Build It Now! (Haggai 1:1-15a)

Statue of the prophet Haggai, by Giovanni Pisano, c.1290 C.E., Siena, Italy

In the second year of King Darius, on the first day of the sixth month, the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest:

This is what the Lord Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house.’”

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?”

Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much but 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.”

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

“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 your 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 olive oil and everything else the ground produces, on people and livestock, and on all the labor of your hands.”

Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Joshua son of Jozadak, 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.

Then Haggai, the Lord’s messenger, gave this message of the Lord to the people: “I am with you,” declares the Lord. So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jozadak, 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. (New International Version)

Timing is everything.

There is a time to ponder and plan and there’s a time to move and act. If the time is ripe for action, then the lack of initiative is plain old procrastination. But how do you know when to act?

If the Lord says it’s time, well then, it’s time!

God’s people wouldn’t have described their inaction in rebuilding God’s house as dragging their feet. They perceived their inertia as a sensible delay.

Yet, the Lord saw the people’s approach as inexcusable enough to send a prophet with a specific message and call to action: Build the house now!

Let’s get a feel for why God’s call for immediacy comes when it does. In the ancient world, it had always been the practice of armies to assimilate conquered peoples into the culture of the conquering king. 

In the eighth century B.C.E., the Assyrian Empire conquered the northern kingdom of Israel. The Assyrians took most of the people into captivity, left the poorest of the people alone, and resettled the land with some of their own Assyrian people. The inevitable intermarriages resulted in their progeny being known as the Samaritans in the New Testament Gospels, as the Samaritans.

Two-hundred years after Assyria conquered Israel, Nebuchadnezzar besieged the southern kingdom of Judah and took over Jerusalem. He carried Daniel and all the other educated and professional people to Babylon. In the course of taking the city, Nebuchadnezzar tore down the wall and destroyed the temple that Solomon had made.

During the Babylonian exile, the Persians conquered Babylon and became rulers of a large geographical empire. Because the massive Persian Empire was in control of so many different kinds of people across such a vast territory, they were not able to operate as previous empires did by assimilation and resettlement. 

Instead, the Persians did something new and different: They encouraged and enabled their conquered peoples to keep their religion and their culture. The only caveat was that they had to give tribute and allegiance to the empire and pray for the king. This is why Nehemiah, Ezra, and Haggai were able to return to Jerusalem and given royal authority to rebuild the wall and the temple. 

But, from the git go, there was opposition to the rebuilding from the old Canaanite inhabitants of the land. After many years, the wall was rebuilt but the temple restoration bogged down. The people slowly became discouraged and lost enthusiasm to do the work. 

Understandably, the people got caught up in taking care of their own homes and just plain neglected working on the temple. Over time, they just forgot about the entire project. But God didn’t.

The prophet Haggai made it clear that the people’s mental distraction and physical neglect was taken as disrespect by the Lord. Haggai insisted that the reason the people were not experiencing blessing on their land was because they simply did not have their priorities straight. 

Thus, God sent the prophet Haggai to preach a sermon entitled: Build the house now! 

To the people’s credit, they responded to the call of God and started rebuilding God’s house. The work was completed. However, there seemed to be a problem. 

Rebuilding the Temple, by Gustave Doré, 1866

Moving into the rest of Haggai’s prophecy, the newly restored temple didn’t look anything like Solomon’s grand and glorious temple. Many of the older worshipers could still remember Solomon’s temple; to them, the rebuilt temple seemed like a bologna sandwich compared to the T-bone steak of the past. 

So, God sent Haggai again to encourage the people. The Lord will be with them. The restored temple may not look the same, but what makes the temple great is God’s glory.

An important takeaway from the prophecy of Haggai is that the Lord is a jealous God; God’s people are to worship the Lord with all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength. 

We also learn that the Lord is sovereign and supreme over all creation. God owns everything and will use it all to accomplish divine purposes on this earth. 

In addition, we see that God calls people to new work and fresh ministry. The Lord was behind the destruction of the old temple; and when the time was right, God called the people to build a new ministry.

And we learn something about ourselves, as well. God’s people need to hear and respond to God’s call. Haggai put a God-sized vision before the people; he helped them imagine what the new temple would be like – full of God’s glory.

God is doing a new thing. The Lord continues calling people to:

  • Seek first the kingdom of God. (Deuteronomy 4:29; Psalm 63:1; Matthew 6:33; Hebrews 11:6)
  • Love God with whole hearts. (Deuteronomy 6:5, 11:1-22, 19:9, 30:16-20; Matthew 22:37)
  • Love neighbor as we love ourselves. (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:38; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14)
  • Make disciples of Christ from all nationalities. (Matthew 28:18-20)
  • Be witnesses to God’s glory in Christ. (Psalm 66:16; Acts 1:8; 2 Timothy 2:2)
  • Obey the Holy Spirit. (Acts 5:31-33; Romans 6:17; Hebrews 5:8-9)

It is good to remember and celebrate past ministries; and it is also good to throw ourselves into the new ministries which God calls us and to build them for God’s glory.

My friends, build it now.

Glory to you, O God, the One who is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine by your divine power at work within us; glory to you, blessed God, in the church and in Christ Jesus for all generations, through the empowering Holy Spirit, forever and always. Amen.

Ephesians 4:17-24 – Put Off the Old, Put On the New

So, I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.

That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (New International Version)

What breeds ignorance and immorality amongst people?

I’m sure if you asked that question to a dozen people you might get a dozen different responses.

According to the Apostle Paul, it comes from a disconnection from truth. And biblically, since the very character of God is truth, then ignorance and a closed heart also result from estrangement from God.

The Christian tradition informs us that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Life together is to be shaped around the person and work of Christ. Since Christians share a common confession of Jesus, we are to share a common life together. That life is to revolve around the truth of Jesus.

That means we will put off non-Christian ways of relating to each other and put on a Christian way of relating to each other. 

We will, then, speak truthfully and live honestly, because we belong to each other – we are responsible for one another.

Just as Jesus so closely identified with us in his life, death, and resurrection, so we are to so closely identify with each other that we take responsibility for each other and hold one another accountable. My problems are your problems – your issues are my issues. This is a stance of connection, not division.

Believers are firmly moored to Christ and to Christian community. With the enablement of the Holy Spirit, they are able to forsake the old life with its unhealthy routines of living and embrace a new life with good healthy habits of daily life.

Some people continually struggle to overcome bad habits. In part, it’s because they are living a half-truth life. They might be connected to Jesus as Truth yet remain stubbornly independent. Such persons remain disconnected from Christ’s Church.

One never realizes sustainable holiness over a lifetime apart from Christian community. In other words, real and lasting change comes from both the truth of Christ and the truth of Christ’s Church.

“No one can have God as his father who does not have the Church as his mother,” said both St. Augustine and St. Cyprian.

The magisterial Reformer, John Calvin, upheld the ancient teaching of the Church:

“The Church is our mother, inasmuch as God has committed to her the kind office of bringing us up in the faith. This method of education is not to be despised…. She has the milk and the food by which she continually nourishes her offspring. This is why the Church is called the mother of believers. And certainly, the one who refuses to be a child of the Church desires in vain to have God as Father.”

John Calvin

This is a consistent understanding throughout Christian history. That’s because the ancient church fathers (and mothers!) knew people are hard-wired for community. What’s more, truth is located not only in the Head of Christ but also in the Body of Christ. Decapitating head from body is to sever the truth in half. Head and Body, Christ and Church, have always been meant to go together as one.

To know the truth intellectually and cerebrally is only half of personal transformation. There also must be a bodily living of the truth – and to do that takes the Body of Christ. Life in Christ is life together as Christians.

Just as it was not our choice to be born into our biological family, so we are born again into a spiritual family, the Church. And just as that crazy uncle, obnoxious cousin, bossy big sister, and the entire family system can be difficult in our biological family, so it is the same in our spiritual family.

We might choose to be estranged from Church, but this in no way diminishes the truth that we need a faith family and a spiritual community.

I very much understand that both biological family and spiritual family can be (and are) toxic for many people. I am not suggesting we passively remain in abusive relationships. What I am saying is that doing away with community altogether is an awfully bad idea.

As much as I, in the past, have wished to run away and live alone in the woods with only bears and raccoons as my friends, I didn’t do it, mainly because I knew better. I knew I needed a supportive community of redeemed people if I was every going to truly honor God and experience becoming holy as God is holy.

If we want to participate in the life of God, it comes with community.

It is, therefore, necessary to hold one another accountable, as well as help each other to be truly holy.

We need to embrace the teachings of the New Testament toward one another:

  • Love one another (John 13:34)
  • Be devoted to one another (Romans 12:10)
  • Encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
  • Exhort one another (Hebrews 3:13)
  • Confess your sins to one another (James 5:16)

A lack of self-awareness, empathy, and understanding comes from being disconnected from community. Yet, when we embrace the truth of Christ and Christ’s Church, we aren’t fooled by evil, and we discover the strength of life together in the Spirit.

So, like a new set of clothes, take off the old tattered ones and put on the mind of Christ.

Grant, almighty God, that all who confess your Name may be united in your truth, live together in your love, and reveal your glory in the world. Guide the people of all nations in the ways of justice and peace; that we may honor one another and serve the common good. And guide us to live together as countercultural models of goodness and reconciliation, in our neighborhoods and beyond, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Breakfast In the Liminal Space

Welcome, friends! John 21:1-19 is a story of Jesus and the disciples in the six weeks between Christ’s resurrection and ascension. It’s an awkward time for the disciples, as they try and come to grips with a new reality in which all the old rules have changed. Click the videos below and let’s help each other move into a new reality….

Pastor Tim Ehrhardt, John 21:1-19

Before us it is blessed, behind us it is blessed,
below us it is blessed, above us it is blessed,
around us it is blessed as we set out with Christ.
Our speech is blessed as we set out for God.
With beauty before us, with beauty behind us,
with beauty below us, with beauty above us,
with beauty around us, we set out for a holy place indeed. Amen. –A traditional Navajo blessing

Isaiah 43:16-21 – God Is Doing a New Thing

This is what the Lord says—
    he who made a way through the sea,
    a path through the mighty waters,
who drew out the chariots and horses,
    the army and reinforcements together,
and they lay there, never to rise again,
    extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:
“Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.
The wild animals honor me,

    the jackals and the owls,
because I provide water in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland,
to give drink to my people, my chosen,
    the people I formed for myself
    that they may proclaim my praise. (New International Version)

Judgment and Ruin

The prophecy of Isaiah spans sixty-six chapters; it is a large book portraying a large God who is in control of the nations and holds them accountable for their decisions and actions. Chapters 1-39 of Isaiah contain a lot of scathing judgments. God is pictured as the one true Judge who is not only grieved over the sins of the pagan nations, but especially over the sin of God’s people, Israel. 

As a result of Israel’s refusal to recognize their errant ways and turn to the Lord, God sent the Babylonians to Jerusalem. King Nebuchadnezzar tore down the city wall, took all the implements from the temple, and carried off the youngest and brightest people into exile to Babylon. 

Grace and Mercy

Israel was ruined. But that is not the end of the story. In chapters 40-66 of Isaiah, rather than judgment dominating the prophecy, grace and mercy are liberally spoken. Although Israel deserved their exile, God would step in and return them back to the land.

The Lord will bring them back to Jerusalem, yet it will not be easy. The long journey home will be full of obstacles to overcome and deserts to cross. They will need to walk in a caravan stretching over five-hundred miles (like walking from Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Lincoln, Nebraska). That’s about four months of walking over harsh terrain, desert, and dangers from thieves and wild animals. 

Yet, God will care for them, making a way through the desert, providing water, commanding animals to keep away, and causing growth to spring up from the desert for their pack animals to eat.

God Was Doing Something New

No longer could Israel only rely on looking back to the exodus out of Egypt. They had been doing that for a thousand years. Now, they have to deal with God in the present moment and take a walk of faith filled with uncertainty and hazards. 

The Israelites would be vulnerable in their walk to Jerusalem. It was a scary prospect for them. God was telling his people to forget the “good old days” of the exodus because he is doing a work right now in the present that requires their faith and action.

Isaiah insisted that the people must commit their ways to the God who is calling them to a new journey. They are to be present and mindful to what God is doing now. God is doing a new thing, so forget clinging to the familiar past and strive to live in the here and now.

If we believe there is a better tomorrow, we can bear a hardship today.

It’s easy for people to get stuck in the past. One of the reasons we get stuck is that we do not lament our losses. Being present to God does not mean refusing to deal with what happened in the past; it means lamenting our losses in the present so that the past does not control us. 

You and I are not the same people we were twenty years ago. The institutions we care about are not the same. Some of the people we have cared the most about in our lives are not here anymore. Only you and I are here, now, in this present moment. There is no alternate reality or some multiverse in which things are different. That means we must deal with today.

The Good Old Days

The Israelites did not grieve well. They kept looking back to a golden age when they came out of Egypt and entered the Promised Land.  And when things began to break down in Israel and in Judah, they kept looking back instead of dealing with God in the present. 

Rather than lamenting their losses, they just wished things were different. Whenever anyone or any group fails to grieve a significant loss or change, then the ghosts of the past roam everywhere. No one can effectively move into the future unless they confront the stark reality that things have changed; we cannot turn the clock back to halcyon days.

Things can be better. But that will not happen apart from doing the hard work of identifying denial of the way things presently are, confronting the anger, stopping the bargaining with God, addressing the depression, and coming out the other side coping in a healthy way with the new reality. 

The Israelites were in exile. It was not their new normal. It was their present station of history. God was ready to take them back to Jerusalem. Yet, they were stuck in depression.  Jerusalem would never be the same city again. The people had to resolve their inner spiritual tension in order to accept it. Acceptance is not cheap; it takes a difficult journey to get to that point.

A healthy way of viewing the past is to see ancient miracles, like the exodus, re-enacted in fresh ways for the present. I know a guy who asked his newlywed wife a question after they got married, “What are we going to talk about for the rest of our lives?”  The thought of living together for decades had him curious and a bit scared. 

The man’s wife wisely replied, “I think we will talk about whatever happens each day.”  Ah, there is the truth about relationships: They happen in the present. Good relationships are built on daily experiences. The newness of each day keeps the relationship alive and exciting.  Couples that don’t continue to experience each other in fresh new ways lose the joy and enthusiasm of their relationship.

When folk no longer experience God in creative, new, and fresh ways in the present, they are limited by their memories of what God once did, back there, in the past. 

God Is Alive Today

A God who is hermetically sealed in the past becomes an interesting person to be theologically studied and learned about, like any character from history. However, today, God is alive! Now, in the present, God wants to do a new thing! We need present-tense stories of God so that others know the relevance of the Lord in the here and now.

God is most definitely changeless in character and attributes. Yet, that does not mean God is averse to change and new things. In fact, God’s work is to effect transformation in the lives of people who need redemption and new life. The God I serve is anything but boring, lifeless, careless, or uninteresting. 

The proof that something is alive is that it grows, develops, changes, and matures. The new plants in our gardens and fields are undergoing astonishing growth and development.  What they are like now is quite different than what they will look like in August and even different than October.

New, different, creative, and exciting things need to happen in the church and in the world today, in the present. Whenever those things do not happen, people will believe that God is dead, does not care, or does not exist. Because God is alive and works in the present, the Church is to be alive with spiritual momentum, biblical drive, and Christian proactive love.

Showing Others What God Is Like

People everywhere need an accurate picture of God portrayed for them. That is why the church exists – to show people what God is really like, what he looks like here in the present.  Here is a question I often ask people, both Christian and non-Christian: “What is your picture of God?  What is God like?” 

I have gotten all kinds of answers to those questions. And I have discovered that many people picture God as a harsh Judge who is stern and always unhappy about something.  I have found that many picture God as distant, boring, and unsympathetic with the problems of this world.

Many people generally disdain any organized religion, viewing the church as distorting God, and caring more about buildings, budgets, and butts in the pew, rather than the poor, the disadvantaged, and the pressing issues of our day.

Jesus As the Picture of God

            If people are continually underwhelmed by Church, they will not be overwhelmed by God. Looking at Jesus, we get a picture of God. We see a Savior who walks on water, raises the dead, and amazes the crowds. Christ’s unpredictability led many to have a new and more accurate picture of God.

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father…. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” (John 14:8-14, NIV)

            Jesus revealed to us a God who is compelling, powerful, relevant, passionate, unpredictable, exciting, personal and present to people right now, this very day. The Church everywhere has been given the assignment to reveal God to the world. 

The Church is supposed to be a place of change and reform that wakes the dead and raises them to new life, right now, in the mighty Name of Jesus. 

God is the Creator of the universe. God is creative. We are in his image. We are creative.  God is fresh, does new things, and wants people to do the same without always getting stuck.

A problem which happens over and over again is called a pattern. Avoidance of conflict, or being impulsive, or allergic to risk, or distracted and bored, or overcommitted, or afraid of authority, or a people-pleaser, or resistant to making hard decisions, or a fear of failure, are not just problems, but patterns that prevent us from allowing God to be present to us today. 

And today, we need to embrace the new life God is trying to accomplish in us. God will make a way where there seems to be no way.

Help us, Lord, to have hope for the future. In the face of change, help us to set fear aside and recognize our potential for problem-solving. Help us develop a reasonable optimism when confronted by new things and to guard against our own defensiveness. Be with us as we remember and celebrate former times and keep us from unreasonable yearning for them. Work your will in us, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.