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Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Reading this post title may cause you to wonder why I'd be bringing up Ebenezer Scrooge in April.

Nope -- I'm going in a completely different direction. It disappoints me that the only image that reflexively comes to most of our minds when we hear the word "ebenezer" is that of the miserly and mean fellow of Dickens' The Christmas Carol whose heart is thankfully changed... not because it's not a classic story, because it is, but it comes many centuries after an even better story about the original ebenezer -- actually, several of them.

I referred to one of them in an earlier post, where I reflected on the lyrics of the hymn Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing:

Here I raise my Ebenezer;

Hither by Thy help I'm come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.

In that post I mention that an "ebenezer" is a stone of help, the place where Samuel erected a monument, in grateful remembrance of the divine help, given in answer to prayer, in a great battle with the Philistines. The same place had before witnessed the defeat of Israel and the capture of the ark, 1 Samuel 4:1; 5:1; 7:5-12.

If you're a hiker or mountain biker, ebenezers are what I would call "spiritual cairns." Do you know what I'm referring to? Cairns are those little stacks of rocks that are used to mark trails so that travelers who have never taken a particular route do not get lost.

But an ebenezer has a triple significance -- it not only marks a trail, but it also stands as a reminder of God's faithfulness at a particular time. In other words, the ebenezer should prompt those who see it to remember the story, and then tell it to those they are with. There's a perfect example of this from the Book of Joshua that I just read this morning...

To set the scene, remember that the Israelites, led by Moses, had fled the oppressive slavery of Egypt, experiencing the miracle of the parting of the Red Sea to facilitate their exit. Despite seeing this stupendous event, they still doubted and grumbled, to the point where God insisted that that whining generation die off before the nation was allowed to enter the Promised Land. So they wandered for 40 years (the story recounted in the Book of Exodus) and in the Book of Joshua, we watch the Israelites finally able to enter the Promised Land, led by Joshua:

Joshua 4:

When all the people had crossed the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, 2 “Now choose twelve men, one from each tribe. 3 Tell them, ‘Take twelve stones from the very place where the priests are standing in the middle of the Jordan. Carry them out and pile them up at the place where you will camp tonight.’”

4 So Joshua called together the twelve men he had chosen—one from each of the tribes of Israel. 5 He told them, “Go into the middle of the Jordan, in front of the Ark of the Lord your God. Each of you must pick up one stone and carry it out on your shoulder—twelve stones in all, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel. 6 We will use these stones to build a memorial. In the future your children will ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 7 Then you can tell them, ‘They remind us that the Jordan River stopped flowing when the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant went across.’ These stones will stand as a memorial among the people of Israel forever.”

8 So the men did as Joshua had commanded them. They took twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan River, one for each tribe, just as the Lord had told Joshua. They carried them to the place where they camped for the night and constructed the memorial there.

Don't forget, the Israelites, like many in the Middle East at the time, were nomadic, so they would pass by these markers more than once over the years of their traveling. Without a stable sense of place, they needed such reminders to give them their true bearings, both physically and spiritually.

Reading that story should give each of us pause:

Am I constructing ebenezers so that I do not forget God's miraculous goodness? 
When I pass by them, do I think of the stories of God's provision and care? 
Most importantly, am I telling those stories to others?

In fact, I have had used ebenezers for many years. For example, my own home is an ebenezer. Having worked in youth ministry my entire adult life (which one never does to become rich!), I never made quite enough to be able to save a down payment. Yet at the age of 35 I had my dear mentor, Ruth Schmidt, leave me an inheritance when she died from Lou Gehrig's Disease (enough for a down payment in 1996) so that I could buy a home. In her generous hospitality I had used her amazing home on Santa Barbara's Riviera often as a place for events, fundraisers and meetings, and she wanted me to be able to continue that on my own. There are no words to adequately describe my joy and thanks at this creative gift that keeps on giving.

So many times a month I see my beautiful home as my special ebenezer. God put a roof over my head, in a town where many people find homes unaffordable. Incredible. I am then reminded, over and over, that God has a FAR better imagination that I do. Whatever problem I face, I know that he sees the way clear. So rather than look at my problems, I need only look at Him.

Another quote I read this morning builds on this even more:

   All miracles are simply feeble lights like beacons on our way to the port where shines the light, the total light of the resurrection. All miracles finally refer to this one and find their explanation in it. It is the miracle.
   ... Jacques Ellul (1912-1994)

So not only should ebenezers be reminders of God's work in our lives -- his miracles of love, joy, comfort, renewal, provision, healing, the list could go on -- but those miracles should then point to the greatest miracle, that we just celebrated on Easter.

Consider those 3 questions I listed above. Those are the ones that scroll through my mind -- periodically, but not enough. I was reminded of them today, and share them here for blessing and accountability. Amen.

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