Putting God First in Your Life
Putting God First In Your Life
Exodus 20:1-3 (NIV)
The God you choose will either devour or develop your life. Boundaries are something that our culture needs and yet it hates them. We believe that our fun and freedom will be hampered if limitations are imposed on our lives. No where is this more true than with God’s boundaries, also known as the Ten Commandments.
The sentiment of our society is echoed in the words of Ted Turner more than a decade ago. He told a convention of newspaper executives that the Ten Commandments are out of date. Instead, Turner suggested a set of “Ten Voluntary Initiatives” to guide “sensitive persons through the new age.”
Throughout this series I want to emphasize that God didn’t give us these commandments to stifle our pleasure. His intent was to maximize the joy of life on earth. He didn’t set forth these commands to curb our freedom, but to show us what real liberty looks like. God’s boundaries were meant to lead us to abundant living.
One way the commandments achieve this is by keeping us safe: One winter a resort in Breckenridge, Colorado, posted signs instructing skiers to keep off a certain slope. The signs, large and distinct, said, “DANGER! OUT OF BOUNDS!” In spite of the warnings, however, several skiers went into the area. The result? A half-mile-wide avalanche buried four of the trespassers beneath tons of snow and rock. This tragedy never would have happened if the signs had been heeded.
That’s the negative end of the commandments. On the positive side I want to demonstrate how God’s loving limits actually set us free to become the people God created us to be. We’re kind of like kites. The kite is attached to a string, held by a person standing on the ground. After the kite is airborne you might be tempted to cut the string so it can fly higher. Go ahead and try it and you’ll see what happens. The kite won’t gain greater altitude. Instead, it will plummet to the ground. A kite finds its freedom to fly in a boundary and so do we.
We’re going to begin with the first commandment this morning. It is foundational to all the rest. If you don’t fully buy into this one, the other nine are of no use. I’d go so far as to say that failure to uphold the first commandment is what leads to breaking any of the other nine. The first commandment is foundational.
1. The Foundation of the First Commandment
In three short verses God defines a proper perspective for viewing life. And God spoke all these words: “I am the LORD your God...” Exodus 20:1-2a (NIV) From the very beginning God in the first commandment:
A. Abolishes atheism. In fact, the first two verses tell us who the commandments are for. They are only relevant for people who believe in the one and only God. Only people who have a relationship with the God of the universe by faith will buy into the Ten Commandments.
I appreciate the efforts of folks who are trying to get or keep the commandments posted in schools and courthouses, but I have to conclude that it’s the most ineffective thing you can do. Would you really expect an atheistic society to live by laws that they assume are outdated, irrelevant and humanly invented? Spiritually speaking, nonbelievers are dead. They have no God-consciousness. They will not be moved by appeals to heed the Ten Commandments. Only people committed to God will take the commandments seriously.
My advise to all these well-meaning Christians is that they, first, start living the commandments. Then, fulfill the Great Commission of Jesus by sharing their faith with lost people. It’s only after they’ve come to believe and have a relationship with the God of the universe that they will even consider living by his laws.
Before actually giving the first commandment, God continues with this introductory statement: “…who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” Exodus 20:2b
On this occasion he was communicating exclusively with the nation of Israel. God had miraculously saved them from bondage in Egypt. He directly intervened and brought them out. There were no doubts about his personal involvement. This deliverance could not be chalked up to chance or human effort. It took God’s power and presence to pull it off. This verse confronts an old idea that is still alive and well in our world today.
B. The First Commandment Denies Deism. Deism is the belief that there is a God out there somewhere, but he’s really not involved in human affairs. He created the world and everything in it, but then like a clock, he wound it all up and let it go. He’s detached from us and doesn’t intervene. He’s not emotionally involved either. He could really care less what happens here on earth.
We don’t call it deism anymore. Today it goes by the titles “inclusion” or “ecumenical” or sometimes “tolerance.” It’s the idea that there is a God, but we shouldn’t try to define him. This has resulted in what one author has termed the “Mush God.”
The Mush God has been known to appear to millionaires on golf courses. He appears to politicians at ribbon-cutting ceremonies and to clergymen speaking the invocation on national TV at either Democratic or Republican conventions.
The Mush God has no theology to speak of, being a Cream of Wheat divinity. The Mush God has no particular credo, no tenets of faith, nothing that would make it difficult for believer and nonbeliever alike to lower one’s head when the temporary chairman tells us that Reverend, Rabbi, Father, or Mufti, will lead us in an innocuous, harmless prayer, for this god of public occasions is not a jealous god. You can even invoke him to start a hooker’s convention and he/she or it won’t be offended. God of the Rotary, God of the Optimists, Protector of the Buddy System, The Mush God is Lord of the secular ritual, of the necessary but hypocritical forms and formalities that hush the divisive and derisive. The Mush God is a serviceable god whose laws are chiseled not on tablets but written on sand, open to amendment, qualification and erasure. This is a god that will compromise with you, make allowances and declare all wars holy, all peaces hallowed.
This abstract deity makes no absolute claims on anyone or anything. The God of the Bible is profoundly different. He is the one and only and as such can make the next demand of all who would be in relationship with him. “You shall have no other gods before me.” Exodus 20:3 (NIV)
This first commandment explicitly…
C. Prohibits polytheism. That’s not the belief that someone named Polly is God. Polytheism is the belief in many gods. Egypt, the place where the nation Israel had just escaped from, was polytheistic. They had many, many gods – Ra, Isis, Horace, take your pick. The Lord God told them to forget all that nonsense. He’d publicly triumphed over all those so-called gods and now his people were to acknowledge only him.
If you’re a Christian you may be thinking that you’ve got this one licked. You’ve never bowed down to another god. You’ve never prayed to or called on the name anyone other that the Lord. Don’t pat yourself on the back too quickly. You may not have gone through ritualistic worship of other gods, but the way you live might just reveal rank idolatry. You just haven’t recognized it as such. …Whatever you love most, serve most, seek out most, give to the most, worship the most, and care about the most is your god.
Your “god” can be your career, your bank account, the way you look, a particular position or degree, influence, power, or physical pleasure. It can even be something that is considered good, yet you allow it to dominate your life more than God, such as your marriage or your family. Your “god” is whatever you allow to control you, to be the ultimate guide to decision making, and the source of your self-worth.
What other gods could we have besides the Lord? Plenty! For us there are still the great gods Sex, Money, and Stomach (an unholy trinity constituting one god: self), and the other enslaving trio, Pleasure, Possessions, and Position, whose worship is described as “The lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16). Football, the Firm, and Family are also gods for some. Indeed the list of other gods is endless, for anything that anyone allows to run their life becomes their god. Whatever or whoever preoccupies your mind, determines how you spend your time and dominates your decisions is your God. It’s imperative that the true God is indeed your God.
2. The Profit of Giving God Priority
Before we look at the profit of having only the true God as Lord of your life, let’s look at the pitfall of idolatry. Here’s what the Bible says about it in Psalm 115:3-8 (NIV) Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him. But their idols are silver and gold, made by the hands of men. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but they cannot see; they have ears, but cannot hear, noses, but they cannot smell; they have hands, but cannot feel, feet, but they cannot walk; nor can they utter a sound with their throats. Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.
What does this mean for us? In The Wounded Healer, Henri Nouwen retells a legend from ancient India: Four royal brothers decided each to master a special ability. Time went by, and the brothers met to reveal what they had learned. “I have mastered a science,” said the first, “by which I can take but a bone of some creature and create the flesh that goes with it.” “I,” said the second, “know how to grow that creature’s skin and hair if there is flesh on its bones.” The third said, “I am able to create its limbs if I have flesh, the skin, and the hair.” “And I,” concluded the fourth, “know how to give life to that creature if its form is complete.” Thereupon the brothers went into the jungle to find a bone so they could demonstrate their specialties. As fate would have it, the bone they found was a lion’s. One added flesh to the bone, the second grew hide and hair, the third completed it with matching limbs, and the fourth gave the lion life. Shaking its mane, the ferocious beast arose and jumped on his creators. He killed them all and vanished contentedly into the jungle.
We too have the capacity to create what can devour us. Goals and dreams can consume us. Possessions and property can turn and destroy us, unless we first seek God’s kingdom and righteousness, and allow Him to breathe into what we make of life.
Be careful which God you give control. The God you choose will either devour or develop you life. If it’s a false god you’ll be ruined to an eternal extent. If you chose the God who reveals himself in the Bible you’ll reap an abundant life. It will overflow with godly joy and peace and fulfillment. Here are some ways it will happen:
1. Passionate following produces freedom. Once, when asked his top three priorities in life, Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald’s fast food chain, responded, “God, family and McDonald’s.” Then he added, “But when I get to the office I reverse the order.” Many of us live by that kind of prioritizing. God is somewhere in the mix, but not at the top. That kind of living is not really living. It promises freedom and reward but really it’s slavery to another god. Putting Jesus first offers real life and genuine freedom. Listen to his startling words: “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 10:37-39 (NIV)
God wants to liberate us from the meaningless pursuit of fake gods. He wants to give us a purpose larger than ourselves. We’ll only find it by giving Jesus top priority. He knows that the God you choose will either devour or develop you life.
In another place Jesus told people to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all the other necessities of life would be given to us. He wants to liberate us from the anxiety of having enough stuff to find our freedom in himself. You can live abundantly by casting down all those so-called gods that rule your time, talents and resources and hand them over to Jesus Christ, the one and only God. Putting God first also
2. Results in right relationships with other people. It’s a fact that if your relationship with God is not right, your relationships with people will be out of whack too. Conversely, putting God first puts your relationships with others right. If you look at the Ten Commandments you can see that half deal with man’s relationship to God and the other half man’s relationship to his fellow man. Our vertical relationship affects our horizontal relationships. Jesus made this clear when he said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Matthew 22:37-39 (NIV)
Think about it this way, if you love God you’ll follow his directive to truly, actively love other people. If you’ve been forgiven by God of your many sins, you’ll be ready, willing and able to forgive people who sin against you. If you trust in a God who meets your needs, you’ll be more willing to serve the people you encounter daily. The God you choose will either devour or develop your relationships. You can count on it. One of the larger purposes for the first commandment is that it …
3. Reverses the effects of moral erosion. Following other gods wreaks havoc in our individual, family and cultural lives. It is only in casting those gods aside and choosing the real thing that we can stop the tide of immorality. This happens by point number four…
4. Adjusts our values, ambitions and desires. In the atheistic worldview, values are not discovered by human beings and established by God; they have no need to be discovered because, human beings establish them. In other words, when humanity dethrones God, men and women usually enthrone themselves as sovereign.
In other words, if a relationship with God is not the motivating and guiding factor in your decision-making on a day-to-day basis, you’re just making it up as you go along. You are a “practical atheist” or perhaps a “practical polytheist.” You’re attempting to follow two Gods: the Lord and you. God is either the authority in your life or he’s not. He is either Lord of all or Lord of none. If your faith and practice extends only to Sunday mornings or possibly Wednesday nights you are a violator of the first commandment.
God will not be compartmentalized. God wants it all – every moment of every day. He doesn’t want a little piece of us called our spirituality. He insists that we put him first in all of our thoughts, actions and deeds. He’s incredibly demanding because he knows that the God you choose will either devour or develop you life – individually, as a family, as a nation. God wants us to experience abundant living. Finally, the first commandment …
5. Reveals our love for God. Look at this truth from 1 John 5:3 This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome … 1 John 5:3 (NIV)
Dr. Laura Schlessinger writes these comments in her book, The Ten Commandments You can say you love God with your mouth, but the proof’s in the living: Even those people who espouse a belief in God still often resist and resent the notion of specifically commanded behaviors. People often want the benefits of having a God for personal requests or crisis interventions …
Entering into a relationship with God is not just about rewards we receive in this world or the next but rather how we show God that we are serious about our relationship with Him. So, Commitment is demonstrated through action.”
God says, “Show me your love. Demonstrate your commitment by putting me first in everything.” It’s just like marriage. You don’t reveal your love to your spouse merely by repeating vows of love at the altar. Your love shows through in constant commitment. Commitment is demonstrated by action. Show God your love by putting him first.
It is, after all, out of his great love that He even makes this command. He understands more than you and me that the God you choose will either devour or develop you life. Put God first and go after the abundant life.