Brian: Previously on the Discover the Word podcast.
Jeff: “The Land Between” is about these transitional spaces that we hate where you’re not where you were, you’re not where you’re gonna be, but for a stretch of time you’re unemployed going through a challenge with a trial, an illness that you can’t shake. It’s the house that won’t sell or the property that you can’t seem to purchase when the, you know, market shifts and so you find yourself in this space in the middle “the land between” and it’s just difficult to navigate and I think it’s one of the most trying stretches we hit spiritually.
Brian: Author and pastor Jeff Manion at the table with the Discover the Word group talking about the land between, those difficult transition stretches of life that we all journey through. And in part 2 of this study Jeff continues to stress that often these times are make or break for our faith.
Jeff: I believe that the land between is futile ground for transformational growth. I believe the land between is also the space where faith goes to die. And I think the decisions made in that desperate space help determine the person that I’m becoming.
Brian: And more of our conversation with Jeff Manion about “The Land Between” on this Discover the Word podcast.
Brian: And welcome to part 2 of “The Land Between” on the Discover The Word Podcast. Discover the Word is the small group Bible study from Our Daily Bread Ministries and Jeff Manion is our guest leader for this two-part study with regular group members Mart DeHaan and Elisa Morgan. Now Jeff has authored several books including The Land Between, Satisfied, and Dream Big, Think Small and he’s pastored at the Ada Bible Church in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area for over 35 years and we asked Jeff to walk us through how he sees in the story of the Exodus and Israel’s wondering in the desert what he’s called “The Land Between” for 40 years before entering the Promised Land how that can be a metaphor for our being in an undesired and transitional space. We all have those times but when we’re in the land between do we learn to trust God more or do we go complaining in the other direction. Well that’s what we’re gonna explore together in part 2 of this study “The Land Between” and to begin they’re gonna reflect on a what if question. We all know how much we like to help our kids and our grandkids. Well what if God delights in helping His kids. Let’s listen.
Jeff: You know, from time to time people talk about God providing for them in different ways. I’m just wondering, have either of you had a time in your life where you felt that God provided something very specific at a time when it was really kinda critical or really needed?
Mart: It’s interesting there are probably countless times. Some of them we can talk about. You know, some of them would make sense to others.
Elisa: I’m actually thinking about a time when I was in college, and I was raised by a single mom, so we were very tight financially. And the first year we had money for but the second year I was on my own. And I had a job and I had a car to get to that job, but it broke one day.
Elisa: It broke down, and I was super concerned and I was praying, God what am I supposed to do. And the phone rang and my grandmother was calling, and she was an elderly woman on a fixed income. But she said, “Elisa, I don’t know but for some reason I felt like I was supposed to call and offer you some money.”
Elisa: And it wasn’t a whole lot, I don’t even remember exactly how much it was, but it was enough to take care of this need. And I was blown away.
Jeff: College sophomore?
Elisa: College sophomore.
Elisa: So I wasn’t even 20 years old.
Mart: The timing was perfect.
Elisa: Timing was perfect, and clearly I saw it as God providing for me.
Jeff: Okay, what if God enjoys doing things like that? I mean, what if there’s this part of God’s character that He just loves providing and loves giving? Now the context from Numbers 11, the Israelites are in the desert. They’ve left Egypt, the land of slavery, they’re on the way to the Promised Land, the land flowing with milk and honey, but right now, they’re stuck in the desert, in the middle. And there’s this huge complaint that erupts because they’re sick and tired of eating manna and then Moses their leader has this meltdown where he says this is too heavy. I can’t carry this anymore, and just kinda vents this frustration to God. All right, Moses has just prayed this brutally honest prayer of exhaustion. Mart, read verses 16 and 17 of Numbers 11. This is the Lord’s response to Moses’ meltdown, and I think will get us further into this conversation about God’s provision.
Mart: Okay, “Then the Lord said to Moses: ‘Gather before me seventy men who are recognized as elders and leaders of Israel. Bring them to the tabernacle to stand there with you. I will come down and talk to you there; I will take some of the Spirit that is upon you and I will put the Spirit upon them also. They will bear the burden of the people along with you so that you will not have to carry it alone.”
Jeff: Well, let’s break this down a little bit. Moses has had this meltdown prayer, this is too heavy, I can’t carry this burden anymore, and then the Creator speaks into the situation and says, okay, I need you to do something. I need you to pick and there’s a number there, did either of you see the number?
Jeff: Seventy. Pick 70 guys who are already, like, leadership quality, like, they’ve already demonstrated, recognized among the people as leaders.
Mart: Yeah, recognized as elders and leaders of Israel.
Jeff: Right. So, not just random people, but people that are already have leadership capacity. And they’re told to go somewhere. It says take them with you to where? What’s the place?
Mart: Yeah, the tent of worship, the tabernacle.
Jeff: The tabernacle sometimes called the tent of the meeting. It’s not where people went to meet with each other but meet with God. And then that last part that Mart read. Elisa, what’d it say? I will take the Spirit…what’d it say there?
Elisa: “I will take the power of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them, and they will share the burden of the people with you so that you will not have to carry it alone.”
Jeff: Apparently when Moses is recruited, you know, to go to Pharaoh of Egypt and say, “Let my people go,” and to lead the people out into the desert and toward the Promised Land, apparently he had received a very unique endowment of the Spirit of God that was pretty exclusive to him. But here it’s like I will take the Holy Spirit that is on you, the power of the Spirit that is on you, and I will now multiply it on these 70 leaders. And so, the idea here is now there will be 70 Spirit-gifted, Spirit-empowered, mini-Moses’s. All right? And the last part that you read is so powerful, they will what does it say, they will…?
Elisa: “Share the burden of the people with you.”
Jeff: Okay, what’s happening here is that God is providing for His exhausted leader. God is providing additional leaders. Moses said I can’t carry this anymore, and God is agreeing and says you’re right. And God provides leaders to carry the burden with Moses. Now again, back to the question, what if God loves doing that? What if when we’re tired and we’re exhausted and we’re spent and we have an honest conversation with God where we go this is too much for me. I can’t do this anymore. What if God loves to provide for His tired kids?
Mart: It makes me wonder well what are the options, you know. What if He does and then the question is well what if He doesn’t or what if He does sometimes and not other times, I mean, how do we form an answer that’s adequate.
Elisa: Right. Without it being a formula.
Elisa: It makes it like a mumbo-jumbo…
Elisa: …magic formula God, and it’s not that. But to slip into the posture or the peep hole that you’re looking through in the fence, Jeff, and consider for a few minutes what if God delights in answering our needs, just, what if.
Elisa: And to slip over there and look at it from that perspective, that really stirs me toward asking. It stirs me toward desiring. It stirs me to be closer to God, and I think actually put on my parent hat and I think I wanna help my children. I delight in meeting their needs. And if I think about how I feel about giving I think, wow, might God feel that way about helping me in my need?
Mart: Okay, so then the answer would be it’d be wonderful, right? It would fill us with hope. It would give us reason to go to Him with a greater sense of anticipation.
Jeff: And that’s so true. Does it affect the way we pray? If I in my heart of hearts believe that God is stingy, that He’s holding out on me, that He really loves for me to be miserable, that may affect the way I pray. If I believe that there is a space in God’s character that is wildly generous and He loves to provide, I think it affects what I see. I think it affects what I pray for. I think it affects the way I’m grateful for the hundred blessings that come my way.
Jeff: Even when I’m in a situation that I don’t want to be in.
Mart: Yeah, and maybe it would even cause us to cut Him some slack and say maybe He’s got all kinds of giving to me that I’m not looking for and that He may have waiting to surprise me.
Jeff: Okay, let me touch on that for a second. I think it’s so helpful because often when we’re in a problem, we want out of the problem in the worst way. And often I think it’s our gracious Lord’s delight to meet us in that and to show His goodness and mercy in a way that does not take the problem away. When I was 12 years old, November of my 7th grade year, my mom was killed in an automobile accident leaving my pastor, church-planter father with five children.
Elisa: Oh my goodness.
Jeff: My older sister was 13. My youngest brother was 2-months-old. Mom died between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I mean, going into Christmas that year, to say that we were dizzy and disoriented emotionally doesn’t even touch our situation. We were in the western states and my father was connected to some churches in the Midwest, primarily in Michigan. Days before Christmas, boxes arrived from people we had never met before, and there was a note attached that said, to my father, “Don’t worry about Christmas shopping for your kids this year, we want to provide their Christmas for them.” A couple days after that another group of boxes arrived from another church, “Don’t worry about shopping for your kids this year, we want to provide Christmas for them,” and unloaded all of these gifts. There were boxes that arrived after Christmas, “We are so sorry that these arrived late.” We weren’t sorry. That year it’s like Christmas would never end. Now, this did not fix us.
Elisa: No, it did not replace your mother.
Jeff: It did not replace my mother. It did not take the grief away in any way. But it was if, as a 12 year old, there was this whisper, you’re not alone. I see, I know, I care, and I want to provide this for you. And so, there’s a sense in which grief is not eliminated but that grief can be softened. And we experienced God’s presence through the gifts of people we had never met. I look back at that time and I just say what if God loves to do that? It didn’t pull us out of our grief. It did not erase the confusion that we were traveling through. We were still pretty much a mess. But God met us there.
Mart: At the very minimum, there were seeds of anticipation planted then, weren’t there?
Mart: You got a taste of something.
Elisa: Something powerful had happened and hope grows in that place that God will do even more…
Jeff: It does.
Elisa: …in the days to come.
Jeff: It does. David said, “I will trust in the Lord because He has been good to me.” Past goodness of God fuels future trust. When we speak about the grace of God, we are speaking about that aspect of His character that is wildly generous. Through the creation of our world, through the coming of Jesus, through meeting our needs again and again, we worship a God who loves to give and loves to provide.
Jeff: Mart, you had believing parents and were raised in church.
Mart: That’s right.
Jeff: Elisa, were you raised in a church setting?
Elisa: I was raised by being taken to church and dropped off there so that my mom could have a few hours without us. She was a single mom and smart.
Jeff: She used the church as child care.
Elisa: Yeah. Yeah.
Jeff: Okay, but both of you have been connected in one way or another to the stories of the Bible for a long period of time.
Mart: Yeah, but in a very different way. Yeah.
Jeff: Okay. Question, is there a particular story of the Bible that you would say that story stirs something emotionally or touches something very, very deeply. Just kinda one story of the Bible that surfaces higher than the others.
Mart: You mean today?
Jeff: I mean today.
Mart: Oh, the story of Jonah.
Jeff: The story of Jonah, really? Why?
Mart: Oh, yeah. Oh, it’s unbelievable. The enemies of the nation of Israel ended up being this enormous benefactor nation. God opened their eyes by the hundreds of thousands and let them experience His mercy. And Jonah, the servant of God, I mean, he had to be dragged to get there.
Mart: And even after proclaiming his message, he was furious with God. My point is, I love the story because it shows that God is so much more loving than we think He is.
Jeff: Wow. Wow.
Elisa: It fits well in our culture today, doesn’t it?
Jeff: God commands Jonah, go warn these people in rebellion and they respond…
Jeff: …and God responds graciously to them.
Mart: But they were a terrorist nation, I mean, they were like the enemy of enemies.
Jeff: Yeah. They were awful people.
Mart: They were awful people.
Mart: And what it ends up showing us is God loves our enemies so much more than we could even imagine Him loving us.
Jeff: Wow. Elisa, do you have a story?
Elisa: I think because I’m gonna go to the negative here, I think about Peter’s denial of Christ just crushes me.
Jeff: Oh really.
Elisa: Peter himself, you know, whether he’s on the waves and he’s scared to walk on the waves and accept, you know, all that God can do through him, but in his worst moments he fails.
Jeff: Okay, the night that Jesus is on trial hours before the crucifixion, Peter, a disciple three times in a row.
Elisa: Even though it’s been predicted and he’s been forewarned, he dives right into the error. Yup.
Jeff: Three times in a row, when asked aren’t you one of His followers, Peter goes, never met the guy.
Elisa: Not me. Oh, it crushes me to think how many moments in my life I may do the same thing, maybe not as blatantly, but how do I deny Christ? How do I say not me, don’t know the guy, ‘cause I wanna fit in, I wanna be liked, I don’t wanna be recognized, something.
Jeff: Okay, my story’s unlike yours, a bit like Mart’s maybe. My favorite, it’s a dark story but there’s a beautiful ray of hope that shines through the darkness. It’s Elijah in the Old Testament, and he has this major spiritual revival moment when he’s trying to turn the hearts of the Israelites away from the worship of the god Baal and toward this invisible creator God. And then right after this mountain-top experience, he hears that the queen, Jezebel, nasty woman, is gonna kill him, and so he runs. He’s exhausted. And it says he sits down under a tree. And when he sits down under the tree it says he prayed that he might die. He says, God take my life. This whole thing is a colossal waste, and he falls asleep under the tree. Now that’s not the part that I love, but that’s the set up.
Elisa: But that’s your favorite story.
Jeff: No, no, no. He’s tired. He’s exhausted. He is so spent. And it says that he awakens and, I think it’s an angel of the Lord awakens him. And it says there by his head was a jar of water, and there was bread baking over hot coals. And what I love about that story is that Elijah is so tired and he’s so worn out and he is so beyond resigning and God wakes him up and says you really need something to eat. I expect God to give him a lecture and God makes him lunch.
Jeff: And I just say, man, what if God still does that? What if when moms and dads and university presidents and pastors and camp directors and youth pastors are at points of fatigue and exhaustion and they just go I am so done, and God says listen you just need to rest, and I’ve got something for you here to refresh you. I love that story not only because of what God did for Elijah but I think what God desires to do for us.
Mart: Yeah. And my guess, from the way you tell the story, is you’ve been there a few times, Jeff.
Jeff: Well I’ll just give you this data point. I’ve pastored the same church, Mart, for over 30 years.
Jeff: Lots of joy, wonderful people, and moments…
Mart: Where you didn’t really feel like you could go on, right? You were at the end.
Jeff: Lots of challenging moments.
Mart: You hit the wall.
Mart: You weren’t sure you were gonna be able to face tomorrow.
Jeff: Yeah. I don’t think I would still be in ministry, much less at ministry in the same church, unless God had refreshed my spirit in dozens of unexpected ways. Now, I enter the conversation with Elijah’s meltdown here, but it’s reflective of another major meltdown in the Bible. I mean, this happened to more than Elijah.
Jeff: Is Moses, he’s leading the children of Israel across the desert between Egypt the land of slavery and toward the Promised Land. And Moses just has this meltdown where he goes this is too heavy. I can’t carry this anymore. And Moses is done praying this brutally honest prayer, and then God says listen Moses, this is what I want you to do. And it’s a provision story. God says take these 70 guys who have leadership potential, bring them to the tabernacle, the place of worship and I’m gonna take the empowering of the Spirit, Moses, that’s on you and I’m gonna put it on them and now these 70 guys will help you carry the burden. And I go man, there it is again, there it is again. You’ve got a broken down leader, you’ve got a weary servant, and they just vent this I’m finished prayer. And, our Lord is pleased to step in and to provide in a totally unexpected way.
Elisa: Well, and, you know, we had talked about the story of Peter is one of my favorite stories.
Elisa: And Jesus does the same thing with him.
Elisa: On the shores after He’s resurrected where He meets with him and feeds him, you know, breakfast on the beach.
Mart: There’s that fire on the beach.
Elisa: Yeah. Yeah. And in front of everybody else where Peter has publicly denied Christ, Christ publicly restores Peter. So I hear what you’re saying.
Jeff: When everybody knew that Peter had blown it and where it’s as if Jesus is saying you’re not kicked out of the group.
Elisa: Yeah, because…
Elisa: …that’s what we would think. You know, I think it’s beautiful what you’re casting about God’s provision that moves beyond our inabilities or our inadequacies.
Mart: Exactly, yeah. But it comes exactly to what we need.
Jeff: But not always what we expect and not always what we’re praying for.
Jeff: Because when Elijah melts down his request is kill me. I mean, he’s like I’m done. And he wakes up and there’s bread and there’s water. Moses, I can’t carry this anymore. I think the last thing Moses is expecting is that God will multiply the Spirit of God on 70 leaders. And what’s critical about that is, you know, a lot of times we pray for stuff and God does not give us what we ask. But often He gives us what we need. I just think, you know, someone traveling through a season of depression what they’re praying is okay God, take this depression away and sometimes in God’s wisdom He does.
Jeff: We don’t know how we wandered into this valley, we don’t know how to get out of it, and we pray and the depression lifts. That happens. Sometimes. And I think that there are other times when God goes, you know, I’m not gonna take this depression away, but I will sustain you in it, and I will walk with you. And so you get an encouraging email from a friend. God puts you in touch with the right advisor who can council you on at least how to navigate from day to day.
Mart: Right, or the right doctor who gives you medication…
Mart: …that lifts your spirits.
Jeff: And so it’s my belief that God is in the business of providing and sometimes it does not match up with what we’re asking for or what we’re expecting. And sometimes we miss it because we’re looking for something very specific and God does not answer in the way we wanted or anticipated, and we miss His movement…
Jeff: …in our lives.
Mart: Do you think that’s the norm that going forward we tend not to see and it’s oftentimes just looking backward?
Elisa: Exactly. It’s like you can see much better in a rearview mirror.
Jeff: Well, and I think we dictate exactly what we want God to do.
Mart: And what we’re looking for.
Jeff: And we’re like pulling the strings on a puppet. He doesn’t play that game.
Jeff: And so, I think there’s something in His heart that is wildly generous, where He loves to give and He loves to provide, but not necessarily on the day and in the way. I mean, if someone’s going through a big financial challenge, they say God we just want this financial challenge to evaporate, and I believe God provides, but often what He provides is something called a spirit of contentment. The apostle Paul said, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need; I know what it is to have plenty.” And then he says, “I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.” Paul wrote that from prison. Those words were written by an inmate. And so, I can do all this through Him who gives me strength. Paul is still incarcerated. I think he wants to be out and on with church planting ministry, and yet he says God has provided the strength for contentment day after day after day.
Elisa: The provision came not by releasing him from prison or giving him a steak dinner there,…
Elisa: …it came by God’s presence with him.
Jeff: And I think that’s the challenge. I think the challenge is how to cling to a God that is wildly generous while remaining open to the fact that the way He provides might be radically different than what I’m expecting and what I’m asking for.
Brian: Yeah another important observation about how to approach those times when we’re in “The Land Between” that God often provides for us in unexpected ways. Well you’re listening to the Discover the Word podcast with regular group members Mart DeHaan and Elisa Morgan and our guest author and pastor Jeff Manion. And we’ll get back to more of these conversations about “The Land Between” in just a moment.
Brian: I hope you’re finding this series helpful and right now let me take just a moment to let you know that Jeff’s written a book titled The Land Between. In it Jeff uses the experiences of Israel in the wilderness as an important object lesson about often what not to do when we’re stuck in between what was and what will be. Understanding that time in the land between is an opportunity for our faith to grow. That can help us have perspective in even the most difficult of circumstances. And right now there’s a link for you to get a copy of the book The Land Between on our website. Just scroll down until you see the cover at discovertheword.org. As Jeff says the land between has fertile ground for our faith to grow, but it can also be a space where our faith goes to die. So which will it be for you? We encourage you to get a copy of The Land Between by Jeff Manion. And now back to more of Mart DeHaan’s and Elisa Morgan’s conversation with Jeff Manion about “The Land Between.”
Jeff: There’s a common expression, and I’m gonna start it. And I’d like you two to finish it. Ready? Time heals…
Elisa: All wounds.
Jeff: Question, is that true?
Elisa: That’s such a good question.
Mart: Probably not.
Elisa: Yeah, I mean we write it in cards when someone dies or we say it just kind of glibly. We mean the best. But is it really true? I guess what I would say is maybe it changes our perspective on wounds.
Elisa: I’m not sure it heals them all.
Mart: In a lot of cases, I think it does in the sense you just forget it with certain kinds of wounds.
Jeff: Well let me toss out an idea and you just kind of bounce it off you two and see what you think. I find that not everyone heals over time at least not heals well or not evenly.
Elisa: Or completely?
Jeff: Yeah, well two men, 45, both of them have a failed marriage. You might check in on them as 65-year-olds and find one of them gracious, approachable, healed as we would say and the other one not so much…angry…
Jeff: …embittered. And so just the fact that time heals all wounds, it looks like over time one person healed. And over time one person didn’t heal. But I think we have something to do with the healing process not simply that time heals. Let enough time go by and you’ll end up in a good space, cause some people end up in a good space and some people don’t end up in a good space.
Mart: Right, I think what we experience is that sometimes we feel such embarrassment we say I wish I could die. I wish I could get out of here. And a few weeks later, in many cases, you’ve forgotten all about it. So certain kinds of injuries and embarrassments seem to work. But I think you’re referring to a kind of wound that…
Jeff: Let’s say a deep wound. Losing a company that you had spent a decade building, a pastor attempting to navigate a church split where angry, hurtful things are said over time.
Mart: And never forgotten.
Jeff: And never forgotten. Something that damages your children because they hear some of these things.
Elisa: Maybe another way to say it is that mistakes shape us. I don’t know if that’s where you’re going, Jeff. But I don’t know that we’re healed necessarily by…
Elisa: …by the horrible things that happen to us just because time…we are changed.
Jeff: Elisa, I don’t want to call them mistakes.
Jeff: When I witness this, when I witness someone that experiences something that hurts them and they heal graciously, I’m awed by that. And when someone experiences something difficult, challenging, devastating, and 20, 25 years later they’re bitter, caustic, and resentful, I go I don’t want to become that person if I were to experience a similar major life disappointment. All I want to get at here is that we’re talking about “the land between.” And the land between is this transitional space that we did not invite and do not desire. The Israelites, they find themselves in the desert. They leave Egypt which is the land of slavery. They’re on their way to Canaan, the Promised Land, the land flowing with milk and honey. But in the intermediate space, the land between, they pass through the desert. And I believe we will all find ourself there at one time or another, some transition that we do not want, did not invite. It might be medical; it might be financial. It might be health. It might be relational. And I’m very concerned about something. How I respond to that desert may have more to do with the person I am becoming than the fact that I passed through it. And so a person passing through it, the illustration I gave through a marriage imploding, and this is not a divorce that they wanted or invited. How they respond to that spouse leaving might have a greater imprint on their life 20 years downstream than the fact that the spouse left.
Mart: Do you think that response, one way or the other, is predictable?
Jeff: Well how do you mean?
Mart: Do you think that we make a choice to go to the right or to the left…
Mart: …based on prior choices? Or do you think something can happen in the middle of the crossroads of a decision?
Jeff: I think that many times when we find ourselves in the land between, the space is so disruptive and so disturbing that the heart is gonna move one direction or the other. I think it’s hard to remain neutral. I think there’s an incredible opportunity to pursue God and to know God in new and fresh ways through the tragedy or to walk away, to shut down spiritually, to shut down emotionally, to close out friendships. I believe we have much to do with our healing process. I believe that the land between is fertile ground for transformational growth. I believe the land between is also the space where faith goes to die. And I think the decisions made in that desperate space help determine the person that I’m becoming. Numbers chapter 11 chronicles one of the episodes that take place in the desert. The Israelites they left Egypt the land of slavery. They’re heading toward the land of promise. If my math is right, they have been in the desert for two years.
Elisa: That’s a long time.
Jeff: This is beating sun, sand, little vegetation; and God provided this food substance called manna. But they got tired of eating this stuff meal after meal after meal. And so there’s this huge complaint, you know. Why can’t it be like it was in Egypt when we had cucumbers and melons and all the fish we wanted to eat and garlic? And then comes this verse. Elisa, if you could read a fragment of Numbers 11:20, you have Moses’ response to the people after this manna complaint…
Jeff: …that they’ve been involved in.
Elisa: Okay. “You have rejected the Lord (this is Moses speaking)…”
Elisa: “…who is among you and have wailed before Him saying, ‘Why did we ever leave Egypt?’”
Jeff: Okay, something’s happening here. They’ve complained about the food, but again their crime is more than complaining about the cafeteria line. He says here “you’ve rejected the Lord.” It’s almost like we were better off as slaves. We were better off in Egypt. We were better off without you. What I want to point to is this, is that the trial that they’re passing through, it happens to be the trial of the desert. It has to be the trial of eating this same food stuff over and over again led them to a place where they turn their backs on God. See the desert was intended for the Jewish people to be the place where they would come to know the Creator as their protector and their provider. But instead, the desert has become a place where faith goes to die.
Elisa: So this is what you mean by the way we respond in an unwanted, undesired, unchosen place in our life, a time of transition will affect or shape how and if we ever heal.
Mart: What if somebody says the thing about this story is though that they were not only eating this manna day after day, but God if we read the story, read the account, was with them in a pillar of smoke by day and a fire by night. There was a sense of which the evidence of God’s presence was there every day visibly…
Mart: …and I would say how in the world can you reject the Lord when you see His presence…
Elisa: Every day.
Mart: …every day?
Jeff: Okay, but they did and we can. There is an expression “trials make you grow.” They don’t. Trials give you an opportunity to grow. They also give you an opportunity to slip and to slide away. You hear the expression “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” It doesn’t. You can get wounded, deeply disappointed and grow nasty and embittered. Trials don’t make you stronger. A response to the trial can make you stronger. But here we have the devastating narrative of people who go through a difficult stretch and don’t become the people they could. And I just read that as a warning in my life. I am in my early fifties, but I know something. When I’m wounded in my early fifties, where I let my heart go I’m determining what kind of 70-year-old I’m gonna be. I am becoming the person that I will be tomorrow. And so when I find myself in the land between, when we find ourselves in the land between, I just need to remember the heart is in danger. The heart is in danger; the heart is in danger. If I respond to this trial in a positive way, I can grow in graciousness, holiness, and approachability. If I let myself wallow in complaint and turn nasty, I might become a bitter old person based upon my response today. I think of the words that Joshua received at the beginning of the book of Joshua, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid because the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” And I just want to whisper back into the story of the Israelites do you realize He’s with you. He’s with you as your travel. He’s with us as we travel. That should cause me to respond with courage and the choices that I make in difficult seasons of life either acknowledge or ignore the presence of God.
Jeff: Elisa and Mart, question: do either of you remember a time when your parents needed to discipline you when you were children?
Mart: Not me. How about you, Elisa?
Elisa: I do remember it. It wasn’t a big deal, but it was a big lesson for me. I remember when I was in kindergarten, and I watched a little girl during naptime go up to the teacher’s desk and tell the teacher that she didn’t feel good.
Elisa: And about a half an hour later her mom came and got her, and she got to go home. And I thought that was brilliant. And I wanted to go home. So the next day I went up to the teacher and told her I didn’t feel good, and my mom came and got me about 20 minutes later. And I got home and I was like cool, get to play. And my mom said no, you’re sick. You go get in your bed. And I was like what? I’m not, I feel fine now. Nope, if you’re too sick to be at school, you’re too sick to play. Go get in your bed. And that’s where you will stay.
Jeff: Was that discipline that you felt was, I don’t know, guess what I call loving discipline?
Elisa: Yeah, I think it was appropriate to my crime, yeah.
Mart: Yeah, I remember getting my mouth washed out with soap.
Elisa: Oh goodness.
Mart: Yeah, I was a little guy and somehow I started using the Lord’s name in vain. And it was at a dinner table one night, and I must have just started saying oh God or whatever you know. And when few minutes later I was in there getting my mouth washed out with soup, and I still remember the taste.
Mart: And there are a lot of other experiences in life where I was disciplined. But it the beauty of it was, in retrospect, I know they cared for me. And it was…
Elisa: Oh in the moment it made me so …
Mart: Oh yeah.
Elisa: Because I felt I was thwarted and what I wanted to do was blocked. I didn’t like it at all.
Mart: I was spitting stuff out into the sink.
Jeff: Would it be safe to say that every loving, thoughtful parent there are moments when you would need to provide loving thoughtful discipline with your children?
Elisa: Absolutely, yeah.
Jeff: Okay, I’m gonna turn the tables on us here. I don’t want to talk about disciplining children. I want to talk about God as disciplinarian. Because I think when we’re talking about when our parents needed to discipline us and maybe a conversation about when we needed to bring correction to our kids that feels like a normal conversation. But when we turn the corner and we talk about God disciplining somehow it can become uncomfortable. Well let me do something. Let me take us to our story today. The setting is Numbers chapter 11. And the Israelites have left Egypt the land of slavery. And under the leadership of Moses, they’re traveling to the Promised Land what we’d call Canaan. It was called the land flowing with milk and honey. But when we open to Numbers, they’re not in Egypt as slaves. They’re not in the Promised Land. They’re in the land between. They’re in the desert the middle space. In Numbers 11 there’s this explosive disruption where they complain about this manna that they’re eating, the food substance God provides that they have to eat every day. And they demand meat. And so God provides the mother of all quail migrations. It’s like three feet off the ground in every direction. And people begin to swat these quail out of the air and then dry them. And here comes the discipline part, verse 33. This has to do with the quail meat that they now have to supplement their manna diet.
Elisa: Okay, this is Numbers 11:33, “But while the meat was still between their teeth and before it could be consumed, the anger of the Lord burned against the people. And He struck them with a severe plague.”
Jeff: Okay, now just wrestle with that. They complain about the manna. God provides quail for them, and now it seems that this plague accompanies the provision of the quail. People die here. How do you deal with that? Well first I would acknowledge that it’s hard to speak about God as disciplinarian. That when we read a passage of Scripture like this, when He comes down heavy on people, let’s just acknowledge that it makes many of us uncomfortable. And yet the second thing I would turn my attention to is just we don’t criticize good coaches for being disciplinarians. You have a star player on a basketball team. They start showing up to practices late. They skip mandatory team meetings. That coach, for him to sideline that player for a game is absolutely called for, you know, to come up with some discipline fitting the disrespect that the player is showing. And Mart, if the coach does that the player might feel you’re ruining my season. The coach is trying to rescue the season and maybe trying to rescue this kid’s future. And so with the parent conversation, parents lovingly disciplining their kids or a coach finding a way to discipline an athlete, I think we’re comfortable with that. When it shifts over with God as disciplinarian, somehow we say oh no, loving people don’t discipline. And I think we do a switch that we shouldn’t do.
Mart: But isn’t it true that the illustration you’re using isn’t necessarily comparable to what happened here? It looks like the people of Israel are set up. I mean yeah, they’re complaining.
Mart: But yet He gives them what they want.
Jeff: Okay, it’s radically dissimilar. So you’re right. It’s not apples and apples. But here’s something that is similar. I believe that the coach is trying to rescue something. I believe that a good parent, a loving parent is trying to rescue something in their child. And I believe that in Numbers 11, even with as horrific as this plague is, I believe that God is attempting to rescue something. Now we just read that verse out of the context in which it falls. This is Numbers chapter 11. They complain about the manna, this plague comes. Mart, at this point they have a pattern of complaint that has lasted for chapters.
Elisa: This is a dramatic crescendo of disobedience. I want to go back to Egypt. I don’t even believe in You anymore kind of thing happening in the relationship. The relationship is breaking between the Israelites and their God.
Mart: Yeah, in spite of the fact that God had been among them in so many ways.
Elisa: For their needs.
Mart: Right, they had daily, miraculous evidence of God’s presence. And yet the complaining yeah continued.
Jeff: Well so there’s what had happened, and there’s what was about to happen. This story is surrounded by many infractions. We’re talking repeat offenders here. But this is Numbers chapter 11. Elisa, in Numbers chapter 13 there is a critical transitional event that takes place. Numbers 13 is where Moses sends the 12 spies into the land of promise to explore the land. Ten of the spies say we are going to get wiped out if we go into the land. Two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, said God has been with us. He will provide for us. We need to go into the land of promise. Numbers chapter 13, the whole group, they want to kill Moses. They want to stone to death Joshua and Caleb the two spies. And they want to appoint a leader to take them back to Egypt. Because of the rebellion in Numbers chapter 13, they will spend the next 38 years in the desert. What happens in Numbers chapter 11 when the quail come and when there’s a plague that breaks out, I think it’s a warning shot over the bow that says you have to take Me seriously. You have to learn to trust Me now, because this whole operation is at risk. And I know it was lethal and deadly. But I think the perspective of the Creator might have been if some of you die in the desert, if this doesn’t get corrected you’re all going to die in the desert. And so I believe that as serious as it was, God was attempting to rescue the entire operation for this generation going into the land of promise.
Mart: Okay, that’s an interesting point. And the question is then did it do any good? Was that correction…
Jeff: No, it wasn’t. That doesn’t mean that it’s bad correction. There are times…I have three children, Sarah, Andrew, and Alex. And throughout their younger years, we’d have to put the child in a time out or put them under restriction or take a car away for a certain season.
Jeff: They may not have responded well. But it was still appropriate to bring discipline at that time.
Elisa: And they may not have responded well in that moment.
Elisa: But did they eventually…did a layering of these corrections…
Elisa: …begin to influence them?
Mart: It’s a good point, isn’t it? Because it really doesn’t matter whether they responded if God was giving them one more evidence of His presence…
Mart: …and one more reason to trust Him and in a sense to fear Him, then that would be the expression of His love and how they handle it then is really their choice, isn’t it?
Jeff: It really is. But God is attempting to rescue something here. And it was their choice. And I think that’s what good discipline does. I think good discipline rescues something. When our daughter, Sarah, she gave us very, very little trouble growing up. But we remember one incident when my wife was driving her and a couple girlfriends to an event. And as they pulled into the parking lot with the minivan, one of the girls said, are the boys going to meet us here? They were 13-year-olds.
Jeff: And Sarah had just left out a small detail that they were meeting guys there. We considered this a deception that we had to deal with. And so I remember driving in the car with Sarah. And I said honey, we are going to treat this very seriously. And I mean she like why? I mean I just…and I said listen. It’s not that you lied to us at 13. We’re not raising a child. We’re raising an adult. We don’t want you lying to your husband someday. We don’t want you lying to your employees. We don’t want you lying to your boss. Honesty is the glue that holds relationships together. And if you lie to people, honesty will be broken. Trust will be broken, and your relationships will evaporate. And so in that moment where we attempted to bring correction, we were attempting to rescue something. See I think that godly discipline always seeks to rescue something. Discipline is inflicting pain for a redemptive purpose and it affects our lives when we trust God in that season of discipline.
Brian: You are listening to the Discover the Word podcast. Mart DeHaan and Elisa Morgan talking with our guest Jeff Manion about the land between. And in the final segment they’re going to let us in on the bottom-line question that we need to answer when we’re in the land between. Discover what that question is after this word from Elisa about what’s next on the Discover the Word podcast.
Elisa: On the next Discover the Word podcast I’m going to be leading a series of conversations called “Hearing Aids” because I think most of us long to hear from God and if it were possible, we’d like to hear directly in words we can clearly understand and respond to, right? Well Scripture catalogues several incidences of God speaking to humans. Actually more than we might first remember and I’d like us to explore one specific story the interaction of God with Samuel in 1 Samuel chapters 1 through 3. It may offer some insight into how God speaks and how we too can hear from Him when we’re listening that is. Join us for “Hearing Aids” in the next Discover the Word podcast.
Brian: And now the conclusion of “The Land Between.”
Jeff: We’ve been talking about the land between as being transitional space. Space we don’t like. We’re not where we were. We’re not where we’re gonna be, but we’re stuck in this middle space. For the Israelites it was the Sinai Desert. They left slavery in Egypt. They’re traveling to the land of promise. But to get between the two, you pass through the desert in the middle. I think it might be helpful just to start the conversation by thinking about how our listeners might be in this space. That is, what are some of the deserts that we encounter in life, these between spaces that we have to cross, navigate, and somehow make it through?
Elisa: Some of them are developmental. They’re just natural parts of life, you know, as we navigate through high school and adolescence or you know through the years of having young children and maybe being full-time at home as a parent with them. And you feel like what happened to me? So some of them are developmental and natural stages, but others are seasons that we don’t expect like illness, maybe like the loss of a job.
Mart: And sometimes we don’t recognize them as seasons in the sense that we do summer, fall, winter, spring. You know because in the sense of moving through the calendar year, if we’re in the middle of summer we know fall is coming. We kind of know where fall’s gonna go to winter. But in these transitions, we don’t necessarily know what we’re walking into.
Elisa: Or when it’s gonna ever end.
Jeff: You know you talk about natural seasons of life. And a stay-at-home mom that has been with preschoolers, when that last one goes off to school suddenly going oh my goodness. This is a whole new zone.
Jeff: Even though it was so challenging to have preschools in the house, suddenly you’re going our life just changed.
Jeff: You know for us it was empty nest.
Jeff: And we didn’t hit empty nest when our youngest moved out. We hit empty nest when our youngest got his driver’s license. When Alex got his driver’s license, suddenly we were totally irrelevant to his social program. I remember the day I walked in and asked Chris, hey where is everybody? And she looked back and said we are everybody.
Jeff: And suddenly here’s this empty nest phase. Mart, we didn’t see it coming.
Elisa: Suffering, you know there are times of well like say your kids take, you know, an exit ramp off the road you’ve got them on.
Elisa: And you can’t even see where they’ve headed to. Maybe they’re teenagers, maybe they’re young adults. Maybe they’re older adults.
Mart: Right, and it happens to husbands and wives too. We go through difficult times as we go through transitions with our age, our children, our employment. The relationships also at times can become estranged and tested. And a lot of times we can’t see our way through that. And again we feel like okay, I’m on a road. I’m not sure where this is going to end up.
Elisa: It’s a frustrating time. I think we often have heard the metaphor of a waiting room…
Elisa: …applied to this time in between that we’re talking about this week. Because you don’t have any control over your time. You don’t know when you’re going to be called forward out of that waiting room. You just know you’re supposed to sit there. And you’ve read all the magazines…
Elisa: …and there’s nothing to do in it. And sometimes these transitional times are like that. It just feels like such a waste of time, and you want to get on with the real life that you think you were put here for.
Jeff: Yeah, and it is the real life.
Elisa: Yeah, Jeff, the older I get the more I have to look at my life and think I can remember my first waiting room or in between land. I can remember it and touch it. And I kind of thought…
Jeff: That was the last one?
Elisa: …that would be it.
Jeff: Oh my, yeah.
Elisa: And I would get it down, and I would not have to go back there again. And the longer I live, the more I realize that we all live in the land in between from birth all the way through death. There are different versions of it, because it’s all about being in between who we were and who we will once be.
Jeff: Well when I have the privilege of speaking on this topic, as soon as I start describing the land between in relationship to business’s collapse, relationships that collapse, a parent that is in desperate medical need, a mom that has dementia, immediately everybody goes okay. Either I have been there, I am there, or I will be there.
Mart: It makes sense. We can all relate to it.
Jeff: Yeah, so for the Israelites though, passing through the desert this is a question I have. What are they doing there? They leave Egypt the land of slavery, and they’re traveling to Canaan. Mart, you’ve been in the Sinai Desert. Egypt’s on one side. Israel’s on the other. It’s not that far. It doesn’t take that long.
Elisa: How many years were they in the desert?
Jeff: They were in the desert for 40 years.
Elisa: (inaudible) that’s a long time.
Jeff: And now some of that was disciplinary. Thirty-eight years I think was disciplinary. But God led them there for two years, and then they were supposed to transition into the Promised Land. But even two years.
Mart: Yeah, because it was really the journey itself was a matter of weeks, wasn’t it?
Jeff: Correct, yeah…days or weeks.
Mart: Days or weeks, either one, yeah.
Elisa: Even with bad weather.
Mart: Yeah, right.
Elisa: Okay, and so two years.
Elisa: It does seem like a God thing. I mean why in the world?
Jeff: Okay, well this is my take on this. When they leave Egypt, the Israelites are not a well-formed group of God-followers. When the Israelites exit Egypt from slavery, they look like an unruly mob of ex-slaves indoctrinated in generations of Egyptian idol worship.
Jeff: I mean in Egypt you worshipped Amun-Ra the sun god, Heket the frog god that climbed out of the Nile, Apis the bull, Isis. There’re all of these gods and goddesses. They move out into the desert, and they receive the 10 Commandments. And the 10 Commandments begin with “you shall have no other gods.” They are learning to know and trust the invisible, singular, Creator of the universe for the first time. I think that the desert was trust school. I think that when they go out into the desert out of Egypt, and they’re on their way. Where are they headed? They’re headed to the…
Elisa: The land of milk and honey, is that what you’re saying?
Jeff: The land of milk and honey, the Promised Land. But Elisa, when they get to the land of milk and honey, they are supposed to represent this invisible Creator God. “You shall have no other gods. Don’t make statues and bow down to them. Do not misuse God’s name.”
Elisa: To another pagan people that doesn’t have any view of God.
Jeff: Honor life. Don’t murder. Don’t steal your neighbor’s property. Don’t steal your neighbor’s wife. And so the ideal is that they arrive in Canaan, and they become the representative people of this invisible, holy God. I don’t think they’re ready. And when they get to Canaan, the hope is, is that they don’t race down to the Baal altar or offer child sacrifice to Molech once they get there. I think the question in the desert over and over again is will you trust Me? Will you trust Me? Will you trust Me? I think it’s heart preparation for representing God in Canaan.
Elisa: I’m stunned at how much God must have cared.
Elisa: If they didn’t even know Him, if they had lost so much of their identity in relationship to God, I’m floored at God’s own waiting room, His great patience to take them to school, to start all over.
Jeff: And part of receiving the 10 Commandments was the covenant. I will be your God. Will you be My people? I mean it’s almost…
Elisa: A pledge.
Jeff: …like a wedding where the groom goes I take you to be my wife. And the bride goes I take you to be my husband. And there’s this covenant in the desert. I will be your God. Will you be My people? When Pharaoh is chasing you down with his chariots, will you trust Me? When you run out of water as you’re traveling through the desert, will you trust that I can provide water? When you have to eat the same food for way too long in this manna substance, will you trust Me? I think it’s the question that God was asking for them, and I think that when we travel through the desert, when we hit the land between whether it’s health, whether it’s vocation, whether it’s challenges with family, that I think it’s something God has wanted from the very beginning. Oh I so much want you to trust Me.
Mart: Yeah, and the habits that they had formed, the habits of belief prior to the exodus is a long time. How long had they been in Egypt learning the ways of slaves? Hundreds of years they had spent there.
Jeff: Generations, and the mindset in transitioning from the people of slavery to the people of God, Mart, it just wasn’t learning. It was unlearning.
Elisa: I’m still struck by God’s patience. You know we think that we are called to have patience in the land between and I’m seeing the opposite. I’m seeing this whole thing turned on its head and seeing God has great patience with those He has created to be in relationship with Him. He has such great patience. His patience endures over millennial to continue to wait for us to pay attention and wake up to His love. And you know in such moments I don’t have enough to get through a land between. I don’t. I’m just like the Israelites you know. Why do I have to eat this every day? And when is this gonna be over with? And You don’t really love me, and if you did (inaudible). And maybe what God’s doing is inviting us to lean into His character trusting that He’s creating something we need.
Mart: And it had meaning in the moment. But on the other side of it, none of this really could make sense apart from the big picture where they had been and where God wanted to take them.
Jeff: Yeah, where they had been and where they were going. You would think that nothing much would grow in the desert. The land between is fertile ground for faith to grow. When I pass through a really challenging season, I have to ask myself the question, do I believe that God is wise? Do I believe that God is good? Do I believe that God is loving even though I’m passing through this mess? And I think that what God has wanted from the beginning was just saying Jeff, will you trust Me? I think a powerful statement is I don’t understand this space. I don’t like this space. I don’t want this space. I didn’t choose this space. But God help me to trust You in this space.
Brian: And that is maybe the key perspective that we hope you’ll take away from our study in this two part Discover the Word podcast about the land between. When we find ourselves in the land between will we trust God to bring us through or will we be lost in that transition space stuck in doubt and unbelief.? We have some choices to make related to this and I hope our conversations have helped you make better choices about how you spend your time in the land between. Well this is Discover the Word with Mart DeHaan and Elisa Morgan and special guest Jeff Manion. Jeff, thanks for walking us through this material in the series “The Land Between.” Now Discover the Word is a small group Bible study from Our Daily Bread Ministries in Grand Rapids, MI in which we invite you to walk with us through topics and passages that inform the way we read the Scriptures, challenge us as we live our lives as followers of Christ, and always point us to discover Jesus in the pages of the Bible. Encourage you to explore other studies with the group on our discovertheword.org website. And thanks for remember that it’s listeners like you whot help make Discover the Word possible. Your financial support allows Discover the Word and Our Daily Bread Ministries to make the life-changing wisdom of the Bible understandable and accessible to literally millions of people around the world. And so if you’d like to make a one-time donation to support the ministry or you’d like to give a monthly gift as one of our Discover the Word partners, simply follow the easy steps online at discovertheword.org. Click the donate tab to explore your options at discovertheword.org. Well thanks for listening. I’m Brian Hettinga. Discover the Word is provided by Our Daily Bread Ministries.