Tag Archives: Commitment

Just like…

“In view of all this, we are making a binding agreement, putting it in writing, and our leaders, our Levites and our priests are affixing their seals to it.”
Nehemiah 9:38 (NIV)

One of the benefits of studying God’s Message over time is that you eventually begin to make connections and see patterns across the Great Story.

In today’s chapter we have the Israelites gathered together. They’ve been defeated and enslaved by the Babylonians for 150 years, but the King has allowed them to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls. They return, remember anew the Great Story and renew their commitment to God and His laws. They make a “binding agreement” to be faithful.

Just like when they were gathered in Sinai and Moses gave them the law to begin with…

Just like the multiple times they got rebellious and stiff-necked during their forty-years of wandering and renewed their commitment…

Just like at the dedication of Solomon’s temple…

Just like during the time of King Josiah when the law of Moses was found and read for the first time in a generation because the people had abandoned their faith to pursue pagan religions…

Just like… me and the countless “binding agreements” I’ve made with God at camps and conferences and workshops and worship services through the years, only to prove myself faithless again and again.

One of the themes of the Great Story is the same theme I see in my own spiritual journey. People are people. No matter how hard I try and however many well-intentioned “binding agreements” I make with the Almighty, I always fall short of keeping them. But, that’s the point:

[Jesus] saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. (Titus 3:5)

…if we are faithless, [God] remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself. (2 Timothy 2:13)

When in my repetitive, never-ending, cyclical faith-less-ness I finally stop trying to earn my spiritual merit badge, then I finally begin to understand the depths of God’s mercy, grace, and faith-full-ness. That’s when I truly begin to understand the Great Story. That’s when real Spirit-ual growth begins to occur.

The Context of the Pinterest Quote

“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)

We have increasingly become a culture that boils things down to simple thoughts. We gather quotes, sayings and images on social media. We try to say something or quote something worthwhile in the 140 characters that a tweet will allow. Everything is reduced to make it smaller, pithier, and more quickly consumed. And, in doing so we lose context. Without context things change and lose the fullness of meaning.

josh 24 15 grab edit

“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord,” Joshua said in today’s chapter. These words can be found on countless Pinterest images (example above), plaques, wall hangings, keychains, bookmarks, pens, and etc. It’s a popular sentiment and statement of commitment. I’m afraid very few people know where it originated or its context.

Joshua, the chosen successor to Moses, is at the finish line of his life. He’s dying. His number is almost up and he knows it. He gathers the nation together around the Big Top – the great tent that had been Israel’s mobile worship center since the days of Moses himself.

Joshua recounts the story of the nations history from Abraham to their present day (“Where have we been?”).

Joshua reminds them of the blessings they are enjoying in the lands which had become their inheritance (“Where are we now?”)

Then Joshua calls them to commitment: “Choose this day whom you will serve…” (“Where are you going?”)

The call to commitment is not for Joshua himself. He’s done. He’s run his race. The answer to the question of commitment will have no bearing on him. He no longer has an earthly future. He’s making a declarative statement for his family. He will not have any power to enforce it, he will not be physically present to hold his family accountable to it, and he has no assurance that they will actually fulfill it. It is a  faith statement.

Joshua’s statement belies the real question that is weighing on his 110 year old heart: “What am I leaving behind?”

His statement, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” is far greater than the letters on a Pinterest post can provide to the casual observer. The depth of it cannot be realized in reading the mere words. It’s important to understand the whole story and the context in which the statement is made. This is a declaration of death-bed desire. It is a plea to his descendants. This is Joshua’s great and motivating want. It is the revelation of his dying wish and his heart’s pure and final longing.

Today, we come to the end of Joshua’s story. It is the final chapter in the book, and in a moment of unplanned synchronicity it falls on the day before my 50th birthday. Today, I find myself asking:

  • “Where have I been?”
  • “Where am I at?”
  • “Where am I going?”
  • “What will I leave behind?”

 

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featured image: Christmas Morning by Andrew Wyeth

 

Today…Choose

Today you have obtained the Lord’s agreement: to be your God; and for you to walk in his ways, to keep his statutes, his commandments, and his ordinances, and to obey him.
Deuteronomy 26:17 (NRSV)

It was a cold February night in 1981, but I still remember it vividly. I had been born and raised in a Christian home. My parents took me to Sunday School and each summer I went to Vacation Bible School. Just a year or so before I had gone through confirmation class and was confirmed as a member of the church at the age of 13.

But, all of that had largely been going through the religious motions. It had been doing what my parents told me to do. It had been doing that which was expected of me. What happened on that February night had been unexpected, at least to me.

On that I night, I heard God in my spirit ask me to make my own choice and my own commitment to follow. It was spiritual and intimate and profound. It was powerful in a way that changed the map of my life journey, and that of others, in incalculable ways.

As I read today’s chapter, I found it fascinating that at the end of all the laws and regulations God brought the people to make a choice and a commitment to enter into an agreement. “Today,” God said. “Make a choice. Make a commitment.” It’s one thing to hang around God in a noncommittal sense and go along with familial or societal expectations of going to church or loosely identifying with religion. It’s another thing altogether to go all in; to make a choice to follow Jesus, and obey.

Today, I’m reminded of a choice and a commitment that I, myself, made nearly 35 years ago which, to this day, intimately shapes my life journey moment-by-moment, day-by-day, week-by-week, year-by-year, decade-by-decade. Today, I’m reminded of the words to the simple song that was playing on a cold February night in 1981:

I have decided to follow Jesus.
No turning back.

No turning back.

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The Big Talker

Whatever your lips utter you must diligently perform, just as you have freely vowed to the Lord your God with your own mouth.
Deuteronomy 23:23 (NRSV)

Just a few weeks ago I saw something on television that brought back memories of a kid I knew in high school. He was the big talker. His mouth was a never ending stream of braggadocios comments and tall tales about his experiences and accomplishments past, present, and future. It was so bad that some of his insane statements became legend among my group of friends. As far as I know, he did not remain a friend of any of us for long.

He came to mind again as I read this morning’s chapter. Today’s chapter is full of rather interesting and miscellaneous laws the ancient Hebrews had regarding who could and couldn’t enter the Lord’s assembly, how to handle human excrement/emissions, and the line between snacking from a neighbors grave vine and downright stealing from him. Fascinating, but admittedly not the most inspirational of thoughts for my day.

Then I came to the verse pasted above and it leapt off the page at me. While I can claim innocence from the type of arrogant tall tales of my high school acquaintance, how often have I promised and then not delivered? How often, with the best of intentions, have I stated that I’ll do this or that and then not followed through? Elsewhere in God’s Message is says that if you’ve committed the least of these offenses you’re as guilty as having committed it all. Ugh.

Today, I’m reminded of a simple rule of life: I don’t be a big talker, even in little ways. I don’t want to promise what I can’t or won’t deliver, even with the best of intentions. Say what I’ll do, and do what I say.

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featured image via quotesvalley.com

Now, If You’ll Excuse Me…

So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayerEzra 8:23 (NIV)

Before setting out on the long journey from Babylon back to Jerusalem, Ezra had the people fast, pray and commit themselves and their journey to God.

Today, I come out of my quiet time without great insight. Rather, I am struck by a simple reminder to begin my journey, each day’s journey into life, by taking time to petition God.

Now, if you’ll excuse me…

Clutter, Consideration and Commitment

source: rossap via flickr
source: rossap via flickr

As goods increase,
    so do those who consume them.
And what benefit are they to the owners
    except to feast their eyes on them?
Ecclesiastes 5:11 (NIV)

As Wendy and I prepare for selling our house, we are in the process commonly known as “de-cluttering.” We are going through everything we own and choosing to peddle, pitch, or pile into storage. It’s been a long time in coming and it’s been a fascinating process. We are certainly not candidates for an episode of Hoarders, but there are moments when the shelves and containers full of stuff seem endless.

Last night, I sat on the living room floor and went through two large containers with receipts, owners manuals, warranty information, tax documents, and etc. It was crazy how much paperwork we have for the smallest of things, and I was shocked at the amount of peripheral documentation builds up around the ephemera of our daily lives. Much of what I went through was for gadgets, appliances, technology and d00-dads we don’t even own anymore. Oy!

The de-cluttering is having a fascinating and positive effect on both Wendy and me. The house feels more open and peaceful, our day is strangely lightened. When we feast our eyes around the house there is less to consume our mindshare, less to worry about, less to have to think about, and less we have to do something with. It is making us consider how we want things to be different in our new home.

As I read through Solomon’s wisdom regarding the silliness of the accumulation of things I am both convicted and encouraged this morning. I am sure that what I am feeling is common to virtually all who have gone through this process, but it is where I am in the moment and Solomon seems exceptionally wise from where I am standing this morning.

As I look back over my life journey I realize that I have often been considerate of things I should do, but then fell short of actually doing them. As I think about my desire to commit to permanently de-clutter house and life, I am mindful of something else the Teacher wrote in today’s chapter:

When you make a vow to God, do not delay to fulfill it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it.

A Teacher’s Love

 

GDR "village teacher" (a teacher tea...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Oh, my dear children! I feel as if I’m going through labor pains for you again, and they will continue until Christ is fully developed in your lives.. Galatians 4:7 (NLT)

Several years ago my mother was greeting at church and a woman asked her if she was Tom Vander Well’s mother. “I am,” my mother answered. The woman told my mother that she had been my first grade teacher and she wanted my mother to say hello to me. I was blown away to know that Mrs. Avery would remember me after all those years. I loved her. She changed my life by giving me a love for school and for learning. I made a point of visiting her a few weeks later to tell her that and to thank her. Sitting in her living room, she pulled out my old class photo and began naming each student and talking about each one as if we were the previous year’s class. When she told me that she prayed for each of her students, I wasn’t surprised.

I’ve been teaching a class this fall on creativity. It’s been several years since I’ve taught, and I’ve been amazed to remember how intensely I feel for those in my class. In my morning quiet times I find myself thinking of each one, naming them individually and praying for them. During the week I feel concern. I wonder how their week is going and what God is doing in their lives through the assignments and material.

I identified with Paul when in today’s chapter he described his feelings of responsibility for those he taught in Galatia as labor pains. On one hand it seems a bit of an odd metaphor because, face it, neither Paul nor I can really understand true labor pains. I think Paul used the metaphor because as a teacher you realize that something is being birthed in your students. There are new thoughts, new perceptions, and there is new life emerging when God’s Spirit is at work. And that is the key. God and the students are doing that hard work. I’m just a facilitator and conduit. Nevertheless, when I’m involved in the facilitation of that process, I experience a love and commitment to those in my charge.

Chapter-a-Day John 6

You talk of sacrifice... He knew the meaning o...
You talk of sacrifice... He knew the meaning of sacrifice^ - NARA - 535236 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.” John 6:29 (NLT)

On what would I stake my

life?

Language can be a messy thing and there are times when the English translation of the original Greek manuscripts of Jesus’ story can’t quite communicate the depth of meaning in a word. We hear the word “believe” and we think “how easy is that? I believe in a lot of things. Believing in Jesus is a no-brainer. He did great things and had great teachings. I absolutely believe.”

As Jesus sat in the teaching place on the shores of Galilee and talked about the painful death He would soon experience, the “believing” He was asking of His followers was more than the casual mental affirmation we think of today. If that had been true then the entire throng of people would have hoisted Him on their shoulders and carried Him off to Jerusalem to make Him their King. But, when the crowd in today’s chapter heard Jesus ask them to believe, they walked away.

It was one thing to follow Jesus’ traveling show, watch miracles, and eat free fish sandwiches on the beach. Free food and entertainment will get you huge crowds. When Jesus got serious, however, started talking about serious life and death commitment and asked the crowd to stake their lives on Him the crowds thinned out. Even Jesus’ closest twelve disciples questioned their commitment.

When Jesus asks me to believe He’s asking me to cleave to Him, to rely on Him, to place my life in His hands, and bet my life on the notion that He is exactly who He says He is: God made flesh who came to earth to die as a sacrifice for the sins of the world and who was raised back to life.

It’s easy to mentally agree that this is true, but will I stake my life on it?

Chapter-a-Day Numbers 6

via Flickr and elsie

“Also, for the duration of the consecration you must not have your hair cut. Your long hair will be a continuing sign of holy separation to God.” Numbers 6:5 (MSG)

Many years ago I had a client I visited on a quarterly basis. In the client’s office was a man who stood out from the crowd for many reasons. Chiefly, he stood out because of his long hair. It was extremely strange to see a professional man his age with hair that long. It fell almost down to his butt. After my first double-take, I figured the man was spending his after work hours trying to live out a teenage dream of being in a 80’s hair band.

As my colleagues and I got to know Mr. Hair Band Man over several business trips, we began to learn the much deeper purpose of his long hair. He told the story of a friend who had lost his way and ended up in prison. In an attempt to share the love of Jesus in a tangible way, he told this friend that he was going to take a Nazirite vow like the one described in today’s chapter. He would make a special consecration to God and would not cut his hair until his friend got out of prison. It was almost ten years when his friend was released and he finally cut his hair. His vow and his long hair became a powerful witness to his friend of his love, faith and commitment.

Looking back over my journey, I realize that there are stretches of life’s road that call for special times of consecration. There are periods of time when we may be called to be “set apart” for a special purpose; we may need to consecrate ourselves to God in a unique and more radical way. The purpose of this time of consecration may be public and relational, or it may be private and deeply personal. Either way, vows of consecration and their faithful maintenance can pave the way to new and powerful spiritual horizons.

Chapter-a-Day Matthew 24

MOAB, UT - OCTOBER 10:  Ben Chournos (L) welco...
Image by Getty Images via @daylife

“Staying with it—that’s what God requires. Stay with it to the end.” Matthew 24:13 (MSG)

Was Jesus talking to his followers when He said these words, or was He reminding Himself? He just finished creating a riot by overturning the money changers’ tables. He has just walked away from his tongue lashing of the religious leaders in the temple. They won’t put up with it. They will kill Jesus to preserve their social standing and public reputations. The pieces are in place. The end is near. Jesus has been telling His followers for months that He is going to be handed over to the religious leaders and be killed.  Now the wheels have begun to move. This is it.

“Staying with it—that’s what God requires. Stay with it to the end,” He said to His followers; He said to Himself.

It is Maundy (meaning “sorrowful”) Thursday as I write this. It is the day we remember Jesus last meal, His betrayal, His desperate prayer to the Father to be released from the sacrificial death that was required of Him to pay the penalty of our sins and make way for forgiveness.

“Staying with it—that’s what God requires. Stay with it to the end.”

Today, I remember and celebrate that Jesus stayed with it to the end. I’m also reminded of the song I sang on a cold February night 30 years ago when I set out on this journey:

I have decided to follow Jesus.
I have decided to follow Jesus.
I have decided to follow Jesus.
No turning back. No turning back.

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