Choose Whom You Will Serve

When it comes to life, there are always many options. What will I have for breakfast? What shoes will I wear? When will I go to bed? Whom will I marry? Where will I work? These questions are ones we all must make, some questions obviously more important than others. The most important question for anyone to answer, however, is the one that Joshua asked the Israelites: “…Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…” (Joshua 24:15, NIV).

The Israelites were a people who had just seen God deliver them into the Promised Land. The Lord gave them all of the land that he promised them, and he drove out all of the evil, idol-following nations who were there. They had seen God’s provision close-up, but they still had to answer the question, “Whom will you serve?”

The people answered that they would serve the Lord, just as Joshua and his family had. Joshua told them that the next step was to “destroy the idols among you, and turn your hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel.” (Joshua 24:23, NLT).

Destroying idols may seem like a very “Old Testament” thing to do, but in reality we all have idols that we must destroy if we are truly going to be serving the Lord with our whole heart, mind, body, and soul.

Idols today don’t necessarily look like they did in Joshua’s day; we don’t often see or possess images carved into wood that we worship as gods. But we certainly, if we think about, have other things that we worship; our modern day idols.

One quick way to check on what you may be worshipping is to look at your “books.” Your appointment book and your checkbook. These two books show where you spend your time and your treasure. Those are often good indicators about what you are worshipping and focusing on. The priorities of your life are seen by the time and money you spend.

But beyond just seeing the idols of your time and treasure, it’s important to look beyond the surface and see what your true motives are. You need to look deeper into why you do what you do. Spending a lot of time at work shows that you value work and may be worshipping that idol, but what is the underlying spiritual condition? Are you looking for financial security? Power? Prestige? Wealth? What’s driving you to make work your idol? Until you can look at the root cause of your idolatry, you won’t fare well in trying to make a change.

Matthew 6:33 says to seek first the Kingdom of God. When we truly seek God’s Kingdom first, we will destroy the idols that are in our lives and put God’s will and way above our own. We will allow God to be our first priority – in all areas of our life – not just on Sunday morning.

I would encourage you to do a check of your books, and then pray for clarity about what your underlying idols are. Then seek out Scripture that speaks directly to the root causes, repent, and pray that God would free you from those sinful attitudes.

You cannot grow spiritually when you are not completely sold out to following Christ first. Jesus said that you can’t serve two masters; which master are you choosing to follow? Yourself or Jesus? Choose this day whom you will serve.

The Hurried Easter

The time has come – Easter, or Resurrection Sunday, is upon us!

It seems like just yesterday we were celebrating Thanksgiving, lighting the tree, and singing “Auld Lang Syne” to ring in the New Year. The groundhog did not see his shadow, our valentines have been sent, and now Easter is here! When I was a kid, I always thought time moved very slowly. As an adult with children of my own, I now see time continually speeding up.

God knows that is our tendency. God understands that as we get busier and life’s demands continue to pile up, the time seems to slip by more quickly. That’s one reason he instituted festivals, feasts, and the Sabbath. He designed our lives with intentional rhythms, to help us slow down and remember what’s really important.

Resurrection Sunday is one of those times when we are to slow down, remember, and celebrate something that changed the course of human history. On that day, some 2,000 years ago, Jesus rose from the dead! The man who was betrayed, mocked, ridiculed, and crucified, defied death and rose anew. This act conquered death once and for all, and gives each of us who follow Christ the assurance that Jesus is even more powerful than the grave.

The resurrection of Jesus is at the heart of the gospel message. If we go through this Easter season intent on focusing on the Easter bunny, egg hunts, and chocolate, we risk missing out on the true reason for the celebration. I encourage you to sit down with your family this Easter season and read an account from one of the Gospels about Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. Share with them the truth of Christ, the truth that really matters.

Does Habitual Spirituality Work?

This year is leap year. That means we get one extra day in our calendar, and it got me thinking, what are we supposed to do with it?

I recently saw a television show devote an entire episode to leap year day. One family took the day off from work and school and did only fun, crazy, and adventurous things for the day. One person actually had his birthday on February 29, so he had a 10th birthday party.

I don’t know that I am going to go all out with a special day of adventure, but I do want to honor the extra time God has given me in some way to worship and praise Him. Each and every day we are to praise God, and this year we get one extra day to do just that. But am I really praising and worshipping God each day of my life? That’s a hard question to answer.

You’d think that since I am a pastor, the answer would be an easy and hearty yes. Virtually every day of my life I am involved in some aspect of ministry. Whether that be composing sermons, visiting the sick, calling on members and guests, or studying the Bible, my activities generally have some aspect of ministry and should inherently involve worship of God.

The problem is that sometimes I do these things out of habit instead of with admiration and awe for my Creator.

In thinking about this, I think we are all guilty of falling into habitual forms of virtually everything we do. We go through the same routine each morning. We drive the same way to work each day. We may even go to the same place for vacation each year. We get into a routine. And for the most part, we’re OK with that. We may even like that. It’s comfortable; it works.

The problem with routine is that we can do it without really engaging our brains or our emotions. We do it almost automatically and don’t consciously think about what or why we’re doing it. In Mark Batterson’s prayer devotion called Draw the Circle, he says that after singing a song 30 times, we stop thinking about the meaning of the words. We sing it out of rote memory, and the conscious thought process we once had with the song is gone. It doesn’t mean we don’t love the song – it just means we’re not thinking about it anymore.

That familiarity and disengagement of our brain’s thought processes has some pretty interesting implications for worship on Sunday mornings. It also highlights the need for us to reexamine other areas of our habit-filled life.

Habits, of course, are not bad. They allow us to do things quickly and more easily. But when we allow our spiritual practices to become habit, we are in danger of losing their meaning and true purpose – connecting with God in a personal way.

My challenge for you (and for me) is to examine your spiritual practices and ensure that you’re still engaging your mind and your heart when you do them. Are you praying the same prayer you’ve always prayed? Are you reading the same book? Are you just making donations without really thinking about or praying for the charity you’re supporting? If yes, change it up somehow so that you can really engage all of your being in the task. Try standing when you pray. Try reading outside, or a new book. Try writing a letter of thanks or support to send with the donation check.

Habits are not a bad thing – but they can become a trap for us when we allow our brains to go on auto-pilot when it comes to matters of faith and practice. Our relationship with God needs to be a matter of the heart and the mind – we must take care not to neglect either.