Monday, May 21, 2012

Lessons from The Greatest Campout Ever

I have never camped out.  Not in a tent. Not in an RV.  Maybe a sleeper train would count? (or not)

Although I spend more daytime hours outdoors than the average person, the closest I've ever come to sleeping outside is a bedroom's open window on a cool evening.

I know how many nocturnal creepy crawlies are living la vida loca out there while I slumber.  The children and I see their paw prints in the muddy shore of our swamp, their brothel-like flashing lights at dusk, and their evening's leftovers on my porches.

The safest camp out may be the one we've gone on here in cyberspace, where we've spent the last two weeks camping out in the barren wilderness with the newly-freed Israelites.  Through their story, we have explored how God's presence is just as real and abiding with His children today as it was when He led the Israelites in a visible pillar of cloud.

Last week, the cloudy pillar led us deeper into the wilderness to the bitter waters of Marah where God showed the Israelites a picture of sin's bitterness and the healing power of the coming Messiah who would give His body to be cut down just like the tree that splashed in Marah's waters so that He could soak up all the bitterness and judgment of sin's curse and heal our immortal souls.

But God's teaching moment didn't end there.  

Once the curse, the illness of sin was removed from their lives, the lesson wasn't over.  Then and only then could God's children experience true fellowship in His blessings.

Metaphorically, that's just what happens one verse after the Israelites taste Marah's bitterness sweetened and hear Moses' message from the Lord: "Then they came to Elim where there were twelve springs of water and seventy date palms, and they camped there beside the waters" (Ex. 15:27).

The name Elim says it all, a "place-name meaning 'trees'"* Here in this vast desert where a lost person could wander for days without finding drinkable water--here (no coincidence) was a bountiful oasis marked by flourishing trees.

God could have brought the Israelites to this bounty first, just skip that frustrating test and lesson with the bitter water.  Yet, this was part of God's plan to show the people not only that He would provide for all their needs if they would only trust Him and that the curse of sin needed a Savior's healing touch, but that there was bounty and blessing waiting for them if they only had faith.

Through Elim, God wanted to go further and show His children that if they obeyed with faithful hearts, not only would He heal them body and soul so they could enter into a right relationship with Him, but that a life with God's healing would be one filled with eternal blessings.

Jesus told His disciples the same: "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (Jn. 10:10). 

Yet, such a promise does not mean that all trials, testing, and hardship will go away.  This is no prosperity gospel with all good all the time if a person will only obey and have faith.  God confirmed as much when His pillar of cloud brought the Israelites to this place of physical abundance and then just as quickly brought them away from it to hardship once again: "Then they set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the sons of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin" (Ex. 16:1).

Yet, such a promise also does not mean that abundant life in Christ is only to be had on the other side of eternity.  For those who allow Christ to heal the bitterness of sin in their lives, there is abundance here on earth.  There are places of bountiful blessing here.  

And yet, these blessings are only to be had on the other side of the healing.  Were a person to not experience the hardship and bitterness first, she could not appreciate the abundance and blessings to such a great degree.  The former hardships bring more gratitude to the heart because the heart remembers what has gone before on the journey to the blessing.

I never appreciate the blessing of good health as much as after a good round of illness has gone through my entire family.  I never appreciate the blessing of family unity as much as after I have allowed Christ to heal the bitter discord that sometimes springs up in marriage.

God didn't just stop the lesson with Marah because He wanted to show that He is not all about doom and gloom, a "do this or else" mentality.  God truly loves His children both then and now.  And He wants to give them all abundant life.

First, finding abundance means allowing Christ to heal us unto salvation.  And then, finding abundance means continually giving over any bitterness that can creep into every Christian's heart.

*Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, p. 480 .

1 comment:

  1. Hee hee. Bugs "living la vida loca" is my reason for not camping out, too!

    Great post.