1. Priorities For A New Year
Happy New Year! I was praying about our new devotional theme and thought I might look at some thoughts about new beginnings. As Mike and I were going to church last night I told him that I thought Preacher Jack Tripp would help me out in his sermon... and he did. He spoke on "First Things First" and looked at some priorities we need to have for the coming year. I am thankful that God speaks to me in so many ways and is leading me to continue with these devotionals for another year. There are so many things pulling us in so many directions, but let's look at some of the things we can put first in our lives as we resolve to serve the Lord in 2016.
2. The First Thing We Need To Seek
We begin with our "First Things First" thoughts with the first thing we need to seek. Let's look at some familiar verses from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount.
"25 Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
26 Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?
27 Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
28 And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
29 And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
30 Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?
31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." (Matthew 6:25-33)
Our God is good and He knows that we all need food and clothing. But He does not want us to worry about our daily needs. God created us and He can provide our needs. We need to seek God and His righteousness first in our lives, and He can take care of everything we need.
3. The First Thing We Need To Remove
As we continue with Jesus' Sermon on the Mount we see the first thing we need to remove.
"1 Judge not, that ye be not judged.
2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
4 Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
5 Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.
6 Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you." (Matthew 7:1-6)
Verse 5 tells us to "first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye." We need to get rid of the beam in our eyes so that we can see to help others. We will be judged by how we judge others. Jesus said earlier in this sermon, "Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy." (Matthew 5:7) This principle is also shown in Galatians 6:7-8. "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting." Jesus did not say that we are not to judge at all, because in verse 6 He said, "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine,..." But we are to live holy and righteous first, before we can help others see the light.
4. The First Thing We Need To Clean
Again we turn to the words of Jesus, this time found in Matthew 23:25-26. "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also." We need to clean the inside first, and then we can clean the outside. When I was working in my garden last summer I would take large cups of water and set them on the ground to drink from after I had worked a while. It did not bother me to see the dirt that stuck to the outside of my cup, but I did not want to get dirt inside to muddy up my nice, cold water. Jesus used the illustration of cleaning the dishes on the inside first and compared it to people cleaning their hearts first. Many men and women make New Year's Resolutions to clean up their lives, but I believe God's Word shows us that we must receive the cleansing power of Jesus in our hearts to make a difference in our lives. In his sermon, Pastor Jack Tripp reminded us of the Prophet Samuel going to anoint a new king after King Saul disobeyed God's Word. God sent him to Jesse, and when Samuel saw his oldest son Eliab he thought surely that would be the next king. He was looking on the outward appearance. "But the LORD said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart." (I Samuel 16:7) God did not choose either of Jesse's sons who stood before the old prophet, but chose the youngest, a shepherd boy named David. We can make those New Years' Resolutions to exercise and lose weight, or work on problem areas in our lives, or work harder and make more money, to make us look better, but we need to clean the inside first. We need to make sure our hearts are right with God because that is what matters the most.
5. The First Thing We Need To Remember
The older we get, the more things we have to remember, and the more we have to remember, the more there is to forget, so it's no wonder that we forget more things as we grow older. Oh well, it sounds like a logical explanation as to why I find it harder to remember all that I need to remember. Our thought today is again found in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. He tells us the first thing we need to remember.
"21 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment:
22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
23 Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;
24 Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift." (Matthew 5:21-24)
It is great to give to the Lord. But the Lord made it clear in these scriptures that if we remember that we have personal conflicts with others, we need to make it right with them. We just said "Good-bye" to 2015. It would be good if we could make amends with our friends and say "Good-bye" to our anger and let the law of kindness rule in our lives in 2016.
"8 But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth.
9 Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds;
10 And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him:...
12 Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering;
13 Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.
14 And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.
15 And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful." (Colossians 3:8-15)
6. The First Thing We Need To Give
I have often talked about the idea of giving. We can give our time, we can give our talents, we can give thanks, and we can even give our tithes to the Lord. But what is the first thing we need to give?
"2 How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.
3 For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves;
4 Praying us with much intreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints.
5 And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God." (II Corinthians 8:2-5)
Did you notice verse 5? Paul said they "first gave their own selves to the Lord." We need to give ourselves to the Lord. John 3:16 reminds us that God gave His only begotten Son to die for us. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." We need to give ourselves to God and live for Him. Once we give our hearts and lives to God, we can give of ourselves to others.
7. The First Place We Need To Begin
It bothers me to be out shopping and see someone be kind to a stranger, but turn and yell at someone walking with him, or her. It also seems strange to me when people will give to charities, and their own children need to be fed. Pure and simple, charity should begin at home. It is good that we want to help others, but our first obligation is to take care of those in our own home. It is great that we go to church and serve the Lord, but again, we need to serve God in our home first of all. Let's look at I Timothy 5:1-4.
"1 Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren;
2 The elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters, with all purity.
3 Honour widows that are widows indeed.
4 But if any widow have children or nephews, let them learn first to shew piety at home, and to requite their parents: for that is good and acceptable before God." (I Timothy 5:1-4)
8. The First And Greatest Commandment
We have completed the notes from Pastor Tripp's sermon on "First Things First", but there are many more great Bible firsts so let's continue with that thought.
"28 And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all?
29 And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord:
30 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.
31 And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these." (Mark 12:28-31)
Just think about how it would change our lives if we loved the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength. If we make that a priority for 2016, I believe it would change our perspective on life. And when we devote our whole being to loving God, love for others will follow.
9. The First Love
Yesterday we looked at the first commandment which is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. And as strong as that love may be, that is not the first love. Where can we find the first love? Surely the love between Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, each created in the beauty of perfection, living in the paradise Garden of Eden must have been a strong love. But even that was not the first and greatest love. We can find the reason for our love towards God in I John 4:19, "We love him, because he first loved us." God's love to us is the first and greatest love. He loved us so much He gave His only begotten Son to die for our sin. "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13) We see the depth of this love in Romans 5:6-8. "For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." We also see the everlasting fullness of God's love in Romans 8:37-39.
"37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.
38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
I hope and pray that you know the Lord Jesus and His great love!
10. The First Step Towards Peace
There has been conflict between man since the garden of Eden. After Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, Adam blamed Eve, and she blamed the serpent. And how terrible it must have been when their firstborn son killed his brother in anger. We read of many wars throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament tells us that there will be even greater battles fought in the end of time. We desire peace. Peace among out family. Peace among our friends. And it would be great to have peace in our country. In his letter to young Timothy, the Apostle Paul gives us the first step towards peace.
"1 I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;
2 For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.
3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour;
4 Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth." (I Timothy 2:1-4)
When we hear of the rising conflict around us, the best thing we can do is take it to the Lord in prayer. There are many battles that we can't fight, but our God is able and He is still in control. Jesus said, "And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows." (Matthew 24:6-8) Yes, troubles and sorrow will increase, but God can give us a deep settled peace in our soul when we put our trust in Him.
11. The First Day
As we continue with our thoughts about some Bible firsts, let's go back to the beginning and look at the first day.
"1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness." (Genesis 1:1-4)
Looking at the description of the earth in verse 2, we could also say the same thing about the beginning of our lives. Our purpose of life seems to be "without form, and void: and darkness" until God shows us the Light. The book of John also opens with the beginning.
"1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 The same was in the beginning with God.
3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not." (John 1:1-5)
The light always dispels darkness. "Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." (John 8:12) This is the good news of the gospel message. If you feel like your life is empty and your soul is seeking to fill the void, turn to Jesus. He is the only One who can bring you out of the darkness of despair and fill your life with Light. Confess your sin to God and ask Jesus to save you. Trust in your heart that He is the only way to eternal life. And you will have a new day and a new life, filled with His Light.
12. God Is Alpha And Omega, The First And The Last
Many things come and go in our society. I often read stories that tell how things that were once thought good for us, have proven over time to be bad for us. There are also many things that were really helpful at one time, but now they have become obsolete. When my children were young I taught them how to use a pay phone in case they ever needed one in an emergency. Now people carry their phones with them everywhere they go and I don't know if there are any pay phones still around. I notice old houses as I go from place to place and I think of how grand they must have been when they were built, and how many memories were made between their walls. Now the walls are barely standing. The first house I grew up in was torn down long ago, and I have lived in several places through the years. Everything on this earth changes. But God said, "For I am the LORD, I change not..." (Malachi 3:6) God was first, from the beginning, and He will be there through the end of time. "I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last." (Revelation 22:13) Not only is God the first and the last, He is the only true and living God. "Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God." (Isaiah 44:6) He is the great "I AM." (Exodus 3:14) We can put our trust in the Lord Jesus and know that He is the only God we will ever need, from now and through eternity. "Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever." (Hebrews 13:8)
13. Where Are You First Called A Christian?
As I went to sleep last night I was thinking about this verse, "And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch." (Acts 11:26) And I started asking myself the question, "Where do people first call me a Christian?" It is good that we can call ourselves "Christians", but do those around us call us "Christians"? Let's look at some of the possibilities and start with the easiest place to be called a Christian, at church. I go to church with some really solid Christian people. I have known many of them for thirty years and I have seen them stay true to God during the storms and trials that come along. They are also faithful when the weather is beautiful and life is good and there are so many other places they could be. If we were judged on our faithfulness to God's house, would we be called "Christians"? The next place I think we need to look at is in our home. Our family knows how we live when no one else is around. Our little ones follow in our foot steps. Are we leading them to Christ with our lives? Now, on to harder areas. Would the people we work with, or go to school with, day in and day out call us "Christians"? They see us when we get blamed for problems we did not create, or when others get credit for our hard work. Are we truthful, giving our allotted time to working, or just passing time until the bell rings to go home? Our coworkers hear what we say, and are watching to see if we are different. We may tell them we are a Christian, but would they call us a Christian? People need the Lord! We need to let our lives, on good days, and also through struggles, point them to Christ. "Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." (Matthew 4:14-16)
14. The First Shall Be Last
It has been many, many years since I went to school, but I can still remember some of the lessons I learned. We learned more than just book learning in those days, and those are the lessons that pop up in my memory from time to time. Once in elementary school our class was going to do something very special, so the teacher told us to line up. Most of the children ran and pushed to make their way to the front of the line. We were all surprised when the teacher went to the back of the line, and proceeded to lead us out, with those in the back becoming the first in line. This reminded me of what Jesus said in Matthew 19:30, "But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first." To understand more of what Jesus was saying, let's look at the verse before... "And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life." (Matthew 19:29) Through facebook I am able to read of the blessings and the struggles of several different missionary families. It is a joy to see God working through them. They left their homes to carry the gospel message to people who did not know the Lord. They may not have much in the eyes of the world, but in God's eyes they are first.
15. The First Glory Was Better
Have you ever heard old folks talk about The Good Ole Days? How life back then was hard but all things were better? Today we are looking at Haggai 2:3, "Who is left among you that saw this house in her first glory? and how do ye see it now? is it not in your eyes in comparison of it as nothing?" This was a comparison of the glory of the Temple built by King Solomon, to the feeble attempts of the small remnant to repair it after it was destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar. I like to read the books of Ezra and Nehemiah because you can really feel the heart and soul of the people in their efforts to restore Jerusalem.
"10 And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, they set the priests in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites the sons of Asaph with cymbals, to praise the LORD, after the ordinance of David king of Israel.
11 And they sang together by course in praising and giving thanks unto the LORD; because he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever toward Israel. And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid.
12 But many of the priests and Levites and chief of the fathers, who were ancient men, that had seen the first house, when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice; and many shouted aloud for joy:
13 So that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people: for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the noise was heard afar off." (Ezra 3:10-13)
When I was a teen in the 70's our community had revival. Our youth group had several preachers who led in a tent ministry, preached and sang on street corners, and supported Pastor Author Blackburn in camp meetings. It was an amazing time and it is tempting to look back and say, "That first youth group was better." Some people say that it is too late for God to move as He did back then. But I don't believe we should put limitations on God. Many in our country have turned away from God. But there is a remnant who still stand for God and His truths. Let's not discourage those who are seeking to make a difference by reminding them of how good it was at first. We need to pray. We need to take a stand for right. And we need to thank God for all He has done and trust Him to help us rebuild our nation.
16. Be First To Share Your Faith
Listen to the devotion and gratitude in Paul's words as he writes this letter to Timothy.
"1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, according to the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus,
2 To Timothy, my dearly beloved son: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
3 I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers with pure conscience, that without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day;
4 Greatly desiring to see thee, being mindful of thy tears, that I may be filled with joy;
5 When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also." (II Timothy 1:1-5)
As we continue to look at Bible "firsts", we see in verse 5 the faith Timothy had was first in his grandmother Lois, and next in his mother Eunice. As I look back over my life, I can give this same testimony. I watched the faith of my grandparents as I was growing up. I heard my parents pray, and read their Bibles, and saw their faith in action when troubles came into our home. Everyone is not blessed with this heritage. But my point today is that we can be that first person to share our faith and make a difference in someone's life. There are still people out there who have not heard that Jesus saves. Are we planting the seeds of faith by walking with the Lord day by day? Can others see our faith when sickness or financial struggles come? Paul said, "I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase." (I Corinthians 3:6) It would be such a blessing to meet someone in heaven who said, "You were the first one to tell me about Jesus." Share your faith.
17. Have We Left Our First Love?
As we look at our last devotional on "First Things First" let's turn to the last book of the Bible. John recorded the letters to the seven churches and we would do well to hear what the Lord has to say. This is a portion of the letter to the Church of Ephesus.
"4 Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.
5 Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.
6 But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
7 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God." (Revelation 2:4-7)
Can you remember back to the time when you first accepted the Lord as your Savior? How the love of Christ filled your whole being, just to think that the Son of God would leave heaven and die an awful death to save you? As I read this letter I have to stop and ask myself, "Have I left my first love?" Am I falling short on doing the first works? As we complete our Biblical priorities for the year, let's strive to be like the Church in Philadelphia and hold fast to all we have.
"7 And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth;
8 I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name...
10 Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.
11 Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown." (Revelation 3:7-11)