Desert Dwellers

Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water (Exodus 15:22).

I live in a comfortable home in the 18017 zip code of the Lehigh Valley.

About two miles to the north is Wegman’s. Roughly the same distance in a different direction is Weiss. In each the shelves are generously stocked. In 18017 indoor plumbing and running water are commonplace, as are central heat and air. During a recent cold snap we decided it was time to pull out the electric blanket. We might have been a little early with the blanket, but we never thought twice about the electricity needed to make it toasty warm.

In 18017 every creature comfort is readily available. And yet this zip code, like every zip code in the country, is a wilderness. The Lehigh Valley is populated with desert dwellers.

This week we’ll follow the Israelites’ journey beyond the soggy banks of the Red Sea to the desert place where God would meet them, provide for them, and go to work forming them into “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God” (1 Peter 2:9).

God does some of his most significant work in the wilderness, but it’s the last place in the world we want to be, and we’ll do whatever it takes to get out.

Those “In Between” Places

A little clarification may be in order.         

The desert that surrounds me is neither geographical, nor topological. I’m not surrounded by vast stretches of emptiness, bereft of shelter from the elements, disoriented by the lack of any discernible landmark telling me where I am.

The desert I see all around me, and at times within me, is what Pastor-author Jeff Manion calls “the land between.” In his book by that title Manion explains that “while the land between is prime real estate for faith transformation, it is also the space where we can grow resentful, bitter, and caustic . . . The wilderness where faith can thrive is the very desert where it can dry up and die if we are not watchful.”     

In her message Sunday at Grace Church, Marnie observed that the wilderness does indeed lie between Egypt and the Promised Land, between the life we had and the life we’ve yet to obtain, the comforts we once knew and the gifts we’ve not yet received.

We’ve all spent time in the wilderness. No matter your zip code, we’re all desert dwellers. Maybe your wilderness trek is something you look back on. You made it through. Or maybe you’re there right now, walking through that barren place between what was and what has yet to be.

Complaints and Questions

In the wilderness there are two behaviors that are common to us: We complain, and we question.

We complain or grumble because we’re sure the whole thing is a mistake. Something has gone wrong. We complain because we’re deprived of something that gave us security. We’re not in control of our lives. “In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron” (Ex. 16:2). We do the same thing.

And then, we turn to grumbling’s first cousin: Questions. In her message Sunday Marnie said that in the wilderness we tend to ask (1) Why am I here? (2) What did I do that put me here? (3) How long will I be here?

Tomorrow we’ll think about the grumbling we’re so easily inclined to do.

Later this week we’ll take up the questions.

For today, what has “the land between” looked like in your life? What kind of desert are you navigating right now?

Prayer: Gracious God, the desert is a hard place to live. You seem to choose the wilderness as the setting for our growth in the likeness of your son Jesus, and yet we resist being there. We are slow to recognize what you might be doing in those in between places. Give us the grace we need today in the desert journey we might be walking. Meet us with the true bread from heaven we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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