Now Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp some distance away, calling it the “tent of meeting.” Anyone inquiring of the Lord would go to the tent of meeting outside the camp…The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.—Exodus 33:7-11

Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the Lord showed him the whole land…Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.”

And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said.—Deuteronomy 34:1-5

I apologize in advance if this article isn’t encouraging or comforting to you.  I actually think it’s good news, from a certain point of view.  It’s just a point of view that’s not always easy to accept.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how Moses never got to enter the Promised Land.  His life basically breaks up into three parts:  1: 40 years of growing up in Egypt, which culminated in committing murder and running for his life. 2: 40 years of living in a foreign country, tending sheep and raising a family, which culminated in God calling him to an awesome task he did not feel qualified for.  3: 40 years of leading Israel, God’s stubborn and ungrateful people, which culminated in dying without ever entering the land he had been leading them toward.

That’s the cynical way of looking at it, of course.  Along the way there were great victories and awesome miracles.  More importantly, there was his lifelong inner journey, which was marked by growing intimacy with God.  Moses knew God as a friend, and enjoyed more of His companionship and experienced more of His glory than almost anyone in history.  He was incredibly privileged, incredibly blessed, and today he is honored as a great man of God, a key figure in God’s awesome plan for His people and His creation.

Still, it wasn’t easy.  Moses spent his whole life feeling like an outsider, like he never belonged.  Think about it:  He was a Hebrew, but he was raised in Pharaoh’s household in Egypt.  He was caught between cultures, like kids who grow up on the mission field.  Egypt was not his home, but because of his Egyptian upbringing, he didn’t really fit in with his fellow Hebrews either.  Midian, where he settled later, wasn’t his home, though he was welcomed into his wife’s family and lived there for much of his adult life.  And the wilderness, where Israel wandered for 40 years, was definitely not home.  Was the Promised Land his true home?  If so, then his life is a tragedy, because he never made it across the border.

The truth is that Moses was like us.  He spent his whole life feeling out of place, waiting for the day he would find himself in a place where he truly belonged, trying to serve God faithfully in the in-between.  Then one day his life was over, and at that point he discovered that his true home was never here to begin with.  He was finally where he belonged, and it was better than he could have dreamed, but a much longer journey to get there than he would have preferred.

So here’s the thought I’m wrestling with, which is either really good news or really frustrating, depending upon your perspective: In this life, we never arrive.  There is no real finish line, not until we breathe our last and stand face-to-face with our Savior.  Marriage, kids, grandkids, retirement—none of these milestones are the finish line we imagine they will be.  They can be beautiful things to be celebrated, but none brings us to a place of lasting peace.  There always more challenges ahead, more hills to climb.  And all the while, we’re getting slowly closer to the day we’ll finally be right were we’ve always belonged: in the presence of God.

I’ve devoted my life to the work of God’s church, and there is a frustrating reality about church work that I’m still slowly coming to terms with: church work is never done.  There are always needs, and there is always room to improve.  Right now in our church, we have some ministries that are thriving, while others are struggling.  We have people rising up to start new ministries, which is really exciting, but we also have other areas where we need someone to step up and provide leadership if those programs are going to continue.  And when those challenges are met, there will be new ones.  This is always the way of things.  Until Christ comes back, there will always be people with cancer; there will always be marriages in crisis.  We don’t live in the Promised Land; we are still on the journey through the wilderness.

I was born in Fort Bragg, California, but I have no memory of it from back then, and I’m told it’s changed dramatically in the last 50 years.  I was raised in Greenville, which is probably the closest I’ve had to a “home,” but all of the places I knew back then have since burned to the ground.  I spent my high school years in Susanville, which was a lot of fun, but then I went off to discover the great big world, and lived in cities like Spokane and Denver and Portland.  All of them had their pros and cons; none of them were home.  Neither was the beautiful small town on the Oregon Coast where we started our family.  Then we moved back here, and I’ve discovered that I see this town much differently through adult eyes.  It’s a great place, but sin is alive and well in Susanville; it’s nice, but it’s no Promised Land.

Where on earth do I belong?  Where is home?  If we take Moses as our model, maybe those are the wrong questions.  Because the truth is that for us as believers, nowhere on earth will ever feel like our true home.  Home is not what we’re looking for, because home is guaranteed for us, at a time of God’s choosing, when the work is done.

I want to learn to be content with the fact that one day I will be called home to the presence of God, and that in the meantime what He wants me to worry about is knowing and serving Him as best I can, wherever I happen to find myself.  Moses built a tent of meeting in the wilderness, because he wasn’t going to wait to cross a finish line; he knew that the time to seek God is here and now, right where we are.  We would be wise to do the same.

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.  If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.  Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.—Hebrews 11:13-16

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.—2 Corinthians 4:18

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