Well, it’s starting up again… Central Michigan University [CMU], Clare Schools, Farwell Schools, and Gladwin Schools all start classes tomorrow. (Harrison Schools will open soon enough.) Are you ready? … excited? …nervous?
The start of a new school year means the start of a school-based schedule. School-based schedules mean your personal schedule adapt to school timing. [Grand]Kids start at a specific time and end at a specific time. So, you have a time period when you can complete errands without toting around extra passengers. You can clean without toys getting in the way. You can sit and relax or read and watch in quiet. Then, when they come home at 3:00 o’clock, you return home around 3:30PM. If they have practice, it means you have practice. If they have a game at 7:00PM, you have a game at 7:00PM. If they must eat before 6:00PM , you must eat before 6:00PM. Your personal schedule will start transitioning from relaxed to rigid.
That will hit home even more after Labor Day. School schedules force weekend vacationers to spend more time downstate. That means your streets will less congested, the stores less busy, the sidewalks emptier, the lakes quieter, and the neighbors not-so-noisy. Any frustrations and irritations will melt away. Your personal schedule will be affected by the school-based schedule of others.
Even our church schedule will transition. Soon we will start up Sunday School and Bible Classes (new topic included!). Transition brings adjustment.
Encountering a transition time means you must adjust your schedule. Summer free-time will now be consumed with fall events. You may not have enough hours to participate in every activity. Your appointments may change based on the availability of others. This transition time presents an opportunity to reconsider your priorities. So, what makes the cut? What’s left behind? Who are You Serving? Throw away the idols of your heart. Fill up with the LORD alone.
Our reading brings you to a very crucial transition for Old Testament Israel. Joshua assembled all the tribes of Israel at Shechem, a city about 30 miles north of Jerusalem (much like how Harrison is 20 miles north of Clare). Millions of faces look up at him. Joshua looks over the people he led and guided and advised for decades. Their worn, weathered faces had endured 40-years of wandering in the wilderness. Tired eyes had witnessed God wipe out nations so that they could now stand in the land promised to them. Those burdens of traveling, of unpacking and repacking, of encountering obstacles and overcoming obstacles are all over. A new chapter in life begins.
Standing in this location— in Shechem— place them into a significant setting. Five hundred years earlier Abraham stood here. He received God’s promise to make him (one man) the father of many people. And those people would call this land home (Genesis 12:7). Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, lived here. In Shechem purged his house of idols and urged every servant, relative, and family member with him to worship God alone (Genesis 35:2-4). Now standing in this monumental city, Joshua urges Israel to do the same thing: keep God the Main Priority.
This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: … Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Even though so much of life is about to change they are to love and serve God only. Every thought floating through their minds and every word they speak and every action, is to reflect love, honor, and respect to the One who loved them and rescued them. That love will gush forth as they throw away the gods [their] forefathers worshiped. With the idols of the heart removed, the heart will be less divided. It will cherish God even more. Because idols can tug allegiance away from God.
Yes, the idols you serve. Alright, you probably do not hike out into the woods and worship a tree. I’m sure you do not pray to people who have died. Nor do you sing songs to a little golden statue sitting on your dining room table. That is called ‘open idolatry’— when you physically, visibly worship an object that is not God.
But what are the idols hidden away in your heart? The hidden objects your heart loves? The secret comforts you trust? The unseen objects you treat as God— as though they have power and control, and have influence over the outcome and future of your life?
Well, what demands priority in your heart? Sports? Do you skip Sunday worship for soccer or baseball or softball? Yes, out comes the quick defense: “Well, it’s only one Sunday here, another there. I still come.” That misses the point. God asks: “What takes priority? What do you love more? Your God or your game?”
Do you believe the future only rests in the hands of people— as though God has no influence in the world at all? Remember, God guarantees: All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me (Matthew 28:18). He urges: Pray for those in authority (1 Timothy 2:1-2), turn to me for help. Whose word do you trust more? That which comes from world leaders? or your God?
Or, is your idol, well… you? After all, who decides to step outside the commands of God? God makes quite clear: You shall have no other gods (Exodus 20:3). You shall not love your time with sports more than time with me. You shall not trust others ahead of me. You shall love me with all your heart, mind, and soul (Matthew 22:37). Yet, your (and my) heart determines that you are so great, your time so important, your wants and needs so significant that you can refuse to obey God.
Have you dared marched up to the Living God, grabbed his royal robes, and thrown him down from the throne of your heart so that you can sit on it? Have you dared bark out, “Listen to me, Lord, for I am speaking.” To set yourself over God is to set yourself against God. A God who demonstrates the Amorite gods are worthless because they could not stop him from taking their land. A God who pours fire down from heaven to consume a sacrifice— something the god Baal could not do (1 Kings 18:16-39). A God who not only makes promises, but keeps him promises including the promise to punish every single person who stands against him (Exodus 34:6-7). Who are You Serving? The Almighty God of the universe? Or, mere mortals who pass away like grass?
[I]f serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. Either you serve God or you do not. Either you love God or you love something that is not God. That’s tough, isn’t it? Who can do that? Jesus can and Jesus does.
He is your perfect Substitute—meaning, he does what you (and I) never could! For just a moment, see what he pours into his heart. He worships every single week; this is his custom, his habit (Luke 4:16). In worship, he hears the Word. Not just that, but he takes it into his heart— and then lives it!
He preaches to thousands so infatuated with him. Then, he hits a crossroads. He preaches: I am the Bread of life. Feast on me, take in my words, believe my life will pay for you to enter heaven (John 6). The crowds respond: This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it? (John 6:60). There it is: Jesus can either cling to God’s Word above all things or he could change that Word, soak in popularity, and speak only what people want to hear.
Your Jesus clings to God’s Word alone. Inside, his heart remains this crystal clear temple in which only love for God dwells. On the cross, he takes out your (and my) filthy, corrupted heart and puts his perfect heart in its place.
That is why Joshua can say: [C]hoose for yourselves this day whom you will serve. He’s speaking to Christians, people who already believe in Jesus as Savior. He does not ask you to make a personal decision to come to faith. You could never do that (John 6:44; 15:16). The Holy Spirit puts the heart of Jesus in you. The Holy Spirit sets God on the throne of your heart. The Holy Spirit daily turns you to see what great love the Father has lavished on you. As you see your God forgive, promise eternal life, and create the desire to live a Christian life now, you cannot help but shout: As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.
The people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods! It was the Lord our God himself who brought us and our fathers 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. 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.” What’s the point of retelling something they all already know? So that they can look back and remember that God kept his promise. The God who promised to protect them and bring them into the Promised Land is the same God who would be with them in their future. The more attentions fixated on God’s awesome work, the more the heart filled up with the Lord alone.
Set the heart on the Word and the Word will fill the heart. Take your attention off from the Word and idols fall back in. One generation later, another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel (Judges 2:10). How does that happen? Because Israel separated themselves from the Lord. Instead of teaching the next generation, families kept the Word to themselves. Instead of letting the Word sink into their hearts, empty ritualism grew rampant. Instead of immersing and growing with (and in) the Word, thirsty hearts sought relief in human solutions. Israel sunk deeper and deeper into idolatry. They wander further and further from their God.
Learn from Israel’s history! These things are written for you to see, learn, and avoid the same pitfalls (1 Corinthians 10:6). Who are You Serving? Fill up with the Lord alone.
How? Make worship a priority. Start the habit of daily devotions. Make the honest effort to attend Bible class. Send your child to Sunday School. Yes, the mind will always scream: “I don’t have time!” The devil will tempt: “You have nothing more to learn!” The heart beats: “You don’t need to know this!” You can make an excuse for anything you do not want to do. In the end, they are just that: excuses. Instead of creating excuses, create reasons to come, to worship, to study, to learn. Carve out time and you will soon realize you do have time to spend with God. Remember Jesus’ saving work and the heart will fill up with the Lord alone.
Transitions provide an opportunity to reconsider the priorities of your heart. Summer free-time will now be consumed with fall events. You may not have enough hours to participate in every activity. Your appointments may change based on the availability of others. Transition brings adjustment.
So, what your priorities? As you look forward to the fall, what makes the cut? What’s left behind? Who are You Serving? Start your planning with Joshua’s words: As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.