Archive for March, 2009

Tuesday, March 31st.

March 31, 2009

“A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”  (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.)  The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)  Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”  John 4:7-10

 

We learn of water first through experience.  Long before we are capable of extending our experience beyond pure sensory stimulation, we are bathed in the waters of life.  We are protected in the warmth of our mother’s womb.  Each movement, each kick, each time we punch a kidney or strain against a rib cage, comes with the subtle resistance of the waters surrounding us.

 

I am still unable to wrap my thinking around the idea that our bodies are primarily comprised of water.  I can hear that percentage – 92%?  94%? – but it remains ever beyond my comprehension.  How can it be? 

 

And yet I remember well the joy of afternoons at the city swimming pool, amazed at how the water changed reality, made us weightless, slapped back when we hit it wrong from the high board, and yet felt so much like home. 

 

The Spirit moved over the water as God spoke life into being.  The children of Israel passed through the water at the hand of God.  Water poured forth from a rock as a sign of God’s provision and protection.  By water and the Word we are made children of God.

 

There is no life without water.  The essence of life is found in the molecules of water.  Good and evil, life and death are joined in the molecules of water.

 

Many popular movies have told the story of the destructive fury of water.  The people of my home town, people all along the Red River Valley, are living today with the fear of the destruction that water can bring.  The largest water park in America is called, ironically, “Noah’s Ark.”  The fun shared by thousands flies in the face of the gruesome story of the death of millions. 

 

My earliest memory of water is being thrown into a lake – against my will – for someone else’s fun.  It wasn’t fun for me and instilled a fear of water that didn’t go away quickly or easily.  Water means life but it also brings death.

 

So too, for many of us, we were too young to remember being brought down into the death of baptism.  God, who holds both death and life in his hand, brought us from death to life with the living waters promised long ago to a woman at a well.

 

Jesus once lifted a child in his arms and said that anyone who gave even a cup of cold water to one of these would never lose their reward.

 

Water is a gift.

 

Let us pray: Lord, the water of life courses through our veins.  We give you thanks today for your gift of water.  We pray with those who long for rain.  We pray for those who thirst.  We pray with thanksgiving for the life held within as little as a cup of cold water.  Remind us today, as water touches us, of your love which surrounds and supports us.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

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Monday, March 30th

March 30, 2009

“Praise the LORD, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion!  For he strengthens the bars of your gates; he blesses your children within you.  He grants peace within your borders; he fills you with the finest of wheat.  He sends out his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly.  He gives snow like wool; he scatters frost like ashes.  He hurls down hail like crumbs– who can stand before his cold?  He sends out his word, and melts them; he makes his wind blow, and the waters flow.  He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and ordinances to Israel.  He has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know his ordinances. Praise the LORD!”  Psalm 147:12-20

 

Life is full of gifts that often pass unnoticed.  I’m grateful today for air. 

 

The atmosphere around us reminds us of the delicate balance of the gifts of God’s creation.  Gravity, a function of the mass of all that exists, holds a layer of air that protectively blankets the earth.  From this air, we literally breath in life.  Without it we can only exist for minutes.

 

It gets really hot in Texas.  There have been times, under the sweltering heat of the day, that I’ve felt pockets of wind pass through the shaded areas in which I’ve hid, that have been amazingly refreshing.  I know the physiological reason why the passing wind brings the sensation of coolness but increased evaporation hardly captures the wonder of such relief.

 

Wind causes trees to sway like dancing friends.  The tall prairie grasses are plush carpets before the walking winds.  Driving through the prairies, you can still see the old windmills in the distance, waving as you pass by.

 

God moved in the wind over creation.  God blew quail into the camp of the complaining Israelites.  Jesus stilled the wind and the waves.  Peter and the others at Pentecost drank deeply from the wind of God’s powerful presence.  Still, as the wind, God blows through our lives.

 

Like all gifts of creation, the wind can turn on us.  In the sweltering heat of the summer, winds confound the meager efforts of valiant people struggling against fires.  Wind whips rain into hail.  Wind swoops down wreaking the devastation of tornadoes.  Wind gangs up with wind becoming terrifying hurricanes.  What can be worse than struggling for our next breath?

 

Who do we turn to when the winds turn against us?  Who do we thank for the wind?

 

Psalm 147 is written as a song of praise from those who know from whom the wind comes.  It is a song of praise for the gifts of God’s creation and the blessings of God’s provision.

 

Today, I’m grateful for air.

 

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, Spirit of gentleness, rushing wind that fills our lives.  Bring to us today the refreshing uplifting power of your unseen presence.  You have given us both the gift of air and the gift of recognizing both Giver and gift.  With gratitude, we meet this day.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Friday, March 27th

March 27, 2009

But we appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labor among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.  And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them.  See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all.  Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  Do not quench the Spirit.  Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.”  1 Thessalonians 5:12-22

 

Paul ends this first letter to the Thessalonians with the words of verses 26-27: “I solemnly command you by the Lord that this letter be read to all of them.  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.”  These words answer the question, “Why did Paul write letters and why did the early church preserve them?”  He wrote them as his strategy to continue to shape the faith of others even when he couldn’t be in two places at once.  He wrote them to encourage their growth in grace.

 

Christianity is a team sport.  When you read Paul’s exhortations regarding life in community, you get a vivid picture of what it takes to live together, work together and share a common purpose.  “Admonish, encourage, help, be patient, do good to one another – this is the way people who love one another and share a common mission treat one another.  This is how teams play.

 

But when the members of the team focus only on themselves, their statistics, their acclaim, their glory, their team suffers and even splinters apart.

 

When team members get along, play together, encourage one another, they develop an infectious spirit of fun.  They truly enjoy one another and have mutual respect for one another.  There is an attitude that flows through such teams.  Paul captures that attitude with the words, “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.”  Such an attitude results in the feeling that you just can’t lose.  Regardless of what happens along the way, the joy of the team is the victory.

 

But great teams need great coaches.  Someone needs to be there providing guidance and structure and boundaries and discipline.  The coach of the Christian faith is the Holy Spirit who comes to us through the word of God, using human voices to direct that Word where it needs to go.  “Do not quench the Spirit.  Do not despise the words of the prophets, but test everything.”  Listen to your leaders but hold them accountable to God’s Word.

 

As we work our way through Paul’s letters, they continue to do among us what they did among their first readers.  They remind us that we are part of a faith movement that stretches back to the very beginning.  They remind us that we are on a team that is much bigger than our local gatherings.  And they bring us the comfort, encouragement and focus we need to play the game to the best of our God-given abilities.

 

Let us pray:  Dear God, thank you for coming to us through the words of your servant Paul.  Thank you for his leadership, his witness and his guidance.  As we live our lives, use our gifts, do what you have called us to do, we pray for your continued guidance and encouragement.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Thursday, March 26th

March 26, 2009

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died.  For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died.  For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever.  Therefore encourage one another with these words.”  1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

 

“Are we there yet?”

 

Vacation season is just around the corner.  Soon, parents will be hearing those words from the back seat ten minutes or so after pulling out of the driveway.  We want to know where we’re going, when we’ll get there, and we don’t have much patience on the way.

 

Here in the 4th chapter, Paul gets down to the other reason why he wrote to the church in Thessalonica.  In the first half of the chapter, he reminds them of the importance of living holy lives.  Lives free from fornication, lives devoted to spiritual growth, please God.  Such lives keep our neighbors safe and free us to live as God would have us.

 

Then come verses 13-18.  These verses are full of images that have inscribed themselves into popular Christian imagination, into songs of power and hope.  I’ve read these verses many times at the bedside of people near the end of their lives.  I’ve used them in funerals.  All of this has been appropriate since the purpose of these verses, as Paul himself says, is to encourage one another.

 

But these verses also point out that, even for Paul, theology was a work in progress.  Even Paul didn’t know the whole truth.  Even Paul was learning on the way.  Here, in the earliest of New Testament letters, Paul continues to expect that Jesus will be coming back to wrap things up very quickly.  Paul expects Jesus to come back in his own lifetime – “then we who are alive” – but that just wasn’t going to happen.

 

“Are we there yet?”

 

That early vacation plaintive wail from the back of the car quickly gets irritating to parents.  They would rather the kids enjoy the drive and see that the drive is just as much a part of the vacation as the destination.  But that’s hard for kids to do.  Miles of America rolling by doesn’t quite cut it when Wally World beckons at the end of the trip.  But the journey does matter.

 

These lives we are living matter.  The ways we treat people along the way does matter.  Maybe Paul was wrong in his timing on when Jesus would come back – but the intensity and passion he poured into life, living with the expectation and anticipation of the end, was fueled by his awareness that the journey itself participates in the destination.

 

We’re going somewhere good.  The journey is worth it.  Live well the journey.

 

Let us pray:  Dear Jesus, we wait for that day when we see you face to face.  Sometimes this time of waiting is full of anticipation, other times it is full of fear.  Draw near to those to whom death draws near.  Draw near to those who are wasting their lives away.  Encourage us with reminders that we belong to you.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

 

Wednesday, March 25th

March 25, 2009

“Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you.  And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you.  And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.”  1 Thessalonians 3:11-13

 

Whenever we open a New Testament letter, it is hard to remember that we are actually reading a letter.  A piece of correspondence.  A word from a friend to a group of friends.  We so quickly categorize it into something holy, strange, mysterious and unapproachable that we sometimes miss its humanity.

 

Paul was a real person.  The nameless Christian community in Thessalonica included people who had Paul over for dinner, who hosted Paul in their homes, who sat in circles with Paul as they said their prayers together.  There were children in their company who had sat on Paul’s lap.  They laughed together.

 

When Paul heard troubling news from Thessalonica about the health and well being of his friends, he sent Timothy to visit them.  Paul expresses real joy and comfort in having heard from Timothy that all was well, despite the persecutions and troubling times they had endured.

 

And now, in these verses, even as he is writing a letter to them, Paul prays for his friends in Thessalonica.  He prays to see them again, that their love may increase and that God might strengthen them in their Christian walk.

 

We say it all the time…”I’ll pray for you.”  Sometimes we actually do it.  And when we pray on behalf of our friends, on behalf of those whom we may or may not know, we are doing the very thing that Paul was doing.  We are expressing our unity with those that God loves, our common dependence on the God who gives us life.

 

When we pray, we are acknowledging that we do not do life on our own.  When we pray, we are coming to God as children would to a loving father.  We are casting ourselves at the feet of a power greater than ourselves, trusting that we are heard, and that God’s will be done.

 

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, thank you for the gift of knowing you, knowing we can depend on you and knowing that we can lay our hearts before you.  Thank you for the gift of prayer – encourage us to come to you in all times, with all things, rather than suffering through life alone.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

 

Tuesday, March 24th

March 24, 2009

“As for us, brothers and sisters, when, for a short time, we were made orphans by being separated from you–in person, not in heart–we longed with great eagerness to see you face to face. For we wanted to come to you–certainly I, Paul, wanted to again and again–but Satan blocked our way.  For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you?  Yes, you are our glory and joy!”  1 Thessalonians 2:17-20

 

In this 2nd chapter, Paul reminds his readers of the personal investment he made in their lives as he lived among them, teaching them about the faith, guiding them in their new found relationship with Jesus.  It wasn’t easy.  There were deep sacrifices on both sides – Paul, working night and day, and the Thessalonians, embracing a faith which challenged so many aspects of their lives.

 

As Paul writes so personally to the Thessalonians, we get a glimpse of the nature of the spread of the early Christian faith.  It wasn’t a philosophical movement marked by the guru in the front of the room while the transfixed disciples drink in the wisdom.  And it wasn’t a religious movement with a new set of rules and regulations for appeasing the gods which replaced the old set of rules and regulations.  What Paul was leading was a spiritual revolution marked by broken people gathering to hear and tell one another’s stories, knocking down dividing walls, and experiencing the power of God in the midst of it all.

 

It wasn’t wisdom or show or splendor that attracted the Thessalonians to Paul’s message.  It was more mysterious than that – the mystery of human authenticity, the mystery of truth telling, the mystery of falling in love.  The Thessalonians were not Paul’s clients, not even his parishioners, they were his friends.  He lived among them not because of what he could get out of them, but because it was the very nature of the faith into which Paul had been baptized that he share it and that he share it in community.

 

It wasn’t wisdom that attracted early converts to Christianity – it was love.

 

So Paul isn’t showing flattery when he tells the Thessalonians that they are his “glory and joy.”  He is telling the truth.  Their embracing of Paul’s faith is an encouragement to Paul and a vindication of the movement of God in Paul’s life.

 

As I send out today’s devotion I feel like I am in a time warp.  I have three more weeks to directly serve a congregation that I have poured my life into for the past fifteen years.  I will leave them with the same sense that Paul had toward the Thessalonians – they have given me glimpses of glory.  And then I will move on to a position in which I serve them indirectly, a position in which I will get to serve as cheerleader and coach to the newest congregations in our synod.  My prayer is that this same spirit which filled Paul for enthusiasm for ministry and the Thessalonians with a grateful eagerness to respond might continue to be the hallmarks of Christian community.

 

God is in the business of helping people, welcoming them, loving them, challenging them, shaping them, using them for holy purposes.  And when we gather as Christian community, it is our privilege to see that holy work of God happening in our midst.

 

Let us pray:  Gracious Lord, it is not good that we are alone.  So you gather us as a hen gathers her chicks.  You bring us into this company of strangers which is your Church and there you teach us how to love and be loved.  Continue to bless us as we share the journey of faith together.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

 

Monday, March 23rd

March 23, 2009

“For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake.  And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.”  1 Thessalonians 1:4-7

 

When was the last time you played tag?

 

When I was a kid, we played it for hours.  Basic run and touch tag.  Complex tag where you had to touch certain places and every house’s porch was safe.  Team tag where you could get your friends out of prison.  Flashlight tag at night.  It was always so much fun.

 

Unless you were the younger brother or sister who could never catch anyone once you got “it.”  Or if you were the last person who still wanted to play when everyone else had enough.

 

As Paul describes the Christian faith here in the first part of his letter to the Thessalonians, it looks a lot like tag.  God tagged Paul;  Paul tagged the Thessalonians; the witness of the Thessalonians is tagging the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.  The faith movement of Christianity is growing, one person at a time.

 

This first letter, perhaps the earliest New Testament book, was written by Paul to encourage the Christian community he had gathered in Thessalonica.  As relatively new Christians, they are torn between the lives they once knew and the lives they now know.  They live with questions – some of which the faith answers and some which the faith intensifies.  In short, they sound a lot like us.

 

It is so easy to feel ourselves cut off from the wider movement of God throughout the world and throughout history.  We forget that we are not the first ones to believe in Christ in the midst of a radically diverse culture where plenty of people think such faith is misguided, fanciful and foolish.  We forget that we aren’t the only ones torn between conforming to a self centered lifestyle and the self giving nature of our faith.

 

We think so often that we are all alone – as individual believers, as individual congregations.  Especially in those settings where the conversion of unbelievers is rare, where congregations are shrinking with age, we feel like that kid that can’t catch anybody else.  Or in those places where we step out in faith and take risks, and we end up feeling like the one who still wants to play when everyone else just goes home.

 

Remember this morning that we aren’t alone!  We’ve been picked, chosen, by God through those he tagged ahead of us.  And if we are going to keep having fun, then we are going to have to do our part to tag the ones in front of us.  The game goes on!

 

Let us pray:  Gracious Lord, you have come to us, chosen us, and included us in the grand sweep of your kingdom.  Thank you for the witness of those who have gone before us.  Use us to reach those still waiting to be caught.  May your kingdom come!  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

 

Friday, March 13th

March 13, 2009

Then he said to Moses, “Come up to the LORD, you and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and worship at a distance. Moses alone shall come near the LORD; but the others shall not come near, and the people shall not come up with him.”  Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice, and said, “All the words that the LORD has spoken we will do.” And Moses wrote down all the words of the LORD. He rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and set up twelve pillars, corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel.  Exodus 24:1-4

 

This is a painful text…for we know this story and we know that Moses will soon journey back to the mountain while God’s people impatiently plot for a better god.

 

It is painful because we are cheering for the people of Israel.  To read the whole story to this point is to get caught up in this dunderheaded crowd of dusty pilgrims.  They are so much like us.  Impatient.  Passionate.  Rebellious.  Lost.  And all too often unaware of who they truly are as they react again and again out of their lesser selves.

 

“All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do,” they all sing in an angelic chorus.  And they really meant it when they said it.  So do we.

 

They knew what was expected of them.  Moses told them all that the Lord has spoken.  He even wrote it all down for them.  He set up a place of worship both to remember the words and the God who spoke them.  They had absolutely no excuse.  Neither do we.

 

Paul would later write to the Romans, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.  For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.”

 

That is what is so painful about this story.  Even as they say it, we know that they can’t do it but we still harbor the hope that they can.  Every time we read this story we keep hoping for a better and different ending but this part always comes out the same.  Although the people swore that they would obey, it wouldn’t be long before they were melting their gold jewelry down to a more manageable kind of god, a golden calf just like the neighbors had.

 

Moses is on the mountain talking to God and God’s people are down in the valley creating a “better” god for themselves.

 

We can’t laugh at them or criticize them or wonder how they could be so stupid.  For we know too that we have made many promises to God and to others that we’ve broken – and we know we have many golden calves into whose deaf ears we have offered our heartfelt prayers.

 

The wilderness exposes us.  And exposure is one of the causes of death for those who get lost in the wilderness.

 

The next time we read this story it will have the same ending.  And the next time we reach that ending we will continue reading past the golden calf all the way to Jesus, the one who came to us through the wilderness and comes to us still in the wilderness of life.  Impatient, rebellious, broken by far more than our broken promises, he comes to us like the angels came to him.  To feed us, protect us, and guide us on our way home.

 

Let us pray:  Forgive us, Lord, for the broken promises we have made along the way.  Forgive us our rebelliousness, our blindness, our unwillingness, our impatience.  Be our cloud by day and lamp by night, lead us that we might follow you.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Thursday, March 12th

March 12, 2009

On the third new moon after the Israelites had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day, they came into the wilderness of Sinai.  They had journeyed from Rephidim, entered the wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness; Israel camped there in front of the mountain. Then Moses went up to God; the LORD called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.” So Moses came, summoned the elders of the people, and set before them all these words that the LORD had commanded him. The people all answered as one: “Everything that the LORD has spoken we will do.” Moses reported the words of the people to the LORD. Then the LORD said to Moses, “I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, in order that the people may hear when I speak with you and so trust you ever after.”  Exodus 19:1-9

 

Three months into the trip the Israelites reached Mount Sinai. 

 

I grew up in North Dakota but spent summers during high school and the first couple of years of college north of Seattle.  I remember the long drive across the plains and rolling grasslands of North Dakota and then Montana.  And I remember when the looming, mysterious mountains first came into view.  Whoever thought up the word “majestic” must have seen mountains a time or two in their lives.

 

Standing last year on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, you just can’t miss the snow covered Mount Hermon off to the north along the border between Lebanon and Syria.  It is literally a source of life for Israel as it supplies most, if not all, of Israel’s drinking water.

 

It is no wonder that mountains have been holy places in every religion through the ages.  And it is no wonder that God chose a mountain for his chat with Moses.  And yet it isn’t the MOUNTAIN that sets this conversation apart, but the MESSAGE that God has to share with Moses.

 

“Tell the people…I have taken care of you…I have lifted you up and protected you… Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.”

 

Tell the people that I am with them, protecting them.  Tell the people they will be my “treasured possession”, a “priestly kingdom” and a “holy nation.”  Every single one of those descriptions is spoken in love, rooted in purpose, and sealed with the promise of God’s covenant – I will bless you that you might be a blessing to all the peoples of the world.

 

As Christians we can’t read these words without seeing the depth of God’s promise for us, spoken not just on Mount Sinai but spoken out of the suffering on Mount Calvary.  They are life giving, life affirming words that help our lives make sense – we are a treasured possession, protected by God, blessed with purpose and promise.

 

We don’t worship mountains.  We don’t follow a god of stone.  Our God isn’t a distant deity to be appeased but a loving God to be obeyed by walking in the love shown to us by a God who sustains us in the wilderness, puts up with our complaining, forgives our rebellion and entrusts us with God’s loving mission.

 

The lesson for today is the reminder that sometimes the monotony of our wilderness wanderings can occasionally be broken by the majesty of a mountain – an awesome surprise – where God shows up and reminds us of our purpose and God’s love.

 

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, thank you for the promises you have made to us that sustain our lives.  Thank you for the privilege of being counted among your treasured possessions.  Thank you for the call to obey you, for we know that in such obedience we will discover a life worth living and a love worth giving way.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Wednesday, March 10th

March 11, 2009

The next day Moses sat as judge for the people, while the people stood around him from morning until evening. When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, “What is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, while all the people stand around you from morning until evening?” Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a dispute, they come to me and I decide between one person and another, and I make known to them the statutes and instructions of God.”  Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing is not good. You will surely wear yourself out, both you and these people with you. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. Now listen to me. I will give you counsel, and God be with you! You should represent the people before God, and you should bring their cases before God; teach them the statutes and instructions and make known to them the way they are to go and the things they are to do.  You should also look for able men among all the people, men who fear God, are trustworthy, and hate dishonest gain; set such men over them as officers over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. Let them sit as judges for the people at all times; let them bring every important case to you, but decide every minor case themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. If you do this, and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people will go to their home in peace.”  Exodus 18:13-23

 

WARNING:  I’m going to start this devotion today but performing something called “eisegesis.”  Eisegesis is a naughty no-no for Bible interpreters, it means reading something into a text that isn’t there.  Frankly, I probably do it too much but I thought it would be fun this morning to at least admit it.  Because I see a personal connection to this story that really speaks to me.

 

I think Jethro was a special man in Moses’ life. 

 

Remember Moses’ childhood?  Set adrift by his mother in a papyrus basket to protect his life?  Rescued by the Egyptian princess who then chose Moses’ mother to be his nurse.  When I read that story, the missing person is Moses’ father.  Nothing more is said of him.  He’s never mentioned again.

 

That part matters to me as I too grew up without a father.  I didn’t meet my father until I was 15 and, even though we reconciled eventually and I harbor no resentments toward him or his memory today, I remember well the “father-sized hole” he left in my soul that no one else could replace.  I wonder if Moses felt that same hole.

 

Once I met my first wife and we got married, my father-in-law became an emotionally important man in my life…and he probably doesn’t realize it.  It meant the world to me that he and his wife would travel to Houston to (check up on) visit us.  I felt a great pride in showing him the life we were building.  I cared about his opinions and I valued his wisdom.  I wonder if Moses felt the same way when Jethro came to visit.

 

I wonder as well if that “fatherlessness” that was part of Moses’ life contributed to his self doubt, his worries about his inadequacies as a leader.  And I wonder if it left him with a constant need to prove his worth even if it meant bearing a disproportionate amount of the work of leadership among the Hebrew people.  I just wonder about things like that.

 

So I join Moses in appreciating Jethro’s sage advice about a wise leader exercising that leadership by sharing it.  That is a good model for leadership in any walk of life.

 

It is also another lesson from the wilderness – when you feel overwhelmed, share your burdens with others and the load will naturally lessen.

 

Let us pray:  Gracious Lord, we thank you today for the people who share our lives, those who cross our paths along the way, and those who stand by us ready to share the burdens which weigh us down.  Thank you for the wisdom of the “Jethro’s” in our lives who help us see that to which we are blind.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.