Whom Will You Serve?

 Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” – Joshua 24:15 (NRSV)

Modern life and cultures have taken us into a Post Christendom world.  Fewer people have heard the good news.  Today there are children who have never heard the Christmas story. They have no clue why it is that we have a festive season in December each year.

We as a society have moved away from religion and more towards self-reliance.   Even if we do know who God is, and profess to be a Christian, are we really humbled and committed to following his commandments?

In the days of Joshua it was very clear who the other gods were.  Humans and animals didn’t spring to life from nothing but a sudden big bang.  Each group of people encountered in the Old Testament had a deity or two or more that they worshiped:

Baal

Amon

Asherah

Ashtoreth

Molech

There are more mentioned in the Old Testament, and a few more in the New Testament.  That isn’t the take away though.  It would seem that the one thing that everyone agreed on and had in common is that there was some higher power out there.

Where they differed is that all of these false Gods were dependent on their followers and needed the gifts and offerings brought by the worshipers to survive.  If you wanted something from a foreign God you needed to offer it a sacrifice in exchange.

The God of Israel, our God, however didn’t need the Israelites at all. He was (and is) all-sufficient in himself but he chose them as his people and provided for them.   God didn’t need their sacrifices of food or grains and he never required human sacrifices (followers of Molech sacrificed their children) in order for him to continue providing for them or to continue to exist.  The sacrifices the Jewish people did make were for the purpose of purification and forgiveness of their sins, but that is a topic for another time.

Fast forward to our present age.

Just like the Israelites God has chosen us to be his children.  All of us. The offer is open to any person willing to accept the gift of saving grace offered on the cross.  He accepts us exactly where we are and expects us to grow through the Holy Spirit’s leading.

But what about other gods.  Are they still around in our present day world?  While there are still people who may worship a deity other than the God of the Bible, the false gods mankind is inclined to worship today are a little more human made.  A little more materialistic. We seem to have decided we are self-sufficient and have no need for a God at all.  We can provide for ourselves.

Today the list of false gods looks a lot different:

Career

Hobby

Houses

Cars

Money

Gadgets

Celebrities

Food

Appearance

Self

The list is endless.  We don’t tend to worship and honor false deities, but Satan has supplied us with plenty of new false gods to take their place.  Materialistic gods.  Pleasure seeking gods.  Self serving gods of our own pride and vanity.  The whole purpose of them is to put distance between us and God, driving in wedges to keep us divided.

Often times we sit in our pews on Sundays to check off the religion requirement in our lives for the week, but then head out, back into the world of men forgetting the teachings of the rebel Messiah once we are out of the sanctuary doors.  Are we truly committed to following Jesus?

Not just on Sunday mornings.

God wants a relationship with us all the time.

Every second of every minute of every day.

If so, we must separate ourselves from the false gods of our time and worship the one true God instead.  We are called to live in the world but not of it.  This doesn’t mean that we will have dull, grey lives full of things we CAN’T do.  It means that we know that we are called by God and we want to follow his teachings and be used for the purposes he created us for.

We live with joy.

We see the world through the eyes of Jesus Christ as we act as his hands and feet on earth.  He didn’t promise that we would have an easy road if we chose to follow him.  What he does promise us is eternal life.

What or who will you choose to worship?

Who is your God?

But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” – Mark 8:33-38 (NRSV)

 

 

 

 

Stalled in Dreamland

As it t’is the season to be in reflection, I have been finding my reflections coming back to my work life often this year.

I have what would be considered a good job, and I am very thankful and grateful to be gainfully employed.  However, I don’t believe that accounting work is where my true passions lie.

So I have been trying to figure out what brings me joy.  What fills me with excitement?  While I haven’t hit on the answer yet, it would seem that something a little more creative than balancing debits and credits is what I am looking for.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the forensic aspects of my accounting role and it can be very exciting when finding the proverbially needle in a haystack on the financial reports. There is also something right in the feeling of tieing things out to find everything balances correctly.

But my poor brain keeps screaming at me, “There has got to be something more than this!”  Did I miss my calling completely, or can I still find that calling in my present and future?

This got me to thinking.  Does my calling and passion necessarily have to be fulfilled in the employment area of my life?  Or is it enough to go to work Monday through Friday and do work that I excel in and then spend my off hours following those hopes and dreams that open up more creative avenues for me?

Maybe in this modern-day and age we as a society have put so much emphasis on following our dreams that we have made ourselves discontent to put in an honest day’s work.  I think that I have tricked myself into being dissatisfied.

Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters, since you know that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you serve the Lord Christ (Colossians 3:23-24, NRSV).

God has blessed me with a keen mind for numbers and logic AND a brain that loves to learn and write and study.  I also enjoy crafting and knitting project.  God has blessed me and gifted me in many ways.

Is one gifting better than another?

So perhaps I should not be focusing on what I am not doing and spend a little more time in being grateful for all of the doors that God has opened up for me using my gifts of logic, accounting, and project management skills.  Perhaps work satisfaction doesn’t come from being in the perfect dream life I envision.  Maybe, just maybe, it come from adopting that attitude of gratitude.

So as often happens, when I started this post I was bent on expressing my woes over being “stuck”.  I really never know what directions my words will end up taking me.  That is a gift in itself!  Yahweh seems to have this way of giving me the guidance I need most through my own words!

Our God is a gracious, loving, and merciful God.  He has created each of us for a specific purpose.  His purpose.  Not our purposes.  We need to let go and listen to his voice as he leads us down our paths each day.

So maybe at one point in time I wanted to be a teacher, but life, and God, have taken me down a different road.  Who knows what lies ahead.  We never know when  there will be bumps, bends, twists, or forks in the road of life.  But God does.  He is navigating these road with us, walking with us every step of the way.

Hopefully I can grab hold of this new perspective and run with it.  Coming to work each day and handling each new challenge with focus and determination rather than with discontent.

At the same time, I am also going to grasp onto those creative aspects of my life that are filling me with great joy at this time.  Writing has opened new doors for me.  I have been blessed to write this blog for over a year now and have had one article published in The Mennonite.  New opportunities for using my gifts of teaching may be waiting just around the bend.

This advent the landscape of my life looks vastly different from what it looked like a year ago, and no doubt will look entirely different at this time next year.

God and his love are constant.  No matter where we are on the road of life, he is our constant navigator.

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope (Jeremiah 29:11, NRSV).

Courage

In thinking about living in the world but not being of it yesterday, it brought to mind this verse, Joshua 1:9:

I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

You probably already know that this was said to Joshua as he and the Israelites were preparing to cross over into the promised land.  Moses has died and the torch is being passed on to Joshua so to speak.  They are preparing for an invasion to take the land by force.  They are also cautioned to be sure to keep the laws of Yahweh.

When you think about it, that is exactly what we are being charged to do as well.  We are to go forth into a land that has forgotten God or never known him to begin with and to spread the gospel.  Our land, our country, our communities, our homes.

And this takes courage.

Unlike the Israelites, we don’t need to have actual weapons and armour, but we do need to dress ourselves in the full armour of God.  And that includes our Bibles and the truth that it contains.   We need to prepare our hearts and minds for battle by soaking in the Spirit breathed words of God so that we can hide them in our hearts, ready to bring them forth when needed.

Jesus calls us to conquer our world with love.

And this takes courage.

It takes courage to be the one person to stand up in a crowd to say that something is wrong.  It takes even more courage to try to right the wrongs we see.  Whether it be bullying or racism, we can be strong and courageous and be a voice for the persons being wronged and we need to take that stand.

We are called to be light bearers in a broken world.

And this takes courage.

It takes courage to be the dissident voice in the crowd in order to point out that a popular movie or show or song isn’t pleasing to God.  However, we need to be the torch bearers leading the way to things that are wholesome and draw us closer to God rather than displeasing to him and alienating ourselves from him for the sake of being one of the gang.

We are called to speak truth, even when it isn’t popular opinion.

And this takes courage.

I have heard it said recently that you can’t talk religion without bringing your politics to the table.  I don’t know if that is a universal truth, but it certainly seems to be the truth here in our society today.  How many of us go along with things for fear of crossing party lines if we don’t?

Abortion.

LGBTQ rights.

The Death Penalty.

Syrian Refugees.

Continuing Warfare with U.S. assistance in the Middle East.

All of these issues, and many, many more are hot topics right now.  The supporters on both sides of the aisle are convinced their solutions are the only right solutions.  The only ones that make sense.  But how did they all come to those conclusions?

They also think in many cases, at least in religious circles, that God is on their side and they are in the right.  Their cause is just.   But is it?

 When is the last time we actually came together on both sides of the table to engage in God’s word to see what is actually there?

When did we last pray for the Holy Spirit to guide us as we search for answers to these difficult issues that involve the lives of very real people?  Hurt people.  Marginalized people.  God’s people.

My friends, it takes courage and strength to stand up for what we KNOW is wrong.  We need to take that stand regardless of what our friends and family may think of us.  We need to quit worrying so much about being politically correct and start worrying about being spiritually correct.

We are just sojourners here.  Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid.  Do not be fearful.

He is always with us.  Filling us with love, light, and courage.

Courage dear heart

Aslan to Lucy in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis

Of The World But Not In It

As church attendance dwindles in this post Christendom age we, as the faithful, seem to be forgetting a very important reality of being a Christian.  Christ called us to live in this world, but to not be of it.  We, as his children, are set apart from the world view and called to live with a Christocentric view instead.

In Romans 12:2 (NRSV)we read,

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

So we are called to live by a different set of rules.  Every parent establishes rules for their children to be guided by and to live within.  God the Father is no different.  Jesus spent his time here on earth establishing the new laws of love during his ministry and by becoming our example of how to live.

How then to we do this?  To begin with, we need to be people of faith everyday, not just on Sundays.  To be sure, church attendance is important.  However, it isn’t meant to satisfy the “religion” requirement of our lives that we check off each week.

No, church is meant to be a refueling of our faith.  The place where we go to above all worship our mighty God and shower him with our thanksgiving and praise.  It is also a place for us to fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ and to refill ourselves with things that are good.

Here is where we hold each other accountable.  Here is where we seek prayer and guidance in our struggles.  We get refilled with the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.  This renews us to go back out into the world around us and shine our lights into the broken darkness.

Recently in a Sunday School class with our youth we had a lesson on this very thing.  We talked about how the choices we make when it comes to every day things, like what television shows we choose to watch or what movies we choose to go see or the music we choose to listen to, are the very things that may set us apart.

It can be very hard to tell our group of friends that we are choosing to not see a new popular release film because we feel that it isn’t appropriate.  We as humans want to be accepted.  To often in our culture I think we are saying to ourselves what harm will it do if I see this/hear this/support this?  I know the difference between right and wrong, moral and immoral, virtue and sin.

And there in lies the dangerous trap.  Once we see or hear something, good or bad, we can’t remove that from our brains.  It will forever more be in there.  So while it seems harmless enough to watch that block buster movie filled with loose morals and crass and vulgar language, we are accepting the messages they are filling our brains with.  Eventually we may even begin to question why is this so wrong as we hear the Evil One whispering in our ears.

In the verse above, we are called to renew our minds.  Rather than filling ourselves with garbage, strive to seek out stuff that is filling and good.  In doing this we will draw closer to God in our walk and be able to discern his voice more clearly in a noisy and chaotic world.

It is no different from the foods we eat.  If we choose to eat nothing but fast food cheese burgers our physical health will be poor as we pollute our bodies with little or no good nutrients. However, when we choose to eat a diet balanced in lean meats, low-fat dairy, vegetables, and whole grains we promote good health within and have the energy we need to go about our lives.

Our spiritual health needs to be fed a constant diet of things that are good and acceptable and perfect.  Choose to walk the path of showering the love of the radical Messiah.  One good choice by you can lead to another good choice by someone else.

Be the rebel that chooses substance over meaningless nothings.

 

Mommy Failure

Today started out just like so many morning seem to start off anymore.  Max moving slow, if at all.  No initiative to get dressed for the day.  Complaints about having to go to school.  Complaints about having to get up early, forgetting the fact that he woke up early on both Saturday and Sunday all on his own.  Reminders to put on deodorant and brush his teeth.  Did you put your keys in your book bag?  Did you put on your deodorant.  Go brush your teeth…and then the big question.  Max, what are you planning to do this week to bring up your grades by the end of this week?

Pause for a flashback.

Max has always struggled with school.  Every year I have been on speed dial with his teachers.  They all look to me to tell them how to handle my son so that he doesn’t have melt downs and so that he focuses on the task at hand rather than being a distraction to the rest of the class.  Unfortunately I don’t feel I am of much help in this area.  I deal with him one on one with no other children present.

Kindergarten was rough.  Max was a very active little boy who didn’t like to sit still.  However, after two years of preschool I thought he was at least prepared for what was to come with school and that he would be able to cope.  fidget, yes, but cope with doing as he is told and function like any other normal, healthy little boy.

First and second grade continued to contain the conversations about how they just can’t seem to get my son to focus, but he is very smart and he will grow out of this eventually.  By third and fourth grade the teachers were telling me that he was very smart, but that he was slow in maturing behaviorally, however, at no point was he tested for anything, it was still more or less chalked up to he will eventually grow out of it.

Fifth grade marks the first year that there was a failing grade on the report card for one class in one semester.  I didn’t really hear from any teachers last year, but did keep in contact with the teacher that Max had received the failing grade from.  While none of Max’s grades were outstanding, for the rest of the year he managed to C’s and B’s, and a occasional A.

Then there is this year.  Max is at a new school as we moved over the summer.  Within the first week of school I was contacted and asked if he could be placed into Title I for Language Arts.  They  wanted to try to ensure that he was getting settled into the new school and to help him to once and for all learn how to get himself organized in order to be able to succeed in school.

First nine weeks produced many conversations with the Title I teacher, as well as two conferences with all of his teachers and multiple telephone calls.

His grades are atrocious.

He is defiant.

He is choosing to not do work.

He is having melt downs regularly during class.

This past weekend brought home progress reports for the second nine weeks, and Max’s was not good.  I knew this before I ever saw the report on Friday, and had already made arrangements with the guidance counselor to send home another progress report at the end of this week.  The purpose was to give Max a chance to bring two of those grades up.  The guidance counselor feels that it is reasonable to do over this next week.

Once again the Max and I talk about his grades.   I tell him he has one week to make a reasonable effort that we can see or lose electronics over Christmas break.  I try to impress on the boy who doesn’t like school the importance of doing the work and passing as opposed to choosing to only do what he wants and risk the consequences of failing and prolonging his school years.

Fast forward back to this morning:

As Max is eating his breakfast and I am signing his  folder that goes back I asked him what he thinks would be a good plan for working on his grades this week.  Answer?  “I don’t know.”  This was followed up by something to the effect of it doesn’t matter what he does because his teachers don’t like him and will give him bad grades just because.

HE IS A VICTIM!!!!!  Silly me!  What was I thinking?

At this point, I am very ashamed to say, psycho Mom arrived for breakfast.    I said many things that even as they were coming out of my mouth I regretted.  In the midst of it all, I am hoping that my defiant, victim of a little man got the message that his poor grades are the direct results of his choices to not complete work or to not follow the directions and complete the work as assigned.  Not because his teachers don’t like him.  Which based on all of my face time with his teachers couldn’t be further from the truth.

And now I am just left sitting here wondering at what point did I mess up as his mother?

At what point did my parenting allow for him to become this defiant little person who only does what he wants to do?

Much more importantly, how do I fix it?  How do I teach him not to see himself as a constant victim?  How do I instill in him that he needs to be responsible for himself and that he has to accept the results of his choices?

That he needs to put on deodorant EVERY DAY.

This motherhood thing has always been scary, but right now it has me terrified.  We have done the whole school thing for seven years at this point.  When does the maturity finally kick in?  When does the struggle ever end?

Even more important than that how do I find the patience to deal with this trying little boy who is struggling to grow up?  He seems so isolated and alone.  Where are the good friends that I keep praying for to appear in his life?

Max is an incredibly intelligent and funny little man with a GIANORMOUS heart.  He is so incredibly sensitive.  It is killing this mother’s heart of mine to watch him struggling to make friends and to find his place.

And I am praying.  Fervently.  Constantly.

For wisdom.

For patience.

For guidance.

For comfort.

For peace.

Loving Father,  keep this precious little soul that you have gifted me with safe.  You have placed this little man in my care, Father, equip me to be the mother he needs.  Give me the wisdom to know how to speak with him both to encourage and to teach.  My soul cries out for patience with him.  Help me to find calm and still the angry and harsh words that are all to quick to fly out of my mouth like darts at my poor hurting boy.  Guide my thoughts and heart Lord, as we continue to raise this child up to know you and your ways.  Bring me comfort as I despair for him.  You know his heart Lord.  Be a balm of comfort there.  Help me to be the peaceful presence in our home as opposed to the whirling tornado of emotions that seems to be me most days.  Father, I know that ultimately he is in your loving care.  In Jesus loving name I pray, Amen.

I really don’t have any answers.  Motherhood has been my greatest joy and toughest assignment.  I am not used to not doing something well.  The outcome of this assignment is monumental.  My precious boy and his future are what is at stake.  I can’t be a failure at this.  So, this mother’s heart will continue to pray and cry out to Yahweh.  My trust is in the Lord.

I know, O Lord, that your judgments are right,
    and that in faithfulness you have humbled me.
 Let your steadfast love become my comfort
    according to your promise to your servant.
 Let your mercy come to me, that I may live;
    for your law is my delight.

Psalm 119: 75-77 (NRSV)