Archive for January, 2010

I first saw this painting at the Prosser Chapel in Fort Huachuca, Arizona. It is a moving work of art by Arnold Friberg called, “The Prayer at Valley Forge.”


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The God-Man Jesus had been battling the blistering attacks of Satan in the desert. While he had the excruciating pain of hunger, Satan tempted Him with food to satisfy a hungering flesh. While he was base and humanly low, Satan tempted him with the kingdoms of the world. When Jesus could prove that God had not forsaken Him with a call to His Father, Jesus forewent the temptation. Filled with the Holy Spirit, He made His way to Nazareth.

There, Jesus entered the Synagogue on the Sabbath, unrolled a large scroll, and read from Isaiah 61:1-2:

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then Jesus sat down. The people must have stared back as Luke records that all of their eyes were fixated on him (Luke 4:20). Those dark sparkling eyes of Jesus’ always seemed to penetrate those whom He looked upon in a mysterious way that made people believe that He was looking past their eyes, knowing them in a way that none of their closest friends and family ever would.

Silence. Was this all? What did His words mean?

And then in perhaps the greatest single revelatory statement of all time, Jesus said: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21).

Three points follow:

1) All of God’s promises from the past come to fruition in this singular moment. Though only some hard-scrabble fishermen and ne’er do well tax collectors will soon be added to the wildly transfixing wilderness, locust-eating preacher who initially believe Jesus is anything but human, the Messianic secret is publicly told here. There is a Savior, a rescuer of prisoners, a great blessing.

2)  The people would initially be amazed at His teaching, but just as palm leaves turned to a crown of twisted thorns, so soon would someone bring up the point, “Yes, this is all good and well, but does anyone forget this is a fellow Nazarene and Joseph’s son at that? Joseph the carpenter!” When Jesus rightfully points out that often the righteous are outside of Israel (using the widow who fed Elijah and Naaman the Syrian as examples), there is indignant self-righteousness. That rage leads to Jesus almost being thrown off a cliff if not for the sovereign hand of God. It was not yet time for Him to die.

3)  People would greatly misinterpret Jesus’ words. Would He heal the blind? Yes. Would prisoners like Barabbas go free? Surely. But this Kingdom was nothing like the restoration of Israel and the hoped-for expulsion of the Roman foreigners who had conquered and controlled the Israelites. The poor were poor not from oppression alone but because of their spiritual condition. The captives were the brokenhearted, bound and shackled by the guilt of sin which could never be atoned for with the old sacrifice of the scapegoat. How material they were –we are!

It is highly illustrative that when just a chapter or so later in Luke, a paralytic is brought to Jesus, Jesus’ great concern is the man’s soul–“Friend, your sins are forgiven” (Luke 5:20). Only later when the Pharisees challenge Jesus does He say, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? Which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Get up and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…” Well, we know the rest of the story. The man walked, receiving the oh-so-secondary healing of the day.

With all of the pain of today, the economic turmoils, political strife, pressing wars, losses of family and friends, have you considered our greatest need? Have you considered your greatest need? It is Jesus Christ. He for whom one could honestly say in the midst of the world’s greatest pain, in His presence, it is the year of the Lord’s favor–every day. May He set you free from your shackles, make your blind eyes to see, and your lame feet to walk, and your unbelieving heart to know His glory and joy. Amen.

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Many people have read Romeo and Juliet in high school and perhaps more of the tragedies: Julius Caesar, King Lear, Macbeth, or Hamlet. Once in a while, a comedy such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream is thrown in for good measure, but some of Shakespeare’s richest writings appear in the histories. One of Shakespeare’s truly genius characters is Henry IV‘s Falstaff, and undoubtedly one of the great speeches in all of Shakespeare appears in Henry V before the Battle of Agincourt. Henry rallies his troops with the famous speech from which the title of our popular American literature and films, Band of Brothers, gets its name:

“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.”


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9 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. 10 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. 11 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. 12 But you profane it when you say that the Lord’s table is polluted, and its fruit, that is, its food may be despised. 13 But you say, ‘What a weariness this is,’ and you snort at it, says the Lord of hosts. You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering! Shall I accept that from your hand? says the Lord. 14 Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock, and vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished. For I am a great King, says the Lord of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations.

Grace. Grace is merciful, undeserved forgiveness and rich blessing from God, but grace is conditional. If one who willingly, knowingly, and perpetually violates the law and a judge simply gives “grace,” that “grace” is cheap. Such a judge would be accused of either too-easy forgiveness or a lax view of justice. In the previous post on Malachi, I made the point that Israel (we) know what is required, and yet Israel (and we) are too often in the habit of giving God our worst fruits in disobedience. What a mercy when we turn away from sin, confess in repentance, and strive to lead life anew. But grace was never meant to cover sin so one can sin and sin again as Paul later made clear: “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” (Romans 6:15).

And yet “cheap grace,” as Dietrich Bonhoeffer coined it, is exactly what Israel wants: “Now implore God to be gracious to us” (v. 9). After Israel’s questioning accusations that God does not love them and that they have fulfilled the law (God is wrong, they are right), God shows them clearly the error of their ways. The people therefore importune grace to which God says, “No” by asking, “With such offerings from your hands, will he accept you?” The question implies that the people want unconditional grace. Had they forgotten that the sin against a holy God could not be evenly atoned for in the blood of a clean and spotless animal? Wouldn’t you agree that for our sins against an infinitely good and holy God, the transfer and bloodshed of a scapegoat in the place of our deserved punishment was already grace? Even God’s law was grace!

But now a new demand: Let me keep more of my own human resources in keeping the best of my flocks so I can give you, LORD, the least, a reject runt. God’s response is searing–His new desire is no sacrifice at all, none. If on a bride’s wedding day, she had expected an ordered, custom-designed bouquet of fragrant, cream-colored calla lilies, exotic orchids, and light green roses, what a disappointment it would be to find out that her bridegroom had canceled the order so as to have extra money! Would his bringing a handful of dandelions be of any consequence to the bride or simply add insult to injury?

“Oh that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the LORD Almighty, and I will accept no offering from your hands” (v.10). God wants either the best or nothing at all.

Keith Green wrote “To Obey is Better Than Sacrifice”:

To obey is better than sacrifice / I don’t want you money, I want your life. [and later] I want more than Sundays and Wednesday nights / Cause if you can’t come to me every day / Then don’t bother coming at all.

While we should be careful not to be so narrow as to confine oneself to not coming to the LORD by counting intermittent attendance as disqualification, the idea is God wants an all-in or out, hot or cold, perfect sacrifice or none at all, commensurate response to God as God. A sacrifice which gives a “sometimes God” “half God” “60% God” is a hateful, disdained idea in the mind of God–and should be to us. Imagine a long-lost child finally being found after twenty years without contact. If that now twenty-something adult looked more at his watch than his parents at their first meeting in which he could only give them a half hour, how dishonoring would that be? So God is infinitely more insulted with half measures.

What is at stake? What are the consequences of Israel’s actions when they run after foreign gods, when the other country’s harvest is bountiful and their own land remains blighted? Of what result are the giving of .5% of our time? A disgrace and dishonor to God. You see Israel (we) often change the subject of what the matter at hand truly centers on. King David finally realized this in his licentious, murderous affair with Bathsheba when he boiled it down post-confession to, “Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment” (Ps. 51:4). I understand this not only from the Word as a whole which is permeated with God’s glory more so than any other topic, but from God’s argument now:

“My name will be great among  the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations” (v.11). God will be glorified whether Israel (we) choose to glorify Him or not. Israel (we) want a commitment to our prosperity; God wants a commitment to His glory. (The two aren’t mutually exclusive; in fact, seeking first the Kingdom is when we find joy even if it’s not in material prosperity.) In human terms, the people made a calculation: the weakling, deformed lamb would be better than a handsome, pure and strong male. The strong male would be a good breeder and a marketable item, and so the people put their faith in mammon. God thinks through not the terms of financial loss, but the end result of the people’s decision.

“But you say, ‘What a weariness this is,’ and you snort at it, says the Lord of hosts. You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering! Shall I accept that from your hand? says the Lord.” (v.13). God wants no moderation but a heart that loves Him. It isn’t the sacrifice for God is not served by human hands as if He needs anything–it is the revealing of a heart condition which dishonors His name and who He is.

Culturally, Americans are a people who value moderation. One of the key political strategies (and it has been since our inception) is to paint oneself as measured, balanced, and reasonable while the opponent is radical, extremist, and sees the world in black-and-white simplicities. The Greeks called such balance “sophrosyne,” and “nothing too much” or in excess. We seek the harmonious balance of right eating, sleeping, playing, and working. But God is not a God who wants moderation; in fact, here are a people condemned not of giving the somewhat acceptable but the worst of their flocks. God wants the best of our talents, our obedience, our commitment, our love, our lives. That would proclaim to those around us that He is indeed infinitely valued and worthy.

The bottom line is we tragically dishonor Him by responding to Him any other way than showing Him to be God Almighty. And the even the best male lamb of a flock could not atone for such outrageous sin. It would take another, a greater sacrifice. And praise be to God for sacrificing not a merely acceptable lamb, but a perfect, beautiful, bold-in-righteous, spotless lamb…for you and me.

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I created this video a couple of Easters ago and tried to emphasize the profound sense of darkness as our lives lead to death until Jesus Christ came to bring life.

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1:1 The oracle of the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi. 2 “I have loved you,” says the Lord. But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob 3 but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.” 4 If Edom says, “We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,” the Lord of hosts says, “They may build, but I will tear down, and they will be called ‘the wicked country,’ and ‘the people with whom the Lord is angry forever.’” 5 Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, “Great is the Lord beyond the border of Israel!” 6 “A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. But you say, ‘How have we despised your name?’ 7 By offering polluted food upon my altar. But you say, ‘How have we polluted you?’ By saying that the Lord’s table may be despised. 8 When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the Lord of hosts.

Between physical training and intelligence analyst work, I have a four-day holiday. God has been good to bless me with the first eight verses of Malachi, which I opened late last night. With a lot of hurry-up-and-wait, I can do extra PT (physical training), read Jonathan Edwards, Skype with Kim and the kids, watch “The Office,” read the Book of Hebrews, watch a tempting (and regretfully unhelpful) music video of Beyonce, read the Intelligence Field Manual–you get the idea.

And God mercifully opened Malachi to me. So here are some thoughts…

I have often lamented that names from the original Hebrew are not translated because names carry such weighty meaning. For example, if you were to name a child Joy, Peace, or Blessing, people’s ears might perk at the uncommon, easily recognizable meaning. And if a child had the unfortunate namesake of Unlucky, Destruction, or Faithless, people would take even more note. (Can you imagine one asking, “Your name is Destruction Smith?”) But in the Bible, both God and people give names that are indicative of character or in remembrance of a certain act. “Moses” means “Drawn Out” because he was drawn from the water; “Isaac” means “Laughter,” a reminder of his mother’s laughter at God’s promise to bear her a son in her wintry old age of life. “Esau” means “Red and Hairy” because he was exactly that. What does “Yeshua” (“Jesus”) mean? A salvific name–Savior! “Immanuel” means “God With Us.” If we were to cast our characters here and you took away the language barriers that require us to look up our own ancestral name meanings in our immigrant culture, the historical figures in front of us would read: “Drawn Out,” “Laughter,” “Red and Hairy,” and finally “Rescuer” or “Savior.”  But today we focus on “My Messenger,” a prophet whose name to us comes as “Malachi.”

The God Who is Not Silent

Malachi, “My Messenger,” that’s the meaning of the name and for emphasis, God writes through the fingers of His prophet in verse 1, “an oracle,” and “the Word of the Lord.” Who is this intended for? Israel, by the prophet directly from the mouth of the living God. I recently listened to a sermon by John Piper on Hebrews 1:1-4. “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in many ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His son, whom He appointed heir of all things and through whom He made the universe.  (v.1,2). Piper laments the sin in his life (and certainly one I can attest to in mine) of wanting personal revelation from God. We ask, “God, why are you silent?”

Piper sees a rebuke here in that God’s Word says that He has spoken “many times” and in “various ways.” He goes on to challenge if we have meditated in all of the hours possible on what God said to Israel (a representation of us), whose “prone to wander” hearts lusted after the strength of other nations, pleasures of the flesh, and idols. Have we read and let God speak to us as He has spoken both in these prophetic books such as Malachi and now through His only Son? Or do we sinfully claim that God is silent when we have 66 books of his revelatory Word often sitting dusty, the incredible life picture of Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit whom through meditation on the Word can give wisdom and understanding? Grace and goodness it is that verse 1 makes clear of the book called, “My Messenger,” that God is speaking. Do not take that for granted.

A Loving Father and an Unloving Son

And this message starts off with a series of statements that God makes and then are in turn questioned by Israel (you may see Israel as you and me). The first statement, “I have loved you,” should cause us to fall on our faces in worship because God’s purpose in the book of Malachi is to rebuke a hardened, sinful, holier-than-Thou, disrespectful, insolent, lying, and false-lipped, adulterous people. To contextualize this, imagine a virtuous father sitting with his son, a son who has taken the father’s money intended for college and squandered it on drugs; who robbed his father of the precious Civil War-era heirlooms (a general’s sidearm and daguerreotypes) only to pawn them for sub-woofers; who constantly lies about the women he frequents; who in turn blames his father for his behavior because the “father was never there for him” growing up.

Imagine that this father meets his son in a restaurant. The waitress brings the father water while the son orders the most expensive items on the menu because of course, the father will foot the bill. After the waitress departs the father breaks the silence.

“I have loved you,” says the father.

“How you have you loved me?” asks the son.

To read the Word of God and interpret it should be done with care as we dare not add our own shading or layering. But wouldn’t you agree that given the character of the father I have described, such a question is a great sin on the part of the son? If we were there, the expression on the perturbed father’s face would probably be a mixture of incredulity and disbelief at such ingratitude. The son has robbed him, dishonored his name, traded in a relationship with him for scandalous women and ne’er-do-well friends, and has made his good name in the community sullied by appearing not in community news but on the police logs in the paper. This is the same son whom the father has called every Saturday wishing to meet, to enjoy time together, to restore a relationship, despite all the son’s transgressions. The son was not sure he even wanted to meet his father and take time from his wayward life, but then there was the offer of a free meal and possibly asking “ol’ Dad” for something. “How have you loved me?” It isn’t a curious question of a simple naivete–it is an accusation.

God Sovereignly Chose a People

How to respond to such a question! A father might catalog all that he has done. God might have reminded Israel of His cultivation of Abraham’s tiny tribe, the leading of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage including the plagues and miracles not least the Red Sea parting, mercifully giving the Law, feeding them manna, the thousands of mercies of loving Israel while Israel fornicated with other nation’s gods, an adulterer to the core. God’s response to faithless Israel? ‘Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?’ the LORD says. ‘Yet have I loved Jacob, but Esau have I hated and I have turned his mountains into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals’ (v.2,3).

God asserts His sovereignty: I not only know how I have loved you but look at Esau, what might have been but for Me. There is only judgment, a wasteland from what might have been harvest-full mountains, and the Edomites’ (Esau’s descendants) have an inheritance which is left to rot, something for roaming desert dogs.

Israel’s focus is on her present turmoils, not on the fact that God is still there. The flaw? They see God’s love primarily in terms of physical, material blessing. The ESV Study Bible editors (Crossway) make an apt point in showing that this post-Babylonian captivity had optimism which was shattered into a disconsolate pessimism. “While they were looking forward to the rebuilding of the temple, prosperity, expansion, peace, the harsh reality was economic privation, drought, crop failure.”  It is as if our son at the restaurant who has exhausted his father’s finances and patience forgets that his father is in front of him, tenderly reaching out to both warn him of the consequences of the son’s present life and asking for restoration. All the son sees in front of him is the consequences of his actions and that the father no longer bankrolls his wanderlusts. Thus the depraved question, “How have you loved me?”

Israel (The Son, and We) Chose Broken Cisterns and Their Consequences

“Go and proclaim these words toward the north and say, ‘Return, faithless Israel,’ declares the LORD; ‘I will not look upon you in anger. For I am gracious,’ declares the LORD; ‘I will not be angry forever” (Jeremiah 3:12). Along with offering Israel forgiveness, God also prophetically warns of consequences. God’s choice is very clear–repentance or judgment, and time and again, Israel chose judgment. If lamenting at the present situation which Israel finds itself in, who is to blame? Certainly not God! Had our son in the restaurant chosen to be drunk all night, could he sanely or logically ask, “Why is there a hangover?” In other words, God warned, prophesied, and lovingly called to Israel to turn away from sin and follow Him. Israel’s punishment and means of returning to Him was brought upon by Israel. How often do we feel sadness at the natural consequences of sin or the very means (discipline) that God uses to show us our idols and broken cisterns only to feel alone and unloved by God? In truth, we have demanded to go our own way and are angry at God for our having gone down a path we insisted on taking against His wishes.

Does the son at the restaurant again blame the father for the natural consequences of sin? Perhaps he blames his father for the public dishonor. “Why aren’t you keeping the creditors away? You know people in high places!” Maybe there’s the suggestion of retribution for the dealer who beat him up, a phone call to the newspaper editor to keep his name out of the paper. The whole question therefore of, “How do you love me?” can be stripped of the deceitful outer garments to reveal a stark, naked ugliness. We have been shown the life to lead in order to have the greatest joy and have rejected it, bringing upon ourselves the destruction due disobedience. I have done this in trying to replace “the fountain of living waters” in whose presence is fullness of joy (Ps. 16:11) with the broken cisterns of money, career, relationships, ambition. When those broken vessels are still empty or when the “vacuum in the human heart,” to use Pascal’s metaphor,  remains yet empty, it hurts. And in turn, I have asked God in the pain, “How have you loved me?”

Restoration Depends Upon God

Foreign countries must have seemed to be in favor of the gods while Israel felt forsaken by God. But just as Israel had forgotten God’s love, so they had forgotten His sovereignty. God sends Malachi to proclaim, “Edom may say, ‘Though we have been crushed, we will rebuild the ruins.'” But God wants Israel to know who rebuilding depends upon. “But this is what the LORD Almighty says, ‘They may build, but I will demolish. They will be called the Wicked Land, a people always under the wrath of God. You will see it with your own eyes and say, ‘Great is the LORD–even beyond the borders of Israel!” (v.4, 5).

You see, all depends upon the LORD. Implicit in this is that if Israel had indeed been utterly rejected by God, it could have easily have been Edom. In fact, at many periods in the history of Israel, “The Wicked Land,” would have been an appropriate title for Israel. But that is not what has ultimately happened to Israel–or to you or me. Israel asks, “How have you loved me?”

God answers, I chose you. I didn’t have to do so. In fact, if I hadn’t chosen you, you would have always been under wrath. Instead, I am here as a father again talking to a son. Any human father would have gone away and never met his son or delivered the great message. And so with us. But now God asks Israel a question; the father at the restaurant asks his son; God asks you and me.

The Greatest Imaginable Dishonor

“‘A son honors his father and a servant his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?’ says the LORD Almighty. ‘It is you, O priests, who show contempt for my name'” (v.6).

It is a haunting accusation to add the phrase “in name only” to our Christianity. Later, Jesus will indeed ask a similar question, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ but do not do the things I say?” (Luke 6:46). Even an earthly son honors his father but you will not honor the LORD your God?  A servant honors his master–at least respects him–but you do not respect me? And the last phrase is the worst–contempt–that is how God tells Israel His name is treated. At this point, one might hope to read of repentance, a David-in-front-of-Nathan moment. Not so. And very soon, a pattern emerges at verse 6, the “not-so-innocent question,” better titled, “the willfully ignorant, accusatory denial,” accompanied by slack-jawed, arms-raised protestation. “But you say, ‘How have we despised your name?'” (v.6b).

Lord, Have My Leftovers and Secondhand Furniture

God had set forth in Leviticus and Deuteronomy (if not before in his rejection of Cain’s begrudging offering) the kind of sacrifice acceptable to Him, namely the first-fruits, the best. What kind of animal had the people brought and the priests accepted? The worst-fruits, the blind, sick, and lame. God rightly says that a governor would have rejected the gift: “Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor?” (v.8).

Imagine if you will that the son in the restaurant has one accomplishment–drawing. Some of his original sketches have made Soho galleries in New York and the rights to the reprints fetch a worthy amount of money. At his father’s fiftieth birthday celebration, the son could give the father an original of his most famed and celebrated artistry. But what he presents to him by way of a friend who shows up in his stead is a cheap and complementary reprint of his work that they pass out in a museum, the kind of postcard one can purchase with a quarter. Could the son ask with any sort of honesty, “How have I dishonored you?”

Honesty With Ourselves

Let us be honest. Malachi 1:1-8 should break us in terms of our own sin and idolatry. If with the Holy Spirit’s power, we can comprehend our own lost condition apart from salvation, the mercy of a great God to save us, and hearts prone to wander even after salvation, we would worship. The question would not be, “How have you loved me?” but the exclamation, “How have you loved me!” God speaks and continues to do so. He sovereignly shows mercy to undeserving sinners.

Ultimately then the question of, “How have you loved me?” on this side of the Cross comes back with a resounding answer–the person of Jesus Christ! He became man, lived a sinless life, became the perfect sacrifice whom God the Father did not withhold as a Lamb even while we “sacrificed” the weakest of our own flocks to Him. Jesus Christ died that we might have new life.

Worship and praise God today for being merciful to us. For our worst, He has given us His best.

A God who is not silent, a God who is sovereign, a God who is love.

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