Saturday, April 5, 2014

First things first 4/6/14 RUMC Story chapter 19

First things first
Story chapter 19
Most of the snowbirds, who have been gone 2-3 months, say it is good to be back home. It’s good to leave, but it is good to come home. Most of us feel the same way after a week or two of vacation. It is good to leave, but it is good to be back home.
Can you imagine how good it would be to be home after being involuntarily away for 70 years?  70 years of winters, springs, summers an falls in Babylon against your will. 70 years of living as a prisoner of war. 70 years in a different culture, with different food, a different language, and different customs.
That was the situation for the Jewish population when Cyrus finally decreed that they could return home to rebuild the temple.  They had longed for this day and they were certainly excited to get back to their country, their homes, their food and their customs.  They were anxious to get back to their temple too. 50,000 of them packed up and became the first wave of Israelites to return home. 50,000 made that long trek back to Judah, but they were not prepared for what they saw.
As they crested the last hill, reality must have set in. Things were not as they remembered them. Sure, they knew the Babylonians had plundered the city, but to crest that last hill and see the utter destruction of their homeland must have been a terrible shock. Houses destroyed, walls torn down and worst of all the temple lying in ruins.
Zerubabbel organized them into crews and shifts and they immediately went to work on the temple. They rebuilt the altar and worshipped God.  They rebuilt the foundation. They rebuilt the walls, but the work was hard, and the days were long.
It didn’t take long and the newness wore off.  The Excitement faded and the commitment began to falter.
Then the neighbors began making trouble. They made the work even harder. They discouraged and  threatened the Jews and after 6 years they gave up the grand rebuilding project.
They went back to their homes and farms.  They abandoned the work on the temple   in favor of working on their own houses, farms and businesses. And the temple sat uncompleted, without a roof for 16 years.  For 16 years day after day they people walked round the unfinished temple grounds to get to their farms and day after day they walked around it to get back home. They built their businesses in the shadow of the incomplete project and tried not to think about it. The grass grew between the stones in the pavement, the moss grew on the partially built walls.  You might even imagine that graffiti started to appear on the walls surrounding it. You know things like class of 525 and Joshua loves Sarah. It was a disgrace, but there were plenty of other things to do.  Especially since the crops hadn’t been very good and business had not boomed as they hoped. People were hungry and tired and discontent.

That’s when Haggai stood up. Haggai was an old man who had seen the destruction of Solomon’s temple. (2:3)  He remembered the glory of the temple  before it had been destroyed.  Haggai stood up and started to prophecy… to speak in the name of the LORD.   He said, “you keep saying we’ll get around to finishing the temple but you never do it”.  He said, “Look, you have roofs on your houses and businesses, but God’s house has no roof.”  He said, “You wonder why life is hard? It is because you got off track.”
They were like a train trying to chug across the meadow with no tracks.  They were hopelessly bogged down and at a standstill.

In the short four months of his ministry recorded in the two chapters of his book Haggai, stirred up Zerubabbel, lit a fire under Joshua, and motivated the people to refocus on the really important things. Once they got back to work, the temple was rebuilt and rededicated in only 3 years
The train was back on the tracks.  Once again God had a symbol of his presence among the people and the people had a place to worship God.  In fact this temple stood until 40 years after Jesus death and resurrection.

In the lower story the people got off track and got their priorities all messed up.  In the upper story they had been punished for their unfaithfulness. They had been exiled for their idolatry, and left there for 70 years because of their stubbornness. All along, however, through Daniel and Shadrack and Meshack and Abednigo and Jeremiah and Isaiah God kept saying “I am with you.”
In the upper story God even used a foreign king named Cyrus who worshipped Persian idols to make it possible for the people to come home.   Even Cyrus was in line with God’s upper story. But the people? No, they were more interested in themselves, their little lives, and their little problems than glorifying the God of heaven.  It took prophets like Haggai and Zechariah to call them back yet again to their spiritual home with God. To set first things first and to get back to lives focused on the worship of God.

But before we judge them to harshly let’s look in the mirror.
In the message Bible Hagggai says
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.
That sounds a little bit like us doesn’t it?
How about this…I think today’s  church needs some judgment.
·        God says, The church spends all its energy fighting about homosexuality instead of working for my mission. 
·        You spend so much of your resources trying to keep the institution going that you don’t have enough left for ministry.
·        The church spends so much money maintaining beautiful buildings but the people in the neighborhood go hungry.
·        The church leaders spend so much time trying to find the next neat little fad that they forget to preach the gospel.
·        The people spend so much time fighting among themselves and stabbing each other in the back in Sunday School that they never get around to inviting anyone to join and who would want to join that anyway.
·        You spend so much energy talking about people who are missing, that you never get around to talking to talking to them and bringing them back.
·        You spend so much time trying to keep what you have that you never get around to spending yourself for the kingdom.
·        You worry so much about protecting your precious habits and hobbies and you never get around to being a servant for Jesus.
·        You worry so much about what you are having for desert that the whole church is dying of malnutrition.
One of the reasons we are sinking up to our navels  is because we have taken our eyes off of Jesus.

Let me close with a parable.

On a dangerous sea coast where shipwrecks often occur, there was once a crude little life-saving station. The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat, but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea and with no thought for themselves went out day and night tirelessly searching for the lost. Some of those who were saved, and various others in the surrounding area, wanted to become associated with the station and give of their time and money and effort for the support of its work. New boats were bought and new crews trained. The little lifesaving station grew.

Some members of the lifesaving station were unhappy that the building was so crude and poorly equipped. They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea. They replaced the emergency cots with beds and put better furniture in the enlarged building. Now the lifesaving station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they decorated it beautifully and furnished it exquisitely, because they used it as sort of a club. 

Fewer members were now interested in going to sea on lifesaving missions, so they hired lifeboat crews to do this work. The lifesaving motif still prevailed in this club’s decorations, and there was a miniature lifeboat in the room where the club initiations were held. 

About this time a large ship was wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in boatloads of cold, wet, and half-drowned people. They were dirty and sick, and some of them had black skin and some had yellow skin. The beautiful new club was in chaos. So the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where victims of shipwreck could be cleaned up before coming inside.

At the next meeting, there was a split in the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club’s lifesaving activities, since they were unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal social life of the club. Some members insisted upon lifesaving as their primary purpose and pointed out that they were still called a lifesaving station. But they were finally voted down and told that if they wanted to save the lives of all the various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters, they could begin their own lifesaving station down the coast. They did.

As the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old. It evolved into a club, and yet another lifesaving station was founded. History continued to repeat itself, and if you visit that sea coast today you will find a number of exclusive clubs along the shore. Shipwrecks are frequent in those waters, but most of the people drown.

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