"Seek ye first the Kingdom of God…" Matthew 6:33
- You learn early on in life that the best things – the most important things – are the first things. You block time on your calendar FIRST for the most important things. You budget the priority of your money FIRST for the most important things. You don't go to a sale on the third day. You go on the first day, because the best things are out first. This challenges us to our core when we realize how it plays into our relationship with God. In our hyper-individualized culture, we have learned to put ourselves first. We work hard to build our own kingdom, but when we come to know Christ, we are called to lay that down in favor of HIs Kingdom. We become part of something larger than ourselves. We want what HE wants. Leviticus 23:9 reminds us that this applies to our generosity or lack thereof. We are called to bring God our "firstfruits" – the very first of what He provides for us - as a sign of our trust and thanks. The Hebrew word means literally "choicest, finest." When we do, He tells us that it will bring us "near to Him" while helping us maintain an attitude of thanksgiving. It makes sense. When our Creator commands that we give Him the firstfruits of our income – the very best tithe – then we become more deeply engaged in His Kingdom – and thus much closer to the One who is Savior and Lord. So as we gaze upon the buffet of God's blessings bestowed on us, where is He in the line? Do we serve Him first, honoring Him as we do, or is He the one left with the remnants – the dregs – the last fruits? And is that the message we want to send?
- This also has deep implications for how we understand the dynamics surrounding the Parkland, FL shooting last week. We grieve. We mourn. We pray. We seek God first. I have seen people diminish the phrase "our thoughts and prayers" as if it has no meaning. We can't say, "Well, we prayed after each tragedy and they are still happening, so prayer doesn't work." You can't hold God to promises He never made. He never said that if we believed in Him, there would be a protective bubble around us. He DID say "in this world you WILL have trouble." How can we not? It's filled with evil that still reigns, but that's precisely why Christ came. He came so that the pain and grief we experience now would never be the final word. He came to defeat sin and evil by HIs cross and resurrection, and we wait for the full consummation of that victory. Between now and then, we gain strength in his promised presence, the presence we experience through prayer.
- MY RESPONSE: I have had a significant number of people ask me to "speak out" or "say something" about this latest tragedy. I shared an initial post late last week, but here's the reality: each time such a tragedy occurs, our nation appropriately cries out for action in the wake of agony. Some say "gun control!" Some say "mental health!" Some say "better FBI/law enforcement!" All of that is true. We can't expect there is one solution. We desperately need sensible gun control laws that allow people the right to bear arms, but not arms designed for terror. No one needs an assault rifle. Naturally, people respond with "It's my right!" True, but let's go back to #1. When we enter God's Kingdom by faith, we are not merely living for ourselves any more. Individualism dies, and we now live for a greater good. We grow to want what God wants. We become willing to lay down our wants and desires for the greater good of the lives of others. So, maybe we don't get to shoot an assault rifle for fun. If that means that bad guys won't get them, then I'm willing to lay that down because there is a larger value at work: the value of ALL LIFE. Thus, I yield to His larger Kingdom purpose to protect life wherever I can.
- WHILE THAT IS TRUE, we can't act as if gun control is a panacea. It's not. If we enacted it tomorrow, it would still take years to get the 350 million guns currently in circulation off the streets. So, yes, start there, but at the SAME TIME, let's work on mental health deficiencies where Florida ranks dead last in spending. We need to look hard at our society and ask why anxiety and depression rates – as well as suicides – are soaring. There is a growing hopelessness that few seem to want to acknowledge. We have more material goods than ever before, but we are more unhappy than we have ever been before. The UK has even appointed a Cabinet Secretary with the title "Minister of Happiness" to try to understand the root cause. I think you'll find the answer rooted in our lack of faith in anything beyond ourselves. If we are depending on ourselves to satisfy us in life, we will be greatly disappointed. We must find purpose and meaning in something larger than ourselves. The things that need to change to fix our culture cannot be focused on one thing. We have to look at everything. It's not either/or; it's ALL of it.
- HERE'S THE HARD PART: We have to be consistent in our outrage and the issues we champion. My heart was broken, as I am sure yours was, to see parents and teens crying out to government leaders, "Protect us! Do something! You must protect our children!" Choked by that emotion, we concur. Absolutely, we must and I pray that we will. However, if we demand that life be protected, we can't stop at school children, can we? How can our government, our political leaders, or we as individuals, have any theological integrity if we only protect some lives but look away from countless others that are being lost? We can't cherrypick which lives matter. The life of a homeless man who wanders into Lake Eola and drowns because he is drunk and can't swim is just as valuable, but we look away. The life of a paranoid schizophrenic locked in the prison of his mind is just as valuable, but we look away. We spend our state funds elsewhere and hardly anyone blinks. The lives of unborn children are just as valuable. Do we protect them? We must SPEAK OUT for all life. Once again, it's not either/or; it's all life. We have to follow where our theology leads us and stand for life wherever it may be threatened.
- OLYMPICS: I love the winter Olympics because you see sports you never get to see. Skeleton? Luge? Snowboard cross? It's GREAT, but the really good things are all on too late. Come on! Why can't they show the good things in the early time slots? CRINGEWORTHY: USA Skating must have gulped when Adam Rippon was asked what he was thinking before his performance. Answer: "I wanted a drink and a Xanax." Whoops. NORTH KOREAN CHEER SQUADS: They have been ubiquitous, but according to the NYT, the selection process for these homogenous looking women was rigorous: early 20's, exactly 5'3", from the right political family, and deeply ingrained in the NK political system. Why do we keep showing them?
- OBAMA PORTRAITS: When it comes to art, I am no expert, but I do prefer traditional and historic. Did a two-term President sitting amongst a bunch of flowers, symbolic though they might be, seem a little strange to anyone else? While I like the First Lady's portrait design, it didn't seem to look much like her.
- RESTAURANT REVIEW: Lazy Moon Pizza. Wow. Just wow.
- To all of you who asked for one of the "When I get up, all I need is a little bit of coffee and a whole lot of Jesus" coffee mugs, we're working on it!!