Where Are We When God’s GLORY Passes By?

A Bible Commentary on Exodus 33:12-23

FINDING THE CLEFT OF THE ROCK

Augustus had been traveling near Somerset in England’s west country, along a road with cliffs on either side when a storm struck.  He quickly darted in a hollowed-out place in the rock for shelter.  He was fortunate to find this hiding place so quickly while waiting for the storm to pass by and began to think about the idea of the “rock of faith” is a shelter from the “storms of life.”  The words for a hymn began to form in his mind but, according to a story that still prevails, there wasn’t paper in his pocket to write down the words.  Looking down he saw a playing card, considered a sinful thing to have in his day for this young minister.  Nevertheless, he picked it up and began to write:

The analogy of Christ to a rock has its roots in Scripture.

Numerous Old Testament references to the Lord as a “Rock” or “Rock of my salvation”, can be found.  Psalm 18:46 mentions that “The LORD lives!  Praise be to my Rock!”

Alluding to the Israelites during their wanderings in the wilderness, Paul writes,  “For they drank from a spiritual Rock which followed them [produced by the sole power of God Himself without natural instrumentality] and the Rock was Christ!” –      (1 Corinthians 10:4 ~ Amplified Bible.)

Paul is referring to the event recorded in Exodus 17:6, where Moses at God’s command, struck the rock in Horeb, bringing forth a needed supply of water for God’s people.  That physical rock is a picture of Christ Jesus providing a never-ending flow of “water” to satisfy sinful man’s spiritual need.

So the song, Rock of Ages, was conceived in the mind of this 23-year-old man and it wasn’t published until years later when he himself published it in Gospel Magazine the year before he died at the age of 38.

The Picture of Christ…

Is a rock broken open, or cleft, to provide a place for spiritual refuge from sinful people that surround us in our daily lives and is surely drawn from Moses’ experience recorded in Exodus 33:20-23.

There are things about God that we must not see.

Others are shown to have seen spectacular visible representations of the GLORY of God, though perhaps none so directly dazzling as Moses; and Moses was granted this favor only with certain limitations, restrictions, and precautions.  That which we, the Church, crave to see and to know of God (I pray that we do) and the way He acts is beyond us.

  • Why God acts as He does.
  • Why God acts when He does.
  • Why God doesn’t seem to act at all.

Though we’d like to see ALL of God, Man cannot be brought to a full view and understanding of God.  The brilliant display of God’s grace and goodness and the full viewing of it are too much for mankind in the present state of things.  What Moses and others were permitted to see was only a small part and portion of God, and of His ways and works.  Because Moses, a mortal, couldn’t see God’s face and live, God Himself protected Moses by placing him in the cleft of a rock as He passed by and covering Moses in the cleft with God’s own hand from any harm that would surely befall a mortal who looked directly upon the full GLORY of God.

WHAT IS THE “GLORY” THAT WE’VE SO OFTEN HEARD ABOUT?

The Old Testament Hebrew word for GLORY is kabod – weightiness (He’s a God of strength and substance); glory, honor, splendor, power, authority, magnificence, fame, dignity, riches, excellency.  He’s a great and all-powerful God.  There was a day when the people of God would go to church, not just to sing songs about God or to hear stories about what God did in the past from their pastor’s sermon.  God isn’t some cosmic vending machine in Heaven, some great genie in the lamp that we rub, and out he comes to grant us our every wish.  The Bible says that God sits in Heaven and does whatever He wants – He’s God!  We need to have holy respect and awe for this God recognizing His Glory.

Resting in His Glory –

Similarly, by being hidden in Christ Jesus, the Rock cleft on his behalf at the Cross, the believer is sheltered from eternal death he would face should he stand unsheltered before a holy God who executes righteous judgment.

Paul wrote to the church at Colossae, “If we have risen with Christ, our affection is on things above, and hidden in Christ.”  (Colossians 3:1-3)

So our life is hidden within a wonderful Savior, as one hides from a storm sheltered by the cleft in the Rock – not hidden as a secret, but hidden as protection from harm.  SONG –

HIS WAYS ARE HIGHER…

The things we’re talking about here are much larger than we are; too great for our full understanding; too intertwined with divine attributes and beyond the scope of human comprehension.

Isaiah 55:8-9 (NIV)

[8]  “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,”  declares the LORD.  [9]  “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

But because He is above us, and His ways are higher than ours, we have a reason for confidence and security in our trials.  When our days and nights are filled with uncertainty for a scheduled medical procedure at the hospital, the results from a biopsy, the outcome from yesterday’s job interview, we have a reason for confidence and security in the results.

Our refuge is the One Who is higher than we are!

It’s like a little child we must disappoint from time to time and denying their desires.  They want to do one thing, but another be done.  They want to play in a dangerous place, but a loving parent knows better.  They want to go one way, but it’s necessary to go another.  The child can’t understand why it’s so because his capacity for understanding hasn’t yet developed in grasping the larger things in life.

Prayer of thanks that we have a Savior – One who is greater than ourselves.  Song –

To Tullius O’Kane, who wrote the words of the song, the cleft in the Rock was a place of rest.  While we Christians may resist the notion of rest in our busy world as being motivated by laziness or apathy, there is a REST into which we MUST ENTER.

Hebrews 3:18-4:1 shows that NOT entering the promised rest is a thing to be feared:

[3:18]  And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed?  [19] So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.  [4:1]  Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.

So what is this PROMISED REST?

It’s the land of Canaan, called God’s rest because He promised it, and gave it to the Israelites as their rest; and where He Himself had a place of rest; and where He gave the Messiah, the Author of peace and rest; and which was a type of heaven, the rest from toils and labor, which remains for all the people of God!

In the imagery of the song, the promised rest is found in the cleft of the Rock – that is the fact that Jesus was pierced, bled and died to purchase our entrance to the promised land, or as the Hebrew writer says it, the promised rest.

There Stands A Rock and I Go to the Rock!

In the tabernacle, the mercy seat was located directly above the ark of the covenant, between two gold cherubim.  The specs for it may be found in Exodus 25.  And speaking of the MERCY SEAT, the Lord said to Moses, “I will meet with you there.”

Numbers 7:89, among other Bible verses, shows Him doing just that!

The Mercy Seat typifies the divine throne and the One who sits on it.

The above-referenced Scripture describes the awesome scene, still in symbolic language, of which the MERCY SEAT is a type.

The mercy seat was the most sacred location of the tabernacle and in fact, on earth.  And the way to the mercy seat was once only available to Moses, that he should inquire into the mind and will of God, and then to the high priest, that he should enter once a year to make atonement for the peoples’ sin.

At the moment Jesus died, the VEIL that concealed the Most Holy Place was destroyed – torn from top to bottom.  The writer of Hebrews in the New Testament wrote:

Hebrews 6:19-20 (AMP)

[19] [Now] we have this [hope] as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul [it cannot slip and it cannot break down under whoever steps out upon it – a hope] that reaches farther and enters into [the very certainty of the Presence] within the veil.

[20] Where Jesus has entered in for us [in advance], a Forerunner having become a High Priest forever after the order (with the rank) of Melchizedek.

AND,

Hebrews 10:19-22 (NIV)

[19] Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, [20]  by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, [21]  and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, [22]  let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.

The MERCY SEAT signifies the way of access to God that lies through Jesus Christ and propitiation (appeasement or satisfaction) by His blood and righteousness; through the veil that signifies His flesh.  We make use of that access when we pray in His name.

Song – From Every Stormy Wind

We see that Jesus is pictured in many of our songs, new and sometimes old, and the Scriptures as a Rock that is cleft, broken, or fractured.  It was on a lonely hill just outside of Jerusalem that the body of Jesus was “broken” on a Roman cross, piercing His hands and side, allowing His lifeblood to flow out, the price of all the benefits that have been mentioned in this blog-study – not the least – His everlasting life in the realms of GLORY!

AND that’s why we hide in the Cleft of that Rock!  A safe place to be!!

_______________________________________________________________________________

CREDITS:

Commentary:  Shelter from the Storm – Our Daily Bread Devotional – 10/8/2019;  The Glory Of God; Show Me Your Glory by Chris Jordan, Sermon on April 25, 2006.

Dictionary:  GotQuestions.org – What is glory?

Photo/Images:  Google Image Search.

Music Videos:  YouTube search.

Bible Translations:  Amplified Bible (AMP); New International Version NIV).

 

“Ah Yes, I REMEMBER It Well” – Do You?

~ Fourth and Final Commentary In The Series On The Book Of Malachi

MALACHI 4:4-6 (NLT)

[4]  “Remember to obey the Law of Moses, my servant-all the decrees and regulations that I gave him on Mount Sinai for all Israel.

[5]  “Look, I am sending you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the LORD arrives. 

[6]  His preaching will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers.  Otherwise, I will come and strike the land with a curse.”

With only three verses to look at, I thought this particular word investigation would be fairly short.  Well, it didn’t turn out that way and there are many reasons why this final chapter commentary is longer than I expected. 

The Book Of Malachi certainly serves as a bridge from the past to the future for the Israelites during Malachi’s day.  And for him and for us, as the last book of the Old Testament, it also serves as a bridge to the New Testament.

So let’s use the theme ‘s statement as an outline which we can examine this passage of Scripture:  WE NEED TO LEARN FROM THE PAST – “Remember it well!”

In verse 4, God commands the people to remember the law of His servant, Moses.  The entire book of Malachi has shown us a covenant-keeping God who still loves and pursues His people even though they haven’t remained faithful to Him.  It’s not surprising that the final command of the book is to remember the Law of Moses which the people who had come to pay little attention to.

But the word “remember” conveys much more than just mental recognition:  “remember” (Heb. “zokar”) means “to bring to mind and act accordingly.”  So when God commands His people to remember the law, He’s calling them to once again become a covenant-keeping people who not only know the Law but also puts it into practice.

The idea of remembering is a common theme in the book of Deuteronomy.  The command or admonition to REMEMBER is found 14 times in that book alone and the majority of those verses are connected with the need to obey or keep God’s command.

The Book Of Deuteronomy also uses some form of the same phrases that I’ve found here in Malachi – “the statutes and rules” – 17 times in the book of Deuteronomy including this very relevant passage:  (Deut. 6:1-3)

There’s no mistaking here that the purpose of knowing and remembering the law so that the people can put it into practice.  That principle is certainly just as applicable today to New Testament Christians as it was to the Israelites of Malachi’s day.

As we know, keeping God’s law isn’t a requirement for SALVATION – which can’t be earned but completely an act of God’s grace – but it should be a result of that salvation.

LEARNING FROM THE PAST –

While reading the Scripture, we’re not only exposed to God’s LAW so we can know and understand what that law is, but we also read the historical accounts and demonstrate the blessings of obedience and the curse of disobedience.  So we look back to learn from the past as we remember God.  And once we do that, we can move onto the next step – WE NEED TO LIVE IN THE PRESENT – “TURN”

I spent a lot of time contemplating the first part of verse 6, where Malachi describes that Elijah will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers.  And frankly, I’m still somewhat up in the air – confused!  But with the help of a couple other passages that shed some light on that verse, I think I can at least develop some useful applications we can use in our lives.

There seem to be two major camps when it comes to VERSE 6 –

In reading several commentaries I found some hold that the fathers here are the fathers of FAITH, like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and Moses.  Certainly the idea of the Israelites turning back to the faith of their spiritual ancestors would be consistent with the idea of REMEMBERING the commands given to Moses.  But the problem with that position is it really doesn’t explain how the hearts of the fathers are turned to the children.

The other major position if this verse deals with God restoring relationships of the family – particularly the relationships between fathers and children.  But to me, the weakness of that viewpoint is that it doesn’t fit into the ending of Malachi’s prophecy that deals with the much larger issue of the whole nation’s rebellion against God and His law.  Obviously, that impacts relationships within the family, but it doesn’t seem to be the main point of the prophecy.

Since I adhere to the idea that Scripture is always the best commentary on Scripture, we need to look together at a couple of other passages in the Bible that gives additional insight, a practice we should stay with when looking for answers in the Bible.

I have already looked up one of those passages –  Deuteronomy 6, lets notice and underline verse 2 – the purpose of observing the statutes and rules is to “FEAR GOD” – and we have seen that idea frequently if you’ve been following along in the series on Malachi [See previous Word Detective posts, 1, 2, and 3.].  And you’ll also notice here that “you and your sons and your son’s son” keep the law.  So the idea planted here is that successive generations of Israelites are to keep the Law as the law is constantly passed down from father to son.

Oh, and if you’re wondering how that’s done, the next part of Deuteronomy 6 goes on to give some wonderful guidelines on how fathers are supposed to do that.

In the Hebrew language, Malachi 4:6 seemed to be confusing at first reading.  Most of the English translations tend to translate the verse, “And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers..” (NIV).

But it’s also possible to translate that phrase like this:  “And He will turn the hearts of the fathers together with those of the children [to Me], and the hearts of the children with those of their fathers [to Me].”  That seems to be consistent with Deuteronomy 6 and consistent with what is seen earlier in the Book of Malachi 3:7…

The word “RETURN” in the above verse is the same word that is translated “turn” in Malachi 4:6, another connection that seems to support the alternate translation which focuses on ALL the people turning their hearts toward God rather than toward each other.

Back to my last blog-post, the third in the series, Malachi 3:1, that prophecy is multi-layered.  The “messenger” was fulfilled at the first coming of Jesus by John the Baptist, and Jesus confirmed the prophecy with these words:

“For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.”  (Matthew 11:13-14)

Jesus is clearly connecting John to both Malachi’s and Isaiah’s prophecies about the forerunner to be like Elijah. (See Isaiah 40:3-4). 

During his day as a prophet, Elijah had turned the Israelites back to God at the time of their worst apostasy when Ahab and Jezabel made Baal worship part of Israel’s worship.  John had a similar ministry.

But notice that Jesus indicates here in Matthew that since Israel wasn’t willing to accept Him as Messiah, and also refused to accept that John was the forerunner who had been prophesied in the Old Testament, so because of that, there will be a second Elijah who will precede the second coming of Jesus and he is the one who will bring to its final fulfillment of this prophecy of hearts being turned.

The angel who comes to Zechariah informing him of the coming birth of his son John, almost certainly had Malachi’s prophecy in mind when he spoke these words about John:

And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

Although the angel mentions the turning of the hearts of the father to the children, the main idea here is that John’s role is to turn ALL hearts – fathers and children – to the Lord their God.

So even if Malachi is focusing on the relationship of fathers and children, the way reconciliation occurs in the family when ALL the hearts are turned back to God.  Our horizontal relationships with other people should never surpass our vertical relationship with our Heavenly Father.

So regardless of our views of Malachi 4:6, the bottom line is that it all comes down to our hearts being turned to God.

THE KEY to living in the present then, according to the passage of scripture in Malachi, is to “turn our hearts.”

I’ve already pointed out the underlying Hebrew word “to turn”, but it also can be translated “return.”  That same Hebrew word in the OT is frequently translated “repent”, which isn’t surprising and given that repentance is the idea of turning our hearts from sin and turning then back to God.

Repentance, or turning back to God, isn’t just something that we do once in our lifetime and then forget it.  It’s something that we must do every minute of every day.  The people of Malachi’s day had forgotten that and look where they ended up.

It’s easy to criticize the Israelites who had descended into lukewarm worship by merely giving God the leftovers. But the fact is, we are in danger of ending up there ourselves if we don’t guard our hearts and consistently turn them from evil and turn back to God.

LIVING IN THE PRESENT –

We learn from the past as we remember God’s law – We live in the present by turning our hearts to God.

Finally…We need to look to the future – “behold”

The word “behold” is used in the prophets to grab our attention.  It’s like God shouting to the people here to take notice of what He’s about to say.  And what follows is a message of God’s grace and mercy.

Yes, the great and awesome day of the Lord Jesus is coming!  And as we’ve seen it’s not going to be a pleasant time for those who’ve rebelled against God and refused to turn back to Him.

Before He does that, he’s going to send his messenger, either Elijah himself or someone else like John the Baptist, to minister like Elijah in giving people one last chance to turn to Him.

Although there’s certainly not enough biblical evidence to definitely identify this forerunner with one of the two witnesses in Revelation 11, that’s certainly one possibility.  There in Revelation, those two witnesses preach God’s Word for 3 1/2 years prior to the second coming of Jesus.  But regardless of the identity, God’s purpose is made clear.  His aim is to spare people from being cursed – separated from God’s glory; His person and the coming wrath.

So before Jesus returns to the earth one more time to carry out swift justice to those who have rejected Him, He’s going to give people one last chance to return to Him.  And the good news is…at least some people are going to have their hearts turned toward God as the result of his ministry.

What Malachi makes clear here is how we view the future is dependent on how well we’ve remembered the past and turned in the present.

If you remember God’s law (His Word in the Bible) by seeking to understand it and do it, and if your heart is turned toward God, then you can look to the future with great hope and anticipation, knowing God’s faithful remnant who will be spared from God’s wrath will spend eternity in God’s presence.

But if you fail to remember God’s law – if you fail in repentance in turning your heart to God, then if you’re not fearful of the future, you certainly should be!  Because God is holy and just, He must judge those who have chosen to rebel against Him and that judgment is going to be swift, horrible and everlasting.  It truly will be the utter destruction that Malachi writes about at the end of his prophecy.

Several people in the past have asked me, “Teacher, how about giving us some practical applications from the Word Study?”  So I’m going to list three:

#1.  We must turn our hearts to God through faith in Christ Jesus.

God’s desire for us is to turn our hearts–body, mind, and soul–to Him.  But that’s not something that we can do on our own.  Trust me, for you will find yourself in frustration when you try to accomplish this on your own terms.  Although the word Messiah or the name of Jesus is never mentioned in the Book of Malachi, is the idea of a Messiah that comes first to save God’s people and then returns a second time to judge those who refuse to turn their hearts to Him is a central theme.  Because God is holy and we are not, then the only way we can truly turn our hearts toward Him is by placing our trust in that Messiah, Jesus.  By taking our sins upon Himself and dying on the cross to pay the penalty for those sins, He’s made it possible for us to have a relationship with God in which we are able to turn our hearts to Him.

#2.  We must consistently spend time in God’s Word.

The only way we can live in obedience is to know what God’s Word says!  That means that we have to be spending consistent time in God’s Word, reading, and praying over it on a consistent basis.  A half-hour once a week on Sunday morning will never be adequate to really know and understand the Bible.  And what I’ve been personally missing lately, and I’m not alone, and is necessary and valuable for all of us, is spending time with other believers each week, where digging into the Bible is benefitting from one another’s insights in the Scriptures.

#3.  We must be intentional, living, vocal witnesses for Jesus.

In light of the possible two destinies faced by every human being – eternal life for those who have placed their faith in Jesus and eternal punishment for those who have not, our witness for Jesus Christ is essential.

Our effectiveness in our witness –

It’s likely that God has brought some people into your life that has no one else in their lives that’s going to tell them about Jesus’ love for them.  For our witness to be effective, I want to throw out three adjectives to describe what that WITNESS is to be like.

First, our witness must be intentional.  

We must strategically pray for the people that God brings into our lives and then, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, prepare, as Peter urges in 1 Peter 3:15…

That means being able to share my own testimony of my relationship with Jesus and able to use the Bible to explain how the other person can have the same type of relationship with Him.

Second, our witness has to be lived out.  Some call it Lifestyle Evangelism.

There’s nothing that will turn a person off when it comes to their relationship with God than someone whose life isn’t consistent with their words.  But at the same time, it’s not enough to just live for Jesus with the hope someone else is going to figure out your life is different than theirs.  That’s a great start, but at some point, we’re going to have to open our mouths.

In concluding this study on Malachi, the most important thing we should take away is to understand just how much God loves us.

He’s a covenant-keeping God, a promise-keeper, a God who loves us so much that He continues to pursue us even when we fail Him.  And if we’ll take and apply the principles He has given us in His Word, we’ll be in a much better position to pursue Him.

And in that same way remembering that God desires for me (and you) to pursue Him in the same way He pursued us!

_______________________________________________________________________________

CREDITS:

Photo/Images:  Google Image Search; YouTube Music Video – I Remember It Well from the movie, Gigi.

Bible Translations Used:  New Living Translation (NLT); New International Version (NIV); English Standard Version (ESV); 

Word Sources:  Bible Hub:  NASB Hebrew Lexicon.

Commentary:  HEBREW WORD STUDY – FORETELLER OR PROPHET, by Chaim & Laura – Sept. 13, 2014 Devotionals; Coffman’s Commentaries on the Bible – Malachi 4 – StudyLight.org.

The LORD Never Changes, and the Results?

Malachi 3:6

[THIRD IN THE SERIES ON THE BOOK OF MALACHI]

We saw in Chapter 1 Malachi reminds the people of God’s love.  Many times it’s the goodness of God that leads us to repentance.  But Malachi condemns their half-hearted attempts to worship God with “leftovers.”  They saved the best for themselves and then gave God the crumbs.

In Chapter 2 we see the priests (“spiritual leaders”) that they were no better than the people because they viewed their ministering as drudgery that they had to put up with.  They were just going through the motions to get a ‘paycheck’ (my term); they lost the heart and the passion for worship.

My Commentary on MALACHI 3:1-18 

Some things never seem to change.

The politician who promises the most before an Election and delivers the least afterwords.  Teenagers are always sure they know more than mom and dad till they get kids of their own.  Your paycheck almost increases as much as the tax rate.  Some things never change.  We’d like politicians to keep their promises, teens who listen now instead of later, and my Social Security benefit staying ahead of the tax rate.  Change can be a good thing.

On the other hand, I’m glad some things never change,  I’m glad the sun rises every day.  I’m glad for my wife’s unfailing love.  Most of all, I’m glad that in the midst of all that changes in this world, Malachi 3:6 says, “For I am the LORD, I do not change…” – God’s changelessness – what theologians call, His immutability–is comforting to me, no matter how my circumstances or feelings change, I always find Him to be sure and certain, faithful and loyal!

Malachi 3 breaks down 3 areas of God’s relationship with us that never changes–3 areas that will challenge and comfort our hearts.

HIS PASSION FOR PURITY (vv. 1-7)

I don’t like to peer into a glass of milk in the morning for breakfast and to my wondering eyes should appear, but black floaties in the glass.  If my dog, Ollie, somehow gets to the TV table to lick my plate when I left the room, and on my return, I catch him, I’m not going to eat from it!  And, in my humble opinion, water that’s not clear, isn’t fit to drink!!!  Purity will always be important in my life.

Malachi tells us PURITY is important to the Lord–so important that He is always passionate about our purity in worship and our obedience to His Word.

Back in Malachi 2:17, Israel asks the question, “Where is the God of Justice?”  They’re not just asking where He is–they’re asking God to show up and set things right.

VERSE 1 declares God answers with a personal appearance.  Jesus identifies the Messenger as John the Baptist in Matthew 11:7-10.  

But the main attraction is the LORD, whom you are looking for, whom you desire, suddenly comes to His temple and God Himself comes to His people, and Malachi says they get more than they bargained for.

VERSE 2:  But who can endure…who can stand?

The ANSWER is…Nobody!  He doesn’t come to put them on their backs–He comes to purify them, a refiner’s fire, like a launderer’s soap!  He comes to PURIFY His people like a metal worker, to clean His house spick and span.

He begins with their worship (vv. 3-4)

He will purify the sons of Levi that they may offer to the Lord an offering in righteousness.

The Levites were in charge of worship in the Temple.  God says their worship had degenerated into meaningless, mindless ritual, instead of thoughtful, adoration of their Lord.  God will purify them by bringing them back to worship Him in spirit and truth as they did in the old days (v. 4).

From the Temple, the Lord moves in verse 5 to purify the people in their obedience.

[5] “So I will come to put you on trial.  I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers, and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear Me,” says the LORD Almighty.”

God will judge those who don’t fear Him.  He will purge the land of rebels instead of just wiping them all out only because of His unchanging mercy (v. 6).

“I the LORD do not change.  So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed”

He invites them to return to Him, even though they act as if they have done nothing wrong (v. 7).

“Return to Me, and I will return to you”

On one level, this passage of Scripture reading predicts the coming and work of Christ.

Over 400 years after Malachi’s prophecy, God sends His messenger, John the Baptist to prepare the way for Christ.  And the Lord Jesus Christ does come to His temple to clean it out, purifying worship from hypocrisy, and calling out people to be purified as well, through the CROSS, to live obediently in the process.

On another level, this prophecy outlines God’s passion for His people everywhere.  The Lord is demonstrating to the people of His unchanging commitment to PURITY.  He loves them too much to leave them to their polluted worship.  He loves them too much to allow disobedience to corrupt their relationship with Him.

So in mercy, He makes a personal visit to purify them–even though they don’t realize how ‘dirty’ they really are.

The Importance Of Staying Healthy –

I’m told that whenever there’s an outbreak of sickness, one of the most important things you can do to stay healthy is to frequently wash our hands.  Doctors say you can pick up bacteria and viruses off almost anything these days–a doorknob, a telephone, a pen, a magazine in the doctor’s office.  That microscopic impurity can make you sick, and if you get a bad enough case, you can even die.  Purity is especially important to good physical health.

Through Malachi, the Lord tells us that purity is also important to our spiritual health.

It’s vitally important that our worship stay pure–purely devoted to Christ Jesus, not just meaningless rituals.  Worship that comes from the heart that truly adores the Lord, not just from singing a song, or praying a pastor lead prayer, or your pastor’s sermon.  Pure worship comes from a place down deep inside of you from a pure heart!

God is committed to our purity–we need to be committed to being PURE for Him,

Malachi mentions another area where God never changes.

God’s Blessing On Those Who Give To Him (vv. 8-12)

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to miss out on the Lord’s blessing!  So pay attention to what Malachi is going to say regarding our willingness to be blessed!

Malachi Chapter 3 is perhaps the most preached, the most taught Scripture when it comes to the issue of GIVING in the church.  Preachers have been known to use this text to shame Christians who don’t give a whole lot to God’s cause.  And (in many churches) I suppose there’s a reason for the premise–the national average of giving is 3%, with the majority of the support – in any given church – a handful of people.

This passage almost preaches itself because that’s exactly what Malachi was trying to get across to the people.  He was shaming them.  Malachi was basically telling them, if they would put into their relationship with God, they’d get more out.  The Israelites had become lax in their obedience to the law and specifically the part of that law that required them to give a regular tithe to God.  But hey, they were under the Law – we’re not!  They were specifically instructed to give a 1/10 of their income to God -we’re not…at least I don’t think so.  Actually, it’s not quite that simple.

God is the Great Giver!

He gives us life, along with all the joys and pleasure that come with it–from eyesight, to love, to the colors of the sunset.  He’s always giving.  He wants His children to be generous givers.  This may be one reason why He commands us to give to Him–so that we can learn the blessing of giving.  

He is changelessly committed to blessing those who give to Him first.

BUT…Israel had made a trade–the garment of giving for the robes of a thief.

“How can anybody rob God?  No!,” Israel replies.

You might steal from somebody else and get away with it, but how can one steal from God, Who sees and knows everything?

“But you have robbed Me!”  [Nervous laughter].

Lord, how could we do such a thing, robbing You?  [The Lord isn’t smiling]

“You have robbed Me by not giving your tithes and offerings.  That’s why you are under a curse right now!”

What was the CURSE?

Vs. 11 gives the idea where God speaks of the devourer, vines that fail to bear fruit…insects that destroy crops, a blight which keeps the vines from producing a harvest.  God makes a connection they fail to make:  WHEN YOU STOP GIVING TO ME, I’LL STOP BLESSING YOU!

But God has a remedy built-in for their situation in verse 10:

The TITHES mentioned here were offerings given to God – 10% of all they owned. 

They were to be given, not as a duty, but as a way to WORSHIP the Lord, to acknowledge His ownership of everything, out of gratitude for His gifts to them.

The storehouse was the Temple; the Levites and priests.  Give to Me what I have commanded you to give and then I will open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such a blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it!

Jesus echoed the same changeless principle in Luke 6:38:

It’s an unchanging truth about God:  He always blesses those who give to Him first!

Whatever you do, don’t limit this timeless truth to MONEY, or POSSESSIONS.  Of all the things God can bless us with, money is the least valuable for one important reason.  Are you ready?  It doesn’t last!

Proverbs 23:4-5 (NIV)

[4] Do not wear yourself out to get rich; do not trust your own cleverness.  [5]  Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.

It’s true, often God will bless our giving financially, or give us more stuff. 

But the real blessing that comes from giving is eternal–the JOY of giving back to your Savior Who gave you so much; the peace that comes from not being enslaved to covetousness (keeping up with the Jones), or greed–the pleasure of seeing how God can use what you give, glorifying Him in changing the world.  The GIVING pays off in so many ways other than just more money, more stuff.

And remember this:  If you are not giving from a heart of worship, you’re not really giving to God at all!

Your giving is not a business transaction:  “If I give you this, you should give me that!”  Your giving is an important way you worship the Lord in acknowledging His ownership of everything and your gratitude for what He has already given you and about to give to you!

I remember when I was a new Christian and having a conversation with my wife after listening to our pastor’s message on tithing.  How could we as a family give 10 percent of our income to the church when we were having a hard time even keeping on top of our bills?  But we trusted in God’s provision and have been trusting Him ever since.  And God has always, and I mean ALWAYS, provided for us!

GIVING comes down to two things:

  • Who you love,
  • And who you trust.

Are you robbing God?  Or are you proving the promise of Malachi’s words here?

GOD ALWAYS BLESSES those who give to Him first.  That’s our unchanging truth.

One last thing I want to address about God that never changes is…

God’s distinction between the RIGHTEOUS and the WICKED (vv. 13-18)

“WHO’S THE ‘we’s?” (v. 14)

The Lord quotes the people’s murmuring in verses 14-15:  Does it really pay to serve the Lord?  Look around you at the wicked, evil people living the good life and we have it so hard!  Look at how all these sinners prosper and mock God, and we barely scrape by trying to be faithful followers.  Lord, it’s just not fair!!

Have you ever complained this way?  Maybe you watched all those celebrities who seem to get so much out of life than God-fearing people.  At your workplace, perhaps where the schemers, the liars, the people who don’t care one iota about God, who seem to get ahead, while the folks who love God try to live right and get run over.  It’s always been that way in the world.  The Lord doesn’t deny that’s the way it seems, but He offers a different perspective.

FIRST, He reminds the people:  I keep a close eye on the righteous.

It’s not clear who verse 16 refers to when it talks about those who feared the Lord.  Could they be the folks mentioned in verses 13-15 (maybe they had a change of heart)?  Or are they others who stayed loyal to the Lord, in spite of doubts and the doubters?  Whoever they are, God tells them, I’ve written your names in My Book and those who fear the Lord meditate,  (honor) His Name (vs. 16-17).  

And yes, Malachi is speaking openly to the Israelites, the Jews of his day.  But since Bible prophecy is multi-layered, like an onion, is the Book of Remembrance (vs. 16) pertain also to NT believers as well?  [See Rev. 3:5; 20:12; 21:27]  That’s a rhetorical question on my part.

We write down names to remember them; God writes down names to show us He never forgets the righteous (Rev. 20:17).

“They are My special peculiar treasure (My “jewels”).  I have special plans for their future.  There will come a day where everybody will realize I always make a distinction between the righteous and the unrighteous.”   (v. 18)

In eternity, serving God will pay off more than the wicked ever received in this life.  God always, always makes a distinction between the righteous and the wicked.

Matthew 13:47-50

It always pays to live in obedience and serve the Lord God Almighty.

It might not always seem to pay off here on earth, but in eternity, everyone who loves and serves the Lord will spend forever glad they did!  Everyone who didn’t love and serve will spend eternity wishing they had!

Some things never change: God’s passion for our PURITY, God’s blessing to those who GIVE to Him first, God’s distinction between the righteous and the evildoers.  Aren’t you glad these things about God never change?

And remember when you get discouraged and are tempted to wonder if it really pays to serve the Lord, bringing Him the glory…when we get home, it will be worth it all! 

Amen?

____________________________________________________________________________

CREDITS:

PHOTO/IMAGES:  Google Image Search.

Bible Translations:  New International Version (NIV); Amplified Bible (AMP); The Hebrew Lexicon.

Commentary:  “Our Unchanging God” – SermonCentral.com,  by Dean Rhine, Nov. 3, 2016.

 

 

Facing The Problems and Dangers of Spiritual Leadership in The Church

[Second in the SERIES on the Book Of Malachi]

THE BIBLE PLACES HIGH STANDARDS ON THOSE WHO SERVE IN THE CHURCHES WITH A POSITION OF LEADERSHIP!

The Bible places high standards on those who serve as pastors, deacons and elders.  The Bible places high standards on those who serve in children’s ministry.  The Bible places high standards on who serves as Sunday school teachers.  We should expect those who work in the capacity of leadership to have high standards.  If leaders don’t lead the way they should lead then it has a detrimental effect upon the people.

What we have here is an entire chapter in the Bible that’s devoted to those who are supposed to be leaders.  So if you’re reading this blog and a leader in some capacity, then this chapter should speak to you where you are sitting.

You say I’m not a pastor, a deacon, a bible teacher, praise team member, or work in any capacity of the church.  Then you need to pay close attention to what’s coming next; the Chapter has something to say to you as well.  You see this chapter doesn’t only speak of leadership, but it also speaks to stewardship!  To have a chapter in the Bible devoted to speaking to those who are in leadership and also to speak to us about stewardship has to be one of my favorite chapters in the Bible.  As we look together at the next 17 verses, I can’t help but to see that Malachi is dealing with some problems.  So I want to look at the problems and what the Word of God has to say about them.

The first one to deal with is what might be called MINISTERIAL PROBLEMS.

Malachi 2:1 (NIV) –  “And now, you priests, this warning is for you…”

Somebody reading this says, “I’m glad you’re starting out with the preachers, the pastors first!”  But remember, all of us in the Faith are believer priests, in that we are to be about winning souls for Christ’s sake.

Here, Malachi is dealing with a group of spiritual leaders (“priests”), who are not living up to the standard God has laid down.  He says in verse 2,

In other words, He was saying, as a preacher, pastor, minister, you are to be living a life that would bring glory to My name and not yours.

Then He says if you don’t do it, the very things that are supposed to be a source of blessing will become a curse to you.

Now look at VERSE 3:

He says in verse 3, “I will corrupt (rebuke, punish, discipline) your seed.”  

Most commentaries that I’ve read say that this verse is referring to their children.  Many times it’s the children that suffer from the lapse of spiritual leadership in the church and in the home.  I’ve seen it more times than not, those who God has set aside for spiritual leadership become unfaithful in their responsibility and they pay the price in their children.

But you also find in verse 3, that God says, I’m going to remove you from your responsibility of leadership:  “…and you will be carried off”

In VERSE 5 and some other verses, He tells us what a true minister is to be about.

(5)  My covenant [on My part with Levi] was to give him life and peace, because [on his part] of the [reverent and worshipful] fear with which [the priests] would revere Me and stand in awe of My name.” (AMP)

God’s ministers are to be born again.  They are to speak the truths of the Bible.

We have the right to hear the TRUTH from the pulpit even if it sort of works against the grain in our lives.  Yes, you have the right to hear the truth from your pastor and all leaders from your church even if it rubs you the wrong way sometimes.  I’m sure that my pastor is concerned about what the church body thinks about his messages from the pulpit but not half as concerned as what God thinks about it!

When we get to VERSE 8, God says to those unfaithful leaders, He is going to judge their failures because they have caused many to stumble at the law or at their preaching and living out their faith.

Many people today are unfeeling toward God and a lot of it is because of the leadership they have in their churches. 

I want you to notice now that He is dealing not only with ministerial problems but also MARITAL PROBLEMS – VERSE 11 – (Mixed Religious Marriages)

Malachi 2:11 (ESV)

[11]  Judah has been faithless, an abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem.  For Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the LORD which he loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god.

The Bible doesn’t mix words and makes it clear that BELIEVERS are to marry other BELIEVERS [Bible Verses: Deut. 7:1-4; 1 Kings 11:4-6; 1 Cor. 5:9-12; 1 Cor. 7:15-16; 2 Cor. 6:14-17.].  

It’s no secret, we are in real trouble in our marriages in America today.  In 1920, one out of 7 marriages ended in divorce.  Today in America, 33% of marriages end up in divorce including the Christian community. (See Footnote [i].)

God’s plan for the marriage is one man and one woman for life!

One day a woman went to her pastor complaining because she wasn’t married.  He said you can’t improve on God’s plan for the marriage of one woman and one man.  She said, I’m not trying to improve on it, I just want to get in on it!

We’ve investigated together with the ministerial problems and the marital problems and finally we see that the Word of God deals with the MORAL PROBLEMS – Let’s look at Verse 17.

What I think the Bible is telling us here is that the people are out of the will of God.  They don’t get to the point, they don’t even have moral distinctions; they can’t tell what’s good and what’s evil.

What the people were saying in Malachi’s day is, God doesn’t care about right or wrong.  Saying that there’s no absolute right and wrong.  Doesn’t that speak to our world today?

There were others of that day, saying God is just too nice to judge sin.  You might be saying that people don’t be;lieve that in our day.  Well folks, if they don’t, they sure act like they do.

Now, what’s all this have to do with STEWARDSHIP?

I’ll try to make the point here.  Some reading this may be the only Christian in your surroundings (young or old)).  Then you have the stewardship of leadership–you ought to be the spiritual leader.

You may be the only Christian believer at work.  Then you have the stewardship of leadership–you ought to be the spiritual leader in your workplace.

I’m sure that many of you who are reading my words realize that God has given you a position of leadership in some capacity.  My question is, are you bringing GLORY to His name, or are you causing people to curse and blaspheme His name?

If you are lost, God is interested in you enough that He doesn’t want you to go to hell but to heaven.

Here’s the GOOD NEWS!

You can be saved from eternity lost and have the assurance that you are on your way to heaven through faith in Jesus Christ.  If that’s where you are, will you in the faith receive Him today? 

If you just made that commitment to follow Jesus, I want you to leave your thoughts, your words, in the reply comments section at the bottom of the page.  Not because I say so, but because God’s Word says so.

____________________________________________________________________________

CREDITS & FOOTNOTES

Footnote [i] : The Good News About Marriage, by Shaunti Feldhahn.

Photo/Images:  Googlr Image Search.

Bible Translations Used:  New International Version (NIV); Amplified Bible (AMP); or translations used in the images and so noted.

“Oh, Oh, Not ‘Leftovers’ Again!”

[The First in the Series on The Book Of Malachi]

Malachi 1:6-14 Commentary

Do you like leftovers?  I asked myself the same question and my answer varied somewhat.  I love leftover cold pizza for breakfast the next morning, and if there’s enough leftover, the following morning too.  But if I wasn’t too crazy about a particular dinner meal the first time, I certainly didn’t want leftovers the next day, or any other day, for that matter!  But how many of us would dare to serve our leftovers to an invited honored guest for dinner?  It might just be delicious, but we simply couldn’t do it.  Instead, we most likely want to make an impression and give our very best!  We want to make it memorable for our guests.

And so, we should also strive to give our very best to God!

Malachi is speaking to a nation that has compromised many of the standards set down in God’s Word.  They’ve gotten comfortable with life in the world and put God in the backseat.  They are dishonoring God and not giving Him their best.  And this brings me to this passage of Scripture in the Book of Malachi.

Malachi 1:6-11 (NIV)

[6]  “A son honors his father, and a slave his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?” says the LORD Almighty.  “It is you priests who show contempt for my name.  But you ask, ‘How have we shown contempt for your name?”

[7]  “By offering defiled food on my altar. But you ask, ‘How have we defiled you?’  “By saying that the LORD’s table is contemptible.

[8]  “When you offer blind animals for sacrifice, is that wrong? When you sacrifice lame or diseased animals is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the LORD Almighty.

[9]  “Now plead with God to be gracious to us. With such offerings from your hands, will He accept you?” says the LORD Almighty.

[10]  “Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the LORD Almighty, “and I will accept no offering from your hands.

[11]  “My name will be great among the nations, from where the sun rises to where it sets. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to me because my name will be great among the nations,” says the LORD Almighty.

Malachi reveals a conflict marked by the bickering, the complaining, from God’s chosen people on one side, and the stern warnings of a holy and righteous God on the other.

Have you ever bickered or complained to your parents?  Of course, as children, that’s hard to look back that far, we were always right and our parents were always wrong.  Especially as teenagers.  As a parent on the receiving end, it can certainly be a frustrating experience.

In Malachi, we see the people bickering and arguing with Almighty God!  Look once more at verses 6, 7, and 13:

  • (1:6) “How have we shown contempt for your name?”
  • (1:7)  “But you ask, ‘How have we defiled you’?”
  • (1:13) “And you say, ‘What a burden!’ and you sniff at it contemptuously”

I can just imagine the rolling eyes on that one.  The people had developed their own faulty attitudes and opinions of WHO GOD IS and on the PURPOSE OF WORSHIP:  (1:14b.)  “For I am a great King, says the Lord of hosts, and My name is terrible and to be [reverently] feared among the nations.”

GOD IS HOLY and RIGHTEOUS, A Mighty King whose name is to be feared!

The people had somehow in the comfort found in the ‘same-O, same-O,’ attitude that they had lost their focus on who God is.  They got caught up in themselves and the rituals of worship and lost sight on the purpose of their worship.  Their attitudes toward God and toward worship had strayed from the Commandment in Deuteronomy 6:5…

The people began to bicker or argue with God.  They adopted an attitude that they were more righteous and more holy than God Himself.  When confronted with their offensive attitude and actions, they were, in essence, saying to God,

“Are you talking to me?  Surely you’re not talking to me!  I’m doing just fine!”

They refused to hear from God!

They refused to believe they could be wrong!

They refused to swallow their pride and turn back to God in repentance!

Now I know.  It’s easy to point fingers at these hypocritical people, saying, “Wow…They just didn’t get it, did they?”  But what about us?

What is our attitude toward God and toward worship? 

Are we holding on to our arrogance and pride instead of listening to the Holy Spirit? 

Our attitude toward God and toward worship has an impact on others around us.  They might not say anything to us, but they’re watching.  As Christian believers, we are being watched with great scrutiny.  Our attitude will either cause others to stumble or will draw them closer to God.  Keep in mind that according to God’s Word in 1 Peter 2:9, we as believers in Christ Jesus, are now a royal priesthood…“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.” 

Don’t you just love that last part?  Instead of an attitude of bickering, complaining, or arguing, God will be honored and revered when we proclaim His praises!

Malachi 1:11 again…”For from the rising of the sun to its setting My name shall be great among the nations, and in every place incense shall be offered to My name, and indeed a pure offering; for My name shall be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts.”

Did you get that? “A pure offering”?  Arguing, bickering voices “aren’t gonna cut it” in the life of a believer!  Our purpose is to proclaim God’s praises because His name shall be great among the nations.

The bickering wasn’t the only characteristic of their worship.  As we can see in the passage of Scripture in chapter one, the worship of the one true God had become burdensome… (v. 13a)

“You say also, Behold, what drudgery and weariness this is!”

The WORSHIP had become an empty ritual that they engaged weekend after weekend, day after day, to maintain tradition rather than to please a holy and righteous God.  It was being done out of obligation instead of being done out of love.

Have you ever asked your children to do the dishes after dinner, and you get a little “attitude” in return?  Oh, the dishes eventually get done, but they did the absolute minimum to meet their obligation.

You mean to tell me they didn’t do it with a cheerful attitude full of love and gratefulness to you as their parent?

With that in mind, now scale it up into the priest’s attitude in their worship of God.  It was bad enough that the people of God lost their first love.  What made it worse was that they actually thought their religious performance was acceptable to Him!

God’s desire is for us to worship Him and serve Him with pleasure, with joy, with cheerfulness.

A question I’ve often asked myself over the years, do I find real joy in worship, or is it just a ritual?  Do we “do” certain things, like go to church for example, because it’s something your just supposed to do or is expected of you?  Do you find yourself wanting to do less and less for God?  It’s very easy to become burned out spiritually, physically, and emotionally from serving.  If you only use 20% of your body, you’ll burn out those over-used parts while the unused parts of your body atrophy.  This isn’t the way God intended for a healthy body to function!  Similarly, if a church body continues to use the same 20% of its members, they’ll burn out as well while the rest of the body atrophies!

God has a function and purpose for each one of us to fulfill in the body of Christ.

We can choose to tackle our purpose grudgingly (or not at all), or we can choose to pursue it with great expectations!  God knows that we can fall into a trap of becoming tired and discouraged in ministry, yet He wants us to push on with joy as we can see in Hebrews 12…

I want to examine more closely what was being offered to the Lord…(v. 8a)

“When you [priests] offer blind [animals] for sacrifice, is it not evil?  And when you offer the lame and the sick, is it not evil?”

They offered God their leftovers, their hand-me-downs and expected God to bless them for it.  Not only were these blemished sacrifices offensive to God, but He called them “evil”!

Take a look at the last half of verse 13 and the first half of verse 14…(Amplified Bible)

(13) “…this you bring as an offering?  Shall I accept this from your hand?” says the Lord.

(14) “But cursed is the [cheating] deceiver who has a male in his flock and vows to offer it, yet sacrifices to the [soverign] Lord a blemished or diseased thing!

The word “deceiver” is the Hebrew word, “nakal”, which translates as a deceiver, swindler, or cheat.  God calls such a person  a cheater, one who can give better sacrifices but chooses not to.  Instead of honoring God with their best, they kept the best for themselves and gave God the worst of what they had,  What a slap in the face!

God’s LOVE is so extravagant for each one of us, that He chose to sacrifice the most precious thing He had, in order to redeem us, His one and only Son, Jesus Christ.  And the LOVE we show in return for His GRACE & MERCY amounts to some leftovers we found in the back of the Fridge, then emptied upon the altar as a worshipful sacrifice to Almighty God?

These ritualistic, blemished sacrifices are so offensive to God, that He prefers no sacrifices at a…(vs. 10)

[10]  “Oh, that there were even one among you [whose duty it is to minister to Me] who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on My altar to no purpose [an empty, futile, fruitless pretense]!  I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of hosts, nor will I accept an offering from your hand”  (Amplified Bible).

Just close up shop!  Shut it down!  Better no worship at all than empty rituals and offerings that fall well short of our best.

So the answer is “YES”…God continues to expect our sacrifices. 

Not just any sacrifice…it must be the BEST we have!

King David knew about acceptable sacrifice…(2 Samuel 24:24-25)

According to God’s Word, a SACRIFICE isn’t a SACRIFICE in less it cost something!

In the NT Gospels, SACRIFICE was costly as well –

  • A woman poured costly fragrant oil to anoint Jesus’ head as an expression of her love, the devotion of her worship.   (Mark 14:3-9)
  • The widow came to the Temple and gave from her poverty all that she had as an offering to God to express her love, her devotion, her worship.  (Luke 21:1-4)

They Got It!!!

They understood in their hearts what SACRIFICE really meant to a holy and righteous God.  Their love for God prompted them to cheerfully give their BEST without hesitation!

There are so many lessons and warnings to take in the message of Malachi. 

God sent Malachi to stir the people up in their spiritual stupor, to exhort them to return to the living God.  Instead of approaching God with voices and attitudes full of bickering and complaining, we are to proclaim His praises.  Instead of treating our service to God as burdensome, we are to serve Him with hearts full of joy.  Instead of offering to God sacrifices that are blemished, we are to present to Him offerings that are pure!

But no matter what we do or sacrifice, it will never be acceptable to God without LOVE; extravagant love for God that overflowed into our praises, compelling us to offer our best!

And finally, how authentic is our relationship with God?

How much of what we do for God has become an empty ritual versus sincere heartfelt worship?  I’m so guilty of this at times.  Am I truly giving God the absolute that I have to offer Him every day?  Or, am I giving Him the leftovers, the crumbs off the floor, hoping it pleases Hum?  I want to smell the aroma of fresh bread taken from the oven.

Are you experiencing JOY in your service and ministry to God, or are you finding it to be wearisome, even a burden at times?

You only have so much talent, so much time, so much ability, so many resources.  All God wants is YOUR BEST – that’s your form of a SACRIFICE of PRAISE to Him that brings Him glory and praise.

______________________________________________________________________________

CREDITS –

Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon –  Strong #5230, “deceiver,” Heb. “nakal – naw-kal’.

Photo/Images:  Google Image Search.

Bible Translations:  New International Version (NIV); Amplified Bible (AMP), or, as noted in the text, or photo/images.

Never Under-Estimate What God Can Do Through You!

 

A Bible Commentary –  Haggai 1:13; 2:1-19

We see in the Scriptures that God uses different people in different places, over different periods of time, for different purposes.

When Solomon was king of Israel, he built a beautiful temple in Jerusalem.  People from all over the world came and saw this wonder.  The Jewish people treasured the Temple because it was the place where God dwelled with a man and the place where they WORSHIPPED Him.

But as time went by, the nation began to turn from God, turning towards gods from the surrounding nations.

Civil war broke out and the Nation of Israel split into two kingdoms.  The Northern Kingdom (Israel) rapidly went downhill and the Southern Kingdom (Judah) followed close behind but at a slower rate.  The result of this turning away from God was Judah’s captivity by Babylon.  When the Babylonians came in, they destroyed the Temple that Solomon had built for God.

70 years passed, then God moved Cyrus of Persia to allow the Jews to return to their homeland.  About 50,000 people went back to Judah and when they arrived, nothing had changed.  Everything was in shambles.

Immediately, the returnees set about to rebuild the temple and re-laid the foundation during a great celebration; but then came opposition.  The Samaritans (who hated the Jews) didn’t want to see the Jews prosper, so they kept hitting back at them until finally, they stopped rebuilding the Temple altogether.

As the years passed by, slowly but surely, Jerusalem came back to life.  Homes were built, stores were opened, commerce re-established, fields planted, crops harvested, and life began to resemble something of a normal pattern, BUT there was a problem.  The Temple foundation still lay in ruins, overgrown with weeds.  Every time the Jews passed it, it stood as a reminder of their failure to take care of God’s house.

This situation remains for 16 long years.  Finally, God sent a prophet named Haggai to wake the people up.

From what history reports, Haggai’s ministry lasted only over a span of 4 months (Hag. 1:1; 2:1,10, 20).

We don’t know where he came from, we don’t know his lineage, his family – all we know is that he has come out of exile in Babylon with Zerubbabel.  God had a purpose for him after 70 years in captivity, and God had only 4 months for this man to minister.

And the effect of his ministry?

In just 24 days after his message, we see the people (led by their leader Zerubbabel and Joshua their high priest) started work again and reconstructing the Temple of God (Hag. 1:14-15).

THE WHOLE NATION turned around and completed God’s task because one new man spoke on His behalf.

This leads right into my title: Don’t Under-Estimate What God Can Do Through You!

GIVE TO GOD THE SMALL THINGS –

Fred Craddock, professor, and New Testament Emeritus says, “We think giving our all to God is like taking a $1,000 bill, laying it on the table and saying, ‘Here’s my life, Lord.  I’m giving it to You.’  But that’s not how it works!

God sends us to the bank to cash $1,000 bill – for 50 cent coins.  Then He asks us to give 50 cents here, and $1,00 there; to teach a Sunday school class, volunteer you help a hospice, or just clean up the sanctuary.”  The Small things!

So the question is – are we as prepared to be used by God?

  • It’s good to pause and think – what has God been calling you to do?
  • Does God expect anything from me?

What’s wrong with the people of Israel?

They’ve returned to their homeland Jerusalem more than 16 years earlier (586 BC, from captivity in Babylon).

  • They actually started rebuilding the Temple after their return with all good intentions.  [We all start out with good intentions, don’t we?]  But the work was suspended because of conflict with their Samaritan neighbors (Ezra 3-4).
  • They refused to let the Samaritans work on the Temple, the animosity grew, and the Samaritans fight back.
  • As a result, the work was halted and nobody bothered any attention to the unfinished work for another 14 years.

When God is out of mind, He’s out of your life.

The people had gotten indifferent about re-building God’s house.  They build “paneled houses” (1:4) for themselves.  It wasn’t a lack of resources; they have the time and the means to do it.  It was a lack of heart.

The Bible tells us where your treasure is for there your heart is also.  You can call it apathy, or being lukewarm, or just being lazy.  Whatever it is, God is neither in their mind nor in their lives.

So what’s the result of the God- absent life?

READ 1:6, 9-11

[6] “You have sown much but you harvest little”

Because the people had pushed God out the center of life, they were now suffering in every other area.  They had fields without produce, action without satisfaction. and labor without profit.  These occurrences appear to be a correlation between the blessings of life and our worship of God.

Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:33 (AMP),  “But seek (aim at and strive after) first of all His kingdom and His righteousness (His way of doing and being right), and then all these things taken together will be given you besides.”

When our priority isn’t right, then we’ll see it in our lives, the fruit of our labor.

We can read a similar message given to the prophet Malachi.  The people had drifted away from God and no longer bringing their tithes and offerings into the storehouse – the Temple of God.

And God says in Malachi 3:10-12…

WHY WOULD GOD DO THIS?

He allows us to suffer the results of our wrong choices in life to wake us up, convict us of sin, and to lead us to repentance.  The longer they put it off, the longer they deprive themselves of God’s blessing.

Let’s stop procrastinating when God shows us what is right and good.  By putting it off, you’re just delaying God’s BLESSING in your life!

It’s interesting to note that God told them what they were thinking (1:2), “This is what the LORD Almighty says”

God not only knows the situation, He knows what you’re thinking!  He knows the condition of the heart!

So when God speaks to you and me, during the reading of His Word in the Bible, He’s addressing a NEED He sees in us.

A thought came to me, about the time when Jesus spoke to the Samaritan women at the well in John 4.  He was able to tell her of five husbands, and the woman said, “I can see you are a prophet.”  And when the conversation ended, she ran back to her village crying, “I can see a man that told me all that ever I did!”  The woman came for the water, but that wasn’t her greatest need.  She needed the LIVING WATER, and Jesus spoke to her need!

When God speaks through the prophets in the OT, He’s addressing the NEEDS of the people directly.

God was telling the people in Haggai’s time the real cause of their misery in life.  It pays to listen attentively to God when we are moved by a message.  We find this phrase repeated again and again (1:2. 3. 5. 7. 13; 2:1…):

“This is what the LORD ALMIGHTY says; the word of the Lord came through…”

Today God is doing the same thing – He is constantly speaking to us!

It may come as COMFORT, a WARNING, a word of WISDOM.  God is addressing a NEED in you, in me, or as a church.  And the result is the same – our heart is being stirred.

Being “stirred,” that’s the work of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter!  Taking the Word of God and showing it to us, convicting us of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8).  

So when God speaks, listen!  Don’t listen to – rely on, a sermon for someone’s sake.  The LORD says repeatedly, “Give careful thought to your ways” (1:5, 7; 2:15).

This is the right response to His Word.  Ponder carefully – to think about; reflect on, consider especially a matter soberly and quietly – and respond to Him.

1:12 says the “whole remnant of the people obeyed the voice of the Lord their God and the prophet Haggai because the LORD their God had sent him…”

  • They recognized it as a message from God, not from Haggai, not man’s suggestion.

This one decision – to heed God’s Word – changed them completely!

You may have been indifferent to 14 years, it really doesn’t matter.  What’s important is to take note of what God’s saying to you and act upon it.  It might just be a simple decision, but you need to MAKE IT!  Procrastinate and you can find yourself still in misery for another 14 years.  “Someday” is the devil’s tool to keep us from growing in the Christian life.  It’s not a lack of resources, it’s a lack of a heart.  Many Christians know what’s right and good, BUT…just couldn’t…wouldn’t act to doing it.

There’s a legend that’s worth repeating because it contains an important truth to this study.  *[See CREDITS]

Satan held a passing out parade at the spiritual academy.  During the day he questioned 3 of his evil spirits.  To the first, he said, “When you get out into the world, what are you going to say to the people?”

“Oh,” the evil spirit replied, “I shall tell them there’s no God.”

“That’s no use,” said the devil, “Creation tells people that there is a God.  Not many will believe you.”  Then he said to the second evil spirit, “And what are you going to tell the people?”

“I shall say that there is not going to be a judgment,” was the reply.

“That’s not much use,” answered the devil.  “Conscience tells them about judgment.  Not many will believe you.”  Turning to the third evil spirit he asked, “What about you?”

“I shall tell people that there is a God and a judgment to come,” answered the third evil spirit.  “But I shall add there’s no hurry.”

“Excellent,” said the devil.  “Many will believe that!”

People believe that there’s no hurry about accepting Christ, turning to God and putting things right.  The truth is – the time is running out fast, and the time to respond to God’s voice may just be now.

____________________________________________________________________________

CREDITS:

Legend Story:  “There Is A Legend” – June 18, 2007, Sermon Central.com; Mark Sutton, Missions Today.

Bible Translations:  New International Version (NIV); Amplified Bible (AMP)

Photo/Images:  Google Image Search.

Dictionary:  Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary – To “ponder”

 

Guarding Against the Spirit Of Complacency

Bible Study and Commentary in Zephaniah 1:1-2:3

Zephaniah actually deals with the “Day of the Lord”, much more directly than any of the other Old Testament prophets.  Much like the prophet Amos, Zephaniah points out that the people of Judah shouldn’t be looking forward to the “Day of the Lord”, even though their enemies would be punished, for they too would be judged for their sins.

That said, the purpose of the PROPHECY wasn’t to drive the people to hopelessness and despair for what was coming, but rather to shock them out of the complacency they had developed in their worship of God.  As Matthew Henry once stated, Zephaniah intended “not to frighten them out of their wits, but to frighten them out of their sin.”

With many other prophecies I’ve come across in the reading of the Old Testament, I’ve found both a near term and far term fulfillment of Zephaniah’s prophecy.  It’s like peeling an onion, one layer at a time.

The near-term fulfillment came in Zephaniah’s generation as Babylon invaded Judah and Jerusalem and took the people captive.  But there are certain aspects of Zephaniah’s prophecy that has yet to be fulfilled with the return of Jesus.  [See “are we THERE YET?” blog-study, 8/27/19]

In this chapter reading, much of what is learned about the “Day of the Lord” is confirmed:

  • It’s universal – the entire world is going to experience the effects of God’s wrath being poured out.
  • It’s certain – although we don’t know when the final culmination of the “Day of the Lord” will begin, it will happen.  [READ 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12]
  • It’s horrific – perhaps more than any other Old Testament prophet, Zephaniah describes the nature of the final culmination with words like wrath, distress, anguish, ruin, darkness, and doom.

I don’t want to focus my studies on those specific details.  I want to investigate and dig deeper into God’s Word to see if we can discover some of the underlying reasons for God’s JUDGMENT, particularly in the discipline of His own children.  There’s little doubt in my mind that the key verse for the entire book of Zephaniah is…

Zephaniah 1:12 – “And at that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps and punish the men who [like old wine] are thickening and settling on their lees, who say in their hearts, The Lord will not do good, nor will He do evil.”  [Amplified Bible]

The language in this verse certainly would have caused Zephaniah’s listeners to think of the Passover, where every family would take a candle (“lamps”) and search every nook and cranny in their house to find and remove any leaven that might be tucked away.

In much the same way, God said that He would search every single inch of Jerusalem in order to punish the sin that was there.  And there was one SIN in particular that God focused on here – the SIN OF COMPLACENCY – or “stagnancy.”

Usually, there’s a grouping of sins into Two Groups:

  • SINS OF COMMISSION, where we do something that we’re not supposed to do.
  • SINS OF OMISSION, where we fail to do something that we should do.

But what really provokes God is the kind of COMPLACENCY that accepts sin as a lifestyle because we don’t think that God really cares about our sin, or that He won’t do anything about it.

It’s clear from the entire passage here, that the scriptural context provided isn’t speaking to the outsiders, but rather to those that claimed to be His children.  It reminds me of Jesus’ letter to the church of Laodicea in Revelation 3, where He warned them against being lukewarm.

Okay, so we are complacent at times in the Church.  How do we guard against complacency in our own relationship with God?

Complacency in our spiritual lives can come from a number of different factors.  So in this bible-study, I want to use this passage to evaluate our own spiritual lives to determine whether we are in danger of slipping into complacency, or even if we’ve already arrived.

After reading and re-reading this passage of Scripture, I decided to group into THREE major components attributed to the number of underlying problems.

  • FAILURE TO SEEK GOD

In verse 6, Zephaniah addresses “those who have turned back from following the Lord who do not seek the Lord or inquire of Him.”

While David was out in the wilderness of Judah, he wrote Psalm 63, which he described the way that we need to seek our God in every way, and every day:

Are you a SEEKER?  Are you thirsting for God in the same way you would thirst for water if you found yourself stranded in Death Valley in the middle of the summer?

Unfortunately what happens for most of us is that we start out on our spiritual journey thirsting for God.  We can’t get enough of our Bible reading, study, we long to come into His presence in prayer, and we take advantage of every opportunity that we can find to learn more about Him, getting to know Him as we should.

But gradually over time our fervor, our enthusiasm wanes and we wake up one day and realize that we are no longer seeking after God like we once did, and we don’t know why!

I truly believe that the same progression is exactly why so many marriages in this country end up in divorce.  According to a 2008 study by the Barna Research Group, those identified as Christian are just as likely as non-Christians to be divorced.  And according to Shaunti Feldhahn in her book The Good News About Marriage says, the overall divorce rate has never reached the 50 percent level.  According to her study, the overall divorce rate is around 33%.  That’s lower than the purported 50%, but still, nothing to jump up and down about.

When I first started dating my future wife to be, some 55 years ago, I would do everything that I could to get to know her, and then to do what I could to please her as I got to know her better.  But for many couples, once the honeymoon is over, they gradually move away from that process until one day they wake up and realize that they don’t really know their spouse all that well and lost the desire to do what it takes to please the other person.

But just as it’s never too late to re-start that process in a marriage, it’s never too late to return to our roots and seek God like we once did.

  • Separating the “secular” and the “sacred”

As we look at the spiritual life of Judah as described by Zephaniah, it becomes clear that one of the root problems was that the people had separated the “secular” from the “sacred”.

This isn’t the first time that Israel had engaged in this practice, as the prophet Amos had to address that same issue with Israel over 100 years earlier.  Zephaniah points to the problem in detail, verses 10 and 11 (NIV):

[10] “On that day,” declares the LORD, “a cry will go up from the Fish Gate, wailing from the New Quarter, and a loud crash from the hills.

The FISH GATE

[11] Wail, you who live in the market district (or the Mortar); all your merchants will be wiped out, all who trade with silver will be ruined.

In this section, Zephaniah is primarily addressing the practices of the businessmen in Jerusalem.  The Fish Gate was primarily on the north wall of Jerusalem and gots its name either because the fishermen brought their catch through the gate or because the fish market was nearby.

Pike’s Place Fish Market, Seattle Washington

I don’t believe there was “fish tossing,” at the marketplace in Jerusalem, but you get the idea.

The Second Quarter was likely the area northwest of the Temple area, home to many wealthy businessmen.  And the Mortar was a business district in Jerusalem.  All of that would be consistent with Zephaniah’s condemnation of the traders and those who weigh out silver.

The scenario was exactly the same as described in Amos 3.  These business people would go to church on Saturday and then the rest of the week, engage in immoral business practices in order to make a bigger profit.  And the only way that was possible is, they had to separate the “secular” and the “sacred” aspect of their lives.

Unfortunately, as I see it, not much has changed in the last 2,600 years.

We still tend to compartmentalize our lives.  We put Bible reading, prayer and church activities, all in one basket we identify as “spiritual.”  Then we dump everything else into another basket we label “secular” – things like our family, our job, our neighborhood, our communities, politics, and our finances.  But the problem with that approach, it’s not Biblical.  The apostle Paul certainly had to address that same mindset while writing to the Colossian church:

Whatever we do in the name Of Jesus, Paul didn’t make any exceptions.

He didn’t write, “In everything but your finances” or “in everything but your marriage.”  The fact is that the true measure of our WORSHIP is far less dependent on what we do on Sunday morning than it is on how we live our lives for the rest of the week.

So here’s an idea for us all to practice, God helping us along the way – Romans 12:1 (The Message Bible)

The OFFERING that God wants from me is to take every aspect of my life and make Him the center of all I do!  That’s the kind of WORSHIP that pleases my heavenly Father.

  • Seeking to “cover all my bases”

This may be the biggest problem of all!

The people haven’t forgotten about their “worshipping” God – they’ve just added a whole lot of other things to it.  It’s as if they decided to “cover all their bases.”

So they bow down to idols, following the example set by the priests, who are also engaging in that idolatry.  They go up on their roofs and worship the stars.  They swear an oath to God, but just in case…swear that same oath to another god.  The entry into the superstitious practices of the pagans around them, like leaping over the threshold in order to avoid disturbing the gods.

Of course today, we would never do anything like that, would we?

Edward Gibbon in his book, The Decline, and Fall of the Roman Empire described the attitude towards “religion” in the last days of the Roman Empire.

  • The people regarded ALL religions as equally true.
  • The philosophers regarded ALL religions as equally false.
  • The politicians regarded ALL religions as equally useful.

Sound familiar?

But unfortunately, the problem isn’t limited to our culture in general.  It’s crept into the Church itself.

I’ve known those who claim to be Christians who would never think of starting their day without reading their horoscope, maybe even right after they read their Bible.  And even if we don’t have idols carved out of stone, how many Christians make gods out of their jobs, their possessions, their social status, or even something good, like their families?

But God has given us a very clear command about trying to worship other gods at the same time we claim to worship Him:

Sometimes, we have slipped into or maybe even fallen completely, in a place of complacency in our spiritual life.  The good news is, we don’t have to fall prey to complacency.

In fact, even for the people of Judah in Zephaniah’s day, it still wasn’t too late to take steps that were necessary to recover from the complacency to guard against falling back there again.

At the beginning of chapter 2, Zephaniah provides his listeners, and us, the antidote to COMPLACENCY:

Zephaniah 2:1-3

In this passage, we find God’s commands that are intended to keep us from becoming spiritually complacent.

  • SEEK

This is the predominant command here for it’s repeated three times.

This is exactly the opposite of what started the people on their downward slide to COMPLACENCY in the first place when they quit SEEKING God.

There are THREE specific things we are commanded to SEEK:

  • The Lord
  • Righteousness
  • Humility

Rather than dealing with each of the three separately, and after meditating on the three, it occurred to me that these 3 Things are actually connected.

Although the people of Zephaniah’s day certainly couldn’t see the whole picture, on this side of the Cross, or recognizes that he’s describing here a process – the only process – by which we can become righteous in God’s eyes.

2 Corinthians 5:21 (NIV)

God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.

The “Connection Junction” –

  • HUMILITY

“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”  C.S. Lewis

We have to first HUMBLE ourselves and admit our sinfulness to God.  Then as we SEEK out Jesus as the means to deal with our sin, we are made RIGHTEOUS before God as a result of His finished work on the CROSS, not based on our own merit or good works.

But that can’t be a one-time decision!

We have to choose each day to continue to HUMBLY recognize our shortcomings, our sinfulness, and confess it in the name of Jesus so that we might be able to continue to SEEK our God.

  • OBEY

In verse 3, those who may be hidden by God are described as those “you who do what he commands”.  Although it’s impossible to earn God’s favor by obeying His commands, the Bible is clear that whether or not we OBEY His commands demonstrates whether we truly love Him.

And for those who guard against COMPLACENCY by adhering to these commands, God has a promise – one that’s related to Zephaniah’s name, which means “YHWH hides”.

So for those who SEEK & OBEY, God holds out hope that He will hide them away at the culmination of the “Day of the Lord” when His anger is poured out.

I encourage you to look at the rest of the Book of Zephaniah on your own, because Zephaniah, like many of the other prophets, ends his book with a word of hope.  He describes how God is going to restore Israel and make them prosper in their land once again.

So let’s make sure that we don’t become complacent in our worshipping of God.  Every day let’s humble ourselves before God, and seek His face.  Let us obey His commands!

_____________________________________________________________________________

CREDITS:

Bible Translations:  New International Version (NIV); Interlinear Bible; New English Translation (NET); The Message Bible;

Photos/Images:  Google Image Search

Commentary:  Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary – Zephaniah 1:12;  StudyLight.Org