A stone might appear to be a simple thing, but it can also serve as a powerful reminder to keep us grounded in faith.
Have you ever had a pet rock?
Launched by Gary Dahl in 1975, Pet Rocks were smooth stones from Mexico’s Rosarito Beach that were marketed like live pets with a cardboard box, straw, and air holes (nice touch). Although the fad ended six months after it began, Dahl sold 1.5 million Pet Rocks at $4 each, became a millionaire and bought a new house. I wonder if he had a rock garden?
Why do I have rocks on the brain? As we move into September, there are a few rocky moments in history that I would like to remind us of — not as a Pet Rock project, but as a powerful presentation of a promise.
The first set of rocks can be found thousands of years ago in a place called Gilgal. If you know your Bible history, this was the camping place of the children of Israel, right after they came into the promised land of God’s provision. In Joshua 3-4, we read how God parted the flooded Jordan River and prepared a mass of wilderness wanderers to become Canaan conquerors. The first set of rocks were not found on the land they stood, on but in the riverbed they walked through. God directed Joshua to have twelve men, one from each tribe, unearth a stone from the riverbed and carry it with them to the place they would lodge that night. I can imagine these were not small stones. The guys that were selected were the best of each tribe and probably the strongest. I’m sure that each one was not satisfied to pick up a smooth stone, but rather as big a boulder as he could carry. Maybe the talk during the walk to the camp site was, “Yes, you got a good one, but look at my rock!”
Why the parade of poundage? To remember what God did for them. In Joshua 4:19-24, the leader of Israel tells them, “When your kids ask, ‘Pop, why the rocks?’ you will be able to tell them of God’s mighty hand of help” (my southern paraphrase). For us today, these rocks remind us of God’s promised power when facing incredible obstacles.
The second set of rocks are found amid smoke, chaos, fire, fear, and tragedy. It is the day of September 11, 2001. One World Trade Center tower falls to the earth, and a second falls later. The news reports a third plane hitting the Pentagon and another plane, turned off course by the heroic passengers, crashes into a field. It is a different scene than the previous paragraph. Where the children of Israel took a walk of triumph, here the rocks tell a story of tragedy for the American people and a multitude of other nations that lost loved ones. Yet, these very stones, though forged in fire and smoke, tell a greater story.
It is a story that came from tragedy and began to move a people into a triumph, to shift from pain into peace, and to move from scattered and distant to gathered and united. These stacks of stones represent the unstoppable human spirit that will not lay down in the dust in defeat, but will stand back up, bloodied and bruised, ready to remove the rubble, confront the evil and allow the beacon of light and life to burn even brighter than before. These rocks remind us of God’s shining light of hope in the darkest night of our pain.
The last set of rocks are found near a field in Dover. These stones are not rugged, but made ready to stack neatly to build not just an altar, but a beautiful building. This church, upgraded through the years, still stands today. It represents a rich heritage and faithful history of a pastor and people that felt’s God’s call to come together to worship. What makes this “stack of stones” differ from the previous two is the key stone that is put into place.
It is called the cornerstone. It is the crucial component of the construction that keeps a building standing strong during the winds of adversity, the sudden storms of anxiety and the unexpected attacks of the enemy. Although the church’s name has changed to First Call, the foundation of Sydney Baptist Church — which celebrates 110 years this Sunday — is a symbol of thousands of churches that have endured the trials, tests and tragedies of life to stand triumphant as a stack of unmovable stones (Matthew 16:18). Yet, these last stones are not just the ones that make up the building, but also the believer. As Jesus Christ becomes the Chief Cornerstone in the house of the heart of Christians, we come together with a holy purpose to pray, to praise and to prepare to build a stack of stones to the Savior. The same Savior that took these rough-edged, odd shaped, multi-colored rocks and uses us as “Living Stones” (1 Peter 2:4-6) to create a stairway that leads all the way to the throne of Grace.
As you go into September, do you need to stack some stones of God’s power, of God’s hope, or of God’s purpose? If you do, let me encourage you with this last thought. Instead of trying to find some stones, be one to someone, and you will find you had the stones all the time. That was God’s promise when He gave us His “Rock of Ages.”
Dr. Daniel Middlebrooks is the Senior Chaplain of First Call Church and the CEO/President of Chaplaincy Care, Inc.
IF YOU GO
What: First Call 9/11 Day of Remembrance Service — A special night of honor and hope
When: 6:30 p.m. Sept. 11
Where: First Call – First Responder Church, 1510 Cre Road, Dover
More info: call Chaplain Dan Middlebrooks, 813-767-2082