Deliver Us From Couch-Potato Religion
Haggai 1:4 / Matthew 10:34-37
There are two parts to my sermon this morning. The first part has to do with being a couch-potato, and the second part has to do with being a Christian. I need to confess to you that both of these things are very familiar to me.
Many of you know my Christian testimony and how the providence of God led me to be a minister of the Gospel. Very few of you, however, know my testimony as a couch-potato.
I became a couch-potato in my first year of University. To get in the right frame of mind as a couch-potato, I took very seriously the task of getting 12 hours of sleep every night. And with a beautiful young lady by the name of Allie Pomeroy, and her roommate Andrea, taking notes for me, attending morning classes became unnecessary.
In the afternoon, I would only attend classes if it suited me. If there was an assignment to be handed in, or an exam to be written, I would show up. I can assure you, however, that attending classes was not my priority. My priority was spending time with my roommates and watching TV. And since 2 of my 3 roommates were also couch-potatoes, we seldom felt guilty about our laxsidasical lifestyle. Once I settled on the couch, I would only get up if I needed to wrestle the remote control away from one of them or if my ballpark pretzels needed to be taken out of the oven.
I understand that being a couch-potato was irresponsible of me. But I need to be honest and tell you that this kind of lifestyle was fun. There aren't many challenges for the couch-potato. You are free to come and go as you please and the closest thing to adversity was dealing with a rerun episode of Cheers and overcooked Kraft Dinner.
"Now Bryn, what in the world does being a couch-potato have to do with being a Christian?", you ask. I doubt very much whether any of you here are couch-potatoes. From what I can tell, this is a group of hardworking people. The question I raise this morning, however, is not whether you are a "couch-potato", but whether you are a "couch-potato Christian".
Christianity has a reputation of being such an accommodating religion that, as a result, I fear that living out couch-potato Christianity has become acceptable in many churches. Many think that since God is so loving and forgiving, it really doesn't matter what we do or don't do. Many assume that if we show up at church once a month, if we bake a pie for a church dinner, if we refrain from gossip, if we refrain from kicking the cat, then God will generally be pleased with us.
Let me propose 2 criteria for couch-potato religion and then see what Scripture has to say about this. The first criteria of a couch-potato Christian is a person makes decisions to serve Christ based largely on convenience. The second criterion of a couch-potato Christian is even more stringent. The second criterion of a couch-potato Christian is a person for whom serving Christ is not the top priority.
Let's see what God has to say about couch-potato religion as we turn, first of all, to the book of Haggai. To understand the message of Haggai, it is important that we first understand the context in which Haggai was addressing the Jewish people.
The year is 520 BC and, sixteen years earlier (in 536 BC), the Persian emperor Cyrus had issued a decree permitting the Jewish exiles in Babylon to return to Jerusalem to rebuild their temple, which had been destroyed (Ezra 1:2-4). In response to this decree, about 50,000 people returned, settling near Jerusalem, and began the work of temple restoration.
They immediately cleared the temple court of rubble and replaced the altar of burnt offerings to make it possible for daily sacrifices to resume (Ezra 3:2).
Then some troubles began. Cyrus of Persia died in battle, and his successor was opposed to the Jews rebuilding their temple (Ezra 4:6). As the opposition mounted, the Jews eventually ceased their work on the temple. And from what we read a few verses later, it seems that the focus of the people turned from rebuilding the temple to renovating their homes.
The Lord, wanting to correct this inward-looking mentality, gave Haggai this piercing question for the Hebrew people to consider, "Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in paneled houses while this house lies in desolate? "(v.4).
Let me state, first of all, what is NOT the issue here. The issue is NOT that God needs a house. During the exodus, the ark of God rested in what amounted to a large tent. And when God took on human flesh, He was not born in a palace, but He was born on a porch and placed in a feeding trough.
The issue is not that the presence of God requires a fancy building. God had been without a physical place of worship for many years. The issue here is one of priority. The people were concerned, first with themselves, and second with God.
John Calvin, commenting on this verse, writes, "the Jews were so taken up with their own domestic concerns, with their own ease, and with their own pleasures, that they made very little account of God's worship."
God's message to the Hebrew people has a clear application for us. No, God does not bid us to collect wood, or stones, or cement--God is not calling us to build a physical temple. But He is calling us to build a spiritual temple.
Keep in mind, also, that the Hebrew people were not neglecting worship altogether. It is not as if they were ignoring the terms of the covenant. The problem was that God had ceased to be their number one priority. These hardworking people had become couch-potatoes in respect to their religion. They worshipped God in a manner that suited them. And by putting off the work of temple restoration, they were able to avoid further opposition from the Persians.
Could the same be said of us? Have we adopted a type of Christianity that allows us to come and go, and to serve God, as we please? Have we adopted a type of Christianity where we are sovereign instead of God? Do we make up the rules of our faith, or is our life ruled by the Scripture?
To the extent that we dictate our service to Christ, is the extent in which we are a couch-potato Christian. To the extent that something or someone is a greater priority in our life than Christ, is the extent in which we are a couch-potato Christian.
Our Lord Jesus Christ calls for serious commitment when He bids us, "follow Me". We do well when we are committed to our family, because the health of our family depends on it. We do well when we are committed to our occupation, because success in our career depends on it. I think we recognize that progress and success is the fruit of commitment. How then can we expect to make progress in the Christian life without serious commitment?
If you would like a taste of the commitment Jesus calls for, I'd invite you to turn to Matthew 10:34-37, "Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me."
I think you will all agree that this is a radical statement being made here by Jesus. What is He saying?
Jesus is correcting the erroneous notion that His mission was to fix human relationships. The prophets predicted a Messiah who would bring peace. The angels who announced the birth of Jesus sang about there being "peace on earth"(Lk.2:14). Jesus corrects this by stating that He did not come to bring peace to human relations. In fact, Jesus predicts that His mission will bring division between family members. How can this be?
The New Testament makes it clear: the peace that is promised by the prophets; the peace that is accomplished by Christ, is peace between God and humanity (Eph. 2:13-18). And when God makes peace with humanity through Jesus Christ, He calls us to love Him above all else.
The message of Haggai is not, "Don't renovate your homes", the message is do not prioritize anything above the worship of God. And the message of Jesus is not, "Don't love your family", the message is do not love anything more than Him.
Friends, following Christ is serious business. Following Christ is not some casual endeavour we can give an hour on Sunday to. It is not enough that you love Christ, because Christ Himself calls for more. Christ insists on being our "first love"(Mt.10:37; Rev.2:4).
We are busy people (especially this time of year). Many of us are busy at work, we are busy driving from place to place, we are busy attending sporting events, we are busy shopping, and we are busy preparing for company. But, at the heart of the matter, our problem is not busyness. Our problem is that Christ is not our "first love".
As you consider all that Christ has done to reconcile you to God, may you in turn, offer Him your first fruits of love and service. Amen.