Introduction to the Reading:
I have an amazing wife. I'm not sure why she agreed, but she actually was willing to go camping with me. Now maybe you've gone camping before yourself, but this was no ordinary camping. This was tent camping - in winter.
Two weeks ago, my wife and I went camping with our dogs in the Southern Kettle Moraine State Forest. I had camped there many years before with a friend of mine when I was in high school. It was the end of August, and in the words of my friend Jeff, "I don't think we slept one minute." We stayed up all night putting wet wood on our campfire in order to keep the mosquitoes away. It was agonizing. I wanted to go back, but I made up my mind that next time there would be no mosquitoes. 15 years and (more importantly) 6 months later, and there I was!
I have to say, it was quite the experience. While we had nice winter sleeping bags and mats, it was a challenge keeping warm at night. The dogs had booties for their feet, but once we made it to camp they needed to stay in the tent otherwise they started shivering. I had to cut my own firewood, make dinner on a small camp stove, and melt snow for water. As if the camping part wasn't enough, the trek to our site was quite a hike. Looking at the map, it appeared that our campsite was about 3 miles from the road. It turned out that it was actually 4 and a half miles - mostly uphill. Carrying in the tent, sleeping bags, food, and everything else we needed through the snow was quite a workout, and my wife Mel's boots turned out not to be waterproof, so once we stopped moving her feet were instantly cold. I heard the phrase a few times, "Are we there yet," and "When can we go home." I'm sure if the dogs could have talked, they would have been saying the same thing. While the view from our campsite was quite spectacular, I have to admit that the sight of the car the next day was even more amazing.
In our reading today from God's Story, we hear how the Israelites went on quite a journey as well. There wasn't any snow - they were wandering in the desert on the Sinai peninsula - but they had their share of difficulties. More than just an extra mile and a half, though, the Israelites wandered in the desert for over 40 years. You can see where some grumbling and even mutiny might begin to occur. But when it comes to grumbling, the Israelites found out that it's never a good idea to grumble against the Lord or his appointed representatives. It's been said, "Life isn't about the destination, but the journey." What lessons do the Israelites learn on their journey in the wilderness? And what lessons can we learn from their lives?
Rest stops Along the Journey - Top of page 73 - So how is the trip going? It's been three days since we set out from Sinai, a relatively short distance from the start, so things should be going well, right? Ha! I remember hearing on the news a couple of weeks ago about the cruise ship that was stuck out on the ocean without power. Some of the people came off the ship vowing never to take a cruise again. Once the power went out, all they ate for days was bologna sandwiches. The people of Israel wanted meat, so the Lord gave them meat...until they loathed it. You know the saying, "Be careful what you ask for, you might just get it!" What blessing of the Lord might you have complained about this week?
On each of the following pages, take a moment to stop and ask, "How does the Lord show that maybe instead of questioning his plan, it's best to just trust him?"
- Bottom of p. 74 - What choice of the Lord's did Miriam and Aaron question? In his judgment, how did the Lord give them an opportunity to show their trust in the Lord's decision as to who should be their leader? Have you questioned the choice of leaders God has chosen in your life?
- Top of p. 78 - The Israelites thought that the Lord's choice of a homeland was a bit pricey. Why did they question his decision? Since that generation didn't like the Lord's choice of a home, where would they live instead? What blessings of the Lord have you said "No thank you" to?
- Top of p. 79 - Although Moses seemed always ready to plead for mercy on behalf of the people the Lord had place him as shepherd over, Moses finally had enough and got frustrated. He had been through enough with the ever quarrelsome Israelites so the Lord essentially said, "Fine, then you don't have to go with them into the promised land." When has your patience grown thin with those God has placed in your life? Have you grown tired of asking for the Lord to be merciful to them?
When You're Done Reading - Thoughts to Ponder: It seems that everyone learned a lesson along the way! And for someone who was worried he couldn't speak well, Moses gives quite the retirement sermon, doesn't he? He sums up the lessons from his life so well. He stands before what in his eyes are a bunch of kids, and reminds them of all the things that they and their parents went through. He begs with them to remember the lessons they learned along the way.
There are plenty of sins that he could have reminded them of: their ingratitude, their grumbling, their complaining, their sexual immorality, their idolatry, their impatience, etc, etc. Isn't it ironic that the people complain that they didn't have milk and honey, when the very reason they didn't have it was because they didn't take the land of milk and honey that the Lord was holding out to them! They blame God instead of themselves. Moses himself learned plenty of lessons: He learned that years of services doesn't give you the license to disobey God. He learned that instead of looking down on others, that he should plead for them...again, and again, and again.
When it comes down to it, the biggest lesson the Israelites had to learn was the meaning of the First Commandment. I'm not talking about the "Thou shalt not..." part. Oh they had to learn that too - they were all to quick to worship idols, weren't they? But what I'm talking about, is the part Luther explains this way, "We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things."
Trust! Wasn't the underlying problem a lack of trust? Wasn't it a big ego that said, "I think the best route is to take this path," when the Lord had the map that led straight to the promised land? Wasn't the sin getting caught up in the lower story, when God was in the process of working out the upper story? From our perspective we shake our heads at the Israelites for loosing focus after three days. But instead we should be looking in the mirror and seeing our own sin. After a post this blog, I wander how many minutes it will be before I think "well this is my plan today" and get frustrated when it doesn't go according to the map for the day I've made. I know myself: like the Israelites, I'm going to loose focus on the fact that God is working out a bigger story for my life and trying to lead me to a land flowing with milk and honey - a home in heaven.
In spite of our lack of focus, how clearly the Lord's mercy shows through. Did the people suffer for their sins? Yes. Would their life have been better had they followed the Lord's map? Of course! But did he forgive their sins and keep his promise to bring them to heaven? Surely! Just as repetitive as hearing about the Israelites screwing up is the refrain, "The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion" (p. 77). Would the Israelites get the land of Canaan because they were such good people? What did Moses say? "Do not say to yourself, 'The Lord has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.'" Some people wonder why God allowed his people to make war and take other people's land. It wasn't because the Israelites deserved it. The Israelites were only the tool of the Lord to bring punishment on the unbelieving and wicked Canaanites (p. 86). But the reason the Lord gave them the land was because of his promise - his promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He forgave them so that his glory might be known to the nations (p.77), and the most amazing aspect of his glory is his loving mercy.
Making it My Own: When I say our dogs' name, they immediately look at me. That works fine until I pull out a treat. Immediately their eyes move from me -the giver, to the gift - the treat. Our eyes too quickly move from the giver of all and his story, to our own story and simply the things he has given us.
So how do we overcome this shortsightedness. Over his 120 years, Moses went from being a quick tempered, self-solving kid to a patient, Lord-trusting leader. What lesson did this man who experienced so much and who even saw God face to face want to pass on to the next generation? His advice for keeping focus was this, "The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk abut them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up" (p. 85). I'd sum that up this way, "Since there is only one God, make him and his Word your passion."
Does your day feel empty if you don't read God's word? When you are drive down the road with your kids, do you talk about God's word? When you go to bed at night, do you discuss God's word with your spouse? I'll admit, there are times even I get tired of reading The Story and writing this blog. It's another thing on my to-do list for the week. But knowing you are reading this, knowing that you are reading The Story with me, encourages me to stick with it. If I sometimes get weary, how much more your spouse or friends? Just as much as you encourage me and let me know you are reading these posts, encourage those around you to keep reading The Story with you.
Why is it so important? Well let me tell you a quick story. When I was in Germany, I went to one of the concentration camps. There are some scary, creepy, terrifying sites: rooms full of shoes from those who died, pictures of piles of bodies, large furnaces where bodies were cremated. But the most terrifying site for me was the last sign in the museum. It simply said, "Those who cannot remember the past are bound to repeat it."
We can learn from the Israelites. Just as Moses wanted the next generation to learn from the mistakes of his, so we too can learn from them. What's the secret to happiness? The answers are right in front of us! They aren't "up in heaven so that you have to ask, 'Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it.'" They aren't, "Beyond the sea so that you have to ask, 'Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?' (p. 86-87). "No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it" (p. 87). It's no secret: the Lord gives us the answers - he gives us the way to happiness and the road-map to heaven. When we read God's word our focus is brought back to the upper story, to the giver of everything good, and to our Savior Jesus. Make it a point to read - yes even memorize - God's word. Like Moses, pass it on to the next generation. Put his word in your heart. Make a point of studying and talking about it every day. I read my Bible at work during my lunch break and with my wife before bed. You've read his word today. What piece would you like to memorize? When will you talk about it with those around you? When will you read it tomorrow?
1. Jesus, lead us on
Till our rest is won;
And although the way be cheerless,
We will follow calm and fearless.
Guide us by Thy hand
To our fatherland.
2. If the way be drear,
If the foe be near,
Let not faithless fears o'ertake us;
Let not faith and hope forsake us;
For through many a woe
To our home we go.
3. When we seek relief
From a long-felt grief;
When temptations come alluring,
Make us patient and enduring;
Show us that bright shore
Where we weep no more.
4. Jesus, lead Thou on
Till our rest is won.
Heavenly Leader, still direct us,
Still support, control, protect us,
Till we safely stand
In our fatherland.
For those who like more:
- John 3:14-15 The Israelites will later turn the bronze snake into an idol. The Lord's point wasn't that they should worship it. According to John, what was the snake on the pole a picture of? Who must we look to be saved from death?
- Moses realized the importance of passing God's word on to the next generation. The symposium this last year at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary focused on Lutheran Schools. Read the three papers at http://wlsce.net/symposium.