Posted by fallenpastor | Posted in church, complaining, southern baptist, sunday school | Posted on 14-04-2012
I grew up Southern Baptist. Please don’t judge me too harshly.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the story. About the Israelites wandering through the wilderness from Egypt to the Promised Land. It was a trip that should have taken a couple of months. But because of their whining, disobedience and poor attitude, God let them wander for a whole generation until they reached their final destination.
Heck, even Moses messed up one time (actually a few times) and wasn’t able to enter the promised land. Right before he died he could only view it from the heights of Mt. Pisgah and grieve over the sin that kept him out.
Now, let me tell you how the Israelites’ sin is usually discussed in Southern Baptist Sunday schools:
“These people were being led by God. Yet every day they found something new to complain about. They had God sent manna from heaven, God leading the way, solid leadership and had been set free from the slavery of Egypt. Yet, they somehow found a way to complain about something.”
Of course, after years of this indoctrination, you begin to think two things. First, you think, “Silly Israelites. How could they ever complain? They have God. What a bunch of whiners!”
That charge is burned into you for a long time as a Southern Baptist. It sure is easy to think that when you’re 12, sitting in Sunday School while eating a donut and wearing a clip on tie. It’s always easier to judge people when you have 20/20 hindsight and are reading the story of people who have already experienced the pain.
The second thing you think is this: “If that had been me, I would have been a faithful follower of God. I would’ve followed that pillar of fire to the ends of the earth and never complained.”
Yeah, right. Think about it for a moment. Thousands of people pilgrimaging out of the land they grew up in, some of the elderly, some pregnant, all of them just witnessing the plagues of Egypt first hand, not sure where they’re going, some dying along the way, no shower stalls available, hot sun during the day, cold nights, etc.
I had a stern revelation the other day that slapped my Sunday School righteousness out of me. I’ve mentioned my hobby before – geocaching. It’s like a world wide treasure hunt. You use a GPS enabled device to find little containers people have hidden. Some are really easy to find and some are more challenging. Chances are there are some near your house. The iPhone has a geocaching app for beginners if you’re interested. Some have little toys for the kids to find in them and they have a log to sign in them to show you’ve been there. It’s free and it’s a lot of fun.
One of the joys of geocaching is to be the first to find a cache someone has hidden. I hadn’t been the first to find yet and I saw a new cache had been published at the Land Between the Lakes National Park near our home. Did I say near? I thought it was near. On the drive there, I remembered it was about an hour and a half. But that’s okay. It was about finding the cache first.
When I finally arrived at LBL, I found a place to park on a side road and realized the geocache was a mile hike into the woods. Now, a disclaimer. I am a rabid indoorsman. I really don’t like going outdoors a lot. Mowing the lawn isn’t my thing. But I figured I’d find a trail and walk right up to it. In reality, there was a game trail. For those who don’t know, a game trail is a trail that five people walk down a year and deer use regularly. I was able to follow it pretty well.
In about an hour, I found the cache and signed the log. That was after sliding down a ravine, taking six breaks and being thankful I had brought a bottled water with me. That was on the way in.
On the way out, I spilled my water. I found the trail, I thought, and started walking. In circles. For a while. Down a ravine (not the same one I had gone down on the way in). I went up a steep hill (very steep). Stopped 20 times to rest. Three hours later, I had to admit I was lost. On my last rest, I looked down and saw a deer tick on my shoe. I’ve never had a deer tick on me. I complained. Loudly.
I then realized I had been complaining out loud for the past three hours. I’m sure nature was getting tired of my loud complaining. I was probably killing trees with my whining.
Then it hit me. I had only been in the stinking woods for four hours and I was already a rampant whiner/complainer. My mind settled on the Israelites and how I had become so judgmental toward them while I was in Sunday School. They had a right to complain, I thought. Darnit, if I had been there, wandering through the desert, I would have been the worst of them:
“Moses, are we there yet? When are we stopping for water? Did you see the size of that snake? Does anyone have a camel I can ride?”
I did eventually find my way out as my complaining turned to severe prayers for help. I was covered in sweat, exhausted and weak. When I got home, we pulled thirty deer ticks off me. They were crawling inside my shirt and shoes. It was lovely.
But at that point, I decided not to complain. I knew a whole bunch of people who had been through worse. And I had a new found admiration for them.