June 17, 2014

Heart and Soul: Biblical Studies

It is the day of Joshua’s inauguration, yet no one is cheering Joshua.

Moses has just died, and the nation is mourning the great leader who brought them out of slavery. It was Moses who parted the Red Sea, who struck the rock for water. It was Moses to whom God spoke through a burning bush, whom God loved so much that He would be giving him special translation. Moses—not Joshua—is on everyone’s mind.

Joshua Is No Moses

How is Joshua to follow an act like Moses? He hasn’t attended university like Moses; he doesn’t have a father-in-law to teach him leadership skills. He doesn’t have a family with managerial experience.

True, Joshua did a great job against Amalek, and he’s long been following Moses around. But that’s the very point. He’s more tail than head. To everyone, it is as plain as manna on sand: Joshua is no Moses.

God, of course, sees all this and knows—better than all the knowing skeptics—exactly what He can do through Joshua, as well as what he is going through his head. So He doesn’t lecture him or drag him into an interminable policy orientation session. Instead, very simply and clearly, God tells Joshua, “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous” (Joshua 1:5, 6).

With this pep talk from God, Joshua begins his new job. If life had been interesting before, it’s downright adventurous now—marked by such bizarre experiences as the Rahab incident. Rahab the prostitute. She hides his spies, lies for them, and helps them escape. Joshua will subsequently welcome the lying harlot into his ultraconservative, remnant congregation!

Crossing Jordan

Following the escape of his spies, assisted by Rahab’s shortage of scruples, Joshua finds himself in a situation reminiscent of a Moses experience. He has to get this vast number of people across the Jordan River. He knows it will happen, but not because he has a trick up his sleeve. He knows because God has promised that He’s got Joshua’s back. “Consecrate yourselves,” he says to everyone. “The Lord will do amazing things among you” (Joshua 3:5).

The next day, looking at the river in front of them, the people are thinking—if not saying out loud—If Moses were here, the waters would part, and we’d just walk across.

In response to their disbelief and frustration, the waters part. This moment is crucial to the credibility and legacy of Joshua. It proves to everyone that Joshua has the same level of God-connectivity that Moses had.14 1 4

Ever wonder why God repeats the water-parting extravaganza? Could He not just as easily have whipped up something even more spectacular? God is, after all, the creative Genius of geniuses. He’s both completely left-brained and completely right-brained. Certainly He has a zillion cooler ideas up His sleeve. Yet on the banks of the Jordan, God does a repeat miracle performance.

Before labeling God as predictable, look at the scenario again. At that moment, faced with the daunting task of getting millions across the water, Joshua, and the throngs as well, have to know, for their own continuing good, that Joshua is just as capable a leader as Moses was; that he is just as worthy of trust as Moses was. He has no desire to be better than Moses or to outdo Moses.

So God enters the scene knowing just what Joshua needs. He does for Joshua what He did for Moses: God gives him the water-parting miracle. Imagine how Joshua feels as he watches the waters part. What does this do for the skeptics who have had doubts about their new leader?

God and Self-doubt

Even today God intervenes in just the right way to heal insecurities, boost self-esteem, and strengthen morale. Ever feel like Joshua? Ever feel as if the guy two cubicles down has it better than you? Or that you could never fill someone else’s shoes?

God knows what you need to see, feel, and experience to be assured of His presence. God knows that sometimes it is not enough to just say, “I am with you everywhere you go.” Sometimes we need more. We need the hands-on experience that involves all our senses. Every once in a while we need the wow element. We need experiences that scream, “God’s with me. Whoo-hoo!”

The parting of the Jordan is just the wow Joshua needed. It becomes a moment to remember, a story to tell. So he collects big rocks to remember the moment. The event is so special that Joshua walks eight miles before he finds the perfect place for his pile of rocks with which to remember his God-is-with-me moment. And to everyone there, he says, “When your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them [your story]” (Joshua 4:6, 7).

From then on, Joshua’s life becomes a series of rock piles that will climax with a farewell ceremony around a great rock: “[Joshua] took a large stone and set it up. . . . ‘See!’ he said to all the people. ‘This stone will be a witness against us’ ” (Joshua 24:26, 27).

When he comes face to face with an angel, it turns into another déjà vu, Moseslike experience. Joshua is told to take off his shoes, because the ground is holy. Next, strange trumpet blowing and odd marching strategies bring city walls crumbling down. Later, Joshua and his men find themselves chased by enemies through stone quarries, and struck down slopes, the battle ending with 36 dead, before he and God connect up again and the enemies are routed.

Each chapter, each adventure, is for Joshua another rock-of-confirmation experience. He piles rock upon rock to build memorials to remember his God’s-in-my-presence moments. He punctuates his story with piles of rocks, underlines his every memory of providential care, accentuates the miracles. He fills his life full of rocks.

Personal Rocks

What are the rocks in your life? What are those experiences that remind you of your glorious walk with the Lord? Maybe it’s a journal that holds your stories. Maybe it’s a photo album with pictures of places where exciting things happened with you and God. Maybe it’s the jacket you were wearing when the Holy Spirit touched you on your shoulder and sent you off to do something crazy. Maybe it’s a special Bible marked with your notes that has brought you to where you are today.

We all have our rock stories. One of my rock stories is not really mine; it’s my husband Roy’s. We lived on an Adventist hospital campus in Nepal at the height of the nation’s civil war. A letter from the government to all hospitals and clinics required immediate reporting of wounded Maoist rebels brought in for medical care (so they could be arrested).

Every hospital and clinic complied, except Scheer Memorial Seventh-day Adventist Hospital. Donning his most fierce CEO demeanor, Roy referenced the Geneva Convention and alluded to the possibility of the local United Nations office receiving a copy of the letter. With that friendly protest, Roy kept the hospital doors open to anyone who needed care, as it should be and as law required, regardless of caste or political affiliation.

Word of this brave, fair-minded American reached the far corners of Maoist territory, though my own worried-wife-and-mother description of him was more along the lines of crazy, reckless fool. Roy’s unbiased yet firm posture also earned him the respect of all parties—the Maoists, the U.S. embassy, and eventually even the Nepali government. He became the point person for every Maoist post with a wounded soldier. His exclusive connection also made him a natural liaison between the Maoists and the U.S. embassy.

Roy was often summoned by the Maoist commander—whose name Roy didn’t learn until the war was over. He knew him then only by the code name Red Flag. I choose not to share w
ith you the code name for Roy that my perplexity and frustration inspired.

Roy was often called to transport a wounded rebel undercover or to carry a message to the U.S. embassy. And sometimes he’d be summoned just to hang out and have a cup of tea with Red Flag. As if he were James Bond himself, Roy would receive cryptic messages and instructions before every trip. Directions to a designated place often changed en route. He’d zigzag from one place to another, following directions for hours, sometimes longer, before finally making contact with Red Flag. It was all top secret, high security (and nerve-racking for me).

When Roy left on these covert operations, I never knew where he was going, or how long he’d be gone on what he believed to be his God-guided business. I didn’t even have a way to contact him in case of an emergency, causing my stress level to soar to the height of Everest.

One day Roy returned from yet another rendezvous with Red Flag, grinning like a Himalayan cat that had eaten enough mice to last a lifetime. Tucked under his arm was a large, hand-painted red banner. I recognized it immediately. Red towns strewn with red banners had no government representation and were under Maoist rule. Besides signifying allegiance to the Maoists, red banners were considered sacred flags. Anyone who dared take down a red banner could expect to have their fingers chopped off, flogged in public, or receive some such variant of a stern reprimand.

Yet there was Roy, grinning, with all his fingers intact. It was his souvenir of survival, and it immediately became our mutual pile of rocks. It was a witness that God had our backs. It reminded me that no matter how dangerous the situation, no matter where Roy was, he was acting out of conscience and having a God’s-with-me moment. He was collecting his pile of memory rocks.

What Rocks Do

Collecting memory rocks can be stressful; everyone may not like your rock collection; and rocks can get awfully heavy. But it’s an awesome kind of heaviness—you are so full of God’s presence that there’s no more room for anything else. Those God’s-with-me memories do two things:

Your rocks give you hope. Your pile of rocks says that your life is in the control of a God who knows you intimately, who loves you passionately, who will never forsake you. With rocks all around you reminding you of times God carried you through your forest of difficulties, you will not give up when things are tough.

Your rocks are your witness. Rocks are great conversation starters. When you have piles of rock landscaping your life, someone’s bound to ask you what it’s all about. Yet witnessing can’t happen if you stay too modest. What good are your rocks if they are hidden under your bed? What good are your rocks if they are just another milestone in your life? Your testimony is your opportunity to showcase God on stage for everyone to see, to enjoy and be inspired.

Say you’ve recently been saved from a fiery furnace of self-destruction. There are two ways to share that news: option one, keep it simple and to the point. You could acknowledge it in your journal or maybe make a brief, I’ve-been-saved statement in church. While this method still gives God glory, it may not do as much as it could to inspire others to seek your God.

So why not consider a second option? Take a lesson from Joshua and tell your story straight from your heart. Showcase a large chunk of coal from the furnace on your mantel. When someone asks you what that is, respond with the enthusiasm and passion of God’s disciple, “That’s from a fiery furnace. I was right in the middle of it. The flames of sin were so hot that I was seconds away from being burned to a crisp from all the choices I had made. But then Jesus stepped into those scorching flames and rescued me!”

Your life, your testimony, is your biggest asset as a disciple of Jesus. And your story is God’s biggest asset in His plan to prepare the world for the Second Coming.

So go dig up those rocks. Put them on your mantel. Tell everyone your story. And may your life always be full of rocks.