Saturday, January 14, 2012

We Must Go

I have been spending some time in both Haggai and Jeremiah as of late, which has pointed my thoughts in a certain direction regarding the church in America. I cannot help but notice similarities with the people of both Judah and Israel and the people of America, and I do not exclude myself from any of these similarities. I wish I could honestly tell you that it has greatly burdened my heart in such a way that has produced evident change in some of the regular decisions I make, but as of yet, it has not. It is my prayer that the Spirit would grant us all eyes to see the areas where we, as the American church, need to change. That we would not just have a flash of concern that soon dies, but that we would be given God's heart, as well as the anguish that comes along with it.

In the first chapter of the book of Haggai, Haggai is called to speak to the people of Judah regarding their consistent disregard for the house of the Lord, which was lying in ruins at this time.

Haggai speaks to them saying,"Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now therefore, thus the Lord of Hosts: Consider your ways. 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."

Here is what is happening. Judah was recently in captivity, under Babylonian rule,and the temple had been destroyed, but the Persian ruler Cyrus the Great captured Babylon and issued an edict which permits the Jews to return to Jerusalem, strictly for the purpose of rebuilding the temple. The problem is that the Jews had neglected the work of the Lord, having more concern for the rebuilding of their own houses. To understand this better, we must also understand the importance of the temple to the Jewish people. The temple was imperative to the Jews, because it was believed to be the dwelling place of the Lord. If the temple were rebuilt, then the Lord would dwell with them and bring holiness to the people. God desired to renew a covenant relationship with His people, but the closeness to the Lord was decaying, which led His people to more rebellion.

The problem here, is that in neglecting the house of the Lord, the Jews were rebelling against the Lord. But they did not seem to see it that way. They had recently been set free from captivity, and were now permitted to go rebuild the temple!!! But they seemed to have misinterpreted what the purpose of their freedoms were. Now that they are free, their intent became to celebrate their freedoms with selfish pursuits. There was another problem here though. I believe they also had a skewed view of what God wanted for them. This was evidenced by the fact they were celebrating their freedoms in a way that exalted themselves, while God seemingly stood by on the corner and watched. It was as if they were under the impression that the purpose of their newly acquired freedom was, well...for their freedom and advancement. This was not God's hope. God did not pull them of captivity so that they could use their freedom to gain success, wealth, and prosperity.

This is where I believe the problem lies in America. I feel as though we all share an attitude that says, "God just wants us to be happy," whether we would say so or not. When we think of America, I'm certain that the majority of us would first have a sense of gratitude for our freedoms, blessings, possessions, which we should be very grateful for. But, I contend that these freedoms are very dangerous as well. Why? Because they can turn our attention inward. The Jews were probably very grateful for having been released from captivity, but they were more concerned about the liberties that come along with their new found freedom, instead of the whole purpose behind why they were given freedom. When do we use our freedoms to feed the hungry, stand beside the broken? When do we stop just singing our own Christian songs, and actually move into action?

I fear that we perceive salvation to look like this. We are justified through Christ, which then points us toward sanctification. Sanctification is absolutely necessary, but I don't know if we understand the purpose of sanctification. It seems as though we think that after we have been justified, our lives need to look like this: Get Better. Get better at something that has already been finished. But why? God absolutely desires holiness, and the Holy Spirit is absolutely given as a Helper to help us become more and more holy. But our own holiness is still not the goal. The goal of our holiness is that people would see Christ in us. Not so that I would simply become holier than I was before. Even in our pursuits that may seem to appear right, (avoiding sin, godly living, purity), I still feel as though we don't understand why we should do so. If we take our new found freedom, and use it to advance ourselves, God will NOT bless our efforts. God's heart is the rebuilding of Jerusalem, and He wants to use Christians to do so. But if our intent becomes to gain personal advancement out of our freedom, then we have missed the mark, and need to repent. If I become so consumed with my sins, my needs, my desires, my hopes, my worries, my struggles, my joys etc., then I have a misunderstanding of the gospel, and why God removed the chains of slavery that once bound me. God sets us free, so that in our freedom, we would be used to set others free, not build more houses for ourselves. We Must Go rebuild God's Jerusalem, and we must do so now. There are children going to hell, while their Christian father's sit and watch television. There are students in Sunday School who are not hearing the gospel, and Sunday School teachers who are more concerned with the fact that they get to add another tally to their attendance sheets. Concern quickly dies, which is why I hope the Lord would share the anguish that He feels over His house which lies in ruins.

I will leave you with more scripture:

"for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water."

Jeremiah 2:13

"He has told you O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"

Micah 6:8