White rose at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

Symbols only work if people remember what they mean.

I have a short memory. How about you? I surprise myself with how much important information I can forget and how easily I can forget it. My only consolation is that I don’t think I’m alone.

People need reminders. We need symbols set in front of us to remind us of the important things that have happened in our past so that we won’t forget what we’ve learned and so we won’t forget how God brought us through.

The passage for today is more like a book, but you’ll understand why when you read it.

White rose at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

White rose at Glen Eyrie – Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are Joshua 4:4-7, 22-24.

So Joshua called together the twelve men he had chosen—one from each of the tribes of Israel. He told them, “Go into the middle of the Jordan, in front of the Ark of the Lord your God. Each of you must pick up one stone and carry it out on your shoulder—twelve stones in all, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel. We will use these stones to build a memorial. In the future your children will ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ … Then you can tell them, ‘This is where the Israelites crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the river right before your eyes, and he kept it dry until you were all across, just as he did at the Red Sea when he dried it up until we had all crossed over. He did this so all the nations of the earth might know that the Lord’s hand is powerful, and so you might fear the Lord your God forever.”

Today is Memorial Day. It’s the day we celebrate being American by throwing our family into the car and driving out to the lake to cook hot dogs and get sunburned. Right?

Well, that’s what a lot of folks will do. But that’s not what Memorial Day is about.

As someone who comes from a military family, Memorial Day is very special to me. My grandfathers and my great uncles are from that generation of men who were willing to give their lives for their country in World War II and Korea. And though the rest of my immediate family is in the age range where they missed either being drafted or they missed many of the major military conflicts, that hasn’t stopped my family from being intensely patriotic.

But Memorial Day isn’t like Veteran’s Day. Veteran’s Day is a day to thank all of our military service people for what they have done for freedom in our country. Memorial Day is a day to remember the military people who didn’t come home. Memorial Day is a day set aside to thank them for their sacrifices.

And I don’t see that we do that. We’re too busying barbecuing.

Memorial Day is a symbol intended to help us remember, but symbols aren’t much good if the meaning behind them is lost.

This passage in Joshua recounts a time in history when the Israelites were trying to reach the land that God had promised them, and in one conflict, God parted the waters of the Jordan River while they were at flood stage so that the army could cross over.

After the battle, Joshua had the army set up a memorial so that the people would remember, not just what God had done for them that day but so they could remember what God had done for their ancestors too.

I am saddened by what we, as Americans, have forgotten. I’m not going to be specific. If you’re a patriot, you know what I’m talking about. I understand that things happen for a reason, but it is difficult for me to accept that the country my grandfathers and great uncles gave so much for has become a place no one recognizes anymore.

Symbols are only successful as long as people remember what they mean.

So this is my contribution to Memorial Day: whenever you see an American flag waving, think about what it would have been like to grow up in a country bound by religious laws or tyrannical dictatorship. Imagine what it would have been like to grow up in a country where your children can be taken from you and molded to fit a social need whether you or they liked it or not. Imagine what it would have been like to grow up without enough food, clean water, or sufficient shelter to be healthy.

America isn’t what she used to be, but I’d like to think we still have a little bit of hope, even though many of us have forgotten.

So while you’re barbecuing or while you’re working on your suntan or driving your boat (nothing wrong with any of those things, by the way) take a moment to talk to your kids about what men and women have sacrificed through the years to make this country. Take a moment to just be thankful. Take a moment to remember.

Because if we don’t remember, what purpose did their sacrifices serve?

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Sunrise behind the clouds at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

When a good question becomes a time waster

As 2011 comes to a close, it’s natural to look forward to the new year. People will be making resolutions, mainly revolving around losing weight. Some people will make resolutions to work harder to finish something they started years ago or to start something completely new. And that’s good. We all need goals and dreams, though many folks won’t follow through no matter how good intentioned they are.

But as another year winds down, I think we should take the time to look backward instead of forward.

Looking backward isn’t always productive because it depends on your perspective. And generally speaking, I don’t recommend looking backward at all. Because it’s easy to get caught in the regret trap, where you can see now the things you wish you would have done or how you wish you would have done something differently. But you can’t change the past, and regret is a useless thing to feel for a long period of time.

But there is one reason we need to look back, and David stated it quite well in today’s passage, Psalm 103:1-2.

1 Let all that I am praise the Lord;
      with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name.
 2 Let all that I am praise the Lord;
      may I never forget the good things he does for me.

People are forgetful creatures. We do great when everything is going well, but when something goes wrong and we lose the security we think we had, we blame God. Or we get angry at God. Or we become convinced that God no longer cares about us. Or we give up on God, believing that He must not want the best for us after all. Or that He doesn’t exist.

Okay. Well. Stop.

Because when everything was going fine and all was right in the world, God was good. Only when life takes a turn for the worst do people start feeling abandoned and like God doesn’t care. And once you go down that road — the path of blaming God for the perceived injustices in your life — people don’t seem to be able to drag themselves out of it. And I think it’s less of a God issue and more of a person issue.

Because we think we know better than God.

I know I do. Deep down inside myself, my first inclination when things go wrong is to sink into depression and self-pity and complain about why God lets bad things happen to me. But oftentimes our first inclination isn’t the right inclination. And the moment I start feeling that way, I try to stop. Not because it’s wrong, though.

It’s not wrong to question God. It’s not wrong to wonder why. It’s not wrong to seek an explanation. But those responses waste time. And time is something we don’t have a lot of. And when I look back over my life, I see many examples of times that I knew God was telling me to do something and I waited around demanding a clearer sign. Or I waited to act because I wanted Him to confirm the things I thought He wanted me to do. Or I waited because I wanted to understand why He was testing me. And when I look back on my responses to His calling, I am appalled at the amount of time I wasted.

Not saying that God didn’t eventually use me to accomplish great things. But it took me a long time to get my feet moving. And in the time it took me to get moving, I could have accomplished so much more.

But regretting the things I didn’t do or didn’t finish or didn’t notice is a waste of what time I have now. Because I can’t change it. All I can do is vow not to let those things slip by again. I can promise God that I won’t drag my feet when He tells me to do something, no matter how crazy it sounds. And that when He lets difficult things come into my life, that I won’t question.

I understand that I can question, but I’m going to. Because the sooner I get through the testing, the sooner I can learn what He needs me to learn and move on to the next thing. And then when I look back on my life, I will see that I didn’t waste time trying to understand what God was doing. I just did it. And that way, I won’t forget.

When I encounter a trial, I won’t just sit and ask why; I’ll go through it. I won’t lose time that could have been spent doing something else. I won’t ask why so many times that I forget why I’m experiencing the trial to begin with. And then I will be able to point back to the time when I learned something from the troubles in my life. They won’t just be passing woes that I experience over and over again, pinning me down in a black hole I can’t climb out of. The struggles in my life will have meaning because I know I’m going to learn something — and I know that God is going to keep working even if I can’t see him. 

That’s my hope for 2012. 2011 has been a hard year. I can’t say it’s been the hardest, and I can’t say that I’ve struggled more than other people. Because I have a job and I have a family and I have friends and I have a car and I have a church and I have a house and I have food. So that probably puts me in the top one percentile of the world as far as wealth and provision and comfort.

But I do have a bad memory. And I often forget how faithful He is to me. And I want that to change. May I never get so bogged down in the trials of the present that I forget what He did for me yesterday or what He promised to do for me tomorrow.