In the eighth chapter of Deuteronomy Moses reminds the people of the promise and vision of God for their future. He also reminds them of the laws, statues, ceremonies and traditions to maintain, so that they will be “careful not to forget the Lord their God” in the midst of their work and prosperity. Three times in this chapter the Lord gives his word through Moses exhorting the people not to forget the Lord their God.
When the Israelites first arrived at the edge of the promised land they lost sight of the Lord their God. Beguiled by the barriers to success, they descended into doubt and unbelief. When they forget the Lord, they could only see themselves, their weaknesses through the lenses of their own realities. Death of the vision became the death of that community.
The same vision was passed along to their children. They also were to remember the laws, ceremonies and holy convocations that would assist them in heeding the exaltation: “Be careful not to forget the Lord your God.” Israel’s success was based on their commitment to honor God in their congregation. The corporate commitment was their strength.
Generations later we follow the history of the Israelites in captivity and exile from this very land which God had given them. The prophet Jeremiah speaks on behalf of God, who asked the question: “What fault did you find in me, that you strayed so far from me?” Even the priest did not ask “where is the Lord?” (Jeremiah 2:5,8). Generations after entering the land, the people forget the Lord their God. We are amazed at their loss of sight, especially to a people set apart to honor God. Maybe there is a lesson for us as a community of Christ-followers.
If we are not careful, our daily activities can lure us away from recognizing the presence of God in our workplace, even when that work is Christian service. In losing sight of his presence, we are vulnerable to building images of God as our servant who comes at our convenience to meet our personal needs. We forget the awe of God which compels us to live in service to him. This new image is a servant to our comforts and ambitions, a protector of our personal preferences and a convenience to our availability.
As our sight dims of God’s presence, we lose connection, fall into silos and miss the essential interdependence required to realize God’s fulness for his people. The ceremonies and traditions given to Israel invited them to recognize God in community. These events stirred their memories of his exaltation: “be careful not to forget the Lord your God.”
At FPU we are working to strengthen our vision of community in the context of honoring God. We do this not only in our department meetings, but in our gatherings to celebrate God’s presence among us. We started this year with our fall convocation; a tradition to honor God at the beginning of the academic school year. We continue to follow this tradition as we gather with faculty, staff and students in a concert of worship in the spring convocation on February 21. These convocations will not only occur on the main campus, but will be held at our regional campuses where alumni and friends are welcome. This is one small way to remember who we are as a people of God, and that he whom we serve is our wisdom, our life and our strength.
In addition to these opportunities, we want to encourage faculty and staff participation in the College Hour on Fridays at 10:00 a.m. in the Special Events Center. Our students are always encouraged to see faculty and staff make the effort to worship alongside them. An additional opportunity to join in this Christ-centered community building is at seminary chapel at 11:15 a.m. on Wednesdays in North Hall on the main campus. These chapels are shifting slightly to accommodate participation of staff and faculty across campus. We do not expect supervisors to shut down offices to attend all these events, with exception of the spring and fall convocations; but we do support each office in providing the opportunity for staff to attend one of these opportunities during the week. We also encourage faculty to join their seminary colleagues in these reflective moments.
We as a community are here in the service of Jesus Christ. To model, mentor and encourage our students to integrate their faith into the present and future. As with Israel, we can easily be seduced to forget the presence of God in our work environment because we are so committed to getting things done.
As a community of Christ-followers we are refreshing the vision in the Fresno Pacific Idea through the mantra: “Engaging the Cultures and Serving the Cities.” Vision guides our work and commitments. Any community that has conflicting visions or conflicting approaches to actualize a vision will rarely realize a vision. God gives us the gift of congregation to remind us of his presence and our dependence on him and others to accomplish his will—his vision.
“Be careful not to forget the Lord your God”—we remind ourselves and each other as we gather in community to worship that the Lord our God is ever-present, and we are his servants.