Read time: 3m 14s
Read Deuteronomy 1:9-18
[See previous two devotionals. The first is about the journey we must take now that we know the Gospel: “turn & burn! further up and further in!” The second is about the blessings we have in Christ, which we are to share: “may you be a thousand times as many as you are.”]
But... Moses says twice here at the beginning of Deuteronomy, “I can’t bear you…” (vv. 9, 12) He calls the people a weight, a burden; he’s troubled by their unbearable strife. These are the words of a minister who has lost his joy. It’s just too much!
The blessings of God are not just simple and sweet, but they create structural, system-wide, complexity that God’s people have to be honest about. So many times people blame churches for an unhealthy spiritual atmosphere, when really the problems come from unhealthy organizational practices. We want to love God and love our neighbors, but this involves more than baking cookies and prayer. It involves a variety of interwoven systems. And all these systems involve people who are sinners; and thus they all generate “strife.” This can kill the expansion of the blessing that God has called us to be a part of. So God’s mission requires organization, hierarchy, systems, supports, flow-charts, etc.
What are God’s people to do, on this journey together, with this grace, and these headaches? Moses tells the people to “choose…wise, understanding men, and I will appoint them as your heads.” (13) So they do. “Commanders of thousands …hundreds …fifties …tens, and officers, throughout your tribes.” (15) In other words, this is not just an “elder board,” or just elders and deacons, or even elders, deacons, and small group leaders; this is pastors, elders, deacons, small group leaders, and staff and volunteers and assistants, with focus’s in specific areas: bookkeeping, communication, set-up, clean up, hospitality, child care, etc.
Note the connection! Here in the antiquities of Torah, the dirty sandaled feet of Exodus-Israel, between what we might call “exponential growth”—not just in numbers but in the journey into grace—and administrative complexity and individual ownership. For this thing to work, Moses says, we each must own this individually, and also we must develop better systems. Both things: getting the blessings for my own joy; and growing and experiencing that blessing by dispersing authority through the congregation.
Moses deputizes people, from those responsible for groups of 1,000 to those responsible for groups of ten. And he calls them to be “not partial” and “not intimidated.” (17) Moses appoints them, not in a magical sense, but by asking them to receive the heart and strength of God. “This is yours. You’re not alone; we’re in it together. But we’re in it. And you’re in it. You have this. Don’t be afraid; do what’s right.”
What does this mean for Israel, and for us?
First, don’t look inward, to yourself alone, for spiritual direction. Yes, we each have the Spirit; but listen, the Spirit LOVES to speak to us and direct us through each other! Begin honoring the people among whom God placed you. By doing this, we let some pressure out of the system: decisions and directions are not bottle-necking with one or two people.
Second, receive authority for each other. Don’t be intimidated; enter the strife of relationships. Don’t be partial, but represent the heart of God. In a word, Moses is calling Israel to membership. As Paul says, a few thousand years later, “we are members of one another.” Our health depends on… our health and on our healthy workings. Own your membership. Take responsibility for one another. Turn toward each other.
The journey into Christ’s blessings, which we must take, we must take together. As a flock of sheep, vulnerable and hungry. As a flock of shepherds, armed and vigilant.