Are We Busy with Ourselves?

“Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.” Then the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now, therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes. “Thus says the Lordof hosts: Consider your ways. Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the Lord. You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the Lord of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house. Therefore the heavens above you have withheld the dew, and the earth has withheld its produce. And I have called for a drought on the land and the hills, on the grain, the new wine, the oil, on what the ground brings forth, on man and beast, and on all their labors.”

(Haggai 1:2–11, ESV)

It cannot be denied that America is a prosperous nation. And the American Christian Church is as well. The above passage from Haggai reminds us that it can become very easy to focus our attention on our own pleasure and comfort rather than upon the Lord and the work that He has given us to do.

The Jews that had returned from exile in Babylon were at one time so thankful to be back in their homeland. And they were thankful that the Lord protected them from the threats all around them as well. But over time, they slowly forgot why they had returned and Who it was that cared for them and loved them, even in their rebellion and disobedience.

As often happens with us, the returned exiles became inwardly focused and forgot all about God. They not only took care of their primary needs for food, shelter, and safety, but they began to work at restoring their wealth and comforts. They sought to fill their barns, and their homes with an abundance of the good things in life. They moved beyond necessity to luxury. And all the while the house of the Lord continued to be in ruins.

God’s rebuke was about more than the building. It always is. It was about the heart, and the treasure we seek always tells us about where our heart is. When we lay aside the things of God in order to chase after our own pursuits, even good ones, we soon can become captive to the gifts while forgetting the Giver of every good and perfect gift.

Nice things aren’t evil. God wasn’t saying for the Israelites to stop fixing their own homes. The problem was that they put God aside. They probably figured that they’d get around to it, or that someone else would pick up the slack. They may have assumed that God wouldn’t mind, or He’d understand. And as time ticked on, God was pushed aside more and more.

It is one thing when those who do not know God personally forget Him. But it is a greater tragedy when the people of God who have so much to be thankful for simply go on with their lives while giving God little more than the left over scraps. I pray that we don’t treat God like that.

Doomsday Preppers

For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know.

(1 Thessalonians 3:4, ESV)

Over the last several decades, many within the American Church have moved from an attitude of expectancy for the imminent return of Christ, to one where the world isn’t so bad and, since we kinda like it here, we should make our stay more comfortable. After all, the world was much more accepting and tolerant of Christian ideals and the gospel message (so long as we modified it a bit and kept all those judgy parts out).

What too many evangelicals forgot was that embedded in the Christian message of Christ is a subversive element that demands that rebellious sinners must bow the knee to Christ and come to him as King and Savior. Somehow evangelicals thought that they could woo and attract the world to like us, then maybe our softer, gentler message, and before they caught on, they’d be loving Jesus. There are still many churches that continue on believing this fantasy.

But as Paul wrote to the Christians in Thessalonica, the church should have maintained its course to proclaim an uncompromising message that would eventually result in a head-on confrontation between Christ’s servants and the servant of the ruler of this world.

Instead of settling in for a long, delightful stay here in this world system that rejects our God, the Church and her ministers should never have capitulated to the spirit of the age, and should have stayed the course. And instead of a watered-down gospel message to the world, the Church should have been proclaiming the message of faith in our God who will carry us through the fire and the water, and will lead us home, even amidst a world that is burning with rage against the King.

Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.”” (Psalm 2:1–3, ESV)

Now, in 2020, the climate has changed, and in many churches where the softer, kinder message of cultural sensitivity has ruled and where being buddies with Jesus was the goal, the people of God are largely left unarmed to defend against an openly hostile public. They have failed to become battle hardened and ready. Many are filled with fear instead of faith. Some are placing their trust elsewhere, like when Israel called upon the pagan nations to save her.

And it’s not as if these things should have surprised Christians. The world has never really been favorable to our faith. They have been more tolerant at times. They have let us speak, and meet and even testify of the Lord. But we have been tolerated, not embraced. Why should we be surprised? Did not our Lord warn us? ““Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” (Luke 6:26, ESV)

It is still not too late to be prepared. If those who have bought into the softer-gentler form of Chrisitanity will faithfully return to the Word of God, we will find that it contains all we need to refocus upon the truth and find our greatest comfort and hope. When we once again place our hope in Christ, our eyes on heaven as our true home, our needs satisfied in Him alone, we will no longer love nor need this world. When we see sin and wickedness more clearly, we will long to be free from this world that drags us down. We will long for our resurrection, for our glorification, for our eyes to see Him face to face, as He is.

We must suffer in this world. We must face persecution. We must be reviled because of Christ. We must be ready. It is coming.

But we must not be afraid. We must not shrink back or compromise. We must not fear man who can only kill the body. We must cling to the One who has saved our souls. We must cling to the promises. We must cling to the cross.

Are your prepared? Are you ready? Jesus is coming soon. Until he comes, may we be engaged in the good warfare, taking as many with us to heaven as we can.

Have You Tasted?

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!

(Psalm 34:8, ESV)

In reading through Isaiah chapters 43-44 this morning, I was struck by the fatherly tone of the Lord as he spoke to his people. There are words of comfort, words of encouragement, words of rebuke and correction, words of hope and words of instruction–all in the span of two chapters.

Pointing back to the centuries of his faithfulness to Israel, the Lord is lovingly calling his people back to himself. As I read these tender words, I was reminded of Psalm 34:8. Israel had tasted and seen that the Lord is good. In these two chapters, she was now being called upon by the Lord to live in a way that was consistent with her experience.

How was she to behave? Quickly I scratched out at least five ways the Lord was calling Israel to respond:

  • By not being fearful (43:1-2, 5).
    • Because of her disobedience, Israel had suffered greatly and Isaiah prophesied that Judah would be next. Severe starvation, exhile in a foreign land, the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem would leave the people filled with fear and foreboding.
    • But notice the tenderness of the Lord’s loving words to his disobedient people: “But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” (Isaiah 43:1–2, ESV)
    • The Lord had not abandoned his people in their time of need. As a matter of fact, he was in control of everything. He had brought this trouble upon them in order to chasten them, because he loved them.
  • By being a witness to the nations (43:10, 12; 44:8).
    • The pagan nations around them could point to gods of wood and stone, but none could save. When Israel had replaced Yahweh with one of these gods, they suffered even more because they offended the Lord with their idolatry.
    • Because they had tasted and seen that the Lord is good, they were called upon to testify of the goodness of God before the world. He had saved them. Just as he claimed in v. 2, he had made them pass through the waters (Ex. 14), through the rivers (Josh 3), and would cause Daniel’s friends to pass through fire and not be burned (Dan. 3).
    • The pagan gods could not do any of this. The Lord called ISrael to produce any evidence of these idols foretelling accurately what would happen. They couldn’t do it. Which idol had brought victory in war? Which idol had provided for them in the wilderness? Which idol could compare to the Lord?
    • If ISrael would only stop and consider what they had tasted and seen, then they would not fail to be a witness to the faithfulness of the Lord.
  • By turning from sin and returning to worship (43:22-28)
    • If they had truly seen all that the Lord had done for them, then Israel was called to turn from their ongoing rebellion and return to worshipping the Lord exclusively as they should.
    • In favor of the gods of their neighbors, they had stopped calling out to Yahweh. They had become weary of worshipping the Lord (42:22). This attitude of the heart manifested itself in their worship.
    • Israel stopped bringing sacrifices, and offerings. Instead, they burdened the Lord with their sins.
    • If only they would remember that he is the God who can take their sin and blot it out. That he alone can bring total forgiveness. The false gods could not do this, and yet Israel had forsaken the One True God and turned to worthless pursuit of these empty idols.
  • By forsaking all idols (44:6-20).
    • If Israel had seen that the Lord was good in his gracious dealings with them in the past, would they also see how foolish idolatry was? How is it that the creation of human hands, so frail and weak, could somehow save the very men who had made it? They were blind to the obvious!
    • And as if that weren’t bad enough, the delusion had a devastating effect upon the nation. How could a stump of wood be expected to be a savior? Not only were these false idols lifeless, but they were also powerless to save and many had died under the deception that they could do anything for them.
    • And yet, here was their God pursuing them! He was calling his wayward people to turn from these false hopes and non-gods and to come back to him. “Remember these things, O Jacob, and Israel, for you are my servant; I formed you; you are my servant; O Israel, you will not be forgotten by me.” (Isaiah 44:21, ESV)
  • By remembering the majesty of the Lord (44:21-28).
    • Finally, Israel would be able to testify to the goodness of God by remembering his majesty in his grace and willingness to forgive, in his creation of all things, in his fulfillment of prophecy which he declares through his servants, and through his building up and bringing low of Jerusalem and his people.
    • If Israel would remember, she would once again taste and see that the Lord is good–and majestic in his sovereignty.

As I thought about each of these, I considered how I too, have tasted and seen that the Lord is good. Have I forgotten in times of fearful fretting? Have I forgotten in my failure to be a faithful witness? Have I been slow to turn from my sin because I have forgotten his lovingkindness and mercy? Has this made me slow and cold in worship? Have I continued to cling to my heart-idols because, like Israel, I have forgotten the sweetness of the Lord to me? Have I remembered that no matter where I am, no matter what my present circumstance, and no matter what this life has brought to me, the Lord in his perfect plan has decreed everything as it should be. He is majestic, and every hill and valley and curve in life is part of his plan.

Our Father in heaven loves us, even when we stray. He sent his Son to save us in the midst of our stubborn rebellion. We not very different from the people of Israel at times. The solution for them is the same as it is for us–turn to the Savior. He will never turn you away.