I am often amazed when I recognize God’s hand at work in my life. Many times I see it in the timing of events, sermons, bible studies, lessons, and other sources when it is obvious that all of it was pointing to the same message. It has been difficult to understand what God is doing this week as we processed the resignation of two of our well-loved pastors. The message from Pastor Ken this past Sunday on trust, my own studies, and our post from Jo Ann this week gave that me that same feeling of God’s timing. I am challenged by her article and strongly encourage your prayerful consideration and sharing of this post.
Ebenezer! by Jo Ann Whitaker
I grew up in Travelers Rest and attended Ebenezer Elementary School, as did my Father and Grandfather. The only other time I remember hearing the word Ebenezer as a child was in reference to Ebenezer Scrooge! Not one I want to emulate! As an adult, I ran across the word Ebenezer in the Bible and was mesmerized by it for a period of time. We see it in 1 Samuel 7:12 as a stone of help or another definition defines it as a “place of remembrance”. Samuel erected a stone after defeating the Philistines as a memorial of the help God provided. Throughout scripture we are told to “remember” and told that God “remembered”.
Over the holidays, I walked around the cemetery at the old Ebenezer Baptist Church after learning I had multiple ancestors buried there – not on my Dad’s side, but on my Mom’s. I’ve learned that one of her ancestors sold their home place to my Dad’s family when they moved to SC. Hers moved to Western North Carolina. Both were in the shadow of the steeples of Forestville and Ebenezer in what was formerly called “Bates Township”. So, turns out, I’m deeply rooted in this community that I love and care about so much!
Back in the late 90’s, Contemporary Christian artist Wes King had a fantastic CD called Room Full of Stories. I listened to it over and over again, but one song in particular spoke to me during a Red Sea moment in my own life. It was called “Remember”. He used the word Ebenezer in the song, which caught my attention. I also learned that the Red Sea represents crossing over from the past and leaving it behind – washed away – when it is time to move forward to the place the Lord is leading.
I consider those times when you’re stuck between a rock and hard place with no escape in view. Those are the moments when you have no clue on how to logically make your next move. Those times when you need to move forward, but you’re listening to those who are crying over the leeks and onions of hard captivity instead of dreaming and striving for the promised land of milk and honey. Those times we forgot who we belong to and forgot his promises. Those are the moments when you hear the masses telling you to turn around and go back to the mess, the captivity. Those moments when you choose to stay still in fear when you clearly know that the Lord has already told you to take that step of faith. That moment is when the still small voice speaks hope in your ear and you decide to trust and follow him and he moves you to take a leap of faith in the right direction. And the crowd ceases to protest and falls in line and all experience a miracle and the enemy is literally silenced!
Here’s the line that spoke to me and continues to resonate with me even today:
“Remember, oh, I never will forget
My Ebenezer is the day You paid my debt.” – Wes King, Remember
Wes goes on to describe the moment the ocean floor went dry, how God divided the sea and saved his life. In the very year I was in such trial, this song was echoing exactly what the Lord had me studying! In Exodus 14, the most quoted verse is where Moses cries out to God and tells everyone to be still and quiet as the Lord will fight. What surprised me in my deep study of this passage was how this played out in context. While that verse is very true, it’s not the whole story. In the verses proceeding, you see the people whining, blaming or wanting to go back to Egypt. What you have after the still verse is God telling Moses – “Why do you cry to me? He tells the people to go forward and explains how he will harden the hearts of the Egyptians and get glory out of the situation. It’s worth a read if you find yourself confused about what to do next. The end result was the Lord saved Israel that day, they saw His great power, feared the Lord and believed in the Lord…and strangely, his servant Moses. Sometimes, we don’t always understand what the leader the Lord has provided for us is doing, but we need to be really careful about criticizing them and spending our time relishing the past and move forward in faith instead.
One of the best things we can do in crisis is to stop and remember all the times the Lord has been there for us, walked us through the valley of death, provided hope, sent others to encourage us, delivered us from horrid circumstances, walked with us in the midst of great trial and brought deliverance from a totally unexpected angle or even person. The simple practice of remembering what the Lord has done reminds us of His faithfulness in the past, His faithfulness in the presence and His faithfulness in the future. He is faithful who promised. And sometimes, the Lord separates groups to further His kingdom (see Paul / Barnabus / Timothy). Sometimes division is multiplication and believers come back together joyfully later on. Our heart and attitude in these situations is very important. Carefully and prayerfully move forward in truth and love when facing great change or division and remember, like our families, we share the same life blood – in this case, the blood of Christ is covering all of us as believers.
Many times, we get hung up on how things “used to be” and find false comfort in even those times we were totally miserable like the children of Israel crying out to return to Egypt. Even misery can be comfortable. But to move forward, we have to let go of the past and move forward in great faith. We can’t simply talk about our faith, we need to remember the first things, the important things, the Great Commandment:
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 22:36-40 (ESV)
Our human nature leads us to blame others when things don’t go the way we thought they would. Our Ephesians study points out again that the enemy is not the people in our lives, but spiritual forces of evil operating around us. That is why is so important to stay near the Lord, pray, put on the whole armor of God and stand firm with all prayer and supplication to him and for one another. Our battles are won on our knees in our alliance with the Lord, not our alliance with people or our defiance toward one another. Again, Paul reminds us in Ephesians 6 to encourage one another, be peaceful with one another, to love with faith and show grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ, even though we don’t always agree. Most of the New Testament is written to believers who can’t seem to get along or agree with one another. But, Paul continues to teach, encourage and pray for all and show great grace to his brothers and sisters in the Lord….most of the time from jail! I think given that he spent so much time encouraging the church from a difficult place should help in our desperate need to get along with each other. The church was sometimes a whiny bunch! OUCH! Paul’s the one suffering in jail for his witness and they’re the ones being petty and even downright sinful. The key factors that make up the gospel is something most denominations agree on – Creator God, the Virgin birth, the death, burial and resurrection and Jesus coming again. We all hang our hats on John 3:16. The love one another part, how to live out our faith and treat one another and live in peace with each other part is central to our walk as well.
Do a quick word search of remember in the Bible for an extra dose of encouragement – I found 234 references to remember in the ESV version online! As the year comes to a close, I think it is a good thing to remember all the good that the Lord has done in 2018. He also reminds us to remember the hard times and to not forget all the times he rescued us! As I read through several of the remember verses, I noticed many were in the form of prayer.
So, in the coming year, I’m going to focus more on my personal relationship with Christ, prayer, how I treat others, sharing the gospel and living out the Good News! Jesus reminded us “blessed are the peacemakers”. Make peace with the Lord, His church and those around you before entering 2019. He reminds us that our prayers go unanswered when we have unforgiveness in our hearts against a brother or sister. Pray more than you speak/post. Go to one another in love to settle any differences. Remember the good times and good deeds of your brothers and sisters in Christ. Be careful to search for truth over opinion or personal preference. May we turn our remembrances into praise, worship and prayer for ourselves, our families, neighbors and our churches! Review your life and note stones of remembrance (faith milestones), personal Ebenezer moments and thank God for His provision. Practice the fruits of the spirit (which show up as a result of spending time with Him and in His word): Love, Joy, Peace, Forbearance, Kindness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-Control. After all, Galatians reminds us that there is no law against these things. Let that soak in! Grace, hope, peace and joy to each of you in the coming year! May our Ebenezer moments help remember all the great things the Lord has done and all He is doing in our lives and all of those in our lives! Remember!
Things to Know: