Shut The Door (Malachi)

We are really no different than the Jews to whom Malachi wrote so long ago. We, like they, are more concerned about what our worship looks like than we are about the condition of the hearts of worshipers. We use His Name as an exclamation mark, yet claim to love Him. We bring sin into the sanctuary by refusing to repent of sin in our own hearts. We write checks, teach Sunday School classes, smile at and shake hands with visitors, unless there is something else we could be doing on Sunday morning.

Then we ask, “What do you mean God doesn’t accept my worship?”

Friend, God not only doesn’t accept our show of worship, He says:

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

God would rather we packed up our hymnals, SS lesson books, and dumped our AV equipment in the trash. He would rather we nail the doors of our churches closed rather than continue to offend Him with our useless worship.

“But, Connie,” you say. “God was talking to the nation of Israel about their animal sacrifices. You are reading too much into this.” Am I?

I the Lord do not change. (3:6)

If He didn’t accept half-hearted worship back then, He doesn’t accept it today. If He was disgusted by a blemished animal on the altar of sacrifice, He is also disgusted by my offering of worship blemished by sin I’ve refused to confess.

I hope you read the book of Malachi today, and hear God speak to you about your own worship. These four short chapters have so much to tell us about worship that God accepts. And isn’t that what we who love Him want in our worship of Him?

I’m praying for you.

Forget About Yourself Altogether (Nehemiah 8)

Hearing God’s Word read to them grieved the people. They worshiped God with their heads down, “faces to the ground.” Standing in the presence of Holy God will do that to you.

C.S. Lewis said this in his book, “Mere Christianity:”

“The real test of being in the presence of God is, that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object. It’s better to forget about yourself altogether.”

Please don’t attend church for the experience. Please don’t worship God for the blessing. Please don’t judge worship of God on the basis of how many hands are raised, or people clapping, or how loud the praise team drums are playing. Forget about yourself altogether.

Worship is about God.

After their worship service where God’s Word was read and explained, Nehemiah told the people to go, stop weeping, enjoy some good food, take care of each other.

Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. (10b)

The celebration came after worship, not during. I know people don’t want to hear this. I know we’ve been made to think worship should be a rocking party, resulting in an euphoric experience.

But the more I read God’s Word the more I am convinced that is not worship. Worship can’t be about me.

It’s better to forget about yourself altogether.

In Reverence for God (Nehemiah 1-5)

While leading the Jews to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem, Nehemiah found out the nobles and officials had been overcharging the people in taxes, and charging high interest rates on loans people needed in order to pay those taxes and also to buy food for their families during the famine. When Nehemiah confronted them they didn’t even try to defend themselves. They knew they were guilty.

Nehemiah asked them an important question: “Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies?” (5:9) Shouldn’t misrepresenting God to non-believers cause you to fear Him?

The guilty nobles and officials promised to reimburse the people they had cheated.

Nehemiah pointed out that former governors had placed a heavy burden on the people with high taxes, and demands for luxurious living for themselves. The people remembered how hard life had been under their rule. And as Nehemiah was using himself as an example of how to treat people fairly, he said in verse 15:

Out of reverence for God I did not act like that.

I feel God asking me this morning if I’d dare set myself up as an example of how to treat people. And if not, why not?

Shouldn’t I walk in the fear of God? Shouldn’t I live my life out of reverence for God? If I really did that, I would have no reason NOT to tell people to imitate me.

Nehemiah reminds me unsaved people are watching me. I believe non-believers judge Christians by the choices I make. I believe their opinion of God is influenced by how I represent Him.

This morning as I sit here and think about this passage, I am considering what living with reverence for God looks like here in 2020. I think it involves both love for God and fear of Him. It involves service and worship, kindness and obedience, honesty and purity and courage and humility and surrender. It means standing out in a crowd, and standing up for Truth.

I want to live my life out of reverence for God, and I want Him to get the glory. I want to live my life out of reverence for God, because anything else is not what He deserves.

Causing Fear (Esther 6-14)

I always thought the result of Mordecai’s stand was twofold: the enemy was destroyed, and God’s people were saved. That in itself is enough to celebrate! But there is something more to this I hadn’t considered before. And it might be the most important lesson of all.

In every province and in every city, wherever the edict of the king went, there was joy and gladness among the Jews, with feasting and celebrating. And many people of other nationalities became Jews because fear of the Jews had seized them. (8:17) (emphasis mine)

People not born Jewish were converted and became Jews by choice. Yes, God’s people were saved. Yes, their enemy Haman was executed. But let’s not overlook the fact that people came to God because of it!

That is worthy of praise!

God blesses His children. God answers prayers of the faithful, and the enemy is defeated. But what is our ultimate goal? A virus-free world? No abortion clinics? Fat bank accounts? Filled pews? A care-free life?

People came to the God of Truth because fear of the Jews had seized them! Shouldn’t unsaved people fear Christians, too? Shouldn’t they be fearful of disrespecting God’s children? Shouldn’t the thought of God’s intervention on behalf of His children give them pause?

I wonder if unsaved people don’t fear God because they don’t see us taking Him seriously, either. I wonder if they don’t think twice about disrespecting Christians because we disrespect each other, and them. What is it about us that would cause an unsaved person fear the God they should fear?

The celebration that was happening here in chapter 8 wasn’t what drew the people to God. Makes me wonder if we aren’t making Christianity look like a party instead of what it really is, commitment, obedience, fighting battles, humility, and surrender to a Holy God. Yes we have reason to rejoice and I hope we are the ones who are the most joyful, the most fun, the most loving people in the group.

But I hope we are causing fear in the hearts of unsaved people, too. The truth is, without Jesus they have every reason to be scared out of their minds. The people in Esther’s day got the message. Are people getting that message through us today?

The Choice (Esther 1-5)

Mordecai would not bow or pay honor to Haman, even when the king had commanded it. Haman didn’t like being disrespected, so he plotted to kill, not only Mordecai, but the whole Jewish race because of it.

Mordecai still refused to bow.

I haven’t seen the movie “Infidel” yet, but I think I need to. It’s about a Christian journalist who is arrested and sentenced to death in the Middle East because of his faith. I understand it looks at the persecution of Christians, and I think it probably ought to be seen by all of us who think it can’t happen here in the good old USA.

I listened to a FOX News interview with the star of the movie, Jim Caviezel. What he said in that interview came to mind this morning as I read about Mordecai’s unwavering stand.

Mr. Caviezel quoted from Ronald Reagan’s “Time for Choosing” speech (1964). Reagan said we were (and I believe we are again) facing the choice between providing for our children “the last best hope of mankind on earth,” or choosing to set our children on a path to destruction.

My friend, I believe it will take Christians refusing to bow.

Caviezel said something that hit me. He pointed a finger at liberal, tolerant churches, Christians, priests and pastors, and said the problem with our “policy of accommodation is appeasement” and plays right into the hands of the enemy. He cautions us that when Satan delivers his final blow “our surrender will be voluntary…We will be so weakened from within spiritually, morally, economically,”our surrender will be seamless.

As I read about Mordecai’s courageous stand, and consider what is happening in our world today I want to encourage all of us who know Jesus as our Savior to stand. Our enemy wants to make us afraid when Jesus tells us we have nothing to fear. Look at God’s promises in His Word and believe them. If we are faithful, HE WILL BE FAITHFUL!

Caviezel said, and I agree, that maybe it’s time we “tell our enemies there is a price we will not pay, a point beyond which evil will not advance.” Do you know where that line is drawn in your life? Are you ready to take that stand?

It’s time to make a choice. Are we with God or not? Are we going to stand for Truth or not? Are we going to speak up or go along with the crowd?

Let’s pray for each other. Let’s pray for our pastors, priests, teachers, parents, children and great-grandparents. Let’s pray for voters and lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats. Let’s pray that God will move in the hearts of people and find us willing to bow only to Him.

Let’s choose God while we still have that choice.

Despite Their Fear (Ezra 1-3)

Have you ever considered the possibility that we in the US have become a nation of whiney, angry victims? We’ve become reactionaries, emotional cripples, entitled, tantrum-throwing thugs. And a world that once envied and admired us, now looks at us as people to be pitied, or at least as the biggest joke ever.

It’s hard to take a stand for the Truth when that stand could offend someone who lashes out verbally, or even physically. People have been killed for wearing a hat someone didn’t like. To disagree is to invite violence.

So what are we to do? The Truth we as Christians possess is an offensive message. If we are to share the Gospel, we are to show people their need of a Savior, point out sin in their lives, help them realize they are without hope unless they conform to the demands of God.

Them’s fighting words.

Some people, in light of the present climate, seem to think silence is the answer. Keep your faith to yourself, let others believe what they want to believe, stay under the radar. Other people appear to be going along with the crowd rather than ruffle feathers; be tolerant, be loving, be accepting of all beliefs, don’t offend by calling things like abortion or homosexuality sin.

But what does God want us to do? Jesus Himself warned that we would be hated for following Him, and reminded us that they hated Him first. Jesus didn’t tell us to change the message, or to keep the message to ourselves.

GO!

Make disciples.

The Jews had been commissioned to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. The only ones glad about that, however, were the Jews. The opposition tried to discourage, threaten, and intimidate the Jews out of completing their mission. But look at what God tells us in Ezra 3:3,

Despite their fear of the peoples around them, they built the altar on its foundation and sacrificed burnt offerings on it to the Lord, both the morning and evening sacrifices.

The Jews didn’t fight back. They didn’t get into Tweet wars. They simply carried on with what they knew they were to do – and they did it openly and honestly. I think God would have us do the same.

Christian, let’s continue to build God’s Church by revealing God to those around us, by sharing the Gospel no matter how afraid we are that it will offend. Let’s continue to worship God in spirit and truth, and to love our neighbors enough to talk about the hard things.

Despite our fears.

Understanding (Daniel 10-12)

Daniel was sad about the state of Israel. God had revealed to him that the day of judgment was imminent. After fasting from choice food for three weeks, the prophet stood at the riverbank. It was there he received his final vision.

The angel said something to Daniel that spoke to me today:

“Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them.” (10:12)

Isn’t that amazing? God hears our prayers for understanding, then helps us understand. I see that same encouragement throughout Scripture. If we seek God, we will find Him.

…if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding… then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. (Proverbs 2:2-5)

Think over what I say for the Lord will give you understanding in everything. (2 Timothy 2:7)

I think we should start out every morning humbling ourselves and confessing to God that we don’t understand everything. We don’t understand His mind or His ways. We don’t understand His plan for us. But we’d like to. So we set our minds to understand.

We read our Bibles to get to know God’s heart. We pray to bare our souls, to repent, to draw near to God. And when we do, God gives us the understanding we seek, and He wants us to have.

Why? Why is it important to God that we understand? Look at how the book of Daniel ends:

As for you, go your way till the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance. (12:13)

God wants us to have an understanding so that we can take it and use it to reveal God to a world that needs Him. We don’t gain understanding just so we know more facts than the next guy. We don’t study to show ourselves superior to others.

We gain an understanding for the purpose of sharing it, going about our way, making disciples until this life is over.

Do you understand Scripture? There’s more for you to understand.

Do you feel you can’t understand Scripture? That’s a lie from the enemy. Ask God for understanding. Ready your heart. Draw near to Him. Humbly repent of sin. Then know He hears you, and will be right there to give you understanding in response to your prayers.

Then may we all share what we know is true according to Scripture as God gives us understanding. Let’s be workmen who have no reason to be ashamed because we are rightly understanding God’s Word and sharing it with those who are lost without Him.

May our God-given understanding result in changed hearts for Jesus’ sake.

Choose Me (Ezekiel 42-43)

He was so willing. God would have forgiven Israel for every evil thing they ever did or even thought. “Here I am,” He said. “Here is my throne and a place for the soles of my feet. I’m not going anywhere.” They just needed to turn from their sin, put away their idols, and He would live among them forever.

Let them consider the plan, and if they are ashamed of all they have done, make known to them the design of the temple… its whole design and all its regulations and laws. Write these down before them so that they may be faithful to its design and follow all its regulations. (43:10b-11)

He was so willing. But they couldn’t do it. And neither can we.

Sometimes connecting with God’s heart breaks mine. This morning as I read these chapters I could hear His longing, and could almost feel His pain. “Choose me!” He pleads.

He’s done all the work. That altar and its regulations were fulfilled perfectly when God sacrificed Himself on the cross. “Just choose me,” He cries.

I pray that you have, at some point in your life, chosen God, that you have repented from sin, turned from your idols, and turned to the Savior. But I hope that isn’t the only time you’ve dealt with sin in your life.

Even the Apostle Paul struggled with sin. He tells us He made a conscious decision to “die” every day, to put aside self and sin, and choose God. Every. Day. “To live is Christ,” he said.

Choosing God isn’t easy, and it’s not always fun. Choosing God comes with sacrifice, hardship, selflessness. Choosing God means getting out of our comfort zones, going to battle, loving people who don’t agree with us, and praying for them. Choosing God goes against everything we’ve come to believe is true; that we should be wealthy and healthy, that we deserve to be happy, that as “children of the king” we should live the high life.

Scripture tells us that Jesus knew the world would hate us for choosing Him, because they hated Him first.

But choosing God is the most amazingly wonderful choice you will ever make. Choosing God is choosing something better than anything this world offers. Better than money, or fame, or a home on Easy Street. Choosing God is choosing love and forgiveness, help and encouragement, purpose and fellowship, and eternity more wonderful than any of us can imagine.

“Choose me,” God is saying to you. “Choose me today, and tomorrow, and the next day. Choose me this hour, this minute. Choose me and I promise I will never leave you, I’ll plant the soles of my feet in your heart and bless you with Myself.”

I choose God today. I’m praying you’ll do the same.

God Is Revealed (Ezekiel 38-39)

God’s punishment for sin will always be evident in this world, because there will always be sin in the world until He comes again. Natural disasters will happen. Evil men will do evil things. There will be disease, and war, and heartache and suffering. There will continue to be times when God removes His protection, and even His children will suffer because of their sin.

But!

There will always, ALWAYS, be times of grace, of mercy, of victory when people humble themselves and repent of sin. God will always, ALWAYS bless those who obey Him.

Why? So that the world and everyone in it will recognize that God is Holy. God is Sovereign, God is who He says He IS and there is no other. This world is about God.

As I read His Word I understand that Truth. And here is the best part of that. God wants a relationship with me! God wants to protect and bless me as though I was His only child. Like a loving Father, He will discipline my rebellion, correct my self-centeredness, punish my disobedience. And like a loving Father, He will always, ALWAYS forgive me when I come to Him, humble myself, and repent.

May God be seen in me through every circumstance of life. May people recognize the Holy, Just, Fierce, and Forgiving God He is by watching Him work in my life. May I be a living example of His grace because:

God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

Everything that happens, the good and the bad, happen to point people to Jesus, to reveal God in all His holiness and goodness so that they will come to Him for forgiveness, and enjoy a relationship with the Sovereign, Holy God He is. I love to think that I may have a part in His plan, to reveal this wonderful God to a world that needs Him!

God’s Judgment (Ezekiel 20-21)

When you consider God’s final judgment, what comes to mind? Some people picture a big old drunken party around a campfire. Some see people wandering aimlessly through space, dragging the chains they formed in this lifetime. Many people don’t want to believe there will even be a final judgment, just nothingness, that we will cease to exist when we die.

God told Ezekiel to spell out exactly what His judgment on the disobedient Jews would entail, and Ezekiel complained, “Ah, Sovereign Lord! They are saying of me, ‘Isn’t he just telling parables?'” (20:49) Those Old Testament Jews didn’t want to believe in judgment any more than people in 2020.

So let me ask again: what do you believe about God’s judgment?

I notice as I read Ezekiel this morning how often God tells us His judgment protects His Name, that His judgment reveals who He is to the nations of the world. His Name which is Holy, Holy, Holy. If there was no judgment, He could not be Holy.

Scripture also tells us God’s judgment is without mercy. Can you wrap your mind around that truth? Some will argue that because God is love He wouldn’t condemn anyone to a terrible eternity in hell. That because God is merciful, He wouldn’t judge without mercy.

What do you say to that?

Was God speaking in parables, in fairytales, or using scare tactics to get us to obey Him? Or is there an actual place, void of God, void of light, void of fellowship, where the groans and wailings of the condemned are the only sounds, where there is no hope, no reprieve, no comfort? Is there a place where pain and suffering beyond anything anyone has ever experienced in this lifetime, no matter how awful, is the only reality forever?

What do you say to that?

Ezekiel kept telling Israel about the judgment that was coming even if they didn’t believe him. We need to do the same. Because God will seriously judge without mercy, and hell is real.

But, we also need to tell people the one and only way they can avoid God’s final judgment. They need to know that Jesus paid that awful penalty for them. He met His own requirements so no one has to spend eternity without Him.

Just as God judges the guilty without mercy, He shows mercy to those who come to Him through His Son, Jesus Christ. To all of us who repent of sin, who find forgiveness in the cross, we need have no fear of God’s final judgment.

What do you say to that?