Why You Should Start Collecting Relics in 2023

In the 1930s the property at 312 Azusa Street in Los Angeles was foreclosed upon and scheduled to be demolished. The once horse stable that hosted the revival that bore its address had sparked a movement that had already traveled the world. Before demolition, the building was offered to the Assemblies of God to be kept as a memorial. The response was that the church was “not interested in relics.”[1]

That’s too bad because I am. So is God. And so should you.

Last week I was stunned when I realized my adult daughter has only lived in two houses. She is a sophomore in college and has only lived in houses we owned. By her age I had been through bouts of homelessness and moved over 20 times. When I got saved in my 20s, I hoped that with God’s help, my future family would not have the life I did.

I can’t tell you how many nights I have sat in my back yard and thanked God for my home. I never in my wildest childhood dreams thought I could own a house like this. Childhood poverty has burned a scar in my psyche and year after year I am amazed I went another 12 months with my mortgage paid.

When we first bought this house, it was a testimony of God’s faithfulness. But now its more than that.  It has gone through a kind of transfiguration. The longer I live in it the more it becomes a memorial to the God of heaven.

Memorials in the Bible

This morning I read of Jacob who had an encounter with God while on the run. In his sleep the heavens opened for him and God spoke promises that are alive to this day. When he awoke, he recognized that the place he was standing was special. To be clear, everything he experienced happened while he was sleeping, so it could be said it was all in his head. But the significance of that experience affected everything around him and he wanted to remember that.

He took the stone that supported his head and stood it up as a memorial and poured oil on it, anointing it as a pillar in memory of what God had done. Later in chapter 35 Jacob had another encounter with God where his name is changed to Israel, and he did the same again.

For Jacob, the act of moving the stone from supine to vertical was an act of worship and remembrance. I can imagine him stepping back, looking at that stone and being drawn to tears. For a moment in time He was fulfilled in God. How often can you say that? How often can you stand back, look at a memorial to what God did, and be transported to that holistic fulfillment that only God can provide? It happens to me in my back yard all the time.

In our fast-paced, information-overload society, how much more do we need unmovable visual reminders of the goodness of God in our lives? Like it or not, modern church buildings are more a monument to the leader than the God of the leader and statistics show the damage that happens to many pastors after building projects are completed. We all know they don’t bring that holistic fulfillment.

The accusation of idolatry has robbed whole generations of believers from the reward memorials can bring.  Natalie Carnes writes in Image and Presence that the iconoclast (those rejecting icons honoring God) participates in an external iconoclasim unaware.[2] They are assigning a power to the icon the iconographer never intended.

What does that mean?

In his book All Things Beautiful, Chris Green writes that in our fallenness, we disfigure creation when it becomes an object of worship. The sin is not in the creation, we were created in the image of a creator, the sin is in the worship of the created thing instead of the creator. [3]  We were clearly instructed to not make the likeness of heavenly things as objects of worship. But in an effort to quiet the accusation of idolatry we have failed to honor God by having tangible memorials of his deeds, and we have failed to create locations of worshipful remembrance that transport us back to that moment of holistic fulfillment. `

This world has plenty of idols. It needs more icons.

Icons, relics, and memorials point us to remembrance. They are Holy Ghost bookmarks, spiritual shortcuts to the faithful God of breakthrough. I sit on my back patio and look into the night sky appreciating the God who kept my daughter’s life a little more stable than mine. Every December we hang on our Christmas tree snapshots of testimonies that mark the high points of our family. They aren’t sacred, but the memories they point us toward are.

I don’t intend to stir sentimentality.

This is a purposeful counter cultural repudiation of the constant need for more, the disease of never having conquered enough, and an effort to dethrone the deep-seated inability to be satisfied.  Relics remind us of the moments we were still with God and pleased with the outcome. They are the salve to the depression and anxiety of our day stealing glory from God. They stand upright as pillars of our faith that we may not see God at this moment, but He is surely at work in the world now as He was when I erected this stone.

Collect physical reminders of God’s goodness this year

In 2023, be aware in those mountain top moments. Close your eyes and let them be seared in you psyche. Take a picture and use it as your lock screen. Tell the story to the people around you. Meditate on them when you lay down at night, resting your head on all the great things God has done. Make the decision to make obvious the testimony of God that might be lying dormant in your past and push up some new stones for generations to come.

[1] Vinson Synan, The Holiness-Pentecostal Tradition: Charismatic Movements in the Twentieth Century, Subsequent edition. (Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 1997), 106. Let me add this caveat. Historically the Church kept relics that included pieces of dead people. Don’t do that. If you can’t get your mind past that aspect, substitute memento for relic wherever necessary.

[2] Natalie Carnes, Image and Presence: A Christological Reflection on Iconoclasm and Iconophilia (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2017), 7.

[3] Chris E. W. Green, All Things Beautiful: An Aesthetic Christology (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2021), 22–23.

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