Putting First Things First
Over the next two weeks I want us to explore a great little book found in the Old Testament, the book of Haggai. Now if you are not sure where to find the book of Haggai, it is a minor prophet placed in-between Zephaniah and Zechariah. If that doesn’t help, go to the book of Matthew in the New Testament and swipe left 3 books.
While you are finding the book, let me give you a little context on what is happening. King David wanted to build God a temple, but because he was a man of war, God refused to allow him to build the temple. God would allow David’s son Solomon to build the temple in Jerusalem. So David began to collect wood, and gold, and silver, and precious stones. When the time came, King Solomon built God a glorious and magnificent temple. Even extra biblical literature talks about how mind blowing and incredible the Temple was. People came from all over the world to worship God or to just see the glory of this temple.
Unfortunately, Solomon didn’t finish like he started. He began to drift from Jehovah, and the people also began to drift away as well. It wasn’t long before people were trying to hedge their bets by worshiping Jehovah and idols. So God allowed a series of events to take place to try to bring their focus back toward Him.
The Kingdom split into two pieces, the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah. The Assyrians would conquer and destroy the Northern Kingdom, and about 140 years later King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian army would conquer Judah. The Babylonians were not content to merely conquer and take all of the Jews from Judah; but to add insult to injury, they destroyed the house where God dwelt, stripping away the spiritual identity of the Jewish people.
For 50 years the Jews lived as slaves in a foreign land. Think about it like, some enemy nation develops massive nuclear power and they say, "We're going to take out 10 major US cities unless your government surrenders to us." The president and the congress meet and know that we can't retaliate. It would start a massive global nuclear war. They decide that the only thing we can do is surrender. All of the government leaders step down and suddenly, we're all no longer citizens of our nation. Now we're captives to somebody else. We can't worship as we want. We can't just go anywhere we want. We're completely in bondage for 50 years. Tomorrow is my birthday and I will be 45, so my whole life we have been in captivity, my children were born in captivity and that's essentially all we know. This is our worst nightmare come true and it just doesn't end.
But then word comes down that 50,000 people are going to be allowed to travel back home to rebuild. Finally, after five decades, we get to go back to our home. We get to reclaim our national heritage by rebuilding a house for God. We get to have our own place again and you could only imagine the relief and the excitement. That’s what happened for the Jewish people. In an effort to reclaim their identity they laid the foundation, built the altar, and then the Samaritans show up. They didn’t want the Jews to rebuild the temple, so they tried to make it difficult for them. The returning Jews met some resistance, it got hard, and they just gave up. For the next fourteen years the temple sat there unfinished. So, God raised up the prophet Haggai to call the people back to the task.
We are going to read two lengthy passages this morning. I hope that you have found Haggai because we are going to start in chapter 1:2-11. (Read Text)
The book starts off in a very unique way. God says, These people, say the time is not yet come to rebuild the Lord's house. What I find interesting about this text is that almost everywhere else in the Old Testament, when God talks about His people, He calls them My people. But here God does what parents tend to do when the kids do something wrong. I don't know if this happens at your house, but in some people’s homes if the kids do something great, something honoring, something worthy of respect a parent will say, My kid did this. But when a 8 year old boy acts like an 8 year old boy and dumps a bag of flour all over the kitchen floor, then it becomes, Did you see what your son did?”
The book starts with God saying, These people, they're not My people, these people are saying the time is not now to build My temple. What was it that made the people believe that it wasn’t the right time to to work on God’s house? When they faced some opposition at the hands of the Samaritans, they reasoned that this must not be what God wants us to be doing. We are the same way; we set out to serve God, to do what He wants us to do and it get’s hard or difficult we begin to make excuses that maybe this is not what God really wanted us to do. But what I have found in my life is that when the work get’s hard, that’s when I am definitely doing what God wants me to do. Because we live in a world, in a culture that will always make it difficult to live like Christ.
I am a firm believer that we were created to do the hard and difficult things in this life. I would translate Philippians 4:13, I can do the difficult things in life through Christ who gives me the strength to complete the task. So choose to do the difficult right thing over the easy wrong thing. When it would be easy to hurt someone’s feelings, to hold a grudge, to be angry, instead remember that you were created to do the difficult work of forgiving others in the same way that Christ has forgiven you. When you find that it’s easier to blend in and not make an impact, take a stand for God and stand out in the world. We need to quit doing what is easy, and start doing what is right because God is not going to bless what is easy.
Can we just camp out here for a very uncomfortable moment? Do you feel like God is blessing this church? Do you feel like God is blessing your family? Do you feel God’s blessings in your life? Or do you feel like you are working, and struggling, and putting forth all of this effort and getting very little in return? Go back and look again at verse 6: You have planted a large crop, but your harvest is small. You have food to eat, but it is never enough to satisfy. You have something to drink, but you are never filled. You have clothes to wear, but they are not enough to keep you warm. You earn a salary, but the money runs out quickly, as if there are holes in your pocket.
Does that sound familiar? Since we are being uncomfortable, let me be completely honest with you. But before I tell you my truth, I want you to know that I am not looking for cards, or pats on the back, or gifts. PLEASE don’t run up to me after church or send me a card this week telling me that you think I am the greatest thing ever. I’m not fishing for complements. I need to be honest here so I can encourage you to be honest as well. I walk around in a constant state of discouragement. Sometimes it’s just this little nagging discouragement, about what I didn’t get done or what I could have done better. And, other times it’s like discouragement is playing a base drum in my head and it’s all I can hear. I’ll go home today and watch the sermon and think about all the things I should have said. I’ll hear stories about what is going on in the life of this community and think about all of the things I should have done. I’ll get a financial report from the church, and I know that money is an outside indication of what is happening on the inside and I’ll think that I need to do a better job helping you grow spiritually.
I am telling you that because, I believe that Haggai is being honest, not only with the Children of Israel, but with the Greenbrier Church. I think that Haggai is calling us back to the truth that we have allowed the difficult things to keep us from doing the important things. Maybe God is not blessing this church, maybe God is not blessing my family, maybe God is not blessing my life because I have allowed the difficulty of the task to take my focus away from what is the most important and put it on what is the most convenient.
Let me see if I can unwrap that a bit. Go back to Luke 10. This is the passage about a teacher of the law trying to trap Jesus. Starting in verse 25: One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?” The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” “Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!” The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
I think I might be a lot more like this religious expert that I want to admit. Jesus told the man how to build the temple, Jesus explained that the first thing that must consume our minds, and hearts is loving God. Putting God first in every aspect of our lives. The second is just as important as the first, we must also love the people that God has put into our paths. But that’s hard. It’s difficult to focus on God, or to focus on all of those needy, selfish, emotionally draining people that I see every day. And because it is so difficult, I quickly ask the second question because I need to know how can I limit the command.
In churches we have avoided the difficult thing of loving and welcoming everyone by qualifying the command. What I mean is that instead of building His kingdom, we have built our houses of worship. Think for a moment about what Jesus says; The second is like the first love your neighbor as yourself. And, Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. But has that been our focus?
When the church fought and split over what translation of the bible we could use, were we building His kingdom or were we building our churches?
When the church fought and split over one cup or many cups for communion, were we building His kingdom or were we building our churches?
When the church fought and split over what to do with folks who were divorced, were we building His kingdom or were we building our churches?
When the church fought and split over civil rights, were we building His kingdom or were we building our churches?
When the church fought and split over instrumental music, were we building His kingdom or were we building our churches?
When the church fought and split over the role of women, were we building His kingdom or were we building our churches?
When the church fought and split over (You can put any issue you want to put in this space), were we building His kingdom or were we building our churches?
I grew up thinking that God was in the heavens waiting for me to transgress one area of the law, to somehow worship incorrectly on a Sunday morning, just so that He could declare me damaged goods and send me to the fires of hell. But what I have realized is that God has no interest in the millions of things we fight about in an effort to build our houses of worship. God is interested in building His kingdom. And in Matthew 25, Jesus is pretty plain about what that Kingdom looks like. (read Mathew 25:31-46)
There are a couple of things that I want you to pay attention to in this text. First, there is no mention of anything in this text that good God fearing church folks have ever fought about. There is no mention of, can we spend the Lord’s Money to build a building or buy a van for the youth to take a trip. There is no mention of mixed bathing, or card playing, or drinking, or listening to county music (even though that might be implied). There is no discussion about the cooperate worship setting, of even a private worship setting. Nothing about gender roles, or identity. All of the things we concern ourselves about when it comes to building a house of worship never make it into the discussion on the day of Judgement.
Secondly, Jesus is talking about a lifestyle of love. You want to to build the Kingdom of God and make a space where God can pour out his blessings? Then find someone who is hungry and love them enough to feed them. Find someone who is thirsty and love them enough to give them a drink. Find someone who is lonely and invite them into your life. Find someone who needs the basic necessities of clothes and give them clothing. Care for people in love and compassion.
But let me caution you here, Jesus is not giving us a check list. I can’t walk around with a little tally sheet, and earn a check mark when I do one of these things. Jesus is not saying, feed someone once and your done, or feed someone once a year and that will be good. He is calling us to daily live out our love in tangible ways. I know this because of the way that the people responded; Lord, when did we see you hungry… or thirsty … alone … without clothes … sick or in prison… They lived out their love in 1,000 different ways every day of their lives. That’s what a follower of Christ does, they live out their love.
When you are building His kingdom, then you are daily living out your love for Him. And He promises to bless that lifestyle.
Church this morning we need to be honest with ourselves. The reason that Greenbrier is not making the impact that we were created to make in our community is because we have not done the work of building His temple in the way that we accept and love. We can say whatever we want to say, we can make all of the excuses we want to make, we can have 1,000 Model City Worship Weekends, put catchy sayings on the church sign, wear matching t-shirts that declare we are a different kind of Church of Christ. But God will not bless us, until we fully commit to love.
This morning we come to our time of invitation, and I want to ask you are you saved? Are you secure in your salvation?
If you are saved, how do you know you are saved? If you answer is that you were baptized, and not that you love God and love His people, then you need to finish building His temple.
If you are not saved, then what are you waiting for? Today can be the best day of your life. Bend your knees and enter into His love, and grace, and mercy.