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Keeping the First as "The" First - By Pastor Thomas Engel

Answering the question, “What are your priorities?” is easy when speaking in generalities. The typical answer is God, family, country, work, and community.

If we were to go deeper into our talk about priorities, we might talk more specifically about health, finances, and relationships.

When it comes to health, we say, “If you have your health, you have everything.”

When it comes to money, we know “money can’t buy you happiness.”

When it comes to relationships, it’s said,

“You are doing well if you have just one or two good friends who are there for you when no one else shows up.”

I’m not sure if a person has even perfect health that he has actually everything. But, taking care of ourselves is important, for we are able to do more when we are feeling well. How are you doing with making healthy choices every day?

I’m sure that money can buy some happiness, for we need at least food and shelter. I’m happy when I’m warm with a good meal. How are you doing with your budget? Are you sticking to it? Or should I ask first if you have a budget? A little splurging is okay to treat yourself now and then, but money worries can cause all kinds of troubles.

And when it comes to having friends, you are able to sing along with James Taylor on a bad day, “Ain’t it good to know you’ve got a friend?”

Let’s just say that we are all doing well with our priorities this morning. For one, you and I have come to worship this morning, so it seems like we are putting God first in our lives.

And you more than likely will spend time with family today. Some of you are here worshiping as a family or you will meet and have brunch with them after church or you will call family this afternoon.

I will will be going apple picking later with my family.

Driving here to church this morning, you were good citizens by stopping at stop signs and driving under the speed limit.

You try to be a good neighbor by doing your part to keep your community safe and clean.

You are eating well because you are reaching for apples instead of chips-if you don’t have any apples, you are invited to go with me to the apple orchard-you are living within your means, so you are not stressed with credit card debt, and you have a good friend or two because you are a good friend.

Or we can say about you and your priorities that you have your act together, and you walk around answering with a smile when people ask you how you are doing, “I’m too blessed to be stressed.”

A friend of mine uses that saying, “I’m too blessed to be stressed.”

Not to super analyze the saying, but he is right. God is always blessing us, and in his blessings, we have all that we need. So, we have no reason to be stressed.

For me, I need to hear that God is always blessing me. All that God does is by His grace. God can only give blessings.

The problem is that life is always happening with its often dull routines, frustrations, disappointments, sorrows, heartaches, joys, triumphs, and happy times.

What I mean by saying life is a problem because all that I just listed can happen all in one day.

Life can have ups and downs all happening at the same time.

With so much going on in our lives, and we know with so much going on in our world, it seems it’s a battle to keep our priorities straight.

We need to be keeping first things first, second things second, and so on.

Most be people agree that the list of priorities is God, family, country, work, and community. We might adjust the list a little, for I would throw in education after country.

I did a search for a survey that listed what people think are the more specific priorities. Most said health, finances, and relationships in that order.

Many said that mental health is most important to overall well-being.

I think it’s because we are feeling a lot of stress these days with current situations like crime, violence, economic uncertainty, and a pandemic.

Times are tough. We are studying early church history, and I am seeing and realizing that the world has always has had tough times.

It leaves me asking, “How does this old world keep spinning around?”

What are we to do in this chaotic world?

That answer is to keep moving-even if we are just going through the motions. When a person who has suffered a deep loss, I will say to the person, after he or she has stopped for awhile to deeply grieve, for sometimes all we can do is cry, and we need to take time to cry.

But, then we need to get back into the all the things of life.

Get back to eating right, getting some exercise, spending some time with friends, and going back to face all the ups and downs of life.

We can say the best prescription for dealing with life and all that it dishes out is always asking, “What needs my attention most at this moment?”

We will always say that faith is most important, but let’s say on your way to church this morning, you had a flat tire.

You had to adjust what you were going to do to handle what was most urgent.

It’s always those things that keep popping up that want to throw us off schedule.

But, we take care of what we have to take care of like a flat tire, and then, we get back on the road and do what we can to make it all work.

In the Gospel of last week and this week, we have been reading about the rich young ruler and his conversation with Jesus.

If we are talking about a person who has his act together, it has to be this young man.

Not only does he have money in the bank, fancy clothes in his closet, and a big house, but he is also a good guy. He gives to charities, is a family man, and helps out in the community.

If he lived today, he sponsors the little league team, volunteers at the community center, pays for pizza parties, donates to the local food pantry, and calls his mom every day and takes her to brunch every Sunday after church.

This man works very hard at getting his priorities straight.

At first glance, second glance, and even the third glance, this man is doing very well in life. It seems like he has everything going for him.

But, he shows a serious fault by his question that he asks Jesus.

We do have to give him some credit for talking with Jesus. He does see that Jesus is an exceptional teacher.

His fault is that he thinks he knows the answer to his own question, “What do I have to do to inherit eternal life?”

For a smart guy, he does not realize his question does not make any sense.

When we are talking about receiving an inheritance, a person does not need to do anything because an inheritance is a gift.

I think what this man was trying to get at was for Jesus to say, “Hey, you are already doing everything. If anyone has got his priorities straight, it’s you. When it comes to heaven, you can step right in when it’s your time.”

How disappointed this man was when Jesus didn’t give him the answer that he wanted to hear.

Jesus told the man that he had to give up all of his stuff and follow Jesus.

But, we know the answer to getting to heaven is not giving up all your stuff.

This is not what Jesus is teaching about salvation. We know our salvation is a gift that we receive by faith, and our faith is also given to us by God.

So, why does Jesus say to this man to give up all of his stuff and follow Jesus?

This man was into his stuff so much that he could not see Jesus as his lord and Savior.

This man needed to follow Jesus every day and hear what Jesus was teaching.

I always what happen to this young man. We don’t hear about him again.

He did walk away because he could not give up his stuff at that time, but I hope he kept thinking about what Jesus had told him.

I hope he did turn away from his stuff to what Jesus was offering to him.

Jesus wanted this man to receive his salvation as something that was given freely out of love.

In one way, for a person wanting to do well in life is okay. As I was trying to say, this man was a good man. We should want to be good and do good.

We should be people who have our priorities straight. When it comes to taking what is most urgent, we need to take care of the things that keep popping up , but we need to always remember what is most important.

We need to keep moving in life.

Here’s a short list to help keep moving with some “don’ts.”

Don’t stay too long down in the sad times.

Don’t let this old troubled world stress you out.

Don’t get too wrapped up in things of this world. Again, it’s okay to enjoy the things of this life, but don’t think that life is all about stuff.

Be a good person, but don’t think that your good works find you favor with God.

Here’s a few “do’s.”

Do good works. Do keep your priorities straight. Do keep the first “The” first.

Always seek God first, for when we do we can know that all will fall into place as God sees that it all should fall according to His grace.

So, we know that we are to keep God first as He is “The” first because God is the almighty. God is over everything, and we are to trust Him for all things.

We also know that we are sinners who do get wrapped up into worldly things like the young man.

As much as I want us all to get out some pencils and paper to write down our list of priorities and do some realigning of our lives, as much as I want us to look at our don’t and do’s, how about if we do this?

We move about our lives trying our best to keep our priorities straight.

But, unlike that young man, we realize and confess that we don’t always have our priorities straight.

So, instead, we do follow Jesus, and we see him as the one who does perfectly keep priorities straight.

Jesus always does the will of God the Father.

Jesus always loves and serves others.

Jesus always forgives sins.

Jesus always kept moving in his life to accomplish his mission to be the salvation of the world.

We are to keep the first “The” first. As humans on our own we can’t do it, but as followers of Jesus we can do all that Jesus does, and Jesus did always keep the first “The” first.