Thursday, November 20, 2008

Context, Context, Context!

For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts (Malachi 1:11).

That verse is a bright ray of hope splashed against a canopy of deep darkness. Indeed, it is such a beautiful, hopeful verse that many have it memorized and songs have been composed about it. The verse speaks of a day when all the earth will glorify the name of the Lord God. It speaks of a day when worship will not only be offered in the Temple, but also in every place where people are found. They will offer 'incense', which is often symbolic for the prayers of God's people. Malachi, the messenger of God, has been allowed to see a new future in which God will be worshipped "in spirit and truth" by all nations (John 4:24).

So it is definitely a verse worthy of committing to memory. However, if we only know this verse without its setting, you will miss some of the brightness of the hope and the seeming impossibility of this promise coming to pass. Allow me to illustrate.

If this passage were an artists painting, the very first thing you would see on the page would be this promise. It would pop out to you like a bright moon in a dark sky. The reason it would be so attractive to you is because the light of the verse is set in stark contrast to the darkness of the rest of the canvas. According to the word of the Lord to Malachi, God did not even have one priest who was doing the will of the Lord. Look at God's lament:

And now entreat the favor of God, that he may be gracious to us. With such a gift from your hand, will he show favor to any of you? says the Lord of hosts. Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand (Mal. 1:9-10).

God is grieved because He does not have one man to stem the tide of wickedness. The people are bringing him blind and lame and sick sacrifices; sacrifices they would never dream of giving a dignitary. The people's leftovers are all God is getting; He has not captured their affections. So, God laments. He pours out His heart and says, "Oh! that there were one among you...!" Just one! Alas! There is no one to do God's will. There is no one to stem the tide of evil. The people of Israel is spiritually bankrupt. All hope seems irrevocably and utterly lost. And yet...

From the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts (Malachi 1:11).

But...there's no one left! Israel has abandoned the Lord! Yet God swears, "My name will be every name will be great among the nations!" And how will God accomplish this?

Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For m he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord (Mal. 3:1-3).

"He is coming..." says the Lord. Who is coming? The One in whom God delights. The One who will refine His people like the refiner's fire and wash them like the fuller's soap.* Who is the messenger that prepared the way of the LORD? When did He appear in the temple? Who, beloved, was the hope of Malachi and the hope of Israel? Who was the radiant light that broke the grip of darkness? This is no vague hope, and this is no vague glory. God's name will be great amongst the nations, and everywhere there will be offerings and prayers made to His Name. The Lord will glorify Himself through the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. It is He of whom Malachi spoke. It is Jesus Christ, through whom God will make His Name great from the rising to the setting of the sun.

Did you get that? Do you see, now, the importance of context?

* - For a great discussion on what Fuller's Soap is, see this post by the illustrious Frank Turk. Great stuff there. Definitely worth the read.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Clarity that Only Death Can Bring

Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble. He comes out like a flower and withers; he flees like a shadow and continues not...Since his days are determined, and the number of his months is with you, and you have appointed his limits that he cannot pass (Job 14:1-2, 5).

Death is just around the bend for all of us. Perhaps today, I will meet my appointed time to stand before my Maker. Perhaps, even as I write this, a cancer is growing inside of me that will claim my life, or maybe an artery in my heart has ballooned in an aneurysm to burst at any moment. Maybe, as I sit and sip my coffee, and mad man is on his way to this very store to send me to the judgment seat in a hail of gunfire. One thing is certain, whether it is today, tomorrow, or many years from now, a course of events is shaping up to send me to my long home. I am a dying man in a decaying world.

Do you think it morbid to think such thoughts? I do not. I think, in some ways, that they are very healthy. Death, my final foe, is circling me even now, threatening to take away all that I hold dear in this world. He is stalking my children, my wife, and my friends. And he will have them, one by one, until they are no more on this earth. He is brutal, thorough, and relentless. I will face him, as will you, and you must be ready for the battle of your life.

Does this certainty make you despair? Will you say with MacBeth:

Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the stage And then is heard no more: it is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing..

Is that all life is? A tale told by an idiot? A raving, maniacal thing that ends in vain? When MacBeth looked into the eyes of death he saw only the vanity of life. He saw no hope. No meaning. Only despair.

Believers in the Lord Jesus Christ should not have such a bleak outlook. We are called to consider ourselves dead to ourselves (Rom. 6:11). Jesus taught that only by dying to ourselves will we ever truly live (Luke 9:24). So death, in some form, is an ever present reality to Christians that we must embrace in order to live. Death, then, in all of its wrongness, becomes a servant to usher us into eternal life.

Each day, a follower of the Lord Jesus should face death. In so doing, we receive greater clarity about what it is to live, about what is important. First, we must die today by putting to death sin in the form of selfish, godless desires. We do this by valuing Christ Jesus more than life and sin. Secondly, we are to consider our days and that death is stalking us. By so doing, we will be able to disarm his threatenings by letting go of all that we cannot keep in order to hold the things we cannot lose. What can death not steal? Our standing in Christ, our love for the world by the Holy Spirit, and our works which are sown in righteousness. We should concentrate on these things and thinking on death helps us to keep them in perspective. Perhaps, if we fight well, we will meet death with hope, knowing that a better ressurection is coming, and that all loss for Christ's sake is gain.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Written in the Stars

What does it say? That was my thought yesterday as I perused a 13th Century French manuscript. The problem was that it was written in Latin, and my Latin is terrible. Another compounding problem is that the script, while beautiful, was very difficult to read. I really wanted to understand the words, but I could not.

I wanted to understand them because the manuscript was compelling. There was beautiful artwork on the page, and the letters were perfect. This manuscript was more than a mere book; it was a work of art. Each letter was written meticulously by hand. There was not one smudge, and all the letters ran straight to the end of a page. The ink was remakably uniform considering "pen technology" present in the 13th century. I was blown away.

Perhaps it is because I am a book nerd, or because I am peculiar in general, but as a work of art this page moved me. I could not help but think, "If the artist took such care to make such beautiful calligraphy and wonderful color drawings, how much did he treasure the message that this book contained?" I stared at the page for several seconds, trying to will the words to make sense. But the meaning would not come, and I was only left with a deep appreciation for the dedication and the skill that it took to make such a thing of beauty.

Take a minute to look at Rembrandt's "Sacrifice of Isaac". What does it say to you? What would it say to you if you did not know the story? What if all you had was that picture? What would it say? I will tell my favorite part of this picture, the part that moves me most. Do you see Abraham's hand over Issac's mouth? It covers Isaac's entire face, both mouth and eyes. Why? Why is Abraham bending back Isaac's head so far? Why is his hand clamped down so ruthlessly over his beloved son's face? Is it because he could not bear to here the boy scream or beg for his life? Was Abraham afraid that his resolve would waver if he had to look his son in the eye?

Of course, this is only Rembrandt's interpretation. And I am only able to speculate because I know the story that Rembrandt is portraying. If I did not know the story, I may think that the angel just stopped a horrible murder. Who knows? I know that this picture means something more to me because I know the story.

Take this thought to the stars. What do they say? I know that they are a piece of free-standing art, and that the universe is saying something about their Maker. Can someone who does not know the Maker look and see and feel the weight of the message of the universe? Will he not feel small, compartively, if he looks long enough at the pinholes in the sky? Will he not feel the weight and power and genius of the artist who framed them? Can he feel this truth, The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork? Does not the creation speak in manner that is above words? Have you felt creation call out in the rivers and canyons and stars and glaciers? If we would know what glory is, creation is a magnificent teacher.

I can see the glory of God in all the things He has created. I purposefully look for His glory in Creation because I know that is why all things exist. Sadly, there are millions across this majestic globe who stare at the stars as I did that 13th Century manuscript. They see the beauty and marvel at the creation. They feel the message, but they cannot put their finger on what it means. Or they mix the message and ascribe the glory to something other than the God of the Lord Jesus Christ. I long for the day when some from every tongue and tribe and nation will see God's glory in all things and when the declaration of the stars is heeded and understood by all. I pray that God will raise up Christians to go forth and finish the story for all peoples, to tell them why all things are made as they are, so that all may look at the world with renewed and deeper pleasure and give praise to the Maker of All Things.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Just a Reminder

As I read my Bible today, I was reminded of the great necessity for believers to warn others to flee from the wrath that is to come. Won't you use your influence today to bear witness of the great escape that God has provided for us in Jesus Christ? Will you pray that God will grant you an opportunity to share and the boldness to do so when the opportunity presents itself?

This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those whodo not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. (1 Thess. 1:5-10).

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The Mystery of Providence

From my reading today.

John Flavel

Suppose it had been your lot to have fallen in any of those vast continents possessed by pagans and heathens at this day, who bow down to the stock of a tree, and worship the host of heaven. This is the case of millions, and millions of millions...O how deplorable had your case been if a pagan idoatress had brought you forth, and idolatry had been sucked in with your mother's milk! Then, in all probability, you had been a this day worshipping devils, and racing at full speed in the direct road to damnation, for these are the people of God's wrath.

And how great a mercy was it that we had parents who carefully instilled the good knowledge of God into our souls in our tender years?...As they longed for us before they had us and rejoiced in us when they had us, so they could not endure to think that when they could have us no more, the devil should. As they thought no pains, care or cost too much for our bodies, to feed them, clothe and heal them; so did they think no prayers, counsels, or tears, too much for our souls, that they might be saved. They knew a parting time would come between them and us, and did strive to make it as easy and comfortable to them as they could, by leaving us in Christ and within the blessed bond of His covenant.

They were not glad that we had health and indifferent whether we had grace. They felt the miseries of our souls as much as of our bodies; and nothing was more desirable to them than that they might say in the great day: 'Lord, here am I and the children which thou hast given me.'

How easy it is to look past the great Providence of God in our lives! How good He has been to me and to my family!

Monday, November 03, 2008

Before You Vote....

Go and read this at Justin Taylor's excellent blog. Please.