MOVING ON AND MEMORIES

Can we move on and hold on to our memories at the same time? It’s a challenge, isn’t it?

Even if we don’t know the lyrics of the song, the title makes the point: Precious Memories. Obviously not all our memories are precious, but many of them are. We have precious memories of days gone by, of loved ones who have died, of places where we once lived, of friends with whom we have lost touch, of pets that added to our lives, and so much more.

A couple of Sundays ago at church I spoke with a man whose wife of many years recently died. I suggested the holidays had to be hard for him and he agreed saying something about his many memories. As with many similar situations, I told him he would never get over it, but it would get better.

As painful as it is, the death of a loved one is not the only way we experience loss. And when we deal with a loss, we eventually have to move on. We can’t do it immediately and we can’t skip the necessary grieving of our loss. But when we do move forward it does not mean we cannot hold on to our memories. Of course we can and do.

What sparked my thinking about this matter was an accidental coming across of a YouTube video last this week. It was the video of my “Talking about Transition” message the next to last week of my tenure as Senior Pastor at Discovery Christian Church in September, 2014. Watching it brought back many memories of my 30 years of enjoyable and fulfilling ministry at this church. (Here is the link for those who may be interested in watching it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TgL2X7HVGl0.)

That was over three years ago, and both the church body and I have moved on. But moving on does not mean we don’t still hold on to our memories. Nor does moving on take anything away from the appreciation or love we had for one another during all those years.

At the age of 66 I’ve experienced all the losses I mentioned above and more, but up to this point I haven’t experienced many of the losses others have endured. My sense is that among the hardest losses would be the death of a child or a spouse. During my years as a pastor I’ve been present with many who have grieved such a loss, and their pain always impacts me. I pray my words are helpful: that they would never get over it, but it would get better.

Can we move on and hold on to our memories at the same time? With God’s help, yes.

(The above photo is of Jan and me with her parents in April of 2017; one passed away in June, the other in October.)

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ARE YOU SURE THEY ARE BLESSED?

I am currently teaching a Bible study in which we are considering Jesus’ teaching in the beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-10). In these verses Jesus pronounces blessed those who have and live out eight qualities and aspects of life.

At first reading, at least four of the characterizations Jesus affirms do not strike us as describing someone who is blessed. On the surface, not many of us would associate “the poor in spirit,” “those who mourn,” “the meek,” and “those who are persecuted because of righteousness” as blessed people.

By the way, although some suggest the word “blessed” can be translated “happy”, I think that devalues the idea of being “blessed”. The idea of “blessed” is that God congratulates those who have these qualities and that his favor is on them. Max Lucado writes about the beatitudes with a book entitled The Applause of Heaven suggesting God claps for those with these characteristics.

Out of the four that seem contradictory, the one that seems most paradoxical to me is “Blessed are those who mourn.” If we use the popular translation of blessed some use, the description reads “Happy are the sad.” “Those who mourn” are those who suffer pain and loss, who grieve, and whose hearts are broken. Jesus tells us they are blessed—and we want to ask, “Are you sure they are blessed?”

In preparing to talk about this beatitude, I was struck again as I reread something John Stott wrote in his book about the Sermon on the Mount. Commenting on this second beatitude about those who mourn, he wrote “we need to observe that the Christian life, according to Jesus, is not all joy and laughter.”

The Bible does not tell us that if we worship and love the Lord, have faith in Jesus and follow him we will live problem and pain free lives. As a matter of fact, Jesus said the opposite: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33b). In Romans 12:15 Paul instructs believers to “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” And in the Old Testament there is a book of five chapters entitled Lamentations!

Most commentators note that when it comes to mourning there are different levels. We mourn our own sins, the sins of those around us, and the condition of the world. But we also grief our personal losses. Dealing with pain, suffering, loss, and grief is a part of life. Is there anyone reading this post who has not suffered a loss? It seems like I have had more occasions to mourn the last 10 months than usual.

Dr. David Gallagher reminds us “God never promised an easy journey, but God did promise to be with us through it all.” A little later he warns us, “A major misunderstanding we sometimes face is that grief is our enemy to be avoided. In reality, grief is a dear friend.”

We may not realize it at the time, but perhaps part of the blessing of mourning is the capacity to hurt and grieve—to know and feel sorrow. And maybe part of the blessing is having God with us in our grief, even though he doesn’t immediately take it away.

Let’s keep wrestling with Jesus’ pronouncement that those who mourn are blessed. I’m confident he’s sure we are—and I’m making progress in understanding it.

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