First Things First!

With the New Year looming on the horizon, so many people look to this as a new start…a new opportunity…a clean slate from which to work off of.  The reality is that when we go to bed on December 31, 2015 and wake up January 1, 2016 it is simply the next morning.  We still have to deal with whatever consequences we are dealing with from decisions made and choices made from the previous year (or years).  However, this perceived clean slate does afford us a perceived new start.  But this new start has to be taken with a retrospective look into the past, and evaluations need to be made, and changes need to be made in order to make the most of this clean slate.

A round of golf is a good illustration of this principle.  A round of golf is eighteen holes.  The courses are usually divided up into the “front” nine and the “back” nine. The scorecards usually have the “front” nine holes on one side of the card and the “back” nine holes on the opposite side of the scorecard.  On each of the holes on the scorecard, you mark your scores for Hole #1, then #2, and so on until you have played all nine holes on the “front.”  You add up your total score of all nine holes, and in golf, the lower the score, the better the score.

As you evaluate the scores over the “front” nine, you see where you made mistakes when you were careless, and where you did well when you were careful and conservative.  You think of how much better you could have played on the “front” nine to get a better result, and you have to ask yourself if you played to your potential or fell short of it.  You see very easily the consequences of your actions over the course of the “front” nine to yield the score you now are looking at.  Most of the time, we golfers will have a goal to do better on the “back” nine.

My buddy knows this all too well, because I say it every week approaching the tenth tee (the start of the “back” nine).  I say, as I turn over my scorecard, “New scorecard!”  Of course it’s the same scorecard, but there are no markings on this side.  No scores yet.  It’s a clean slate and a fresh start.  So this “back” nine is an opportunity to start fresh and forget about what happened on the front.  It’s a chance to make the right choices every time, and yield stellar results because of those right choices.

However, the entire round of golf is evaluated in its totality; “front” and “back” nine combined.  In reality, I could have a stellar “front” nine and blow my score up with mistakes on the “back” nine, and spoil the whole round in the end.  Or I could have had a bad “front” nine, but a stellar “back” nine and been able to salvage a better total round in the end. Such is the way the game of life is played in the hours between December 31st and January 1st of any given year.  Waking up January 1st is like reaching the tenth tee.  No bad decisions made yet.  The potential is there for you to make all the right decisions and have a stellar year…maybe improving the totality of your life despite the bad score you achieved in the previous year from bad decisions, carelessness, and not playing it conservative.

Usually, by the time you finish the “front” nine, you are aware of your weaknesses that particular day.  If one particular club was a problem for some reason, the decision on the tenth tee may be to NOT use that club again the rest of the round…since it cost you strokes and hurt your score and kept you from playing to your potential on the “front” nine.  So on January 1st, if you look at your whole previous year, you probably will see one or two major issues that cost you living up to your potential as a Christian.  The decision on January 1st (life’s tenth tee) should be to NOT make those decisions that proved costly going forward in the year ahead.

God’s been impressing something on my heart that has been popping up in several different studies I’ve been doing during my personal devotion time.  I’m no better or worse than other people, so I’m sure this is an issue that is current for many people today.  The one thing God has put front and center for me to think on is the concept of “First Things First.”  Before I enter into 2016, I need to see how I did in 2015 putting first things first.  My guess is that since God has really laid it on my heart, it’s because it is not only important, but it’s a place where there is much room for improvement perhaps.

Imagine mom waking up on a Saturday morning and the children are clamoring, “What are we going to do today?  Where are we going?”  Mom will say, “First things first!  Get dressed!”  Or the children are clamoring, “When’s dinner?”  Mom will say, “First things first!  I have to run to the grocery store to get food.”  In these two cases, mom had to give priority to the most important thing first.  Then, the rest was able to fall into place.  Getting dressed before you go anywhere always alleviates issues once out in public.  Shopping for food first always solves the problem of having nothing to cook at dinner time.  So too is it with our lives and God.

Let’s look at two places God shows us, “First Things First!”  In Exodus 20:3, “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.”  That is the FIRST commandment.  Later, Jesus says in Matthew 6:33, “But seek ye FIRST the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”  These two verses go hand in hand and are bridged by two other verses.  Psalm 37:25 says, “I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.”  Why not?  Philippians 4:19 explains, “But my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”

God promises to supply our need, but He must be the God we seek our needs from.  We can’t get our needs met from any other god in this world.  God’s Word tells us that in Israel’s day, God warned Israel that to run back to their gods would be fruitless, as their gods would not be able to help them (Judges 10:10-14).  So it is with us.  We are far too much like Israel for our own good.  We claim to put God first, but it is in word only, because when it comes to putting God first into practice and not just word only, but deed also, many people fall short.

For example…if money is tight, and you choose to not tithe this week to pay off an unexpected expense, and you vow to get “caught up” next week, you have not put God first to supply your needs.  You have run to yourself to supply your need and made yourself a god ahead of the One True God.  Or if money is tight and you think it’s no big deal to spend a few dollars each week playing PowerBall, you have made the lottery your god, seeking that entity to supply your need of money, rather than the One True God.  If we are unhappy and discontented and seek after any temporal thing in this world, whether it be a promotion, fame, prestige, honor, etc, to supply our happiness, we have made those things gods and not looked for that void to be filled by the One True God.

There is so much God wants to do for us that no other entity in this world can do for us…here are several…

God freed us from the burden of sin:  “And I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God: and ye shall know that I am the Lord your God, which bringeth you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians” (Exodus 6:7).  Today, when we have problems with addictions and sins, we don’t run to God first!  We run to psychologists and counselors, and self-help gurus.  We join twelve-step programs.  The changes may be good initially, but in the end they prove to be fleeting and without lasting substance.  Those gods can not deliver us from our sin problems.

God promises a life of blessings:  “And I will bring you into a land (the Promised Land), concerning the which I did swear to give it to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I will give it to you for an heritage: I am the Lord” (Exodus 6:8).  We look to what we think will make us happy, and then we kill ourselves in the process of obtaining those things.  We have looked to ourselves as gods to supply our happiness, or have made gods out of the things we think will make us happy.  God says that’s all wrong.  He can bless us in ways we can’t, and at far less of a cost to us.  Israel received cities, and lived in houses they did not build, and drank from wells they did not dig, and harvested fields they did not plant.

God will surpass all our gods:  “For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the first born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the Lord” (Exodus 12:12).  If you look to your new car to bring you happiness, and not look to God for your happiness, or it takes you away from the One True God, God can total your car.  If you look to your new home as the source of your happiness, or it takes you away from the One True God, God can let it burn down.  If you look to a new job, or a promotion as the source of your happiness, or it takes you away from the One True God, God can cause you to lose your job or be demoted.

God will protect us:  “And said, If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to His commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians; for I am the Lord that healeth thee” (Exodus 15:26).  If we don’t put Him first in our lives and keep His commandments, and find happiness in sinful lifestyles that the world partakes in, or if we seek to have our needs met by substances and not in the One True God, God can allow us to suffer diseases meant for drunkards (cirrhosis), or suffer brain damage after an accidental drug overdose.  If we are promiscuous, or living a homosexual lifestyle, God can stricken us with AIDS.  If we stress and not lean on God, but rather look to ourselves to solve our problems and not the One True God, God can cause us a heart attack or stroke…and the list goes on…

God can make us more holy:  “Speak thou also unto the children of Israel saying, Verily my Sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the Lord that doth sanctify you” (Exodus 31:13).  If we do not set aside time to be with God in worship and the preaching of His Word in church, we will not grow spiritually into what God wants us to be.  If we skip church to watch football, play golf, go to the park, spend time with the family, whatever…instead of spending time with the One True God, God will not be able to grow us spiritually.  If we do not spend time in prayer, or if we do not spend time in devotions, God can not grow us into what He wants us to be…but neither will golf, tennis, bowling, cutting the grass, cleaning the house, or washing the car will grow us into what God wants us to be.

Here’s the key to “First Things First.”  In each of the five aforementioned things only God can do, and our other gods can not do, there is a caveat.  God must be first in your life…in all areas.  In each of the verses, He states “I am the Lord.”  Lordship is defined as supreme power or rule.  And God has earned that position and expectation because of what He has done for us…provided a way for us to escape the bondage of sin through the salvation afforded us through Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.  Also, Christ Himself deserves His place as Lord in our lives because He’s the One who actually died for us.  He bought us (1st Corinthians 6:20) and we belong to Him to use us as He sees fit.  We should be in subjection to Him (a demonstration of Lordship) and Paul says that in ALL things (ALL areas and aspects of our lives) Christ should have the preeminence (Colossians 1:18).  So “First Things First!”

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