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The Power of Memories| Sermon April 14, 2024

Updated: Jun 20

The Power of Memories


Scripture: Isaiah 43:18-19; Philippians 3:12-14; Hebrews 11:13-16;      


Good morning Strangers Rest. The title of my message this morning is “The Power of Memories.” This is the second of four messages that God has given me to be delivered to you. As I told you last week, these messages are to both encourage us and equip us as we begin this journey together. Please turn in your Bibles to Philippians chapter three and we will be reading verses 12-14. It says, “12) Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. (13) Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, (14) I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” 


Now turn to Isaiah 43:18-19. It says, “(18) Do not [earnestly] remember the former things; neither consider the things of old. (19) Behold, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs forth; do you not perceive and know it and will you not give heed to it? I will even make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” I will come back to both of these Scriptures later in this message.


Before I go further, once again I want to recall for you what two of our deacons said about memories when they spoke before you last summer. Dea. Lacy in his message “God Will Take Care of You” said that it is important that we remember, regardless of the issues we are facing, that God loves and cares for us. You will hear this morning that sometimes what we are currently facing will attempt to overshadow our memories of God delivering us in the past and we cannot allow this to happen. Then you heard a message from Dea. Lewis titled, “Jesus is Coming.” He said that we must remember why Jesus came and know that He is coming again! If we forget why Jesus came we will live like His death and resurrection are not relevant to what we face today. Again, how we remember His death impacts how we choose to live today. I wanted to remind you of these two messages as they sort of set the stage for this one.  


Let me tell you a personal story of how some of my memories almost derailed my grieving my father’s passing. My father died in 2008. When he died, as you can imagine, I had many days and nights when I thought about him, reflecting on our times together. I loved my father, and we had a great relationship. For example, my father was the one who instilled in me and my siblings a love for bowling. For years, before I left home, I bowled on my father’s team in his bowling league. Whenever my father visited us, or I was visiting home, and we went out to do an activity, bowling or out to dinner, he would whisper to me “Now I know my money is no good here.” In other words, my father knew that while he was with me he did not have to spend his money. When I was a child my father worked a full time job as an orderly at our hospital and 2 or 3 part-time jobs to support us. There were five of us kids and he worked constantly to ensure our needs were met. I loved having the opportunity to give back to him after I became an adult. Now back to the memories.


When I was grieving my father’s death, and even sometimes now, those good memories weren’t the memories that came flooding back. Those weren’t the memories that I was holding on to as I thought about him. No, the memories that came rushing back were the few times that I disrespected him – as a teenager and early adult when I was full of myself. Those were memories of things that happened that I, nor my father, ever thought about or remembered later while he was living (as far as I know anyway). My father had forgiven me and forgotten all about them. However, when I was grieving him, here they came. And with those memories came the thoughts from our enemy – “You were not a good son and now he is gone.” Those thoughts, had I believed and accepted them, would have totally changed how I grieved and remembered my father. Memories are a powerful thing and how we remember things can impact our present and this is the purpose of this message this morning. As we continue on this journey of building on the Church’s foundation, strengthening it and preparing for your new pastor, we will need to evaluate the memories that we will be taking with us versus those that we should leave behind. We need to understand which of our memories will help us to hear God when He speaks to us and the memories that dull or hinder our hearing when He speaks to us.


I want to establish a frame of reference that we can all relate to. Do you remember the story of Moses bringing the Children of Israel out of Egypt? When God delivered them, it was His desire and plans to take them immediately into the Promised Land, which flowed with milk and honey (blessings and prosperity.) But, the Children of Israel did not cooperate with God’s plan. They complained (the Bible says “murmured”) and fought against God the whole way. Now imagine being Moses. Under the mighty hand of God, you have delivered the people out of Egypt and are attempting to take them into the land that God has promised them only to have them complain and fight against you the whole time. What I want you to see and remember is what they said when they complained. Every time they were faced with a situation that they didn’t like, they complained to Moses about why he didn’t just leave them in Egypt, a place of familiarity and a sense of stability, even though they were slaves. 


The very first time we see this was when they came to the Red Sea and they saw Pharaoh’s chariots approaching from behind. Immediately their minds shifted from victory to fear and they went to Moses to complain. Exodus 14:11-12 records the following, “(11) Then they said to Moses, ‘Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you so dealt with us, to bring us up out of Egypt? (12) Is this not the word that we told you in Egypt, saying, let us alone that we may serve the Egyptians? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness.” (Exodus 14:10-12) The children of Israel were afraid and I think we have all been there. The people reacted to their fear and totally forgot how far God had already brought them. They forgot that they were no longer slaves but free. They totally forgot how bad they had it in Egypt. As a matter of fact, they were so afraid that their memories of the abuse they suffered in Egypt was replaced with false memories of comfort and security. Do you see how their memories actually planted a false seed that they were better off in Egypt than with the God Who was taking them to their new home – a home He had hand-picked for them? Strangers Rest, this is where we are today. God is taking us somewhere, but if the memories of what was and what was comfortable take such a stronghold over us, we will not be able to make the journey successfully.

God told Isaiah in Isaiah 43:18-19, “(18) Do not [earnestly] remember the former things; neither consider the things of old. (19) Behold, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs forth; do you not perceive and know it and will you not give heed to it? I will even make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” God told His people, as He is telling us today, that He promised to do yet greater things for them than He had done in the days of old. As a matter of fact, those things would be outdone! This Church has had a saying from Pastor Banks that “The Best Is Yet To Come” and if you truly believe that you cannot hold on to all of the memories of what used to be. You can’t look forward to the best while looking backwards at what used to be!


All of us have one thing in common – we all have a past. For this Church some of your pasts are a shared experience. That past has some high points, and that past has some low points. Now what happens with memories is that, sometimes, those low points don’t seem as bad when we are facing new trials which can cause us to desire to go backwards versus staying the course and moving forward. Those low point memories can be so strong that they can overshadow the high points because those are the ones we pay more attention to. By no stretch of the imagination am I an expert on memories – I do know just enough to keep myself out of trouble. But this is one thing that I know with certainty – the memories we choose to keep can influence our present (our todays) and our future (our tomorrows).


So let’s return to what Paul wrote to the Philippians. He said, “(12) Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. (13) Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, (14) I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 3:12-14)  In verse twelve, Paul states that he has not attained or had been perfected but he was still pressing on. His eyes were on what Jesus had already obtained for him. What he was speaking to was being resurrected with Christ after death while acknowledging that his work was not yet complete here on earth. He says that he had not been perfected which will come in our glorified state in heaven. This statement was not implying that Paul was lacking spiritually or was dealing with sin in some way, but an acknowledgement that he was still here on earth and something greater awaited him upon his death. Paul was simply confessing he was still pressing towards the goal Christ had laid out before him. In verse thirteen when Paul says, “I do not count myself to have apprehended…” he’s saying, “I have not fulfilled completely my Master’s assignment for me.” He then says, “but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind...” Unlike the Children of Israel, who longed for the stability that came with knowing what to expect in Egypt when they faced hardship in the wilderness, Paul chose not to dwell on his past as he pressed toward his finish line. Understand, Paul is not saying that he has forgotten the things of his past. He is saying that those things are no longer anchors that weigh him down. Paul understood that the life that Jesus had given to him was more powerful than memories that can be anchors in his life. Do you see this point?


The writer of Hebrews tell us the same thing. They wrote in Hebrews 12:1-2  “(1) Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, (2) looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Memories of the past can act as weights to keep us from moving forward. Think about people you may know who refuse to be in a relationship because they had been in a bad one and those memories have put them in bondage. Think about how people refuse to go for a promotion because in their past someone told them that they could not achieve and they still remember those words which keeps playing in their mind on a repeated track. Memories, especially bad one, will weigh us down and keep us from moving forward in what God has for us.


Let’s go to the eleventh chapter of the book of Hebrews. It is known as the hall of faith chapter as it records the things that people did without having the benefit of knowing Christ the way that we do because He is our personal Lord and Savior. When you read Hebrews chapter eleven, the individuals mentioned had a different response to their memories than the Children of Israel and this is found in verses thirteen through sixteen. It says, “(13) These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. (14) For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. (15) And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. (16) But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.”  (Hebrews 11:13-16) Now, did you see it? In verse fifteen the writer says that if they had been thinking about, or remembering, the countries from which they had come from they would have had the opportunity to return. In other words, the memories of where they had come from could have created a desire within them to return to their old life and depart from new life that God was preparing them for. Had this happened they would not have achieved what God had laid out before them. Our memories can keep us in bondage if we allow them to. But the writer of Hebrews said the men and women desired something better and for this reason they did not focus on the memories of their past.


This is what Paul was talking about. Paul said “but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind...” Imagine what would have happened if Paul began to think about his life before Christ while he was in prison. What would have happened if he dwelled on the successful and prominent life he had prior to the Damascus road. I’m sure that when he was in the Tullianum dungeon in Rome, the devil attacked him again and again with memories of his past and what his life could have been like had he stayed the course arresting Christians. Can you see the enemy asking Paul, “Hey Paul, do you remember when you were on the fast track to becoming a leader among the Pharisees? Hey Paul, do you remember when you were studying Ezekiel 23 and you had insight on verse 13 and Gamaliel said, ‘Well done, Paul’? Remember that, Paul? Now look at you – in prison, chained waist deep in human filth. What a shame.” If you can imagine this happening, then you can appreciate Paul’s confession when he wrote, “(14) I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” When you know how your enemy works, you know when you are struggling in the present he’s going to bring up your past to remind you of the good things, such as the people who held you in high esteem, the fulfilling jobs that you had, the relationships with certain people that you valued, and the loved ones you’ve lost. The enemy of the soul will have you thinking about those times and, perhaps, even longing for them again. And if he can do this, you will not be living in the present and you will not be available to God and the needs of His kingdom.


Strangers Rest, we all have memories, some good and some bad, but what are we doing with them? How are those memories impacting our lives and directing our current actions? We cannot change our past and for that reason alone we cannot allow our past to determine our future if our past contradicts the future God has planned for us. Memories act as the main driver for regret, remorse and shame. Sometimes that is needed so that we can change our behavior for the better. But sometimes it is to our greatest detriment. You see, memories have a way of checking us. For example, it tells us “If I had done this, this would not have happened. I remember when I had this job, and I made that decision. God, if I could go back and make a different decision my life would be different.” These are the thoughts that some of the Children of Israel might have had when they faced the trials and tribulations in the wilderness. But that is not how Paul addressed his situation. That is not how those listed in Hebrews chapter eleven addressed their situations. When our enemy can get us to a place emotionally and mentally that is not good for us, and oftentimes memories are a catalyst for this, he dominates.


I want to leave you this morning with a few memories of this Church’s history so it can be used as a foundation to continue your growth. In preparation for taking on this role, I spent some time reading the Church’s history. I was impressed by what I read; specifically the dedication and faith it took for those members in the early days. When I read your Church’s history, I believe what was recorded in Hebrews 11:13 could be said of the founders. Remember what it says? It says, “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” (Hebrews 11:13) I wonder if this is why your Church was named “Strangers Rest.” The people who started this Church in 1925 all died in faith, not fully seeing the promise of what this Church would become, but believing that what they were starting would last long after they had left this earth to be in the presence of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.


Based on what I read, those who established this Church fulfilled Hebrews 11:6. It says, “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” This Church was organized out of a Mark organization (or club) consisting of over 150 members under the name Strangers Rest. This “club” left Mt. Zion Baptist Church and had a determination to be a Church and that was fulfilled on July 22, 1925. Five members submitted their letters to start the Church and 160 individuals later joined them. They brought this property for $15,000. When times got tough, ten members, by faith, gave their homes to the Church for security to raise $3,600 to qualify for another loan for $10,000. During the dark days when money was scarce, the Church had a hard time raising the funds to meet the general expenses and the mortgage. By faith, one of the deacons went to the water and light department and got them to continue keeping the utilities on for a year and a half without payment. Can you see how God was working some things out?


When the Church called Pastor Washington, he came under the condition that there must be unlimited patience and unlimited sacrifice in order to move things forward – and move forward they did. Within 3 years they had paid off the member’s mortgages and 20% of the loan of $10,000, but then the crash of 1929 happened. But here is my point with this: this Church was started in faith, and we will be celebrating 99 years as a Church this year because of the legacy of faith of those who have gone before us. That is a legacy that you should be proud of, but more important, the memories built during those 99 years should be the strength all of us will need for what lies ahead. Deacon R.D. Meeks wrote his personal history and spoke of some of the accomplishments of this Church and a lot has taken place since he wrote his statement. But there is more to do.


Memories can make us forget who we are and what God has done for us. If left unchecked, memories can take us down a road designed to hinder our relationship with the Lord and stop us for understanding where He is taking us. Strangers Rest, what will you do with the memories that you’re holding today as you travel on this journey? Will your memories of what was keep you from considering what can be? Will your memories of those who hurt or offended you stop you from fulfilling the commitment you made last week to walk in continual forgiveness? Will your memories of the past failures of this congregation prevent you from “forgetting those things which are behind” and humbly seeking God’s heart and His plan for your future? Will your answers be “But we’ve always done it this way…. versus “What is God telling us to do now?” How will you allow the memories of your past to affect how you travel on this journey? Will you travel together, holding hands with each other and with God or “men”, will you walk through them with your hands in your pockets, or “ladies”, with your arms tightly folded holding your purses? God is the only One Who knows the future and end of this Church. He knows what should be based on His desires and what will be based on your decisions. The two are not the same, but they can be. I pray that you will choose to do what Paul did in the days ahead, “(13)….I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, (14) I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 3:13-14) 


Until next time, “The Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord lift up His countenance on you and give you peace.”  (Numbers 6:24-26)

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