“First” (2016 New Years message)

A friend of mine in Louisiana who is a runner sent me a hilarious video some time ago. It was about a guy whose life was all about running. It just dominated his day. He would get up early in the morning and go for a long run, then he would go to work and tell everyone he saw all about it. Then he’d go home and eat healthy, and before he went to bed, he would lay out his clothes for running the next day, when he would get up — and do it all over again. Running was not this guy’s hobby, it was his whole LIFE!

Now some of you may know that I run – not that much – but I run 2-3 miles, 3-times a week for exercise. Running has a little place in my life, but my life does not revolve around it. The thing is, after I saw that video, I thought: this is a picture of how the Christian life is supposed to be for the follower of Jesus. Our whole lives are supposed to revolve around Jesus, just like that guy’s whole life revolved around running. The problem many of us have is that we give Jesus a place like running has in my life: a little place, but not first place, in our lives.

As we begin a new year today I want us to think about putting the Lord “First.” Jesus said in Matthew 6:33 that we are to “seek FIRST the kingdom of God.” The single greatest problem facing many of us as Christians is that we are not really giving God the place He should have in our lives. We give Him “a” place, but not FIRST place. So as we begin this new year together let’s look at some things that God’s word tells us about giving Him “FIRST” place this year:


I. God Designed us to give Him First Priority.

The scriptures make this abundantly clear, in both the Old and New Testaments:

In the 10 Commandments, the very first Commandment is found in Exodus 20:2-3: “I am YHWH your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage; you shall have not other gods before Me.” In Hebrew that literally reads, “You shall have no other gods before My FACE” – the face of God is to be the single most important face in your life; no others are to cloud His face; no others are to be more important than Him. HE is to have first place in your life.

In the New Testament, God’s priority in our lives did not change. In Matthew 22, Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment of the Law. He responded in Matthew 22:37, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment.” Jesus said this is the greatest commandment: loving God. That means that God, who designed you, and gave you everything you have, and all of the time you have here on earth, says that of all of the things you have to do in life, there is nothing more important for you to do than to love Him. THIS is what you were designed for: to every day, and in every way, give Him first place in your life.

The Westminster Confession says: “The chief end of man is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” You were made to love and glorify God, both in this life, and forever. Psalm 16:11 says, “In Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” God designed us to experience pleasure and joy in His presence. That is what heaven is going to be, and that is what we can get a taste of here on earth as well.

Jonathan Edwards, the great American theologian who preached in Connecticut just before the Revolutionary War, said, “Consider that great part of your happiness in heaven, to all eternity, will consist in this: in praising of God, for his free and glorious grace in redeeming you; and if you would spend more time about it on earth, you would find this world would be much more of a heaven to you than it is.” (Jonathan Edwards, sermon, “Glorious Grace”)

THAT is what God made us for – both here on earth, and forever in heaven — just like that guy in the cartoon’s life was all about running; so our lives are to be all about God. He is to have undisputed first place in your life.


II. We have rejected God’s Priority.

Although God made us to give Him the “First” place priority in our lives, we as mankind have rejected that. It started in the very beginning. Genesis tells us that God, who made Adam & Eve to know and love Him, and to walk with Him in the Garden of Eden, had told them not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But Genesis 3 says that the serpent, Satan, tempted Eve, saying, “God knows in the day you eat from it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God”. And :6 says that Eve “saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise”, she took from its fruit and ate. And you know the story: Adam & Eve ate the fruit, and they were cast out of the Garden of Eden, and sin and death came into the world, and to us all through them, and through the sin nature we inherited from them.

But another way to describe what happened in the Garden that day is to say that Adam & Eve rejected the priority of God’s place in their lives. What happened was that they saw something that they wanted more than God. God was to be their love, their top priority, first place in their lives. But when they saw that tree and its fruit, and believed the lie that Satan told them about that tree and God’s purposes for it, they wanted that fruit more than they wanted God – and that was the root of their sin. It was not “just” that they took a piece of fruit; it began with their wanting something else more than they wanted God. They turned away from making Him “First” in their lives. That is the root of sin – making something or someone else more important than God. God is to have unquestioned first place in our lives. When we make anything else #1, then we have sinned – and it leads us to even more sin.

We all do this same thing. We were all made, like Adam & Eve, to walk with God every day, and to make Him our top priority. But like Adam & Eve, we have all found other things to put ahead of Him. We have all broken the first commandment, and have all put other things ahead of the One True God. Just like Adam & Eve, when we break any of the other commandments, we do it because we have first broken the First one: we want something else more than we want God, or we put something else in His place. This is the story of all our sins:
— Abraham feared Pharaoh more than he feared God, so he lied about Sarah.
— Samson wanted Delilah more than he wanted God, so he had his immoral relationship with her.
— Judas – and then Ananias & Sapphira wanted riches more than they wanted God, so they compromised for money.
Each of these broke other commandments, but the first commandment they broke was the first one: they put something else ahead of God. They did not put Him first.

This is what we all do as well. Whenever we break the commandments of God, we do it because we have broken the First Commandment first:
— why does a person not come to church on Sunday? Because they love a sport, or hunting, or camping or the lake more than they love God.
— why does a person steal, or cheat, or not tithe their income? Because they love that money more than they do God.
— why does a person commit adultery? Because they want that pleasure or person more than they love God.
— why does a person not spend time with God in the morning? Because they love eating breakfast or exercising or reading the newspaper, or making themselves look attractive, more than they love God.

It is the same with all of the sins we commit and all of the commandments that we break: the first commandment we always break is the FIRST one: not loving God with all of our hearts; we put something else ahead of Him. We were designed and commanded to make Him “First” – but we don’t do it, and that is what sin is, putting something else ahead of God.


III. God calls us back to Him as F1RST Priority!

Many people do not understand that this is what Jesus calls us to in salvation. Salvation is not just “praying a prayer” that gets us out of hell and into heaven. Real salvation is realizing that we have not given God the place He should have had in our lives, asking forgiveness for that in Jesus, and then putting Him BACK in the first place in our lives where He belongs. Jesus made this very clear in the Gospels:
— Matthew 10:37 “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” Jesus makes it clear from the beginning that NO OTHER PERSON is to have priority over Him in our lives. HE is to be first!
–Matthew 8:21 He told a man who asked Him, “permit me first to go and bury my father”, NO — you come and follow Me. No other PURPOSE was to come before Him. He is to be first.
— Matthew 19, He commanded the Rich Young Ruler to “sell all your possessions and give to the poor … and come, follow Me”. Jesus doesn’t tell everyone to do that; but he wanted that rich young man to see that if he was going to follow Jesus, that Jesus was going to have to be first, not his POSSESSIONS. The young man failed the test. He would not follow – and it is important to realize that Jesus not go running after him and say, “Oh, I didn’t mean it; you can be My follower anyway.” Jesus demands from all who follow Him that He be first – over every other PERSON, any other PURPOSE, or any other POSSESSION in our lives.

A lot of people don’t understand this. They talk about “asking Jesus to be a part of their lives”; but that wording can be very misleading. Jesus does not come to be a “part” of your life; if He comes, He comes to be LORD of your life!

If you think of your life as being like a computer, a lot of people think would see Jesus as another “program” that they load into their computer, with all of the other programs they have going: they have a sports program, a school program, an entertainment program, a family program, and a religious program. They see Jesus as their “religious program” they “downloaded” to “run” whenever they want their “religious program” to go. For most of us, that would mean an hour or two a week, you get your “religious program” running, and then you to on to other things. But Jesus is more than that. If your life were like a computer, Jesus would not be just a “program” you “download”.  He would be more like the “operating system” that controls all of the other programs you have going. He is Master; Lord; the Operating System, through which everything else in your system operates. Jesus does not come to be “part” of your life; but to be FIRST, controlling every other aspect of your life.

If you have not understood that, and put Jesus first in your life, then most likely you have never been saved! And today you need to genuinely turn away from the things that you have put before God in your life, receive the forgiveness Jesus offers you, and truly make Jesus the Lord, the “operating system” of your life.

Others of us would say that you really have made Jesus your Lord, but as you examine your life at the beginning of this new year, you would admit that there are some areas in your life in which you need to recommit yourself in putting Him first.


IV. Let’s look at 4 SPECIFIC WAYS WE NEED TO PUT GOD FIRST as we begin this new year:

A. Give Him the first part of every day
Psalm 5:3 “In the morning, O Lord, You will hear My voice; in the morning I will order my prayer to Thee, and eagerly watch.” Here David says, my first act of the day is going to be seeking my God. He gave God the first part of his day in prayer.

We see that commitment in the life of Jesus too: Mark 1:35 is the best example: “And in the early morning, while it was still dark, He arose and went out and departed to a lonely place, and was praying there.” God the Father definitely had first place in Jesus’ life — and He SHOWED it by giving Him the first part of His day in prayer.

We need to do the same thing. What has first place in your life in the morning? What you make sure you do before you leave your home in the morning, or start your day — that thing you won’t start your day without — is the first priority to you. What is it? For some people it is exercise. They are sure to get their workout in. For others it is putting their makeup on — NO WAY they are leaving home without it (and perhaps some of us shouldn’t!) All of us probably have something that is really important to you, that you just HAVE to have or do before you leave home in the morning. God says I want to be that one thing: more important than your exercise; more important than your coffee; more important than whether your pants are ironed — more important than any other thing.

I shared a few months ago about the lady from our church in Tulsa who so loved the newspaper, and who wouldn’t leave home without reading it. But she came to a time in her life when she realized that she was putting her newspaper ahead of walking with God in His word & prayer. So she made a new commitment: “No Bible; no newspaper.” Some of us here today need to make a similar commitment as we start this new year, that NOTHING else will take priority over your times with God in the morning.

If God leads you, I’d love to have you in my MasterLife class, a 7-week program that gives you some direction and accountability for the basics of the Christian life, including being in God’s word and prayer each day. (You can turn in a card from the bulletin or tell me)
But however you do it, I hope that you will make the commitment like David to say: “In the morning O Lord, You WILL hear my voice” — and give God the first part of your day.

B. Give Him worship on the first day of each week
The First Commandment in Exodus 20 says that we are to put nothing else ahead of God, and the 4th Commandment showed one way that they demonstrated that, by keeping the Sabbath: Verse 8 says; “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” It was a special mark of one’s commitment to God’s first place in their life. They couldn’t really say that Yahweh was their God if they didn’t keep His Sabbath.

But as many of you know, that day would change with the coming of Jesus. After He rose from the dead on the 1st day of the week, the New Testament indicates that the church began to meet regularly on that first day. It was no longer “the Sabbath”, the 6th day of the week, but “The Lord’s Day’, the First Day of the week. This day is important, for several reasons, but most importantly for our discussion today, for what it says about your heart, and whether you are really giving God His rightful place in your life. Our commitment to worship on the Lord’s Day is one tangible way of showing whether we are really putting God first in our lives.

We show by our schedules what our priorities are. We have been in North Carolina for almost 10 months now, and we have seen that there are Some things that are a little different here in North Carolina than they were in Oklahoma. For example, I told someone not long ago that here in North Carolina, they think NOTHING about scheduling church activities, sporting events, and all kinds of get-togethers during University of Oklahoma football games! That is just unheard of where we come from! The first thing you do before you plan anything is check the OU football schedule — weddings, funerals, whatever! For some reason they just don’t do that here!

But all kidding aside, what we prioritize in our schedule says a lot about what’s first in our lives. And some of us need to take a big step towards putting God first in our lives this new year, by giving Him the first day of the week, and by making worship a priority item on your schedule. Starting this week in your family, let it be known: don’t you ASK if we are going to church this Sunday — we ARE going; we WILL give God the worship He deserves on the first day of the week.
C. Give Him the first tenth of your income
The principle of giving to God first is found all through the Bible:
— Prov. 3:9 “Honor the LORD from your wealth, and from the FIRST of all your produce”.
— Ex. 23:19 “You shall bring the choice first fruits of your soil into the house of the LORD your God”
— Ex. 34:20 “The first offspring … belongs to Me, and all your male livestock, the first offspring from cattle and sheep …”.
So they were to give the first of everything to the Lord: the first of their fruit, the first of their vegetables, the first of their cattle and all their animals, the first of their dough – the bottom line is that they were to give the Lord the FIRST of everything that He gave them.

We see later in the scripture that they were to bring these “first gifts” to the house of the Lord to support the work of the ministry:
— Nehemiah 10:37 says that Israel was to give the Levites (the priestly tribe) those first gifts: “We will also bring the first of our dough, our contributions, the fruit of every tree, the new wine and the oil to the priests at the chambers of the house of our God.” So the first of everything they got came to the temple, to the priests who were there, to support the Lord’s work.

And the reason our giving is important, is because like each of these commitments, it shows our heart. When my father passed away a few years ago, my sisters and I shared some stories we remembered about him. One of my sister Erin’s favorite remembrances of Dad was one time when she came to him and asked if he had $5 so she could go and eat pizza with the youth group after church. Dad reached into his wallet and gave her $5. She did not find out until later, when my mom told her, that we were on a pretty strict budget just then, and that $5 was the money that Dad set aside to go out to eat one day a week, which was one of his favorite things to do. But he gave that up for her. Erin has never forgotten that, and she never will. And of course it was not just the $5; that Dad gave her that money that day showed where his heart was towards her.

And it is the same way with what we give the Lord. It is NOT just about the money, but the truth is, the way you spend your money reveals your heart. When we give God the first 10% of what He has given us, it shows in a real, practical way that our hearts are with Him. And conversely, when we do NOT give that 10%, it is a very practical giveaway sign that something is wrong with our hearts. Our lack of giving is a symptom: that something else has displaced God in your life: that there was a house you wanted more than Him; that there was a car or boat you wanted more than Him; there is something you wanted to spend your money on more than Him; It shows that God does not have first place in your heart.

((So a lack of giving is like a “warning light” for your spiritual life. When a warning light comes on in your car, you know there is something wrong, that needs attention. It is the same way with your spiritual life. When you aren’t giving to God, or you don’t want to give, you need to see that “the lights are flashing” — there’s something wrong in your heart before God. It is NOT just a financial problem; it is a heart problem: you have tried to replace God with material possessions. And your lack of tithing, and overspending, and debt, is just the symptom, the “warning light”, of what is going on in your heart!))
That’s why many of us here today need to recommit not only our budgets, but also our HEARTS to God, by committing to give Him the first 10% of everything He gives us this new year.

D. Give Him the first consideration in all your decisions
We looked earlier at Matthew 6:33, where Jesus said: “Seek first the Kingdom of God …”.

Every one of us takes certain things into consideration when we make decisions that face us:
— You may think to yourself: what will this decision do to me financially?
— You may ask: how will this affect my wife or kids?
— You may wonder: what will people think about me if I do this?
There are a number of things you might take into consideration when you make decisions. And you will certainly be facing some decisions in your life in 2016. What are you going to take into consideration as you make those decisions?

If you are a Christian, the #1 factor that you should take into consideration for every decision you make is God. What pleases Him? What advances His kingdom? What does His word say? This should be the first thing you seek; the first thing you think about in every decision.

One of the biggest mistakes you can make this new year, is to make a decision without seeking God first. I think of Joshua and the people of Israel in Joshua 9, when the Gibeonites tricked them into making a covenant with them. The key phrase in that chapter in found in :14, where it says they “did not as for the counsel of the LORD.” They didn’t check with God first — and they made a bad agreement with the Gibeonites, and if you know the story, you know that people became an albatross around their neck that dragged them down for days to come.

And you see Christian people do this all the time: they make decisions without checking with God first, and it costs them:
— they just go out and buy a car on a whim, without really seeking God, and end up with monthly payments that strangle them for years to come.
— they get entangled in a relationship with a guy or gal, without really seeing if this is who GOD has for them, and it ends up dragging them down spiritually, emotionally, and in every way.
— they just do something because it “seems like the right thing to do”, or it’s what they did last year, or whatever — and they miss what God really had for them.

DON’T be like that this year. You may have some decisions ahead of you, but don’t make a decision without seeking God first: in His word, in prayer, and by getting wise counsel from the most godly people you know. “Seek FIRST the kingdom of God” — give HIM the first consideration in every one of your decisions this year.


So these are four specific areas in which you may need to make a commitment to put God first in your life as we begin this new year. But you can do each of those things individually, and still not make the most important commitment: of giving Him control of your WHOLE LIFE, and making Him the “operating system” that everything else in your life revolves around. As we bow our heads together, would you pray about what you need to do to really make God FIRST in your life this year?


— You may be here in church today because you are looking for a better start for this new year. And you can have it. But you aren’t going to get it just because you “came to church.” You can get it if you realize that you were made to put God first in your life, and you haven’t done it — but if you are ready to give HIM control of your life — and make Jesus not just a part of your life, but the “operating system” of your life — then with His help you can turn things around. Some of you need to make a commitment to Jesus as your Lord & Savior today, and we can help you nail down that commitment if you’ll share it with us today.

— others of you may have given the Lord control of your life at some point, but as you look back on 2015, you realize that you have let some things slip. And God has spoken to your heart today about making some recommitments in your life for 2016: maybe you need to get back to giving God the first part of your day in His word & prayer; or maybe you need to make a commitment to be in worship every Sunday; or to give God the first part of your income in the tithe; or to re-think some decisions you are facing, in light of what GOD might want you to do.
Or maybe it’s something I have not even mentioned today, but God has spoken to your heart about it through His Spirit — and you need to come and pray about it today.

— Maybe the decision on your heart is that you really need a church home where you can be accountable and serve. If you think that God is calling you to join our church, we will be staring our New Members class this Wednesday night at 6:30 right here in the worship center, and we’d love to have you join us for that.

— Or maybe you just need to come and pray for someone/something on your heart; the front of this worship center is always open to pray, and we’ll have people who will pray with you if you would like …

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
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