Does Your Bag Have Holes?

Haggai 1

Today we begin a new sermon series on a forgotten book of the Bible. In fact this particular book is so forgotten that you may have trouble finding it. I like to tell people that Haggai is right after Zephaniah and just before Zechariah but that usually doesn’t help much. After all, if you can’t find Haggai you probably can’t find Zephaniah either.

Let’s begin with an observation. The location of this book in the Old Testament is an important clue. Haggai is the third from the last book in the Old Testament. It’s place there on purpose because the time period it covers comes near the end of Old Testament history. In fact this is one of the easiest books of the Bible to date. We know that Haggai prophesied in the second year of king Darius of Persia (1:1). We also know that his first prophecy came in the first day of the sixth month of the second year of his reign. Scholars tell us that works out to be exactly August 29, 520 B.C.—or basically 2500 years ago. 520 B.C. is very near the end of Old Testament history—the only books that come later are Nehemiah (ca. 444 B.C.) and Malachi (ca. 420 B.C.). As a side note, Haggai and Zechariah were contempories who prophesied about the same time.

Solomon’s Temple

Now in order to understand the message of this book, we need to get a grasp of several important points of biblical history. First of all, when Solomon was king of Israel (970-930 B.C.) he built a magnificent temple in Jerusalem. It was constructed of such expensive material that people came from throughout the ancient world to gaze upon it. The Jews rightly regarded it as the greatest national treasure. They revered the temple because it was the place where God dwelled with man. As such it represented the heart and soul of the Old Testament religion.

In the centuries after Solomon the people repeated turned away from God in favor of idolatry. As a result God used the Babylonians to judge his people and to purify them from their sin. That brings us to a very key date: 586 B.C. That was when the Babylonian army, under King Nebuchadnezzar—defeated Judah, destroyed the walls of Jerusalem, laid waste to the city, and utterly destroyed Solomon’s temple. Nothing was left when the Babylonians were finished. It was like Atlanta after Sherman, Richmond after Grant, and Berlin after the allied forces were through in World War II. The entire city was a smoking ruin of rubble.

Meanwhile the Jews themselves were taken into captivity in Babylon. There they “hung their harps on a willow tree” and wept for the city of Jerusalem. Fifty long years passed and then God raised up Cyrus of Persia who permitted the Jews to return under the leadership of a man named Zerubbabel. In 538 B.C. he led about 50,000 people back to Judah. There they found shocking devastation. Nothing had changed since the defeat some 50 years earlier.

Immediately the returnees set about to rebuild the temple in about 536 B.C.. They re-laid the foundation amid a great celebration (see Ezra 3 for details). Then suddenly the Samaritans (who hated the Jews) began to oppose them. After all, the Samaritans had no reason to want the temple rebuilt or for the Jews to return to prosperity. Because of their constant opposition, the Jews stopped the rebuilding the process and never got started again. After all there was plenty of other work to do—they were trying to restart a nation from scratch. As the years passed slowly but surely Jerusalem came to life again. Homes were built, stores opened, commerce established, fields planted, crops harvested, and life began to resemble something of a normal pattern.

Overgrown With Weeds

There was only one problem. The temple foundation still lay in ruins—overgrown with weeds. Every time the Jews passed it, it stood as a mute reminder of their failure to take care of God’s house.

Sixteen years pass. Now we come to the summer of 520 B.C. Enter Haggai, about whom we know nothing except what is in this book and a few verses in Ezra. God raises him up to deliver four brief messages in five months—from August to December, 520 B.C. When I say brief, I mean really brief. The whole book is only 38 verses long. You can easily read it in less than 10 minutes. The message of this little book is clear: It’s time to finish rebuilding the temple.

Haggai’s words are blunt, plain-spoken, direct, vivid. He pulls no punches and wastes no words. In my mind, Haggai is the foreman of the Old Testament. I see him with a hardhat and a toolbelt walking around the construction site giving orders left and right. He has only one goal in mind: Get that temple rebuilt and do it now!

God Speaks to Misplaced Priorities

With that as background let’s take a quick look at his first message, which takes up all fifteen verses of chapter 1.

A Bad Excuse 2

This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘‘These people say, ‘The time has not yet come for the LORD’s house to be built.’”

This is easy to understand, isn’t it? They were simply making excuses. They truly intended to build God’s house, but they just hadn’t gotten around to it yet. They were frozen by fear, stifled by selfishness, and paralyzed by presumption. They were afraid of the Samaritans so they selfishly built their own homes, and then presumptuously claimed to know better than God when the temple should be rebuilt.

Let’s think of some excuses they might have offered for their delay:

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.

6) I don’t think we need a temple anyway.

7) The time just isn’t right.

8) Our motives are good, but we’re just too busy!!!

They were looking for A) a better time and B) an easier time. But the result was the same in every case: delay, delay, delay.

It’s lways easy to make excuses when you don’t want to obey God.

Someone reading this story might wonder why the temple was so important. Just remember that in the Old Testament the temple represented God’s presence on earth. Thus God’s reputation was at stake in the rebuilding. The pagans would draw wrong conclusions if the temple were never rebuilt. They would assume that the Jews didn’t care about their God. How could they if they left his temple in ruins? At the same time the Jews were also teaching their children that God doesn’t matter.

Thus rebuilding the temple was a major issue to God—and should have been to the people.

A Penetrating Question 3-4

Then the word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai: ‘‘Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?”

Please understand. There’s nothing wrong with having a nice home. 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. This was especially notable since most people lived in tiny stone houses, but evidently the Jews were building large paneled homes—which just made the situation worse.



A Pointed Judgment 5-6, 9-11

Now this is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘‘Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.” … ‘‘You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?” declares the LORD Almighty. ‘‘Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house. Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the oil and whatever the ground produces, on men and cattle, and on the labor of your hands.”

Here we come to a sobering reminder that 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. They had …

Fields without produce

Action without satisfaction

Labor without profit

Fruitless toil … fleeting riches … unsatisfied hunger … futile defenses/



This is the Law of the Unproductive Harvest. It happens to us over and over until we learn that God will not be mocked. Why would God do this? He allows us to suffer the results of our wrong choices in order to get our attention, to convict of sin, and to lead us to repentance. God knows how to ring your phone. He knows where you live and he knows how to reach your private line any time he wants.

A Call to Action 7-8

This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘‘Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,” says the LORD.

In all of life there is a time to talk and a time to act, a time to consider and a time to stop talking and starting doing. This was a time to act. Because they had not honored God, every area of life was suffering. The only remedy was to stop making excuses and start doing what God had told them to do 16 years earlier.

A United Response 12

Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the whole remnant of the people obeyed the voice of the LORD their God and the message of the prophet Haggai, because the LORD their God had sent him. And the people feared the LORD.

All great movements must start with the leaders. First Zerubbabel and Joshua committed to obeying God and then all the people followed their lead. Everything rise and falls on leadership. That principle is still true today.



A Positive Promise 13

Then Haggai, the LORD’s messenger, gave this message of the LORD to the people: ‘‘I am with you,” declares the LORD.

God honors those who do his work. Here’s an important insight that many Christians never discover: God is on the hard road. He’s not sitting with the couch potatoes. The hard road looks difficult and daunting. All of us would rather be on the easy road. God is calling you to stop making excuses and get in the ball game.

Do you want to know the ironic thing between the easy road and the hard road? The easy road looks easy but once you get on it, it turns into the hard road. And the hard road looks hard but once you do the hard thing in life, it turns out to be the easy thing. The easy road is deceptive. It is the way of destruction, poverty, starvation and desperation. It is the way to wasted days, wasted weeks, wasted months, and wasted years. The hard road which appears to be so difficult is ultimately the road of blessing, fulfillment, and lasting spiritual growth. It is the road that leads you to the top. The easy road takes you down to the bottom. The only road that goes to the top is the hard road. It is tough, but it is the only one that goes where you want to go with your life.

God honors those who stop making excuses. He promises to be with those who dare to take him seriously.

A Good Beginning 14-15

So the LORD stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of the whole remnant of the people. They came and began to work on the house of the LORD Almighty, their God, on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month in the second year of King Darius.

Dr. Ryrie comments that seldom has any sermon had such an immediate practical impact. Haggai preached one message and 24 days later the people began to rebuild the temple. Would that any of my sermons had the same kind of united, enthusiastic response!

Note please that it happened because the Lord stirred up the spirit of the people. This is an important note because it reminds us that God’s work ultimately depends on God. He must give the orders, he must give the energy, he must give the desire, and then he must stir up the spirits of his people before anything good will be done. It reminds me of the Latin phrase—soli deo gloria, which means “To God alone be the glory.” In the end God has arranged the moral universe so that he alone gets the glory for any good that is accomplished. Everything depends on him, yet he holds us fully accountable to do his will, yet without his enablement his will will never be done. This is not only a mystery, it is also a great encouragement because in the final analysis everything depends on God.

III. Abiding Lessons For Discouraged Carpenters

Let’s focus on three primary lessons from this ancient story. First, there is a lesson about …

Putting First Things First

Jesus said, “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and yet lose his own soul?” The people of Haggai’s day were so busy trying to gain the whole world that they were in effect losing their own souls. They made every excuse in the book for not doing God’s work. And not all the excuses were wrong, but they were all sinful because they caused the people to push God from the center to the circumference of life.

We make precisely the same mistake today. I know many people who truly intend to give generously to the Lord’s work. Each paycheck they sincerely intend to give something to God. But first they pay the mortgage or the rent, then they pay the electric bills, then the other utilities, then the food bill, then the credit card bills, then they set some aside for savings and some for recreation. Pretty soon that stack of dollar bills just disappears. And so does the money they intended to give to God.

As I thought of this principle my mind drifted to my friend Jerry Hansen. He and I became friends some years ago when I pastored a church in Garland, Texas. He now lives in Miami where he and his wife Beverly work in the garment industry. Jerry is one of those men who knows how to make money … and also how to lose it. Several times he told me about how he had made money and lost it and then made it again only to lose it again. Over lunch one day he pointed to his watch and said, “I remember a time when I was so broke, the only thing I owned was my watch. Everything else was gone. But I’ve learned an important lesson through it all. You can’t give God 99%.” He wants it all and he won’t be satisfied until he has it all.

It’s sad that sometimes it takes losing everything to realize that it all belongs to God. None of it belongs to us. We’re just in temporary possession of the things we call our own. Happy is the man who understands that everything belongs to our Heavenly Father. Or to say it another way, Happy is the man who holds lightly what he values greatly.

Second, this story teaches us something about …

 

Getting Started Again

I find tremendous encouragement in this story. After all, it’s hard to get started after 16 years. I’m sure the Jews never meant to let the temple lie in ruins that long. But after a few months the weeds began to overgrow the site and at that point, it was easier just to let it go. Maybe they felt guilty, and I’m sure that over the years they established several Temple Completion Task Forces to study the problem and make recommendations. But despite their good or not-so-good intentions, nothing ever happened.

I know that some of us feel stuck today. You need to get started again, you need a new direction in your spiritual life, you want to begin again, but you don’t know how and you don’t know where and you don’t know what to do.

“I’ve Forgiven Him a Million Times”

Often it’s our guilt over the past that holds us back. Sometimes it’s our frustration with the way life has been that keeps us striking out in a new direction. This week I spent time with a new friend who told me about her divorce several years ago. It seems that after many years of marriage her husband left her for another woman. She went through all the stages of grief and anger, she said, but then added that “it was good for me because I learned so much about myself and about God.” Then she added an interesting note. “I guess I’ve forgiven my ex a million times. And I have to do it every single day.” To which I added, “And you’ll probably have to forgive him a million more times before it’s over.”



Let me illustrate this truth from two unrelated sources. The first story comes from the sad days after the Civil War, when the people of the South began to rebuild their homeland. Understandably, many people were quite bitter in the wake of military defeat, but not General Robert E. Lee—who happened to be a fervent Christian. One day he happened to visit with a woman in Kentucky who showed him a giant tree in her front yard that had shattered by Union artillery fire. She spoke with great bitterness, expecting the general to sympathize with her. What should she does about the tree? After a moment’s pause, General Lee replied, “Why cut it down, madam, and forget about it.” The general understood the vital truth that if you’re going to move forward, you can’t live in the past any more.

The second story comes from a recent interview with the newly-appointed Ambassador to Vietnam, Pete Peterson. Mr. Peterson’s appointment is ironic because he served 6 years as a prisoner of war in the dreaded Hanoi Hilton. Now he goes back to the land where he was held captive—not for revenge, but to represent the United States. When asked how he could do such a thing after years of starvation, torture, and inhuman brutality, he replied, “I’m not angry. I left that at the gates of the prison when I walked out in 1972. That may sound simplistic to some people, but it’s the truth. I just left it behind me and decided to move forward with my life.”

This week a simple thought has come to my mind more than once. It goes like this:

I can’t go back

I can’t stay here

I must go forward

You can’t go back to the past—not to relive the good times or to seek revenge for the bad times. But you can’t stay where you are either. Life is like a river that flows endlessly onward. It matters not whether you are happy in your present situation or whether you seek to be delivered from it. You can’t stay where you are forever. The only way to go is forward.

Forward!

That’s what General Lee was trying to say to the embittered Kentucky woman. Sometimes you have to cut the tree down and simply forget about the past. The war is over, it’s time to move on.

For some of us that may mean deciding not to reread the letters that dredge up old hurts. It may mean leaving one job for another. It certainly means that you won’t be constantly talking about how others have hurt you.

A man whose wife suffered greatly at the hands of her enemies told me that she had taken a “vow of silence” regarding her critics. She decided that rather than lower herself to the level of her critics, she would simply not reply at all. This is difficult, but at least it frees a person to move forward with God.

God only has one direction for his people: Forward! He never leads us back into the past and he rarely lets us stay where we are very long. That’s why the first two letters of the gospel spell our marching orders: Go!

When you tempted to get even with those who hurt you, remember that you can’t go back, you can’t stay where you are, but by God’s grace, you can move forward one step at a time.

Third, this story teaches us something about …

 

About Immediate Obedience

The people of Haggai’s day meant well but good intentions don’t matter when it comes to obeying God. Remember: It’s always easy to find excuses when you don’t want to obey God. When God says, Build the temple, he doesn’t mean tomorrow or next week. He means, Build it now!

Procrastination is a sin if it keeps you from obeying God. We all have our excuses for not doing what we know we ought to do. So we never write that letter and nevr make that phone call. We don’t get out and look for a job. We never get around to witnessing to our friends. We don’t turn in the application and we never start the savings account. That’s why we don’t lose weight and we don’t save money. Our excuses keep us from the hard road of obedience. But you know what an excuses is, don’t you? It’s the skin of a reason stuffed with a lie. Once we stop making excuses, we’re then ready to obey God. Until then, we’re doomed to be stuck in spiritual neutral.

When God calls, we must obey—not tomorrow. Today. God’s work must be done now. Not next month or next year. Now.

Risky Obedience

I have often spoken to you about Greg and Carolyn Kirschner, our missionaries in Nigeria. This week I received a message from them that spoke about some of the difficulties of living in an underdeveloped, Third World country. They spoke of sickness, danger, the lack of medical equipment, and about the potential danger to their children of being raised in that environment. After listing some of the problems, they came right to the point.

As a parent, it raises lots of concerns–what it if happened to our family, especially our children? Are we really ready to handle the fact that our medical resources are very limited here? For example, we have one ventilator–used about once a year–that probably wouldn’t work well at all for a child. There is no MRI scan machine in the country, and maybe no working CT scanner. On a smaller scale, the episodes of stomach upset and diarrhea are a recurring annoyance, as is the constant exposure to malaria. Why take the risk of living here?

Perhaps some people enjoy the “thrill” of such adventures, or risk taking. If you know us, you know we don’t fit that category! Rather, the risks we take by living here are part of the risk we take by believing in that which is not seen–that is, by believing in God. Placing our faith in an unseen God IS risky–especially if that faith demands trusting God’s providence in real, tangible ways. Yes, we would prefer to be living somewhere where a few of the risks were reduced. But obedience to God at this time in our lives require that we be in this “risky” environment.

Ponder that last sentence for a moment. They have concluded that obeying God means that they will have to leave the “safety” of America for the “danger” of Africa. But they are willing to risk it all in order to obey God.

 

Moral Paralysis

In her commentary on Haggai, Joyce Baldwin speaks of the “moral paralysis” that keeps us from obeying God. Because we know what God wants us to do and because we don’t want to do it, our lives are stuck in a kind of permanent spiritual neutral—we can’t go forward or backward. We just stay where we are—miserable and unfulfilled. Then she added this telling sentence: “To think that any time will do to become serious about His cause is to fail him completely.” Absolutely right. That was the problem in Haggai’s day. The people intended to obey God, but because they kept delaying they ended up not obeying him at all.

Let me share one final story and two quick illustrations and I’m done. Last Thursday I spoke to our Allied Force high school group on “How to Know God’s Will.” I would guess that 50+ students attended the meeting. It was incredibly exciting to see the whole program—including the music—directed by our students. You could feel the energy, sense the excitement, and smell the joy in the air. As I sat there listening and waiting to time the thought occurred to me that there is incredible potential in our high school group. These kids could literally change the world. And I hope they do.

 

What Difference Will it Make in 10,000 Years?

During my little talk I shared a bit about how God had led me step by step from my teenage years to where I am today. The main burden of my talk was to show them that their relationship with God is much more important than any one decision they may make. God wants them to know him deeply and intimately in every area of life, and if they will commit themselves to know God like that, he promises to direct their path. To put it simply, I told them that doing God’s will was really God’s problem, not theirs. All they had to do was make themselves fully available to him and he would do the rest.

Then I shared a question that I learned from Vernon Grounds 11 years ago. He said that whenever you face a major decision, you should ask yourself, “What difference will this make in 10,000 Years?” Great question, because it helps us differentiate between that which matters and that which doesn’t matter at all. Most of the decisions we agonize over won’t matter in three weeks or three years, much less 10,000 years from now. But what will matter 10,000 times 10,000 years from now is whether or now you commit yourself to being God’s man or God’s woman without reservation, no holds barred, no strings attached. Make that commitment and the rest of life will eventually fall into place. If you don’t, you’ll struggle for the rest of your days.

“Your Job is Too Small”

In one of his sermons Ravi Zacharias tells the story of beloved missionary Robert Jaffray of Canada. He came from a wealthy family and in fact was heir to a large newspaper fortune in Toronto. When he was a young man, he learned the Chinese language and was offered a large salary by Standard Oil of New York if he would forego his missionary career and work for them. He refused so they doubled their salary offer. He refused again. They cabled him with this message: “Robert Jaffary. At anycost.” He cabled back, “You salary is big. Your job is too small.”

What a fantastic perspective on life. Would that we could see our priorities so clearly.

Let God Fill in the Details

One final illustration and I am done. In one of his books Dr. Dobson tells of a missionary who came home after a long career overseas. As a man of great gifts, he had passed up the opportunity for a lucrative career in the states to serve in some islands of the Pacific. Someone asked him the inevitable question: “Don’t you regret giving up a promising career in the state?” He replied that as a young man he had indeed wrestled with that reality. For many months he had argued with God and attempted to make a deal whereby he would serve God if God would agree to certain conditions. But he had no peace in his soul. Finally one day he went to the sanctuary of his church, knelt at the altar, and determined to stay there until the matter was settled.

For a long time he argued with God about his life. But every time he tried to offer conditions he felt the Lord refusing him. Finally he sensed the Lord saying to him, “Sign a blank piece of paper and give it to me.” The man did that, and the Lord said, “Now let me fill in the details.”

That was the turning point of his life. Everything that had happened since then, he said, was simply God filling in the details.

Have you ever done that? If not, you need to.

No more excuses! Now! Today! You!

What is keeping you from obeying God? Where is the “moral paralysis in your own life? What is God calling you to do that you are resisting right now? Do you see where your resistance is hurting yourself?

Yesterday a friend spoke to me about his struggles in this area. He said that he envisions his life as a great ship with the Lord at the helm. But every so often he wants to tap God on the shoulder and say, “Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” We all feel that way at times, don’t we?

Rest easy, my friend. There’s a steady hand at the helm and he doesn’t need any help from you. But you’ll never know until you give him full control of your life.

 

Forward!

That’s what General Lee was trying to say to the embittered Kentucky woman. Sometimes you have to cut the tree down and simply forget about the past. The war is over, it’s time to move on.

For some of us that may mean deciding not to reread the letters that dredge up old hurts. It may mean leaving one job for another. It certainly means that you won’t be constantly talking about how others have hurt you.

A man whose wife suffered greatly at the hands of her enemies told me that she had taken a “vow of silence” regarding her critics. She decided that rather than lower herself to the level of her critics, she would simply not reply at all. This is difficult, but at least it frees a person to move forward with God.

God only has one direction for his people: Forward! He never leads us back into the past and he rarely lets us stay where we are very long. That’s why the first two letters of the gospel spell our marching orders: Go!

When you tempted to get even with those who hurt you, remember that you can’t go back, you can’t stay where you are, but by God’s grace, you can move forward one step at a time.

Third, this story teaches us something about …

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RAY PRITCHARD

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