God’s Stuff First

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Haggai 1:3-8

The great task of the church is to get sinners into heaven and saints out of bed! Fortune magazine (1/13/97) reports that the nation’s top twenty-five philanthropists gave away more than $1.5 billion in 1996. The most generous was George Soros, president of Soros Fund Management, who donated $350 million last year. Of the top twenty-five philanthropists, only four inherited fortunes. Most attributed their generosity in part to religious backgrounds. And most were donors even before they became wealthy.

I rode in a car with a Christian physician recently. As we drove through an area of new homes, I commented on the beauty of this community. I was startled by the response of the doctor. “Those beautiful homes hide a great deal of illness. This is one of the sickest communities I have ever seen. They keep us doctors going night and day. The sad part is that we are fighting a losing battle, because the physical complaints these people present are for the most part only symptoms of a crazy, mixed-up society where everybody is striving for the wrong things. These people don’t need physical care as much as they need spiritual care. As doctors, we have hesitated to tell them this because we felt that such advice is out of our line. In fact, I have bent over backwards in the past to say that my patients’ moral lives are none of my business. Now I am not quite so sure.”

We are not just talking about diet or sleep. We’re talking about lack of stability in these homes, the bickering, envy, jealousy, moral laxity, wife-swapping. These people don’t know what inner stability is. They just keep wanting something. They keep buying things on time, things they don’t need. They’ve never heard of self-discipline or sacrifice.

Sometimes it is the Church itself that stands in the way of understanding God’s expectations. We sit in padded pews. We watch as the sun comes shining through the stained glass windows. The minister, dressed in a velvet robe, opens the Bible, marked with a silk bookmark and says, “One thing you lack,” Jesus said.
“Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Have we sacrificed anything of late, solely for the purpose of drawing closer to Jesus Christ. That question is at the very heart of what Haggai is asking. Some call him Hagi but in Hebrew, he is called Haggai. The 10th prophet of the 12 minor prophets in the Old Testament. A man who lived during the 6th century B.C., Haggai was the first prophet to prophesy after the return from the Babylonian Exile. Together with Zechariah, he urged the renewal of the building of the Temple.

What is the problem? “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?” The people who have been in exile are more interested in establishing themselves! They want to build their homes and get their crops out. Everything is for themselves. What is wrong with looking out for yourself? There is nothing wrong with looking out for ourselves. However, at the very heart of the Jewish faith and at the very heart of our Christian faith is the nagging question, “what is our first love?” Every Hebrew worship service starts with the same call to worship, “Hear O Hear Israel the Lord thy God is One.” Every Hebrew understands that this is a reminder that God was to be first. The first commandment, You shall have no other gods before me, forces the believer to ask the question, “what is most important in our lives.” As Christians we don’t escape that question. “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “`Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: `Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Making a life is more significant than making a living. The problem with living life in the fast lane–is that we get to the toll booth quicker. Seeking God with one’s whole heart is no joke, especially if it might be the only way to find him. 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.”

James writes to the Church and says, You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways.

The very first Commandment was clear and to the point, You shall have no other gods before me. And yet we need to be reminded and reminded of its importance and impact in our lives. We feel so much discomfort when we hear the words of Jesus Himself, Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; Anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; Anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

All of these things are important to us. But the question, are they more important than our relationship with God? Joshua understands the truth and says, but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.

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