14Joshua said to the people, “Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15Now 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.” 16Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; 17for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; 18and the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”
Reading Scripture to Know:
- What is happening/being said? (Observation)
- Why is this happening/being said? (Interpretation)
- What does the rest of Scripture say about it? (Evaluation)
- What does it mean? (Understanding)
- What does it mean for us? (Application)
Reading Scripture to Grow:
- What words or phrases stand out to you? Why?
- Where do you hear the voice of God in this Scripture?
- How do you see the character of God reflected in this Scripture?
- How does this Scripture reveal God?
- How does this Scripture expose humanity and its need for God?
- How does this Scripture speak to what is happening in your life?
- How does this Scripture speak to what is happening in our world?
- What might God want to communicate to you (us) this week through this Scripture?
Scripture Reads Me:
- This passage makes me feel…
- This passage makes me think about…
- This passage reminds me of…
- This passage teaches me that God is…
- This passages teaches me that I am…
- This passage challenges me to…
What are you devoted to? I think we would all make the statement that we are devoted to God, but how does that devotion take shape in your day to day life? The old saying goes that you can tell what someone worships by looking at their bank statement and their calendar. In other words, we are devoted to that to which we give our time, energy, and resources. There is a great deal of truth to this. If you are like me, this brings a little bit of conviction to my heart and soul. We say we give our all to God, but how?
I am sure Joshua noticed the difficulties of this while observing the people he was leading. Like Solomon last week, Joshua was in charge of the everyday realities of community life for the Israelites. Time and resources had to go into putting food on the table and security for the masses. But there was also a greater distraction that threatened complete devotion to God – the societal culture surrounding the people. There were so many elements in society that contradicted a fully committed life to God and competed for the time, attention, and resources of the people.
We are no different today. We might not deal as seriously with the ingrained cultural phenomenon of institutionalized pagan idols, but idolatry is just as prevalent in our society. Perhaps we don’t actively worship clay or golden statues, but do we “worship” success, possessions, status, lust, greed, or pride? Do we ever put any cultural beliefs ahead of our commitment to God’s ways? Does our political affiliation ever supersede our religious identity? Do we allow celebrities to have undue influence in the way we live our life? Do we let popular music or other entertainment media speak to us more loudly than Scripture? These are real questions we need to face in our society today. Perhaps the specifics are different than the ones Joshua and the Israelites had to confront, but the principles are the same.
The Roman Catholic catechism says it well: “God created everything for [humanity], but [humanity] in turn was created to serve and love God and to offer all creation back to [God]” (from http://www.vatican.va). Or as Saint Augustine said in his Confessions, ““Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” Our whole lives are to be offered as a gift to God, without reservation, for God’s glory. This is true devotion. How is God calling you to a deeper, more fulfilled devotion? This day, choose God with your whole self.
What made you choose to follow God? It was the feeling of compassion, mercy, and acceptance that I felt from God as a fifteen-year-old boy that led me to devote my life to God. Think back over your life with God. What led you to make a commitment to God? What did that commitment look like? How did you let others know about that commitment? How have you lived out that commitment since? You might want to write a spiritual autobiography – a few pages that tell about your “story” with God. I wrote one this summer and it is amazing to see what insights you can glean from exploring your journey with God as a whole and getting a birds-eye view of that journey. You might even discover some common themes or elements that you have missed or neglected over the years – and that might encourage new growth and devotion in the present.
This practice allows you to listen to the Scripture for the week (in larger context) and to open yourself up to God’s voice in that Scripture.
Click on the audio link above and listen to the Scripture. As you listen this first time, ask God to point out to you a word or phrase from the Scripture.
- Click on the audio link above again and listen to the Scripture a second time. As you listen this second time, ask God to reveal to you the holy intentions for this word or phrase that is being spoken into your life.
- Click on the audio link above again and listen to the Scripture a third time. As you listen this third time, ask God how you might respond to this word or phrase being spoken into your life today.
Cloud of Witnesses:
Karl Barth knew what it meant to choose serving God even if others might not follow. He was one of many brave Christians who, in the time of Nazi Germany, stayed faithful to God and who inspired others to serve God faithfully in the shadow of violence and intolerance. Barth, Swiss by birth, was active in the anti-Nazi resistance movement that encouraged both religious freedom in Germany and commitment to God over commitment to the state. He was one of the great thinkers and theologians in modern Christian history. Barth taught in Europe and later lectured in the United States. He wrote extensively, with his most important work being his multi-volume work, Church Dogmatics (a selection from the larger work can be ordered here). You can explore his many other works here and read about his life here.
Listen to the song, God of Wonders by Third Day. You can download the song here if you’d like. As you listen to this song and sing along, notice the greatness of the God we serve – the God Joshua and the people of Israel had seen so powerfully at work in their midst. How is this God of wonders working in your life? What is God communicating to you through this song? What might you communicate to God through this song?
Pray for purity of heart and soul this week. Ask God to remove those things that defile and distract. May these words from the praise song, Give Us Clean Hands (composed by Charlie Hall and sung throughout the Church universal in prayer and praise), guide your prayer this week:
“We bow our hearts. We bend our knees. Oh Spirit, come and make us humble. We turn our eyes from evil things. Oh Lord, we cast down our idols. Give us clean hands. Give us pure hearts. Let us not lift our souls to another. O God, let us be a generation that seeks your face.”
Picture the altar of your heart. What do you give space to on this altar? Perhaps there are some candles that represent the flame of the Holy Spirit burning within you. Maybe there is a cross there representing the crucified and risen Lord of your life. Picture this altar in great detail. What have you given your heart and soul to? Is there anything on this altar that does not belong? Has anything crowded God out of the altar space? Ask God to examine this altar with you. What needs to be given more room? Less room? Jesus reminds us that what is on the inside will come out in our actions. How is your inner worship of God fueling the outward life to which God has called you?
Take some time to reflect upon your day or your week. Follow the process below and open yourself up to the presence and work of God in your life this week. Every week the structure is the same, but some specifics are changed to reflect the Scripture of the week.
- Find a place and posture that will prepare you for prayer.
- Begin by breathing in deeply through your nose and breathing deeply out of your mouth.
- Invite God to lead you through the previous day or week. For instance, if it is Tuesday night, reflect back on Tuesday morning, afternoon, and evening. If it Saturday or Sunday, reflect back on Monday through Friday.
- Ask God to guide you through these questions:
- In what ways have I chosen God?
- In what ways have I chosen against God?
- What idols do I see present in my life?
- How can I commit to God’s ways in the coming days?
- Thank God for this journey of reflection on your day or week. Ask God to continue to reveal Godself to you tomorrow.
Set up a personal altar or family altar in your office or home. An altar is simply a place to go for prayer and communion with God. Altars were regularly set up in Old Testament times to memorialize a place in which the altar-builder had experienced God in a powerful or significant way. Carve out this holy space as a reminder to pray and seek God outside of the walls of the church. The altar can contain reminders of God and prayer/worship aids. For instance, I have set up an altar in my office. It includes several liturgical symbols and colors: the cloth representing the season (it is now green for Kingdomtide), the candles representing the light and fire of God, the chalice and paten used for Holy Communion, the shell representing baptism, and the birds representing both the bird imagery used in Scripture for God (specifically the Holy Spirit) and the reminder from Jesus that God, who cares for the birds, will also care for us. There are also several prayer aids included, namely the two icons (of the Holy Trinity and the Holy Family), my personal prayer tree, and the Lord’s Prayer prayer beads. Personalize your altar however it might benefit you in inspiring you to pray and worship.
Breath Prayer: LORD God, tear down our idols.