Matt Hagee - First Things First
Matthew 16:24 is one of the places where you turn in scripture, and when you read the words, many people oftentimes say, "Well pastor, I just don't understand. I don't understand how if you try to save your life, you're going to lose it, and how if you try and lose your life, you're going to save it. I don't understand how it can profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul. It's just too confusing". And so we close the book and pretend like that's the end of the conversation. The reality of it is, is this is very simple language and it's very easy to understand.
There's a difference though between what you understand and what you aren't willing to accept. And most of the time, when we read passages like this that bring us to a place where it's uncomfortable for us to change our behavior, rather than understand it, we don't accept it, and we camouflage our lack of acceptance by saying, "I don't understand". This is why people read passages like, "Give and it shall be given unto you," and they go, "I don't understand". Well that's easy enough. You just don't accept the idea that giving is God's idea. Here's what the Bible says, "If we confess our sins, then he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness". But there's a movement in the church world right now that doesn't even want to confess and forsake your sin. You just want to continue living in sin and let God accept you like you are.
The difference is, it's not that you don't understand the process: you don't accept what God put in place. So when we read chapters like Matthew 16, we have to understand that this is easy: we just don't accept it. People read the simple language of this text, and the reality of it is they don't read it with their right mind. Here's what he said: he said, "If anyone". Say that with me. "If anyone". He opens up by letting us know that there is no prerequisite to getting to know Jesus Christ. Here on this earth, there are certain places that if you want to be a part of what's going on, you've got to be recommended, you've got to have a letter of endorsement, you've got to have the right group of friends that tell others that you're validated and are allowed to attend.
But Jesus said, "If you want to come to me, it doesn't matter who you are. You can be anyone. You don't need to be endorsed by a committee. You don't need to attend any training. You don't need to pass a pre-screening. You don't have to go through a background check. You don't have to have your temperature taken. You don't have to wear a mask on your face. If anyone wants me, they can have me"! If you've got a heartbeat, you qualify. "If anyone," anyone who's made a mistake, anyone who's lived less than a perfect day, anyone who's ever made a bad choice, anyone who needs forgiveness, anyone who's ever been broken and needs to be mended, anyone who's ever been bound and wants to be set free, anyone who's ever been lost and longing to be found, if any of you qualify under those descriptions, then you're the one he's talking about! He's open to all.
I saw a sign the other day that said, "Jesus loves the little children, but I'm his favorite". And whether we like to admit it or not, many of us have that attitude, because we love how much grace and mercy, and how much goodness God can pour on us. But what happens when he starts favoring the people across the street who go to that other church? Anyone means everyone. Not just you, but the people you don't like. What happens when God's goodness starts chasing them down and starts bringing blessings into their life? Anyone means anyone. But whenever we don't accept the fact that he's open to everyone, we immediately say, "Well I just don't understand it," which is not true. You just have the wrong mindset. You're reading the Bible with the wrong mind. And here's what the Bible tells us about the mind of Christ.
Romans 8:7, it says, "The carnal mind", that means your natural mind, your status of being, "is at enmity with God". That means that you are literally arguing with God in your natural mind all day long. Your fallen sinful nature operates out of order from the way that the Word of God works, because your fallen sinful nature does the exact opposite of what the word wants you to do. Here, the Bible tells us, "If anyone wants to come after me, let him deny himself". Do you know what your natural mind never does? Denies you. Jesus said in Matthew 6, "Seek first the kingdom". Do you know what your natural mind never does? Seeks the kingdom first. It puts you first. When you read the Bible with that natural mind, your natural mind can't accept the things of God, which is why Romans 12:2 says, you have to renew your mind. It says, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind".
How do you renew your mind? You open up his word and you read this. You allow his Holy Spirit to open up your eyes so that you can recognize what the Bible says about the life that you can and should live. When you live according to the scripture, and you live according to God's promises, I assure you, you will live the most exciting, fulfilling, blessed life that you could ever imagine. But it doesn't begin until you submit your life to him. In Ephesians 4:23, it says, "Be renewed in the spirit of your mind". It connects your thoughts with your spirit life. It says, "Put on the new man, which is created according to God". This is why Jesus told Nicodemus, "You must be born again," because he knew that the natural man would not agree with the spiritual side of the Word of God. But until you get your mind right, nothing in your life will stay right.
How many of you've ever come to church on Sunday, you've heard a message, you've said, "I'm going to do that," and then Monday, everything fell apart? How many of you just got to the parking lot and you were still thinking about it? And the reason is, is because your spiritual mind wasn't engaged in what you were trying to do. You were trying to accomplish his will in your strength. And, "'it is not by might, not by power, but by my spirit,' says the Lord". So until you get your mind right, nothing in your life will stay right, which means you've got to put first things first, so that you can function in proper order. And the first thing that you have to accept if you're going to put first things first, he's God: you're not. And people say, "Oh, amen to that, pastor". But the truth is you don't have to "Amen" me: you have to prove it to him. And the only way that you can prove it to him is by doing what this verse says. "If any man comes after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me".
Jesus said discipleship is easy, just crucify your will. You see, the cross is an altar of sacrifice. And what Jesus wants you to do is take your will, your desire, your thoughts, your feelings, your attitudes, your prejudices, your bias, all of those things and lay them on that cross and crucify them so that you can follow him. Because when you follow him, he'll take you places you never dreamed you could go. The hard part is the battle between your mind and his will. He said, "Take up your cross and follow me". The only thing you can do on a cross is die on it. And sometimes we over spiritualize the problem. They say, "Oh, pastor, bind this, because I'm under the oppression of..." and then they fill in the blank. "I'm under the oppression of my attitude". "I'm under the oppression of this". "I'm under the oppression of that". Not everything is a spiritual problem. Sometimes it's just you. Which is why Jesus didn't say, "If any man comes after me, bind yourself, and then you can follow me". He said, "Crucify yourself".
You can bind spiritual things. The only thing you can do with your flesh is kill it. And that doesn't melt your heart, and you won't ever find that on a biblical greeting card, but it's the truth. People say, "It's hard to follow him". It's hard to follow him whenever you don't have the right mind and things are out of order. He's got to be first. People say, "First in what"? First in everything. His first commandment, "I am the Lord. You shall have no other Gods before me".
Let me give you five quick areas you have to put God first. First, he's got to be first in your finances. One of the greatest demonstrations that you've submitted your life to Christ is that you are a giver. If you don't give to him financially, then your financial life is out of order. And you will never experience the fullness of God's financial blessings until he's first in that area of your life.
Secondly, he needs to be first in your interests. Jesus said, "I will keep them in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee," which means that you're thinking about him. Let me ask you: how many of you find Jesus interesting? I mean you think about him whenever you don't have to. Do you remember what it was like when you were dating your spouse, how you'd just think about them? I wonder what they're doing right now. I hope they're thinking about me. I wonder where we're going to have dinner. I wonder. And this was before text messaging for me and Kendal, so all you could do is sit there and wonder. But when Jesus is first in your interests, he's something that you think about, something that you consider. You love what he loves. You're concerned about what he's concerned about. You're willing to do what he asks you to do. We live in a world that can spend hours scrolling through digital nonsense that's not going to make a difference in their life, when just a few feet away is a living word that can change everything.
Is he first in your relationships? It doesn't matter what the relationship is. If you're single, he needs to be first in your relationships, because the Bible says, "Do not be unequally yoked with nonbelievers". You do not date to convert. Dating is not the first line of evangelism. You find a believer. Is he first in your relationships between husband and wife? If he's not, then your marriage is going to constantly be in a state of struggle. Why? Because anything that's not first is out of order.
Is he first in your schedule? How many people come to church, and they say, "Oh, pastor, I'd like to do more, but I'm just too busy"? Well, yes, you are. Because if he's not first in your schedule, you're going to give your life to chasing things that are never going to give life back to you. If you find it hard to find time for Jesus, then your time is upside down and it's out of order.
Is he first when you get in trouble? You see, this is real easy. Finances, interests, relationship, schedule, trouble: what's that spell? First. You'll find out what people believe in whenever they get in trouble, because that's where they turn. When life gets too hard, do you turn to the bottle or do you turn to the Bible? When you want to make the pain go away, do you swallow something, or do you hunger and thirst for him? The scripture says that he is an ever-present help in a time of trouble. That means, in a day of trouble, you turn to him first. You follow him. Why? Because he will lead you in paths of righteousness. He'll take you through the darkest valleys of your life, and he'll be right beside you.
David said, "He'll lead you beside still waters into green pastures". He's the one who can walk on the winds of a storm and calm the waves in your life. He's the one who will stand beside you in the flames of fire on your greatest trial. He's the one who will watch you rest while the lion sleeps so that you can demonstrate to the world the kind of God that you serve. Child of God, if you're in a day of trouble, turn to him first, because he is a refuge, and he is a strength. And that's the kind of God that we serve! When you put first things first, the second thing that you have to accept is that his ways are not our ways. How many of you've ever talked to God about a problem, and then you gave him steps one through ten how to fix it? I want you to do this, and then I want you to do this, and then I want you to do this, and I'd like all that by 5 o'clock. That's the way we work. That's not the way he works.
You know there's a lot of people that say, "Oh, God's got a plan for my life". I'm going to shock you. No, he doesn't. God's got a plan, and he'll let your life be a part of it. But it's not about you. It's about his will. "Thy will be done. Thy kingdom come". We don't accept that. We like, "My will be done". But the reality of it is, is God's plan is something he'll let you be a part of if you want to. Oftentimes, we believe that it's all about us. The reality of it is, is it's all about him in us. In Isaiah, he said, "My thoughts are not your thoughts. My ways are not your ways. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so are my ways higher than yours and my thoughts higher than your thoughts".
You say, "Well how high is that"? Believe me: it's out of sight. I don't care how many billions you've got to blow in space, you can't fly that high! When you put first things first, you recognize that you can live the kind of life he promised. What kind of life is that? Read John 10:10, "Life more abundantly". How many of you have room for "More abundantly"? Never met anyone, "Oh, Jesus, don't bless me anymore". Which means, if we're going to live that kind of life, we need an adjustment. I'm not preaching this message to tell you you're doing it all wrong. But there are places in your life that need an adjustment, because they hurt too much.
The other day, I had a pain, never had it before. Some people said it's a sign of age, and I rebuked that. But it started in my ear lobe and it went all the way to my ankle. You ever had one of those? You just don't know what started it, but you want it to stop. Kendal said, "Did you do anything"? I said, "No". She said, "Did you lift"? I said, "No". So I called a good friend of mine. He's a church member and he's a fabulous chiropractor. And he said, "You need an adjustment". And he could have told me, "You need to stand on your head in a bucket of water". I'd have said, "Done". So I went to his office and I laid on the table. And he hovered over my back like the spirit hovered over the waters in Genesis. And for a while, he just mumbled things. He went, "Um. Uh-hum. Oh, yes. Oh, I see that. Um. Oh, and then they're. Oh yes. Okay". Then he counted to three.
When the chiropractor counts to three, brace yourself on two. Because three is just a bluff. He said, "One, two". And it sounded like he grabbed two bags of chips and just pushed them into my... But the good news is, is when he got done with all of that cracking and whacking, the pain went away. And I said, "What happened"? He said, "I needed to adjust you so you could get back into alignment". He said, "Your body was out of shape". He said, "Your shoulder was going this way, and your ribs were going that way, and your hips were going that way". And he said, "Your entire spinal column was all out of whack just because of, over time, not moving properly, you've created these problems. And you could still move, but it hurt too much".
And I got to thinking about how many of us in the body of Christ need an adjustment. Because when you read Ephesians, it says, "Christ is the head of the body". Colossians says, "He is the head of the body," meaning that if we're not in alignment with the head of the body, then everything that we do is going to be more difficult than it should. It's going to hurt too much. And one of the reasons that it hurts too much is because we don't trust Jesus. We put more faith in our traditions and our experiences in our past than we do the promises of his word. Let me tell you something. In a world like we're living in, where things are just hard to believe, it's imperative that you know in who you believe: that you put first things first. Here's what the Psalm says: it says, "Some trust in horses and some trust in chariots. But we'll trust in the name of our God". Why? Because it really doesn't matter what you put your faith in, in this world: it will fail you. But God never fails you.
The question that you have to ask yourself today is, "Am I in the right mind to do what he's asking me to do"? Have you ever considered how many things your natural mind will put its faith in before it puts faith in God? I hear people say things all the time, because their natural mind said it's true. "Oh, pastor, did you hear? I read this on the internet". Oh, well, then it's got to be true. Financially, people put their trust in all kinds of schemes. I've had people tell me, "Oh, I got this tip on a new business thing that came from my college roommate's uncle's cousin's brother-in-law, twice removed, who used to work for so and so. And he overheard such and such in the third bathroom stall on the fourth floor of the office building. And I assure you, it's a sure thing".
Have you ever heard that business deal before? And yet, people in their natural mind go, "Hey, maybe this is the one". Physically, they put their faith in so many different things. "Pastor, you've got to try this cream. You've got to use this oil. You've got to do this. You've got to do that". Why? Because some celebrity you never met endorsed it. You smell like an eucalyptus tree, but your hair is still falling out. How we choose to put our trust in such absurd things.
But what I want you to do today is put your trust in a God who has never failed. He has never failed. He's never failed to provide, because the Bible says, "He clothes the flowers of the fields and he feeds the birds of the air". And every one of you are more valuable to him than those. He's never failed to protect. He has always been a shield around the righteous. He has never failed to guide, because his word is still a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path. He has never failed to show us the way, or deliver us, or be an ever-present help in a time of trouble. He's never failed in a day of sickness, because his word was sent that we might be healed. He's never failed in the day of sorrow, because weeping may endure for the night, but the joy that you want comes in the morning. He's never failed one moment in our past, because he has made us new creatures in Christ Jesus.
He won't even fail you in the future, because he has died, and risen again: and conquered death, hell and the grave. So child of God, may I recommend to you that you put first things first, and you place your trust in the God who holds the mountains in a scale and the hills in a balance, who sits on the circle of the earth and uses this planet for his footstool! He's not a God of sometimes and maybe! He's a God of might and majesty! And he is great and greatly to be praised! He is exalted and he is worthy! And he is here today! Put your trust in him, because he will not fail you! Give the Lord a handclap of praise!
Can we stand in the presence of the Lord? You're in this place, and you say, pastor, there are things in my life that are out of order emotionally, spiritually, physically, financially. There's places in me that need an adjustment to get back in alignment with what Jesus wants me to do. And today, I'm ready to not hurt like I hurt. Today, I'm ready to leave this place in alignment with Jesus, who is the head of the body. And put my trust, heart, soul, mind, and body in him. If that describes you, I simply want you to raise your hand right where you are. I want everyone in this room to raise their hands and pray this prayer with me. Those of you who are watching can join us wherever you're watching from. I believe that you tuned in today because God wants you to hear his word. So join us as we pray here in this sanctuary. Repeat this prayer with me:
Lord Jesus Christ, today I come before your throne, and I humble myself and ask you to forgive me for not accepting the truth of your word like I should. Today I put all of my trust in you. I place all of my hope in you. I abandon my natural mind that would resist your word. And I whole heartedly renew my mind and accept your truth. Lord, today I'm putting you first, so that I can be in alignment with your will. Everything in my life that I need to adjust so that I can place my trust in you, I'm asking you today, through your word and through the Holy Spirit, to bring me into alignment: that I might walk in your promises, in your blessings, in your strength, in your joy in every area of my life, in Jesus' name. Amen.