Memorial Stones: Reminders of God’s Work in Our Lives

In the book of Joshua, God miraculously parts the waters of the River Jordan, finally delivering Israel into the Promised Land. 

 The LORD said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you.

So when the people set out from their tents to pass over the Jordan with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, and as soon as those bearing the ark had come as far as the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest), the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far away …

Now the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firmly on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan, and all Israel was passing over on dry ground until all the nation finished passing over the Jordan. (Joshua 3:7,14-17)

 As soon as they had crossed, God ordered Joshua to have a select group of men extract stones from the Jordan River and build a memorial on the site of their first camp at Gilgal. 

When all the nation had finished passing over the Jordan, the LORD said to Joshua,  “Take twelve men from the people, from each tribe a man, and command them, saying, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests’ feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.'” (Joshua 4:1-4)

He also decreed that they place another memorial of stones in the center of the Jordan River they had just crossed.  This river memorial would only be visible in a time of drought when the river level dropped considerably.

And Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the covenant had stood; and they are there to this day.(Joshua 4:9-10)

Why did God mandate these memorial stones? It was God’s intention that Israel would use these memorials as a teaching tool to let their children know what great miracles God had done for Israel.

 When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.” (Joshua 4:6-7)

In this example of God actively working in history for His chosen people, God had caused the Jordan River, bursting with the melted spring mountain snows, to completely dry up so that all Israel could cross.  The memorial stones were symbols that Israel had reached their destination through the grace of God.  The memorial stones also were a symbolic roadblock; once across the Jordan, Israel would see the stones and be reminded that it could never go back again. When Moses led Israel on its first passage out of Egypt, they also were delivered across water, the Red Sea, by a miracle of God, but they had not built any memorial.  For 40 years, they complained bitterly to Moses about their fate and many expressed a desire to return to Egypt.  This time, God instructed Joshua to mark Israel’s deliverance with stone memorials.  God wanted visual, physical means to remind Israel that they should remember God’s miraculous and powerful hand in their past and to keep their eyes on the future.  

The second memorial, in the middle of the Jordan River, had a different purpose.  In the middle of the river itself, this stone memorial would only be visible when the waters were dried up.  These times would represent the dry times in Israel’s life.  In Israel’s times of trials and suffering and despair, the memorial stones would remind them that God reigns, and is working in their lives, even when times are tough and it seems He has abandoned them.  There would be no forgetting God and no temptation to cross back over as Moses’ flock had demanded.

Later, Israel established another stone memorial.  This time a stone would stand as a testament, not to the acts of God, but to the living Word of God.  The Book of the Law of God and its stone marker together would stand as witness to the commands that God had given Israel in the Promised Land.

So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and put in place statutes and rules for them at Shechem. And Joshua wrote these words in the Book of the Law of God. And he took a large stone and set it up there under the terebinth that was by the sanctuary of the LORD. And Joshua said to all the people, “Behold, this stone shall be a witness against us, for it has heard all the words of the LORD that he spoke to us. Therefore it shall be a witness against you, lest you deal falsely with your God.” (Joshua 24:25-27)

 These three memorial stones occupied both geographical and historical footprints of God.  That is, the memorial stones marked a locus of God’s actions; a permanent reminder of a particular place on the map where God miraculously delivered Israel into its promised land.  The stones also served as a historical marker in time, a reminder that God works through His people and for His people throughout history.  It is He that plans and delivers on His promises throughout time.  His intervention in the past is a record and a reminder of His sovereign authority over His creation.  Lastly, the memorial stones also connected Israel, not just to the actions of God, but to His promises and commandments as well.

If Israel’s memorial stones represent God’s work and a crossing over into the promised land, what memorial stones does each of us  have in our lives? How can we mark our crossover from spiritual death to eternal life?  Let us consider three.

 First, we can mark God’s work in our lives by the historical marker of the day of our spiritual birth. Before the foundations of the world, God has appointed a time for us to be born, a time to die, and also a time to be born of the Spirit.  The day we become a new creation is a day when God performs His greatest miracle: taking a spiritually dead person, deaf to the Gospel, and melts our hearts and enters into us.  The day the Holy Spirit convicts us of our wretchedness and causes us to surrender to and cry out for our only hope, a Lord and a Savior, Jesus Christ, is God’s historical marker in our lives.  It is a day He ordains and we celebrate and it should be permanently marked. We glorify God in our salvation, as living markers of God’s supernatural work of regeneration in each of us.

 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17-18) 

Our second memorial stone is a day of our making, the day we publicly testify to our new life in Christ, the day of our baptism.  We should mark that day as the day we are buried with Christ and risen to newness of life.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.(Romans 6:3-5)

As a public act, our baptism is a memorial of our death to our old life that our fellow Christians can witness and bear testimony to all our lives.  

 Third, scripture serves as a memorial stone to our lives in Christ.  When we are devoted to diving into His Word each day, we constantly revisit God’s wisdom through the Bible’s stories and lessons.  At different times in our lives, atop the mountaintops of spiritual joy, and amid the valleys of despair, God’s Word speaks to us and provides us what we need.  We might consider making a practice of reading and meditating on a Proverb each day corresponding to the date.  For example, each month on the seventh, we could read chapter 7, the corresponding chapter of Proverbs.  March 7: Proverbs 7.  The Proverbs’ verses never change, but our lives surely do.  That day’s chapter of Proverbs, revisited monthly, will conjure up memories of how specific verses have spoken to us, impacted, guided, chastened, warned and comforted us.  Our daily Proverbs chapter meditations then can become memorial stones marking our lifelong journey with Christ. 

 The Word of God is a faithful witness to how God has worked and continues to work in our lives.  When we peek over a shoulder in church and see a heavily notated Bible in the hands of a brother or sister, we can wonder how many powerful memorial stones must be contained in those inked marginal notes. There are memorial stones on each page of our personal Bibles, connecting scripture verses to significant life experiences:  moments of illumination, times of trials, times of troubles, times of sorrows, moments of transformation and times of celebration.  Every time we revisit the Bible we are revisiting memorial stones– markers of our walk with Christ.

Brothers and Sisters, we need to take special care to establish and maintain our memorial stones.  We need them to remind ourselves of God’s active, continuous, faithful role in our lives.  We can use them to teach our children how God is omniscient and omnipresent even when it seems He is quiet or when we despair that He has forgotten us.  Our memorial stones also stand as landmarks to the world that we have crossed over into a new life in Christ, that our trust is in Jesus Christ, and that we will never go back again for He continues to sustain us.  If we make these memorial stones permanent and meaningful they become a record of our walk with God, renew our strength in the spiritual warfare, and testify to the world our resolve to be a separate people, sustained by the LORD.  Let us all check our memorial stones today and every day!

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Published in: on March 25, 2010 at 9:45 am  Comments (2)  

In Your Face! Christian Witness and Facebook

Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse,and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury.(Proverbs 9:7)

When our Christian beliefs get slammed on Facebook, how are we to respond?  The question that has been weighing on us for years is: What do we do when our Christian sensibility is assaulted by postmodern thinking ?  This conflict is now spilling over to social media .  If posts from our “friends” on Facebook get “snarky,” begin to pronounce judgment on our beliefs, and even condescend to take aim at our personal integrity, what are we to think?  How do we respond?  We are to be faithful to our Christian duty and witness and proclaim the Gospel, but how can we cope with what the Bible calls “scoffers?”

There are several Biblical guideposts for our Christian walk and talk in the world.

1.  We should expect the scoffers of the world to revile our Christian faith, attack our efforts at Christian witness, and vilify us personally. The true object of their outrage is not us individually, but our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.(1 John 3:13)

The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil. (John 7:7)

2. The scoffers of the world hate God because His living presence demands a response.

He is Lord and Master and deserves and demands our obedience.  Even if one does not believe, He Is Who He Is.  Truth is not dependent on belief.  You don’t have to believe in gravity for it to operate.  Truth is Truth.  Since scoffers are unwilling to obey, they seek to deny the power of God and the right of the Creator to be Lord, Master and Judge of His creation.  Scoffers fear the consequences of the truth that we are all under judgment.  It scares them to know that there is freedom from condemnation only in Jesus Christ–through His blood sacrifice on the cross.  Since the Apostolic Age, scoffers have ridiculed believers and our hope in the promise of eternal life bought for us through the life, death and resurrection of Messiah.

 “…scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires.  They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming?  For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”(2 Peter 3:3-4)

Why do scoffers reject the Good News that Jesus offers them eternal life?  To avoid the scrutiny of the Almighty Judge, scoffers must deny Christ, His first and second comings, and the very power of God, that they may continue to revel in their own wretched lives.  They hide from the light that the Gospel sheds on the meaning and purpose of our lives.  The Bible tells us that the unbelievers who dare not repent (turn away from their sinful ways) crave the darkness.  They shun the Light that would bring their hearts, minds and deeds under God’s scrutiny.

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. (John 3:19)

Unbelievers refuse to acknowledge God as the light, as the source of our truth and wisdom and goodness.  Instead, scoffers proclaim their own light, a light they themselves create through their own knowledge and worldly wisdom.  But the truth that God reveals in the Bible tells us that this self-proclaimed wisdom is folly.

Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes?  There is more hope for a fool than for him. (Proverbs 26:12)

3. We should expect the world to condemn Christians for asserting that we hold to the one Truth.  We will be called “arrogant.” 

Scoffers describe Christians with words like “intolerant,” “prideful,” and “mean-spirited.”  They say that Christians are out of touch with the real world in which no one can claim to have THE Truth, because there is no truth!  That’s the mantra of the postmodern world.  Everyone’s version of truth is valid.  So the world looks us in the eye, wags a finger in our direction and shouts:  just get over yourselves!  However, it is not our lives to get over anymore.  We Christians do not belong to ourselves.  The Truth is that it is the life of Jesus Christ that animates our very being.  We are a new creation, and can no longer be conformed to the world.  In our new life of the Spirit, we cannot compromise Jesus Christ. 

I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

4.   Man either loves and embraces Jesus Christ as God, or rejects, vilifies, attacks, and crucifies Him.  This divide is what truly separates believers from the world.  We must understand and acknowledge that there can be no compromise with the world.

Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? (James 4:4)

Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. (Luke 11:23)

5. Unbelievers cannot understand us.

If we have been truly transformed by the power of God, then the Holy Spirit has softened our hearts, opened our minds and allowed our ears to hear the truth of God’s word.  This transformation is the gift of God, and can even change the hearts of the most grievous of sinners, like Saul of Tarsus, persecutor of Jesus Christ’s followers, who as Paul became the greatest evangelist and defender of the faith.  Those whom God has not touched, has not saved, cannot hear the Word of God and do not understand us and our message.  They are blinded to the truth.  Our efforts at engaging with them cannot succeed by our power.  Only the power of God to regenerate them and renew their minds can open them to the truth to which we bear witness.  Without regeneration, our words will be dismissed and hated.

The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.  A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” (John 10:3-5)

Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the good sense of your words. (Proverbs 23:9)

6. Like the church at Corinth, there is danger in trying to accommodate the world with our faith.

What risk is there in mixing with the world, its ideas, in sharing in the diversity of human beliefs?  Isn’t all religion just a single beautiful mosaic describing man’s relation to God?  NO.  There is real risk in commingling with the ideas of the world: the risk that the truth that is Christ Jesus be compromised or altered.  The church at Corinth was guilty of allowing accommodation with the false teachings of the world and it had begun to corrupt their true faith.  In his first epistle to the church at Corinth, Paul called them out and rebuked them.  Paul’s message was plain: believers must keep separate from these influences.  While in practical terms, we must live in the world, and be part of its society and its culture,  we cannot allow our faith to be diluted or compromised by the false teachings and philosophies of the world.  There can be no compromise of the Truth.

 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?  What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,

    “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
   and I will be their God,
   and they shall be my people.
Therefore go out from their midst,
   and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
   then I will welcome you,
 and I will be a father to you,
   and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:14-18)

7. Unbelievers are not the neutral, independent, rational creatures they purport to be.

Those unbelievers who pretend to be independent, tolerant, rational thinkers, are, as Paul tells us, actually not free.  They are not what they think themselves to be: independent, wise and self-reliant.  For there is no neutrality in the spiritual warfare that rages in the world; either we are for Jesus Christ, or we are for His adversary, Satan.  All unbelief, all unrighteousness, all lawlessness is of Belial, Satan (see 1 Corinthians 6 above).  The real object of all unbelievers’ scorn and the focus of their attacks are Jesus Christ and the book that proclaims His story, the Bible.  Postmodern unbelievers who reject God do not attack Buddhism, or Hinduism, or  Islam–they do not waste their venom on those false idols.  Satan focuses their attention on his real enemy, his conqueror, Jesus Christ.  That hatred of Jesus Christ so evident in the world today is what tells us that His Truth is The Truth.  If it were merely myth, merely the opium of the masses, then the world would just ignore it and move on.  But they cannot ignore it.  It is real.  They must destroy it.  Unbelievers, in attacking Jesus Christ, unwittingly serve another master, Jesus’ adversary.

8. Our purpose in life is to give glory to God in all we do.  By standing apart from the world we choose to become holy as God commands.  By bearing witness to our faith in the world, we offer evidence of the fruit of the Spirit that God has given His children.

But as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct. (1 Peter 1:15)

Walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. (Colossians 1:9-10)

By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. (John 15:8)

Our life’s purpose is to give glory to God by being conformed to God’s will, be holy as God is holy, and witness to a lost and fallen world.  The Gospel that we proclaim does not resonate with unbelievers by the force of our reason, by the clarity of our own human minds, but by the power of God, expressed by the goodness of our hearts, and by the convicting power of the Holy Spirit that works in men.  Our mission is to preach the Gospel, to reflect the truth of God in our lives, and pray that God will unharden the hearts of those following the false faith of Unbelief and the demonic religion of self-righteousness cloaked in a philosophy of “tolerance.”  We must pray tirelessly that the Holy Spirit work through their consciences, unharden their hearts and allow the Word of God to transform each into a new creation.  Then, only then, can they hear and understand the truth that we proclaim.

Therefore, let us persevere and exhort our brothers and sisters in Christ to engage those around us, be faithful witnesses of our faith and pray for the lost.  We do not however, have to fight the battle for souls with every individual on every front at every instance.  We cannot  respond to every Facebook post that cries out against Christ with a false view of the world.  We do the work of God when we witness faithfully to our faith, proclaim the truth, the Good News of Jesus Christ, and allow the Holy Spirit to work in the consciences of our fellow men and women.  We pray that God will do a miraculous work in their hearts, the work of regeneration.  We witness and open the door; God enters and saves those whom He will save.  God desires to reach the lost.  We are His agents.  We must continue to witness everywhere we meet people, even on Facebook, and speak the truth, but we should for the most part expect closed minds and hardened hearts.   After all, before our salvation, were we any different?  We know that the victory has already been won on the Cross.  In our quest to witness to the truth and power of Jesus Christ, we will be mocked, derided, dismissed, attacked, and vilified.  Be of good cheer.  So were the apostles.  So was Jesus.

Published in: on March 8, 2010 at 10:52 am  Comments (7)