Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Read the Instructions! by Linden Malki

It's a picture that we can identify with--people standing in a long line waiting for the Help desk. Looking at the context of Jethro's advice to Moses in Exodus 18, it is possible that Moses was deciding each question, case by case, as individual problems. The first step in the advice that Jethro gave Moses is "Teach them the statutes and the decisions; show them the way they must follow, and what their course must be" (Exodus 18:20). Without a consistent set of principles, you have to deal with every situation that arises on its own. Children are easier to live with and learn more effectively if parents and teachers have consistent and responsible expectations. In years of managing a business, I learned that procedures that are basic, simple and practical get followed better than theoretical systems that look good on paper but not so good in reality. 

First question: where do these statues, decisions, ways and courses come from? Moses has already said that the advice and decisions he gives come from God. Jethro is saying that Moses is on track with this, but he needs to educate the community as a whole, not one person, one crisis at a time. So in the next chapter, we see Moses moving his mob to the base of Mt Sinai, and preparing them as a community for an encounter with God. God tells Moses "If you obey My voice, and hold fast to My covenant, you of all the nations will be My very own, for all the earth is Mine." After all, He made it and knows better than we do how it’s supposed to work. Then Moses "summoned the elders of the people, putting before them all that the LORD had bidden him. Then the people said as one, All that the LORD has said, we will do." (Exodus 19:3-8) Note that God, and Moses, asked for a commitment to obedience before they were given the covenant; that it was not negotiated between equals but taken in faith that God was a lot smarter and more powerful than they were. Their faith was an obedience based on their knowledge of God. 

Then, and only then, in Exodus 20, does God call Moses up the mountain and outline the system.  It's pretty simple and straightforward; ten basic principles that, if everybody gets on the page together, will enable them to live together in peace. In fact, if done right, Moses' management team would have had an easy job. However, considering that God's creations are not puppets and have ambitions and ideas beyond their own capacities…we are still struggling to make it work.

God has given us a lot of leeway in how we deal with His commandments. On one end, we can make them a god in themselves, and become slaves to the letter of the law at the expense of His calling to charity and love; Jesus found that was where too many of His people had gone.  At the other end, we can decide we can't do it, don't want to do it, and then find out in the long run that we are are not as smart as we thought, and even find ourselves at the end of that long line outside Moses' tent. Look at the world we live in today;every day  what we see from our own homes and in our immediate neighborhoods to all the way across the planet, we see what I've seen described as "moral-free". And how many people do we see offering advice--good, bad, and scary? 

This is what Pastor Paul's JumpStart program is all about--answering the question that I once saw on a label right next to the plug on a small appliance: "Honestly--have you read the instructions?"

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