Unseen Altars

 Joshua set up at Gilgal the twelve stones they had taken out of the Jordan. 21 He said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ 23 For the Lord your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The Lord your God did to the Jordan what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. 24 He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.” (Joshua 4)

Much of Scripture is about remembering. And much of worship, in both Jewish and Christian contexts, is also about remembering.

Passover is about remembering the miraculous hand of God in freeing Jewish slaves from Egyptian oppression. The Jewish Feast of Pentecost is about remembering God’s faithfulness in bringing the harvest year after year. The Feasts of Purim and Succoth look back upon events in the history of the Jewish people and how God intervened for their protection in the times of Esther and during the wilderness wanderings. Even the celebration of the Sabbath is remembrance of God’s creation and His rest on the seventh day.

Christians gather for worship on the first day of the week in remembrance of Christ’s resurrection. And the ritual of Eucharist is a celebration of remembrance of Jesus’ Last Supper with His disciples.

So let us consider Joshua 4 (I would encourage you to read the whole short chapter.) and the above text and do so immersed in the notion of remembering–remembering what God has done. One of the ways that the Hebrew people enabled this remembering was by building altars:

  • Noah
  • Abraham, at Shechem and at Bethel
  • Jacob at Bethel
  • Moses
  • Joshua
  • Samuel at Mizpeh
  • all told, 356 times in the O.T.

“What do these stones mean?” What is interesting here in Joshua is that these stones–although not called an altar–were to represent. First of all they were to remember the word of the Lord. “What the Lord said” is used often in this chapter for what the Lord says is important and we should pay attention to it.

We are in the midst of a political campaign for the presidency. We all know the power of words and the effects that they can have to wound or heal, instruct or disinform. These days words are being printed and spoken in such volume and in such a way that people are beginning to wonder if words have any value at all. Not so God, when, Jehovah speaks, it is never just words. For it is by the power of God’s word that life and creation comes forth. And remember, Jesus Himself is called “the Word” by John in his gospel.

So be reminded of the importance of the Word of God and recall what it is that God has instructed us to do in “His Word.”

“What do these stones mean?” They mean to remember the word of God and remember the results of obedience.

Obedience always merits the blessings of God. Obedience allows us to navigate the turbulent waters of difficult circumstances and “cross over on dry ground.” Obedience allows us to possess the Promised Land: ‘possessing the Promised Land’ is an Old Testament “type” of holiness, experiencing spiritual milk and honey even though surrounded by the forces of evil. And obedience to God prepares us to wage battle against the forces of darkness in this world.

Remember, “to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22) God delights in the faithful obedience of His children.

“What do these words mean?” They mean to remember the faithfulness of God.

The salvation of the people of Israel–and indeed our salvation–owes entirely to the mercy of God in providing for our escape from bondage. Israel crossed the Jordan and the Red sea on dry ground because “the Lord your God” did something miraculous for your salvation.

How could we not recall, during these days of Lent, the extent of the miraculous endurance of Christ for our salvation!

Remember that we could no more secure our own salvation from sin than Israel could have crossed the Jordan without God’s intervention.

Remember that God, who is faithful in our salvation, is as faithful in caring for us as He was faithful in providing for Israel.

Once, on a day, was Christ led forth to die,
And with the crowd that pressed on him joined I.
Slowly they led him, led him to the tree,
And I beheld his hands no more were free.
Bound fast with cords, and this was his distress,
That men denied those hands outstretched to bless.
Sacred hands of Jesus, they were bound for me;
Wounded hands of Jesus, stretched upon a tree,
Ever interceding, mercy is their plea.
Their effectual pleading brings grace to me,
Redeeming grace to me.

(Song 129, Salvation Army Song Book)

“What do these stones mean?” They mean to remember–remember the Word of the Lord; remember the results of obedience; and remember the faithfulness of our Heavenly Father.

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Gather in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:9-10)

My read prayer written by Lloyd John Ogilvie for today:

God, give me the desire to do what I already know of Your will, so that I may know more of it and make it my will. I want to be a positive, open, receptive person who willingly receives Your guidance for each new challenge. You have shown me that discovery of Your will comes from consistent communion with You. And I also know that such communion is vital for helping me to prepare for all the big decisions ahead of me in the future.

I recognize that today’s obedience results in tomorrow’s guidance. Action is the nerve center of my spiritual life. Motivate me to do what You have called me to do in the mundane details of life so that I will be ready to do Your will when momentous opportunities arise. Keep my soul fit with the consistent practice of Your presence. And may prayer throughout the day be as natural as breathing.

I am filled with awe and wonder…gratitude and praise…that You who are Creator of the universe and Sovereign Lord of all nations would use me to carry out Your will in my small realm of influence.

Through Christ, through whom I am reconciled with You forever and recommissioned to serve You daily.

Amen.

Humility

One of the blessings of retirement is being able to go through programs, sermons and devotionals that one has written over a career spanning 43 years. Recently I came across a previously missed cache of sermons and devotionals. I thought that I would share some here.  And, truth be told, some of them will never see the light of day again without a good bit of editing!    

My husband and I have worked closely over the many years of our service and at times collaborated often on sermons, articles, workshop and retreat presentations.  In addition, we have often used each other’s sermons (if it was a topic that we needed). Thus I arrive at this point with a bit of a dilemma as some of the presentations I plan to use I cannot say who was the first author; which is not really important to either of us but I felt that before sharing I should make this point because I may or may not indicate which of us is the author of a particular writing and I did not want to give myself sole credit when it is not warranted.

If you are still reading, thank you.  I can definitively tell you that what I share now was written and presented in chapel at SFOT.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interest, but also to the interest of others.  (Philippians 2:3-4)

Hudson Taylor was scheduled to speak at a Large Presbyterian church in Melbourne, Australia.  The moderator of the service introduced the missionary in eloquent and glowing terms.  He told the large congregation all that Taylor had accomplished in China, and then presented him as “our illustrious guest.” Taylor stood quietly for a moment, and then opened his message by saying, “Dear friends, I am the little servant of an illustrious Master.”  

Taylor illustrated the perfect definition of humility. Humility is not denying the power or gifting you have but rather knowing and admitting that this gift is from God and that the power simply passes through you and not from you.  The noted preacher, Charles Spurgeon, defined humility as,” (making) a right estimate of one’s self.” 

Let me illustrate this through the happenstance experiences of others.

It had been a long day on Capitol Hill in 1973 for Senator John Stennis.  He was looking forward to a bit of relaxation when he got home.  After parking the car, he began to walk toward his front door.  Then it happened.  Two people came out of the darkness, robbed him, and shot him twice.  News of the shooting of Senator Stennis, the chairman of the powerful Armed Forces Committee, shocked Washington and the nation.  For nearly seven hours, Senator Stennis was on the operating table at Walter Reed Hospital.  Less than two hours later, another politician was driving home when he heard about the shooting.  He turned his car around and drove directly to the hospital.

In the hospital, he noticed that the staff was swamped and could not keep up with the incoming calls about the Senator’s condition.  (Remember this is 1973 only dial phones no cell phones and no 24 hour cable news channels.) He spotted an unattended switchboard, sat down, and voluntarily went to work.  He continued taking calls until daylight.  Sometime during that next day, he stood up, stretched, put on his overcoat, and just before leaving, he introduced himself quietly to the other operator, “I’m Mark Hatfield. Happy to help out.”  Then Senator Mark Hatfield unobtrusively walked out.  The press could hardly handle that story. There seemed to be no way for a conservative Republican to give a liberal Democrat a tip of the hat, let alone spend hours doing a menial task and be “happy to help out.”  (Knofel Stanton, Heaven Bound Living)

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature[b] of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5-8)

On a visit to the Beethoven museum in Bonn, a young American student became fascinated by the piano on which Beethoven had composed some of his greatest works.  She asked the museum guard if she could play a few bars on it; she accompanied the request with a lavish tip, and the guard agreed.  The girl went to the piano and played out the opening of the Moonlight Sonata.  As she was leaving, she said to the guard, “I suppose all the great pianist who come here want to play on that piano.”

The guard shook his head, “Paderewski (the famed Polish pianist) was here a few years ago and he said he wasn’t worthy to touch it.” (unknown source)

Wisdom’s instruction is to fear the Lord, and humility comes before honor. (Proverbs 15:33)

It is an interesting aspect of the kingdom of Heaven that when we try to appear greater than we are, we only succeed in making ourselves smaller. On the other hand, humility pleases God wherever it is found.

“Jesus knew on the evening of Passover Day that it would be his last night on earth before returning to his Father. During supper the devil had already suggested to Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, that this was the night to carry out his plan to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had given him everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. And how he loved his disciples! So, he got up from the supper table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his loins, poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel he had around him.” (John 13:1-5)

…And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8) 

Jesus never insisted on His rights and privileges to be honored, understood or viewed rightly, rather he emptied Himself even of His reputation. He was content to be seen as ordinary and did not seek to be esteemed.  

Let me finish these thoughts with a prayer penned by AW Tozer: “Now, O Lord of heaven and earth, I consecrate my remaining days to Thee; let them be many or few, as Thou wilt. I accept hard work and small rewards in this life. I ask for no easy place. I shall try to be blind to the little ways that could make life easier. If others seek the smoother path I will try to take the hard way without judging them too harshly. I shall expect opposition and try to take it quietly when it comes. Or if, as sometimes it falleth out to Thy servants, I should have grateful gifts pressed upon me by Thy kindly people, stand by me then and save me from the blight that often follows. Teach me to use whatever l receive in such manner that will not injure my soul nor diminish my spiritual power. Let me never forget that I am a man with all the natural faults and passions that plague the race of men. And if in Thy permissive providence honor should come to me from Thy Church, let me not forget that I am unworthy of the least of Thy mercies.” 

Amen.