We live by catchphrases such as , the past is the past; it happened so long ago; forget and move on. They are go-to sayings intended to shift us from a state of wallowing, ruminating, and circling the same mental track. We favor and praise them because they aid us in leaving behind regrettable, undesired experiences. So when I read the Apostle Paul’s prescription to remember in Ephesians 2:11-12 as I participated in the Hinged Bible Study on the book of Ephesians, I found myself struggling to register its importance.
Why are we to remember the former life when later, Paul instructs us to put off the old self? Furthermore, is remembering up to the individual or is remembering to be done in the context of community?
Let us first consider the why.
Why We Remember
Chapter 2 begins by reviewing our history— you were, you once walked, we all once lived— before pivoting in verse 4 with an emphatic, “But God” statement and pointing our attention to the source, reason, and purpose of our redemption. The walk down memory lane is not to elicit guilt or shame but to glory in the difference the gospel makes. God’s “rich mercy” and “great love” “made us alive together with Christ” and “raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”
The purpose for remembering is also so that we would stand firm in the finished work of the blood of Christ; his blood brought us who were once far off near (verse 13) and inducted us from strangers and aliens to citizens (verse 19). Furthermore, our stories of how we came to be are to be remembered— and remembered viscerally.
In the 2006 film Amazing Grace, the British abolitionist William Wilberforce, seizes an opportune moment to capture the imagination and conscious of elite Londoners. They are gathered aboard a cruise ship and pass Madagascar, a slave ship. As they near it, they are repulsed by a putrid foul smell that Wilberforce names as “the smell of death.” When they try to filter the stench with their handkerchief and hands, Wilberforce confronts them. He says, “Breath in it. Breath it deeply. … Remember that smell. Remember the Madagascar. Remember that God made men equal.”
Remembering is not limited to fond, feel good, celebratory moments but also to those that cause disbelief, grief, and even horror so that we have no appetite for the desires that lead us astray from God and to death…
I just have to give credit where credit’s due! Tim Keller’s sermon, The Vinedresser on John 15:1-2 is one that many have heard me quote. Keller’s sermon addresses the ministry God our Father has as the Master Gardener and how his “pruning” of us is essential for growth. Our Father examines us— the branches— looking for a few things. Are we abiding in Christ the true vine, drawing love and life from him, or from something else? Are we bearing supernatural fruit that gives testimony that we are vitally connected to Christ and his fragrant, fruitful life?
Two verses into this beautiful chapter of Scripture, Jesus (the one speaking in John 15), says something startling: the Father wounds, cuts, prunes fruitful, abiding branches! To punish? Shame? Sideline from the good life? NO! The Father cuts things away from our lives so that we may bear more fruit, not less!
Pain: When Loss Equals Gain
Keller says that the Father never cuts/prunes something out of life unless there is a loving purpose behind it. “The skillful eye knows that there are no random strokes of the [Father’s] pruning shears; nothing is cut off that wasn’t a gain to lose because it would be a loss to keep.” Let those words soak in. The Lord will take his pruning shears and cut things out of our lives, even leafy branches that are next to us, and clusters of tasty grapes we’ve grown fond of. God may take good things, remove not so great things, or outright cut off influences that are leading us to sin. The purpose in every situation is that we become more like Jesus through bearing more fruit as his life surges unhindered through us.
It is often the good things that distract us from what is best, wouldn’t you agree? A relationship, job, ministry opportunity, bank account, house, and so much more can be good gifts. Good gifts, however, can become more important to us than the Giver. Ever so subtly our focus shifts from Christ to this person, this thing, this feeling and before we know it, we are attempting to abide (or draw life from, find our meaning in) that gift. Our Father loves us so much that he will tenderly draw near with his pruning shears to remove it for a time or maybe permanently. He may rearrange our life so that this gift returns to its right place “under the feet” of Jesus (see Ephesians 1:22-23). When his purposes are mysterious to us, we can find refuge in who he is: a loving, purposeful Father…
Every spring I have ambitious plans for creating a beautiful haven in my back yard. I pour over magazines, dreaming of lush plants, tranquil water features, and sheer beauty spilling from every bed. I put on my gardening gloves and head out, ready to conquer the curse of thorns and thistles and bring beauty and order to my corner of creation.
I usually last about 4 hours before I give up.
Gardening is hard! This year we spent all of our time and gardening budget on removing poison ivy and hauling in a truckload of rich soil. None of this produced the magazine worthy garden of my dreams. Yet all of it was incredibly necessary. Gardening takes time, hard work, and patience. It requires me to commit to the long haul, to get my hands dirty, and to wear myself out investing in things no one else will see so that beauty can spring forth from a ground that is cursed. I struggle to live in the tension that exists between toil and fruition.
Digging in a Desolate Land
I am not alone in this struggle. In some of Israel’s hardest seasons, when their lives probably felt like a pile of dirt and poison ivy, God made his people a promise. He spoke of a day when, “their life shall be like a watered garden, and they shall languish no more” (Jer. 31:12). To his people living in exile, who lived with uncertainty and unrest, God proclaimed, “This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden…I have rebuilt the ruined places and replanted that which is desolate” (Ez. 36:35-36). God comforted his children in tumultuous times by reminding them that he is a gardener…
Editor’s Note: The following is adapted from Elizabeth’s devotional, From Recovery to Restoration: 60 Meditations for Finding Peace & Hope in Crisis:
Crisis and Recovery
Rain pounds the windows and roof as I type. Tropical Storm Marco is making its way through the Gulf coast, so far wreaking only a minimum of havoc. Tropical Storm Laura follows fast, also threatening to flood homes and businesses along the Gulf Coast. Meanwhile, in California, the Lightning Siege wildfire rages, having torched some 1.5 million acres already. So much destruction, even as hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost to the coronavirus pandemic.
While these current crises rage, many of us are facing personal crises, radically life-altering events: a bad diagnosis, a daughter’s divorce, a lifetime of injustice, a major surgery. The crises and recoveries we face can plunge us into a state of chaos and confusion, disorder and depression. Shalom has been shattered, equilibrium lost. Despair threatens hope. Strife assaults peace. What we yearn for is a return to normal, a way to regain what was lost in the crisis. A recovery.
From Recovery to Restoration
Although we may find our way to a new normal after a crisis, we may never fully regain what we lost in the shattering. And yet, there may be hope.
In literature, crisis refers to a turning point in the story. What if our crisis presents a turning point in our story? What if our season in recovery leads us to unearth treasure even richer than what we lost? Scripture suggests that God has something more for us in crisis and recovery. What if we could discover the genuine hope of final restoration in our recovery? What if we could discover…
Restored trust in the God who allowed this suffering?
Recognition of our profound need for a Savior who has rescued us from sin?
Renewal of our hearts, souls, bodies, and minds, so that we may live and love like Jesus?…
Long, long ago, in college classrooms far, far away there were no personal computers. In fact, there was simply one little basement room in the entire campus of my college that had two or three computer monitors and a computer system that ran paper cards. Really. This was the era in which I took my first computer programming class. (Truth be told, I despised that class. Attention to detail is not my strength, so every time I had an extra space or a mis-placed keystroke in the code I wrote, the program would not run. Then I would spend hours trying to find and fix my error. But I digress…) My biggest takeaway from BASIC programming was that computer programs run on a binary system of rapidly processed continuous choices between “1” and “0.” That’s it. (Remember that next time you spend $1000 on a laptop!)
A Binary Culture
Do you ever feel like our culture is operating inside of a computer? Have you noticed that so much that poses as discussion is couched in binary ways?
If you spend any time on social media, or on cable news, or in political theater, you are likely to find yourself regularly bombarded with either-or propositions. This or that. Them or us. Rich or poor. Rural or urban. Black or white. Is this really the nature of God’s universe? Do we live in a static computer program or in a dynamic universe held together by God’s power? Does God reveal himself through a set of binary propositions or does he reveal himself through his Word and his world? So much of what the Scripture teaches us is that life is lived in tension. There is not only conflict between good and evil—which I am not discounting—but also a literal tension between two right things. Christ was described by John as “full of grace and truth.” That is noteworthy because it requires so much godly tension. Grace AND truth. Fallen human beings are prone to one or the other. Jesus as the only perfect human being flawlessly exhibited both. While none of us can possibly perfectly emulate Christ, by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit we are called to be conformed more and more to his image.
What I am asking each of us to reflect on is this: “Where am I presenting or embracing a binary stance where there is a biblical call to embrace the tension between two good things?”…
When 2019 ended, I raised my glass and rejoiced at the conclusion of one of the hardest years of my adult life. I was thrilled to enter into 2020, seeing it as a new year filled with new potential. The first half of my year was planned to the max with travel, speaking engagements, conferences, teaching Bible study groups at my local church, and the publication of my first solo writing project. There was excitement, joy, and expectation; after a season of wandering, I felt as if I finally had direction and was gaining traction.
During the first weekend of March, I was on a trip with friends in South Carolina when I got word of the first COVID-19 infection in Nashville, my hometown. As I traveled home on Monday morning, I found myself walking through empty airports and flying home on empty planes—the spring of 2020 had officially begun. Over the course of the next two weeks, my 2020 calendar went from full to numbingly blank, as every event I was attending or leading was (understandably) canceled. I spent hours on the phone with friends, crying about lost events, anxious about firings and furloughs. And I, like so many, had to learn to work from home in a job which was never meant to be done through a flat, cold, computer screen.
On Monday, March 23rd I finally hit a wall. It became apparent that no amount of wealth, education, or social connection could prevent the experience of loss. This beast was going to deeply affect us all in some way. Any semblance of control seemed to be slipping away, and—if I am honest—the collective experience of loss left me feeling as if I were swimming against a rip tide of grief and fear….