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Reflections on Scripture, Bible studies to be used for discussion, and other Bible-centric resources for youth leaders.

The Minor Prophets: conclusion

All summer we’ve been going through some of the minor prophets, in a bible study I wrote two years ago (learn more about the background of this study in the introduction). We’re going to close the series with some of the conclusion I wrote for the original study guide.

Here’s a brief look at some of the topics we’ve covered while studying these six books:

Obadiah

  • Pride deceives
  • The good  you DON’T do is sin
  • Deeds return on your head (the Boomerang Effect)

Joel

  • Crying out to God
  • Turning your heart toward God
  • God’s gifts satisfy fully –and more!
  • God is both Judge and Protector
  • God is present with us

Zephaniah

  • Seek God
  • Seek God together
  • Trust God to deal with injustice
  • God is faithful when we are not
  • Serving shoulder-to-shoulder

Habakkuk

  • When sin goes unpunished
  • Trusting God when life doesn’t go to plan
  • Watching for God’s answers
  • God’s heart for the exploited
  • Lament worship

Haggai

  • Serve God first – trust Him to take care of the rest
  • Obeying (not procrastinating)
  • God’s presence makes the temple great
  • Offerings of faith
  • Tools chosen by God

Malachi

  • What would your life be like without God?
  • Priest offering sacrifices
  • Breaking faith/keeping faith
  • Trusting God’s timing
  • Robbing God
  • Unity affects God

There’s a LOT packed into these six short books. One thing I love about reading the Bible is that no matter how many times I read the same book, there’s always SO MUCH MORE to learn. I discover new treasures every time as I turn my heart to God.

  1. These lists reflect some of the things that are special to me in each of these books. I encourage you to make your own list, of the things that spoke to you from each book.

I hope that you have enjoyed taking a brief look at some of the minor prophets. I pray that you have a deeper understanding of the character of God, and his passionate love you his people – his passionate love for YOU.

I also hope that you have been recording your thoughts, your insights, your questions. These are the things we need to share with each other! This is how we strengthen our faith – gathering together, sharing together.

I’m going to close with a beautiful prayer from Ephesians 3:20-21:

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

God is truly beyond comprehension, beyond imagination.

He is greater than all our wildest dreams.

I pray he will be glorified through me, through you – through us, as we continue to seek him together.


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Posted by on September 5, 2011 in Bible Resources

 

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The Minor Prophets: Malachi, part 3

This is part of an on-going series on the Minor Prophets; a bible study I wrote two years ago. For more information on this study, including permission to use it for your own group, please read the introduction.

Click here to read the first part of the study of Malachi

Click here to read the second part of the study of Malachi

We continue with Section 4 – Malachi 2:17-3:5

KEY VERSE: “You have wearied the LORD with your words.” (verse 17)

We can actually WEARY God by not trusting his justice. Our complaints show a lack of trust. Also, it’s not enough to trust his ABILITY to bring justice. It’s important that I also trust his timing.

God says SOMETHING IS COMING. We might never see it fulfilled but there is a PLAN – for good, for justice, for bringing purity and true worship. Truly trusting him means trusting in his plan when things around me don’t look the way I think they’re supposed to. It means trusting that he is GOOD and that he has the POWER to do all the good things he has planned. It means trusting his TIMING – that he will do the things he has planned at precisely the right time. He is never late. (Check out II Peter 3:3-10 for more thoughts on God’s timing).

  1. What does it look like to trust God’s timing?
  2. How would your life be different if you trusted his timing more?

Section 5 – Malachi 3:6-12

KEY VERSE: “How do we rob you?’ ‘In tithes and offerings’” (verse 8)

God says if we return to him, he’ll return to us. Then he tells us HOW to return! (It’s always nice to have the instruction manual). He says it’s pretty simple, really – just stop robbing God.

Tithing is a practice of regularly, consistently, putting God first. It is a way you can concretely say that God comes first – of putting your money where your mouth is! Choosing not to tithe is withholding something from God that belongs to him. When we give freely to him, however, he is pretty good at out-giving us! It’s not just about money, either. Biblical tithing was giving to God the first portion of all your resources. Your resources might include time, money, energy, talents, skills… I believe that giving to God financially is very important, but giving him just money isn’t the heart of tithing. (Have a look at Matthew 23:23 for Jesus’ words on tithing).

  1. What is something you can give to God in a regular/consistent way in order to show that you put him first?
Section 6 – Malachi 3:13-4:6

KEY VERSE: “You have said harsh things against me” (verse 13)

God’s people were saying that there was no point serving God – it didn’t get them anywhere. When God hears their mutterings, he feels hard done by. Their words are unfair. God DOES remember those who are faithful. He sees what’s going on – he’s not blind. Whether the faithful receive immediate recompense or not, God SEES. One day we’ll see that he DOES make a distinction between men, based on their hearts and deeds. God WILL vindicate the righteous. At the very end, when everything is counted up, we will see that everything God has done has been just and fair. Every person will be given true justice. No matter what happens from now until I see him face to face, I can trust that promise.

KEY VERSE: “Then those who feared the LORD talked with each other, and the LORD listened and heard.” (verse 16)

Unity among God’s people grabs his attention. I don’t know exactly how or why, but there is something powerful about coming together to seek God. Psalm 133, Matthew 18:20 and Ephesians 4:3 are just a few places that hint at the power and importance of unity among God’s people. I tend to think about gathering together as something that’s good for us – that it helps us when we spend time together. While this is clearly true, the bible indicates that there is something more to it – that when we work together, share together, pray together, we actually affect God.

  1. Describe a time you felt discouraged in your faith – felt that your energy spent serving God was wasted.
  2. What truths about God can you use to encourage yourself in such times? Things you PERSONALLY know to be true.
  3. What does God’s promise for FAIRNESS and JUSTICE mean to you?
  4. Think of ways you gather together with other believers – talking together, praying together, seeking together.
  5. How can you stir up more of this sort of gathering (that strengthens people and affects God) in your life?
 
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Posted by on August 29, 2011 in Bible Resources

 

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The Minor Prophets: Malachi, part 2

This is part of an on-going series on the Minor Prophets; a bible study I wrote two years ago. For more information on this study, including permission to use it for your own group, please read the introduction.

Click here to read the first part of the study of Malachi

We continue with Section 2 – Malachi 1:6-2:9

KEY VERSE: “When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you?” (verse 1:8) 

God is very clear that when sacrifices are offered to him they must be “without defect”. That phrase occurs 17 times in Leviticus, and 14 times in Numbers 28-29 alone! (For an example of God’s instructions for sacrifices, read Leviticus 22:17-33) Whenever God describes a certain type of sacrifice, he specifies that the animal offered must be PERFECT. The point is that his people are to give him their BEST – the most valuable, not second rate leftovers. Giving God a lamb that is sick and about to die (and is therefore useless to you) doesn’t cost you a lot. A gift that doesn’t cost you anything isn’t a sacrifice. A sacrifice COSTS you something.

God isn’t angry because he’s not getting the best meat. It’s the heart attitude of the priests as they “worship” him that is the problem. They wouldn’t try to con human leaders in this way, so why do they try it with God? They have no respect for him. Beliefs are betrayed by actions. If they really BELIEVED God, believed him worthy of respect, they wouldn’t be cheating on worship and skimping on sacrifices.

KEY VERSE: “Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you.” (verse 1:10)

God would prefer there be NO sacrifices, NO organised worship, than have a bunch of cynics going through the motions for the sake of tradition and appearances. Practicing rituals without a desire to please God is not worship at all! Doing all the right things because it’s expected is obligation, not worship. This DOESN’T mean that tradition is bad. It doesn’t matter how modern the rituals are – if they are practiced without a desire to please God, they won’t please him. Hebrews 11:6 says we have to believe God exists, and believe he rewards those who seek him. Those who brought sacrifices to God while doubting their sacrifices affected God were not pleasing him.

KEY VERSE: “The lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge…he is the messenger of the LORD Almighty.” (verse 2:7)

Malachi 2:5-8 tells us what God wants from his priests.

  • Revere God; stand in awe of his name
  • True instruction in his mouth; no lies/deceit
  • Walk in peace
  • Live righteously
  • Turn others away from sin
  • Lips preserve knowledge
  • People seek instruction from them, because they speak God’s message

I Peter 2:9 says that WE are all priests now – we can ALL minister before the LORD, talk to him directly, enter his presence. These instructions, then, are to us! These are things we are expected to do, in order to serve God. Priests are God’s messengers (verse 7) – we bear his message to his people, and to the world. Notice that almost all these points concern the interaction of the priests with OTHERS, not with God. How you speak to people, how you live your life, sends a message about the character of God.

Sacrifice is worship. By giving up something that is valuable to you, you are saying with your ACTIONS (not just your words) that God is worth MORE than that. There is no objective standard to measure sacrifice by. $100 might be pocket change for one person, but be the life savings of another. Moving to China might be really hard for one person, but fulfil the heart’s desire of another. The sacrifice is measured by how much what is given up is worth to the person who gives it. If it is costly to you, it is precious to him.

  1. What is the most precious thing you’ve given to God?
  2. Think of someone who has helped shape your understanding of who God is. What about them (their words, their actions) taught you the most?
  3. What message are you sharing with the world around you through the way you live?

Section 3 – Malachi 2:10-16

KEY VERSE: “guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith” (verse 15 and verse 16)

God sees breaking faith as a very serious thing. This passage indicates that to break faith is to leave the spirit unguarded. So what does it mean to “break faith”? At its simplest, it means to stop doing something you promised to do – to break a promise, to renege on a commitment, to withdraw support, to be disloyal to your beliefs/principles. Faithfulness is very important in God’s book. God is faithful to every promise he makes – and he desires that we be faithful to our promises.

Marriage vows are promises, and marriage is designed to be a lifelong commitment – the closest model on earth of the intimate relationship we have with God. God permits divorce, but it is not his desire for marriages to end (Jesus talks about this in Matthew 19:3-8). When one partner breaks faith with the partner who is faithful, God hurts for them. God acts as a witness against those who break faith. Breaking faith with a person is an affront to their Creator. When I disrespect a person, I disrespect God. When I hurt a person, I hurt God.

If we are going to NOT break faith, that means we need to KEEP faith – keep our promises, honour our commitments, stay loyal in relationships. We aren’t perfect, and we will make mistakes, but faithfulness should be a quality we esteem highly in ourselves and others – something we work hard at, and make sacrifices to maintain. It’s not always easy to keep faith – but it’s something that matters to God.

One way I practise keeping faith is to carefully consider new commitments before I make them. I try to think about what it will mean to honour the commitment. When I plan from the outset how I will keep faith, I find it easier to do so when life gets busy, or I’m just tired.

  1. What might it look like to keep faith with someone?
  2. What does keeping faith with God look like in your life?
  3. Can you think of an area of your life where you find it hard to keep faith?
  4. What can you do this week to strength the commitment you’ve made in that area?
 
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Posted by on August 22, 2011 in Bible Resources

 

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The Minor Prophets: Malachi, part 1

This is part of an on-going series on the Minor Prophets; a bible study I wrote two years ago. For more information on this study, including permission to use it for your own group, please read the introduction.

WHO IS MALACHI?

“Malachi” means “my messenger” or “my angel” and is thought to be a pseudonym. Nothing is known about the author, although some believe the text suggests he was a priest. Different Jewish traditions credit the book to Ezra (who was a priest) or Mordecai, but there is no evidence for this.

Zechariah chapter 9, Zechariah chapter 12 and the book of Malachi all start with the phrase “Oracle, the word of the Lord” – so there is a theory that they were three independent and anonymous prophecies  added to the end of Zechariah, with the last split off to make an even 12 books (the number of the tribes of Israel). This would make Malachi the work of a single author. Malachi was one of the last prophets, if not the last, to minister widely in Israel before the time of Jesus.

WHEN WAS MALACHI WRITTEN?

Malachi was likely written sometime in the 35 years from 459 – 424 BC. An approximate date is 450 BC. Although the book is not dated, there are a few clues in the text. Malachi 1:8 uses the word “peha” for “governor “. This is a Persian-era term, which makes it post-exilic (after the Jews have returned from captivity in Babylon). The fact that kings are not mentioned also supports this (there were governors rather than kings after the exile). Secondly, the temple has been rebuilt, so it can’t be before 516 BC.

A date after the temple has been rebuilt is fairly widely accepted, but after that there is debate. Some think it was written before the second group of exiles returned in 457 BC, others think it was shortly before the third group returns with Nehemiah in 445 BC. Some think it was even later, between the various visits Nehemiah made to Jerusalem (between 432 and 424 BC).

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

  • 586 BC – Jerusalem and the temple are destroyed by the Babylonians. Many of the Jews are killed or taken to Babylon as captives. Those left behind to live in the ruins intermarry with other nations; these people become the Samaritans. (II Kings 25; II Chronicles 36:15-23 – the history books end here).
  • 536 BC – 1st group of 50,000 Jews return to Jerusalem under Zerubbabel and Joshua the priest (Ezra 2); work is begun on the temple – altar for sacrifices rebuilt (Ezra 3:1-2) and the foundation for the temple laid (Ezra 3:8-13)
  • 520 BC – Haggai gives God’s message; work starts on the temple 3 weeks later on September 7th (Haggai 1:14-15)
  • 516 BC – Temple is finished on February 25th (Ezra 6:15)
  • 457 BC – 2nd group of 2,058 Jews return to Judah with Ezra (Ezra 7:8-10); reforms are initiated (Ezra 8-10)
  • 445 BC – 3rd group returns with Nehemiah (Nehemiah 2:17-18), walls are rebuilt (Nehemiah 6:15-16)

Several decades have passed since Haggai preached God’s message to the people. The temple has been rebuilt. Life goes on. Passion fades. People question God’s presence, his involvement in their lives. Faith gives way to cynicism and complacency. These internal attitudes lead to outward actions of mechanical and technical observances, practicing empty rituals. Temple worship becomes religious obligation instead of faith. People are going through the motions with a disconnected heart.

WHAT IS MALACHI ABOUT?

Materialism and externalism (which were to become strong characteristics of the Pharisees and Saduccees) are prevalent. People focus on external appearances of piety so as to be right in the eyes of men, missing the heart of law.

Malachi addresses six areas in which God’s people are consistently missing the heart of God. It is a message from God, defending his character to those who would doubt him, and exposing blind spots in those who claim to serve him.


STRUCTURE

The book is structured as a series of six “disputes”. This was a new style of writing that became known as the Didactic-Dialetic method (Disputation method). Each dispute is made up of three parts: the assertion, the objection, and the rebuttal. In the assertion, God says something that is true. In the objection, a question is asked – a challenge from the perspective of the audience. In the rebuttal, God explains why the assertion is true despite the question posed in the objection.

Using this method is like having a debate with the audience without having audience participation – answering the questions they’re thinking without waiting for them to be asked. This became the popular/normal method for Jewish rabbis/scribes to use; Jesus himself used this form. Using this method, the book of Malachi is a running debate between God (through the prophet) and those who question his (God’s) power/goodness.

The Six Disputes

  1. 1:2-5 – Does God really love us?
  2. 1:6-2:9 – Sub-standard offerings
  3. 2:10-16 – Relationships
  4. 2:17-3:5 – God’s justice: the long-term plan
  5. 3:6-12 – Tithing
  6. 3:13-4:6 – Disillusionment with God
Section 1 – Malachi 1:1-5

KEY VERSE: “’I have loved you,’ says the LORD. But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’” (verse 2)

“God, do you really love me? I know you say you do, but I don’t really see it.”

Have you ever thought or prayed something like that? I think most Christians have at least once. The first dispute in Malachi addresses the question in the hearts of the people – “How do we know that God loves us?”

God’s answer isn’t what I would expect (I love that I’ll never have him figured out). His answer attempts to turn their eyes outward. Rather than list things he’s done in their lives, he tells them to look at the Edomites. (If you did the Obadiah study, you’ll remember the long history there). To me, this is a case of “What would your lives look like if I hadn’t shown you such great love and mercy?”

What would my life look like without God? Without his mercy? Without his blessing?

If God left me to my own devices, with no guidance, no correction, where would I end up?

In Psalm 124 really encourages me when I consider this. I know what I am like at heart. I know I am full of pride and rebellion and impatience all sorts of unlovely things. I shudder to imagine who I would be without Jesus in my life, without the Holy Spirit within me.

  1. What would your life look like without Christ?
  2. What decisions might you have made? Where might those decisions have lead you?
 
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Posted by on August 15, 2011 in Bible Resources

 

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The Minor Prophets: Haggai, part 2

This is part of an on-going series on the Minor Prophets; a bible study I wrote two years ago. For more information on this study, including permission to use it for your own group, please read the introduction.

Click here to read the first part of the Haggai study

We re-start with section 3 – Haggai 2:1-9

Read Haggai 2 in the NIV

Read Haggai 2 in the NIRV

KEY VERSE: “be strong…for I am with you” (verse 4)

The first temple was destroyed 65 years before these words we spoken to the people, so very few people in Jerusalem had any memory of the original temple. For those who did, however, the contrast was stark. (The first temple, built by Solomon, is described in I Kings 6-7, and Ezra 2:10-13 describes the sadness of the people when the foundations are laid for the new temple). God, however, is not worried but the difference in appearance. In fact, he says that this smaller, simpler temple will be greater than the first! He is WITH his people, bringing his glory and his peace. His presence is far more important that the building he is present in.

In I Corinthians 6:19 Paul says we as believers are all temples of the Holy Spirit, because he dwells in us, just like God dwelled in the temple.

  1. In Haggai God says his presence in the temple is more important than how fancy the building is. What does that tell you about YOU?
Section 4 – Haggai 2:10-19

KEY VERSE: “ask the priests what the law says” (verse 11)

The Law God gave Moses for the people of Israel was so much more than a list of rules to follow – as if to please God with ritual alone, like the gods of other nations. The Law is full of pictures, a way to understand a deep truth through a ritual practice. Here God himself draws the picture. Through the laws of defilement, God explains to the people what he really desires to receive from them.

Offerings by themselves didn’t make a person acceptable, but a person could make an offering unacceptable.  Bringing an offering did not make a faithless person acceptable in God’s sight. Instead, the offering brought by a faithful person made acceptable BECAUSE of their faith. It was their FAITH God responded to. He looked at WHY they brought an offering, rather than WHAT they brought.

God wanted their HEARTS – not their sheep (their resources).

God still wants our HEARTS – not our money (our resources).

When I offer God something because I love him and want to honour him, he is blessed by my offering – no matter what it is. Jesus teaches this same principle (the HEART of an offering) to his disciples in Mark 12:41-44.

KEY VERSE: “from this day on I will bless you” (verse 19)

In chapter 1 God told the people to “give careful thought” to how they were experiencing material lack, and connected it to their failure to rebuild the temple. Here in chapter 2, God says that he will return material blessing to them, because they have noticed and obeyed. (Remember how I wrote back there that God wasn’t saying material comfort was wrong?) What I really love, however, is that God returns his blessings to them when they START rebuilding – not when they finish. God really wants our HEARTS above all else.

  1. Think of a time you offered God something because you WANTED to, even if it wasn’t easy.
  2. How do you think God felt about your offering?
  3. Think of a time you offered God something because you felt you were supposed to.
  4. How do you think God felt about your offering?
  5. What is an offering you can bring God this week that will bless him?

Section 5 – Haggai 2:20-23

KEY VERSE: “on that day…I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you” (verse 23)

Zerubbabel is ALERADY chosen by God – but not yet in place. At some point in the future, God will take Zerubbabel, and make him into the tool he has already been chosen as. Joseph and Jeremiah experienced similar delays between being chosen and being put in the actual position (Genesis 37-47 and Jeremiah 1:4-5).

Sometimes we have to wait a while before God puts us in a position he has already chosen us for. It might be a small thing, but this really speaks to me. I can’t earn God’s grace, and I can’t earn a “high” position in his kingdom. Instead of trying to force my way to the place I think I should be in, I need to be faithful wherever he calls me, wherever I’m at, even if I know I won’t be here forever. I need to be faithful even if I feel un-useful, or overlooked. God has a plan. He will make me into the RIGHT TOOL for the RIGHT TASK at the RIGHT TIME.

  1. What is your first reaction to the idea of being a tool chosen by God? Do you want to be a tool? Why/why not?
  2. Is there a place in your life God might be asking you to be faith in NOW, rather than waiting for something new to happen?
 
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Posted by on August 8, 2011 in Bible Resources

 

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The Minor Prophets: Haggai, part 1

This is part of an on-going series on the Minor Prophets; a bible study I wrote two years ago. For more information on this study, including permission to use it for your own group, please read the introduction.

WHO IS HAGGAI?

Haggai was a contemporary of Zechariah (they are even seen ministering together in Ezra 5:1-2). The Greek version of the Old Testament credits Haggai with writing some of the later Psalms (146-149) although this is not universally accepted. Haggai was probably born in Babylon during the exile, a child who returned to Judea with his parents in 536 BC. He was the first prophet to minister in Jerusalem after Judah’s return from captivity in Babylon.

WHEN WAS HAGGAI WRITTEN?

Haggai dates his prophecies very clearly. The book is a group of four prophecies Haggai received from God between the 29th of August and the 19th of November,  520 BC.

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

Haggai was written 15 years after the first group of exiles returned to Jerusalem from captivity in Babylon.

  • 586 BC –Jerusalem and the temple are destroyed by the Babylonians. Many of the Jews are killed or taken to Babylon as captives. Those left behind to live in the ruins intermarry with other nations; these people become the Samaritans. (II Kings 25; II Chronicles 36:15-23 – the history books end here).
  • 562 BC – King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon dies; followed by a series of weak kings
  • 559 BC – Cyrus becomes king of Persia (seen by historians now as a benevolent ruler with some progressive decrees)
  • 549 BC – Persia under Cyrus defeats the Median king, and the Medes/Persians are united
  • 539 BC – Cyrus overthrows Babylon on October 13th; makes Darius the Mede king.
  • 538 BC – Cyrus issues a decree allowing captive Jews to return to Judea (Ezra 1:1-4)
  • 536 BC – 1st group of 50,000 Jews return to Jerusalem under Zerubbabel and Joshua the priest (Ezra 2); work is begun on the temple – altar for sacrifices rebuilt (Ezra 3:1-2) and the foundation for the temple laid (Ezra 3:8-13)
  • 529 BC – Cyrus died; succeeded by his son, Cambyses
  • 522 BC – Cambyses succeeded by Darius
  • 520 BC – Haggai gives God’s message; work starts on the temple 3 weeks later on September 7th (Haggai 1:14-15)
  • 516 BC – Temple is finished on February 25th (Ezra 6:15)


WHAT IS HAGGAI ABOUT?

When the Babylonians conquer Israel, the temple of the Lord was left in ruins (as is Jerusalem itself). 50 years later, the first of the Jews returned from exile in Babylon and began to rebuild the temple. After their excitement over the initial rebuilding, however, their attention turned elsewhere – to their own living conditions. This is only natural – survival is rather important! They rebuilt their homes, businesses, and farms. 15 years later, however, the temple has still not been rebuilt. God sends Haggai with a message that the people need to get back to work on the temple. Three weeks later work recommences, and in 5 years the temple is complete.


STRUCTURE

Haggai is the 2nd shortest book in the Old Testament (after Obadiah). There are five sections:

  1. First message, August (Haggai 1:1-11)
  2. Response from the people (Haggai 1:1-12-15)
  3. Second message, October (Haggai 2:1-9)
  4. Third message, November  (Haggai 2:10-19)
  5. Fourth message, November  (Haggai 2:20-23)
Section 1 – Haggai 1:1-11

KEY VERSE: “give careful though to your ways” (verse 5)

There are two facts God wants to bring to his people’s attention:

  1. You have put off rebuilding the temple
  2. You are experiencing material difficulties

These two facts are connected. God has withdrawn material blessing in order to capture their attention, so they will get back to work on the temple.

It’s important to understand the significance of the temple. This was the ONE place on the face of the planet where God’s presence dwelled – where God came to earth and was PRESENT WITH MAN. Every time the people put off rebuilding the temple, they showed their lack of desire for God. They were not eager to meet with God; his presence was not a priority for them. They’d been back in Jerusalem long enough to have built beautiful houses for themselves, but still they kept saying “the time has not yet come for the LORD’s house to be built” (verse 2). The people put their own material comfort ahead of their desire for God – so God took this “idol” of material wealth away from them, to get their attention. He doesn’t say material comfort is wrong, just that at the moment it is getting in the way.

Jesus told his disciples not to worry so much about their material needs, but to seek God first and allow HIM to take care of the rest (Matthew 6:25-34). It’s really the same principle. When we get wrapped up in our cares and concerns, trying to make our lives more comfortable, our eyes drop from God, from following him.

  1. What would it look like, practically, if you REALLY trusted God to take care of your needs? (Your need for food, shelter, friendship, education…)
  2. How would your life change if you made following God your FIRST priority in every part of your life?
  3. What is a small step in this direction you can take this week?
Section 2 – Haggai 1:12-15

KEY VERSE: “the whole remnant of the people obeyed the voice of the LORD their God” (verse 12)

Wow. It is such a beautiful thing when a person, and especially a large group of people, take God’s word to heart and OBEY. It is such an expression of love for and trust in God when we choose to obey him (John 14:15).

KEY VERSE: “God stirred up the spirit…of the whole remnant of the people” (verse 14)

God doesn’t yell at people to do what he says and then watch from afar. When the people responded in obedience, believing God, he got intimately involved. He stirred them up – gave them passion and enthusiasm for the task he had put before them.

All too often when God asks me to do something I drag my feet. I whinge and I complain and I procrastinate. Yet when I obey, when I take a step and ACT, I often find myself excited and enjoying it. God does not want us to be miserable! Following him is the most exciting thing you’ll ever do.

  1. Think of an area of your life where you are procrastinating instead of obeying.
  2. How can you start acting in obedience there?
 
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Posted by on August 1, 2011 in Bible Resources

 

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The Minor Prophets: Habakkuk, part 3

This is part of an on-going series on the Minor Prophets; a bible study I wrote two years ago. For more information on this study, including permission to use it for your own group, please read the introduction.

Click here to see part 1 of the Habakkuk study
Click here to see part 2 of the Habakkuk study

The final part of our study of Habakkuk looks at chapter 3.

Read Habakkuk 3 in the NIV
Read Habakkuk 3 in the Amplified Bible

KEY VERSE: “I stand in awe of your deeds, O LORD. Renew them in our day” (verse 2)

Chapter 3 is a song attributed to Habakkuk. It is written by one who stands in awe of who God is and what he does. The focus is clearly on GOD – his power, his justice, his greatness. This isn’t “pretty” – it is POWERFUL.

When I see God for who he is, when I meditate on what he has done, I long to see him move in power – now!!

KEY VERSE: “Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” (verse 18)

The final verses of the book of Habakkuk are a beautiful example of lament worship. I love laments – one of my favourite Psalms (Psalm 42) is a lament. Lament worship is when I tell God everything that’s wrong (things that aren’t going well, my hurts and frustrations and anger and all the other things those perfect Christians don’t struggle with!) and then say “BUT”. The “but” is the important part. The “but” turns complaints into worship. The “but” is when I say that while all those hard things are true, there are other true things – like the unchanging nature of Who God Is. I will choose to worship him when life is hard.

I am so tired, life has been so hard lately, BUT I know you are good.

I’ve been waiting so long, Lord, BUT I trust you. I know you are faithful.

Even if things don’t turn out the way I hope and pray they will, I will still praise you, Lord!

Lament worship encourages me. It tells me it’s okay to feel down, depressed, weary. It tells me God WANTS to hear my heart. When he tells me to cry out to him, pour my heart out to him, he actually means it! Lament worship shows me how to talk to God when I’m having a bad a day, a tough week, a hard year. Dan Allender explains the place of the lament beautifully:

“To lament – that is to cry out to God with our doubts, our incriminations of him and others, to bring a complaint against him – is the context for surrender. Surrender – the turning of our heart over to him, asking for mercy, and receiving his terms for restoration is – impossible without battle. To put it simply, it is inconceivable to surrender to God unless there is a prior, declared war against him. Christians often assume our conflict with God was finished when we converted… But the battle is not over with conversion…Sanctification is a lifetime process of surrendering as more and more intense conflicts with God and others expose and dissolve our urgent preoccupation with the self. A lament is the battle cry against God that paradoxically voices a heart of desire and ironic faith in his goodness… A person who laments may sound like a grumbler – both vocalize anguish, anger, and confusion. But a lament involves even deeper emotion because a lament is truly asking, seeking, and knocking to comprehend the heart of God. A lament involves the energy to search, not to shut down the quest for truth. It is passion to ask, rather than to rant and rave with already reached conclusions. A lament uses the language of pain, anger, and confusion and moves toward God.”

 The book of Psalms is full of lament worship. The following is not an exhaustive list of lament psalms, by any means, but it’s a good place to start in learning the heart of the lament.

Psalm 10Psalm 13Psalm 22Psalm 55Psalm 56Psalm 69Psalm 102Psalm 142, Psalm 143

  1. Think of something amazing God did in your life, or in the life of someone you know.
  2. How do you feel when you think about what God did?
  3. Sharing testimonies of what God has done in our lives (both the big things AND the small things) is a great way to strengthen our faith, and the faith of those around us. Think of a small testimony to share with others this week.

My journals are full of laments – raw emotion followed by a BUT, and a declaration of faith. I’d like to encourage you to try writing a lament of your own. Start with anything you’re sad/angry/weary/upset about – tell God everything. Then, with the same heartfelt honesty, tell God what you know to be true about him DESPITE the problems you’re facing. If you’re anything like me you may need a few pages to write your lament, but these two phrases are a good place to start:

Right now I feel…

BUT I know You…

 
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Posted by on July 25, 2011 in Bible Resources

 

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