Devotion from Parish Council meeting 13.10.21
Prepared by Carolyn Ehrlich

As I step into the role of Chair of Ipswich Lutheran Parish Council, I have wondered about the purpose and use of devotions in our Parish Council meetings. As you all know, I have only been a member of this committee for a very short time. In that time, I experienced deeply thought-out devotions led by Martin during his time as Parish Chair, and then those reflective studies led by Ben up until he left. I like the idea of devotions that guide our deliberations, that explore where we are at in the context of our leadership and church life and that challenge us to think about our purpose and direction. I turned over the idea of focusing on church unity, but then Martin reminded me that was where he started – I had obviously forgotten that, so maybe I should have started there. I tossed around the idea of using a study that my husband Wayne led last week about values and talents – a study based on Matthew 25:14-30, and I might still use that study in the future. I was running short of time, and then yesterday morning (Tuesday) in my own readings it was my reading of Haggai that caught my attention.

You all know that I have a firm opinion that it would be prudent for us (ILC leadership teams) to undertake strategic planning, direction setting, establishing a common action plan, preparing to do the work that God is directing us to do. I believe that we are being called by Holy Spirit to do the work that God has prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). Previously we have explored how church membership is dwindling. Collectively we are concerned about the impact of our aging membership. Perhaps we wonder whether we are significant in today’s consumerist and worried world. We speculate about whether we will have people return to our worship centres following COVID lockdowns and restrictions. We have heard that we must change, but we don’t seem to know how. Do we call another Pastor? Who is responsible for, and/or willing to, support each and every member of our church to grow and thrive? How do we minister to our youth, our school community and at the same time cherish our long-serving and aging members in the best way possible? How do we hear what it is that God wants us to do? Are we listening to Holy Spirit?

I have so many questions? And so do you.

Back to Haggai… I have been ‘in’ the minor prophets for some time now. I have only been reading relatively superficially, although from time to time Holy Spirit firmly grabs my attention. I have noted that God gets very angry when his people are disobedient and unfaithful. I have also noted that he has the most immense love for them and is forgiving and gives them untold measure of blessings when they repent and are faithful. Yesterday Holy Spirit timed my reading of Haggai with my need to prepare a Parish Council devotion – well that is what I am telling myself, because it is the only thing that makes sense to me. So, let’s read Haggai…
Haggai 1: 2-11
This is what the Lord Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house.’”
Then the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your panelled houses, while this house remains a ruin?”
Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but 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.”
This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honoured,” says the Lord. “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 your 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 olive oil and everything else the ground produces, on people and livestock, and on all the labour of your hands.”
I am interested in your perspective about this text.

What does this text tell us about God?

What does this text lead us believe we need to be doing?

This chapter hit some ‘ouch’ points for me. It comes on the back of a sermon on Sunday (I was in Bundaberg, so it won’t have been a sermon that you heard) … based on Mark 10:17-31 – which is about the rich and the kingdom of God, but particularly vv 21-22. The ‘ouch’ points were about our wealth and our priorities.

Through Haggai, God tells us that we need tput first things first. And what is the thing that we need to put first? Our relationship with God. You see, abundant possessions have a way of altering our focus. All of a sudden we put the second, third, fourth, fifth things first. We forget about God and his commands as our focal point, our priority.

God laid out this progression from poverty and humility to becoming proud, rich men (and women) with abundant possessions in Hosea (I told you I was in the minor prophets). Hosea 13:6 says “When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud; they forgot me”. We are abundantly wealthy. God has blessed us, but have we let his house (temple) become ruined because we have become focused on our own houses. Have we forgotten?  In Haggai, God’s temple was not just a building or a church edifice. Rather it was the holy place where sacrifices were made, and people met with God. It was a symbol of the relationship between the people and God? But it was in ruin.
So, the questions become:
What is our relationship with God like?
What are our priorities?
Are we doing the work that God has prepared in advance for us to do?

You see, in verse 8 of Haggai, God says “Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house”. Going up into the mountains requires work, hard work. If you are anything like me, you will need to rest every few minutes because hauling myself up a mountain is hard work… Some of you will get to the mountain more quickly and easily than some others… But we must go to the mountains… Going up into the mountains is necessary because that is where the timber (materials, resources) to build God’s house is. But we must labour for the timber to build God’s temple… God has given us work to do. Are we prepared, willing and committed? And do we put God first?
Prayer: Loving Father, thank you for your mercy, thank you for you Son, thank you for your grace and your forgiveness. Thank you that you continually lead us to you. Thank you that you have prepared work in advance for us to do. As we meet tonight, watch over our thoughts and words. Guide our interactions with one another so that we put you first and so that we are enabled to do the things that you are calling us to do, the things that you will show us so that we actively and willingly fulfil your commands. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

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