Grumbling and Complaining

 

 

IMG_3757

Wadi Qilt in the Judean Wilderness

And the people grumbled and deplored their hardships, which was evil in the ears of the Lord (Numbers 10:37).

May, 2018. When I first heard this verse as a little girl, I piously thought that if I’d been an Israelite, I would never have complained about my lot. Indeed, I determined then and there to stop grumbling when I didn’t get my way. (I may have kept that vow for a whole day.)

Scott and I recently came back from a trip to the Israeli and Jordanian wilderness. After experiencing miles and miles of unrelenting drought and rocky mountains and heat, I have a new appreciation for why the Israelites complained. Of course my observation comes from the cushioned seat of an air-conditioned bus, but still . . . .

The Israelites were fed up. They were sick and tired of manna sandwiches, manna soup, and manna salads, and they lusted after their flavorful Egyptian dishes. They declared, “Now our soul (our strength) is dried up.” And no wonder! With only six inches of rain a year, where is there enough water in a desert for a million or more people? And so they wept and they complained to Moses. I can picture the little kids whining, “Are we there yet? I’m so tired, hot, and thirsty. My feet hurt.” And the moms, carrying their extra loads, not knowing how far they’d have to walk each day, worried about dehydration (they didn’t have ice-cold, bottled water provided by the bus driver).

The result? God’s fire burned the edges of the camp.

The people’s reaction? They cried out to Moses.

Moses’ response? He cried out to God. “Why? Why? Why? Where? I can’t. I’m not able. Kill me. The burden is too heavy.”

So what’s the difference between the words of the Israelites and the words of Moses? The difference is to whom they complained. Moses directed his words to God. The words were melodramatic, to be sure, but honest. His was not an attitude of lust and rejection of God’s provision. His were words of despair because he was carrying too heavy a burden and his knees were starting to buckle.

God’s response: He came to Moses’ aid. He had him choose 70 men to help carry the load.

And the fire in the camp subsided, and they named the place Kibroth-hattaava (the graves of sensuous desire) because they buried there the people who lusted and whose physical appetite caused them to sin.

Buried in the desert? I used to picture the Sinai Peninsula as gently rolling hills of silty, Sahara-like sand. But as we had to carefully watch our footing over rocky ground, I wondered aloud how the wanderers accomplished this feat. I still don’t have an answer.

Anyway, I came away with two thoughts: I have no right to judge another person’s struggles until I have walked 40 years in their dusty sandals. And second, what can I do when I find myself in the desert? Talk to God instead of whining to other people.

The Journey Not to Home Part II

L.M. Welkers Sep 74

Dad and Mom in 1970

Continued from last week’s blog . . .

For you have need of steadfast patience and endurance so that you may perform and fully accomplish the will of God, and thus receive and carry away what is promised (Hebrews 10:36).

Journal June 5, 2007 I’ve decided to extend my stay another 5 days with my parents in Sebring. Mom is emotionally spent. She’s finally moving from the anger stage to the grieving stage. Slowly she’s learning her way around the house and adjusting to a new kitchen—a major hurdle with her macular degeneration. She’s getting help with handling the finances, and the nurses are assisting with Dad’s baths and other needs. The final challenge is learning how to shop in a new grocery store.

Each day gets a little better, but each day puts me closer to leaving. I played my last Scrabble game with Mom as her eyesight is too poor to continue. It’s not a matter of unpacking physically for my parents, though that’s important, but it’s a matter of unpacking emotionally.

My sleep schedule is off as they keep the house so warm it’s hard to sleep. My mind is racing all the time like a giant switchboard, and all the lights and rings are happening at once. Is this how Mom feels? I can step backwards, out of the switchboard room in my mind, but I still feel the responsibility of having to reenter it. I know there’s beauty behind me, but I’m still facing the room. I can’t seem to turn around. Who will take care of the switchboard if I turn my back on it? How can I turn my back on responsibility?

Like my mother, I can sit on a chair for a while and rest.

June 10. My last day in Sebring, I was awoken by Mom yelling for me. Dad had fallen while trying to reach for his hearing aids, and he cut a two-inch gash in his head. We rushed him to the hospital where I had to leave them in the ER in order to get to my plane on time. I stopped by their house to pack, racing around to get the rooms in order as best I could, including soaking sheets, towels and Dad’s shirt that were all covered in blood.

Planes in Orlando were grounded for a huge storm, and I arrived in Miami just half an hour before my flight to Nashville was due to take off. My connecting gate was on the opposite end of the terminal and no shuttle available. I ran till I thought I would pass out and boarded just as they were closing the doors. I did not want to spend the night in the Miami airport! I arrived home at midnight (my body’s time) and of course my luggage was not on the plane.

This was not the way I wanted to leave my parents . . .

June 14, 2007. As I settle back into a routine at home, all the switchboard lights come on at once. I find I’m still needed—by my husband, by my kids, by my friends, by my parents, by those to whom I minister. It’s nice to be needed—I think. But what if I don’t want the role? Then what!? Have I created that dependency on me, or is it my God-driven, God-given role? I gladly give to those in need, but we all have to take turns. The past two weeks were Mom and Dad’s turn.

People’s neediness manifests in various ways. Physically, my parents needed me to help them get settled into their new home. Emotionally, they needed even more, but only God can take away their pain. What I can do is create an atmosphere by my words and deeds that provide the support whereby a person can be drawn to God.

But what if a person is “unloveable”? What is impossible with man is possible with God.

My prayer today is for a deeper love for people—especially the needy ones in my life. I may be repulsed by people’s attitudes and sin, but I am to love them anyway. Did Jesus love the Pharisees? By His words of rebuke, you’d wonder! He was awfully hard on them. Yet He died for them—His actions proved it.

When is it hard for you to love someone?

The Journey Not to Home Part I

How should we respond to another person’s struggles? When is it appropriate to confront people? Is it ever right to judge them for their actions? How can I forgive if their actions or attitude affect me? Is it a matter of simply waiting for their heart to change? When do we put up with, when do we confront? How do we love them through it?

Journal from May, 2007. Moving my 88-year-old parents and Betty, a single missionary lady, from California to Florida was traumatic for all of us. It began yesterday at 6 a.m. with a 2-hour drive to the airport, arriving 2 hours and 40 minutes before takeoff. The flight was 4 ½ hours long, and it felt like an eternity. I was in charge of Mom while Paul [my brother] had to assist my incontinent Dad in navigating the tiny lavatory on board.

When we landed in Orlando, between us all we had 2 wheelchairs, 1 dog, and 12 pieces of luggage. In the flurry of getting everyone settled into the rental van, I forgot to pick up Dad’s walker. I hope we can retrieve it later from the airport.

The two-hour drive to Sebring was the hardest part of the journey. We pulled into a McDonald’s parking lot for dinner, and I entered the restaurant to place our order, thinking we’d all remain in the car to eat. But Dad decided at the last minute that he needed to make a pit stop. Without his walker, he had to hold onto Paul to walk to the building. In the process, Dad’s pants fell to his ankles in the parking lot! I was coming out the door at that moment, laden with all the sandwiches and drinks when I noticed the debacle. “Look at Dad’s pants!” I yelled at Paul.

Betty grabbed the food, I grabbed Dad’s left side, and Paul held on tight while bending down to pull up the pants. Somehow we made it through supper inside and got everyone back into the van. By this time, Dad was near exhaustion.

We arrived at their new home, and Mom put Dad to bed immediately. She had to struggle with changing his soiled Depends and finding a plastic sheet for the bed. And then she collapsed, weeping with great heaving sobs of relieve that the ordeal was over. I think we were all awake most of the night, too tense and exhausted to fall asleep.

DIGITAL CAMERA

Day 5. After unpacking all their worldly goods, hanging photos on the wall, hooking up the TV, etc., I had a little time to explore the retirement complex and greet several missionaries I ran into, including Evie Lohnes.

My dear mother, so strong, so nurturing, so full of life to me growing up, is hurting so much. She carries a lot of anger, disappointment, grief and pain inside, and it continues to leak out in outbursts of irritation and tears over her losses. It was not her choice to make this move across the country, leaving behind her beloved daughter and grandchildren. And I think she feels the weight of caring for Dad as she has done all of her life.

In contrast, I listened to Evie, a recent widow, who spends her days in prayer and praise and a positive spirit with sweetness and encouragement. I asked her how she got to be this way, and she answered in a partial way:  “My husband was the most wounded man I know . . .” and then proceeded to tell me all the good he’d done in his lifetime. I could only read between the lines—that she was driven to her Savior for comfort and help. [I have pondered this statement many times throughout the years as I face whatever trials I go through or meet with difficult people.]

In church today the soloist sang “My Anchor Holds,” and the tears came unbidden. When Evie prayed for me and my parents, I wept openly. And now at 3 a.m. I lie awake and continue crying. For whom do I weep? For myself? For my mother’s sadness?

How much does Daddy feel? Sometimes he’s so out of it; other times he’s quite lucid and worried over details. I think he must feel what Mom is feeling. How can her mood not affect him? But he is totally dependent on her. She has become his mother.

The air in this house is thick, heavy, sad, oppressive. Negativity in the atmosphere can be toxic. At Evie’s, the light is bright and a cool refreshing breeze is blowing.

Lord, I don’t want to become a bitter, cantankerous, angry old woman in my old age. I want to find beauty in ashes, joy in sorry, light in the darkness. Lord, teach me.

Day 14. I just finished up a hard two weeks of listening to my mother struggle with anger, disappointment, grief and feelings of betrayal over their forced move to Florida. If we’re not related to a person or living with them, it’s easy to shrug off their negativity. But living with daily bitterness is wearing on one’s soul. I found myself reacting back in anger and irritation.

Jesus minced no words of condemnation for those whose hearts were blinded by self-importance. But those who had a repentant heart, He freely forgave and comforted. What if a person blatantly holds pride and sin inside? What if he/she is simply protecting pain? I cannot see inside another person’s heart, but I do know that what comes out of the mouth often reveals what’s inside.

I cannot judge my mother’s heart, but I can give God my own self-protection for the sorrow I feel. I choose to release my own anger to Him to carry.

To be continued next week . . .

I Have Everything I Need–Really?

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness (II Peter 1:3 NIV).

In this verse Peter is not talking about having all our material needs met—such as food, clothing, and shelter. He’s referring to everything we need in order to live a godly life. So if this verse is true (and I believe it is), why do we struggle so? Why can’t we just lay everything at the feet of Jesus and quit worrying? Why don’t we always make godly choices?

Money

Is there one area you’ve struggled with all of your life? For most of my married years, it was money. I deliberately chose to be a stay-at-home mom to my three girls at a time when many of my peers were starting their careers. If something had happened to Scott, our family’s bread-winner, I would have had no skills with which to support myself and my little family. I kept laying my worry on the altar and it kept jumping off again! But one day as I was trying to process my emotions, I heard the Lord say, “Karen, I am the husband of widows. I will take care of you.” From that moment on, my heart was at rest.

How did that happen? I had known in my head all the platitudes about trusting God and believing His word and His promises. I had knowledge of God’s character. But I didn’t know it in my heart until the day I agreed to feel and face my fear. Once I laid down my self-protection, my self-preservation, and my worry, God was able to speak truth to my heart that brought me to peace. And there’s my life theme again—In the Pursuit of Peace.

How may I help you today to find God’s peace?

On Burnout

In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength
(Isaiah 30:15).

woman-alone-sleeping-occupation-professional_1262-839

Journal entry from April 19, 2007. I’m tired, so very tired. And it’s my own doing. I control my own schedule, so why did I do this to myself? I’m neglecting my own needs for the sake of others, and I’m neglecting my family’s needs for my own. I’m tired physically and emotionally and can feel depression creeping in. It’s time to say no to everyone today and spend time with God. Just for now. For one hour, I’m going to focus on Jesus. Shut out the needs and screams of others demanding my attention.

You take care of them, Lord. I give the whole package up to you: my schedule, the people in my life, my day, my accomplishments. Today is Your day. I will take it at Your pace, one thing at a time, one step at a time. I pray that You will screen my interruptions today. Guide my every thought. Amen.

April 20. Yesterday was rejuvenating to me. I took the whole day just for me. I deep-cleaned the house, balanced the checkbook, sorted stuff out, made cookies, went shopping for groceries. The one thing I didn’t do was answer the 25 phone calls that rang! It felt awful doing so, but I was beyond caring. I knew I had to take care of myself before I could take care of others. It felt so good to get my house in order. Now I’m ready to serve again.

Put on the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.
Lift up your voice to God.
Praise with the spirit and with understanding,
O magnify the Lord.

Curious Thoughts on Exodus 32

Desert

When I read a chapter like Exodus 32, I end up with more questions than answers. I hope this doesn’t sound sacrilegious, but this inquiring mind wants to know.

Here’s the scene: After 40 days on Mount Sinai, Moses and Joshua (yes, he was there also) come down the mountain, 10 commandments in hand, after negotiating with God regarding not annihilating the whole Israelite nation. They have been in the very presence of holiness and purity.

While standing at the gate (What gate? What was it made of? Why was it there?), Moses calls out for the people to join the Lord’s side. How did Moses get their attention? How did he speak to a million people at the same time without a PA system? Did he yell at everyone near him to go to his or her own tent and they each passed the word to their neighbor? Or were they all together in a mob and the front guys passed the word back to those behind them? (Like playing the game “gossip” or “telephone,” I can imagine how that message would have gotten garbled!) Or did Moses just speak to the elders of each tribe who spoke to the clan leaders who fanned out to relay the message to those under them?

By this time, Moses had already ground down the golden calf and made them all drink it. (How do you force someone to drink something nasty anyway?! It’s not like he held a gun to their heads.)

So now Moses has all the Levites standing with him (Levi, the original brother, was no saint, but somewhere down the line, someone made some godly choices), and God honors that, and He gives them instructions to kill/murder/slay their fellow Israelites who aren’t on God’s side. And the Bible says they slew 3000 men! Does that include women and children? If not the women, can you imagine all those women being left widows? Knowing God’s dealings at other times with rebellious people, I suspect that whole families were annihilated. It says, “They went from gate to gate (there are those gates again).”

Apparently they had divisions between them—maybe to separate the tribes? Maybe to contain their animals? BTW, how did they find enough grazing food—not to mention water—for all those animals in the desert? The statistics are mind-boggling.

How difficult was it for the Levites to obey God? What residual emotional and psychological effects would they have had after this massive slaughter? Who had to bury all the corpses? And how do you bury that many people in the desert? I suppose they cremated them, but what a stench that would have been!

And didn’t the victims try to fight back? I’m sure they didn’t just stay put when they saw sword-wielding Levites coming toward them! They must have tried to run and hide . . . but where? . . .  or attempted to defend themselves. Chaos! Maybe the Levites came after the victims while they all slept! (I doubt it.)

And who inherited all their stuff—their tents and clothes and cooking utensils and sheep? (Can you imagine all the trading and bartering that went on in a camp that size? The entrepreneurs getting rich off their neighbors . . . ) Or maybe they burned their stuff up with the bodies.

My mind can’t wrap around the logistics of such an endeavor. What would it feel like to voluntarily kill your fellow man? Perhaps being clannish, it didn’t feel so bad, but verse 29 says, “Slay every man his brother, companion, and neighbor.” Is this literal or metaphorical? That would mean everyone who had not stepped over the line to join Moses and God. So if your brother or son did not join you, you were instructed to kill him. I can’t let my mind go there.

Following this, God sends a plague. You wonder if in the process of burying or burning this many people with rotting flesh in the desert (it had to be done very quickly) and grief being so strong, they would get ill from it. This is not to negate the miracle of a plague, but to understand the enormous stress they were under. Perhaps the plague weakened them so they wouldn’t seek revenge on the Levites.

God—who can understand His ways? He wipes out humanity with a flood, but keeps a remnant. He wipes out 3000 in one day and keeps the Levites. He allows a holocaust but brings a remnant of Jews back to the land. Abraham asks God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah, but God only brings out Lot and his women. (I don’t think it was God’s initial intention. Wouldn’t it have been better to have destroyed Lot’s lineage?) But God listens to a man. God wants to wipe out the entire nation of Israel, but Moses intervenes and asks God to spare them. God agrees—but only partially. He knew what was best.

Whose side am I on? Will I be willing to do the hard thing when You ask it of me?

Holiness, holiness is what I long for.

Holiness, holiness is what I need.

Holiness, holiness is what you want from me.

 

Dress for God’s House

You shall reverence my sanctuary (Leviticus 26:2).

I grew up on the mission field attending a church with backless mud benches, a cement floor, and a tin roof. The worshipers arrived each Sunday decked out in their very best attire. One day I was amused to observe a lady proudly wearing a bra over top of her clothing. (Bras were unheard of in that village, so I assume she was showing off her new purchase from the village market.)

I’ve listened to the debate between the old and the young regarding what is acceptable attire for church. My mother believed we should wear our best on Sunday morning in the sanctuary to show honor to God. My children think that God doesn’t really care what we wear.

I say both are correct—or both are wrong.

If I dress up in order to impress people, then I’m a hypocrite if I claim I’m doing it for God. In my African village, the American tradition of wearing a new Easter outfit was unheard of, but at the day-long Christmas service every single person in attendance had to have new clothes–for show I surmise. If we proclaim that we must give God our best on Sunday mornings, then why don’t we show up in tuxedos and formal gowns? (My mother did not have an answer for that one.) I wonder sometimes, however, if coming to church in sloppy or casual clothing results in sloppy or casual worship. On the other hand, if I arrive feeling comfortable in my clothing, I’m not distracted by hurting feet in high heels.

How much does culture weigh into this discussion? If I attend a church where the norm is more formal, it is appropriate to honor that culture. If casual is acceptable, then you might feel out of place showing up in a suit coat. In either case, we are admonished not to judge each other over our attire.

Does God really care what I wear to church? I doubt it. I think He’s more interested in my heart.

What do you think?

 

Pagan Holidays

In II Kings 23:4-7 we’re told that King Josiah cleansed the temple—not a synagogue, but the sacred temple in Jerusalem—where articles for Satan worship had been used for several decades. By now, asherah poles and houses for male prostitutes were fixtures.

Having been to this holy site in Jerusalem, it is unconscionable to me that anything unholy was ever permitted there. How could the people have strayed so far from the God who loved them? Josiah was 8 years old when crowned king, and 18 years later he discovers The Book of the Law and begins to obey God’s commandments. Up to that point in his lifetime, he had no clue what true worship was supposed to look like.

The question for us today is—what festivals do we practice that have pagan origins or overtones? Why do we celebrate Halloween? Christmas? Easter? I know some who have taken a stand against these holidays and refuse to go trick-or-treating, put up Christmas trees, or pexels-photo-356330decorate Easter eggs. I can respect that. But I don’t think it’s evil to display a tree in my house or send my kids on an egg hunt. In the past I’ve rolled my eyes at those who condemn these holidays as being pagan in origin and therefore shun all activities associated with them—and then I begin to think what if they were right? And what would it take for me to buck the culture and stand up for what’s right and holy and God-ordained?

Finding out the origin of Halloween is a no-brainer. But did Christmas and Easter begin in paganism or with Christ-followers? I hate what Christmas has turned into, and I cringe when I see bunnies and eggs in our churches. Why? Because Easter baskets weren’t part of my upbringing, and because of its association, I guess, to the fertility goddess. Perhaps, like Josiah’s day, we’ve strayed far from the purity of our original celebrations.

And then we rationalize. They may have pagan origins, but Christians say they have reclaimed the holidays for God. We’re not worshipping anyone but the one true God—even if we hide Easter eggs in our backyard—and we’ve turned the symbol into a Resurrection Egg. Is it ONLY a matter of the heart that’s important? The birth of Christ and His resurrection are legitimate historical events—so why shouldn’t we celebrate them?

My mind is free-wheeling here, but the thought crosses my mind that if these two holidays were truly of pagan origin, we wouldn’t celebrate them . . . or would we?

What if I found out, like Josiah, that I’d been doing it all wrong all my life? Would I have the courage to stand up to culture?

A God of Second Chances

. . . The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished . . . (Exodus 34:6-7 NIV).

How do you reconcile these two statements?

He forgives wickedness, rebellion, and sin.
He does not leave the guilty unpunished.

These verses about God’s character intrigue me. The Old Testament leaves me feeling like God is an angry, judgmental God, quick to wipe out the earth with a flood or a plague or an infestation of snakes to decimate certain ones who’ve rebelled. Of course the book of Revelation in the New Testament has its share of judgments as well.

But then I think of the years and years that God waited—patiently, mercifully, kindly, slow to anger, waiting for His creation to repent and turn around and look at Him. It was an act of MERCY to destroy the earth with a flood. He saved many generations from destruction by preventing their birth. He knew what direction His creation was heading.

Do not accuse my God of being harsh. He waits and gives second chances and loves and weeps and calls and nudges. But there is a limit even to God’s patience. It is actually more merciful for Him to stop man in his tracks than to allow him to infect future generations.

My God is merciful, gracious, forgiving, full of lovingkindness and truth, but when I know God has directly commanded something, I dare not disobey, glibly expecting Him to withhold judgment.

But what if you are a victim of someone else’s sin, and you cry out to God, “How long must evil continue?” And He replies, “I’m giving the perpetrator another chance to turn to Me,” how would you respond?

Is My God Box Too Small?

Any belief that isn’t part of your experience remains in the shadow of doubt (Pastor Allen Jackson, WOC).

Left to Tell, by Immaculée Ilibagiza, is a moving and powerful story of a Rwandan genocide survivor. In this book Immaculée recalls how God protected her, how her faith grew during the ordeal, and how she found God’s power strong enough to forgive her enemies.

My Protestant roots antennae shot up, however, when I read how Jesus AND MARY, the mother of Jesus, appeared to Immaculée and ministered to her. This scenario flies in the face of mypieta-by-michelangelo_2463081 Baptist upbringing. Was it truly Mary or was it simply a visual that God gave her because He knew it would comfort her heart?

Does God use what we believe and are familiar with when He speaks to us? Does God accommodate us in our beliefs with which we’ve grown up? OR does Mary, the Mother of Jesus, truly have a role in ministry to us here on earth? From my understanding of Scripture, I would say no, but how do I account for this person’s experience?

I have a couple Gentile friends who believe we should eat according to Old Testament dietary laws and worship on the Sabbath. Does God honor their hearts—their desire to return to the origins of our Christian faith? Are Protestants out of God’s will for worshiping on Sunday and eating pork? Who gets to decide what’s right?

I want to be holy. I want to do right, be right. I want to honor God with my lips and my actions. But what if I’m doing wrong out of ignorance? Does God honor my heart attitude? King David did right most of the time, but fell once, and conviction ate him up inside. Can I trust the Holy Spirit to convict me, to guide me, to prompt me?

While praying with people in my ministry, I’ve often been astonished at the answers God gives them that bring them to peace. “How can that be?” I wonder. I freely admit that my God-box is simply too small. Am I okay with the fact that Immaculée claimed to have seen Mary and Jesus and that they ministered to her? Is my God-box big enough to handle it—that her experience is hers and “what is that to me?” Like Mary, I “ponder all these things in my heart.”

I also hear the echoes of my teachers and pastors who cry out for doctrinal purity—who are careful to interpret the Scriptures faithfully according to their understanding. But who’s to say their interpretation is always the right one? Warren W. Wiersbe says, “Godly men differ.” We come to the Holy Scriptures with the biases of our own experiences, our triggers, our needs, our culture, our upbringing. How can we shake off error and embrace truth?

Will God honor obedience to what we THINK is right—even if it’s wrong? In Leviticus law, it didn’t SEEM to matter what the heart was—it was all about adherence to a set of rules. Or was it? God made provision for the unintentional sin.

I want to do right and to adhere to truth that I know and understand. If my friend chooses to keep kosher out of conviction, should I follow? No, I don’t think so. Then I would be following one woman’s leading instead of Jesus’ conviction on my own heart. But what if God gave me a vision of Mary ministering to me? How would I respond?

So does God have (or reveal) different truths for different people? Or is there only one truth, applied many ways? I believe that there is only one Truth—and His name is Jesus. Look to Him alone as the author and finisher of our faith and leave all others to God to handle, instruct, and teach. I’m not responsible for the way God works in others. I am only accountable for myself and my relationship to Him.

We all have blind spots. I wonder what error, mis-belief, or false teaching I hold to in my life?