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"A Time for Reflecting" Haggai 1:1-12
SHARING LIFE AT FBCBF ON JANUARY 4, 2009 BY PASTOR BOB BENDER
“A TIME FOR REFLECTION” FROM HAGGAI 1:1-12
"Minor" has such an insignificant sound to it. No one enjoys staying in the minor league; a minor in age is too young to vote; a minor degree matters little on the job; and a member of a minority race or political party has its disadvantages.
However, there is a major exception. The Minor Prophets still speak to major issues of our day. The Minor Prophets--the books following Daniel until the end of the Old Testament--are called that because of their length not their influence.
We begin each year here at FBCBF with an emphasis on life commitment. It is at this time of year that most of us consider the significance of our lives in light of the year we just have lived and a new unlived one before us. It is a time for New Year’s resolutions.
This year’s life commitment emphasis is “Now is the Time” which is the theme of Haggai. Haggai’s message is simple, practical and straight forward. Haggai is the James of the OT, focusing on the practical working out of our faith. Sometimes they are hard-hitting as in today’s message, but are needed nonetheless if we are serious about putting our faith to work.
The book contains five messages from Haggai who delivered them six centuries before Christ between September 1 and December 24 (with two on that day—that being Christmas Eve and all!). Haggai is the most successful OT prophet seeing immediate results to his preaching. The message of Haggai was well-received by his hearers and bore immediate fruit. Within 24 days after his first message challenging the people to renew their efforts in rebuilding the temple they began work on it again. May his words to our church be as warmly received and as quickly obeyed.
Haggai is known as the prophet of encouragement. He is encouraging the Jews to rebuild the temple, but his message is more about priorities than rebuilding the temple. God’s word through Haggai is to get our priorities right and when we do He will bless. His message was, “Put God first and He will take care of your other needs.” As often with the OT, it demonstrates a NT principle of life: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to you” (Mt. 6:33).
Haggai 1:1-12, though written long ago to different people, has a contemporary ring to it. I speak to your heart today concerning a time for reflection. Here’s the deal: Haggai challenges us to reflect on our involvement and investment in the Lord’s work hopefully resulting in changes in our priorities. He does so by first of all challenging us to . . .
I. CONSIDER THE TIME (VV. 1-4).
What time was it? It is 520 B. C. 50,000 of God's people had returned to Jerusalem 18 years ago from Babylon where they had been in captivity for 70 years. They had vigorously begun to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, but soon were met with opposition from without and within. Their initial enthusiasm and motivation had waned. As a result, the people became discouraged. They turned their attention upon surviving. Once they had met the basic necessities of life, they began looking toward the luxuries, and in the process became apathetic toward the temple’s rebuilding. Discouragement reigned. They were sluggish and unresponsive to the call to finish what they had begun because their concern for their own well-being impeded God’s work.
When things were going poorly in captivity, they cried out to God. Now that things were going better, they grew careless and materialistic. That's just like us. When things are going great, we get careless and forgetful. When things are difficult and times are hard, we complain to God.
They had begun to make excuses for their actions. Now is not the time to rebuild the temple because that takes money as they were saying, "Look, I'm having a hard enough time making it at home, and you want me to be concerned about God's house and God's work?"
God interrupts the people's own selfish and materialistic agendas. The timing of God's voice is often unexpected and always appropriate. God says, "What a lame excuse; you have plenty of time and resources to spend on yourselves" (v. 4). Notice God's contempt and rejection of His own people in verse 2: "This people" (not "My people"). These weren’t bad people; they were the remnant that returned from Babylon. Hundreds of thousands of people went into the Babylonian captivity and only these 50,000 returned. These who did were the most committed to the restoration of the temple. They had just gotten their priorities all fouled up.
God saw through to the reality of the situation. Their homes were inlaid with wood on the walls or wainscoting. This is significant since wood was scarce in the Holy Land. They spent plenty of money on themselves while God's house and God's work lacked support.
There was external opposition to the building of the temple as well. The annoying Samaritans opposed the work of building the temple. However, no enterprise worth anything will lack opposition and naysayers. Nothing great is ever accomplished without difficulties--resistance without and within.
Consider our time. Consider the challenges to the work of the Lord in our day that are similar to those in Haggai’s day. Never before have there been so many competitors for non-profit contributions. When things get tough financially, it is so easy for us to focus on the reality of our needs and forget the needs of God’s work which are just as real. What begins with challenges to how we spend our money ends with a materialistic mindset. Soon we find that our needs trump God’s work. Never before has God’s work seen so many competitors. However, Matthew 6:33 is still true, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you.”
Timing is everything. A salesman from Chicago was in Miami when he called his manager saying: "I'm stuck here in the middle of a hurricane. All of the airports are closed; the highways are flooded; the buses aren’t running and the trains are all full. What do I do?" The boss came back immediately with: "Start your two-week vacation as of this morning."
Timing is important in dating, engagement and marriage. Timing is important in an athletic contest or in a career move. Timing is important spiritually as seen in taking the gospel to Russia today. Timing is important in spiritual involvement and investment. Now is the time at the beginning of this new year to consider the time and to reflect on your involvement and investment in the life of your church.
After the beginning, man began. And man said, "Let there be wheels," and man invented vehicles. And man said, "Let there be factories." And man brought forth microwave ovens, frost-free refrigerators, washing machines, VCR's and other automatic conveniences of every kind. And man said, "Let us communicate," and he invented telephones, TV, and satellites. And man said, "Let us build machines in our own image," and man developed computers. And he said unto them, "Be fruitful and multiply and have dominion over our lives." And it was so. And man said, "Let us rest!" But there was no rest in spite of his marvelous achievements. Even with all of his high technology, man continued to want more things--a bigger house, a more expensive car, a TV in every room, a DVD player and a cell phone for every family member. And the materialism of selfishly wanting more and more brought discontentment, divorce, and drug dependency. Man's continuing quest for a better life takes him farther away from his Creator. And man saw what he created and said that it was not good (adapted from Pastor Ken Wilson, Vineyard Church, Ann Arbor MI).
What about you? How would you assess your spiritual involvement and investment? Are you supporting God's work here in this place? How can you sacrifice time and money for your homes while God's house goes unrepaired and God's work goes unsupported because of lack of financial and personal resources? The Word of the Lord through Haggai says that this lack of support is even more poignant when we say we have no money to support God’s work while spending it on ourselves.
The people said, “The time has not come.” God counters with “It is time.” Consider the time. Consider your opportunity at the beginning of this year to make commitments that please and glorify the Lord. Now is the time to give. Now is the time to serve. Now is the time to pray. Now is the time for God's work to be rebuilt in this place.
Remember that Haggai is challenging us to reflect on our involvement and investment in the Lord’s work hopefully resulting in changes in our priorities. To do so not only do you need to consider the time, you need to . . .
II. CONSIDER YOUR WAYS (VV. 5-7, 9-11).
Twice God says through Haggai to His people, "Consider your ways" (vv. 5, 7). Consider is the translation of a Hebrew phrase that literally means to set one’s heart upon something. The Lord is not calling for a casual evaluation; He wants His people to engage in some serious soul searching. They must carefully evaluate their lifestyle as we do today. God challenges them to consider why things aren't going as well as they could be.
These people said it was not time to overcome difficulties to build the Lord’s house but it sure was time to overcome these same difficulties to build their own to the detriment of God’s work. Haggai exposes their wrong priorities as he had heard their excuses: “We aren’t getting much done at the temple, and I’m tired of living in a wreck. It is time to start the remodel at home.” “I would contribute to the construction of the temple but all my money is tied up with my home renovation.” “I’m not living extravagantly; look at the other houses in my neighborhood! Why one of my neighbors has two chariots!” “Someone should get to work on the temple. I hope someone steps up to the job, meanwhile I’ve got to finish paneling my living room.” “This isn’t the right time; later will be better.”
Now God is not saying that we shouldn’t build new homes or renovate the ones we have (I Tim. 6:17). His point is that when we do to the neglect of God’s work, it is selfishness and sin. These people were withholding money from God's work and spending it on themselves. They were spending their time on their jobs with no time left for the work of God. However, they were getting further and further behind in their commitments. They were getting less out of keeping and spending their 100% than if they had given God 10% or more and spent the rest.
The problem was not that they were lazy, for they worked hard at sowing seed, making clothing, and earning wages; nevertheless they remained destitute of daily necessities (v. 6). They were harvesting so little and were not being satisfied; they were buying clothes but were still not warm; they were earning good wages, yet it was is if they had holes in their pockets. This verse more than any other describes the futility of the materialism of our age. The faster they went, the behinder they got. They brought home good salaries yet they blew it.
It really wasn't them blowing it as much as the Lord blowing it away. This destitution was no accident; the Lord had withheld the things they worked so hard to obtain in order that He might get their attention. Theirs was a double curse. They brought home little and what they did bring home, God blew it away (v. 9ff). “You are needy financially because you are disobedient. You spend your money on yourselves while My house and work goes unattended and lacks support.”
There was a Roman law entitled, lex talionis or the law of retribution--an eye for an eye etc. God invokes it with His own people. He says, "You have withheld from Me; I withhold from you. You have neglected My work; I will see that your work goes neglected also no matter how much money you bring home.” It is amazing that we do not tolerate conflict of interest in others, and yet that is exactly what we are allowing in our own lives—our interests conflicting with God’s interests. Here God is illustrating a principle of life: disobedience brings discipline; obedience brings blessing.
God is telling you to reflect on your situation. Think about the way things are going. Reflect on the way you are on. There is a way that seems right, but the end is they way of death. Have you ever wondered why your money doesn't go any further than it does? God is asking you, "Why?" Could it be that the reason why your money doesn't go any further than it does is because you are withholding from God His tithe? One pastor was asked how many of his members tithed. He said all of them. "Some tithe to the plumber; some to the banker; some to the car mechanic; but all my members tithe."
Consider your ways. Why aren’t things going as well as they could be? Some of you are walking through a crisis of one form or another. Let me remind you that the Chinese word for crisis is formed by combining the two characters--danger and opportunity. Which will it be in your life--danger or opportunity? It will be dangerous if you continue on your present course without change. Or it could be the greatest opportunity of your life to begin anew with God.
Consider your ways. There is a familiar story in Daniel 5 of the vision of Belshazzar, the king of Babylon. It is the vision of the handwriting on the wall. The words on the wall were words of judgment for the king. Verse 27 says, “You have been weighed on the scales and found deficient.” What if God weighed your spiritual involvement and investment? Would you be found deficient?
Consider your ways. God encourages you to consider your ways this first Sunday of 2009. Think about what is going on in your life. God is allowing things to happen to you to get your attention. When God judges or disciplines us it is for a reason—to get us to consider our ways so we will change our ways. Now don’t get me wrong I am not judging you or your situation; that is between you and the Holy Spirit. I don’t want to be accused of being like Job’s friends. I am just the messenger of God’s Word today. All I am asking you to do is consider your ways.
Consider your ways. Consider the way you spend your money. Consider the fact that we spend more money on dog food than we do on missions. Consider the fact that our nation just spent $450 billion on Christmas in the middle of a recession. Consider the fact that we possess more televisions than bath tubs. Consider the fact that the old clunker just isn't good enough for our children. They've got to have a new car. In the old days the child borrowed dad's car; nowadays, the parent borrows the child's new car.
I believe here is a message to our country as well. God might be saying, “America, I am trying to get your attention.” Perhaps God has brought these national events to pass because we have neglected Him. You would think that Rick Warren was the anti-Christ given the flack Obama has taken for choosing him to pray at his inauguration—talk about the prevalence of Christophobia in the US! We are to remember that “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.”
Remember that Haggai is challenging us to reflect on our involvement and investment in the Lord’s work hopefully resulting in changes in our priorities. To do so not only do you need to consider the time, and consider your ways, you need to . . .
III. CONSIDER YOUR RESPONSE (VV. 8, 12).
How will you respond? God tells them to give of their time and tithes to the work of God so that He would be pleased with it and that He would be glorified (v. 8). The people of God were encouraged to go to the mountain (Jerusalem) and rebuild God's house of worship. They were told to do one simple thing: work. Successful Christians do what unsuccessful ones refuse to do: work. Successful churches do what unsuccessful churches refuse to do: work.
The people of God responded positively and within 24 days work on the temple began after an 18 year layoff. Thy obeyed the voice of the Lord their God and the words of their prophet. They also showed reverence for the Lord (v. 12). Do you know what our problem is? We don’t fear the Lord God. If we did, we would get our priorities right—God first.
Is God pleased and glorified with your spiritual involvement and investment? Are your priorities right? This passage is more about priorities than anything else. The Lord is after your passion, your heart, your thoughts, your mind, and your worship. Do you revere the Lord your God?
Consider your response to what God has said. Consider your involvement and investment. It never will be convenient. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Consider your response and invest your time and tithes in eternal things.
An investor gave millions to God’s work throughout his life only to later lose all that he had left. He was asked if he now regretted giving all of that money away. He said, “No, because that is best investment I have ever made.”
Today is a time for reflection--consider the time; consider your ways; consider your response. How will you respond? What will you do? It is time for action. It is time for obedience. It is time for sacrifice. God is asking, “If not here, where? If not now, when? If not you, who?”
Reflect on your need for a Saviour. Reflect on your need for a church home. Reflect on your need to put God first in your life. Reflect on God’s call on your life for missions or ministry. Reflect and decide. You will be so glad you did this first Sunday of 2009.