Keeping First Things First

Every preference of a small good to a great, or partial good to a total good, involves the loss of the small or partial good for which the sacrifice is made


“’Every preference of a small good to a great, or partial good to a total good, involves the loss of the small or partial good for which the sacrifice is made …. You can’t get second things by putting them first. You get second things only by putting first things first.’[1]

“The man who makes his ‘first thing’ getting everyone to like him becomes obnoxious because he is too preoccupied with himself to genuinely care about anyone else. The woman who puts her own happiness first ends up chronically dissatisfied with her life. The poor soul whose first priority is staving off another anxiety attack will be constantly on edge. The church that makes being relevant to culture its first mission, either by conscious design or by the slow descent of good intentions gone wrong, will become utterly irrelevant to culture. Why? Because likeability, happiness, peace of mind, and relevance are not first things. They are second things, byproducts, not goals. Make any second thing a first thing and you not only lose the real first thing; you lose the second thing too. Let us call this ‘Lewis’ First Things Principle.’

“If the obnoxious man genuinely cared about the people around him more than his own likeability, he would end up more liked. If the sad woman put loving God and loving people well ahead of her own happiness, she would likely end up exponentially more satisfied with life. If our poor soul exerted zero energy on not being anxious, pouring that energy instead into exercising hard at the gym, getting into and enjoying God’s creation, caring deeply about the people God has put in his life, preaching the gospel to himself often, then his anxiety spikes would be less frequent and less catastrophic. If that irrelevant church made revering God and faithfully preaching His Word its primary mission, then it would become exponentially more relevant than it ever could through pandering to the perceived felt-needs and consumer demands of the culture.”[2]

These paragraphs inspired from CS Lewis’s famous book of essays, God in the Dock, are an important reminder for me right now. Right now my life is over busy, and I need to give attention to my priorities. The momentum is strong to continue in the path I am on, but I don’t think it is sustainable. Some things will inevitably give way to other things. If I am not careful, I fear the second things will crowd out the first things.

It’s already happening. I am not writing much. I believe God prompted me years ago to begin writing. I am not sure exactly why, except that I sensed God in the prompting. These last couple of months I have hardly written at all.

But writing isn’t a first thing either. Even though I believe God prompted me to write, it isn’t a first thing. I believe we all have things that God has prepared for us to do. “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Eph. 2:10 (NLT)) But, not even the things God purposed us to do are first things.

Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt. 6:33 (ESV)) God is the ultimate first thing. Seeking God is the ultimate first thing that should be prioritized above all other things.

I need to be reminded of that today. Maybe you do too.

Only when God is first in our lives will all the other things fall into place. The second things ultimately won’t fulfill us or satisfy us because we were meant for God first. And when God is first, those second things become an extension of the first thing.

When we love God is first, we do everything for God (1 Corinthians 10:23), and God works all things together for our good. (Romans 8:28)

I am feeling a bit off these days, a little out of whack, a little off-balance and unsettled. I think it is because I have gotten busy devoting myself to many things and have neglected the first thing. I started this piece days ago, and since then I have spent more time distracted and diverted. But I am reminded again today of the need to put God first.

I am thankful to God who doesn’t allow us to wander off without reminding us of Himself. I don’t always listen or respond, but He is ever faithful. Without God, I would be utterly lost to my own devices. I write these words with gratitude and hope that I will learn to keep first things first more often in the days to come.

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[1] C.S. LEWIS, First and Second Things, in GOD IN THE DOCK: ESSAYS ON THEOLOGY AND ETHICS 280

[2] THADDEUS J. WILLIAMS, Putting First Things First, JOURNAL OF CHRISTIAN LEGAL THOUGHT, Vol. 8, No. 2 (2018)

Homosexuality and the Church

What we need is for the church to have the conversation on homosexuality better.


I am a big fan of Justin Brierley’s podcast, Unbelievable! on Premiere Christian Radio in the UK. The theme of the podcast is to interview persons with different viewpoints on a variety of subjects that usually focus on some aspect of faith. Often the interviewees include a person of faith and a person of no faith. Sometimes, the interviewees are people of different faiths. The podcast that aired on November 24, 2018, included two Christians on different sides of the debate about homosexuality: How should gay Christians express their sexuality?

David Bennett “grew up in an agnostic/atheist home” but became a “conservative” Christian, while Justin Lee represents the mirror image of David’s experience. Justin grew up in “a very devoutly Christian home”.

Justin relates that he understood that being a Christian meant “taking a loving but principled stand against homosexuality” and that “being gay is a sinful choice”. He felt it was his obligation as a Christian to speak out and encourage people not to be gay. He believed that God would “lead people out of homosexuality”. He believed that homosexuality was a choice, which is what his Southern Baptist church taught.

But then, Justin came to realize that he was same sex attracted himself. In spite of praying and believing that God would change him, his feelings didn’t change. He struggled with that realization until he came to believe that same sex attraction is not a sin. Though Justin is still single, he now engages in ministry to the gay and lesbian community who he says have been left adrift by the greater Christian community.

These two men, both same sex attracted, have come from opposite shores, crossed in between, and take different positions in respect to homosexuality and faith. They engage in a very thoughtful, honest and thought-provoking conversation with Justin Brierley in the podcast.

You can hear the whole thing by clicking on the link in the first paragraph above. Meanwhile, I will summarize their divergent experiences that cross over from opposite shores below.

Continue reading “Homosexuality and the Church”

The False Promise of Pleasure

Statue of writer and playright Oscar Wilde in Merrion Square in Dublin, Ireland.

“Meaninglessness does not come from weariness with pain. Meaningless comes from weariness with pleasure….  No one is more fed up with life than one who has exhausted pleasure. Some of the loneliest people in the world are those who have lived indulgent lives and emotionally and physically drive themselves to impotence.”

This is a quotation from Ravi Zacharias in a talk he gave titled, the Problem of Pleasure. If you listen to Ravi Zacharias much, you will note that he returns to this theme often, and he often mentions Oscar Wilde, the famous Irish poet and playwright. He was a brilliant writer and thinker who was an outspoken atheist and lived a hedonistic lifestyle.

Wilde is described as “the supreme individualist”. The Picture of Dorian Gray, is described as a “novel of vice hidden beneath art” tinged with “self-conscious decadence”. The Importance of Being Earnest, commonly believed to be his best work written at the height of his career, is more subtle and nuanced, but continues the same theme, as do all of the works of Oscar Wilde. (See Wikipedia)

We know much of Wilde’s private life, ironically, from a much publicized court case that publicized his private life when Wilde sued the Marquess of Queensberry for libel. Queensberry was also an outspoken atheist. Queensberry’s son, Lord Alfred Douglas, was the person who introduced Wilde to “the Victorian underground of gay prostitution”. Queensberry’s defense was to prove his statements true by hiring private investigators to uncover the “salacious details of Wilde’s private life”. The trial that Wilde initiated left him bankrupt as the defense proved the truth of Queenberry’s statements.

Wilde, the “colourful agent provocateur in Victorian society”, spared himself no pleasure and wasn’t shy about his lifestyle. Like Solomon, though, he retained a sort of wisdom borne of experience. Having been baptized as a child, he often used biblical imagery and characters in his writing, though his use was, perhaps, sacrilegious.  During a two year prison sentence for homosexual actions, he requested the Bible in multiple, languages, Dante’s Divine Comedy and other works with Christian themes. When he was released from prison, the Catholic Church turned down his request to spend six months at a monastery, and Wilde wept at the news.

As I sit here thinking of these things, I am also thinking of the unfolding story of a friend, a very enthusiastic and committed believer in God. He is a lover of the stage, a former Shakespearean performer. In that sense, he shares something in common with the playwright, Wilde. My friend is in the ICU as I write, having suffered a series of strokes that could leave him incommunicative and paralyzed. Even in his desperate physical situation, he and his family have experienced the presence of God sustaining them in faith. They exhibit a transcendent joy and peace even in the middle of the difficulties they face.

We are naturally attracted to pleasure and pull back from pain, but sometimes the pleasures we seek cause us pain. We tend to think that pleasure is good and pain is bad, if not in a moral sense, then certainly in an experiential sense. God gives us the ability to experience pleasure and pain. In that sense, God gives us both pleasure and pain. Neither one is intrinsically good or bad. CS Lewis implies this when he says that God whispers to us in our pleasures, but He shouts to us in our pain.

Continue reading “The False Promise of Pleasure”

Becoming Mindful of God

The benefits of mindfulness and prayer are proven in the secular and spiritual worlds.

Depositphotos Image ID: 48782201 Copyright: danr13

The March 2018 issue of the Illinois Bar Journal includes an article by Ed Finkel, an Evanston based freelance writer. The subject is mindfulness for attorneys, inspired by presentations given by Naperville business and estate planning attorney, Mark Metzger. This all may seem too professional and industry-based for this blog, but it got me thinking.

First of all, the legal profession is where I spend a large chunk of my time every week, week after week, month after month, year after year. Finkel correctly notes that the practice of law is a highly stressful occupation. Other occupations also have their share of stress, of course.

We experience stress often in our everyday living as well. The stress of strained personal relationships, financial difficulty and burdens, raising children, and many other kinds of stress weigh upon us. We all feel stress from time to time.

So what does mindfulness for lawyers have anything to do with a blog on navigating by faith? Quite a bit, it turns out.

Continue reading “Becoming Mindful of God”

Lose Your Life for God

There is an element of self-centeredness even in our generosity and the good deeds we do.

canstockphoto17768345


“Whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:24)

Let’s be honest. People are self-centered. It starts from the moment we leave the womb. Babies cry when they are tired, cry for food, cry when they want something: their world is focused on their own needs. As we grow and mature, we (hopefully) become more attuned to others and begin thinking about meeting their needs, at least when they do not conflict with our own needs; but we are still primarily self-centered. Continue reading “Lose Your Life for God”

Doing the Right Thing

Doing the right thing: If we are not faithful with the little things, we will not accomplish the big things.

Man Standing on PinnacleMany people would like to save the world. Many of us find fault with our world in which poverty, homelessness, war and other evils exist. We want to be part of the solution, and we think we are. We have aspirations to take on the big things, but we ignore the little things.

We fail to realize that, if we are not faithful with the little things, we will not accomplish the big things. When we fail in the little things, we are part of the problem and not part of the solution.

I count myself among the many. I don’t always do the right thing. So, I am preaching to myself and to anyone who cares to listen.

One little, petty example got me thinking about this. It is not a big thing, but that is exactly the point. The little things that we ignore and discount add up. The little things are what define our character and the direction of our lives. The little things become the big things.

Before I give you the example, I urge you not to react the way I would be inclined to react. I might be tempted to say, “Well, I didn’t do that. He is not talking about me.” If you have not done what I am going to describe, don’t think you are off the hook. I guarantee you, if you are human, you have done something else that is similar.

Continue reading “Doing the Right Thing”