Monday, November 30, 2015

Signing Away Our Lives

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Acts 4 Acts 5 Acts 6 Genesis 23 Genesis 24 Psalms 10 Proverbs 4

"This is from the LORD; we have no choice in the matter." (Genesis 24:50) These are the words of men who were not without a choice, but rather men who chose to be compelled by things that were from the Lord. Men who had signed away their lives to do what God instructed them to do. These words were spoken by Laban and Bethuel, relatives of Abraham whom he had left behind in the land of Ur. As Abraham became old and neared the time of his death, he sent his servant to his relatives to get a wife for Isaac so he would not marry a Canaanite pagan. God directed the servant to Rebekah, granddaughter of Abraham's brother Nahor. When the servant related to Rebekah's father Bethuel and her brother Laban how God had directed him to Rebekah, and asked their permission to take Rebekah to be a wife for Isaac, they responded with the words above, "This is from the LORD; we have no choice in the matter."

God is not into forcing Himself on anyone. Nor are we without a choice when He makes a request of us. Those who have committed themselves to follow Christ, however, have already made their choice, which is to follow where He leads and to do what He asks of them. The term "follower of Christ" is intentionally used here in place of "Christian" since the term Christian has come to mean many things. Many may have accepted that salvation is through Christ and even accepted His salvation for themselves, but have not really given themselves to actually follow Him.

Jesus made it clear what it means to follow Him, which is equivalent to being His disciple. He said, "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters--yes, and even his own life--he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple . . .  In the same way, therefore, every one of you who does not say good-bye to all his possessions cannot be My disciple." (Luke 14:26-27, 33) It means to place Christ above all other relationships and priorities. It means to do as my wife did many years ago. That is, to sign a blank sheet of paper giving Christ permission to fill it in with whatever He wanted for her life.

If this is what we have done, our words become the same as those spoken by Bethuel and his son, Laban, "This is from the Lord; we have no choice in the matter." Our choice has already been made.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Is Anything Unimportant That We Withhold From God?

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Acts 1 Acts 2 Acts 3 Genesis 21 Genesis 22 Psalms 9

Abraham had proven he was a man of faith when he followed the instructions of a God he had not known before to leave behind his extended family and go to a place that had not been revealed to him. God then promised him an heir and Abraham believed Him, though he presumed at one point that the heir must not be intended to come through his wife Sarai. So Abraham took it upon himself to have an heir through a plan that made sense to him. That mistake is still causing problems for Abraham's intended line of descendants.

Finally, at age 100, some 25 years after God's promise, Abraham had the promised son, Isaac, with his wife, Sarai. After a few years God announced a test to Abraham. Was God and His promised plan more important to Abraham than his long-awaited son? Would he withhold the son and walk away from God's covenant with him? So we have the familiar account of God telling Abraham to offer his son Isaac to Him as an offering. And those who are familiar with the account know that God stopped Abraham from killing his son and produced a ram to take his place as the intended offering. God is not into child sacrifice!

Who was the test for - God or Abraham? I suspect it was really for Abraham since God knew what he would do. The whole ordeal revealed to Abraham what was of importance in his life and how willing he was to follow God. I recall a time in my own life when, as a young man, I had come to the point of telling God I was willing to give myself to Him and do whatever He wanted with my life. I was satisfied to keep doing what I was doing at the time but was expressing my willingness to do what God wanted of me. I prayed this prayer repeatedly over a period of time and finally God revealed to me that there was something I wasn't really willing to do for him. I then had to go through a time in which I also released that thing and said I was willing also to do it. By then, God had revealed that this was the thing He wanted me to do.

If Abraham had not given back to God the long-awaited son, history would have taken a very different turn. Had I not released to God the thing I wanted to withhold, my life also would have gone a very different direction, and probably so would that of my children. Besides failing to do what God wants of us and missing the opportunity and blessing, what does it do to a person to refuse to do what God asks of them? How does it affect their future decisions for God? If they withhold the one thing, what else will they withhold in the future? And what lessons do their children learn about following God?

No matter how small the thing may seem to us that we withhold, it becomes a big thing when withheld from God. For it represents our unwillingness to be obedient. And at that point our relationship with God takes a turn. No longer do we continue to grow in that relationship. At best it simply maintains, but the risk is that we begin from that point to withdraw things we have already released.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Deceit: An alarm That Can Point to Truth

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Matthew 27 Matthew 28 Genesis 19 Genesis 20 Psalms 8 Proverbs 3

Deception should always serve as a clue to us that we are on the wrong track. It is not just the fact we are being deceit, but of greater concern is the reason for our deceit. For deceit is always used to cover a wrong. We convince ourselves that the track we are on is right and then that the deceit is necessary for the good of our right cause. It is at that point that an alarm should be going off. If our cause is so right why should deceit even be necessary? If it is right, its merit should be defense enough. Why resort to deceit? It should be at this point that the alarm in our heads sounds and we realize that we are resorting to deceit because our cause is not as right as we have convinced ourselves that it is.

These are the thoughts I bring from my reading of Matthew 27 & 28. I ask myself why such a violent reaction reaction to Jesus? I'm aware of the obvious responses to that question, the most obvious being that their religion and way of life were being threatened. I also ask myself how I might have reacted. How could I be certain this man was who he claimed to be? There are also obvious responses to this question such as the various miracles Jesus performed. These should have been sufficient evidence of who He was. But then I come to the arrest and trial of Jesus. Deceit was used from beginning to end. False witnesses were engaged and charges were trumped up. Not even Pilate was convinced Jesus had done anything wrong. And then, even when Jesus was resurrected, deceit was used to cover it up.

A person serious about their relationship with God and about doing the right thing may have had doubts about this man Jesus, but once they began to engage in deceit to protect their cause the alarms should have sounded. Am I willing to be right at any cost or am I more concerned about always being in pursuit of truth? While seeking to discover the truth of a given situation may be confusing at times, resorting to deceit in the midst of that confusion should be a clue that points us to the truth.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Crucible of Waiting - Part 2

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Matthew 25 Matthew 26 Genesis 17 Genesis 18 Psalms 7

In Christian circles we talk about the testing of our faith that occurs through trials and difficulties in our lives. And yes, it is true that during these times we come to know the nature and strength of our faith and our walk with the Lord. But we should also come to recognize the same concerning those periods in our lives in which we find ourselves waiting on the Lord. It may be an answer to prayer or providing the next step in a direction in which we feel God has directed us. Whatever it is in which we find ourselves waiting on the Lord, the waiting period can be a time in which we become very vulnerable to temptation.

Abram was an example in our previous reflection on waiting, and continues to be an example in chapters 17 & 18 of Genesis. Abram was 75 years old when God first promised that although he and his wife were childless, they would give birth to an heir who would be the beginning of a line of descendants as numerous as the stars. By the time we come to chapter 17 Abram was 99 years old and still did not have the promised child. So when the Lord returned to him and said of his wife, "I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she will produce nations; kings of peoples will come from her." Abram laughed. It wasn't just a chuckle, but he fell to the ground laughing and thinking in his heart, "Can a child be born to a hundred-year-old man? Can Sarah, a ninety-year-old woman, give birth?" Again Abram offered Ishmael as the fulfillment of God's promise. But God insisted, "No. Your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will name him Isaac. I will confirm My covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him." Abram proved himself faithful and continued his wait on the Lord.

Matthew chapter 25 provides further examples of waiting on the Lord. Several of these examples had to do with the wait for the Lord's return at the end of the age. In the first part of the chapter Jesus compared it to a wedding party waiting for the bridegroom to come with his bride and enter the place where the wedding would be held. Ten virgins were given as the example of those waiting for the Lord to come and enter into the wedding chamber. But only half of them were prepared for the wait. Who knows what those who were unprepared were thinking and why they were unprepared, but it appears that they thought it no big deal and they could easily get what was needed to enter the wedding when the bridegroom arrived.

All ten virgins had grown weary with the wait and fallen asleep, but when the bridegroom suddenly appeared, those who were prepared were able to pick up and enter with him into the wedding chamber. Those who were unprepared tried to borrow what they needed and then had to go to a merchant to buy the needed oil. But when they returned they were locked out of the wedding and forbidden entry. Their faith was not equal to the wait.

Other examples are given in Matthew 25 & 26, and Jesus admonishes those involved to "be alert, because you don't know either the day or the hour." This counsel applies not only to our wait for the Lord's return but to every instance of waiting on the Lord. As Jesus and His disciples waited in the garden prior to His crucifixion, Jesus admonished them to "Stay awake and pray." And herein lies the key - staying in continual fellowship with the Lord. Though remaining in fellowship with the Lord through prayer may not give us any clues to when our wait will be over, it will keep our hearts in tune with Him so we do not lose faith and lose our vigilance in serving the Lord as we continue our wait on Him.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Crucible of Waiting

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Matthew 22 Matthew 23 Matthew 24 Genesis 15 Matthew 16

Waiting on the Lord is one of, if not the most difficult thing we do as a follower of Christ. But it is also one of, if not the greatest demonstration of our faith. Genesis, chapter 15 gives account of God's promise to Abram that his offspring would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. (V. 6) God followed this promise with a covenant, "I give this land to your offspring, from the brook of Egypt to the Euphrates River." (Gen 15:18) We are told that "Abram believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness."

God's promise and covenant with Abram must have been an exciting experience for Abram, but then time passed without seeing evidence of this promise. After 10 years of waiting Abram was 85 years old and the promise of an offspring was no more evident than when God made the promise. So he and his wife began to question the promise and to justify other means of fulfilling it. God said Abram's heir would come from his own body, but maybe He didn't mean it would be Sarai's child? This thinking led to an alternate plan that was of their creation and not God's. Waiting on God tested Abram's faith and it came up wanting. Yes, he still believed God would give him an heir, but he doubted how it would occur and took his own measures to make it happen.

After centuries of waiting for God's promised Messiah, the gospel of Matthew records how misconstrued the Jews had made the promise. They had so misconstrued it that they rejected the Messiah when He came. And yet another example of how the difficulty of waiting on the Lord twists our faith is given in chapter 24 of Matthew. In this chapter Jesus addressed His disciples' question about the signs of His coming and of the "end of the age." This wait will also test the faith of Jesus' followers. As the wait is prolonged people will begin to grasp at possibilities saying, "Look he's in the wilderness," or, "Look he's in the inner rooms." But we are not to believe these rumors. Nor are we to believe those who make predictions of when His coming will take place. Not even the Son Himself knows when it will be! What we can know, though, is that it will be when we least expect it and we should be prepared at all times. We can also know that, "The one who endures to the end will be delivered." (Matt 24:13)

The follower of Christ is often called on to wait, and it is in those periods of waiting when we often learn the most and our faith is strengthened the most. As I reflect on the periods in my life of waiting on the Lord, they seem to have occurred in three year periods. From the time I felt the Lord directing me in a particular direction and committing myself to that direction and then waiting to see that direction fulfilled would be a period of three years. I see these as some of the most difficult periods in my walk with the Lord. And yet I emerged from each of these periods more strengthened in my faith and more committed to the Lord than when I entered them. When I emerged out of these periods, as emerging from a fog into a clear day, I was often reminded of Psalms 30:5 which says, "Weeping may spend the night, but there is joy in the morning."

Monday, November 23, 2015

What is The Single Most Satisfying Choice In Life?

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Matthew 19 Matthew 20 Matthew 21 Genesis 13 Genesis 14 Psalms 6

Jesus said, "But many who are first will be last, and the last first." (Matt 19:30) He illustrated it with parables such as the man who hired workers at different times throughout the day so that by the end of the day those who were hired first had worked all day while those hired last had worked only an hour. But the man wanted to pay all of them the same wage. It is no surprise that those hired earlier in the day protested. But the man told them, "Don't I have the right to do what I want with my business? Are you jealous because I'm generous?'" (Matt 20:15)

On another occasion Jesus told his disciples that their values were to be different than what is typical of mankind. Rather than pursuing positions of power they were to be satisfied to serve others. For in God's kingdom, "whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave." (Matt 20:26) This was what Jesus came to do. To serve rather than to be served.

We see a similar value displayed in an an Old Testament account involving Abram and his nephew Lot. God had blessed both Abram and Lot with many possessions. In fact, the land could not support their people and livestock when they were all together. So Abram gave Lot his choice of territory. "Separate from me:", Abram said to Lot. "If you go to the left, I will go to the right; if you go to the right, I will go to the left." (Gen 13:9) Lot chose what appeared to be the best land which was well-watered and fertile. But his choice did not bode well for him. He ended up losing all, including much of his family. He forgot the source of what he had.

What do we learn from these accounts? I'm sure there are numerous lessons to be gained from them, but the one that strikes me on this occasion is that only one choice, only one pursuit, is sufficient. It is not what we think will make us happy that makes us happy. It is not what we think will prosper us that will prosper us. It is not what mankind typically thinks will satisfy that does so. We must forget the wisdom of the world and hold to the wisdom Jesus taught. There is only one choice, one pursuit that is sufficient. It is the Lord. He is all-sufficient for He is the source of everything.

If we will seek the Lord above all else and accept what He provides, we will find that we are satisfied and fulfilled and want for nothing else. It will not matter that the Lord, as the man who paid his workers out of his generosity rather than by merit, will also bless us out of His generosity and not by what we consider to be our merit. With our eyes on the Lord we will want for nothing and will not notice what the world considers to be inequity.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Jesus Came to Give Us New Life Not to Enhance the One We Already Have

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Matthew 16 Matthew 17 Matthew 18 Genesis 11 Genesis 12 Psalms 5

Jesus came to give us new life not to enhance the life we already have. Jesus taught that He had come that we might have life in abundance. Many respond to this by trying to hang onto the life they have while adding Jesus to it. If a fuller life means a busier life, then that probably describes what they have. But this is not what Jesus meant by having life in abundance nor how we find this life. Instead, He talked about giving up the life we have in exchange for the life in abundance that He offers. "If anyone wants to come with me," He said, "he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me." (Matt 16:24)

There are many who call themselves Christians to whom this teaching is considered to be only for a select few who are specially "called." But not so. Jesus addressed this to all who would have the life in abundance He offers. But this life requires two things the majority who call themselves Christian are unwilling to do: deny themselves, and follow Jesus. Jesus wasn't calling us to be "Christians" as it has come to mean, but to be "followers." The term Christian has come to mean many things, but to follow Jesus clearly means to go where He tells us to go and do what He tells us to do. Furthermore, Jesus said, "For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will find it." (Matt 16:25) This, too many Christians are unwilling to do. Rather than losing their lives because of Jesus or denying themselves and following Jesus, they have added Jesus to the life they already have and therefore have become religious rather than followers of Jesus.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

How Can A Loving God Allow Evil?

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Matthew 13 Matthew 14 Matthew 15 Genesis 9 Genesis 10 Psalms 4 Proverbs 2

In the Parable of the Sower Jesus addressed in part the question of why God allows evil. In the parable a farmer had planted good seed and then an enemy sneaked in at night and sowed weeds among the good seed. When both good seed and weed grew up and it became apparent what had happened, the hired hands suggested to the farmer that they take out the weeds to allow the good seed to grow freely. But the farmer told them, "No, When you gather up the weeds, you might also uproot the wheat with them." In other words, Jesus was saying that to uproot evil risked also uprooting those who are not evil. God's love for those who are not evil is such that He doesn't want to risk harming them by rooting out those who are evil.

While this parable provides at least a partial answer to the question of why God allows evil, it also raises other questions. It is a multifaceted question which cannot be answered with one reply. However, our acceptance of God's love cannot be dependent on having all our questions answered to our satisfaction. Our relationship is, and always has been, a matter of faith.

As we pursue our relationship with Him through faith, He provides insights as Jesus did with this parable of the sower. But we will never have full understanding this side of heaven. Nor should we expect to have full insight. Our relationship with God should be all-sufficient without the need for all the answers. As the Psalmist stated in Psalms 4:7:  "You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and new wine abound." God, and God alone, can put more joy in our hearts than material abundance. We do not pursue God in order to have abundance. We do so in order to have God, for in Him we have all we need.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Is God a loving God or A Vengeful God?

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Matthew 10 Matthew 11 Matthew 12 Genesis 7 Genesis 8 Psalms 3

Is God a loving God or a vengeful one? Scripture says that "God is love." (1 John:4:8, 4:16) However, scripture also depicts God as being at times angry and vengeful. But it is love and not these characteristics that define Him. No being, God included, exhibits only one characteristic, all love, for instance, and no other characteristic. Furthermore, are we to say that anger is always a result of hate and not of love?

God made man to have relationship with him but gave him the freedom to choose how he would respond to his maker. From the beginning man did not choose wisely, starting with the first man, Adam. God gave Adam and his wife, Eve, a perfect setting and a direct relationship with God. But the couple chose to break the relationship by doing what they were told not to do. With this break in the relationship the couple no longer had the direct relationship with God nor the perfect environment. From there it continued downhill with the murder of their son Abel by their other son, Cain. And the downhill slide continued until the time of Noah and God decided it must stop. Man was not intended to live apart from God, and the further he withdrew from God the more evil he became. We must recognize here that evil does not act out in isolation but rather upon others. Other people suffer because of the evil condition of a man's heart. While God is disturbed by our rejection of Him, He is just as disturbed by our evil actions toward one another. In Noah's day, God decided the evil must stop and so He destroyed all mankind and every living creature with the exception of the only righteous man of his day - Noah. Also saved from destruction were Noah's family and a pair of every creature.

God sent His Son, Jesus, because of His love for man. Man cannot overcome his naturally evil heart simply by determining to do so. Two thousand years of history prior to the birth of Jesus demonstrated this truth. With Jesus, man was not only provided forgiveness for sin, but the presence of God's Spirit in his heart to enable him to overcome his evil bent. All of this was an act of God's love toward man. The gospels describe Jesus' efforts to enlighten the people of His day about this new pathway God was providing for them. But the people were not open to hear it. They already had it figured out and were not to be persuaded otherwise. Not even by Jesus despite the miracles they saw Him perform. Rather than shedding the light of Jesus' teachings upon their lives and changing accordingly, they judged Jesus by their own narrow understanding and rejected Him.

Jesus had little patience with the narrow-minded religious types though He had great patience with those who lived in darkness of His truths and hungered for what He brought to them. When He sent out His disciples two-by-two to a series of Jewish villages to announce that: "The kingdom of heaven has come near," He told them to move on whenever they were not received. Those who were open to God's voice would hear them and those who were not would not receive what they had to say. Jesus did not try to convince them nor instruct His disciples to do so. They would live and die with their choice but there were too many who need equal opportunity to hear the good news of Jesus to spend time trying to convince those who didn't want to be convinced.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Revealing Our True Hearts

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Matthew 7 Matthew 8 Matthew 9 Genesis 5 Genesis 6 Psalms 2 Proverbs 1

Genesis chapters 5-6, Psalms 2, and Proverbs 1 all portray a sinful mankind whose hearts were intent on evil. It was so bad, in fact, that in Noah's day God regretted making man and decided to destroy all mankind and start over with Noah who was a righteous man. After Noah it didn't go a whole lot better, and after some 2,000 years Jesus came along and got to the heart of the matter which is the hearts of mankind. Though man's sin could be forgiven by God through the giving of offerings and sacrifices, it did not change their hearts. Jesus came, not only to offer forgiveness for sin, but to bring change in the hearts of men.

Jesus' teachings from the beginning had a different nature to them. Rather than being focused on outward actions, they were focused on inner thoughts and motives. The attention previously given to outward actions had brought about a judgmental attitude by most, looking at the actions of others and pointing the finger at their sins. But Jesus told them they had no right to be pointing out the speck in another person's eye when there was a log in their own eye. In other words, each person needed to examine their own hearts to address the sin in their own lives rather than looking at the sin in another person's life while ignoring the sin in their own life.

The true judge of a person, Jesus said, is not so much what they may say or do, but the fruit of their lives. A person can say all the right things and do all the proper things, but if these words and actions are not conveying the true heart of the person, this will eventually come out in the fruit of their lives. Do these actions line up with how they live in all areas of their lives? That is the question.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Turning Man's Philosophy On Its Head

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Matthew 4 Matthew 5 Matthew 6 Genesis 3 Genesis 4 Psalms 1

Jesus outlines the foundation of His teaching, in the beatitudes. His way turns man's philosophy upside down. While man is continually concerned for his personal rights, Jesus teaches us to put others first. It is so drastic He goes so far as to say we shouldn't fight another over what is ours but instead, if someone takes what is ours, just let them have it, as He says Matthew 5:40, "As for the one who wants to sue you and take away your shirt, let him have your coat as well."

What is with is? I can only imagine it has much to do with what is most important to us. If our concern is for personal rights, our focus is on what is on ourselves and what is ours. It is not on heavenly things or on the source of life and all that comes with it. An argument could be made that since what I have comes from God to whom it all belongs in the first place, and the same can be said for everyone else, then it is all just interchangeable among us all. God shares it freely with us and we should do the same with everyone else. Most of Jesus' teachings in the beatitudes are so counterintuitive to us, as is this one, that we are prone to provide explanations for their meaning other than what they clearly say. We don't want them to mean what they mean and therefore to be expected to actually do what they say. So we give them other meanings. Ones that are more palatable to us.

Psalms 1:1-2 say, "How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path of sinners, or join a group of mockers! Instead, his delight is in the LORD's instruction, and he meditates on it day and night." It is as we meditate continually on the Lord's instruction that His teaching begins to make sense to us and we can begin to live by them.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Answering the Question of Purpose

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Matthew 1 Matthew 2 Matthew 3 Genesis 1 Genesis 2

In Genesis we have the beginning of God's interactions with mankind. God existed before there was man or anything that is known to man such as sky and earth and universe. All was made for man's existence so God could relate to him. It was for man's benefit and God's pleasure. There are many questions that go unanswered such as where did God come from? But there is only one question with which mankind really needs to concern themselves and that is the purpose of their existence.

The age-old question that man historically ponders without answer is the question, "What is the purpose or meaning of life?" Apart from God the question truly is unanswerable. But with God in the equation it is not a difficult question at all: "My purpose is to give pleasure to God." While this may seem to be a rather oppressive answer, when one comes to realize the nature of this relationship in giving pleasure to God, they discover that it is not a one-sided relationship at all. God returns pleasure as well. And one of the ways He does is in giving meaning to our lives. This one benefit is the source of most all other pleasure man receives through his relationship with God.

We are drawn to accounts in the Bible, such as the first chapters of Matthew, in which Mary and Joseph play the roles God gave them in giving birth to Jesus and raising Him as their child. In fact, we are drawn to most all accounts in the Bible in which God uses a person for His purposes. Is this not because we are attracted to the significance of purpose we see in the lives of these people as they cooperate in God's purpose? We all want to have purpose in our lives and to feel we make a difference during the short period we exist on this earth. And we find this is only possible when we align our lives with God's purpose for us. Doing so brings pleasure to God and to us.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Reflections on Malachi 4

 Malachi 04  (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The day of judgment is certain to come. And it will be like a red-hot furnace with flames that burn up proud and sinful people, as though they were straw. Not a branch or a root will be left. I, the LORD All-Powerful, have spoken!
  2. But for you that honor my name, victory will shine like the sun with healing in its rays, and you will jump around like calves at play.
  3. When I come to bring justice, you will trample those who are evil, as though they were ashes under your feet. I, the LORD All-Powerful, have spoken!
  4. Don't ever forget the laws and teachings I gave my servant Moses on Mount Sinai.
  5. I, the LORD, promise to send the prophet Elijah before that great and terrible day comes.
  6. He will lead children and parents to love each other more, so that when I come, I won't bring doom to the land.

Chapter 1 of Malachi raised the question asked of God by the people, "How have You loved us?" It insinuated that God hadn't really loved them implying the additional question: "Why should we keep the law?" Malachi's message closes in this last chapter with a further answer to that question. A day is coming when the righteous, those who fear the Lord's name, will be filled with joy and the wicked will be consumed with fire. The joy of the righteous is pictured as a calf that is set free from the stall and goes out playfully jumping.

Given a description of the coming day which will address the choices they have made, they were encouraged in the closing verses to "Remember the instruction of Moses." Before that day comes, however, the Lord will send Elijah the prophet who will bring a revival that will "turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers." But if Elijah's coming does not result in revival, the Lord will "strike the land with a curse." Elijah came in the form of John the Baptist and many hearts were turned.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Reflections on Malachi 3

 Malachi 03  (Contemporary English Version)
  1. I, the LORD All-Powerful, will send my messenger to prepare the way for me. Then suddenly the Lord you are looking for will appear in his temple. The messenger you desire is coming with my promise, and he is on his way.
  2. On the day the Lord comes, he will be like a furnace that purifies silver or like strong soap in a washbasin. No one will be able to stand up to him.
  3. The LORD will purify the descendants of Levi, as though they were gold or silver. Then they will bring the proper offerings to the LORD,
  4. and the offerings of the people of Judah and Jerusalem will please him, just as they did in the past.
  5. The LORD All-Powerful said: I'm now on my way to judge you. And I will quickly condemn all who practice witchcraft or cheat in marriage or tell lies in court or rob workers of their pay or mistreat widows and orphans or steal the property of foreigners or refuse to respect me.
  6. Descendants of Jacob, I am the LORD All-Powerful, and I never change. That's why you haven't been wiped out,
  7. even though you have ignored and disobeyed my laws ever since the time of your ancestors. But if you return to me, I will return to you. And yet you ask, "How can we return?"
  8. You people are robbing me, your God. And, here you are, asking, "How are we robbing you?" You are robbing me of the offerings and of the ten percent that belongs to me.
  9. That's why your whole nation is under a curse.
  10. I am the LORD All-Powerful, and I challenge you to put me to the test. Bring the entire ten percent into the storehouse, so there will be food in my house. Then I will open the windows of heaven and flood you with blessing after blessing.
  11. I will also stop locusts from destroying your crops and keeping your vineyards from producing.
  12. Everyone of every nation will talk about how I have blessed you and about your wonderful land. I, the LORD All-Powerful, have spoken!
  13. You have said horrible things about me, and yet you ask, "What have we said?"
  14. Here is what you have said: "It's foolish to serve the LORD God All-Powerful. What do we get for obeying him and from going around looking sad?
  15. See how happy those arrogant people are. Everyone who does wrong is successful, and when they put God to the test, they always get away with it."
  16. All those who truly respected the LORD and honored his name started discussing these things, and when God saw what was happening, he had their names written as a reminder in his book.
  17. Then the LORD All-Powerful said: You people are precious to me, and when I come to bring justice, I will protect you, just as parents protect an obedient child.
  18. Then everyone will once again see the difference between those who obey me by doing right and those who reject me by doing wrong.

The priests in Malachi's day had concluded, and were teaching, that God was okay with those who do evil and that He was not the "God of justice." God responded to this in chapter 3 telling them that another messenger would come who would clear the way for the "Lord you seek." This One would deal with evil. He would be like a "refiner's fire and like cleansing lye." He would purify the sons of Levi, the priests. The messenger to whom he referred was John the Baptist, and the "Lord you seek," was the Messiah, Jesus. Though He was the "Lord you seek," when He came they killed Him.

In the first chapter God accused the priests of bringing defiled offerings to Him. In chapter 3 He accused them of not bringing all of their offerings to Him. They were to bring 10% of their produce and livestock, but they weren't bringing all of it. Material giving and blessings is one of the most concrete demonstrations both of our faith and of God's response to our faith. Our willingness to give to the Lord of what we have materially demonstrates our attitude toward Him and our faith in Him to provide what we need even when it might appear that we will do without if we give it. But the Lord told the priests, and us, to test Him. Bring the full 10% and see if He wouldn't pour out blessings on them without measure. He told them they were robbing Him, but it was not only the Lord they were robbing. They were also robbing themselves of His blessings.

Verses 13 and following reveal yet another aspect of the priest's attitude toward God. "It is useless to serve God," they were saying. They had not benefitted by keeping His requirements, they said. Those who did what they wanted and were wicked were better off for they prospered and escaped God's judgment. The Lord's response to this was that there was a remnant who feared the Lord. They would be remembered by the Lord and He would have compassion on them. For there was coming a day of reckoning and when it comes the difference between the righteous and wicked, the one who serves God and the one who does not, will be clear.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Reflections on Malachi 2

 Malachi 02  (Contemporary English Version)
  1. I, the LORD All-Powerful, have something else to say to you priests.
  2. You had better take seriously the need to honor my name. Otherwise, when you give a blessing, I will turn it into a curse. In fact, I have already done this, because you haven't taken to heart your duties as priests.
  3. I will punish your descendants and rub your faces in the manure from your animal sacrifices, and then be done with you.
  4. I am telling you this, so I can continue to keep my agreement with your ancestor Levi.
  5. I blessed him with a full life, as I had promised, and he kept his part of the agreement by honoring me and respecting my name.
  6. He taught the truth and never told lies, and he led a lot of people to turn from sin, because he obeyed me and lived right.
  7. You priests should be eager to spread knowledge, and everyone should come to you for instruction, because you speak for me, the LORD All-Powerful.
  8. But you have turned your backs on me. Your teachings have led others to do sinful things, and you have broken the agreement I made with your ancestor Levi.
  9. So I caused everyone to hate and despise you, because you disobeyed me and failed to treat all people alike.
  10. Don't you know that we all have God as our Father? Didn't the one God create each of us? Then why do you cheat each other by breaking the agreement God made with your ancestors?
  11. You people in Judah and Jerusalem have been unfaithful to the LORD. You have disgraced the temple that he loves, and you have committed the disgusting sin of worshiping other gods.
  12. I pray that the LORD will no longer let those who are guilty belong to his people, even if they eagerly decide to offer the LORD a gift.
  13. And what else are you doing? You cry noisily and flood the LORD's altar with your tears, because he isn't pleased with your offerings and refuses to accept them.
  14. And why isn't God pleased? It's because he knows that each of you men has been unfaithful to the wife you married when you were young. You promised that she would be your partner, but now you have broken that promise.
  15. Didn't God create you to become like one person with your wife? And why did he do this? It was so you would have children, and then lead them to become God's people. Don't ever be unfaithful to your wife.
  16. The LORD God All-Powerful of Israel hates anyone who is cruel enough to divorce his wife. So take care never to be unfaithful!
  17. You have worn out the LORD with your words. And yet, you ask, "How did we do that?" You did it by saying, "The LORD is pleased with evil and doesn't care about justice."

The Lord continued his admonishment of the priests for they were not being true to their vows as priests or treating their role and responsibilities with respect. In fact, they were breaking the covenant God had made with Levi who was the original priest and through whose family the line of priests had continued down through the centuries. As we saw in chapter 1, the priests were offering defective animals for sacrifices. As the admonishment continued in chapter 2 they were accused of not honoring the Lord's name, of not listening to instruction from the Lord, of not revering the Lord, and worst of all, leading the people astray by not giving true instruction.

As a result, the Lord was going to cause them to become ceremonially unclean and unable to perform their priestly duties. He was also going to send a curse among them, but the form of the curse is not mentioned. Also, He would curse their blessings, causing the blessings they gave to the people to be ineffective. Furthermore, He would cause them to be humiliated before the people, no longer having their respect.

Verses 10 and following further address the sins of the priests for they were also divorcing their wives and marrying pagan women. In so doing, they were breaking their covenant with the wife of their youth and with God whose covenant with them forbade divorce. It was an act of injustice to the wife. And marrying pagan wives was also forbade by the covenant. Both acts raised the likelihood of not producing a godly offspring, thus failing to continue as a people who observed God's covenant.

The priests seemed oblivious to this wrong, however, coming to the altar weeping and groaning asking why the Lord didn't respect their offerings. The Lord told them He had been "a witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have acted treacherously against her."

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Reflections on Malachi 1

 Malachi 01  (Contemporary English Version)
  1. I am Malachi. And this is the message that the LORD gave me for Israel.
  2. Israel, I, the LORD, have loved you. And yet you ask in what way have I loved you. Don't forget that Esau was the brother of your ancestor Jacob, but I chose Jacob
  3. instead of Esau. And I turned Esau's hill country into a barren desert where jackals roam.
  4. Esau's descendants may say, "Although our nation Edom is in ruins, we will rebuild." But I, the LORD All-Powerful, promise to tear down whatever they build. Then everyone will know that I will never stop being angry with them as long as they are so sinful.
  5. Israel, when you see this, you will shout, "The LORD's great reputation reaches beyond our borders."
  6. I, the LORD All-Powerful, have something to say to you priests. Children respect their fathers, and servants respect their masters. I am your father and your master, so why don't you respect me? You priests have insulted me, and now you ask, "How did we insult you?"
  7. You embarrass me by offering worthless food on my altar. Then you ask, "How have we embarrassed you?" You have done it by saying, "What's so great about the LORD's altar?"
  8. But isn't it wrong to offer animals that are blind, crippled, or sick? Just try giving those animals to your governor. That certainly wouldn't please him or make him want to help you.
  9. I am the LORD God All-Powerful, and you had better try to please me. You have sinned. Now see if I will have mercy on any of you.
  10. I wish someone would lock the doors of my temple, so you would stop wasting time building fires on my altar. I am not pleased with you priests, and I refuse to accept any more of your offerings.
  11. From dawn until dusk my name is praised by every nation on this earth, as they burn incense and offer the proper sacrifices to me.
  12. But even you priests insult me by saying, "There's nothing special about the LORD's altar, and these sacrifices are worthless."
  13. You get so disgusted that you even make vulgar signs at me. And for an offering, you bring stolen animals or those that are crippled or sick. Should I accept these?
  14. Instead of offering the acceptable animals you have promised, you bring me those that are unhealthy. I will punish you for this, because I am the great King, the LORD All-Powerful, and I am worshiped by nations everywhere.

Malachi prophesied to Israel about 400 years before Christ and was the next to last of the Old Testament prophets, with John the Baptist being the last. At the time of his prophesy the people had been back in their homeland from Babylonian exile less than 100 years. The temple had been rebuilt. But what had they learned from their exile? They still did not love the Lord, for they doubted the Lord's love for them. So they were just going through the motions of their religion. If love was not their motive, what was the motivation behind their worship? Was it fear of another period of exile?

Malachi, the messenger, began by addressing the priests which becomes apparent in verse 6. They have questioned God's love for them. When God tells them, "I have loved you," they ask, "How have You loved us?" They sound like a rebellious child who fails to see all the ways his parents have shown their love because he only sees the one thing in which he perceives the parents have not been fair and is convinced he is not loved. The Lord's response was to ask, "Wasn't Esau Jacob's brother?" What is this supposed to mean? It means that while they are descendants of Jacob, whom God blessed, Jacob had a brother whom God could have blessed instead, but He chose not to. He rejected Esau even in Malachi's day and was still showing love to the descendants of Jacob. But as a rebellious child, they were not getting it.

Though in worship Israel may still be referring to God as their father and master, they did not regard Him as such in their actions. So God was asking, "If I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is your fear of Me?" Again, the priests, reflecting also the attitude of the people, denied the accusation, asking, "How have we despised Your name?" And so the Lord tells them. They were bringing defiled food to the altar as offerings to the Lord - blind, lame, and sick animals. Would their governor be pleased with these offerings, the Lord asked? Obviously not, but they expected the Lord to be pleased. All the while as they brought their defiled offerings, they were saying, "what a nuisance."

In what ways might we be like these Israelites? Do we bring our best to the Lord, whatever it might be? Our best efforts, our best time (not just the time we have left over from doing what we want to do), or the best of our offerings, whether it be money or other offerings? Because we show up at church with some regularity we think God should be pleased with us. All the while we are thinking, "what a pain! I hope God is pleased that I got up early on a Sunday morning when I could be sleeping in or out on the lake." And so we expect God to understand that we have busy lives and that this is the best we can do. But it is only we who think this is our best. He knows we are only giving Him the left overs and He is not honored at all by our offering.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Reflections on Nahum 3

 Nahum 03  (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Doom to the crime capital! Nineveh, city of murder and treachery,
  2. here is your fate-- cracking whips, churning wheels; galloping horses, roaring chariots;
  3. cavalry attacking, swords and spears flashing; soldiers stumbling over piles of dead bodies.
  4. You were nothing more than a prostitute using your magical charms and witchcraft to attract and trap nations.
  5. But I, the LORD All-Powerful, am now your enemy. I will pull up your skirt and let nations and kingdoms stare at your nakedness.
  6. I will cover you with garbage, treat you like trash, and rub you in the dirt.
  7. Everyone who sees you will turn away and shout, "Nineveh is done for! Is anyone willing to mourn or to give her comfort?"
  8. Nineveh, do you feel safer than the city of Thebes? The Nile River was its wall of defense.
  9. Thebes trusted the mighty power of Ethiopia and Egypt; the nations of Put and Libya were her allies.
  10. But she was captured and taken to a foreign country. Her children were murdered at every street corner. The members of her royal family were auctioned off, and her high officials were bound in chains.
  11. Nineveh, now it's your turn! You will get drunk and try to hide from your enemy.
  12. Your fortresses are fig trees with ripe figs. Merely shake the trees, and fruit will fall into every open mouth.
  13. Your army is weak. Fire has destroyed the crossbars on your city gates; now they stand wide open to your enemy.
  14. Your city is under attack. Haul in extra water! Strengthen your defenses! Start making bricks! Stir the mortar!
  15. You will still go up in flames and be cut down by swords that will wipe you out like wheat attacked by grasshoppers. So, go ahead and increase like a swarm of locusts!
  16. More merchants are in your city than there are stars in the sky-- but they are like locusts that eat everything, then fly away.
  17. Your guards and your officials are swarms of locusts. On a chilly day they settle on a fence, but when the sun comes out, they take off to who-knows-where.
  18. King of Assyria, your officials and leaders sleep the eternal sleep, while your people are scattered in the mountains. Yes, your people are sheep without a shepherd.
  19. You're fatally wounded. There's no hope for you. But everyone claps when they hear this news, because your constant cruelty has caused them pain.

The sins of the Assyrians came home to haunt them. Nineveh was known as the city of blood because of the atrocious practices they enacted against their captives of cutting off hands and feet, ears and noses, gouging out eyes, and cutting off heads, to name a few. Their city would be overtaken by an enemy who would come charging into it much as the they had done to their enemies. God intended to make a spectacle of the Assyrians.

The city of Thebes is used in verses 8-19 as a comparison to what will happen with Nineveh and why. Thebes was well fortified, surrounded by water, similar in nature to Nineveh. Plus Thebes had an "endless source of strength" (V. 9) through her allies which included Cush, Egypt, Put, and Libya. But the Assryians had broken through all her defenses, defeating them and taking the people into captivity. They killed the children rather than take them captive, doing so on public display to increase the fear and pain of the experience.

Nahum asked of Nineveh, "are you any better than Thebes?" (V. 9) The implied answer was "no." And this would be proven true when the Medes, Scythians, and Babylonians would join forces and invade Nineveh. Many of the atrocities the Assyrians did to those they defeated would be done to them. As strong as Assyria was, when the time came for God to punish the nation for her sins, her strength would not be enough. Wherever the news of Assyria's fall was heard, people would applaud it, "for who has not experienced your constant cruelty?" (V. 19)

Even godless people do God's bidding. That would include Assyria whom God used to judge the northern kingdom of Israel and also the Medes, Scythians, and Babylonians whom He used to punish Assyria. Some wonder why God would use a people for His purposes and then turn around and punish them for doing what He wanted done. But in the examples we are considering in this chapter, those God used were not serving Him nor was He blessing them in any way for accomplishing what He wanted. These nations were doing what they normally did and had no clue they were fulfilling God's purposes. God merely enabled them to do what they might not have been able to accomplish without His enabling.