On the Road Again

About this time every year, the Cross family packed up and headed out on our one and only annual vacation––a camping vacation. It was the without-which-not of each & every summer.

“Why can’t we go to Disneyland?” I once asked my mother––a truly stupid question if there ever were one, not to mention silly––to which she replied, as she always replied,

“Well, we’re not that sort of people.” In other words, while we were hardly desperately poor, nor were we rich, and so we camped, and that was that! Needless to say, for my other, as for my father, living within our means was not only a ritual, it was a science!

And don’t you forget it!

As I recall we camped in two places, Box Lake, in the West Kootenays near Nakusp.

––(I especially hated Box Lake because it had leeches, and glad when we moved on.)––

And then in later years Christina Lake, on highway 3 beyond Grand Forks.

I still remember the smell of our a large, square one-room tent, made of canvas; held up by poles––(which we were warned never to touch!)––and staked firmly to the ground by ropes one was always tripping over, it seemed to me . . . I remember as if it were yesterday the look of sunlight on its walls when you work up in the morning; not to mention the dappled shadows cast by the leaves of trees. I remember our two-burner Coleman stove, the fuel reservoir of which one had to fill by using a special funnel and then pressurize by hand, holding your thumb over a hole in the plunger––remember that?––and then pumping madly until it came up to pressure. (My Dad’s job of course.)

None of this modern prefilled canister stuff. I loved the sound this made whole process made, from the swish of the fuel to the sound of the plunger. And I remember the delicious aroma of bacon cooking in an early-morning frypan, and special joy of corn-on-the-cob in the evening.

The Israelites went camping too. They went camping for 40 years, and it almost destroyed them . . .

I think you may know the story. They had just fled Egypt, under Moses. “Let my people go,” Moses had demanded, and after ten terrifying plagues, each as it were more grievous than the one before––a river made blood; frogs; lice; wild animals; pestilence; boils; fiery hail; locusts; darkness, death of firstborn, including the death, one presumes, of one of Pharaoh’s own. To this, Pharaoh agreed, albeit bitterly.

It was a shattering display of God’s almighty power with the oppressing Egyptians directly in God’s sights; ten occasions of theophanic Shock and Awe if there ever were ones. Theophany, by the way, is the fancy theological word for visible manifestations of God’s power.

Even when Pharaoh tried to betray the Israelites whom he had agreed to release (by sending the Egyptian army after them, that is, thinking to cut them off at the proverbial pass) God had the upper hand . . . Again, He displayed his stunning power by drowning a whole legion of Egyptian charioteers deep in the folds of the Red Sea, newly closed again, which was great for the Israelites, but bad for the Egyptians. Every time I think of that story I feel especially sorry for the horses, not to mention the innocent young recruits, pressed into service by Pharaoh.

But once all of the divine “wow” was over, or so it seemed, suddenly the Israelites sank into a desperate despair. And just as suddenly they found themselves on some sort of bizarre camping trip, quite in spite of themselves, with nary a Coleman stove in sight.

Ever been on a trip which you had looked forward to for time out of mind––months, years, even––and then ended up hating it? I mean, hating it to madness, even?

“The more you travel,” writes a blogger named Anil, “the more you’re bound to end up in places that you simply hate. There are things to like in a lot of cities, some others you don’t particularly like, and occasionally that one place you detest. Travelers don’t often talk about this, because, all things being subjective, such likes and dislikes tell us more about the traveler, than the destination.”

I mean, needless to say, when you’re on a trip, you’re on a trip; and there’s not much you can do about it, until you get home––and back to familiar surroundings. Back to the things you know. Back to where up is up and down is down––(thanks be to God.)

Back to the things you can count on. Or so it seems.

After all, when you’re on a trip, or begin to journey anywhere, to a greater or lesser extent you lose––or have to lose––control, especially control of your surroundings, for such is the whole nature of travel; of striking out from one place to another, of getting up, and out . . . . and stepping beyond. Giving up control. Loosing the reins on a tightly-reined-in way of life, and thinking. Being open to the new, the different, the unexpected––even the ‘unexpected God.’ Sometimes it’s the hardest thing to do.

Yes, to some, loosing the control one puts on one’s heart gives rise to the serendipitous; the unexpected; the surprising; and the delightful. But to others it’s simply a nightmare.

And so it was for the Israelites. They were called by God to give up control. To let go and let God. And they didn’t like it.

In Exodus 15, fresh out of the Red Sea, the people had already spent three days traveling in the desert––without finding water––whereupon they came to a set of springs called Marah, only to find the water undrinkable. The Hebrew word marah, of course, means “bitter.” Frustrated, hot, tired, famished, and altogether exhausted, there is a sound that gradually rises up from among the Israelites.

Any idea what it is?? It’s a sound one hears everywhere people gather––streets, schools, playgrounds, public parks, squares, marketplaces, assembly halls, arenas, churches even.

It’s almost imperceptible at first, like the faint buzz of gnats at sunset; but put your ear to the ground and the sound soon becomes deafening. What is it? The sound of grumbling!

The people grumble, in this case against Moses. “Moses, Moses, Moses,” they lament, “we’re worried; we don’t know what’s happening, we don’t know where we’re going. Why did you bring us here, into the desert? And what are we to drink? This liberation from Egypt thing has become the camping trip from hell.”

Moses cries out to God, who shows him a piece of wood. Casting this into the water, the Springs of Marah are sweetened, and the people drink. God provides. Everything is okay. There’s no need to panic!

But in Exodus 16, that terrifying sound begins again. This time it’s not about drink, but about food. Caught between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt, the whole community grumbles against Moses and Aaron. “If only we had died by the LORD’s hand in Egypt,” they grumble. “There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted. We were in control! But you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”

God provides quails in the evening, and manna in the morning! Again, everything is okay, but panic soon sets in again, for in Exodus 17, water is again in short supply.

The Israelites are now come to Rephidim, in the Desert of Sin. Complaints, quarrels, and grumbling soon break out.

You would think that because God had already given water to at Marah, the people would believe that God could do it again. But, they don’t. Instead they say to Moses — “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”

This time God says, “Walk on ahead of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” And so he does. Moses strikes the rock with his staff, and water gushes forth––enough water for a whole nation.

To put it mildly, it’s a miracle.

Dear people of God, whether you are inclined to believe it, or not, the Lord is in control. I commend it to you as a point of faith. God is in control. After all, if He made the world, and everything in it why is it so hard to believe that he can, as a matter of routine,overturn the natural order of things, and bring hope beyond hope, even from suffering? Why is it so hard to believe that he can demonstrate his power, show his presence, heal, and re-order, both in our lives, and in the life of the world, i.e. “do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us?” as Paul said. Why???

But for some people, this is the problem itself, that God is in control, and not us.

Because if God is in control, we have to learn to let go and let God. (A phrase I used to hate.) We have to learn to trust him; walk with him; and seek him––this time without grumbling or gainsaying. Instead we grumble, and despair; we moan, and we groan. Some of us do even worse, yours truly included: we put God to the test, and call him to heel––or try to . . . We say, “Look God, you have failed me. You brought me on this stupid journey called life. And now it’s a big fat mess. What’s with this Covid-19 thing, by the way, God? What’s with that? I thought you were God very God, and powerful enough to do anything! So get rid of this stupid virus, and do it now!!!! Do it now or else I’m gonna walk right on, out of here!!!”

Putting God to the test in this fashion is what I like to call,––borrowing from David Letterman––yet another “stupid human trick.” And sadly, of stupid, or silly, human tricks, there are no end. “If you do this, God, or don’t do that, I’m outta here….

I’m gone!!!! And I’m taking my money with me. Then what are you gonna do about it, huh???

Ever heard that before??? It’s called making threats. It’s done to put God––and each other––to the test. It’s a stupid human trick. And if we’re not feeling quite so abusive––for threats are a form of abuse––we might say something like, “Well, God, if you would care to show yourself to me in a much more open & declarative fashion; if you give me what I want and need, and do it quickly…. Well––you know––then, I can see fit to believing in you, I can! Because I’m a really nice guy. I can even see fit to serving you, even, and confessing you before others. I’m a good person, and I think you might just like having me on your team.”

That’s called bargaining.

“Oh but God, you know, everything would go––or would have gone––so well . . .had it not been for my family, and for my significant other, and others, now gone from my life. I would have served for you, and lived for you, no problem. But they abused me; they really did. They wounded me, and in so doing, they ruined me with their dysfunctionality.”

Ever heard this sort of statement? It’s called blaming.

Threatening. Bargaining. Blaming. We all do them. They’re ways of reasserting control. They’re sometimes blatant, sometimes subtle, but because they’re about reasserting control, they’re all ways of trying to put God to the test, and denying him the freedom to move and act.

It’s true, with Covid-19 raging, and raging, and raging, the whole world seems out of control. But it’s not. God is in control, as he was during the Israelites great, protracted camp-out in the middle of the desert.

So give way to God. Let him have control. Relax. Trust. Pray. Reflect. Follow.

It will bring about a whole change in perspective. A change which leads to life.

Some think giving way to God is simply mindless submission, as if God were in the business of the pointless subjection of lesser creatures. But as Jesus pointed out so eloquently, God actually offers us friendship; we are God’s friends, by his grace, and not his wretched slaves . . .

“I no longer call you servants,” said Jesus, as recorded in John 15, “because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends; for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”

Let’s pray, I daresay, as Paul prayed, as recorded in the Book of Ephesians.

“For this reason,” Paul said, “I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge––that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

God didn’t say it would be easy––this life of faith thing, this journey of faith thing….every time you step out of the door of your life on some new trip or other it means a palpable loss of control: but that’s part of the sheer breathless excitement of it all!!!

And so, let’s ourselves pray:

Dear God, for this reason we kneel before you, our Father, from whom we––indeed our whole family in heaven & on earth––derives its name. We pray that out of your glorious riches you may strengthen us with power through your Spirit in our inner beings, so that Christ––not grumbling, not unbelief, not our fear-driven urge to take control of everything––may dwell in our hearts through faith.

And I pray that we, being rooted and established in love, may have power, may have extraordinary power, together with all the Christians who have ever lived, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love, to really know this love, that surpasses knowledge—that we, in fact, may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”