BIG LITTLE PEOPLE - JETHRO, THE GODLY MAN WITH GOOD ADVICE
Dear Christian friends,
Thirty nine year ago today I was ordained into the Gospel ministry at SolaScripturaLutheranChurch in Decatur, our first WELS church in Atlanta. It is no longer there. I was commissioned to begin a second WELS church in metro Atlanta. Two of us in our Seminary graduation class were guinea pigs. We were to start a mission church in a different way than our Synod we had been doing it. Pastor Scott Stone, a good friend and classmate, was to do the same in Knoxville. Neither Scott nor I came from a pastor’s home. Maybe that’s why we were chosen. We saw church from the pew and not from a parsonage.
It has been interesting for Judy and me. She too did not come from a parsonage. One of our members, Helen Wilson, was with us from that time. We gave her a break when we left for Florida for thirteen years. Judy has been such a blessing. When we first got to Georgia and we were learning about life in a parsonage, and Judy was also learning what it was like to be pregnant. Nevertheless she went door to door canvassing with me. She was so much better at it than I. She was prettier and pregnant. I would start on one side of the street and she was on the other. Our strategy was to take a religious survey to start a conversation. I would start on one side and she on the other. I would get done with my side and she always got invited into a home. I did fifty four surveys and she did two. Eventually I would get to the home where she was. She was engaged in conversation with the residents, met the children, knew their family history, was drinking some water and eating cookies because she was eating for two and prepared them to meet here pastor/husband. You know, we hear all the time that men and women are not treated equally. I agree. Ladies, from my experience you should thank God.
We have learned many lessons over the years, but the greatest lesson is how God uses teamwork in building his kingdom - God and his people. Today learn that as we continue our sermon series on “Big Little People of the Bible” - “Jethro, the Man with Good Advice.”
Jethro was also called Reuel. He became the father-in-law of Moses. Jethro was the “priest of Midian.” How did they meet? Moses’ life can be divided into three forty year periods. The first forty he grew up in Pharaoh’s home. You know the story about how he was saved from the evil decree of Pharaoh who killed all the newborn Jewish boys.
Moses knew his family tree was planted among the Jews. He had to flee Egypt when he defended his fellow Jew from a horrible beating being administered by an Egyptian. Moses fled to the place where Jethro had his flocks. His seven daughters were shepherdesses and Moses rescued them from some chauvinistic shepherds who didn’t believe in ladies first when it came to watering animals. Jethro was grateful and offered Moses a job. Moses held that position for forty years. By the way Moses became part of the family. He fell in love with Zipporah, Jethro’s oldest daughter. Zipporah bore him two sons - Gershom and Eliezer.
So eighty years are accounted for. The first forty were spent in Egypt; the second forty in Midian but God made it clear that he Moses’ life was just getting warmed up. Moses was chosen to lead Israel out of Egypt to go to the Promised Land.
Let’s fast forward past the calling of Moses, past his journey to Egypt and his introduction to Israel, past the plagues, past the crossing of the Red Sea, past the journey to the Mount Sinai as God was about to give the Law to Moses and Israel. Somewhere along the line, Moses had sent Zipporah back to his father-in-law. Maybe it was due to the busyness in Moses’ life. At Sinai, however, Moses was reunited with his family and Jethro. Moses filled in all the details of God’s wonder and miracles. Jethro confessed, “Now I know that the Lord is greater than all other gods, for he did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly.” Then Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and other sacrifices to God.”
But there was precious little time for Moses to spend any time with Jethro and his own family. “The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening…Moses said ‘Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and instructions.’”
Imagine! Two million people wandering in the desert. How would you like to go camping for forty years with two million people in the desert? Dust! Complaints! Gossip! Lack of privacy! Can you imagine all the gripes? Moses heard them all.
After Jethro saw this he had to say something. “What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.” Son, they are going to burn you out. Son, your wife is going to be at my tent door again if you keep this up.
Things like this occur in every organization when it lacks organization. It occurs in God’s Church. The first New Testament church in Jerusalem is an example. On Pentecost 3,000 were converted. Many were added daily to those numbers. Some estimate the church eventually at 25,000 souls. There were needs that needed to be met. Helpless widows and orphans needed to be cared for. The wrong people were taking care of it. The apostles were organizing the food lines when they should have been preaching and teaching and praying.
The church of Corinth had their problems. I Corinthians tells us. First Corinthians fourteen says their worship services were a free for all. Male leadership seemed weak. People spoke up whenever they wanted. There was speaking in tongues with no one to translate. It was chaos. In the last verses of chapter fourteen Paul spells out some things that needed to change. In the last verse he says, “But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.” Our God is a God of order and not disorder.
God’s church is not a place for disorder. Disorder can come from sin. People’s pride is often the source. A job might be too big for one person, but his ego doesn’t allow him to ask for help. Disorder comes from people who refuse to submit to the one who is overseeing a task. Disorder comes from people who are lazy and indifferent and could care less if their church is held by twine and baling wire instead of being committed to serving the Lord with excellence. Disorder comes from people who think their own lives are too important than others and don’t consider others might be just as busy as theirs. Disorder comes from people who simply “Let George or Georgette do it!” The reasons behind disorder require first repentant hearts.
Jethro had a bird’s eye view and observed his son-in-law working extraordinary hours. “You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.” Moses was slowly killing himself and his family. He wasn’t doing Israel any favors either. To get to see Moses was like standing in line for SpaceMountain at Disney during Spring break. The people would get discouraged and walk away. Problems would continue to fester.
Do you also know what happens? An organization dies when it is run like that. No one else has a stake in it. There is someone in our congregation that teases me by asking me every time she sees me, “How is your building project coming?” She knows she provokes me. “It is not my building project; it is our building project.” She does this to assure her that I am not in a coma or dead.
My first congregation was begun at ground level. Everyone that joined that church I got to know real well. I could pray for them in a way that was very personal. I knew what they needed. As the congregation grew in size my time was limited. Sometimes members can be under stress and lots of time is spent with them, others might have felt neglected. God’s plan for the church is that of what he had in mind for Israel. Everyone is a minister. Others can help.
Listen to Jethro. “Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him. Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave. But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.” Moses would take the hard cases, the easier ones could be handled by others. Others are called to serve.
There are some truths that need to be understood about God’s church. God motivates his people to serve. That motivation comes from the Gospel, the good news about Jesus’ plan and mission to save. He gave his life as a ransom for all. There is no doubt that the Lord loves us and wants us to be with him and each other forever. That promise is true and certain in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus.
Someone once said that “most people wish to serve God but in an advisory capacity only.” There is truth in that statement, but the resistance often comes from the old sinful nature inside of us. The “Let George and Georgette do it” mentality is not from the new self that loves Jesus but too often the sinful nature that loves self and doesn’t want to be bothered. Hey Christians, we are not governed by the sinful nature.
Another truth we need to remember is this: he equips us to serve; he supplies the gifts necessary to serve. We might not be able to do everything in God’s kingdom, but God gives us gifts that allow us to do something. Romans 12: 3-8 – “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.” He mentions some of the gifts like speaking for God, serving, teaching, encouraging, giving, leading, showing mercy and there are others. God gives special skills and talents for service. It is important for you to identify what they are and then use them and not let them go to waste. It is important for leadership to identify the gifts and supply an avenue for members to use. It is important that all us let the light of Jesus shine through us.
A pastor once told me he was fixing something in his garage. He was on a ladder. What he needed to be fixed was a bit of stretch to one side. Instead of moving the ladder over he decided to reach. He lost his balance and fell off the ladder scraped a leg against a nail that was sticking out of a beam. His leg required 57 stitches to sew up. In the healing process he favored the injured leg but also noticed the other leg get sore.
This is an analogy for what takes place in the church. When we don’t evenly distribute the work, the ones working get tired and sore. Should that really happen? Jethro’s advice is timeless. Our Savior’s love and service is not only an example but also the motive for his church to heed the call to organize and serve.