Never Fear

Joshua 1:9

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

God was speaking to Joshua who had been appointed as the leader of the Israelites after the death of Moses.  Joshua was at the threshold of a long journey.  Moses had the Red Sea to cross; Joshua had the Jordan River.  God intervened in both those crossings enabling His people to cross on dry ground.  If Joshua had gone by only what he could see with his own eyes, he might not have even led the Israelites across the Jordan.  He might have run back into the wilderness instead.

Joshua banked on God’s promise of his not walking alone across the Jordan and on to what would be one battle after another in the land beyond the Jordan.  It couldn’t have been easy for him at times.  Joshua was human and thus subject to Satan’s temptations to doubt God’s promise “with you wherever you go.”

The Jordan River was at flood stage.  The enemies beyond the River were strong in number  Their weapon arsenal impressive.  Based on sight alone, it was an uphill battle.  However, Joshua was going on faith instead of sight.  He sought God’s guidance and carried it out whether it made sense to him or not.  Such as the time Joshua had his people to march around an armed city surrounded by a wall for seven days.  This wasn’t your typical military strategy of conquering a city.  It worked though.  The walls of Jericho came tumbling down just as God promised.

We don’t have to be a military leader to relate to Joshua’s story.  One only has to be a member of the human race to know what battles are.  Life affords us many battles.  Sometimes it is a minor skirmish, sometimes a battle, and sometimes it feels like we are at war.

A battle can be sitting going nowhere in a hurry during rush hour traffic.  I used to have to deal with a 70-mile round trip of one and I confess I had plenty of days where I didn’t handle the battle well.  A battle can be profoundly more serious, though, such as the death of a loved one or coping on a daily basis with a lifelong illness for which there is no cure.

A daily battle of my own is living with my Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) which I gave the nickname of Billy.  I am thankful to the Lord for Billy.  He can be a thorn but a blessing too.  It’s just some days I’m more thankful for Billy than others.

I don’t think the words spoken to Joshua long ago just apply to him.  Any of God’s children, including me, can bank on the promise Joshua was given.  I shouldn’t be afraid.  Why?  I couldn’t be in better hands than that of my Father in Heaven.

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Three Strikes But Not Out

I was working with a 1st-grade girl with her bucket of class work in an autism unit.  The child is verbal and quite the drama queen.  She didn’t have to tell me she could care less about the bucket and its contents.  In between her crying spells, we worked on addition and subtraction.  Any time she got a problem wrong and I informed her of that, her head would plop down on the table and she’d shed more tears.  Finally, she was solving problems right and left without her sobbing commercials.  After finishing, she was rewarded with jump time on the mini-trampoline,.

I wholeheartedly empathized with her.  Failure feels like a stab in the heart.  If someone else points out something I did wrong or failed to do, it is an uppercut to the heart since I am oversensitive to criticism.  I do admit, though, failure is an effective teacher if I will go along with its instruction.  After all, it was the answers I got wrong on a test I remembered most; not the ones I didn’t.

There’s a character in the Bible whose failures were exposed as well as his successes. He is perhaps the most well-known of the twelve disciples.  He was not only one of the twelve disciples, but also would later become the leader of the early church.  However, despite his amazing successes, he was not immune to failure.  His most famous failure was when he struck out three times in a short matter of time.  I would imagine it was the darkest moment in his life.

 Jesus warned His disciples before he was betrayed and arrested in Luke chapter 26, verse 31:  “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: “ ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ Peter spoke up as he usually did.  He wasn’t one to sit quietly in a corner.  He replied empathetically that even if all fall away on account of Jesus, he NEVER would.  The word “never” is a dangerous word for us to use and should only be uttered with the utmost caution.  I’ve had to eat my words of what I said I’d NEVER do.  

Jesus knew Peter would not live up to his proclamation of never.   “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”  Peter wasn’t one to doubt the Lord’s word, but this time, the Lord was predicting what he, Peter, would do and it was inconceivable to Peter.  He declared to Jesus again, “Even if I have to die with you, I will NEVER disown you.”  
After Jesus was arrested and taken to the high priest, Peter followed at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest. He entered and sat down with the guards to witness the outcome.  While sitting out in the courtyard, a servant girl came up to Peter and stated, “You also were with Jesus of Galilee”.  Peter stated he didn’t know what the girl was talking about. This was strike one.  
Peter went out to the gateway where another servant girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.” Peter denied it once again with an oath swearing he did not know the man.  This was the second strike.
Then, shortly thereafter, a group came up to Peter.  They stated, “Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away.”  Peter reacted even more strongly by calling down curses, swearing to those in earshot, “I don’t know the man!” This was the third strike.
I can’t imagine the pain that must have pierced Peter’s heart when he heard the sound of the rooster crowing after his third strike.  Just as Jesus predicted he would deny Him, the rooster crowed.  Three times Peter had denied knowing the Son of God.  He went outside and wept bitterly.  I would imagine he wept buckets of tears.  I don’t think there are words to describe the depth of Peter’s guilt.
Another disciple, Judas,  had earlier betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.  He gave Jesus a kiss which was the sign to the conspirators that this was the man they wanted.  A fault of Judas was greed; however, upon receiving the reward, he tossed all the pieces of shiny silver to the ground.  The silver had become an eyesore; it wasn’t as valuable to him as it was before he betrayed Jesus.  He must have felt some guilt because he didn’t take the silver and run.  Instead of learning a lesson from his failure, he took his life.  He chose to die instead of getting up after his fall.
One disciple betrayed Him; the other denied Him near the end of His time on earth.  Neither disciple could relive it or change what either had done.  Judas gave in to his failure and took his life.  Peter took a different option.  He got up the next day and the day after, etc.
Peter crossed paths with Jesus after Jesus arose from the grave.  He told Peter not once, not twice, but three times to feed the flock.  Jesus repeating it three times hurt Peter.  Peter responded by saying he loved Jesus instead of blaming someone else for his three strikes.
Jesus could have told Peter “three strikes, you’re out.”  He could have given up on Peter for denying him in His dark hours.  But instead, He showed forgiveness and mercy to Peter.  That’s a lesson in itself for us.  Jesus’s forgiveness of Peter’s denials is another example to us to do the same unto others.
Just a thought.  Perhaps Peter’s colossal failure helped him with humility.  Peter would go on to feed the flock; all of whom had their own history of failures.  Peter knew what it was to fail miserably, he knew the enormous pain of guilt, and he knew about being given another chance.
Failure is a fine teacher as well as having a humbling effect.  I can learn from both failure and success.  Failure is really only terminal when one falls down and doesn’t try to get back up and try again.  I’d rather take Peter’s route than the one Judas took.

A Servant on a Mission

There’s a familiar prayer that includes these words:  Lord, take me where you want me to go today; have me meet whom you want me to meet; have me say what you’d have me say.  I love this prayer.  Words I often include in my own prayers.  Seeking guidance is one step; following it is another.  These words remind me of a man whose story is told in the first book of the Bible.  His name was not given; just his occupation of that of a loyal servant for Israel’s great patriarch Abraham.

The servant’s story is intertwined with the love story of Abraham’s son and daughter-in-law, Isaac and Rebekah.  In Genesis 24 it is told that Abraham called for his senior servant, the manager of his entire household, to go on a mission to Abraham’s home country and  find a wife for Isaac among Abraham’s relatives.  This was back when parents had more say in whom their offspring married.  Abraham had no desire for his future daughter-in-law to come from the neighborhood.  He lived among the Canaanites who did not know or respect the God whom Abraham served.  God wanted Isaac’s wife to come from Abraham’s kinfolk who at least were people whom knew about God and respected Him.

I wonder if the servant had any thoughts after Abraham gave him the instructions such as “Who me?”, “Sir, you want me to do WHAT?”, “I’m no matchmaker!”  I would imagine being human he was tempted to find some way of getting out of making a trip to the homeland to find a wife for his master’s son.  But he was an obedient and trustworthy servant who accepted the mission.  It probably helped the servant when his master assured him the angel of the Lord would go before him.

He set off on his journey to the vicinity of Haran, where Abraham’s brother had remained after Abraham migrated to Canaan sixty-five years earlier. The servant stopped at a well in the town of Nahor, which happened to be Abraham’s brother’s name.  Here was where the servant did what we as God’s children should always do as we embark on a path the Lord has convicted our hearts to take.  It may be an actual journey of moving from one place to another.  Or, it may be the start of a marriage, or raising a child, or dealing with an illness or that of a loved one.  It may be taking on a new job, or getting off at retirement station, or embarking on some other life change.  What essential thing did the servant do?  He prayed.

He asked for a sign as to whom he was looking for.  He asked the young lady whom God had chosen would be the one who came to the well and offer water for the servant’s camels. The servant chose not to use some random method such as eeny-meeny-miny-mough, whose the fairest of them all.  He wanted God’s choice instead of trying to pick her out himself.

Before the servant even got to the “Amen,” God was at work.  A young maiden by the name of Rebekah came out with her jar on her shoulder. She didn’t know at the time that she was being led to the right place, at the right time, with the right words to say.  When she came from the well with her jar filled with water, the servant ran to meet her and said, “Please let me drink a little water from your jar.” She said, “Drink, my lord” and she quickly gave him a drink. When he finished drinking, Rebekah offered to draw water for the servant’s camels.  She emptied her jar into the drinking trough and ran back to the well for some more, and she drew enough water for all ten of the servant’s camels (Gen. 24:15-20).

Her appearing at the well was not a coincidence.  The servant took it as the sign he had asked God for.  It would appear from Rebekah’s actions that she was friendly, outgoing, energetic, and not selfish.  The servant’s heart probably bounced when he found out that she was the granddaughter of Abraham’s brother Nahor; daughter of Isaac’s first cousin.  At that, he again did something we should always do – thanked God for hearing and answering his prayer.

The servant may appear to be the matchmaker here, but truth be told, it was God who was doing the matchmaking in this story.  The servant did his part and God did His.  Our actions alone do not get the job done.  But if the servant hadn’t done his part as God directed him, he wouldn’t have had a part in this story of the union of two of the ancestors of Jesus Christ.

The servant told Rebekah’s family of the mission his master had sent him on and the guidance he received from God.  Her brother and father did not think the servant’s story was foolishness.  “The matter comes from the Lord,” they said (Gen. 24:50).

They did not leave Rebekah out of the decision and just order her to go with the servant.  She was given a choice. It was an immense decision in her life—leaving the home and family she would never see again, traveling nearly five hundred miles on camelback with a total stranger, to marry a man she had never met. Her family called her in and said, “Will you go with this man?” And she said, “I will go” (Gen. 24:58).  That was not a simple thing for her to have signed up for.  She must have also believed the servant’s story wasn’t a lot of hooey.  It was her faith the drove her decision to leave family behind and begin a new life with a distant cousin.

It was a long journey back to the home of Abraham.  I wonder if Rebekah spent many a night awake wondering what Isaac was like, what did he look like, what would he think of her, etc.  Being human, I would imagine she was tempted to make a run for it back home.

Isaac was out in the field at evening time when the camel caravan with its precious cargo arrived.  Rebekah dismounted from the camel when she saw Isaac, and covered herself with a veil as the custom was. Isaac was told the entire story of the servant’s mission and the providential guidance from God that had found him a bride.  The Bible tells us, “Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and he took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her; thus Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death” (Gen. 24:67).

It was a new beginning for Rebekah and Isaac.  It was a “mission accomplished” for the servant who trusted and followed God’s guidance to carry out his mission.

In The Garden

Linda Jones, an Autism advocate, once stated: “Whereas other people seem to be looking FORWARD to ‘the event’ – they don’t seem to realize that we’re looking PAST the event, trying to assure ourselves that it will be over soon and the routine-day after will be a relief.”

That sounds all too familiar. I remember several years ago driving to a holiday party at a friend’s house. If my steering wheel could have talked, it would have yelled: “Get a grip and loosen the grip on me!” It didn’t matter it was a friend I had known for years. It didn’t matter there were others at the party I knew. It didn’t matter that I had been to my friend’s house a number of times. This was contrary to my routine going to a party and I was eager for its ending instead of the beginning.

Any type of gathering type event is a jolt.  A threesome having lunch, a holiday gathering, a meeting, etc.  The gathering is a storm cloud on an otherwise sunny day. Once I can go back to my solitary corner, I’m back on the track of normalcy which is where I ache to live on.

I reckon I could survive solitary confinement longer than others I know who relish the thought of get-together type events.  There’s nothing wrong with hanging out with friends but I just don’t have the desire to and it’s beyond my understanding watching people enjoying doing it. It’s like observing, from a distance, life on another planet.

In the Bible’s four Gospels that give us the story of Jesus’s walk on this Earth, He had to interact with large and small groups to go about His Father’s business.  He attended events such as a marriage ceremony at Cana where he turned the water into wine.  He taught multitudes of people such as the 5000 men, plus women and children, whom he fed with His miracle of the loaves and fishes.  He had dinner with a group of people at the home of a Pharisee named Simon where Jesus allowed a woman who lived a sinful life to pour perfume on His feet.  But it wasn’t unusual for Jesus to go off alone by Himself, such as to a mountainside or a garden. It is of comfort to me that even Jesus needed to take a break from people and gatherings and go off by Himself at times.  Just maybe not every day like I do.

Jesus was unlike any other human being who ever has or will walk upon this Earth. Even those closest to him, such as His disciples, could not entirely know what Jesus was going through. It’s understandable that He needed time alone with the only one who could — the Father.

One of the times Jesus had lone time with His Father was His visit to the Garden of Gethsemane before He was betrayed by Judas. His disciples went with Him but they couldn’t keep their eyes open and fell asleep. Jesus was in agony with drops of sweat like blood.  That time alone in the Garden having a talk with His Father about what no one else could have understood helped prepare Him to ultimately do his Father’s will.

There are things about my ASD that I can’t talk to anyone about. Too embarrassing or beyond my understanding. But I can talk to the Lord about those things and so I do. Sometimes I do it when I take a walk in the park. It’s not a garden but it will do.

 

 

 

Riding on Faith

Do you remember the first time you hopped on a bicycle? I can’t say that I do and I figure it’s probably one I would have wanted to forget.  I assume it didn’t go smoothly because of my track record of bike falls. I was more successful at falling than pedaling before I had a handle on riding a bike.

Now that I have since learned I have been living on the Autism Spectrum, I have an explanation for my awkward relationship with bicycles. A common autism trait is having a hardship for doing more than one thing at once.  Bike riding requires steering and pedaling at the same time with a keen sense of observation and speed. I still have a scar on my knee from five decades ago where I might not have been keen on watching where I was going or how fast.   Motor skills also come in handy when riding a bike and I wasn’t endowed with much motor.

I haven’t looked for such but I assume there are “how to ride bikes” books out there.  Unlike when I was growing up, one can watch “You Tube” videos on how to ride a bike. Or spend time observing others take a spin on their bikes. Yet until one hops on a bike and puts feet to pedal, one doesn’t know what it is to ride a bike.  Now I can’t imagine someone putting a lot of energy into studying about bike riding without actually riding one. It sounds rather foolish, doesn’t it?

One could say that same thing about faith.  It’s one thing to know what faith is; it’s another to live it as one goes about the business of living.

Hebrews 11:1 tells us that faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen.  Such as believing one’s prayer is going beyond the ceiling or that it isn’t luck or a coincidence that you made it through a storm, but an answered prayer.  It is one thing to talk about this common word in the Bible, or to sing hymns about it, or to read and memorize the 336 verses that contain the word in the King James Version. It is well and good to pray about something on one’s plate, but it takes faith to leave it in the Lord’s hands.  If one only has book-smart knowledge of faith without the practical use of it, it is like the person who is book smart on bikes but has never pedaled a day in one’s life.

I gave up bike riding a long time ago. I recall I once got back on a bike a decade or so ago when I had the rare opportunity of having access to one in a remote area. Like they say about riding a horse, it all came back to me. Although I was rusty from lack of practice, I didn’t take a fall. However, my hips paid me back BIG time after my bike reunion. I would ride a bike now but I can’t think of a place where I could ride one where there was a sure-fire guarantee that there would be absolutely NO witnesses. I’m afraid of both failing and falling in public.

I assume that even those who ride bikes well into their later years still run the risk of having a fall anytime they hop on their bikes. Not as often as most people, but they still run the possibility of flying off the handle. One can only hope they don’t break some vital bone in their body, like a neck.

Likewise, no one is perfect at riding on faith. We all fall sometimes to our fears and doubts. Just as it is with bike riders, the important thing is to get back up and try it again. Just as it is with most things, the more you practice living your faith in the Lord, the better you get at it. It’s okay to be rusty at riding a bike, but not okay to be rusty at riding one’s faith.

Jesus Had His Critics

There’s an old saying that there’s always a critic out there somewhere. I am reminded of that every time when I log in to my Facebook or Twitter account.  Imagine if you can that everyone on the Internet superhighway were to strictly adhere to the rule “if you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all”, for just one day. My guess is the Internet traffic would be reduced to the volume of highway traffic on a Christmas morning.

Now I am not anti-social media. I am an avid user myself of social media.  There are the positives of contact with extended family and friends I wouldn’t have contact with otherwise. Like any number of things, social media is a two-edged sword. I have to take the sour with the sweet when I log in to my accounts. I enjoy the sweetness of the baby picture of my first cousin’s grandchild while ignoring the postings of those who never have anything nice to say about anything.

I wonder if social media had been around when Jesus walked this Earth, how many postings there would have been of Him. My guess is Jesus would have been a popular topic in His time.  After all, multitudes of people flocked to see Jesus because they had heard of Him through word of mouth. Jesus gained so much popularity that His critics, such as teachers of the law and Pharisees, feared a rebellion and sought a way to turn the crowds away from Him.

One of the things Jesus’s critics threw at Him was performing miracles of healing on the Sabbath. Instead of being happy for those who were healed, the critics were crying foul claiming it was unlawful to heal on the Sabbath. Jesus paid them no mind. A number of miracles recorded in the scripture were performed by Jesus on the Sabbath. One of them is told in Luke 6:6-11.

Jesus entered into a synagogue and among the crowd, there was a man whose right hand was withered. The scribes and Pharisees were watching every move Jesus made, wondering whether He would heal on the Sabbath. They had no concern for the man with a withered hand. They only hoped Jesus would heal this man so they could seize the moment and criticize Him. In their way of thinking, the Sabbath was a day of rest and they considered healing folks of their infirmities a violation of that rule.

Jesus knew they were watching Him and beat them to the punch. He had the man with the withered hand to stand up in the crowd. Then Jesus spoke to the crowd asking if it was lawful on the Sabbath to do good or evil; to save a life or destroy it. No one said a word. Total silence. Jesus’s critics were caught in a corner. They’d be in trouble if they had said evil. How could they say good knowing they couldn’t then very well criticize Jesus for then doing the good of healing someone? Since they were silent, Jesus said unto the man to stretch out his hand. When the man did, his hand was restored whole as the other hand. Jesus once again had silenced his critics with words alone.

Rising above criticism can be a lonely road when it is hard to find a supporter. But if you are doing what the Lord has laid on your heart to do, I can’t think of a better reason to do anything. For example, it had to have been lonely at times when Noah was building the ark before the flood came.

I take another lesson from this story which is to not only rise above criticism, but to reign in my own. I should be prayerful of what to say and what not to.  I’m not God and so I can’t claim to know what’s best for someone else, let alone myself.  I should prayerfully aim to be more in the cheering section than in the critic’s corner.

 

No Such Luck

Have you ever been at the right place, at the right time, crossed paths with the right person, and said or heard words that brought light to a dark tunnel in your life? Some would call it luck or a coincidence. I call it something else.

A moment for me is one I can still picture like it was yesterday.  I was going down a hallway, met a person who took the time to chat, and I asked her a question that popped up in my mind in the course of our conversation.  Her answer ultimately resulted in an answered prayer.  It was something I had prayed about for two years. Believe me, those two years felt like an eternity. I often in my mind visit that dark day which ended with a ray of blessed hope. I appreciated that answer more than I would have if I had received it two years earlier. I wouldn’t want to relive those two years, but I can see with hindsight that the dark period was a faith-building exercise.

Sometimes I say the word “luck”, or the phrase “I got lucky”, or “what a coincidence”. I really don’t believe in either. I don’t pin the blame on luck or coincidence when I experience the right place and the right time bit. One might call me a fool but I believe it’s the Lord instead of good luck. It’s not something I can prove to anyone; it has been and remains a matter of faith on my part.

I’ve also said the phrase “at the wrong place, at the wrong time”. At times of tragedy, such as at the scene of a fatal accident or mass shooting, it is a commonly heard phrase. I wonder because that’s a lot of what I do living on the autism spectrum if there’s such a thing of being at the wrong place, at the wrong time. Is it all part of God’ plan? Even in the face of unspeakable tragedy, is there a purpose beyond the seeing? There’s such joy at being at the right place, right time with a happy outcome. But sometimes it doesn’t work that way. “Why?” may be the most asked question of God on any given day. I ask that question sometimes. It is beyond my understanding.  If I knew the answer, I’d be God and I’m not.

The Bible is full of stories where one was at the right place, right time, and doing the right thing. One Bible character who had multiple such stories was King David. Such as was it just a coincidence that David’s father, Jesse, sent young David with provisions to where his older brothers were stationed with Saul’s army? If David had not gone that day, the story of David and Goliath might not be in the Bible. We can only speculate as to what would have happened to Saul and his army if there had been no intervention from a youngster with a slingshot.

Was it luck that David’s stone from his slingshot hit Goliath in just the right spot that knocked Goliath off his feet? I don’t think so. Just looking at David’s entire life, I can see where the encounter between David and Goliath was part of God’s plan of putting David in the right place at the right time, one step at a time, heading to the throne.  David didn’t go from shepherd boy to king by no such thing as luck, but by faith.

 

Only God Knows

As a substitute teacher’s aide, I go to different schools on various assignments.  Some assignment calls for me to go to multiple classrooms assisting assigned students.  I once arrived at an assignment where there was a delay in getting me the schedule of the aide I was subbing for. Until I had that schedule in hand, I had a bad case of butterflies in my stomach. The butterflies flew away once I got my hand on the piece of paper with the schedule typed out. I held on to that piece of paper for dear life. In my spectrum world, a comfort zone isn’t one without a schedule.

When Jesus walked this Earth, He met with many people, went to many places, and traveled with a group of disciples whom He taught along the way.  I wonder if He had a schedule or if one of the disciples took care of planning when and where they went. Maybe his trips were planned out, one day to Jericho, another to Galilee, and then somewhere else, etc. Or, maybe Jesus and his band of disciples took it day by day and no planning beyond that.

There was a schedule the Lord must have had in the back of His mind. He spoke of what was on that schedule multiple times, much to the dismay of His disciples. Jesus knew when, how, and where it was going to take place: His death, three days in the tomb, the resurrection, and ascension back to His Father in Heaven. The Lord was not caught off guard when Judas betrayed him and the officers came to arrest Him. It all happened right on schedule.

Jesus spoke of an event that is on God’s schedule in Matthew 24:36: “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.” The time is blank and will only be filled in by God, the Father. Jesus knows He will come again for a second time, but not even He knows when that day will be.

Since Jesus’s time on this Earth, there have been those who have predicted that the Lord would return on such day. Some even convinced a multitude of people who even went so far as to sell or give away their possessions and putting their house in order. The days predicted came and went, leaving the predictors with egg on their faces. I suppose it is just natural to speculate, but to predict a date is ignoring what Jesus said. It is pointless to predict God’s timing. If God didn’t tell His own begotten Son, why would anyone dare think He would reveal it to some soul on Earth?

I don’t have any inclination of predicting the day of the Lord’s coming or even of the end times. That’s up to my Father in Heaven. The Lord has work for me to do on any given day. I should focus on doing that and not worry about the day and hour of the Lord’s coming. It could be at any time today, tomorrow or decades or centuries from now. Instead of speculating, I should just do as the Lord told His mother Mary and stepfather Joseph:  I must be about my Father’s business.

 

The Prophet Who Did His Job

In the Old Testament, there are stories of kings, queens, judges, priests, and then, there are prophets. There were a number of prophets with some of them having long, hard to spell names like Malachi, Zechariah, and Habakkuk (Google does come in handy for spelling). Their main job duty was relaying God’s message to one or more people. Sometimes they had good news, but it often was a warning instead such as “if you don’t repent and change your ways…”.

I would imagine the job of a prophet could be a thankless one since their message didn’t always tickle the ears of the receiver.  It could be a dangerous one too such as Elijah having to flee from King Ahab who didn’t think much of Elijah and thought less of the God Elijah served. It could be a lonely one. Jeremiah was called the “weeping prophet” who served during the reign of five different kings and wrote a lot about repentance. They lived fascinating lives such as Samuel who was a miracle child, anointed the first two Israelite kings, and was the only ghost we meet in the Bible (read all about it in I Samuel 28).

Nathan was the prophet who was around when David was King.  Unlike Elijah and King Ahab, Nathan and David had a good relationship. Nathan was a member of David’s royal court and one of his closest advisors. There are a few stories in the Bible featuring Nathan that occurred during some of the darkest and most emotional times in David’s turbulent life.

Nathan was around when David decided to build God a house. David thought it wrong that while he lived in a beautiful palace, the Ark of the Covenant was housed in a lowly tent. David shared his plans with Nathan. The prophet, so to speak, gave him the high five. But Nathan spoke too soon! God visited Nathan in a vision and told him to go back to David with an entirely opposite message. God did not want David to build him a house; rather, David’s descendant would be the one to build God’s house (2 Samuel 7:4–17).

Nathan goes back to David with God’s answer.  Instead of being stubborn about it and going ahead with his plans, or throwing a tantrum and taking it out on the messenger, David accept’s God’s will. That’s a good lesson in itself. Not all my prayer requests have turned out as I had originally hoped.  Sometimes I have to go through the process of accepting God’s answer, reminding myself that my Father knows best.  If I could see what would have happened if my request had turned out the way I wanted, I have no doubt I’d be on my knees thanking the Lord for sparing me from what I originally hoped.

The most famous encounter between David and Nathan came later.  It was after David committed adultery with Bathsheba.  When she informed David she was pregnant with his child, he was so desperate to cover it up that he brought about the death of her husband, Uriah, who was a loyal soldier in David’s army.  David married Bathsheba and life went on … or so David thought. Nathan shows up and it was a climactic moment, to say the least.  If it wasn’t one of the worst moments in David’s life, it surely came close to being.

Nathan began with telling David about a rich man and a poor man. The rich man had company and needed to prepare a feast. He sees the poor man’s only possession, a little lamb, the poor man loved like a member of his family. The selfish rich man takes the lamb to feed his guest instead of feeding his guest with one of his own lambs from his flocks. David’s reaction to this story was an absolute rage. Perhaps the story took David back to when he was a shepherd boy tending his father’s flock. David declared the rich man had no pity and deserved to die.

This is the climax! I dare say one could have heard a pin drop when Nathan pointed to David and said, “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:7).

Perhaps at that moment, David felt like an arrow of guilt had hit his heart. It couldn’t have been easy for Nathan to reveal David’s sin, but he was the prophet and it was his job. David did confess to Nathan his sin. At least, David didn’t deny it or try to blame someone else. Nathan had good and bad news. The good news was the Lord had forgiven his sin and that David would not be punished by his own death. The bad news was David and Bathsheba’s child would die. It was devastating news but David didn’t argue with or blame the messenger who was just doing his job.

After the death of David’s child, his wife Bathsheba became pregnant again, this time with a son whom they named Solomon. The Lord sent Nathan to David again but this time with wonderful news that the Lord loved his son Solomon. They named their son, Solomon “Jedidiah,” a name that means “beloved of the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:24–25). Solomon would grow up to later build God’s house, the temple, and became an ancestor of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Another mention of Nathan is an encounter he had with Bathsheba. David was near death at the time and one of David’s sons, Adonijah, had his eyes on his father’s throne. Nathan knew Bathsheba well enough to speak to her about Adonijah attempting to take David’s throne from her son, Solomon (1 Kings 1:11). Nathan enlisted her help in bringing the matter to David’s attention before David’s death. After Bathsheba told David what was going on, Nathan came in and backed her up. Thus, there was no King Adonijah.

There is evidence that David and Bathsheba appreciated Nathan for his faithfulness, friendship, and even his “tough” love. First Chronicles 3:5 reveals they named one of their sons “Nathan”. A fine thing to be named after a prophet who did his job.

A few decades ago I pray for something with a heavy heart.  In my prayer, I had a sob story and thought that what I wanted to do about the situation had the Lord’s blessing.  Just as I was almost about to carry it out, I ran into someone.  I shared my sob story with the person who generously gave me a hug and advice.  Her advice wasn’t what I wanted to hear but I listened.  It occurred to me a short time later that her advice was the Lord’s answer.  I can’t prove it but to this day I don’t believe it was a coincidence I ran into this person when I did.

In a way, she was the prophet delivering the Lord’s message to me.  At least, I can say that time I accepted it and if I had to live it over again, I wouldn’t have changed a thing.  By the way, I never held a grudge against her.  She was just doing her job.

 

Joshua, Caleb, and the Fearful Ten

When I think of the word “courage”, the pictures that pop up in my mind are of soldiers on a battlefield, police officers on a call where weapons are drawn, or firefighters responding to a raging fire with people inside. Courage isn’t limited to those situations. It can be displayed at any time or place.  It isn’t limited to those wearing a uniform and it doesn’t have to be a matter of life and death.  Courage is when one does what the Lord would have them do, often taking the difficult instead of the easy road, even though they are scared silly.

The Bible provides many stories having the ingredient of courage. One of them is the story of Joshua and Caleb. It is a dramatic and powerful tale of two who did the right thing surrounded by those who chose to give in to fear and doubt.

The Israelites led by Moses had fled Egypt to their destination of the promised land of Canaan initially promised by God to their forefather Abraham. Joshua and Caleb’s story begins where the Israelites were at the threshold of this Promised Land.

Moses sent Joshua, Caleb, and ten other spies into the Promised Land to check out who the enemy was and report back what they saw.  The spies returned after scouting the land for 40 days. All twelve agreed that Canaan did flow with milk and honey and it possessed bountiful fruit. They all reported the inhabitants were powerful, their cities fortified, and they even saw descendants of Anak there. (The Israelites felt like grasshoppers in the presence of the sons of Anak who were endowed with height). The people focused more on the strength of the enemy than the milk, honey, and fruit.

There was not full agreement among the spies on what to do about it. The majority believed the enemy was a mountain too high to climb. Joshua and Caleb were of the opinion that the land was conquerable because they had the Lord on their side and the Canaanites did not. That made all the difference. They stated:

“‘The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.’” (Numbers 14:6–9).

Although Caleb and Joshua were outnumbered, they didn’t change their minds to appease the majority. Their belief in going forward to battle wasn’t based on what they saw, but on what they couldn’t see.  It’s called living one’s faith.

The people didn’t listen to the courageous two, but to the fearful ten. They even turned on their leader, Moses, and complained about being led out to the wilderness to come this far only to die. It was a bad day for Moses. It seemed that sometimes the hardest part of Moses’s job was not dealing with the enemy or the physical challenges of traveling a multitude of people, but the “people” themselves who may have kept Moses up many a night with their complaining.

God threw up His hands so to speak. The punishment of the people’s lack of faith was making them wait forty years to enter the land (a year for every day the spies were spying out the land). He also promised that every person 20 years old or older would die in the wilderness.  Think about that!  All those 20 and above knew they had no more than 40 years to live and would never leave the wilderness alive.  If one was 20, one knew they wouldn’t live past 60 and would only see the land flowing with milk and honey in their dreams.

There were two exceptions.  Numbers 14:38, “Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun.”

After the death of Moses 40 years later, Joshua led the people across the Jordan River into the Promised Land. He won every battle and thus possessed the land that God had initially promised Joshua’s forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Oh, and Caleb? Well, he received an inheritance in the Promised Land in his ripe old age (Joshua 14).

Courage isn’t limited to adults.   I can think of another place where I have personally witnessed courage while on my job as a substitute teacher’s aide. A child is alone amidst a host of classmates on a playground. The child is perceived by the other children to be different.  Maybe it’s the child’s different skin color, or a brace on their leg, or doesn’t speak or talks too much, flaps his hands, spins in circles, or their legs are useless to them.  One of their classmates joins the child.  He or she is pointed at and snickered for giving attention to the “different” one. But the one who stands alone pays their snickering classmates no mind. That child who is putting into practice Jesus’s command to love one’s neighbor as thyself is displaying courage. Just as Joshua and Caleb did when they stood alone amidst the fearful ten.