Monday, January 28, 2013

Out Of The Ruins...Renewal: The Book Of Haggai For The Church Today (Part 1 Haggai 1:1-15)... Renewed Priorities in the Face of Economic Realities.

Over the next three weeks we are going to be looking at the book of Haggai. I’ve called the series “Out Of The Ruins Renewal: The Book of Haggai For the Church today”. Haggai speaks to the people of God at one of the low points of their history. Jerusalem and the temple had been destroyed, the people had been  away in captivity in Babylon for seventy years, the political scene was changing with the rise of the Persian empire,  and now a rag tag remnant had come back home and were eking out an existence amidst the ruins of what used to be. They are a struggling people with a struggling leadership. Haggai’s message is one of renewal and of hope, it’s a call to put their faith into action. In four short messages over a six month period, that’s all we know of Haggai and his ministry, Haggai inspires that remnant to take on the amazing task of rebuilding the temple, symbolic of renewing themselves as God’s peoples: Renewing their witness to the greatness and the goodness of God.
As we begin this New Year, which is a pivotal one in the life of the church here,  I believe Haggai has a lot to say to us. God wants to speak to us and challenge us and bring renewal within us by his Spirit.  God wants to renew us. In fact renewal is going to be the overarching theme for the year. Renew your people O God, Renew us. Haggai I believe opens that up by calling God’s people then, and you’ll notice that Haggai speaks to a very concrete time and place each of his prophecies is very time specific, and now, because it is the timeless word of God,  to renewed priorities, in the face of hard economic realities, renewed courage and vision when it all seems too much, and at the core of it all renewed relationship with God. My prayer is in the midst of that we might encounter God in a new way, the you and I may be renewed.

People had come back to Jerusalem from exile and they had started to rebuild their lives amongst the ruins. They had restarted agriculture and kick started the economy and trade, started rebuilding the infrastructure and a living for themselves. That was their focus. Some of them had obviously started to do quite well and had got to a certain level of prosperity  as they had start to build more than just basic shelter, rather houses of panelled wood. The focus was to get ahead financially. Peter Craige says that the focus was on themselves individually, this meant that they had no thought of rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem, that they had not put the worship of God as a central priority in their lives.
Now throughout the psalms that come from the time of the exile there is a longing to go back to Jerusalem to worship God, what kept them going and together was that they were God’s people. But as they had come back they found that they had new priorities, they found themselves coping with a harsh economic reality which more than their faith shaped their priorities.

I don’t know about you but the way Haggai describes the result of that policy that priority sounds rather familiar. Their focus was on materialistic things but the reality of these things was not living up to their promise. They had food but were never full, drink but it never quenched their thirst, they never had enough cloths, and despite earning wages it was like putting them in a purse with a hole in it. I don’t know about you but is sounds like the economic reality we live in today. You expected much says Haggai, but see, it turned out to be little.

We live in a society with that same priority. That sees fulfilment in terms of standard of living and personal financial security. Some people just get by, others do quite well and many struggle. We live in an age where we are promised so much but in reality it delivers so little. Technology was supposed to make life simpler but do you see people working less.

Christian thinker Ronald Sine’s says that the way we live in suburbia is not moral neutral. He says we value individuality, consumerism, privacy, conformity and exclusion. That few Christians recognise that their communities have values that run contra to their biblical faith. He goes on to say that while he knows many Christians who faithfully maintain a vibrant faith, moral integrity and church attendance in the suburbs, but that their values and priorities differ little from the society around them. That many churches while doing quite well in this environment, end up being little more than chaplains for the dominant culture. They have lost their identity as God’s people and their mission and prophetic edge.

God uses Haggai then to call the people to a new priority, to a new policy. On the first day of the sixth month he brings a word to the leaders of God’s people, both civil, in the form of Zerubbabel, a member of the Judean royal family and governor of the district and religious in the form of Joshua the high priest. It would have been in public setting, scholars believe that the first day of the month would have been a public gathering of some kind.  He says that God hears what the people are saying…”it’s not time to rebuild the house of God”. He calls the people to think carefully about the way they are living, and points out that the reason that they are not finding prosperity and fulfilment in their priorities and plan is that they have forgotten that at their very centre, their identity is as God’s covenant people. How can God bless them when they are not putting that first in their lives? In fact Haggai in verses 9-11 says what they are experiencing with drought and famine are the consequences of forgetting their covenant relationship with God.”

Haggai calls them to a new priority in their lives. Rebuild the temple. Their focus was wrong, they thought that God would bless them and out of that they could then focus on being God’s people. But God’s priorities are the other way round. This is the right foundation for our lives.  As we saw in our New testament reading from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus affirms that priority, why worry about what you will eat, what you will wear, rather put first the Kingdom of God and his Righteousness and all these things, all the stuff that can take all our time and energy, will be added unto you. 
Now just before you all get worried, I’m not suggesting that we start a new building project, The temple was symbolic for the people of Israel of God’s presence with them and God’s central place in their midst.  With the coming of Christ, God no longer dwells in buildings, but in the midst of his people, we are the Church. The priority is building up God’s Kingdom, building up the lives and faith of God’s people and sharing the gospel with those around us. As Jesus says it’s putting first the Kingdom of God.  Neither am I wanting to question whether God has a central place in your lives the challenge from Haggai for all of us is.

We often think of the Church as a building but as it says in 1 Peter you and I are living stones built into the dwelling place of God. Photo mosaics is a process, computer programme that makes an image up from smaller images. I took the Photo of our church that appears on our website and put it through a free Photo mosaic programme using photos from the website of people who come to church to help us to visualise and to understand that we are the church.  It's not as clear as the other image because we are being called to the mission of growing our church as we share our faith both communally and individuality with the people round us.

One of the things I love about the book of Haggai is that it is one of the prophets which we are able to see people’s reactions to their message. It says that Zerubabbel and Joshua and all the people, obeyed the word of the Lord. They heard Haggai’s word and believed that it was from God and so they feared the Lord. God was speaking to them again. So they started to rebuild the temple.  How do we respond to the word of the Lord through Haggai today? How does our commitment to Jesus manifest itself as a priority in our lives?  How does that work itself out? In serving in church and the community? In the relationships we invest time in? In how we use your resources? In time spent? In sharing our faith with other people?
In verse thirteen another word of the Lord comes from Haggai, after the leadership and people have made their decision to change priorities. The word he brings is so comforting and familiar to us. “I am with You”, says the LORD. It is once the people have decided to obey God, that God gives them the assurance of his presence. It is what gives them the strength to change priorities and put that resolve into action. It is what enables them to focus on what God calls them to do and to trust him to take care of all the rest. They are the words which Jesus left with his disciples when he gave us the great commission, recorded in Matthews Gospel. “Go into all the world and make disciples of every nation baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. And Lo I am with you even to the end of the age.”

We tend to hold onto the “I am with you” promise like it was a sunny summer day and we forget that is what makes the commission possible, that we are called to be disciple makers and Christ’s presence through the Holy Spirit is what enables us and empowers us to do that.

The record of Haggai’s oracle finishes by saying that Spirit of Zerubbabel was stirred up, that the spirit of Joshua was stirred up and that the spirit of the people was stirred up for this new thing and they came and began the task of rebuilding the house of God. You’ll notice it didn’t happen right away they spent twenty four days of that month thinking it through wrestling with it and planning and getting ready. One of the ways that the people were stirred up was in a spirit of volunteerism, the temple had been built by forced labour in Solomon’s day and now it was the people themselves who were going to do the work. It stirred up vision and courage within the leadership.

Can I say one of the things that amazed me last year is the way God has stirred peoples spirits  in this Church to take up different ministries, like Kathryn with the cook nights, and other things like mainly music and sporty for kids;

My hope is that God would continue to renew our priorities my hope is that the Spirit may stir us up again as we focus on Christ.  

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Rounding out the Year... The End of the 2013 Preaching plan

I had been using some time while I was on holiday to do some creative thinking and planning for the year. It was going swimmingly and you can read some of the results in a post I called 'Holiday Creativity and the Preaching plan for 2013'.

The process however was put on a back burner when our house was broken into and my laptop was stolen. fortunately I had posted my posters for the different series I was going to do this year on my blog so I didn't loose everything (did I tell you my external hard drive that I had backed everything up on decided that now would be a good time to stop working!!!!).

So now I've got a new laptop and as well as getting used to the new Windows 8 environment I have finished off my preaching plan for the year.

in November I will be preaching a series called "Burning Questions and the Renewal of the Mind" which will explore four of the most often asked faith questions. The term Faith question is intentionally ambiguous because it can mean questions that Christians ask about their faith and also those asked by non Christians about our faith. I actually think that very often they are the same. I haven't narrowed down my choice of questions yet. The idea of tying this down with 'the renewal of the mind' is also because the over arching theme for this year is renewal and I am hoping that by exploring these types of questions I will invite people not only to think more deeply about the burning issues but also to develop more confidence in apologetics. Defending their faith and thinking theologically.

In December I will be doing an advent series based on the prologue to John's Gospel... 'From Eternity to Here: Cosmology and Christmas in the Prologue to John's Gospel (John 1:1-18). John does not start his exploration of Jesus origins like Luke and Matthew with the nativity narrative or with his baptism like Mark, rather he invites us to gaze off into the infinite before time and space and see that in Christ the eternal came and pitched its tent in our neighbourhood. In true sci-fi fashion this series is a prequel to the series I am doing before Easter... Refracted Glory' looking at Jesus revealed in the I am sayings in John's Gospel. I can claim some cultural precedence for that  as being a New Zealander we are home to the Hobbit trilogy of films being produced after 'The Lord of the Rings' movies.

If you are in Auckland and all this sounds like it would help you to grow in your faith or even help in your faith journey to Christ... I'd love to invite you to come and be part of things this year. If you are some where in the wide wired and weird world of cyber space I'll be posting my sermons on my blog during the year.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Holiday Creativity and the Preaching Plan for 2013

As I'm on holiday I've been taking some time each day to work through a preaching plan for 2013. Now I know that sounds rather counter intuitive, working on holiday...but as I'm having lazy mornings with not much to do I am enjoying both wrestling with what I will preach on this year and why? I am also enjoying the extra time to be creative about posters and title slides for each series. While I'm not being as creative as I could be, I don't have a camera at the moment, I have the time to search for ideal images to use, a luxury I don't afford myself during the year as it can be very time consuming.

Anyway here is the first half of 2013 sorted. The overarching theme is renewal...

I have preached through the book of Haggai before and I feel that it has so much to say to the church today. Particularly to churches in main line denominations in our western society. It is a call to renewal... renewal of priorities and in a similar economic reality that we face today... renewal of vision and courage for the future... we can so often look back to a glorified past and say those were the days... but the call of God through Haggai is to take courage and build a new future... that the best is yet to come... and central to it all is renewed relationships... the restoration of covenant relations with God.

That renewal of relationship invites us to again to focus on the person of Jesus, of whom John tells us
"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth."

 leading up to Easter and  beyond I am going to look at how Jesus is revealed to us through the seven "I am' sayings in John's Gospel... I've called the series 'Refracted Glory' picking up the idea of the light of the world being refracted into these seven different metaphors.  What do each of these I am Sayings reveal to us about Jesus and how do they bring his light into our everyday world?

As I'm in John's gospel at Easter I will look at John's account of Jesus passion and resurrection. Then round this series off with looking at Jesus saying "I am the Resurrection and the Life".

If the center of renewal is a renewed relationship with God then I believe we need to rediscover relationship with God the Holy Spirit. So from Easter to Pentecost I will be exploring what Jesus tells us about the Holy Spirit over his last meal with his disciples and then looking at what Luke tells us Jesus told his disciples in Acts 1. Surprise surprise be looking at Acts 2 on Pentecost Sunday.
In the past I've focused on what Paul has to say about the Holy Spirit... But I hope it will bring some freshness and newness by focusing on what Jesus has to say.

Following on from that renewed relationship with God, I wanted to look at what it meant to live as God's people. It may seem strange to use 1 Corinthians as a way of doing it but his dysfunctional church reminds me so much of the world we live in. I don't know what your experience of church is but I am seeing an increasingly diverse church that wrestles with theological diversity, a multiplicity of ethical outworking from that, reflecting our multi cultural cities and wrestling with a growing socio economic polarisation. We can focus on such ideas from the church growth movement as 'the homogeneous unit theory' that churches and organisations function best when everyone is the same, or we can journey the road to unity that Paul invites the fractured church in Corinth to walk. That is where I sense the hope we have to offer in Christ.

I haven't got as far as working out each week for this series yet and I want to continue my journey through the psalms which I started in 2010 as part of student soul... this year in conjunction with spring I want to look at the nature psalms in a series I will be calling... 'Theo-cology:The breath print of God and the renewal of caring for creationin the nature Psalms'.

I hope you'll join me on this journey.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

It's a new dawn...It's a new day... it's a new year... and I'm feeling Good

2012 wasn't the best of years... it wasn't the worst of years either... it was a year for me dominated by the discovery of blocked arteries and finding myself not being able to be very active without a being totally exhausted after about 15 minutes and worrying that this was a precursor to a heart attack. Last summer I'd be playing with my kids in the lakes round Rotorua and after a while I just had to stop and get out. I walked withe a friend each week and would find that I had ti stop every ten minutes. It was rather embarrassing walking with my 15 year old son back from the movies one night and having to stop so many times. even in sight of our house.

But in October they put some stents in two of the most effected arteries and things have been looking up.

2013 dawned today, I've been on holiday a week and the work weariness has worn off. So today we went off to the wonderful beach just north of Auckland called Tawharanui. There wasn't much of a swell the occasional four footer would come rolling lazily through ( not big I know but Just big enough for a first time in in a long while). For the first time since the end of 2011 I felt energetic and alive. So I spent four hours body boarding in the surf... four hours. At the end I had to get out because I was exhausted. But that was after four hours of flippering. Not bad for someone who hasn't been exercising for a while. Not bad for someone who hasn't been swimming the 4 km a day they did a couple of years ago. It was a great day in God's great creation, with my great family and a wonderful hope filled way to start 2013... It's a new dawn... it's a new day... it's a new year... it's a new life... and I'm feeling good. Although to tell you the truth there are some muscles in my back and thighs and shoulders that might beg to differ... but I think even they may see this as a new dawn.

Thanks to all the people who have kept me and my family in their thoughts and their prayers over this period.