Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Ouch! Pitfalls that will Keep us from the Promise - Part Two

. . . continued from Ouch!  Pitfalls that will Keep us from the Promise - Part One.

Pitfall Number Three – They did not trust God nor walk in habitual gratitude (1 Cor. 10:9).

As they traveled, the Bible says that the people grew impatient on the way  (Numbers 21:4).  OUCH!!!  Is that talking about me?  They got tired of their journeying.  They wearied from wandering when they could not see clearly where they were going.  They were tired of not seeing enough happen to satisfy them.  And they got impatient. 

Not only that, but in their impatience the Bible says they spoke against God and against Moses (5).  God nor Moses met their expectations.  They failed to trust God.  They questioned the goodness and faithfulness of the One leading them through the wilderness.  They failed to respect and trust Him as their Shepherd, Provider, Protector, and Source.  I heard Jack Hayford say that when "difficult days come, the natural temptation is to question the trustworthiness, the goodness, and the faithfulness of God, and to just want to return to Egypt."

The tangible problem in Numbers 21 was the lack of water and the lack of preferred food.  They were tired of the manna!  Domino's did not deliver in the desert.  Before we get too critical of the Israelites, we are often tempted to do the same.  We have legitimate needs and wants in our lives that seem to go unmet.  We never seem to meet "Mr." or "Mrs." Right and stay single.  We see our friends blessed in areas where we feel dry.  We wonder why some of the dreams of youth never materialized.  Our parents are sick instead of well.  Or our parents are dead and we wish they were alive.  Your children live far away but your neighbor's children live in the same town.  The air conditioner breaks in my van - again.  We see more bills than income.  Maybe you longed for a house-full of children and the house has none.  Whatever the need or want, we all have them that go unfulfilled.  And, like the Israelites, we can either stop trusting God - or we can lean in and trust Him more through our lack and disappointment.

I've been through dry and difficult days in different seasons of life.  And so have you.  I remember how dry and lonely was my first year of seminary.  Alone in a state where initially I knew no one, leaving the comfort of home and the familiarity of a lot of friends from college, it was a hard first year.  I remember many times that year being tempted to question whether God was good and faithful.  And many times wanting to quit the journey.

In the paths of discipleship, God at times takes us through the valley, when our needs are getting met in ways different than what we prefer and when many of our wants may not be met.  When those needs arise, we can doubt God and run to Egypt (getting our needs met in illegitimate ways) - or we can stick through the difficulty and trust God.  Instead of trusting and thanking God, they turned to doubting and complaining.

The punishment from the Lord this time was an invasion of venomous snakes that killed a number of people.  The remaining people, afraid of their own deaths, run to Moses pleading, We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you.  Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us (7).  The ongoing ingratitude to God and criticism of their leaders were foundational issues to the Lord.

Pitfall Number Four – They tolerated sour spirits and ceaseless complaining (1 Cor. 10:10).

Pitfalls one and two have to do with outward actions involving our bodies.  Pitfalls three and four have to do with attitudes and words that reflect our spirits.  Pitfall four specifically has to do with their grumbling spirits.

The reference is most likely Number 16, when an organized opposition to Moses and Aaron arises.  Korah, a man with tabernacle duties, was not satisfied with his part and he wanted more.  He spearheads a group who complain that they are just as important as Moses: Why then do you set yourselves [Moses and Aaron] above the Lord's assembly? (3).  It is a clear challenge to the authority of the God-appointed leadership.  The other men want recognition and authority as well. 

It is a long account in chapter 16 that ends with Korah's family dramatically being killed by the Lord as the earth opens up and swallows them whole.  An amazing note that highlights how quick the flesh often is to rise up in complaining is found in verse 41.  The very next morning, it says that the whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron saying "you have killed the Lord's people."

Amazing!  Had I been one of the Jews who the previous day witnessed the earth open up and absorb an entire group of people who had opposed God's leaders, I think I would have kept my mouth shut!  But the stubbornness of the flesh prevailed and the entire group is still complaining.  Again, God sends a plague through the midst of the assembly.  The Bible says that 14,700 die on that die before God uses Aaron to stop the punishment.

God takes a sourness of soul and ceaseless complaining very seriously.  So seriously that when referring to them in 1 Corinthians 10, the Bible says that these sins kept the people from entering their Land of Promise.  It is so easy to do because of our flesh.  God provided manna, and the people didn't quite like the taste, so they complained.  They tolerated a sourness in their soul.  The sourness grew and manifested itself in ceaseless complaining.  First, they complained about God.  Why has he left us here?  Why has he not provided more?  Is he still aware of us?  And then their sourness manifested itself in a ceaseless complaining against their leaders.

What a contrast to the type of spirit Paul exhorts us to have: Let your gentleness [or your sweet reasonableness] be evident to all.  The Lord is near (Phil. 4:5).  The apostle goes on to say that in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God (6).  How different would these accounts be had the people traded their sinful indulgences for worship - if they had replaced their sour spirits with prayer and thanksgiving - if their complaining were replaced with praise and trust?  The cure for a sour spirit is a life of prayer and thanksgiving.

They forgot in the wilderness that life was not mainly about them.  It was about God forming a people who would worship and follow  Him.  That formation included hard times when they learned to trust Him in new ways.  Sadly, they failed the test.  They missed God's best because they tolerated the wrong things during the in-between.

A tremendous beginning ended miserably.  An incredible deliverance through the Red Sea, perhaps the greatest moment in Old Testament history, led to a refusal to trust God and enter Canaan.  Their children stepped over their bleached bones in the desert – a memorial to unbelief.  Their massive failures warn us to not follow their example.


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