A Response That’s Beyond My Grasp

My covenant was with him (Levi), a covenant of life and peace, and I gave them to him; this called for reverence and he revered me and stood in awe of my name. Malachi 2:5

The beauty of this picture arrests me. Because Levi was given a covenant of life and peace, his deep gratitude caused him to respond with reverence and awe. This gift from God was so undeserved that it stunned him. The name of God fell from his lips with wonder.

I think about those who have impacted my life; those who, despite how much time has passed, continue to shape my worldview and how I respond as a child of God. Family, mentors, friends, authors, speakers. If their influence has been life altering, I feel the beautiful weight of their memory when anyone speaks their names. If a question about them is posed, I weigh my words carefully, finding it a challenge to capture someone so important to my life.

For instance, let me talk about my mother. Cancer took her life 1984. I was only 30 years old. The essence of who she is, and still is, fills my heart and I find it about impossible to describe the many shades of her personality and character. She is one of the prominent subjects of my hour-long seminar on how to survive hard times. It is not uncommon for women to ask me afterward, “Can you tell me more stories about your mother.” I’m sure my face wears my love for my mother as I speak of her. If this is true of a mother, how much more so of a Savior!

I am also struck by the fact that Levi’s response didn’t include entitlement. God’s promise of life and peace was an undeserved gift. God didn’t owe them anything because they were good people. He bestowed the oaths of covenant upon them; He commended his love toward them, and toward me, which means to confer something upon another. He conferred life and peace upon the unrighteous even though they would love him, then betray him. It would be a cycle of joy and pain for God yet He did not weigh the risks and consider them too great. I’m glad, aren’t you? Because I’ve been grafted, as a Gentile, into the family that enjoys this same covenant of life and peace. But some of these branches from Abraham’s tree–some of the people of Israel—have been broken off. And you Gentiles, who were branches from a wild olive tree, have been grafted in. So now you also receive the blessing God has promised Abraham and his children. Romans 11:17

Have mercy upon me until I have the same response as Levi. Reverence and awe. Amen

God Is Long-suffering ~ Can I Sin Longer?

“And now this admonition is for you, O priests. If you do not listen, and if you do not set your heart to honor my name,” says the LORD Almighty, “I will send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings. Malachi 2:1-2

  • Because God is long-suffering, I am often allowed to sin for a long time before I see any consequences.
  • Because God is long-suffering, I tend to relax about unrighteous behavior and assume I’ll get away with it.
  • Because God is long-suffering, I am lulled into a sense of well-being and prideful autonomy.
  • Because God is long-suffering, I wrongly mistake His mercy for apathy.

God took a long time before He disciplined His priests. They knew better yet they sinned anyway against a holy God. Because they got away with it for so long, they grew complacent in their sinful practices. They mistook prosperity for God’s indifference and even assumed He was blessing them.

If I am a child of God, I belong to the ‘kingdom of priests’. When the Spirit of God takes up residence in me, that event has staggering ramifications. I am no longer King over myself even though it may feel like it due to the fact that I still have free choice. I am under obligation to allow God to reign over my life. I will not enjoy the timeless luxury of making choices that are good for me and not for God. I will be loved, and His discipline is part of love, in order to inspire obedience which brings about blessing.

Sin will bring consequences. If I haven’t felt them yet, my assumption can’t be that God is long-suffering; giving me unlimited opportunities to repent before I face the captivity of sin. There are limits to rebellion. And God would always prefer me to turn away from iniquity because I’ve strained my relationship with Him, not because my choices have brought me to a place of great distress.

Today, some have already begun to notice the unraveling of their lives due to sin. Perhaps the disease of their own ungodly traits have become evident in those around them. The mirror is ugly. Addictions are often passed on to children. Immorality visits the next generation. Control, rage, obsessive behaviors, these and other vices can manifest themselves in the innocence of youth. The captivity of my own sin affects those I love and then the need for God’s healing and restoration becomes complicated. It’s not too late, but it will take more prayer, more time, and a bigger miracle.

In my stubbornness, I’ve often waited too long to turn around. I want to listen to Your instruction the first time. I am prone to wander. Save me. Amen

Am I Just Bored?

“And you say, `What a burden!’ and you sniff at it contemptuously,” says the LORD Almighty. Malachi 1:13

The good news is ~ the Israelites had not yet abandoned their form of worship. The bad news is ~ they were doing it purely for the sake of ritual. They were bored. God accused them of sniffing contemptuously at what was sacred.

Many arise on a Sunday morning and think of church with a sigh. It is disruptive to what could be a free day. If you watch the Food Network, there are many programs that suggest how to put together an elaborate brunch menu, which according to the chefs but excluding Ree Drummond who is active in their local church, characterize their own Sunday mornings at home. It’s a time to sleep in, lounge, indulge, and even invite some friends over.

If many believers were honest with themselves and dared to examine their hearts, they would admit that a free Sunday of this variety is very appealing. The routines of their faith have lost their excitement and boredom plagues their spirit. I know. I spent many early years feeling as though Sundays were just plain monotonous. God’s Spirit seemed dormant. I honored traditions strictly for the sake of tradition. I was guilty of ‘sniffing contemptuously.’

I have spent 42 years in ministry. Much of that time has involved visiting churches. I have felt the spiritual temperatures of congregations. Boredom has often been the prevalent disease of the people. To feel the electricity of the Spirit moving with the teaching of the Word was more the exception than the rule. Oh, but when the supernatural happened, it was unforgettable. I can recall those places even today even though in some cases, it’s years later.

As a visiting artist, I’ve been asked ~ “How do you think we could get more people to come to our church? Maybe we need to change the worship. Do you think we need to update our media? What did you think of our worship team? Should we get rid of hymnals and pews?” These kinds of questions ignored the real issue and were bandaids for those who were spiritually asleep. It’s easy for any of us to love the trappings more than we love to worship God with body, soul, and spirit. Church becomes an institution of religious customs where rituals abound.

A shake-up is needed and it begins with me. I start by asking the question, “How in the world could anyone be bored with God?! Why am I?” The many answers to these questions point to a spiritual malaise that can only be cured by uttering the most important words I would ever whisper in prayer. “Come Holy Spirit.”

 

Who Would I Have Become?

My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name. Malachi 1:11

God takes a break from a language of tough love. Though previous verses dealt with the ways Israel had profaned their worship, God pauses to give a prophetic word. He reminds them of who they will become. How gracious He is to provide such a contrast. It allows them to see the disparity between their present lives and their future blessing that emanates from obedience. Perhaps it was staggering for them to consider that a day would come when every single offering would be pure. Or were they so deceived that they couldn’t see how far they had strayed? The day of that particular prophecy has not yet occurred, by the way. It will happen during the millennial reign of Christ.

God has given me many promises in Scripture. He has outlined who I will be in my glorified state. He has provided a roadmap for my journey. Daily, I am to be moving toward the goal of becoming more like that person; the one who will be like Jesus, the one who will live and reign with Him. The contrast between who I am today and who I will evolve into is not only instructive, but inspirational.

When I travel and speak, I always start our Daughters of Promise events by asking women a question. “Who would you be today if you had been raised in the Garden of Eden with God as your Father?” The room gets quiet as big eyes look back at me. I can see that the question is arresting. Many consider the vast difference between who they are now and who they might have become under the love and care of a perfect Father. They would have known perfect love, perfect justice. Their true identity would have been defined and applauded. There would have been no shame. They would have become confident, joyful adults who loved to walk with their Father in the Garden.

How would you answer the question. The difference between who you are now and who you might have been under God’s care provides a roadmap for the rest of your life. Can you more easily see your areas of brokenness and then invite God to move over them with His healing love? Shame will melt in God’s embrace. Fear will dissipate in a Father’s encouraging word. The voices of self-condemnation will no longer drown out the whispers of God’s endearances.

I am still so far from who You want to empower me to become. It’s all about me being able to receive Your love on an even deeper level. I know that now. Amen

What’s Your Habit?

“Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar!” Malachi 1:10

Ten minutes before the service, the organist prepared to offer a prelude. She opened her book, well worn and marked up with pencil from hours of rehearsal. She began to play. Some noticed and attempted to listen but just as many others treated it as background noise with which to contend. People raised their voices over the music to greet each other. They gave quick reviews of their week. The din included laughter, storytelling, and scheduling of social events. The organist played on. When the service began, people opened their bulletins. There were no surprises. Same order of service. Same comfortable routine. One could be lulled by the familiar line-up into a state of passivity.

Three well-known hymns were sung. Many never looked at their hymnals, so acquainted were they with the lyrics. The truth be known, there was a bit of pride in some that these hymns had been committed to memory so long ago. Spiritual arrogance was the disease of the church. Folks could sing the anthems without a hymnal, recite The 23rd Psalm and The Lord’s Prayer from memory, greet others with Christian clichés, and stand a bit taller. They believed themselves to be a feather in God’s cap. At the conclusion of the pastor’s sermon, a generic invitation was given. “Who wants to be a better witness this week?” Most everyone raised their hand to offer a hearty amen. It was the thing to do.

The person in the pew used to be, and might still often be, me. It’s easy, without the edge and the desperate need that suffering inspires, to engage in habit and do what is expected. I may be unaware that the Spirit of God is quenched. I do not discern my great spiritual condition. How often have I placed useless sacrifices on God’s altar.

God spoke through Malachi. His people were creatures of habit; swollen with pride and deluded by their true spiritual state. His words were meant to shake up their routines. “Close the doors!” was His cry.

“What would Jesus do?” has been a familiar mantra of the past decade. If I am to be like Jesus, how would He worship on a Sunday morning? I see Him at the altar during the organ prelude, praying for His people. I see Him singing with His face raised toward heaven; eyes closed, face radiating with glory. This picture alone is enough to introduce some tough questions. If traditions were removed from our services, what brand of faith would be left? Would Christians feel lost, wondering what to do and how to worship? Perhaps a clean slate would spark some authenticity. We would recover some heartfelt beliefs, discover renewed passion, and commence it all with a period of repentance.

When I worship with my lips but my heart is dead, You have strong words. You long to open wide the doors of the temple for those who will worship with body, soul, and spirit. May that be me. Amen

Giving God The Leftovers

“When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice crippled 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. Malachi 1:7-8

The people of Israel had gotten careless and began to deal recklessly with God. When a prized animal became sick, they rushed him to the temple to use him for sacrifice. He might have looked like a perfect specimen to everyone else, even earning the owner praise by the priests for making such a generous offering. Oh, but God knew. When He had been seemingly quiet and inactive, His people took Him less and less seriously. They got sloppy, then irreverent, which lead to traitorous.

People pleasing is a dangerous bedfellow. I will be calculated when I know someone important is watching me be religious. Malachi, with biting sarcasm, asked the people, “Would you give such a gift to the governor?” He reminded them that when their reputation mattered publicly, they performed better. When all eyes had the chance to see their piety, they put their best foot forward. Speaking on behalf of God, Malachi’s words were clear that their actions were anything but worshipful. They played church for self-promotion.

What about integrity? Let me imagine for a moment that I volunteer to bring dinner to two different families who who need help with meals. One dinner is for the family of one of our pastors. The other meal is going to a widow in the church no one knows well. Will I put the same effort into both meals? If not, today’s message is for me. The gifts are tainted and God knows the difference. Have I really given them in His name or my own?

The stark realization from today’s scripture is this; whatever I offer to God as a sacrifice is supposed to be reminiscent of the kind of Sacrifice God gave, His own Lamb. How does that square with the amount of tithe I habitually give to the church, or the music I throw together without prayer or effort? God offered me His sacrifice; it was His perfect Son. When I consider making my next gift to the Kingdom of God, what will I be willing to pay?

Forgive me for thinking more about pleasing the pastor than pleasing You. Jesus, You offered Yourself and laid aside Your reputation. I want to hear You comment on the value of my gifts. Amen

When God Repeats Himself

“You place defiled food on my altar. ”But you ask, `How have we defiled You?’ Malachi 1:7

God swore His love to Israel throughout history through the covenant He made with them. But He predicted their response of unbelief. “How have You loved us?” they asked defiantly. Now, He addresses their defiled sacrifices. Because He knows the bent of their heart, He predicts that they will have a similar response. “How have we defiled You?” God holds up a mirror to show them a picture of their arrogance. It’s not pretty but it is instructive. If they will just listen, they have an opportunity to see how ugly pride is and how beautiful reconciliation can be.

This won’t be the last time God predicts defensiveness. He will hammer the truth hard through Malachi’s voice but God’s consistent message will be a theme of mercy. At all costs, He longs for their repentance so it can lead to obedience. And, obedience will yield what God desires most for every single one of us – the chance to bless those He loves. I often forget that as I once viewed God as a nagging parent and hard to please.

How many times has God pricked my conscience?  He has been relentless. I recognized His voice, squirmed in discomfort, and then filled my life with distractions so I wouldn’t have to hear Him repeat Himself. He was calling me to change, to forsake my idols of people pleasing and playing by the rules. I was gripped with fear at the thought of being God’s individual, of being called to be separate to walk as God’s unique child. It took many years for me to respond to His encouragement to step up. I only did so after much loss and the sound of His tender wooing. He kept repeating Himself until I listened. He does that!

If I could be a spiritual mother for a moment and picture you and I having this conversation on my back porch, you would hear the passion in my voice. “If God has spoken, respond! If He has already begun to repeat Himself, times are critical.” I do not know the matters over which God has need to address you. Perhaps it’s a call to service, a call to forgiveness, a call to stop conforming to a group, or the call to resign from a weight that is holding you back. Whatever it is, this calendar day can be the first day of your newfound obedience. Peace with God is the first reward. Blessing will follow.

You give many chances. Thank You for Your inexhaustible mercy. Amen