Let me begin this blog not with a story but with a question. Do you like apricots? You did not hear me wrong. I am asking you about the small yellowish-orange fruit with a single pit. Some love apricots. Others hate apricots. What is your answer? Do you like apricots?
Years ago, I read a story about a psychology student who tried an experiment. He was serving in the Army and had drawn kitchen duty. His job was to pass out the apricots at the end of the line. He asked the first few soldiers that came by, “You don’t want any apricots, do you?” Ninety percent said “No.” Then he tried the positive approach: “You do want apricots, don’t you?” About half answered, “Uh, yeah. I’ll take some.” Then he tried a third test, based on the fundamental either/or selling technique. This time he asked, “One dish of apricots or two?” And although soldiers do not like Army apricots, 40 percent took two and 50 percent took one! I tell you that story for one reason. We are not as independent as we think. The expectations placed on our lives influence our behavior. That young psychology student learned the power of expectations. What expectations are influencing your behavior? That takes us to our scripture lesson, Haggai 1:1-8.
Many years ago, before man walked on the moon, before a civil war threatened to divide America, or before Columbus discovered a New World, there was a man who spoke for God. His name meant “festival,” because he must have been born during one of the three great festivals on the Hebrew calendar, Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. However, we just call him Haggai. He lived in the sixth century BC. He spoke to the postexilic Jews who were living in Judah. In other words, he spoke to Jews who had returned home after the exile.
Those were complex times. The conqueror of Babylon, Cyrus of Persia, issued a decree allowing the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. Approximately 50,000 Jews did just that. Two years later, the foundation was done, which caused political unrest in the area. They were seen by their neighbors as a new political force. Construction was halted to calm their neighbor’s fears. The construction did not begin again until a new king sat on the throne. That king, Dairus, was interested in the religious traditions of his empire and encouraged the reconstruction. Haggai began to preach during this time. He encouraged the people to reconstruct the temple too, but his message takes it one step farther. He blamed the people, themselves, for their inactivity. The problem was not a lack of construction equipment. The problem was their mixed-up priorities. According to our reading for today, they were living in fine homes, while the temple laid in ruins. Their own homes were symbolic of their mixed-up priorities. So, let me ask you this question. How influential is God on the way you live your life?
In America, we celebrate the fact that we are free. Within each one of us is a rebel. We were raised with the idea we were captain of our own ship and no one can tell you what to say or do. The pandemic exposed our limitations, but it is still generally true. This is painfully true. We are surrounded by expectations that curb our words and behavior. Just think about it for a minute. We are influenced by societal expectations. Let me give you an example.
May 24, 2012 the St. Louis Cardinals were hosting the Philadelphia Phillies. At that time there were fans in the stand and not cardboard cutouts. The game was competitive, and the crowd was enjoying themselves. In the crowd was twenty-two-year-old Collin Grundstrom was having a super time. Just as the seventh inning was about to begin, a beer fueled Grundstrom decided to take his fun to a new level. He decided to slip into his birthday suit and streak onto the field. At first no one could believe their eyes. It hit everyone at the same time. The police were not amused. They ran after him. In time, they caught him, and body slammed him. He was charged with public nudity. This is the point.
Our society is filled with expectations. There are things our society will tolerate and things our society will not tolerate. One of the things society expects is for you to keep your clothes on. However, that is not the only societal expectation.
Consider these societal expectations. They are in no order.
1. Giving Christmas presents
2. Leaving a tip for a waiter (At least 15%)
3. Saying please and thank-you
4. Avoid burping in public
5. Chewing gum with no sound
6. Chewing food with your mouth closed.
8. Brushing your teeth.
9. Opening the door for a lady
10. Surrendering your seat to an elderly person.
There are others, but I will not go on. Do I have to go on?
There are certain things our society expects. It is true of our generation and it was true of Haggai’s generation as well. From the moment Haggai entered this world his culture was telling him how to act. From the moment you entered this world our culture was tell us the proper way to act. Is anyone here ready to slip into your birthday suit and go for a run? I hope not, because our society does not tolerate such behavior. There are societal expectations that influence us. There are also family expectations that influence us.
This is a big weekend for my family. It is my youngest daughter Anna’s bridal shower. She is one of the many brides around the world who have been frustrated by the coronavirus. She planned on getting married on May 30, but she has rescheduled her wedding for April 10. The hard part should be finding someone to marry you not getting married.
I am proud of Anna for many reasons. She is a good person who has worked hard for a bright future. She is a school psychologist in the Canton area. She got her master’s degree from Youngstown State and her bachelor’s degree from Mount Union. That impresses me because I went to Mount Union. As a matter of fact, her Major is the same as my Major, Business Administration with a minor in Marketing. In several classes we had the same professors thirty-four years apart. My father never told me two things. He never said to me, “I loved you.” He never said to me, “I am proud of you.” Now, it is too late. I did not want to make that same mistake, so I have told Anna countless times. She is tired of hearing it. I told her on the day she graduated from Mount Union. Anna responded, “Dad, I don’t know why you are so impressed. I thought we were expected to go to college. I did not know there was another option.” I guess she was right. It was what Kathryn and I expected from our children. What does your family expect from you?
Recently, I baptized a little boy named Matthew. Kathryn officiated at his parent’s wedding years ago. I baptized his older sister three and a half years ago. They consider me their pastor, but they have never attended worship at this church. In infant baptism, we recognize the influence others have on the child. The parents, families, and church promise in infant baptism to do all in their power to raise the child in the Christian faith. Is there anyone here whose parents were not Christian? I would be surprised. Parents are very influential on their children. When I ask couples getting married, “Whose relationship to you admire the most?” They never say Harry and Megan. They tell me their parents. Like it or not, you are influenced by your family. How are you influencing the spiritual life of the youngest in your family? We are influenced by societal expectations. We are influenced by family expectations. Haggai reminds we must be influenced by God. There are divine expectations What does God expect from you?
Someone asked Jesus the question, “What is the greatest commandment in the law?” (Matthew 22:36) Jesus answered the question, “You are to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37) That means you are to love God completely. In other words, God is to be the top priority in your life. That is what God expects. Mark Twain (1835-1910) once said, “To change your life, you must change your priorities.” How influential is God on the way you live?
In 2012, Forbes announced the happiest countries in the world. They looked at 184 different counties and examined a wide variety of facts. According to Forbes, Norway is the happiest country in the world, followed Denmark, Australia, and New Zealand. The unhappiest country in the world is the Central African Republic. I think that fact is interesting. Did you know Forbes reported the United States is the eleventh happiest country in the world? Many were surprised by our low international ranking.
Many have tried to explain our low ranking. Some believe our low international ranking is economic based, the soaring national debt or declining world influence. Those factors are not helping our national state of mind, but I do not think they are the real reason. If money can buy happiness, then we should be deleterious. The United States still owns 60% of the world’s wealth.
I believe the reason is spiritual. We are number eleven because God is no longer a priority in our society. We are no longer preoccupied with our divine purpose. Today, we are preoccupied with our comforts. As a nation, we are spiritually out of balance. I hear it from ever generation. The young are studying subjects that do not enjoy but will assure them a big income after graduation. The aged are living together unmarried, missing traditional Christian morals, for financial gain. Just like the postexilic Jews who lived in fine homes, while the temple sat in ruins, it is a question of priorities. How influential is God on the way you live your life? The purpose of life is not to be comfortable. According to the Westminster Confession of Faith, the purpose of life is to glorify God.
One of the great missionaries in history was William Carey (1761-1838). He spent many years serving in India and made God his top priority. He was married three times. Death ended each marriage. He had four children in those four marriages. One of his sons, Felix, also a believer, was appointed ambassador to Burma by the British government. Everyone was impressed but not Carey. He requested prayer for Felix. He said, “Pray for Felix. He has degenerated into an ambassador of the British government when he should be serving the King of kings.” That is a story about priorities. What is your greatest priority? Do you remember the Mark Twain quote? The great writer once said, “To change your life, you must change your priorities.” How influential is God on the way you live?