Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Heart Set on Pilgrimage

Psalm 84:5 says, "Blessed is the man . . . whose heart is set on pilgrimage." Let's think about that word, pilgrimage, for a moment. The Old King James translates that same phrase as, "In whose heart are the ways of them." The word for ways, or pilgrimage, is usually translated as highways. Therefore, this makes it sounds like, "Happy is the fellow who has a highway in his heart."

I've been accused of having wanderlust a time or two because I like to travel and have moved around a lot following God's call in our lives. This verse seems to say, that's good! That is probably taking the verse of out context though. The real meaning is this: We need to be on a constant pilgrimage to draw closer and closer to God.

Think about Abraham. His life was one of constant pilgrimage. He wandered from Ur down to Canaan, then to Egypt and back again. He was always on a pilgrimage. Why? Hebrews 11:9-10 says:
"By faith he sojourned in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise,for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God."
Abraham wasn't content with an earthly city. He wanted to be where God was at. He longed for heaven. He was on a pilgrimage to God. There is never real contentment in our hearts until we get there. Shouldn't we all be on that pilgrimage?

Do you long to draw ever closer to God? Do you do whatever you can to improve your fellowship with Him? Is your heart set on pilgrimage? That pilgrimage is the path to blessing. And by that, I'm not talking about salvation. A lot of Christians who have trusted Christ for salvation live lives with little real blessing in them. But maybe this is why. They aren't on a pilgrimage. They aren't constantly on a journey to get to the heart of God. Are you?

But where will our pilgrimage take us? Psalm 84:6 shows us the pathway. It says: "As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a spring; the rain also covers it with pools." Where is the Valley of Baca? Nobody knows - not geographically. This may have simply been a symbolic term, because the Valley of Baca means the Valley of Weeping. That makes perfect sense. Baca means to weep. Think about it. Don't people usually find God most often during times of personal tragedy; during some crisis in their lives?

When things are going great, when we are healthy, when or bank account is full, we act like we don't need God. We tend to function in our own strength and live our lives on our own. But when tragedy strikes, and the tears start to flow, and we come to the end of our rope with our energy and resources all used up; that is when we turn to God. Isn't it true? When we are most vulnerable and most in need of comfort and love, we find God there waiting for us. He's not hard to find once our heart begins to look. As God says in Isaiah 45:19, "I have not spoken in secret, in a dark place on the earth. I did not say to the seed of Jacob, seek Me in vain."

God is findable, but there is a catch. Deuteronomy 4:29 asserts, "But from there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul." What is the catch? You have to make a good faith effort. This has to be a whole heart pilgrimage. God wants to be wanted.

The word, Baca, can also refer to a place of desolation - a waterless valley. Traveling through would be an ordeal. You would get hot, thirsty, and tired. But after camping out, the next morning you find that the rain had come and had filled up the waterholes with cool, refreshing water. Remember? Verse 6 says, "They make it a spring; the rain also covers it with pools." God turns our desolate places into oasis.

When we seek God traveling through our valleys of desolation, God meets us and brings blessings from barrenness. This is why 1st Peter 1:6-7 says what it does:
"In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious that gold that perishes, though it be tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ."
Are you on a pilgrimage to find God? It is on this pilgrimage that you will find blessing.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Heart Set on Pilgrimage

Psalm 84:5 says, "Blessed is the man . . . whose heart is set on pilgrimage." What on earth does that mean? Obviously, this refers to life under the Old Testament economy. So what was a pilgrimage for an Old Testament saint? In the old Testament, the pilgrimage had reference to those who were making the regular pilgrimages back to the temple as required by the Mosaic Law for feast days. All the people would flock back to Jerusalem for the Passover, for the Feast of Tabernacles, and others. And they were blessed. They were blessed because going back to the temple was where they met God. To go back on a pilgrimage was truly a blessing.

What about for us? We don't live under the Old Testament. How can this apply to us? Hopefully, you find going to church a blessing because you also meet God there. Church should never be a drag. It should never be a bore. Instead, going to church ought to be the highlight of your week. That's where you can fellowship with other believers. That's where you can join them in lifting your voice in praise of God. That's where you can hear how God has been at work in the lives of other believers. That's where you can sit under the teaching of the Word of God. That's where you can encourage and be encouraged by other believers. But mostly, church is a place to meet with and communicate with God. You can do that whether or not the preaching is dynamic or the music is to your taste. You can do that whether the church building is comfortable and ornate, or an old gym.

There was a time when the church was the center of of the social life in this country. In some places it's not even the center of religious life any more. What a shame, and what a loss for people. Because going to church should make you happy. Going to church should be a means by which God brings blessing into your life.

But ultimately, our pilgrimage is never to a building, but to God. there should be a constant restlessness within us, a constant longing to draw closer to God. Joining other believers in worship is a part of that. Do you have that longing in your heart? Until you do, you will never be truly blessed.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

God Can Use Anyone - Psalm 84

The good news in Psalm 84:5 is this: "Blessed is the man whose strength is in You." Since God doesn't expect us to rely on our own strength, which is pretty puny, but to rely on His strength, which is without end; that gives us hope. It means I can be used by God to be actively involved in His service. I can be of use to Him even if I am a person who doesn't have much strength at all; even if I am weak and insignificant. That doesn't matter.

As a matter of fact, being weak is almost an asset. If I am weak and God works through me, He gets all the credit and all the glory for anything that happens. In 1st Corinthians 1:26-29, we see the kind of person who God calls to His service:
"For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things that are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence."

Do you see this? God doesn't usually call the powerful, strong, rich, and talented people. If they accomplish things for God, everyone will assume they did it themselves through their strength, ability, and talent. But if He calls the weak, the common, and the ordinary people, and they accomplish great things for Him, then everyone will know that God did it through them.

So what kind of person are you? Are you common? Are you ordinary? Are you weak? Than praise God, because you are just the kind of person God is looking for. You are exactly the kind He wants to call to His service.

To me, that is such a comfort. God can use someone like me. I don't know how He does it, but He does. And God can use someone like you. God can use anyone who is willing, and he will give them His strength - the only strength available for effective spiritual ministry.

Remember what Jesus said in John 15:5? Jesus said, "Without Me you can do nothing." What is He saying? Doe Jesus mean nothing at all? That we can't even tie our own shoes? Obviously if Jesus hadn't given us physical life, not even tying our shoe would be possible. but that's not the meaning. Jesus means we can do nothing of any spiritual consequence without Him working through us. He means we can do nothing that God will bless. And he won't bless anything that he can't take 100% credit for,

So, blessed is the man whose strength is in God. Has God called you to serve Him? Are you relying on His strength? Or your own?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Relying on God's Strength

Psalm 84:5 gives us two reasons a man is blessed. It says, "Blessed is the man whose strength is in You, whose heart is set on pilgrimage." Since the first blessing is to the man whose strength is in the Lord, are you blessed? Is your strength in the Lord?

I know a lot of strong men - men of special talent and intelligence. I know preachers with real charismatic personalities and dynamic deliveries. I could almost envy them. They could be successful at almost anything they try to do, all in their own strength; but they aren't blessed.

The man who is blessed is the man who leans on God's strength, not his own. What a relief that is. AMEN? If we rely on God's strength, then He is responsible for the outcome, not us. It takes away the worry and the pressure. What we are responsible for is to be faithful, and we can all do that.

And since our strength is so puny and so quick to run out, and His strength is all-powerful and without end; nothing that God asks us to do is impossible, because it's not up to us. What God calls us to do we can do through His strength. That's the meaning of Philippians 4:13, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Isn't that a blessing?

Now certainly, this isn't talking about leaping tall building with a single bound, or about being faster than a speeding bullet, or being stronger than a locomotive. It doesn't mean we become Superman. What it means is that anything God asks us to do, we can do through His strength. If he asks us to serve Him, we can. If He asks us to witness, we can. He supplies what we don't have. Plus this means we can be useful to God just the way we are. Truly relying on god is the way to blessing.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Only Thing That Truly Makes Us Happy

Psalm 84 is special to me because it tells me the secret of happiness. In verse 4, it declares, "Blessed are those who dwell in Your house; they will still be praising you." Why is a person blessed? They are blessed when they dwell with God. Then their praise will never end.

I'm sure you've heard the word, blessed, before. Psalm 1:1 began "Blessed is the man..." Jesus listed a whole series of blesseds in the Beatitudes beginning in Matthew 5:3, "blessed are the poor in spirit, etc." The word, blessed, is often translated as happy, or contented, or satisfied. How about this definition? To be blessed is to be blissfully contented with life. Or this one: joy unspeakable and full of glory.

What makes a person that way? The answer from Psalm 84:4 is to dwell in the presence of the Lord. It comes from having that sweet, precious communion with the One who loves us more than anyone, and who proved that love by dying on the cross for us. So if you want to be miserable, focus on yourself. If you want to be blessed, focus on God. Spend your time in His presence.

What makes a person miserable? It is to live apart from God. We would do that because of sin, choosing the pleasures of sin over a relationship with Christ who died for that sin. We see people like that all the time, who stay away from Christ because they know they wouldn't be comfortable in His presence while they enjoyed their sin. But to live in Christ's presence or apart from it is as dramatic a difference as night and day.

So how is your relationship with God? Do you have close fellowship with Him? Is it sweet? Then that is expressed how? As it says in Psalm 84:4, "They will still be praising You." That blessedness just bubbles out of us in praise - praise to God. We can't contain it.

Then this section of the Psalm ends with the word, selah, In other words, "What do you think of that?" Let's examine this word, selah, for a moment. The Psalms were written to music, right? They were intended to be sung. So selah is a musical notation. The word isn't intended to be read. You don't read a book and say comma, period, semicolon. So you don't read the word, selah, either for the same reason. The word is like a rest in a musical score. It indicates a pause or a breathing space. It gives us time to sit up and take notice and think about what has been said.

But the word means still more. Selah, in the verb form, means to exalt or to lift up. But lift up what? How about God? How about we pause and exalt the Lord? How about we lift up and bless His name? After pausing and thinking about what has just been said in the Psalm, we lift up and exalt God through our praise. So why don't you do that? Why don't you pause right now and exalt God's name?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Longing for God - Psalm 84

Have you fallen in love with God? Do you long for Him like some "mooney-eyed" junior high boy longs for that cute cheerleader? Do you want to be in His presence all the time? The good news is, you can! In Psalm 37, we read, "Delight yourselves also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart." What does He give you? The desires of your heart. But what is it you desired? The Lord! He is your delight. Therefore, God give you Himself. He gives you His presence - His fellowship.

So delight yourself in Him. Let Jesus be the longing of your heart. Long not just for what he can do for you, but for Him. Long for His sweet fellowship. That is exactly what we see in Psalm 84 with this gatekeeper at the tabernacle. He longed to spend more time with God.

Then the gatekeeper looked up and saw the sparrows flying around inside the tabernacle. Maybe they were carrying around bits of grass or string to make a nest in there. But it causes the gatekeeper to respond in Psalm 84:3: "Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young - even Your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God."
Have you ever tried to keep sparrows out of a barn? They love to get into buildings to fly around and to nest. When we go into Sam's Club or Wal-Mart, there are sparrows flying around inside all the time. Our kids think it is kind of neat (better than the bats), but they both can leave the same klind of mess. Those sparrows and swallows got inside the tabernacle too and built their nests. Yes, they built their nests right there inside the tabernacle, even on the altars. And this gatekeeper is jealous. He envies the sparrows. Why? He wants to be, like them, all the time with God. He doesn't want his shift to end and have to go home for the night.

I can relate to that with my fiancee (Now my wife of 35 years). I remember when we were courting. we wanted to see each other every day, all day long. We wanted to be together as much as was possible. I hated to go home at night and leave her behind at her parents house. That was one of the biggest motivations for my wanting to get married. I didn't want to have to leave her at night.

That's the longing the Psalmist had for God. He got to go to the tabernacle each day to work as a gatekeeper. But every night, he would have to go home to get his supper and to sleep in his own bed. And that upset him. He wanted to stay in God's presence all the time. So, he was jealous of the sparrows. "Why do I have to go home, and these sparrows get to live here? Boy, those sparrows are lucky!"

But guess what? We are lucky too (Bad choice of words, I know). You don't get to move in with God - not yet! not until heaven. But God has moved in with you (If you are born-again). His Spirit has indwelt your life. You never have to be apart from His presence again. You never have to break off your fellowship with Him. NEVER! If your fellowship is broken, it is because you want it that way. It is because your heart doesn't long for that sweet relationship with God.

My friend, is God your Lord and your King? Is He really? Do you love Him as your Heavenly Father? Then you can bask in His presence every moment of every day. Praise God!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Psalm 84 - The Response

In Psalm 84, the author, who was assigned to be a gate keeper in the tabernacle, looked around and burst into praise of God's home. But that praise causes him to have an emotional response. So the author, in verse 2, blurts out, "My soul longs, yes, even faints for the courts of the Lord; My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God." What heart-felt passion! What emotion! But this is the desire of his heart. He wants to be in the presence of God. That's the real point here. The author has an intense longing for God's presence.

For the Israelites, they had to go to the tabernacle to meet God, and that's what he wanted to do with all his heart. He wanted God. That intensity seems so foreign to most church members who don't seem to care all that much about spending time with God. The typical church member will let almost anything get in the way. But the author wants to be in the presence of God most of all. And for him, that meant being in the tabernacle.

A noble castle or a majestic cathedral is never enough if no one lives there. How lonely an empty house is. A beautiful church is but an empty shell without the Spirit of God. Ornate caskets still house only dead men's bones. What is needed most is life - God's life and presence. Gold, marble, and ivory are cold and can never really satisfy without someone to share it all with. So the real longing here is for the lord; for His presence. The Psalmist didn't long for a building, but for God.

In the same way, we don't really long for heaven because of the streets of gold, but because that's where God is. We long to be in His presence - to see Him face to face. That's why the Psalmist says, "My soul longs, yes, even faints for the courts of the Lord." That is almost a physical thing. He is almost ready to faint out of his hunger for God. It is like what the fantastic verses of Psalm 42:1-2 say,
"As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God, my soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?"
Do you see that same longing?

Have you ever missed a meal or two and almost gotten faint from hunger? Your belly growls, and hunger gnaws at your insides. You'd give almost anything for a PBJ sandwich. Well, have you ever had that kind of craving to be close to God? Have you ever longed for Him as much as a man parched and dry in the desert searches for water? As Psalm 84 verse 2 continues, "My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God." Is that what your heart cries out for - for that sweet, close fellowship with God?

Than do your actions prove it? What actions? Oh, come on. You know what actions. do you long to learn more about Him? Are you sitting under the teaching of the Word? Are you studying the Bible for yourself? What about your prayer life? Are you longing to spend time with Him? Are you talking to Him? Walking with Him? Does your soul long for a closer relationship with God? You will never find that sweet relationship if you don't hunger for it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Psalm 84 - Continued

In Psalm 84, the sons of Korah were gatekeepers in the tabernacle. They looked around in awe and wonder, and exclaimed in verse 1, "How lovely is Your tabernacle, O Lord of hosts!" And it was! God's physical presence dwelt in the tabernacle. His Shikineh glory came down and was visible dwelling between the wings of the cherubim over the mercy seat atop the Ark of the Covenant. God's glory was actually there. In Exodus 40:34, it says, "Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle." This was the cloud and the pillar of fire that led the Israelites through the wilderness during the time of Moses. Now it made a home in the tabernacle.

Nowadays, we know it is different. God doesn't physically dwell in our church buildings. His shikineh glory is not seen any more. Maybe that's why so many get the idea that it doesn't matter what we meet in to worship - that any old thing is good enough for God.

Personally, I believer that's misguided and a poor testimony. Not that I am advocating elaborate cathedrals. But so often it is just an excuse used by people who don't want to work or give or sacrifice for God. If they really did use that time, money, and labor that they weren't putting into keeping the church building nice into some ministry like supporting missionaries, then I'd applaud them. But all too often, they pocket the money and use the time for things they want to do. They build their own nest egg instead of the house of God as the book of Haggai pointed out. Friends, there is nothing wrong with a nice church building. We need to keep it neat, attractive, and well maintained.

But in truth, where does God dwell now? In heaven? Yes! But also in our hearts. He dwells in the lives of believers. Let's do a quick survey:
1st Corinthians 6:19-20: "Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's"
2nd Corinthians 6:16, "And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: 'I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall; be My people.'"
Paul's own testimony is found in:
Galatians 2:20, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, burt Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me."
Christ lives in us and through us if we are born-again believers. We are the temple of God - the very dwelling place of God. So it is in you that God expects to be glorified. Maybe we should be more concerned with making our lives beautiful for God. Maybe we should be most concerned with making our lives a fit dwelling place.

Is your life lovely? Are you proud of the temple you are personally providing God? Do you see how important it is to maintain your life right? Your life is important. Christ lives on earth through you. When the sons of Korah call the tabernacle lovely, the word is sometimes translated as amiable. That means pleasant, friendly, comfortable, easy to live with.

Would the Spirit of God find your life a pleasing home for Him? Are you easy for God to live with? Would He be comfortable dwelling with you? Would it be like staying at a good friend's or at a favorite grandma's? Or would the Spirit of God feel ill at ease in you because of the sin you allow in your life? We have all been to places we don't feel welcome. You can just tell when you aren't wanted. Get your life - your temple- as pleasing to God as possible.

The author iof this Psalm looked around at the tabernacle in which he served and said, "How lovely is Your tabernacle, O Lord of Hosts." We need to supply the spirit if God a lovely dwelling place too.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Psalm 84 - The Grandeur of the Tabernacle

In the introduction to Psalm 84, it tells us a little bit about the author. It says this is "A Psalm of the Sons of Korah." The only thing that is important for us to remember about that as we study this Psalm is what is found in 1st Chronicles 9:19, "The Korahites were in charge of the work of the service, gate keepers of the Tabernacle." Do you see? They had an official job. They were gate keepers at the tabernacle.

So what do these gate keepers say? Psalm 84:1, "How lovely is Your tabernacle, O Lord of hosts!" They are addressing God. They had been standing there on the job, looking around, and it hits him. "Wow! This is magnificent!" They realized just how gorgeous, how lovely, the tabernacle was.

Of course it was. God's home must be the most beautiful, most magnificent, most glorious place in the universe. And it is in heaven. We can get little glimpses of it here and there in Scripture, especially in Revelation 21. Paul caught sight of it, and he said he coudn't tell us about it because it was beyond words. John saw it and had to resort to magnificent symbols to describe it - an emerald rainbow around the throne, a sea of glass as clear as crystal, walls of jasper, gates of pearls, streets of gold. What an awesome place the temple of God is in heaven.

And the earthly tabernacle was a pale replica of that. Did you know that the earthly tabernacle used the same plans as the heavenly one? Hebrews 8:5 tells us that, speaking about the priests,
"Who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, 'See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.'"
The earthly tabernacle was a pint-size replica of the one in heaven. It was like a model airplane compared to the real thing.

And God revealed the pattern to Moses, He gave the blueprint, on Mt. Sinai. So the Israelites did their best to make the tabernacle just as beautiful as they could. No price was too great to pay. No sacrifice was too great to make. They gave and gave and gave until Moses had to tell them, "Enough is enough!" Exodus 36:2-7 records the event:
"Then Moses called Bezalel and Aholioab, and every gifted artisan in whose heart the Lord had put wisdom, everyone whose heart was stirred, to come and do the work. And they received from Moses all the offering which the children of Israel had brought for the work of the service of making the sanctuary. so they continued bringing to him freewill offerings every morning. Then all the craftsmen who were doing all the work of the sanctuary came, each from the work he was doing, and they spoke to Moses, saying, 'The people bring much more than enough for the service of the work which the Lord commanded us to do.' So Moses gave a command, and they caused it to be proclaimed throughout the camp, saying, 'Let neither man nor woman do any more work for the offering of the sanctuary.' And the people were restrained from bringing, for the material they had was sufficient for all the work done - indeed too much."
Wow! What sacrificial giving.! If the members of our churches were ever to give like that, can you imagine what could be accomplished for God? Could you imagine people giving until the pastor had to stand up and tell them, "Stop! You've given way more than is needed."

But no sacrifice was too great for them, not for the the temple of God. And you can read about the grandeur of the tabernacle for five chapters in Exodus. Exodus 25-30 gives intricate details of the tabernacle. No wonder the sons of Korah were in awe looking around at it. No wonder it made them want to praise God.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Haggai's First Sermon - The Result

As Samuel told the nation of Israel in First Samuel 15:22, "To obey is better than sacrifice." Haggai had now told the nation the same thing. The Temple lay in ruins while they built their nice houses; and God, through Haggai, told them to get to work. So what happened? We see the answer in Haggai 1:13-15:
"Then Haggai, the Lord's messenger, spoke the Lord's message to the people, saying, 'I am with you, says the Lord.' So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and worked on the house of the Lord of Hosts, their God, on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month, in the second year of Darius."
If you look back at verse 1, you'll see that 23 days have passed. It took 23 days to clear the rubble away and go up into the mountains to cut lumber, But the project is now back under way. The people got back to work.

But notice the progression. Obedience came first. Obedience came before the blessing. As it says back in verse 12, "Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people obeyed the voice of the Lord their God." That came first before we see the beautiful statement that the Lord was with them in verse 13. Is that some kind of coincidence? Not on your life!

Turn to Matthew 28:19-20. It is the passage we call the Great Commission. But notice that it starts the same was as Haggai 1:8, "Go!" That's a call to action. For Israel, it was a call to build the Temple. In Matthew, it's a call to build the church. Let's read it, Matthew 28:19-20,
"'Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.' Amen."
Notice that the promise of God's presence, of His enabling power, comes after obedience. It comes after we "Go!" We go, and Jesus blesses that going by making the disciples.

The promise rests upon obedience. They had fritted away all that time working at lesser things while God was waiting for them to "go" so He could bless them. But God never promises to bless those who sit on their duff and do nothing.

May I ask you again, are you working to build the church of Jesus Christ? Or are other things more important? Let me close with these words again from First Corinthians 15:58, "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord." If God calls you to do something, God will bless your effort. He will see it through to the end. But you must be faithful. You must not give up. You must always abound in the work of the Lord.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Chastening Hand of God as Found in Haggai

The people of Israel were back in the land following seventy years of captivity in Babylon. They had settled in, made nice comfortable homes, and gotten on with life. Except they had forgotten to rebuild the temple of God. The book of Haggai confronts them over this shortfall. In doing so, it also sets forth a pattern that is applicable to us if and when we neglect doing the work of God in building His church. Haggai 1:9-11 outlines the outcome:
"You looked for much, but indeed it came to little; and when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why?" says the Lord of hosts. "Because of My house that is in ruins, while every one of you runs to his own house. Therefore the heavens above you withhold the dew, and the earth withholds its fruit. For I called for a drought on the land and the mountains, on the grain, and the new wine and the oil, on whatever the ground brings forth, on men and livestock, and on all the labor of your hands."
Who is responsible for this? God is. He takes full credit. In effect, God says,
"If things aren't going so good for you right now, blame Me, because I did it. I have to get your attention some way, so I took an active part in this thing. I turned off the faucet and shut off your water."
Would God really do that? Of course He would. He said He did it, didn't He?

We can see the same idea found in Hebrews 12:6-7,
"For whom the Lord loves, He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives. If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons, for what son is there whom a father does not chasten?"
God chastens His own. He disciplines. When we don't obey, He'll spank us. So if it feels, sometimes, that you are being taken to the woodshed for a lickin,' ask yourself if God is doing this. Examine your ways.

It may not always be that. Certainly, Job was not being chastened by God when he was run through the ringer. Even God said that Job was a righteous man. But it could be God telling you to straighten-up. In Malachi 3:8-11, God told the same people that if they rob God, He would punish them. We have to give God His due. If we put God in His proper place, God will take care of us. We learned that in Matthew 6:33, that God would take care of the details in taking care of us if we put Him first.

But they ignored the work God had set before them, so they experienced a drought at the hand of God. Interestingly, the Hebrew word for drought also means desolation or ruin. It is the same Hebrew word that was used in Haggai 1:4 and Haggai 1:9 to describe the condition of the temple. It lay too in ruins. What comes round goes round. If they leave God's house in ruin, they get ruin.

How did they respond? Haggai 1:12:
"Then Zerubabbel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the Lord their God had sent him, and the people feared the presence of the Lord."
Obviously, the words of the prophet, or should I say, the words of God brought conviction. Thankfully, they had sense enough to recognize the message was from God, and they obeyed. If your translations says they listened instead of obeyed, just remember, you don't really listen to God until you obey Him. The essence of faith is obedience. As First Samuel 15:22 says, "to obey is better than sacrifice." They obeyed. do you?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Haggai says, "Get to Work" - Part Two

The book of Haggai is much like the book of James in its emphasis on work. In Haggai 1:8, we find God saying, "Go up to the mountains and bring wood and build the temple, that I may take pleasure in it and be glorified." In other words, God is telling them to "Get to work!" The emphasis in James is also on the daily grind. Do you remember what James said? He said, "Faith without works is dead." He also said, "Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works." Well, how can you do that? How can you show me your faith? You can't see faith, can you? No! But you can see the works that faith produces. God wants us to demonstrate our faith by getting to work. Or as Haggai says, "Go, bring, build."

We need to remember that action is spiritual, and a do nothing attitude is wicked. My Christian friend, work is the measure of your heart. What is your heart like? Does your work for God show your heart is set on God? What has He asked you to do? Are you doing it? If not, let Paul encourage you. He writes in 1st Corinthians 15:58:
"Therefore my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord."
This admonition is given to regular church members - to people like you. So are you, "abounding in the work of the Lord?" Are you working for God?

We tend to make the effort to accomplish all the things we really want to do, the things that will benefit us personally; but it takes effort, commitment of time, energy, and resources, even a little bit of our soul, to get the work of the Lord done.

When I lived in Michigan, there was a little tiny town called Nashville. In that little town of no more than 100 people was a very large church of 1,500 people. The pastor had the name of Lester DeGroot. People would always come around to ask Lester the "Secret of his success." Lester would always be happy to comply. He would look all round to make sure no one else was listening, then he would take the questioner down into the basement to the furnace room so they could be alone when he told the "secret of his success." Then Lester would lean over to supposedly whisper the secret, and he would yell, "WORK!!!" That would always surprise the people, but that was the secret of his success. That is the secret of any of our success. So we could do the same in our churches too, if we would just get to work. And isn't that exactly what God is telling us to do? Aren't we to be, "Always abounding in the work of the Lord?"

Missionaries by the thousands have given up the comfort and security of home to make the supreme sacrifice for God, while so many more of us are content to offer God nothing that requires sacrifice or hardship. Ask yourself the question, "How much am I doing for myself, and how much am I doing for God?" Are you doing enough? That hits kind of close to home, doesn't it? But the burden of ministry shouldn't fall on just a hand full of people. It is just plain wrong that 80% of the work in our churches is done by 20% of the members. We, 100% of us, should be working for God,

So, roll up your sleeves, Get busy! Get to work building the church of Jesus Christ.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Haggai says, "Get to Work!"

God wants us to "Seek first the Kingdom of God." We tend to seek first what we think is good for us. Unfortunately, that doesn't work, because God makes sure that seeking first our wants will never satisfy. That's what we talked about last time.

Yet, how easy it is to our our desires, our comforts, our conveniences, and our timetables ahead of God? And we can justify it. The weather is too bad to attend church, but not too bad to keep us from going hunting or on a shopping trip. We can sit through a double header on hard bleachers in the rain and never complain, but we fidget on our padded pews in church if the the worship service runs five minutes longer than we expected. There seems to be something wrong with this picture.

And sure, we mean well. Once our circumstances are under control, and our lives get put back together; then, if there is anything left over, then I'll give some time to God. And once our budget is back on track, and our bills get paid off, and I buy that new...whatever; then I'll give to God. And then I'll consider getting involved in some ministry at church, if I can fit it into my busy schedule amongst all my other activities.

"No!" God says, "Consider your ways!" Then, In Haggai 1:7, God says, "Thus says the Lord of hosts, 'Consider your ways.'" Twice God implores them to consider their ways. This is important. Because if you chase after your own priorities, you lose. So take a good look at your lifestyle. Consider your priorities. For many of you, quite frankly, you'll find the Lord hasn't rated very high.

The answer? According to God in Haggai 1:8, "'Go up to the mountains and bring wood and build the temple, that I may take pleasure in it and be glorified,' says the Lord." The message is simple, practical, and straightforward. It is as simple as 2+2=4. It is a three point sermon: go, bring, build. The temple needs to built. God wants them to build it. So, go, bring, build. You wonder why they didn't see it. I wonder why we so often don't.

We sit around and say, "Gee, I wonder when God is going to build this church?" God says, "Get to work!" He says, "Go, bring build. Do you think the temple is going to build itself? Get to work!" My friend, do you think the church is going to build itself? Get to work!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Cost of Misplaced Priorities

After Jesus told us in Matthew 6:19, "Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven," and after Jesus had told us in Matthew 19:25, "Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on it;" then, in Matthew 6:33, Jesus said, "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you." All those material things of life that everyone seems to worry so much about will be Jesus' concern, if we "seek first....His righteousness." This is all about priorities. Yet, we constantly keep seeking all those things as our highest priority, and we put God on the back burner reserved for when we have more time and we have built our nest egg. That was the example of Israel when Haggai wrote to them.

Except things never satisfy. There is never enough of them. A person will never reach the point of satisfaction. God will see to that. Because if we seek things first over God, God will let us acquire the things, but He will see to it that we are never satisfied. There will always be an empty gnawing in our souls. So we take on extra jobs and work all the overtime we can get to get ahead, but it seems like we are on a treadmill not getting anywhere no matter how fast we run. It is like climbing up the stairs on the down escalator. Don't stop running or you will lose all the ground you've gained. It's like the old Pennsylvania Dutch expression, "The hurrier I go, the behinder I get." That's life apart from God, and it is exactly the way God intended.

And of course, the radio, and the TV, and the billboards are always there to make sure we know about all the things we are still missing out on - all the things that the Jones' have that I don't. You know, I might be a little more satisfied with my home, or car, or deck, or yard, or whatever, if I didn't keep hearing about all those new and improved ones out there.

Have you ever looked through all those gorgeous homes and yards featured in Better Homes and Gardens magazine? Nice aren't they? But have you ever asked yourself the question, "Better than whose?" Better than mine, of course! And the message comes through loud and clear. Mine don't measure up. And I am tempted to be dissatisfied with what I have. Don't look so smug. Yours don't measure up either.

So we become people who always need a little more to be content; just a little more in order to really enjoy life. As someone said, "We are people spending money we don't have to buy things we don't need to impress people we don't know." It is a trap! Because, listen to me! the only real contentment we will ever find comes from God. It comes when we, "Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness," then let God worry about all the rest of the stuff.

The Psalmist found that out, writing in Psalm 107:9, "For He satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness." God alone can do that. Does He satisfy your soul? He can, you know. And He wants to. But your priorities must be right. God must come first.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Further Thoughts on Haggai's First Sermon

In Haggai's first sermon, he addressed an all too common modern problem. The people of Israel had gotten too busy with their own lives that they had no time for God. They became too concerned with themselves to have time for God's work. If that is you, learn from the words of Haggai.

The people had gone back to the land following their seventy years of exile in Babyon, and they'd gone back with a mission. They were going to rebuild the Temple of God. They started well. But as soon as a little opposition came along, they gave up. Oh, it is so easy to do. And soon, other things distracted them from building the house of God. Oh, it was nothing sinful. It was nothing necessarily wrong in and of itself. They simply forgot about building the house of the Lord because they had gotten so busy building their own houses.

They never said they wouldn't do it. They just got sidetracked. It is like the farmer who goes out to feed the cows and sees that he has got a broken gate. So he goes to fetch the tools to fix the gate, when he remembers he needs to change the oil in the tractor. So he goes to get oil for the tractor, when he sees that a pig has gotten loose. And as he chases the pig, he realizes . . . . And the end of the day comes, and the cow isn't fed, the gate isn't fixed, the oil hasn't been changed, and the pig is still loose.

It is an easy trap. And it can so easily happen to us in our spiritual lives. Something comes up on a Sunday morning, sow we skip church. The alarm doesn't go off, so we skip our devotions. Bill comes along as we are talking to Joe, so we don't witness to Joe. The ligjht bill was higher than expected this month, so we don't tithe.

The people of Israel were going to build the Temple. But instead, they got sidetracked building nice, comfortable houses for themselves. They had put their desires ahead of God's. Probably, it was quite by accident. There wasn't any forethought or malice. But it happened.

Well, God decides to intervene. We read in Haggai 1:5, "Now therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: 'Consider your ways!'" If I may paraphrase, God is saying,
"Stop! Think about what you are doing! Don't you realize there is a cost to this? You might think that looking out for yourself first will get you ahead in the long run,that maybe it will bring you happiness, but it won't"
Indeed, those who believe this are sadly mistaken. Trying to please yourself first never works, so "Consider your ways!"

The next verse explains why. Haggai 1:6 says,
"You have sown much, and bring in little; you eat, but do not have enough; you drink, but you are not filled with drink; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and he who earns wages, earns wages to put into a bag with holes."
Boy, doesn't that sound like your paycheck? The money never seems to stretch far enough.

This is a graphic warning to us. It pictures our day and age as much as theirs. We have more cars, bigger houses, better furniture, more food, more TV sets, more leisure, more vacations than any people in history; yet, we are wretchedly unsatisfied as a people. We have more of everything, yet we are still miserable. And that is the way God intended it. If we aren't seeking our fulfillment in Him, nothing else will ever satisfy.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Haggai's first Sermon (Conclusion)

In his first sermon to the nation of Israel, Haggai urged them to get busy rebuilding the Temple of God. To not build the temple was to say that they didn't care about their relationship with God or with evangelism. But how do we bring that message on home to us? How do we make it practical to our lives? Is our church building a Temple? Is it the House of God? No! It is a house of God, or at least a meeting house for God's people. But your home (where you live) should also be a house of God where you meet God and worship and evangelize.

If our church buildings were the only house of God, we wouldn't have to behave ourselves after we left. We could develop a double standard. We could live one way on Sunday, and live differently the rest of the week.

But now, where is the Temple of God located? First Corinthians 3:16 tells us,
"Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?"
It repeats that same truth in Second Corinthians 6:16. As a believer, your body is the temple of God - the dwelling place of God's Spirit. Brick and mortar has given way skin and bone. Nowadays, the building is merely another tool of ministry. We need one, yes! It is an important tool. But the emphasis now is not upon building a temple of stone and wood, but upon making disciples.

As Peter reminds us in First Peter 2:5,
"You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ."
The individual believers are the church. In the Old Testament, they were to build a stone and wood temple as the house of God. In the New Testament, we are to build a spiritual house made up of living stones - the individual born again believers joined into a family of God called the church.

The call of God to us is to build the church. We build the church through evangelism, discipleship, and spiritual growth. We build the church by adding one soul at a time. The complaint against Israel was that they had no time to build the temple. Do you not have time to build the church? Have you let other priorities get in the way?

These good people, who started well with the best of intentions, let other things get in the way of their service to God. Their comfort, their homes, etc., all got in the way. Have you let other things get in the way? Have you let things become more important than God in your life?

Then let me challenge you with this one last verse from Jesus' own lips. Matthew 6:33says,
"But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you."
All those things that we let get in the way of our service to God, God says He will take care of, if we put Him first. Do you? Or are other things more important?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Haggai's First Sermon (Continued Some More)

In Haggai's first sermon, he was dealing with inverted priorities. The people had no time to build the temple of God, but they had plenty of time to build their own nice, ornate homes. Their priorities were themselves, not the will of God. And aren't all inverted priorities really idolatry? Aren't they really putting the creation ahead of the Creator? God said in Exodus 20:3, "You shall have no other gods before Me." Then God said in Deuteronomy 6:5, "Love the Lord you God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength." Yet, they loved themselves more than God. They loved their comforts more than God.

Do you? My friend, are you you talking about serving God, and planning to serve Him; but not actually serving Him? Are you allowing other priorities, good priorities, to get in the way of the best priority - building the temple of God - or in our case, building the church of Jesus Christ?

Now before you get some misconceptions, let's put this into perspective. Some of you might be thinking, "Oh, I get it. The pastor is just preaching this so we will get behind a building program. He wants to build a new church building." Not so! A building program is the least of our concerns. But we do want to build the church of Jesus Christ.

Let's think about the purpose of the Temple and see if there aren't any grander themes. What was the purpose of the Temple? From 1st Kings 8, during the dedication of the first Temple by Solomon, I gleaned these two purposes. The first is this: As the house of God, it was the place where the people came to meet God. We can see this in 1st Kings 8:38-40,
"Whatever prayer, whatever supplication is made by anyone, or by all your people Israel, when each one knows the plague of his own heart, and spreads out his hands toward this temple: then hear in heaven Your dwelling place, and forgive, and act, and give to everyone according to all his ways, whose heart you know (for You alone know the hearts of all the sons of men), that they may fear You all the days that they live in the land which You gave to our fathers."
After the dedication ceremony, the glory of God came down and resided in the temple. The Shikineah glory was only there in all the earth. So that was where the people went to meet God and to worship Him. If there was no Temple, there was no worship. So by not building the Temple, they had made a priority statement. They would never admit it, but they didn't care about their relationship with God as a people.
"God, it is good to have a relationship with you, but we will put it off until we get these other parts of our lives in order."
"I've got things to do God. I don't have time to pray, or read my Bible, or attend the services of the church. Maybe next year things will lighten up."
And our relationshipw with God gets put on the back burner.

The second purpose of the temple is evangelism. We see this in 1st Kings 8:41-43,
"Moreover, concerning the foreigner, who is not of Your people Israel, but has come from a far country for Your name's sake (for they will hear of Your great name and Your strong hand and Your outstretched arm), when he comes and prays toward this Temple, hear in heaven Your dwelling place, and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to You, that all the peoples of the earth may know Your name and fear You, as do Your people Israel, and that they may know that this Temple which I have built is called by Your name."
Solomon said that when the foreigner came (translate that as unbeliever), he could learn about God at the temple. God would reveal Himself. So ignoring the Temple was to ignore outreach and evangelism. "But it isn't time," they said. It isn't? It's not time for God? It's not time to reach out to others?

God is saying, "Don't you care about your relationship with Me? Don't you care that your neighbor has no relationship with me?" "We do care!" the responded. "Then why don't you build the temple?" He askled them. To us, He would be asking, "Why don't you build the church?"

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The First Message of Haggai (Continued)

Haggai needed to get a group of good people fired up again. They had started well to rebuild the temple, but they got sidetracked. In Haggai 1:2, God says, "This people says, 'The time has not come, the time that the Lord's house should be built.'" They are making excuses, and God is quoting them. "It's not time," they say. And they neglect building God's house. They aren't saying, "We won't do it! It's not important! It's not a good thing!" they are say, "Just not now!" Their zeal for the Lord has gone.

Well, what did they have time for? Haggai 1:3-4 says,
"Then the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet, saying, 'Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, and this temple to lie in ruins?'"
Interesting, isn't it? They didn't have time to build God's house, but they did have time to build their own. Do you detect a little sarcasm in God's tone here? It wasn't time to do what God had asked them to do, but it was time for the things they really wanted. What a familiar scenario.

And I know, some of you are going to object,
"But that's not fair. God is being too hard on them. Everyone needs a house to live in, God doesn't expect for us to be homeless."
Granted. That's true. God even demands that fathers provide for their families or they are worse than unbelievers. We do need shelter and a place to raise our kids. But these weren't tar-paper shacks. These houses were paneled. What does that mean? It means these were pretty nice houses. Paneled houses were usually reserved for royalty. The palace was paneled. So we are talking about exclusive neighborhoods with ornate homes and an attitude that says, "We've got to be comfortable and take care of ourselves." But they didn't lift a finger to build the temple of God. The foundation was long overgrown with weeds. It was a place of grass and hoot owls. Do you see the misplaced priorities?

Oh, but they had their excuses for why they weren't building the temple. "It's not time!" Oh we have our excuses for why we aren't building the church of Jesus Christ. But God says, "IT IS TIME!" How many of us have those same misplaced priorities? How many of us need to be reminded to get back to work for God?

Jim Allen of HCJB Radio, which transmits the Gospel worldwide, related this story: A missionary on the field was having some severe financial difficulty, like most missionaries,and he wrote a letter home about it asking for support. One of the responses, this one from his own sister, came back, and said:
"We received your letter and we are very concerned about your financial needs and your need to remain on the field so the Gospel can be communicated. But as you know, we've just put in a new carpet in the family room, and we've just been able to purchase a new dog that we've been wanting for some time, and we still have some payments to make left on the car, so at this time we are unable to do anything to help you. We are sorry."
Anything wrong with new carpet? No! Anything wrong with paying off your car? No! Anything wrong with buying a dog? Well, that one is up for grabs with all the free ones running around (Just kidding). But good people do these things. Members of the finest churches do these things. So when do they become wrong? When they take the place of building the house of God.

So we begin to make excuses.
"Well, of course Christians are supposed to witness, but witnessing to my co-workers is a delicate business. I don't think it's the time yet."
"I know I should tithe, but the way the economy is this year, I have too many family obligations."
"I'm flattered you think my talents could help at church, but I don't have time to serve right now. Perhaps later when the pressures of my job let up."
God was accusing these people of having plenty of time and money for themselves and their own comforts, while they claimed they had nothing for God or His service. What about you? Have you found yourself doing that?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The First Message of Haggai

The book of Haggai, which is only two short chapters long, contains four sermons, each addressing a particular sin. The first sin Haggai addresses is the sin of putting me first. The passage begins like this in Haggai 1:1-2:
"In the second year of King Darius, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, the governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, saying, 'Thus speaks the Lord of host,' saying: 'This people says, "the time has not come, the time that the Lord's house should be built."'"
The date is September 1, 520 BC. Sixteen years have past since the foundation of the temple was laid. And there it was, just siting there unfinished. No work had gone on for over a decade and a half.

So Haggai has about had it. Or should I say, God has about had it. This is ridiculous! So Haggai goes right to the top - right to Zerubbabel the governor and to Joshua the high priest. After all, they are the ones responsible, aren't they? Leaders are supposed to lead, and the people follow. If nothing is getting done, you'd better jack-up the leadership.

Churches rise and fall on leadership. The leaders are either out in front leading, or they are the problem. They are either the cheerleaders out encouraging everyone else to get on with it, optimistically trusting God for strength and guidance; or their pessimism will discourage everyone else. They will be the wet blanket putting out the fires of enthusiasm. That's not the way it should be. If the people are discouraged, the leadership needs to fire them up - to encourage them - to get them going again for God. So Haggai goes to the top. And he makes this little sermon.

The people were making excuses, "The time has not come, the time that the Lord's house should be built." But God says, It is time. Get to work. What about you? Are you making excuses for why you aren't accomplishing the work of God? Or you at work?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Let's Not Wait Around

The prophet Haggai was confronting a group of dedicated, on-fire believers who had grown cold in their faith. They had returned to the land of Israel after seventy years of captivity in Babylon with a mission to rebuild the decimated temple. They started well, but gave up when the going got tough. Oh, they fully intended to get the project done, someday. They knew it was important. They knew God had called them to do it. But just not yet - the time wasn't right. Other things had become more important. Their own lives took precedent. And these on fire, committed people became complacent. They became part of the staus quo.

Oh, what a warning that should be for us - for you and for me - for any of us who are on fire for the Lord. The constant attacks from Satan can wear us down. They can cool us off. They can thwart our enthusiasm and silence our zeal. We must constantly guard against that or we will end up like them - sitting comfortably in our status quo - while the work of God remains undone. That's what happened to them. That can happen to us.

But this was when Haggai stepped in. God had sent him to shake up these now lazy people and get them back to work finishing the temple. So this is the message of the book of Haggai. It contains four sermons, each given on a separate occasion and each dealing with a different specific sin that can keep us from accomplishing God's will and finishing His work.

Well, the result? The people did get back to work. They resumed work on the temple in 520 B.C. and completed it in 515 B.C. Mission accomplished. And all it took was a little encouragement from the prophet of God who simply asked the people to "consider your ways (Haggai 1:5)." The prophet told them, in my paraphrase, "Stop. Take a look at what you are doing. Is it right? Are you serving God the way you ought to be?" Could it be that in our day, we need to be reminded of the same thing? Should we also "consider our ways?"

All the time, all across this country, I hear peole say in churches, "You know, we've got a good church. Things are going pretty well. We feel like we are right on the verge of something great happening here." But it usually never does. Yet, they keep saying, "We don't know what it is, but we feel that any time now it is just going to break wide open. Everything is in place." And they wait, and wait, and wait for something that never happens.

Do you ever think that maybe God has that same attitude, but in reverse? Maybe God is sitting up in heaven thinking, "Everything is in place. They are right on the verge of something great happening. I'm ready to empower them and to bless their effort. But I wonder when they are going to get at it? Why don't they just do it?"

Aren't you tired of living on the verge? Aren't you tired of waiting for something great to happen sometime in the future while not much is happening in the present? Isn't it time to "consider your ways," and push on to accomplish something great for God? God has called you to a task. Isn't it time we accomplish it?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Growing Discouragement

Last time, we began to look at the situation addressed by Haggai the prophet. A remnant of on-fire, committed Jews had returned to the land of Israel following seventy years of captivity in Babylon. They had returned filled with optimism and anticipation. They were psyched and ready to get to work rebuilding the temple. They started right with good intentions and godly motives. Yet, they faltered in their commitment when opposition came their way. They gave up on the project. What a warning this should be to all of us. Even the best of us can grow discouraged.

The first thing they did when they returned to the land was take up a free-will offering to pay for the costs of building. They gave 1,100 pounds of gold and three tons of silver at a great sacrifice. Wow! What a great offering. They just knew that something great was about to happen. God was at work, and they wanted to be a part of it. And they were ready and willing to be used by God. They cleared the temple court of rubble and they replaced the altar of burnt offerings on its base. Now they could begin the daily sacrifice again. By the next spring, they had the foundation laid. They were really humming along.

Then the bottom fell out. The Samaritans (Remember those folks that lived to the north that were half Jews and all apostates?)offered to join in and help. The Jews rightly turned them down. You don't join with the apostates to build the house of God. But then, with their wounded pride, the Samaritans decided to terrorize this little band. They threatened them, "You quit this building or we will beat you up and kill you." They slandered them. They wrote letters to the editor against them. They sent them anonymous hate mail (all the same tactics used today). And it wasn't long before the work ground to halt.

That always happens whenever you offend someone; whenever you invade their territory or violate their turf. They turn on you. The ones who were once your friends become your enemies. The ones who loved you now hate you and work passionately to destroy your ministry. And nothing you do will infuriate them more than not to need them, or if you ask someone else to help do what they consider their own private job. Count on it! As sure as shooting, wherever God is at work, Satan will be there to oppose. And he'll have plenty of willing human accomplices.

Against this little band of Jews, the threats worked. It wasn't long before the work on the temple ground to a halt. They ended up spending all their time dealing with the threats, and putting out the brush fires, and defending themselves, so that they didn't have time to build the temple. There was no time to do what God had called them to do. And the work ground to halt because these Jews took more notice of their enemies that they could see than they did of God whom they couldn't see. They were very human in their fears.

So time dragged on, and on, and on. The weeks turned into months, and the months turned into years. Soon a decade had gone by and still counting as these good,committed people became occupied with making a life and building homes and getting on with their businesses. And the temple of God lay in ruins, long forgotten.

Oh, what a warning that is to us. How easy it is to be distracted from the work of God. We mean well, but things come up. It was into this situation that the prophet Haggai was sent by God with an encouragement. His words to them will be a great encouragement to us as well.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A Select Few

I've started a new book study in my Sunday morning sermons. I am preaching through the book of Haggai, one of the minor prophets. It is the second shortest book in the Old Testament after Obadiah. It is a book of only two chapters. But don't let that fool you. Haggai has got a punch. Haggai was the one who gave the nation of Israel the shot in the arm they needed of encouragement to get them to rebuild their temple in Jerusalem. As Frank Gaebelein, one of the most famous commentators, has said, "The truth is that few prophets have succeeded in packaging into such brief compass so much spiritual common sense as Haggai did."

But a little background is in order. For Israel, "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times." Those famous words of Charles Dickens could be applied to the nation of Israel in 536 BC. They had spent 70 years of captivity in Babylon following their defeat at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar. But the captivity was about over.

They had been sent to Babylon as captives by God as punishment for their idolatry. But all through that time, they had longed to return to Israel. All that time, they had dreamed of going back - back to the land; back to the city of Jerusalem which now lay in ruins and to their temple dismantled stone by stone; back to rebuild all they had lost. And now the time was right. Now they were getting their chance.

Cyrus, the Persian Emperor, had conquered Babylon, and he looked favorably upon the Jews. In 536 BC, he issued a decree permitting the Jewish exiles to return to Jerusalem and to rebuild the Temple. You could feel the excitement in the air. The recruiters went out to sign up the volunteers.

"Are you ready?" they asked. "We can go back now. Come on! Let's go!"

But one after another turned away with their excuses:

"Nah, my business is going too good. You can't expect me to relocate."

"I've got a nice home here. You couldn't ask me to leave that now."

"You mean, I'd have to start all over from scratch?"

"Nah, it's greener here, and I like the climate better."

When the departure day came, only a fraction - just a hand full compared to the multitudes of Israel - returned. When Zerubbabel started off, only a remnant, only 50,000, followed him off into the unknown - off over those long, hard miles of desert. And what awaited them at the end of all their effort and hardship? A desolate land and a ruined city surrounded by enemies.

Oh, these were a chosen bunch - a choice lot. Don't ever forget that, Never look down your nose at this remnant. They dared to do the hard thing. They dared to try the impossible. They were willing to roll up their sleeves and get to work serving God, while the majority of their countrymen chose ease. The rest chose to bask in their comfort and the luxury of a pagan land. So these few were different. They had a special devotion to God which cause them to separate from their countrymen in order to serve God.

Why is it always just a remnant? Why is it always just a chosen few who are willing to serve God while the rest are content in their complacency? Why, even today, are so few willing to make the sacrifice? By the way, which are you? Are you one of the complacent comfortable? Or are you a part of the working, serving remnant?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Church Membership - Part Eight

In our church, there is a third requirement for church membership. That requirement is that you agree to support the work of the church financially and spiritually as you are able.

Remember, we are a family. The church is the family of God, and our local church is a family within the extended family of the universal church. So how does a family operate? In our family, we have visitors who often come and stay with us. We love having guests. We want them to feel at home, and we don't expect them to do the dishes or take out the trash. We serve them, and we do it joyously.

But things are different for the members of our family. If you are a part of our family, you are expected to pull your fair share of the load. You will take your turn with the dishes, and you will have assigned chores. We don't call them chores in our family, we call them acts of service or acts of ministry to the ones we love. But the jobs are the same. And if you are a part of the family, you are expected to carry your fair share.

Now certainly, babies aren't given a job. And the jobs that are given are age appropriate. I don't give my four year old a chainsaw and send him out to cut firewood. That would be stupid on my part. But we can expect our four year old to pick up his toys when he is done playing with them or help set the table. As he grows in ability and maturity, the complexity of the job will increase. And if one of our kids doesn't do his chores (I mean acts of service), he pays the consequences. Only our guests get away with doing nothing. That's how it works in our family.

Now, shouldn't we have the same expectation of people who join our local church family? shouldn't they be expected to contribute something to the well being and health of the church? If you are our guest, we will serve you gladly; but if you are part of the family, you are expected to serve along side of us. You are expected to pull your fair share.

And we will give you ministries based on your spiritual maturity and according to your spiritual giftedness. New believers won't be asked to preach a sermon, for instance, or become a deacon. No one should be given a job above their skill level. But you should expect to do some ministry within your skill level and giftedness.

This is Scriptural, you know. Ephesians 2:8-9 teach that we are saved by grace through faith, and that it is not of works. But the next verse, Ephesians 2:10, talks about our work. It says, "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we could walk in them." We aren't saved by our works, rather, we are saved to work. We are created to work for God. Even before we were born, God planned work for us. God gave us at least one spiritual gift so that we could accomplish the work He'd planned. He also gave us His Spirit to indwell us and empower us to do the work. He supplies all we need.

God expects us to get the job done. What an abomination for a true believer to sit on his duff like so much dead wood and just soak up the good benefits that come from Christ without ever lifting a finger to help. Yet, how many people sit in church week after week like a bump on a log, or like a corpse in a pew? They never give back to God any of the money that he provides to them to live on, and they never serve Him with the gifts he has given them. If they were created to work for God, they have aborted their purpose.

Certainly, God gave His best to us. John 3:16 tells us, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." God sent His Son to the cross to die for us as our substitute so that He could offer us eternal life as a free gift. All we have to do is reach out our hand in faith to receive it. How can we not be so eternally grateful that we we wouldn't do anything for Him? We should be willing to pay any cost - to go any distance - for the one who loved us this much. So why then is it a strange thing if we expect members to support the work of the church?

What about you? Are you a guest or a member? If a guest, how long are you going to simply go along for the ride? When will you commit yourself to the work of ministry?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Church Membership - Part Seven

There is a second requirement of church membership. We said the first was a solid testimony of being born-again. The second, at least from our church constitution, is an agreement with our doctrinal position.

What does that mean? Does it mean that we have to agree with every jot and every tittle that's written (That's a little King James Bible lingo for you)? No! That's not what it means. Quite frankly, our church's doctrinal statement is quite basic. It isn't based on denominational distinctives, nor does it try to cover every doctrine in depth. We believe and teach a lot more than what is in our doctrinal statement. But our doctrinal statement does cover the fundamentals of the faith, especially when it comes to the nature of God, of Christ, of sin, and of salvation. Is it a perfect statement? NO! Would any of us necessarily write it again the same way? Probably not! But that doesn't mean it isn't a good statement.

Now certainly, the Bible is inspired. The Bible is perfect and changeless. But our doctrinal statement was written by fallible men. That's why our constitution provides a method to change it. It isn't easy to change, and it shouldn't be. But, yes, it can be changed. That doesn't mean we are turning heretic if we change something. But it does mean there could be a better way of stating what we believe. So we don't expect absolute and perfect agreement. That isn't what we mean when we say that it is a requirement to agree with our doctrinal statement.

What it means is this: It means we want people to join our church who believe basically what we believe. Those who join should support and agree with what we teach anmd preach. Not every jot and tittle, necessarily. We don't claim to have a lock on truth. Nor do we claim infallibility. If you disagree with what I have to say, I am more than willing to listen to you to wee if I am wrong.

But what we don't want is for someone to join the church with an agenda to change us. We are an Independent Bible Church by conviction. That's what we are going to stay. If you want a Universalist Unitarian Chruch that denies the doctrine of the trinity and contends that everyone will eventually be saved, well, how can I say it kindly? Our church isn't for you. If you are looking for a church where everyone speaks in tongues and gets slain in the spirit, our church isn't for you. If you are looking for the high church where the service is read out of a book, our church isn't for you. Do you see what I am saying? We are an Independent Bible Church. If that is what you are looking for, this is the place for you. If you want something else, you need to look elsewhare.

Does that mean we wouldn't want you to attend our services? Of course not! We would be honored if you worshipped with us. And there are many wonderful, mature Christians who disagree with us on some doctrines. But we are what we are because we believe this is what God wants us to be. We believe this is what God tells us a church should be. Join us if that's what you believe.

But don't join us if your goal is to change us. That would only bring schism to the church. In Proverbs 6:16 it says, "These six things the Lord hates, Yes, seven are an abomination to Him" Then, after listing six, the seventh is, "And one who sows discord among brethren." Don't be one of those who sows discord in this church. If you don't believe what we believe, don't join. Or come and sit quietly in a pew as our guest. But don't try to bring upheaval by pushing doctrines contrary to our core beliefs. That's why we require agreement with our doctrinal statement from people who join the church.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Church Membership - Part Six

We've talked about the need to assure that every church member is a born-again believer - that in order to be a member of the local church, they already are a part of the universal church through their faith in Jesus Christ. But why is this important?

As a congregational church, we believe that Christ is the head of His body the church, and the church takes her orders from Him. But how can an unsaved person receive guidance from christ through His Holy Spirit if he doesn't have the Holy Spirit within him? How can he possibly vote on issues with Christ's mind if he doesn't possess Christ? He can't.

Churches that allow unsaved people into their membership inevitably go liberal over time. It's only natural. How can they help it? If they have unsaved people helping shape the direction of the local church, how can it stay true to the course? That's why requirement Number One is a clear confession of faith.

Does that mean we don't want unsaved people to come to our church? Do we not want them to attend? Don't be silly! Of course we do! They are most certainly welcome. We invite them to come. We desire that they hear the Gospel message and respond to it. We want them to get saved. So, yes! We want them to come as our invited guests. But we don't let them put in a change of address until they become part of the family. Until they profess Christ, they are simply that - invited guests.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Church Membership - Part Five

Last time, I said that the non-negotiable requirement for membership in the local church was that one be born-again. That is the requirement to be part of the universal church, so it must be the requirement to be a member of the local church. But why? Why is it important? Let's think about it. And I am assuming you are a Christian, so let's think as Christians.

Who should the church call as their pastor? What is the most important criteria? Who should the church choose as a deacon? Or, who would you want the church to pick as the Sunday School teacher for your kid's class? Do you see what I am getting at? The first and foremost qualification must be that they are saved - that they are born again - and then that they have some measure of spiritual maturity.

Requiring church membership is a minimal way of assuring this. To say that, if you want the privileges and responsibilities of church membership, you have to make a commitment to join; isn't too much to ask. And it isn't hard for a genuine believer. To join our church, there are three simple requirements. We will cover the first today.

The first requirement is that you be born-again. This is the only requirement to be a part of the universal church. You must be born-again through faith in Jesus Christ. In other words, you must be a Christian. But being a Christian requires that you make a confession of your faith. This is what it teaches in Romans 10:9-10:

"That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation."

We think it is important for a believer to profess his faith.

"But, wait a minute," You may say. "I'm already a Christian. I automatically became part of the universal church when I trusted Christ, didn't I? Why shouldn't I automatically be a member of the local church?" The simple answer is, Christ can see your heart. He knows whether or not you have trusted Him. We don't. And it is our job to guard the local church. So we need you to tell us about it. We need to hear your testimony of salvation before you join. We need you to tell us what you are trusting in for salvation.

Certainly not everyone who claims to be a Christian is one. We talked about that back in our discussion of the Parable of the Wheat and Tares. Not every profession of faith is genuine. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, Matthew 7:21-23:

"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.'"

You only have to think of the cults that come to your door to know the truth of this. They claim to be Christians. They work like crazy. Some of them put us to shame with their zeal. But they aren't saved because the have not trusted Christ. They trust in their own good works. Acts 16:31 says, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved." It doesn't say trust in your good works.

Ephesians 2:8-9 teach,

"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast."

If they are trusting in their good works to get them to heaven, they aren't saved. And if they do not turn to Christ in faith, they will one day hear those words of Jesus, "I never knew you; depart from Me, you who proactive lawlessness."

Obviously, not everyone who claims to be part of the universal church really is. We want to make sure before we allow them to become members and engage in ministry in our local church. that is why we require that we hear their testimony.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Church Membership - Part Four

After all that we've said concerning wheat and tares and false teachers, how does this apply to church membership? Why do we and most churches require a person to actually go through the process of joining the church in order to minister within the local church? The answer should be obvious. The answer is quality control.

Oh, but that doesn't sound good, does it? It makes it sound like the church is some kind of elite club where the less than desirable need not apply. But that's not it at all. There is, and should be, no prejudice within the church. You can see this in Galatians 3:26-29:
"For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise."
When this says we are all sons of God, that doesn't mean every person, but every person who has come to Jesus Christ in faith for salvation. That's what makes us a child of God and an heir to the promise. Being Christ's is the only requirement. That puts us all on equal footing within the kingdom of God.

Indeed, the church is an equal opportunity employer. People aren't called by God because of their riches or power, or their good looks, or talent. Most of the time, it is in spite of a lack of any of these things. It tells us this in 1st Corinthians 1:26-29,
"For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the the weak things of the world to put to shame the things that are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things that are not to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence."
God doesn't often choose those with lots of natural talent. The rich and famous, the talented and powerful; anything they accomplish for God they would take credit for. "After all, I am so talented," they would say. Or, "That was my money that paid for that program, you know." But someone who isn't all that much in themselves - the common and despised person of this world - if he accomplishes something for God, he knows that God did it through him. God gets all the credit.

So, no! When I say quality control, I am not talking about excluding the less than rich and beautiful. I'm talking about the difference between saved and unsaved. Only the saved are part of the kingdom of god. Only the saved are children of God. Only the saved are part of the universal church. Therefore, only the saved should be allowed to be members of the local church.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Church Membership - Part Three

We've been talking about the tension that exists in every local church between the genuine believers and the make-believers. Now throw in the question we have asked: why are there so many different denominations and so many different local churches, even in small, local communities; and you can understand how this tension plays out.

It plays out like this: The true believer wants to see the pastor preaching and teaching the Word of God in all its grandeur, straight and unvarnished. They live for the pure milk and meat of the Word. The true doctrines of the faith excite them. The make-believers prefer false doctrine that tickles their ears. "The Bible is outdated, after all, and not relevant for today," They say. "We have come so much farther than those parochial Jews who were prejudiced against women and gays. We're enlightened." And they think they can sit in judgment over the Bible deciding what is or isn't relevant for today.

Now, it they are better at infighting and can come up with enough votes at a congregational meeting, they can change the doctrines of the church. They can assure that the preachers who are called are the less offensive ones who won't step on the good church member's toes by preaching the Word, or make unbelievers feel uncomfortable.

This is precisely why the elders of the church are commanded to guard and preserve the pure doctrines of the church. We can see this as Paul called the elders of the church in Ephesus to him as he was on his way to Jerusalem to be arrested and taken to Rome. In Acts 20:25-31, he says:
"And indeed, now I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, will see my face no more. Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God. Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears."
That's the problem. False teachers will arise to draw the church away from the truth of God's Word into error. Paul claimed that he had taught them the whole counsel of God's Word, holding nothing back, no matter how much public opinion swayed against Him. False teachers will lead the congregation away from the truth. But it is Christ's church. He purchased it with His own blood. He gets to say what our doctrines should be, and He has through His Word. It is up to His preachers to teach it straight. It is through the false teachers that arise within the church, the savage wolves as Paul calls them, that false doctrines enter the church. The elders must guard against that. Requiring an examination for church membership helps to guard against this.

Even Jesus warned that the wolves would come, and He warned that they would not be easily recognized. But He gave us the key to pick them out. In Matthew 7:15-16, Jesus said: "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits." The false teachers will come disguised as genuine believers, just like tares. They will present themselves as sheep, the name Jesus used of His true followers. But like the tares, they will bear a different fruit. Being careful with church membership, requiring an examination of the perspective member as to salvation, will help keep out the savage wolves.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Church Membrship - Part Two

Last time, I painted a picture that was pretty black and white as I contrasted the different objectives within the church of the true, born-again believer and the make-believer. But I'm sure you know that in the real world, nothing is ever that black and white. Especially with people, they come in shades of gray.

Sometimes new believers don't seem much different from the world they were just saved out of. they still carry the smell of the fires of hell on them, and they still have lots of that old baggage from the world they carry around. They desperately need to be discipled by an older, dedicated believer. On the other hand, some unbelievers are the sweetest, most generous and moral people you would ever want to meet. You would never know they have never trusted Christ for salvation - that they are still as lost as a billy goat. You'd swear by their actions that they are good Christians. So sometimes, it is really hard to tell them apart. Is this person a carnal Christian? Or is this person a moral pagan interested in the church? And how can you tell them apart?

Remember, the basic problem in the Parable of the Wheat and Tares is that you can't tell them apart - not until the harvest - when the tares show themselves by not producing any fruit. That's the problem we face in every church. How do we tell them apart? Christians don't come with a big "C" tattooed across their foreheads, and unbelievers don't come with that "666" tattooed across theirs. Not yet, anyway. So how do we know who is on our side and who is on the devil's side?

And quite frankly. sometimes the tares don't know either. Quite often, they are deceived into thinking they are just as good a Christian as the next person. And lots of times they are, to our shame. Except that they really aren't. But that's one of Satan's most effective tactics - the tactic of deceit. Revelation 12:7-9 says,
"And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. So that great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him."
Do you see? Satan is now down here on earth stirring up lots of mischief, and his most effective tactic is deceit. Satan deceives the whole world. And Satan loves nothing more than to have the tares think of themselves as wheat. He loves to deceive the make-believers into thinking of themselves as genuine (They aren't likely to get saved that way).

But that is precisely why Paul urged personal introspection. 3nd Corinthians 13:5 teaches, "Examine yourself as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? Unless indeed you are disqualified." Self examination is so vital. Just because you are a member of a church doesn't mean you have been saved. Make sure you are. Examine your life. And that is why perspective members need to be examined for the genuineness of their faith. Are they really, truly a part of the true church?

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Need for Church Membership

We spent a lot of time talking about why there are local churches, and especially why there are so many of them. We asked why there are literally hundreds of denominations in this country alone, and why there is a different local church on nearly every corner. The answer we gave was, in part, found in the Parable of the Wheat and Tares. The moral of the parable, for our purposes, was that that while Jesus is busy building His church and filling it with genuine, born-again Christians - the good grain of the parable; Satan is busy filling the church with make-believe Christians - the tares of the parable. The tares look just like the wheat, but aren't. And they never bear fruit. But they are within the church rubbing shoulders with the true believers.

As such, there will always be a tension within the church - a tension between the two groups as they each follow their respective sower. They will each try to pull the church in the direction desired by their sower. And while the sower of the true-believer is Christ, the sower of the make-believer is Christ's arch-enemy, Satan. The directions they want to go are polar opposites. Everything they are looking for is different. The local church they would each make would be unrecognizable to the other.

True believers want to be taught the Word of God. Make believers want their ears tickled with feel good sermons. True believers want accountability. Make believers don't. Genuine believers will want to grow in their faith and knowledge of God. They will want to mature spiritually. They are eager to know and learn through private devotions. And they are excited to come to church to be taught the Word of God. They really genuinely want to know what God expects of them so they can get their life lined up right. They want to be clean from their sin that they have learned to hate so much. They will want to get things done for Christ and won't have to be begged to serve. They will eagerly volunteer to work hard. And they will share their faith with others. In other words, they will be committed to Christ.

The make believers? Well, they will be content to stay just the way they are. They will resent Bible studies and sermons that challenge them. They might get in a huff if the pastor or Sunday School teacher steps on their toes. Especially, don't try to tell them that anything they do is sin. They like their sin. Their sin is an old, comfortable friend that they want to keep around. And they will show up at the church services when they feel like it, if they feel like it. To them, regular church attendance is optional. And to get them to take a job around church? It is like pulling teeth. Maybe they will if there is enough glory in it, but probably not. In other words, make-believers want a comfortable place where they can come and go as they please. Many prefer total anonymity. Some want a place where they can be pampered and coddled and entertained.

True believers want a place where they can join in and be committed - where they can be taught and where they can serve. It really becomes a lifestyle thing with them. So, true believers strengthen a local church (They are the church), while make believers within the local church weaken it. What kind of church member are you?