What does the American Flag, the clothes worn to a job interview, a wedding portrait, and a man’s car all have in common? The treatment given each object reveals how much a person loves that object. A tattered, worn flag could display an unintentional indifference for America’s military, but a crisp, illuminated flag demonstrates respect for sacrifices made for freedom. Wrinkled, stained clothing suggests an irresponsible, careless job candidate, but clean, appropriate clothing indicates a serious and reliable individual. A wedding portrait collecting dust in the closet can reveal friction in a marriage, but a portrait hanging in a prominent place displays appreciation for God’s gift of a spouse. A neglected, broken car might communicate disinterest for valuable items. Yet, the man who cares for his car often reflects even better care for his wife. The treatment given each object reveals the love a person has for that object.
You can learn much about a person’s priorities by the way they treat objects. And priorities are ranked by the heart. If the heart loves a car, then the car receives [the act of] care. If the heart does not care for work, then the interview receives little attention and preparation. Your outward actions reveal the attitude inside.
When you look at God’s house— its building, its upkeep, its property— what does its condition reveal about the priority God has in your heart? Consider the Attitude of Your Heart. Set straight your priorities and Build God’s house.
This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways.” Quite literally: “Pay attention to the reason for your behavior.”
God has every reason to be concerned about Israel’s behavior. He looks down from heaven and notes the effort in rebuilding his temple. A company poured the foundation— but that is all the work done. Heaps of broken concrete lie off to the side. Piles of stacked lumber sit over there. No one is working; in fact, no work has been done for sixteen years!
God looks at this and asks: “Why is my house a ruin when your homes look so good?” In fact, the people live in “paneled homes”— a picture of luxury (Haggai 1:4). As soon as someone finishes their house, they start upgrading it. They finish their kitchens, then upgrade the countertops. They lay down linoleum floors, then replace it with hardwood. They add on bedrooms! Their homes look better than God’s house. Their homes have newer updates than his. Their homes receive more attention. The special attention given these homes reveals a heart that loves stuff more than God. Their hearts loved comfort. Their hearts loved convenience. Their hearts were dying.
Remember: The treatment given each object reveals the love a person has for that object. So, Consider the Attitude of Your Heart.
When you look at God’s house— its building, its upkeep, its property— what does its condition reveal about your love for God? Is this place a priority because God is your number-one priority?
We may upgrade our yards: spreading fertilizer, raking leaves, making sure it is mowed. Even when you are at home, are you thinking about the grounds here? Do you consider investing in making the lawn look immaculate? Do you wonder who will rake the leaves? We dust and polish our homes, vacuum and pay for carpet cleaners. Are you thinking about the condition of your church pews and windows, carpets and walls? Who tends to those needs?
When we do not see those needs, they quickly slip from our minds. When we do see them, it suddenly transforms into “good enough!” The garbage flying through the church parking lot becomes “good enough.” The faded paint-job, the stained carpet, the dim lights are “good enough.” The failing appliances, the cracks in the walls, the leaks in the ceiling are “good enough.” Do you tolerate “good enough” for your house? Of course not! If we would not tolerate “good enough,” then why would we expect God to tolerate “good enough?”
The reason God’s house slips from our minds, the reason we quickly spout out a “good enough,” is because our hearts struggle to keep God as its number-one priority. So we make excuses for our behavior. We try to defend the false gods of ‘convenience.’ We protect our god of ‘time.’ We do not want to share our god of ‘effort.’
Yet, God sees through it all. “Give careful thought to your ways,” he says. Quite literally: “Pay attention to the reason for your behavior.” Your behavior reveals your priorities. Your priorities reveal what your heart loves most. Hearts that wander from God can lose him forever! Consider the Attitude of Your Heart and Set straight your priorities.
With those words, God shakes his people awake. The Israelites loved the false god of crops and drink, clothing and money. Yet, God brought a drought to take away those objects. With those little ‘gods’ gone, the people could look up to the one true God for rescue. To the God who set straight his priorities.
Your Jesus has a heart that never wanders from God. He has a heart that loves his Father in heaven most. When greedy men turn God’s temple into a money-making opportunity, Jesus chases them out (John 2:13-25). He preaches throughout the countryside, but still returns to the house of his God each week for worship. He even brings an offering— not out of obligation, but because he loved giving treasures back to God.
You see, Jesus keeps love for God as his number-one priority. Even when his Father leads him down the path of the cross, Jesus obediently follows.
You can be sure, that when Jesus dies in your place, his payment is enough. His innocent life washes out the filthy little idols in our hearts. His triumphant resurrection declares your guilt ‘Gone!’
Jesus makes this building into your second home—because this is where God dwells. He satisfies thirsty hearts with his Word: “Everything is ok. I control all things” (Matthew 28:20). He unburdens guilt: “I remember your sins no more” (Jeremiah 31:31-34). He promises life: “I am the Resurrection and the Life—those who believe in me will live” (John 11:25-26).
Consider the Joy[ful attiude] of Your Heart! In this temple God gives you spiritual rest. God gives you physical rest. What splendid treasures! That makes this house a priority. So, build the house.
Listen to verses 7-8: 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... God lists the building materials here, yes, but he points at something more important: the heart. [B]uild the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored…
That is the motivation to care for God’s house, this church. You see, the love we have for God will be seen in our treatment of everything that represents God. Simply constructing a church announces to the community that this is a special place; this place exists to meet with God. Maintaining this worship space, making it appear as beautiful as you can announces to all: “God is so important that we give our time and efforts to his service.”
And God sees the generous motivation of the heart and he delights in it. He loved you first, and touched by that love, you love him (1 John 4:19). The care for this church honors God because it is your act of saying ‘Thank you’ for his great love to you.
So, Consider the Attitude of the Heart. Remember what great things God has done for you! Then, Build the House!
Verse 12 says, Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the whole remnant of the people obeyed the voice of the Lord their God and the message of the prophet Haggai, because the Lord their God had sent him… Construction on God’s temple restarts and is eventually completed. Yet, notice, who is put in charge of the project. Church President Zerubabbel is not only one doing all the work. High Priest Joshua is not the only one mowing the lawn and taking out the garbage. The entire nation carries the responsibility of tending to the needs of God’s house.
It’s the same responsibility God gives you (and me)! You (and I) are responsible for the needs of this church. Now, that responsibility is carried out according to your individual gifts and abilities. (1) Maybe you are physically fit. It means God has allowed you to offer your time and effort as you’re able. Consider offering your bodies to work: raking, cleaning, painting. Instead of waiting for someone else to clean or for the Pastor to call repairmen, maybe you are the one gifted to do the work! (2) Maybe you have talents. Volunteer for events; do not just leave the same few working. Instead, help with teaching. Help with serving. Help with cooking. Help with assisting. Consider what service God allows you to give. (3) Maybe you can support. Regardless of your age, regardless of your talents, you can give your words. Pray for your leaders. Encourage your fellow members to make use of their gifts. Keep your eyes and ears open. If you see something in disrepair, say something to your church councilmen or to myself. If you desire improvements, mention something. Make suggestions as to how God’s house might be beautified.
God does not prescribe one set way to meet the needs of his house. Rather, he sends out the Word and lets you put your faith into practice. After all, this is your ministry too. There is no: “We can do nothing! I am too old! I am too poor! I am too busy!” Turn the negatives into positives. Instead of saying all the things you cannot do, focus on what you are able to accomplish. When we see our actions as direct service to God, we are motivated to serve. Our varied gifts united are used to serve God and others. Consider the Attitude of Your Heart and Build God’s house.
The devil lies to us Christians so that we believe something not true; so that we behave in ways God does not teach. The devil lies to lead us away from our good and gracious Father in heaven (Revelation 12:9).
So, the devil lies about your ministry. He wants you to despair, to feel sad and like a loser so that you feel ashamed. Then you will not want to share with others the great things God has done. He wants you to consider money your own possession— spent on yourself first and on God later— so that support for sharing the Word dries up. He wants us to stop caring about our facility, to grow so comfortable with what we have so that this becomes a house for us— and not others. Dear friends, these are lies! And God exposes them. And God teaches you how you may plug in your gifts of time, money, and talents to support, encourage, and build on this ministry. God has handed you this precious privilege and opportunity to work for his kingdom!
And it does take work. Yet, it is not up to you to muster the strength. God strengthens and equips you with the Word. God clears the clutter so that you may take up the responsibilities of your ministry again and begin holding them high for all the world to see!
God owns the Word and has made us the caretakers. What an awesome privilege! Consider the Attitude of Your Heart. Set straight your priorities and Build God’s house!
The missionary could not afford a $5.00 book. A book that would equip him to reach souls steeped in spirit worship. A book that would allow an African nation to hear of God’s love. So, the American Sunday School sent their offerings to this missionary.
One little girl (in that Sunday School) did not have much money. She received $5.00 for a monthly allowance. She had nothing saved. But she wanted to help. She stared at the $7.00 in her purse. Five-dollars was more than half of her savings. Giving any amount would mean waiting to buy the luxuries of Barbie clothes, mismatched socks, and glittery nail polish. For a kid, she was ‘poor.’ On the one hand, she has nothing to give because she has little. On the other hand, she does have something she could give.
What would you do? Would you give $5.00? …Fifty [dollars]? …Two hundred-fifty [dollars]? God hands you (and I) opportunities where we can determine what portion of our money can be used to support spreading his Word.
Yet, the devil sours that view. He hits us again with his lies, and attacks a very sensitive spot. Even though 2 Corinthians 8 teaches us Christian giving, he screeches: You Have Nothing to Give!
That’s what the devil wants you (and me) to think. You see, Americans typically steer away from three subjects: religion, politics, money. Do you know how much your sister makes each year? Have you ever asked? Probably not! Money is a personal matter. (Chances are, we do not want to open ourselves up to criticism over our money management.) Good or bad, money is not a subject we talk about much in society— and that’s fine. Yet, the devil takes it a step further. He wants you to think money should never be mentioned in church.
Do you know what God says about money? Some estimate that the Bible contains 500 verses on prayer, less than 500 on faith, and over 2,000 on money and possessions (Howard Dayton, Jr. [http://www.compassebooks.org/sample/lesson/your-money-counts]) (After a quick search, it appears those numbers are close.) The point is, God does discuss the impact of money on the heart. If God spends so many words on the topic of money, should we not also discuss it?
As Christians, we do not need to treat money as something ‘taboo.’ You realize, in our reading, God does not dissect your spending habits. God dissects his spending habit. Verse 9 says: For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ… You do know that ‘grace.’ Jesus demonstrates a love neither deserved nor earned; he comes to change our status before God.
You see, Jesus is held up— not wealth, not money, not possessions— just Jesus. Look at him. [T]hough he was rich… What are those riches? Immortality— life never ends. Angels serve his every need and obey his every command. Jesus dictates seasons and weather, planting and harvest. He hinders the work of world leaders; he allows laws passed. You see, Jesus’ ‘richness’ goes far beyond gold and jewels. Jesus possesses authority, respect, immortality— items money could never afford!
[Y]et for your sakes he became poor… He leaves those treasures in heaven and is laid in a feeding trough meant for cattle. Religious leaders smear the Almighty with ‘Demon-possessed,’ ‘liar,’ ‘rule-breaker,’ ‘imposter.’ Roman governors accept a phony accusation against the Innocent One. A cross ends the life of the Immortal One. Jesus empties himself of the power he possess as God. He submits himself to death, with our greed being his death sentence. God is crushed for so that you through his poverty might become rich.
How rich you are! Jesus has dressed you in the one thing money could never ever buy: his righteousness. You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Galatians 3:26-27).
You wear Jesus’ innocent life. You stand ‘right’ before God. What is more valuable than that? Yet, Jesus showers so much more on you! He hands you immortality (John 14:19). He writes your name into heaven’s citizenship roster (Revelation 3:5). His angels now guard and protect you (Psalm 91:11-12). He ensures all things work out to strengthen your faith and draw you closer to him! (Romans 8:28). You are rich. You have Jesus. And if you have Jesus, You have perspective.
If money cannot get you into heaven, then how valuable is it? Not very. Only Jesus gives eternal life, which means, he is life’s real treasure. When you see Jesus as your most priceless treasure, money is no longer worshipped.
Consider an ancient example. In verse 1, we learn about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches… These are Christian churches nestled on the coastline of Greece. They suffer. Jealous Jews are eradicating Christianity (Acts 17:1-15). The Roman Empire imposes heavy taxes. Famine might be ravaging the land at this time. So, these Christians lose property, possessions, and income. To make matters worse, you must buy food with what little money you do have. This severe trial of unending expenses presses them down to the point where they could never get ahead.
It did not matter if they had little money or lots, these Christians still had joy. They had Jesus, who made them rich for heaven.
These Macedonian Christians saw that God gave them ‘grace.’ Here, ‘grace’ means ‘a special privilege’ (or ‘opportunity’). Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. Even under great financial challenges, they gave as much as they were able… Do you notice what they gave? [A]s much as they were able… That means they set aside a portion of their income as an offering (for more on this, see 1 Corinthians 16:2). If they received little income, they marked a proportionate amount for God. If they received a raise, they wanted to reflect a portion of that raise in their offering.
They even [gave] beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. These Christians saw an opportunity to help other. So, they evaluated what household income they needed at the moment. They may have put off small luxuries for a little while so they could help. Then they gave what they could. Their offerings may have appeared ‘small’ or ‘insignificant’ or ‘nothing much.’ Yet, in God’s eyes, their sincerity made these little gifts great and lavish items. [These Macedonian churches] did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will.
That’s what God’s undeserved love naturally does: it changes perspective! My friends, the money you (and I) have is not life’s real treasure. Instead, God gives us money so that we can use it to glorify him. The offering you give demonstrates that you love God more than stuff. That is why we gather offerings in the middle of our worship service. This is our act of thanking the One who gives to us!
The devil want us to consider money as a personal possession, used on ourselves first and on God second. Yet, God points you (and me) back to verse 9. We willingly give back because Jesus willingly gave himself. What we do have is used as a tool to reach those inside and outside our congregation. What ‘grace,’ what a privilege God gives you (and me) to participate in this ministry!
So, despite what the devil wants us to believe, We Do Have Something to Give. We have Jesus—who is worth more than anything else. And if we have Jesus, we have perspective on proper money management. And if we have a right perspective of money, then we have motivation.
See how God motivates our giving. Verse 8 says: I am not commanding you… God does not carve out the Eleventh Commandment: “Thou shalt give (fill in dollar amount) for your offering.” Instead, God simply points to the heart. The joy inside of you motivates you to give joyfully and generously.
And here is my advice about what is best for you in this matter: Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. As a member of [Faith/ St. John] you have committed yourself to a ministry. Your congregation exists (1) To Build Your Faith on Christ, that is, to place your trust in Jesus’ work alone. Then, you (2) Build on Christ— strengthening your faith and leading others to Jesus. How do you accomplish this goal? You put together a yearly church budget.
Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means… (Just as you already are eager to share the Word, be just as eager to give towards this goal.) For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have. Once again God does not squeeze you, “Give money!” No, God makes ‘willingness’ the motivation and ‘as you are able’ the goal.
Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, as it is written: “He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little.” The Corinthians had ‘plenty.’ They had extra savings. They had so much they could dine out and take nice trips. Now, they could use some of their ‘plenty’ to satisfy the spiritual needs of others.
Our ‘plenty’—both as a congregation and as an individual— fills the spiritual needs of people. You support a fulltime Pastor who is always available to minister. Your offerings send out more invitations to Easter worship and fund online ads to church events. Your offerings support our Lutheran high schools, colleges, and seminaries. You are relieving a financial burden on students so that they can attend school, study without financial anxiety, and graduate and serve God’s people as Pastors and teachers. Your offerings share the Word in faraway lands. Bible materials are printed in many, many languages so that people Africa, China, Russia, Ukraine (and so many other places) can hear of Jesus!
God gives you (and I) these words so that we can constantly evaluate what we have received. You may find yourself with ‘plenty. You have more than needed for retirement. You are able to dine out at McDonald’s several times a week. You make more than you spend. God may be opening the opportunity for you to give generously to satisfy the spiritual needs.
God may not be opening the opportunity at the moment. So, you give as you are able. You set aside a portion of income because you want these gifts to satisfy the spiritual needs of others. No matter the amount, God sees a generous heart! God simply gives you an opportunity evaluate what you have, what you need, and what God allows you to give.
The little girl gave little. She gave lots. She gave $5.00. That’s not much for adults. She gave $5.00, which was over half of her savings. She saw her money as a tool, not a treasure. God’s generosity motivated her to equip this missionary. After all, God loved her and she wanted others to know God loved them.
The devil hates that. He wants you (and I) to defend our money. He lies and wants you to think God never speaks about money or that church should never discuss Christian giving. He knows if you believe the lie, then support for God’s work dwindles.
It’s a devilish lie about ministry: You Have Nothing to Give. Ah!... but you do! And 2 Corinthians, chapter 8, highlights them. We have Jesus. We have perspective. We have motivation. We Do Have Something to Give!
The devil is a liar (John 8:44). Remember that? He deliberately spews out untrue statements with the intention of leading you (and I) to believe something not true. He wants you to think and behave, act and react in ways contrary to God’s teaching. So, the devil lies in order to lead the whole world away from its heavenly Father (Revelation 12:9). That means the devil is dangerous. You cannot trust him. You cannot trust his temptations. His lies are meant to kill you.
You know that. You understand the devil does not want you in heaven. You have even identified the purpose of his lies. Yet, that does not mean he leaves you alone. He continues lying in order to lure you (and me) into an untrue belief. Why? So that he can use you to help him lead the whole world away from its heavenly Father (Revelation 12:9).
For the next three Sundays we will explore three devilish lies about your ministry. We start with a lie that stirs up sadness and worry. A lie we see, but may struggle to answer. The devil points at your ministry and says, “You are losing.”
It might appear that he is right. A recent [Pew Research] study surveyed the current landscape of Christianity in America. This study discovered that 51% of those born between 1925 and 1945 worship every week. Putting numbers to that, one out of every two people age 73 to 93[years-old] sit in a pew every Sunday. Of those born between 1980 and 1995 only 38% feel religion is important, and only 28% actually worship every Sunday. That means three out of every four people under age 35 find little reason to worship God.
The study also revealed that the members of congregations are getting older and the number of young individuals in worship is decreasing (http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/). The makeup of your congregation reflects the accuracy of that study. Yet, not just your only; every American church struggles with this issue. The Methodist Church has lost 4.5-million members since 1964; roughly one out of every three raised Methodist have left. (https://www.christianpost.com/news/united-methodist-church-continues-to-decline-in-america-but-gains-in-africa-79384/) The Nazarene Church has increased membership in every nation except the United States; about 22,500 members have left over the past decade. (http://www.nazarene.org/sites/default/files/docs/GenSec/Statistics/2017AnnualStatistics.pdf) The Catholic Church still boasts high membership, but only one out of every four Catholics actually attend Mass each week. (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/11/06/the-number-of-u-s-catholics-has-grown-so-why-are-there-fewer-parishes/) Yes, one single church in your city might be adding members; however, no matter how you look at it, Christianity in America is shrinking.
Yet, God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” God makes a strong point in the original Greek wording. He uses five negatives (something English does not do often) to stress that something is absolutely impossible for him to do. Quite literally God says: “I will never ever desert you [it is impossible to do so], nor will I ever forsake you [it is impossible to do that].”
He cannot stress the point any more than that, can he? God promises that his Word will still exist in this world until the end of time (Matthew 24:35). God promises that his Word will still hit hearts and create faith (Isaiah 55:10-11). God promises that there will still be believers in the world when he returns (Matthew 24:22; Luke 18:8). God will never break his promise because it is impossible for God to lie (Numbers 23:19).
Yet, the devil deliberately tells you a different story. He points you (and me) to those sobering statistics. He slides right up next to you, pans the scene, and says: “Look, there are fewer people in church, fewer first-time guests, and fewer young people worshipping. Society is growing more godless. Even your church is shrinking. You are losing.” The devil wants you (and) me to consider God a liar.
You will see if that lie has penetrated your heart if you feel self-pity for your ministry. If we act as though Christianity will disappear in the world, we are calling God a liar. If we act as though God’s Word is not affecting hearts right now, we are calling God a liar. If we are afraid that no believers will remain at the end, we are calling God a liar! Do you realize that trusting the devil’s lie is actually calling the devil ‘trustworthy’ and God the ‘liar?’ (What a strange role reversal!)
That is why God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” It is absolutely impossible for God to abandon Christians on earth. How do you know? Because Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
Look back 2,000 years. See Jesus die for a world that could not trust its Creator. See him thrown into the dust of death because even believers doubted God would keep his Word. See him forsaken, that is, separated from God; God ignores Jesus’ cry for help and justice. Jesus is forsaken because this is what our sin deserves.
Look back 2,000 years and see Jesus pay your (and my) penalty for doubting our trustworthy God. See Jesus rise to declare that payment made in full. See him march into hell and tell the devil: “Devil, you have lost. You cannot accuse God’s people of deserving hell. I have removed their penalty.” See Jesus rise with good news: “I am going to prepare a place for you, and if I go, I will return to bring you with me” (John 14:2-3).
It is absolutely impossible for God to forget about you. Your baptism brought Jesus’ payment into your life. In baptism God welcomed you into his family. Jesus’ resurrection ‘yesterday’ proves that death is conquered. Jesus’ resurrection ‘today’ means that you who trust in Jesus as Savior stand on the winning side. Jesus’ resurrection means that you will live with him ‘forever’ in heaven.
Your world might have changed. The virtues of society might have changed. The makeup of your congregation might have changed, but its Savior has never changed. Jesus Christ Remains the Same. He will never forsake you. Since it is impossible for God to abandon you, it means He will always help you.
So, we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” If your nation was completely to lose its faith tomorrow, what could they do to you, the Christian? They could imprison you. They could rip down your church. They could kill you. They cannot stop God from raising you to life. They cannot keep you out of heaven. They cannot drag you down from heaven. They cannot stop you praising God forever. “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”
You stand on the right side of God Almighty. That means you can march forward with confidence, unafraid of whatever the future might hold. God has already revealed our future— eternal life— and nothing will prevent that eternal outcome!
Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Travel back in time to when this church was built— with trucks hauling building material and dozers pushing dirt. Can you picture the people building it? See their faces? See their age? See their family and job life?
Be sure, the devil worked on that group too. He told them, “There’s not enough people; it’s not worth building.” He said, “You don’t have enough money.” He warned, “You’re too rural; you don’t have a Pastor. Why bother?” He lied so that those then would stop their efforts and God’s Word would not be planted here. And if God’s Word were not planted here, then you would not hear it today. Yet, those hearts latched onto God’s promises. Those minds looked past what is seen and grasped the unseen promises of God.
Before a shovel ever hit the dirt, what was their motivation to build? They built this place in order to hear what God has done for them. To hear in the Word the Risen Jesus say, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19). To receive in baptism God’s promise that sin has been washed away and faith in the Savior created (Titus 3:5-6). To receive in the Lord’s Supper the assurance of forgiveness. You see, this church is not built for personal preference. This church exists to hear again what God has done for your eternal good.
The devil will always whisper: “American Christianity is shrinking. You are losing.” He lies for the purpose of leading you into this un-truth. He lies because if you believe this truth, then others might believe it too.
My friends, evaluate the purpose of your ministry through God’s eyes. Nowhere does God consider your church successful based on numbers. Catch that? Nowhere does God say that your congregation is succeeding only if it reaches a certain number. God simply says, “Let the one who has my word speak it faithfully” (Jeremiah 23:28). As you are able, preach the Word. Let God determine the results. Simply be faithful.
Sometimes God blesses faithfulness with numbers— more worship, more participate, membership increases, the building grows. That’s a blessing. It does not happen because you finally made God’s Word work.
Sometimes being faithful means you are blessed not with numbers (I wrote that intentionally). Yes, if you do not see growth on the outside, growth occurs on the inside. The blessing is that you have learned God’s promises better. You did not cave into pressure by sacrificing teaching for the sake of numbers. Your Jesus helps you by strengthening your reliance on him.
You see, the devil is a liar (John 8:44). He deliberately spews out untrue statements with the intention of leading you (and I) to believe something not true. He will point at numbers in the hopes of convincing you that your ministry is failing. He wants you to feel sad. He wants you to despair. He wants you to mope around because then you will feel no desire to share the message. God’s promises expose that lie for the deception it truly is. You are not losing. You never can because God will never forsake you. He always strengthens you spiritually with the Word. Then, he remains to always help you. Sometimes that help comes by putting you (and me) in our proper spot. It is not up to you to change hearts and make America more Christian. You don’t have the power to do that. God does. God simply gives you and me the job of sharing the Word.
Set your eyes on God’s promises. Imprinting on your head and heart the purpose of your ministry: Jesus Christ Remains the Same! He will never forsake you. He will always help you.
We’ll call her… ‘Hannah.’ ‘Hannah’ does not want to get married. To her, marriage means heart-wrenching hurt, and she does not want to experience that hurt again. You see, ‘Hannah’s’ mom and dad were married and had her. Sometime later, they divorced. Dad remarried and had three children with his new wife. Mom married a man with three children from a previous marriage. So, ‘Hannah’s’ family consists of three step-siblings [not related by blood], three half-siblings [related by blood], and she’s in the middle. Her step siblings live with her mom and have a father. Her half-siblings live with her dad and have a mother. She lives with grandma. Dad does not cherish her, mom ignores her. To ‘Hannah’ marriage hurts.
We can call him… ‘Henry.’ ‘Henry’ does not want to get married either. To him, marriage means bitter arguments, and he does not want a wife who only argues. You see, ‘Henry’s’ mom and dad were married for many years and had several children. Then, dad’s wandering eye latched onto a [non-blood-related] sister-in-law. Dad divorced mom; sister-in-law divorced husband, and they married each other. Now, ‘Henry’s’ dad loves him, but his new mom not so much. This leads to arguments between mom and dad. Mom and dad grow so frustrated with each other that they yell at their kids, ignore their physical needs, and do not tend to their emotional needs. To ‘Henry,’ marriage means arguing.
‘Hannah’ and ‘Henry’s’ experience echoes the all-too-common attitude of our society: Marriage is not good. Many associate marriage with hurt and heartache and division. So, marriage is put off in order to avoid pain. The hurt inflicted and the reaction to that hurt was never part of God’s plan.
God makes that clear by leading us back to what he intends marriage to be. [S]ome Pharisees came and tested [Jesus] by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Really, the Pharisees have no intention of learning. This calculated question attempts to steer Jesus into a contradiction. Either Jesus (1) rejects God’s institution of lifelong marriage or (2) he disagrees with Moses, the God-approved and revered teacher of the Pharisees. Yet, Jesus is not about to share his opinion. Instead, he returns to the written Word: “What did Moses command you?”
They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” That’s true; Moses did allow Old Testament Israelites to file for divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1-4) and God did not stop him. Notice, though, God allowed divorce; he did not establish or command divorce.
The opposite is true! God instituted (or: ‘set up’) marriage in Eden (Genesis 2:18-24). Later, God protected marriage at Mount Sinai (Exodus 20:14). “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’” Just think about that. Man and woman are similar, but different. They look physically alike, but have different features. They both problem solve, but reach different solutions. They have emotions, but comfort in different ways. God makes men different emotionally, physically, and mentally. God makes women different emotionally, physically, and mentally. When you put them together, those differences become compatible. “‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one.” Husband and wife care for one another with a single-minded focus. Men receive emotional, physical, and mental blessings from a wife. Women receive emotional, physical, and mental blessings from a husband. What is important the wife becomes important to the husband. What is important to the husband becomes important to the wife. This companionship is a blessing. It gives the security and the commitment so many crave. God set up something good (Genesis 1:31).
The Pharisees’ question is all wrong. The question is not: “Can you divorce?” Rather, “If God did not create divorce, then who did?”
That question resounds to this very day. When you look at what God intends marriage to be, you quickly reach the conclusion that God did not create problems through marriage. Husband and wife transform each other’s weaknesses into strengths. Marriage is about how much you give. The reason ‘Hannah’ and ‘Henry’ have such a low view of marriage is because their parents demanded to receive.
The number one reason marriages end in divorce is because at least one spouse is selfish. Jesus makes that clear: It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law.” Husbands were bringing home mistresses. They were blowing money at the bar. So, God allowed divorce in order to protect the innocent party. The husband had already terminated his marriage and God allowed the wife to find commitment in a new spouse. The problem is not God, the problem is us.
If marriage feels unwanted, then the question must be: “As a husband, am I loving my wife as my own body?” (Ephesians 5:28) “As a wife, do I respect my husband like I want to be respected?” (Ephesians 5:22) “As a Christian, do I treasure the blessings God sets up through marriage?” (Hebrews 13:4) When our attention drift from God’s intention for marriage, then it is we who introduce hurt and heartache into our relationships. Our selfishness actually robs us of the joy God intends marriage to give and be. Marriage is ‘good’ because God made it good. It is our selfishness which separates what God joins together.
The way to reverse this attitude is to let God’s Word reverse our hearts. The motivation to love selflessly comes only when we see how selflessly Christ loved us. When we ignored his Word, we separated ourselves from his loving arms. We wandered, chasing after the short-term pleasures of this world. Pleasures of commitment without marriage. Pleasures of domineering and belittling our spouse. Pleasures of transforming relationships only to benefit us. Those pleasures only fill us up with joy for the moment, but never give real happiness.
God had every right to sign a certificate of divorce and send us away (read Isaiah 50). Instead, he sought us. Jesus gave his entire life on the cross, putting his needs below our wandering needs. Losing his life because he knew we needed life. He cared for us that he drinks God’s wrath. Raised from the dead, he raises us to be his bride, to live with him in his kingdom forever.
Child-like faith grasps the selfless love of God. That is why Child-Like Faith is The Foundation of Marriage. It grasps God’s revealed blessings that he set up. Your faith takes God’s intentions for marriage to heart. You then take those intentions and apply them to your marriage—or to your views of marriage. Remember, what is inside of you will be seen through your words and actions. Faith promotes God’s revealed blessing.
The way you treat marriage will reveal to others the blessings God gives through marriage. It starts with you. [Jesus] answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.” Remember, Scripture gives two reasons for divorce: (1) marital unfaithfulness (Matthew 19:9) and (2) malicious desertion (1 Corinthians 7:15). The one who had an affair or leaves a spouse breaks the oneness of marriage. The innocent person did not end the marriage, the aggressor did. God protects the innocent by allowing them to find commitment with someone else. Those who break their marriage commit adultery. God’s judgment is reserved for those who toss aside his command, break their promises, and share their body with someone else.
Christians who have fallen into this sin repent. (1) They admit their selfishness. (2) They receive God’s forgiveness. (3) They turn from past behavior. The divorced might reconcile with previous spouse. If they do get remarried, they do so knowing full well that God does not desire them to get divorced again. Their second marriage would seriously treat their union as the lifelong union God desires. Faith promotes God’s revealed blessings. Others see it and carry a Godly view of marriage.
That is important today. Many live together before marriage, purchasing a home, sharing a bank account, and even raising a family. Do you wonder why that is? During the 1980s and 1990s the divorce rate stood high (https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/dvs/divorce_rates_90_95_99-11.pdf). Nearly half of those who could marry today came from divorced households. That means, you have a generation who have experienced hurt, heartache, and arguments. Either (1) their parents were divorced and they do not want to bring that hurt on their children or (2) they do not to reintroduce that hurt into their own lives. Delaying marriage is meant to insulate and protect.
We do not help when we close our mouths and say nothing. We might say: “Well, times have changed.” Times might have changed, but God’s Word has not. The blessings he showers in marriage then are the same blessings he gives today. Searching for those blessings outside of marriage will never bring lasting commitment. So, God uses you (and me) to share his blessings with others. People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” If others are to know, learn, and live marriage, then they “must be brought” to know and see what Godly marriage is.
Some children do not treasure marriage because their parents did not treasure marriage. If we do not model God-pleasing marriage, then how can our children hope to live God-pleasing marriage? Regardless of your age, you can share with others the blessings you received in marriage. You can highlight how selfishness creeps in to destroy union. You can help others set their sights on the selfless giving. People need to hear God’s intentions of marriage. Not just that, people need Godly examples in our world today.
Look, you (or your friend) might be apprehensive of marriage. Maybe your parents did not shine the best example. That should not have been. But, do not remain stuck under the shadow of the past. Living together does not bring more commitment. You can still leave at any time! It will still hurt you and hurt children! The way to prevent that hurt is to set your attentions on God-pleasing marriage. See the myriad of blessings God gives. Be different; set a new trend by turning to the Word.
Families brought their children to Jesus. He took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them. And Jesus blesses you too. You (and I) do not approach him physically. No, we approach Jesus in his Word. Set your heart and mind on the Word and see how he blesses you through marriage. He gives you security. He gives you companionship He gives you the satisfaction in trusting others.
Many will see marriage as something ‘not good.’ Yet, you know the truth. Jesus reveals God’s good intentions for marriage. Change a broken view by viewing the Word. As explore God’s intentions, you see how Child-Like Faith is The Foundation of Marriage. Faith grasps God’s revealed blessings Faith promotes God’s revealed blessings.