Tuesday, 23 November 2010

The Book of Remembrance

Journaling is a long established tradition that has a new following today. We are encouraged to write our thoughts and impressions about what has impacted us for that day and then reflect on them at a later time. It is a good discipline pursued by many. Well God is into journaling too. The only difference is that His journal is a record of overheard conversations that people have about Him. It's called the Book of Remembrance. Take a look at Malachi 3.16.

Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another,
And the Lord listened and heard them;
So a book of remembrance was written before Him
For those who fear the Lord
And who meditate on His name.

This little verse captures my imagination. The Hebrew word for listened implies that what was said caught God's attention. Sometimes I find myself in the Hub coffee shop. It's packed with people eating, drinking and talking. Conversations and exchanges going on all around me as I try to focus on writing. But then I hear something that peaks my interest. Someone starts to comment about the atmosphere of our church coffee shop, the friendly staff, the brilliant Fun Tots program for mothers with children under five.

As casually as possible I listen in. You see they are speaking about something I am personally interested in and committed to. The subject matter gets my attention. This is similar to what is happening in Malachi. There are some kinds of conversations that grab God's attention and He listens in. Now I understand about God's omnipresence and that at one level He hears all things that men say. But here we are talking about something different. Not only does He hear in the sense that He knows, He hears in the sense that He responds.

The text goes even further. The Hebrew behind the word 'heard' is 'Shama'. It is used often in the book of Deuteronomy and is well known by all Jews as a title for Deut 6.4; "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God the Lord is One". In many of the instances it is used in Deuteronomy there is an implicit expectation that the people will hear and respond or act in obedience to what God is asking of them. To 'shama' the Lord is to respond and obey Him.

It is this word that is used to describe God hearing the conversations of those who honour Him. In other words He hears and acts on what is said by them and it is all recorded in a scroll or book. He makes a permanent record. Interestingly this book is 'written before Him'. It is literally written in His presence. God doesn't send one of His servants away to make the record, He commands the book to be written before Him, in front of Him, right where He is! That's impressive.

So what is it that is said that captures the Lord's attention? Whilst we are not told the content of what is said we do know a number of things about the people speaking.

1. Twice in the text we are told that the people who spoke 'feared the Lord'. This is a common way of referring to the honour that believers had towards God. They held Him in great honour. Now in the days of Malachi this was a big issue. One of God's complaints against the people in this book was the way that they dishonoured Him, especially when it came to sacrifices and offerings. God was a great King and deserved the best. Those who brought an offering were meant to bring from the best of their flocks and herds.

But the people of Malachi's day on the whole didn't do that. They came to worship but they brought an inferior offering; animals that were lame, blind, stolen or disfigured in some way. Their actions revealed an attitude of heart. They did not truly value and honour the Lord, Mal 1.6-8, 13-14. They went through the motions but it lacked truth and sincerity of heart. And God saw it. Further they were marrying foreign women and taking on their religious practices while others were disloyal to their marriage partners, Mal 2.10-14. Finally they kept back their tithes and offerings from God, Mal 3.8-9.

Their lives and their worship were a sham. But in the midst of all this hypocrisy there were a group of people who loved and honoured the Lord. These people worshipped God in spirit and in truth. They were genuine. Our text goes on to say they 'meditated' on His name. The Hebrew word includes these meanings, to esteem, to regard, to reckon upon, to think about and to value. It shows their attitude of heart. This ability to put God first gave them great boldness to speak about Him, in a context were most people didn't want to listen.

2. The text tells us they spoke to one another. But the word translated 'another' is translated as 'neighbour' 102 times; 'friend' 42 times and 'another' 23 times. This implies that there was a missional dimension to their speaking as a well as a fellowship dimension. With believers they were edifying one another; with those who were not truly walking with God they were witnessing.

Consider the apostles in Acts 4.15-20. They were strictly warned not to speak about Jesus after they healed a lame man. But Peter's response is telling. He is full of boldness and declares; "We cannot but speak the things we have seen and heard". Notice that his testimony came out of his personal experience of what he had 'seen and heard'. It was first hand. It was genuine. It was real and he couldn't stop talking about it.

Christian's don't need to be compelled to do evangelism. They need an encounter with God that leaves them changed. That's what Peter had. That's what the woman at the well had. That's what the man born blind had. They could not help but speak about an event that was so life changing for each of them. It flowed out of them. This is why the enemy tries to intimidate believers. Anything so that they don't tell their story. But our stories are one of our most powerful weapons. It is the word of our testimony that helps to overcome the dragon, satan, Rev 12.11.

The Holy Spirit has been given to us that we might speak about Jesus, boldly, fearlessly, proudly. In Acts 5.17-32 we have another account of the apostles. This time they were arrested and thrown in prison. But an Angel of the Lord released them with this command, "Go stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life", Acts 5.20. Amazing. Released in order to speak about this life, about Jesus, the way the truth and the life, John 14.6.

Notice Acts 2.40; "And with many other words he testified and exhorted them....." Peter is speaking to neighbours and friends and other believers about Jesus. It had an impact. The church grew. Lives were changed. God was honoured. It is this kind of speaking that gets God's attention. This is what He has recorded in a Book of Remembrance.

3. Finally these people met together. It was intentional. They were intentional about meeting their neighbours. They were intentional about meeting their friends. They were intentional about meeting one another. Acts 2.42-47 shows that the early disciples met together daily, in public places where they could witness and house to house where they could share food, prayer and fellowship. The temptation when we come under pressure is to cut out things from our schedule. But many times these choices are driven by expediency rather than destiny or purpose. And so we often cut out the wrong things.

Heb 10.24-25 says; "And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another and so much more as you see the Day approaching".

To forsake something is to leave it behind. Intentionally meeting together with others who provoke you to be better and do better is never a bad thing. Just as gifts must be stirred up so must love and good works and that happens through relationships. More specifically through relationships where we speak words of encouragement. And when we do God leans in, listens and acts on our behalf recording all the details in His book.

The 'Day' spoken of here in Hebrews is the 'Day of the Lord', the return of Jesus. Each day we draw closer to that event. The writer to Hebrews tell us to meet and talk more as we see that 'Day' approaching. When I was at school we often played 'I dare you'. The idea was to think of something that required some act of courage and then dare a friend to do it. Of course as teenagers we often did stupid things. But as believers we too can dare each other to do more and go further for God. Barnabas encouraged Paul, Paul encouraged Timothy, Moses encouraged Joshua and Jesus encouraged the twelve.

Who are you speaking to about what God has done in your life? Who are you doing life with and daring them to do more for God? Who in your life provokes you to want to live more radically for Jesus? Do your conversations reflect the reality of Jesus in your life?

Two years ago I was in Calcutta looking into the room where Mother Teresa slept for many years and visiting the orphanage she began. The room contained nothing but a bed a table and a small shelf. I spent an hour playing with many of the abandoned children at the orphanage. I was provoked, stirred, challenged. Like other occasions I've had, it made me want to make my life count. Though dead, her life was speaking to me that day. She penned these words in her personal diary, "I want nothing for myself, I want everything for Jesus". I was touched. I wept.

Let me encourage you to speak words to others and live life in a way that will take people closer to Jesus. God will take note and make a record of it in His Book of Remembrance. I suspect that one day the Lord will read out all the things you said that impressed Him, Rev 20.12. And on that day, all of heaven will know the impact your life has made on others. What a wonderful thought. Be purposeful with your words. Let them flow out of your devotional life and encounters with God. And in your heart remember that God is there too, recording what you say so that He can reward you.