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Posts Tagged ‘revival’

This is the End?

As I contemplate my current ecclesial hot mess of a situation, these lines from The Doors come to mind:

This is the end
Beautiful friend
This is the end
My only friend, the end

It hurts to set you free
But you’ll never follow me
The end of laughter and soft lies

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Reflections on Haggai 1:12–14

Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and all the remnant of the people gave heed to the voice of Yahweh their God and to the words of Haggai the prophet, as Yahweh their God had sent him, and the people feared Yahweh.  (12)

In response to Haggai’s message in the preceding verses, the civil and religious leaders as well as the remnant, all listened to and obeyed (“gave heed to”) God’s voice through Haggai, the prophet sent from God. Notice that Yahweh is here (and in verse 15) qualified as “their God”. Obviously, Yahweh was their God even in their disobedience, but we truly only know Him as our God when we walk in obedience and fear (reverence).

And Haggai the messenger of Yahweh spoke to the people with the message of Yahweh, saying, “‘I am with you’ declares Yahweh.” (13)

Here, the prophet Haggai is described as Yahweh’s messenger who declares “the message of Yahweh”. What a solemn reminder that those who presume to handle God’s Word must do so as a messenger. Far too often, preachers carelessly and casually spout off their own ideas to court favour or tickle their listeners’ ears. What comfort in those few (2 in Hebrew) words! To have God’s Presence is sufficient!

And Yahweh stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people. And they came and did the work on the house of Yahweh of hosts, their God … (14)

This verse forms an inclusio with verse 12 (repetition of “their God” and the same people), and shows that in response to their obedience, God aroused and awakened them to renew their resolve and efforts to rebuild God’s house. God knows how our hearts needs to be stirred up to build up God’s church!

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Indifference

Some reflections on Haggai 1:4-11 (ESV):

Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord. (2)

Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? (4)

The Israelites put their comfort over their commitment to God (the temple = God’s presence), their own concerns over covenant faithfulness. Likewise, Christians invest much of their time building up their homes instead of the Body of Christ. Further, why do we pour so much energy, time and dollars into beautifying an edifice (church building) instead of blessing people? How are we building up the temple that is the Body of Christ? And what about ourselves; how are we building up our own temple? (1 Cor. 6:19)

thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. (5)

You have sown much, and harvested little.
You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill.
You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm.
And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes. (6)

Thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. (7)

“Consider your ways” (take to heart) is an inclusio that emphasizes the call to reconsider our priorities and pursuits. Note that verse 6 covers all the basic necessities of life: food, drink, clothing and employment (in addition to shelter: “paneled houses”).  Haggai is not saying that they lack life’s necessities (after all, they’re living in “paneled houses”!); rather, it’s that their lives lack fulfillment, despite their self-seeking ways. They aren’t satisfied, everything falls short of their expectations. Their efforts seem futile and they are not flourishing.

How about us? Are we letting the pursuit of pleasures or even legitimate activities overshadow our service for God? Consider your ways!

Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the Lord. (8)

Just as it takes time and effort to gather wood (though readily available) for rebuilding the temple, so too we need to carve out time and be intentional about using what we have (our abilities, time, resources) to serve God and others, not out of guilt, but for God’s glory.

You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the Lord of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house. (9)

The Israelites claim that “the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord“ and yet each of them “busies himself with his own house.” The people have wrong priorities and God will do what it takes to get their attention. I find it interesting when people claim they have no time to pray, read their Bible or serve God. As a dear brother remarked to me, people will always make time for what’s important to them.

Therefore the heavens above you have withheld the dew, and
the earth has withheld its produce. (10)
And I have called for a drought on the land and the hills,
on the grain, the new wine, the oil,
on what the ground brings forth,
on man and beast, and on all their labors. (11)

In our modern technological society, Christians often acts as practical atheists, being not as attuned to God’s sovereign control of nature and the affairs of life as would be the case in an agrarian society. We are bedazzled by the gadgets and the ingenuity of our technologies that provides so much of our comforts, that it is so easy to forget about God’s providence as we pursue our self-centred plans. Caught up in the pursuit of pleasure, profits and personal plans, we don’t desire His Presence or sadly, even think about it.

What is our priority? What are we pursuing? Do we long for His Presence in our lives, personally and corporately?

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Beholding His Beauty

Sam Storms relates a life changing experience he had while reading Jonathan Edwards on the glory of God. Ho hum, you may say. After all, we casually use the cliché about doing everything for God’s glory all the time. Storms notes that, “for many of these same people, ‘glorifying God’ is an empty shell. Ask them to describe what it means and you’re likely to get a blank and embarrassed stare. … Glorifying God has become something of a mantra in the evangelical world.”  He goes on to ask, “How is he most glorified in us? Where and in what way is God’s glory most clearly revealed?” and then gives us his answer:

I believe the consistent answer of Scripture is that God is most glorified in us when our knowledge and experience of him ignite a forest fire of joy that consumes all competing pleasures and he alone becomes the treasure that we prize.

One Thing

Few there be however, that have thought as deeply about God’s glory as America’s greatest theologian has, who Storms quotes:

God is glorified not only by his glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in. When those that see it delight in it, God is more glorified than if they only see it. God made the world that he might communicate, and the creature receive, his glory . . . both [with] the mind and the heart.

Therefore, “passionate and joyful admiration of God, and not merely intellectual apprehension, is the aim of our existence. If God is to be supremely glorified in us it’s critically essential that we be supremely glad in him and in what he has done for us in Jesus. So, here’s why you are: to relish and rejoice in the revelation of divine beauty.”

I don’t know about you, but most Christians in my circle (including myself) are blind to the beauty of God, other than perhaps while singing certain contemporary worship songs (though without truly grasping the meaning and implications of God’s majesty and glory). How many of us can honestly say with the psalmist that we seek “one thing from the Lord”, to be in his presence to “gaze on the beauty of the Lord” (Ps. 27:4; ISV)

Storms pulls no punches when he asserts that:

The problem is that they are oblivious to the beauty of God. Worse than that, they’re bored. God is real to them. They’re not atheists. He just isn’t relevant. Far less is he cause for celebration. That’s why when life is hard and disillusionment sets in, God isn’t the first thing to enter their minds (if they think of him at all). Many instinctively turn to whatever will anesthetize their pain or bring a spark to their souls.

Shallow thoughts of God leads to shallow lives; one can’t divorce head from heart, beliefs from practices, theology from doxology.

For from him and through him
and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever. Amen.

Romans 11:36; CSB

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Complacency

“Thus says Yahweh of hosts: ‘This people says, “The time [καιρὸς; LXX] has not come to rebuild the temple of Yahweh.’” (Haggai 1:2; LEB)

After the initial enthusiasm wore off and they encountered challenges (Ezra 4:4,5) the people became complacent and “the work on the temple of God in Jerusalem came to a halt.” (Ezra 4:24; NET) In the ensuing 16 years, the temple was all but forgotten, until the prophetic voice sounded forth from Haggai. Their complacency led them to live according to their own priorities and to make excuses for not rebuilding the temple: It is not the right time, the opportune time has not come yet.

So it is today: Christians offer a plethora of excuses as to why it’s not the opportune time to build up the church (1 Peter 2:5); instead, everyone is comfort-driven and busy looking after their own concerns. No wonder most churches resemble a country club, rather than “a holy nation, a people for his possession” (1 Peter 2:9; CSB).

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… a church’s commitment to prayer is one of the greatest determiners of its effectiveness in ministry. Prayer is oxygen for the Christian. It sustains us. So it follows that prayer must be a source of life for any community of Christians. It is to the church what it is to individuals—breathing. Yet many of our gatherings could be likened to people coming together merely to hold their collective breath. This would explain why people seem to have so little energy for actually living out the Christian life.

John Onwuchekwa, Prayer: How Praying Together Shapes the Church

I just recently finished reading John Onwuchekwa’s fine little book on prayer, which I wish all our church elders would read. For the past 10 months at least, I have been pleading with our elders to have a church prayer meeting focused around confession, repentance and revival. Thus far, my pleas have seemingly fallen on deaf ears. One of our new elders asked me me to help him start a “prayer fellowship” meeting; we’ve been meeting twice a month now since February, with peak attendance of 6 and average of 4. Recently, I decided to just commit to pray for revival every Lord’s Day at 8:30 am: so far, it’s been only me and a younger brother (which is encouraging!).

I truly believe heartfelt, penitent corporate prayer is the antidote to our church’s dysfunctional disunity.

As one member of a deceased church confessed later, “We stopped taking prayer seriously. And the church started dying.” (Thom Rainer, Autopsy of a Deceased Church)  I pray this will not be the fate of our church.

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Are We Dying?

In his report, 10 Dangers of Denial in Dying Churches, Thom Rainer enumerates them as:

10 Dangers of Denial in Dying Churches
  1. The problems will only worsen.
  2. Future generations are forsaken.
  3. Leaders will have regrets.
  4. Churches will miss opportunities for solutions.
  5. There is no urgency for change.
  6. Maintenance ministries engender frustration and conflict.
  7. Churches in denial are usually disobedient.
  8. Many of these churches will tolerate open and flagrant sin.
  9. The church will lose its best members.
  10. Comfort becomes an idol.

Highlights:

  • If you don’t deal with the present, you won’t be a force for the future.
  • The way to move forward in a church is to be proactive, not reactive.
  • Successful change requires you to admit something is wrong and needs to be addressed.
  • A church in denial of dying is often disobedient to the Great Commission because they don’t see the need for living it out.

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