The last four weeks we have talked about the importance and power of a good story. This idea is engrained in humanity and is seen as far back as history will take us—the ancients wrote their stories on walls, papyrus, animal skins, and eventually on bound paper in the form of books. In the telling of a story we interact with those we have never met, we participate in their victories, learn from their defeats, and we are given the opportunity to walk in the shadow of trailblazing heroes. It is no accident that mankind is enamored with story, we are hardwired for them. Last week’s blog mentioned the idea that being made in the image of God fine-tuned us for a good story—this week we see that God has actually commanded our telling and retelling of stories. As it is with everything that God has commanded, it would be wise for us to take Him seriously for both the causes of His kingdom and also for the unhindered blessings that follow the adherence to His Word.
The Apostle Peter, in his first letter to scattered Christians tells them “You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” The connection can be made to the Church as the new “temple” of God—and that’s a right connection to make. But there is a second connection to the Jewish culture that can and must be made. In the early days of the Jewish nation (and even earlier in the days of the Patriarchs) men and women set “stones” as boundary lines, places of remembrance, and as a witness to future generations. Joshua chapter 4 tells a “stone” story. The nation of Israel is poised to start taking over the Promised Land—in order to do that they will start by crossing over the Jordan River. About 40 years earlier God had parted a sea for the nation to cross safely, He would reestablish that precedent by parting the Jordan for this generation to cross. God would take a “story” they were very familiar with and then place them inside that story. He would make it real to them by walking them through the same scenario. Joshua 4: 1-3 states, “When all the nation had finished passing over the Jordan, the LORD said to Joshua, ‘Take twelve men from the people, from each tribe a man, and command them, saying, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests' feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.’” The reason for such a request is seen in chapter 4 verse 6, “So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.” These stones are a memorial posted in plain sight as a constant reminder of God’s provision and a conversation starter with the children to come about how awesome their God has been and will be to the nation.
Stones of remembrance, memorials to God’s awesomeness, and a piece of cultural history that connects past, present, and future together; God commanded these dead stones be placed as living reminders. With the nation’s history in mind, Peter would call the church “living stones”. We are reminders of God’s goodness—and not only are we reminders when looked at by the outside world but we can also “cry out” about God’s goodness, provision, and power. Jesus flips the concept in Luke 19:40 when the Pharisees demand that Jesus rebuke His disciples for worshiping Him as God, Christ responds, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” Dead stones can cry out for God’s glory but why should they when the Church is here to sing His praises? Our lives are “living stones” crying out for God’s glory—we are placed here to be used to spread the message of Jesus as Messiah, Savior, and God’s Lamb that takes away the sin of the world. We are here to be a reminder and memorial to all of what God has done and a picture of what God can do in the future.
I spoke of George Mueller’s headstone as a magnificent reminder of his life. It is a beautiful example of the “living stone” that he was during his life. He loved God, honored God, relied on God and all those children that Mueller cared for were better off for it. They acknowledged his witness on Mueller’s dead headstone—they did so because he was a marvelous “living stone.” Many lives are lived well and leave indelible marks on those who are close enough to see and experience them. The praying and sturdy grandparent, the faithful pastor or teacher of a small congregation, a coach that taught more than just a sport—all these lives can be of utmost importance to the individuals they touch. Then there are other lives that God has seen fit to use throughout generations as examples of what He can and is willing to do through those that will yield. At times our Lord sees fit to expand someone’s platform beyond the realm of normal living—sometimes He sees fit to use individuals for centuries of Christian witness. Certain men and women provide generation after generation of positive reinforcement and help during our troubled times. Two weeks ago we covered four individuals that satisfy that criteria—I would refer the reader back a week to reengage those stories. This past Sunday we covered 6 more.
John the Baptist was the first we talked about—a man that Jesus stated in Matthew 11, “of all those born of women, there has been none greater than John.” What an example, what a compliment! Wow! Can you imagine the concept behind God Almighty calling you out as one of the greatest to ever live? The part of the story that sinks your heart is to understand that John never heard what Jesus had to say about him. Those statements are made after John’s disciples are told to leave and carry the message of the Messiah back to John, who is in prison and getting ready to be executed. At the lowest point of his life John is given the greatest compliment ever by the greatest man (if we call Jesus that without irreverence) who ever lived. The life of John is an example of a “living stone” that Jesus Christ wants us to be familiar with. Why else bring his story up in such a glowing manner? The story of John Newton was then recounted. A man whose past was so horrendous that the fruit to bloom from it would be many great hymns including Amazing Grace. His life as a slave trader and sailor was so full of times that displeased God that he would refer to himself in Amazing Grace as “a wretch like me.” A scoundrel, lost and blind was set free by the grace and love of God almighty. John Newton’s sin was deep—but God’s love is infinitely deeper. His life was bad but Jesus’ life was infinitely good. Because of that, Newton could be won back, loved, and set free from the things that destined him for Hell and an eternity separated from a holy and righteous God. Lyrics from another of Newton’s songs states, “Approach my soul the mercy seat, where holy One and helpless meet. There fall before my Judge’s feet; thy promise is my only plea, O God.” Yes, Newton knew the power of being laid bare before a Holy God that loved him and bled and died to redeem him.
Jim and Elisabeth Elliot were two that we spoke about on Sunday as well. A missionary couple to Ecuador that gave everything for the lives of those they did not know. Jim was murdered by the tribe they were sent to share the Gospel with within a week of arrival. He and four friends paid the ultimate price for their faith and their willingness to put that faith into action. Elisabeth regrouped, had the daughter she was pregnant with when Jim was killed, and moved back to start the mission again about two years after Jim’s death. She spent the rest of her life in service to King Jesus in whatever form it took at the time. According to Elisabeth’s testimony Jim had stated, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.” What an amazing comment from a man that would give his earthly life at the age of 29 to be welcomed into an eternal one as a martyr and hero.
The story of martyr Thomas Haukes was the next to be relived. The story of his burning at the stake in 1555 is one of legend. This man that loved Jesus was willing to die for his faith—prior to that moment though, some friends asked for his help. Their faith was being shaken by the persecution of the brothers and sisters. His friends had come the night before his execution and asked for a sign if the flames were tolerable. To show God’s mercy in the midst of the flames, Thomas would lift his hands above his head during this time of intense trial. History notes that “a long while” had passed, the skin had swelled, and Thomas’ hands no longer had fingers due to the flames burning them off—then suddenly this man, long thought dead, lifted both hands in the air and clapped them together three times. A moment of celebration broke out immediately and revival was started by this “living stone” being faithful unto death.
Horatio Spafford was the last man we spoke of on Sunday morning. A modern day (if we can call the 1800’s “modern”) Job story. A wealthy businessman had his whole life stripped from him. He and his wife had their only son die very young, their wealth was destroyed by the Chicago fire of 1871, and their four daughters are tragically killed in the sinking of the Ville de Havre on their way to Europe to help with one of D.L. Moody’s evangelistic campaigns. This kind of pain cannot be accurately described in words—especially from someone who has not lived through it. But what we do know is that on the way to meet his wife (one of the few survivors of the ships sinking) in Europe after the catastrophe he penned these words;
When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
These individuals were each giants of the faith. Their pasts were real and their lives not sinless, but each died leaving a testimony to behold! They are living stones for us to emulate and to draw strength from—if God can and has used flawed individuals in the past, will He not do the same in and through you and I? Can He not make us something that blesses generations to come? He is able and He is willing. Will we yield?
Questions to ponder: