Through the years I’ve come to appreciate the importance of places. God often uses the places we encounter to shape and set the course of our lives. Consider these examples.
There is a mountain in the region of Moriah. God told Abraham to take his son Isaac there and sacrifice him as a burnt offering. Abraham obeyed. He prepared the altar and raised the knife before God stopped him. God provided a substitutionary sacrifice. Clearly this was a terrible experience for Abraham (and Isaac!) but he passed the test. And he learned important things about God. God keeps his promises and he provides.
Think about what that mountain meant to Abraham forever after that. I’m sure whenever he thought of Moriah, or came back to that place, he remembered what God did there, what God taught him there, how God used that place to change the course of his life.
About 10 miles north of Moriah is a placed called Bethel. Jacob named it that. Jacob was on the run because he decided it would be better not to hang around his brother Esau. One night on his journey he laid down to sleep, with a rock for a pillow. He had a dream about a staircase and angels. And God made amazing promises to Jacob, about his descendants, the land they would possess, and God said, “I will be with you and watch over you wherever you go.” Jacob made a commitment: “The Lord will be my God.” And he named the place Bethel.
Twenty five miles northwest of Bethel is the Jabbok River. It flows west into the Jordan. Many years later Jacob was on his way back to reconnect with Esau. Now he had a large family and many possessions. They needed to cross the Jabbok so Jacob sent everyone on ahead, and was alone on one side of the river. He wrestled with God. God changed his name to Israel. Jacob named the place Peniel and he said, “I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”
Think about what those places meant to Jacob forever after that. I’m sure whenever he thought of Bethel or that crossing of the Jabbok he remembered what God did there, what God taught him there, how God used that place to change the course of his life.
If you go 15 miles straight west of Peniel, back across the Jordan River, you come to Shechem. Joseph’s father sent him there to check on his brothers. After the sheaves and stars-bowing-down dreams, and the special treatment from their father, the brothers aren’t fond of Joseph. They plot to kill him but instead toss him into a dry well. When a band of slave traders comes by. They sell him.
Think about what Shechem meant to Joseph forever after that. I’m sure whenever he thought of that place, or came near to that place, he remembered what God did there. They weren’t happy memories but Joseph recognized that God used that place to set the course of his life, so God could use him to save the lives of his family members, to preserve Israel, and ultimately to provide for our salvation because our Savior would come out of Israel.
Head quite a ways south from Shechem and you come to Mt. Horeb. Moses was tending sheep there and came across a bush that was on fire but not being consumed. God spoke to Moses from that bush. They had a discussion about what God wanted Moses to do: go and fetch the nation of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. Moses had some thoughts about how he didn’t think that was a good idea and that he wasn’t the right guy for the job. In the end, Moses obeyed. God used Moses to bring about the release of Israel.
Think about what that place meant to Moses forever after that. I’m sure whenever he thought of that mountain, or came back to that place, he remembered what God did there, what God taught him there, how God used that place to change the course of his life.
Remember Shechem where Joseph was sold as a slave? And Bethel where Jacob had his dream? If you go a little south of Shechem and a little east of Bethel there was an area known as Ophrah. There was an oak tree there.
Gideon was near that tree threshing grain in a winepress. Israel was doing strange things like that out of fear of the Midianites. One of God’s angel warriors sat down under the oak and said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” Gideon wasn’t convinced and told him so. After a brief discussion and a quickly consumed offering of bread, meat and broth the angel was gone, leaving Gideon standing next to a charred rock. Gideon went on to be used by God to defeat the massive forceslined up against Israel.
Think about what that place near the oak tree meant to Gideon forever after that. Whenever he thought of that place, or came back to that place, he remembered what God did there, what God taught him there, how God used that place to change the course of his life.
Head south from Ophrah about 30 miles. In a field outside of Bethlehem, Ruth meets Boaz. He is very kind to her, allowing her to glean in his fields. One evening at the threshing floor, Boaz had his dinner and laid down for the night. During the night Ruth uncovered his feet (wink, wink). Ruth and Boaz are married and have a son who they name Obed. Obed becomes the father of Jesse. Jesse becomes the father of David. Jesus, our Savior, comes from the line of David.
Think about what that threshing floor meant to Ruth forever after that. I’m sure whenever she thought of that place, or came back to that place, she remembered what God did there, what God taught her there, how God used that place to change the course of her life.
One significant thing all of these accounts have in common is that God used places, a hill, a river crossing, a dry well, a bush, an oak tree, a threshing floor as places to change these people and set the course for their lives.
God can speak to you anywhere. And he wants to. How does God use places in your life? My challenge for you is to watch for that and pay attention. Maybe you can already look back at say, “That is a place God used to speak to me or challenge me or encourage me.” As you move through your life there will be more places like that. We should never worship those places but they become markers for us, reminders of how God has guided and directed our lives.
There is a room in the lower level of a church in Brooklyn Center where God called me, as a kid, to full time Christian service. I think if I walked into that room now, the ample hair on my arms would stand up. There is a Field House at the old campus of Bethel University near the State Fair Grounds where, at the age of about 12, God used the message of a well-known speaker to challenge me to get serious about following him. Another place is the BWCA where I’ve paddled and hiked over a thousand miles. God revealed himself to me there over and over.
And finally, there is Camp Nathanael. God used that place to set the course of my life, starting when I was 10 years old and continuing through college.
I want Camp Nathanael to be one of the places God uses in the lives of thousands of boys and young men, to challenge them to walk closely with him, to become like Jesus, to become godly men, and to become Christ-following leaders for His kingdom.