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.