Reflections on spiritual themes (and a few other things).

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Memorials

Today is Memorial Day, a day set aside for remembering and honoring Americans who fought and died for our freedom. Its purpose is to help us keep in mind the deeds and sacrifices of these courageous men and women.

In a similar way, God has left memorials for his people to observe. In them, he helps us keep in mind what he’s done in the past, what he’s doing in the present, and what he’ll continue to do in the future.

The opening chapters of the book of Joshua provide several examples of spiritual memorials for the Israelites. Chapters 3-5 record their preparations for entering and conquering the Promised Land. In this group of texts, God commands Israel to observe several memorials that would help them see the significance of the moment.

The Ark of the Covenant. The ark was a wooden chest covered with gold (Exodus 25.10-22). It was called “the ark of the testimony” (Exodus 25.15); “the ark of the covenant of the Lord” (Numbers 14.44); “the ark of the Lord” (Joshua 3.13); “the Ark of God” (1 Samuel 4.11). 

When Israel first crossed the Jordan River, the ark went first, reminding them of the place God and his word must have in their lives (Joshua 3.l‐6). It reminded Israel that God’s covenant was universal (v. 11). The ark contained the tablets of stone (the Ten Commandments), Aaron’s rod that budded, and a jar of manna, all reminders of how the eternal God had intervened in history for the redemption of his people. It also reminded them that the Lord’s covenant was personal: He was in their midst (v. 9).

The Stones. After crossing the Jordan (4.1-9), the Israelites erect two piles of stones: one in the riverbed, and one on the riverbank. The first appeared whenever the tide was low, as a reminder of God’s intervention on their behalf. He miraculously parted the waters to give them passage into the Promised Land (v. 7, cf. chapter 3). The second reminded them that God kept his promises. These stones also reminded future generations and served to warn surrounding nations (4.21-24; 5.1).

Circumcision. Also after crossing the Jordan, the men of the nation were circumcised (5.1-9). The entire Israelite army was incapacitated within sight of the enemy, reminding them that they were entirely in the hands of God. Circumcision reminded Israel of the continuity with Abraham’s covenant (Genesis 17.9-14, 23-27). They were reminded that although circumcision was a mark of the sons of Israel, it was no guarantee of entering the Promised Land. It was also a reminder to circumcise their hearts (Deuteronomy 10.6; 30.6).

Passover. The Passover was celebrated on the eve of their departure from Egypt (Exodus 12.1-32). Now, forty years later, they were on the verge of entering the Promised Land, and they were to celebrate the feast again (Joshua 5.10). Passover commemorated their deliverance from bondage (Exodus 12.26-27). It was a reminder of their redemption from slavery.

Manna. Finally, the manna ceased (Joshua 5.12). Manna was given to them at the beginning of their wilderness trek (Exodus 16). It was the daily bread for an entire generation of Israelites, yet it was never intended to be permanent. When they entered the land, this token would cease. They could then enjoy the real fruit of the Promised Land.

Today, God’s people enjoy greater blessings than these (Ephesians 1.3-14), and we have our own set of memorials. Unlike the Israelites’ memorials, ours are primarily spiritual. 

Scripture. Like the Ark of the Covenant, we have God’s word – Scripture – as a reminder of God’s character and covenants (Hebrews 8.6-13; 1 Peter 1.22 – 2.3; 2 Timothy 3. 16-17). Like the ark, God’s word is also a record of salvation history. And, like the memorial stones, his word reminds us of God’s powerful interventions in the past and his precious promises for the future (Jude 5-7; 2 Peter 1.3-4).

The Lord’s Supper. Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper when he celebrated his final Passover with his disciples the night before he was crucified (Luke 22.14-23). Christians in the first century celebrated it on the first day of the week (Acts 20.7). Because of our redemption from the bondage of sin, we shouldn’t be surprised that Christ is called our Passover (1 Corinthians 5.7f). In this memorial we declare his death, burial, resurrection, and return (1 Corinthians 11.23-26).

Baptism. Jesus commanded his disciples to be baptized (Matthew 28.18-20), and the apostle Paul compared it to circumcision (Colossians 2.11-12). Like circumcision, baptism may be thought of as an beginning point (Galatians 3.26-27), and as something that represents a change from the old to the new (Romans 6.4ff), a change from death into life.

Spiritual Blessings. Finally, the spiritual blessings we have in Christ (Ephesians 1.3-14) serve the same function for us as manna did for the Israelites in the wilderness. They’re daily reminders of God’s heavenly blessings (Ephesians 1.3), intended both for our sustenance now, and as tokens of unimaginable blessings yet to come (v 13f).

What do these memorials mean to you?

Flood Insurance

Few things grab your attention the way flood waters do. 

Twice my wife and I have had significant flooding in the basement of two different houses. Once, a heavy rainstorm overwhelmed the storm sewers in our neighborhood and the water backed up through the floor drain. We had knee deep water in the basement. We had to replace our furnace, and we lost boxes and boxes of memorabilia. I remember watching a box of waterlogged books floating its way across the basement. 

Another time we also had a heavy rainstorm and the basement sump pump died. The main damage was to the flooring, which had to be replaced. But it took a lot of effort to get the floor cleaned and sanitized, to move the furniture around, and then eventually tile the basement floor. 

You can’t always anticipate when flooding will occur, but you can prepare for it. That’s true with houses and it’s true with spiritual disasters. 

David said, “Therefore, let everyone who is godly pray to You in a time when You may be found; surely in a flood of great waters they will not reach him” (Psalm 32.6). 

Psalm 32 is a penitential psalm about forgiveness. David had confessed his sin to God and God forgave him. In the first four verses, David describes the relief he felt when he experienced God’s forgiveness. In v. 6, David uses the imagery of flood waters to teach a lesson to spiritually alert people. They should always be on the lookout for sin and do everything in their power to avoid it. The second part of verse 6 gives the reason: If they’ve prepared for the storm beforehand, the flood waters won’t reach them. 

The time to buy flood insurance is before the flood hits. After the basement floods, it won’t do you much good. The time to prepare for a spiritual flood is before the temptation or trouble arrives. While the storm is raging, lack of preparation can be fatal.  

As David says, let’s pray to God when he may be found. Let’s prepare for temptation and trouble with daily prayer and Scripture meditation. Then and only then will we be safe from the flood waters. 

“Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament”

Just Released! Check out my new workbook!

Jesus said that “all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24.44). The Old Testament has hundreds of allusions to and direct prophecies about the Messiah. This study guide explores those connections. It’s an inductive style workbook – no true-false, multiple-choice, or fill-in-the-blank questions. They’re all thought questions, which means it’s a challenging study, but well worth the effort. A teacher’s guide (i.e., answer key) is also available from OneStone Books in Bowling Green, KY. Here’s a link to their website.

Church Dropouts

Why do people quit going to church? It’s an oft-asked question. A 2006 poll by LifeWay Research supplied some interesting answers (see the chart below). All the respondents were adults who had stopped attending church regularly. The average length of time these adults had been out of duty was 14 years.

Several things stand out on this list. First, the majority of the excuses blame someone or something for falling away: family, job, cliques, or church members somehow caused the member to stop attending. It’s the other person’s fault. Second, the excuses seem awfully shallow. They remind me of student excuses for not doing homework: “My dog ate it.” Third, they consistently reflect a lack of proper priorities in life. Work, family, and distance become more important than a deep and personal spirituality; more important than a nurturing environment with fellow Christians in the local church.

Perhaps the most glaring omission on the list was the one thing that would explain virtually everything else: Lack of personal commitment to Christ. Would it be too much for someone to simply say: “I don’t care about Christ. I don’t care about his church. I don’t care to live a godly and spiritual life.” The Lord deserves an honest answer: “Oh that there were one among you who would shut the gates, that you might not uselessly kindle fire on My altar! I am not pleased with you” (Malachi 1.10). Jesus said: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth” (Revelation 3.15f).

Commitment to Christ precedes all other commitments. It’s the absolute denial of self and a whole-hearted willingness to give up all that defines our relationship to him (Luke 9.23-26). But that devotion to him also bears fruit in devotion to others (Hebrews10.19-25). You can’t be concerned about Christ without being concerned about his people.

Thus, those who are committed to Christ are also committed to their fellow Christians in the local church. In Syrian Antioch, those who “turned to the Lord” and who resolved to “remain true to the Lord” were the same disciples who became “the church” in that community (Acts 11.21-26). In Philippi, the Christians there were concerned about needy Christians in Judea. They expressed that concern by a generous financial contribution. Even Paul, who knew them well, was impressed when, “they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God” (2 Corinthians 8.5).

The only effective way to reduce the attrition rate in local churches is to increase the commitment rate. That is, each disciple in the local church must first be whole-heartedly committed to the Lord. When that commitment is in place, things like distance and busy-ness, cliques, hypocrisy, and all other sorts of potential obstacles will not prevent someone from serving Christ.

One other observation from the survey: Over two-thirds of former churchgoers are open to the idea of returning to church. So, there are good opportunities around us to reclaim the lost and to motivate the marginal. All it takes is commitment.

Top 10 Reasons People Quit Church

ReasonPercent*
Simply got too busy19%
Family or home responsibilities prevented attendance17%
Church members seemed hypocritical17%
Church members were judgmental of others17%
Moved too far from church17%
Work situation prevented church attendance15%
Church was not helping me develop spiritually14%
Stopped believing in organized religion14%
Church was run by a clique that discouraged involvement12%
Got divorced or separated12%

*Survey respondents could “check all reasons that apply”, so the answers total more than 100 percent. From Life Way Research (www.lifewayresearch.com). Conducted summer 2006. Survey of 469 adults who once regularly attended church, but now no longer do. The average length of time the respondents had not reguli1rly attended was 14 years. Two-thirds of the respondents were open to the idea of regularly attending services again.

Hey!

Thanks for stopping by my blog!

I write mostly short articles about biblical and spiritual things. Occasionally my interest in other things will show up – walking, hiking, travel, restaurants, sports, photography, gardening, reading, grandchildren, etc.

I’ll also occasionally drop in some lengthier essays and specialty papers, all related to biblical studies.

Feel free to contact me or leave comments, although I ask that you respect the bounds of propriety and decency. Think “G-Rated.”

I’ll add stuff periodically, sometimes in large batches as I transfer older files to this new location. If you have any specific topics or studies in mind, let me know. I don’t promise that anything will come of it (it may be too deep for me!), but I’ll certainly consider it.

In Christ alone,

Cloyce