What Goes First?

Haggai 1

Sunday, November 13, 2022

The prophet Haggai is among the first prophets to prophesy after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 586/587 BCE. The ministry of Haggai can be dated to happening in the year 520 BCE and his words are directed towards two people in particular: Zerubbabel the governor of Judah and Joshua the high priest (Hag.1.1). The message of the prophet is to encourage Zerubbabel and Joshua to rebuild the dilapidated and desecrated temple.

Verse four of chapter one contains what God has against the people and leaders. To paraphrase God says, ‘Why are you living in your nice comfortable homes while my house, the temple, lies still ruined?’. Now this is a different generation than the one that experienced the destruction and exile, but when they returned to the land they carried on about their concerns first before tending to the things of God, namely the temple. Zerubbabel and Joshua hear this charge from God and they take action and focus their attention on the rebuilding of the temple. God blesses their work and encourages them to continue and finish.

Do you put the things of God first or the things of you first? In my experience, when I put myself first ultimately in the end it leaves me unfilled in addition to neglecting God. However, when I put God first not only am I putting things in the right perspective but God also provides for my needs and desires. Putting the things of God first can look like: discipleship, evangelism, Bible study, prayer, pursuing holiness, and so on. When you reflect on your life are you putting yourself first or God first? Is God and the kingdom a priority for you? Be a Matthew 6.33 man or woman.

-Jacob Rohrer

(originally posted for SeekGrowLove on April 22, 2017)

Reflection Questions

  1. When you reflect on your life are you putting yourself first or God first?
  2. Is God and the kingdom a priority for you? How do you show it?
  3. What do you think of verses 5-11 in Haggai 1? Where might God be asking you to “Consider your ways”?

Not as Unwise but as Wise

Ephesians 5

Thursday, August 18, 2022

A few years ago the term YOLO became popular and used as a reason to partake in some very reckless behavior. If you’re not familiar with the acronym, it is an abbreviation for You Only Live Once. It drives me bananas when I observe others taking unnecessary risks because of this attitude.

I admit that I tend to be cautious. I’m not a huge risk-taker. I prefer to know possible outcomes before making a decision. I have the mindset that it’s because I only live once (this side of God’s Kingdom) that I want to be prudicious with my choices. 

As I approach the half-way mark of life, I am even more aware of how precious my time, energy, resources and relationships really are. Knowing and respecting my priorities helps me make decisions that align with the kind of life that I believe God is calling me to live. 

As we continue through the letter to the Ephesians, Paul is instructing the new believers in the local church to evaluate their life choices. The way that they used to live is no longer in alignment with a holy lifestyle. To live carelessly and without regard to the purpose for which they were saved is a waste of time. 

We too need to be self-controlled and alert. We need to know who we are in Christ and make decisions accordingly. Living in these times requires us to use our resources of time and energy wisely so that we can make an impact and a difference for the Kingdom of God. 

Sometimes, this way of living does mean that we will take risks and might look foolish to the world’s way of thinking. But if we are obedient to God, those risks will pay huge dividends because others will have an eternal benefit. 

So as you go about your day, your week, your month, and even the rest of this year, be strategic; be careful; be wise about how you live your life in Christ.

Once again, I’ll ask:

What should you continue doing?

What should you stop doing?

What should you start doing?

-Bethany Ligon


Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Do you consider yourself to be living life wisely? What adjustments might Paul suggest to you?
  2. What should you continue doing? What should you stop doing? What should you start doing?

Give Careful Thought to Your Ways

Haggai 1 – 2

The book of Haggai records events that took place in 520 B.C.  The foundation of the temple had been laid in 536 B.C. (Ezra 3:8-13), but building stopped because of opposition.  In Haggai 1:2, we see that people were making excuses, “The time has not yet come for the Lord’s house to be built.”  The people themselves were living in fine houses, but just hadn’t gotten around to building God’s temple.  Their priorities were wrong.

God pointed out that He had been undermining the people’s prosperity because they hadn’t made God a priority.  Haggai 1:6 tells us, “You have planted much, but have harvested little.  You eat, but never have enough.  You drink, but never have your fill.  You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.”

Once confronted with this, the people obeyed God and began to work on the temple.  The word of the Lord came to Haggai again in chapter 2, where God told Haggai in 2:9, “The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house, says the Lord Almighty…”

Interesting.  When Solomon’s temple was dedicated, fire fell from heaven to consume the offering, and God’s shekinah glory appeared so the priests couldn’t enter the temple.  The ark of the covenant, the representation of God on earth had been there.  But in this new temple, there was no ark of the covenant, no urim or thumim, no fire from heaven, no shekinah glory.  So how would this new temple have greater glory than Solomon’s magnificent temple, you may ask.  Here’s how:  Over 500 years later, Jesus taught in this new Temple.

Further, God promised that starting on that very day, God was going to bless them because of putting one stone on another.  In Haggai 2:19, we read, “From this day on I will bless you.”  Because they were finally putting God first in their lives.

How are things going for you?  Does it seem that you’re working harder and harder, but getting farther and farther behind?  Does it seem like your wages go into purses with holes in them?  Could it be that you have prioritized enjoying the good life for yourself, but haven’t made serving God the priority you should?  Only you can answer these questions.

If this is true for you, I challenge you to rededicate your life to serving God wholeheartedly.  He will certainly bless your commitment to Him.  Maybe even materially.  But ultimately, you will gain a far greater reward – eternal life.

I’m reminded of Joshua 24:15, “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

May we each say that – and live it.

-Steve Mattison

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading passages at BibleGateway.com here – Haggai 1-2 and Revelation 14

Strong-Willed for God

Proverbs 22-24

Proverbs 22 6 NIV sgl

If you are just jumping in now, I have been pulling out a few lines in Proverbs that stand out to me, but I encourage you to do the same – you will likely find different ones!

22:6 Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.

My mom always tells these horror stories from when I was a young child about how I was a nightmare to deal with (I’m sure she exaggerates…), but that didn’t mean that she just accepted it.  She tells me she prayed and asked that God would turn my stubborn, strong-willed self to be stubborn and strong-willed for God.  I can’t say that I have done a perfect job, but I know I am thankful for the prayers my mom said.  I don’t hit people in anger anymore (or throw whatever is in my hand across the room when I get mad).  Though I sometimes struggle to stay on fire for God, I am trying to do what I can to stay faithful through it.  The attribute of being strong-willed has been put to use in staying steadfast even when I go through times of struggle.   If you are the child who was raised in the faith and is still in it, thank your parents!  If you are someone who has children or plans to someday, keep this in mind.  It starts young.

23:4-5 Saying 8

4 Do not wear yourself out to get rich;
do not trust your own cleverness.
5 Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone,
for they will surely sprout wings
and fly off to the sky like an eagle.

Finding a balance between providing for life and accumulating wealth can be difficult.  Most of us want to have nice things in life, but it can consume us.  That first line stands out to me – “Do not wear yourself out to get rich;” If I am so focused on work that I am worn out everyday, or don’t have time to spend with my family, I don’t think that is right.  Don’t get me wrong – there are plenty of other places in the Bible that tell us we should be hard workers and not to be lazy (see next section), but overworking yourself just to gain wealth doesn’t feel right.  You might not be able to get everything you want, but learning to be content with what you have is for the better.  Contentedness is something I have been working on the last few months. What I have is enough.

24:30-34

30 I went past the field of a sluggard,
past the vineyard of someone who has no sense;
31 thorns had come up everywhere,
the ground was covered with weeds,
and the stone wall was in ruins.
32 I applied my heart to what I observed
and learned a lesson from what I saw:
33 A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest—
34 and poverty will come on you like a thief
and scarcity like an armed man.

Being lazy leads to an inability to thrive.  We have to find that balance of hard work, but not letting it consume us to where gaining possessions becomes our sole focus.  How are your priorities?  Where is God on that list?

We are moving out of Proverbs tomorrow, so enjoy these little bits of wisdom!

 

~Stephanie Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Proverbs+22-24&version=NIV

 

Tomorrow we jump from Proverbs (many of Solomon’s writings) to 1 Kings 5-6 and 2 Chronicles 2-3 to read some of the events of King Solomon’s life and reign.  We return to the rest of Proverbs next week on our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan.

Food & Stuff

matt 6 33 (1)

MATTHEW 6

Scrolling through the text messages I send to my wife, I realize there is a constant theme connecting about half of our communication:  food. “What are we having tonight?”, “Where do you want to go to eat?”, “Do we have any dinner plans?”, “What are you making?”, “I think I will have…”  I can only imagine if the Lord tarries for a few hundred more years, and they discover my phone in an archaeological dig, they will no doubt conclude that I was one of the hungriest people on earth.  The thing is I’m not. In fact, thank the Lord, I’ve never had to worry about a meal in my life, and truth be told, it probably would benefit me if I skipped a few meals. So why am I (and so many others) obsessed with food, or clothing, or money, or all of these things, the very things God assures over and over again he will provide what we need in exact proportions?

 

Today’s reading, Matthew 6, is a continuation of the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus takes the time to teach us how to pray, and then gives us the appropriate perspective on our food and stuff, to make sure our priorities are straight so our pursuits are fruitful.  How do we know what our priorities should be? Some say that the model prayer that Jesus gives is also a priority list (Matt 6:9-13). If this is true, then it is later confirmed when Jesus says “Seek FIRST His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33).  Kingdom first. Everything else, don’t sweat.

 

This reminds me of a recent discussion we have been having about theme in my classroom.  In fiction, the theme is the single most important factor that guides your story. Everything else is of significantly lesser importance.  The setting could be the United States, another country, space, or complete fantasy. Your characters could be people, animals, aliens, or inanimate objects. The conflict can be internal or external.  The main idea in these thoughts: you can tell the same story with a variance of characters, settings, conflicts, but the theme, or the central message, remains the same because it controls everything else.

 

When the theme of our lives becomes food and stuff, we become literal or figurative “packrats.”  Our pantries begin to overflow, we save for every eventuality and rainy day, and we have closets full of clothing for every season and occasion. To what purpose?  While it might be unwise to go to the grocery store to buy a single day’s worth of food, to not acknowledge retirement, or our only shoes to be flip-flops in Minnesota, is this really the side where most of us err?

 

The theme controlling our story should singly be the Kingdom of God.  It should be the driving force, controlling our story. It doesn’t matter who we are.  It doesn’t matter where we live. It doesn’t matter the challenge we face. We know the theme. It is the very reason Paul says he “can do all things through Christ who gives him strength” because rich or poor, here or there, famous or obscure, those are just the “all these things” of the story (Phi 4:13).  It is true that each day has enough trouble of its own, so don’t worry about tomorrow (Matt 6:34). The sun will rise. The birds will fly. The flowers will grow. You will get your food and stuff WHEN you acknowledge first, the Kingdom of God. Knowing this, use the details of your story – picking out your clothes, sitting down to eat, or making a purchase, to find a way to acknowledge, thank, and share God for or with your food and stuff.

-Aaron Winner

Your Mouth

Deut 6 7

We’ve heard it said that there are two things that demonstrate what a person really cares about: his checkbook and his calendar. This is definitely a very good point that resonates with most of us I would think. How much money did we spend this week on anything of spiritual value or eternal significance or even for anything other than ourselves? (And if we did give to some noble cause. . .did we do it humbly and privately or feel the need to “sound our trumpet” for the applause of men mentioned in Matthew 6:2?) How much time did we spend earning money, planning how to earn money in our future, talking or thinking about money? And okay, we could say the same for our calendars too. Clearly, as we can see from the general lack of church attendance in our society, a mentality that “church is a place you go to once or twice a week” versus a community of people in whom you are sharing life, and the increasing time demands of any secular activity, for the vast majority of us, our calendars are not going to indicate a priority of God or the church compared to work/school/hobbies/not to mention anything to do with electronic devices. In fact, we live in a world where people get repetitive strain conditions from too much screen time, we have conditions of workaholics, hoarders, internet search histories full of wasted time (or even worse), and the list goes on. Clearly, we often misuse or mindlessly use our checkbook and calendars.   And while this is an excellent lesson to prove the point that we need more decisions/thoughts/actions with God involved with our use of time and money. . . it does seem to overlook one area we have certainly found equally convicting. Our MOUTHS!

For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. (Luke 6:45, NIV)

This verse reminds us that our words evidence what our hearts and minds are filled with. And if we are intentionally seeking to increase or develop our relationships which God graciously made possible through the gift of His son, Jesus, then we will find our words more filled with His spirit and grace and wisdom. But, not just speaking “kindly” and “politely” and those kinds of things. . .words indicating a care/knowledge/priority in thoughts of eternal significance. The older we get, the more we’ve noticed that there are some people who just stand out because their conversation topics and things they generally/casually talk about are centered around God in some capacity.  When we are at their house for dinner, we are asked about our faith, we hear different things about their church backgrounds and doctrinal thoughts, they tell us about some Creation Science information they ran across recently, and maybe even share books/DVDs with us of a spiritual value. We leave their house having learned something or having thought about something that matters without having heard a word of gossip or complaint. But, this really isn’t typical, is it?

Many of our conversations with Christians look and sound no different than if we were talking to anyone else. We hear/talk about the weather, sports, politics, school, camping, work, and Facebook threads (and whatever those other Social media things are for younger and cooler people than us). Sadly, we hear gossip, slander, anger, whining, and pride on a regular basis too. . .certainly even in church. And, the Christians who stand out as unique are the ones who make it clear that they actually think about God frequently. How sad. Aren’t we asked to meditate on Him daily (Psalm 1:1-3)? And, aren’t we awfully weak in this? We need to improve in this area individually, as families, and as a church. We need our hearts to be filled with God so our conversations naturally overflow with His spirit. We don’t need to have friends over and get out fifteen Bible study tools and sit and discuss Greek and Hebrew translations. We don’t need to talk about scripture itself all the time, and we certainly don’t need to eliminate friendly, relational talk of a variety of interests. But, we do desperately NEED to fill our hearts with more God and less of the world. When we do this, our church family will benefit, and our mouths will overflow with truth and love so that we are not just a “resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Corinthians 13:1, NIV). After all, this isn’t a new idea:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”  (Deuteronomy 6:4-7, NIV)

 

–Brian and Jennifer Hall

 

Love God First

1 John 2

1 John 2 15

I love cats, ice cream, and succulents. I love big, comfy sweatshirts and the smell of old books. I love a lot of things.

You’re probably thinking, “Ok, that’s nice I guess… But what do old books and weird plants have to do with anything?”

We all have things that we love. Maybe you love coffee, sports, or your phone. Fill in the blank! Loving those things is not a bad thing. In fact, many of those things can be extremely helpful in our day to day lives – until they become worldly distractions and priorities.

When repotting my succulent becomes higher on my priority list than homework, there’s a problem. When I am engulfed in a book and lose sleep to read “one more chapter,” there’s a problem. When I eat massive amounts of ice cream every day, there’s a problem.

God should be the priority – not your facebook status, not repotting your succulent, not watching a football game. Those things are nice, and it’s great that you like them, but we find that when they are higher on our list of priorities than God, there is a MAJOR issue.

I mean, God can give us immortality. He, through Jesus, forgave us despite all of our imperfections, shortcomings, and sins. He loves us, and we, as Christians, love Him. But then we go and kill two days of our life on the couch binge watching a season on Netflix instead of using that time to pray, read the Bible, or glorify Him in general.

Catch my drift?

We need to strive to make God a priority in our lives and to love Him first. Because our stuff will break, get old, wear out, be replaced – but God will never break, get old, wear out, or be replaced. When we put God as our number one priority, everything else falls into place. So love Him first.

– Madison Cisler

1 John 2 17

E.R.

Psalm 119

emoyer-ER

 

E.R. debuted in 1994.  Each week, episodes were filled with exciting, heart wrenching and dramatic events based in a Chicago hospital emergency room.  The show often portrayed incredible measures taken as residents applied their medical school backgrounds to treat and save patients.   
Well, there are times we all find other things that we might put first in our day to day lives.  We may need some “healing” or “revival” in our own relationship with God.  Eleven times in Psalm 119 it mentions some sort of revival.  Terms like preserve, restore, spare, give, are mentioned throughout this chapter.  In the darkest of hours you may not feel like His Word is enough.  You may not feel like it is relevant to what you are going through or that God is near. You may have filled your time, your actions and your mind with everything but time in His word.  If this feels somewhat familiar to you consider this:  “Feelings follow correct behaviors and not the other way around”.  God’s word is a foundation for us all.  We need to turn to him and be in His word.  Don’t expect a quick fix. Instead, prepare to be transformed by him being more present in our life. So when we stumble, we need to get back up again, be dedicated to reading his word and trust on his strength for a full recovery in our lives.

-Emily Moyer

Living Simply

Luke 10

luke 10 2

In Luke 10 Jesus is appointing 72 of his followers to go out ahead of him and to spread the message and to see which towns will be open to his message.  Now I think that his instructions to this group of believers is unique to their purpose in aiding Jesus’ earthly ministry, but there are also some useful instructions for us today.  In verses 2 and 3 he tells them to pray that God will send his missionaries into the world, and then tells them that they are the ones that are being sent, but that it will be dangerous.  At that point in Jesus’ ministry I think that some of the disciples had been living in a bit of a bubble and hadn’t yet realized the kind of persecution that they would undergo in their lifetimes, and Jesus was preparing them for what was to come.  I think that similarly Christians in America, and especially those who have grown up in the church have been living in a bubble.  We have been a predominantly Christian nation for several generations, but our nation is quickly moving away from God and I personally believe that within my lifetime we will start to see a lot more persecution of the church.  So those of us that plan to be bold with our beliefs and plan on spreading them to those around us need to be ready and understand that there are dangers associated with being a Christian and being different from the world.

 

In verses 4-8 Jesus describes how they should move about and how they should act while they are staying in these towns they are visiting.  The summary of these instructions is that they need to move with haste and purpose and while they are staying as a guest in these towns they need to live simply and humbly.  They were to take whatever was given to them gladly and not complain about any food or accommodations.  I think that for us today we need to remember to live with a purpose and to not let ourselves be distracted by fancy living or money or other things of this world.  Our lives are relatively short and there is a great deal of work to be done for the Kingdom.  I’m not saying that we should go around without a wallet or purse or shoes like these disciples were instructed, but that we should lead simple lives so that we have more time for God.

 

At the end of Luke 10 in verses 38-42 we have the story of Mary and Martha, sisters who hosted Jesus while he was traveling and teaching.  Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to all that he said while Martha ran about getting food and things ready for all of the visitors.  Finally Martha had enough and told Jesus to tell Mary to help her with the housework.  Jesus replied.

 

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

 

Again a lesson to live simply and to put spiritual matters ahead of physical issues in our lives.

-Chris Mattison

The Way Towards Unity

Philippians 2:1-11

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In Philippians 2 we find our memory verse for this week, in which Paul exhorts the church at Philippi towards unity: “If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind (Philippians 2:1-2, NRSV). In the verses that follow, Paul gives the Philippians some instruction on how they can work towards achieving that unity.

 

Paul’s advice for the Philippians is to pursue humility in order to achieve unity. Humility is to hold one’s self or self-interest in a low or modest regard. In practicing humility, those in Philippi would be placing the interests of others and the agenda of God above their own desires and concerns. This lowering of one’s self would allow room for the Gospel to take over each member’s life and for the church to come together for the purpose furthering the Gospel in their community. In this, they would be unified.

 

But Paul doesn’t stop at giving them some ideal to chase after; he offers a model to copy—a perfect one. Jesus had more reason than anyone to pursue self-interests: he was like God. When tempted to have all the kingdoms of the world put under his rule without having to suffer first, he refused (Matt. 4:8-10). Jesus always subjected himself to God. God’s agenda was the only one he cared about—even if it meant torture and death. Paul called the Philippians to have this same mentality, and we should too.

 

Each one of us has objects we hold as valuable (physical and otherwise), some of them justifiably and others not. We have families and jobs, both of which are important and should not be neglected. We also have ideas, opinions, and agendas that we might say (or at least our actions would suggest) are just as important. What we must remember, and what our actions must mirror, is that all of the things we find value in must pale (greatly) in comparison to the worth we place on the Gospel—God’s agenda.

 

Can you image what the Church would look like if we were all unified around and living out this common idea? What a sight that would be…will be.

– Joel Fletcher

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