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?