Obedience is Not A Dirty Word
A few years ago I decided that I needed to do something; I know that our bodies are the temple of God, and mine was beginning to look less like a temple and more like a mega church. So I decided that I was going to go and get fully invested: I signed up with a gym, bought shoes, and clothes, and cleared out some time in my daily schedule that was reserved for gym time. I started out well, I was at the gym at least 5 times a week, I did cardio and lifted weights, changed my diet, and drank lots of water. But at the end of the first month there was no change in my weight. Actually I think I had gained a few pounds. I was discouraged and though that I might be wasting my time. I skipped a day and then two, then a week. John went to church with us, and was also a member of the gym. He approached me at church one Sunday and asked if I was ok and wondered why he wasn’t seeing me at the gym. I told him that the gym wasn’t working, I had done everything right and was still gaining weight. John looked at me and said, Jeremy it took you your whole life to get you to this point. Changing for the better is hard and difficult. But if you want to see real change that’s going to take longer than it took for to get you thins way to begin with.
John loved me enough to tell me the truth. And I want to love you enough to tell you the truth as well. When you gave your life to Christ, you were saying that you wanted to change. Your baptism was your grand proclamation that things in your life were going to be different, that you were going to live differently than the world and our culture. You were dedicating yourself to a life of obedience. You started with the greatest of intentions, but you flamed out before you really got started. That's exactly what happened to the people of God in our text. They started so well, it was going to be amazing. But when it didn't go like what they expected, they flamed out.
We are in the middle of a short series on the book of Haggai. If you weren’t here last week let me set the stage. When Solomon became king he built a beautiful temple, a place where God would reside and the people could come and worship Him. When the Babylonians captured the city of Jerusalem, they destroyed the temple in an effort to take away the spiritual identity of the Jews. After 50 years in captivity the people were allowed to return home, and the first order of business was to rebuild the temple. They laid the foundation, built an alter, and when the Samaritans began to oppose the work, they stopped working on the temple and began to work on their own homes. After 14 years God raised up the prophet Haggai to call the Jews to be honest and to inspire them to remember the temple. Haggai was calling the people to not just focus on their personal houses, but to be obedient to the task and focus on God's house.
I wonder if there is an area in your life that God has called you to be obedient. Maybe God put something, a desire on your heart and you might have started off with the best of intentions. You were going to get serious and serve somewhere in church, maybe start a ministry. There was something that you felt like you were supposed to do, maybe give something away to somebody. You were going to reach out to someone and show them the love of Christ. You were going to share a part of your life or your possessions with someone who was facing difficult times. Maybe, you were going to take seriously the call to love God and then love the people God puts in your path. But after a while it began to get difficult, and the weight of the difficulty began to become heaver than the burden of obeying God.
If you have ever had that struggle, I’m sorry we agreed to be uncomfortably honest with each other. Since you have that struggle, we need to go back to the text that was read for us this morning. This little text contains a beautiful picture of God’s compassion and grace. The people are feeling the weight of being obedient and God breaks down what He desires for them to do in three simple steps: Step one go up into the mountains. Step two, get the wood. Step three, Build the Temple.
What I have noticed in my life is that God gives me simple steps to live a life of obedience and I immediately begin to overanalyze and look to codify what He has called me to. Going up to the mountain is hard, I mean have you seen the mountain? It’s a big mountain and it goes straight up. Then you want me to bring down the timber? Do I have to cut it down first? Will I get a chain saw? Will there be a log truck and a paved road? Then you want me to build the Temple, but where are the plans? Who is on the building committee? I mean we don’t want to be wasteful with the Lord’s money. I can waste my money, but it would be a sin to waste the little bit that we give God.
We need to be reminded what I said last week, if we are going to be obedient, we need to make the decision to choose the difficult right over the easy wrong.
I have always wondered why people would be deceived into thinking that following Christ would be the easy road. Especially when Jesus said that everyone who followed Him would have to deny themselves and take up a cross (Luke 9:23). He didn’t promise His followers that life would be gumdrops, lollipops, unicorns and rainbows. He actually promises just the opposite, that we would have trials in this world (John 16:33). Even the Apostle Paul promises that everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12).
Jesus is constantly inviting us to trust Him with all of our mess and brokenness. He is calling us to trust Him with our treasure and our time. Jesus is calling us to take risks and live a big beautiful life that points people to Him. But you know first hand that there’s nothing comfortable or easy about trust or risk.
Being obedient to God’s call in your life is going to lead you to take some difficult steps. Choosing to do the difficult work of loving people will open your eyes to the millions of people struggling to make it through the day who need a little love and compassion. It’s going to take away the option of returning to a comfortable, self-centered existence because you will be able to see the other, your neighbor, or enemy who you are called to love. You will feel God doing a work in your life that will cause you to put yourself out there every single day of your life.
Choosing to do the difficult right thing in this life means that you are going to stand out in this world that prefers to do the easy wrong thing. Living your life out of your appreciation for Christ will cause your life to look a lot different than the people who are choosing to do the easy things. From you finances to your intent on living a life of purity, to how you treat those invisible people in our communities, is going to make you stand out. And while that sounds great inside these walls, outside these walls you are opening yourself up for ridicule and attack.
Doing the difficult right things often seems like such an illogical choice in our cultures way of thinking. It’s illogical to take a lower paying job so you can spend more time loving on your family. It’s difficult to love people more than money and things to the point that you gladly give away more money than seems socially acceptable. Being a person of love will look strange when you invite the homeless guy to join you for lunch and listen to his story, and then turn around and to refuse to listen to the next juicy piece of gossip shared around the watercolor or dinner table. But when we listen to God’s plan for our lives, when we actually choose to do the loving thing, regardless of how difficult it is we honor God by living lives of obedience.
We have been called to live a life of love, a life faith, which means we do the difficult thing of trusting in a God that we cannot see or prove. Living a life of faith means that we trust that better things are ahead. Doing the difficult and hard right thing means that we Trust that God knows what He is doing.
I am sure that you could list off a thousand different ways that you have been let down. While we are made in the image of God, we are also prone to sin. We all make mistakes. To be frank, sometimes we are just awful. And there are times when we take our baggage with one another and try to place it at God’s feet. But God can be trusted, and He calls us to trust Him in every aspect of our lives. If we really believe that God is all knowing, all powerful, that God is love then we must do more that simply give Him lip service.
When we say that we trust God, that has to be seen in our lives by how we move forward when God says, here is step one, two, and three. But far too many of us hear steps one, two and three, and immediately ask, what about steps four, five, and six? I need the details. I want to know who's going to pay for this? How is it going to happen? Who all will be involved? Do I get a tax write off for this? How long, how much of my life is required? I need steps four, five, and six.
There have been so many times, when Trista and I asked God for details, we begged God to give us some knowledge to let us know what He had in mind. And God smiled at us and said, Go up to the mountains, get the wood, and build the Temple. Don't worry about steps four, five, and six, just do one, two, and three. The truth is that we cannot handle the details, we are called to trust that God will give us what we need when we get there and step out in obedience. If we were to know every step of the process, there would be no need for faith, and fear would keep us from moving towards what God has in store for our lives.
In Proverbs 3, Solomon writes Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. (Proverbs 3:5-6) In my mind, this is one of the most beautiful and terrifying verses in the bible. As long as you follow God, He will lead the way. Solomon doesn’t say, God will lead you through the path of least resistance. He simply says we must trust that God knows what He is doing and will show us which path to take.
But there have been too many times in my own life that I wanted to depend on my own understanding. That’s a lack of trust in God, a lack of faith. Do you really believe that God is trustworthy in times of confusion and frustration? Do you trust God when everything around you seems to be spinning out of control? Do you believe that God cannot only see steps one, two, and three, but that He sees step 58, 59, and 60 as well?
The Apostle Paul says that we are to walk by faith, not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7) There is no need to ask about what God is going to do in a month or a year, trust that He has already worked that out. What you need to do is trust God enough to take steps one, two, and three. And our first steps are to always build the Temple of God by loving the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ And the second command is like the first: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’
If you love God, I mean if you really love God then you have to love what God loves. And God still loves His creation that He created in His image. If you are going to truly be obedient to God, it’s time we quit thinking about it, quit talking about it, quit praying about it, and go up to the mountain and be faithful by living out your obedience to God.
This year I picked up a mustard seed from Bob Goff’s book, Everybody Always that I believe really speaks to this area of my life. Bob wrote, “What if we stop calling it ministry and just call it Tuesday?” Greenbrier is not that different from every other church in America, we have been trying to do ministry for the last 24 years, we have been looking for step 4, 5, and 6. But today God is calling us to live lives of obedience, and trust Him to take care of the rest.
And finally we need to understand that Obedience does to come with conditions.
Unconditional obedience to God has a lot to do with our attitude. Your attitude matters, if your heart isn't right with God then you are just going through the motions. And you might do the right things and still be completely wrong. Think about it this way, a little girl hurts a little boy, maybe she said something ugly, or took his toy, or hit him and now he is standing in the foyer crying. The little girls mom tells her that she has to go an apologize for what she has done. So the little girl walks up to the boy and says… Sigh… My mom said that I had to say I’m sorry, so sorry.
She went through the motions, she did what she was told to do, but would you say that she was obedient? The truth is that some of us are willing to be obedient as long as it doesn't cost too much and we can get pretty quick results. But if it makes us uncomfortable or is inconvenient then we’re not so sure about getting involved. Trista calls this selective listening, you know how that works. If she asks for someone to come and help with the laundry, or help clean up the kitchen… Crickets. But if she says under her breath, anyone want to go to the new Ice Cream Shop? Well, then I can totally hear what she is saying and I’m in the car waiting.
In my mind we seem to do the same thing with God. God tells me to love my neighbor as myself and as long as my neighbor is easy to love, well then I’m in. But what happens when my neighbor is difficult, or creepy? And love my enemies … Have you met my enemies? I mean if they were good people, then they wouldn’t be my enemies. I mean I can pray that they won’t go to the hottest parts of hell, but love them?
We are doing our own form of selective listening with God. Because, we expected to come into this relationship with God and for everything to be easy, to always have green lights, to never get caught in a rain storm, to find an empty checkout line at Wal-Mart. But that’s not real life. If we have the attitude that we will obey as long as I'm comfortable or as long as it’s easy then we have chosen conditional obedience. And obedience with conditions is not really obedience. Maybe no one has been honest with you before, so let me be the first to tell you the truth. God does not give us options to consider, God says Loving Me means keeping My commandments, and My commandments are not burdensome. (1 John 5:3)
The most important issue in your life right now is your obedience to God. Every problem you are facing in your life is in some way related to you obedience. Every solution in your life is ultimately found in your obedience to God. We don’t have to know all of the ins and outs of the plan to be obedient. All you need to know is that we have a loving, merciful, compassionate Heavenly Father who is calling us to go into the mountain, get the timber, and build His temple.
We have often bought into the lie that it is to difficult to live lives of obedience. But God says that His commandments are not burdensome. He has made life simpler than we make it. We analyze, theorize, and agonize trying to figure out how to obey God and fulfill the fleshly desires that wreck our hearts and souls. But all we really have to do is hear His voice and follow where He leads. We need to get out of the drivers seat and trust that His wisdom and love will bring us to the greatest outcome.
There is only one thing God backs up, obedience. Obedience is better than sacrifice, it is better than religious activities, it is not a dirty word. It is only through obedience that we will defeat this evil world, and achieve the victory through our faith.