Category Archives: Malachi

Quiet Time, July 7, 2016

Sisters, let’s do something different today.  Let’s have a quiet time together.

First, let’s thank God for the gifts he gave us yesterday.  I keep a gratitude journal and try to write in it every day. I have over 1850 entries right now.  It really helps me keep the positive in perspective.

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My gratitude journal, part of my quiet time.

Father, I thank you so much for having more energy yesterday, after struggling with a urinary tract infection in days prior.  I thank you for the rain that sluiced down upon my poor dry yard and flowers. Thank you for the lovely purple Mexican poppies facing me this morning.  Thank you for the great talk I had with Jessica, and the adorable pictures she sent me of little Josiah. Thank you for Mitchell and Lorena coming over last night, and the laughs we shared, and the spiritual encouragement we gave each other, and for their friendship. (I’ll stop here in the interest of time.)

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Now, tell God what you are grateful for…..

Next, let’s pray by breathing in the Spirit and breathing out sin. I heard someone mention this technique, and it is a great thing to do throughout the day.  Everyone knows meditation is helpful.  Classic meditation is focusing on your breaths.  So let’s focus on taking spiritual breaths.

Breathe in the first fruit of the Spirit, which is love.  Feel God’s amazing love for you, how much he cares about each detail of your life.  Breathe out all of your animosity, the bad attitudes towards others, the resentments, and so on.

Breathe in God’s joy.  Picture him in the heavens, rejoicing over all of his splendid creation.  Picture him looking with joy at all the people who have given their lives to him and serve him.  Now breathe out your angst.  Breathe out the things that brings you down.

Breathe in peace.  I envision a vast shining network of threads stretching over the earth, and God controls them all.  He is the grand orchestrater.  Nothing escapes his will.  He will accomplish his purpose.  Breathe out all of your inner turmoil.  Put your worries in God’s hands.

Breathe in patience.  Remember that God is long suffering with us, slow to anger.  His patience is like a tempering force in the universe.  Breathe out all your impatience, the frustration over the things you want to change.

Breathe in kindness.  Feel God’s good will towards you. Remember the blessings he gives, even though you don’t deserve them.  Breathe out the unkind thoughts you have towards others.

Breathe in goodness.  God is light.  In him there is no darkness at all.  When you pray, you are surrounded by his goodness on every side.  Breathe out anything that is rancid in your thoughts and character.

Breathe in faithfulness.  If you are a disciple, God is totally committed to you. He will always do right be you.  But God is also committed to each person, because they are his beloved creation that he watches over.  Breathe out all your doubts and your wishi-washiness.

Breathe in gentleness.  Know that God practices such restraint.  We are his children and he treats us with a careful loving hand.  Breathe out all of your harshness.

Breathe in self control.  Feel God strengthening you to serve him in the right ways today.  Breathe out all of your laziness and lack of commitment.

That was wonderful!!  Now let’s petition God and go down our prayer lists.  I’m including prayers for the REACH conference and the people who are traveling.  I’m praying that my return to health will continue, and that I won’t have any complications.  I am especially praying that we can find someone who can be our campus minister.  If we found someone at REACH, that would be awesome!!

Pray now…..

Next, let’s look at the Bible.  I’ve been studying Malachi, and I’m almost done.  Here is Malachi 4:1–

Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them.

This verse talks about a judgement day that is coming.  This can be the fall of Jerusalem.  It can also be the final judgement.

The thing that concerns me with this verse is that arrogance is put on the same scale as being a wicked evil doer whose fate is to be set on fire.  Let’s watch ourselves.  I just finished a quick read through Matthew, listing all the passages that dealt with sin.  There really aren’t that many things Jesus condemned as sin.  But a major one is pride.  He talks about not doing things for show, to be seen.  This verse sums up his attitude:

For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.  Matt 23:12

Let’s examine ourselves and think of how we exalt ourselves.  Do we think we’re better than others?  “No!” we proclaim.  But as I thought about it more, I realize that I make a thousand little judgements through the day and look down on the way people dress and conduct their lives.  There’s just something about trying to be my best for God that makes me look at others and decide they aren’t doing what they should do.

Reading Romans 14 helps me in this. Here are a few highlights: “Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. . . Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. . . . You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.”

There is much more I could say on this, but read it for yourself.  We must somehow balance calling one another to righteousness with forbearance.  We must be humble, because we are ALL SINNERS!!!   I love what Guy Hammond, a minister who struggles with same sex attraction, says about this:  “Love the sinner.  Hate our own sin.”

Okay, moving on.  This verse in Malachi echos a theme found elsewhere in the Bible.  Look at Isaiah 5:24: “Therefore, as tongues of fire lick up straw and as dry grass sinks down in the flames, so their roots will decay and their flowers blow away like dust; for they have rejected the law of the LORD Almighty and spurned the word of the Holy One of Israel.”

And check out what John the Baptist said:  “The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.  I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”  Matt 3:11-12

Yikes!  John talks about a side of Jesus we don’t want to think about.  It is a great reminder that Jesus isn’t all soft compassion and fluff.  He also expects people to toe the line, and will help execute judgement on those who don’t.

There have been a lot of fires lately.  Here is one in the Kern River Valley in California on June 24.

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Credit: Michael Cuffe

The fire was especially bad because the area is so dry.  Notice the words God uses for those who will be burned up — stubble, straw, dry grass, chaff. All of these refer to dry, useless vegetation.

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Aftermath of Kern fire

So what should be our goal?  To be like the tree planted by water that always drinks in God! “But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season.” (Ps 1:2-3a)  When we prayed earlier, didn’t you feel strengthened and enriched?  Didn’t your brittle coarse attitudes fade away?

And this is what God says next in Malachi 4. “But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture.

When we seek God, when we follow Jesus, we feel better.  We are healed.  We leap for joy!!

Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, quoted part of this verse when he prophesied about his son:

“And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”  Luke 1:78

Thank you, God, for these wonderful verses.  Thank you that they give us direction in our lives.  Thank you that so much peace and encouragement can be found in you.  Thank you that you sent your son to give us hope and a way to be closer to you.  Help us to be humble.  Forgive us of our pride.  Help us to be serious about sin.  Help us to always come to you, the SOURCE.  May we walk with strength and joy today. May all of this be always and only for your glory.  In Jesus’ name, amen.

 

 

 

 

 

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Becoming a Land of Delight

Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the LORD of hosts.  Mal 3:12

God declares here his desire to bless the Hebrew nation and make it abundantly fruitful.  This encourages me so much, because I believe he has the same dreams for us.  He wants to rain down goodness upon us so we will flourish.

But there’s a caveat.  We have to give him the fullness of our lives in order for us to experience the fullness of his goodness.  The Jews in this passage were urged to bring the whole tithe into the storehouse.

I wish so deeply for people to commit more to God.  But many don’t.   They come to church services here and there.  They follow Jesus some.  And then they complain because life somehow isn’t working.  They long for a life that is really a life, but they can’t be convinced that they need to completely let go to get there.  And I want to plead with them, “Give it all to God.  Believe!  When you lose your life, you really do save your life.  You get so much more!”

Of course, this is true for disciples too.  We need to keep letting go.  We tend to start getting comfortable.  We hoard our efforts and energies.  Then we begin to feel that malaise again, not realizing that we’ve got to go back out on that limb for God.

It’s a consistent message throughout the Bible:  “If you pay attention to these laws and are careful to follow them, then the LORD your God will keep his covenant of love with you, as he swore to your ancestors. He will love you and bless you and increase your numbers. He will bless the fruit of your womb, the crops of your land–your grain, new wine and olive oil–the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks in the land he swore to your ancestors to give you.” (Deut 7:12-13)

But people think it sounds hard and unpleasant.

I so much want to stress that pouring yourself out to God is a joyful thing, not a painful one!!  Once you make that decision to take the plunge, it feels GREAT to give your all to the Almighty, merciful God who IS love and light and all goodness.

One thing I love about Malachi 3:12 is that God says that his people, themselves, will  be a “land of delight,” not just that their land will be fruitful, although that would certainly be true.  As I wrote at the beginning of the blog, God planned for his people to be bounteously fruitful.

It reminds me of John 15, where Jesus promised his followers, “Remain in me and you will bear much fruit.”

And that brings me to the second thing that’s necessary to experience the fullness of God’s blessings.  Once we give our all to him, we need to remain close to him.

I love how Leviticus 26 expresses that fruitfulness is associated with obedience and God’s nearness: “Do not make idols. . . If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands. . . I will look on you with favor and make you fruitful and increase your numbers, and I will keep my covenant with you.  You will still be eating last year’s harvest when you will have to move it out to make room for the new.  I will put my dwelling place among you, and I will not abhor you.  I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people.  Lev. 26

The Hebrews had a time when God’s presence was with them in a tabernacle or temple.  Today, it is so amazing that we as disciples can come into the very presence of God, the presence that in times past only the high priest could enter once a year. As the writer of Hebrews declares, “we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus.” (Hebrews 10:19)

But are we utilizing this great resource?  Are we appreciating the closeness of God?  Do we drink it in?  “For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God.  But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless, and its curse is imminent. In the end it will be burned.”  (Heb 6:7)

I listened to a great lesson this week by Robert Carillo.  He talked about the importance of connecting with God, not just learning about him.  The Hebrew word for knowing, “yada,” doesn’t mean intellectual knowledge.  It means knowing through experience, like you do when you have a relationship with someone.

That’s how we need to know God.

Do we reach out and connect with him throughout our day?  Because the more we do, the more we will naturally grow into the glorious creation God made us to be.  “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”  II Cor 3:18

Our souls are hardwired to be fertile soil, and God can supply all we need to produce a wonderful crop.

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This is my peach tree.  It is FULL of peaches this year!  And this picture was taken after we picked a bunch!

But my tree didn’t just automatically get full of fat sweet peaches.  There are some things that helped it to happen.  We pruned it back last year.  Our neighbor cut down their huge Bradford Pear tree that stole our tree’s sunshine.  We didn’t have a late frost this year.  I thinned the peaches while they were small, so the ones that remain will grow larger and sweeter.

It’s the same for us.  God has designed us to be fruitful.  But there are some things that need to happen.  We need to do our part.

We need to get rid of the things that keep us from giving our all and being close to God.  I think of my daughter, Celeste, who rearranged her life so she would have more time for church and personal devotionals.  I think of my friends, Markeya and Antoinette, who shared at midweek service about how they are using the scripture to battle negative thoughts and attitudes.  I think of my friend Paulette, who was so joyful and radiant this week.  She’s been off of work and spending a lot of time in the Bible, and you can SEE the difference it makes.  (I’m not advocating for people to quit their jobs.  I’m just pointing out that making time for God pays off!)

We need to die to self more completely, and in doing so, plant seeds that will receive his spark of life.  “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.  Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”  (John 12:24-25)

We need to stay connected with him.

And one more thing, which has helped me a lot this week.  We need to TRUST in his goodness. 

I have felt discouraged sometimes this week.   I’ve also been in a situation that is like a rock in my shoe.  It constantly chaffs me.

And the source of strength and encouragement for me through this has been my belief that God is good.  When I remember that, it is like water that invigorates a wilting plant.

My empowering verse for this week has been: “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”  I Peter 2:23

It is so amazing that Jesus could be in a situation where it seems like everything is going wrong, yet he completely gives himself into God’s hands.  He trusts entirely that God will take care of it.  In the moment it doesn’t LOOK at all like God is good, but Jesus still KNOWS it is true.

That is what we do when things don’t seen to go as they should.  We put our faith in God’s goodness, even though we don’t see it.  Look at these verses:

  • Yet, the strength of those who wait with hope in the LORD will be renewed. They will soar on wings like eagles. They will run and won’t become weary. They will walk and won’t grow tired.  Isa 40:31
  • Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.  Heb 11:1

These verses don’t speak of God’s tangible blessings.  No, it is in the midst of our scarcity that we are to hope with confidence.  And that energizes us.

We believe in the promise of Malachi 3:12, which is also expressed in so many other verses.  We believe that he wants us to thrive and be radiant.  And thus we give our little spindly sprout of a life to him, and in his time, he fulfills his promise of bloom and bounty.

No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; for the LORD will take delight in you, and your land will be married.” Isa 62:4

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Getting Past the Point of Holding Back

“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.  But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’

“In tithes and offerings.  You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me.  Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.  I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the Lord Almighty.  Mal 3:8-11

I love this passage.  Of course, it isn’t good to think that we might be robbing the Almighty God.

But I love the promise that if we give to God, he is going to pour out blessings on us.  This isn’t a prosperity gospel thing.  To me, it’s just a spiritual law.  If we put God first with any part of our life, we will have a return:

  • For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.  Luke 9:24
  • Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work  II Cor 9:6-8
  • “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields–along with persecutions–and in the age to come eternal life. Mark 10:29-30
  • But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Matt 6:33

Yet it is so hard to bring the “whole tithe” into the storehouse.  For me, it’s not the money that’s as hard to give.  It’s time. It’s doing the challenging things for God, like sharing my faith.  It’s pouring myself out to new friends.

Because I want to hold back in these things.  I want to preserve my resources.  I never know how much energy I am going to have, or how good I will feel.

So I’m hesitant to give.

I did a study on what it means to “bring the whole tithe in to the storehouse.

First of all, the Jews were commanded to give the Lord a tenth of what they brought in at harvest: “You must set aside a tithe of your crops–one-tenth of all the crops you harvest each year.”  Deut 14

This tithe would be used to support those who were formally serving the Lord: “The priest, the son of Aaron, shall be with the Levites when the Levites receive tithes, and the Levites shall bring up the tenth of the tithes to the house of our God, to the chambers of the storehouse.  For the sons of Israel and the sons of Levi shall bring the contribution of the grain, the new wine and the oil to the chambers; there are the utensils of the sanctuary, the priests who are ministering, the gatekeepers and the singers. Thus we will not neglect the house of our God.”  Numbers 10:38-39

Tithes were also to be taken up to support the poor:  “At the end of every third year, bring the entire tithe of that year’s harvest and store it in the nearest town. Give it to the Levites, who will receive no allotment of land among you, as well as to the foreigners living among you, the orphans, and the widows in your towns, so they can eat and be satisfied. Then the LORD your God will bless you in all your work.”  Deut 14:28-29.

So the Jews were supposed to take the very food that was to sustain them out of their larder, and give it to sustain others.  This had to be difficult.  I picture someone looking at the piles of grain, and jars of wine and oil they’ve worked hard to gather, and then taking some of the bags and jars and intentionally setting them aside, knowing they won’t have them if there is a year of drought.

It truly was a faith thing. They were giving away their hedge for the future.  They had to believe that if they gave some of their sustenance away, God was going to take care of them and “bless them in all their work.

And it’s the same with all of us.  We have to believe that when we give to God, he take care of us in our time of drought; that when we pour ourselves out for him, he will replenish us.

Here is one part of the spiritual principle of giving that I think is very important to understand:  God doesn’t necessarily give us a direct return for our service, but there is a return.  It isn’t like giving to a bank, where you earn a set interest rate.  It isn’t like planting a seed in the ground, where you know a plant will result.  It’s more ambiguous.  The Jews couldn’t say, “I tithed, so tomorrow it will rain.”  They just had to believe that God would reward this tithe in some form or fashion so their needs would be met.

And this encourages me.  Because when it comes to serving the Lord, I WANT to see a direct return.  I want to feel like, “Okay, I shared my faith with those people, now they should become Christians.”  And of course this often doesn’t happen.

But what does happen is that God blesses my efforts with an indirect return.   Out of the blue, someone calls and says they want to come to church.  All of a sudden there are people who want to start studying the Bible. We can know that our work will not be in vain.

Here is my conclusion:   If we don’t hold back, God won’t hold back! 

“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  Luke 6:38

Since I’ve been studying this, I have been trying to share my faith more.  Earlier this week I was passing the time with a bellhop at the Auburn Hotel while I was waiting for the desk clerk.  We got to talking about church, and at some point, I was uncharacteristically candid with him about what distinguishes our church.  “We try to make Jesus Lord, but for some reason people don’t want that.”  He sympathized, but I guess he wasn’t at a point of wanting it either.

Later, I talked to a grocery check out clerk who thought it was awesome that I was buying things to cook dinner for house church, and wanted to hear all about it.  Yet when I invited her to join, she just smiled.

That evening at house church, we all filled up on spaghetti.  Then we sat in a circle and sang, “10,000 Reasons” by Matt Redman: “Praise the Lord oh my soul, oh my soul, worship his holy name.  Sing like never before…”

It was one of those perfect moments.  We were full and satisfied.  I looked around and saw people I love singing from their hearts to God.  We were all enjoying the antics of the adorable children in our midst.  We were a spiritual family.  There was a glow and warmth in the room.

And I thought, “This is the feast I invited people to attend.  But they didn’t realize what they could have.”

I think that’s what God was trying to say.  He was telling the Jews, “”I’m inviting you to a feast!  Don’t you realize what you could have, if you’ll just give what I ask?”

God is still saying that to us today.  He wants to “graciously give us all things.”  (Romans 8:32)  He will do “immeasurably more.”  (Eph 3:20)  We just have to get past the point of holding back, past our fears, past our need to control, past the emotional baggage from the past.  Instead, let us joyfully pour ourselves out for him with the faith that there will be a return.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. Col 3:24

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We Are Not Destroyed!

“I the LORD do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.”  Malachi 3:6

This is an interesting passage.  First, God says that he does not change with circumstances or emotions, as we do.  He is steadfast and faithful to his people.  He keeps the terms of his covenant with them.

I read an interesting commentary on the next part of the verse about not being destroyed.  John Gill said that this refers to the destruction of Jerusalem, and that the Christians would not be destroyed when the city fell.  We know from history that over a million Jews were killed in the destruction of Jerusalem, yet there is no record of Christians being in the city when this happened.  They evidently were warned and all left the city ahead of time.

““The whole body, however, of the church at Jerusalem, having been commanded by a divine revelation, given to men of approved piety there before the war, removed from the city, and dwelt at a certain town beyond the Jordan, called Pella.”  (Eusebius, early Christian writer)

“When [Cestius Gallus] unexpectedly and unaccountably raised the siege, the Christians took that opportunity to escape. … [As] Vespasian was approaching with his army, all who believed in Christ left Jerusalem and fled to Pella, and other places beyond the river Jordan; and so they all marvellously escaped the general shipwreck of their country: not one of them perished.”  (Adam Clark, citing writings of Epiphanes)

Another commentary said that Malachi 3:6 foretells the coming of Christ, when Christians will be given eternal life.

To me, Malachi 3:6 reminds me of the famous passage of Lamentations 3 that we often sing:

“Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”

Both passages say the same thing.  God is faithful.  Thus, we are not destroyed.

And really, isn’t it all the same, whichever interpretation of this verse we hold to be true?  God preserved the early Christians during the destruction of Jerusalem.  He preserves our life for eternity today.  He promises that whatever we go through, he has a renewing fountain of mercy for us, and thus we can trust in him to preserve us.

We can say, as Lamentations 3 goes on to say, “It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord . . . Let him sit alone in silence, for the Lord has laid it on him.”

I love this verse because it reminds me that we have to trust when things aren’t going as they think they should.  It was really great how Mike preached yesterday that we can come to a point of thanking God for our trials, because we can come to accept and trust that his plan is what is best for us.

Several friends graduated this past weekend.  One was Chris Lucy.

chris grad

This is what Chris posted on Facebook yesterday: “A lot of people told me to give up, don’t try because you will fail. But so many people also taught me to fight for what I want in life. After many all nighters, doubt and in some instances very real depression I finished. I don’t know if any one person knows exactly what it took for this moment to happen, but people saw bits and pieces. I pray to God the story doesn’t end here. I pray that my story inspires others to pursue their dreams and always put God first. Live a life to imitate Jesus. God gets all the honor.”

Chris went through some very dark times on his way to graduation, some times when he could have given into the temptation to not trust in God’s plan.  But he always put God first.  He stuck with God as the one who could get him through.

My friend Kim Dixon also graduated.

Brandon and Kim

I remember Kim years ago, when she wanted so much to have a baby, but couldn’t get pregnant.  Her husband, Brandon, had a less than ideal job working the night shift at Walgreens.  It was a challenging time.  But now Kim is the proud mom of a two year old.  And Brandon got his dream job of working for Habitat for Humanity, and is making a difference with his work.  And in the midst of all this, Kim decided to go back to school and pursue a better career, and she just graduated with the qualifications to be a school counselor!

Kim also could have given into  discouragement and the temptation to not trust in God’s plan, but she chose to hold onto God as her life preserver.

So this week, let’s all trust, no matter how tough it gets, that God is faithful.  He never changes.

He is working the plan that is best for us.

We will not be destroyed.

We are pressed on all sides, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.  II Cor 4:9

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Loving our Neighbors

“I will come to judge you. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers, lying witnesses, and those who cheat workers out of their wages and oppress widows and orphans. I will also testify against those who deprive foreigners of their rights. None of them fear me,” says the LORD of Armies.  Mal 3:5

It’s  scary to think of being on trial before the Almighty God.  At this trial, God himself testifies against people. Yikes!  And he does it without delay, without continuances, like we can push for in the court system today.

What does God bear witness against?  Largely against mistreating others.

And while none of us may have stuck it to a widow or an immigrant lately, this verse makes it apparent that how we treat one another is uber serious to God.

Because what God is looking for is those who revere him enough to see that they have an obligation towards their fellow man.  As God is committed to us, he wants us to be committed to one another.

Here is how Biblical scholars define righteousness:  “God’s righteousness can be understood as God’s faithfulness to his people, where he fulfills his obligations to them. . . righteousness is also understood as God’s faithfulness to fulfill His obligations to human beings and His creation because as creator He has a relationship with them.”  (Rupen Das)

God sees himself as having a responsibility towards people.  As children of this same God, surely we should see that we also have a responsibility to our fellow human beings.

Look how God spelled this out from olden times:

 ”When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest.  Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:9-10)

Leviticus 19 goes on to relate a whole slew of things not to do.  I’m abridging the passage here:

DO NOT: steal, lie, deceive one another, defraud or rob your neighbor, hold back the wages of a hired worker overnight,  curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, pervert justice, show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, go about spreading slander among your people, do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life, hate a fellow Israelite in your heart, seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.

“Love your neighbor as yourself. That’s the bottom line.  It always has been.

“But who is my neighbor?” we want to ask, just as the experts in the law inquired of Jesus in Luke 10.  We’re surrounded and overwhelmed by more needs than we could ever address.

Ken and I watched a movie over the weekend, “Of Mind and Music.”  It was about a neurologist in New Orleans who took some time off to grieve the loss of his mother.  As he walked through the city, he came across a female street musician/singer who was starting to exhibit signs of Alzheimer’s.  The neurologist ended up taking this woman in his own house to care for her, and then finding an assisted living placement for her.  When someone asked him why he was doing this for a random person on the streets, he answered, “Because I can.”

Instead of being overwhelmed, let’s ask, who CAN we help?  Who is in our path at this moment?

Ken and I went to a funeral on Sunday for the great aunt of our daughter in law.  We heard different people share about this special woman.  One was her neighbor, who talked about how much their relationship had meant to her over the years.  They were like family.  The neighbor’s children were always over at the woman’s house, and always came home with cookies or pieces of cornbread.  As the neighbor sat at her friend’s deathbed, she told her over and over again how grateful she was for her.

All of us have people “next door.”  They’re not all going to become our best buds, but some of them could become a blessing to us. And we could become a blessing to them.  I know this has been true for me.  My Latin neighbor down the street, Dee, is a great example.  We get together for coffee, visit when we’re outside, and chat on the phone.  Several times she’s brought her husband over to help with issues with our house.  I had a yard sale, and she came and sat next to me and supported me.  She has told me several times that she is thankful for our friendship.

But even though I know this, I still I get tired and busy, and I stop reaching out.

One thing that has helped me as I’ve been thinking about this is to remember that I have the Spirit, an actual piece of God, in me as I walk around.  It was incredible that God became flesh.  It’s just as incredible that God dwells in us.  When I interact with people, I bring God in contact with others.  The Spirit wants to talk with people.  The Spirit wants to love them through me.

No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.  I John 4:12

The other thing I am learning is the importance of humility.  I really think one of the things that separates us as human beings is our pride.  We can’t help thinking we are more important than that other person.  We don’t realize that we all exist by God’s mercy.

“He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” 

I think the story of the unmerciful servant reflects the way God has always thought:

“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to.  Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’”  Matt 18:32-33.

God’s given us mercy.  That’s why we treat others well.

I have so much growing yet to do in this.  One recommendation I want to make, is that you listen to super convicting lesson by Chuck Pike on helping the poor.  It has really stirred up my thinking.  He says the biggest obstacle to helping the poor isn’t the lack of resources, it’s the lack of motivation.  We’re too tied up in our love of money, pleasure, and self.

We need to look at the scriptures anew, and take a hard look at ourselves.  Because it’s just as true for us as it was at the time of Malachi.  We will be judged by how we treat others.

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’  Matt 25:41-43

You know, Mother’s Day is coming up.  I’ve been asked to share something a little something at church.  I’ve been thinking about my mother, and the good things she taught me.  One thing my mother really believed, and lived by, is that people are important.  She genuinely cared about people, that was very evident in the way she gave her whole focus to someone when she was with them, and how they were on her heart when she wasn’t with them.

My mom loved deeply, and was always videoing the people she loved.

My mom loved deeply, and was always videoing people.

In the end, that’s what God wants from us as well, for people to be important to us.

And I’m finding that it’s easy to say, “Yeah, let’s care about people more,” but really hard to put into practice.  Because it’s heart growth that needs to happen, and heart growth takes time.

So let’s seek to grow in this.  Let’s take a fresh look at the scriptures.  Let’s look at examples of giving we admire, and seek to imitate that.  And let’s pray.  We can’t help with every need, but we can wake up every morning and pray, “Who is my neighbor today, Lord?  Please show me, and help me to love them as I would want to be loved.”

But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? I John 3:17

If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother;  Deut 15:7

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Filed under Humility, Love, Malachi

Being Refined, Part II

He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness,  Mal 3:3

My last blog was on being refined.  But there’s so much good stuff I’ve been learning.  I can’t stop with just one post!

So for this blog, I investigated how silver was refined in the olden days.    I found out it was a pretty arduous process of putting the silver ore over a blazing hot fire and keeping it there until the impurities have separated and burned away.

refining2

If that is a metaphor for how God purifies his people, it doesn’t sound like fun!

Does God refine the all of us like this, or was it just the Levites at that time in history?

In I Peter 1, Peter talked about the many “grievous trials” the first Christians endured, “These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

It sounds like the refining of faith through testing is a process God likes to use for Christians.

Rats.  I wish I was like James, thinking it’s great when there are challenges!  “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” James 1:2-3

But more often I want to avoid the unpleasantness.  I haven’t been blogging partly because I had several bouts of depression.  When I’m depressed, I feel like a failure.   The voices of self-accusation are so loud!  It is very hard to feel like I am pleasing God.

And I’ve also been ADD.  My mind has been like a bee flitting from flower to flower, and not able to land in one place for long.   Plus, I’ve been working through the emotional fallout from some situations that upset me.

Is this refining?  It’s been making me feel like I’m becoming more unspiritual, not more spiritual!

It’s funny to me — last night we were talking at house church about the widow who gave two mites, and I saw how ironic it was that Jesus commended this woman who probably didn’t look sharp or well put together, and derided the teachers of the law who did look sharp and well put together. (Mark 12:38-44)

In my own life, I tend to think I need to feel and look like I have everything under control.  But maybe that’s not what God is seeking.

We can see what God is seeking by looking at the process of refining metal.  If God purifies us like silver, the following things are going to happen:

  1. We’re going to feel the heat! Refinement can’t happen if the temperature is just pleasantly warm.  In the same way, we’re not going to progress if it’s too easy and comfortable.  God’s going to put us right over the fire!!  “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.”  II Cor 1:9
  2. We’re going to think it never ends. Refinement isn’t an instant chemical reaction.  It takes a good while for all of the impurities to burn away.  So we can’t expect to learn what we need to learn in a quick trial.  God works through processes.  “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”  Romans 5:3-4
  3. We’re going to be in a controlled situation. A silversmith has to keep a constant eye on the refining process to see when the impurities are burned off, and when he needs turn off the heat.  If he exposes it to fire too long, the silver can oxygenate too much and it will be unworkable.  In the same way, God doesn’t just expose us to heat and go off and do other things, like we do with a pot on the stove.  He monitors and protects us.  He gets us through at just the right time.  “And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”  I Cor 10:13
  4. We’re going to get radiant!! The end product, purified silver, is so shiny, it’s like a mirror. In Ephesians 5:29 it says that Jesus gave his life so the church could be radiant. So what does it mean to be radiant?  It means we’ve quit our whining and bellyaching and started trusting God completely!  “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure …Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky.” Phil 2:14-15

The upshot of this is that we start trusting God completely because the trials have made us realize the worthlessness of our own efforts and of the unspiritual things we’ve been relying on.

We’re studying the Bible right now with a woman who’s been through some really harrowing stuff in her life.  At this point in time she sees clearly that all of the things she’s been chasing are empty.  She told us that she is so sick of it all that she is ready to throw in the towel and give her life to God.

She’s going to God as the source.  That’s what I’m learning to do as well.  When I’m feeling weak, I’m seeing that I’ve got to rely more on the Spirit.

If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”  Luke 11:13

When I’m feeling down, I’m remembering that His grace is sufficient, and that will get me through.

“My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” II Cor 12:9

When I have a sticky situation, instead of wracking my brain, I praying more, expecting God to help me work it out.

In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.  Ps 5:3

Instead of freaking out at a challenge, I’m taking a deep breath, accepting it, and asking God what he is trying to teach me.

He wakens my ear to listen like those who are being taught.  Isa 50:4

It’s true, I do feel a bit haggard and worn lately – a little like a widow with two mites myself!  But I’m learning to find peace.

I’m learning that God is the god of the broken, of those who are travel-stained and stumbling on the road.   I’m learning that God doesn’t want us to always look impressive, and be able to pat ourselves on the back.

This statement resonates with me, “We miss the gospel of God:  the good news that although the holy and all-powerful God knows we are but dust, He still stoops to breath into us the power of life – to bring to our wounds the balm of acceptance and love.” (Rich Mullins)

The gospel is that we who are dust, who feel the burden of our failings, can be healed, refined, made radiant.  It’s counter intuitive, but it is pure joy to undergo the grueling process of trials, because the end is so wonderful.

Still, the end product may not look like we think — us looking all sharp and well put together.  Instead, we become joyful beggars, exchanging our dross for riches with a loving savior who is happy to provide.

I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich. Rev. 3:18

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed . . . Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  II Cor 4:8-9, 16-17

Good things come to those who persevere!  Feeling emotional at the baptism of my friend Lauren.

Good things come to those who persevere! Feeling emotional at the baptism of my friend Lauren.

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Filed under Grace, Malachi, Perseverance, Surrender, Things I Am Learning

Being Refined

But who will be able to endure it when he comes? Who will be able to stand and face him when he appears? For he will be like a blazing fire that refines metal, or like a strong soap that bleaches clothes.  Mal 3:2

Malachi prophesied that the coming of the Messiah would not be the wonderful feel good experience the Jews were expecting to have.

It would be tough and scary — a time of refining.

This past week I went out sharing with a sister who had never invited strangers to church before.  “It comes so naturally to you,” she said as she watched me.  I had to laugh.  I told her how hard it was for me when we moved to Atlanta to join a new church.  The church was running this “Just Do It” campaign where everyone was challenged to invite two people a day to church.

Whoa.  I thought I wanted to be a part of this fellowship.  It sounded great to be around people who were joyfully sold out for Christ.  But then we got down to the brass tacks.  It meant that I would have to give up my complacency and do things that were very uncomfortable for me.  I remember looking around at the church service, and thinking, “What have I done?”  I wasn’t sure I wanted to join after all.

We think following Christ is going to be all warm and fuzzy.  But when we actually have to do more of the things that Jesus did, it tests our hearts.

And this is what God intended, that with the coming of John the Baptist and Christ hearts would be tested.  The status quo would be challenged.

You see, the Jews kept going along, thinking everything was hunky dory between them and God.  When Jesus came, he made it very plain that they needed to be purified from the inside out:  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

And Jesus especially attacked the religious leaders:  Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.”  Matt23:15

Jesus came to refine hard hearts.  He came to challenge all of those who thought they were clean with the truth that they were dirty on the inside.  As Malachi 3:2 said, they needed strong soap.

A few days ago, my friend Markeya and I had lunch with a friend who’s studying the Bible.   We sat at a table in the bright spring sun, and ate crepes and stuffed squash, and bonded.  We opened up about the hurts we’d gone through in the past.  We talked about how we’d all hardened our hearts as a result of these pains and shut ourselves off so we couldn’t be hurt again.

We read Luke 7:36-50 about the sinful woman who poured perfume on Jesus’ feet, wet them with her tears and wiped them with her hair.  We discussed how amazing it was that this woman could have a soft heart.  Sin and pain hadn’t hardened her, as it had us.  And we prayed that we would all be more like this woman, able to let down the walls, able to come to Jesus in tears, admitting our sin and our need for his forgiveness.

This is what God is looking for.  This is the goal of refining:  a tender heart that reaches out in humility.

A heart that can see and admit sin.

I read a great passage in The Guilty Soul’s Guide to Grace by David Laing about what our attitude should be towards sin.  Laing writes that in Ps 51 David was essentially saying, “God, I have sinned.  But I want to see it like you do.  I want more than head knowledge.  I want heart knowledge.  I want you to remove all my rationalizations and excuses and show me my sin and myself in all their ugliness.”

The Jews didn’t have heart knowledge.

I’ve been praying lately that I would see my sin as God sees it, that the grime which clouds my vision — guilt, people pleasing and perfection seeking — would be removed.

Create in me a pure heart, O God!  (Ps 51:10)

Jesus came to create pure hearts.  And the process of creating them is intense, it’s a fiery furnace that exposes the truth in our inmost parts and brings to light those weaknesses we’d rather keep hidden.  It shows us the things we need to change.

And we want to run away.  We rationalize and fling out excuses.  We hold tightly to our complacency.

Until finally, we fall to our knees, and understand.  Blessed are the poor in spirit.  Blessed are the meek.  Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

We need God like the air we breathe.  We can’t do it on our own.

Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.  II Chron 7:14

We need to be God sufficient, not self sufficient.

That is what Jesus came to teach us, that it’s not the religiously accomplished who are the heroes, or the wealthy or successful, but the widow who gives her last penny, the tax collector who prays for mercy, the sinful woman who washes Jesus’ feet with her hair.

Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up.  James 4:10

The end of the story of me seeking to join the church in Atlanta is that I pushed through.  I found out I could do it, I could share with strangers.  And when I did, I was energized!  That pattern has continued over the years.  Things get hard.  I don’t know how I’m going to continue.  But I persevere, I rely on the Source, and I end up overflowing with joy.

God tests us, but we can put our hand in his and get through to the place on the other side.  And in the process our hearts are strengthened.

This past Sunday we had an AWESOME service.  Our little church of 50 people had 200 in attendance.  We commemorated all God has done for us over the years.  We’ve been through so much, but God brought us through!  We celebrated and praised him with all our hearts!

group

Yes, Jesus came to refine us.  Yes, it will be tough and scary.  But it is so worth it.

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Filed under Having the Right Heart, Humility, Malachi