Building blocks of evangelism

Preached on: Sunday 6th March 2022
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here22-03-06 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Colossians 4:2-15
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s word:

Holy Spirit, come among us and soften our hearts to what You might say today through Your word.
Holy Spirit, help us to hear the call of God.
Holy Spirit, come with power and deep conviction to change us and shape us, to make us your ambassadors. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

I would like to read you a modern-day parable that someone has written and it is called The Life-saving station.

‘On a dangerous sea coast, notorious for shipwrecks, there was a crude little life-saving station. Actually, it was merely a hut, with only one boat but the few members kept a constant watch over the turbulent sea. With little thought for themselves, they would go out day and night, tirelessly searching for those in danger. Many lives were saved by this brave band who faithfully worked as a team in and out of the life-saving station. By and by it became a famous place. Some of those who had been saved, as well as others along the seacoast, wanted to become associated with this little station. They were willing to give their time energy and money in support of its objectives. New boats were purchased, new crews were trained. The station once obscure, crude and virtually insignificant, began to grow. Some of its members were unhappy. The hut was so unattractive and poorly equipped. They felt a more comfortable place should be provided. Emergency cots were replaced with lovely furniture. Rough handmade equipment was discarded and sophisticated systems were installed. The hut, of course, had to be torn down to make room for all this new equipment, furniture and systems. By the time of its completion the life-saving station had become a popular gathering place and its objectives had begun to shift. It was now used as a sort of clubhouse being an attractive building for the public to gather in. Saving lives, feeding the hungry, strengthening the fearful, calming the disturbed these rarely occurred now. Fewer members were interested in braving the sea on life-saving missions so they hired professional lifeboat crews to do this work. The original goal of the station wasn’t all together forgotten however, life-saving motifs still prevailed in the club’s decorations and there was a liturgical lifeboat preserved in the room of sweet memories with soft indirect lighting which helped hide the layer of dust upon the once used vessel. Shipwrecks still occur in those waters but now most of the victims are not saved, every day they drown at sea and so few, so very few, seem to care.’

I’m sure you can see where I’m going with that.

Are we the people in the parable? Are we simply content with our clubhouse and our place in the clubhouse. As we come to share in Communion today and gather around the Lord’s table, do we take just simple comfort from the fact that we’re okay, we are part of His family, we have our place, we have our faith but we maybe have forgotten the wider world Jesus came for.

These are questions we each need to ask of ourselves and of us as a congregation. Have we forgotten or neglected our calling?

I feel quite certain it’s a question Paul would ask of the church in our day given our reading today. Up to this point Paul has been directing the attention of the Colossians upwards to Jesus and inwards to care for one another and to grow in faith, to strengthen that faith. But now he turns outward and he calls the Colossians to turn outward as well and so he writes ‘Pray for us too, that God may open a door for our message so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly as I should.’ As he begins to turn outward, his instinct is to ask for prayer, and as Paul often does, he leads by example because in the very next verse he goes on to call them to be similarly outward focused ‘Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders. Make the most of every opportunity. When you read the words be wise.’ I wonder what it conjures in your mind ‘Be wise to how you behave towards outsiders.’? We, I think, believe it means to be nice and polite, which I don’t think it does actually mean because in the New Testament wisdom is not about how to live a successful life, it’s not about how to have the good life, it’s not about knowing the answers, it’s not about just being nice and kind or something like that. Having wisdom in the New Testament is about understanding who Jesus is and what God has done and is doing through Jesus. And so, to be wise towards the outside world is to understand the outside world in relation to Jesus and to who Jesus is and what Jesus came to do.

And so, what has Paul already said about Jesus and his letter that would be of importance for the outside world? Well, in chapter one of Colossians he says that if you don’t have faith in Jesus you are alienated from God and an enemy of God and your mind and the only way to be reconciled to God is through Jesus. Or go into chapter 3 and Paul says there that because of sin in the world and in our lives the wrath of God is coming there will be judgment upon our actions.

That is the wider context. And so, although Paul doesn’t talk about an outward focus until chapter four and it’s only a couple of verses and we might be tempted to think ‘Oh, it’s just a wee tag on here’ it’s really not, it’s not an optional extra that slipped Paul’s mind, because he was writing for another purpose. He was writing to ground their faith and strengthen their faith but he can’t help himself in turning outward and remembering that everything he’s written so far has relevance for the outside world and so sharing Jesus is not an optional extra for us, it’s of eternal significance and really he’s just echoing Jesus who said in those verses we quote so often ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ The stakes are high because he goes on to say ‘Whoever believes in him that is in Jesus is not condemned but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only son.’

That is the context of scripture that drives home Paul’s argument that we are to be wise, we have to understand the outside world in relation to Jesus, to who he is and what God has done in and through him, and it’s why Paul goes on to say ‘make the most of every opportunity’ make the most of every opportunity.
I wonder if we are like Archipelas who needed a reminder from Paul, ‘complete the ministry you have received’ he’s told do. We need to be reminded to complete our calling. Our calling to invite people to follow Jesus that they might be saved.

Sharing Jesus with the outside world is not an optional extra. It has eternal significance and if we don’t take that on board, if we don’t try to grow in this some way, somehow, we’re just going to end up like that self-indulgent clubhouse and we’re no longer a life-saving station.

As we come around the Communion table today, let us remember why Jesus actually died, not to make us comfortable, not even to make us nice people, but to save us and to bring salvation for the world, including the world that is outside our doors right now.

Now, let me be honest friends, I’m as poor at this as anybody. I shy away from this as much as the next person, and so, I’m not standing up here as the finished product and not standing up here as an expert in this. I’m simply trying to open up God’s word for us Sunday by Sunday and let him speak. So, it’s not hypocritical for me to say this. I’m preaching as much to me as I am to you, but one of the things I love about God’s word is how He equips us through His word, by the example and the writings of His church. He equips us and so Paul, in his writing, actually gives us building blocks to help us share our faith and I want to briefly touch on four.

He writes ‘devote yourselves to prayer being watchful and thankful and pray for us too.’

Building block number one is prayer. Because, if you’re not praying, you won’t be sharing. Paul’s probably got in mind prayer beyond simple evangelism and mission. I’m sure of that because of what he writes in chapter one. So I’m taking a particular focus here, let’s admit that. But he quickly goes on to talk about evangelism and I think for him evangelism and prayer will be intimately tied because, think this through, as you thank God for what you have received, the grace and mercy you have received, for the love He has shown you, and as you express that thankfulness to God, a passion, a zeal, an excitement arises in you and you’re like ‘I want to share this with others.’ And so, if you’re not in prayer, thanking God for this, you’re probably not very excited and you’re not really want to share it with people. We need to be praying in the place of thankfulness but as we thank God for that we might be like ‘Well, I want to share this.’ and so, we ask him for open doors, as Paul does, and then as we begin to ask for that, when we’re out and about in the community, or we’re talking with people, we’re more mindful of those opportunities. ‘Oh, I could have said something there. Oh, this is where Jesus might be relevant. Oh, I could pray for that person, I could say and pray for that person, because well, there’s a God that I can pray to you. Become more aware of those opportunities, but then we’re going to mess up, aren’t we, we’re going to not take the opportunities at times, we’ll take some and we’ll miss out on others, and so, we go back into prayer and we were saying to God ‘God I didn’t take that opportunity you gave me and I’m sorry I allowed my fear, I allowed my discomfort to hold me back and I didn’t love my neighbor as I loved myself. I was more in love with my comfort and my image and reputation than I was in that person’s welfare.’ And we’ll start to repent of that and as you repent of that it gives you resolve that the next time the opportunity comes you’ll take it.

In a place of prayer we are prepared for evangelism. And so, if you’re not, you won’t be prepared. If you’re not praying for people to come to faith, you won’t be prepared either. So that little card that I’ve left down on the table there, that’s person number one to be thinking of, but maybe add to that one or maybe two others, especially if that person on your card is not a local person. We are called to evangelism, to mission, to sharing the good news with this community, in this place. So, who is that to you. In my own life I have my phone, I have an electronic calendar and I have little reminders that pop up every day. One stream of reminders is around people, family, friends, situations that I want to pray for. And I have family members I’m praying for to come to faith. I’ve got friends that I’m praying to come to faith. I’m going to just about, I’m going to add dads that I’m meeting at the playground that I want to come to faith. I then have a second stream of reminders that I break up my pastoral grouping – so Elders, wee idea for you pastoral grouping leaders – each day pray for a different couple of members from your pastor grouping, and there are members of my pastoral grouping who have spouses that don’t believe and I’m praying for those spouses to come to faith. I’m not saying you have to go to that extreme but who are the two people you’re praying for that are locally not believing in Jesus. The reason I probably rabbit on about this so much is because I am praying for this, it’s there in my consciousness, and you won’t give a jot about this if you’re not praying for this. So, we need to be in the place of prayer.

Building block number two is relationships. Paul says ‘Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders and let your conversation be always full of’ and it goes on. You can’t have a conversation, you can’t name two people, you can’t act towards people you don’t have a relationship with. So, who outside of the church locally do you have relationships with who are you building that relationship with? Maybe a neighbor, maybe a friend, maybe a colleague. But we need to be in relationship. We can’t just be a wee holy huddle and we’re looking who are you building relationships with. Hopefully you are and you can name two people.

Building block number three is when you’ve got those relationships we hopefully have some conversation and he says ‘let your conversation be always full of grace seasoned with salt so that you may know how to answer everyone.’ And I think we get a whole list of wild ideas about what this could mean. I think we interpret it through our nice, comfortable, kind of middle class, lens at times. And so, when we read ‘let your conversation be always full of grace’ again we read that as well, be nice, be polite, that kind of ilk of interpretation. But I don’t think that’s what Paul means because let’s remember the context of Paul’s day, he’s writing to a group of people who are ostracized, ridiculed, mocked, even persecuted for their faith. To be a Christian then was in a hostile environment, not necessarily our environment, although it’s getting more hostile, and so, in the context of that time, to be full of grace can mean two things I think. To be forgiving and forbearing when people ridicule you and mock you for following Jesus. They were mocked because they believed in a crucified Messiah. ‘Your God can’t be powerful, he was killed!’ was how it went, and they would have to show grace in their conversation as they forgave and as they bore with that.

But God’s grace also upholds us, upholds our faith so that we believe until the very end. We cling on even in the hard times. That is a work of God’s grace and so I think also that being full of grace in our conversation can be that when you are ridiculed and when people malign your faith and when they say it’s rubbish and nonsense that when you stand there and you kind of take it on the chin but you say ‘I still believe in this Jesus’ and you’re not going to dissuade me and you’re not aggressive about it but you’re just firm and you’re resolved that is you walking in grace and that is powerful in our day.

Paul also goes on to say that conversation should be seasoned with salt and again there’s two dynamics here I think at play. One is that Jesus said that we are ‘to be salt and light’ and in the message translation of that passage in Matthew the author there draws out that we have to bring out the God flavors, the flavors of God’s kingdom. So, that might be at play. But also, in the day, salty conversation was a conversation that was earthed in reality, it was earth in the everyday of living, and to combine those two thoughts together I think what Paul might be getting at is when you get to talk about faith, don’t talk about some highfaluting theology, and don’t talk about the organization of church, talk about how Jesus is real to you, of what He’s done in your life and is doing in your life talk, about your testimony. Bring out God’s flavor from your own life that they might see it, that they might know it. And I think combining all that together helps us to know how to answer everyone because, with this part of the verse, we often think we’ll have to have an answer for every possible question under the sun, every question about science, every question about morality, every question about the Bible, every question about theology. None of us, not even the minister, can answer everyone with all those questions.

But I wonder, as you hold on in faith to Jesus, in that conversation, as you share what Jesus means to you and has done in your life, that is a powerful answer. Because we can debate matters of theology and morality and philosophy, and everybody can come up with their answer but when you share your story, it’s a little bit more difficult to ignore that and to explain it away because your story of faith has power in it. And maybe, that’s what we need to focus more on. What is your story of faith that you can share. And it might not be a whoop-dee-doo story of faith, you might not be in the greatest place of faith right now, you maybe are not in a place of rejoicing, but you know,, in our day in our world, being able to say how you hold on in faith amidst the dark times and the times of suffering and the times when Jesus doesn’t seem as close, that’s powerful. Over lockdown we had multiple testimonies shared on Tuesday, Testimony Tuesday, and so many of them included times of faith in the hard times and they were powerful.

So, what’s the story that you can share in conversation with people?

And the fourth one builds on all this too in the latter bit of Paul’s letter, as he closes off, he lists a whole lot of people. People he ministers and serves with, people that he labors with, and digging into some of their stories there’s two in particular, Mark and Demas that jumped off the page for me, because they’re kind of two sides of the one coin of perseverance with grace.

Mark was a colleague of Paul’s and in Acts chapter 13 we read that we can read there that he deserted Paul he left for some reason, we don’t know why, maybe it was fear, maybe the opposition was too much, we just don’t know, and it hurt Paul, it betrayed his trust and he wouldn’t serve with Mark for a time. But now Colossians is a little later on in the story and Mark is back involved with Paul. Mark is persevering in ministry again and there’s been grace and forgiveness.

Demas is the other side of that in the time of Colossians. He’s serving alongside Paul but by the time of second Timothy Demas is said to have deserted Paul then, he’s went the opposite way, he’s not persevering any longer, he’s not relying on God’s grace.

And in these two examples we see that to be effective in sharing our faith and sharing Jesus with the outside world, we do need to persevere. That might not come easy, it might be the scariest thing about our faith, but we’re called to persevere and when you don’t feel able, when you don’t feel good at this, when you feel weak at this, as I do, then that’s probably the best place to be in, because what does God say to the church in Corinth ‘When you are weak then you are strong’ that ‘his power is made perfect in weakness’. You don’t need to be the finished article, you don’t need to be an expert, but you do need to be committed to this, to make some form of commitment to persevere because, if we don’t if, we don’t complete the calling we have received, we’re just going to become, if we’re not already, and I’m not saying we are, but we could very well easily become, just a self-indulgent clubhouse and forget our call to be a life-saving station. Because, as we gather around this Communion table, it reminds us there are eternal things at play. We often focus on the love of God and forget the other side of that coin – Jesus came to die to save us.

Let us remember the full gospel and give ourselves to being that life-saving station.

I pray it may be so. Amen.

Persevere in your calling (Haggai 2:1-9)

Preached on: Sunday 27th October 2019
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 19-10-27-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon.
Bible references: Haggai 2:1-9; Acts 18:1-11
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Texts: Haggai 2:1-9; Acts 18:1-11
Sunday 27th October 2019
Brightons Parish ChurchLet us pray. May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

I wonder if you struggle with church as it currently is? I wonder if you feel disgruntled about how things are done now-a-days? Or I wonder if you compare our present state as a congregation, or as a national church, even the state of our country, to what it used to be? For some of us, we may have vivid memories of Sunday School numbers in their hundreds, or of the singular focus on a Sunday being church and family life. And maybe you compare what we have now-a-days to that time and you may struggle with that comparison – it may grieve you, sadden you, and maybe even provoke the thought that what we have now is nothing compared to what once was.
You may assume, that such things are felt only by older generations, and so you may also assume that this message is going to be aimed at those of you amongst the older generations – but that is not so.

Feelings of dissatisfaction, even disillusionment with our present experience of church, are not limited to older generations. Those who are younger may not look back to the glory days of a particular congregation, or even to the glory days of a denomination or country, but they may look back to moments when God moved in power in particular places, or even their own lives, those moments when God seemed much nearer than He does in today’s church.

What’s more, there can be a tendency, across the generations, to hark back even further still – to the early church in the first century and to yearn for those days when the faith was new, and the Spirit moved in such power and the growth and vibrancy of Christianity turned a whole empire upside down.

Dissatisfaction and disillusionment are not limited to any one generation; we all feel it at one time or another.

You may even have felt your despondency and pessimism increase another notch with the recently proposed Presbytery Plan with the reduction in ministers for the Braes area – maybe that news provoked you to think that we are simply managing decline and that the future of the Church in this area is doomed with such a trajectory.
In every age, across all the generations, spanning thousands of years, God’s people have had times and seasons where dissatisfaction and disillusionment rise up. In what we read in Haggai today we see those very same feelings.

God’s people had returned from exile in Babylonia some twenty years before Haggai began his ministry. A small fraction of the total Jewish community had returned and begun the reconstruction work, but strong opposition from neighbouring peoples soon brought the work to a standstill. And so, in the year 520BC, Haggai is called by the Lord to bring a prophetic message to God’s people; coming firstly with a word of challenge to the people, which we read about in Haggai 1 last week, and which Ian superbly covered in my stead…
We heard that the people did respond to the Lord’s challenge and they began the work on the temple.

But now a second prophetic word is brought by Haggai and yet it has a different tone. We read earlier today: ‘On the twenty-first day of the seventh month, the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai…“Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing?”’ (Haggai 2:1-3)

We can guess that during the intervening weeks between the first and second messages that efforts were concentrated on clearing the site of rubble, re-dressing stone, testing the walls for safety, and organizing teams of workmen. Such preparations on a sixty-year-old ruin, without any mechanical aids, would tax the endurance of even the most enthusiastic people, so no wonder there was a degree of frustration. But there was another factor.

Progress would have been delayed during the seventh month by the major Jewish festivals on which no work would be allowed. In addition to sabbath days, the first day of the seventh month was the Feast of Trumpets, and the tenth the Day of Atonement. Then on the fifteenth day the Feast of Tabernacles began.

So, how could there have been any measurable progress in such a short period of time considering the few days the builders had to work? And so, with seeing little real progress, pessimism once again may have set…in amongst God’s people, as they became overwhelmed… by their external circumstances and their internal expectations.

Indeed there was a small proportion of the remnant who remembered the first temple built in the days of King Solomon; a magnificent structure, full of glory in its material decoration, and at one time full of glory with the presence of the Lord dwelling in the Most Holy Place. Some could still remember that structure, which had been destroyed some 60 or 70 years earlier, and compared to it, what they saw before them in Haggai’s day was pathetic in their eyes, it was nothing.

And so, maybe people begin to question the call upon their lives – were we really called to return from exile?
Maybe we should have stayed in Babylon…
and enjoyed the good life. Were we really called to rebuild the temple when all we have is this heap of rocks? Maybe we should just give up; maybe our leaders were deluded or on an ego-trip; maybe it’s better to cut our losses and downsize our dreams and mothball any sense of calling we had to this.

And into that situation God sends Haggai once more – not with a message of challenge, but with a word of encouragement, of exhortation, and the Lord gives two specific encouragements so that His people persevere in their calling.

Firstly, the people are exhorted to find strength in the Lord’s presence. We read today:
‘“But now be strong, Zerubbabel,” declares the Lord. “Be strong, Joshua…Be strong, all you people of the land,” declares the Lord, “and work. For I am with you,” declares the Lord Almighty. “This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you.”’ (Haggai 2:4-5)

Be strong and work, for my Spirit remains among you. In one form or another this promise is said by God to His people over 50 times across the Old and New Testaments:
• “let them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.” (Exodus 25:8)
• “go and make disciples of all nations…surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew
28:19-20)

• “One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you…’” (Acts 18:9-10)

Each time the Lord placed a calling upon His people and promised to be with them.

What is also striking is the similarity of the words from Haggai with what is said to an earlier Joshua in the history of Israel, a Joshua who also led God’s people in equally challenging times. In the book of Joshua we read this:
“After the death of Moses…the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant: ‘Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the River Jordan into the land I am about to give to them…As
I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you…Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.’ (Joshua 1:1-2, 5, 9)

On both occasions, separated by hundreds of years, we find a Joshua leading the people, and into both situations God speaks a word of encouragement to strengthen them for the calling upon their lives. Now the word of encouragement that would give strength was similar in both contexts: ‘Be strong…for the Lord your God will be with you’ (Joshua 1:9), or in Haggai: ‘Be strong…for I am with you…my Spirit remains among you.’ (Haggai 2:4-5)

In both periods it was a crucial encouragement, for in one
Moses had just died, their leader. He was the one… through whom God had brought them out of slavery in Egypt, and the people would wonder, is God with us still?

In Haggai’s time, the people had returned from exile, but after twenty years little had been accomplished with regard to the temple, and maybe they too wondered: is God with us? Does He want this calling fulfilled? Has He given up on us?

Into both situations, God speaks a word of encouragement – “I am with you, I am among you, press on”. At both times, the people of God needed to persevere in the calling upon their lives, and to do so they needed to be strong: strong of conviction, strong in hope, strong in faith that the Lord would come through for them and strong in faith that the Lord would work through them to accomplish His purposes.

But to find and keep that strength, they needed to have and know the presence of God in their midst. They needed to shake off disillusionment and dissatisfaction by turning their focus upon the Lord, who was among them and working through them, for with a focus on Him the people of God would find new vigour for the calling upon their lives.

I wonder friends, is that what we may be need at this time? In the midst of our dissatisfaction and our disillusionment, do we need to pursue the Lord Himself? In whatever way we may be feeling despondent and pessimistic, whether it be in comparing things…
to how they once were, or frustrations with the present, or what the future might look like in our Braes area, do you need to seek the Lord’s presence and face?

Because, as I emphasised in the latter weeks of our previous series, we have God’s Spirit in an even greater way than what the Lord’s people did in Haggai’s day. Back then, they relied on prophets and leaders, for it was only key people who had the Spirit of God upon them.

But in this age, through all that Jesus won for us, every person who calls themselves a Christian, is a temple of the Spirit, you have the Spirit of God living within you, and so any Christian can seek and know the Lord’s presence in greater and more intimate ways than those to whom Haggai spoke.
Friends, there have been too many instances to count when this has been the case for myself. Even just last week in my own devotions, the Lord gave words of encouragement in the times I spent with Him to sustain me in the call upon my life. Key, for me, and indeed for any of us, is the Bible – it is God’s principle way of speaking to us, and we need to be in the Word so that we can hear God’s words of encouragement, strength and affirmation.

But – it is in the real, dynamic, up-close presence of the Lord that we find strength not to crack up under the demands upon us, nor to give in to the worries that assail us, or turn bitter and judgmental in our present time.

In our dissatisfaction and disillusionment – will we heed the encouragement of the Lord, to draw near to Him and to know that He is with us?

If you’re not sure how to go about this, then one practical step would be to listen to the sermon from the 17th of March this year, and download the resources from our church website for that date on the “sermons” page.

But equally, you could join a Fellowship Group, get a copy of the Bible reading notes, come along to one of our prayer times. But let us seek the Lord, one way or another, for He is with us and in His presence we find strength to persevere in our calling.

Now, the Lord also gave a second exhortation to the people of Haggai’s time, for He said:
‘“Do not fear…[For]…In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory…The silver is mine and the gold is mine,” declares the Lord Almighty. “The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house…And in this place I will grant peace.”’ (Haggai 2:6-9)

In this portion of prophecy, the people are exhorted to overcome fear, they were exhorted to find courage, by trusting in the Lord’s promises. They are to trust that God will move in power and accomplish the calling He has laid upon His people.

The fear that they would have felt would have been of the mighty nations that surrounded them. This remnant of the Jewish people are in a struggling province on the edge of the great Persian empire, dwarfed by it and by the stronger provinces around them. Fear had been evident in the early days of their return from exile, and once again fear is beginning to rise up.

Understandably so, we might say – for they have been called to rebuild the temple, there is opposition against them still, and they have no idea where the resources are going to come from, especially in light of such a poor harvest – where will they get the money for the elaborate decoration that the temple demands?

And so, into this situation comes the word of God, a word exhorting them to have courage by trusting in the Lord’s promises. He promises “once more” to shake “the heavens and the earth…[indeed to] shake all nations.”

Now, the reference here to “once more” is to jolt their memory back to other times when the Lord caused a shaking upon the land and amongst the nations. In particular, we reed in the book of Exodus:
“Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire…and the whole mountain trembled violently.” (Exodus 19:16-19)

Here the land shook because of the presence of the Lord. As for the shaking of nations, the exodus of God’s people from Egypt shook that nation to its core, as the Psalmist recalls for us in Psalm 114.

And so, God makes a promise in Haggai’s day to shake cosmos and the nations again, such that “what is desired by all nations will come” – i.e. wealth, treasure – and so financial, material provision will be made for the calling upon God’s people to rebuild the temple.

Indeed, if we were to go into the book of Ezra, where we reed of the wider story and what is happening around and through the people, then we come to see that soon after this prophecy God did meet their financial need.

In chapter 6 of the book of Ezra, we reed that the very opponents of God’s people,…
the opponents who had hoped to bring the building work to a halt, well these opponents were ordered by the emperor to pay in full the cost of the temple repairs (Ezra 6:8–12).

But the people first had to respond in faith – they had to trust in the Lord’s promises, so that courage could arise, fear be overcome, and the work continue. They could have held back, they could have played it safe, but instead they responded in faith, then the doors began to open, then the resources were provided, and God’s purposes for this time were fulfilled.

We might be tempted to spiritualize these material elements of Haggai’s prophecy. But the Lord did promise to provide His people with the material resources…
for the building of His kingdom purposes. His provision is simply a sign of His sovereignty over these resources as Creator and Sustainer of the cosmos.

And the same is true for the church. This same sovereign God promises to provide the resources for kingdom work in material as well as spiritual ways. The church, as the place of God’s presence today, as His present temple, needs material resources to carry out the Great Commission given to us by Jesus, and God does promise to provide those resources (see Phil. 4:10–20; Matt. 6).

Indeed, in this very year, your giving has confirmed this – God has more than given the resources we need as a congregation, because our level of income has gone up significantly…
The question has always been, whether we would be open handed with it; would we give sacrificially, and thankfully we have, we have responded to God’s sovereign provision in our lives with generosity towards His Kingdom work.

But let us take the principle of these verses beyond material provision, and let me ask you this friends, what are the promises we are clinging to by faith for our present time? As we face potentially radical changes in how we do church in the Braes area; as we compare church now to church as it once was – what are the promises of God that we are clinging to?

For we need to have those promises and cling to them, because it can be tempting, especially in hard times, especially in times of dissatisfaction and disillusionment to play it safe, or to bunker down.

But to live in step with the God of Haggai is to place ourselves in the dangerous position of trusting in God’s promises; it is placing ourselves in the dangerous position of grasping the hand of our Creator and Redeemer, and walking into the unknown with Him.

Personally, I find some of the promises of Jesus helpful: “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16:18)

Or that passage where Jesus said to the disciples:
“Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12)

God used Haggai to call a generation to experience God in the present, not only in similar ways to the past, but in ways that would dwarf the past. That is akin to what Jesus meant when He said: “you will do even greater things than these”. We often see the past as setting up patterns that are insurmountable. But Haggai encourages us to see the past as only setting precedents that can provide a springboard to even greater miracles.

To a people who were wavering, laid low with dissatisfaction and disillusionment, the encouragement of God through Haggai is to persevere in your calling by finding strength in the Lord’s presence and courage through the Lord’s promises.
I pray we may be such a people as well, a people who resolve to seek and trust the Lord always. May it be so.
Amen.