April 1, 2014

Stack Those Stones

A while back, I was trying to locate some maps that my wife and I had brought with us when we moved into our current home. As I went through box after box looking for them, it was like looking at an archeological dig of my life. One box had some cassette tapes that my wife and I were given when we were attending birthing classes. There were various certificates of education and coursework that I had completed. A pair of gym shorts from my high school years was there—it was amazing how much they had shrunk! All of these items were part of my history, and they brought back many memories.

In one of those boxes was a copy of my testimony which I had typed up right after I was saved in 1994. Reading it, I was surprised at how some of the smaller details were already starting to escape me. My salvation was the most momentous event of my life, yet it was fading somewhat in my memory. Yes, I could remember where and when I prayed through and the circumstances which brought me to that point, but other details that had seemed unforgettable back then were starting to disappear.

With the passing of time, our memories dim. That is what Moses was telling the Israelites in Deuteronomy 4:9 when he cautioned them, “Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons’ sons.” Moses knew that unless the people made a special effort to remind themselves and their children and grandchildren of the events in their past, important remembrances would be lost over time.

Moses was speaking to the generation of younger Israelites who had survived the forty years of wandering in the wilderness. Their fathers had died in the wilderness because of unbelief. These younger Israelites had not personally experienced the deliverance from Egypt or the parting of the Red Sea. They had not gathered manna each morning, watched water come from the rock, or eaten of the quail sent by God. However, remembrance of those amazing events was very important. Moses did not want God’s people to forget what He had done for them.

In our day as well, it is vital to preserve godly memories. The testimony of God’s faithfulness must be passed on to succeeding generations—from fathers to sons and to sons’ sons, and from mothers to daughters to daughters’ daughters. Accounts of victories in the past give us confidence that no matter what we are experiencing today, we can trust God to carry us through. Rehearsing our father’s testimony of deliverance, or our grandmother’s story of how God provided in a time of need, brings reassurance. God was there for them, and He will be there for us.

In the Old Testament, we find mention of many memorials; each one commemorated a significant event. For example, in Genesis 28:18 we read, “And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it.” After a dream in which Jacob saw God’s messengers ascending and descending a ladder that reached into the heavens, he wanted to remember that God had visited him there, so he set up a memorial.

In Genesis 31:45 we read of another memorial that Jacob made at a later date: “And Jacob took a stone, and set it up for a pillar.” After years of service to his uncle Laban, Jacob had left his uncle’s employment. He and his uncle agreed to set up a monument at the hill where they parted, signifying that neither would cross past that monument in anger or aggression—Laban would not come after Jacob, and Jacob would not return to Laban. The monument was a visual reminder of their agreement.

In Joshua 4:3 we read of a memorial built when the Children of Israel crossed the Jordan into Canaan. The Lord told Joshua, “And command ye them, saying, Take you hence out of the midst of Jordan, out of the place where the priests’ feet stood firm, twelve stones, and ye shall carry them over with you, and leave them in the lodging place, where ye shall lodge this night.” It was important for the people to have a perpetual reminder of that long-awaited day when they entered the land of promise.

The prophet Samuel knew the importance of remembering what God had done. In 1 Samuel 7:12 we read, “Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer saying, Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.” This commemorated a time when the Children of Israel were victorious over their enemies the Philistines, due to the miraculous intervention of God.

In our day as well, it is important to have memorials of what God has done in our lives. Can you look back in your personal history and see “stones” that you have set up? Maybe there is a stone—a spiritual memorial—where God saved you, sanctified you, or filled you with the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps there is one commemorating a time when He touched and healed you, provided a job, or gave guidance. These are the types of stones of remembrance we can set up in our lives.

In the Old Testament we find that stones not only commemorated things, but they also marked locations. They served as sign posts and markers. For example, in 1 Samuel 20:19 we read how Jonathan told David to remain “by the stone Ezel.” On another occasion, David’s men went out of Jerusalem to put down a revolt, and they met at “the great stone which is in Gibeon” (2 Samuel 20:8).

The stones we set up may help others. I like to hike, and have learned that it is difficult to follow a trail across a rocky area. At times, hikers set up cairns as markers—big piles of stones that indicate the direction other hikers should take across expanses of open, treeless terrain. When you come to the first cairn you usually are able to see the next one, and you may hike for several miles in that manner. In a similiar manner, the spiritual stones we put in place as memorials to what God has done in our lives may be just what someone else needs to point him or her in the right way.

How do we go about making sure we remember what God has done for us? How do we go about setting up memorial stones? One way is to rehearse our stories—to repeat them on a regular basis. I attended Woodstock Grade School here in Portland, and my third grade teacher, Mrs. Colson, had the task of teaching us our multiplication tables. It seemed to me that I would never get them memorized! The only way I could master them was by drilling over and over. So I rehearsed. I practiced. My parents drilled me. And over time, I learned my multiplication tables by repetition.

By contrast, I cannot remember actually learning my name, though I recall learning how to write it. My parents were very good at repeating my name to me. I heard it often, so I never had to sit down and study hard to retain that fact.

The same is true when it comes to remembering the things of God. In some cases we may have to study to absorb it, like we do when learning our multiplication tables. We will have to remind ourselves, and rehearse it often. Other aspects of the Gospel will almost automatically become part of us. Perhaps people who are acquainted with us will repeat it to us regularly, and over time it just becomes part of who we are almost without trying.

How we remember is not as important as making sure that we do remember, because memories increase our faith. They give confidence. They build trust. When we point back to what God has done in the past, those memories become the foundation for believing that He can take care of anything that comes our way in the future.

I want someone else to look at the stones I set up along my spiritual journey and be blessed by the victories God worked out for me.

Along with remembering comes the responsibility of passing on our memories. Our mortal bodies are going to be gone from the scene someday, if the Lord does not come first. Once we are gone, our memories will be gone as well unless we have passed them on to others. Our children, our grandchildren, the Sunday school class we teach, those in the youth camp cabin we counsel should be told. We want the accounts of God’s faithfulness to live on! If I pass off the scene, I want someone to be able to say, “Brother Howard is gone, but I remember him preaching about how he got saved. I remember him telling about receiving his sanctification and baptism.” I want someone else to look at the stones I set up along my spiritual journey and be blessed by the victories God worked out for me.

Let your family know! Let your fellow church members know! It is to our benefit to rehearse what God has done, because we overcome by the word of our testimony. And when we reflect upon what the Lord has done for us, the generations that follow will know too.

Maybe you have no godly memories at this point in your life. Maybe you are not saved—have not yet started on your spiritual journey. That can happen today! You can come before the Lord and say, “I need to get squared away with You. I need to be forgiven. I want to live a victorious Christian life.” If you come with a truly repentant heart, and believe that Jesus’ sacrifice on Calvary avails for your salvation, you will build your first memorial this very day. You will set up a stone of remembrance that you will always remember. And someday, if you keep going forward with God, you will look back on a pathway that is filled with memorials of times when God blessed.

apostolic faith magazine