• Adam Schell

Following the Way | First Thing First


Well, it is the first Sunday of a brand new year. And if there was ever a year that we were all ready to turn the page on it was 2020. Every single one of us can admit that 2020 did not go the way that we expected it to go. So as this new year begins, we’re all looking forward to this year being better than the last.


And, for many of us, when we think about what we can do to make a new year better than the previous year we think about making New Year’s Resolutions. Now I know that not everyone worshiping with us online right now made a New Year’s Resolution this year. But according to Inc. Magazine, about sixty percent of Americans do. And that means that about two out of every three people tuning in to this service right now made a resolution.


But what did you resolve to do in 2021? If you’re worshiping with us on Facebook or YouTube right now, go ahead and answer that question in our comments thread. If you made one, why don’t you tell us what you have resolved to do this year?


Now, unfortunately, I can’t wait for everyone to type in your reply to that question. So, I don’t actually know what you’ve resolved to do this year...but I can make a pretty good guess at it based on what the majority of other people resolve to do each year. So, once again according to Inc. Magazine, 71 percent of people who make resolutions have resolved to diet or eat healthier. 65 percent have resolved to exercise more. 54 percent resolved to lose weight. 32 percent resolved to save more or spend less money this year. 26 percent have resolved to learn a new skill or hobby. And 17 percent have resolved to read more this year.


And every one of these is a great resolution to make at the start of any new year. But they’re all especially important after what we all just lived through in 2020. Just think about it for a minute. Did you notice that the majority of New Year’s Resolutions have to do with your health? 2020 definitely reminded us all of just how important our health is. I mean, I had so many conversations with people about their pre-existing health conditions last year that there were days I thought I was working in a doctor’s office instead of a church. And since we’ve learned that people who are overweight or have some sort of heart issue are more likely to experience complications if they contract COVID-19, now is not a bad time to think about what you can do to take better care of yourself.


But 2020 wasn’t just a year that made us take stock of our health, it was also an extremely difficult year for a lot of people financially. Here in the United States alone tens of millions of people were laid off or let go from their jobs in the spring as we shut down our economy to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus. And even though our government has managed to pass a couple of stimulus bills that have put a little extra money in our pockets and to up the unemployment benefits for those who remain out of work, we all know that it’s going to take some time for our economy and our personal finances to recover. So now is not a bad time to think about what you can do to spend a little less and save a little more.


Even the last couple of New Year’s Resolutions that Inc. Magazine noted--the ones about learning new hobbies or skills, or just reading more--are more important than ever as we continue to live through a pandemic. Let’s face it, we all spent more time in our homes last year than we ever have before. And when you spend all that time at home you start to go a little stir crazy. So it’s nice to have something to do that can occupy your time. Like for me, I spent more time reading last year than I have any other year in my life. I read 65 books last year--covering over 25,000 pages--because reading was a way that my mind could go places even if my body couldn’t.


So 2021 really isn’t a bad year to make a resolution or two about your health, your money, or your free time. But...and this is a pretty big but...if 2020 taught us anything it’s that we have less control over our lives than we think we do.

We have less control over our lives than we think we do.

So you can make a resolution about being healthier this year...but you can’t completely control if you’ll catch a virus or not. And you can make a resolution about your finances...but you can’t control the ups and the downs in the stock market, or if your company is able to stay open this year. And you can make a resolution about how you’d like to spend your free time...but you can’t control if you’ll be able to travel this year or if you’ll end up spending even more time at home.


Now, I know that if you made a New Year’s Resolution this year that you’re probably not really happy with me right now. I mean, it’s hard enough to keep a New Year’s Resolution--there is a reason why only about 8% of people who make them can keep them for a whole year, but I haven’t made it any easier by telling you that you might not be able to keep them no matter how hard you try.


But I promise that I’m not trying to rain on your parade, and ruin your dreams, and keep you from keeping your resolutions. The truth is, we’re going to spend the next three weeks talking about each area in our lives that we tend to make resolutions for--so we’ll talk about our health, our money, and our free time. And I’m going to help you think about each of these areas so that you can be one of those eight-percenters who keeps your resolution this year.


But before we can talk about these areas of life that you don’t have total control over, we need to talk about an area that you do have control over. And this area of your life directly impacts every other area of your life. So if you get this area moving in the right direction it will help you with your health, your money, and even how you spend your free time.


So what is this magical area of your life that impacts everything else? It’s your faith. Your relationship with God impacts every area of your life.

Your relationship with God impacts every area of your life.

Your relationship with God impacts your health...and it can also impact the health of others. Your relationship with God impacts your finances...and it can impact the finances of others. Your relationship with God impacts how you spend your free time...and it can change the way that other people spend their free time too.


And I know that all of this might sound a little unbelievable to you. You might not be able to believe that your relationship with God impacts every area of your life. And there’s a reason for that. A lot of us can’t believe that our relationship with God impacts every area of our lives because we fall into the same trap that people have fallen into when it comes to their faith for a long, long time. We can’t believe that our relationship with God can impact every area of our lives because we compartmentalize our relationship with God.


We compartmentalize our relationship with God. And here’s what I mean by that. I mean that whether you would ever admit it or even think about it, a lot of us treat our relationship with God like it only matters when we’re doing churchy kind of stuff. So we believe that God is God over what we do in our worship services or small groups. And we believe that God is God over what we do when we volunteer at a food pantry or help purchase gifts for kids on the Angel Tree. Or, to put it another way, we act like our relationship with God starts and ends at the doors of the church.

We act like our relationship with God starts and ends at the doors of the church.

And believe me when I tell you that we aren’t the first people to act this way. The truth is that human beings have tried to compartmentalize their faith for as long as we have had faith. And we can easily see this in some of the religious beliefs of the ancient world.


Take what we now call Greek mythology as an example. In Greek mythology, there are different gods or goddesses for every area of your life. In Greek mythology, you have Zeus who is the god of the skies. You have Poseidon who is the god of the sea. You have Hades who is the god of the underworld. And that doesn’t even scratch the surface of all of the greek gods and goddesses. There is a goddess of love and beauty. A god of music and healing, a goddess of hunting, and a god of war. And I could keep on going. Like this guy hanging out over my shoulder this morning, Hercules, in Greek mythology he will become the god of strength and heroes.


But I think you get my point. In Greek mythology there were gods over every area of a person’s life...but they were all different gods. So if you were out at sea and got in trouble you prayed to Poseidon and not Zeus. Or if you wanted to meet someone and fall in love you prayed to Aphrodite and not Ares. So there was a different God in charge of everything.


And a lot of us want to treat our God, the one and only true God, the exact same way. We want to follow God when it comes to the stuff we do in church...but we want someone else to be in charge of what happens outside the church. And who do we want to be in charge of everything else? Ourselves.


So that’s why I want to start our first worship service of the new year by talking about one of the most important passages of scripture in the entire Bible. This is a passage of scripture that is still recited as a daily prayer by Jews today. But it’s more than just a prayer. This passage is also a song that celebrates God and a pledge to follow God.


And we find this passage in Deuteronomy 6. But before we look at this passage, let me give you a little bit of background. So this passage is part of the opening section of the book Deuteronomy. And the opening section is a collection of speeches that we attribute to Moses that he gave before the people of Israel finally entered the Promised Land.


And, if you remember, it took a while for the people of Israel to enter the Promised Land. As a matter of fact, it took them over 40 years to enter the Promised Land because the people of Israel didn’t trust God at the beginning of their journey to the Promised Land. So Moses gives these speeches to the next generation of Israel to challenge them and warn them because he doesn’t want these Israelites to repeat their parents’ mistakes.


And one of their parents’ biggest mistakes was compartmentalizing their relationship with God. You see, before they began their journey to the Promised Land, the Israelites had been steeped in polytheistic cultures for generations. From their roots in Canaan, to the long years in Egypt, to their traveling through Canaanite territory in the wilderness, they were surrounded by people who worshiped many different gods. But Moses clearly believes that loyalty, obedience, and love to their one true God is the only way to life.


So, in the passage that we’re going to read today, Moses makes that crystal clear. So let’s take a look at Deuteronomy 6, and we’ll start reading in verse 4. It says:


4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.


Now, these two verses are so important to our faith that we actually have a name for them, we call these verses “The Shema.” And we call these verses “The Shema” because the first word in these verses--the word that we translate as hear or listen--is the Hebrew word Shema.


But, here’s the thing, even though we translate the first word of this passage as “listen” the word Shema does not simply mean to let the sound waves enter your ears. Instead, what the word Shema really means is that you should allow the words to sink in, provide understanding, and generate a response. In other words, in Hebrew, “hearing” and “doing” are basically the same thing.


But what are we supposed to do when we hear that the Lord alone is our God? Well, that’s exactly what Moses tells us when he says, “Love the Lord your God.” But in this context, love isn’t simply the warm, fuzzy, emotional feeling we get when we like someone. In the Bible, love is action.


So for us to love God, we must be loyal and faithful to God. We must hear and absorb what God tells us and then we have to put it into practice and follow him. And then Moses is nice enough to tell us which areas we should follow God in when he says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”


So what areas are we supposed to love God and obey God in? In areas that involve our hearts, our souls, and our might. And what areas are those? They are every area and aspect of our lives. So God isn’t just God for 45 minutes on a Sunday morning when we come together and worship online. And God isn’t just God for an hour when we’re together with our Small Groups. God is God over every area of our lives.

God is God over every area of our lives.

And this is something that Moses wanted to make sure that the people of Israel never forgot. So as soon as he finishes telling them:


4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.


The very next thing Moses says is:


6 Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. 7 Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. 8 Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, 9 and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.


Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (New Revised Standard Version)


So, as we start into this new year, it’s tempting to focus in on the resolutions we’ve made for the year to come. It’s tempting to focus in on losing weight, exercising more, or eating healthier. It’s tempting to focus in on spending less money or finding ways to save more. It’s tempting to focus in on the hobbies we want to try, the skills we want to learn, or the books we’d like to read.


But what we need to do is to put the first thing first. We need to start this new year by remembering that God is our God, and only God is our God. So we must love God with everything that we have and in every area and aspect of our lives this year. So we need to love God when we’re worshiping together and when we’re in Small Groups. But we also need to love God when we’re walking through the produce section at Kroger or when we’re hitting the treadmill at Planet Fitness. We need to love God when we’re making out our budgets and contributing to our retirement accounts. We need to love God when we’re learning how to crochet or planning our next big trip. We need to love God in everything that we do.


And here’s the best part: unlike with your New Year’s resolutions, you are the one who controls if you’ll love God.

You are the one who controls if you’ll love God.

There’s not a virus that you can catch that can keep you from loving God. There’s not a certain amount of money you have to have in your bank account or in your 401K to love God. And you don’t have to be in a specific place doing a specific thing to love God. So you control whether you’ll God or not.


So if you want to do a better job of loving God this year, if you want to do a better job of listening and obeying God this year, if you want to do a better job following God this year; I have a challenge for you. We’re going to put the words of “The Shema” back up on the screen right now. And I want you to grab a pen and write down these words and do the same thing with them that Moses told the people of Israel to do. Recite these words when you’re at home or when you’re away. Recite these words when you lie down at night and when you wake up. Recite these words and remember that God is God over your entire life...and all God asks you to do is follow his way.


© 2020 by Adam Schell