Friday, December 13, 2013

Haggai 2: Looking Beyond the 3B's



Hag 2:1-9 On the twenty-first day of the seventh month, the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: "Speak to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people. Ask them, 'Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? But now be strong, O Zerubbabel,' declares the Lord. 'Be strong, O Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,' declares the Lord, 'and work. For I am with you,' declares the Lord Almighty. 'This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.' This is what the Lord Almighty says: 'In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,' says the Lord Almighty. 'The silver is mine and the gold is mine,' declares the Lord Almighty.  'The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,' says the Lord Almighty. 'And in this place I will grant peace,' declares the Lord Almighty." 

When the Israelites saw the ruins of the temple, they were discouraged, especially the elderly who had seen Solomon's temple before it was destroyed. Even Zerubbabel the governor and Joshua the high priest were disheartened by what they saw. In fact, they gave up trying to do anything about rebuilding the temple. Instead, all of them went back to build their own houses: "This is what the Lord Almighty says: "These people say, 'The time has not yet come for the Lord's house to be built.' 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?" (Hab. 1:3-4). Sometime, when we focus on the 3-B externals of God's work--building, bodies and bucks--we may get discouraged and then turn our attention away from God's work to focus on building our families, careers and our own houses instead.

On the other hand, some people can be so enamoured by their churches' 3Bs--big building, many bodies and big bucks--they may think that God has to be pleased. Like the pre-exilic Jews whose faith was in the glory of Solomon's temple among them, their mantra was "the temple of the Lord". But Jeremiah warns them: "Do not trust in deceptive words and say, "This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!" (Jer 7:4). But despite the glory of the externals of Solomon's temple, it did not save them. Jerusalem and its temple were destroyed because the true Glory had already departed from the temple: "Then the glory of the Lord departed from over the threshold of the temple..." (Ezek 10:18). The Jews placed their trust in the externals of the temple, but the glory is not found in the externals but in the inner sanctuary where God's presence was manifested. And it had departed and they were still chanting, "The temple of the Lord! The temple of the Lord! The temple of the Lord!"

The Lord reminds the leaders and people through Haggai not to look only at the externals of the temple. The real glory of the temple is not defined by the externals but the internal Presence of God. So, pastors and leaders from smaller congregations should not measure the glory of their churches by the 3B's (building size, body count, and bucks collected), but rather by the glory of God's presence. What really counts is the Spirit of glory: "'Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? But now be strong, O Zerubbabel,' declares the Lord. 'Be strong, O Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,' declares the Lord, 'and work. For I am with you,' declares the Lord Almighty. 'This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.'" (Hag 2:3-5).

I think many churches have forgotten what the real Treasure is within their jars. They are focusing instead on jazzing up the jars instead of filling them up with the Spirit of God. Churches invest large sums of money on the externals, thinking that these externals will draw the crowds. Yes, they will get the crowds--but the kind that are awed by the 3B's. The cross-carrying disciples of Jesus Christ are unlikely to be excited by such externals. Sadly, many Christians are increasingly less focused on following the Jesus of the Gospels than following pastors who can bolster their low self-esteem and give them a sense of self-importance via these externals. I hope I'm wrong here, but that's what I have observed in going from church to church.

But the pre-believing seekers are not interested in the glory of these externals. Many other religions offer them as well and they too have the 3B's: big building, many bodies and big bucks. But what the world wants and needs is the Glory of God. This Glory is found within our hearts through the indwelling Spirit. When we focus on the real Glory, our churches will grow at the expense of Satan's kingdom rather than at the expense of other churches: "Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit" (2 Cor 3:17-18).

Father, the glory of Your church is not found in the externals of buildings, bodies and bucks but in Your Spirit of Glory. May we continually honour Your Spirit's presence and power to seek and save that which are lost. Amen.

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