We begin to give God the glory he deserves when we say -- every day -- "First, God."
I am reading The Message this year, Eugene Peterson's ten-year in-the-making paraphrase of the Scriptures. Critics of Peterson would do well to read both his approach to this work and the lengthy list of scholars who served as translation consultants. It is impressive.
Peterson provides brief, but helpful, introductions to each book of the Bible. His words about Genesis resonate:
First, God. God is the subject of life. God is foundational for living. If we don’t have a sense of the primacy of God, we will never get it right, get life right, get our lives right. Not God at the margins; not God as an option; not God on the weekends. God at the center and circumference; God first and last; God, God, God.
Genesis gets us off on the right foot. Genesis pulls us into a sense of reality that is God-shaped and God-filled.
I incorporated these words into the message I gave yesterday at Spanish River Church. In our series, 9Q, we are addressing nine questions that, when asked, help us to love God and live on mission for him. This week we are focusing on question three:
The primacy of God -- his rule and reign -- is the recurring theme in Scripture, particularly in the letters of Paul:
- And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17 ESV
- Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men. Colossians 3:23 ESV
- So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31 ESV.
God has claim to first place as Creator, Sustainer, and Savior. This is what Peterson drives at in his "First, God" introduction. And why? Because every facet of our lives find its meaning and fullest expression when we think, "First, God."
I saw the reality of this truth last night as I was reading about Booker T. Washington.
Booker T. Washington devoted his life to improving the status of African Americans in the early twentieth century. He did it by "avoiding 'mere political agitation' and instead 'first emphasizing the cardinal virtues of home, industry, education, and peace with our next-door neighbor, whether he is white or black.'"
In his book, The American Leadership Tradition, Marvin Olasky said,
He fought a two-front war: against atheism and its practical outworking of hopelessness, but also against "sentimental Christianity, which banks everything in the future and nothing in the present."
Washington said, "Our religion must not alone be the concern of the emotions, but must be woven into the warp and woof of our everyday life."
Washington's approach brought on antagonism from others such as W.E.B. Du Bois who pushed for and demanded a more a more forceful political solution to the race crisis in America. Olasky relates the time when Washington and his critics met at a dinner in Boston. Washington's adversaries took the occasion to denounce him, each speaker criticizing his efforts.
Finally, it was Booker T. Washington's turn to speak. How would he respond to such a volley of unkind remarks. Here is what happened next:
"Gentlemen, I want to tell you about what we are doing at Tuskegee." Then, according to onlooker T. Thomas Fortune, "For more than a half-hour he told them of the needs and the work without once alluding to anything that had been said in heat and anger by those to whom he spoke." When Washington concluded his review, he sat down.
Washington's life -- and therefore his approach to criticism -- was driven by "First, God." That is, how do I as a Christian react in times of opposition? What would God want. God is clear:
17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:17-21 ESV
I return to Washington's words: "Our religion must not alone be the concern of the emotions, but must be woven into the warp and woof of our everyday life." That weaving begins as we approach our day with the words and heart that say:
How will "First, God" shape your life today?
- "First, God." from the Introduction to Genesis, in The Message.
- "He fought a two-front war . . ." Marvin Olasky, The American Leadership Tradition: Moral Vision From Washington To Clinton. New York: The Free Press. 1999. Page 111.
- "Our religion . . ." from The American Leadership Tradition, page 111.
- "Gentlemen, I want to tell you . . ." from Marvin Olasky, The American Leadership Tradition: Moral Vision From Washington To Clinton. New York: The Free Press. 1999. Page 123.