SINAI SUMMER WILDERNESS ADVENTURES
July 15, 2018
Can you recall a time when you’ve experienced traveler’s remorse? That is, you launched out on some trip in which things went south, and you wished you could just get back home to your good ol’ bed again?
Way back in the mid-1980’s, way back before there was any Trip Advisor app to guide you, Valerie and I headed to Roanoke, VA for the 4-day Virginia Annual Conference. We were young and so carefree that I had neglected to reserve any lodging prior to the conference. Not such a smart thing.
We arrived in the Star City on a 90-degree day, and to our chagrin, no vacancy signs were on the marquee of every hotel within a 10-mile radius of the Roanoke Civic Center.
After hours of exhaustive searching, we finally arrived around 9 pm at the Starlight Motel on Melrose Ave near Salem. There was a vacancy. We made our way past a crowd of bikers in the parking lot finishing off a couple of cases of Schlitz. The manager inside the office told us there was one room left…it was honeymoon suite. At that point, Valerie gave me an icy, menacing glance when I mentioned a little romance might be nice. It cost an extra $10, but we had nowhere else to go.
I should have had a clue that this wasn’t going to be the Hilton when the manager offered to show us the room first before we signed the register. But how bad could it possibly be? We pulled up outside our room, and kicked a beer can away from the door.
Well, the lock on the door didn’t work. We pushed the door open without having to turn the key. Once inside, the musty odor of smoke mingling with moldy filter in the window air conditioning unit filled our nostrils…but hey, the ac was working.
The wallpaper was peeling in places, the carpet had a variety of stains, the tub had a bit of mildew. But that wasn’t what proved to be the greatest challenge: Underneath the threadbare bedspread was a gigantic, king-sized waterbed! My wife at this point was in tears, and it wasn’t tears of laughter. As it turns out, the waterbed was only half-filled.
I told her it was all going to be ok… we’d buy some Lysol in the morning and get things tidied up a bit.
But that was before we tried to go to sleep in that half-filled waterbed. Mind you, I have always had a bladder that is susceptible to the power of suggestion. All that gurgling of H20 in that waterbed had me awake all night. And each time I had to literally swim to the edge of the bed rail and crawl out to get to the bathroom.
All the while my longsuffering wife was hanging on to the opposite bed rail, bobbing up and down like a cork on a wind-rippled pond. She eventually got seasick from all the pitching and rolling, and had to fight her way over and out and to the bathroom to throw up in that mildew encrusted toilet.
By 5 am, we had loaded the car, said the heck with annual conference, and were on the way back up I-81. Our own bed never felt so good!
Traveler’s remorse. It happens. And it happens to the Israelites. When we last left them, they had escaped slavery from Pharaoh and the Egyptians. With God’s almighty and miraculous hand, they had followed Moses thru the Red Sea and emerged unscathed into the Sinai Desert, on their way on an adventure to the Promised Land of Canaan. But then we read:
16 On the fifteenth day of the second month after the Israelites had escaped from Egypt, they left Elim and started through the western edge of the Sinai Desert in the direction of Mount Sinai. 2 There in the desert they started complaining to Moses and Aaron, 3 “We wish the Lord had killed us in Egypt. When we lived there, we could at least sit down and eat all the bread and meat we wanted. But you have brought us out here into this desert, where we are going to starve.”
The Israelites dwell in angst because they are…
LONG ON NOSTALGIA
A few in this tribe of nomadic folk begin grumbling. They are quite vocal in their distaste for the current traveling conditions. And like a Californian wildfire, the grumbling spreads among the people. It becomes an epidemic, affecting the outlook of everyone. The chorus of naysaying grows louder and louder, reaching a crescendo. And Moses and Aaron are at their wits’ end.
Yes, the Israelites are wallowing in nostalgia. They are pining and whining for the good old days back in Egypt, where lamb stew and hot bread was plentiful.
But were the good old days really that good? It’s so easy to have selective memory. The Israelites have forgotten the life-draining, back-breaking labor they endured while captive in Egypt. Beatings were commonplace. Even their children were threatened with murder. Yes, they may have had plenty to eat, but that was only because the Egyptians considered them to be machines that needed fuel to continue working efficiently for horrendous hours each week.
I guess every generation looks wistfully at the past. We long to return to Egypt, too. But were the good old days really that good?
Some things were. And many things weren’t. Did any of you grow up without indoor plumbing? Did any of you have to take a hot water bottle to bed with you to keep your feet warm because your bedroom had little or no heat?
What about technology? In 1980, the bulletin you have in your hand would have taken me nearly 8 hours to produce…cutting a stencil on a manual wide-carriage Underwood typewriter, using correction fluid to repair mistakes, pasting halves of that stencil together, then inking a manual Gestetner printing machine, turning the crank while copies turned out, all the while ruining at least one shirt a week from spilled ink. Today…a couple of keystrokes on a laptop wirelessly sends and prints that same bulletin in 5 minutes.
We say today’s generation is so much worse than ours…so much more selfish and lazy. And yet, last weekend I witnessed a group of young people drop everything they planned to help two friends of my son, Cody and Brittany, move all their belongings across Augusta County and up two flights of stairs into an apartment in stifling heat and humidity. Say what you want, but young folk today seem to be just as if not more willing to stick by their friends than my generation ever was.
Yes, we often get all angst-ridden because we are long on nostalgia. We grumble, we grouse, we gripe. Give me the good old days.
The Israelites grumble. They wish they were back in Egypt, or so they think. They claim they are starving. And we see God’s patience and goodness shine through. Listen to what happens:
4 The Lord said to Moses, “I will send bread down from heaven like rain.
And each morning, the Israelites awaken to behold a white, frost-like, flaky substance covering the ground that tastes a lot like honey-coated, flat bread wafers. And they call it manna – which literally means what is it?
It’s an odd substance. It melts in the noon day heat. But if it is collected in the early morning, it can be fashioned into nutritious, bread-like cakes that will stick to your ribs.
Now, it’s true, that endless diet of manna will grow tedious for the Israelites. I’m sure they did their best to be creative -fillet of manna, manna burgers, manna-cotti, ba-manna bread. But the manna from God is filling and it sustains them.
These grumbling folks who are long on nostalgia are not going to starve.
But we also see that they dwell in angst because they are…
SHORT ON FAITH
The trek thru the Sinai Wilderness is a faith boot camp for the Israelites. Listen again to the passage from Exodus 16:
4 The Lord said to Moses, “I will send bread down from heaven like rain.
Each day the people can go out and gather only enough for that day. That’s how I will see if they obey me.
To have faith is to trust that God is true to his word. You can count on God to provide. Centuries later, Jesus would admonish his hearers to pray “Give us this day our daily bread.” Each day God will provide enough manna to feed and nourish you and your family. The question for the Israelites becomes whether they have the will to trust God.
And, as it turns out, many of them are quite short on faith. They do not trust God can provide for tomorrow as well as today. They are greedy. They collect way more manna than they could possibly need or use.
Greed can easily become a lifestyle. We may hum the words of that Zac Brown tune Homegrown – “I’ve got everything I need and nothin’ that I don’t” but our actions say otherwise.
Greed morphs into the anxious affliction of Nevernuffitis. We convince ourselves that there’s nevernuff money, nevernuff house, nevernuff vehicles, nevernuff entertainment, nevernuff time… Nevernuffitis. And so we hoard. We spend our days running on an endless hamster wheel to accumulate more and more, yet it means less and less.
One of my favorite short stories was penned by the Russian author Leo Tolstoy. He tells the fable of a rich man who was never contented. He always wanted more and more. There was never enough to satisfy.
He heard of a wonderful proposition to acquire more land. For a 1,000 rubles, he could have all the land he could walk around in a day’s time. But he had to make it back to the starting point by sundown or he would lose it all.
He arose early and set out. He walked on and on and on, thinking he could get just a little more land if kept pushing as hard as he could go.
But he went so far he realized he must walk very fast if was to arrive back in time to claim the land. As the sun fell lower in the sky, he quickened his pace. He began to run frantically.
As he came within sight of the starting place, he panicked, exerting his last energy, plunged over the finish line, fell to the ground, and died.
His servant took a shovel and dug a grave. He made the grave just long enough and wide enough, and buried the man.
The title of Tolstoy’s novel is “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” Tolstoy concludes by saying, “Six feet from his head to his heels was all this man needed!”
Ultimately, we know such hellbent hoarding, in whatever fashion, in whatever generation, is a failure to trust in God’s provision. Somewhere, deep down, we don’t believe God is true to his word that he will work alongside us to provide for our daily needs as well as for what might come tomorrow. Not our wants. But our needs.
Many of the Israelites do not learn this lesson. They struggle in collecting more manna than they could possibly use. And what happens? All that they have hoarded ends up rotting, devoured by maggots.
Yes, the Israelites are a people riddled with traveler’s remorse. They are not particularly happy about the journey they are on. They are long on nostalgia, pining and whining for the good old days of Egypt, days that, in reality, weren’t all that good. And even when God answers their cries with manna, bread from heaven, they remain short on faith, failing to trust that God will provide for them tomorrow as he has provided for them today.
In many ways and on many levels, their ancient journey speaks to us in our 21st century journey. Are we long on nostalgia? Are we short on faith?
In my line of work, I feel so very humble having had the opportunity to meet spiritual redwoods over the years who have been an enduring inspiration to me:
Seventeen years ago, I received a special request from Mary Stone, one of my faithful members at Verona UMC. She and her husband Bucky were going to be celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary on the Saturday before Christmas, and they were wondering if I would conduct a small service in which they could renew their vows. It was indeed a truly special occasion.
For you see, Mary had been battling cancer ever since I had known her. She was a dedicated nurse at Augusta Medical Center, respected and loved by everyone—staff and patients alike. She had an infectious smile and enthusiasm about her that rubbed off on everyone around her.
She fought the cancer with an extremely positive outlook …I honestly did not know how she was able to keep fighting—she had been through countless brutal rounds of chemotherapy and radiation treatments as it metastasized from her breast to her liver and then to her lungs. But she never gave up.
She and Bucky wrote their renewal vows to one another for that simple service just prior to Christmas—there was not a dry eye in the sanctuary as they recounted how each had been such a blessing to the other. Her thin face simply glowed with a brilliant radiance.
Shortly after that Christmas the cancer began to take its final toll. Mary grew more and more frail as the weeks and months passed.
And yet she still maintained contact with her friends as she would type short emails of encouragement to them, also passing along links to photos and devotional readings that she had found inspirational.
Many emails I receive as a pastor are of the complaint variety—hers were always notes of encouragement that I looked forward to opening.
In late spring I remember remarking to Mary how I was so amazed by her lack of bitterness. And her response to me was, “David, why should I be bitter toward God—yes, the cancer I’m dying of sucks—but this journey thru the wilderness has taught me to be thankful for all the blessings God has provided in my life—my husband, my son and daughter-in-law, my grandson—all the friends I have around me—I have been blessed—truly, truly blessed in my 51 years! God’s been good”
And then she instructed me to open the blinds of patio door next to her bed, and then she told me to look out the doors with her. “This is the day the Lord has made! Isn’t it a beautiful day!” she exclaimed with excited, labored breaths, as she pointed out the flower garden and blooming shrubs Bucky had planted and tended for her, and the hummingbirds at her feeder, and the deep blue sky above, and the warm sun bathing her room.
“Isn’t it a beautiful, beautiful day!” Mary exclaimed. And the only thing more beautiful would be the eternal life of heaven Mary would claim a few short weeks later.
I’ve never forgotten Mary Stone’s words nor her witness… how they inspired me, and how they have convicted me.
You see, we can so easily grumble our way through our years upon this earth, riddled with angst, because we choose to dwell long on nostalgia and short on faith…pining and whining for yesterday…never trusting God for tomorrow.
Friends, this is the day the Lord has made! Rejoice in it! Because the Lord is in it, now and for all of eternity! Praise be to God!