1160 West Georgia Street Vancouver, BC, V6E 3H7
Moving can be hard. Last week my wife and I moved to our 6th home of our 18 years of marriage. That’s an average of 3 years per house for all of you math enthusiasts. Every one of these moves have been a big adjustment for my wife, who spent her entire childhood in the same house until she left home for university.
One thing that we have noticed through moving though, is that it is always much easier to move if you are going to a bigger or nicer place. There’s the incentive that the logistical challenge of moving is worth all the discomfort and inconvenience, because you are moving to something better. It’s much more difficult, however, when the move isn’t to a better situation, and even more discouraging if the new place feels like a downgrade from the old.
This week our church is in Chapter 19 of The Story where we find that some of God’s people are released from exile by King Cyrus and finally allowed to return home. Can you imagine how they must have felt? Many of them were born in exile and only had heard the stories from their parents of what their promised land was like. They would have heard about a land that was flowing with milk and honey. They would have heard about the olive groves, the fruits, and the fish from the Sea of Galilee. And they would have heard about the magnificent temple that Solomon built. Their hearts and minds would have been filled with anticipation of one day seeing the land the Lord promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
After their 4-month long 1600-kilometre journey, however, they were met with a city that was in ruins. Talk about a downgrade. Not only were the walls and homes devastated, but the temple (which was the focal point for worship of the one true God) was also destroyed. They must have been so disheartened as their hopes of moving to something better were shattered.
Transitions are tough. They often leave us vulnerable, emotionally and spiritually. I once heard Pastor Anthony Greco use the illustration of a hermit crab to explain this reality. The hermit crab needs a shell in order to protect itself from predators. The problem is that a hermit crab doesn’t have the ability to grow its own protective shell. So, it finds a discarded shell and uses it as a shield to fend off hungry seagulls. This plan works beautifully… until the hermit crab starts to grow. Eventually the hermit crab’s body is bigger than the area that the shell can protect. The crab must find a larger shell, because if it doesn’t, eventually its body will become exposed and unable to grow properly.
That means then, that the most vulnerable time for the hermit crab is in the transition between the old shell and the new shell… it’s in that space that it is completely exposed with no defense. When going through a transition, we can find ourselves equally exposed and vulnerable.
Transitions happen all the time and they take on many forms. Maybe you’ve started a new job, moved to a new home, country, or city. Perhaps you are one of the many who got married during the pandemic, or maybe you just got a puppy. You’ve had a baby, started school again, or your kids started having kids of their own. Maybe you were forced into early retirement. Transitions are an inevitable part of life, and it’s impossible to grow without them.
Sometimes the transitions that we go through are painful. That was the experience for God’s people in The Story. When they transitioned from exile to their homeland though, the people of Israel went into survival mode and became inwardly focussed. So much in fact, that they neglected what was most important. They began to focus on rebuilding their homes and restoring their comfort before they paid any attention to the temple that sat in ruins. Of course, it was important that they had homes to live in, but it had moved beyond the necessity of shelter. God spoke to them through the prophet Haggai, “Is it a time for you to be living in your panelled houses while this house remains a ruin?” Haggai 1:4
Having panelled houses back then meant having walls and ceilings covered with cedar wood. This would have been a sign of prosperity, since cedar was expensive and hard to come by. It would have been over the top opulence. The people were caught up in overindulging their own comfort while neglecting God’s house. Basically, their priorities were completely out of whack.
So, what can we learn from this? In a transition, it’s easy to forget God, or at least push him to the back burner. But Jesus said, we are to seek his kingdom first, and to not get so wrapped up in the logistical worries of this life. It’s easy to allow the cares of everyday life to consume us and completely distract us from putting God first in everything. And those everyday concerns are often louder during times of transition.
All of us have undergone some massive transitions recently. Remember when the whole world shut down and we were told not to even go outside for fear of contracting an unknown virus? And then the world reopened, but no wait, it didn’t… And now things are finally open again, but it’s difficult to navigate all of the changes. During all these transitions, it’s important to, as Pastor Dave said this weekend, “Put first things first.” Put God, his word, his house, and his family FIRST.
I recently had lunch with one of our amazing life group leaders. He was sharing how important life group was to his stability and spiritual strength through all the ups and downs of the past couple years. I’ve noticed that those who have continued to prioritize church, life group, and time spent with God have emerged stronger and healthier than those who haven’t. It has truly been the anchor for our church and can be for you as well.
So, what does putting God first look like?
Pastor Rick Warren created an acrostic using the word FIRST to use as a reminder of what we need to do to keep God first in everything.
If you want God to bless your finances, even during difficult seasons, you must tithe. Sorry! There’s no other alternative.
Put him first in your hobbies, your career, and your recreation. Give God first consideration in every decision.
Put him first in your family, your marriage, and your friendships.
Give him the first part of every day. Get up and sit on the side of your bed every morning and say, “God, if I don’t get anything else done today, I just want to love you a little bit more and know you a little bit better.”
You need to turn to God first when you have a problem. Prayer should never be your last resort. It should be your first choice.
Hopefully, this will help you keep God FIRST.”