One of the most disappointing scenarios in life is when you finally get something you have wanted for a long time only to find it’s not as good as you thought it would be. The dream holiday. The dream car. The dream house. Even the dream marriage.
Dreams don’t have to turn into nightmares to be disappointing. It’s just that they become ordinary or even mediocre.
The return of the people of Jerusalem to their city and land was much anticipated. Prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah had spoken of a glorious return. And the return did happen. And it happened after the seventy years of exile that had been predicted as the Babylonians besieged Jerusalem.
But the excitement and enthusiasm of home coming soon evaporated.
Jerusalem was in ruins. The walls were in ruins. The temple was a ruin. If the prophetic words had produced images of the glorious reign of a David or Solomon being replicated, the reality was sadly disappointing. And the people became disappointed and lost heart. That is the reality we touch in Haggai’s short book. A couple of generations later, in the days of Malachi, the people are still wrestling with an unfulfilled dream.
Or not wrestling. They have stopped wrestling and seem resigned to living mediocre lives in a mediocre age.
There are many good things happening in churches throughout the country and throughout the world. However, as I talk to Christians of my generation and the generation before me, it’s hard not to detect a note of sadness underlying all the encouragement and commitment. A sadness that so much has been lost in our society. That things that unbelievers would not have countenanced a generation or two ago are now celebrated and even blessed by some sectors of the church.
The same I think is true of some younger Christians. Not that they are quietly grieving what has been lost. More a feeling of “How on earth do we relate to a society whose values are so different to ours?” So different that they sometimes create an outright hostility to anything that would or could be considered “Christian”.
Like the returning exiles, the temptation in a mediocre age is to live a mediocre life.
Haggai and Malachi reveal the behaviours and attitudes that indicate that we have resigned ourselves to mediocrity. I’ll give you three in this blog post and publish the next six in separate posts.
Firstly, we have settled for mediocre living when we build our own houses at the expense of God’s house.
The people in Haggai’s day had made sure their own houses were rebuilt, whilst the temple lay in ruins. Their reason for not rebuilding God’s house? It just wasn’t the right time.
This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘These people say, “The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house.”’ 3 Then the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: 4 ‘Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your panelled houses, while this house remains a ruin?’
It is not wrong to build your own house. You should build your own house! And I don’t mean that in the strict sense of bricks and mortar. I’m talking about our own lives – families, careers, education, etc. But it is wrong to build your own house at the expense of God’s house.
If you and I don’t build the church – and here I am thinking about the people and the life of the church , not specifically bricks and mortar – who will? And please don’t tell me that it’s Jesus who builds the church! That truth has often been twisted into the most incredible rationale for lazy Christianity.
Secondly, we find ourselves continually asking the questions “ Why are things so____ ? (fill in the blank) or “Why am I so_____ ? (fill in the blank).
‘You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house. (Haggai 1.9)
When we give in to the temptation to live a mediocre life in mediocre times, we find that life becomes or appears to become quite futile. We’re never really happy.
It is ironic that when we put ourselves at the centre of our world, unhappiness is not far away. It’s not just the Bible that teaches that. Even psychological research shows that happiness is more connected to selflessness than to selfishness.
Thirdly, we know we have succumbed to mediocrity when we give God second best.
In Malachi’s day, the priests still brought their sacrifices. But those sacrifices were second rate.
‘But you ask, “How have we shown contempt for your name?” 7 ‘By offering defiled food on my altar. ‘But you ask, “How have we defiled you? ‘By saying that the Lord’s table is contemptible. 8 When you offer blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice lame or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?’ says the Lord Almighty (Malachi 1.6-8)
They gave the Lord what they would never think of giving to their boss!
We give our cast offs to the church. We think we can do “our ministry” in any old way we like – and call it the Holy Spirit. We bring attitudes and behaviours to church which we know are totally unacceptable in any other context. That’s when we know we are succumbing to the temptation to live a mediocre life in a mediocre age.
How do you resist that temptation? In Haggai’s day the people responded to the prophetic words of Haggai and started to rebuild the temple.
If we are to resist, we need to hear and respond to God’s call to build His kingdom in our day. Mediocre times need people of a different spirit. People like you and me.