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Tough Times, Tougher People [1-2-22]

How many of you would say, "You know, for me, if I'm honest, 2021 may go down as one of the best years of my life?" Anybody agree with that? You just had an amazing 2021…show of hands, maybe a little applause. How many of you would say 2021 was a year…it wasn't spectacular, it wasn't a disaster, it was just a year like any other year? How many of you would say 2021 didn't go so well? You're glad it's over? Here we are, we believe in God, believe in the Bible, are involved in church on some level because we're here, one day after New Year's Day, and we have varying perspectives on how the past year went.

We know people for whom the past year was one disaster after another. And yet, even as they went from disaster to disaster, it seemed like nothing could shake them. We wonder, how can they stay so strong…so upbeat…so hopeful? Then there are those who had their ups and downs, not really disasters, just what I call "First World Problems." Oh, no, the toilet paper aisle isn't stocked to overflowing. The wifi was down for a few hours. Honeycrisp apples are so expensive - have you seen the apple selection at your grocery store? How many choices there are? My wife and I eat apples, on a daily basis, so much so that the doctor won't let us schedule an appointment. We really are blessed…most of us, most of the time, and yet there are people who almost always seem to be shaken, downcast, discouraged. "When will it end?" they cry. If they're not panicked, they're fearful. If they're not fearful, they're complaining. If they're not complaining, they're criticizing. It's hard for some people to see the good in life.

All of us believe in God. All of us trust the Bible and all it teaches and reveals about God and Jesus and our salvation. So why is there such a polar difference in how people experience life's challenges and difficulties?

Here's what we're going to look at this first Sunday of 2022. We're going to look at order. Order is important. The way that we prioritize our world and our lives, it creates and impacts the lives that we experience.

Think about order in the context of something most of us do on a regular basis. There's an orderliness to preparing food. While cooking is an art and baking is a science, both require a certain sense of orderliness. When and how you add ingredients. Oven and stove temperatures. I start roasting a turkey at 500° for 30 minutes, then lower it to 325° until done. Peanut butter blossom cookies don't get the chocolate star pressed into them until they come out of the oven. Orderliness is in every step of food prep. There's an order to things.

Or how about grocery shopping? You plan your meals, take your list, and methodically go up and down each aisle. Most people finish with frozen, dairy, and refrigerated items. There's an order to it.

Most of us, most of the time, find a lack of orderliness offensive, or at least a bit troubling.

We can have hope, joy, and encouragement no matter what kinds of

circumstances we go through. The key is having order in our lives. And I'm not talking about the kind of order that goes with grocery shopping or cooking. I'm talking about the kind of order that puts God first in our lives. The apostle Paul says that there are certain spiritual disciplines that ought to be done decently and in order. There are times when it's good to be a wee bit OCD about things.

Here's the first order of truth. God must be first. He cannot not be first. When God is first in every area of your life, the rest of your life will be filled with order. The unplanned or unexpected won't throw you into a tailspin. C.S. Lewis invites us into a different perspective. He said, "The truth is, of course, that what one regards as interruptions are precisely one's life." If God isn't first in your life, then you might find areas of your life touched by disorder or chaos. Order matters. Look at what Jesus himself said Matthew 6:33:

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Seek God first. Today we're going to look at three firsts. And here's the thing. When we seek these three things, I'm not going to tell you that you will have the best year ever, or nothing will go wrong, or fame and fortune will find you. But when we focus on these three firsts, no matter what happens in our year, we will be of good cheer.

If you're taking notes, the first "first" that we're going to talk about today is the first of our day. In the first of our day...we're going to seek God. In the first of the day we're going to pursue a moment with our Creator. We don't want to be legalistic and ritualistic. It doesn't matter at precisely what moment you do it, just do it. If you want to brush your teeth first, then brush your teeth first. If you want to fix a cup of coffee first, then fix a cup of coffee first. Do it while you exercise first thing in the morning. Exactly when doesn't matter. At the start of your day, seek God. Martin Luther gave this direction: "Whoever wants to arouse himself {or herself} to devotion, should take up Psalms." We get this picture in Psalm 63:1:

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you.

Time matters. Priorities matter. Order matters. Early will I seek you. My soul thirsts for you, my flesh longs for you in a dry and thirsty land, where there is no water.

Look at the four gospels in the New Testament. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They are four accounts of the life of Christ. We see all kinds of repeated behaviors in his life. We see Jesus performing miracles all the time. He's preaching hope to the multitudes all the time. The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew is the Sermon on the Plain in Luke. It's basically the same message. I think this message was so important, Jesus repeated it whenever he could. He's healing the sick all the time. But there's one choice he makes that we don't want to miss. Jesus repeatedly and consistently gets away to spend time with the Father. Even in moments where people are sick and clamor after him to heal them, Jesus still gets away for prayer. Always…without fail.

There is something special about spending time with God at the start of

your day that sets the tone for the rest of the day. It matters, and it will

change you. When my day begins, I'm going to seek God.

Write this down if you're taking notes. The second thing we're going to add to our ordered list is we are going to worship. We are going to worship God together as a church. Acts 20:7 says, "On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread." Do you hear how matter-of-fact that was? Of course, it's what they would do. They gathered to worship.

Here's an interesting statistic. I know, I'm preaching to the choir, so make of it what you will. For me, it illustrates how much our community needs Jesus and how much we need to have Jesus in the proper order in our lives: A recent survey suggests that around 50% of people who call themselves churchgoers in America attend church less than once a month. Once a month. And that percentage has probably gone up these past 22 months. Think about all the people who truly love God but even before the pandemic weren't expressing it in a Biblical way. Prior to March of 2020, only around 20% Lenawee County was in worship on any given Sunday.

Here's what happened with the first generation of Christ-followers. The Bible says they really had their lives well-ordered. Here's what the Bible says they devoted themselves to:

  • The Apostles' teaching.

  • To the breaking of bread.

  • To the fellowship.

Everything they did, they did with glad and sincere hearts. That is an amazing affirmation, because by any standards, life was tough for them. But they did everything with glad and sincere hearts. "Rejoice in the Lord, always…again, I say rejoice."

So, I give God my time every day, when I rise. I give God my worship, with His people, with brothers and sisters in Christ, every week.

And third, write this down if you're taking notes. I share my talents and resources with God, through His church.

We think of God first when it comes to using the gifts He has given us. Giving to God must be first. He cannot not be first. When we put Him first, the rest of our life is filled with order and provision and blessing. The Bible is filled with stories of people giving generously to God's work. Perhaps you've heard of the tithe. The tithe means a person gives 10% of what they have to God's work. But we don't teach tithing here at Covenant Church because the New Testament doesn't teach tithing. What the New Testament teaches is generosity. When you take all that the Bible says about giving, the formula is…give generously. Give according to how you feel blessed by God. Give in response to what Jesus Christ has done in your life.

I'm not going to stand up here and tell you a story about how some down-on-his-luck guy put his last dollar in the offering plate one Sunday morning and is now a millionaire or won the lottery or something amazing like that. Those stories are everywhere. I'm just not sure how many of them are true. Grifters gonna grift. All I know is, God wants us to be generous people. Everything we have is from God. He gave us life. Every breath we take belongs to Him. The Biblical principle is then to give back. When we give to the work God is doing through His church, we demonstrate our trust in God and our thanks for this wonderful life.

When we put God first it, it changes our lives. The whole point of Biblical giving is to arrange our priorities so that God is always first.

You might or might not know this, but in the church world December is always the largest month for giving. As people look back at the year that God's given them, they want to respond by giving something significant, as a way of finishing the year on a generous note. For those of you who did that, I just want to say, 'Thank you.' It matters so much. It enables God's church to help people hear about Jesus, feed their families, and share God's love to our community in tangible ways. It all matters.

So, here's the order we're bringing to our lives:

We're going to seek God…we are going to worship God…we are going to give our talents and resources to God.

We start the New Year by putting God first. Now, don't misunderstand.

God already is first, whether we recognize it or not. God has always been

first. Before the earth was whispered into existence God was first. He was there. Before He said let us create man in our image, God was first. Before we even knew we were sinners, God knew His plan to save us. Make no mistake. We don't put God first. He is, has always been, and will always be first. God is preeminent. He is supreme in all things. It's not that we are putting Him first. All we're doing is, we're confessing that he's already first. When we do that, we align all aspects of our lives to the order of creation.

"Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you," Jesus said. I'm going to seek God first. I'm going to place God first because God has always been first. When God is first in your life, there will be power, peace, clarity, and provision. And then, to top it all off, God is going to use you to impact other people's lives. That's what happens with a group of people who live out of the reality that God is first in their lives. And no matter what happens in 2022, it's going to be a wonderful year, because Jesus Christ is at the center of your life.


To the Glory of God Alone!

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