Giving Thought

If you won £1000 tomorrow, what would you do with it?' A while ago The Sun newspaper interviewed Lee Ryan. He'd just won £6,528,000. The article begins, 'Lottery winner Lee Ryan sat back and surveyed his £1m mansion, the Bentley, the Ferrari and the helicopter and said, 'We're careful with our money, really. There are some winners around who've only got £2m left.' And it ends with his advice to future lottery millionaires: 'If you want to make a purchase, make a purchase. You don't have to justify it to anyone. Be yourself.' And that last word says it all. Because the most obvious place for you and me to spend is on ourselves. And I guess most of our ideas for that £1000 win were for ourselves - the holiday, the hifi, or something for the house. Which is why we have our yearly Giving Review - to let God remind us through the Bible of his claim on 'our' money. And a similar Giving Review happened in Jerusalem in August of the year 520BC. And the prophet behind it was Haggai. Verse 1:

In the second year of King Darius [of Persia], on the second day of the sixth month, the word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak the high priest.

Zerrubbabel and Joshua had led the first group of God's people back from exile in Babylon. They'd returned to Jerusalem in 538BC, made a brief start on rebuilding the temple, and then the work had ground to a halt - and stayed that way for 16 years. At which point, God sent Haggai to set his people three questions. And they still apply: First, WHAT ARE YOUR SPENDING PRIORITIES? Secondly, WHERE DOES YOUR INCOME REALLY COME FROM? And thirdly, WHAT'S REALLY WORTH INVESTING IN? First, WHAT ARE YOUR SPENDING PRIORITIES? Verse 2:

This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'These people say, 'The time has not yet come for the LORD's house [ie the temple] to be built.' Then the word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai: 'Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your panelled houses, while this house [ie, the temple] remains a ruin?' (vv2-4)

In other words, 'What are your spending priorities? Do you spend on yourselves while God's work gets neglected? And does that seem right?' In Old Testament [OT] times, the temple was central to God's work. It represented God's presence in his world. And it was the place you went to find out about God, or learn more from God. But since Jesus' coming, there hasn't been a temple. There are no special buildings now. In New Testament [NT] times, the equivalent of the temple is the church - by which I mean, us. We often misuse Bible words and one is the word 'church'. We use it wrongly to refer to the building. The Bible uses it to refer to the people who (from time to time) meet inside the building. So the apostle Paul wrote this to the Christians at Corinth:

Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple, and that God's Spirit lives in you? (1 Corinthians 3.16)

So what the temple used to do, the church (people, not buildings) now does. So we, if we're Christians, represent the presence of God in his world. We are the place where people come to find about God (3000 in total at Carols by Candlelight last December). And we're the place for learning more from God - whether on Sunday or midweek. And the same can be said for every local church where there's real faith. So Haggai was on about building the temple. The equivalent for us today is building up the church. Building outwards by getting the gospel to more non-Christian folk. And building internally by helping one another grow as Christians. So what would be the equivalent of v2 for us, today? 'This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'These people say, 'The time has not yet come to give seriously to the work of the gospel here and oversees.' These people say, 'We've got a lot of financial pressures and commitments right now. But once things settle down and feel a bit more secure, we'll take this Giving Review stuff on board. Just not yet.'' And what would be the equivalent of v4, for us, today? 'Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in DIY palaces with all mod cons while the work of the gospel remains under-resourced?' I had to get some new bookshelves this week, so off I trotted to IKEA. And they really know what they're doing down there. There's not a lot you could teach them about salesmanship. In order to get to my humble 'Sverker' bookshelves, I had to walk through this vast hallway of temptation and enticement. I could have spent £1000 without even thinking. I liked it all! And it's so much easier to spend on me and home than on God's work because me and home are so close to my heart. And because the word of the IKEA catalogue and the TV adverts and the shop displays are telling me to. And the word of the LORD comes through the prophet Haggai and asks me (and you):

'Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in panelled houses, while this house remains a ruin?'

What are our spending priorities? How much do we spend on ourselves over and above necessity? And how much by comparison do we spend on God's work - the work here; the work of our overseas missionaries; the work of other churches, other Christian organisations and individuals? 'Well, I'd love to give or give more to God's work,' we say. 'If only I had the money.' Maybe they were saying that in Haggai's day. But if so, it certainly wasn't true. Verse 4: they had more than enough to spend on themselves. Panelling doesn't come cheap - even 'Sverker' panelling from IKEA. Which shows that the real problem is not that we lack money, but that we lack the will to give money for God's work. Because we see ourselves as a higher spending priority than God. And the only solution to that is getting a clearer idea of God into our minds. And that's why God sent Haggai to help his people see more clearly. So onto the second question God sets us: Secondly, WHERE DOES YOUR INCOME REALLY COME FROM? Just imagine for a moment that you were God. And your people were giving little or no money for your work. What would you do? You might arrange for them to get salary increases or inherit vast sums or win huge cash prizes from Readers Digest - so they had more to give. Well, that's the exact opposite of what God did in Haggai's day. Because he knew their problem was not lacking the money to give, but lacking the will to give. What God did in Haggai's day was actually to reduce their income. Verse 5:

Now this is what the LORD Almighty says: 'Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes but are not warm. [That certainly sounds like Newcastle.] You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.' This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so I may take pleasure in it and be honoured,' says the LORD. 'You expected much [ie a big harvest], but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?' declares the LORD Almighty. 'Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house. Therefore, because of you, the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the oil and whatever the ground produces, on the men and cattle and on the labour of your hands.' (vv5-11)

God's people were not giving for God's work, so he actually reduced their income - to make them think. Verse 5 and 7: 'Give careful thought to your ways,' he says. And he means our financial ways. You see, there they were in Haggai's day, scratching their heads over that year's harvest. Probably saying to one another. 'We've planted like never before. We've used the best genetically modified strains, we've fertilised, we've sprayed; and we've never had it so bad. Why?' And the answer is: because God was out to remind them where income really comes from. Income comes from God. And he sometimes withholds it or threatens it to remind us of that. He allows economic uncertainty and redundancy and wage cuts to remind us that income isn't something we control or create. It comes from him. 'Where are our crops this year?' they were asking. To which God replies: Well they're not actually your crops, are they? They're mine. Just like everything else you own, everything else you earn, everything else you receive. Ultimately, it's all mine.' Which explains the scandal of the end of v9:

'my house remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house.

God's work neglected, while God's people are busy spending God-given income on their own affairs. Well, do we believe that? That everything we own, everything we earn, everything we receive is ultimately God's? That's what we say in the creed every Sunday: 'I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.' Which leaves nothing for us to lay claim to. So there's no such thing as 'my money', any more than there's such a thing as 'my time' or 'my life'. They're all on loan from the LORD. He retains ownership of them. And he has a divine right over them for his purposes. So lottery winner Lee Ryan could not be more wrong 'If you want to make a purchase, make a purchase. You don't have to justify it to anyone,' he says. But if we're believers, we do have to justify our use of everything - time, energy and money, to the Lord Jesus Christ. He has the divine right over us - twice over. Once because he created us; and twice because he died on the cross to save us back to himself. He made us. He paid for our forgiveness. So onto the last question God sets us: Thirdly, WHAT'S REALLY WORTH INVESTING IN? You might have noticed as we read through vv 5-11 that God doesn't just eat into their income. He eats into their savings as well. End of verse 6:

'You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it

[Second half of v9:] What you brought home, I blew away.'

Well, we know the 'purse with holes in it' as inflation. And we know what it is to have our money and possessions blown away by depreciation, wear and tear and so on. And those things, too, the LORD deliberately allows. 'Why?'(that question, again, at the end of v9). Well, to remind us that nothing in this world ultimately lasts. Every tile off the roof, every blown exhaust pipe, every jug kettle that leaks just like the last one and the one before that - they're all reminders that nothing in this world ultimately lasts. And therefore nothing in this world is worth our ultimate investment. Look across to Haggai 2.6:

This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'In a little while, I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land.'

And the book of Hebrews in the NT (see Hebrews 12.25-29) quotes that verse and explains it. It says this:

The words, 'once more' indicate the removing of what can be shaken - that is, created things - so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful and so worship God with reverence and awe (Hebrews 12.27-28)

So God reminded them through circumstances that nothing in this world lasts. And at the same time he gave Haggai a vision of heaven, his kingdom - which lies in the future, beyond the return of the Lord Jesus. And that kingdom, and God's plan to save people into it through the church, is the one thing that ultimately lasts. So it's the one thing really worth investing in. Some of you will remember my old custard yellow Vauxhall Cavalier. It was the butt of much unkind humour. When I told a friend it had passed its MOT one year, she replied, 'You'd have thought they'd have failed it on colour if nothing else.' But old bangers teach you an important lesson in their declining years. The lesson is this: invest as little as you can in them, only what's necessary, because they're on their way out. This fallen world is likewise on its way out (see 1 John 2.15-17). Nothing we build, nothing we buy, nothing we invest in will last. Whereas, God is building a group of people through the spread of the gospel who will be in his kingdom to serve him for eternity. Which again explains the scandal of v9:

'my house remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house.

God's work - the only thing that lasts - neglected, while God's people are busy investing in things that are on their way out. That's Haggai's Giving Review. Three questions from God: First, what are your spending priorities? Secondly, where does your income really come from? And thirdly, what's really worth investing in? If we see God as he really is, and his church as it really is and really will be in eternity, and this world as it really is, we'll do what they did in Haggai's day. Verse 12: they 'obeyed the voice of the LORD their God And the people feared the LORD[end of v14:] They came and began work on the house of the LORD Almighty, their God.' But if we don't see God as he really is and the church and the world as they really are, we'll never get past v2. We'll still be saying, 'The time has not yet come for the LORD's house to be built.' What do you see?

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