In the town we live in, there are at least two signs celebrating three high school football state championships: one in the 1950s, one in the 1960s, and one in the 1970s. While it is interesting that these signs remain in spite of the fact that the most recent state championship was almost 40 years ago, it is even more interesting when you factor in one more detail: the high school that won these three championships is no longer in existence.
However, the town continues to remember the three state football championships won by their local high school.
Remembrance is very important. But, the purpose of remembrance is not to live in the past.
I’ve been part of churches who lived in the past. They lived on past victories or times of growth. The people were satisfied with what God had done in the past and were not as concerned with God may or may not be doing among them in the present.
In the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament), the people are often reminded about what God did for them in the past.
Last weekend, some friends came over to our house. We ate together, then we read a few chapters of Exodus and discussed it together. We read about the sea crossing in Exodus 14, and we read the song in Exodus 15. In this song, Moses and the Israelites sang about God’s deliverance. Primarily, they celebrated the fact that God had led his people through the sea and then destroyed the Egyptian army when they attempted to pass through the sea as well.
The end of the song is very interesting:
You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed;
you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode.
The peoples have heard; they tremble;
pangs have seized the inhabitants of Philistia.
Now are the chiefs of Edom dismayed;
trembling seizes the leaders of Moab;
all the inhabitants of Canaan have melted away.
Terror and dread fall upon them;
because of the greatness of your arm, they are still as a stone,
till your people, O Lord, pass by,
till the people pass by whom you have purchased.
You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain,
the place, O Lord, which you have made for your abode,
the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established.
The Lord will reign forever and ever. (Exodus 15:13-18 ESV)
The people walked away from the sea singing about God’s deliverance. But, the song also reminded them that the God who helped them leave Egypt and destroyed the Egyptian army also had a purpose. He planned to bring them into their own land. He would also help them take this land. Thus, the reminder (crossing the sea and destroying the Egyptian army) was not given so the Israelites would live in the light of this past victory. The reminder was given because the Israelites needed to trust God daily in the present.
The Israelites had more difficult times ahead of them… more time in the wilderness… more enemies to confront. The reminder of God’s deliverance wasÂ given to them so that they would trust God during these difficult times.
How did they do? Not very well…
After three days of not finding water, the Israelites were already complaining, wishing they had remained in slavery in Egypt. When they came to Marah where the water was bitter, they complained even more. They did not trust God. Of course, they did not know that Elim – a wonderful oasis – was just ahead. God knew. But, the Israelites didn’t know. And, they didn’t trust him.
Today, its good for us to remember what God has done in the past – either for the church or for us individually. We need to remember these times of victory, not so that we can live in the past, but to help us trust God for the present.
The same God who delivered the Israelites from the Egyptian army could also deliver them from a lack of water… but they failed to let their remembrance lead them to trust God today. The same God who led you and your church to various victories in the past can also lead you through your current trial. Are you willing to let your remembrances of past victories lead to trust God today?