My Jordan Stones
Generations removed from our spiritual pioneers,
we need to stop and take stock.
By Stephen Dunbar
Not about the spiritual Jordan that faithful ones have crossed before me, who now await the heavenly “promised land.” I haven’t been thinking of the modern-day Jordan, with all its military troubles and political potential. I haven’t even been meditating on the mighty Jordan that posed such a logistical problem to Old Testament Israel.
In fact, it’s not really the Jordan itself that I’ve been contemplating. Rather it’s the stones. Those Jordan stones.
Second Generation Problems
Tucked away in the fourth chapter of the book of Joshua is the story of that bright, exciting morning when all the second-generation children of Israel moved in pace behind “the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth” (Joshua 3:11).
Throughout the previous 40 years, these children of runaway slaves had begun to lose their hope as their vision faded. Despite the fact that while doing the desert circuit their shoes and clothes had never worn out, their breakfast cereal had always been provided, and streams of water had erupted wherever they camped, they’d nevertheless failed to see the obvious. Despite the fact that they had more livestock and hard currency than most other contemporary nations, and despite the fact that they were protected from searing daytime heat by the cloud and led through the dark of night by the fire, they’d lost their awe for the miraculous of the everyday. The Red Sea was, by now, only a story out of their parents’ experience, verse two in the song of Moses, so to speak—history. They hadn’t been a part of that action. That enormous miracle, which for them and the surrounding nations defined the power of their God, had become secondhand (see Joshua 2:10).
While some have chosen to abandon the experiences of our pioneers, many still stop to ask, "What do these stones mean?"
With the recent death of Moses (Deut. 34:8), the new-generation Israelites had seen the loss of almost every individual who’d “crossed over on dry land.” The old generation had watched the horses, the chariots, and their riders wash up on the eastern beaches of the Red Sea. Although they would later openly rebel against the God who’d delivered them, the sight of that ruined Egyptian army could never be removed from the movie screens of their minds.
But this was a new generation, with no tangible reminders of what their parents had seen. No chariot wheel had been taken from the ruins. No Egyptian helmet had been placed in some victory museum. Not even a few Red Sea rocks to point to.
Thus that “mighty arm” had gradually faded from memory, slipped from view.
A Fresh Demonstration
Now, just in time, God would once again reveal His “mighty arm” to a whole new generation of followers who’d grown dull to the miraculous (Joshua 1:10, 11; 3:5, 10). The waters of the Jordan, like the waters of the Red Sea, would move before their very eyes and open a dry highway to the opposite shore (Joshua 3:17). These children, as their parents had done, would pull, push, and carry all their belongings to the other side (Joshua 1:11). This generation, like the generation before it, would emerge on the beaches of unknown territory (Joshua 3:4).
But this crossing would be different. Different because of those stones.
Those Jordan stones would be heaved out of the deepest part of the river—as it were, from out of the middle of their own experience that day with God (Joshua 4:3). To them, each stone would be a memorial of what their God had done. Yet, the significance of those stones would not end in commemoration of an act of history, but would also point forward as the evidence of what their God was yet to do. Kneeling before that altar built of Jordan stones, second-generation Israelites were to spread their arms open, west and east, pointing third- and fourth-generation Israelites to both the miracles of the past and the promises of the future (Joshua 4:21-24).
My Own Jordan Stones
So now I’m thinking of the stones my church has left me. Our legacy of healthful living, our hospitals, our schools, and agencies that care for people in need—they all remind me of the dreams and experiences others have had, not simply in growing a denomination, but in sharing a unique message of incredible hope and freedom. I contemplate, along with so many others, the stones of our Adventist church history and wonder if it’s simply history, second verse of “Faith of Our Fathers,” that “Ole Time Religion”? Is our stand on prophecy really worth standing for? Should our understanding of the judgment really be so important to us? Isn’t Sabbath observance just as good on the first day of the week as on the seventh? Couldn’t we mix our doctrines and views with the doctrines and views of other religions, for the sake of tolerance?
I wonder if the Jordan stones of our church have been overgrown with weeds, and if for many, God’s “mighty arm” is fading from view. Or have we, like second-generation Israel, merely grown dull to the miraculous?
While some have chosen to abandon the experiences of our pioneers, to topple the altars, to cover the stones, many still stop to ask, “What do these stones mean?” For each person the answers are unique—and yet the same. They testify of your experiences, our experiences, with a Savior whose faithfulness has been proven true and whose promises are sure. God’s promise is that although we hold to an ancient faith, He will do new things in, for, and through us (Jer. 31:33; Eze. 20:12; Acts 1:8).
Making It Personal
As one still searching for meaning in those stones, I kneel down with other men and women—mentors in the faith, as they stretch their arms out to the past and to the future, telling me of the many Jordans from which their stones have come.
But I recognize that the recollection of their experiences of their Jordan crossings can never take the place of my own. It’s because of the demonstration of God’s love in the experiences of my own Jordan crossings that I’ve chosen to remember that I’ve desired to believe, and that I’m constrained to go forward in this faith.
I continue to dig stone after stone out of each experience with Christ, so that when others come near and see my altar, I can share with them the meaning of my own Jordan stones.
When he wrote this piece, Stephen Dunbar was a Canadian postgraduate student in marine biology at Central Queensland University, in Queensland, Australia.