Thursday, October 20, 2011

Reflections on the Kingdom of God: What are We Working For?

Our daughter, Molly, was home from Chicago this weekend.  On the way home from the airport, she brought up the “Occupy” movement.  She wondered why there was so little press about what was taking place.  It seems pretty important to her. 

Seattle has had pretty extensive press because we are a city that likes our freedom to express ourselves.  We have a history of demonstrations, the one in 1999 with the World Trade Organization as perhaps most famous.  Even our mayor seems in sympathy with those gathered at Westlake; it seems he has even given up wanting to arrest them for violating the park permit of no sleep overs!
I find it interesting that even those walking into their buildings on Wall Street seem sympathetic with the protesters.  So, if they are sympathetic, who are the oppressors?

I am once again reminded that the Bible is a timeless book and that nothing new comes under the sun.  I read Haggai today and felt like the prophet Haggai could be here today giving the same message to us.  So, what is it?
Let’s read most of the first chapter from the Message:

2A Message from God-of-the-Angel-Armies: "The people procrastinate. They say this isn't the right time to rebuild my Temple, the Temple of God."

3-4Shortly after that, God said more and Haggai spoke it: "How is it that it's the 'right time' for you to live in your fine new homes while the Home, God's Temple, is in ruins?"

5-6And then a little later, God-of-the-Angel-Armies spoke out again:

"Take a good, hard look at your life.
Think it over.
You have spent a lot of money,
but you haven't much to show for it.
You keep filling your plates,
but you never get filled up.
You keep drinking and drinking and drinking,
but you're always thirsty.
You put on layer after layer of clothes,
but you can't get warm.
And the people who work for you,
what are they getting out of it?
Not much—
a leaky, rusted-out bucket, that's what.
7That's why God-of-the-Angel-Armies said:

"Take a good, hard look at your life.
Think it over."
8-9Then God said:

"Here's what I want you to do:
Climb into the hills and cut some timber.
Bring it down and rebuild the Temple.
Do it just for me. Honor me.
You've had great ambitions for yourselves,
but nothing has come of it.
The little you have brought to my Temple
I've blown away—there was nothing to it.

9-11"And why?" (This is a Message from God-of-the-Angel-Armies, remember.) "Because while you've run around, caught up with taking care of your own houses, my Home is in ruins. That's why. Because of your stinginess.  And so I've given you a dry summer and a skimpy crop. I've matched your tight-fisted stinginess by decreeing a season of drought, drying up fields and hills, withering gardens and orchards, stunting vegetables and fruit. Nothing—not man or woman, not animal or crop—is going to thrive."
This message from God, through the Prophet Haggai, is about priorities.  The people that returned from exile to Babylon made their priority about taking care of themselves first.  They forgot about their identity as redeemed chosen people, and they focused on meeting their own needs.  In the process, they worked hard but they had so little to show for it.

According to God, they were working, working, working but they only had a leaky, rusty bucket to show for it (verse 6).  It seems they were going in circles, never getting to their desired destination because they were on the wrong path.
They were experiencing extreme frustration because they were “taking care of their own houses while they forgot about building God’s house.” This was the very reason that they were given permission to come back to Jerusalem.  How quickly they forgot their unique call.  As they continued their futile pursuit, God reminded them that “he’s matched their tight-fisted stinginess by decreeing a season or drought:  nothing, not man or woman, not animal or crop, is going to thrive” (verses 9-11).

Don’t you think that this sounds familiar?  How many of us worked hard to save money only to see it wiped away in a day or two in the stock market?  How many of us put gas in our cars, only to see our hard earned money disappear at an alarming rate in our engines?  How many of us went to college to be trained for a vocation, only to find ourselves working at a job meant for a high school student?
We are going in circles.  We are in a futile pursuit.  We are exhausted and confused.  Why can’t we get ahead?

Are we asking the right question?
Maybe a better question to ask is “What are our priorities?”

Jesus spent a good deal of time in his time on earth challenging priorities.  The Sermon on the Mount is all about priorities.  He ended his teaching with a challenge:  “Will we build our house on the rock or on a sandy beach where any storm can take it down?”
Sound familiar?  I hear an echo of God’s word through Haggai.

The words “Seek first My Kingdom and my righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” come to my mind.
There it is again.  When we prioritize building God’s house, our own houses stand on a firm foundation that can’t be wiped away by any storm that comes our way.

So, what does it mean to build God’s house?
I like to think of it as the difference between a circle and a brick.  When we have a circle of life and Jesus is in it, we have a house build on a sandy beach.  When we have a brick; the rock of Jesus Christ on which everything else is built, we have a house standing on the firm foundation that will never fall.

What’s the difference between a life with Jesus in it and a life built on the rock?
It’s about priorities.  Is Jesus first, or is he one of many priorities in our life?

Here’s my idea to find out where you stand. Spend a day or two being an observer or your thoughts and decisions.  Recognize what you think about in those moments where your mind is allowed to wander: in traffic, or on the subway, or doing dishes.  Are you thinking about how to get ahead or are you communing with your Creator? What are your first thoughts when you wake up or when you go to sleep?
Pay attention to your small decisions.  Not the big ones, but the small ones. What will you do with the extra five minutes before your kids get home from school? Do you turn to the internet or to prayer or God’s word?  How many times do you hit the snooze bar on the alarm before you get up?  Has all your quiet time of reflection in the morning been eaten up so you face another day in a frenzy?  

After you do your work of observation, read through the book of Haggai.  Ask yourself the question, “Where is my priority?  Am I building God’s house or my own house?”  If your answer is my own house, spending time reflecting on the promise Jesus gives us in Matthew 6:33.  When we seek first his kingdom and set things right within our relationship with him, all the “other things” are provided to us.

Then follow the way of God’s direction in Haggai.  Go up into the hills and cut down some trees….which translated for the 21st century is “Take a step.”  Do something to give to the kingdom, to build up God’s house.  Give your time, your money, your precious energy.  And, as you do it, prepare yourself for the blessing that comes from building God’s

1 comment:

Curtis said...


I recently learned the song from a few years ago, I can only imagine (Mercy Me). It struck me that the song writer said he could only imagine what it would be like to walk by the side of Jesus. It seems that we should know what that is like before we get to heaven.

Very good blog...I have homework.