"Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD...He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths." Micah 4:2

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Detoured Study

Hidden within the disputations of the book of Malachi are the rich tidbits of God's history with his people! Just a mentioned name fills our minds with awesome stories of God's intervention on earth. During this week's group time, I suggested a small excursion into this deeper history to enjoy more fully the beautiful meadow of gratitude we wandered into last week.

First place we visited was Jacob and his relationship with God. We climbed into the children's overlooked foothills protecting this sacred meadow of righteousness, and found they had a Broken Vow.
That path beckoned us to go further into history and visit Abraham. With him, we looked beyond the horizon and gazed upon the stars in the heavens.
This detour was to be a fast little jaunt, a paragraph or two, but we lingered on the discovery of such rich treasure describing all believers. Although an abbreviated study of God's relationship with Abraham, the grandfather of the "children of Jacob", it looks at two separate occasions where God promised Abram the blessing of offspring. Each occasion Abraham was asked to compare this offspring to the vastness of what human eyes could not count.

Abraham received a promise of offspring two separate times.  Please click over to our detoured study Redeemed Dust Shines as Stars, then join us again as we check out this distinction found also in Malachi.   

Redeemed Dust Shines as Stars

WalkerAZ photography
Our detour in the study of Malachi took us to the home of Abraham, the grandfather of the "children of Jacob". Here, hidden in the foothills of God's promises, we found a distinction of offspring.

The first promise is found in Genesis 13:16 "I will make your offspring as the DUST of the earth." This was given to Abram as he gazed over the huge land territory where God was promising to settle his offspring and make his name great. A photo of a plowed field illustrates dust for us, blowing around with every wind, unstable and movable, shifting, affected by its environment, and deteriorating in nutrients and substance without rest from labor.
With land in sight, Abram settled his tent and there he built an
altar of worship, thanking His Creator God for his provision and care.

WalkerAZ Photography
In Genesis 15:5-6, there is another blessing given to Abraham.  "Look toward the heaven, and number the STARS, if you're able to number them...So shall your offspring be. And he believed the LORD and He counted it to him as righteousness." Millions of stars shining brightly in darkness, declaring the majesty of their Creator, lighting paths, giving direction, yet so stable, dependable in following their Master plan.

Comparing the two occasions of promise, we can see a trail of those who reject God and those who walk by faith in the goodness of God. We also noticed a difference in Abram's second response. This time his heart was involved as he gazed on God's omnipotence in the heavens. He acknowledged the Almighty Presence of God, believed the Word of God, which began a relationship of faith with his Divine Friend. He was forever changed. His faith was counted to him as righteousness. God even changed His name to Abraham, meaning "the father of a multitude of nations". This birth of faith offspring began in heaven and would span all nations, having no boundaries in their expanse.

In faith, Abraham grasped the difference between dust and stars, the natural birth and the spiritual birth. Abraham received a physical promise of offspring, naturally passed on through the composition of DUST inherited in the lineage of Adam by Creation. With this offspring, he would fill the land given as his inheritance.
Through faith, he also received the honor of fatherhood to a spiritual offspring who would believe God's word and walk by faith in the power of God. When God pointed his gaze to the STARS, a spiritual eternal family was born through Abraham's "Seed" of faith in his "offspring, who is Christ" (Galatians 3:16) ,  passing on the riches of his glorious inheritance to his spiritual children.
"Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham." (Galatians 3:7)

Understanding that the story path leads two different ways through Abraham's offspring, helps us grasp those disputing with God in Malachi. We see God is urging Dust to grasp the reality of their circumstances, their hopelessness and helplessness. Their rejection of God's righteousness leaves them vulnerable to evil which only ends in judgment. The Dust family attempts to keep rules and regulations their own way, but their end is "shame and everlasting contempt". (Daniel 12:2)
Faith in God on the other hand leads to life and wisdom. Faith gives strength and courage to follow Him in obedience. Stars rely on the Word and God is their Light, shining through them and lighting the darkened path. God's Word "became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:12) and is the "Seed" God promised Abraham.

Through mercy and grace, God declares DUST to shine as STARS through faith in His Son!

CHALLENGE In Adam's Dust, the cross was raised which held the Son of the living God, the "seed" of Abraham. Through faith in His atoning love, we receive "the right to become sons of God". (John 1:12) By his blood, Jesus paid it all and declares us "not guilty". He offers Life through His righteousness.. 
Has you released your Dust through faith in his glorious Life and Light?

Monday, May 27, 2013

A Broken Vow

“For I the LORD do not change, therefore, you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” Malachi 3:6 
We chose to take a detour to investigate the mention of Jacob, and paused in our progress to open documents containing his life's journey. 
Why did God bring Jacob into conversation when accusing Israel of robbery? 
During his adventurous trek through the wilderness, God visited Jacob and promised, "Behold I am with you and will keep you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land." (Genesis 28:15) In return for God’s promise of love, protection, and return to his home. Jacob vowed "If God will be with me and keep me in this way...then the Lord shall be my God. And all that You give me I will give a full tenth to You." (Genesis 28:20)  

On his deathbed, Jacob asked "the God who has been my Shepherd...and the Messenger who has redeemed me from all evil" to bless his two grandsons. Jacob stated this covenant was both spiritual as well as physical, extending even after his death. Genesis 48:15-16
In this blessing, Jacob placed his hands upon the boys' heads and declared, "let my name be carried on and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac". Through this bequest, they carried the blessings for all generations as a covenant with their God, who promised, "I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you." In passing on this part of the blessing, Jacob expressed to his children the eternal covenant of the "promised Seed of redemption" had not yet been completed. Genesis 48:15-16
That part of the eternal blessing would be placed on these grandsons through Joseph from Jacob’s father, Abraham. Genesis 49:22-24 

So, in Malachi 3:6-12, to make it clear Jacob's vow was being discussed, God called them the "children of Jacob". God was declaring his rightful expectation of them through their father's covenant. In faithfulness, He had upheld his part of the covenant, but they had been withholding the promised tenth. He declared this robbery and exclaimed their excuses were wearisome. Yet, He also challenged them to "put Me to the test...if I will not open the windows of heaven and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need". (3:10) They could personally know His faithfulness as Jacob and really experience the goodness of a relationship with God.

The intended family heritage promised the forefathers was now being disputed between the offspring and God. God desired a spiritual relationship with them. Arrogantly, they wanted to receive an uncontested inheritance, regardless of their disobedience to the conditions of Jacob's covenant.  
CHALLENGE: Have we been guilty of breaking any vow promised to "the Lord who does not change"? 
And extending even a wider circle...
Has our generation neglected vows made in the past to "the Lord who doesn't change" which will hinder blessings for future generations? 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Harvesting a Peaceful Fruit of Righteousness

After a tough climb, it is such a relief to find a beautiful meadow between steep rocky mountains. My spirit danced joyfully and I sang as I gazed upon His beauty! I am enveloped in the sunlight of God's love and provision for me found this week in my study for His people.

As you remember, our group is studying Malachi and have reached chapter 3. The prophet explains God's displeasure by the assertion that the spiritual leaders' weariness and disobedience has actually wearied God. I believe he quotes Isaiah 43:24 "you have burdened me with your sins; you have wearied me with your iniquities". Malachi is God's final call to repent and obey the terms of the covenant with whole hearts.
Knowing their weakness and bend toward sin, in mercy and great love, God warns of His approach, "Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me...The LORD who you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, coming!" 
Take notice! Wake up! Be alert! Look for him!
The messenger of the covenant is coming on the scene!

Unfortunately, Israel defied God's warning. Weary of service, taking shortcuts in mandated offerings, and overwhelmed with positional pride, they missed the offered relationship with their God. Their arrogance believed God would bring vengeance on their enemies, but they were too good to face judgment. Because they neglected to receive God's relationship, they didn't recognize God's "Word" when this Messenger "was made flesh and dwelt among us". They continued to look only for the world's Judge, the God of vengeance on their enemies, a roaring lion, and this caused them to miss the Savior, the precious Lamb of God.

In the Gospel of Matthew, a messenger comes on the scene, preparing the way through proclamations for Repentance. He was rejected and thrown in jail. He faced death at the hand of an emperor, yet, his message prepared the way for Jesus, the Lord who suddenly appeared. Misunderstanding two separate comings of the Lord, John experienced the people's arrogant disobedience and expected judgment, possibly recalling this prophecy of Malachi. To clarify the Lord's appearance among them, John sent servants to Jesus asking for an explanation.
How did the Messiah's ministry fit the warnings of pending judgment?
Jesus gently responded to John the Baptist by pointing to an earlier prophetic book, Isaiah, giving more detail to this appearance. Jesus quoted Isaiah 35, "behold, the God of vengeance, even a God with a recompense; he will come and save you." The Judge's plan included mercy, a redemption that would save from the terrible judgment. The prophetic coming of the Messiah as Light to heal blind eyes and ears and cleanse from sin came with a recompense which met the vengeance of God at the cross. Christ's first coming satisfied the wrath of God, yet He saved His people, by the shedding of His own blood. "God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world be saved through Him" John 3:17

Today, I looked at Jesus' words in John 12:46-47, "I came into the world as LIGHT so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world."
Healing the blind living in darkness, opening the deaf ears, and touching leprosy - all show physical touches of Jesus, yet, represent the spiritual changes taking place in those who receive the Word of God, believing the Truth. God sent His LIGHT into the world. This Light made those in darkness see their condition, hear the Truth leading to belief, and be cleansed of the disease of sin. All his physical miracles completely healed and pointed to what the sacrifice of His own blood does to those who come to Him.

With John, many ask "What about judgment?" 
John 12:48 speaks of the judgment mentioned in Malachi. The Word spoken is Jesus and He will judge on the last day. In mercy, God gave Jesus the commandment of eternal life, but those who do not receive Him, reject mercy and will face judgment.

During this time of grace, a just God is satisfied in Jesus Christ. Yet, many reject Him. God deals with this rejection in justice through the second coming of Christ. While we wait for His return to fix our broken world, we must be faithful to proclaim "Today is the day of salvation!"
The Savior calls in mercy now!
What wonderful Grace! The words that Jesus gave us are eternal life. Several passages answer the question of who faces God's wrath in judgment. In Jesus, we are saved from the wrath of God!
We looked at five passages stating we are saved from the wrath to come. John 3:36, John 5:24, Rms 2:8, Rms 5:9, and Eph 5:6.
As I read this precious Word, my heart overflowed with such gratitude! Jesus' own words about God's wrath is amazing and wonderful! There's no longer fear of meeting God. Christ's sacrifice on the cross satisfied the wrath of God, freeing me to serve Him with a whole heart.
While I live in this broken world, God trains me in trials and hurts to make me more like Christ. Broken people also cause a hard workout on my heart, but I grow in grace as I consider all He did for me. I struggle with the brokenness of the world, yet, by faith, I claim God promises to strengthen my faith, increase my endurance and make me all He has planned for me.

The Word is my coach in this race I run.
In Hebrews 12, I'm encouraged to "Consider Jesus".
Consider all He endured, even the shedding of blood, and my burdens become light and momentary realizing how much He did for me. God is working for my good with the promise is a harvest of a peaceful fruit of righteousness. In gratitude, I know I will lay my harvest at His feet in honor of all he did for me.

As I close this week's study time, I'm resting in the meadow of God's omnipotent love, among the blossoms of His beautiful promises, and living out His abundant life in faith. Sheltered under the good and bountiful cloud of Jesus Christ, I'm reminded of this song bursting with gratitude...
"How can I say thanks for the things that are done for me...
Things so undeserved, that you gave your very life for me...
The voices of a thousand angels could not express my gratitude...
All that I am, or ever hope to be....
I owe it all to Thee!'
                                                               To God be the Glory.....

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Slashing Through Underbrush

Treks through mountain passages may be easy to follow when the path is clear, but when underbrush, felled trees, and boulders obscure the trail; the hike becomes more difficult and often dangerous. When inclement weather is added to the climb, it is almost impossible to find secure footing.

While on this path of study, I find myself pushing away the clutter and grasping for a sure hold. I began searching the Manual as a hiker grasps with his hands while tentatively stretching a leg, searching for solid ground. The toughness of this climb has been made by cultural comforts and faithless leaders who neglect the double-edged sword provided to cut through the underbrush, so others find the true path. I'm constantly getting snagged on common thought that wants to excuse humans and make them not responsible before a righteous God of Infinite Love.
I copied this quote which wears like a trail signpost directing hikers toward an unstable path, which at first glance, looks plausible. Yet, when followed, I found it traps many on a very dangerous path of doubting God's Word. Unsure feet are gingerly placed on muddy slopes of experience, rather than biblical truth. Through these words, many believe that man is somehow acceptable as they are because God is love. Displeasure rains when 'common and comfortable' experience is brought into question, even causing some to turn away in discouragement, misunderstanding or harsh judgment. Even in the midst of storms, any opinion characterizing God must be backed by His revealed truth, helping others find solid ground for their journey.

This path of thought caused a difficult climb and as I pushed back the underbrush on this trail, I was slapped with overgrown weeds of post-modern thought. This is a man supposed philosophy, leaning heavily on experience superimposing absolute truth. Through God's precious Word, precept upon precept shows God's Love uprooting these acceptable weeds through His Mercy and Grace. Because of His Mercy, His Grace touched me and I'm no longer broken. I'm no longer the same! In an instant I was changed, no longer "as you are" characterizes me. I'm filled with joy and praise with a heart full of gratitude and thanksgiving because my loving God met the condition of his holiness through the blood of His beloved Son. He provided Himself the Way to make me a new creation. He placed me in Christ Jesus, drastically changing me from death to life, and dressed me in His righteousness.

In Scriptures, we're told it is "God, being rich in mercy, because of His great Love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our sins, made us alive together with Christ" (Eph 2:4)  Because He so loved the world, He sent His beloved Son. (John 3:16) This Son, Jesus, was rejected and died on the cross to forgive the sins of the world. Yet, this forgiveness must be received. (John 1:12) God openly invites all, "whosoever will, may come." under the condition that we believe His Word concerning Jesus. When one responds to His truth, agreeing with God concerning his need, he receives Christ's life, making him a new creation, being change from death to spiritual life.
To continue 'as you are' would mean you remain dead and unforgiven.

I found through research that this teaching of leaving us "as you are" is characterized by the "dissolution of cold hard facts in favor of warm fuzzy subjectivity". By dissolving God's Word, we begin to lean on our own understanding and in our own strength, try to improve our experiences in a broken world. This philosophy thwarts growth and development in those who have been made new creations. God placed His new creation IN CHRIST and gives victory over brokenness only in Christ.
It's easy to point at experience and see that left to ourselves, we fall flat on our face, but God's Love never leaves nor forsakes us. Looking only at ourselves, many accept failure in the battle of the flesh against the spirit, convinced they are "not as they should be". Jesus said our "should be" is found as we "abide in Him". (John 15) We're not to "lean on our own understanding", making truth relative by measuring our own experience. Remaining in Christ, our measurement is Christ's holiness, the very Truth of God. Removing Truth makes "should be" impossible for man. Relative truth undermines God's declaration that the believer's condition is "more than conquerors".
Again in Titus 3, we are told just how much we have been changed. "He washed away our sins and gave us a new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us because of what Jesus Christ our Savior did...He declared us 'not guilty'..." NLT (Titus 3:3-4)
We have been declared 'not guilty'.

Christ's declaration of acquittal begins the slow process of conforming us into the image of His Son. 2 Peter 1:3-8 explains "his divine power gives us everything we need for living a godly life. He has called us to receive his own glory and goodness! And by that same mighty power he has given all of his rich and wonderful promises."
Peter further encourages us to "make every effort to apply the benefits of these promises to our lives" by adding to our faith in God's work of a new creation. Through addition, our "Faith produces a life of moral excellence, which leads to knowing God better. Knowing God better leads to self-control, which leads to patient endurance and on to godliness. Godliness leads to love for other Christians and that grows into a genuine love for everyone". NLT (2 Peter 1:3-8 italicized mine)

A life of faith pleases God. This process is just as He has planned for each of his children. Through faith in His power, we are exactly what we should be where we should be - abiding in Christ.

The challenge for this week really took a hold on my heart and so I pass it on to my readers: 
                                    "How often do I truly take God at his Word?"

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Checking our bearings...

Quite often while hiking through mountains, we glance back to where we've been. We let our eyes wander back over the trail and recall the challenges we faced. We realize that the thick, rough and hard places enabled us to be where we now stand. Then, before moving on, we check the compass against our direction, and with refreshed determination we move forward.

This third session "Going big or going home" seems to be one of these pauses. The Messenger speaks of past challenges through their own history where God's love and faithfulness carried them over a very rough trail. Yet his message rebukes them on their present location.

They had veered off-track in disobedience, short-cuts, and plain old boredom!

There was a time when God declared a covenant  between His treasured possession and Himself. He promised blessing and they agreed to walk God's path, giving Him their whole heart while being led by Him. Yet, they had strayed very far from their agreement, blazing paths of their own. They whined of feeling short-changed and unloved, but God declares His displeasure. The Messenger showed their position was actually despising God's Name. Their service gave God no honor and their expressions of worship were a "weariness" to God.

As we study this particular disputation with God's people, we may need to seek a deeper commitment in our own spiritual journeys. Taking time to consider where we stand can only be measured by His Word. Hopefully this examination causes a more firm determination to move forward on His path under His leadership. Looking at their choices, we can learn not to veer off to find our own way or make our own rules.

Unfortunately, along the spiritual path, there are obstacles, hindrances, and roadblocks tempting shortcuts toward easier paths. As in this message, there are even weary leaders who want to take shortcuts, trim God's perfection, or push their own agenda, taking their own path. There are scoffers, mockers, and doubters who slacken the pace, making confusion rule the trek, and desiring to thwart progress, they cause some sojourners to quit altogether. For others, complacency or apathy hinder progress, elicit arguing and whining, dividing travelers from each other and encouragement.

Not only is this resting spot a much needed pause for contemplation, but it might also be a warning for a tougher hike ahead. We need to forge our determination to stand firm, be committed to God's path, and encourage each other to enthusiastically move forward.
Until we are called to "Go Home", let's agree to "Go Big" with our awesome God and Leader!