Waiting for Blessings
June 16, 2018 | Brian Bill
According to some accounts, the first Father’s Day came about when a woman named Sonora Smart Dodd was listening to a Mother’s Day sermon and thought that dads were also deserving of a day of praise. Her own dad, a civil war survivor, raised six children on his own after his wife died.
Dad’s day was originally on June 5, the anniversary of her dad’s death, but was later moved to the third Sunday in June.
We all have important dates in our life. The date of our wedding was July 13, 1985. Beth’s birthday is marked in my memory. The birthdates of each of our daughters is indelibly etched in my mind. My parent’s birthdays are on my calendar. I even sort of remember the birthdates of my four sisters…though I usually end up sending belated birthday cards to them.
Our oldest daughter Emily got married this past weekend and her wedding date will never be forgotten.
As we wind down our study of the Book of Haggai, there are some significant time stamps that give us the setting for the prophet’s sermons.
Haggai 1:1 – “In the second year of King Darius, on the first day of the sixth month…”
Haggai 2:1 – “On the twenty-first day of the seventh month…”
Haggai 2:10 – “On the twenty fourth day of the ninth month…”
Let’s briefly recall the back-story of the Book of Haggai. After returning from exile in Babylon, God’s people have been tasked with rebuilding God’s Temple. They eagerly laid the foundation but because of opposition and their own selfish priorities, they stopped working for 16 years. Haggai was called on the scene to mobilize the people to get back on the job. After putting God back at the center of their lives, they went to work doing what they were called to do.
But now it’s been three months since they started the rebuilding project and frankly the people are wondering where God’s blessing is. Have you ever asked questions like this: Is it really worth it to follow God? Why am I still struggling so much when I’m trying to do what’s right? I’m trying to obey but why isn’t God blessing me?
Two weeks ago we learned that becoming holy requires intentional effort while being unholy requires no effort.
Last week, Pastor Tim taught that less of self plus more of the Lord creates spiritual growth.
While it was a blast to see friends and family last weekend, it was especially enjoyable to spend time with Pip, our grandson. We loved watching how his parents, Jamie and Lydia, are working hard to discipline and disciple him. One way they reinforce the importance of obedience is by repeating a phrase when he does the right thing: “You chose to obey: hooray!” They’ve since shortened this to, “Obey: hooray!” It’s so cute to hear him reciting this with a big smile on face.
We’re going to incorporate this phrase into the main idea of the sermon from Haggai 2:15-20: Hooray, today is the day I will obey!
As we read our text listen for the phrase, “from this day onward” and “from this day on.” This helps us see the importance of deciding today: “Now then, consider from this day onward. Before stone was placed upon stone in the temple of the Lord, how did you fare? When one came to a heap of twenty measures, there were but ten. When one came to the wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were but twenty. I struck you and all the products of your toil with blight and with mildew and with hail, yet you did not turn to me, declares the Lord. Consider from this day onward, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month. Since the day that the foundation of the Lord’s temple was laid, consider: Is the seed yet in the barn? Indeed, the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree have yielded nothing. But from this day on I will bless you.”
Our outline is simple and easy to remember.
As we walk through the passage these three words will become evident and we’ll see that the order is really important – most of us won’t return to the Lord until we first reflect. And we can’t receive blessings from Him until we reflect and return.
Haggai is picking up on a theme that he hammered home in the first chapter as once again the people are told to “consider” how they’re living. This is really the major message of the book and is unique to Haggai, occurring five times in two chapters: in 1:5, in 1:7, in 2:15 and twice in 2:18. Literally it means to “bring your mind to bear upon your ways.” The New Living Translation puts it like this: “Look at what’s happening to you!”
God knows that his people are going to get distracted during Haggai’s sermons (imagine that) so He uses “consider” as an attention-getting device. I’m going to try that during this sermon whenever I see someone drifting or getting distracted.
How many of you have ever listened to a TED talk? TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design and the talks, designed to be interesting and informative, are 18 minutes or less (don’t expect that today). They now have a podcast called TED Radio Hour where they take a topic and talk about it for about an hour (that’s more my speed).
Their topic this past week was called, “Attention Please.” Are you aware the average American sees between 4,000 and 10,000 ads every day? Because we’re bombarded with constant information and infinite distractions, whatever captures our attention has a lot of power over us.
I learned recently that the average attention span in 2000 was 12 seconds. By 2013, the length of time we pay attention dropped to 8 seconds, which is a second less than a goldfish!
Marketers and advertisers are constantly trying to get our attention. Have you noticed when you watch a YouTube video that another one is cued up to auto-play, using algorithms that know what you like, along with the ads companies are trying to get you to watch? Netflix is designed to get us to binge watch, with subsequent episodes automatically playing within seconds.
While marketers use algorithms to get our attention, the Almighty often uses adversity to get our attention.
Look at verse 15 and the first part of verse 16: “Now then, consider from this day onward. Before stone was placed upon stone in the temple of the Lord, how did you fare?” Haggai is asking them to carefully consider how life was working out when the Lord was not at the center of everything. For almost two decades, they focused only on themselves and things fell apart.
Consider this in verse 16: “When one came to a heap of twenty measures, there were but ten. When one came to the wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were but twenty.” The grain harvest was down 50% and the grape harvest was down 60%. God brought His chastening because they were chasing the wrong things. God’s people were not proud of their past. Some of you can relate.
Verse 17 helps us see that God was behind this: “I struck you and all the products of your toil with blight and with mildew and with hail…” The word “struck” means, “to wound, to beat.” The word “toil” indicates their strength and the work of their hands. No matter how much they persisted, they were still plagued with problems.
“Blight” refers to being scorched with blasting heat. I have blight in my yard this year not because of heat but because I neglected to fix our fertilizer spreader last year. When I walked behind the spreader this spring all the chemicals just poured out in heaps. Every time I look at our yard now I’m reminded of my self-inflicted blight.
As a result of their slight of God, their self-inflicted blight came from the east winds that whipped out of the desert while mildew came from the moist Mediterranean winds from the west. On top of that, hail came down from heaven, which crushed what was left of the crops. This horrible hail reminds us of the 7th Plague in Egypt as stated in Exodus 9:25: “The hail struck down everything that was in the field in all the land of Egypt, both man and beast. And the hail struck down every plant of the field and broke every tree of the field.”
Consider this…God’s people should have known that these disasters were coming on them because of disobedience as taught in Deuteronomy 28:22-24: “The Lord will strike you with wasting disease and with fever, inflammation and fiery heat, and with drought and with blight and with mildew. They shall pursue you until you perish. And the heavens over your head shall be bronze, and the earth under you shall be iron. The Lord will make the rain of your land powder. From heaven dust shall come down on you until you are destroyed.”
In verse 18, the people are told “to consider” twice: “Consider from this day onward, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month. Since the day that the foundation of the Lord’s temple was laid, consider…” God was calling them to focus not on the time they had stopped working but to remember the day they started to work again. This is a good word for us. Instead of staying locked into the pain of the past and being suffocated with shame, remember how far you’ve come. Think about the things you are doing right instead of the ways you previously went astray.
I like the words to one of Brandon Heath’s songs: “I wish you could see my now. I wish I could show you how…I’m not who I was.”
Are you ready to “consider from this day onward” by moving forward and stop being paralyzed by your past?
Consider this…Hooray, today is the day I will obey!
The first step is to reflect. And the second is to return.
Why were hard times happening? Was it because God just arbitrarily likes to punish people? God’s purpose in their problems was ultimately redemptive. He was trying to get their attention so that they would reflect and then return to Him. Remember God disciplines us in order to disciple us; He sends hard times in order to grow us in holiness; and adversity is ordained in order to get our attention.
But even with all their struggles, they didn’t fully surrender. We see this in the last part of verse 17. Notice the little word “yet”: “…yet you did not turn to me, declares the Lord.” It’s interesting that even though their hands were back at work, their hearts were far away.
Consider this…The issue is always the heart. Psalm 51:17 tells us what God is after: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” So many of us are just so stubborn, aren’t we? God may be trying to get our attention through afflictions but we refuse to return to Him. We’re often stiff-necked and hard-hearted.
Let’s soak up some Scriptures and ask God to shake some things loose in our souls:
Isaiah 9:13 – “The people did not turn to him who struck them, nor inquire of the Lord of hosts.”
Jeremiah 5:3 – “O Lord, do not your eyes look for truth? You have struck them down, but they felt no anguish; you have consumed them, but they refused to take correction. They have made their faces harder than rock; they have refused to repent.”
Amos 4:9 – “‘I struck you with blight and mildew; your many gardens and your vineyards, your fig trees and your olive trees the locust devoured; yet you did not return to me,’ declares the Lord.”
Let’s not be like King Ahaz who went south spiritually when tough times came: “In the time of his distress he became yet more faithless to the Lord” (2 Chronicles 28:22). How about you? Do you become more faithful or more faithless when you go through trouble?
Consider this…Hooray, today is the day I will obey!
Are you ready? Will you reflect and then return so that you can receive?
We will receive but it won’t always be on our timetable or in the ways we expect. We see this in verse 19: “Is the seed yet in the barn?” There was not much seed in the barn because they had planted it in the ground, hoping for a harvest that would be bountiful. It takes faith to plant seed, doesn’t it? After experiencing 16 years of meager harvests, the people could have just stopped planting and stored up the seed in their barns. Instead, they took this precious seed and put it in the ground. It would be months before they would see a harvest, if any.
That’s what’s behind Psalm 126:5-6: “Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.”
We do that as parents and grandparents, don’t we? We plant when our kids are younger, hoping they’ll be able say, “Hooray, obey” when they’re older.
Verse 19 continues: “Indeed, the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree have yielded nothing…” These four crops were essential to their economy, involving food (fig tree), drink (vine), dye (pomegranate), and fuel (olive tree),
“But from this day on I will bless you.” Let’s unpack this phrase:
- Point in time – “But from this day on…” Since they decided to obey today, the focus is on the future. The past is now behind them so they can move from lamentation to celebration. Since the foundation is now laid, they can move into the future with hope. This is a turning point for them, even if they don’t feel it.
- Person – “I” means that God Himself will do this.
- Promise – “I will” refers to the certainty that what God says He will do.
- Purpose – God’s purpose is to “bless.” This is the first use of the word “bless” in the book. The word means, “to praise, to congratulate, to bend the knee, to salute.” The Greek word is eulogeo, from which we get “eulogy.” At its root the meaning is ‘to speak well of.’
- Personal – Notice the word “you.” God loves you and cares about you and wants to personally bless you.
Let’s consider now nine truths about blessings from the Bible.
- Blessings begin the moment we obey. Some of us think we’re too far-gone so we just give up. We’re in such a deep hole that we don’t think it’s possible to ever see the light again. Maybe you’re thinking something like this, “What’s the use? Why bother trying? Things will never be different.” Listen. As soon as you obey, blessings begin…though they might not come in ways you expect.
- We are blessed when we obey but we don’t always see it right away. After delaying for 16 years they had finally started to rebuild the temple. But they had a long way to go and their fields were still barren. It’s now the month of December and they won’t see any harvest until May or June. It takes time.
I asked a question on Facebook this week: “Why do you think it takes time to see the blessings that come from obedience?” Here are some of the answers people posted:
- I think of Hudson Taylor or John and Betty Stam [in China]. They lived in obedience and never saw their life work amount to much. Yet because of it, God worked big things after their time…
- Maybe immediate reward for obedience will cause that to be our only motivation. I think God wants us to be motivated by our love and awe for Him, regardless of circumstances or blessings.
- Too often we think of what I am doing or not doing as a result of obedience, when we should be thinking of what God is doing. Seen this way, obedience is a pleasure, not a chore, when we aren’t looking for other blessings as a result of obedience…for obedience itself is the blessing.
- I’ve often struggled with people saying, “obedience brings blessing” – because some of the most obedient people I know are suffering. I think it’s because of how people define blessing. Our choices of obedience have brought challenge and difficulty – but we have been blessed in so many ways. I think we need to remember from Romans 8 – that the good God is working on our lives is to be more like Christ – which He uses all things to make us more like Him. And that really is blessing.
- I used to say/believe the phrase, “obedience brings blessing.” Then when major storms hit my life I really struggled. I was trying to figure out how I was being disobedient to the Lord, because if “obedience brings blessing” then in my head that meant the opposite must also be true and that “disobedience brings consequence.” God does bless obedience to Him, especially eternally with the ultimate reward of heaven. But, God allows trials in our lives regardless of whether or not we are being “obedient.” It’s more about being faithful to the Lord and persevering regardless of the circumstances happening in our lives, and then trusting that the Lord is working all things together for His good.
3. Do the next right thing. I really appreciate these helpful clarifications but sometimes we do suffer because of sin. If you’re in a mess today through some decisions you’ve made, just remember that you didn’t get that way overnight. You got there by taking a thousand steps in the wrong direction over a long period of time. Therefore, don’t be surprised if it takes quite a few steps to get your life back in order again. If you’ve ever dieted or started an exercise program, you know that results are not immediate, but the steps you take are often rewarded. Discipleship has been defined as a long obedience in the same direction.
4. Consequences will still come. Just because you’ve returned to God doesn’t mean that He will take away all the consequences. You can be forgiven but mistakes can still mess with us years later. In one of the parenting classes Beth has taught, she emphasizes this phrase, “Choose to sin, choose to suffer.” Turning to God does not immediately undo the results of our rebellion. Some of you know exactly what I mean.
Things often look bleak before God brings His blessings
5. The harvest will come eventually. Gardeners and farmers understand this principle. You don’t plant today and then harvest tomorrow. Historically it took God’s people four years to finish rebuilding the temple. But by starting to rebuild they were planting fresh seed in the ground. Things often look bleak before God brings His blessings. God loves to do much with our little.
Seed is meant to be sown. Plant it in your kids and live out your faith. This “Harvest Principle” is spelled out in Galatians 6:7-9: “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”
6. If you want to be blessed then honor God with your giving. I’ve been reflecting on Proverbs 3:9-10 as I pray about our focus this fall on our expansion and renovation plans: “Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.”
Since we are a multi-generational church family, we have the opportunity to leave a legacy of faith along with expanded and renovated facilities for the next generation. This will allow us to give toward something that will impact those who will live beyond us. In a very real sense, this is a way to leave a legacy to the younger generation and further God’s kingdom.
7. If you are a born again believer, you’ve already been blessed. Once you put your faith in Jesus Christ, Ephesians 1:3 says that you really don’t have to beg God to bless you…because He already has: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”
8. We are blessed in order to bless others. Genesis 12:2: “And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” We’ve been encouraged to follow the BLESS strategy with our neighbors.
Begin with prayer
As I consider the multiple ways that the people of Edgewood have been blessed in order to be a blessing, I think of the faithful ministry of Marcia Koehler and Cathy Fredericksen as they have provided leadership for the library for almost 25 years! They, and their team, have spent literally thousands of hours providing and preparing resources to help the people of Edgewood grow. Can we show our appreciation for them right now? Since we’ll be repurposing the library, we’re making the resources available to the people of Edgewood beginning next weekend. You can learn more about the details in the bulletin.
- Dads have a unique opportunity to bless their children and grandchildren. Dads, I think of three key words when it comes to our roles. Discipline, disciple and declare God’s blessings. In Genesis 49:28 we read that Jacob gave personalized blessings to his children that marked their future: “All these are the twelve tribes of Israel. This is what their father said to them as he blessed them, blessing each with the blessing suitable to him.” Let’s use our words to build up and not tear down.
My guess is that most of us would like a make-over, or a do-over, or certainly a fresh start. Each day we’re alive we have that opportunity but we have to mark the moment.
Are you ready to reflect, return and receive?
Will you say, “Hooray, today is the day I will obey!”
Maybe you need to make today the day you decide to…
- Get baptized (our next opportunity is next weekend)
- Forgive someone
- Begin giving
A very important date for me is October 3, 1979. That’s the day that God saved me from my sins when I was a sophomore in college. I’ll never forget that day because it’s my spiritual birthday.
What about you? Have you reflected on your life? Are you ready to make today the day you turn to Christ for forgiveness of sins? Will you choose right now, right here to believe and receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior? Mark this day as your spiritual birthday. 2 Corinthians 6:2 says, “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.”
If you’re ready, would you pray this prayer from your heart?
“Lord, right now, at this very moment, I admit that I am a sinner. As I reflect on my life I see how self-centered I’ve been and I’m now done living just for me. Thank you for sending Jesus to die as my substitute on the cross and I now turn to Him by faith and confess that He is Lord. I repent of the way I’ve been living and receive the free gift of forgiveness and eternal life. Thank you that the resurrection gives me hope of change through your power over the grave. From this day forward, I determine to live with you at the center of my life and I look forward to receiving the blessings you will send my way. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”