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The Man Who Forgot To Remember

Genesis 37:31-36, 45:17-21

One of God’s greatest gifts to us is the gift of memory. Memory is the only highway which links us to the past. Memory is so basic to our existence that without it, when we leave this service today, we would not be able to find our way home. Yet as important as memory is to us, it is interesting to note that of all the areas of brain science, memory is the most difficult to grasp. Some of our greatest scientists give themselves everyday to the quest for understanding memory, for unlocking its deepest riddles. Up to now, they have failed. But even though we cannot understand memory, we can still use it. That is why today I want us to think about how we can give our memory to God so that He in turn can use it to give us peace and power in life. To prove my point I want to hold up before you an example—not a good example, but a bad one. I want you to look at Jacob, the man who forgot to remember.

The first mistake Jacob made was this: he forgot to remember to focus, not on the immediate, but on the ultimate.

I have just read for you a portion of that familiar story—how the sons of Jacob, jealous of their brother Joseph, sold him into slavery, then took his coat, soaked it in the blood of an animal, ripped it up, and gave it to Jacob. Jacob immediately assumed that his beloved son Joseph had been killed by some wild beast. From that day for the next 22 years, Jacob never stopped mourning the loss of Joseph. His other children tried to comfort him. He rebuffed their efforts. He said: “I will go to my grave mourning the loss of my son.”

In my mind’s eye, I can see some shadowed corner of Jacob’s tent where he kept a wooden chest. And everyday, he would go alone into the shadows, open the chest, take from it the blood-stained coat, and holding it in his hands, he would soak it with his tears. Very sad, isn’t it, to see a man so grief-stricken over something which in point of fact was not even true. He mourned Joseph, and Joseph was not dead.

Now compare that with the conduct of King David. When David received word that his son had died, it is recorded that he wept; then he rose up, washed himself, put on clean clothes, and went to church where he worshipped God saying; “My son cannot come back to me, but in time I will go to him.”

Do you see the difference between Jacob and David? Jacob made the mistake of focusing on the immediate rather than the ultimate—and he spent 22 years miserably paralyzed by his own grief. David, on the other hand, focused on the ultimate rather than the immediate. He saw that everything that happened was under the control of God. Though he grieved the loss of his son, his faith gave him hope for the future. That enabled him to keep living on. And what we have to do when we encounter those incidents in life which break our hearts, is to see them in terms of the total plan and purpose of God.

This past week I made a new friend. His name is Fred. He was visiting here from another city. He had watched “The Certain Sound” on television. He called and asked to see me. When we met he told me that his young daughter had been diagnosed as having cancer of the brain, that he himself had suffered some severe financial reverses, and that he just didn’t know if he could face it all. What do you do? What do you say to a man in that situation? Well, you pray with him. But you also try to widen his focus. You try to help him see the larger purposes of God. You try to look for what good God may be able to bring from such desperate tragedy. You try to help him find in Christ the power to cope, the power to keep living on.

I am reminded here of an experience of Salvidor Dali, the artist. He was at a dinner party one night, and one of the other guests accidentally dropped some cigarette ashes onto a very costly tablecloth burning a rather large hole in it. The hostess was terribly upset. But Dali immediately reached into his pocket and took out a pen. Without a word, he began to draw on the tablecloth. When he finished he had drawn a beautiful picture and he had done it in such a way that the hole became an important part of the picture, contributing to its beauty. The hostess recognized immediately that the tablecloth was infinitely more valuable now than it had been before.

Just so, I think we have to learn to see what happens to us in terms of the total picture God is drawing in our lives. God does manage to bring His good from all things; and in seeing what happens in our lives, we must view them in those terms. So when we are making memories, we need to remember to focus, not on the immediate, not on the isolated incident, but always on the ultimate. Please don’t forget to remember that!

A second mistake Jacob made was this: he forgot to remember to preserve the best and discard the rest.

In my family, when we travel, sometimes I take slides. Whatever gifts I may possess in this life, photography is not one of them. As a result, some of my slides are poor, and then others are worse. So what I do is to discard the very bad ones and keep the best of what’s left. I cannot tell you about those I have thrown away—they are gone and forgotten. But the ones I have kept are the ones I remember. Surely that should be the Christian’s practice with regards to memory: keep the best and forget the rest.

Jacob didn’t do that. He was so caught up in remembering Joseph’s death that he forgot about Joseph’s life—about the sheer joy Joseph had brought to him, about the wonderful times they had spent together, about how much he had learned about God through his relationship with Joseph. I once saw a sign in a restaurant which said:

As you travel on through life, brother,
Whatever be your goal,
Keep your eye upon the doughnut
And not upon the hole.

That’s a rather whimsical way of expressing Jacob’s mistake. But believe me, he is not the only one who ever made that mistake.

Exhibit A. A man belongs to a church and one day the preacher preaches a sermon which offends him. The man leaves the church, never to go back again. How foolish. He forgets all the sermons which have thrilled his heart and lifted his spirit. He forgets all the sacred times at the Table of the Lord. He forgets all that his children will miss in the church school. He forgets the fellowship he has enjoyed in that place. He focuses on that one incident which made him unhappy and he throws the rest of it away. That’s Jacob’s mistake and it is a tragic one. 

Exhibit B. A couple fall in love, build up trust, get married. Then something happens to inject a note of unhappiness into the life that they share. That unhappiness is dwelled upon until it grows all out of proportion. The marriage begins to break apart—they forget to remember the goodness which had been theirs. They focus not on the roses, but on the thorns. That’s Jacob’s mistake.

So I appeal to you, my friends: for the love of God and for the peace of your own soul, focus on the best in your life and forget the rest. Do you remember what Paul says? “Whatsoever things are beautiful, whatsoever things are holy, whatsoever things are of good report, think about those things.” For when we build those things into our lives, then we discover the peace and the power of God beginning to flood its way into our experience. Please don’t forget to remember that!

But Jacob’s third mistake was this: he forgot to remember that God wants to save us, not sink us.

I don’t know if you caught it in the reading of Genesis 45, but I think it is interesting to notice that even when the brothers returned to tell Jacob that his son Joseph was still alive, Jacob didn’t believe them. It wasn’t until he saw the wagons which Joseph had sent to him that he began to believe, that he began to have confidence in the goodness of God, that he began to feel joy in his heart once more.

There’s something rather sad about that. I think it’s sad that it took a wagon to prove to Jacob that God is good. I mean, isn’t God’s Word good enough? Was it really necessary that there also had be a wagon? And why is it that we are like that? Why is it that we seem to feel that sometimes God goes off duty, that sometimes He forsakes us, that sometimes He doesn’t seem to care what happens to us? Why is it that we keep demanding solid proof that God is there and that He loves us and care for us? Why? Isn’t God’s Word enough?

Mark this, and mark it well. There is no more important memory that we can have in life than this: to remember always the faithfulness of God. If I need an illustration of that point, then I would direct you to one of the most dramatic illustrations in all of Scripture. Two disciples, Judas and Peter. Did you ever stop to think about the fact that they were both guilty of the same sin? They both were traitors to Jesus Christ. They were the same in their sin, but they were not the same in the end. Judas betrayed Christ, went out, remembered his sin, and hanged himself. Peter denied Christ, went out, remembered his Saviour, and his life was transformed. One remembered the sin, the other remembered the Saviour. And that made all the difference. And it can make all the difference for us.

Nothing says it better, I think, than the 23rd Psalm. “The Lord is my shepherd.” When is the Lord my shepherd? “When I lie down in green pastures.” But you don’t so much need a shepherd then when everything is going your way. Ah, but He is also my shepherd when my soul is fractured with sin—He restores it and forgives my sin. He is my shepherd when I walk in the place of mourning and heartache—He knows about the valley of the shadow and He walks with them there. He is my shepherd when my enemies are all about me and threatening me—He is the one who sets the table of supply for me. He is my shepherd when I am wounded and hurt—He is the one who with oil anoints and makes me whole again. And He is my shepherd when my life is over—He is the one who opens the door and welcomes me into His house forever. So please, dear friends, do not ever forget to remember this loving faithfulness and the faithful love of our God. He comes to us, not to sink us, but to save us in Jesus Christ.


I cannot let you go without sharing with you the other memory. It is the memory of a face. I have crowded my own memories with that face. It is a face which pulls my life together and lifts my eyes to the hills. It is a face which because it is a part of my yesterdays, is also a part of my todays, and will ever be a part of my tomorrows. And that face which sets my heart to singing, that face which calls me and controls me and compels me, that face which gives me strength where I am weak, compassion where I am heartless, peace where I am anxious, and courage where I am afraid—that face is the face of my Saviour. That face is so real to me that I need only to close my eyes to see His features clearly etched on the inside of my eyelids. That face is so real to me that I can sense His eyes looking at me; I can see His lips move when He speaks to me a word of warning or a word of encouragement; I can feel the warmth of His closeness to me. That face is the face of my Jesus. And because He is mine in memory, He is mine today. And because He is mine today, He is mine forever.

But what I want you to understand is this: that what drives me in life, what consumes me every day that I live, what keeps me preaching on and living on is my desire that my Jesus shall become your Jesus…

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