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.