Building a House For God
Have you at any time in your life imagined what it could be like to build your dream house? What would it look like? Personally I love the style of old houses. They have such character. Amanda and I have often found ourselves driving through neighbourhoods admiring those beautiful old houses. When Amanda and I were first married, we rented the second floor of a beautiful house built in the mid-1800s. It was great but there were problems. It really needed a major updating as it came with all the problems of a 150 year old house. So if I could build my dream house, I would take an architect to see an old house and ask them to duplicate that but with all of the updates of a new house. Your dream home might look different.
What about God’s dream house?
God has indeed had a house, a house he designed himself. It was the Jerusalem temple. There is a problem though. It was destroyed. Twice. But that doesn’t mean that God is done with his house building business. We are going to look at a story that took place after his temple was destroyed the first time and try and connect that to the way house building is done today.
Haggai and the House of God
During our time in the minor prophets, we have been jumping around a bit in time. Let’s try and orient ourselves to understand what is happening. The Babylonians had invaded Judah, had captured Jerusalem and destroyed the temple. This was terrible as the temple was the only place that sacrifices for worship could be made. To make things worse, the Babylonians exiled many of the Jews elsewhere in their empire so that they would not be tempted to revolt.
As predicted by the prophets, Babylon’s days were numbered. Their empire was taken over by the Persians. Whereas the Babylonians ruled by fear, the Persians ruled by earning the loyalty of their subjects. The Persians allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem and even provided some of the supplies for the rebuilding project. This sounds perfect.
The first thing that the Jews did was rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. When that it was done, it was time to rebuild the temple. But the project stalled. Have you ever been a part of a project like that. All sorts of plans are made but then things just seem to come to standstill. I’m sure you have driven by many such building projects that just seem to get abandoned.
However, when God is the boss, this situation is not acceptable. God spoke through the prophet Haggai, addressing everyone, but specifically Zerubbabel and Joshua. Before the exile, leadership was done by the kings but things were different now. Zerubbabel was a descendant of David but he was not a king. He was a governor who was appointed by and was accountable to the Persians. Joshua was the high priest, a role that had taken on more responsibilities with the end of the kings. One way to look at this was that Zerubbabel held the secular authority and Joshua the religious authority. Together with Haggai, they were to rally the people into a renewed building project so that the temple could be once more. I love how this experience is described. God stirs up the spirit of the people. Its not that they didn’t have what they physically needed, but they were discouraged and unmotivated. God took those very same people and stirred their spirits so that they were able to complete the job that God had commanded them to. Just so you know that temple eventually did get built and the people were able to offer sacrifices once more.
Ways to Build the House of God
As Christians, the focus of our worship is not the Jerusalem temple. Even while the temple still stood, Christians were beginning to redefine what the temple of God really is. One of those interpretations is the church. By church, I don’t mean the building but the people. Today people equate churches with buildings but the earliest Christians worshiped in homes and not special buildings. I suspect that the early Christians would have been surprised to know that we would one day worship in a building such as this. Why did they see the church as the temple? The temple was the place where God dwells. When Christians gather together in worship and fellowship, God is present through his Holy Spirit. No matter what building we are in, when we are together, we are in a sense the temple or house of God.
The question we need to ask is: In what ways might God stir our spirits to build up the house of God? The house of God is not just built once, it is maintained continually by the work of men and women. How can we build this house of God?
- One way is by the giving of our tithes and offerings. I hate talking about this because I still hear accusations of the church being money-hungry. The truth is that we cannot continue to do what we do without your generous giving. Whether you are giving to a specific mission need or helping to pay the utilities, your financial contribution is helping to build the house of God.
- At a previous church, there was a man who came to me and told me that he didn’t have much money to give but he could give of his time. And this exactly what he did, he was one of our most faithful volunteers. We are always in need of people to help in different ways. Most congregations have a small minority of people doing the work. That is not the way it should be.
- One of the things I noticed about our story is the way God used Haggai, Zerubbabel and Joshua. The prophet, the priest and the governor. Each had a different skill to bring to the project. We are all gifted by God in some way. We will be judged by God, not based on how much we did, but by how faithful we are with the gifts that God has given us.
- I’m putting this point here, but it could have gone first. What did Jesus say when he cleansed the Jerusalem temple? “My house shall be called a house of prayer.” Would people call this house a house of prayer? The beautiful thing about prayer is that you do not need money or good health to pray. I would love to see an army of prayer warriors.
- The final way we can build up the house of God is by investing in relationships. I mentioned that the temple can mean the church. This is taken from 1 Corinthians 3 and in that chapter, Paul warns people who are destroying the temple. By destroying, he means people who are creating division and are disrupting the unity of the church. There are two ways we can be destructive: by actively hurting people and by passively ignoring people. We need to invest in relationships. We need to reach out and welcome new people and support the people who are already here.
We have an amazing building here in which we are able to worship God. In recent weeks, we have been working hard to maintain this building. We renovated areas to become more effective and addressed areas where there were problems. What would it look like if we were to do the same thing not to the church building but the church? Many years ago, God spoke through Haggai and stirred up the spirits of Zerubbabel and Joshua and the rest of the people. What would it look like if God stirred our spirits. I will say that there is not one person here who doesn’t have a role in building God’s house here in this place. Our roles may look different but they are all essential. Listen to God. In what direction is God stirring your heart?