Sunday, September 18, 2011

God's Grumbling People

2The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.  3The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”  Exodus 16:2,3  (NRSV)
Today’s story follows Moses and the children of Israel leaving Egypt for the Promised Land.  They left in April, now it is May and the food the Israelites carried on their backs is gone.  It’s a forced march with empty backpacks; except for the heavy gold and jewels they got from the Egyptians (and none of that is edible).  And there is not a Winn-Dixie or Food Lion in sight; just sand!  We find the children of God trudging towards the Promised Land, but looking back over their shoulders to the abundant food they left in Egypt.  The talk on the trail may have been of freedom, but in their mind’s eyes, Israel’s children were still slaves.
They talked freedom, but thought slavery.... Canaan and Egypt were in the same valley but in extreme opposite directions. To reach one, you had to turn your back on the other...[1]
There were really only two choices (besides laying right down there in the dust and dying).  Choice number one was to return to Egypt.  Not a good choice; Pharaoh would have killed half of them and made the other half do twice the work.  The other choice was to trust God. 
The Israelites understood hardship, pain and death; after 430 years as a nation of slaves to the Egyptian dynasty, they knew suffering.  Now they were following a prophet carrying only a stick and promises from some God you couldn’t see.  They were travelling towards a never-seen land supposedly “flowing with milk and honey” – these slaves were nervous about the future.  They had no food, no direction, no hope, and the dust and heat were on their last nerve; who knew what was going to happen?
Fear Turns to Grumbling
Their fear turned to grumbling – complaining, if you will.  So God sent manna as a test to see if the complainers would then begin to follow Him if their bellies were full; they didn’t!  As soon as they got the bread, they complained there was no peanut butter to go on it (well, almost – see Numbers 11 where they longed for the fish and onions).
That’s not too different from church congregations; many of them today are not growing, fading away to nothing.  They call a pastor to lead them, and then complain about everything he does.  Then, if the church doesn’t grow in spite of their complaining they blame the new pastor for not having vision.  That’s a bit different from how Paul saw it:
17Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls and will give an account.  Let them do this with joy and not with sighing—for that would be harmful to you.   Hebrews 13:17(NRSV)
The people of Israel blamed Moses for bringing them out of Egypt to “die in the wilderness”.  That wasn’t a fact – they survived.  But they were afraid, and fear turns to complaining about what leadership is doing. 
Complaining is a form of blaming others for what you don’t have, or what you didn’t get, or for just plain not being happy; it’s usually not rational…A cartoon showed an irate woman at the church door:  Don't you offer to shake my hand, preacher, until you're ready to apologize for not having the sensitivity to know what I'm offended about![2]  
Complaining is a sure sign of amnesia, when people have forgotten how God has provided for them.  For the children of Israel freedom was losing its shine when the cost of that freedom became their reality – they had to learn to trust and follow God rather than their familiar slavery patterns back in Egypt.  It is much easier to accept a little certain misery rather than an unknown freedom. 
One other thing about complaining, it is contagious.  Notice verse 2:
2And the whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness:  the WHOLE congregation!
Just a few weeks before Moses was their hero, leading them out after four centuries of slavery; now everybody’s mad.  It is no wonder that later God just wanted Moses to stand back so He could incinerate the bunch. 
I don’t think there is a single thing that causes a church to bog down quicker than a spirit of complaining.  It is amazing how it affects reasonable people.  People begin taking sides – the technical term is “polarization”.
If you’re tempted to complain about the leaders in this church, just consider that your complaining will be dividing people, polarizing God’s church – then remember this part of Solomon’s proverbs:
16 There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him: 17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, 18 a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that hurry to run to evil, 19 a lying witness who testifies falsely, and one who sows discord in a family. Proverbs 6:16-19(NRSV)
That thing about sowing discord among the brethren – it is listed number seven.  That isn’t an afterthought.  Listed as the seventh indicates the height of what God hates.  God hates a person to stir it up in His family. 
By comparison God’s Word also shows how to do the opposite – how to be cooperative.  There are [at least] five cooperation points to see:
Cooperation Point #1:  Decide to Trust God.
5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.  Proverbs 3:5-6 (KJV)
When the children of Israel finally stopped banging their collective heads against the wall, this is what they did; they agreed to trust God.  It took them forty years of wandering in the desert, but it did happen, and they stopped complaining against their leadership, and they finally began to move together as a family. 
I know that not all churches or families or businesses will move at the same rate; God has not given everyone the same capabilities.  However, I don’t know of a single church that cannot grow if they band together to trust God and work at it.  I don’t know of a single individual or family that can’t make progress by deciding to trust God more and stop complaining. 
Cooperation Point #2:  Plan Ahead to Worship.
The manna was to be gathered for 6 days a week.  And on that 6th day they gathered two day’s worth.  Get the idea?  The 7th day was for rest and worship.  Beloved, I know there are folks who have to work Sunday mornings or evenings…I’ve never known a single person who had to work 24 hours/7days/365 a year.  God made a plan for our lives that includes work, rest and worship.  If you’ve got a better plan, take it up with Him – I don’t want to hear it!  I would rather trust God and cooperate with Him. 
Years ago I was going to be a career insurance executive.  My superior told me I had to work “18 days a week” if I wanted to make it big.  I was going to make it big.  I had no time for the Lord, family or rest; I was making a ton of money and a name for myself.  But my life began to fall apart; I wasn’t even thirty and my marriage was in jeopardy; I hardly saw my kids.  Business went sour for a while and the bills mounted; the kids were sick all the time.  The pressure became unbearable.
Then God got hold of my life, and I realized things were bad, not because God hated me, or I was having a run of bad luck – things were coming unglued because I would not cooperate with God.  I came back to the Lord; we began to attend church – regularly; we began to tithe and serve. 
Beloved, I don’t have a pile of money, but I eat regularly and I have dear friends within the body of Christ.  And I know love!  Worship will bring those things. 
Cooperation Point #3:  Gather Every Day – Early!
Having the promise of God is not supposed to take away your responsibilities.  In fact, it awakens the true believer as to how he should go about handling his real responsibilities.  The children of Israel had a legitimate need – food.  They could have spoken to their leaders without grumbling and murmuring.  The Bible tells us:
6Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.                                     Philippians 4:6(NRSV)
Most of us don’t have physical food problems – unless it’s too much!  The real malnutrition epidemic among Christians is leaving the spiritual manna on the ground; people are starving their souls for God’s word. 
35Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.                                                        John 6:35(NRSV)
Make certain you have your daily manna-time with Jesus. 
Cooperation Point #4:  Don’t Hoard Your Manna.
In our text it tells us that when the people first saw the manna some of them attempted to go into the grain storage business.  God made sure they couldn’t do it.  If they tried to hold some over for the next day it rotted and turned wormy in their pots.
Our spiritual needs work the same way.  Many folks are attempting to live on yesterday’s manna.  Friends, living on yesterday’s spiritual experiences as if they are today’s adventure with Christ will starve your spirit.  It will turn your service for Christ into a wormy leftover. 
The reason God gave the children manna fresh every day was so they would learn to depend on Him daily and not wander.  It is the same with you.  Your daily dependence on Him spiritually is vital to your vitality as a servant of Christ.  You need to go to Him every day!
Cooperation Point #5:  Don’t Grumble – Eat Your Manna.
Enough has been laid before you today about grumbling.  So, without beating the horse to death here, let me share one last observation.  God’s people failed the test time and again because they refused to trust God and cooperate with Him.  In spite of it all God still provided for their needs.  That should tell us what our main choice is with our attitudes:
God’s provision for YOU in life can be either a powerful affirmation of your faith as you trust Him without grumbling
it can be a constant reminder of your fear and faithlessness.
The choice is up to you. 
Do you want to serve God cooperatively….or just grumble until Jesus comes back?
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!

[1] Your Eyes Are On Canaan, But Your Mind Is In Egypt! , Kirk DeVine, on
[2] Cartoonist Gary Pauley in Leadership, Vol. 13, no. 2.

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