A Promise of Glory
It is the truth that our minds soften the past by helping us not to dwell on that which troubles us. Our forgetfulness deceives us into thinking that times were better.
Here is the timetable to date:
• Aug 29 Haggai brings a word of encouragement to recommence work on the Temple
• Sept 21 The work begins
• Oct 17 Some become discouraged and Haggai brings a second message
Less than a month into the project, some have become discouraged and, apparently, the work was slowing down. The leaders, Zerubbabel the governor and Joshua the High Priest shouldered the task of keeping everyone motivated.
The problem is laid out for us near the beginning of this message. The people becoming discouraged were those who had seen Solomon’s Temple in all its glory. We are reminded of Ezra:
But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away. (Ezra 3:12-13 TNIV)
Notice who the people are who are so sad. They are older, yes, but they are also leaders:
• Heads of clans (elder grandparents)
God addresses these people specifically. He first acknowledges that the state of things is not, in itself, encouraging. In their memory is the glory of the proudest building in the whole land of Israel, South and North. Standing before them is an altar, a foundation pavement, and, perhaps, a few dressed stones and timbers.
So Haggai reminds them of God’s promise to the obedient:
You will still be eating last year’s harvest when you will have to move it out to make room for the new. I will put my dwelling place among you, and I will not abhor you. I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt so that you would no longer be slaves to the Egyptians; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high. (Lev 26:10-13 TNIV)
When God promised to be with those who obeyed Him, it was in the context of a comprehensive promise of blessing:
• Good crops
• Success in battle
• The dwelling place of God among them
• The presence of God and a relationship with Him
• Dignity in their national identity
Remember, they had experienced crop failures and economic hardship. The promise of God’s presence was not just in the Temple, it was in their complete prosperity. God was saying that following through on the Temple construction had much further reaching implications. He was saying,
there is a powerful, unbreakable connection between you and the people of the past who followed Moses out of Egypt. The same blood runs through your veins and the same promise applies to you, because the same God stands by it.
The leadership they provided in this one act of obedience would have implications on the well-being of the group in every aspect of their lives.
Two powerful statements accompany the reminder:
• I am with you
• Do not fear
One is the repeated promise of Haggai’s earlier message, "I will be with you". The other is the most repeated command of the Scriptures, "do not fear". God’s presence means His people have nothing to fear in any situation.
So the basic command is
Their work was flagging. Procrastination was becoming a temptation. Abandoning the vision was the danger. Their strength for the work was fed not by their physical, but by their emotional power. And their emotional power was waning. Interesting, that he does not say, "think positively." Instead He acknowledges the difficulty of the task and says, "exert yourself."
Then He gives them the reason they should exert themselves
Remember the power of the one you serve
God’s influence does not rest merely on that small patch of ground they called the Temple. His power would be evident in the heavens, the earth, the seas, and the dry land.
We are not talking about mere earthquakes and storms. Gregory, the 4th Century Bishop of Constantinople described these "shakings of the Earth" as:
The first being the transition from idols to the Law
The second, from the Law to the Gospel
And the third shaking, the change from this present stage of things to what lies beyond
The ancient Church Fathers saw this coming of the "Desire of nations" as being the second coming of Jesus, a fulfillment of Jesus’ own words:
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14 TNIV)
The gospel will have reached into all the nations of the world, setting up an expectation and longing for His coming. The ultimate glory of the Temple of the LORD is when His physical presence fills it. That is an Earth shaking event.
Remember the wealth of the one you serve
Solomon’s Temple was well known for being a place of great splendor. Imagine a whole building built with quarried and dressed limestone. The workmanship was so fine that no mortar was used and no cutting was done on the building site. The most familiar example is the Washington Monument, which also has no mortar. Then line the whole inner structure with Cedar paneling. Then line the paneling of the whole thing with gold. The inner sanctuary alone had at least 5400 square feet of gold plating, just on the walls and the ceiling, even the floor. It took 7 years to build.
God says, remember who the wealth belongs to.
Yes, Solomon’s Temple was rich, but they did not scratch the surface of God’s wealth. The gold that people dig to obtain, and the silver that they work to refine were placed in the mountain stone by God. Solomon acknowledges this many times in the Proverbs where he demonstrates that riches are not controlled by men, but by God.
A promise of glory
It is as if God is saying,
Get a picture in your mind of the glory of the past Temple. It is important and valuable. Once you have imagined the past with every detail, know this.
The future will outstrip it.
Just as much as these few stones and boards are outstripped by the glory of Solomon’s Temple, so will this new Temple make Solomon’s Temple appear meager by comparison.
God is promising those who remember great things that still greater things are in store. He is promising them that His power has not diminished and His wealth is not spent. He is promising that what they see is not the same as what will be.
We can learn from them
It is the truth of every great endeavor, that the initial motivation to see the work done is not enough to carry it through. It is perhaps just as true, perhaps more true for leaders than it is for everyone else. The younger people who had never seen a Temple were not hampered by their visions of a glorious past and their inadequacy to recreate it. The leaders are in a unique position to appreciate the magnitude of the proposal.
The Temple we are building is not one of stone, cedar and gold. It is a living Temple made of living stones, built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, aligned with our chief cornerstone, Jesus Christ. As with the Temple of Haggai’s day, perhaps the working group most subject to discouragement is the leadership.
Just ask George Washington. He was constantly appealing to Congress for funds to carry out the Revolution. After they lost a few rounds, the motivation to fund the effort would flag. Then he would appeal to Congress or win a round and the funds would come. Traditionally, Washington is said to have written his resignation, but never turned it in. Richard Stockton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence actually signed an oath of allegiance to the British when he was in dire straights. Leading a cause does not exempt you from discouragement. It may subject you to it more acutely.
You must decide for yourself if you are a leader. However, I would like to gain the attention of the patriarchs and matriarchs of this congregation. When you look around at the Temple as it is being built, what do you see? Do you compare it to the glories of the past? Do you remember times when there were more young couples with children and your children still attended here?
Remember, most of our folks never met the Millers or even the Sharps. Many never knew Tim Schultz. They missed out on some good friends. But those times were, in reality, no better.
It is easy to remember a bit of how things used to be and to compare things now in a negative light. For every good thing you remember there are bad things you try to forget. If you try, you can recall them.
• Though there were more people who learned what it meant to be a Mennonite from their family background
• There were also people who strongly disagreed about the way that should be lived out
• Though there were people who could read music
• There were no musical instruments allowed
If looking at our past in 2007 had any positive effect, it was to see that God worked in glorious ways at Norma Mennonite Church in days gone by. But it also reminded us of some difficulties.
We must never forget the words of Solomon:
Do not say, "Why were the old days better than these?" For it is not wise to ask such questions. (Ecclesiastes 7:10 TNIV)
I underscore the words of Haggai:
• Is God less powerful?
• Is God’s wealth spent?
• Are we limited to the glory of the past?
• The days of John Miller were good
• The future God has for Norma is better still
• The days of Marlon Sharp were full of active evangelism and ministry initiative
• The future God has for Norma is better still
• The days of Tim Schultz were days of growth and healing
• The future God has for Norma is better still
When you dwell on the past and compare the present, you do your current friends a disservice. They cannot compete with a memory, especially an idealized one.
And long-term leaders are not the only ones subject to this kind of nostalgic paralysis. Many of us have former churches or church related relationships that threaten to undermine our view of the present.
We think we remember the "good old days". Looking back will never show you the good old days. If we are inclined to that kind of thinking, then someday today will be the good old days too.
In fact, according to Haggai, the golden years are not in the past, they are in the future. The glory of the work we are doing now, if we give it our dedicated attention, when it bears its fruit, will outshine any memory we care to distort.
Things right now are on the brink. Attendance has the potential of being permanently higher. Giving is on the cusp of growth. New people are learning about Norma. Attenders are reaching spiritual goals and growing.
The future God has for Norma is more glorious still.
• When everything is not the way you would like it to be
• When the past looks brighter than the present
• When the future looks far away and difficult
Discouragement saps strength. Work slows down or stops. Procrastination becomes the preferred route.
The solution is clear. Again we look to Solomon for his excellent wording:
Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom. (Ecclesiastes 9:10 NIV)
Solomon may be misunderstood in the last part of this sentence, but all he is really saying is:
Whatever is worth doing, is worth doing well. The time will come when you can’t do it at all.
• What is your ministry?
• What is your place in this Temple?
• Who are the stones adjacent to you?
Your dedication to the task determines it success. God’s work has never been complete without people.
In the coming months you will hear about activities of different types that contribute to the unity and integrity of this portion of God’s great temple that we call Norma Mennonite Church. We as a congregation are part of something much bigger and enduring. But every stone is crucial.
• Don’t give up, keep working
• Don’t be discouraged, know that God is with you
• Don’t look back, the future is brighter than the past
• Don’t count pennies, God’s wealth is not yet spent
Don’t give in to low expectations. The God who shakes the heavens and earth is in control.