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Saturday, May 15, 2010

Start Again - Part I

The letter of King Artaxerxes was read to Rehum and Shimshai the secretary and their associates. They lost no time. They went to the Jews in Jerusalem and made them quit work. That put a stop to the work on the Temple of God in Jerusalem. Nothing more was done until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia. Meanwhile the prophets Haggai and Zechariah son of Iddo were preaching to the Jews in Judah and Jerusalem in the authority of the God of Israel who ruled them. And so Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and Jeshua son of Jozadak started again, rebuilding the Temple of God in Jerusalem. The prophets of God were right there helping them. (Ezra 4:24-5:2)

This week, we have explored the idea of rebuilding foundations in our lives.  The Jewish exiles had been given the opportunity of a lifetime - return to their former home, rebuild what had been destroyed in the wars of recent years, and re-establish the foundation of the Temple of God.  They returned, but somehow, their "first response" enthusiasm to the rebuilding effort seemed to have stalled out.

Haggai was a minor prophet of the Old Testament, with a three month mission to the people of Judah focusing on the encouragement to begin again the rebuilding of the Temple of God. The Jewish exiles had returned to the land almost eighteen years prior to Haggai being raised up to bring the message to God’s people – they had begun the reconstruction of the Temple in the second year of their return and then been “shut down” by the enemies of the land. Whenever we cease to do as God plans for us, even in the midst of extreme opposition or insurmountable odds, we can be assured that time will pass, almost unnoticed, allowing for our idleness to become a thing of comfort for us. Yet, God is never content with idle hands, hearts or minds. He always brings the challenge in its season, the ability in its time, and the deliverance from our self-made plans through exactly the messenger he designs.

Haggai’s message was clear: “The people procrastinate. They say this isn’t the right time to rebuild my Temple, the Temple of God.” (Haggai 1:2) How is it that we do such a good job of putting off until tomorrow what we should be doing today? I dare say that this is not an uncommon response of God’s people – caught up in all that “seems” important at the moment, we often miss out on the intended opportunities that God directs across our paths. Procrastination starts as a simple delaying of plans, but rapidly progresses to that which becomes a habitual and purposeful putting off of what needs to be done. It is important to note that the Jews had not been completely idle all this time – they had built nice houses for themselves, while leaving God’s Temple in ruins. (Haggai 1:3-4)

It is important to see the faithfulness of our Lord in continually raising up those who will challenge us in our walk. Haggai brought a simple message of challenge – look at your life, the money you have spent, the things you have been pursuing that do not bring fulfillment – and see where God fits into the plans of your life. He made it quite plain to those who heard his message that God was not a part of their plans – his work in their lives had been stifled by the enemies of the land and the Jewish people were more than ready to pursue other interests that promised fulfillment on a personal level.

The Jewish nation is not alone in that pursuit – we are also guilty of being totally “gung ho” about God’s plans for our lives, then almost as quickly as we venture out into God’s plans, we can be stopped in our tracks and swayed into pursuits that meet our own personal needs. It is important to see that Haggai was a prophet with a simple message, but one that cut to the quick of what the real problem was in the heart of the people. He was used by God to call them again to the work of rebuilding. His message exposed the heart, challenged the soul, and rekindled the passion necessary for the work.

It is often the simple message, delivered in a direct fashion that opens us up to the very thing that we need to respond to in obedience. We may think we need the “burning bush” like Moses experienced, or the booming thunder of a voice from “on high”, but the simple truth is that we most often just need to listen intently to the clarity of the message we are already hearing.