December 23, 2017

Today you should read: Malachi 4

The book of Malachi doesn’t jump off the page as being super “Christmas-y”, but it is in a lot of ways. Along with the books of Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther, the book of Malachi is among the last books written before the end of the Old Testament. As you might know, the book of Malachi was written around 400 BC, which means it was written about 400 years before the birth of Christ.

The reason that this book, and especially this chapter, is relevant for us (JUST TWO DAYS BEFORE CHRISTMAS!) is that this chapter sets the stage for the Messiah finally coming. It would be 400 years before the people of Israel would hear another true word from God.

The beginning of chapter 4 actually talks about the first and second coming of Christ. Verses 1-3 discuss this second coming, which points to the culmination of the judgements throughout the prophets on unrepentant Israel, but also gives hope to those who fear the Lord (2).

Verses 4-6 point us to the beginning of the New Testament. If you’ve read the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), then you know that John the Baptist is often referred to as having the spirit of Elijah. The ministry of John the Baptist was centered around preparing the way for Jesus. He preached a gospel of repentance that pointed to the work Christ would do on the cross.

We stand in the already but not yet culmination of the Kingdom, meaning we have seen the first, but not the second, coming of Christ. Especially in this Christmas season, with all of the distractions that tempt us, it’s important to pause and take a moment to remember that Jesus’s first coming makes way for his second coming. This should motivate us to make the most of our time—investing in things of eternal consequence.

When I think of living your life by investing in things of eternal consequence, I can’t help but think of the Apostle Paul. In his letter to the Philippian church, he wrote in two different places:

“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Philippians 1:21 (ESV)

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:7-10 (ESV)

Living with eternal investment in mind comes down to living every part of your life for God’s glory and as a part of God’s mission. As you look at your life, what parts of it are not being lived for God’s glory and God’s mission?

By: Graham Withers — Pastoral Ministry Apprentice


December 22, 2017

Today you should read: Malachi 3

Can you think of a time when you were punished harshly by your parents because you deserved it? I am a parent of a 2 year old, and while on most instances she is the cutest, most adorable child on the planet, she inherited her daddy’s selective hearing. To put it plainly, she doesn’t listen; or worse, she actively does the opposite of what you’re asking.

Stepping into the book of Malachi, God’s covenant people had been disobedient. Like a father having a conversation with his child after a spanking, Malachi records the conversation between Himself and a whooped Israel. The Babylonian Exile is the second most significant event in the OT behind the Exodus, and was a severe punishment for outright disobedience. Although the nation was led to repentance through the efforts of guys like Ezra and Nehemiah, it seems that they’ve returned to their old sins to the point where they are challenging the very character of God—”You have wearied the Lord with your words. But you say, ‘How have we wearied him?’ By saying, ‘Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delights in them.’ Or by asking, ‘Where is the God of justice?’” (2:17)

These two challenges are super important for understanding chapter 3—(1) God delights in evil and (2) does not bring justice. From a human perspective, it’s easy to see the sins of others. In addition, some of the worst sinners are living the most enviable lives. Fame, wealth, power, influence are not words often associated with righteousness; however, many of us crave these things. These challenges form one bookend, while the other is found in 3:13–15. Essentially, God’s people have verbally assaulted God’s character, God delights in evil, he doesn’t punish the wicked, serving him is useless, and evil people test God, prosper in testing, and escape.

In the middle of these bookends, God responds. He starts with a “Behold,” in Hebrew this should cause you to pause and pay attention to what comes next. What comes next is serious! First, we see this great Messianic statement validating the ministry of John the Baptist and foretelling the coming of Jesus, “He is coming, says the Lord of Hosts” (i.e. the Lord of Heaven’s Armies). Some of the things mentioned in this passage were fulfilled in Jesus’ first coming, however, most of it will be fulfilled when he returns—when acts as “a refiner’s fire and a fuller’s soap” (painful purification).

No one can test God and remain unscathed. God responds to the challenge of His character by essentially saying, “You have no idea what’s coming.” Although it feels like people are rewarded in their sin from our perspective, when the Messiah comes, they will face judgement.  Therefore, people ought to repent and “return.” So, the people ask, “How shall we return?” (8)

Interestingly, God does invite people to test him one way. Although testing God in sin will lead to judgment, testing God in your generosity will lead to tremendous blessing. God addressed Israel’s polluted offerings in chapter 1, but in chapter 3 we see a challenge for people to out-give God with the assurance that it can’t be done.

Finally, in verses 16–18 some people get it. When people truly come to grips with the fact that life, sin, and the world’s gratification is extremely temporary, then people will fear the Lord of Hosts and they shall be His.

Malachi is probably my favorite OT book because it shows a patient Father, working to change the heart of a disobedient child after punishment. Where in your life has God been patient with you? Where do you need to test God’s generosity by being as generous as possible?

By: Tyler Short — Connections Ministry Associate

December 21, 2017

Today you should read: Malachi 2

A quick fact about the book of Malachi is that the phrase “The Lord of Hosts” appears more than in any other Old Testament book. This is because the Northern Kingdom had been overrun and destroyed by the Assyrians and the Southern Kingdom was wiped out by the Babylonians. This is a point where God’s people where painfully aware of their situation. So there could be nothing greater than to hear from the God of the Universe.

You and I find ourselves in this situation at times. We desperately want to hear from God in the times that we are at the bottom. When we should have that desire all the time. We even tend to question whether God is there or if He loves us. Israel did the same thing. Malachi makes it clear that it is not God’s love that should be questioned, rather, it is their love for God that should be in question.

The priests at this point had failed to keep the purity of the temple. They were making compromises at every turn because they had lost faith. They crumbled under their circumstances instead of leaning into God. As followers of Jesus we have a great responsibility to live according to the will of God. This is for the glory of God and the advancement of His Kingdom. When we do not do that, and we decide to go the other direction (towards the world and sin) we become like the priests.  Matthew Henry says this, “Nothing profanes the name of God more than the misconduct of those whose business it is to do honor to it.”

We have a responsibility to be the ambassadors of Jesus. I ask myself and you today, are you handling this responsibility well? What can you do today to honor the name of God and be more like Jesus?

By: Dakota Gragg — Student Ministry Associate

December 20, 2017

Today you should read: Malachi 1

Today we begin the journey through the final of the minor prophets.  I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them.  Many people ignore or rush through them, but there is a lot to learn in them.  What’s been your favorite so far?  Share a comment below and tells us which is your favorite and why.

The book of Malachi is yet another message to the wayward children of Israel.

This is the message that the Lord gave to Israel through the prophet Malachi.(v.1)

Malachi’s message to us revolves around the people’s offering.  As you may know, sin has always demanded a price – death.  Before the cross, the only way to atone (it was really just a Band-Aid till Jesus came) was to offer an animal sacrifice for your sin.  The animal had to die – it’s blood must be shed.  The Bible tells us that without the shedding of blood there is no payment for sin.  God had very specific commands as to what type of animal and its condition.   It couldn’t be lame, or sick – it had to be the best.  God always deserves our very best.  In Malachi 1, we read how the people were offering sacrifices that did not meet God’s requirement – way less than their best.

How do you and I do the same thing?  Do you ever offer God a tip rather than a gift in your offering?  Do you give grudgingly or with selfish intentions?  The Bible has MUCH to say on this subject.

Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.  But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.  Matthew 6:1-4

Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.  Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  2 Corinthians 9:6-7

David faced an interesting dilemma on giving.  He wanted to offer a sacrifice to the Lord and attempted to purchase some land on which to do it.  When the owner of the land learned what the king wanted it for – he offered to give it to him.  David refused:

However, the king said to Araunah, “No, but I will surely buy it from you for a price, for I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God which cost me nothing.”  2 Samuel 24:24

What about you?  Does your offering cost you?  Do you give until it hurts?  Give to God first, trusting Him for everything else – or are you a convenience giver – giving only a trusted amount in a secure way?

In two days we’ll read one of Malachi’s most famous passages.  A passage that reminds us of the critical importance of giving our best to the Lord – giving it first – and giving it through the local church.  It’s fine to give to other things – and we should – but our tithe is to God’s church – the one we attend and serve in.  Listen to his words:

“Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, ‘How have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings.  You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation of you!   Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the Lord of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.  Malachi 3:8-10

Do you think God is serious about how we give?  He always has been.  Take a moment today and pray through your giving.  Make a commitment to change whatever areas you fall short it.

By: Tim Parsons — Lead Pastor