Monday, February 19, 2007
That Fine Shrine ... is Mine!
"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.
Currently I am doing a study on Isaiah 43:18-19. When I do a study, I like to go back to the Hebrew and find out the meaning of the words – sometimes there is a completely different connotation than how it translates in English. You get a much deeper understanding. I did a word study on “remember” and it comes from the Hebrew word Zakar which means: To mark, mention, burn incense to, be mindful, recount, record, remember, make to be remembered, bring to remembrance, still think on.
The idea of “burn incense to” reached out and grabbed me. It is customary to burn incense at a shrine or an altar. This started me thinking how sometimes in our remembering, we make a shrine and an altar and we worship there, ever setting the thing before us and paying homage to it. God is telling us that we are not to set up shrines to the former days and live there. The former things are just that. FORMER. If we make a little shrine to them (as we have a tendency to do when things were really good) and stay there, then we are not looking forward to where he is moving.
This all begs the question: WHY? Why do we do this – have you got any ideas? We have this temptation to camp at the place of former things whether they were very good or very bad. The very good is easier to explain. If it was good, it meets something in us and satisfies us. We are comfortable and have a desire to camp there. The problem is that God does not camp. He is always moving. With the Israelites, he led them by the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night. When they were consumed by their fear of the Egyptians (in Ex 14) God would not let them camp but insisted that they keep moving. They were not to be paralysed by the past coming after them or the current circumstances. If we stay still, we will die.
Once when I was in China, I was sauntering along the streets of Beijing chatting with my friend. Out of nowhere, a beggar got in my path and pushed his arm into my face. This was not just a dirty arm. The man had a putrefying, pus oozing, stinking, rotting wound and it was this that he pushed in my face. With the other hand he reached out for money. This is a great analogy of the shrines we make to our bad times – the hard former times. We consider them, hold them before us, attend to them. We can wear them like a medal of honour and wave them in front of other peoples faces. Why? I am wondering if they begin to shape our identity. We can use them to justify why we are not who we think we should be or who others think we should be.
Jesus once met a crippled guy at a healing pool (Jn 5) and asked if he wanted to be well. Instead of answering with a yes or no, he replies with his story of why he is still there in his current state after 38 years. (God, spare me from being in the same place for 38 years!) Jesus doesn’t deal with the story. How could he? What responses are there? Either, “well yes, I see. I understand. Bummer for you” … OR “well … you need to do …. Blah blah”. Neither response helps the man.
The question Jesus asked was relevant. “Do you want to be well?” At first, it seems obvious. The man is at the HEALING pool, of course he wants to be well. However, Jesus acknowledges that he is accustomed to all that goes along with being in his current state. In some way it works for him. Is he ready to let all that go? Sometimes our negative past works for us. Like the beggar, we gain from our wounds. Our wounds can become our excuse for not standing up and being all that we were made to be. We have a choice to be paralysed, or by faith, respond to Jesus’ words: “get up! Pick up your mat and walk!” The man’s mat had been his life and his cushion. Jesus says, “get up! Pick up that thing and move. If you stay on it you will die. I am giving you the opportunity to walk. Do you want it?” Jesus gave the command. The response required faith. It wasn’t Jesus helping the person up, lifting up their feet, saying lean on me. Just … “Stand up!”
So then, I started thinking about me. What negative things have I built and made a little shrine to? How does this little altar work for me? Does it absolve me of any responsibility? Does it mean I don’t have to acknowledge my own fears, insecurities and dreams? Do I get to be self-obsessed and stop looking outward?
God is saying in Isaiah 43:18-19 … “remember NOT. Stop waving this. Be honest. Be REAL.” While leafing through the gospels this morning, I noticed how many times Jesus asked sick people what they wanted. Most times it was pretty obvious. And, even if it wasn’t, he was God. He knew. Yet, he still wants us to articulate our desires, because in the articulation, there is ownership. Yes … often there is the pain of unfulfilled longing as well, but we are honest. We bring these things into his light. Can I encourage you to take some time, stop and critically examine your life. What shrines are you paying homage to? Mark them as part of the forces that have shaped your life, and then pick up, get up and move on. God has a wonderful future … leave the past in the past and move forward into the new thing he has for you.