Thoughts on Malachi

My studies took me to the Italian prophet tonight.

The book of Malachi is essentially God slapping the Israelites right upside the head because of their shallow, insincere, and downright insulting attitudes towards Him.  The sad/scary thing is…I saw waaaaay to much of the modern Church in these passages.

Through Malachi, God rebukes His people for the crap they are bringing Him as offerings.  A harsh word? Not really.  They were bringing junk, garbage, crap…and offering it to the Lord of Lords, King of Kings.  To say that He was a little put off is putting it mildly.

God asks if they would ever give such poor offerings to their local governor or magistrate?  The answer would be heck no!  Because they’d end up in shackles or picking up garbage around the village square on trash detail if they tried.  But with God?  Eh, whatever I’ve got lying around ought to be good enough…

God’s chosen people were offering tarnished trinkets, their lame and blind animals, rotten fruit and stolen goods as their offerings on the altar of Jehovah in the temple.  And then they seemed to be confused and surprised when God condemns them for it.

It seems a lot like the father of a clueless teenager who can’t understand why he’s in trouble when you told him to mow the yard, and then he only did half of it and quit to play X-box with his friends instead.

Then I thought about the kinds of “donations” I’ve seen people give to the churches at which I’ve been a member.  Heck, let’s be honest here, the kind of donations I have given to my own churches.  Stuff left over from the garage sale.  Stuff I found in the back of the closet or the attic, some of which doesn’t even work.  I pawn it off on the church figuring, “Maybe somebody can fix it, and anyway, it’s finally out of MY house!

I know for a fact people have used church donation drives as a convenient way of getting out of paying the dumping fee at the county landfill.

What does that say about us?  That we’ll give stuff to God that even WE don’t want anymore!?

The words of the prophet Malachi make it pretty clear that God WILL NOT BLESS YOU OR HONOR YOUR PRAYERS if you come before His altar with this attitude.   As a matter of fact, these token gestures of piety really anger our Lord, and He actually promises a curse for those who continue to do it!  I, for one, was very convicted about my peevish frustration that an 11:30 service “takes up half my day” on Sunday, instead of being able to get in at 9:30 and be out before noon so I can “get on with my day.”

Sound familiar to anyone?  Hmmm?  To think, I begrudge God two hours of worship.  I can’t spare two hours out of “my” day, to go with a willing heart to lay my offering on His altar.  I should be frustrated and disappointed that that’s ALL I get, wishing it were more, not less.  Like I said, Malachi has been hitting a little too close to home!

Malachi also makes it clear that tithing isn’t optional.  This kind of surprised me, because I’ve always heard tithing presented either in the form of a plea from the pulpit, or as a personal decision between me and God.  According to the words of God in Malachi, failing to tithe is “robbing God.”

“Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions.  “You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you!”  Malachi 3:8-9 ESV

It is also clear that God views the marriage covenant between a man and a women as every bit as important, binding, and sacred as His covenant with Israel.  We see here again the archetype of the marriage, and foreshadowings of the NT teachings of the “Bride of Christ.”  God promises the same sort of anger and retribution for men who deal with their wives “treacherously” as those who bring corrupted offerings to His temple. Interesting.

I ‘ve also come to see Malachi as actually a pretty powerful book about…fatherhood, believe it or not.

Despite the harsh language, it’s actually a book of love.  Huh?  Yup.  Read it, you’ll see.  When I read this book of the Old Testament, I heard a frustrated father scolding his clueless children for their disobedience.  I have BEEN that guy, frustrated nearly to tears, stating for the leventy-zillionth time what should be obvious, self evident truths to children who just stare at me in bemused surprised like I just told them the sky is green.  He threatens them with terrible consequences, but he ALSO promises great rewards.  He lays it out, in plain and simple language.  He is setting boundaries, house rules, complete with punishments and rewards, in such a way that they can’t come back later and say, “Wull… I didn’t KNOW!  You didn’t tellll me THAT!

Day 6

I begin to realize that the Enemy’s greatest weapon against us comes in the form of the “Tiny Distraction.”  Kind of like the “Noisy Cricket” from Men In Black, it seems so small, so inconsequential, only to have it surprise you with its power.

Charles Hummel called it the “tyranny of the urgent.”  It’s the little, ceaseless distractions, the “oh, just real quicks” that constantly distract and divert our focus from God.  There always seems to be time to check one more blog, to finish one more level on that addicting online Flash game, play one more hand of online poker, or hit that snooze alarm one more time because you were up too late last night reading the latest Dean Koontz novel.

And we wonder how come our Walk is so fractured, so shallow, and ultimately so ineffective? 

I was lamenting today about how I’m always feeling so tired, so run down.  I feel like someone who is pulling themselves up, hand over hand, along the railing of the Titanic as it goes down, trying to get to the lifeboats, but my arms are just sooo tired, so tired, and my feet seem to keep slipping out from under me.

And then, in that clear, quiet voice He so often uses, the Holy Spirit brought to my mind the admonitions of scripture to be FILLED by the Spirit, to not lean on our own strength, but God’s.  To have Him carry us through when our own strength fails.

Isa 58:11 says:

 “And the LORD will continually guide you, And satisfy your desire in scorched places, And give strength to your bones; And you will be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.

Wow.  What a potent image.  Right now I feel like an office plant that someone forgot to water when they went on vacation, all dry and withered and brittle.  I can’t imagine what it would feel like to be a watered garden, lush, green, vibrant, rivers of living water pouring through me.  Where can I get me some of THAT?!

“He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’ “  Jhn 7:38

I believe in God, but I have not been watering myself.  I have not been drinking from this fountain, and, as the Bible promises, I have become a barren wasteland, dry, desicated, producing no fruit.

That’s what get me about these passages, where God’s word promises such terrible things to those who forsake Him.  So many detractors and scoffers want to make these out to be the threatened wrath of an angry God ready to bring down ruin on those who don’t obey!

The fact is, we bring this ruin on ourselves.  These are not promises of wrath, but warnings of inevitable consequences.  God KNOWS how the system works.  He CREATED US.  We were created to love Him, to have fellowship with Him.  There is some essential nature in us that needs His presence in our lives.  Without it, we cannot truly prosper.  Our lives can never blossom into the fullness he would have for us.  God is trying to warn us of what happens to us individually, and as cultures and nations when we forsake his protection, his provision, and his life-giving Word.

God is telling me that the problems I am facing are a direct result of my allowing all these other tyrannical disctractions to come between me and Him.  On the other hand, He’s also trying really hard to get my attention!

I am thirsty, I am hungry, and oh LORD am I ever tired.  I am reminded of the words to one of those worship songs I’ve sung so many times throughout the years:

Holy Spirit,
Flowing through me.
Holy Spirit,
Come and fiillllll me up,

Come and filllll me uuuup!

I no longer have the strength to do this all on my own.  It is time that I returned to the Source, and start letting HIM fill those places I have allowed to run dry.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil.  This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones. Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops;  then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.  My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.  (Prov. 3:5-12 NIV)