Two stories for Redeemer’s next season
1. Hot air balloon
If church can be likened to a hot air balloon, then currently the balloon is flat on the ground. Yes, we are grateful we had online meetings, life groups still connecting, and prayer flourishing in zoom calls. But the gathering of believers and our public witness was seriously impaired by the pandemic. We are about to gather again! We are about to see church restored and revived again. That’s where the picture of a hot air balloon fits in well. To see the balloon raised and filled with fiery air, to rediscover the joy and awe of flying again. Visible, attractive, and moving where the wind takes us. With fresh faith to see, in due time, new balloons rising.
Here are two things that help us to prepare for the balloon to fly:
Psalm 85 provides us with language to pray for restoration and reviving. We remember God’s favour from before the pandemic (verse 1). We keep remembering how God forgave us through Jesus’s sacrifice (verses 2-3). We express our hearts, that we do not understand in difficult times and that it sometimes feels like God has turned away his face (verses 4-5). Yet we hold fast to how God has revealed himself, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (verses 10-11). And we expect restoration, reviving, and salvation from him. That he will show us his steadfast love again and that many may rejoice in him again (verses 4, 6-7).
We join the psalmist in his longing that God will speak peace, healing and wholeness again to his people. And that we know that God is with us again (verses 8-9). Yes, goodness and fruitfulness come from God, truth sprouting from the ground and right living pouring down from the skies (verses 10-13). God brings it all. That’s the blessing we long for! Restored, revived, rejoicing, together walking on his path. Lord, revive us again!
Consider your ways
The Jews had returned from exile, built Jerusalem’s wall and laid the foundation for the temple. Yet by Haggai’s time they still had not completed building the temple. As years went by the temple remained in ruins. Rebuilding one’s own life was the priority and it was hard work, it took all their energy and focus. Then came Haggai, who was a restorationist prophet, bringing God’s voice and heart into the situation.
“Consider your ways,” God said (Haggai 1). Look up! The problem of your toil isn’t down here, but up there. With me being ‘homeless’ amongst your temporary rebuilt homes. The actual story is that I am not around and not in the picture, not at the heart of my people. Do you remember my covenant? Who would look after you?
The Jews heard God and obeyed. And God confirmed powerfully: I am with you! And God worked like ‘energon’ (Philippians 2:13) in them, both in the leaders and everyone. The Spirit of God moved in the people and the people took action. Their spirit was awakened, a desire so intense that work on the temple began immediately.
Lockdown might have stirred your desire to join the gathering of the church, but with the habit of gathering on Sundays gone, it might have resulted in different priorities. For example: rebuilding your own life. Haggai reminds us that believers are only whole when God is put first in life. Haggai says that rebuilding life starts with restoring the temple.
Why this emphasis on rebuilding the temple? In Haggai’s days, the Old Covenant still counted, and the temple and its rituals were central to the right way of engaging with God. Otherwise sins remained unatoned, guilt would pile up, and distance grew. God had hoped that exile had stirred a hunger to come back to him, to rebuild the temple once back in Jerusalem. But for years the people were occupied elsewhere and forgot about God… again.
We might think, well, that’s Old Covenant talk. Then we remember Jesus saying: “Do not be anxious about what you shall eat, drink or wear, but seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:31-33).
In the New Covenant, God explains that we can only come to him through Jesus. If we forget about Jesus and his cross and start engaging with God on our own terms, we join the people from old. Too busy with life, too much ruin around us, too weighed down with circumstances, too occupied with ourselves. But God is a jealous God and he wants the very best for us, and that is himself. Come back to the temple, to Jesus, and his body, the church, and remember that you are his temple, too, where his Spirit dwells!
“Be strong, work, for I am with you, my Spirit remains in your midst, fear not,” God said (Haggai 2:4-6). Upon entering the promised land, God said to Joshua to be strong and courageous, because God would go with him. Like in Acts, God being present with his people caused them to be courageous when facing opposition and difficulties.
So it is for us, when many things don’t yet work, feel uncomfortable, don’t look like they used to, even when glory seems far away, God is near and faithfully with us. God’s Spirit still brings unity, still helps us to love one another, still awakens us to keep looking up and remember God’s mission – a radiant church displaying God’s Life and Love through Jesus and his body in the power of the Spirit. Haggai reminds us to consider our ways and set out to get the balloon flying again.
At the heart of the Christian faith is a table where bread and wine are served. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are proclaimed, his salvation is taken in, the bread sustains our souls on the road to God and the wine gladdens our hearts as a foretaste of eternal life. The simplicity of this meal reminds us of the lavish banquet that awaits us when Jesus returns for his Bride. Around the table we sing of God’s faithfulness and tell stories of God’s goodness, we share life and shed tears, we celebrate and lament, and pray for power, and we invite many to join following God’s own example.
In Isaiah 55:1-6 we find God’s compassionate invitation to the table:
“Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labour for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.”
“Incline your ear, and come to me;
hear, that your soul may live;
and I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.”
“Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near.”
And this reminds us of Jesus who said: if anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink, whoever believes in me, ‘out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’ (John 7:38). And whoever feeds on this bread will live forever (John 6:58). And that the invitation is to be made on the main roads, to invite as many as we can find (Matthew 22:9).
This is on our mind when we start to gather again. The refreshment of our souls with good food. The sharing of testimonies, the catching up, the singing. We are thirsty and hungry and many around us, too. We can’t wait to gather around the table again!
We love the simplicity yet richness of Christian community captured in this table picture. It will be like a slightly chaotic oversized family reunion where everyone pitches in to make it happen. Not like going to the movies where you criticise the cast and leave your popcorn on the floor and run for home.
Come, taste and see that the LORD is good (Psalm 34:8). Come to the feast, there is room at the table! Come hungry, come thirsty, come ready to help out!