First Things First

Some will remember a few years ago when the St. Louis Rams won the Super Bowl (a distinction that unfortunately the Dallas Cowboys—nor happily the Chicago Bears!—will likely have this season).  The highly offensive minded team was called “The Greatest Show on Turf” due to their ability to seemingly produce touchdowns at will.  At the helm of this scoring juggernaut was a man named Kurt Warner.  The quarterback, whose road from grocery store clerk to NFL superstar is truly inspirational, won the MVP award at the Super Bowl that year.  When the announcer (Jim Nance if memory serves) came to present the award, his introductory words to Warner were something along the line of “First things first, let’s give out this MVP trophy.”   To this the offensive general responded with the sentiment “First things first, I want to give glory to God and to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!”  In the years that have followed the phrase “First Things First” has been used by Warner as a title for his business endeavors as well as his charitable interests.  Now, I don’t intend to speak about football for the rest of this newsletter (as a Dallas fan, that would be depressing—though perhaps not as depressing as it would be if I were a Chicago fan!), but what I do want to emphasize this first month of a new year is putting “First Things First.”  Since nearly the inception of this ministry, the information on the left hand side of our bulletin has been an attempt at keeping our priorities straight.  The WIFE principle is not original to me, but I think it is an acronym that can help us as Christians to keep proper focus, to keep “First Things First.”

Worship…The last temptation of Christ, as recorded in the gospel of Matthew, saw Jesus being offered all the kingdoms of the world if He would only fall down and worship Satan (Matt. 4:8-10).  Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, of course knew the written Word of God and refused the proposition by citing Deuteronomy 6:13, “You shall worship the LORD your God, and serve Him only.”  Now, very few people I know, whether they are believers or not, would consciously consider worshipping Satan.  However, I wonder how many Christians today (myself included) would be so doggedly determined to their worship of God that they would walk away from infinite fame and fortune in order to bless Him and Him alone.  To be sure, some people get paid more than others, but no job gives “all the kingdoms of this world” for its compensation package.  Most folks get a little squeamish about calling in to miss a day’s work, afraid that they may also miss a little something from their paycheck or even risk the possibility of losing their employment altogether.  They can be sick and tired in body, or simply sick and tired of their job, but still they tend to get up and go.  Now, giving an honest day’s work for an honest day’s wage is something everyone would do well to abide by (the Lord is certainly not pleased with laziness or shoddy labor), but do let me ask, are we as committed to or concerned about worshipping God as we are about our work (or perhaps better said, our paychecks)?  Even more tragic, many of us are probably more intentional in making sure we don’t miss the evening news or the football game or the reality show or whatever your favorite television program might be than we are in reserving even just a few minutes daily to lift our voice in praise to God.  Do we put Him on a back burner knowing that He will understand?  Do we expend all of our emotional, physical, and yes, even spiritual energy, in pursuits that, while important and perhaps even good, surely do not take the place of the most important “work” to which we are called?  Worship is the only activity that will extend into all of eternity for those who believe.  Making sure it is a priority in our lives today is an essential part of putting “First Things First!”

Instruction…As many of you know I teach math to middle schoolers.  The last unit we covered completely before Christmas break was how to calculate the surface areas of various solids.  As a teacher, this is a chapter I approach with some sense of dread.  It’s not because surface area is incredibly difficult, it’s just that it involves a long and tedious process and there aren’t always neat and tidy formulas that can be used for every type of problem.  Students quickly grow tired and weary of the amount of time it takes to complete these questions and soon cry out for me to teach them an easier and quicker way to get the right answer.  Some mathematical concepts have shortcuts I can show them, but not surface area.  The students gripe and complain that the problems take too long to complete, yet they somehow always find time to text their friends, listen to their Ipods, play with their Ipads, watch their Youtubes, and update their Facebooks!  When I tell them they will need the math that I’m teaching them to get a diploma in the future that can help lead them to eventual gainful employment more than all of this frivolous entertainment, most don’t believe me…Paul, knowing that his last days on this earth were quickly coming to an end, thought it important to admonish Timothy, his understudy in ministry, to preach and teach the true Word of God because the time would come when people would not “endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires (2 Timothy 4:2-3).”  We all want a shortcut to the Christian life.  Better said, we want a shortcut to the blessings and success (often material) that we have been told by popular preaching of our day accompany growth in Christ.  But, like with surface area, there are no shortcuts to becoming all that Jesus would have us to be.  We tend to eat up false teachings telling us the quick way to become godly and how to “possess what we confess” (again, often material in orientation).    But, tell us that we need to spend quality time, which is impossible to achieve without some measurable quantity of time, in God’s Word, and we quickly complain.  Yet, we too somehow find time for Ipods, Ipads, Youtubes, Facebooks and the like.  May we be more committed to His Word this year than ever before.  Heeding true teaching and seeking biblical truth individually as well as collectively are part of keeping “First Things First!”

Fellowship…I was privileged to work for a man named Dr. Lamp at ORU.  In addition to teaching classes at the seminary, he also pastored a church in a small town an hour or so outside of Tulsa.  Dr. Lamp grew up in Chicago, so ministering in a rural outpost in Oklahoma was a bit of a culture shock.  People’s excuses for not attending church in Chi Town tended to be something along the lines of, “I would be there but I’ve got tickets for the Bears’ game at Rigley Field…or was that the Cubs’ game at Soldier Field?”  Reasons for missing services in Oklahoma were more in the vein of, “I would be there but I had to go fishing at Chitlinswitch Campground…or was that hunting at Podunk Creek?”  Dr. Lamp is a great teacher and preacher but not always the best diplomat.  One day the pastor/professor had heard one excuse too many and replied to a habitually truant parishioner that what he was really saying was that he would rather be hunting or fishing than to spend some time worshipping God with the ones for whom Christ died!…Those who know me know that I’m not legalistic when it comes to church attendance (although I used to be of that mindset).  The truth is there are untold multitudes of people who fill a pew one, two, or even more times a week who have never truly put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  That being said, even though you don’t have to go to church to go to heaven, those who are going to heaven do have a desire to be in church on a regular basis with others of the like same faith.  Watching Christian television, listening to Christian radio, following Christian websites and the like are great and wonderful things that I mostly encourage, but there is no substitute for being in a local church with fellow believers who know you, pray for you, and serve and worship the Lord together with you.  Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the habit of many (Heb. 10:25), helps us  put “First Things First!”

Evangelism…I read a statement once that “the church is the only organization that exists primarily for the benefit of its nonmembers.”  Now, perhaps that’s not completely true (for the church exists most importantly for loving God), but it does express a seminal point that was missed by the majority of the religious leaders in Jesus’ day.  They were focused upon themselves and thought that they were due spiritual acceptance simply for being of the natural lineage of Abraham.  They did not concern themselves much with the thought that the Word of God and the love of God were to be shared with others, especially not with folks like the Samaritans or the Gentiles that they looked down upon and saw as impure and unworthy (compare this mentality with Jesus’ explicit instructions to His disciples in Acts 1:8).  Today Christendom is mostly comprised of Gentiles, so religious leaders obviously do not major on being part of Abraham’s natural offspring.  However, I would dare say that there are more messages today admonishing us to obtain the blessings of Abraham (which are often seen as material in nature) for ourselves than there are on how to bring the blessings of Abraham (which are of course most importantly spiritual in nature) to others.  At the first service of Grace Christian Ministries I said that I had no desire to simply come in, sing a few songs, have a message, and then hit the repeat button.  If the worship, instruction, and fellowship in which we engage do not instill in us a desire to have outreach ministries of some sort to help bring the gospel to those who do not know Christ, then we fall far short.  Evangelism, going into all the world and preaching the gospel to all creation (Mark 16:15), is an integral part of putting “First Things First!”