"There must be something in the staff," said Moses

I have a love-hate relationship with Country music. If you don't remember my last emotional foray into it, you can catch up here. Country songs can be so great--they tell the story so much better than other genres. Or at least, more clearly. You can follow the plot--as opposed to, say, U2.

I love U2's Trying to Throw Your Arms Around the World, because it resonates with me, in theory. But honestly--tell that story. You've been working all night; you're tired and beaten; you're far from home; (I'm right there with you, Bono.) Then you dream of the Dali Lama at a grocery store hugging a woman and driving a car through a needle (an updated reference to the rich getting into heaven? I don't know!) Then you gotta make your faith see (ok) and a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bike (I've had that thought before, but...nope, you lost me).

So back to Country music, where the lyrics may be depressing but at least they make sense! To Chad's relief, we don't have access to country music here in Kenya. Except that I just found iTunes radio!!!!!  The first song to come on was Carrie Underwood's Something in the Water.

I'm a fan of believers invading secular space with truth, and I'm impressed she was able to make this song a hit, played on all the stations, and there's a lot of truth in it. But...

I want to tell you another story. I'm going to summarize for you, but you can read it all in Numbers 20: 2-13, and Deuteronomy 32:48-52. Basically, the people have fled captivity in Egypt, they're wandering aimlessly in the desert, and they're thirsty. Time and time again, God has provided for the needs of His people, and yet still they "quarrel" with Moses and think back to Egypt as the "good ole' days." But this is not about the sin of the Israelites. Moses takes the quarrel to God, and God says, (listen carefully) "Take your staff...and tell the rock to yield its water." So Moses "takes his staff  as (God) commanded him," goes to the rock, and says, "Shall we bring water for you out of this rock?" and strikes the rock...and out comes life-saving water.

But Moses is confronted by God, who says, 'Because you did not trust me enough to honor me as holy..." and after 40 years of wandering, Moses doesn't get to cross into the Promised Land. In Deut. 32, God reminds Moses that his punishment is for "breaking faith with me."

I always thought that Moses' sin was claiming credit for the water ("shall we"), and that's still probably part of it. It's never a good idea to take credit for God's action! But now I've lived in Africa for some years, and I have a new understanding.

So here's what Africa has taught me: it's really easy for us, weak-minded humans longing to cling to the physically seen, to put the power in things created. Like the staff--which clearly God had used to transmit His power. It turned into a snake, parted the sea, brought water from the rock the time before (when God TOLD him to strike the rock with it), made the battle go in Israel's favor...it seemed to be a pretty powerful tool! There must be something in the staff, Moses might have thought. So when the people needed water, and God told him to take his staff and speak, he just got confused as to where the power really came from. And so he "didn't trust God enough to honor HIM as holy."

We see this all the time in Africa, where traditional religion has long-taught that physical objects can be imbued with power. We of the Western mind might be tempted to smile or chuckle at the thought that ground-up geckos hidden in a husband's food will keep him "close to the home" (ie--not cheating), or that a ritual performance would empower a stone necklace to keep a child from getting sick. But...

There must be something in the water.

Is our popular form of Christianity so different? Don't we hear implied that the special formula of the "sinner's prayer" saves? That ritualistic church attendance on Sundays is enough? That claiming a promise of God with enough faith can force God to bless us in the ways we define blessings? That only some versions of the Scriptures can impart truth? That the method of baptism is so important that some ways are valid and some aren't?

Is one dunk enough? Or does it have to be 3? Does it have to be backwards or is frontwards also salvational? Is an ocean baptism ok? What if the pool is so shallow there's a spot of dry left? What if it's in a place as unholy as a bathtub? What if culture prevents men and women touching, so the one doing the baptism is a...gasp...woman!

Is there something in the water?            Or is there something in the Giver of water?
Something in the method?                     Or is it the Way Himself?
Something in the performance?            Or is it the Lord of the dance?

Let's be careful that we trust God enough to honor Him as holy. Him--not our cultures or our practices or our rituals.  They're all good, but they're not God.

 

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