Josh. 4:1 When the entire nation had finished crossing over the Jordan, the LORD said to Joshua: 2 “Select twelve men from the people, one from each tribe, 3 and command them, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the middle of the Jordan, from the place where the priests’ feet stood, carry them over with you, and lay them down in the place where you camp tonight.’” 4 Then Joshua summoned the twelve men from the Israelites, whom he had appointed, one from each tribe. 5 Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the LORD your God into the middle of the Jordan, and each of you take up a stone on his shoulder, one for each of the tribes of the Israelites, 6 so that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ 7 then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the Israelites a memorial forever.”
After the Israelites had wandered for forty years in the desert, it was time to cross over the Jordan into the promised land. This was a huge moment for these people as they moved on through a new act of faith. No longer would they live in the daily provision of God’s care in the wilderness but they would be a people on the move, taking over the land God had promised to them.
There were barriers to embracing the promise of God, and the first one was to cross over the Jordan river. This one would take a huge step of faith for the river was in its flood stages and they weren’t sure how this was to come about. The priests were to go first, carrying their beloved ark of the covenant. God, in his faithfulness, provided for the children of Israel and they crossed over on dry land.
As a reminder to the people that God had been faithful Joshua sent twelve men back into the bed of the river, each to find a stone representing their tribe. These were not small stones, but large stones which they had to carry on their shoulders and bring to the shore. Then the stones were placed together as a memorial forever. Anytime the people would pass by these stones they were to remind their children and their children’s children of God’s faithfulness to his people. The story of God’s salvation would be told again. This was the purpose of the memorial which would speak to God’s people forever.
Now, just as in the past, it is time for us to build our forever memorials to the work of God. Our children and our grandchildren need to be reminded that God has been faithful to us in the past, and he will continue to be faithful into the future.
There have been many blog posts and conversations regarding the future of the Church of the Nazarene recently. This is the tribe to which I belong. There were twelve tribes in Israel and each was invited to pull a stone from the riverbed and hoist it to shore as a reminder of God’s faithfulness. It was the collection of the stones together — which created the forever memorial.
We must never imagine that our tribe exists without the greater body of Christ. We are but one stone in the memorial, and yet, a piece of the whole. The Church of the Nazarene was born out of a movement of God’s Holy Spirit in this world. When we wonder what the future holds, maybe we ought to look back at the memorial stone and recognize where we have come from. God was faithful and God birthed this church. If we look into the face of God and seek him with all of our hearts we may discover that he continues to lead us.
God had a plan for the Israelites to conquer the entire promised land. They never did it because they got their eyes off of him. They forgot where they had come from, they ignored the memorials to the past and became consumed by their own lives, personal preferences and fears. That’s not what it was like when they boldly stepped into the Jordan river to cross over into the promised land.
I am a church historian and love to hear the stories of our past but I don’t just love to hear them for the sake of the stories, but because they are memorial stones. We have had our moments, including the miracle of Los Angeles First Church of the Nazarene and the way that lives were being transformed. The result was that those who were witness to this transformation were astounded by the work of God.
Across the United States we find the stories and the memorial stones of those who have gone before and that continued moving forward when God commanded. Agnes Diffee ministered in Arkansas where God used her in a powerful way to grow the largest Nazarene church in the United States in her day, with 1000 in attendance. She believed that God opened the door for her to become engaged in radio broadcast ministry, a real pioneer, as she spread the good news of Jesus Christ on a daily basis throughout Arkansas. What a memorial.
Just read the list of all the rescue homes, rest cottages, missions and orphanages where we ministered to the down and out throughout the years and they are memorial stones to the work of the Church of the Nazarene. Lives transformed and entire families led to a new trajectory because they had encountered the message of holiness.
The list of memorial stones could go on almost indefinitely for God has been at work in a powerful way. I’m sure that just yesterday there were more memorial stones which were erected as God was at work in churches around the globe.
Let us also not forget that our message of holiness is one of those memorial stones. There are those who refer to this as our distinctive doctrine. I’d like to argue that the doctrine of holiness exists throughout the entire Bible and all of church history. The only problem is that often the Church feels uncomfortable with the idea of transformation in the here and now into a reflection of Jesus Christ. It’s easier to make excuses for the ways in which we live our lives. The distinctive of the Church of the Nazarene and other holiness denominations was that we preached it! This is a memorial stone and when we fail to remember it, then we fail to remember who we are as a people and why we exist.
The memorial stone of our tribe stands there among all the others. Together we make up this beautiful thing called the Church. We are reminded to stop from time to time and remember what God has done in the past and has promised to do into the future. It is the power of God at work in our tribe and in the whole body of Christ that will determine our future, not our own personal decisions. The memorial stones were reminders of God’s work and intervention in the life of the Israelites. We are to continue to build memorials forever as we seek to reflect him in this world.
Lord, thank you for the memorial stones and reminders of your eternal faithfulness. Amen.
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