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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Stones in the Jordan

I am kind of new at this blogging deal. I am kind of old at this writing articles deal. I wrote one for Group Magazine back in 2001, co-authoring it with a former student (now wife of a youth minister and mother of three). As youth ministers, it is possible that you start 2010 with the "is it really worth it?" that we all feel occasionally.

It is. Here is the article

Stones in the Jordan

By Allen Jackson and Amy Howell

Subplots and Stones From the River

I have always been fascinated by the stories within the stories in the Bible. It seems that when there is a great plot unfolding in the Word, there are subplots that run underneath. For example, in the story of Moses, Joshua, and the battle with the Amlekites (Exodus 17), the story within the story is that of Aaron and Hur holding up the arms of the patriarch. If I understand the position of the two arm-holder-uppers in relation to Moses, I conclude that they were “armpit sniffers for the army of God.” And you think youth ministry is sometimes a smelly job.

In the story of David and Goliath, there is the family struggle within David’s family. In the story of Barnabas and Paul, there is the little matter of Barnabas’ nephew, John Mark. In the story of Samson, there must be some untold incidents which lead the writer of Hebrews to declare him to be a man of faith.

I am especially intrigued by the minute details that God has His people take care of. In one story, the details become the subplot of the larger story. In the book of Joshua, the namesake of the book had just replaced Moses as the leader of the Israelites. Moses had been prevented from entering the promised land (as had a whole lot of middle-agers). Joshua was to lead the Hebrew people across the river Jordan to begin the conquest of the promised land.

The only problem was that the Jordan River was at flood stage. I live near the Mississippi River and when it is flooding, it is a scary thing. However, God had a miracle in mind for Joshua and the gang, and most of you are probably familiar with the parting of the waters and the Israelites subsequently crossing on dry ground. But the story within the story is the rocks. Consider the account from the first nine verses of Joshua chapter four:

Now when all the nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the LORD spoke to Joshua, saying, "Take for yourselves twelve men from the people, one man from each tribe, and command them, saying, "Take up for yourselves twelve stones from here out of the middle of the Jordan, from the place where the priests' feet are standing firm, and carry them over with you and lay them down in the lodging place where you will lodge tonight.'" So Joshua called the twelve men whom he had appointed from the sons of Israel, one man from each tribe; and Joshua said to them, "Cross again to the ark of the LORD your God into the middle of the Jordan, and each of you take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Israel.

"Let this be a sign among you, so that when your children ask later, saying, "What do these stones mean to you?' then you shall say to them, "Because the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD; when it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off.' So these stones shall become a memorial to the sons of Israel forever."

Thus the sons of Israel did as Joshua commanded, and took up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, just as the LORD spoke to Joshua, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Israel; and they carried them over with them to the lodging place and put them down there. Then Joshua set up twelve stones in the middle of the Jordan at the place where the feet of the priests who carried the ark of the covenant were standing, and they are there to this day.
Joshua 4:1-9 (NASB updated)

So a pile of rocks was set up in the middle of the Jordan. My guess is that when the river was no longer at flood stage, that these would be visible–after all the priests were not in the deepest part of the river when the waters dried up. Another pile of rocks would come out of the river. These would be set up at Gilgal, were the Israelites would camp (v.19-21):

Now the people came up from the Jordan on the tenth of the first month and camped at Gilgal on the eastern edge of Jericho. Those twelve stones which they had taken from the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal. He said to the sons of Israel, "When your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, "What are these stones?' then you shall inform your children, saying, "Israel crossed this Jordan on dry ground.' (NASB updated)

While credible scholars, including the translators of the NIV believe that the language in v.9, coupled with the context of the memorial at Gilgal indicate that there was only one memorial at Gilgal, the point is the same. The purpose of the stones was that they would forever be a memorial of God’s intervention in the lives of His people.

So I Got to Thinking
As a youth minister, I had recently become convicted that we move quickly from event to event without adequately celebrating what God has done at the last one. As I read of the importance that the Hebrews, under God’s direction, placed on memorializing that incredible river crossing, I had an idea.

I had often seen the students in the youth group have significant encounters with God while they were at a retreat, a camp, or on a mission trip. What if I suggested that they take note of times when they were aware of God’s activity in their lives, particularly as it related to Him moving them toward a deeper or different commitment? And what if I suggested that they find a “souvenir” that would remind them of the place and time where they had a clear sense of His direction? I did not want it to become trivialized one more tradition at camp, so I usually related the suggestion in private conversations as students shared what God was up to in their lives.

One girl showed me a shot glass that marked her decision to quit drinking. A boy in the group showed me his matchbook cover from the lodge where he understood that he had to be a disciple at home as well as in youth group. Still another student literally brought a rock from a riverbed in the retreat center where we were staying.

An incident that stands out as particularly significant involved Amy. Amy was a senior in high school when she picked up her, “rock from the Jordan.” I contacted her when I agreed to write this article, so I will let her tell her story.

Amy’s Story
I grew up going to church and learning about God both there and at home. I accepted Christ when I was ten, but it wasn’t until I was in youth group that I began to experience real spiritual growth. When I was in Junior high I was in a discipleship group with an adult in our church. I began to learn the value of memorizing scripture and spending quality time with God on a daily basis. As a result, I began to actually develop a relationship with God that would make all the difference in the world in my life.

When I was fifteen I had to face an unexpected tragedy in my family. My dad had cancer which would take him to be with God after a fifteen month struggle. The relationship I had with God as a result of hiding His Word in my heart served as a guide and a comfort at that very crazy time in my life. I have no doubt in my mind that God used my youth group to grow and prepare me for such a difficult year and a half. God didn’t just leave me there; He was faithful and continued to work in my life through my high school years.

I got to go on several mission trips which always seemed to leave deep impressions in my heart and mind. The summer after my senior year I went on one particular trip that changed my life forever. Our youth choir went to Detroit, Michigan in June. We did the usual--Bible School, Backyard Bible clubs, and neighborhood canvassing. We also did a concert in a number of different places. The event that stands out to me the most was a concert we did at a park in downtown Detroit. Even though it was in a tough neighborhood, it was your typical park. A notable difference was that instead of being filled with children playing, it was the home to many homeless people who found comfort in the hard benches, where they slept and sorted their treasures.

I can still picture that park as if it were yesterday… A purple and green iron playground that had seen its better days, the public housing across the street, the young children wandering the streets appearing content in their situation. A scattered crowd gathered to watch us sing, mostly wondering what a bunch of middle class Southern kids were doing singing and smiling in a place like this.

As we sang God began to break my heart. I couldn’t help but cry as He showed me His great love for all people. As our concert came to a close we sang a song. I knew as I sang the words that God was asking me, “Do you really mean that?” And I knew more than ever that I did mean those words. I also knew that He was telling me that he wanted me to commit to serve Him for the rest of my life and that he was preparing me for serving Him. I didn’t know exactly what that meant, but I told God that moment that I would do whatever he wanted me to do.

After the concert I went immediately to my youth minister to tell what had happened. As we talked he told me about how in the Bible there were times when people had significant moments with God they would take with them a object as a reminder of their experience and commitment with God. I walked around the park and quickly came across a bottle cap that still had a piece of the bottle attached. Someone was so desperate for a drink that they broke off the top of the bottle when they could not find an opener. I kept that bottle cap (the broken bottle part eventually came off) and stuck it in my pocket as a reminder to me of what God had done and had promised to keep doing in my life.

All four years of college that bottle cap stayed pinned to my bulletin board as a reminder that God was preparing me and that I had committed to serve him. Today, I am married to a youth minister and he and I are looking forward to many years of ministry together as we pass on what God has done in our lives with teenagers. I am convinced that even in those times when I’m not sure what God is doing and where He is moving me and my husband, I know that He is using me and will be faithful to His promise.

Copyright Group Publishing, Inc. May/Jun 2001

1 comment:

  1. I'm not a big coffee fan, but I am a big fan of community and blogs, and Dr. Jackson, so this is an explosion of goodness waiting to happen. :)
    -Matt Pinckard