Faith Over Fear 4: Marking Memories that Matter

Consider the following three things: some flowers near a road, a piece of rock with some engraving on it, and a street sign.

What do these three things have in common? They are all memorials. A memorial indicates that a significant event or person is connected with that place. Now, a memorial by itself doesn’t mean much. But when it is connected to a profound memory, then a memorial can have a powerful impact that moves us to change the way that we live.

When you see some flowers alongside a road, you might remember that there was a car accident there recently and a young person died. Then, with the memorial and that memory connected, you are reminded of the fragility of life and perhaps you slow down a bit as you drive your vehicle. Or you see a headstone in a cemetery and you remember the person who is buried in that plot. In this case it is my Dad. You remember how they persevered in the midst of challenging times and, with the memorial and that memory connected, you commit yourself to being a person that also perseveres in challenging times. Or you see a road sign for a street that is named after Brenda Alberts and you remember how Brenda started the Remembrance Day service in Fort Langley. In the beginning, it was just her and one veteran observing that solemn day. But, prior to the pandemic, the Fort Langley Remembrance Day service grew to become an event that thousands of people attended. Then, with that memory connected to the memorial, you realize that one person can make a profound difference in a community and you resolve to be a person who makes a positive impact in the lives of those around you. 

Memorials can have a life-altering impact on people when they are combined with a powerful memory. That is why the conversations over things like statues and building names that have been happening in our society over the past couple of years have so much energy behind them. Those memorials are linked to memories, but we do not all have the same memories. So those memories are having a powerful impact, but that impact is felt in different ways. 

The impact of memorials is so great that our mind can create a memorial marker in our interior world without an exterior marker to trigger it. In an article from the Journal of Consumer Psychology titled “Memory markers: How consumers recall the duration of experiences” authors Ahn, Liu and Soman write

“The human mind generates and encodes ‘memory markers’ of specific episodes, stores them in memory, and after a temporal delay retrieves these markers to reconstruct the experience and make relevant judgments”

Hee-Kyung Ahn, Maggie Wenjing Liu, & Dilip Soman, “Memory markers: How consumers recall the duration of experiences,” Journal of Consumer Psychology 19 (2009)

What they are saying is that our mind turns our significant experiences into memory markers that we later remember and use to help us make decisions. Let’s think about the significance of this for a moment. If our memory markers guide the way we make decisions, then if a person changes the memory markers in their mind, then they can change the trajectory of their life forever. Let me say that again to help it settle a little more firmly into our thoughts. If a person changes the memory markers in their mind, then they can change the trajectory of their life forever.

Now, you might be thinking to yourself, “But we don’t get to choose the things that we experience and the experiences that our mind remembers!” And that is true. But we do get to choose how we view our memories and the importance we give to them. And we can be intentional about making and reinforcing new memory markers to guide us in a new direction with each new day we have left in this world. 

So what are the memory markers that you have set up in your mind? What are the things that you keep telling yourself over and over again to the point that it colors how you see the world? What are the experiences behind those words, and why do you keep carrying those memories with you? What sort of impact are those memory markers having on your life? Is that how you want to live? What kinds of new memories do you need to form and reinforce to guide you in living the new life that God wants to give to you? 

These are the things that we are reflecting on today as we continue our series through the book of Joshua called Faith Over Fear where we are reflecting on key events in that book to help us live lives that are guided by faith instead of being driven by fear, and God helps us to do the same. We started off by seeing how the power of God’s presence enabled Joshua to be strong and courageous. Then we met Rahab and we saw how God’s merciful, faithful lovingkindness is what makes it possible for him to do great things through anyone. Last week, we learned that we need knowledge and vision from God to calm our anxieties and navigate our way through a crisis of opportunity when it arises. 

The memorial near the Jordan

In this post, as we think about our memory markers and the impact they have on our life, the passage from the Bible that is guiding us is Joshua 4:1-7, 19-24. Here’s that background to that passage. The nation of Israel, which had been wandering through the wilderness for forty years, had crossed the Jordan River and entered into the Promised Land. Before them lay the city of Jericho, which the Israelites needed to conquer as a first step in the process of possessing the Land which God had given to them. Common sense suggested that the people of Israel should get over to Jericho and get that conquering process started. But God’s people did not do that. Instead, they followed what God had told them. 

Starting with verse 1, we read, When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua,  “Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe,  and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, from right where the priests are standing, and carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.” (Joshua 4:1-3)

Then, when the Israelites camped at Gilgal, which is very near to Jericho, Joshua set up the twelve stones from the Jordan River as a memorial, and he also explained to the Israelites why the memorial was so important. He said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The Lord your God did to the Jordan what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. ” (Joshua 4:21-23)

The greatest act of salvation in all human history up to this point had happened forty years prior when the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, sent a series of Ten Plagues and parted the waters of the Red Sea in order to set his people free and bring them into the land he had promised centuries before to give to them. But now that they were in the Promised Land and about to take possession of their new home, how would they remember the amazing things God had done to save them in a land which was long ago and far, far away? We human beings tend to forget the wonderful things that God does for us.

We need constant reminders of God’s goodness

Have you ever had this happen? You have some great challenge that you are facing, and you are worried about it. So you pray and pray and pray about it, and God deals with that challenge in an amazing way. And the next day, you function as if that great good thing that God did yesterday never happened. Has anybody besides me found themselves doing something like this? It happens in my life a lot.

We need constant reminders of God’s goodness for us. That’s what the memorial that Joshua set up was going to be. Sitting beside a well-traveled road, people would see that memorial and remember, “Oh yeah! That memorial is there because God piled up the waters of the Jordan River to allow all the people of Israel to safely cross into the Promised Land. And that miraculous water crossing points back to the time when God parted the Red Sea to bring us out of slavery in Egypt. Those things show what a powerful, gracious and loving God our Lord is and he is present with us in this land which he has given to us.” Parents could use that memorial as a teaching tool to tell their children about God and what he had done for them. 

And as much as God loved the Israelites, and he did love them, he had more in mind than just them when he did the great and wonderful things marked by that memorial. Joshua tells us, “He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.” (Joshua 4:24) God’s plans and purposes always go beyond you and me, our family, our church, or our community. Throughout human history, ever since God’s once good creation fell into ruin through the disobedience of our first parents, God has been on a mission to redeem and restore all things.

He chose one family, the descendants of Jacob, to be his people in the world so they could be a light to all the other nations, reflecting God’s love and character into the world around them. When that people group fell into slavery, God rescued them in a powerful way so that all the other people groups in the world could know that he was the one, true God that ruled over all things and yet loved poor, helpless people with merciful, faithful lovingkindness. 

The conquest of the Promised Land by the Israelites would foreshadow God’s kingdom coming into the world to conquer and restore all territory that had been illegitimately stolen by Satan. When God’s kingdom comes in fullness, all evil will be defeated and banished, every injustice will be overturned and every broken heart will be healed. the death and decay caused by sin will be reversed and God’s scattered people will be gathered up and welcomed home to live in the new heaven and earth forever.

God’s kingdom would come into this world, not through the conquest of a powerful army, or through the wealth of a rich, young ruler, but through a single, solitary descendant of Jacob by the name of Jesus. And God points ahead to Jesus through the timing of the events in our passage.

You see, the day on which the memorial stones were set up, the 10th day of the Jewish month of Nisan, was the day on which the Passover Lambs were selected for the first Passover in the Promised Land. Centuries later, on the very same day, Jesus rode into Jerusalem in a triumphant procession as people waved palm branches in the air and gave praises to God. It was as if God was saying, “Here is the ultimate Passover Lamb that you have always been looking for. I have set him aside for the Good Friday to come, when he will give his life and pour out his blood for the reconciliation, renewal and restoration of all creation.”

The importance of memory

Memory is very, very important. As theologian Bruce Waltke writes,

“Memory plays an important role in any society. Without a memory a person loses identity, and without a history to sustain it a society and the world around it become virtually phantom. S310 – Any society that hopes to endure must become, as sociologists put it, ‘a community of memory and hope.’

Waltke, B. K. (1994). Joshua. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 241). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

Dear friends, we live in a world where there are few memories of hope. There are lots of places where people can find community. But the Christian Church has been uniquely positioned by God to be a community that remembers the hope given freely to us through Jesus. And that process of bringing hope to the world begins with each follower of Jesus forming new memory markers of what Jesus has done for us and who we are in him. 

So how do we make new memory markers with Jesus so that we can live as his people in this world? We begin by identifying our problems in the present. What are the sins that keep entrapping us again and again? What are the conflicts that keep popping up in our key relationships? What are the behaviours that I keep repeating and hurt myself and others when I do them? Our need for this kind of process is why God has given us confession and forgiveness.

How do we make new memory markers with Jesus?

1. Identify our present problems

2. Look for links with past experiences

3. Reframe our past pain into positive

4. Make new memories with Jesus

Then we look for ways that those present problems may be linked with experiences we had when we were little. Maybe we had a parent who was emotionally distant when we were young, so we crave affection and affirmation as an adult. Maybe we experienced something traumatic as a child, something which we never want to experience again, and that leads us to become a controlling adult. Maybe we grew up in a home without any clear boundaries, so we don’t know how to have healthy boundaries in our life as an adult. This kind of internal work is not easy to do and you may need the help of a counsellor to navigate your way through it. If that is the case for you, I want to encourage you to find a counsellor to help you.

Though we need Jesus’ help throughout this process, once we have identified the past trauma that created our memory marker, that’s when we really need Jesus. We need Jesus to help us take a step back and reframe that awful experience so that it becomes something positive for us. You may be familiar with Arlen Salte, who along with his wife, Elsa, founded Break Forth Ministries. What you may not know is that when Arlen was a young child, his dad was killed when a gravel truck hit the family car. The loss of his dad led Arlen to become very rebellious during his teens. But eventually God got a hold of Arlen and transformed his life so that he has been able to be an encouraging influence for thousands of people around the world, including my own life.  

In Romans 8:28 we read, And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28) Usually we look ahead and apply Romans 8:28 to the future. What I am talking about here is applying his Bible passage to the wounds we experienced in the past, and we need Jesus to help us do that.

And when we are able, with Jesus’ help, to see the pain of our past in a positive light, then it is time to ask Jesus to help us chart a new course for the future. 

And we do that by making new memories with Jesus. We start by familiarizing ourselves with God through the pages of the Bible. We learn about who God is and what he has done for his people in the past. Then we reflect on our own lives to identify times when God broke through the fogginess of our distracted and harried existence and said, “Here I am! You can live with faith over fear because I am with you.” Those are the memories that we emphasize in our mind. Those are the memory markers that we use for guidance when making decisions. Those are the reminders of God’s faithfulness in the past that propels us forward into the future with confidence. And you could even make a physical memorial that would remind you of that memory marker whenever you see it.

A personal memory marker

Here is one of those memory markers for me. This is a picture taken of some statues in a field about two hours northwest of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. The statues represent the scene when Jesus suffered and died on a cross. One thing that is unusual about this scene is there are angels blowing trumpets toward the four corners of the world. The most awful thing one could imagine would be for a totally innocent person to be falsely condemned to die a horrific death on a cross. And yet it was through such an event as this that Jesus won the victory that began the unraveling of sin and all its effects forever. A second thing that is unusual about this scene, and the reason that this picture is so meaningful for me, is that there is a huge storm coming. In the background you can see a line of clouds. That is the forefront of a storm and it later came upon us with violent winds and powerful rain as we drove home. This picture is a reminder to me that the victory of Jesus’ death and resurrection has been given to me and I can trust that Jesus is with me even in the midst of the storms life throws my way.

God’s Solution

For many of us, life is very hard these days. But the solution is not to try harder. The solution is for us to reset our lives with key memorial markers that remind us that we are in Jesus. You are a beloved, forgiven child of God, through the grace of Jesus Christ. Only by remembering who we already are in Jesus can we say and do the things that communicate God’s gracious love to others. And making new memory markers with Jesus doesn’t just happen. It takes intentionality. We persistently repeat God’s words of life from the Bible into our own heart to overcome the painful memories that are entrenched in our soul. We need a new soundtrack of faith, hope and love playing in our heart to drown out the harsh, critical lies that endlessly play in our mind. The massive encyclopedia of all our faults and failures that we carry around with us needs to be unloaded at the foot of Jesus’ cross. There we take on a new and lighter burden. It’s the only burden Jesus gives us: to believe in him and the forever unconditional love and forgiveness that he has for us.

Can you imagine how your life would be different if you had memories of God’s saving love so firmly entrenched in your heart and mind that you could live with confident faith, regardless of the challenges that life throws your way? Now what if all the Jesus followers everywhere were able to live like that all the time? How could the world not be changed by the tangible presence of the Kingdom of God in this world? It would be a foretaste of the new heaven and earth to come. The apostle John paints a picture for us of what the new heaven and earth will be like in Revelation, chapter 22. Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. (Rev. 22:1-2) 

The challenge that I am setting before you today is to make a memorial marker to remind you of God’s saving action for you. The plaques that we give to people when they are baptized are meant to be such a memorial marker. But if you don’t have one of those plaques, you can make or buy your own marker. The stones that the Israelites set up were from the bottom of the Jordan River, and so they would have looked very different from the stones that people would see in the fields or along the road. The Jordan stones likely would have been round and smooth from the erosion of the water, while the field stones would have been jagged and sharp. This difference would have been noticeable and prompted people to be curious and ask: Why are those stones, which are obviously river stones, piled up here on dry ground? That would give those who knew an opportunity to explain God’s saving love for them and for the world. 

So I want to encourage you to make your memorial marker out of something unusual and different, something that is not in its normal place, first of all, so that it catches your attention and you remember. But also so others may become curious and ask, “What does this mean?” and you can share with them the story of what God has done for you. That way, your memorial marker can be a sign of hope and encouragement, not only for you, but also for the world. Amen.

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