7-19-15 GOD FIRST


July 19, 2015

          In our Old Testament reading for today (Deuteronomy 4:23b-31), we heard how seriously God views idolatry.  We heard about how He considers it evil, and it arouses His anger.  How He warned the children of Israel what would happen to them when they worshipped idols, as He knew they would.  But also how He promised that He would forgive them when they returned to Him, and Him alone.

          Our Gospel reading (Matthew 10:32-42) was one that many people have a difficult time with.  In essence it requires us to put God ahead of our family, to the point of saying they will be our enemies.  But don't misinterpret that one.  It does not say we are not to love our families.  It says we are not to love them more than God.  And it does not say we are to make them our enemies.  It says they will be our enemies - referring to the possibility that if we decide to follow Christ and they do not, they will not tolerate our faith and our love for the Lord, and our service to Him.  This is not nearly as evident in this country as it is in some.  If you were raised Muslim, and God touches your heart and you give your life to Christ, you definitely will find your enemies are those of your own household.  But if you are not willing to cling to your faith in the face of persecution, then your faith is like that which Jesus referred to in the parable of the sower: "the seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away." (Matthew 13:20-21)

          And our Epistle reading (Philippians 3:8-21) reiterates how we must regard everything on earth as nothing when compared to our faith in Christ, which alone brings eternal salvation.  Paul tells how those who only live for this life on earth are headed for destruction.  But we are to live for the life to come, the one where Jesus will reign supreme, as He already should within our hearts.

          And to sum up all of these up in reference to the church, I have one more reading that I would like to share.  It is found in Revelation, chapter 2, and was written to the church in Ephesus:

"I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.  Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place."

          If we as a church want our lampstand to burn brightly for all the world to see, and do not want God to remove it, then we MUST return to our first love! 

          Think back to when you first became a Christian, when you first asked Jesus to forgive you for your sins and to be your Savior and Lord.  Remember that transcendent moment in time when you first truly believed the message of the Gospel - that Jesus, who is the almighty, eternal Son of God, humbled Himself to the point of being born as a human baby, lived a perfect, sinless life; and then suffered an agonizing death to pay for your sins, and rose again from the dead to defeat death for us, paving the way for all who believe to spend eternity with Him in heaven.  Wasn't your heart on fire?  As the Holy Spirit poured into you, didn't you feel as though a huge weight had been lifted to the point that you almost felt as though you could fly?

          But then somehow life got in the way.  Our enemy, satan, wants nothing more than to steal our joy.  And he wants to render us useless as Christians, by tempting us to focus on our human desires, our earthly fears, our mental doubts, and our emotional weaknesses.  Anything that he can put in our path to lure us off course - be it our job, our family, our new boyfriend or girlfriend, any sort of addiction, any sin we cannot bear to give up - he will use.  He has no shame.  He will first try to make you doubt your faith, then doubt the Word of God, and then even doubt God's existence at all.   But by far his biggest tool, is the one that turned him into satan in the first place.  The one evil that could turn the highest angel that God ever created into the first to inhabit hell.  You can read about his fall in Isaiah 14, where he said in his heart, "I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain.  I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High."  In essence he wanted to be God.  And when we do not put God first in our lives, are we not doing the same?  When we put what we want, ahead of what God wants, are we not raising ourselves, in our own eyes, above God?

          So what is the most important to you?  What is your 'idol'?  As an individual, what occupies your thoughts more often than anything else?  Only you can answer that question for yourself.  In this day and age, image is everything.  How many people do you know on facebook, but would barely recognize if you saw them on the street?  Would their actions match up to what they post?  Do you think that when you stand before the throne God He will judge your facebook page, or He will judge what is in your heart?  Do you post a Bible verse, and then curse your boss?  Or come to church on Sunday morning and then go to the bar on Sunday night?  Who or what is truly first in your life?  What do you look forward to the most?  If Jesus called you home today, would you be overjoyed?  Or would you wish you had more time on earth, because you just got that promotion, or just bought that new car, or finally retired and can take that long vacation you've been planning?  If you are not looking forward to heaven, and being with the Lord, more than anything on earth, you have forsaken your first love. 

          And as a church, what is most important to us?  Is it leading people to Christ, or filling the offering plate?  Is it growing spiritually, or growing financially?  Have we forgotten that Jesus said, "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."?  When we as individuals, and as a church, put God first and foremost, we will be blessed.  We are not losing our life, but gaining it.  But if we do not, we will surely pay the price.