Michael Youssef - Know Where You Stand - Part 2
Human nature the way it is, we have perfected excuses to an art form. I know Adam and Eve started it in the garden, but we have perfected it. I think it was Corrie Ten Boom who said, "The blood of Jesus never cleanses an excuse". You see, that is why the Scripture repeatedly says, "If we confess, he forgives". If we confess, he forgives. People make all sorts of these excuses as to why they cannot come to worship or why they can't serve and why they can't give and why they can't commit to anything and why is this and why is that. In the last message, we began to look at how the Lord is speaking to our generation through the ancient prophet, Haggai.
Now, for those of you who were not here or those of you who might be visiting today, I want to review with you very quickly just a summary of what we saw from the Word of God, the challenge that we have from the prophet Haggai. After several hundred years of God sending his people, prophet after prophet after prophet, and challenging them to stop compromising and stop worshiping Yahweh one day, and Baal for the rest of the week, and finally God had enough and he said to them that I'm going to send you into an exile. "I'm going to send you for 70 years out of your country".
And sure enough, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came and he ravaged Jerusalem, destroyed it, and took hundreds of thousands of people captives in Babylon. But God also promised through the prophet Jeremiah that 70 years from that time he's going to bring them back. He's going to bring the faithful back to the heart of worship; that he's going to bring them back to Jerusalem, the city of God. And right on schedule, God fulfilled his promise. And when these faithful few returned to Jerusalem, they were filled with enthusiasm. They were filled with excitement. They worked hard. They served well. They gave generously. They were delighted to come back to the heart of worship into Jerusalem.
But halfway through, they got discouraged and they stopped doing the work of God. Don't ever underestimate Satan's tool of discouragement. Discouragement is his most valuable tool against the believers. Discouragement is his most successful tool that he uses against the believers. It is his most effective tool that he uses against the believers. The whole message of Haggai can be summarized in one word, and the English word is consider. Consider. Some translation said examine. Consider. It means to look intently. It means to inspect closely. It means to learn about. It means deep searching. In other words, he's not saying... this is not just a passing whim. This is not just a cursory look at how you're living and where you are.
No, no, no. He said, "Take time. Examine closely. Reorder your priorities". He is saying, "Do an intense examination. Do a focus-concentrated auditing of your life". And that is why the word is repeated four times in these two chapters. It's in chapter 1, verses 5 and 7; and in chapter 2, verses 15 and 18. The same word. This dear precious people, those 50,000 who turned their back on Babylon and came back to God, back to the heart of worship, they become discouraged halfway through and they gave up the work of God. And now this would have been a disaster in itself, but what made it worse, what made this disaster worse is that they came up with excuses for not doing the work of God. And excuses are far worse than discouragement.
In fact, excuses are far worse than failure because God can deal with a confessed sin. God can deal with a confessed failure. God can pick up a discouraged confessing believer and he can pick him and her up and he can put them back in the right place. You know and I know how many times and how many excuses people have for not walking with the Lord. "Well, you know, my parents did this when I was a little boy, a little girl. My father did this and my mother did that". If we cannot go beyond these excuses, if we cannot go beyond what happened in the past, it will not wash with God and we'll never be blessed until you move out of that excuse-giving lifestyle.
And that's the cause of discouragement today. It's people making all sorts of rationalization for why they're doing this and why they're doing the other thing and why they're not walking with the Lord and... Our parents did what they could at the time. Move on. And here in the book of Haggai, they were making an excuse because they were guilty. Listen to me. If there's no guilt and a sense of wrongdoing, then excuses are not necessarily, right? But they were. The only thing to do with guilt is confess it, repent of it, and it will bring renewal, strength, and courage and blessing from above. But excuses never washes with God.
So what was their first excuse? "It is not the right time". Have you heard that? My goodness, if I heard that once, I heard it many times. It is not the time. It is not the right time. "I will get to do, be involved in missions, but this is not the right time. I'm going to begin to tithe, but this is not the right time. I'm going to give of myself for God's service, but that's not the right time. Oh, Brother Youssef, you flatter me to ask me to do this or do the other thing, but I can't do that because it's not the right time".
I'm so glad that the man who ignited the modern evangelical mission movement did not come up with these flimsy excuses, the man by the name of William Carey in the latter part of the 1700s. He was poor. He was a cobbler. He had three kids and a fourth on the way, and yet he felt that of God, believing that every time is a good time for serving God. To make it worse, he goes to the mission committee, examining this young man who's all enthusiastic about going to India. One of them said to him, "Young man, if God wants to convert the heathens, he will do it without consulting you and me". I mean, you talk about excuses. He had every excuse in the book not to go, but think of the millions of people in this Asian subcontinent and in Africa because hundreds of thousands of missionaries followed as a result of this man not refusing to make an excuse.
And so here the prophet Haggai challenged the people's flimsy excuses for neglecting his work and being reluctant to continue in the work of God. They give up. I'm going to give you a Youssef interpretation. Is it the right time for you to be living in the lap of luxury and leisure and relaxation when my house is in ruin? And as we saw in the last message, in the New Testament we don't have temples. We don't have temples. We don't have to repair temples, but serving God's purpose is our calling. Serving God's mission is our calling. Serving in God's vineyard is our calling. Helping rebuild lives is our calling. Helping restore the fallen is our calling. Helping to rescue the perishing, that's our calling.
Look at verse 4. I mean, there's a biting humor here on the part of God, the God who sees all things, who knows all things. And again, I'll give you a Youssef interpretation. He's saying to them... if Haggai is speaking to this generation, here's what he would have said. He said, "You have time for everything in the world. You have time for sports. You have time for entertainment. You have time for politics. You have time for socializing. But for my service, you don't have time. You have time for your comfort. You have time for your pleasures. You have time for your recreation, but not my work, not my kingdom, not the very cause for which I saved you".
If everyone who claims to know Jesus as Savior and Lord would witness to another person, we would turn this nation upside down for Christ. If everyone who claims to know and love Jesus was dedicated to the message of the gospel as much as they are dedicated to sport and to politics, we would have a revival like we have never seen before. But the problem is, today we have an inverted priorities. We have a misplaced zeal. We have a diverted attentions. We have scattered commitments. We are all over the place. But then there's a second argument that God uses to challenge his people's lukewarmness, and it is this. It's in the Word of God.
I'm not making it up. They had replaced God with things, with activities. They have dethroned God from the throne of their lives and put other things there. They took God out of his rightful place at the head of the table and they put him down at the bottom of the table. That's what they were doing. You don't have to be a theologian, you don't have to have a theological degree to know that God doesn't like that, that that does not please God. God said, "Either I'm the Lord of all or not Lord at all".
And as far as God is concerned, and you see it from cover to cover, either he is at the head of the table or not at the table, either he is on the throne of the heart or he's not on the throne at all, either he is at the helm of your family and your life and your business and everything you touch or he's not the head of anything. And that is why he said through the prophet Haggai, "Consider, give careful thoughts..." As it is in some of the translation, "Give careful thought. Consider. Examine deeply. Look closely and look intently at your ways".
Then God goes ahead and he places his finger. Have you ever felt the finger of God? I sure have few times. He places his finger on the very reason for the discontentment. He points to the very secret as to why they're not making headway. Lots of feverish activities, but they have very little to show for it. The Bible does not just address our needs. God cares for our needs. But the Bible define our needs for us. See, God knows what we really need. In fact, it was Henry Ford who learned that lesson from the Bible and he said, "If you ask people what they wanted, they would said faster horses". They didn't say, "I want automobile". That's what they want. That's what people want.
Remember, this was an agrarian society. Everything was centered around the planting and harvesting. And in the context of that, he's speaking. And if he's speaking to us in the 21st century, he would have said these words. He would say, "You are working feverishly, but you're not getting ahead". They are working through lunch, they're working late, but they're never making headway. They're always rushing around to get ahead and nothing comes out of it, and you know why. Like the Pennsylvania Dutch expression that says, "The hurrier I go, the behinder I get". Their lives are like a treadmill. They're going nowhere. They're like running up an escalator that's coming down.
Visualize that. That's our society today, taking one step up and two back. Beloved, there is such a wide dissatisfaction in the midst of our apparent abundance in our culture. There is discontentment in the midst of lots of goodies and gadgets. There is longing in the heart while we're surrounded by things. You have to stop and think with me. Just think about this. In our society today, we have more houses, we have more cars, we have more gadgets, we have more goodies, we have more trinkets, we have more televisions, we have more vacations than any other generation before and yet we have people who are wretchedly dissatisfied.
So many people in our society who have everything appear to be more miserable than ever. What's the cause of this? What's the cause of this? We have failed to understand the biblical principle that little is much when God is in it. If only we realized that the government is not our Messiah, if we only realize that political parties are not our saviors, if we only realize that protesting and demonstrating is all counterproductive, but obedience to God is the secret of power. Obedience to the Word of God is the secret to blessings. Serving is the secret for fulfillment. Giving is the way of getting. The way up is down.
If we wake up to the fact that doing what God wants us to do is the source of true, true blessing, and I pray to God that we do in time. Look at verse 8. Here's the answer to their discontentment, to their dissatisfaction. "Go up to the mountains and bring down timber and build my house". What is he saying? Very simply, "Obey me first. Dethrone your little selves and place me on the throne of your heart. Serve me first. Put me first. Stop yawning while you're hearing the Word of God".
And so the question is, how did God's people respond to his challenge through the prophet Haggai? How did they respond? Many of the prophets when they cried out, the words fell on deaf ears, but thankfully not in this situation, not in this case because Haggai was speaking to the right people who are in the right place doing the right thing for the right reasons, and they were convicted of the power of God's Holy Spirit of their sin of flimsy excuses. They were convicted and they sought to obey the Lord with all of their heart.
Verse 12, "Then Zerubbabel the governor, Joshua the high priest, and the whole remnant..." All those 50,000 people. "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". Here's the amazing part: Haggai began speaking to them on August 29th, 520 BC. August 29th, he began his ministry. By September 21, they began to work. How long is that? Three weeks. Three weeks. Ask yourself this question: "Do I truly place God and his work ahead of my comfort"?