FAMILY ~ First Things First

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Joshua 24:14-28

On December 23, 2006 Rev. Dr. Robert Gibbs said these words to Andrew and me, “The marriage of Andrew and Sarah unites their families and creates a new one. They ask for your blessing.”* Surrounded by our families of origin, our church family, and our family of peers, we received their blessing.

It was and remains an incredible way that we started our marriage and family together. That day we made a covenant with God and with one another through the reading of Scripture, the joining of hands, the exchanging of vows, and the giving and receiving of rings. There were over 400 witnesses to our union…over 400 family and friends that covenanted to support us, nurture us, and hold us accountable as we continued our lives together.

Andrew and I have known since the moment we started dating that our individual faiths and our faith as a couple would be primary in our relationship. We met at church. We started dating after a mission trip. And I confess that I snuck in my first kiss with him at the corner of the chancel in our home church.

Our individual faiths and faith as a couple were essential in discerning our calls to full-time Christian service. Our families raised us in the church and as young adults we spent as much time as we could at church. We majored in religion as undergraduates. We completed our Master of Divinity degrees. We launched our vocations as United Methodist Clergy. We have planned Bible studies, prepared sermons, written devotions, prayed prayers, and done all the forms…we think…and because I said that I am sure someone is now scheming up a new one!

Since I spend most of my days completing tasks that contribute to my life of professional faith I sometimes neglect the development of my own relationship with God. While I am called to prepare and study and write as that is my job and charge from the Florida United Methodist Bishop, the time allotted towards professional faith development does not always doubly count towards my personal faith development. Then add to this equation that all this preparing and planning and praying is being done by two pastors in the same house every single week!

We do professional faith development quite well…but sometimes professional faith development keeps the first thing from being first.

What is the first thing? Our growth in faith with God as individuals and as a family.

Joshua charges the Israelites with this question, “Choose this day whom you will serve.” To whom will you be devoted? With whom will you grow in relationship? Whom will you seek? As individuals Andrew and I answered, “God, the Holy One of Israel.” As a couple we answer, “God, the Holy One of Israel.” And when we are not doing that, when we are not making the investment in our personal faith development, oh it is so evident. And it is not pretty.

Our faith feeds and informs who we are; when we cut ourselves off from that source, we are not who God created us to be, alone or together.

Joshua confronts the people about worshipping idols and instructs them that in choosing to serve and seek the Lord they must bury those idols. I would not call myself an idolator or idol worshipper, but when I allow something else to take the place of my growth and faith in relationship with God, I stand guilty of my sin. I stand in need of repentance. I stand as someone looking for a hand to hold as I move forward and return to the way of keeping the first thing first, for myself and for my marriage.

I am so thankful for the many hands Andrew and I have to hold – from our families, our church families then and now, and from our family of peers that continues to grow. All of these witnesses encourage and hold us accountable in keeping the first thing first. All of these witnesses are blessings on our journey. We are thankful to serve our God alongside you.

Prayer: “I know not how this saving faith to me he did impart, nor how believing in his word wrought peace within my heart. I know not how the Spirit moves, convincing us of sin, revealing Jesus through the word, creating faith in him. But I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto him against that day.”** Amen.

*”A Service of Christian Marriage,” The United Methodist Hymnal 865.

**”I Know Whom I have Believed,” The United Methodist Hymnal 714.


Unrest: Attachment to Former Things

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Isaiah 46:3-13

PSA: If I could only preach out of one book of the Bible for the rest of my life, it would be the book of Isaiah.  Good stuff.  Snuggle up.

My husband, Andrew, was a state-championship weightlifter in high school and continued lifting through college and post-graduate studies.  He loves it.  And because he loves it, I learned all about it.

In high school weightlifting competitions there are several lifts that the athletes complete: dead lift, clean-n-jerk, snatch, bench press, and others I cannot remember right now.  At the collegiate level the focus is on the clean-n-jerk and the snatch.

The mechanics are (in great generalization):

  • Clean-n-jerk – lift (or clean) the bar from the floor to your collarbone in one fluid motion; pause briefly at your collarbone; then jerk the bar over your head and plant your feet in a half-split position.  
  • Snatch – lift the bar from the floor to over your head in one fluid motion without stopping.  

I remember Andrew’s first competition while at Emory.  He had completed his snatches successfully and was on his last round of clean-n-jerks at his heaviest weight…some number north of 300 pounds.  He was worn out but adrenaline was helping him push through…but on his final lift…he ended up doing a front flip instead…

Andrew moved to clean the bar but his legs gave way under him.  The bar thudded back to the floor with his arms underneath it.  Don’t worry!  He wasn’t injured, but the force of the weight dropping pulled him over the front of the bar into a flip!  I was traumatized…Andrew was laughing.

The judges gave him all 10s for his dismount.

Our Scripture for this week describes how God’s people are being crushed under the weight of idols that they have cast and are carrying.  Isaiah 46:1 reads, “Bel bows down, Nebo stoops, their idols are on beasts and cattle; these things you carry are loaded as burdens on weary animals.”  Bel and Nebo are names of Babylonian gods.  The Israelites are deep in the throws of idolatry as they have created figures of these gods to worship, when they are to worship only the one true God!  The prophet Isaiah observes the heavy load these idols present and then the voice of God speaks.

“Listen…Remember…Listen” God says.

God sees the burden of the people and reminds them that because of what God has done they are not to be a people of burden any longer…yet the people have now created opportunity for burden through these idols.

These idols are lifeless but are somehow able to suck the life and vitality from the people who made them.

These idols are dragging down God’s people just as that bar dragged Andrew to the floor.  And just like Andrew, if God’s people don’t recognize what’s happening – and quick! – they, too, will end up on the flat of their backs.

Our relationship with God is crucial, it’s serious, it’s fundamental to who we are.  These attributes can make our relationship seem heavy when in actuality there is a lightness and freedom to this relationship.  This does not mean our relationship is carefree.  In fact, our relationship with God is the most intentional and intimate relationship we will ever share!  God made this so from the time of creation, continued it in the Incarnation of Jesus, and fosters it still today.

When we get mixed up with other things – former things – sin – that’s how and where the weight that drags us down creeps in, but calling on the name of the Lord, repenting, that is where we experience freedom.

God says, “I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save” (Isaiah 46:4b).  Let go of the weight that’s holding you down.  Allow God to bring God’s true intention about in your life.  And then share that freedom with others.

Prayer: Let my people seek their freedom in the wilderness a while, from the aging shrines and structures, from the cloister and the aisle”: so the Son of God has spoken, and the storm clouds are unfurled, for God’s people must be scattered to be servants in the world.  Amen.  (From Let My People Seek Their Freedom, United Methodist Hymnal, 586, vs. 2.)