Who’s on First?
Who’s on first?
You’ve got to love those stories about loyalty. We remember how much Old Yeller loved that boy. Superman was completely devoted to Lois Lane. No matter how much you tortured Robin, he would never betray Batman.
Could Jerry West be anything but a Laker? Does a Marine have strong feelings about his country? Every couple, standing at the altar, intends to be faithful until death does them part.
I met Laura the summer after I graduated from high school. I thought she was the girl of my dreams. I was completely devoted. I was in love . . .
A few months later, in the midst of our first semester of college, my devotion was waning. Within a few days, with as much compassion as I could muster up, I had the very difficult job of explaining my miscalculated long-term loyalty.
To my surprise, as I fumbled through my explanation, the feeling was mutual!
When it comes to making the choice of what you will worship, you must also consider who’s on first.
In God’s instruction manual for morality, He begins the Ten Commandments by laying an important foundation. The first commandment is: You shall have no other gods before me.
God made it clear to Moses and the people of Israel that He was not interested in sharing top billing in their lives with any other god.
What is a god? It is, quite simply, whatever people put first in their lives. Some gods are made out of stone. Some out of wood or straw. Some are even made out of metal, chrome, rubber, and leather.
Gods can be ideas, values, political systems, obsessions or any other thing known to man. You can join a cult or a religion and worship a god. Or, more subtly, you can worship a god by building your live around something on which you place ultimate value. If your greatest desire is popularity, power, or money, you are devoted to your chosen god.
The God of the Bible demands that He be put first in your life. There can be no greater priority.
So, how do you determine who’s on first in your life?
I have always heard that there is a sure-shot, two-part litmus test for determining your life’s greatest priorities. There are two places in which to look. They’re close to you at all times and you cannot function without them. When they are lost, your life is in a state of chaos. They speak loud and clear as to your greatest priorities. They let you know who is on first.
What are they? Your daytimer and your checkbook.
Your daytimer (calendar, planner, TO DO list) displays where you spend your time. Your checkbook (wallet, credit card, cash) displays where you spend your treasure. They will clearly point to your highest priorities.
It is not as if God needs our time or our money. Religious institutions might. Various ministries might. But, God does not. For the truth is, He already has it. In regards to time: God was, is, and always will be. In regards to money: God had, has, and always will have. We, on the other hand, simply live on credit––all we have is on loan.
You, in all honesty, will spend your earthly time and your money on that which you value most. If you will truthfully sit down and review how you spend your time and your money, you will find out who’s on first.
God demands that He be first because God can never be anything but first. The all-powerful, all-knowing, omnipresent God of the universe demands nothing less than first. For if you believe that He created all things, how can He be secondary to something that He created?
Who’s on first in your life? You were wired and designed in such a way that you will never function at full capacity until you are ready to deal with the issue of . . .
Who’s on first?by Pastor Doug
In light of all the suffering our Christian brothers and sisters are experiencing around the world, and especially in Iraq and other places controlled by radical Islam, we are reminded of what Jesus said to conclude what we call the Beatitudes:
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
As we did on Sunday, I invite you to pray an ancient and a contemporary prayer:
John of Constantinople (349-Sept. 14, 407)
from Homilies on Hebrews, Homily XXXIII
So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.
Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.
For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.
Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.
Let us give a sacrifice of thanksgiving to Christ, that He may offer it to the Father. For in no other way is it offered except through the Son.
“Blessed are ye,” Christ says, “when men reproach you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in Heaven.” (Mt. 5:11-12)
For all things then let us give thanks, both for comfort, and for affliction.
Let us not murmur: let us not be unthankful.
Let us bear all things thankfully,
be it poverty, be it disease, be it anything else whatever; for He alone knows the things expedient for us.
Let us have fellowship with Christ in His sufferings. Let us bear His reproach.
Affliction is a great good. This brings us near to God.
Are we in poverty? Let us give thanks.
Are we in sickness? Let us give thanks.
Are we falsely accused? Let us give thanks.
When we suffer affliction, let us give thanks.
“It is good for me, Lord, that Thou hast afflicted me that I may learn Thy statutes.” (Ps. 119:71)
Let the groans of the prisoners come before you;
according to your great power, preserve those doomed to die! (Psalm 79:11)
Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.
Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
“Whoever acknowledges me before men,
I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32)
Prayer of Solidarity: One with Them:
Today we pray in unity with our brothers and sisters who suffer because of their faith in You. We pray with them that their faith will remain strong; that in their suffering they will be comforted; that their loved ones would turn to You; and that their witness of your love will draw others to You. We are honored to be One with You and One with Them.
Amen.by Pastor Doug
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”
Years ago, Stanley Ralph and I went fishin’.
That’s what you call it in Missouri, especially on Tablerock Lake.
We spent the day on the water, tempting the catfish with worms that resembled small serpents. There is nothing quite like a day of philosophical contemplation—all while manning four poles each.
When I think of peaceful, somehow, this is the image I see. Patiently waiting for the tug on the line that may never come and “it really don’t matter!” Peacefully floating along…
That evening, we stopped by Mary Goldsmith’s house. She was Stan’s lake-dwelling grandmother. Amidst the smell of hot rhubarb pie, I noticed the needlepoint sign she had hanging in her basement—a room mostly consumed by the quilt she was completing. The sign read, “Blessed are the quilt makers, for they will be called piece makers.”
That’s right! A peacemaker is one who can bring the pieces together. Whether they’re working in the Middle East or as the middle child, the peacemaker brings people together—piece by piece.
Jesus, knowing that we would have a propensity towards conflict, said “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”
Making peace is no easy task, especially in places where they’ve never known what that means. (Even Jimmy Carter would admit it is often tough work!) However, in spite of the enormous challenge, we are all called to seek peace—especially if you consider yourself to be God’s child.
A peacemaker is someone, a lot like you, who does not hesitate to go into a room filled with conflict and strife. Surely you’ve been in a few such rooms! Probably just the other day! When you enter the room committed to softening the differences, diffusing the misplaced anger and resolving the impasse, you are doing the work of peacemaking.
Jesus calls you blessed. So will everyone else!
Let’s say that you choose (and this will always be a choice) to seek peace. You’ve been wronged, even humiliated. The battle has been brewing for years. It did not happen overnight. The “give” has been broken and the animosity has mature mold all over it.
What are you to do?
Consider entering the battleground, choosing to be a peacemaker—bringing the pieces together. However, before you proceed, understand how you’re wired.
The disruption of peace can always be traced to your initial perceived threats. When the conflict began, what initially threatened your identity? Threats, whether intentionally or unintentionally, attack self—the people, things and ideas that are dear to you.
People: Who are your parents, your children, heroes, and friends? Who is your spouse? How did you perceive that they were under attack?
Things: What is considered your property? What is your team, your group, or your institution? As trivial as “things” may seem, you ought to ask yourself how did you perceive that they were under attack?
Ideas: What do you value? What do you believe? What are the doctrines or philosophies that you treasure? Is it possible that you perceived these to be under attack?
Do you remember how you initially responded? God created an automatic mechanism in you, triggered to experience anxiety whenever you are threatened. It is an inner alarm system, sounding when selfhood is under attack––the heart will begin to beat rapidly, the blood pressure will increase and the muscles will become tense. Adrenalin swims throughout the blood stream and the body is ready for fight or flight, defense or escape. How did you initially respond to your sense of being under attack?
The first and most natural emotional response to anxiety is fear. However, anger is always quick to follow. Threats produce anxiety; anxiety produces fear; and fear leads to anger. Investigate: Is this indeed what happened?
Regarding anger, it is good to remember that anger is a perfectly normal emotion. It’s universal. It’s merely an emotion. Everyone experiences anger. It’s not sin. It’s what you do with anger that matters. That’s why the Bible says, “In your anger do not sin.” With that in mind, the question should be: Where was the anger placed? It has to be put somewhere. Try to discover where.
There are many unhealthy targets for anger—destinations that will destroy peace. Suppressed or denied anger pushes it deep down into the subconscious. Introjected anger turns it back on the self. Displaced anger takes it out on a substituted target, like the wife, the kids, the walls—even the family dog.
Hostility is a dangerous channel for unresolved anger. It can make you harsh, bitter and intolerant. Unchecked anger fuels hostility. This often leads to premeditated or unintended violence, the violence that intends to hurt or destroy. Unattended anger can be stored up, ready to explode at any moment.
It is a scary place to be! It is hard to imagine how situations can get so out of control, but they do. You certainly know they do. You’ve probably experienced it firsthand.
What then can you do?
Be aware. Walk yourself through the process. Revisit the various stages of the mounting conflict. Evaluate what really happened. Be honest about the facts.
Take responsibility. Own your own behavior. An admission or a confession of wrongdoing is priceless. Healing rarely comes without it.
Discover appropriate ways to express anger. After sharing your true feelings with God (in heaven) and a trusted friend (on earth), express your anger directly. By honestly identifying the source of your anger—all the way back to the initial threats—an acceptance of that anger and a commitment to handle it in a healthy manner will most often lead to healing.
Do your part to bring resolution. The apostle Paul gives you this advice: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” If appropriate, apologize. (Even if it isn’t, do it anyway!) Offer forgiveness. Do everything you can, leaving the rest to God.
“Blessed are the quilt makers, for they will be called piece makers.”
Take Grandma Goldsmith’s advice: Gather up the pieces, lay them in the appropriate order and allow God to sew them together as one—piece by peace, in peace.
Then, you can spend the rest of the day really fishin’.by Pastor Doug
Note: For my daughters, especially, who will come about this truth walking uphill…
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”
Let’s just say her name was Jane.
She sat across from me in English Composition. My heart leapt on that first day of school. Her command of the English language was beautiful, shapely, and perfectly distributed. I surmised all of that just from her eyes.
Never had a girl seemed so lovely, only to turn so grotesque.
Yet, it happens so often, in so many ways. Why is it that some beautiful people turn ugly, while some ugly people turn beautiful?
It’s the “book cover” principle: you know you can never judge a book by its cover. This is especially true when it comes to people! Beauty, in its purist form, travels from the inside out, not the other way around.
Now, you would never know that if you relied upon our popular culture. The magazine racks fortifying grocery store registers tell us a different lie. With the right lighting and the help of an airbrush, you see absolute perfection. You pay for your groceries with the sunken feeling that you’ll never know that kind of complexion, cleavage, or contemporary fashion.
Even though you know that “she” doesn’t really exist, you still buy into the notion the cover makes all the difference in the world. At the depletion of inner beauty, you hock all that is important to get the quick cosmetic fix that will make you someone beautiful, too.
But, don’t believe the lie.
Skin deep—that’s how far that’ll take you. Eventually, you will run out of procedures and, somewhere down the road, have to deal with the source of true beauty.
The Apostle Peter, probably not the most attractive man on the block, had enough sense to know that his shell did not define his person. He’s the one who said, “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”
You know that’s true, no matter how uphill it seems! Deep down, you long to live in a world where people act like this, act upon this reality.
From His vantage point in heaven, God has the ability to see the inside. It takes us a lot longer. God sees the heart. He looks for purity. He reads our pages and knows the meaning of every word. He never spends much time worrying about the color of the cover.
God knows—to be a fact—that inner beauty always pays off.
Down in the depths of our own lives, we know that is true, too. We’ve sat next to way too many people on way too many first days of way too many classes to believe that you can size up a person just by the way they clean up every morning.
Outward beauty isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be. Let me explain.
Did you color eggs to celebrate the Easter season? Let’s say you spent an eight-hour-shift getting one egg to absolute perfection. It became a sight to behold. It was perfectly shaped, artistically colored––a model for all other eggs. It was a Rembrandt, if ever an egg was!
I dare you, then, to leave it in your living room till next Easter! Better yet, display it from here on out on the mantle over your fireplace…
The opposite of a pure heart is a stinky one—a heart with an overwhelming stench. A heart that our culture has been way too anxious to embrace! Hollywood will present us today with the next rising sex symbol, ruthlessly disposing the former one. The magazine cover is only one-dimensional, otherwise you might not like the person who lives behind the smile.
That’s why Jesus would say, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” Jesus only said what we know (from all those various experiences) to be true.
When push comes to shove—when all is said and done—we celebrate at a funeral of someone who spent time working on their heart. We feel a gap tomorrow when a pure heart has been lost today.
Why? Because the person with a pure heart is one who sees God. Furthermore, the one who sees God is one who helps us see Him too.
If you get stuck on the exterior, then, that’s as far as you’ll get. Eventually, that beauty will fade. However, when you see inside a person who sees God, you get to see God and you get to see a person at their very best. Nothing is more attractive. No cosmetic company can duplicate. Nothing compares.
I know that you know that what I’m saying is true. Our experiences prove it so. You’ve seen Jane go from better to worse just like me.
So, just imagine how beautiful Jane became when she let God purify her heart!
She saw God and so did we.by Pastor Doug
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”
Do you remember Rambo?
He was a Vietnam vet pushed a bit too close to the edge. He exploded and lots of other things really, really exploded as well. He single-handedly took on entire armies. He got justice. He got the bad guys. He got even!
Sometimes I think I’m Rambo. Although I have no idea how to blow up stuff and I own no weapons of mass destruction, I often find myself fantasizing about getting even. I plot out my retribution to the last glorious (and goriest) detail.
I want justice. I want payback. I want revenge!
Revenge feels so good, so I think. It always feels good in the movies.
Yet, is it? In real life?
Revenge is one of many potential ways to respond to anger. Anger is a possible response to some perceived threat against our property, family or self. It’s a natural, God-created emotion. It’s not sinful to experience anger. It’s the subsequent motivation and behavior that is right or wrong.
When I am angry, I have done no wrong until I use my words to destroy others or my force to harm anything and everything around me. It’s not wrong to be angry. It’s bad actions motivated by anger that transgress.
When your spouse fails you, your friend swindles you, or your government falls short, you need to find a way that deals with your anger in a healthy manner.
When someone else gets the promotion that you wanted; when you are not invited to a party held by your closest friend; when you’ve been wronged, hurt, falsely accused, damaged, and even destroyed, you need to avoid the poison of vengeance.
Revenge is a dark, thick and sticky cup of venom. I know. I’ve tasted it and it has ruined my heart.
However, there is another way. It’s not Rambo’s way. It’s surely not our culture’s way. It’s God’s way.
It’s called mercy.
Whereas revenge is toxic, mercy is like a cold, sweet glass of milk. It’s healthy. It’s pure. It makes you want to eat a cookie or two. Jesus said the merciful are blessed and they are the ones who will receive mercy.
You will be better off when you become a person of mercy.
• Understand that you must give it as well as take it. It makes perfect sense that you should only get what you give and, furthermore, you shouldn’t receive that which you’re not willing to give. So, always look to forgive others and others will forgive you. Before you ask God for mercy, make sure you’re willing to do the same for everyone else.
• Understand that you must show mercy because you’ve received mercy. Because of the way God loves you, you can love others. Cut others some slack. You’ll probably need it sometime soon. It is not impossible for humans to act like the One who designed them. It’s just tough. It just takes practice. It has to be learned. Start today. Don’t wait until tomorrow.
• Understand that you must leave justice in God’s hands, not yours. Someday everyone will stand before God and give their side of the story. Of course, they must do so knowing that God knows the truth. In spite of how just you may (or may not have) been treated on this side, you will get a fair trial before God. He’ll take care of any overlooked injustices. He’ll do what’s right.
In the meantime, you can just work on being merciful. It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s the best thing to do. For you. For everyone else.
Even if you think you’re John Rambo.by Pastor Doug