The Book of Joel, Ezra and Haggai.
One of the episodes in my book is titled, Never Promised You a Rose Garden. It outlined a time in my life where I thought once you pledged your life to God as You Understand Him, Jesus or God(Good Orderly Direction), your existence on this earth would be a grand affair. Life would be in abundance and everything that pained me would subside. It was a point where I had to decide to give up some pretty significant bad habits, or else. At the same time, my marriage fell victim to adultery. I also admitted to my Company Commander I was a drug addict and shortly thereafter I was arrested for DUI. Not particularly a rosy scenario. I was exposed to the error of my ways which I had made of my own free will. On top of all that, I was granted custody of a baby to care for. I half-heartedly acknowledged God, but was more resentful to Him than anything else. Through a well intentioned group of individuals, I was figuratively being “drug” to a better life, kicking and screaming. I was given a set of rules to live by in and I was told if I did these things my life would get better. I started believing it and it did get better, but only for a while because I was under temporary grace.
Be as it may, I am never satisfied. My nature is to always seek the next higher level. Once I get to one plateau, I admire the view, take a deep breath and climb higher. Now that has a good side and a bad side to it. When completely engulfed in my own desires, I will chase a higher level for the excitement. In my walk with God, I want to sense a greater spirituality. I always felt there should be something more. However, even while my life was getting better, I hated the way I felt and I wanted to feel more spiritual. If I could only work harder maybe the big pay off would occur. If I went to the “right” church or associated with the “right” people maybe things would get better. As I look back, I have been exposed to many encounters with God which were my cues to learn something, but when the pain hit, I resorted to some old familiar “ism’s” and ran to other outlets that would cut the edge of my anxiety. I would admit my shortcomings to my brothers, but fall into the same old traps over and over again. I may not have been drinking or taking drugs, but still resorted to destructive behavior. When things were starting to go smoothly, I would screw that up. Some of my confidants called me a “crisis junkie.” Then once in full tilt, I wanted somehow to get out of the mess I made. I thought and felt I was the hopeless case that God wouldn’t be able to save. In these little journey’s to “relieve the pain”, I tried different types of churches; traditional, contemporary, new age, and a cult that practiced “white magic”(If there is such a thing). All of this geared to hopefully stop the way I was feeling and find the answer the question I didn’t even know to ask.
Do you see how selfish that was? I thought I was either running in the wrong direction for the right reasons or in the right direction for the wrong reasons. Either way I was going to the hardware for a loaf of bread and disappointed when I couldn’t find it.
Then I would employ familiar old thoughts when things didn’t quite work out;
I had to be a mistake;
Life wasn’t worth the investment;
Following God was overrated;
The world was right after all, “You’re on your own kid.”
I wasn’t seeing results fast enough to my liking. Maybe the view that Thomas Jefferson held about God was true; that God set everything in motion and is just watching it play out without any intervention. Either way, could anyone help me?
Now we all know that life can be difficult. Disease , disaster, and death can strike anyone anywhere no matter where you are on the social scale; many would like you to believe, Satan included, that you can purchase security through a variety of means. If the ploy of the enemy is to separate us from our Father in Heaven, then a promise of a better physical existence is the only place he can pounce. He does this by waiting for our moments of weakness and by painting a picture of false security in temporal things.
A few years after my first arrest for DUI, I was arrested again. There was a group of police officers who moonlighted as cleaning company where I worked. They said they would try to get my charges dropped, through the good ole boy network. That would have been great, my license was in jeopardy of being taken away and this would be a big help, because if lost I would lose my job. However, the arresting officer did not drop my charge and I am forever grateful. At the time, I was trying to avoid pain and determine what pain I wanted to endure. So while I should have believed that God had my back, He thwarted my actions. Furthermore, I was not released from what I had to face, in order to understand what mercy was. Now if that good ole boy network, had made inroads on my behalf, the question for me is clear. Would I be writing this article right now? This one event proved to me what mercy was from God’s perspective. It was in the heart not by definition (You have to read my book to understand that one, available on Amazon).
As of today, I have spent more years of my life trying to catch up to God, and walk with Him then of running from Him, Yippie AMEN! I have crawled, run, climbed, soared, glided, and laid face down in the dirt. I had my own vision of how that walk should look. When I look back, I never allowed Him to carry me or surrender every part of my life. Isn’t that striking? For all the belly aching and crying out for help I have done over the years, I still wanted God to fix my dilemma the way I wanted Him to. Did I every really surrender to God back then? Where did I turn for relief? Was this temporary grace?
Now pain is relative and each of us has our own tolerance level, but we all have that one area that we have not allowed or have been afraid to allow God to enter and heal. This “thing” is a precious jewel we pull out, polish and place on the mantel. Unfortunately, the bigger the gem, the less we actually understand we are polishing it. This jewel is probably one of the seven deadly sins in some variation. For whatever reason we believe if we let go it will hurt more than if we keep/hold on to it, subconsciously. We run from the healing pain and keep running to and endure the destructive pain because it is familiar. This is truly a diabolical ploy of the enemy to keep us where we are focused which is the here and now. The end result is that many hold on to it for the fear of the unknown and spend more time protecting this than releasing it and spend more energy protecting sin in their life than allowing Jesus to cover it. To what end will someone attempt to reach a sense comfort and security in their physical life?
I have discussed how our human nature deals with pain and the illusion of pain. Let’s take this up a one more level and ask three questions.
- What does man do to find relief for what ails him or is afraid of?
- What does Satan do to convince you that he can provide the relief you are looking for?
- What does God do in an effort to guide us to Him for sanctuary?
All valid questions played out everyday of our lives.
I was guided to some of the minor prophets as this topic was forming in my spirit. Joel, Ezra and Haggai actually answer these questions. Let’s answer/address them from bottom up to get to the heart of the discussion.
Joel speaks for God. Joel 1 tells us to beware that a great disaster is soon approaching. He says tell everyone who will listen. Joel 2 says to blow the horn on top of Mount Zion. The day will soon come that the earth will tremble, a grand army which the Lord will command will issue forth, but sanctify yourselves, call everyone together and know that His people will no longer be disgraced. They will get their true portion that has been denied by men. Joel 3 (and/or 4 depending on the bible version) informs us that Lord will call everyone together into one place and those who have called on Him will be free from harm and will be summoned to the Lord.
Joel 3:1-5 It shall come to pass
I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
2 Even upon your male and female servants,
in those days, I will pour out my spirit.
3 I will set signs in the heavens and on the earth,
blood, fire, and columns of smoke;
4 The sun will darken,
the moon turn blood-red,
Before the day of the Lord arrives,
that great and terrible day.
5 Then everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord
will escape harm.
For on Mount Zion there will be a remnant,
as the Lord has said,
And in Jerusalem survivors
whom the Lord will summon.
This is truly a “Vengeance is Mine” moment, if you take the time and read the previous chapter, for those who do not call on God. However, there is security in knowing that God will balance the scales. God will always hold a thumb on scales when He wants to and no effort or denial can change that. This is true whether it is at the final judgement or before. All of us can look around and see that the world is out of balance. Marriage is redefined, laws are now interpreted as to what the intent was instead of the actual word. More and more people are demanding their brand of justice. The cry from the wilderness is being shouted down, if you are in disagreement with their way of thinking, the facts are skewed to paint a false picture and all of a sudden you are told you are on the wrong side of the issue. The persecution and killing of Christians around the world is being ignored. Israel is said to be the bad guy in the Middle East for protecting itself. Evil is good and good is evil. With economic insecurity lurking everywhere, many ask you to place your money here where it will be safe and offer another sense of false security. I will be bold here and say everyone attempts to put their faith in something other than God in at least one area of their life and don’t even realize it.
Just like the commercial for Liberty Insurance, everything is going along fine and BOOM. That BOOM is different for everyone, but when it hits, that BOOM knocks us out of our rhythm. For me, being alone is a trigger, if my wife and I are arguing or she is mad at me that is a trigger, if my finances take a hit that is a trigger and if I am not on guard spiritually, I can open a door for fear, doubt and insecurity scurry in. Once those emotions start taking hold I will naturally try to somehow ease that pain. I have to willfully engage God.
Now let’s see what happens when we are on a firm footing with God. Ezra tells us how Satan works covertly. There is usually immediate relief or rest offered in trade. Short-sightedness is a big factor in how we make decisions. Ezra 4 shows us that the people of Judah began to worship the Lord again and in doing so they had a desire to rebuild the temple. However, just like our present society, someone wants to offer an opinion once they see movement in a direction contrary to theirs. First comes the questions and then usually through all the questions; delay us, attempt to veer us in a different direction or stop us from going where God intended. It takes discipline to stay on course. Satan always steers us away from God, with the illusion that compromise is a better alternative so that we can all get along. However, if Satan’s goals are not achieved then an all out assault ensues, physically and spiritually. This is what we all need to train and prepare for through our relationship with Jesus Christ. This is where we find out if we are operating under a temporary grace or True Grace. Remember, Satan always poises a question that he would like us to answer “yes” to. If we don’t answer “yes” we will usually feel pain in some area in our life, which will seem eternal but is really temporal.
Ezra 4:1-6- Outside Interference. 1 When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the exiles were building a temple for the Lord, the God of Israel, 2 they approached Zerubbabel and the heads of ancestral houses and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we seek your God just as you do, and we have sacrificed to him since the days of Esarhaddon, king of Assyria, who brought us here.” 3 But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the rest of the heads of ancestral houses of Israel answered them, “It is not your responsibility to build with us a house for our God, but we alone must build it for the Lord, the God of Israel, as Cyrus king of Persia has commanded us.” 4 Thereupon the local inhabitants discouraged the people of Judah and frightened them off from building. 5 They also bribed counselors to work against them and to frustrate their plans during all the years of Cyrus, king of Persia, and even into the reign of Darius, king of Persia.
Later Hostility. 6 In the reign of Ahasuerus at the beginning of his reign, they prepared a written accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem. (NABRE)
I find it interesting that these officers of help came in and wanted to help build, while being described as enemies but prayed and sacrificed to the “same God”. When they were rebuffed and told it was not their responsibility they reacted harshly, obviously not the “same god.” The inhabitants were discouraged from building and the officers of help, I believe , had ill intent to begin with. Satan stoked their pride and caused an offense. (We will show them. How dare they not take our help!!). As long as they could have influenced the building the of the temple they were fine, but the moment they were told “No”, it was “Off with their heads!”
This is what you call a rejection of mixed seed. Many times in the Bible and in our lives today, “mixed seed” is the end result and always presented as an “easy alternative.” If you just go along with what we want, there will be no trouble in the physical life equation. However, because the mixing was rebuffed, these “enemies of Judah” did everything to stop the building of the temple and succeeded for the rest of the King’s reign.
Do you see this happening in the world today surrounding marriage, abortion, immigration and the “lessening value” of morality disguised as democracy? Our focus should be to remain as pure as possible (this is a heart issue) and stay focused on God. If we get caught up with always trying to get along, demanding justice for a cause drummed up by well intention or ill-intentioned people, we will become discontent. We need to provide justice not seek it out, we need to stand firm for God’s ways and not yield to “progressive ideas” so everyone can feel good about themselves.
Haggai speaks for God by answering man’s question and tells the us why we have not seen the fruit of our labor and why we do not have no relief. This next item can be illustrated corporately and personally. In each case it is true today.
Haggai 1:2-10 2 Thus says the Lord of hosts: This people has said: “Now is not the time to rebuild the house of the Lord.” 3 Then the word of the Lord came through Haggai the prophet: 4 Is it time for you to dwell in your paneled houses while this house lies in ruins? 5 Now thus says the Lord of hosts: Reflect on your experience! 6 You have sown much, but have brought in little; you have eaten, but have not been satisfied; You have drunk, but have not become intoxicated; you have clothed yourselves, but have not been warmed; And the hired worker labors for a bag full of holes. 7 Thus says the Lord of hosts: Reflect on your experience! 8 Go up into the hill country; bring timber, and build the house that I may be pleased with it, and that I may be glorified, says the Lord. 9 You expected much, but it came too little; and what you brought home, I blew away. Why is this?—oracle of the Lord of hosts— Because my house is the one which lies in ruins, while each of you runs to your own house. 10 Therefore, the heavens withheld the dew, and the earth its yield. (NABRE)
Isn’t this always the case, with our good intentions we miss the mark when it comes to God. We want to do one thing and He expects something else.
Martha was angry at Mary for sitting with Jesus, while she completed the preparations for dinner;
Peter wanted to set up tents at the transfiguration instead of taking in what just happened;
Many tried to save their manna only to have it spoil;
David had many wives but wanted one he could not have;
Adam and Eve had everything around them they could possible need, and with a few nudges in the wrong direction they forfeited so much;
Esau gave the farm away, for a bowl of soup and didn’t understand what he did until it was too late; and
Joseph spoke to soon about his dreams and was banished.
Now these are the good guys!!!
Today in the our country and in the world, many people are looking for an external rationalization for abhorrent behavior. They would like to keep on, keeping on, where the Holy Spirit is frustrating them. (Remember my arrest?). Have you noticed the more times that “No” is said to behavior that goes against God the louder the disagreeing voices become. Wasn’t that the same with the crowd in front of Pilate when he said he found the charges against Jesus baseless? What is that term……. mob rules? When it comes to walking with God, He did promise a rose garden, but cautioned about the thorns. Our level of devotion to Christ should not be dependent on our outwardly comforts. He never said we would have nicer cars, nicer homes a better neighborhood to live in, justice for all, a country that was fair, rulers with integrity and people who would flock to the Truth when presented and group of people that would defend us regardless of our actions or choices.
No! God said, “This is my Beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased. ” (NASB Matt 3:17) God’s preeminence would dictate that we listen to what Jesus has said and is saying to His church.
“Our job is not to avoid sorrow and pain in this life”, as Oswald Chambers said in the My Utmost for My Highest on June 25th. As a matter of fact we should embrace pain; pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. But we also do not need to call it upon us either by staying focused on it , hunting for it or wearing it as a badge of courage. God uses these things as a refining fire into our lives and permits it . This is God’s tool which matures our lives to carry His message.
Another point that I did not know as I started this, but I see how perfectly it fits, is that Ezra and Haggai are talking about different periods of time surrounding rebuilding the temple. Haggai further describes what God’s response will be when the right temple is built. It wasn’t until some people asked why God wasn’t blessing them did the truth come out. However, once they returned to walking out the Will of the Father the response changed.
Haggai 2:6-9 For thus says the Lord of hosts:
In just a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land.
7 I will shake all the nations, so that the treasures of all the nations will come in.
And I will fill this house with glory— says the Lord of hosts.
8 Mine is the silver and mine the gold—oracle of the Lord of hosts.
9 Greater will be the glory of this house the latter more than the former—says the Lord of hosts;
And in this place I will give you peace-oracle of the Lord of hosts. (NABRE)
Now think about what is happening in the world today. How everyone wants to redefine things that used to be sacred. Define what should or should not be acceptable and unacceptable. At the rate we are going, soon nothing will be off limits. A term I hear off and on is usually used in a question, poised like this; Are we aligned on this? This could be the beginning of an unholy alliance if we are not careful. When this sort of question is asked, beware of the bait and switch, because at the end of this discussion backs will be scratched whether we want to or not.
Can we help build your temple? Hmmm…..
I have an interesting story to help further illustrate what I am trying to convey. I was invited to a bible study years ago, which I truly enjoyed as it preceded work on Friday. It was in-depth and very gratifying. It was tied to a larger ministry in town that had these bible study groups scattered around town. Community activities were planned and this ministry strove to bring the workforce to Christ etc… At some point there was talk about an annual breakfast sponsored by the ministry which reached out to community businesses. Sounded great. I am not big into those sorts of things, but I decided to go since the bible study was canceled because of the breakfast. Who am I to turn down a hot meal?
Well I obviously did not get the memo. When I walked there were at least forty tables that seated six to eight people each. Trios of balloons encircled the outside of the room. It seemed like all the men were dressed in suits and only a few were in business casual. The women were in dresses and heels for the most part. Business cards were being exchanged, people were being introduced around the room and groups were a little larger around the pretty girls. It was like the Who’s Who’s in the Christian business community. Then as the festivities started, the new CEO of the ministry spoke and mentioned all the businesses who sponsored the event and gave them status based on the level of sponsorship. If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought it was a job fair. If I would have been a new Christian, I would have believed in Christ for all the implied perks:
The glamour and the glitter;
The untold promise association with us leads to greater success; and
The love we share for Christ.
Am I being a bit crass? Maybe, but this is the picture, speaking a thousand words, that I was left with.
Ezra 4:2- “Let us build with you, for we seek your God just as you do, and we have sacrificed to him since the days of Esarhaddon, king of Assyria, who brought us here.”
As I looked around and listened, I was disappointed; I couldn’t wait until it was over. This wasn’t what I had signed up for. I stood out from all others in this large room. You see, it was Casual Friday at my office, so I showed up in my faded jeans, running shoes and a button down short sleeve shirt. The only thing missing was the pocket protector. I was a Samaritan, noticed but did not approached except for few casual greetings. I wasn’t that type of Christian.
But God opened my ears to one man who sat at my table, whose daughter had tried to commit suicide a week early. I talked about my wife’s and my ministry. I discussed how we help families work through the pain in our lives with Christ’s help and parts of my story. Everyone at the table was treated to a testimony of deliverance, at God’s direction not mine. I struck a relationship with the man and had lunch a few days later.
My mission that day was not to fit in, but listen and serve, not listen and be served.
However, this is a lesson in allegiance and the price will you pay. There are groups that come to together to further a cause, satisfy a need or assist those around them, in a godly, or an ungodly way. They come in the form of Sororities, Fraternities, Masons, Demolay, Rainbow Girls, The Order of the Odd Fellows , church denominations, political affiliations, home owners associations and even the neighborhood clicks. If you associate with them, contribute to them and align yourself with them, something is promised in trade for your allegiance. You may get the inside track, a job opportunity, political aspirations could be fulfilled and you might even get away with murder. BUT what price will you pay for that and when that loan is called?
I now go back to Haggai 1. The Lord said that he was not blessing Israel because of their lack of work for Him; He said He did not bless them because they were not building the right temple.
So I ask, what temple are you building? To whom do you pledge your services and allegiance to? Have you read their by-laws, or joined because it was fashionable? What is their promise of (security)? Does this usurp your loyalty to God? Do their beliefs and practices go against God’s law? Do you have to turn a blind eye for the other many benefits? Do you find yourself grading the level of sin the group participates in so you can belong? (Oh that is so much worse) Even doctrine from some churches flies in the face of what God instructs us. When you look around and see the increased unrest it points to only one thing, people are no longer placing their trust in God and Jesus Christ. The louder voices keep beating the drum and speaking the lie until the masses believe it. If you are trying to make sense of it all and are attempting to find security in a world of unrest; Are you aligning yourself with a group the will artificially extend God’s temporary grace and deter you from realizing God’s True Grace? Joel said a great war is coming and Jesus will lead that Army, and the Truth will prevail. It will either set you free or send you packing.
When you make a statement of faith, many say they believe in Jesus Christ and through that statement of faith they also affirm the doctrine the church holds. If your church bends to the ways of the world and redefines what sin is, in essence you say you will continue to sin by affirming an unholy doctrine, OF YOUR OWN FREE WILL!!!
Words mean things and every word you speak will be recorded. A word everyone needs to understand is “preeminence”. God’s preeminence was on display with your first breath, let’s hope you don’t lose it when you realize that He is the Lord your God.
Jesus is the only person who died for you and through his blood offering stands in the gap for you. Any other person, place or thing you put your faith into for security on this earth is another temple you worship in.
So I ask you today, whose temple are you building and who actually sits on the upper most seat?
God loves you and so do I AND there is nothing you can do about it!!!