Developing a selective memory

Unless you are someone with a razor sharp memory, you probably don’t need a scientific study to convince you of the reality of selective memory. You can remember that night ten years ago when, for some stupid reason you allowed yourself to be talked into singing karaoke, yet you can’t remember where you put your car keys and you were holding them only ten minutes ago.

Such is the unpredictability and unreliability of our memories.

However, a scientific study led by a Gerd Thomas Waldhauser from Lund university in Sweden, has claimed to be able to pinpoint the exact moment a memory is forgotten and claims that it is possible to erase memories altogether.

Developing a selective memory is advocated in scripture as a way of developing our spirituality and growing in our faith.

In the prophecy of Isaiah, God, speaking to His exiled people exhorts them both to forget and remember:

“Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
19 See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
(Isaiah 43.18)

Remember the former things, those of long ago;
I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me.
(Isaiah 46.9)

What is God saying? Is He saying forget the past? Or remember the past? Both!

God doesn’t want His people to remember the shame of the past and their past sins. It’s as though God is saying to Israel, “Forget it! Move on!”

God does not want us to be locked into our past. He has forgotten our sins – and He expects us to forget them as well. According to Micah 7.19, He has hurled our iniquities into the depths of the sea.

Paul developed the art of memory loss: his pressing on to fulfil his calling entailed forgetting what was behind and straining toward what was ahead (Phil.3.14)

At the same time, God counsels us to remember. To remember His works. To recall His grace in our lives. For Israel that meant recalling, in particular, the events of the exodus, when God brought His people out of Egypt. For us, it means recalling the death and resurrection of Christ, which is brought into sharp focus at communion: this do in remembrance of me.

It can also mean reminding ourselves of our experience of God’s grace and faithfulness throughout our lives. However, going back to the cross and the empty tomb takes us back to the bedrock of our faith and the eternal love of God guaranteed in the eternal covenant He made through the work of His Son.

How exactly do we develop a selective memory? Perhaps the most basic key is to do with what we feed our minds on. Isaiah 43.18 talks about dwelling on the past. Or as The Message puts it: “Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history.”

Do we allow our mental tapes to play on a continuous loop the discordant music of our own failure and pain? Or do we actively click “play” on the grace tracks?

Monday morning is a good time to create a new playlist for the week ahead. Why not load your mind with grace, forgiveness, acceptance, righteousness, joy, peace and all those other healthy things that the Bible says should take up our mental space (Phil. 4.8)?

Good neighbours

You might have heard the interview with Pastor Mimi Asher or read about her efforts to overcome gang culture in her estate in London. If you google “Pastor Mimi Asher” you’ll find some links to sites that have recorded her story. Pastor Mimi discovered that her son, Michael, had become involved in a gang, the O.C. gang, O.C. standing for Organised Crime. Out of concern for her son she got to know the members of the gang, and, over a three year period, developed a relationship with them that was strong enough to convince them to disband their gang. She invited them into her home. Cooked for them. Washed their clothes. Took them to the cinema. She spent time and money on them.

At one point the gang leader even lodged in her house. His story is an equally amazing one. In an interview with the BBC, he referred on a couple of occasions to God’s grace. Whether or not this reveals that he has met Jesus, I don’t know, but I think you would agree if I said that most gang leaders or former gang leaders tend not to have God’s grace as part of their vocabulary!

In Luke 10.25-37, Jesus tells the story that has become popularly known as the good Samaritan. The story was in response to a question: “Who is my neighbour?”

Both the central characters of the story – the injured man and the Samaritan – help us to understand how to define neighbour and what it means to love our neighbour.

The injured man is obviously Jewish. Jews and Samaritans just did not get on, and, if at all possible, stayed well away from each other. Yet in this story the only person who acts like a neighbour to the injured Jewish man, is the Samaritan. Jesus’ point is that, when you are in great need, you define the term “neighbour” as anyone who is prepared to help you. If you are lying, dying at the side of the road, you don’t care what the background is – religious or otherwise – of anyone who tries to help you. It’s just not an issue. Extreme need removes the barriers of social and or religious prejudice.

Effectively, Jesus is telling His listeners that anyone and everyone is our neighbour.

I don’t know how Pastor Mimi felt about the O.C. before her son’s involvement with them, but I can imagine that they weren’t top of her Christmas card list! Yet the extreme concern that she had for her son compelled her to go beyond her fears and her deep and understandable reservations about these gang members, eventually developing a relationship of such close proximity that she was able to influence them for good.

How do we love our neighbour? When Jesus asked the lawyer who had asked the question in the first place, who the man’s neighbour was, his answer is revealing. He couldn’t bring himself to say the Samaritan, so he said the one who showed him mercy (v.37). The lawyer’s embarrassed answer actually gets to the heart of what it means to love our neighbour: showing mercy. What did that look like?

“A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I’ll pay you on my way back.‘ (Luke 10.33-35, The Message).

In short the Samaritan spent time and money on the injured man. He allowed his own journey and timetable to be interrupted. He took him to a Jewish city, where he might well have lost his life. And he paid the inn-keeper two silver coins. There is no certainty as to the value of those coins. Some scholars say that they were enough to provide the man with two weeks’ lodging at the inn, others say it’s more like two months. Whatever the case, it represents a signifcant gift on the part of the Samaritan.

Listen to the words of Pastor Mimi: “So it was that drive, that real drive and passion in my heart. I was desperate to save all of them. The little money I had I would share with them.”

We might not all be called to do what the Samaritan did. Or what Pastor Mimi did. However, there are people or there is a person that God has called us to show mercy to. And as God’s church we are called to reach out with His mercy to a society that needs it perhaps as never before, certainly as never before in our life time. May we be inspired by the example of the Samaritan and by people like Pastor Mimi as we seek to obey where we are, God’s command to love your neighbour as yourself.

Increasing your capacity

For three years the disciples had walked with Jesus. They had seen Him heal the sick. They had heard him teach. Peter had even walked on water with the Lord. And they had gone out in twos themselves to do the kind of things Jesus had been doing. Jesus had told them that He would die and rise again, yet on Easter Sunday we find them huddled together in a room with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders (John 20.19). They were still central to what Jesus wanted to accomplish in the world. However, at this moment, they didn’t have the capacity for anything outside of the four walls of the room to which they had confined themselves.

The lack of capacity that the disciples had is not an unusually first century problem. We can come to places in life where God’s plans for us and even our prayers for what we want God to do for or through us require spiritual capacity that we don’t have at present. Often, like the disciples, our capacity is limited by some sort of negative emotion. Fear is the obvious one. Other emotions, perhaps not so obviously inhibiting, can be equally restrictive. Disappointment. Anxiety. Discouragement. You can add to the list.

Things are further complicated because we don’t always know what to do with such strong emotion. What do you do? The important thing to recognise is that the power of any emotion to restrict us is determined by the belief system that underlies it. What you believe is ultimately more powerful than what you feel.

Going back to John 21, Jesus gate crashes the disciples meeting. He shows them His hands and side. He speaks peace to them and commissions them to go into the world, promising them the presence of the Spirit with them (John 21.19-23).

To increase our capacity, we need to know and believe that Jesus is with us. He is with us through the Spirit. He lives within us. He goes wherever we go. He speaks peace to us. He wants us to know that He is full of grace – the wounds in His hands and side are eternal signs that God has been and will continue to be gracious to us. And He turns us outward. Wherever we are at, His purpose is still that we are active as His witnesses in the world, with the Holy Spirit right there with us to help us.

We might not expand our capacity over night – it was nearly another two months before Pentecost. But as we anchor our faith in Jesus, in His presence with us and His words to us, our capacity for what God wants to do in our lives will surely expand.

Syncing with the heart of God

The term “sync” has entered our vocabulary in recent years as a short hand way of describing how we align or synchronise the information or data stored on one device with that stored on another – or something like that!

Recently, whilst thinking through why we reach out to our society in the way we do, I made a discovery. I had always known that what we did was meant to reveal God’s love to the people around us. What hadn’t hit me so powerfully before was that God wants to sync our hearts with His.

Our ministry to the world isn’t just some sort of detached way of showing God’s love. We do what we do because it is something deep within His heart. Mission is in the very nature of God. He is the God who has always been reaching out. Revelation 13.8 describes Jesus as the the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world. The cross was in God’s heart from eternity.

The disappearance of Madeleine McCann from her bedroom while on holiday with her parents in Portugal in 2006, is a story that made headlines all across the world. It’s not that she is the only child who has disappeared in this way – not the first and, sadly, probably not the last; children all over the world are abducted every day and others are sold into slavery.

Somehow, though, Madeleine’s story and the story of her parents pain has almost come to symbolise the heartbreaking agony of every parent who loses a child.

Reading the account of the days and months that followed Madeleine’s abduction, I couldn’t help but think how deep the pain is in God’s heart for His lost children.

Sometimes, because we are so familiar with the biblical accounts of the fall of humanity, the calling of Abraham and the establishment of Israel as a nation, not to mention the stories of Jesus, the impact is lost on us. What God in any other religious tradition goes seeking his lost children in the way that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ does?

Skin coverings for Adam and Eve, blessings for Abraham, a land and laws for Israel, the Word becoming flesh in Jesus, all signal God’s attempts to come close to us and bring us close to Him.

Sometimes we need to go back to those biblical stories with fresh eyes and allow them to touch our hearts again. The whole story of the Bible is one of God reaching out to a lost humanity to mend what has been broken and stolen. And God wants us to reflect His heart. He wants us to sync our hearts with His.