What in the world does IU’s Big Ten basketball championship have to do with your life with God?
Leave it to a Hoosier pastor in Bloomington to try and make a connection between IU’s basketball championship and what it looks like to live a joyful, abundant, hopeful life with God. (Those who aren’t fans may be shaking their heads in disappointment that their pastor is talking about a round ball and not some difficult-to-understand German theologian.) The Big Ten title and the life we can have with God: What’s the connection?
First Place. That’s the connection between the most recent Hoosier Big Ten championship and an abundant, vital, joyful daily life with God: first place! The phrase “first place” has stuck with me since I read a wonderful section in Brian D. McLaren’s book Naked Spirituality. McLaren observes that when the Word (Christ) isn’t just a word to us but a way of life then we are more alive. We don’t visit the Word on Sunday and then forget it; rather, the Word is woven into our ordinary lives as we put God first in big and little ways.
First Place in All Things
- Give God the first greeting every morning. As our eyes open, we turn our attention to God. Not to our cell phone and emails that have accumulated overnight but to God. Begin with a word of prayer or praise for open eyes and a new day!
- Give God the first thanks at every meal. We begin every meal stopping to celebrate how we have been blessed. The habit of gratitude can change us into people of joy and thankfulness.
- Give God the first response to every pleasure. See a sunrise, catch the stars in a clear sky early in the morning, kayak down a river, hear a beautiful song, share lunch with a dear friend, or hold a baby? Give thanks and share the moment with the God who gives the gift!
- Give God the first consideration in your weekly schedule. Plan “mini Sabbaths” in each day. Build your weekly schedule around a time of gathering with others for worship and fellowship.
- Give God the first supervisor or customer for all week. Let the lesson Jesus gives about “Just as you did it to the least of these…you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40) “infuse all (your) work with new meaning,” McLaren writes. Make your work a sacred place. Put your faith to work in how you do what you do and in your relationships with co-workers and customers.
- Give God the first part of every paycheck. See your giving as an act of worship, and an opportunity to express your God-given concern for other. (Generous givers are, by the way, almost always joy-filled people!)
- Give God the joy of your creativity. God is at the heart of joyful creativity. God loves to create and since you were made in the image of God, you may find great joy in creating (playing the guitar, gardening, poetry, building furniture, cooking, rebuilding old cars, dancing, etc.). Think of creating not as an attempt to create perfection or impress others, but simply as an act intended to please God. Catching a glimpse of God’s creative glory, we are set free to paint the picture, try that new Thai dish, plant the garden, or rebuild the 65’ Plymouth Fury. (People sometimes tell me that creative moments become holy moments, and renew their soul. Making something connects them with God. Sometimes more effectively than sermons.)
I don’t know why religious people make life and faith so complicated. Jesus says First Place comes down to two things. What are they?
Down To Two
A legal expert, on behalf of other preacher-types and scripture scholars, went to Jesus to trip him up. The expert asked Jesus (Matthew 22) “What is the greatest commandment in the Law?” (Since there were hundreds of laws in Hebrew scripture, the expert thought he would stump Jesus. Whatever the Galilean would say would be wrong.)
Jesus says it all comes down to this: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. And you must love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
The First Place life is about loving God and loving the neighbor.
First Place living is all about staying in touch with the goodness, beauty and wonder of a generous, loving, faithful God. Knowing the Word gives us opportunities each day to live out our hallelujah as we give thanks for all that is good. Our love for God gets expressed as we put God in First Place in the big and little moments of our lives: giving God first in the morning, first at work, first at play, first with our paycheck, first in our creating.
Who or what is in First Place in your life?