Monday, November 24, 2014

"Ebenezer"? What's that?

One of my most beloved hymns (and there are many) is "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”, penned by Robert Robinson in the 18th century.  
The second verse makes use of some fancy language to speak of a rather strange item, an Ebenezer.

“Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by Thy help I’ve come .. ."

As a child I was puzzled by "Ebenezer".  Who was it?  What was it?  And what on earth did this have to do with blessings from God?  The only Ebenezer that I knew was Ebenezer Scrooge from Dickens’ classic, The Christmas Carol.  If you've ever wondered the same thing, let me set the record straight:     

An Ebenezer is a stone of remembrance of God’s provision.  It is a way of saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped me.”  In fact, this special stone of remembrance takes us back to the Bible, to Joshua chapter 4. 

Joshua 4:1-24 (NLT)
1 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." . . .
. . .  20 It was there at Gilgal that Joshua piled up the twelve stones taken from the Jordan River.
21 Then Joshua said to the Israelites, “In the future your children will ask, ‘What do these stones mean?’
22 Then you can tell them, ‘This is where the Israelites crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’
23 For the Lord your God dried up the river right before your eyes, and he kept it dry until you were all across, just as he did at the Red Sea when he dried it up until we had all crossed over.
24 He did this so all the nations of the earth might know that the Lord’s hand is powerful, and so you might fear the Lord your God forever.”
Fellow Americans reading this blog right now will know that this Thursday is Thanksgiving Day in the USA!  The President will grant a pardon to one very fortunate turkey, millions will watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and families will gather to stuff themselves silly and enjoy sweet reunions.

 Though we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving as a national holiday here in New Zealand, I do believe it is always appropriate to be thankful and reflect on the goodness of God.  And, the very story that we just read in Joshua gives us license to celebrate.

I know you did not visit my blog today to get a full-length, three- point sermon, so I will leave you with only one morsel of food for thought today.  (Stay tuned for more in future posts.)

 Notice that the Israelite tribal leaders were to gather stones from the MIDDLE of the Jordan River as they were passing through.  They were still en route to the other side. They had not yet seen the completion or fruition of the promise that they would make it to the other side, but were to pick up stones from the MIDDLE as they crossed through.
This in and of itself was an act of faith, choosing ahead of time to thank the Lord in the MIDDLE of their obstacle, believing that a great reward did await them and that one day there would be amazing stories to tell.   
 It takes a lot more faith to praise God in the middle of the battle than when you’ve come out the other side. What are you in the MIDDLE of right now?

 When hindsight is not at your disposal, can you choose to praise God in the MIDDLE of your struggle, when the future is unclear? 

God is God of the MIDDLE.
Right now you do have the gift of hindsight, at least up to this point in your life.  Stop and take stock; do an inventory all the the ways in which God has blessed you and helped you in the past.
 Perhaps you can even create for yourself an Ebenezer stone to serve as a visual cue, a reminder to be thankful.  

How has God protected you and your loved ones?
In what ways has God provided for your daily needs?
When have you received encouragement from others, showing you just how much God cares for you?
Has God given you the power to overcome temptation?
Did you feel God comforting you in a difficult situation? 
How has God convicted you when you've gone astray, using His kindness to lead you to repentance and get you "back on track"?
Were you able to offer support to someone who needed it and received an internal blessing from that exchange?

I could go on and on, but I think you get my drift.  Never let praise be far from your lips! A good memory is a gift from God!