“Unhappy Campers” Week 1 — The “Wild Blue Yonder” Sermon Rewind

Week 1 of Unhappy Campers was ALMOST a sermon with multiple points.  Wha-what?!

We took a leisurely tour through Exodus 15:24 – 16:36 and realized along the way that …

…when you forget God’s provision you invent his punishment;

…biblical trust is a lifestyle, not a reaction;

…we’re always tested more by prosperity than by adversity.

And yet even though I had fun bringing those insights up, I really wanted the people to know that the highlight of the Exodus 16 story is a piece of bread in a jar.

The purpose of that jar and the dilemma it addresses led to this bottom line disguised as a question:

What’s in your jar?


Oh, what a great story we are fixin’ to look at together!  What great writers are those who put together the bible!  What incredible sense of drama AND what impeccable comedic timing. Yes!  In the bible!  In the Old Testament, the supposedly “mean” part of the bible!  Rare comedic timing.  Because here’s the deal:  THIS has just happened.  SHOW CHARLTON HESTON PARTING RED SEA.  So: miraculous intervention, suspension of the laws of nature, and suddenly, improbably, about 400k Jews escape 400 years of soul crushing slavery in Egypt.


                This event was so joyful, in fact, that Exodus 15:1-21 is a LONG SONG dedicated to celebrating the parting of the Red Sea & the Exit from Egypt.  We don’t know what the tune sounded like but something tells me it was an ancient version of this: (PLAY Kool & The Gang clip/chorus Celebrate Good Times).  One of the signature events of the OT, an identifier of what it means to be Jewish, and the source of immediate, spontaneous, nationwide celebration.  15:1-21.               

And yet look at 15:24, on the OTHER SIDE OF THE SEA, as free people, three days later: So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?”.  Oh, Lord.  Three verses, three days, and we are supposed to notice the incongruity – even the hilarity – of it all.  And notice the word: grumbled.  Because then down at 16:1-3, it happens again, this time about 45 days later:

The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt. In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”

Oh my goodness.  Have you ever seen shorter memories?  Have you ever seen a more ungrateful people?  Have you ever seen people to whom you wanted to ask, “Would you like some cheese with all that WHINE?”  Well, maybe you have.  For real, a woman complained to the government that the extra hour of sunlight from Daylight Savings Time was burning up her lawn. For real. (You know, don’t you, that DST doesn’t make more sunlight, righ?  It just moves the clock?).  And I know some of you complain in such a way that you long for the good ole days.  Why can’t these days be more like the good ole days?  You know what you do if you really want it like it was in the good ole days?  Turn off the AC.  That’s all.  Yeah, we got whiners; we have people with very short memories.  I even remember being 12, 13 and getting around a new tennis coach and some new peers and they said to me, “You know what you do on the court?  You WHINE a lot.”  I was like, “Me?!  No I don’t!  I’m not a whiner!”  Whining about not being a whiner!

                See, while we may not have walked on a dry ocean floor with the water walled off on either side of us, we in this place have received our fair share of miracles.  Some of you should be dead right now, but God.  Others would be in rehab, but God.  Others crippled by depression, but God.  Others of you divorced & penniless, but God.  And a whole lot of you would be on a painless, clueless, guilt-free, enjoyable, lifelong trip … straight to hell, but God.  And yet the grumbling that comes out of our mouths – about our lot in life, about others in our lives, about the church, even abou the Gospel which IS our life – suggests that our memories are every bit as short as those of the chosen people of yesteryear. 

                And you know what happens when that happens?  When you forget God’s provision, you invent his punishment.  When you forget his favor, you invent his anger.  That’s what the Jews did?  They glorified the past – it was great in Egypt!  Slavery was awesome!  We had pots of meat all over the place! – because in their minds the future had dried up.  We’d rather be dead slaves than free wanderers.  It just goes to show you that a lot of people prefer the slavery they know to the freedom they don’t.  In freedom, you have to assume responsibility, to feel your feelings, to be accountable for your actions.  In freedom, you have to live without that substance, that relationship, that crutch.  That’s why so many revert to slavery and return to the addictive substance, the toxic relationship, the unhealthy crutch.  Don’t JUDGE Israel here; identify with her.  We laugh at the slavery loving whiners but we shouldn’t because they. Is. Us.

                And so God has something he wants to teach them. And likely us as well.  Look at 16:4, 9:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions … Then Moses told Aaron, “Say to the entire Israelite community, ‘Come before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling.’”

This is extraordinary!  God doesn’t hold their whine against them!  He doesn’t punish them for their forgetfulness that leads to their invention.  Instead, he gives them what they want – and uses it as an opportunity to, what?  To test them.  They get food, miraculously, delivered to their doorstep (or their tent opening!) every day.  Like Amazon Prime Delivery on steroids! But here’s the test:  they are only to gather enough of the manna for the day. They are not to hoard it.  It is all to get them to trust not their eyesight, not their instinct, not even their planning ability, but THEIR GOD.  Will you gather only what you need for the day, trusting that I will provide the next day?  Since you forgot my provision before and invented my punishment, I want you to do it this way. God was showing them that trust is not a reaction; it is a lifestyle.  Not in a crisis, established in the calm. 

                Whew!  I will tell you what.  That truth has never changed.  God’s bizarre commands WORK.  Give 10% of your income away?  Trust me as your lifestyle and you’ll never miss it. Done.  Reserve intimacy for marriage?  Trust me as your lifestyle and you’ll have better sex now cuz you didn’t have it then. Done. Restrain your tongue so you build people up rather than tear them down and you’ll discover how much more influence you have.  Done.  Trust not as a panicked response to the latest crisis, but as a measured decision leading to a healthy lifestyle.


                And I love that God calls the miraculous food a “test.”  You know why?  Because getting what you WANT is almost always dicier than getting turned down.  Getting what you want often leads to complacency & vulnerability & I bet if you looked back on those things you’re most ashamed of, those seasons you most regret, they didn’t happen in the aftermath of difficulty but of blessings.

                So: these ancient ppl in this incredible story – world champion whiners, unhappy campers from the get go, like us – have to learn that trust is a lifestyle, day after day – like us – they need to know they’re more vulnerable in blessing than in trial – like us, but God still has something bigger he needs to do in them.  And in us.  He needs to deal with their short memory.  Their forgetfulness of his provision that leads to the invention of his punishment.  They forgot his favor so they invent his anger.  And he’s got to address that.

                Which he does, in the least remembered detail that unexpectedly provides the most enduring lesson in this oft-repeated story.  Take a look at 16:31-36:

31 The people of Israel called the bread manna.[d] It was white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey. 32 Moses said, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Take an omer of manna and keep it for the generations to come, so they can see the bread I gave you to eat in the wilderness when I brought you out of Egypt.’”

33 So Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar and put an omer of manna in it. Then place it before the Lord to be kept for the generations to come.”

34 As the Lord commanded Moses, Aaron put the manna with the tablets of the covenant law, so that it might be preserved. 35 The Israelites ate manna forty years, until they came to a land that was settled; they ate manna until they reached the border of Canaan.

36 (An omer is one-tenth of an ephah.)

Now this is weird … and the least remembered part of the story.  Get some of the manna … seems to us a lot like bread … put it in in a jar, and show it off. Let everyone see it.  Keep it there.  For years.  And I read that and I’m like, “Now wait wait wait, Lord.  I remember that time in 3rd grade when as part of a science project we got a piece of moist bread put it in a jar & left it in a cabinet.  No refrigeration.  What did it look like in a week?  THIS:  (AV of moldy bread).  I remember that, Lord!”  But that didn’t happen here, not in a week, not in a month, not in 40 years.  That bread-in-a-jar stayed there all that time.  The whole story of whine, hoarding, providing, and trusting is all so that we could get to the end and see bread in a jar!  It’s weird, it’s odd, it stretches credibility, and it’s absolute genius.

                Because their problem was REMEMBERING, right?  When you forget God’s provision, you invent his punishment.  You forget his favor and you invent his anger.  So God had them display this tangible, 3D, non-rotting reminder of his provision and his favor!  People: I want you to mark my faithfulness to you so you will strengthen your faith in me.  And you all are so dense and so forgetful that you need three dimensions to do it!  It’s the way the people of God are throughout the word of God!  What does Noah do after the ark?  He builds an altar (READ Genesis 8:20)!  How did Abraham mark God’s choosing of him?  He builds an altar (READ Genesis 12:7).  How does Samuel commemorate a great victory over the Philistines?  He raises his Ebenzer!  A stone monument to God (READ 7:12). The old hymn with the line here I raise mine Ebenezer – that’s what it’s all about! I’m going to mark and remember God’s faithfulness to me so I’ll grow my faith in him.  When I forget I invent.  What I remember God repeats.

                So it’s all led me to this:  What’s in your jar?  I don’t want you to be an unhappy camper with a short memory and a long list of inventions!  The shorter your memory, the more miserable you’ll be!  The more you remember GOD DID THAT! then the less you’ll invent and the better you’ll be.  What’s in your jar and where are you putting it?  It ranges from the relatively insignificant – here’s a picture of me at 8 with my very first tennis trophy ever (AV) to the much, much more important.  The pastor who founded this church in the early 90s, Claude Kayler, has keep prayer journals for years. Here’s what they look like: AV.  You know what that is?  EAP.  Evidence of Answered Prayer.  Whenever he struggles or doubts, he goes back and reads and his memory gets longer so his inventions become fewer.  What’s in your jar?

                You might want to get a picture of the altar where you got saved, put a verse on your dashboard like a friend of mine here (AV of Ritger), pull out the video of the day you were baptized.  It’s a memorial, a marker, a tangible something that you used to commemorate the move of God in your life.  Not get you stuck there but to remind you to launch out from there.  We had a mom contact us this week because her six year old daughter after VBX gave Jesus her life.  Here’s what a pastor recommended she do: 

But what you CAN do is make a Certificate or a poster or something that marks June 20, 2017 as Reagan’s birthday. Remind her of this every year. My daughter became a Christian on a playground during her kindergarten year. We remind her of it all the time and it’s a memory that is well kept alive. Use that as preparation for baptism.
                 You may want to write your prayers.  It’s helped me a ton.  Keep a copy of your first tithe check as I reminder you never miss what’s not yours anyway.  I give this to a lot of couples when I do their wedding – a rope that reminds them a cord of three strands is not easily broken.  I give some other couples this – a rock to go on the mantle as a reminder to build your house on the rock.  (And if I did you wedding and didn’t get you either of these …. TOUGH!)  What’s in your jar?  How are you ….

                Marking your restoration?

                Remembering your deliverance?

                Celebrating your provision?

                Acknowledging your salvation?

                Highlighting your rescue?

                Honoring God for his presence even in the worst times?

                Maybe the best “jar” in the worst time was this: AV God Is STILL Good. 

A family in our church put that on their door.  On the day they buried their infant who had died of SIDS.  Unhappy campers?  No way.  Deeply faithful folk who in the middle of the worst that life has to offer find a way to remember the best that God can give.

                What’s in your jar?

(And we closed by singing Come Thou Fount and having people “mark” God’s faithfulness on slips of paper, placing them in mason jars.)