Giving to the Lord FIRST Makes No Sense – or does it? Give Careful Thought to God’s Ways and Yours (Oct. 6, 2019)

Sermon Text: Haggai 1:1-11

Pastor Steven Hillmer

There are certainly times in life when you’re just dumb-founded, baffled, puzzled, some might even use the word “flummoxed” over life’s circumstances. How and why did certain things happen? Take the Israelites for example: they were carried off into captivity into Babylon. “God, how could you let this happen to your people?” Jerusalem, the temple and its furnishings, were desecrated and looted. Then, after 70 years, a new king invites them to return and rebuild – but MOST of them STAY! That makes no sense. Those who do return lay the foundations of the temple, but after 2 years and a little Samaritan pressure, they toss in the towel, giving up for 16 years! You would think they would be filled with great eagerness to rebuild God’s house… but the zeal for that task dissipated into thin air while God’s house sat in ruins. Baffling.

You know who was zealous for the house of the Lord – the Lord! In our Old Testament lesson, we are privileged to hear from 1 of the 2 prophets the Lord sent to get things going: Haggai (the other being Zechariah). These 2 came with a strong message to get to the heart of the matter: “Give Careful Thought to your ways.” He wanted them to realize that YES, it does make perfect sense to put the Lord first in all things.

This morning we begin our 3-week stewardship sermon series, “10 for 10.” With this there is a very direct opportunity for us to give careful thought to our heart’s attitude toward giving to the Lord. Does it make sense to dedicate this time, these special services, the specific Bible classes, the devotional emails and video links… why are we doing all this? Is the church short on money and we have to quick raise a few bucks before the end of the year? I can assure that is not the reason. It makes sense because our Lord talks about finances more than 2300 times in the Scriptures! It makes sense because there is always the challenge of keeping God #1. This morning, sitting at the feet of Haggai, we’ll see that it does make sense – eternally – for us to give careful thought to both God’s ways and ours as we seek to honor his with our lives and yes, our offerings.

The book of Haggai is the 2nd shortest book in the Old Testament with just 2 chapters totaling 38 verses. It will take you about 2 minutes and 18 seconds to read – and when you do, 4 times you will hear him say, “Give Careful Thought to your ways!” and there’s a reason for that. One artist had a picture of Haggai encouraging the Israelites to rebuild – while a fellow Israelite is reading the book, “1001 Way to Get Out of Work.” It’s not that they were just lazy; their issues were deeper – they had Priority Problems! They considered themselves #1 and God… well, somewhere down the line. In our text we heard these words, “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come for the Lord’s house to be built.’ ” Well, when is it time to get around to it? If the Sinful Nature were given a free reign to answer that question, it would say, “NEVER!” Why? because to the sinful nature, it doesn’t make any logical, rational sense to spend all that time and effort, to gather up all that gold and silver at such a high price, and for what, a house only the Levites get to enter?

Let’s sprinkle on a little America pragmatism, and the responses might be, “Why gather up all that money for a house that used once a week? The time has not yet come to give to the Lord because… I need to finish the expansion on my house… there’s college to pay for… and what if I outlive my retirement funds? Besides, why does God need a house anyway? Isn’t God omnipresent? Can’t we worship him wherever? And I’m sure that if you add up all I am giving to the Lord in time and skills, that value it’s probably 10%, or close.” If you’ve ever had such thoughts or similar, as I know I have, it’s time to give careful thought to our ways and priorities.

The remnant who had returned home to Jerusalem had, for 16 years, stopped rebuilding the temple; but it’s not because they were lazy or lacked financial resources and skills. In our reading we hear Haggai point out, 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 paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?”  Don’t misunderstand, the picture of a paneled home is a home of luxury. That paneling was wasn’t the ¼ inch fake wood with a veneer over the top. Cedar panels were very costly. Cedars grew in the mountains of Lebanon, cut by hand, transported all that way, milled… not for the Lord’s house, but for their very own! The point is, they had no trouble paying for such costly things – for themselves, all while God’s house remained in ruins. What message did that send to God? To their children? To other nations? Their actions revealed their mixed up, sinful priorities. Haggai was calling them to repent.

Perhaps it’s a very good time for us to “give careful thought to our ways” and look at how God is prioritized in our lives, in our actions, yes even in our offerings. We want to do this because when God is not #1 in our hearts, that is sin, sin that separates and condemns us – and that is NOT what God wants.

Give careful thought to this: God wanted His House prepared because of the promise He had made to Adam and Eve when He was kicked out #1 in their hearts. In Haggai’s second chapter we hear this promise repeated this way, 6 “This is what the LordAlmighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. 7 I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty. God wanted His House completed because this is where He met with his people and prepared their hearts for the coming Offspring of a Woman! The Desired of All Nations is Jesus – and he was coming not to fill a building, but to fill hearts with faith and eternal salvation! He was coming, because as Haggai said, ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty.” Giving careful thought to God’s Ways shows us just how zealous He is for the salvation of all people!

Truly he alone deserves the spot of #1 not just in our heart, but also reflected in our words and actions, including in the offerings we bring to him – and yes, it makes sense. It makes sense because luxurious homes don’t bring eternal and lasting peace to you or your children. It makes sense to build up God’s house and further the work of Gospel ministry both in our local area across the globe. It makes sense because there is no other name under heaven by which we will be saved.

The neat opportunity before us during this stewardship emphasis is that each of us would give prayerfully and thoughtfully consider enhancing our giving for 10 weeks. We can use 10% as a goal, or perhaps consider a different % that reflects God as #1. This is far more than an academic exercise to see IF we could, it’s a spiritual exercise in trust for us as Christians to honor our God who has promised eternal peace through Jesus. It is our prayer that as we give careful thought to God’s Ways, that this would be a great blessing for each of us and for our synod as we seek first God’s Kingdom and His Righteousness to the glory of God.

God gave the Israelites a similar opportunity to put their faith into action. It didn’t have a special name like “10 for 10, but 7 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. 8 Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,” says the Lord. The play was simple: climb the mountains… cut the trees… mill the lumber… bring down the timbers… build the house of God! What an opportunity to honor the one and only God who promises life eternal! By God’s power they did it and dedicated the temple 4 years later! And while that temple didn’t last, we know that its purpose was accomplished – preparing people for Jesus who came and offered himself as the complete sacrifice for all sin, once for all, bringing us life and salvation.

And because Jesus accomplished his mission, we know that our mission continues – to pass on this good new from one generation to the next. We do that in our home and family devotions. We do this though our Lutheran schools on all levels. We do this as we plant new missions and assist our established congregations. It’s an ongoing effort which requires our time, talents and treasures. And because the Lord knows our hearts, how even when good projects get started they often tail off, returning to same-old same-old… Haggai offers these words of warning to hearts that continually question whether or not it makes sense to give to God instead of spending on yourselves,

Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. 6 You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.”… 9 “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 his own house. 10 Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. 11 I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the oil and whatever the ground produces, on men and cattle, and on the labor of your hands

Talk about a picture of wasted work! Perhaps you’ve experienced it firsthand too… all that time and effort into the home – and flood or fire comes. The savings and investments – then the stock market crashes. Those expensive clothes we bought now just hang in our closets because they don’t fit the fashions, or because they simply don’t fit. God has a unique way “withholding the rain…” and expressing his thoughts to sinners who continually forget to keep Him #1. In short, Haggai is saying the more you work for yourselves, the less you will have, if not in this present age, for sure in the one to come.

So how do we guard our hearts from falling back into this sinful pattern, how do we keep God as #1?  Haggai answers that when he simply says – hear God Word, take it to heart and put your faith into action. For them it was to prioritize those wood-cutting weekends… for us it’s to prioritize the Gospel each day, seeking FIRST His Kingdom and His Righteousness… seeking it in worship and Bible Study, seeking out the opportunities to share God’s promise of true peace in Jesus with those who consumed with paneling their homes and lives with all the things money can buy – things which will never give peace. There’s a much better way to find peace – you find it in Jesus. We know that – and we need to hear that again and again, which is ok. That’s why God continues to send us prophets like Haggai, who encourage us to give careful though to God’s ways and to reflect our faith and love for God in all our ways. Amen.