When the whole nation had finished crossing Jordan, The Lord said to Joshua, Choose 12 men from among the people, one from each tribe, and tell them to take up 12 stones from the middle of Jordan.. And Joshua set up at Gilgal the 12 stones they had taken out of the Jordan. He said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their fathers”, “What do these stones mean?” “Tell them…He did this so all the people of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so you might always fear the Lord your God.” | Joshua 4
I am thankful to be at the end of the busy summer camp season. Camp is truly a highlight of my year. Although, truth be told, 9 weeks of cooking 3 meals a day for camps, takes its toll on this 46 year old. A couple days ago I was finally getting some time to put my hands in the dirt to enjoy some gardening, and to find a great place to hang my hammock. I just love hammock time.
There are two trees in the front yard that are tall and strong, and perfect for a hammock. However between them was a woodpile, a bee’s nest, and lots and lots of stones. As I was clearing the last of the stones, I found myself kneeling on the ground in front of the pretty impressive pile of stones I had gathered. Some of them quite beautiful. As I picked them up and began looking them over, I was enjoying the quiet, and remembering what altars of remembrance meant to the children of Israel, and to me.
At different times in the Old Testament, God’s people were instructed or impressed upon to set up a pile of stones at a place where either a great miracle had taken place, or where God had taught them something very important.
In Joshua 4, the Israelites just experienced the miracle of God clearing the Jordan so that they could cross on dry land to the place He was leading them into, and God had them erect 12 stones for two reasons: for their remembrance, and to be a testimony to the generations to come.
In another passage of the Old Testament, we see Jacob is at a very critical point in his life. He has practiced deceit, he is fleeing his home and family, and God meets him in his sleep and reveals His purpose and promise for Jacob’s life. Genesis 16: When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, surly the Lord is in this place. Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on it. He made a vow saying “If God be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking, and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear, so that I return safely to my father’s house, The Lord will be my God…”
Why build altars of remembrance? Because sometimes in present life, we tend to get tangled in our own concerns, the fears and discontent of the moment. We can lose the perspective and the grateful heart of those life changing moments.
It also is a tremendous way to share Jesus with others. Often when sharing one of these remembrances, my eyes tear up and the memories of these moments refreshes my own spirit. The person I am sharing with cannot deny that my God is very real and very personal to me.
I remember as a young adult when altars of remembrance became significant to me personally. I was 22 years old, and had been running hard from God and His purpose for my life. I wanted to enjoy life on my terms. Finally I took my messed up self to the altar in our church and lay face down on the carpet. I offered myself to my creator and begged Him to forgive my rebellious heart. That day became a turning point in how I viewed God and others. When I read about the stones that would remind the Israelites of where God had taken them from, I knew I was building a modern day remembrance for my own life.
Several more times over the past 25 years or so, I have had to make new altars of remembrance. In this past couple of years, some personal things I have been going through have been so intense with disappointment, fear, and even anger. I won’t share the details, but at times I have felt very distanced from those close places I have shared with Jesus.
This week, kneeling by those stones, I am allowing my spirit to be refreshed. To linger over the special memories of when God had parted the waters for me, or has poured His promises into my heart, and like Jacob, has watched over me on this journey I am taking.