Sunday, March 4, 2012

Wilderness Travels -- and Travails -- and Lessons

This short article was written in the monthly newsletter of our congregation for the March edition of that newsletter. No, it is not as polished as it might be. But, perhaps, the reader will find some encouragement in Christ herein. /s/ ajw

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ our Lord:
So, we are now in the middle of Lent. 40 days. Some people give up something for Lent as a reminder of the Savior’s suffering. Others add something salutary to their lives (an extra time for devotions each day, a pledge to work in the community in some way, coming to all of the Lenten services, etc.). At any rate, the purpose of it is NOT the action itself – the purpose is to be reminded of some greater thing.
We Christians do well to guard ourselves against “giving up something for Lent” or “adding something for Lent” which shows others that we are particularly pious. It is entirely possible to do certain acts of piety which, we imagine, will make others think that we are somehow “more saved” than others. If you are tempted to either one of these sins, please be sure to re-read the appointed Gospel reading for Ash Wednesday (the words of our blessed Savior in Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21).
We are in this 40 day period as a time for personal discipline so that we are focused on God. It’s a lot like (and is truly reminiscent of) the travels of the children of Israel for 40 years in the wilderness. After they were rescued from their 400 years of bondage in Egypt and before they were brought to their “promised land” of Canaan, they spent 40 years – yes, YEARS – in the wilderness.
Reflect on it with me, please . . . .

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You’re Not Always in Control Nor are You Setting the Direction!
When the children of israel were delivered from their captivity in Egypt, all they knew was that they were going to be free! They did not know where they had come from (they were a nomad nation), and they did not know where they were going. What they did know was that they had been promised a “Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”
“Flowing with milk and honey” sounded pretty good to them. They had grown up – every single one of them - in slavery. They had been conceived, born, and raised in slavery. Until they were led out of Egypt, they all figured that they were going to die in slavery. They knew no other way of life. They had no hope. They had nothing.
They had one thing which was intangible: God. God had made them His own through the promise which He had given to Adam and Eve, and which He had renewed through the generations of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They were the descendants of Jacob (aka Israel). They had God’s promise. There were times when they were not so sure that they wanted to live in God’s promise.
When you live under a promise there is one thing which you have to do: believe it. And, when you believe it, you have to conduct yourself accordingly. This is, sadly, why so very many marriages fail and why friendships destruct: either promises are not made, or promises are not kept, or promises are never believed.
When you live under another person’s promise, you are not necessarily in control of where you are going. All that Israel knew was that they were going to be “free.” What they truly wanted was to be in charge of themselves: what they would receive and where they would go. But, when they found themselves in the wilderness, with the Red Sea before them, and Pharaoh’s army pursuing them, they were ready to surrender and return to the land of Egypt.
They expressed their lack of faith in God’s promise in terrible ways:

“They said to Moses, ‘Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: “Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians”? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.’”(Exodus 14:11-12 ESV)
Yeah, right.

Or, do you remember when the children of Israel became discontented with the miraculous manna which God was giving them every day? Their discontentment is astonishing: “Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, ‘Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at’.”(Numbers 11:4-6 ESV) Astonishing ingratitude, huh?
LESSON: They kept trying to control that of which they weren’t in control, and they could not.

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Hunger, Danger, Enemies
We have already seen how the children of Israel were hungry. When they cried out for hunger and suggested that maybe they should return to Egypt, God provided them with the miraculous manna. Manna was an amazing food. Wikipedia gives about as good and concise definition as any:
“In the description in the Book of Exodus, manna is described as being ‘a fine, flake-like thing’ like the frost on the ground. It is described in the Book of Numbers as arriving with the dew during the night; Exodus adds that manna was comparable to hoarfrost in size, similarly had to be collected before it was melted by the heat of the sun, and was white like coriander seed in color. Numbers describes it as having the appearance of bdellium, adding that the Israelites ground it and pounded it into cakes, which were then baked, resulting in something that tasted like cakes baked with oil. Exodus states that raw manna tasted like wafers that had been made with honey. The Israelites were instructed to eat only the manna they had gathered for each day. Leftovers or manna stored up for the following day ‘bred worms and stank’: the exception being the day before Shabbat (Preparation Day), when twice the amount of manna was gathered, which did not spoil overnight; because, Exodus 16:23-24 [states] ‘This is what the LORD commanded: “Tomorrow is to be a day of rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.”‘ So they saved it until morning, as Moses commanded, and it did not stink or get maggots in it.’”

For this manna they should have been wonderfully thankful. And they were . . . until they got bored with it.
Then they cried out for meat to eat so the Lord miraculously provided the quail: “Then a wind from the LORD sprang up, and it brought quail from the sea and let them fall beside the camp, about a day's journey on this side and a day's journey on the other side, around the camp, and about two cubits above the ground. And the people rose all that day and all night and all the next day, and gathered the quail. Those who gathered least gathered ten homers. And they spread them out for themselves all around the camp.” (Numbers 11:31-32 ESV)
There were times when they ran out of water and they cried out: “But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, ‘Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?’” (Exodus 17:3 ESV) .
We do not know precisely who all of their enemies were, but we do know that they had enemies. It angered and frustrated Moses when the people would rebel against God and so their enemies could make fun of them (Ex. 32:25).
On more than one occasion, the people tried to replace Moses: while he was up on Mt. Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments, they started to worship an idol; Miriam and Aaron tried to rebel against Moses (Num. 12). In these and other cases it caused Moses to question God’s call to him, and it caused him heartache.
Lessons:
[1] When you’re in the wilderness, at some point you’ll get hungry and thirsty. [2] When you get hungry and thirsty it will be tempting to blame God and His appointed leaders. [3] When you are hungry and thirsty, it is tempting to go back to a life and lifestyle which you start to imagine to have been good - but it was really just slavery! [4] When you are bored, lonely, and frightened, it is tempting to lash out at God and those whom He has made your leader(s). [5] In the wilderness, it is tempting to fall into idol worship.
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HARD Lessons to Learn
It IS hard to learn our lesson, isn’t it? We are just like the child who must be told over and over again to do some thing. That child, we hope, will soon grow up to some level of maturity and come to the realization that we are trying to teach them for their own good.
Alas, it is difficult to be a child who is to learn a given lesson. A child is so full of what he wants to do at the moment, that he refuses to see the good which is being taught to him. He keeps going back to old habits and wrong, even self-destructive, activities.

Why? Because a child can only see what tastes good or what he desires (candy, etc.). Our sinful nature is a bit too much like a little child. We see what we want, we covet what we do not have, and decide that, no matter what, we will have it. But we were not raised that way, and that certainly is not the way of the Christian.
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God’s Constant Provision
It is really interesting to reflect on the Children of Israel’s 40 years in the wilderness and to see the constant provision of God, and to observe how, over and over and over again, He remained faithful to His promises!
They were hungry. God gave them manna.
They craved meat in their diet. God gave them quail.
They needed water: God provided for them. Example: It has been estimated that the Israelites who left Egypt numbered somewhere around 2.5-3 million. If you figure (conservatively?) that each person would need 5 gallons of water/day (I’m not even counting livestock here!), then they would have needed some 12,500,000 gallons of water DAILY at a minimum. The standard for a railroad tank car is 34,500 gallons maximum. So, at at a minimum, they would have needed, and God would have daily provided, the equivalent of more than 36 railroad tank cars of water daily! In the wilderness! Amazing!
Know what God’s lesson was? “And He humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” - Deut. 8:3
You could not be an offspring of that generation of Israelites and not know that God is faithful and all powerful!
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God at the Center!
Another observation: Did you know that, whenever the Israelites broke camp and moved, when they made camp again, everything was arranged (by God’s direction) so that each “tribe” was located in relationship to the Tent of Meeting. The Tent of Meeting was exactly what its name implies: it was the place where God met with Moses. And the Tent of Meeting was NOT removed from the people but was always the center of the camp so that everything was built around it. The lesson? God is at the center! God WANTS to be with His people! God IS with His people. Even though traveling through the wilderness can be full of travails, God had chosen to be with them!
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The Obvious Parallels!
We Christians are “pilgrims” who traveling through our wilderness of this life on our way to our “Promised Land.” That Promised Land for us is, of course, our heavenly home, purchased by Christ and prepared by Him for our eternity.
Any “pilgrimage” will have its share of difficulties, ranging from just plain being hard to travel for a long time, to getting lost, to robbers, to the possibility of wild animals, to getting sick along the way, to burying dead loved ones as you travel along, to losing interest in the traveling, to possibly going broke, etc., etc.
But these lessons, and more, are surely ours to learn as we are journeying through the Lenten Season to ward Easter and, in the larger picture, as we traveling through the frail, mortal existence on our way to heaven:
1. We are not in charge of their lives – God is.
2. He sometimes allows trouble to enter our lives to cause us to repent of our sins.
3. He sometimes allows trouble so that we will learn to cry out to Him and depend upon
Him in every need.
4. We are not the center of it all. Life, as worship, is about God Who has loved us and
redeemed us in Christ!
5. We are in the wilderness with other believers – none of us is in this alone – what we
each individually and/or as a group do or don’t do will affect the others!
6. God is faithful! Always!
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How to Arrive at the “Promised Land”
When God, in His mercy, decides that the time is right, He will open the way for us.
In all of your contemplation, consider as the most important thing of all, that God who created you has also redeemed you. He has redeemed you from sin, death, and the power of the devil. He has redeemed you by the holy, shed blood of Jesus, by the Christ’s innocent sufferings and death. He has opened heaven for you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
As a true pilgrim longs for the day when he “arrives,” so we in the Church long to “arrive” at blessed Easter. More importantly, we long to “arrive” in our eternal home of heaven.

In Christ, + + +
Pastor Wollenburg

1 comment:

Pastor Alan Wollenburg said...

The collects for the different Sunday's in Lent were interspersed as sidebars in the original newsletter article. Those collects make for wonderful fodder for Christian contemplation.