Hey everyone. Thanks for having me today. As they mentioned, my name is John Alexander. I work at Eagle Brook Church as a teaching pastor and executive director of creative arts. I’ve been married for 13 years, two kids Maddox and Marley, 10 & 7, and my White Bear basketball and baseball teams lose to Blaine every time. So, Blaine. Why are you so good at all the things? Let me say a quick word about Renovation and your pastor here before diving in. I admire David and Renovation more than I can probably describe adequately. David and I have gotten to know each other over the years, and he’s one of the most humble, brilliant, pastoral leaders I know. And as we’ve watched Renovation go from this newborn baby to a full-fledgling adult over the years now having their own kids – probably a weird analogy – I’ve been nothing but excited and thrilled to see God expand the influence of this community. I’ve learned a lot from David – and from Renovation – so I’m grateful to be here.
Alright, let’s dive in. To recap just a bit where we’ve been the last few weeks, we’re reading through the Old Testament book of Joshua. Joshua has led the people across the Jordan River and into the Promised Land. Last week was a climactic moment in the story. The final verse of chapter 3:17, “The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stopped in the middle of the Jordan and stood on dry ground, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.”
Now, it’s time to conquer, destroy, and take over, right? The land they’ve been waiting for? Not so fast, actually. In fact, let’s grab our bibles and turn to today’s text, Joshua 4. Today’s message is titled: A Walk to Remember. I know I’m totally dating myself, but this title was just slightly influenced by the second movie I ever remember crying at, which came out in 2002, when I was a high school senior. It’s a dumb movie starring Mandy Moore (don’t go watch it) but super sad! The first movie I ever cried at? I know you’re dying to know. Beaches starring Bette Midler. Okay. Moving on. Joshua 4:1-3: When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, 2 “Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, 3 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.”
Instead of going across and conquering the land, the first thing God tells Joshua to do is pick 12 men, one from each tribe, and carry a large stone from the middle of the Jordan to where they’re camping. Kind of odd. Continuing on… v. 4-7
4 So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, 5 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, 6 to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 7 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.”
Why did God want Joshua to take these 12 stones and set them up as a memorial? He wants them to remember the walk, the day they crossed the Jordan River.
My wife Emily hates Facebook memories. Let me explain: I’m not a massive fan of Facebook. I’m barely hanging on. But one of the reasons I kind of like it is because of the memories that pop up. For instance, our daughter Marley just had a 7th birthday. So Facebook will feed me all these cute pictures of the last several years I’ve posted about her and I get to see how much she’s grown up. I know my parents, especially my mom, and maybe this is true of you, used to make physical photo album books. Almost no one does that anymore because, well, we have Facebook.
So she sees a pic like this (baby Marley) and then a pic like this (Marley now) and gets mad. Why does she have such a hard time with these memories? Because to her, it feels like time is a thief. She just can’t stand seeing how fast time is going and how quickly time is moving! Now, she’s pretty much joking, but the truth is, when we look at memories, when we remember, it has the potential to do many things for us. They remind us of how good God has been, what he’s done in Marley’s life, how he’s writing a story in her life that’s beyond what we thought possible. And the same is true with remembering other things God has done. And so today, based on Joshua 4, my hope is that we’d all take time to remember and set up reminders of what God has done in our lives. Why is it critical that we do?
To remember how good God is.
In Deuteronomy 6, God gave the Israelites a heads up that when they cross into the Promised Land, they should never forget. He said, “Tie them (the Word) as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and Jacob, to give you… (and he says land, houses, wells, vineyards, olive groves, endless food )… be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” Deuteronomy 6:8-10, 12. Tie them. Bind them. Write them. We must build reminders and memorials in our lives to remember how good God is. Why? Because it’s so easy to forget. Plus, we live in a world that is attempting to constantly discourage us and steer us away from the goodness of God.
I weirdly read yahoo.com. No one reads yahoo.com. I do. I don’t know why. I avoid the other news channels but read a super outdated website that feeds me ridiculous articles. The algorithms are out of control. The more you click on those type of articles the more they’re going to feed you THOSE type of articles. So they sucker me into reading the most fear-based articles they can come up with. Worried about Covid-19? Ha, forget that. We’ve got monkeypox in the US now. Worried about the stock market? We ain’t seen nothing yet. This so-and-so expert predicts you’re gonna lose every dollar you’ve ever had in history. I’m not sure why I do, but for some reason, I keep going back to YAHOO. If I’m not careful (which I promise I am), I would be consumed with all the bad things in life because that’s what I read about on Yahoo. One of the reasons it’s critical we set up memorials to remember God’s goodness is to combat all the negative coming our way.
In Joshua 4:21, Joshua says, when people look at these stones, “Tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground… He did this so that all of the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord.” We want the whole world to remember how good God was to us on this day.
The question is: What kind of memorials and reminders do we have set up to remember God’s goodness? Let me provide a few examples: The next birthday you have, rather than JUST focusing on the current or upcoming, year, take some time to remember with your kids how good God has been in the past several years. My wife and I are big fans of birthdays because of this reason. It helps us to pause, remember, and celebrate. Or, maybe it’s time to set up a reminder of the date you first made a decision to follow Christ. Set that aside a time to celebrate that every year. Maybe it’s the date you’ve been baptized. I love when people come up to me and say, You baptized me on July 9, 2016. They haven’t forgotten, even several years later. We take some time to remember that date together with our kids every year. Set up memorials for the good things God has done in your life and celebrate them every year. As Christians, we should be some of the best celebrators (aka partiers) around. Because we have a lot to celebrate. As James writes, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father.” James 1:17. Set up memorials and reminders in order to remember the good God has done.
Second reason to set up memorials:
To remind us of the greater story we live.
Joshua 4:10-13, “Now the priests who carried the ark remained standing in the middle of the Jordan until everything the Lord had commanded Joshua was done by the people, just as Moses had directed Joshua. The people hurried over, 11 and as soon as all of them had crossed, the ark of the Lord and the priests came to the other side while the people watched. 12 The men of Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh crossed over, ready for battle, in front of the Israelites, as Moses had directed them. 13 About forty thousand armed for battle crossed over before the Lord to the plains of Jericho for war.”
A few verses later in verse 23, Joshua writes, “For the Lord Your God did to the Jordan what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over.”
As we’ve been learning, the story of Joshua is much bigger than just the story of Joshua. It’s connected to a greater story. Let’s back up and remember the story so far, in a very condensed way. God chose Abraham and his family became the people of Israel. The Israelites become enslaved in Egypt for over 400 years, but Moses rescued them out of Egypt, helped them cross the Red Sea by drying up the water (as mentioned in Joshua), made a covenant with them at Mt. Sinai, and brought them through the wilderness, which took another 40 years. They camped outside the Promised Land and Moses taught them to obey God’s commands. That in total is almost 450 years.
By comparison, America gained independence in 1776, which is 245 years ago. The people of Israel were enslaved in Egypt longer than our country has been a country. I was in London recently, and we visited a church in Hackeny that was established 800 years prior. Renovation has been around for almost 13 years. It’s mind boggling to think about history and years when ours seems so short.
The point is: When Joshua and the Israelites crossed the Jordan, they were connected to a greater story. We can get so focused on today. This moment. This month. This year. And while there’s an element of living in the present moment that’s critical to faithfulness, all of us are connected to a greater story. The story of God and his people and the way he continues to be faithful to us through the work of Jesus and those who put their faith in him.
Let me ask you a question: How many of us can name our great-grandparents right now? Not many. It’s sobering to think about, but our great-grandchildren will likely not remember our names. That’s less than 100 years away. While that’s a little depressing to think about, the encouraging news we must remember is that we’re connected to God’s greater story that spans far beyond a few generations.
One of the reasons I go to God’s Word every day is to remind myself how I’m connected to this greater story. This (bible) reminds me that no matter what I face, someone in here has overcome something worse. This reminds me that no matter how discouraged I am, someone in here has been more discouraged, and God has seen them through. This reminds me that God is much bigger than my yahoo.com newsfeed and the myopic problems I face today. This also reminds me that no matter what trials and suffering I’m facing, that one day God will wipe away every tear, every heartache, every pain, for all of eternity. Joshua set up the 12 stones to remember the greater story. We must find ways to do the same.
Third reason to build memorials and remember:
To ready ourselves for the next move of God
There’s an interesting principle at play in this story, and it’s this: They looked back so that they could prepare to move forward. They didn’t spend time remembering what God has done so they can sit around a campfire and reminisce about the good ol’ days. No, they look back in order to ready and inspire themselves for the next move of God.
Joshua 1:16-18 16 “Command the priests carrying the ark of the covenant law to come up out of the Jordan.” 17 So Joshua commanded the priests, “Come up out of the Jordan.” 18 And the priests came up out of the river carrying the ark of the covenant of the Lord. No sooner had they set their feet on the dry ground than the waters of the Jordan returned to their place and ran at flood stage as before.
They’re across. The water has returned. Now it’s time to prepare for what’s next.
My daughter has been struggling to learn how to ride a bike. So this year, I did what all great parents do: I bribed her. I said, if you learn how to ride a bike, I’ll pay you $40. But she was still terrified. While the cold, hard cash did motivate her some, one of the things we kept saying to her was, “Remember how you overcame your fear of doing a backflip in the pool? Or that time you performed in the play? Or that time you slept over at a friend’s house even though you were nervous?” We reminded her of the times she overcame something in order to motivate her for what’s next.
Remembering becomes fuel for what’s next.
Renovation has a story that started in 2009. A story of God’s faithfulness and goodness. But what if you stopped now in 2022? Like, oh man, we’re good. Let’s just hang it up. Sure, you could set up around the campfire and tell some pretty miraculous stories. But is God done with this church? I don’t think so. Not even close. We remember and tell stories of God’s faitfhulness so that we ready ourselves for the next move of God. Those memorials add gas to the fire.
Joshua set up those 12 stones so that they’d become motivation for what was ahead. It wasn’t going to be easy for them, so they needed to ready themselves for the next move of God by looking back first, not forward. Here’s one of my encouragements to you this week: If you’ve been having problems feeling motivated by what’s next or what’s coming, take some time to not look forward, but look back. List out the times God has come through for you. The things you’re grateful for. Then, ask God to inspire what’s next.
Last reason to set up memorials:
To retell stories of God’s faithfulness to the next generation.
Joshua 4: 21-22, “He said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ 23 For the Lord your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over.”
One of the reasons I love spending time with people who are significantly older than me is to hear the stories of God’s faithfulness in their lives. Just recently, in our own church, we showed the story of Virginia Woodbury, who is 93 years old but has been a part of Eagle Brook for 66 years. There’s something about dedication and faithfulness that inspires me, and I’m sure it inspires you. She has a story to tell the next generation.
Let me ask you: Do you have a story to tell? I know you do. Has God helped you overcome something in your life? A broken home? A failed marriage? A dad who struggled with addiction or maybe you struggled with your own? Are you the first member of your family to have a profound faith in Christ? Are you breaking generational sins and cycles?
Or maybe you don’t feel like you have your own compelling story, but you’re connected to one. Your son overcame a depressive season and now he’s thriving. Your spouse overcame significant challenges at work and now is crushing it with God’s help. A relative put their faith in Christ recently. And you never thought you’d see the day. Maybe you can’t think of something big. You know: God is in the small things – the things that feel insignificant to us but matter deeply to God. Maybe it’s as simple as having breath in your lungs today. And while it seems small, celebrate it.
I don’t know what it is friends, but let’s tell stories of God’s faithfulness. Especially for our next generation. Mark down the date of your baptism and tell your kids about that day every year. Go celebrate it with ice cream too. Celebrate the day your kids made a decision to follow Christ. Celebrate the story of this church and tell your neighbors about it. Celebrate and remember.
Like Joshua, let’s set up memorials in our lives. Why?
To remember how good God is.
To remind us of the greater story which we live.
To ready ourselves for the next move of God.
To retell the stories of God’s faithfulness to the next generation
And today, I think some of you are going to mark TODAY down as one of the most significant days in your life because there’s no greater example of the goodness of God, there’s no greater story we can be connected to, there’s no one who is more capable at preparing us for the next move of God, and there’s no greater example of God’s faithfulness, than the person of Jesus.
Today is going to be the day you celebrate for generations to come. Maybe even the day that changes the trajectory of your family history. The day you decide to put your full trust and faith in Jesus. What happens when we do is that life doesn’t become perfect; in fact, you might have some days of crossing the Jordan river – and it might feel miraculous – but you might have some days of wandering the wilderness and wondering if God is ever going to show up.
What I can tell is that when God gets hold of your life, when we put our faith in Christ, when he starts to lead through every wilderness and across every difficulty that feels like an impassable Jordan River, there’s a certain peace, comfort, joy and power that comes only from Jesus. Here’s the even better news: When you make this decision, you do it by faith. Not by perfection. Not by never sinning again. Not by how many good works you do. By faith. Ephesians 2:8 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – this is not from yourselves, it is a gift of God.”
For some of you, today is your day. For others, today is a day to remember that grace-filled gift of faith. Don’t ever forget. But for those who are ready to make a decision, in just a minute, I’m going to ask you pray silently along with me. No one’s going to be looking at you. But today is the day you receive that gift of faith and make the decision to follow Christ.
If you would. Everyone bow your heads and close your eyes.
Repeat after me:
Dear God. I confess to you, that I have sinned against you. But God I believe, that you sent your Son Jesus, to take my place. And God I thank you, for forgiving my sins. And now I commit, to following you, with my life.
As everyone still has their eyes closed, for those who prayed along with me, you just made the most important decision of your life. After I’m done praying, we invite you tell somone… Follow up team What’s the instruction? And our follow-up team, for just a couple of minutes, are going to get you some resources & next steps to get you started on the most important journey of your life.
All right, I’m going to pray for everyone and close.
Copyright: John Alexander
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN
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