Family Albums

I enjoy occasional visits through old family albums. I am greeted by curly-edged black-and- white photos of us three farm kids with our pets. Today the old Nebraska farmhouse stands neglected and destitute. Most of the out buildings have vanished, and if it weren’t for the old snapshots, they would be forever lost to future generations.

Kodachrome photos have been replaced by digital pictures stored on the Cloud. This, of course, is much more convenient than bulky old albums collecting dust on the top shelf of the closet, but the purpose remains the same: to preserve memories for the next generation.

Memory preservation predates photographs of any variety. Before the first camera shutter exposed light on a glass plate coated with a thin layer of silver iodide, parents found ways to preserve their family stories. God occasionally instructed the people of Israel to pass stories on to the next generations by preserving memories with a stone monument or a traditional dinner.

Consider these ancient memory albums.

Album #1: The Passover

God sent great plagues to break the will of Pharaoh, all-powerful ruler of Egypt. These startling acts of judgement also served as reminders of God’s love for and commitment to Israel. The Passover event that redeemed the firstborn sons of Israel—but killed the firstborn sons of the Egyptians—was so amazing that it was to never be forgotten. God established the annual Passover feast to serve like a photo in an old family album.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may show these signs of mine among them, and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and of your grandson how I have dealt harshly with the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them, that you may know that I am the Lord.” (Exodus 10:1–2, esv)

 “And when in time to come your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ you shall say to him, ‘By a strong hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery. For when Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the Lord killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man and the firstborn of animals. Therefore I sacrifice to the Lord all the males that first open the womb, but all the firstborn of my sons I redeem.’ It shall be as a mark on your hand or frontlets between your eyes, for by a strong hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt.” (Exodus 13:14–16, esv)

Frontlets between the eyes aren’t much in style these days. Today they would be replaced by a photo album—or a photo file on the Cloud.

Album #2: Crossing the Jordan

Forty long years after the exodus, the new generation that had survived the wilderness journey was poised on the bank of the Jordan River, preparing at long last to enter the Promised Land. God gave specific instructions to the priests on where to enter the river (now swift and swollen, at flood stage) and promised to literally dam the river upstream so the nation could cross safely. (Their parents had experienced something similar at the Red Sea.)

Having successfully crossed the Jordan, God gave Joshua the following instructions:

“Take twelve men from the people, from each tribe a man, and command them, saying, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests’ feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.’” Then Joshua called the twelve men from the people of Israel, whom he had appointed, a man from each tribe. And Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of the Jordan, and take up each of you a stone upon his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever. (Joshua 4:1–7, esv)

Twelve stones became twelve snapshots in Israel’s family album to remind future generations of God’s mind-boggling deliverance. After Joshua’s death, however, the people of Israel apparently neglected that monument beside the Jordan River. Forgetting what it was and what it meant, they also failed to pass the amazing story on to their children. 

And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel. (Judges 2:10, esv)

The rest of the book of The Judges serves as a warning about failing to pass on the stories of God’s deliverance and provision.

Album #3: The Miraculous Victory at Mizpah

After being severely defeated by the Philistines and ignoring instructions about the Ark of the Covenant, Israel treated it like a good luck charm or a mascot for a sports team, and were once again soundly defeated. Humbling themselves with fasting and prayer, they discarded their pagan idols and offered a burnt offering before resuming the battle. This time God miraculously put the Philistines into such confusion that they were defeated. After this “exodus-like” deliverance Samuel added another visual reminder to Israel’s family album.

Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the Lord has helped us.” (1 Samuel 7:12, esv)

This stone’s name was a reminder that God had given them the victory. Ebenezer became another picture in Israel’s family album.

The idea of a stone monument dates all the way back to one of Israel’s founding fathers. Israel never lacks for stones, and Jacob had an experience with God so profound and life-changing that he wanted some kind of permanent marker.

Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” So early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called the name of that place Bethel…. (Genesis 28:16–18, esv)

The Ultimate Album: Calvary

On the night preceding our Lord’s arrest and crucifixion, He introduced a new tradition to His followers: a visible reminder. He broke bread and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” He offered His disciples wine with these instructions” “This is the new covenant in my blood; do this whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

Communion or The Lord’s Supper or the Eucharist (whatever your church calls it) is a reminder and a tool to pass the story of our deliverance and redemption. Like the Passover Dinner stimulated a child’s question, “Why is this night different?” so also communion is an opportunity to pass the story of our redemption on to our children.

Every family has stories they like to pass on from generation to generation. Mary and I have several experiences of how God uniquely and undeniably provided for us. Like the time we won a hundred dollars for naming a park—just enough for a badly needed set of tires. Or the time we received a check in our mailbox for the exact amount needed to replace my glasses lost on a white-water raft trip gone awry.

On my ministry trip to India and Pakistan I experienced God’s provision and protection. He provided a man (or was it an angel?) to guide me seamlessly through the chaos of Mumbai airport moments before boarding in New Delhi. He provided an impatient woman who cut into the line just before I passed through customs in Islamabad. The customs agent rebuked her and waved me through customs without going through my luggage that contained Christian literature. I could go on.

What are your stories? How has God provided or protected in unique, undeniable ways? Share these “God events” with your children and grandchildren. Help them understand that God is real and that He is still active in our lives. Create family traditions. Insert new photos in your family album. Take a selfie on the very spot and on the very day when God intervenes for you in a supernatural way.

Mark the places where God met you, and keep the memories alive.

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