Relationship, not Religion.
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In Ch. 19 of The Story, fifty thousand of God’s people return from captivity in Babylon to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. The work begins with excitement and enthusiasm. When the foundation is laid, the old timers weep with remembrance of Solomon’s temple. But opposition from neighboring tribes builds. Dissension within the leadership stalls the project. Years go by with no further work on the temple being completed. Instead of looking to God, the people look to themselves and build their own homes. Then the word of the Lord comes to them through the prophet Haggai.
It took me a while to understand what God was trying to tell us in this chapter. The history was interesting, but not the point. As I read it again, the prophecy of Haggai began to make sense to me. Then it really began to make sense. Then I got it. Haggai is not only speaking to Israel, Haggai is speaking to us.
The story of rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem is not about rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem. It is not about the history of Israel, or about the religious tolerance of the kings of Persia. The story of rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem is the story of rebuilding God’s people.
Why does God ask them to rebuild the temple? Is he a creature who needs a dwelling place? Is he a human who needs a bed and a couch and a roof over his head?
Thus says the Lord. Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What is the house that you would build for me? And what is the place of my rest? – Isa 66:1
God created the universe from nothing. He spoke the earth into being. His hands shaped the mountains. His strength pushed back the waters.
For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In His hand are the caverns of the earth; the heights of the hills are his also. The sea is His, for He made it, and His hands formed the dry land. – Ps 95:4-5
Is the One who hung the stars in the heavens impressed with our construction? He says to the mountain “rise up”; He tells the wind “go there”.
All these things my hand has made and so all these things came to be, declares the Lord. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in Spirit and trembles at my word. – Isa 66:2
The Lord doesn’t need a house. God is not impressed by our efforts. He tells them to build the temple so He may be worshipped and glorified. He tells them to build that He may delight in their devotion. He tells them to build so they will seek him first, making Him a priority.
But the work is difficult. There is opposition. Their efforts to rebuild the temple slow, then stall, then stop. They turn from building God’s house to building their own houses.
Consider their ways, says the Lord of hosts.
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. – Hag 1:6
Consider your ways, says the Lord of hosts.
God is not impressed by our efforts. He tells us to seek Him so He may be worshipped and glorified. He tells us to seek Him that He may delight in our devotion. He tells us to seek Him first, that we might live in abundance.
But this work is difficult. There is opposition. Our efforts to give God priority slow, then stall, then stop. We turn our focus from God to ourselves.
We have sown much, and harvested little. 44% of Americans feel more stressed today than they did five years ago. 20% of us live in extreme stress. Why do choose to live this way? For cars and clothes and houses and stuff? Why do we accept such little return on the investment of our very lives? Why, when God has a better way? Jesus says, “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt 6:20-21).
We eat, but we never have enough; we drink, but we never have our fill. 66% of us are overweight. 34% of us report binge or heavy drinking in the last month. 15.1 million adults struggle with alcohol. If living this way makes us happy, why are we eating ourselves to death? If we find so much joy in the world, why do we drink so much to avoid it? Paul describes us like this, “Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things” (Phil 3:19).
You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. How quickly our clothing stops being about us and starts being about what others think of us. We are uncomfortable in our own skin, so we cover it up. If I don’t trust God to take care of me, then I have to take care of me, then I have to look a certain way to get what I want. And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? (Mt 6:28-30)
And we who earn wages do so only to put them into a bag with holes. We surround ourselves with things, we fill our days with busy-ness. We buy clothes we can’t wear because we eat too much food. We feel bad about our bodies, so we drink to dull the pain. Which really only delays the pain, ’cause you know you’re gonna’ feel it tomorrow. So we go to work hungover, and we can’t concentrate, we don’t produce, so we have to work longer to earn the same paycheck that we use to go out and buy ____________ more clothes! Jesus explains our insanity, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Mt 6:24).
This is madness! But we live in the middle of the whirlwind and we just — can’t — see it.
So what do we do to step out of the whirlwind? What do we do to open our eyes? Seek first the Kingdom of God.
We are people who “…have sown much, and harvested little. We eat, but we never have enough; we drink, but we never have your fill. We clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And we earns wages only to put them into a bag with holes.” (Hag 1:6)
What can we do to change all that? Seek first the Kingdom of God.
Do you want to sow little and harvest much? Seek first the Kingdom of God.
Do you want to eat enough and drink your fill? Seek first the Kingdom of God.
Do you want to stop worrying about how you look? Seek first the Kingdom of God.
Do you want to keep your wages, building up your reward for the work you have done? Then seek first the Kingdom of God!
Stop seeking first the Kingdom of YOU!
The Kingdom of you will crumble. The Kingdom of you will fall. Don’t pour out your life for the wages of this world that will be consumed like grass in a fire. Don’t seek your own glory and honor and power. For yours is the glory, oh Lord, yours is the glory and honor and power! Work for the glory of the Lord, let it be for his honor. By his power we live and move and have our being. Seek God in prayer. Devote yourselves to worship. Study the Scriptures. Serve the poor. Give your life away: your gifts, your skills, your personality, your money, your time. Give your life for the benefit of others and see how God gives it back to you tenfold.
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. – Mt 6:33
This is not some health and wealth gospel lie. The amazing thing about seeking first God’s kingdom is the amounts don’t change. You do. God probably won’t give you more money or food or clothes. God will give you a new perspective, so you can appreciate what you have, so you are satisfied with what you have, so you can see the abundance of what God has already given you instead of always wanting more.
You know one of the definitions of a rich person? Someone who has everything he wants, everything she wants. There are two ways to look at that. One way, our way, is to have everything. The other way, God’s way, is to want only what God gives us. And the only way to do that, my friends, is to seek first the Kingdom of God.
https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db71.htm “Sugar drinks: For these analyses, sugar drinks include fruit drinks, sodas, energy drinks, sports drinks, and sweetened bottled waters, consistent with definitions reported by the National Cancer Institute (8). Sugar drinks do not include diet drinks, 100% fruit juice, sweetened teas, and flavored milks. Population estimates of sugar-drink kilocalories are based on data from one in-person, 24-hour dietary recall interview.”