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What God Wants First

August 4, 2015 — 2 Comments
What God Wants First

What God Wants First

The Bible is a big book.

It can be overwhelming.

Have you ever tried to wade through it, thinking, “What does God really want from me?”

I have good news. We don’t have to guess about what God really wants from us.

There are pivotal pieces of Scripture all throughout God’s Word that tell us plainly what He wants.

When God freed Israel from Egypt, He did so with the intent of building a special relationship with this nation. God’s desire to save the world through a Messiah would eventually be played out in the context of this “special people”.

So when Israel was out of Egypt’s grasp, God called Moses up Mount Sinai. It is there that He would make plain to Israel how they were to interact with Him and each other. This was a pivotal moment in their history, in the story of salvation, and the history of the world.

What God said first tells us a lot!

The God of All Creation said,

“You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3)

Pretty straightforward.

No other gods. None. Not one.


  • Was this God that came down to the mountain insecure? Nope.
  • Was this God jealous? Yes. But not in the immature way you and I think of it.

So, why is this the first commandment?

God knows who He is.

  • God is completely unique in His nature. He is limitless, completely holy throughout. He’s not like us.
  • This God came down to speak with Moses in order to establish a special relationship with Israel.
  • God knows that if we follow Him, and actually do what He says, life (and eternity) will go so much better!
  • He is the only being who can truly, confidently, say, “My way is best for you. Don’t follow anyone else.”

God knows who we are.

  • God knows our hearts, how impatient and unfaithful we can be.
  • He knows we’re going to be quick to nod our heads in agreement and quick to wander away.
  • God knows that we need clear instruction. How many other “gods” before Him? Zero. Nada. Nunca. None.

So, how are you doing with this? Do you worship any other “gods”?

I know, I know. You don’t have a little statue you pray to. That’s probably not the “god” you’re in danger of worshiping.

But the reality is that anything that rules our hearts and minds is a rival for the One True God.

How about “the big three”?

  • Sex
  • Money
  • Power

We all know people who serve these “gods”. And we’re all tempted to.

But what about the more subtle “gods”?

  • Your career
  • Your health
  • Your hobby
  • Your kids

I know those are all good things. And you should pay attention to them.

But look, anything that we allow to sit on the throne of our hearts, where only He should sit, is our “god”.

God wants to be first in your heart, mind and life.

God called to Israel (and us) with a clear voice. He called them into an exclusive relationship.

Just as your spouse doesn’t want to be the “first of many loves”, our God doesn’t either.

The Lord, our God, wants all of your relationships, your decisions, everything about you, to come under the leadership of His Lordship. The good news is that as we submit all of this to Him, we are more blessed than we ever could be by running our lives without Him occupying the throne of our hearts.

In short, God wants you! He wants an exclusive relationship with you. All of you.

So, what about you? Is it time to evaluate who is first in your heart?


April 9, 2014 — Leave a comment

Empty - by Joe WickmanSometimes I feel empty.

I have a great life. A beautiful wife, 4 healthy daughters, a job as a pastor at a thriving church in my hometown. In many ways, all of my dreams have come true. But even when things are going well, the fact remains that I live in a broken world. I deal with the same stuff you do.

  • People disappoint or hurt me.
  • Heck, I disappoint me.
  • I pray, and wait for God to answer. But it seems to take Him a looooong time to answer.
  • I could add a dozen more things to the list. You could too.

I lose sight of Jesus from time to time. And when I can’t seem to find Him, when He’s gone from my sight, I find it difficult to maintain the hope and joy that I once had. Love wanes. Life becomes a chore. I am drained.

I know you feel empty sometimes too.

The everyday ebb and flow of concerns, worries and problems has a way of sucking the life out of even the most optimistic believer. We’re not the first ones to doubt, to wonder if God will really come through, to feel empty.

Can you imagine how empty Jesus’ disciples felt in the hours and days between His death and His resurrection?

The bright hope Jesus birthed in resurrection was preceded by His death on a cross. It’s easy for us to forget, but Jesus’ disciples didn’t know He was going to rise. Yes, He told them. But they didn’t pay attention. Or they forgot. When He was arrested, they scattered. They betrayed Him. The One they had followed for three years was left alone when He needed His friends the most. The disciples failed in faith and friendship. Jesus was dragged away as they ran. He was crucified for all to see. And now He was dead. But fear and failure were not the end of the story.

This is how it played out in John chapter 20:

20 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

This was empty, not hopeful. The assumption Mary made was that robbers had stolen the body of their teacher. This was a blow. Insult and disgrace were added to this great injury.

3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen.

What could this mean? The tomb is empty. Jesus is not there. Could His Words be echoing in their ears? Could it really be? Was he really the Lord?

8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.

Empty is not the end.

Empty is the beginning.

Empty makes room for resurrection.

If empty is where you are, maybe you’re on the way to something new.


This post also appeared on the blog of New Vine Media.

Show up. Be available.

November 7, 2013 — Leave a comment

You’re not going to save someone’s life today. Right?

You never know.

Darnell Barton, a bus driver, didn’t wake up intent on saving a woman’s life…

Darnell Barton was in the right place at the right time.

More accurately, he was the right person in the right place at the right time. And he did the right thing.

So who do you think God will put in front of you today?

You never know.

Don’t tank. It’s your life. Show up for it.

Be available for other people. It may just save someone’s life.

Why do you go to church? Is it because you love the pastor and you want to hear what he has to say?  Maybe you really love the music or is it the donut fellowship?  Free food always seems to gather people at church.

Those are all nice reasons to attend church but it is not reason you should go.  What happens when the music is not so great, the message was mediocre or they ran out of donuts?  Would you still go?

It is finished by Michelle D Howe

It is finished by Michelle D Howe

There is a larger reason to go, but before I jump there let’s consider the previous suggestions.

Who are all those suggestions centered on?  They are centered on YOU!

I did not grow up going to church.  I went here and there with friends growing up but there was no consistency.  Mostly, I sat in the back of the church with my friend painting our nails.

I started going to church after I had attended a church ski trip with some friends.  A few months later, I received Christ as my Savior.  I was 19 at the time.  From then, up until about four years ago, church was about me and what I could get out of it.

All that shifted when I kept hearing God speak into my heart, “Your life is not your own.” At the time, I had started training for a half marathon.  It was a transitional time in my life, and God was moving my heart like never before.

I really had no idea what God meant by that statement but I did a search in the bible to see if it appears.  I found it in 1 Corinthians 6:19:

19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own.

There it was, as clear as ever.  I belong to God.  I don’t belong to people.  I don’t belong to what they think of me, what possessions I have, or by whether or not I’m accepted by them.  I BELONG TO GOD!!!

So what happens when someone living from that space shows up to church? The Spirit within you shows up and “YOU” stays home.

“YOU” (your flesh) is selfish and ask the question, “What can I get today?”

The Spirit is about service and asks the questions, “What I can I offer today?” Big difference!

So what if we all showed up on Sunday in the Spirit rather than in our flesh?

  • What lives would be changed?
  • What drama wouldn’t exist?
  • Who would be reached for Christ?

How would the church service be different when we come to serve rather than be served?

Here is a suggestion that helps me shift into this place as I roll up into my church each Sunday:

Pray and ask the Lord to open your eyes to the needs around you.   Acknowledge that your life is not your own and you are there to serve His people.  When you ask to be used like this, your experience at church will be so different.  Your compassion for others will spill over.  You will let go of needing to be accepted by “those” people and really just “BE” with people.  You won’t care whether so-and-so invites you to their home or not because God may need you somewhere else that day.  You are open and that is a powerful place to be.

So here is your challenge: This Sunday, leave “YOU” at home and allow Jesus to shine through instead.

“Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”  Ephesians 5:14

  • How else can this be applied in your life?
  • How different would your life be if you showed up like this at work or at home?

I’d love to read and respond to your comments.


Michelle has written a book called It is Finished, Coming to the end of you so God can do something new where she takes you on a journey through the book of Nehemiah to rebuild the ruins in your life that have kept you stuck, not getting off the starting line.  Her message will inspire you to get up and move forward towards your own finish line of hope and healing.  Between the chapters, read real life transformational stories of the women that participated in Michelle’s event called Weekend of Wins.

Michelle is offering her book FREE on Amazon Kindle August 15 and 16.

Go now to download your copy now.  

It is Finished by Michelle D Howe

It is Finished by Michelle D Howe

Interested in building confidence and being transformed by a race experience?  Then visit her event website.

Michelle Howe resides in Stuart, Florida with her husband Mark and two children.  At the beginning of 2011, she started writing on a blog called with her friends, Jenny Price and Tammy Werthem.  Their goal is to lead others to more – community, freedom and growth – through their different retreats, conferences and coaching services.

Michelle is a certified leadership coach and has been leading others in the areas of personal development, team building, event planning and marketing for the last eighteen years.  Her ultimate passion is to see people finish and encourage them along their journey.

  • Michelle can be reached via email at
  • Facebook or Twitter @MichelleDHowe
  • Learn more about Michelle’s transformational event and book at


Authority - Who's Your #1?

Authority – Who’s Your #1?

This morning I had a hilarious conversation. With 4 daughters at home this is a regular occurrence.

Before I relay the story, I have to tell you how things work in my house. A common question for children with multiple siblings is, “Who’s in charge?” When we run to the store, leaving our teenage daughter “in charge”, we make it clear to “the littles” (our 4 & 5 year-olds) that they are to listen to her. They are keenly aware of who is in charge when, and it determines a great deal of their behavior. Doesn’t it always?

The one thing “the littles” have realized is that they are virtually never in charge. So they often ask me, when I’m stepping out of the room, or walking out to get the mail, “Am I in charge until you get back?” I usually just say, “Yes. You are in charge of your cartoons until I get back.” No big deal.

Ok, with that said, here’s how it went down at the Wickman family breakfast table:

(The front page of the newspaper featured a large picture of the now-resigned Pope.)

Emily (4):  “Who is that Mommy?”

Kelcy:  “That’s the Pope.”

Emily:  “The Poke? What does the poke do?”

Kelcy:  “No no, the POPE Honey. He is in charge of the Catholic Church.”

Emily:  “Mommy, who is in charge of the United States?”

Kelcy:  “The President.”

Abby (5):  “Who is in charge of the President?”

Me:  “The American people are in charge of the President.” (Idealist, I know)

Abby:  “YES! Finally, I’m in charge of someone!”

For the next 5 minutes Abby alternated between cheers of triumph and exultant fist-pumps! I could see the wheels turning in her head. “If I’m in charge of the President…” I’m sure she had thoughts of Mr. Obama pouring her cereal into her bowl each morning. Or maybe even better, him helping her color a picture. The dreams of a 5 year-old girl…

It’s easy to laugh at a little girl’s perception of power. But I’m convinced that sometimes our concept of power is just as far removed from God’s reality.

Since the beginning of time, authority has been structured simply. One guy at the top has the most power, and the rest of the people “under” him have to do what he says. This has always been, and to some extent, always will be, the way things work.

But then, about 2,000 years ago, this Jesus came. He started saying lots of unpopular things.

One of the most ludicrous proclamations Jesus made was this:

So the last will be first, and the first will be last. (Matthew 20:16)

When I read the parable of the workers in the vineyard, my knee-jerk reaction is to scream, “That’s not fair!”

In this story, Jesus describe the injustice perceived by the workers who labored all day. When the boss handed out the pay, they received the same amount as the men who worked less.

  • Can you imagine sweating in a field all day, only to be paid the same sum as a worker who only worked one hour?

Jesus sets up this obviously unjust story to evoke a childish reaction in us. However many years we’ve been walking this earth, we are prone to seeing our world through human eyes, rather than Christ’s eyes.

Our natural view of authority is:

  • The first are first.
  • I need to fight for my rights!
  • If I’m in charge, I get to make the rules.
  • I am where I am because I’ve gotten me there.

God’s view of authority is:

  • Those who are clamoring to be first don’t even get it.
  • I will lay my rights down.
  • If you’re in charge, you’re responsible for serving all those “under” you.
Picture this:  The entire world, from its earliest days, is constructed on the concept of the first being first.

Then Jesus, the Almighty Son of the Living God, steps out of His heavenly throne, descends to Earth, and says, “Nope. You were mistaken. The first will be last.”

I could imagine the stupid look no the disciples’ faces. “What?”

Peter must have had all he could to do resist the urge to shout, “Nuh-uh!”

And so do we.

The new reality Jesus ushered in is that those who grab and greedily pursue first place are already in last place. The people who really “get it” are those who, having power, take the opportunity to serve others.

This is why Jesus, who had all the authority of the Father (John 3:35), did all these things:

And this is just the short list!

Bottom line:  The Son of God spent His life using His authority to serve others.

The Savior of the world stepped off His throne in heaven, took on the form of a helpless infant, and lived a life of human hardship. At every opportunity He poured Himself into others, ultimately giving up His perfect, beautiful life. This is the picture of what God intends for authority.

Being “in charge” is not our chance to do it our way. It is our chance to come and die. We are afforded the chance to oversee, to have authority, in order to serve those in our care.

From start to finish, Jesus modeled what authority, properly applied, can yield. Will you follow in His footsteps?

  • Will you serve your spouse?
  • Will you serve your children?
  • Will you serve your boss? What about your employees?
  • Will you serve even your enemies?

Don’t let the fear of being last keep you from putting others first.

Your response to these questions will determine just how much of Christ’s life you get to live out in your own.


More Posts to Help You Grow:

  1. God! (through the eyes of a 3 year-old)

  2. Ever Taste God?

  3. Life Without Worry

  4. Choose One: Good or Forgiven?

Follow the blog. Share with a friend. Thanks!

Follow the blog. Share with a friend. Thanks!

Hi Everybody!

I need help to grow strong in prayer. You too? Good. I’m not alone.

I am fired up about the series I’m writing! I hope “How NOT to Pray” helps you connect with your Creator in ways you never dreamed possible.

Could you help me out?

I want this series to be as helpful as possible for as many people as possible:

  1. If you’re not subscribed to this blog, please “follow” to get these posts in your inbox. (top right of the page) I promise I’ll never send anything spammy. I’ll post 3 or 4 times a week.
  2. If you’re looking forward to “How NOT to Pray”, would you share the blog with someone you know? (share buttons below)

Thank you! (Now back to the series…)

Last week I conducted a poll about prayer.

After assessing the results, I’ve decided to call the series, “How NOT to Pray”.

Here’s a preview of the 10 posts I’ll be sharing in the coming weeks:

1)  Don’t (Do.)

2)  Start later (Start now.)

3)  Leave It To Chance (Purpose)

4)  Don’t Schedule It (Rhythm)

5)  Don’t Expect God To Answer. (Expectation)

6)  Make It All About You. (Humility)

7)  Never Stop Moving. (Pause)

8)  Never Be Alone. (Solitude)

9)  Never Shut Up. (Shut up. Really.)

10)  Don’t Change. (Respond to God.)

I can not wait for God to change me (and you) through this series.

Does “How NOT to Pray” look like something you’d read?

Make sure you’re subscribed and leave a comment below.

Do you know anyone who could benefit from these posts? Please share the blog.

Thanks! I can’t wait to roll out each of these posts. – Joe

Hello world!

September 24, 2012 — 1 Comment

Welcome to WordPress. This is your first post. Edit or delete it, then start blogging!

Happy Labor Day??

Labor Day - Time to Rest

Labor Day – Time to Rest

Admit it. If you’re like a lot of Americans, you’re not really sure why you don’t have to work today.

I looked it up. (You’re welcome.) Wikipedia, fount of all knowledge, says:

“Labor Day is an American federal holiday observed on the first Monday in September (September 3 in 2012) that celebrates the economic and social contributions of workers.”

So there you have it. Go light up that barbecue and “celebrate the economic and social contributions of workers”. Party time.

If you’re like a lot of Americans, you work a lot:

  • ABC Newsreports, “Americans work more than anyone in the industrialized world.”
    • “And Americans take less vacation, work longer days, and retire later too.”
  • cites this stat: “In the U.S., 85.8 percent of males and 66.5 percent of females work more than 40 hours a week.”
  • The Fiscal Times reports that, “American families worked an average of 11 hours more per week in 2006 than they did in 1979.”

Feeling exhausted? Now you know why.

Personally, I know that as a father of 4 I work one very full-time job, plus I fill in with a second and third job at times. Like so many others, I have to in order to keep up with the costs of raising a family. That’s just how it is today. With so many out of work, I am beyond thankful to have jobs that pay the bills.

With as much as we work, we have to also be skilled at rest.

The trouble is, to many workaholics rest is a four-letter word.

  • We work so much we don’t pause to enjoy the simple satisfactions of life, like the presence of our loved ones.
  • We don’t know how to say, “Enough is enough. I’m done working for this week.”
  • We don’t dare STOP and rest.

God lays out a clear pattern to follow, a rhythm that keeps work and rest balanced. All throughout Scripture, Old Testament and New, we see Him providing for our long-term health and vitality.


Count them up. 6 days of work. 1 day to STOP. Rest. Relax. Recharge.

In the Old Testament God installed all sorts of celebrations and festivals, special “holy days” that punctuated the annual calendar with time for rest and reflection. This kept God’s people from burning out. They knew how to work, and they knew when to rest. God, who himself rested on the seventh day of creation, laid out  a pattern of self-care for His people.

Better yet, in the New Testament, Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) Jesus, God in man, who was on a mission to save the world from sin, was not too busy to rest. He often pulled away with a few disciples, or by himself, to a deserted place. He stopped healing, blessing and teaching in order to slow down and rest up.

If God has modeled rest as a holy practice throughout all Scripture, maybe we could stand to learn from Him.

Today I encourage you to pause, even STOP. Sit down. Chill out. Spend some time with those people you work so hard to provide for, and enjoy time with them.

Want more help?

Read “Running on Empty

Meet Good Guy Dan

March 16, 2012 — 2 Comments

“People without hope come in here for hope.”

We could all stand to be a little more like Dan.


Happy Monday! I’d love to get a “pulse” on some of our blog readers. This ANONYMOUS survey is mostly for my curiosity, but will help me get a handle on what everyone’s familiarity is with Scripture.

In the COMMENTS feel free to share your wins, struggles and desires with Scripture reading. I’d love to hear them.