STANDING STONES

The practice of setting up memorials to remind us and future generations of certain acts has been around for millennia. 

We have set up memorials in Western culture such as the Arc de Triumphe in Paris, France.   This keeps the memory of heroic acts of individuals and of nations before our collective memory.

used-arc-de-triumphe
Arc de Triumphe, Paris

The Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. is an illustration of a memorial that is dedicated to one individual who had a particularly important role in shaping our country and its founding documents. 

Jefferson Memorial (C)
The Jefferson Memorial, Washington, DC

 

Abraham Lincoln’s Tomb in Springfield, Illinois honors the life and memory of a president whose life represented a desire for elimination of slavery and the drive to have a unified country where people could work but not be in bondage to anyone.

lincolns-tomb-springfield-illinois-2
Tomb of Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, in Springfield, Illinois.

In ancient days in the Middle East, people would erect sacred stones to honor their gods, to confirm covenants between persons and even between cities. 

According to Biblicaltraining.org, there is a term used by archeologists to identify a “sacred pillar”, that is a stone monument set up as a memorial or as an object of worship, also known as “standing stones”.  The technical term for such an object is MASSEBAH măs’ ə bə (מַצֵּבָ֖ה).

The Hebrews set up “standing stones” or “massebah” that would serve as a reminder of God’s covenant and of His supernatural acts that He extended on their behalf.  When members of the community would see a stone, the story surrounding it would be passed on orally from generation to generation.  In other words, the stone would serve as a sort of “lesson book” which was “read” by the parents, grandparents and relatives as they taught their children throughout future generations.

For example, Jacob set up standing stones at Bethel where he had his incredible dream in which God reaffirmed His covenant with him. Read about it in Genesis chapters 28 and 35. 

Another example is found in the book of Exodus: 

Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD and all the rules. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words that the LORD has spoken we will do.”  And Moses wrote down all the words of the LORD. He rose early in the morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel.

Exodus 24:3-4.

One of my favorite men of the Old Testament is Joshua.  When the people were going to cross the Jordan River, God told him to take twelve stones out of the midst of the Jordan to use as standing stones for later generations. 

And the people of Israel did just as Joshua commanded and took up twelve stones out of the midst of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, just as the LORD told Joshua. And they carried them over with them to the place where they lodged and laid them down there. … And those twelve stones, which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal.  And he said to the people of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’  then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’  For the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the LORD your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty, that you may fear the LORD your God forever.”

Joshua 4:8, 20-24.

The people were to keep the story of God’s miraculous acts before the eyes and hearts of their children by way of oral tradition, which would be triggered by seeing the standing stones that were a testament to God’s acts on their behalf. 

This practice is also raised in the New Testament where Peter describes believers as “living stones” in 1 Peter 2:5.   In all likelihood, Peter was using the standing stones concept so that the hearers would live out their faith so boldly that the people around them would take notice.  Indeed, they were not mute standing stones that relied on the memories of the people for telling the story of God.  They were living stones who could tell of God’s acts in their own lives; they could personally tell of the difference in their own lives because of the Lord Jesus, and they could describe the power given by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. 

It is likely that Stonehenge is an illustration of standing stones to be used in calling people to the worship of their god.  The problem, though, is that no one knows with certainty what the stones mean … they are certainly standing stones, but there is no one who can speak positively to their significance. 

stonehenge-18-c
Stonehenge

 

What does this have to do with us in 2016? 

We need to live in contrast to Stonehenge.  We are not to merely be silent stones standing up without any relevance to anyone.  We are to be living stones who tell of God and of His mercies to anyone we come in contact with, to anyone who will listen, to any … period!

We are to be the living stones for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  We are to be ready to tell others of Jesus and His love, of His saving grace and atoning sacrifice, of His presence in our lives and of the comfort and encouragement that the Holy Spirit provides to us through all of life’s ups and downs.

Who is going to tell your children of God’s grace and mercy?  Who is going to illustrate the love of God to your grandchildren?  Who is going to testify to the ongoing presence of God in your life?  Who is going to repeat the stories of God’s protection, of His providential provision for your needs, of His deliverance from tragedy, of His surrounding mercy and grace during times of grief?

I pray that we each would be living stones for our God.  I pray that we would live lives that illustrate God’s presence in us and with us on a daily basis.  When people see us, our marriages, our families, our homes, our witness to others, I pray that what they will see is the image of our Lord and Savior as we seek to do His will in our communities, nation and world.

Father, help me to be a living stone for You.  Enable me to witness of your love, care, mercy and grace.  Give me Godly wisdom as I speak to others so that the words will be yours and the power of your Word will speak through me.  Thank You for the gift of life, now and for eternity, through your Son, Jesus Christ, my Lord and my Savior.

 

THEY LIKE ‘EM BECAUSE THEY DON’T KNOW ANY BETTER.

We were getting ready for breakfast when my beloved said that he felt like having waffles.

Now, in our home, we never have waffles – I no longer have a waffle iron and when I did have one, the waffles were almost inedible because they either were burned to a crisp or stuck on the cooking surface so when you opened the waffle iron to retrieve the food, you had to scrape the stuff off onto the plate in a clump … not particularly waffle-like!

But, in looking through the freezer, I found a box of waffles that I had purchased for breakfast when the grandchildren were with us. Not exactly sure how long they had been under the vegetables in the freezer, but I got at least one “wife point” for having waffles when they were requested!

After I toasted them, I put them on the plate along with the syrup and apple butter and we were ready for breakfast.

One taste was all it took to know that these were not going to get a blue ribbon in the waffle baking competition. As we were eating them in silence, I looked at my beloved and said “at least the grandchildren like ‘em!”

His response was

“They like ‘em because they don’t know any better!”

That prompted me to remember the Lord’s Word when describing how often human-kind satisfies itself with something less than the best.

Scripture tells us that the Israelites in the wilderness did exactly this … they exchanged their relationship with the Holy God for idols of their own creation.   Having never been to the Holy Land, when I think of the wilderness, I picture the terrain we saw as we approached Albuquerque, New Mexico. [I don’t know if this looks like what the Israelites experienced, but it gives me a visual image that helps when I read the Word.]

Albuquerque desert places
Albuquerque desert places

This incident is recorded in Exodus 32 where the people were tired of waiting for Moses who had gone up the mountain to speak with God. The people asked Aaron to make a god for them to worship, and he took their gold and made the calf.

And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf.

And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.”   And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.

Exodus 32:4-6.

God, of course, saw this and told Moses to go down the mountain and speak to the people before he destroyed them in his fury. Moses pleaded with God and total destruction was averted, but turning their backs on God to follow a man-made god is a pattern that repeated itself throughout the Old Testament.

In Psalm 106:20 we read:

“They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass.”

We read this and think “How in the world could they do that? They had direct experience with the power of God as they were lead away from Pharaoh and as they wandered through the wilderness with ample provision of food and water. God lead them with the pillars of cloud and fire and His presence was resident in the tabernacle. How could they ignore all that and turn to idols that they, themselves, had created?”

But before we point fingers, we need to look at ourselves. We may not have seen God’s hand as they did, but Paul tells us that all people have knowledge of God and His power just by looking at creation. This is called general revelation. Some examples of the variety of our God’s creative powers can be seen here:

The exquisite detail of a butterfly.

Butterfly munching on strawberry
Butterfly munching on strawberry

The human newborn baby, a complete adult in miniature.

Newborn baby asleep
Newborn baby asleep

In Romans 1:20 we read:

For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

The detail found in the myriad of beautiful flora and fauna in our world.

Beautiful flowers
Beautiful flowers

The majesty of mountain peaks, covered in snow even in June.

Mount Washington in distance, Oregon
Mount Washington in distance, Oregon

The ocean, peaceful power waiting to be unleashed.

Rugged Oregon coastline at the ocean
Rugged Oregon coastline at the ocean

Then, Paul tells what people have done, despite God’s creative general revelation that is available to all people.

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Romans 1:21-23.

This exchange of the immortal for that which is mortal, finite and of minimal power is what was forbidden in Exodus 20:3-6 which are the first two of the Ten Commandments.  We are to have no other gods and we are not to make any carved image to bow down to it or serve it.

Stonehenge, burial area for ancient peoples
Stonehenge, burial area for ancient peoples

Stonehenge in England is thought to be an ancient site for burial and for processions related to the sun.

In Isaiah, the prophet quotes the message that God has for the people and in Isaiah 42 and 43 there is the repeated statement that God is the LORD. See for example,

Isaiah 43 verses 11 through 13 assert:

I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior. I declared and saved and proclaimed, when there was no strange god among you; and you are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and I am God. Also henceforth I am he; there is none who can deliver from my hand; I work, and who can turn it back?”

Isaiah 42 verses 5 and 8 tell us:

Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it: … “I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.”

While the grandchildren might be satisfied with old, frozen waffles because they have never had the fresh, hot and steaming with goodness real thing, we cannot say that our turning to idols is because we never had any knowledge of The Real Thing. God has given us every breath we take – God has created our universe and all that is in it. Each person, in their heart of hearts, knows that God is but this is a far cry from worshiping God in spirit and in truth.  Even people in our 21st century who are too urbane to believe in God, have decided that our world was created by “an intelligent being”.

Idols that man creates for himself may be wood or stone, but, in this day and time, they are probably a bit more intangible:

  • Fame
  • Popularity
  • Success in business
  • Recognition
  • Yourself
  • Big house, boat, car, whatever
  • Big bank account
  • Independence from anyone or anything

In comparison, the Living God who demands our worship:

  • is the one who created.
  • is the one who saves.
  • is the one who provides life.
  • is the one who is the Living God.
  • is the one who loves us with an everlasting love.
  • is the one who sent his Son to be our propitiation, our savior and our Lord.
  • is the omniscient, omnipresent, almighty God, and there is no other god before him.

When we worship our own gods, we are robbing God of what is rightfully his. We are unilaterally transferring honor, praise and glory to something far less than God. When we worship gods that cannot save or even reply, that cannot move or act on our behalf, that have no power over fire, wind or evil, we are guilty of sin against the Holy God, Creator and Sustainer of the universe. Let us repent and praise God for his grace, mercy and love, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Father, forgive me when I have traded my relationship with you for worshiping gods of my own making. When I have acted as though I am god, forgive me. When I have created gods of my own choosing, or when I am unintentionally worshiping something other than you, forgive me and point out my sin so that I may repent and be restored to a right relationship with you. I praise you and honor you, my Creator, my Savior, and my God.

THE ROCK

Many of us have heard the old hymn, Rock of Ages, and we probably also have heard the description of Jesus Christ as the “Rock of Ages”. Further, we likely have heard preachers compare Jesus to being our Foundation, Security and Surety. Those concepts are surely accurate, but they are lofty and sometimes hard to think of in real terms that we can touch and feel.

We were in England and visited Stonehenge – now there were some rocks, and big ones too. It was so hard to imagine how the people created this monument with such immense stones. They are truly “solid rocks”.

Stonehenge 5 (C)  Stonehenge 11 (C)

But then, when we were in Yosemite National Park, we saw a physical illustration of a Rock of Ages!

Yosemite 2011 WRM 133 (C)

El Capitan is a peak that rises 7,569 feet high in the Sierra Nevada range of central California in Yosemite National Park. Its exposed monolith rises 3,600 feet above the valley floor.

Yosemite El Capitan 6-2011 069 (C)

El Capitan ‐‐ according to the National Park Service, El Capitan is the largest monolith of granite in the world! “Capitan” is Spanish for “Captain”. The monolith is awesome in its scope, size, power and strength!

If we are Christians, our Captain is Jesus Christ, upon whom our hope is built. He is our Rock, and He will provide us the strength and ability to stand when the storm comes. He will preserve the believer even if all may desert him/her, and He will preserve us from that supreme disquiet that attends fear, anxiety and worry.

Christ’s comforts will not fail; they will be the believer’s strength and song; and they are the believer’s an anchor of his soul, sure and steadfast, in this life and the next.   The Apostle Paul says it this way:

 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me – the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing.

2 Timothy 4:7‐8. [New Living Translation]

The Christian life is certainly not without difficulties, in fact, Jesus promised that we would have problems and trials. But, we can stand on the Rock and know that, whatever buffets us in life, nothing can take us away from our Captain.

 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38 [New International Translation]

When the believer comes to the last moment of life, our hope in Christ will remove both the terror of death and the power of the grave. Christ will carry the believer, covered in the blood and righteousness of Christ, to God the Father where the believer will be accepted by God and given life eternal.

Praise Him, our Rock, Captain, Redeemer and Savior, now and forevermore!