Saturday, January 25, 2020

Sermon -- Wedding of Jim Hardiman and Lindsey Holloway (January 25, 2020)

EPHESIANS 5:22-33

COMMIT TO ONE ANOTHER 
AS CHRIST IS COMMITTED TO YOU.

In the name + of Jesus.

     When God first established marriage, he said that it was good.  He brought together one holy man and one holy woman in a perfect Paradise to be joined as husband and wife.  This marriage was assessed by God at the close of his week of creation.  “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31)  It stands to reason that marriage is good.  St. Paul said, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:32)  Since marriage is a reflection of the love Christ has for the Church and the love the Church has for Christ, it must be good.  And it shows us what God designs marriage to be.
     I suppose that we could define marriage in very simple terms—a man and a woman love each other and want to spend the rest of their lives together.  Chances are, you've said that to each other a number of times.  But it is more than that.  St. Paul tells us how God has designed marriage so that it will serve as the highest blessing for both of you.
     Although St. Paul begins by addressing wives, we will turn to the husband first.  Jim, this is what the Lord says: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her...” (Ephesians 5:25)  Jesus Christ loved the Church in this way: He gave up everything to have her.  The Son of God left the glories of heaven to live as a man and to endure the sorrows and pains of this world.  He took up our guilt and gave his life in exchange for ours.  So, he suffered for sins he did not commit and paid a debt he did not owe.  He assumed into himself all of our wickedness, and then he gave us credit for all of his holiness.  He took our hell so that we could have heaven.  Jesus did this because he was committed to our good—that he would take away our sins, that he would deliver us from death, and that he would open up heaven to us.  This is how Christ showed his commitment to the Church: He loves the Church and died to win her.
     Jim, as a veterinarian, you have one simple goal—to care for the health and well-being of each animal that is brought to you.  Even if a dog snarls or snaps at you, you still care for and do what is best for that animal.  Now, I am not suggesting that Lindsey will snarl or snap at you, but she will sin against you from time to time.  For, you are both sinners.  So, while marriage is intended to be a Paradise for you, it will not be perfect.  Now, just as Christ is committed to the Church, that is how you are to be committed to your bride, Lindsey.  Just as Jesus continually forgives and loves, so you get to remain committed to loving your bride.  You will continue to serve and love and seek her best, and forgive her even if she does snarl and snap at you.  For, she is more precious to you that someone's schnauzer.  Commit to one another as Christ is committed to you.
     And now, Lindsey, see what St. Paul has written for you.  “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.” (Ephesians 5:22-24)  God's word is not telling you to present yourself as a doormat for your husband.  And I think you already know that your groom will not treat you that way.  No, the comparison is the commitment that the Church has to Christ.  Why does the Church submit to Christ?  In order to receive good things from him.  In fact, the Church receives her glory by submitting to Christ.  It is he who has given his name to his Bride, so that you confess to be a Christian.  It is he who provides for his Bride's well-being.  It is he who protects his Bride from all that would harm or destroy or damn her. 
     By submitting to your groom, Lindsey, you are accepting his provision, protection, love, and care.  The best of his is now yours and exclusively yours.  In turn, your submission means that you are committing yourself to love and care for him as the head of the household.  Now, the head does not do harm to the rest of his body.  What good would that be?  Think about it: If you are walking across a room in the dark and stub your toe, your head does not dismiss it and say, “I'll bet that hurt.”  No.  The whole body aches.  And so, Bride and Groom are united in this way.  If one hurts, you both hurt.  If one rejoices, you both rejoice.  Your commitment and devotion to each other serves for the great benefit of each one.  In a world that can be unkind and unfair, you each have a spouse who is committed to seeking your good.  You both get to support, encourage, and console one another.  You both get to exalt one another—just the Church exalts Christ and is exalted by Christ.  This is the commitment God intends for husbands and wives.  Commit to one another as Christ is committed to you.
     And so, today God brings together a man and a woman.  Even though it may not seem like it, you are a holy man and a holy woman in God's sight—for you have been “cleansed...by the washing of water with the word, so that (Jesus) might present (you) to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that (you) might be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:26-27)  Today, God joins you in the bond of marriage which he has created to be a blessing for both of you.  Today, God brings together one man and one woman to be husband and wife.  And though this world is not Paradise, you are the beneficiaries of Christ's perfect, committed love.  Your marriage gets to reflect that kind of love in each other.  God sees what he has created here, and behold, it is very good.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Update from Good Shepherd (January 23, 2020)

Greetings!


REGULAR SCHEDULE
        Divine Services are Sundays at 10:00 AM.
        Sunday School is on Sundays at 8:45 AM. 
        Adult Bible Class meets on Sundays at 8:45 AM and on Wednesdays at 6:30 PM.  The Adult Bible Class on Wednesday repeats the previous Sunday's lesson.

IN OUR PRAYERS
        We give prayers and thanksgiving for Jim Hardiman and Lindsey Holloway who will be married at Good Shepherd this Saturday, January 25 at 3:00 PM.  May God grant them a long, joy-filled marriage built on Christ and his faithful love.

SANCTITY OF LIFE SUNDAY
        On Sunday, January 26, we will observe Sanctity of Life Sunday in recognition of the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision which legalized the abortion of children from their mother's wombs.  We pray that God would move the hearts of people to put an end to this evil practice, to guide people to end the need for this practice by living chaste and decent lives which limit sex to the marriage bed, and to bring comfort to all who live with the guilt and regret for whatever part they may have played in participating in or supporting the practice of abortions.  We also recognize that God cares for the lives of people of all ages, including the elderly, infirm, and disabled.  One prayer that can be offered in conjunction with this travesty can be found here:  http://lutheransubject.blogspot.com/2020/01/a-litany-for-gift-of-life-and-for.html
        Our guest preacher will be Rev. Ross Ulrich from Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Monroe, MI.  

FELLOWSHIP OUTINGS
There are three outings for you to enjoy as fellow members of Good Shepherd.  Of course, you are encouraged to invite friends to join us too.  Perhaps they would be more comfortable learning about Christians in these informal settings before a more intimidating walk into church for a Divine Service.
1)  Euchre and Game Night will be on Sunday, January 26, 7:00 PM.  If you aren't a euchre fan, we will have other games you can enjoy.  Interested in learning euchre?  We can help with that, too.
2)  Super Bowl party at the parsonage, Sunday, February 2 at 5:00 PM.  The official kick off time is 6:20 PM, but you are welcome to come any time after 5:00 PM to enjoy some food, chat, and sign up for squares.  (Don't know what that is?  It is a chance to win a prize at no cost to you.  It also allows a boring game to still have some entertainment value.)  Deadline for squares will be 6:00 PM.
3)  Dinner at Randy & Jean's.  Randy & Jean Nabozny will be hosting this even at their home in Chelsea.  Dinner will be Friday, February 14th.  Arrive after 6 pm, with dinner around 7:30 pm. Please RSVP to Jean at jrauchholz@gmail.com no later than February 9th to ensure an accurate count for dinner.  If you would like to join in the fun, we are in need of salad, appetizers, and dessert.  

OFFICE HOURS
        Regular office hours at Good Shepherd will be Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays from 9:00 AM – 2:00 PM. While there may be some flexibility to this schedule, we will try to keep it as regular as possible.

BAD WEATHER POLICY FOR SERVICES AT GOOD SHEPHERD
        We will always have services as scheduled at Good Shepherd.  Since I live across the parking lot, I can get to the church no matter how bad the weather gets.  Even if the service is just me and my family, we will be here.  For everyone else, please use your God-given common sense to determine whether or not you will get on the road to attend any service when the weather is bad.  We don't want anyone to risk his or her life to be here.  But if you do venture out, the scheduled service will take place.  It may be only a handful with a cappella singing and/or spoken liturgy, but we will be here.
        Bible Classes and meetings may be canceled due to weather.  Check your email regarding announcements to see if any of those scheduled events is canceled.  If there is no email about it, it is not canceled.  But again, use common sense to determine if you can make it, and call the pastor to let him know if you will not be coming.

DO YOU LIKE US?
Look for Good Shepherd on Facebook.  Then “LIKE” us for updates and other postings.

God bless you.

In Christ,
Pastor Schroeder
==============================
SUNDAY SCHOOL -- Sundays at 8:45 AM.
ADULT BIBLE CLASS -- Sundays at 8:45 AM

DIVINE SERVICES -- Sundays at 10:00 AM

GOOD SHEPHERD’S WEBSITE

Good Shepherd Evangelical Lutheran Church
41415 W. Nine Mile Road
Novi, Michigan  48375-4306
+   +   +   +   +   +   +   +   +   +   +   +
Divine Services -- Sundays at 10:00 AM

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

A Litany for the Gift of Life and for the Protection of the Unborn

Below is a litany for the gift of life and for the protection of unborn children.  It is a sad state of affairs that the murder of unborn children is legal, tolerated, supported, and even celebrated.  It has been said that a society can be judged based on how it treats its most vulnerable.  If that is true, our society stands under the judgment of humanity.  As far as God's judgment, that is applied with the 5th Commandment: "You shall not murder."  And yet, Roe v. Wade made such murders legal, and that law has been defended vehemently since January 22, 1973.

Even if the whole world declares the abortion of children legal, good, and even desirable, the word of the Lord shall stand against it.  The faithful in the Church will continue to declare evil what God has declared evil, and we will pray for the hearts of many to repent of this evil and turn from it.

To that end, below is a litany that is often prayed at Good Shepherd on Sundays close to the January 22 anniversary.  May God bring this horrible practice to a swift end.  And may God grant consolation to those who are participated in abortions and who now bear the guilt and regret of their actions. 

Kyrie, eleison.  Lord, have mercy.

More materials regarding the Sanctity of Life can be found at Christian Life Resources website.

A Litany for the Gift of Life and for the Protection of the Unborn

P: Almighty and eternal God, you have created this world and all of us in it.  We praise you, for we are fearfully and wonderfully made.  Lead all people everywhere to see that you are our Maker and that we are the work of your hands so that all would consider human life to be sacred.  Protect and defend all to whom you give life, whether born or unborn, until that day when you take our life from us again.  Lord, in your mercy,
C: Hear our prayer.

P: Heavenly Father, you do not delight in the death of the wicked, but that all would turn from their evil ways and live.  Keep us from evil, and forgive us our sins.  Strengthen us to proclaim your Law and to warn those who would continue in their sins.  At this time, we especially pray that you would help us to warn those who continue in the sin of abortion.  Work mightily through your word to bring to repentance all who seek, provide, or support these willful acts of murder.  Change the hearts of people who see this wrong and dare to call it a right, and who are so blind to call good what is evil.  We ask not only that our nation may be cleansed of this heinous sin, but also that you turn all people from their evil ways so that they would live.  Lord, in your mercy,
C: Hear our prayer.

P: Lord of the nations, you have given authority to the governments of this world to bring order and protection and to punish the wrongdoer.  We pray for our rulers that they would act responsibly in their positions over us.  Cause the leaders of our nation to restore justice for the unborn, who are being oppressed and killed.  Grant our President wisdom and courage to speak out against abortion.  Guide our legislators to propose, support, and pass laws that would protect the life of all people, whether unborn, elderly, frail, defenseless, or handicapped.  Move our judges to do your will in all cases which decide life and death.  Teach all rulers to despise what is evil and to cling to what is good.  Lord, in your mercy, 
C: Hear our prayer.

P: Heavenly Father, you have commanded us to live chaste and decent lives.  Bring all people to recognize the virtue of chastity, to exercise self-control over their sexual impulses, to honor marriage, and to keep the marriage bed pure so that every pregnancy is a cause for joy rather than regret.  Teach husbands and wives to regard children as a reward to be cherished and not a burden to be avoided.  Grant to all pregnant women, according to your mercy, a happy result in their childbearing.  Lord, in your mercy,
C: Hear our prayer.

P:  Merciful Father, we thank you for the mercies you have bestowed upon us through your Son, Jesus Christ.  Many still bear the guilt, the shame, and the scars from sins they have committed against you.  Reveal to fearful sinners your mercies through the sufferings and death of your Son, Jesus Christ – whose body was cut, abused, and pierced to pay for sin, whose life was given up for the benefit of all, and whose blood was shed to cover over our guilt and shame.  Lord, in your mercy,
C: Hear our prayer.

P: Gracious Redeemer, you have called us to be the salt of the earth that this world might be preserved from greater wickedness.  Grant that more people will take your word to heart so that they will not sin by killing their children.  Bless those who work in our Pregnancy Care Centers so that they may faithfully speak your word to those who come to them.  Let the fear of your wrath crush those who plot wickedness, and let your forgiveness deliver the penitent from damnation and despair.  Lord, in your mercy,
C: Hear our prayer.

P: Gracious Redeemer, you have called us to be lights to the world.  Embolden us to bring your word to those around us.  Strengthen each of us so that, by our words, deeds, and prayers, we may truly be little christs to this world – doing your will, defending the helpless, aiding the needy, standing by the lonely, comforting the fearful, holding on to your truth, upholding your glory, and demonstrating your love.  Lord, in your mercy,
C: Hear our prayer.

Other intercessions may be offered.

P: Heavenly Father, we bring all of our petitions and intercessions to you, trusting that you will hear and act for our good, according to the promises of your Son, Jesus Christ, in whose name we join to pray….

LORD’S PRAYER

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Sermon -- Stewardship: Proportionate Giving (January 19, 2020)

MARK 12:41-44

WHAT WE GIVE REFLECTS WHAT GOD HAS GIVEN US.

In the name + of Jesus.

     “Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury.” (Mark 12:41)  Did you catch that?  The verb does not say that Jesus noticed people were giving their offerings.  He was intently observing it.  Do you find that a little unsettling, that Jesus would look intently at your offerings? 
     We try to keep our offerings a matter of privacy.  We submit them in envelopes.  Some have opted for electronic transfer of funds from their bank account to the church, which means no envelopes are used.  Ushers do not give you a stare down, assessing what you put in the plate—or even IF you do, for that matter.  Even your pastor does not know who gives what, as if his care and concern for you is measured by your offerings.  Jesus, on the other hand, does pay careful attention to our lives, and that includes our offerings.  The Lord is the giver of all that we have, and he intently watches how we use it.
     Jesus sat in the temple near a receptacle where the people would come at the time of the Passover to pay the temple tax or to give other gifts.  Among the givers were the rich.  From their lavish possessions they gave lavish gifts.  While we would be impressed and pleased with such offerings in our coffers, Jesus was much more impressed with a different gift.  “A poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.” (Mark 12:42)  The two coins the widow put into the receptacle at the temple were the two smallest coins in the Roman Empire.  And yet, as Jesus noted, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.  ... She, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:43-44)  
     Some are stunned that Jesus deemed the widow's offering to be greater than those of the rich.  Even more stunning is that we learn that she put in all she had to live on.  What was she thinking?  Why was she so determined to give to the Lord?  And why didn't Jesus run up to her and tell her, “No, dear lady, you need this far more than the Lord does.  Please, take your coins and go home”?
     The answer has to do with why we give offerings at all.  We usually speak about offerings in practical terms: “We need to pay bills to have light and heat on.  We cover the pastor's salary and insurance premiums.  The siding on the church is badly in need of repairs.”  And while it is true that this is what we use some of our offerings for, that is not what our Lord is concerned with.  Our offerings are part of our worship.  With our offerings, we make a confession.  The widow's confession was that God's mercy and his kingdom meant everything to her.  What we give reflects what God has given to us.
     Certainly, the principle applies to all parts of our life.  Since the earth is the Lord's and everything in it, we can only give what the Lord first gives to us.  We can only employ talent that God grants; we can't all play at Wimbledon, write symphonies, or perform surgery.  But whatever talent God has given, we can use for the honor of God and for the good of our neighbor.  And so it is with our wealth.  We can't all give $1 million or personally fund a building project for church.  We can only give according to what God has given us.  What we give reflects what God has given to us.  And since it is a confession, what we give also reflects what is in our hearts.
     If the rich Jesus observed were the Pharisees or the Sadducees, Jesus revealed what was in their hearts.  He said, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.  Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others.  Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” (Matthew 6:1-2)  While the gifts appeared lavish, the hearts from which those gifts came were devoted to self-praise.  Their generosity served only to gain them glory among other people.  They received that praise, but they received no praise from the Lord.  On the other hand, a widow who only had two cents to give was commended by our Lord.  What we give reflects what God has given to us.
     Our hearts always struggle against sin and selfishness.  We know the good that money can do, because we make it do good things for us.  The good we desire is much more than what we need to live.  A good portion of our wealth is dedicated to worldly comforts.  We find value in that.  But what is given to the Lord or for the good of others is given reluctantly because we don't see how it does any good—for us, that is.  And our arguments sound reasonable.  Do charities really use our gifts for the needy, or for the staff which runs the charity?  Will the needy actually make smart choices with what they are given?  Does the church really need this money?  Is it worth funding a mission where only a few people receive God's word with thanks?  But what we offer as an argument for being smart with our money becomes an excuse to keep it for ourselves.
     Our Lord knows full well what it is to spend and to get nothing for it.  When Jesus went to the cross, he did not go for a few.  He went for all people of all time.  He suffered for sins he did not commit and paid a debt he did not owe.  The Lamb of God was slain to take away the sins of the world.  Jesus shed his innocent blood to atone for our greed and selfishness and laid down his life as the ransom for ours.  He has done this for people who continue to come back to him with sins to confess, and he continues to forgive.  He has also suffered torment and damnation for people who won't ever care and who despise the good news of his salvation.  Some would say that a smart Savior would have carefully chosen a few who were worth dying for and cast the rest away for being ungrateful or unfaithful.  And yet, Jesus willingly invested himself completely for all.  For he desires that all would be saved.  Even though it grieves him that many will not benefit from his sufferings and death, he does not regret going through it.  And God be praised!—you are among his redeemed who benefit from his lavish grace.  Even when you come again and again to confess your sins, he does not run out of mercy and grace.  Your sins are covered by a selfless Savior who has given all to have you.
     This is why a widow would give all she had to honor the Lord.  She had to honor the Lord!  And the God who loves widows and orphans would see to it that she would be cared for—or do you think God let her go home and starve to death?  In the same way, the Lord will see to your needs.  So, how could we refuse to honor the Lord with the wealth he has given us?  How could we be reluctant to give generously when our Lord has given his all for us?  What we give reflects what God has given us.
     How much is enough?  God does not assign you an amount.  But he does want you to consider how he has blessed you.  If God has been pleased to give you little, then honor him with a little.  For, what man considers a little, God may regard as great honor, just like that widow in Jerusalem.  But for most of us, God has blessed us with much.  Shouldn't our offerings reflect how God has blessed us?  After all, even our offerings are a confession.  And though we do not broadcast to the world or each other what we give, God, who sees all, finds honor in what you give for the work of maintaining and expanding upon ministry here and of spreading the Gospel to the world.  He has given us all things for our good.  What we give is but a reflection of what God has given to us.  And since he has given all to save us, we honor him with a proportion of our wealth that reflects how God has blessed us.  What we give reflects what God has given us, and why we give honors our Lord gave all to redeem us.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Update from Good Shepherd (January 16, 2020)

Greetings!


REGULAR SCHEDULE
        Divine Services are Sundays at 10:00 AM.
        Sunday School is on Sundays at 8:45 AM. 
        Adult Bible Class meets on Sundays at 8:45 AM and on Wednesdays at 6:30 PM.  The Adult Bible Class on Wednesday repeats the previous Sunday's lesson.

EVANGELISM COMMITTEE MEETING
          In order to make the most of opportunities to proclaim the Gospel in our community, we need to budget our expenses and our time.  We will be meeting to determine our plans and to pray that God will bless them.  Our next Evangelism Committee meeting will be Sunday, January 19 at 11:15 AM.  All members are encouraged to participate in our Evangelism efforts, whether on the committee or not.  But we do need people who are willing to be on the committee to plan.

STEWARDSHIP COMMITTEE MEETING
          Our next Stewardship Committee meeting will be Sunday, January 19 at 11:15 AM.  The main purpose of our Stewardship Committee right now is to coordinate events to foster the bonds of fellowship among our members and to serve our community as well.  While we can come up with ideas, it is important that congregation is on board with these ideas to make them beneficial for us and for others.  In other words, we need your participation to make these events go well.  Got an idea?  Willing to make some phone calls?  Want to see our congregation more energetic and vibrant?  Then you can help.  Join us on Sunday, January 19 after church.

OFFICE HOURS
        Regular office hours at Good Shepherd will be Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays from 9:00 AM – 2:00 PM. While there may be some flexibility to this schedule, we will try to keep it as regular as possible.

BAD WEATHER POLICY FOR SERVICES AT GOOD SHEPHERD
        We will always have services as scheduled at Good Shepherd.  Since I live across the parking lot, I can get to the church no matter how bad the weather gets.  Even if the service is just me and my family, we will be here.  For everyone else, please use your God-given common sense to determine whether or not you will get on the road to attend any service when the weather is bad.  We don't want anyone to risk his or her life to be here.  But if you do venture out, the scheduled service will take place.  It may be only a handful with a cappella singing and/or spoken liturgy, but we will be here.
        Bible Classes and meetings may be canceled due to weather.  Check your email regarding announcements to see if any of those scheduled events is canceled.  If there is no email about it, it is not canceled.  But again, use common sense to determine if you can make it, and call the pastor to let him know if you will not be coming.

DO YOU LIKE US?
Look for Good Shepherd on Facebook.  Then “LIKE” us for updates and other postings.

God bless you.

In Christ,
Pastor Schroeder
==============================
SUNDAY SCHOOL -- Sundays at 8:45 AM.
ADULT BIBLE CLASS -- Sundays at 8:45 AM

DIVINE SERVICES -- Sundays at 10:00 AM

GOOD SHEPHERD’S WEBSITE

Good Shepherd Evangelical Lutheran Church
41415 W. Nine Mile Road
Novi, Michigan  48375-4306
+   +   +   +   +   +   +   +   +   +   +   +
Divine Services -- Sundays at 10:00 AM

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Sermon -- Stewardship: Firstfruits Giving (January 12, 2020)

HAGGAI 1:1-11

WE GIVE FIRST TO HIM WHO GIVES ALL.

In the name + of Jesus.

     The prophet Haggai preached to the Israelites at what should have been one of the great moments of their nation's history.  After 70 years of captivity, a remnant of the Israelites returned to the Promised Land.  This return was almost as miraculous as Israel's deliverance from Egypt.  They began to rebuild their temple, reconstruct the city of Jerusalem, and to resume faithful worship of the Lord.  All were eager to restore what had been lost.
     It did not take long, however, before they were distracted.  The work on the temple stopped.  Each family dedicated their time to making sure that they had decent places to live.  Well, better than decent.  Panels that were to overlay the temple were re-purposed to their own homes.  Who could fault them for wanting to enjoy a little comfort and luxury, right?  The Lord did; that's who.  Each family made a confession as they dedicated their time, money, and efforts to their own home.  That confession was: “God comes later.” 
     God knows human hearts.  He knows that “later” keeps getting pushed later and later, until it finally turns into: “God comes never.  We always meant to get there, but we just never got around to it.”  In Haggai's day, eternal concerns were giving way to pretty yards, decorated houses, happy bellies, and personal gratification.  Therefore, the Lord stepped in to demonstrate that all that they loved would not satisfy them.  Haggai admonished them: “You have sown much, and harvested little.  You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill.  You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm.  And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes.” (Haggai 1:6)  If they were going to love their wealth, the Lord was mercifully going to take it away from them so that they could learn that it was untrustworthy.
     We live in a different age and culture and economy than those Israelites did.  Our age benefits from much better technology.  Our culture enjoys much more leisure.  And our economy is far more robust than they ever knew.  If those Israelites saw us today, they would insist that we are all kings and queens.  God has chosen to bless us with much.  Just as he was interested in what the Israelites did with their wealth, so he is interested in what we do with ours.  And while the Israelites may have had a different culture and economy than we do, we all have the same sinful hearts.  Consider this: When you are working on your budget or your bills, where does God's honor first show up?  How far down the list is it?  Like the Israelites, we also like pretty yards, decorated houses, happy bellies, and personal gratification.  And so, God comes later.  Another of God's prophets, around the same time, urged them to consider: “If I am a father, where is my honor?  If I am a master, where is my fear?” (Malachi 1:6)  Can we really honor God only with words and not with actions?  Repent.
     It is pretty easy to come down on those Israelites whom Haggai rebuked.  They left the house of the Lord in ruins while each labored to improve his own property and increase his wealth.  It is even easier to boast, “If I had been there, I would have faithfully given to the Lord's work.  I would not have skimped on gifts which would bring honor to the Lord.”  But the facts are these: You were not there; you are here.  And you have been blessed with wealth; even more than they had.  Rather than credit yourself with what you might have done, give careful consideration to what you are doing. 
     Now, the point of any stewardship focus is not just money or even worse—that all the Church is interested in is money.  Mark this well: God does not need your money.  This is what the Lord says: “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” (Acts 17:24-25)  Sinful hearts reply, “Amen!  God does not need my money.  Therefore, I will keep it, thank you very much!”  It is true: God does not need your money, but stewardship is not about what God needs.  It never has been.  If you want to be contentious about these things, then mark this well, too: God does not need you.  God did not need to give you money, nor did he need to give his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for your sins.  But he did, and he did. 
     God has given all things because he is good and gracious.  He sent Jesus because he did not want you to live with guilt or shame.  He sent Jesus because he did not want you to be claimed by the devil or consumed by death.  He sent Jesus because he wanted to deliver you from a deceitful, dying world.  He sent Jesus because he does not want you to perish with the world and its wealth.  He wants to show you faithful love, to give you a peace that cannot be bought, and glory that will never fade.  Therefore, Jesus paid a price that no man could pay.  He substituted his holy life for yours.  He shed divine blood to ransom humanity.  Rather than let you think that life is about investing seven decades to accumulate creature comforts which you must forfeit when you die, he provides an amazing alternative—life everlasting, heavenly glory, and peace unending.  He did this not because he needed to do it, but because you needed it.  He gave his all for you, and continues to give all that you need.
     Stewardship recognizes that all we are and have is a gift from God.  Therefore, we put God first—not just by throwing money into a collection plate, but also by using our time to show the mercy to others that he has shown to us and by devoting our talents to the well-being of our neighbor—whether that is doing our job well, preparing meals for our family, being a responsible citizen, or donating to a charity.  This is how we put God first.  This is how we honor the God who saved us and supplies us with all we have.  We give first to him who gives all.
     The prophet Haggai did not tell the Israelites to quit their jobs or abandon their homes to live in the streets.  He told them to put the First Commandment first: to fear and love and trust in God above all things.  And so it is today.  When we honor God first, we learn not to love our money or our possessions or this world.  It is not sinful to have a pretty yard, a decorated house, a happy belly, and to enjoy a hobby, but these do not come first.  They will all pass away.  Ultimately, you don't need them.  What you do truly need, God gives.  And that is why we give first to him who gives all for us.  Not because he needs it, but because we need to fear and love and trust in him above all things. 
     If God truly loves you—and he does—he will never abandon you.  If God is truly trustworthy—and he is—he will always supply you with what you need.  He surely has provided much more than you need!  He is not cheap or chintzy.  If God is to be feared—and he is!—you need not fear anything; for he is on your side.  He has saved you.  He desires you to be his forever.  He gave up all things to have you.  If he has done that, he ought to be first in our hearts, minds, and even wallets.  Our bodies, souls, lives, and all things are gifts of God.  He does not need us, but he does love us and desires us to be his.  Nothing on earth can do or will do what God does for us.  Therefore, we give first to him; for he gives all to us and for us.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Friday, January 10, 2020

The Bell Tower is coming in for a landing!

It has been a long, arduous task to get our bell tower in place, but it finally is happening today!  I think the first plans to put a bell tower up were first proposed about ten years ago.  Money was started
Alice Laho
in a special fund, and a few more dollars trickled in over the years from various memorials.  Finally, a sizable memorial came through the estate of Alice Laho.  The remaining money needed (which I think ended up being the majority of the money after all expenses were counted up) came from Alice's estate.  Then came architectural renderings from Dan Schneider.  They were presented, tweaked, referred to another source, and approved by the Church Council.  Then we submitted the drawings to the city of Novi who wanted a wind load study done.  Then things were tweaked again.  Then Kendra Fecho set us up with steel workers who would lay the footings and cast the bell tower.  David Rumics arranged to get the bell sand blasted and to receive a fresh black coating (spring/summer 2019).  Finally, the city of Novi approved our design (October 2019), at which point in time the design had been removed long enough from the architect that we had to re-check on the price.  The permit was posted.  The footings were poured in November just before 8 inches of snow dropped.  The bell was taken away just before Christmas to be fitted to the tower.  (Did I mention the task was long and arduous?)  My recollection of this may be off a little, but I don't think there is any degree of exaggeration in it.

Well, today, the bell tower has been delivered and mounted.  We still need to order a plaque for its dedication (in memory of Alice Laho) and it still needs to be painted (likely in April).  But, here are some photos to show the excitement for the day.