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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Serving Left-Overs to God...(Malachi)

I don't know about you, but I think the book of Malachi is about as convicting as they come. I love that this little book is written in a dialogue format. The people keep interrupting the prophet (or God) to say, "Wait, wait, wait. When did we ever do that?" They protest their innocence and want to look good before God. And then God nails them with the selfish, deceitful, lazy heart of their actions.

As we read, we might be tempted to excuse ourselves from such rebukes. I mean, the people were after all bringing sick, crippled, or stolen animals to God. In a day and age where we are no longer required to bring animals as an offering, it is all too convenient to look back and say, "Who would do that?" But then God nails us with truth and says, "You do." So for all of us who protest and say "When did we ever bring you left-overs as a sacrifice?" I offer this list.

Have we ever
- Said we're too busy for church.
- Withheld a tithe or offering from God because money is tight.
- Not had time to read our Bibles or pray because we are too tired.
- Used all our best hours to make money.
- Carved out time to watch our favorite show but not to be in a small group.
- Sacrificed and saved to buy a house, car, or boat but never to give it away.
- Stopped singing or worshiping because we didn't like a song or the way it was done.
- Made our kids get up early for a game or practice but then skipped church because we slept in.

My guess is I could keep going, but I am also guessing that by now most of us are feeling like, "Stop, stop! I get the picture." Truth is, I have seen myself in most of these areas at one time or another. So what's the good news? There is none.

Ha! Just kidding. But the good news can be hard to stomach here because it really takes work. It's not a simple, do-three-things-to-make-it-all-better kind of approach. The message from Malachi is that we must learn to FEAR God. (3:16, 4:2)

In our modern language, we have a difficult time understanding how fear can be anything but negative- terror, anxiety, panic, worry, doubt- all these words play into our modern definition. But what Malachi is telling us when he says to fear God is this: "You should be a whole lot more concerned about whether or not you are listening to and obeying God than absolutely anything else in life." There, now that makes a lot more sense, doesn't it? Using the single idea "FEAR God" is good short-hand, though.

Do you fear God? Do I? And the real questions is do we arrange and rearrange our lives in such a manner that it actually shows we fear God? This my friends is where faith gets real.

Hoping you'll wrestle with this as you journey today-
Nick

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Beware of Flying Scrolls..(Zechariah)

I remember once in college, my theology professor teaching a class he called, "there's nothing new under the sun." His point was that very little had changed in the way people did evil, rejected God, and treated one another. Fortunately, he also affirmed that very little had changed in the way God loved the world, redeemed situations for good, and led people into His will.

I offer this idea against the back-drop of our current culture. Marketers work very hard to convince us all that there is indeed very much new under the sun- and we must have it! This obsession with the new can make the Bible feel very foreign and rigid. Honestly, I think we are unaccustomed to speaking the language.

Thus enters the book of Zechariah. For those of us who are more familiar with the territory of the New Testament, Zechariah prepares us to understand the Kingdom vision of God. In particular, the apocalyptic vision of Revelation draws more heavily on Zechariah than any other Old Testament book. Revelation can seem like a foriegn land, until we realize that flying scrolls, evil represented by a woman, the four horsemen, and vision of lamp stands all appear in Zechariah. Like Revelation would do hundred's of year later, Zechariah gives us pictures and images to understand a spiritual world that often lies beyond our senses.

I think the message here is to a group of beleaguered souls returning from exile. They return to a Jerusalem unlike anything they have imagined or seen, and the whole world seems to have changed. The walls are gone, the temple smashed, and evil seems to have its way. But in Zechariah, God calls out a reminder, "I am the same, and there's nothing new under the sun." In this book, we find that failing to listen to God brings judgment, but God's love is relentless. We hear that God still has plans for Jerusalem and her people. We see a God who promises to inhabit His temple and His city once more. And he promises blessing on all who walk closely with Him. Similar story and promises as we find throughout Scripture, but delivered to a new generation of people.

We live in worlds that often seem unfamiliar. Jobs, families or routines can be uprooted and changed seemingly overnight. But God is our constant. And we can depend on the one who has promised that He himself will be our protecting wall.

May the steadfastness of God's plan and God's love hold you on the journey today,

Nick

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Lost Foundations...(Haggai)

Context is everything. One of my favorite parts of reading through the Minor Prophets this summer has been to ground them in their original setting. When we do this, the words take on a whole new meaning.

So picture this. The people of Jerusalem have been in Babylonian captivity for 50 years. But then a new regime takes over, and some of them are permitted to return home. Only, for most of them this isn't really home because they have spent the whole of their lives in Babylon. So a contingent of young and old, men and women, return to Palestine and immediately begin to rebuild the altar and the temple so they can worship God. A great start, but things unraveled quickly. You see, enemy nations have moved into the area and the last thing they wanted was for Jerusalem to return to strength, and the temple of the Living God was the ultimate show of strength. So they did everything in their power to discourage the work.

Well, they were successful. The foundation of the temple was in place, but the work was then abandoned. The people left the work unfinished and began to focus on their own lives; building their homes, tending their flocks, and raising their crops. After all, this new temple couldn't even compare in size or stature to the old, so enthusiasm quickly waned. When opposition came, they had all they excuse they needed to forget about God and just focus on living.

Hmm...am I the only one that finds this vaguely familiar? We make a good start with God, we push into His promises and rely on His Word, but then life creeps in. Faith gets complicated. Relationships get messy and some even seem to be against us. And the easy thing to do is just focus on life. Do the job. Earn the money. Make a living just like everyone else. Leave the foundation unfinished.

It is into this dynamic that the prophet Haggai speaks. This is his message from the Lord,
"Why are you living in luxurious houses while my house lies in ruins? This is what the Lord of Heaven's Armies says: Look at what's happening to you! You have planted much but harvested little. You eat but are not satisfied. You drink but are still thirsty. You put on clothes but cannot keep warm. Your wages disappear as though you were putting them in pockets filled with holes!" (Haggai 1:4-6)

In other words, the people had buried their heads in making a living, but none of it provided real life. They were empty and their pursuits did not satisfy. So God comes along and reminds them of His temple- that a foundation is in place and they would do well to build on it. God promises them that when they devote themselves to Him, blessing and joy will follow. (2:19) And it does. With enthusiasm, they return and build the temple, and God pours out blessing on the people.

Where in your life are you busy making a living, only to find that it brings little real life? May we all hear the words of God to build on a solid foundation. For some, this foundation has been lost amidst paychecks and properties, soccer and school, work and play. But if we will turn to the Author of Life and build on Him, joy will follow. Will it be easy, convenient, or fun all the time? No. But the blessing and joy it brings is real life.

May you know this life on your journey today-
Nick

Thursday, August 11, 2011

On Dark Days... (Zephaniah)

You ever have one of those days that just feels dark? Maybe it's the weather, or a long to-do list after vacation, or just the flow of life, but yesterday felt like a dark day for me. It seemed that everywhere I looked, rather than being happy, or easy-going, or free, I found a reason to be down.

One thing I like so much about the minor prophets is how they seem to have shared my experience, but on a much grander scale. The prophet Zephaniah was speaking words on one of his dark days, and they sounded like this:

"What sorrow awaits rebellious, polluted Jerusalem,
the city of violence and crime!
No one can tell it anything;
it refuses all correction.
It does not trust in the Lord
or draw near to God.
Its leaders are like roaring lions hunting for their victims.
Its judges are like ravenous wolves at evening time;
who by dawn have left no trace of their prey.
Its prophets are arrogant liars seeking their own gain.
Its priests defile the Temple by disobeying God's instructions."

Zephaniah looks around his world and sees nothing but doom and gloom. It's a tough time for him and for the great city of Jerusalem. What hope could there be at a time like that?

But then a blinding ray of LIGHT:
"But the Lord is still there in the city, and He does no wrong." (3:1-5)

Did you catch that? In a rebellious, polluted city filled with vicious, man-eating leaders, corrupt judges, greedy prophets and dirty priests, God is still present. Even though the city is dark, God is still light and His light is still good. He did not abandon the situation because it had turned ugly; the ugliness actually brought forth His goodness that much more.

It makes me think of a line from the Lord of the Rings, Two Towers, when Frodo has lost all hope, but his friend Samwise is there to encourage him. About the dark around them, Samwise declares, "Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you."

When we are in the dark, God is still light, and He is still present with us. Darkness or evil does not make God run from us or abandon us; rather He remains in order to shine His light all the clearer into our lives.

I pray that whatever you experience today, you, like Zephaniah, will know that the Lord is still here in this city- in your world, in your home, in your life.

Journey in His light today-
Nick