|THE TASK AT HAND
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
August 29, 2010
This morning we’re going on with our look at Stewardship. When we talk about Stewardship generally we think about what? Money. And that we’re going for this. Your wallet.
I pray that - especially after last Sunday - that we’re seeing together that stewardship is a whole lot more than money - 10% yadi - yadi - yada. Stewardship touches the core of who we are.
It is so easy for us to get locked up in a lifestyle where the focus of how we’re living our lives - that focus is on us - not God. Which is understandable. Isn’t it? Look where we’re living - capitalist America. How we’re judged or how we judge ourselves - all that is way too often based on what we have. We’re constantly being bombarded with the sales pitch that we need to buy more - to spend more on ourselves - because we deserve it.
Way to many Christians have bought into this self-serving version of Christianity. The church in America has become self-focused - consumer driven. What do I get when I choose to show up? If my needs aren’t met I’ll show up somewhere else.
That kind of self-focus takes a toll on our marriages and our relationships - dating - at work. What we expect from someone else. The vast majority of what we’re bombarded with out there - on video or music or in print - its all about lust and what you can do for me - self.
Relationships that work aren’t self focused. Healthy community isn’t about self. Marriage isn’t about self. Right? Marriage is about sacrifice - service - giving up oneself for the other person. Not being a doormat. But, a partnership of two individuals who are serving each other. With what’s out there how do we learn to do that?
Living our lives for ourselves - obeying our selfish desires and not obeying God - that’s what God labels as sin. Sin really is self-destructive behavior. The kind of self-focused - self-destructive - meet my needs or I’m out of here - attitude that’s destroying the society we live in and is dragging us down as well. Gnawing at our marriages and families - our relationships - even our own feelings about ourselves.
That’s why its so important that we work at understanding what God says about stewardship. Let’s be honest. We all struggle with self and the effects of living for ourselves. There isn’t any one of us gets this - not to the full extent of what stewardship is. God is continually working on this with me. I’m sharing this morning from weakness not strength.
Stewardship is the complete 180º opposite of all that selfishness. Stewardship forces - disciplines us - to focus - not on ourselves - but on God. Stewardship teaches us to live life where the only explanation for how our lives are lived and sustained - whatever is produced - experienced - enjoyed - whatever the reality of our lives - stewardship brings us to the reality that the only explanation for all that is God.
When we come to understand stewardship - when we come to live as stewards of what God entrusts us with - stewardship brings us to the kind of life that we were created by God to live. The only life where true security and peace and the fulfillment that we crave - the only life where all that is found. Life where we’re trusting God for everything and God is glorified. Are we together?
We’re focusing on The Big Three of Stewardship. Which are what? Time, Talent, and Treasure. Those three - time - talent - treasure - cover the range of what we need to be looking at when it comes to understanding stewardship - how God can use stewardship to radically change our lives for the better and to bring glory to Himself through us.
Last Sunday we looked at the stewardship of what? Time. This morning we’re looking at our stewardship of talent - the abilities and skills that God gives each of us.
Please turn with me to the book of Haggai. If you need a Bible there’s one under a chair ahead of you. We want to encourage you to bring your own Bible on Sundays. But if you need one there’s one there for you to use. And if you don’t have a Bible of your own feel free to take that one home with you.
Coming to Haggai - Haggai is three books from the end of the Old Testament. New Testament and go back three. Haggai isn’t that well known. Its one of those minor prophet books that gets skipped over. But this is a great little book that has a lot to say about how much we’re really trusting God as we go through life.
Let’s read verses 1 and 2 out loud together: In the second year of Darius the king, on the first day of the sixth month, the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest saying, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘This people says, “the time has not come, even the time for the house of the Lord to be rebuilt.”’”
We need to grab onto some history here. What’s going on with Haggai and God’s people
In the beginning of the 6th century BC - Nebuchadnezzar - remember him? Book of Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar had sacked the smaller towns of Judah. Finally in 586 BC Neb laid siege to Jerusalem - destroyed the city - burned the temple that Solomon had built - left it a burned out shell of its former glory - hauled God’s people off into exile - mostly to Babylon.
In 536 BC - 50 years later after Neb got through sacking the place - Cyrus - the Persian Emperor - who had conquered Babylon - so now Cyrus is in charge of all these exiled Jews - Cyrus issued a decree that allowed the Jews to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. We’re together?
Ezra - who lived at the same time as Haggai - Ezra - in Ezra chapter 1 - Ezra recorded that decree - Cyrus’ decree - allowing the Jews to return home. Listen to the words of this pagan king. As you’re listening listen for who gets the credit for why Cyrus is doing this.
Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, “The Lord, the God of heaven - hear that? The Lord the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of earth and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all His people, - the Jews - may his God be with him! Let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel; He is the God who is in Jerusalem. Every survivor, at whatever place he may live, let the men of that place support him with silver and gold, with goods and cattle, together with a freewill offering for the house of God - the Temple - which is in Jerusalem.” (Ezra 1:2-4)
Who gets the credit? God.
God stirs up the heart of this pagan king - Cyrus - who issues this decree - which was in itself a fulfillment of prophecy - God earlier telling His people through Jeremiah - as God’s people were being hauled off into exile - God told His people through Jeremiah that 70 years would go by and then God would bring them back to the Promised Land - which - through Cyrus - 70 years later was exactly what’s going on here. God uses this pagan king - to make this incredible declaration that’s full of reverence of God - calling on God’s people to give everything they’ve got - to go and restore God’s temple in Jerusalem.
This is totally a God thing. A huge moment in the history of God’s people. And God’s people responded. We know that at this huge God moment in history most of God’s people chose to stay in Babylon.
In 70 years of exile they’d set up businesses - bought houses - gotten pretty comfortable - living the vida loca - the good life by the banks of the Euphrates - partay. Only about 40,000 went back. Out of 24 priestly orders only 4 went back. Only a handful of Levites and temple servants went back - which would have made it really hard to run the temple when it was restored. Pretty self-defeating. What’s the point of restoring the temple if you don’t have enough priests to run the place?
Point being - the response of God’s people to this incredible movement of God was pretty pathetic - if not fatalistic. It was self-focused. We like the good life we’ve achieved for ourselves.
Zerubbabel - mentioned here in verse 1 - Zerubbabel would have been the civic leader - Joshua would have been the religious leader of that first group that went back. Under their leadership a die hard group of Jews came back to Jerusalem and starting work on the burned out shell of God’s temple. All of which takes place about 536 BC. What date? 536 BC. That’s the background leading up to verse 1.
Verse 1 - the second year of Darius the king - Darius being the king who after a lot of political wrangling over the Persian throne - Darius becomes king - the first day of the 6th month of the second year of Darius’ reign we know from historical records outside of the Bible - that that date is August 29, 520 BC - 2,530 years ago - today. Is that cool or what? That date was 16 years after the group under Zerubbabel and Joshua had returned to start work in the temple.
Hold onto that - 16 years go by and God says to His people in verse 2 - what?: “You all say that the time has not come for the temple to be rebuilt.” Sound strange?
In fulfillment of God’s prophetic word - God moves Cyrus - king of the known earth - to make this incredible decree - giving God’s people absolute freedom to return from exile and to rebuild the temple - puts at their disposal all the resources necessary to get the job done - all that God would be glorified - that the awesomeness of God would be declared through the work of God’s people. 16 years go by and the people are still in “stall mode.” “Its not time yet.” What are they waiting for?
Let’s go on to verse 3. Let’s read this together: Then the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet, saying, “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses while this house lies desolate?”
Reading through Ezra’s record of what was going on - probably - when God’s people first got back to Jerusalem - there was probably some initial excitement about rebuilding. “This is so cool to be back in Jerusalem. Let’s go build the temple.”
But as the cost in materials went higher - as the resources dwindled - as the opposition from the people around them grew stronger. As the reality of the task began to weigh them down. Economically - politically - spiritually - as things started to get more difficult - that initial excitement started to wane.
Think about what distracts us from focusing on what we need to focus on? Ever seen someone doing this? Or this? We’ll all done this. Right? Notice the speedometer? These guys are going 65. “But officer I wasn’t actually driving while I was texting.” This guy should have no problem keeping focused on driving. Distractions. Getting focused on the wrong stuff.
“Paneled” - verse 4 - paneled has the idea of wood paneling on the walls inside the house - in a culture of homes build out of rocks that would have been a pretty sweet upgrade. Paneling also has to do with roofing - well constructed roofs on their houses - another upgrade. These are nice houses.
In contrast is the word “desolate” in Hebrew has the idea of “ruined” - an archeologists playground.
God’s people are working at upgrading their standard of living while 16 years later God’s temple is still a roofless burnt out shell. God’s people are whining about how hard it is do what God sent them to do. It isn’t the right time. When the situation is right we’ll get to it. But they never do.
Amazingly they have all the skills and resources - the talents and abilities - to do what they want to do. But they’re coming up short when it comes to God. Why? Their focus is on who? Self - not God.
God’s people are distracted. They started building their homes instead of God’s house. They started focusing on their own stuff and comfort and what came to matter most to them - not God and what God had for them to do. What God arranged to send them back to Jerusalem to do. Which is what? Build the temple.
Looking around us - politically - economically - even spiritually - based on our self-comfort focused assessment of our lives - with all the things that require our effort - our commitment. With all the options and opportunities that we involve ourselves with - sports - recreation - work - and so on - even church - is it ever the right time to do what God calls us to do? Sacrificially? Where what we do is all about God - not us?
And just like God’s people back then - there will always be opposition against us - the struggle will always be too great - the funds in the bank account too meager - the outlook is grim - other matters that require our attention. There will always be distractions - what too easily focuses our effort on us - and not God.
Hear this: It doesn’t take much for us to go into “stall mode” and to get comfortable with how we’re living our lives rather than giving our lives to what God has called us to do.
And that - by the way - that is the definition of the stewardship of talent: Giving our lives to what God has called us to do. Let’s say that together: “Giving our lives to what God has called us to do.” How easy it is for us to get distracted from that.
Verse 5. Let’s go on reading together: Now therefore - because you guys have gotten way off track - focusing on yourselves - Now therefore thus says the Lord of hosts, “Consider your ways!
Verse 1 to 11 are God’s Response To His People. Let’s say that together: “God’s response to His people.” God responding to His self-focused people.
“Consider your ways” is a Hebrew idiom - a Hebrew saying. The kind of stuff that excites Hebrew scholars even without a double shot. The phrase in Hebrew literally says, “Put your heart on your road.”
Anyone remember what the Hebrew word for heart is? “Heart” in Hebrew is the word “lebab.” Isn’t that great? Say that with me: “lebab.” Heart meaning the core of who we are - what moves us deep within.
To put our heart on our road is - from the core of who we are - thinking about what we really value in life - as we’re going down the road of life to think seriously about the direction of our lives. Where are we at? Where are we going in life?
Verse 6 is God’s evaluation. God responding to His people - evaluating their lives - to get them thinking seriously about where their self-focused lives are taking them.
Read verse 6 with me: “You have sown much, but harvest little; you eat, but there is not enough to be satisfied; you drink, but there is not enough to become drunk; you put on clothing, but no one is warm enough; and he who earns, earns wages to put into a purse with holes.”
First evaluation: You have sown much, but harvest little Harsh reality in an agrarian society. Especially if you’re not harvesting enough to seed the next years crop. You’re living on the bare minimum. Just getting by. Not getting ahead.
Second evaluation: you eat, but there is not enough to be satisfied - you’re eating - but your hungry. Its not enough.
Third: you drink, but there is not enough to become drunk You got wine. But its watered down. You’re stretching it because it isn’t enough.
Fourth: you put on clothing, but no one is warm enough Your clothing doesn’t keep out the dampness of winter - the chill.
Fifth: and he who earns, earns wages to put into a purse with holes.” Holes in the pockets that money slips through. Whatever you’re earning your spending. You’re living hand to mouth. Income is barely meeting expenses.
The point of God’s evaluation is that while God’s people have focused on themselves as they’re working hard at what they want for themselves - tons of effort poured into what’s important to them - they’re coming up empty. Nothing satisfies. God’s people are coming up feeling more frustrated - more depressed - more behind.
Alabama: “I’m in a hurry to get things done. Oh I rush and rush until life’s no fun. All I really gotta do is live and die. But I’m in a hurry and I don’t know why.” (1)
Ever feel like that? Its like being in line of slow moving cars and all we want to do is get ahead - get passed this bottleneck that’s slowing down our lives - to get to the front of the line and cruise they way we want. The head of the line some Eskimo with a dog sled up in the arctic - and we’re working hard trying pass him. Gotta get there. Even if we pass him what’s the point?
Think about where your life is at - where its going. When we focus on what satisfies us - when we’re working for ourselves and not God - focused on self - how satisfying is that? Is that the direction you want to keep living?
Read with me at verse 7: Thus says the Lord of hosts, “Consider your ways! Go up to the mountains, bring wood and rebuild the temple, that I may be pleased with it and be glorified,” says the Lord.
God’s response? Here’s the other option. Get back on track. Work for Me. “Get wood and start paneling My house.” Put our efforts into what pleases God - what glorifies God.
Let’s read verse 9: “You look for much, but behold, it comes to little; when you bring it home, I blow it away. Why?” declares the Lord of hosts, “Because of My house which lies desolate, while each of you runs to his own house.”
Imagine some poor Hebrew farmer coming home with the harvest - a whole seasons worth of hard sweat and labor. All the grain has been separated from the chaff. Its all there ready to be put in the barn. Then this amazingly powerful wind comes and in an instant just blows it all away.
The farmer asks, “God why? How could you let this happen?” Answer: “Can you hear Me now? My house is a ruin while you’re working at expanding yours. You’re blowing it. Pun intended.”
Let me read verses 10 and 11 for you. Just listen to God’s bottom line of His response. “Therefore - because you’re working for yourself rather than working for Me - because of the emptiness of what you’re pouring yourself into - because of you the sky has withheld its dew and the earth has withheld its produce. We’re asking God why God does such things - and the answer is as plain as the nose on our faces. - I - God - called for a drought on the land, on the mountains, on the grain, on the new wine, on the oil, on what the ground produces, on men, on cattle, and on all the labor of your hands.”
Its because of us - our distracted priorities - that God does these things. Because of what we’re working so hard to achieve - that God has called for all this to happen. Its harsh. But what God has done is aimed at breaking through to our hearts and getting our attention.
Bottom line of God’s response to His people: Consider what you’re pouring your life into. Pouring our lives into what we value for ourselves will never achieve anything of lasting value. It only produces more emptiness. But pouring ourselves into what God gives us to do - serving God - pleasing God - glorifying God - produces what really is worth producing - what gives value and purpose and meaning to our lives.
Verses 12 to 15 focus on The Response Of God’s People To God. Let’s say that together: “The response of God’s people to God.”
Look at verse 12. Follow along as I read: Verse 12: Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the Lord their God - who’s voice? The Lord their God’s - and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the Lord their God had sent him - who sent Haggai? The Lord their God - And the people showed reverence for the Lord - who? The Lord - Then Haggai, the messenger of the Lord, spoke by the commission of the Lord to the people saying, “‘I am with you,’ declares the Lord.” - Who declared it? The Lord - So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts - who’s house - the Lord’s house - their God on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month in the second year of Darius the king.
Two responses of God’s people to God.
First: They obeyed. Let’s say that together: “They obeyed.”
“The Lord their God” is a phrase that contains two names for God: “Lord” - “Yahweh” - “God” - “Elohim.” We’ll come to Yahweh in a bit. But first think with me about Elohim.
Elohim is the name given to the sovereign God of creation. The God who speaks all things into existence by the power of His word. He speaks and it is. The God who created Adam and Eve. Who - before creation was creation - knew each one of us - the days of our lives. Who before creation was creation purposed to give us our abilities and skills - even the very purpose for our lives.
Elohim is the God who gives to His people all that they need to serve Him - enables and empowers them to service. Who speaks to His people and calls them back to pour their lives out into the purposes for which He has created them. To steward their lives according to what God has called them to do.
Verse 14 says that on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month in the second year of Darius - which is barely three weeks after Haggai first hits them with God’s word - God’s people - civic leadership - spiritual leadership - everyone - big shots and little shots - double shots - they all come and work on the temple.
Why it took them three weeks we don’t know. Probably it took that long to inventory their supplies - to assess and assign jobs - to dust off the plans. Basically to get organized. 3 weeks is a whole lot shorter than 16 years. Yes?
Point was that they obeyed. They did a 180° turn of direction - without hanging on to bits and pieces of what they’d been working at. “Well maybe God wouldn’t mind if I gave Him 80% of my life. I’m still waxing the chariot on Tuesday even if it does conflict with Torah study.” They gave themselves totally to serving God - Elohim - with their lives - all that He had given them - according to His purposes.
Second response - verse 12 - They showed reverence. Let’s try that together, “They showed reverence.” Reverence is honor - respect - worship - coming from the heart.
The Hebrew name for Lord is Yahweh. They obeyed Yahweh Elohim - the Lord their God. But they had reverence for Yahweh - emphasis Yahweh. Do you see the difference there? That difference is significant.
Yahweh is used to describe the God who has always existed and will always exist. The eternal God. It was the name of God that was so holy that God’s people never wrote it down in case someone would read it and speak it.
The name Yahweh also speaks of intimacy - relationship. The always existing - eternal - God who has chosen His people - who chooses to reveal Himself to His people - who cares in a very special way for His covenant people - who redeems His people - out of their sins. The name Yahweh - brings to mind the awesome self-existent God - who has chosen to enter into an ongoing love relationship with His people.
Notice verse 13. When God’s people obey God and show Him reverence the Lord - Yahwerh - declares, “I’m with you.” “With” means together with them - location - Yahweh right there with His people. And “with” means possession - to protect and provide for. These are Yahwehs’s people that He’s with. That’s a tight intimate relationship.
Are you seeing what we’re being shown here? Stay with me. God’s people - when we - from the heart - pour out our lives into what God gives us to do - regardless of what the opposition - the obstacles - or other opportunities - regardless of the distractions - when we will use the abilities and skills that God has given to us - trusting God by pouring out our lives into what God has for us to do - God is pleased - God is glorified - and we experience life lived tight - intimately - with the living God. Life the way we crave life to be lived.
Two take home questions. Homework for this week.
Question #1: Who are you serving with all that you are?
Anyone remember who Angela Montez is? Watch this and think about who you’re serving with your life.
During those 40 minutes when Angela and Gregory were together - the store which is normally very busy - had no customers and no phone calls. They had uninterrupted time to pray together. To talk about life and God. One of the things Angela said as she was being interviewed was that she felt that the “Lord sent both of us together.” That’s a huge God moment.
“Vocation” comes from a Latin verb that means “to call.” Each of us has a vocation given to us by God. We’re called to be His people - to obey Him - to reverence Him - to glorify Him - to serve Him with our lives - stewardship. As a follower of Jesus - our vocation is to testify of Jesus and life with Him. To pour ourselves - all that we are - into our vocation.
The great commission - “Go into the world…” (Matthew 28:16-20) -Jesus isn’t talking to professional disciples. You may be a student - or a teacher - or a wife - a mother - a husband - a father - a sibling - a whatever. All that is where we live out our vocation. We may change jobs - switch schools - move away from home - our situation may change but our vocation never does.
In the God given opportunities of your life - with the abilities and skills God has given you - 24/7/365 - who are you serving?
Take Home Question #2: What distracts you from serving God with all that you are?
Vocation is not vacation. Sometimes its hard. We may have a gun to our heads. Sometimes it may feel that way. Sometimes we may be tempted serve ourselves - to get into “stall mode.” All of us yield to distractions. If you can’t think of one, ask God. He’ll show you. Then - choose to do the 180° turn - to obedience - reverence for God - serving God with all that you are.
1) Alabama “I’m in hurry” (and I don’t know why) - American Pride
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE ®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.