Sunday, December 26, 2010

A day AFTER Christmas and all through my life...

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house …

Well, the story might not be so familiar to each of you, but I do remember such a poem since I was a child. But now that Christmas is over, a Day after Christmas and all though my life…not too much was happening, I felt like a mouse.

I got all the dressings of the holiday still up—unlike the shopping mall anywhere in Japan. One year, a long time ago, when I was single, I left the live tree up—with all the lights and all—until Easter weekend. The pine tree had lost ALL the needles and the room was indeed a fire hazard! I loved the smell. I liked the look. I was too lazy to remove the tree.

But after it all ended, and the wrong gifts were exchanged, how does a person move on? The excitement or lack of excitement is over. Life goes on. There is no let up in the things that NEED to be done. We are as busy as ever! What do we do?

We move on. I was reminded of this very thing on Dec 20th as I wrote a comment on e-mail to a friend. Her question was: “What am I supposed to be doing? Please pray for me.”

Of course I prayed for her but I also gave her some advice: I said, When you need to know what God wants you to do, take the first step.

One of my most favorite verses in the Bible is from the Old Testament. Ecclesiastes 12:13 Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.

伝道の書 / 12 13


To end right, we need to start even better. How is that done? One way is to cover all the past with something and make believe it did not happen. That would not be the good way to deal with life. Another way is to look at what you have and see if there can be any change for the better: your thought life, feelings of anger toward someone, fear of the New Year, etc. Make a list and check it twice for areas that the Lord is touching you, and encouraging you. Make a commitment to move forward in dealing with those issues. Have a friend help you. In other words: Take the first step. Today's message is one of those steps.

When I was a boy, living in Rhode Island, my Dad would give me some advice when needed. His number one advice was: “Stan, keep your nose clean!” What he meant was, don’t get messing around with people, things, or ideas. Stay clean. Don’t go where you should not go. Don’t say things you really should not say. Don’t make friends with the wrong people. “Keep your nose clean.” Develop your integrity.

Over the years, when I was in a difficult place, I remember my Dad’s words to me. Simple as they were, they reflected just what the writer of Ecclesiastes was talking about. When life is coming to an end…when the year is almost over…when the job is almost finished, what is the bottom line? Not how much will I get? Not, was it worth the cost? Rather, was it pleasing to God?

Now, I am a pastor, so I’m supposed to talk like that. But I have not always been a pastor. And words of instruction like what the Preacher gave us in 12:13, I can live with. It is almost easy to gauge if things were successful or not. The conclusion is this: Did I live my life fearing God? Not in the knee shaking fear, but in reverence and deep love. Did I let God have first place? Was He my co-pilot or was He the one flying my life. If He was my co-pilot, than I crashed and burned. He does not sit in the passenger’s seat. His place is behind the steering wheel. He needs to be sailing my boat. He is the coach of my team. He flies my plane. He drives my car. He leads my life. He is the One who tells me which way I should go.

This past month, a friend had been sending me her reflections on Advent. She was once a short-term missionary here in Japan. Over the years since, she has become a doctor and now takes short missionary trips to, first India and now to Indonesia. On last Wed, she wrote this and I love the sound of it. I can see she is ‘keeping her nose clean’ too.

“My steady goal is absolute surrender and complete obedience. God not an ogre God who toys with our desires and messes with our minds. He’s an all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful Lord who willingly sacrificed all so we might run and dance full-throttle with Him.”

So that we could enjoy Him.

Do you understand that? She has had some times in her life when she needed to just stop what she was doing, look around and see what God was doing and go do what He was doing. That brought joy and it brought a smile on the Face of God. It was not vanity. Not a smoke trail. It wasn’t striving after a vapor. It was understanding the full impact this verse 12:13 Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.

伝道の書 / 12 13


Think about it, if there is no God, then there is no Judge. If there is no Judge, then there is no Final Judgment. If there is no Final Judgment, there is no ultimate meaning to life. Nothing really matters.

If there is no God to judge this world, than all of humanity’s reason to exist is pointless legal action that ends in meaningless despair. The author of Ecclesiastes would certainly agree. From verse one of his book, he had been saying that if there is no Divine, there is no meaning to life. Nothing matters.

He said: “Vanity of vanity (or self-importance or narcissism)all is vanity.” Ecclesiastes 12:8.

伝道者は言う、「空の空、いっさいは空である」と。 But in spite of all this self-conceit and striving, we can have joy. We can rejoice in the many things in life that bless us. He encourages us to eat, drink and be happy. Find satisfaction in our work (2:24).

伝道の書 / 2 24

人は飲み食いし、その労苦によって得たもので心を楽しませるより良い事はない。これもまた神の手から出ることを、わたしは見た。 There is a time for healing and harvesting, a time for laughing and dancing, a time for loving and making peace (3:1-8).

伝道の書 / 3 1~8
天の下のすべての事には季節があり、すべてのわざには時がある。 生るに時があり、死ぬるに時があり、植えるに時があり、植えたものを抜くに時があり、 殺すに時があり、いやすに時があり、こわすに時があり、建てるに時があり、泣くに時があり、笑うに時があり、悲しむに時があり、踊るに時があり、 石を投げるに時があり、石を集めるに時があり、抱くに時があり、抱くことをやめるに時があり、 捜すに時があり、失うに時があり、保つに時があり、捨てるに時があり、 裂くに時があり、縫うに時があり、黙るに時があり、語るに時があり、 愛するに時があり、憎むに時があり、戦うに時があり、和らぐに時がある。

He has told us to enjoy life with those we love (9:9).

伝道の書 / 9 9


There is JOY in this world under the blessing of this Biblical God of Creation.

He wants us to understand that without God in our lives, things are really meaningless. How little joy there is if we try to leave God out of His creation.

And for people of Faith, His words can also bring some pain. His words are goads to the conscience. (a goad- a long pointed stick used to move animals along-to provoke or incite someone in to action) At that time, our minds are made uncomfortable enough to turn away from sin. They become a stimulus to the soul, navigating us back onto the right spiritual road.

When we see that the words of the Preacher as the very Words of God, this whole matter takes on a deeper meaning. This Preacher or Shepard of our Souls laid down His life for His sheep (John 10:11).

ヨハネによる福音書 / 10 11


The Lord Jesus is the one who calls us away from the vanity of life for without God to find the joy and meaning He has for us in His Grace, we are lost. We are not just living “under the sun” but living under the Living Son-the Son of God who “loved us and gave Himself up for us.” (Eph 5:2)

エペソ人への手紙 / 5 2


A good book to read: The Great Divorce, by C.S.Lewis

Are you seeking Spiritual truth? End that quest and surrender to the Lord God who alone knows the answers to life. Paul warned us not to be like the man in 1 Tim 3:7 who is “always learning and never able to arrive at the knowledge of the Truth.”

テサロニケ人への第一の手紙 / 3 7


Be content with what the Bible offers and don’t accept anything less.

If there is a God who will judge the world, than everything matters.

It matters if we waste our time on certain activities. It matters what we do with our money, our time, our talents. It matters what we do with our bodies—what we allow our eyes to see, hands to touch, our mouths to speak. Whether we obey our parents will matter; so will the look we give them and the little comment we make when we are walking away from them. What we do with the child, the way we care for the homeless, the underprivileged, the needy, and what we say about someone else’s performance, the sarcastic remark, or the genuine word of praise. The household task, the homework assignment will matter. The cup of water, the word of testimony, the tear of compassion—all of this matters!

What matters most of all, therefore, is the personal decision that each person makes about Jesus Christ. Jesus came into this vain cold world. He took all the mess that was dished out to Him and He responded with forgiveness. He went to the Cross for us. He took our sins on Himself. He died. He went to the grave, but on the third day, He rose again, bringing life out of the Grave.

So, it is the day after Christmas and all through my life, I have made choices, right and wrong, and I need to make a very big one to close this Year with: WILL I MAKE JESUS LORD OF MY LIFE?

Charles Wesley, 1739 –Hark the herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King! Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled” Joyful, all ye nations rise, Join the triumph of the skies. With the angelic host proclaim: “Christ is born in Bethlehem.” Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Week 4 of Advent: The Peace Jesus Brings from Micah 5:1-5

So far this Advent season, we have looked at Jeremiah 33 at the Power of Hope. We entered the Refining Love of God from Malachi 2. We had God sing us a love song from Zephaniah 3 while we considered God’s Protection and Delight. In all of this, we have been looking at God’s promise of Better days. We were made for better days. That is the hope of Advent and Christmas, that God had done something in Jesus that changes everything. Everything in the world and everything in us. All these promises are aiming at what Micah predicted—a promise of better days that will be fulfilled in the coming of Jesus.

Today, we will look at His Peace. Shalom. It just falls off your lips, doesn’t it? Say it with me: SHALOM!

Back in Middle school, I can remember being so afraid of the town gangs. These boys would fight or rumble with other teen gangs around the State. We did not live in New York City, but we did have some tough gangs. T’s Dragons were the worst. But even before Tommy had his time of power, there was the Esmond Street Gang. These boys were men—to us. Big guys with muscles on top of their muscles. They even shaved! One day, one of the gang members put a hit on my older brother. Ed was not in the gang but he had pushed one of the boys on the bus and that meant there needed to be a fight! Dennis T. had another boy call Ed over to the other side of the street. When he got there, Dennis came out from behind the Billboard and told the other boy to run away. He was going to start hitting my brother –a lot –when I walked up to Dennis and stood right between my ‘soon to be dead brother’ and Dennis. I said: “If you want to fight my brother, you’ll have to go through me first!” I put on my tough face and waited for the first blow to my head. It did not come. He backed down and walked away. I had won the day and saved my brother from sure death. I cared about someone beyond myself. I was a freedom fighter against oppression and injustice. And my brother still owes me big time for that day!

On that day, my heart cracked wide open. I heard a voice from within me that said that this was not a good thing. It was unjust! Violence and injustice should not have the upper hand. There has to be a better way. Everywhere in any playground, you can hear: “That’s not fair!” One man once said, “A sense of justice comes with the kit of being human.” IT IS WHAT WE ARE MADE FOR!

I did not know it at the time but that small voice that I heard coming from within me was the same voice that had been speaking through the whole Old Testament. The voice got louder and louder. I grew to understand the pain some go through who are dealt with unfairly. I began to try and help them. “You were made for better days. The strong oppress the weak; the rich pummel the poor; nation goes to war against nation. But I, the Lord, have made you for better days, and I will bring those better days to pass.”

The Jews had a word for better days: SHALOM, for Peace. It meant more than the absence of war. More than a positive state in my soul or a private transaction between God and me. It covered those things but it also dealt with the end of injustice! It meant that people would love one another. Shalom would cover all creation, from the bugs to the whales and humans and the birds.

The Hebrew People felt that this Shalom of God would come in the person. Someone is coming who would open the door to peace. The big question is WHO was it? Isaiah wrote: “For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given…and He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Remembers The Promise Of Shalom.

Micah lived about 700 years before Jesus. He was from a small town about 25 miles south of Jerusalem. As a prophet of God, Micah was able to see things that other people did not nor did they want to see. Micah records unspeakable violence and injustice in 2:9 and 3:1-2. This injustice made Micah really upset. It also connected him with the ancient promises for better days. God had whispered into his ear, “Remember, Micah, someOne is coming will bring Peace…who will bring SHALOM.”

These ancient promises pop up all over in his short writing. Look at Micah 4:3. He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.

This is one deep and rich picture of the vastness of His Shalom.

Remember when you were in those innocent days of youth. When the world would be a better place simply because you were in it? But then things got crazy. You started to settle into the reality of life and things changed. Like what we said last week; changes are all around us and few of them can be self-controlled. You might be saying now, “Who has the time to wonder about better days?” I got enough to worry about as it is! When you are not even sure how you are going to make it through this day! Bills to be paid. Kids to take care of. Health problems of your parents and your self. Retirement to plan for. The list of responsibilities goes on and on. Longing for peace, longing for justice, aching for better days—we may not have the time or the energy anymore.

Maybe you are still young and feel that the World is ready for you! You might be looking at life through colored glasses and all seems just right and perfect and this kind of talk disturbs you. You may feel that I have it all wrong.

You might be right. Then on the other hand, people like the writer of Ecclesiastes said that all life is a vapor and it is like grabbing at smoke. Elusive. You may have to really work hard at life and still not get anywhere …but there is hope. Ecclesiastes 12:13 “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of Man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”

But no wonder we become cynical! Look at the newspaper or watch the news on TV. (Better yet, just turn it off and read your Bible!) No wonder we stopped longing for better days. We have become cold to the idea. Yet, nevertheless, every once in a while something cracks our hearts wide open and we hear a whispering voice say to us: “You were made for better days. You long for peace because there IS A Peace Giver and His name is Jesus!”

The Messiah Comes Quietly.

Micah 5:3 Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor bears a son, and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites.

The suggestion is that times are like a woman just before childbirth—the pain increases as the time comes closer. Yet into this violent and seemingly hopeless situation, God will send His Peace Bearer! In the fullness of time! The Peace of Rome, one language, a system of roads, world-wide commerce—all perfect to take the Message to the world.

But He warns us that we might miss Him. We got the lights up but where is the Real Light? When God brings His Shalom, we might miss Him. Not with a marching band and a lot of hoopla and CNN coverage, but quietly and to unlikely people. To shepherds, an old widow, foreign wise men, a virgin…in Isaiah 11, God told us the Messiah would come like a branch growing out of a dead stump. From death and decay—and poof!—the Peace-Bringer would arise! Now in Micah 5:2, (“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans (or rulers) of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”) the coming One, the Promised Messiah, God’s Shalom, would come from a tiny village, a quiet place: Bethlehem.


Here we have the Biblical account: Matthew 2:1-12.

Are you ready for Him? Is there room in your heart for this Promised One who will give you Godly Peace—the kind of Peace that passes understanding? If so-open your hearts to Him. If not, why not? What else does He need to do for you? Why not be open to His Great Love for you today and have this be your best Christmas ever!

Much thanks goes to Matt Woodley for most of this material during Advent. I used his outline and most of his text with my own illustrations. Note: No teenager was hurt or bullied in the writing of this sermon.

Get ready for Christmas!!!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

ICCS クリスマス行事/Christmas @ ICCS

祈りの道のり 12月20日(月)


Prayer Walk: December 20 (Monday)

Meet at ICCS at 10:30 for a prayer walk around Kotesashi and Tokorozawa.

シンガポール料理教室 12月22日(水)午後3:30~5:30


Singapore Cooking Class: December 22 (Wednesday), 3:30-5:30 PM

Come enjoy a demonstration of delicious Singapore cuisine. Please try to sign up in groups of 2-3. Each group should bring a gas cooking stove, utensils, and obento boxes to take your dinner home. Ingredients will be provided. Cost is ¥500/person. Babysitting provided. For details and to sign up, contact Ann Endo,

子供会 12月23日(木、祝日)午後3時から5時まで


Children’s Party--December 23 (Thursday, National Holiday), 3-5 PM

Please bring your children and their friends to this fun event led by the visiting mission team from Singapore.

キャンドルライト礼拝とキャロリング 12月24日(金、クリスマスイブ、午後7時より)礼拝、軽食、榎町の人たちと喜びを分かち合います。

Candlelight Service and Caroling--December 24 (Friday, Christmas Eve, 7 PM~)

Worship, light refreshments, sharing our joy with Enoki-cho.

シンガポールのみなさんとのクリスマス会 12月25日(土、クリスマス、午後零時から3時まで)


Singapore Community Christmas Party--December 25 (Saturday, Christmas Day), 12-3 PM)

Share the real Christmas spirit at ICCS with guests from our community, and enjoy delicious food from Singapore.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Week 3. God’s Protection and Delight

Zephaniah paints a picture of love

Big Idea: Let nothing keep you from having joy in the Risen Christ today.

If you are looking for a book in the Bible that few read, look no further than today’s passage. Zephaniah may not be one of your favorite books—and many may not have even read it before, but the last part of Chapter Three contains a wonderfully moving description on God’s love.

According to a French philosopher, Simone Weil (died in 43) there were only two things that could crack open the human heart: suffering and beauty. This picture in Zephaniah’s writings is designed to crack our hearts open with its beauty. This is not what we deserve. It isn’t what we have coming to us, but this is the Love God offers us.

Let’s read the passage first and then let’s pray together.

Zephaniah 3:14-20 (niv)

Sing, Daughter Zion; shout aloud, Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem! The LORD has taken away your punishment, He has turned back your enemy. The LORD, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm. On that day they will say to Jerusalem, “Do not fear, Zion; do not let your hands hang limp. The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in His love He will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”

“I will remove from you all who mourn over the loss of your appointed festivals, which is a burden and reproach for you. At that time I will deal with all who oppressed you. I will rescue the lame; I will gather the exiles. I will give them praise and honor in every land where they have suffered shame. At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home. I will give you honor and praise among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your fortunes before your very eyes,” says the LORD.

Lord God, may the words spoken today give encouragement to those who need it and light to those who are in darkness. May our spiritual ears hear Your songs of love sung into our hearts. Thank You that these are words of comfort and words to restore us. Thank You that we are to be built up in Your sight. In Jesus' Name, amen.

Who is this Zephaniah? And what is his story? From the opening verses, we learn that he is a man who God spoke through. In a little bit, we are going to see that his message was as right for then as it is for us today. Wait and see.

He lived in Jerusalem during a very critical time in Israel’s history. Verse one says he lived during the reign of King Josiah. For about 57 years before this king, Israel had two very bad and evil kings: Manasseh and Amon. They did not follow the teachings of the Lord and truly drove Israel away from God. Two bad kings and then one of them fathered this young man who started to clean Israel’s house in a big way.

The reforms has just really started under King Josiah. The prophet was not happy with the slow response of the Israelite people. Listen to this very strong statement: “‘I will sweep away both men and animals … I will destroy every remnant of Baal worship … (and) those who turn back from following the LORD.”

In other words, God is ready to really clean house.

Why would God be so upset? Well, the list was pretty short. The people did not know which God (gods) to serve. There was the Creator God who loved them and provided all good things for them and had a promise of even better things to come. OR the destructive, empty, angry goods called Baal and Moleck—who required child sacrifice and who’s priest were full time male and female prostitutes which were connected to a worship of sexual orgies. (1:4-6).

Another factor was that whenever God’s people turned away from God, they also forgot about the poor and the uncared for in the society. Their ‘care-level’ ran really short on care. The rich devoured the poor and the powerless (3:3-4). Those in power could care less for those in need. They wallowed in apathy and walked around with deep arrogance. They also did not like to listen to correction from anyone. (3:2). This lead to …


Because God cared deeply for the People of Israel, He and His prophet could not just put their head’s into the sand. They were going to act and the way they were going to act is call: “The Day Of The Lord.” That phrase was used at least 25 times in 53 verses. It’s meaning? God will not stand by and tolerate all this ‘stuff’ in the world. God will set things right. It is something like a Shake Up, this THE DAY OF THE LORD.

Back to football for an illustration: Notice I will not brag on the New England Patriots, but I will pick on the Minnesota Vikings. For a while, the team could not win a game yet the fans were celebrating with wild and uncontrolled parties. In short, something like a riot. To combat this bad behavior of the fans and of the team, the front office fired the coach and trading the quarterback. If you are familiar with AA and other addiction treatments, you might see this as an intervention. When a family member or someone you love sinks into an addition and can’t see his way out of it, someone needs to step in with an intervention. Someone needs to get in his face and say, “Look, you’re killing yourself and you’re hurting everyone around you. We won’t let you do this anymore!”

THE DAY OF THE LORD refers to a God-Size, global, earth-shaking, all time life-altering shake-up intervention. The Mother of all interventions happens. It starts with us (personal) and grows to governments and nations (social). This books looks at THE DAY OF THE LORD as something intense: “I have destroyed nations; … strongholds are demolished…they were still eager to act corruptly…pour out My wrath on them…all my fierce anger, the whole world will be consumed with the fire of My jealous Love.” (3:6 and 8) Not much like a love letter, is it?


You might be thinking, “I thought God was all love! I thought He was Love! Would His Love just crack my heart open with love’s beauty?” If you feel that way, you are not alone. So there are a few things about God’s Love we all need to know and understand. God’s Love is beautiful but it is not mushy. His Love is comforting but it is not cushy. His love can be strong and even fierce. Vs 17 The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in His love He will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”

When it all comes down to it, our God IS a warrior. Looking back in the OT, we find such evidence when the Hebrew Children were leaving Egypt-through the Red Sea, they said in Exodus 15:3 “The Lord is a Warrior” they cried, “the Lord is His Name”.. Jesus is a Warrior for His People. He will fight for our freedom and for our deep joy.

See how He fights for us? Sometimes He fights AGAINST things in our lives that would destroy us. He sometimes has to fight through our sin to get us back. Like the intervention the football front office did, they took it all away and forced them to face the problem face first. You take the bottles away from the drunk, the credit cards from the over spender, the drugs from the addict and you sit down with him and offer him a better way. You give him a chance to wake up.

How does the friend respond? He might be confused and even angry. He might feel like you are against him; you’re taking his life and the source of his joy away. You’re stripping him of real happiness. But, in truth, you and I both know that you’re fighting for your friend’s life. You had become a warrior on his behalf.

If we don’t get to feel and see the fierce, warrior-like love of God for us, we may often feel confused about Him. We all need intervention from time to time. Our addictions will kill us. In Zep. 3:6, God says that He will demolish our strongholds. He will take away the lesser things that can never give us joy. God is really fighting to give us real joy.


He is not always hard on us. He is also filled with delight for us. Verse 17? “He will take great delight in you.” Here’s a question: Do you believe God likes you? Does He have anger toward you? Disappointment? Contempt? Try and remember that He is not your earthy Dad.

Repeat this please: God takes delight in me. Believe it today! When you take communion, hear that sentence and feel the joy.

Read with me: Zephaniah 3:20 At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home. I will give you honor and praise among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your fortunes before your very eyes,” says the LORD.

This honor can go both ways. You and your life honor Him and He honors you with new life. He has better days for you!


One of the biggest problems we all face in our fractured world today is that we are all restless. We are anxious and uptight almost all the time. We can’t relax; we live with constant sense of being anxious and hurried. Am I right? Answer quickly!

The people 2,500 years ago in Zephaniah’s day were the same. They had placed all their hopes in Assyria and now Assyria was fading and Babylon was in the wings ready to strike. The Prophet said the fall and the exile was only 20 years away. When that happened, everything becomes unglued. Nothing is the same.

Everything around us changes. You can’t control it. People change. Health changes. Jobs change. Children grow up and leave. Children who have grown up return. Nations change, taxes change, Church changes. You look around and there are some people here you just don’t know. Nothing seems to be stable. Our hearts and lives are restless and anxious. Time for some good news!

One thing that will never change: God’s Love for you. Stable, rock solid. Permanent. He says to us: Turn to Me and be quiet with Me and My love. Make it a practice during this season and beyond: Rest in His love. Let Him quiet your anxious hearts.


There is not time today to cover this in detail, but look at the end of 3:17: “He will rejoice over you with singing.” A while ago, there was a C&W song about a Dad and his little girl. Every time I hear it I’d cry. Told my girls that I will cry at their wedding esp. if they play that song. God, too, has a love song He sings over you all during your life. Birth, school, hurts, joyful times, marriage, birth of your first-your seventh, your parent’s death, your dying moment-He is singing over you with songs of His Love for you.


At this time in our talk, I do hope that God’s love is starting to crack open your hearts. As that happens, know that the end result of all of that cracking…is JOY. 3:14 Sing, Daughter Zion; shout aloud, Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem! This is life! I’chayim To LIFE!!

No matter who you are this morning, God gives you joy. That is His gift to you. You might be saying “I can’t rejoice in God, I am such a mess!” Verse 15 Says: “The Lord has taken away your punishment.” Jesus took it on the Cross and it is gone. Let nothing keep you from having joy in the Risen Christ today. Mother Teresa once said that “Let nothing so sadden your heart that it takes away the joy of the Risen Christ.” That is just what Zephaniah is saying to all of us today. There are better days coming and the Joy of the Lord will be ours. But to make it your joy, you need to be in Christ. Sitting next to a Believer won’t get this joy in you. Being born in a Christian home won’t do it. Taking communion won’t give you His Joy. It is only found in the Person of Jesus, the Christ.

CONCLUSION: Three questions for you as we close:

1. Have you experienced the truth of Verse 15? When Jesus died on the Cross, He took our punishment and set us free. Are you trusting in that this morning?

2. Is there anything that is robbing you of joy today?

3. How would your life change if you could believe, receive and rest in all the wonderful promises of Zephaniah 3:17? “He will rejoice over you with singing.”

Thanks to Matt Woodley for most of the material today.

Week 4: The Peace Jesus Brings. Micah 5:1-5

He Predicts the Coming Messiah. He brings SHALOM and call us to join him.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Week Two The Refining Love of God

The Big Thought:
God allows suffering for our holiness and happiness.

We have been looking at the promise that was given…not yet seen, just around the corner. God would send His Son to claim us back to Himself. We spoke about the definition of Hope as being something that is a vision for better days that changes us now in the present. Today, we are going to look at a promise for better days in the book of Malachi.

Sometimes a sports coach acts like a HAMMER. He pounds the basics over and over again into the athletes. “This is a Football” and it doesn’t get much basic than that! He becomes a hammer in his driving home the real need to know the basic steps of playing the sport. He used video, white board, getting physically in there with the boys and shows them, in and out of the locker room, the very fiber of football to the boys. They begin to dream about what the coach has been talking about. Their actions on the field become automatic.

What would happen if one of the players began to look out the window and start to yawn? He sees something shinny and his mind goes on a trip…and the coach sees it? The coach would walk over to the player and grab his jersey and shout in his face: “You’re acting like you are not interested in the game! If you don’t change your attitude, I’m going to pour gasoline down your shorts and light you on fire! You get that Boy?” All of a sudden, the student has motivation and he is focused. He has the boy’s attention!

Much like what we have here in Malachi. Problem was their hearts were cold. They were playing the game of Faith. The people were unmotivated in their spirit. They were uninspired by their faith. Their lives were spiritually boring. They felt distracted in life. They were really unmoved by God’s holiness. God was a bother to them. They yawned in His face. It was like them saying: “You have no authority on my life whatsoever!” “You are so boring!”

And these were called the People of God!

They needed someone to pour gasoline down their shorts. Or, in the words of Malachi, they needed to meet the God who is like a “refiner’s fire” (Malachi 3:2). So God sent Malachi to say: “You were made for better days. You weren’t made to coast in your spiritual apathy. God has better days coming.”

I. The big picture of Malachi

Last week, we met Jeremiah. Here again, we have another historical personality. A real man. That man prophesied the God would send His faithless people into exile. That is what happened. 586 years before Jesus was born, Babylon captured Israel and the city of David. The King of Israel had his eyes gouged out. The citizens were uprooted. They all went into captivity. And as the Lord promised, in 536 BC, the Hebrew Nation returned and rebuilt the city. 50,000 of them returned to their homeland. After 20 years, they finished the Temple in 515 BC. And about 60 years later, still other others from the exile returned and beautified the Temple, creating what appears to be the first worship war in Church history.

Now, Malachi got into the mix. It had been over 100 years since they returned and reality was setting in. They were getting bored. You can read the whole story-(only 55 verses) and you can track their spiritual waning. Their worship became sloppy, careless and, well, boring.

The people were SUPPOSED to bring their very best to God in their offerings. Instead, they brought the leftovers—whatever it took to just get by with God—or so they thought! The whole assembly wandered into the services with long faces, not really expecting anything at all. Malachi suggested that they bring that same attitude to work with them on Monday and see what would happen! Your bosses would not like it! Why, Malachi questioned, do you think God would be pleased with that kind of sloppy worship! You were made for better days!

The worship was so dead and meaningless. God said: I have loved you yet you doubt it. Where is My honor? Where is my fear?

You have despised My Name and Me. How? You offer polluted food upon My altar. You offer blind animals for sacrifices. Lame or sick animals as well. If you gave that to your Governor, would he accept it? NO! Stop lighting fires on My altar. They are in vain as you don’t believe in Me. My Name is honored all over the world, but not here! You profane (disrespect) My Name at the Lord’s Table. All this worship is as a burden to you. Even when you bring sick and broken animals as offerings, you are not satisfied because there is no real worship or love from your cold hearts! “Oh, that you would shut the temple doors!” Just keep the doors locked and go home!

Worshiping of God should be the most important event in your life this week. We should be tripping over ourselves to hear God’s Word, to learn, to grow, to catch a glimpse of God’s Glory, to welcome those who don’t know Christ, to teach our children! It SHOULD be an incredible privilege; instead God’s People were bored out of their minds!

This same attitude that they brought to the worship spread in other areas of their lives as well. Their marriages, their financial generosity, their parenting. Malachi 2:17 says: “You have wearied the Lord with your words.” You have no interest or even the desire to look to Me. Why bother? You have become cold to My Life. You wearied Me!

God was saying to them: I hear your long prayers (or short prayers) with no heart in them. You complain and fuss over life and yet you do not listen to Me. You break the marriage contract as well as do violence toward the wife, so beware! Malachi goes on: You have said that all who do evil are good and that God is pleased with them. These are all lies. You don’t want Me to be around your life. You want Me to leave you alone!

Billy Graham's daughter was interviewed on a TV show in the US and was asked of her 'How could God let something like Hurricane Katrina happen?' Anne Graham gave an extremely profound and insightful response... She said, 'I believe God is deeply saddened by this, just as we are, but for years we've been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our government and to get out of our lives. And being the gentleman He is, I believe He has calmly backed out. How can we expect God to give us His blessing and His protection if we demand He leave us alone?'

How indeed, how easily we can live in a spiritual drift and not even know it. Beware, Malachi said. I say, Beware!

II. You are loved.

During the stages of our spiritual lives, the up and down of life, we sometimes need someone to pour gasoline down our shorts and set us afire! That is what this Prophet did! He spoke about the holy, refining fire of God. But see how this book begins? God telling His people: “I have loved you…” And because of this love, I have something to say to you…

We are loved and we are chosen. We are loved before we are confronted; we are chosen before we are challenged; we are embraced and accepted before we are told to change. We see this powerfully illustrated at the Cross of Jesus. God displayed His Holy judgment on our sin and at the same time displayed His Holy love for us. He loved us while we were still sinners.

Why is this so important? Because Love—not guilt, not pressure, not demands or manipulation—is THE best motivation for change.

People who work in Teen Detention Halls/jails find that it is true. The people behind bars are there because they have broken laws. They did something wrong and they go to jail to be punished. Sometimes, they are to do hard work, or washcloths, or even build roads. Almost no change in behavior. In time, they may learn how to do more law breaking activities from the cellmates. BUT, when workers show them unconditional love, the boys’ defenses start to melt away and they open their hearts. It is said: “People will only be real when they feel safe.” I found that true when I worked in a Teenage prison near Columbia, S.C., while I was in college. We loved them and trusted them and they opened up their hearts to Jesus. We may have been the only adults that trusted them. It worked! And God knows that!

So the Gospel, the Good News about Jesus, is all about feeling safe before a Holy God. He is not out there to violate you! There is nothing to hide because He knows it all anyway. Jesus died to forgive it all and the Spirit lives within you to reveal it all.

III. The Love of God Refines Us.

So, our spiritual journey starts with Him loving us and restart it self with Him loving us. Malachi 1:2 “I have loved you.” But if we think that His love will tolerate our spiritual drift and ignore our spiritual apathy, we are mistaken.

God did send someone to prepare the way for His Son. John the Baptist fits that bill perfectly. Malachi then refers to “The Lord you are seeking will come to His Temple.” Clearly, it’s Jesus. He comes to the temple right after his birth. He also comes to the temple right before His Death.

But when He comes into your life, you might not want Him at all. He comes to change you-not destroy you. He does come like a hammer. Malachi 3:3. Who can stand? This refers to a soldier who keeps standing in the face of the intense heat of the battle. He implies that we would fold up and melt away under the pressure of the battle. The situations are too hard. Too powerful! Where is this God who saves us? He must have left the field of battle because I am going through a lot of pain and problems! We may want Him to take care of the problem but we don’t want Him to touch us in the process.

There are two kinds of images used here in Ch 3. Refiner’s fire and launderer’s soap. Both bring purity. But the fire is not like a forest fire—destroying all in its path with great violence. The refiner’s fire is intense but what come out is pure gold, silver and other precious metals. Many of us are afraid God is more like the forest fire. Once you let Him in, He’ll burn up everything and there will be nothing left of you. That is not what He is like. See Malachi 3:6

A refiner’s fire is a slow, patient, controlled process of transformation. We can’t rush a fire like that. God’s love is slow and patient.

The other image is launderer’s soap…not the softest soap in the world. It is called “Fuller’s Alkaline”. Alkaline is hard of plant life and on dirt. Used to wash the hands of a blacksmith and cuts deeply into to stiff clothing. While the refiner’s fire is hot and untouchable, the laundry soap is intimate and close. Get this picture from Malachi: God is like a tribal mother hand washing her clothing in a stream until everything is fresh and clean: grinding & pulverizing the dirty cloth until clean. A hand’s-on labor of love.

God’s love is like the fire—hot, passionate, burning away all that is not gold in our lives. His love is like the soap that He takes us in His hands and plunges us into the soapy water, agitating and turning until the dirt in our lives is out of our lives. This sounds so abstract and impersonal unless we ask: How does God refine us and wash us? One word answer: suffering. And that comes into our lives through: trials. These trials and sufferings are never random acts of pain or works of fate; the loving Hand of God who loves us places them in our lives. We might not like the process, we might resent it and rail against it, but through the refining fire, God is changing us to be more like Him.


Just four questions: Answer them truthfully and see a good result.

Do you know that you are deeply loved?

Do you want to let God change you, refine you, and wash you?

Do you ask for it and expect it?

Do you give God your very best, even in less than ideal circumstances?

Much thanks to Matt Woodley for much of today's material.
Next Week: Advent #3: God's Protection and Delight
Join us at 10:30 AM on next Sunday at ICCS. This is also a Covered Dish Sunday: Bring a covered dish to share in our Christmas Love Feast just after the service.