A fresh start - priorities - God's business first
A Fresh start
First things first
Doxology Hymn no 53: “All people that on earth do dwell” (organ starts playing without the hymn being announced)
Call to worship
The eyes of the Lord are on those who fear Him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine. (Psalm 33:18-19)
The Lord’s Prayer
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, (Galatians 1:3-4)
Hymn: Psalm 1 (Tune St Peter; Rejoice 529; 6 verses)
Prayer of Adoration
Loving heavenly Father, we should do everything for You to please and honour You. Every day, we should offer ourselves to You as living sacrifices. With our whole being, in the whole of our lives, we should worship you.
Yet week days are working days, in which the pressures and demands of life take up our time, preoccupy our attention and expend our energy.
We thank You therefore for the Lord’s Day, when we can rest from our work, when we can rest in Christ’s finished work for us, when we can draw near to You and have You draw near to us. We thank You for the opportunities of the Lord’s Day, for the privileges of worship, for the blessings of Christian fellowship, for the ministry of your Word, for being able to give our undivided attention to You.
This day, may we be refreshed in You, may we edify one another, may our souls be quickened and our spirits encouraged. We have come into the house of prayer. Pour out upon us a prayerful attitude of heart and mind. We have come into the house of praise. Grant us liberty and joy in your presence as we celebrate You in all that You are. We have come here to be instructed by your Word. Empower the preacher with faithfulness, clarity and conviction. Bless your Word to all who hear it. May it enlighten the ignorant, awaken the careless, reclaim the wandering, establish the weak, comfort the troubled in spirit, and make us ready as your people for You, our God. Be especially near to all who could not come today. Remember those who never come. And through our being here today, grant us love for our families, forgiveness towards our enemies, peace towards our neighbours, and openness towards our fellow believers, through Christ, our Lord, Amen.
Hymn No 471: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God”
Scripture Reading Matthew 6:25-34 (repeat verse 33)
Prayer of Confession
Almighty God, it is right to approach you humbly, with reverence and awe and as Moses did before the burning bush, to take the shoes from off our feet, for the place where we are standing is holy ground. If you, Lord God, demanded such a thing of the prophet when you appeared to him amid the flames, then how much more shall we reverence you, now that you have appeared to us in the person of your Son, who is the radiance of your glory and the exact representation of your being?
Truly we are on holy ground before you and very much feel our need of forgiveness, for there is much that is false, impure, and unholy in us. Your holiness simply exposes the guilt of our sin and so we pray that, for the sake of Jesus and through the power of his blood shed for our forgiveness, you will graciously grant us full pardon and complete forgiveness for all that is past. Blot out all our sins and cause them never to be seen or spoken about again. Grant to us also that word of comfort, spoken to our hearts by the Holy Spirit, that having been justified by faith, we now have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Cause us to be forgiven and to know it. Let there be no doubt about our reconciliation with you, but rather grant to us a firm, full assurance based upon the finished work of Christ, applied to our hearts by faith. Then, having been forgiven, help us to show it by the way we live: in holy fear of you, adorning your Gospel, obeying your Word, being led by your Spirit, reflecting your image and conformed to the likeness of Christ, in whose name we pray, Amen.
Declaration of pardoning
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me. (Psalm 51:10-12)
Hymn: Psalm 57 (Tune Martyrdom; 6 verses)
Prayer for others
God of all power, who raised from the dead Jesus Christ, our Lord. You who are the great shepherd of the sheep, comfort and defend the flock, which Christ has redeemed through the blood of the everlasting covenant. Increase the number of true preachers; by the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, enlighten the hearts of the ignorant; relieve the pain of the afflicted, especially those who suffer for the testimony of the truth.
Heavenly Father, we pray for your holy universal church. Fill it with all truth and peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in need, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of Jesus Christ, your only Son, our Saviour.
Deliver your church from spiritual oppression and unbelief. Deliver us from holding to a form of godliness, yet denying its power. May we never be ashamed of you, or a shame to you. Be our defence in the hour of trial.
We pray for our community, and for that vast multitude who are lost and remain far from you. Lord God, may our lives be touched with a burning concern for their spiritual condition and need, that Christ may be known and exalted among them.
Father, we have seen and heard of destruction all around us the past few weeks. On this dedicated day of mourning right across our nation we once again pray for those affected by the tidal wave: for the churches and your people who on top of this calamity have to face persecution from the enemy of the Gospel; for the homeless, the widow and the fatherless; for those who provide care and help build up the ruins and restore infrastructure. Father we have seen and heard the worst of fallen human nature: people trying to steal orphaned children to trade them elsewhere; others have taken children to trade with them as sex slaves; other looted the houses of those already struck very severely. Father, spread your wings of care and love over the homeless, the sick, the worried, the fatherless.
Lord, we also pray for those in South Australia who were devastated by the fires. We pray for those who mourn because of the loss of loved ones; for those ravaged be uncontrollable waves of fire, having lost property, stock, livelihood and possessions. We pray for those who are lending a helping hand in these times. Father, we pray that as a nation we will have ears to hear when You speak to us. Grant us as a nation grace to repent from our sin and find our strength not in governments or organizations in the first place, but to find refuge in You.
Hear us also as we pray for those affected by the landslide in California. Give comfort and grace to those who have lost loved ones and property. Teach us once again that live is but a breath, that we are frail, and that this world is not our home.
We pray for wisdom upon those who rule over us. We remember our Queen and all set under her authority. In particular, we pray for our Prime Minister, and his cabinet, all Members and Senators of Federal Parliament. Direct all our affairs. Lead us into all truth. Cause us to pursue that righteousness which exalts a nation. Deliver us from national sins of self-interest, greed, immorality and pride.
Hear our prayer in the Name and for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Scripture Reading Haggai 1:1-15
Sermon God’s business first
My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
Towards the end of last year we began with a series of sermons under the title “A fresh start”. It revolved around the return from Babylonian captivity of the people of God in the Old Testament. God kept his promise had made through the prophets to deliver his people from the enemy and bring them back into the Land of Promise.
A few things stood out very clearly. 8 First of all, we saw that God called according to his own plan and purpose those foreordained. Not all went back to Jerusalem and Judea.
8 The second thing we saw is that God provided for the need of those called to worship Him in the land promised to their forefathers. They lacked nothing to restart their worship of God back in Judea.
8 The third thing we saw is that is God’s people resettled in Judea the very first important aspect in their relationship with God had to be restored. God sent them into captivity in the first place because they served God on their own terms. More so, their corporate worship around the temple and the altars had been a matter of outward concern, while their hearts were far away from God. This was the heart of their problem; this is something the church in our time need to understand: God can and may only be worshipped in the way He revealed to us in his Word. Any other form of worship is not acceptable and invites the wrath of God.
We heard of the return and resettlement first in the book of Ezra. But other books in the Bible were written around the same time and for the same episode. They are the prophets of Haggai and Zechariah. The Word of God comes to us today from the first chapter of Haggai. But first a bit of background.
8 Resettlement brings opposition
The Israelites returned to Judea roundabout March/April of the year 537 BC. In 536 BC they began the work to rebuild the temple. But in chapter 4 of Ezra we read about opposition. The enemies of Judah tried to make them stop rebuilding the temple. We will DV go into this episode next time.
8 When we pick up the story in Haggai, it was twenty years later on 29 August 520. And what to be seen in Jerusalem? What was achieved in the twenty year since the foundations of the temple were restored? Nothing! There were only ruins overgrown with grass and weeds. Nothing more.
8 How did the rest of Judah look? What was to be seen in the towns and cities? Well constructed homes, with the people quite happily going about their everyday business.
8 Three ways to argue
When you would ask the average citizen in Judah at the time why is it that they never continued after the foundations were laid, he would probably come up with three answers.
8 We’ve got the basics right
What would he mean by this? He would point to the altar, the priests and the Levites. He would probably point you to the fact that these are the most important elements of worship anyway. For as long as we have the priests, the morning and evening sacrifice, the offerings, the Levites and our prayers right, we don’t really need more. This is the essence, and we’ve got the essence right. The temple is of secondary significance. To reconstruct the temple is not necessary, because Solomon built the temple as a personal project and not a direct command from God. Besides, God cannot be contained in a building. Maybe somewhere along the track we will rebuild the temple, but not now.
8 It’s not the time
The next argument against rebuilding the temple would be, “It’s not the right time to do it.” Look around you and just take note at what happened when 20 years ago they tried to rebuild it: there was a lot of opposition. Since we have stopped rebuilding the temple the opposition stopped. And besides, we still have the altar worship. If we rebuild the temple now, there might be a danger that we could lose that. And of course, as we know from the first argument against rebuilding the temple, altar worship is the essence of worship. That we still have; and that without opposition. In the meantime we find a break to rebuild our homes and families, and infrastructure. As soon as we have done these things correctly and as soon as we really settled, we will then think about the temple.
8 We cannot afford it
The next reason the average citizen of Israel will tell you, is plainly that they could not afford it. Apart from the early enmity with the surrounding nations soon after their return, they experienced very bad crops and very bad inflation. The crops they harvested could not be sold for much. What they brought home got blown away and eaten up by the ever rising prices. So, in short, we cannot afford the rebuilding of the temple, we can hardly afford our own living. We cannot give, purely because we do not have. I mean, just make a few calculations and you will understand. Does that make sense?
8 Give careful thought to your ways
Then God sent his prophet Haggai. He went straight to the leaders, to Zerubbabel the governor, and Joshua, the high priest. And from this unknown prophet they heard it uncompromised.
Twice in a short span the people heard this command coming from God twice: Give careful thought to your ways. It is as if the Lord wanted them to think about the reasons they offered why the temple was still in ruins. And today the Lord wants us to look at the reasons we offer when it comes to not be active in rebuilding the church of Christ under his command and to the glory of God.
We’ve got the basics right
Let’s look at their first argument. As long as they worship God around the altar; as long as they do the basics; God cannot be contained in a temple.
You know, all these arguments are correct. But it also pointed to a sloppy and inferior attitude of the heart. The prophet pointed it out: You don’t put God first; you are busy with your own house. Your personal business is more important than the business of God. There mere fact that you argue that the essence is enough, reflects an attitude that God is not all-important. Yes, you love God, but not with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. If God wants a temple, then He wants a temple, even if we can find a reason why it is not necessary.
This argument of “we’ve got the basics right” found its way into the modern church. The result is that people became individualistic – as long as my heart is right. And it’s there where it stops. The reverence of God and awe for his holiness becomes an optional in worship of God. The dress is sloppy, the attitude and preparation for worship is untidy and careless. Even ministers of the Word proclaim the Word, and represent God to the people, shoddily dressed, unkempt and in some cases unprepared. What a disgrace.
You heard the argument “as long as my heart is right before God”; another is “God is not interested with the outward appearance, but with the inward attitude of the heart.” In part this argument is correct, but only in part. The full story is that God is interested in both the inward and the outward. Christians are different, not only because they think differently, but also because them thinking differently effects they way they then present themselves to the world as ambassadors for Christ.
The lady who lived an unholy live, repented and came to the Lord. She gave her witness in the church. On her arm was a big obnoxious tattoo. Through her lower lip was a stud. Nobody commented about the tattoo; it was a reminder of her wild days, and it could not be removed. The minister of the church was very unhappy about people commenting about the stud, because his argument is, “What is wrong with it, her heart is right with God!” Outwardly this lady looked like anyone else who displayed the signs of ungodliness. She was not told that her body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, and her minister did not have the courage to tell her.
This brings us to the second point:
8 The time is not right: opposition
We are called not to build a physical temple on some holy mountain in some distant city. The church of Christ is called to build another temple: the body of Jesus Christ. It is the calling of the church to preach and proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ in season and out of season. Now why are we slack in this? The time is not right. We pray for the missionaries far away from here, and rightly so. But of building the church in the city not so much happens. Why? If we are honest we have to say we don’t like opposition. To build the Kingdom of God means to, as the apostle puts it in Ephesians 5:11 is to not have part in the darkness of the word and its fruitless deeds, but to expose it.
We might claim that it is not the time, we might claim we have opposition, but deep down it boils down to the same basic argument as earlier: we are busy with our own thing, while the house of God is in ruins. It is a matter of priority. It is a matter of building with all my heart, soul, mind and strength.
The last argument:
8 We cannot afford it
“Give careful thought to your ways”, the Lord says through his prophet. Let’s just list the things mentioned in verse 5-6 and also in verse 9:
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.” (Haggai 1:5-6)
“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 his own house. (Haggai 1:9)
Spiritual inflation leads to other forms of inflation. The moment we put other things first and not God and his glory to serve Him whole-heartedly, the other inflation sets in. We work but are not satisfied; we gather in but we never have enough; we dress, but somehow we still feel satisfied; we earn money, but still see it slip through our fingers. We work with expectation, and the only thing we can show in the end is frustration, disappointment and ulcers.
At this point we argue just like them in old Jerusalem: we cannot expand the work of God, because we cannot afford it; in short, we cannot give because we do not have. It’s as simple as that.
“Give careful thought to your ways”. That is not your problem; your problem is, “You do have because you do not give!” Look at the clouds and the dew; there is nothing in them, not because it is dry our because we are going through a dry cycle; its because we have put ourselves in the center, while the Kingdom of God is pushed to the periphery.
What gain is it that we work for what does not satisfy. The heathens do that. They gather in, they are worried about today and tomorrow. God’s children don’t do it. What do they do? They seek the kingdom of God first, knowing that the living God will provide in all the other things.
8 My dear brethren, it is a matter of priorities. It is a matter of Christian stewardship. It is a matter of what is important in my life. May I challenge you individually, but also as congregation, from the Word of God this morning: Repent before God and ask his forgiveness. 8 And then, ask God to teach us to trust Him completely, to obey Him completely. Look up and hear the promised of the Almighty God: I am with you! (verse 14). Look at the cross and the open grave. 8 Hear the promise of our Lord, I am with you till the very end of this age; Go disciple the nations and teach them to obey everything I commanded you. We have a job do to. We can’t, we don’t have the means. No, we do have the means, because we don’t give: time, talent, money, our hearts. AMEN.
Offering and Dedication
“Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8)
Eternal God, every good gift comes from above, a certain sign of our Father’s love, in appreciation of which we return thanks by presenting these your tithes and our offerings, the first fruits of our labour, from hearts full of love to you for your mercy and grace. Be pleased to bless both these gifts and we who bring them, for the advancement of your Gospel and Kingdom, and the glory of your great name, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Hymn No 334: “Lord, dismiss us with your blessing”
Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:14) Amen.