Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Remember - Learning to live what we already know - Chapter 7

Chapter 7

So, what is the secret to remembering? There are whole boatload of memory tricks and tactics to help you improve your memory. There were 22,900,000 hits on Google when I typed in “secrets to remembering,” and maybe some of them even work. I once bought an e-book on how to improve my memory. It probably would have helped had I read it.  But, when we are talking about remembering, we are going to need more than a memory enhancer book to help us.  In fact, when it comes to spiritual things, there is nothing an e-book can do to help us in this department.  The truth is that we need to remember with our heart before we remember with our head.

God indicates as much in the following verse:

Jer 31:33  “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

Why do we need the law within us and why does our heart need to have the law written on it?  Shouldn’t it be enough to just remember with our head? In fact, it does not seem to be the way. Look at this verse a few verses before the previous verse:

Jer 24:7 “I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.”

Why do we need a heart to know God? Shouldn’t reading the Bible, His word, be enough?

Psalm 77:6 “I said, ‘Let me remember my song in the night; let me meditate in my heart.’ Then my spirit made a diligent search:[.]”

This verse in the Psalm 77 indicates that remembering is actually something your heart does.  In this psalm both meditating and remembering are similar and the heart is how he will remember.

The point I am trying to make here is that we need more than just head knowledge to remember God. Kind of like that old saying, the way to a man’s heart is through his mouth. Well, maybe not at all like that, but it could be like this: The way to remember in the head is through the heart. The key to remembering with the head is to remember with the heart.  But, the true reality is that if it is up to our heart to remember, we are in big trouble. Look at the Bible’s indictment on the heart.

Genesis 6:5 “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”

Genesis 8:21 “And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done.’”

Ecclesiastes 9:3 “. . . the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead.”

Jeremiah 4:14 “O Jerusalem, wash your heart from evil, that you may be saved. How long shall your wicked thoughts lodge within you?”

Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

Ezek 16:30 “How sick is your heart, declares the Lord God, because you did all these things, the deeds of a brazen prostitute, . . . .”

Matt 15:19 “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.”

Mark 7:21 “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, . . . .”

Luke 6:45 “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”

It is pretty clear in the verses above that our hearts are evil. Why is this significant? Because our hearts determine our steps. We usually do what our heart thinks, feels, and wants to do. Even when we know that it isn’t the right thing to do, more often than not, we do it. Our heart is the want part of us and out of the heart, the wants are evil, wrong, and sinful.

It is always the answer for the reason we sin. Why do we do it? Because our heart wants to.

So, even if we did remember God’s word or His commands in our hearts, it probably wouldn’t help.  The verses below show this all too clearly:

Jeremiah 3:17 “At that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the Lord, and all nations shall gather to it, to the presence of the Lord in Jerusalem, and they shall no more stubbornly follow their own evil heart.”

Jeremiah 7:24 “But they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward.”

Ps 81:12 “So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels.”

Heb 3:12 “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.”

So, to remember with our head we need to remember with our heart. But our heart is evil. And does not want to do anything God wants, let alone remember anything that would change our ways.  So, what now? It is like trying to obey a command to overcome gravity or a need for air.  It is impossible.

We need a serious heart surgery. More than just a bypass, we need a heart transplant. Something has to drastically change in order to restart this dead, evil heart. Something has to change if we are going to remember our God with our heart.  Thankfully, God knew that and He let us know that, as well. And that is just what He did, He gave us a new heart.

Ezekiel 36:25-26 25“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”

What a clear, indicting, amazing picture for us to grasp.  Our heart is like stone; it is lifeless, impenetrable, and unfeeling. God is going to make it flesh. He will make it alive. He will penetrate it.  He will allow it to feel.  To remember, we simply need a new heart.  We need a heart that wants to remember, that wants to do right. It is God who performs the heart surgery. It is God who gives us the ability and the want to do what He commands. But, how does the heart surgery work?

Well, honestly, I wish God would have used a different metaphor to describe this heart surgery.  Paul uses sports like running and boxing to explain his points. Jesus uses seeds, fish and walking on water to explain his points. Peter uses gold to explain one of his points. But, God chooses to use something that is well, a bit embarrassing and uncomfortable to talk about, especially as a male. Circumcision. There, I said it. Over here, in Zambia, circumcision is all over the place; billboards, brochures, signs and buildings. They are encouraging all men to get circumcised as one simple way to avoid getting HIV and other sexual transmitted diseases. But, as you can imagine, the circumcision line isn’t exactly overflowing with people. There is no waiting line at the door. No one is beating down that door lately. Circumcision is painful for all who must encounter this medical procedure. I know one guy who was not circumcised until his high school years and  he was angry with his parents for months.

With any cursory reading of the Old Testament, it will be impossible to avoid this concept of circumcision. In fact, in the Old and New Testament, the word circumc-something is found 73 times. God first commanded circumcision in Gen 17:10 for every male. It was for all males, 8 days old, which medically speaking has been revealed is the best day to do this procedure. It was to be a covenant between humans and God. God gave this command to Abraham when he was 99 years old. Yeah, exactly. Ishmael was 13 when he was circumcised. He could not have been very happy about this new “covenant” that God decided to wait thirteen years to instill, not to mention the men and slaves in his family. Isaac lucked out; he was just 8 days old when he underwent this procedure.

There are a bunch of stories throughout the Old Testament about different situations regarding circumcision. In Genesis 34, Simeon and Levi destroyed the entire Hivite nation that was recovering from being circumcised. Hamor, the Hivite, was love sick and ultimately defiled their sister, Dinah, the daughter of Jacob. The two conniving brothers, Simeon and Levi, made a deal with the Hivite people saying if they were circumcised, then Hamor could marry Dinah, the girl of his dreams. Well, during this inevitable healing process, Simeon and Levi killed all the men and plundered them as a revenge for defiling Dinah.

In Exodus 4, Moses was about to be killed by an angel of the Lord because Moses had not circumcised his son. It was the wife of Moses who circumcised the child and then touched Moses’ foot with the foreskin that saved this great leaders life.

And if you thought that was a crazy story, check this one out. Joshua had to stop his pursuit and conquest of the Promised Land for everyone to be circumcised before he crossed the river. Can you imagine? The entire generation of Israelites who have wandered their whole lives in the desert They finally get a chance to go and conquer and they are told they need to all be circumcised. The entire nation was circumcised and they waited until they healed.

These are indeed crazy, weird stories. But, what is crazy is that there are more verses about circumcision in the New Testament than the Old Testament. Both John the Baptist and Jesus are circumcised. But, the bulk of talk on circumcision is, ironically, about the Pharisees. It turned out the Pharisees became prideful that they were circumcised and the Gentiles were not. It became a physical thing. We are circumcised. You are not. And they totally missed the point.  You cannot miss the irony of this. The Pharisees were the most trained, dedicated, and committed Bible scholars of their time. They read, taught, memorized, debated, and meditated on the Torah like no else. They knew all the verses about circumcision and they knew why God commanded it. They could remember the word better than anyone. Many, if not most, would memorize the entire Old Testament. If you asked where you could find circumcision, they would rattle it off for you. And yet, somehow they missed the whole intent of the verse. We need heart surgery because we can’t remember because we don’t want to remember. We need heart surgery because we are sinful, prideful, and self-centered.  The truth is, we cannot remember because we don’t want to remember. So take all of the circumcision context and look at these next verses:

Deut. 10:16 “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.”

Uh, what? How do I circumcise the foreskin of my heart? Oh, metaphor. There is something that needs to be cut off so I can have a heart that keeps me from being stubborn. God loves us and wants us to love him, but we can’t and so our heart needs to be free to love.

Check out this next verse which says kind of the same thing:

Jer. 4:4 “Circumcise yourselves to the Lord; remove the foreskin of your hearts, O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem; lest my wrath go forth like fire, and burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your deeds.”

If our hearts are not changed, we are destined for wrath.  That is the simple truth.

Now, there is one thing that needs to be said, though I cannot speak with experience here, and that is, you cannot circumcise yourself. I am pretty sure that has never been done and I will be willing to bet just about anything on that statement.

Thus God makes a significant statement here:

Deut. 30:6 “And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.”

Why will he circumcise the foreskin of our hearts? SO WE CAN LOVE HIM. With all of our hearts.

That was the point of the last chapter. Loving God and loving man sums up all the laws, but we cannot love without the heart. And we cannot love with our heart as it is. So, God says, “I will make it possible. I will circumcise your heart so you can love me.”

What God purposed in Abraham finally has come to fruition. Paul writes about it in
Romans 2:29: “But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.”

Circumcision is a symbol of a covenant and a metaphor to speak about what God does to and for the heart. This symbol shows us how God will change our hearts and the result of that changed heart.  Because of this change of the heart, man has gone from wrath to praise.  We can obey the greatest commandment because God has made a great commitment to us, to change us so we can please Him.  We can love Him.  We can remember to love Him.

So, how does that work itself out? How do we remember Him into each day?  It’s all about to come together.

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