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Saturday, August 15, 2015

Stones of Remembrance: The Early Years

 A Bible story from Joshua 4, paraphrased by me:
Hey Israelites, you just crossed a river on dry land.  Don't ever forget!  Have twelve men carry twelve stones on their shoulders and make them into a memorial so that your kids and your kids' kids and your kids' kids' kids will ask you about those rocks, and you can tell them.  "Israel crossed this Jordan River on dry ground, for the Lord your God dried up the waters before you." And everyone on earth will know that the hand of the Lord is mighty.
The ancient Israelites were forgetful.  God did amazing things for them: A rescue from slavery!  Miraculous food from heaven!  A land flowing with milk and honey!  Forgiveness and redemption, again and again!  But when they faced hunger, outside pressure or even their own discontentment, they forgot the Lord's faithfulness and turned away from him.

I wonder if they ever looked at that pile of rocks and told their children how the Lord led them through the desert and finally across the Jordan river, on dry land, toward their promised homes.

Every Christian I have ever met is just as forgetful, and I believe that our forgetfulness steals our joy, saps our gratitude, and weakens our trust in God's goodness.  My next series of blog posts will be a short recounting of the ways God has worked in my life: my own stones of remembrance.

Stone 1:  Salvation

I was four.  My older brother was asking my mom questions about life after death, and she explained the Gospel to him: that all people are sinful and destined for eternal death unless they trust in Christ.  My brother wanted to pray and ask Jesus into his heart.  I wanted to be like my brother, so I did too.

Can a four-year-old understand the Gospel?  Probably not.  But I do remember that day, and I believed in God and Jesus throughout my childhood.  The first memory I have of God is the day I invited him into my heart.

Stone 2:  My parents' prayers

When I was really little, I had to have a minor bladder operation of some sort.  I remember two things: I got a mini chalkboard as a reward (hooray!), and my mom stopped by the church to pray.  We walked into the quiet, stained-glass sanctuary in the middle of a weekday.  The door was open, but I don't remember seeing even the priest there.  And we put down the kneelers and prayed about my bladder. :)

When we were kids, my mom and her friends started a group called Moms in Touch that prayed us all through school and beyond.  My dad led our prayers at the dinner table.  Our whole family knelt by my parents' bed at bedtime and prayed our requests (Mine was usually for my brother to stop bugging me; my little sister usually put in a good word for candy and gum).  I spent most of those family prayer times systematically pulling the stuffing out of the bedspread, so I can't say that they felt really meaningful at the time, but now I look back and thank God that he gave me parents who love him and pray for me.

Stone 3:  Church camp

I was thirteen.  I was going through my several-decades-long awkward phase, and I was way too shy to enjoy youth group or church events.  But for some reason I did go to church camp once, and it changed me!  The emotional crescendo of Christian events was real for me that year; I listened to the speakers and was moved.  They encouraged us to read the Bible and pray, and I did.  From that time on, I read the Bible on my own, with pen in hand.

(I am grateful that I can remember my first reading through the Bible.  When I read through Paul's letters, they were so immediate and conversational that I felt like he was talking to me.  And I remember reading through the Old Testament law and being so fascinated by all the weird regulations that I would try to make my own unleavened bread out of flour, water, and oil).

Thirteen was the age at which my faith became my own.

Stone 4:  Doubt and Deliverance Therefrom

I was nineteen.  I took a college course that called my faith in the Bible into question.  As an illustration of my intellectual turmoil, I remember the day the prof asked the class, "Who thinks it matters if the story of Jonah is fact or fiction?" and I was the only one who raised my hand.  It mattered to me!  If I was going to stake my life on a book, I wanted to know if it was true or false!

After a year or so of doubting God and his word, he restored my confidence.  This was the gift of faith, not a result of having my questions resolved, because I didn't find a fully satisfactory answer to my doubts about the Bible.  (I still think Jonah, for example, reads like it might be fiction.  But I know better than to admit that on a public blog that my Christian friends read...  or do I??)

God's restoration of my faith in him and his word is perhaps the most important thing he has done in my adult life, and I find my faith far more resilient now that it has been tested by doubt.  I've written more about this experience in my post On Faith, Doubt, and Biblical Inerrancy.

The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.  -Psalm 126:3
OK, readers, thanks for sticking with me.  Find Part Two here.  What are YOUR stones of remembrance?


Unknown said...

I'm certainly not as eloquent as you, so I won't try to put my stones of remembrance into writing. But thanks for writing this series! :) For me it was a great reminder that my forgetfulness of God's provision and deliverance can shrink the view I have of his greatness, goodness, and mercy.

Alison said...

Thanks for the props! I'd love to hear your stones sometime