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Stones to stand on

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topical Scripture: Joshua 4:1-9

Today we reenact a biblical scene given to us in Joshua 4. Here we discover the first Heritage Day in Scripture. I want simply to show you its relevance for our church and your life this morning.

Stones from the river

We are standing on the banks of the Jordan. It is late April—the snows from Mt. Hermon have melted and the rainy season has swollen the river into a torrential flood. We must cross it to claim our land and future.

So God calls our priests and leaders to step into the water while it is still flooded. Here’s what has just happened: “As soon as the priests who carried the ark [of the covenant] reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away” (3:15-16). We have now all crossed over, trusting God to hold the waters and save our lives and families.

And we have seen the mighty power of our God, in response to the faith of our leaders and people.

Now God calls us to make a memorial to this miraculous event. Not to honor Joshua or our leaders, but our God. We send twelve men, representing us all, as our “heritage committee.” They take rocks which would otherwise be inaccessible to us, which have been at the bed of the Jordan River for centuries and longer, and make of them a “grand jury of stones” to stand as a permanent reminder of God’s providence and love for us.

And God is pleased.

We have gathered this morning under the leadership of our heritage committee, for the very same purpose. To see the power of God in our history and lives. No flooded river ever presented more challenges than the founders of this church faced. They had no property, buildings, sponsoring congregation, money, pastor or name. But God called them to step onto these plains as surely as he called the ancient Israelites to step into that river. And they did.

What “stones” from the crossing could we assemble this morning as a memorial to the greatness and providence of God?

Stones from the plain

What people come to mind?

John Boggs, Dr. T. C. Gardner, and J. M. Hefner, members of Gaston Avenue Baptist Church, who birthed the idea of this church in far-north Dallas in May of 1939.

George Truett, who said “there ought to be a church” in the Park Cities, and Estelle Bates, one of his most faithful workers, whom he assigned to help make it so.

The first members of the church, who set out to telephone every person living in the Park Cities to invite them to services while others went door-to-door with personal invitations. Their effort laid the missionary heart of our church in place. And thousands of people have followed in their steps.

Think of the pastors God has called here: Dr. R. Alton Reed, who resigned from Lamar Avenue Baptist Church in Wichita Falls to lead this fledgling congregation. He helped us secure our first building and property. Without his ministry, would our church have survived and thrived?

Dr. Herbert R. Howard, who left Immanuel Baptist Church in Tulsa to come to a church without a permanent location and taught us for 28 years that everybody is somebody. Without his visionary courage, would we be on this campus, in this building?

Dr. Jim Pleitz, who came from Pensacola in October of 1977 knowing that it’s hard to follow a long-term successful pastor, but he did it! His personal outreach ministry, warm pastor’s heart, and media ministry to the city combined to lead 2,200 people to join our church in his first ten years here.

Dr. Allen Walworth, who began on September 11, 1994 and led years of change: redrafting our articles of incorporation, the shared vision process, and a variety of staff additions and changes which brought some of the key leaders on this team today.

Think of the property God has led us to develop:

The house on Lovers Lane, because Dr. Reed and some men “happened” to stop there on March 17, 1940 while looking at location sites. It wasn’t on the market, but the church bought it anyway.

This land, purchased in 1945 from Mr. Harris Yarbrough, church member and University Park mayor, sold to us at his cost—on a two-lane blacktop county road, with nothing but knee-deep Johnson grass and chiggers to commend it.

These buildings, begun in 1948; this sanctuary, twice the size recommended by the architects, because Dr. Howard said their plans were too small.

Rejoice in the projects God has led us to undertake:

Mission church sponsorships such as Richardson Heights and Midway Road.

Millions of dollars invested in missions.

The Denominational Affairs Committee, which has kept us from being polarized over Baptist political issues.

Uniquely innovative ministries like the Andrew Club in 1954 to reach out to the community, the University of Christian Life in 1960, televised services in 1964, the denomination’s first full-time singles minister, remarkable music ministry to the city, the STEP ministry to the poor, and now Saturday night worship, a seminary for lay people, and missions and media outreach to the city.

Conclusion

Across our history on this plain, as at that river, we have seen stone on top of stone, each one showing us God’s providential care, power, and purpose for our church. Each stone not in our honor, but his; this day, not for our glory, but his alone. He stops the water—all we must do is trust and obey.

Now, what about your life? What river is God challenging you to cross? What ministry is he calling you to fulfil? What person is he telling you to reach? What stones will others stand on, because you were as faithful to God as those whose vision we celebrate today?

If we step into our river, God will part it and the stones of heritage will be ours. Stones to stand on, forever. Where will you get your foot wet?