First: the Competition Is Real!
Today we are starting a new sermon series titled “First.” For the next 4 Sundays, we will be studying how we can put God first in our lives. We know God is our God and we need to put God first in our lives, right? But it is actually hard to practice that in the real life. So let’s talk about how we can make God the first priority in our lives when we have so many things that keep us from focusing on God.
This week I searched what kinds of competitions exist in the world. And there’re what I found. Let’s introduce some of them to you. There are weird competitions in the world, and the first one is extreme ironing world champion. People don’t do ironing in their bedroom. People do ironing while kayaking, do the ironing while scuba diving! Why? I don’t know, but they do. And there is cheese rolling competition, pillow fight competition, high-hill race competition, headstand beer drinking, thumb war competition, toe wrestling competition, and world sauna competition! A world champion of this sauna competition withstood an insane 230 degrees Fahrenheit, yes, this is way above the boiling point, for 4 minutes! Why? I don’t know! But this sauna competition no longer takes place since a participant died competing in 2010. There are thousands of competitions out there, right? Everything in life is competition! Baseball teams compete to go to a playoff, soccer teams roar for world cup winning. Students study to get good grades. I know there are some who don’t care about good grades, but anyway. Life is full of competition! Don’t you agree? And when we are winning, we go wild for that winning, don’t we? And do you know what kind of competition I have in my life? I have a competition going on in my life between God and consumerism. This week I bought an action camera. It works as a video camera, but it doesn’t record on videotape. It records on a tiny memory so it’s not heavy. I can use this under water, I can use this with a drone because it is really small. I can boast about this small thing forever. I know I really don’t need this stuff, but my excuse for buying this small device was that I can use to record our kids! What a good excuse, right? What a holy excuse! See, I struggle with consumerism. There is this competition between God and other small gods in me going on.
So, here is the question that we will try to answer today. In the life of competitions that there are so many things that attract our attention, (sd) “How can I put God first in my life?” How can I put God first in my life when there are so many distractions that keep us from having an intimate relationship with God?
Here’s the number 1. Let’s read it together. (sd) 1. Put God first in my life! Let’s read Matthew 6:33 out loud. (sd) “Instead, desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33, CEB)
Why do we have to put God first in our lives? Because God deserves it, right? Jesus says in the Gospel of Matthew that desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you. It’s the promise of God that is given to us. When we desire God first and foremost, all these things, worries of life, what to eat, what to wear, will be given to us. Just automatically! We don’t have to worry about things that bother us a lot if we put God first in our lives. Yes, we really need to remember this sentence. “God is first.” God is my priority, God is the one who I love the most. God is first. Not my husband, not my wife, my children or grandchildren. Only God can be in the first place in my life. Rev. Mike Slaughter in his book “shiny gods” says, “Anything, or anyone, that receives the primary focus of my energy or resources, which should first belong to God” is idols. We tend to use our idols, instead of God, to provide identity or meaning in our lives. And this is especially easy to do when those idols are positive things or even people we love. It is important as followers of Christ to identify and name idols in our lives.
Let’s look at the number 2. Let’s read it together. (sd) 2. Don’t Make others gods in my life!. Let’s watch a video. (sd)
In today’s world, there are so many distractions that keep us from God, right? Not only sports, but we can also literally make anything in our life into idols. And you know what? Everything that God has given us is the great thing for us. Family, money, sport, right? If we use it wisely, they are the great help for us to have happy moments of our lives. But when we put these things in God’s place, then people call it idolatry. We need to check our hearts to see where our hearts are.
Let’s read 2 Kings 17:38-41 out loud. (sd) “Don’t forget the covenant that I made with you. Don’t worship other gods. Instead, worship only the Lord your God. He will resume you from your enemies’ power. But they wouldn’t listen. Instead, they continued doing their former religious practices. So there nations worship the Lord, but they also serve their idols. The children and the grandchildren are doing the very same thing their parents did. And that’s how things still are today. ” (2 Kings 17:38-41, NIV)
God is asking the people of Israel to remember that they have a covenant with God. The covenant is God’s chosen way to lead us, guide us, and love us. God always made a covenant with each of our faith fathers. God made a covenant with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. God makes a covenant with us through our baptisms. Remy will make that covenant with God soon in 10 minutes. The covenant means that God is saying, “I love you, and I will guide you, bless you, protect you, and lead you for your entire life. Covenant is God’s proclamation for us saying, “You are mine!” One of my favorite biblical images for covenant is comparing it to marriage. Marriage is an exclusive commitment to one person. About two weeks ago I spent a night at my close friend, Pastor Rosa’s house. Pastor Rosa was at Milledgeville UMC before me. I was in DeKalb, so she offered me a night at her house. Her house is not too far from DeKalb and she and I wanted to spend a night chatting. She and I are good at that. I have been at her place a couple of times. And Rosa and her husband Paul have their morning ritual that Paul always wakes up earlier than Rosa and make a cup of coffee for her. They have had that ritual for 10 years. The reason Paul does the ritual is that it makes Rosa happy. I think that’s really what marriage is all about, isn’t it? Paul’s action demonstrates how much he values Rosa and how much he wants to make her happy, right? And the relationship that we have with God through the covenant is exactly the same! The covenant that we have with God is that God proclaims, “You are mine! You will protect you, guide you, love you, be with you always.” And also it is our vow toward God saying that “I will make you happy, God, because I love you! I will make you only my God!” So are we making God happy? Our action demonstrates how much we value God, and the things of God, right? We need to check our heart, really need to check where my heart is.
Here’s number 3. Let’s read it together. (sd) 3. Idolatry is worshipping the gift instead of the Giver! Let’s read Romans 1:21-15. (sd) “21 Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. The result was that their minds became dark and confused. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became utter fools instead. 23 And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people, or birds and animals and snakes. (sd) 24 So God let them go ahead and do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies. 25 Instead of believing what they knew was the truth about God, they deliberately chose to believe lies. So they worshiped the things God made but not the Creator himself, who is to be praised forever. Amen. (Romans 1:21-25, NLT)
Do you know the website, mint.com? I am a member of the website. If you join the website and submit your bank account, credit card information, the information on loans and debts, they give you credit report weekly. The website sends a weekly report on how much money I spent that week with a diagram. So I can see how much money I spent on grocery shopping, or clothes, or hospitals, or fast food. You can set your budget on each category so that you can live in a more planned way. I like this service. And every month I always overspend on coffee. My budget for coffee is $30, but I always overspend. I went to Starbucks with Laura one day, and she was surprised that one of the crews greeted me with my name. I was embarrassed. They don’t need to have that service. I went there too often so they could even remember my name. Yes, I think I am worshipping Starbuck.
Anyway, with their weekly report, I could see where I spend my money the most. I usually spend a lot of money on grocery or fast food. And there is also a category named “tithing.” I do tithing and I have to confess that I do sometimes struggle in giving my tithe to God. I struggle in giving my tithe when I just paid a huge hospital bill so have not enough money to live that month when I have a speeding ticket that is really expensive when I came back from a trip that I had spent lots of money on. I do struggle in giving, too. And I know when I struggle in giving my tithe to God, it means I have a lack of faith in God. That means I don’t have enough trust in God that God will provide whatever I need. Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21) Check your bank statement and see where you spend your money. It will tell you where your heart is. We need to check our heart.
The people of Israel didn’t put their trust in God. When Moses went up to the mountain for forty days and forty nights, they got antsy because they couldn’t see anything hopeful in their eyes. So they threatened Aaron, an associate pastor to Moses to given them the god they could worship. Aaron gives them what they wanted. Let’s read Exodus 33:2-4 one more time. (sd) “2 So Aaron said, “Take the gold rings from the ears of your wives and sons and daughters, and bring them to me.”3 All the people took the gold rings from their ears and brought them to Aaron. 4 Then Aaron took the gold, melted it down, and molded it into the shape of a calf. When the people saw it, they exclaimed, “O Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of the land of Egypt!” (Exodus 32:2-4, NLT) We often trust what we can see and hold in our hands like money. But the Creator of the universe is the only one we can put our whole trust.
Let’s read number 4. (sd) 4. We become what we worship! Let’s read Psalm 135:15-18 together. (sd) 15 The idols of the nations are merely things of silver and gold, shaped by human hands. 16 They have mouths but cannot speak, and eyes but cannot see. 17 They have ears but cannot hear, and mouths but cannot breathe. 18 And those who make idols are just like them, as are all who trust in them. (Psalm 135:15-18, NLT)
Can we ask our children or grandchildren this question? Who do you think I am? Mike Slaughter says “Parents and grandparents, your children will not adopt your stated beliefs; they will adopt your passion. That’s a significant problem when passions are out of alignment with beliefs. You don’t have to tell your children what your passions are. They will smell them out!”
Parents were bringing their daughter to daycare and the daycare had circle time every morning as a way to start the day. And they were late and walked into the middle of circle time. And the daughter said very loudly, “We’re late because my mommy had diarrhea.” They see what we do and they just say what we do, right? And moreover, they do what we do in their own lives. They follow their parents and grandparents because what their parents and grandparents do is what they can learn. We got to understand that our children smell out our passion and adopt them as their own. We have to ask this question to us: What priority and passion are your life demonstrating to your own children or other young people around you? At Pastor Mike Slaughter’s church, Ginghamsburg UMC saves and gives money each Christmas by living more simply during the holidays, not making Jesus’ birth an idol of consumerism but an occasion for sacrificial giving, miracle happen. They don’t exchange Christmas gifts. Instead, they collect money and donate the money to their mission site in Sudan in Africa.
In the Book of Revelation, 2:2, God warned to the church of Ephesus by saying this, “I know your deed.” And God is still saying this to us, “I know your deed!” God sees hears, too. Put God first in our lives and make God the top priority of our lives. Thanks be to God! Amen.