Faithful Followers — Sometimes.

I’m reading through the Old Testament at the moment, and I have a confession: from time to time, I skim a bit. Especially the parts about “who begat who” and where they say who got what bits of land. But last week, as I found myself in the book of Joshua, a part jumped out at me.

On this particular day, I read about the end of Joshua’s term as leader of Israel. Joshua was getting old, and he knew that his time had come. Before he died, he spoke with the Israelites to make sure they would continue to follow God. “Of course, of course,” they all said, “we will TOTALLY follow God!”  “Are you sure?” he asked. And this is what it says, right in the Bible:

16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods!17 It was the Lord our God himself who brought us and our parents up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. 18 And the Lord drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God. ”

19 Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. 20 If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you.”

21 But the people said to Joshua, “No! We will serve the Lord.”

22 Then Joshua said, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve the Lord.”

“Yes, we are witnesses,” they replied.

23 “Now then,” said Joshua, “throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.”

24 And the people said to Joshua, “We will serve the Lord our God and obey him.”

25 On that day Joshua made a covenant for the people, and there at Shechem he reaffirmed for them decrees and laws. 26 And Joshua recorded these things in the Book of the Law of God. Then he took a large stone and set it up there under the oak near the holy place of the Lord.

27 “See!” he said to all the people. “This stone will be a witness against us. It has heard all the words the Lord has said to us. It will be a witness against you if you are untrue to your God.”

Joshua knew that sometimes the people of Israel could be a little… how do I put this?… unfaithful. So he actually asks them three different times if they’re SURE they want to serve the Lord. He even warns them of the consequences – “You know this God will not tolerate your philandering with other gods…” – but they INSIST – “We will SO follow the rules! We’ll do everything God says. Pinky promise!”

Well, surprise surprise, guess what happened next? Joshua died, many of his contemporaries also died, and people started to forget the promise that Israel had made. So yet again – despite their fervent promises to the contrary – the fickle Israelites broke their promise. As I continued to read about how the Israelites backslid right into their former behaviors, I found myself smirking at them a bit. Those silly Israelites! They just can’t stay away from those idols!

This past week, now that school’s out for the summer, Daniel and I have been reevaluating some lifestyle things, like time management, food, and exercise. As I was cooking a fun new recipe, I was all excited about this healthy new commitment that would get us back on track –

–and all of a sudden I had a Joshua moment. Didn’t I have another “I’m gonna eat healthy” moment in college? Where’d that go? Didn’t I promise Daniel at Christmas that I was gonna be better at getting up off the couch and exercising? And how many times do I have to think about calling my grandpa before I actually DO it?

You see, as much as we deny it, as much as we protest, we are just as fickle and unfaithful as the Israelites. To quote 1 John, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” That’s a nice way of saying that even though we PROMISE we’ll change – REALLY, we mean it this time! – we always go back to our old ways.

I’ll never forget my dad gleefully telling me one of his favorite “unusual” Proverbs over dinner one night: “As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.”

So, even though our old, idolatrous ways are like vomit, we still go back to them.

Can you imagine having the flu, vomiting in a bucket, and then having to have someone make you promise them not to go back and eat it? …And THEN you sneak back when they’re not looking and eat it anyway? That’s disgusting! …And yet, that is what Israel did, and that is what we do. We get a big ol’ spoon and we scarf down the vomit of our bad habits and unkind thoughts even though we KNOW they’re bad for us.

So what do we do about it?

First things first, let’s call a spade a spade and fess up – we are fools who return to our smelly, nasty, selfish behaviors just as mindlessly as a dog returning to its mess. Our selfishness isn’t cute, or ok, or justified because that other person made me mad – it STINKS. Let’s not cover it with false perfume.

Secondly, even though we KNOW we’re gonna return to that bucket eventually, let’s try to run toward the heavenly feast as long as we can first. We are human, yes, and we will mess up because we are fools. But always remember that God calls us not to be successful, but to be FAITHFUL. God is the ultimate example of faithfulness – giving Israel and us chance after chance after chance to do the right thing, just because of His great love for them and for us. Although we cannot meet his example, we need to keep picking ourselves up, moving on from our follies, and giving ourselves another chance to faithfully serve the Lord as best we can.

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Foundations

Dear Mom and Dad,

I know you said that you were okay with me leaving the “strawberry patch” for another denomination — and I know you still love me anyway — but today I wanted to take the time to say “thank you” for raising me in the Lutheran church.

As I started to “wake up” in college and pay attention to my beliefs and my surroundings, some of the first things I noticed about the LCMS were the hard things that I couldn’t quite swallow and needed to wrestle with, like closed communion and women in the church. (I still wrestle with those things, by the way.) But now that I’ve gotten a little older and have the benefit of a little more hindsight, I’ve started to realize some of the less hard, more awesome things that have been planted in me through you.

For example, in looking back at the LCMS I’ve realized the huge emphasis that it places on education and knowledge, which has definitely been passed on to me. The impulse to study and dig into something before I make a conclusion might just be a personality thing… but I think it’s more likely that this was cultivated in me by you and by a church that values knowledge of scripture to the point of memorization. (I still remember parts of the catechism — this is most certainly true!)

I also appreciate that from a young age I was taught the importance of knowing my church doctrine — that doctrine matters, and is something to be pondered and not treated lightly. Some of this came in the form of jibes about some “Christianity lite” churches we visited… but in the end, I think I got the point, which is to make sure that my faith isn’t just about “Ten Steps to a Better Life” but is always rooted and based in the nitty-gritty of Jesus’ death and resurrection. And, even in the midst of the gentle teasing of other denominations, I still learned the importance of respecting the folks across the theological aisle, so to speak. I remember attending different sorts of services with you several times, whether due to vacations or volleyball tournaments, and I always felt like it was an important part of my education to understand how our faith and traditions fit into a larger picture of Christendom.

Speaking of traditions, I’m also really glad that I grew up in a church that has a strong sense of church tradition. I think I really came to appreciate and understand the layers of meaning behind the traditions, especially since as a pastor’s family we were so immersed in them from year to year. Now, I also appreciate the value of more spontaneous worship, but I will always have a special spot in my heart for the color-coded observance of the church year and the liturgy that I still have memorized.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that even though I’ve “left the fold”, I still respect and appreciate my roots. And I’m thankful to both of you for working so hard to plant and raise me in the “strawberry patch”.

Happy Mother’s Day (and Father’s Day too)!

Love,
Rebekah

We suck.

There are a lot of ways in which we suck, and we’re feeling it today/this year:

Time management is hard for us. The marriage of an exhausted schoolteacher introvert with an isolated-at-home web-developer extrovert is bound to have some issues. He feels lonely and dejected; she feels exhausted and overextended. Compromise and perseverance is a daily struggle.

Sex is hard for us. We’ve seen a few lists of the top stressors in a marriage, and “money” and “sex” were in the top 3 factors every time. Our different personalities/wirings, family cultures, and circumstances give us plenty to work through in this area of life.

Conflict is hard for us. Marriages of firstborns are said to be especially divorce-prone, because strong-willed people don’t often share space with each other graciously. We’re working on sharing space graciously, and we fail frequently.

In the face of all this, things we need to remember:

Keep hope.

The Creator holds the universe and all things in sovereignty and goodness. No matter what happens in our lives, the universe is won. Christ is Victor. And to top it off, God’s good plans and victory can extend into our lives, even if we know not the form or how pleasant it will be.

Have realistic expectations.

We are not the spouses of each others’ dreams. Our dreams are human, sinful, and selfish, making them impossible to mutually fulfill. We are the spouses of each others’ reality. Spouses who can wake up every day in broken but beautiful world, flesh, and spirit, and say “yes” to each other once again, and then work to live that “yes”. Which leads me to…

Fight like the dickens for your marriage every day.

“Know thine enemy.” We know that divorce is a real and present danger; we have seen marriages young and old crumble around us where we never would have suspected. We have learned to attack our small withdrawals from intimacy early, because they’re what mount up to destroy a marriage.

Sitting in church this morning, Daniel got an image of us “fighting for our marriage” in the flavor of the video games of his youth — with armor and giant swords. Rebekah drew a picture of it. Here it is: