Sunday’s message.
You can read the manuscript after the jump.
In the Beginning: Remember What He’s Done
November 22, 2009
As I’ve shared before, I have several mementos on display in my office. There’s the framed section of the late Hoosier Dome. And there’s my Certificate of Ordination. I also have plaques from two of my treks at Philmont Scout Ranch. They’re signed by the members of my crews from those years. My most recent addition is this painting from Ethiopia, depicting the legend of St. George slaying the dragon. I also have a picture signed by IU basketball coach Tom Crean – but it’s not displayed yet because I haven’t found a suitable frame for it.
The most meaningful memento I have, however, is this rock. It sits in on a shelf behind my desk. When I see it, it reminds me of a powerful experience that I had in the Summer of 2001. I was the Student Minister at a church on the east side of Indianapolis and had taken a group of 20, made up of high school students, adult volunteers, and two younger children on a mission trip to the Navajo Reservation near Gallup, New Mexico. This rock was from that trip.
We had spent the better part of a week on the reservation, serving with a ministry to the Navajo people. They were hosting a revival that week and our high school students led a Vacation Bible School for the children. We were in our final moments of cleaning the facility we’d been using for the VBS that week when our Student Ministry Intern, Jon, was vacuuming the carpet one last time.
Suddenly, a horrible sound came from the sweeper. I’d never heard anything like it. Jon quickly turned it off and we looked underneath the vacuum cleaner. Wedged in the brush housing in the base of the sweeper was this rock. Fortunately, it didn’t destroy the sweeper. Although it could have. Fortunately, we were able to dislodge the rock without taking the entire sweeper apart. We found it at just the right time.
I put the rock in my pocket and brought it home with me. I have it sitting on my shelf as a reminder of how God worked during that week. The vacuum cleaner was just a small example of how God’s timing, provision, and protection was perfect throughout the entire trip.
At the beginning of the trip, I wasn’t so sure about what was going to happen. We had spent many months preparing for this trip and it all began without any complications. The flight from Indianapolis to Albuquerque was painless. All of our luggage arrived safe and sound. Well – most of our luggage. You see, I had forgotten to get one of the suitcases out of my car. And it happened to be the one that had all of Aiden’s clothes in it. But that was just a minor inconvenience. By the time our plane had landed, a parent had already picked up the suitcase and shipped it to New Mexico via UPS. Even with that speed bump, things were moving relatively smoothly. We were able to pick up our rental vans without a hitch. The drive from Albuquerque to Gallup was beautiful. No one got lost – which is always a good thing.
We arrived at the Navajo Reservation knowing that we were going to see God at work during our week with the Navajo people. We parked our vans, unloaded, and met the pastor for the first time. As we discussed some logistics with our host, I came to a horrible realization. Through a horrible miscommunication in the planning stage, we arrived on the Reservation under the assumption that we would be staying in a building at the ministry compound on the Reservation itself. My heart came up into my throat when I realized that I had brought 20 people, including high school students, adults, and two small children halfway across the continent and we had absolutely no place to stay.
So, Jon the Intern and I found a phone book and started driving back into the town of Gallup. I gave him my cell phone and he started going down the names in the “Churches” section. After reaching several answering machines, one Pastor finally answered the phone. It was Sunday afternoon, so we were honestly surprised to find anyone in the office. Jon explained our situation and asked the Pastor if there’s any way he could help us out – even if it’s for just one evening.
“That’s something the mission should have helped you with,” he responded. Then – *click* – he hung up on us.
We continued to drive through Gallup, hoping to stumble upon a church building that happened to be open. Jon kept going down the list of churches in the phone book.
The Pastor at Gallup Christian Church answered his phone. Jon explained the situation. The Pastor lightly chuckled and then said, “I think we can help you out.” So we drove to the church facility. It was perfect.
Jon and I met him and he showed us around. He gave us the keys to the facility and we drove back to the Reservation to pick up the rest of the crew. Because of a miscommunication, we were at the end of our rope. It was one of those “but God…” moments I spoke about last week. When things are darkest, the light of Christ can shine most brightly – right?
So, we unload the vans in the parking lot of Gallup Christian Church and I looked up in the sky. There above us was a beautiful rainbow. I pointed up to it and said, “See? God keeps His promises.”
I think of this event every time I see this rock. It serves as a very physical reminder how God has kept His promises to me – even when I misunderstand something…even when I screw something up…even when I’m at the end of my rope. So I keep this rock on my shelf as a reminder of the amazing and powerful way that God worked in that situation.
It has been said that elephants never forget. While “never” might be too strong of a word, elephants are well-known for their great memories. Humanity, however, is a different story. We have such a short view of history, attention spans the length of a gnat’s, and, it seems, a perpetual case of amnesia. When we get caught up in the moment, we forget our history. And we tend to forget the things we’re supposed to remember.
If you have your Bibles with you, please turn with me to Genesis 8:15. If you don’t have your Bible with you, you’re welcome to use the one in the pew in front of you. Genesis 8:15 is found on page 6 in those Bibles. We are completing our journey through the opening chapters of the story of Genesis with the promise of new life. After sin had entered the picture, things began to spiral out of control. Things had gotten so out of hand that God was saddened that He’d even created humanity. So he decided to wipe the slate clean and start over with Noah and his family. After nearly a year on board the ark that God had commanded him to build, Noah and his family disembarked from the large ship.
The event of the Great Flood was one that shouldn’t be forgotten. After witnessing the destruction of all living things, Noah knew they needed to keep first things first and continue to place their relationship with their Father in Heaven as their top priority. So he built an altar. This was the first altar recorded in Scripture. And after he offered sacrifices upon the altar, it remained there as a reminder to him and his family of all God had done for them in recent days – much like the rock from New Mexico does for me. But the reminders for our forgetful people didn’t stop there. God also painted a rainbow in the sky as another physical reminder that God will keep His promises and He will never again destroy the earth through a Flood like the one Noah encountered.
From this point on, the people of God have had physical reminders of how God has worked throughout history – because we’re a forgetful people. When Jacob wrestled with God by the River Jabbok, he built an altar after the wrestling match and called it Peniel, which means “Face of God,” as a reminder that he saw God face to face that day – and his life was spared. When the children of Israel crossed the River Jordan into the Promised Land, they built an altar out of twelve stones so they would always remember how God had brought them into their new homeland.
There are other ways God has encouraged us to remember what He has done for His people. When He delivered the children of Israel from bondage in Egypt, He instituted the Passover meal. It’s full of symbolism intended to remind them of the life they’d had in Egypt and how they’d been rescued from that life of hardship and bitterness. It was the most important day in the Jewish calendar.
We’re no strangers to these reminders. It was during the Passover celebration that Jesus modified its symbolism and told his followers to take the bread and the cup as physical reminders of what He was about to do for all of us. The bread represents his body that was broken when the nails were pierced through his hands and feet and the spear broke through his side. The cup is a symbol of the red blood that he willingly allowed to flow from his own body as a payment for the sins that we committed.
This Thursday is one of those days set aside for us to remember all that God has done. Although it is not necessarily a God-ordained holiday, it is a day set aside for us to remember and give thanks for what God has done. The story of the Puritans’ struggles in the New World remains a focal point of Thanksgiving Day. Having taken issue with the corruption that was the Church of England at the time, the Puritans chose to separate themselves from the state-run religion. This led to harsh persecutions by the authorities. After three failed attempts to flee to the New World, they finally set sail on the Mayflower on September 6, 1620. Over 130 people began the voyage on that tiny, 90 foot-long ship. Not all passengers were Puritan Pilgrims, but they did provide the bulk of the leadership for the group of travelers.
The two month-long journey was not a pleasant cruise. It was far from it. The quarters were cramped, the food was terrible, and the weather conditions were dangerous throughout most of the trip. Remarkably, none died during the journey across the Atlantic. They eventually established the small Plymouth Colony in the New World.
Shortly after arriving in New England, half of the travelers had died. Disease was running rampant throughout the new colony. The New England winter was much harsher than expected, and the food supply was running short. Unaccustomed to the land, they could not plant crops or distinguish between the edible and poisonous plants. They had no knowledge of fishing or hunting. Things looked bleak for these Pilgrims in the New World. The New World hardly seemed like the Promised Land they had hoped it would be.
Momentum shifted the following Spring. Local Native Americans befriended the Pilgrims and showed them how to tame the New England soil and how to catch their food. After a bitter winter that most thought they would not survive, Spring brought new hope along with the new friendships. The Colonists planted and hunted, just as they were taught. Their strength was renewed and the colony grew stronger every day.
When harvest time came in October, the Puritan Colonists were joined by their new Native American friends for a celebration of God’s provision and protection over the past year. The three-day celebration included wild turkeys, venison, and all kinds of vegetables. The first Thanksgiving Day in the New World was born. It was a sign of friendship, and a reminder of what God had done for them over the past year.
Like the Puritans experienced, this year might have been a difficult one for you – full of heartache, disappointment, and loneliness. It might be a year you’d rather forget about altogether. This Thanksgiving, as you pass the turkey or ham or maybe it’s just a peanut butter & jelly sandwich…take the opportunity to give thanks for what He has given you. Remember what your life was like before you knew Christ and celebrate the grace He displayed by dying on the cross. Remember the difficult times – not to dwell on the doom and gloom, but to remember how God continues to bring you through those difficult times. He will never leave you. He will never forget you. That is something worth celebrating – even if you think there isn’t much to celebrate this year.
Or this could have been a great year for you. I know in our household, we are blessed beyond our wildest dreams with the addition of our newest daughter. We will spend Thanksgiving Day taking a little extra time to thank God for how He paved the way for her to come home with us. If you’ve had a memorable year – one you wish didn’t have to end – I hope you take the time this Thursday to really thank God for all He has provided for you. Don’t wait for the dinner table conversation, but intentionally carve out some time in that day to wholeheartedly thank God for what He has done for you.
This Thanksgiving, remember God’s promises. And that He keeps every single one. He has given us all kinds of symbols to remind us of that: a rainbow, the Bread and the Cup of the Lord’s Supper, the cross, and even a little rock that sits on a bookshelf. You may have your own physical reminders of your encounters with God. If they’re not in a place where you can see them, I encourage you to do so. In the midst of all the hustle and bustle of our busy lives, these monuments remind us of Who God is and what He has done. And although we tend to be very forgetful, God isn’t. I hope you celebrate that this coming Thursday.
And as we celebrate and give thanks and remember all God has done, it should continue throughout the rest of our lives. Allow this upcoming Thanksgiving Day to serve as a starting point – or a re-starting point…a challenge to remember to be thankful for all God has done every day. Not just at the appointed time of the year.
Another symbol we’ve been given is baptism. It’s a symbolic participation in the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. In the act of being baptized, you publicly announce that you are no longer your own and you renounce your sinful ways of the past. And you declare to the world that you were bought with a price and are now symbolically clothed in righteousness. For those of us who have been immersed, remember your baptism. Remember the symbol that you yourself participated in when you put your old self to death and came to life again as a new creation in Christ.
If you have never done chosen to participate in the death, burial, and resurrection of our Savior in the waters of baptism, the hymn of invitation we’re going to sing in a few moments, “I Surrender All,” hymn number 252 (verses 1 & 4), is an invitation for you. If you have never made the conscious decision to be baptized, why not do so today? It will give you one more thing to be thankful for and to celebrate on this coming Thanksgiving Day.
If you’ve been looking for a church home and have decided that Cowan Christian Church is the place where you can put down your roots and grow in the faith, you’re invited to join our family this morning. This song of invitation is also a song for you.
I Surrender All, verses 1 & 4