Saturday, June 25, 2011

Memorial Stones

When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the LORD said to Joshua, "Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, from right where the priests are standing, and carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight." So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, and said to them, "Go over before the ark of the LORD your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, 'What do these stones mean?' tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever." (Joshua 4:1-7, NIV)


I've been traveling lately (quite a bit more than I ever have) and for my flights I need to make sure I check-in electronically twenty-four hours in advance so I am assured one of the "good" seats on the plane. As such, I try to set up a reminder either on my calendar or my phone to tell me that I need to get to my computer and complete the process. It's a device much like many of you employ to ensure you remember something important.

At other times in my life, I have also been one given to "driving stakes" in the ground so I can measure progress and not forget some of the good accomplishments enjoyed or hard lessons I've learned. I also have collected some small mementos of trips or visits that help me easily recall an event and relive some of the experiences associated with it.

All of this is a kind of "memorial stone" for me, albeit in a far less significant way than we find in this passage from Joshua. Our God is a God who often has people build altars, name places something very specific, or otherwise provide a vehicle to memorialize something significant. As such, twelve rocks in a river may not seem like anything that important, but this story tells a different tale – and gives a charge to answer questions yet unasked.

If you recall from the last entry, this was the younger generation of Israelites. They had plenty of memorial markers to help keep what happened to their parents and grandparents fresh in their minds. For one, that generation wasn't around to enter the land with them. But God isn't relying on memory alone in this case. Instead, He is giving a specific instruction about erecting a stone tower on the Jordan riverbed while the flow of water was stopped.

I know some have said this crossing was during the flood season, making it all the more spectacular to see the river hold up and wait for them to cross. And, while the priests are still standing there as the symbol of God's hand stopping the current, each tribe is to send a leader over to a rock pile for a stone. Then they line up, stack the stones, head back for the banks, and the priests move out so the water starts again. But the thing here that strikes me is the future question they are to anticipate … "Hey, Dad, what is that pile of rocks in the river doing there anyway?" The answer should be swift and accurate in testimony to the time when God paved the way into the land and told them to set up the memorial stones.

I'm thinking this is a pattern of behavior that we would do well to follow today. Our generations have become so self-involved that we tend to think of ourselves more and those around us less. When we are wired for relational living (and we are), that tends to run contrary to how we function best. Along that line, it would do us some good to stop, look around us, pick up a couple memorial stones, and set them up in a way that causes others in our lives to ask, "What are those there for?" And that goes double (or even triple) for the generation coming behind us.

Along my Crooked Path, I should consider how many places I have set up memorial stones to commemorate something God has done in my life or a lesson He has taught me. They should be there not only so I can remember, but so I can pass on to other I encounter my perspective of who God really is and just how much He loves me. They can serve as reminders that God still stops rivers for me today so I can move closer to where He wants me to be.


  1. What makes you set up memorial stones in your life? Do you even consciously set up any?
  2. Are you doing something in your life that others will see causing them to ask you, "What's that there for?" Are looking to pass on your blessings to the next generation?
  3. Is God calling you to go pick up some stones and make a pile even now? Are you anticipating that God will stop the flow of a river for you and call you into a closer relationship?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Does God Take Sides?

And then this, while Joshua was there near Jericho: He looked up and saw right in front of him a man standing, holding his drawn sword. Joshua stepped up to him and said, "Whose side are you on—ours or our enemies'?" He said, "Neither. I'm commander of God's army. I've just arrived." Joshua fell, face to the ground, and worshiped. He asked, "What orders does my Master have for his servant?" God's army commander ordered Joshua, "Take your sandals off your feet. The place you are standing is holy." Joshua did it. (Joshua 5:13-15, The Message)


Only Joshua and Caleb remained of the people who had either seen or heard first-hand the report the twelve spies brought back about the land they were to possess. And, while Joshua brought a good report, you have to believe that somewhere, in the back of his mind, his human nature was reminding him that these cities were walled and well-fortified. Imagine that these thoughts, along with the order from God to go in and conquer the land, are running through his mind one night and he just can't settle down. He decides to go stretch his legs and breath in the desert night air, perhaps in hopes that it will clear his mind. He's in for just a little bit more, as it turns out.

Out there, on his walk, he sees a gleaming being approaching him. He stops, squints, and sees the man is holding an outstretched sword. Much like his mentor Moses with the burning bush, Joshua gets a little closer, albeit with great caution. Then he utters the words every good military man will say in this situation, "Who goes there? Friend or foe?" The answer isn't at all what he expects.

The God of Heaven, it turns out, is standing there right in front of him. And we would expect God to answer, "Friend, Joshua. I'm here to be on your team." Instead, God says (as my pastor says the most literal translations render it), "No." Then He explains Himself. He isn't there to join up with the Israelite army. He's the Commander-in-Chief of the armies of Heaven, and He's here to take over. He lays out a plan for Joshua that no sane military strategist would even give a second glance. It involves daily aerobics and a short concert – all followed by a war cry. Do that, and Joshua need only sit back and watch what happens next.

As my pastor presented this passage and message, I found myself in pretty strong agreement. It seems to me that many of us have taken the position that God is on our side, that He joins forces with us. As we see in this exchange with Joshua, nothing could be farther from the truth. It reminds me that we are called to humbly obey and to trust. And, when we do that, just look what God will make happen in our lives! A little walk, some horns, a shout, and the walls of our Jericho crumble to rubble right before our very eyes. We didn't lift a finger in the actual battle – we merely took off our shoes as the Messenger told us to.

It was that way with Jesus when He came and dwelt on Earth for those thirty-three years. People thought He should join sides, choose their team. And what team wouldn't want a star quarterback or expert player? We'd be crazy not to embrace that idea. Yet, that isn't how God works. Jesus came as a member of nobody's team – He made Himself of no account. Instead, He humbly carried out a plan He and the Father had drafted before time began and He died the most brutal of deaths with the common criminals. Outcasts all, nobody wanted Him on their team anymore. But that was OK, because He didn't come to pick sides anyway. He came to take control and change everything we thought we knew about relationship to God.

The Crooked Path brings many times when I want to cry out, "God, aren't you supposed to be on my side?" I feel abandoned and I'm sure you do as well. During these times, we would do well to remember Joshua's encounter in the night and God's answer of "neither". He has promised not to abandon us, and what He really wants is for us to trust Him completely and know that He will fight all our battles in the way He deems best. It would be far better that we seek to be on His team anyway.


  1. So, do you find yourself asking if God is really on your side? Can you see from this account in Joshua that God's answer is "no"?
  2. Are you tired of fighting your own battles, at losing sleep while you plot and plan how to carry out your next move? Can you set aside your pride and self-sufficiency long enough to see that's not the best approach to take?
  3. Do you need some "fresh night air" where you can encounter God and hear Him tell you to stop trying to do it yourself? If you had that encounter, do you have the heart to listen and know how much He cares about you and wants to take control?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Rescue and Refuge

I love you, God — you make me strong. God is bedrock under my feet, the castle in which I live, my rescuing knight. My God — the high crag where I run for dear life, hiding behind the boulders, safe in the granite hideout. I sing to God, the Praise-Lofty, and find myself safe and saved. The hangman's noose was tight at my throat; devil waters rushed over me. Hell's ropes cinched me tight; death traps barred every exit. A hostile world! I call to God, I cry to God to help me. From his palace he hears my call; my cry brings me right into his presence — a private audience! (Psalm 18:1-6, The Message)


In a recent sermon, our associate pastor was charging our graduates with some thoughts from Psalm 18. The setup for this offering from David, as Dan put it, is God's view of what David had come through after being pursued by Saul and others before finally finding relief from the constant conflict. David may not have originally viewed his circumstances this way, but God inspires the king to write this reflection from His perspective. The result is an amazing testament to God's provision and sustenance.

As is often the case, my eyes drifted across the columns to Eugene Peterson's rendering of this passage. The word "crag" stuck out immediately. The picture in my mind was of a high, protected space where God brought David to safety. It isn't a large spot – you wouldn't want to camp out there for an extended time, but it has a sense of safety and soundness that can't compare with anything else.

God's rescue and protection for David is so evident in this Psalm. David records his personal plea and God responds in kind. That thought – personal – really struck me as it was presented. God is a VERY personal God and treats us like the individuals He created us to become. It comes as no surprise that David's rescue follows this pattern and the Psalmist acknowledges it that way.

The crag is not a permanent place for David. The verses that follow are basically God's charge for him to "Go get 'em!" It is a powerful response based in a swift and furious love of an awesome God. Refreshed, David strikes out from his place of refuge and becomes the mighty king we read about. And though we know he falters, his place as "a man after God's own heart" was confirmed and his legacy lead to the Christ.

God provides the same comfort for us today as He did for David. We may not be literally running from people who are trying to kill us, but no doubt we feel the same way at times. Life can be very difficult and having a place of refuge and a Gold who will rescue are amazing things. That He does so in a distinctly personal way just amplifies that. The God who personally rescued and refreshed David will do the same for you and me.

The Crooked Path takes many turns as it leads toward our Final Home. Frankly, we just don't know where it is going at times and it gets downright difficult. In the midst of that pain, we have a God who has a specific design for our lives and has promised to pick us up and rescue us. Our perspective might be quite different from His and perhaps we can learn from David in Psalm 18. I'm sure David didn't see it that way when he went through it, but I like the version he wrote better anyway. It's God's perspective on how He loves us and it is ALWAYS the best way.


  1. Are you in need of rescue right now? Would you like nothing better than to have God swoop in and carry you off to some high crag that feels safe and secure?
  2. If you've been taken to the crag, do you realize that it isn't a permanent place? Do you find yourself wishing you could stay there instead of heading back out to face life?
  3. What is God's personal message of refreshment to you? Can you hear His words from His perspective like David wrote?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Powerful Secrets

Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, "Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him." Jesus answered and said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." Nicodemus *said to Him, "How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born, can he?" Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." (John 3:1-5, NASB)


I was listening to a reading of John's Gospel the other day, and the familiar story of Nicodemus was playing. Like many of you, I've heard this story since my early Sunday School days. We learned early how the man came at night, what his position was, and his puzzlement at Jesus saying he had to be "born again" to experience God's Kingdom personally. I even remember one of these verses being used for "X" in the alphabetical listing of Bible verses we were to learn (relying on "except"). But this time through, a different thought struck me.

Nicodemus, a Pharisee, came to Jesus and presented a confirmation from the council regarding who Jesus was. Now, they may not have all believed He was Messiah (though Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea did), the statement made reveals that the most learned, religious men in Israel recognized that Jesus was teaching with specific authority from God. This had to have been some sort of secret acknowledgement, because any public position from the council was that Jesus was an insane heretic!

Yet, here we have a man who genuinely is seeking the truth about something he has seen but cannot explain. We may never know the exact transcript of the conversation that took place that night, but something in Nicodemus' tone or words prompted our Lord to point him to new birth as the key to God's Kingdom. Jesus goes on to describe a second birth - a re-birth of the heart that is now pitched toward God. It wasn't about religion (Nicodemus had that nailed as a Pharisee), it was about something else entirely. And then, as every Sunday School kid will recite to you, Jesus sums it all up with what we know as John 3:16.

God's heart, embodied in Jesus as a man, reached out to Nicodemus encouraging him to believe even though he didn't completely understand it. The "powerful secret" that the council tried so hard to cover up was not only true, it was so much more. It wasn't just about a new authority coming with God's blessing; it was about God blessing us all with His very presence and taking on the complete human experience to show us just how passionate He really is about His creation. That passion is so great, it requires a re-birth of our souls, a heart transplant to make us capable and fit for the Kingdom. It comes at no price to us and yet the cost was immeasurable. Ultimately, Nicodemus embraced his own inability to comprehend it all from a textbook perspective and followed Christ. He was re-born!

How about us today? What are we looking for and how are we going about it? As I see it, God is still the same (at least that's what I read that He tells us) and offers that same point of entrance. However we frame it: new birth, coming as a child, transplant of our stone hearts for a flesh heart, or connecting to the Spring of Living Water ... the call is the same. Jesus wanted a relationship with Nicodemus and He wants one with us.

As I journey by Crooked Path, I am astounded how much God looks out for me. In times of trouble or want, blessing or relative ease, and every step of the way, the God of Eternity has my best interest at heart. He continues His pursuit of me for the sake of the relationship He desires. Like Nicodemus, my only part is to come to Him in honesty and humility. He will take care of everything else the best way He can think of.


  1. Does God's requirement for being "re-born" strike you as odd? Do you find yourself in the position of Nicodemus, questioning the logistics of it all?
  2. Are you able to see past all the metaphors and images? Can you grasp that what God is really after is a change of our heart?
  3. Do you find yourself comfortable or uncomfortable with this type of God? Does His passionate pursuit make you uneasy? Or can you swallow what you think you "know" in order to experience a deeper relationship and understanding of the Kingdom?