They forgot his works and the wonders that he had shown them.(Psalm 78:11)
Reflect, for a moment, on your past. Did it once fill you with a sense of excitement and thanksgiving that God had brought you to Himself, had set you free to serve and love Him? Did you once gratefully trace the steps by which you came to Christ, the different ways in which God taught you, the people He brought your way and through whom He molded you into what you are now?
Do you still reflect on God’s grace in your life? Are you still conscious that being a Christian means experiencing the living touch of God on your daily life? Or have you, like the Israelites, failed to profit from the Lord’s activity? Now life simply “happens,” events and experiences come and go, almost indistinguishably. You no longer see the Lord’s hand at work. You no longer sense yourself to. E the child of the Father who is always teaching you, always disciplining you for His own glory.
The forgetfulness of the Hebrews is apparently a recurring syndrome for Christians as well. In the New Testament we come across the same symptoms, and Christians need to be told, “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”(Hebrews 12:4-6 quoting Proverbs 3:11-12) Here Old Testament and New Testament experience are the same. The writer recognized a diminishing level of commitment to holiness on one hand, coupled with a forgetfulness of God’s word and a blindness to God’s activity on the other.
Is that dismal plane of experience where you and I are?
Many view the past and the future as opposing forces. Quite often we feel that we celebrate each at the expense of the other and yet our present is a product of the past and the launch pad of our future. We dare not forget the past, but we also dare not cease to look to the future.
From our past there are things we ought to remember. We ought to remember the day of our salvation. We ought to remember the times of answered prayers and the work of God we have seen and experienced. We ought to remember the accomplishments of the past, the victories won and the trials that have produced in us a trust of God. We ought to remember the foundation of our faith that began with Christ and His work on the cross. We ought to celebrate and honor the founding fathers of the church- the apostles and former church leaders of our day. Paul says it this way:
According to the [remarkable] grace of God which was given to me [to prepare me for my task], like a skillful master builder I laid a foundation, and now another is building on it. But each one must be careful how he builds on it, for no one can lay a foundation other than the one which is [already] laid, which is Jesus Christ. But if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will be clearly shown [for what it is]; for the day [of judgment] will disclose it, because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality and character and worth of each person’s work. If any person’s work which he has built [on this foundation, that is, any outcome of his effort] remains [and survives this test], he will receive a reward. But if any person’s work is burned up [by the test], he will suffer the loss [of his reward]; yet he himself will be saved, but only as [one who has barely escaped] through fire.
1 Corinthians 3:10-15
It is imperative that every generation continue to build upon the foundation built by the apostles with Christ being the “chief cornerstone.” For those who may not know, early builders set a stone in place called the cornerstone. It was the measuring place and all the rest of the building was laid out lining up with this stone. We as the people of God would do well to refer again and again to the Cornerstone to measure our lives and activities against. We would do well to lay the blueprint of the Acts church over our current church and see how far outside the lines we have colored.
Our past is important but our past is not where we are to live. Never should we forget the lessons of the past for in doing so we are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. Our past is the schoolmaster that has prepared us for our future. To some degree our past is exactly like school. Most of us don’t just keep going to school. We go for a season to learn how to make a living, to enhance our knowledge and skills for life but we at some point graduate and begin our future. This is what our past ought to do. It ought to prepare us for our future.
When we begin to speak of the future of the church, quite often people become offended, thinking that we are ignoring or setting aside the past. To set our past aside would be as foolish as removing our diploma from the wall and forgetting all the years of schooling we have experienced. On the other hand, we would consider someone who did nothing except sit and gaze at their diploma and never put to use their schooling as foolish. We would ask them what was the value of going to school if they were going to do nothing for their future. Yet the church sometimes lives that way. We often get so caught up in rehearsing our past that we have no time to envision our future. Furthermore, many of us are so focused on our past that we can’t see the future that God has planned for us.
In Jesus’ day, the Hebrews were so focused on what God had done that they missed what God was doing. So again Paul speaks to us:
“though I myself might have [some grounds for] confidence in the flesh [if I were pursuing salvation by works]. If anyone else thinks that he has reason to be confident in the flesh [that is, in his own efforts to achieve salvation], I have far more: circumcised when I was eight days old, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews [an exemplary Hebrew]; as to the [observance of the] Law, a Pharisee; as to my zeal [for Jewish tradition], a persecutor of the church; and as to righteousness [supposed right living] which [my fellow Jews believe] is in the Law, I proved myself blameless. But whatever former things were gains to me [as I thought then], these things [once regarded as advancements in merit] I have come to consider as loss [absolutely worthless] for the sake of Christ [and the purpose which He has given my life]. But more than that, I count everything as loss compared to the priceless privilege and supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord [and of growing more deeply and thoroughly acquainted with Him—a joy unequaled]. For His sake I have lost everything, and I consider it all garbage, so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him [believing and relying on Him], not having any righteousness of my own derived from [my obedience to] the Law and its rituals, but [possessing] that [genuine righteousness] which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith. And this, so that I may know Him [experientially, becoming more thoroughly acquainted with Him, understanding the remarkable wonders of His Person more completely] and [in that same way experience] the power of His resurrection [which overflows and is active in believers], and [that I may share] the fellowship of His sufferings, by being continually conformed [inwardly into His likeness even] to His death [dying as He did]; so that I may attain to the resurrection [that will raise me] from the dead. Not that I have already obtained it [this goal of being Christlike] or have already been made perfect, but I actively press on so that I may take hold of that [perfection] for which Christ Jesus took hold of me and made me His own. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider that I have made it my own yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the [heavenly] prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature [pursuing spiritual perfection] should have this attitude. And if in any respect you have a different attitude, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us stay true to what we have already attained.
So then how are we to live? We are to honor our past, celebrate our present and prepare for our future. Our past provides the experience and faith for our present and future. Our present is the result of our past and it ought to have progressed forward in our relationship with God and our walk closer and our knowledge more and our living sanctified. But our future must be our goal, for we must believe that since God started us on this journey with the power of salvation, He also has more to give us.
In these troubled days, the church ought to find faith for its present and future because of the experiences of the past. But in these days, the church needs to move beyond reminiscing about the “good ol days” and turn its eyes toward the future that God has for it. This is no time to dwell on how much better it used to be for the same God who made the past glorious is also the same God who will make our future glorious if we will embrace what He has for us.
Take a moment and reflect on where God has brought you from. Now take a breath and let God show you the future He’s taking you too. Let your present be nothing more than the station of transition between past and future.
Dr. John Thompson