Today: Priorities. Examine your priorities. What’s most important. Give careful thought… a couple going on vacation, standing in line waiting to check their bags at the airline counter. The husband said to the wife, "I wish we had brought the piano." The wife said, "Why? We've got sixteen bags already!" The husband said, "Yes, I know-- but the tickets are on the piano!"
The history of Israel is a fascinating…. A brief history just to understand the situation. In 597 the superpower of the region was Babylon. The Israelites were taken from their homes and taken to Babylon as captives. First the leaders, then later two more waves of people were taken to Babylon. One of the more famous exiles was Daniel…. The temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. In 538 (the numbers go backwards when you are talking Before Christ) roughly 60 years after the first wave of Israelites were taken from their homeland, Persia rose up as the superpower, replaced Babylon as the world leader; the Israelites were given a measure of freedom and allowed to return to Jerusalem and the homeland. Fast forward 18 years, the crisis is over, life is becoming settled, new patterns established ~ the temple/still/lies/in/ruins. Perhaps Haggai is an old man on Aug. 29, 520 B.C. Perhaps he even remembers the former glory of the old temple 80 years earlier. Few people alive in 520 B.C. would remember. In fact, the vast majority of adults were born in Babylon at that time. A ruined temple, massive blocks, a haunt for wild animals was the way it always was…. Maybe Haggai was a young man on Aug. 29, 520 B.C. We don’t know Haggai’s age or background…
The temple itself really is not the important thing. It’s what the temple represents that is of utmost importance. The temple represents God’s promises to his people. The temple represents forgiveness and restoration of the people. It’s not that different from this church building, at least in spirit. We need reminders of God’s promises. We need his protection, forgiveness. It is good to keep the building clean, doing our best to maintain, improve, as a symbol of what we think of God and how we want people to have access to him. 30 years ago I was in a church that had literally about 25 years of old posters on the bulletin board. I looked around the church in an effort to clean and improve it, and it looked like nobody cared, a dusty musty place… The temple represented God’s promises, a place where the people meet with God, the temple represented a continuity of God’s people through time. As the temple lay in ruins, unusable, unsafe, uninviting, the ruins reflected the people’s heart. 18 years since the people returned from Babylon, and the temple was still wasted.
Sometimes you gotta shake the etch-a-sketch and start over… Haggai was used by God to bring the question to a head to the people: are you going to continue in your dead end patterns, or are you going to let God shake up your life, and have a new start? The temple is a symbol of the spirit of God within. The long destroyed temple was a reflection of the place of importance of God in the lives of the Israelites. RUINS. 18 years, and still the people determined the time was not right. If not now, when?
“Give careful thought” says Haggai, be deliberate. God wants your heart, God wants to have a relationship with you. God wants to bless you. Are you ready for God to shake up your life? I love this description (by Joyce Baldwin) of the time of Haggai: “the year 520 BC was one of crisis for Jerusalem. It was not the kind of crisis obvious to all, as when a threat of invasion shocks a whole nation into action, but the dangerous state of moral paralysis which accepts as normal conditions that demand drastic changes.” (Haggai, Zecchariah, Malachi, pg. 27)…. Does that describe us? As a nation, as individuals… we accept as normal that which we should challenge… we get worn out, we compromise, we feel alone, we even feel abandoned by God, but it’s us, who puts him in second place… we want the world to be a better place, we want our lives to be better, but the temple lies in ruins because we don’t have the energy to set it right. This isn’t about the temple, it’s about our hearts lying in ruin because we are worn out, don’t have the energy…. Crazy making,// insanity if you will, is when you have values and beliefs that don’t match your actions…
I was always taught your highest priorities, the most moral statement you can make, is to look at your calendar and check book: how you spend your time and money. Surprised to see an empty seat at the Super Bowl stadium, a diehard fan remarked about it to a woman sitting nearby. "It was my husband's," the woman explained, "But he died." "I'm very sorry," said the man. "Yet I'm really surprised that another relative, or friend, didn't jump at the chance to take the seat reserved for him." "Beats me," she said. "They all insisted on going to the funeral." Priorities...
Haggai’s challenge is for us to carefully consider our priorities…READ Hag. 1:2. The people were simply making excuses. Nah…we’d never do that… Here’s a couple of true stories of police officers stopping speeders:
“One night many years ago I was on patrol and observed a vehicle blow through a red light at a major intersection. There had been plenty of time to stop, yet the vehicle had not even slowed down. I stopped the car and asked the young female driver why she had done that. The girl told me she had just had her brakes repaired, it had been very expensive, and she DIDN'T WANT TO WEAR THEM DOWN! Usually I give people a pass if I haven't heard their excuse before, but in this case she got the ticket.”
Excuses. Why you do things you don’t want to do… why you don’t follow through, get a long overdue project done, get your life in order… The people in Haggai’s day truly intended to build God’s house, but they just hadn’t gotten around to it yet, “The time has not yet come for the Lord’s house to be built!” Some of you old timers may remember the wooden “coin” that used to circulate with the word “T-U-I-T.” It was a round tuit, a reminder to quit putting off that which you need to do… “The time has not yet come…” That’s just an excuse. They forgot to ask God what he thought about it. They built their own homes first, and then presumptuously claimed to know better than God when the temple should be rebuilt. Nothing wrong with having a place to lay your head, But it’s been 18 years! ~~~~~ What have you been putting off?
Here is one person’s list of excuses the people might have for their delay of building the temple:
1) God wants us to take care of our own families, doesn’t he?
2) The job is too big. We’ll never finish it.
3) Not our fault so it’s not our job.
4) Someone else will do it if we don’t
5) We need to pray about it some more.
Why the delay of building the temple? a better time or an easier time. Whatever the reason the result was the same: delay, delay, delay. When are you going to get your life together???…Be done with excuses. The only real reason on specific goals to delay is if God truly closes the doors…
Haggai asks a penetrating Question READ Hag. 1:3-4. There’s nothing wrong with having a nice home. The houses that the Israelites built are called “paneled houses” indicating luxury, more deluxe than what most people’s homes. This is about priorities. This isn’t an attack on riches or big houses. But it’s wrong to own a nice home while God’s house lies in ruins. It’s a matter of misplaced priorities.
I like this story of of a lighthouse along a lonely coast. The keeper was given enough oil for one month and told to keep the light burning every night. One day a woman asked for oil so that her children could stay warm. Then a farmer came. His son needed oil for a lamp so he could read. Still another needed some for an engine. The keeper saw each as a worthy request and measured out just enough oil to satisfy all. Near the end of the month, the tank in the lighthouse ran dry. That night the beacon was dark and three ships crashed on the rocks. More than 100 lives were lost. When a government official investigated, the man explained what he had done and why. "You were given one task alone," insisted the official. "It was to keep the light burning. Everything else was secondary. There is no defense."
There are a lot of good competing needs in your life. But what is most important? Living in luxury and neglecting the things of God is out of balance.
Now comes the consequences of the people’s misplaced priorities: READ Hag. 1:5-6. When you make that which is secondary to be your primary focus in life, somehow there is a resounding emptiness. All of these are good things, but if you neglect that which is most important, if you neglect the spirit of God that is within you, if you neglect the peace of Christ, there will always be something missing… what happens in your heart effects every other part of your life. Because the people had pushed God out of the center of life, they were now suffering in every other area. When you have misplaced priorities, there is something that is missing, life feels so hollow. The people had good homes, but somehow it wasn’t enough… For the people in Haggai’s day: Fields without produce, Action without satisfaction, Labor without profit, Fruitless toil … fleeting riches … unsatisfied hunger … any of you feel like the money you get is like putting it in pockets with holes?????
Can I testify to the opposite truth. Believe me, I can be cheap with my money, but I have learned that when I open up my wallet and give, even when I don’t think I have enough, somehow there is enough. I know I am talking to a community that doesn’t have enough money, many are in poverty, yet I say test God and put him first, your time, your energy, your resouces… and you’ll be amazed. We all want to have good priorities that are honoring to God, yet fear immobilizes us… and so we make excuses… and when we do that, we do find temporary pleasure but in the long run a life of unsatisfaction.
Let God shake up your life. This is not about guilt, it’s about opportunity. If you are feeling guilt, that is NOT my intention. The time is always right to put God first and to reorder our priorities. This is an opportunity to carefully consider what’s most important, and to start over, an opportunity to take care of that which you have neglected, an opportunity to have a fresh start. [shake] Haggai is not primarily a book of judgment; it’s a book of grace and God giving you one more opportunity to get your life right, to focus on him, to find peace and happiness, to be satisfied. As long as you have breath, there is always one more opportunity to change your patterns, to make different choices. God wants to shake up your life! No more excuses, no more unproductive living, Give careful consideration to your priorities. Amen.