There’s a small book of Haggai nestled almost at the end of the Old Testament. Two chapters, 38 verses, giving relief, a break from the constant rebuke of the prophets and just before God’s silence for 400 years.

The prophet Haggai is speaking to God’s people who have returned home from exile. They return home to Jerusalem to a hot mess of 70 years of neglect, burned homes, their temple in ruins, and a burning desire for all that used to be.

They grieve what ‘used to be.’ They start their sentences with, “I remember…” then it trails off with sadness and lament. When they first returned home they started to rebuild the temple. They got the foundation done, then they got distracted. Distracted for 18 years. Distracted by probably very good things, but distracted nonetheless and the work of their temple stopped.

God calls Haggai to speak correction and encouragement to the discouraged and distracted exiles. Through Haggai’s words, GOD breathes life into His people. He says,

“Give careful thought to your ways.”

“Be strong….and work.”

“Do not fear.”

“From this day on, I will bless you.”

The response of God’s people? They got to work! They built the temple from the foundation already laid. They built together. They remembered that God was still in control. And they remembered that God sees and blesses and lives in the middle of obedience in the right now. The temple would not resemble the temple they remembered, but they don’t wallow in the distraction of comparison. They did what God directed them to do: they rebuilt their spiritual house together as they heard these words and God stirred the Spirit:

“Give careful thought to your ways.”

“Be strong….and work.”

“Do not fear.”

“From this day on I will bless you.”

This speaks to me as we live out our faith in Jesus in rebuilding our faith-filled lives at home and in our local churches in this post-pandemic world.

The book of Haggai tells me, “Don’t be distracted by the health crisis, politics, the unknown future, our finances. Don’t be discouraged by the global or denominational church, social media, all the feels and all the fears.” Don’t compare and don’t despair.

These words of correction and encouragement are for us today!

First, in the words of Jesus, REMEMBER ME:
Remember Jesus, God’s own son, who came from heaven to earth,
Remember Jesus, who died for our sins to restore our relationship with a holy God.
Remember Jesus, who walked and talked for 40 days to more than 500 people after he rose from the dead on the 3rd day, including his brother James, (can you imagine that conversation?)
Remember Jesus, who returned to heaven so that we’d be given a comforter, a guide, a coach in the Holy Spirit
So that we would tell all in our world that Jesus came to take away the sins of the world…..

So what do we do? I look at Romans 13. In the most horrendous culture imaginable for Christians, the apostle Paul gives us some practical guidance, but essentially…..

We go close and go long.

Go close: with our family. Those with whom you have the greatest influence, over time. Your spouse, your parents, your kids, your grands. Be intentional about building and teaching the faith in Jesus in your own house. The research tells us that the 3 practices/holy habits which repeated OVER TIME propel us to make STRIDES in our faith in Jesus is Bible Reading, Prayer, and living generously with our hands open. Go close brothers and sisters.

Go long: Our great God is still working within us, among us, and beyond us. I settle with Romans 8:28
“AND we know that in ALL THINGS God works for the good of those who love Him.” Go long brothers and sisters.

When I get discouraged or distracted, we have some amazing examples of what going close and going long look like:

Esther: Y’all! We WERE created for such a time as this!

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego: They stood together and told the king: “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is ABLE TO DELIVER us, BUT EVEN IF HE DOES NOT DELIVER US, we want you to know your Majesty, THAT WE WILL NOT serve your gods or worship anything but our great God.”

Daniel: There is one statement made by the meaners in Daniel 6 which stopped me in my tracks. When the meaners wanted to oppress and bring harm to Daniel, these were THEIR words: “We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel, UNLESS it has something to do with the law of His God.”

Lord, let us be found faithful to go close and go long.

Give careful thought to our ways.

Be strong….and work.

Do not fear.

We know our great God is with us because He keeps His promises to His people.

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“‘Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,’ says the Lord.” Haggai 1:8