Monday, May 18, 2015

Monsters, Malachi, and Whiny Children

If I could do it all over again, this might be required reading for the boys.
The title says it all.
Sure, the fear of God is a more nobel motivation
but the fear of monsters would've likely yielded immediate results.

Whiny children, Malachi has a lot to say about these sorts.

Though written roughly 2,500 ago, the prophet's artistry is unparalleled.
Using nine intermittent phrases, Malachi elicits our impassioned response.
He stirs in us both indignation and impatient disgust.
We're left to wonder, "How could anyone be this incredibly whiny?"

Yet herein is Malachi’s genius. 

By leveraging the depth of Israel’s apathy and the height of her arrogance the prophet causes readers to ponder their own lives.  While reading Malachi and growing increasingly weary of Israel’s refusal to receive correction, we are indirectly led to consider our own inner dialogue with God.  

In correction, are we guarded and full of excuses?  
In correction, are we as smug in our routines and presumptions?  
In correction, are we so slow in receiving instruction? 
In correction, are we His whiny children?  

As noted in the chart below, these 9 "But you say..." phrases collectively provide a profile into the heart of the spiritually dull those whiny kids who simply cannot seem to hear correction and demonstrate appropriate growth in Christ.  Take note.

The spiritually dull consistently struggle to maintain contentment (1:2). 

“I have loved you…but you say, “How have you loved us?” 

Rather that demonstrating a spirit of heartfelt gratitude toward God, these carry a general dissatisfaction with His provisions.  Note Malachi 1:2-5.  God makes an unbelievable statement: "I have loved you."  Incredibly, Israel sulks.  "How have you loved us?"   

God responds by calling attention to the ways his love has been manifested throughout Israel's past, present, and future.  Starting with God's choice of Jacob over Esau, Israel should have been able to list the countless ways God had clearly demonstrated His mercy and grace through her history.  Still yet, the nation folded her arms, remained inward, and stood feeling sorry for herself.   

The spiritually dull consistently demonstrate a defensive spirit (1:6, 7; 2:17; 3:13).

Your words have been hard against me, says the Lord.  
But you say, “How have we spoken against you?” 

Rather than receiving God's attempt to address their sin, these continually redirect the conversation.  Note the four occasions where Malachi questions certain behaviors and attitudes.  Each time Israel refuses to take ownership and deflects God's accusation by feinging ignorance .  

Imagine a young child with chocolate smeared on their face, wondering aloud why they're being accused of getting into the cookie jar.  Such was Israel, defenseless but still insinuating innocence.       

While Proverbs contains plenty concerning the importance of receiving correction, one of my favorite passages is 29:9 - If a wise man has an argument with a fool, the fool only rages and laughs and there is no quiet.  The foolish will deflect in a myriad of ways but rage and mockery are often choice methods of diverting attention away from guilt and the latent need of repentance.   

The spiritually dull consistently miss the magnitude of their King (1:13) 

For my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord.  
But you profane it (God’s name) when you say that the Lord’s table is 
polluted and its fruit, that is, its food may be despised.  
But you say “What a weariness this is”, and you snort at it, 
says the Lord of Hosts”

Rather than offer worship from a place of awe-filled reverence, these offer lame worship in a spirit of unrest and rote detachment.  The priests had grown bored with the daily routines of cultic worship.  They'd grown lax in so far as they allowed lame animals and fruit to be used in service to the Lord.  

But the issue was much deeper than merely the use of unacceptable offerings, the primary issue was that the priests had lost a sense of God's splendor.  Put simply, they'd grown bored.  Rote worship will be evident in all who struggle to constantly hear from God and apply his directives.  

The spiritually dull consistently divert the demands of repentance. 

There are two parts to this, each show the appearance of repentance but fall woefully short of experiencing the life-change demonstrated through submission.  
  • Misdirected sorrow over sin (2:14)

    You cover the Lords altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. But you say, “Why does he not”.
Rather than demonstrating sorrow over their sin against God, these respond merely to the unrest caused by their sin.  Indeed, there is sorrow involved but it is directed toward secondary discomforts.  Similar to 2 Corinthians 7, here Paul addresses two types of sorrow.  Worldly sorrow grieves the unrest caused by rebellion, whereas biblical sorrow grieves broken communion with God.  

Notice Israel's repeated offering to God. They knew something was terribly wrong but as the dialogue plays out Israel refused to accept responsibility choosing instead to simply be saddened over the spiritual unrest.
  • Misdirected interest in life-change (3:7). 
Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts.  But you say, “How shall we return?” 

Rather than embracing God’s clear offer of restoration and the clear path of righteousness, these divert attention away from the clarity of obedience and chose confusion (3:7). Israel knew the direction she should go. Her entire history was marked by either hardness and disobedience or submission and obedience. The question of "how do we return" only demonstrates the degree in which Israel refused to receive God's correction and grace.

Through the years, I've noticed that often we know what to do.  Even so, we choice to remain in darkness and make things much more difficult.  We turn from the clarity of grace and obedience and chose to perpetuate our spiritual dullness.    

In closing, let's ask some questions.

How many people do you know that actually receive correction well?  We all can give correction but whom among us actually receives it in a God-honoring way?  

As quickly as I might want to place my name at the top of that list, I'm rather certain my name would be on an entirely different roll.  Even so, how quick are we to actively listen and embrace the leading of God and the wounds of our friends?

If you're wondering, you may want to ask those closest to you.  Do we receive correction or are we more prone to blow up, sulk, or whine in the face of godly correction.  There is much at stake.  Watch out for the monsters.

Grace and Peace

1:2 – But you say, “How have you loved us?”

1:6 – But you say, “How have we despised your name?”

1:7 – But you say, “How have we polluted you?”

1:13 – But you say, “What a weariness this is.”

2:14 – But you say, “Why does he not (accept the offering)?”

2:17 – But you say, “How have we wearied him?”

3:7 – But you say, “How shall we return?”

3:8 – But you say, “How have we robbed you?”

3:13 – But you say, “How have we spoken against you?”

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Line was Crossed...What Now? Part 2

The church in Corinth had it all:
Incest - check
Rampant drama - check
Unbridled hypocrisy - check
A full run of Springer episodes - check

Entrenched, blatant rebellion pervaded the church.  From open incest and internal squabbles, to greed and masked idolatry, professing-believers arrogantly redefined righteousness and lived as pagans.

As expected, Paul demanded the faithful to act.

The Corinthians were left with no other recourse than to exercise church discipline.  And while this may seem a lost art, those genuinely interested in pastoral shepherding and genuine Christian community would be well served to consider the apostle’s instructions:

Exercising biblical judgment is a central expression of biblical love

5:1-5.  Utilizing every ounce of authority, Paul resorted to extreme measures:
" are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of his flesh so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord."
Sense the weight of these words.
Signed, sealed, and delivered - to Satan?
Straight up, no nonsense.  

While questions might surge through our mind, the inescapable fact is that Paul wasn't playin' around.  As the professing believer had given himself to rebellion, the church was commanded to exercise swift discipline.  And while certainly, our modern sensibilities push against such staunchness we can not miss the apostle’s heartfelt intent.

Biblical discipline is not intended to be vindictive but restorative.
By exercising biblical judgment, Paul was exercising biblical love.       

This professing believer had opened the possibility for all manner of eternal judgment.  There would be hell to pay - a sobering reality that church discipline sought to circumvent.  Understand that the exercise of biblical judgment is based upon the hope that somehow the ‘destruction of the flesh’ might jar the wayward and resuscitate their spiritual life.1  

Such is the nature of biblical love. 
It is never shortsighted or silent. 

Rather than being enslaved by indifference or diluted by rhetoric of tolerance, biblical love seeks more.  Rather than allowing the wayward to drift toward eternal damnation, church discipline speaks and acts with eternity in mind.

Exercising biblical judgment is a central expression of corporate worship

5:6-8.  Don’t miss Paul’s point.  Where known rebellion is tolerated, God-honoring worship is diminished.  While the implications are staggering for our weekly meetings the principle stands: harboring the rebellious causes our worship to stink.

In response, the only recourse is to remove the “leaven” from the body.  Sin must be dealt with and the church is left with two paths, either we are worship in truthful sincerity or malice and evil. On one hand, we deal with the rebellious, gather for corporate worship, and our offering is pleasing. On the other, we acquiesce to the professing-believer's rebellious actions and our offering is distasteful to our God.  The choice truly is ours.  

Exercising biblical judgment is a central expression of spiritual depth

5:9-13.  Sense Paul’s exhaustion.  Verse 9 clearly indicates that I Corinthians is at least the second time the Corinthians were given a clear, apostolic command yet nothing changed.  The church was still entertaining their rebellious brother.  

Making matters worse, the church skewed Paul’s initial words.  Instead of disassociating from the sexually immoral within the church, as Paul taught, the Corinthians distanced themselves from the sexually rebellious outside the church.  

In five short verses, the Corinthian's shallowness is fully displayed.  They not only refused Paul's initial instruction but they deliberately twisted his directive.  Not only were they apparently uncomfortable with church discipline but they seem to have distorted Paul's intent, fitting it within their paradigm for Christian community.   

In response, Paul is clear.  With professing-believers who remain unrepentant in their sin, the Corinthians were not even to eat with such a one.  Contextually, the admonition is the same.  We are encouraged to eat with the pagans and discouraged to eat with the unrepentant, professing brother.   

Exercising biblical judgment is a central expression of our Christian heritage

6:1-11.  Interestingly enough, Paul grounds the practice of biblical judgment into the very fabric of our Christian heritage.  Note a few of the questions offered:
Will we not one day judge the world?
Why then can’t you handle these simple matters?
Will we not one day judge the angels?
Why is no one capable of discerning these trivial concerns? 
Throughout the section, Paul asks nine different questions each stressing that the church be skilled in making biblical judgments.  And while we could get bogged down with some specifics, questions such as 'how we will judge the world and angels', please don't miss the point!  The main idea is that we will be functioning as judges and that, even now, we should be able to issue accurate, God-honoring, humble judgments toward our wayward brothers and sisters.  

In closing, I'd encourage you to consider the following questions.  
  1. Why is it important to understand biblical love as having 'eternity in mind'?  How is this different than the love our culture champions? 
  2. Have you ever considered the effects of ignoring church discipline?  In what ways does this means of grace strengthen the church? 
  3. In what ways have you seen the modern church reject the Bible's authority and reduce the command of church discipline to fit within the modern idea of community and acceptance?
  4. We are to judge.  We are charged to watch over one another with eternity in mind.  That said, what makes us uncomfortable in this crucial role?  In turn, what are other biblical teachings on how we are to approach one another for correction? 

May we embrace church discipline as a means of grace, prayerfully seeking to grow in our biblical judgment.  Careful to reflect all that God intends as we seek to save others by snatching them out of the fire (Jude 23)

Grace and Peace


1. As the ‘destruction of the flesh’ is but the natural end to any and all rebellion, Paul’s hope was that church discipline cause the wayward to pause and awake from their stupor.  The apostolic sanctioning of this drastic measure was intended to cause the professing believer to sense the downward spiral of duplicity and seek repentance. 

But in what way do the rebellious experience the destruction of their flesh? 

In the immediate sense, Paul understood this phrase to encompass two primary issues.  First, the destruction of the flesh is a straight forward recognition that those believers who harbor sin open themselves up to physical punishment.  Paul is clear in Corinthians 11:27-31 that if we partake of the cup in an unworthy manner we run the risk of God issuing physical retribution.  Conversely, Corinthians states that if we judge ourselves correctly, we will not be judged.  Meaning if we recognize our sin and seek repentance, we will not face divine punishment.  

Second, I would suggest that the destruction of our flesh involves the sheer futility of sin.  The degree to which the wayward suppress righteousness and chose rebellion, they relinquish mankind's truest joy and open themselves to the vanity of disobedience.  Ecclesiastes is clear, removing God from life reduces each and every pursuit to merely futile attempts to gain mastery, pleasure, recognition, and/or power.  By our rebellion, we position ourselves to taste the initial steps toward our inevitable end: the eternal ‘destruction of flesh’.  

Equally, in the eternal sense, Paul understood the urgency of the moment.  For those who choose active rebellion there is but one end: destruction.  An eternal sentencing that will include both a physical and spiritual damnation. 

With eternity in mind, Paul’s strategy is that the deployment of church discipline cause the rebellious to sense the initial stages of sin's ultimate futility and turn from their inevitable path.  For maybe, just maybe, the wayward is caught in time.