Chapter 33 in Series

malachi

Malachi, this final book of the Old Testament, helps to set the stage for the promised message of the Messiah and citing the city of Bethlehem as the birthplace of a ruler greater than King David.    His advent is predicted in chapter 3.

Malachi reiterates familiar OT guidelines and warning on how to live despite the prevailing evil of those around the Israelites but with a different slant.  Like other Hebrew books, the title translation means “my messenger.”  God’s love is not much unlike how we express affection for others.  We do not win their affections or any reciprocal response by showing love instead it’s a deliberate show of love without any expectations attached love that comes from a place of personal desire to care and honor someone.

During one a period of life, I was applying for jobs at para-churches.  Part of the application process included faith statements  (1Pt. 3:15) to confirm I adhered to certain moral foundations consistent with a faith-based business.  Over dinner one night with a couple, I was asked how I could sign or agree to such statements just to get a job.  They thought it was invasive of privacy and none of the company’s business.  I saw how they didn’t extrapolate that by default whoever our employers are, if we work for them, then we are signing up for what that company believes.  I let the querying couple know it didn’t offend or bother me to provide a statement of faith, as I already believed in those things.

Malachi wanted the people to take and practice their faith  more seriously.  In chapter 3 verse 10, it’s written, “Bring all your tithes into the storehouse that there may be food in my house.  Test me in this, says the Lord Almighty and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven  and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.” (Jn. 14:2)

There are those who take that verse in earnest, applying a satisfaction guarantee aspect to it.  Participants will sign a commitment to give 10 percent of their income or more to the church.   They say to test God and see if He does not hold true to His promises of blessings’ after three months.  If not, they can request their money back from the worship organization—no questions asked.  I am not of the temperament nor bold enough to test God. In Luke 4:12 and Deuteronomy 6:16, it says to not test the Lord. The Luke verse is when Jesus is talking to the devil while the evil one is trying to make a deal with Jesus.

Tithes not only include our money (which underwrites the running of a church, the salaries, supplies, and logistics), I see tithing also as time, talents (to include spiritual gifts with monetary ones) and our testimony as part of our tithe.

The Malachi verse mentioned is a key one in the prosperity of success gospel.  Prosperity gospel gets its’ name by the charlatans proclaiming God grants better health and wealth to those who contribute back to ministry work.  What adds to the confusion, is people picking and choosing scripture to apply as if custom ordering it to suit their life without verifying it with other verses or the context, it is written.  Malachi 3:10 is taken out of context when not taking into consideration the storage provisions for the running of the temples and to help the poor.  I interpret this verse more along the lines of forthtelling (a message for the current time) versus foretelling (a future prophecy).

The message of God, through Jesus, is available to everyone, everywhere.  What gets my dander up is when Scripture is presented in a light that doesn’t work for everyone. Specifically, prosperity gospel seems to be more attainable in the Western countries, particularly when the monetary guidelines of how much money to tithe is espoused. Second Corinthians 9:7 explains, “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” It’s not to give under threat or to test God’s blessings.

Another interpretation of prosperity gospel can fall under the term of indulgences, abuses in the propaganda of influencing financial donations in exchange for a payoff of the investment with blessings in health, or success, etc.

America’s idea of private enterprise and entrepreneurialism does not work in other places of the world due to differing governing and economic process.  To try to contextualize blessings based on giving in second or third world countries seems out of reach for people when tied to the message of Christ.  Jesus was not rich in the way the world measures wealth.  His riches were the inner knowledge as the Son of God.  He became poor by voluntarily stepping into humanity as a man.  He seldom had carried provisions for the next days’ travels.  He advised His disciples to take nothing with them when He sent them out to spread the Good News (Mk. 6: 8-9).

Another interpretation of prosperity gospel can fall under the term of indulgences, abuses of influencing financial donations in exchange for a payoff of the investment with blessings in health, or success, etc.

Biblical Christianity does not promise material prosperity, minimize the consequences of sin, nor condone self-righteousness.   Some have compared scripture to the great “secret” of believing yourself into wealth and health.  It is another way of saying if you name it you can claim it by praying mantras such as “expand my tents” (1Chr. 4:10). There are many verses that indeed inspire and are capitalized on in prosperity teachings.  I have nothing against prosperity, financial riches or good health.  I kind of like those things.  Unfortunately, scripture is being used in a sub-biblical way to extrapolate these verses for self-edification.  The prosperity gospel has been typecast as a baptism in capitalism.  And unfortunately, the current mega-churches, with their televised services, and pastor’s published books often are theses prosperity pastors perpetuating this gospel.

In an article about St. Mother Teresa’s  teachings, she stated three types of poverty: material, spiritual and the virtue of poverty.  It says Christians are meant to take Christ as their pattern in all things.  They should consider God chose to be born (through the incarnate Jesus) abjectly poor, and that he remained completely detached from material things, owning nothing and seeking to own nothing. He is the ultimate paradox of what type of man would be to save the world.

Truth:  Some people are so poor, all they have is money.  Inappropriately quoted as            being said by many different people, the point is still valid: man sacrifices his health to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”

The work of His kingdom on earth is to bring about what God has already promised to do in the kingdom to come (heaven).  But it is not to attain the kind of affluence being advocated from prosperity pulpits, books or the world’s pursuit of self-reward and gratification beyond our desire for spiritual salvation.

As Malachi marks the end of the Old Testament all the while pointing to the New, he writes about grace and mercy more forceful than what’s already been done. He writes about another Elijah-like messenger proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah.

The simplest definition of mercy and grace I know is that mercy is what we do not get that we deserve and grace is we what we do get that we don’t deserve.

I can wrap my head and heart around the concept of mercy easier than grace. I don’t disregard grace and know it is going on in my life. Both divine gifts are a form of forgiveness but grace is harder to observe consciously.  Grace is accepting the unexpected, undeserved gift.  It is unmerited. It is very humbling to receive. You forget who the giver is.   It is God’s sufficiency or fullness in the life of a believer.  God told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2Cor. 12:9).

We are saved by this grace of God. Simultaneously, we serve God and live the Christian life through this unearned grace.   It’s needed first for salvation. Without the grace of God, we cannot have eternal life. It is needed in the daily walk with God because undeniably we are weak and prone to stray.  Jesus told us that we can do nothing without Him  (Jn. 15:5).

Grace is so mysteriously profound that even though I know it is going on in my life, I cannot always identify it.  It is so undeserved; perhaps the closest thing I can compare it to is winning the lottery, although that is somewhat inadequate and ironic considering the above on prosperity teaching.

When returning from living abroad in Korea for two years, we resided in a long-term stay hotel while waiting for household goods to reach mainland America.  With the size of our family, we needed separate rooms and not just for our sanity.  Fire code stipulated four to be the maximum allowed in one room.  It ended up parents in one room and kids in another with a patch of ground between us.  My rule was the doors between our rooms were to be left open for the most part during the day while we were in our rooms. For some reason, open doors meant exposure, and I felt secure that this prevented any kid mischief.

While at the hotel, one of my boys came running over excited after binging on television shows and their commercials.  Exasperatedly, he asked if I had heard of this lottery deal. Then he went on to explain what it was and his deep concern as to why haven’t I bought a ticket.  I smiled and gave him an explanation about the odds of winning, etc.  It helped calm him down, a bit.

If ever I won a lottery in my life, it would be the country and era of my birth and the family into which I was born.   When I was born, I was given this ticket from God to go anywhere I choose.

In another poem, Jeanne Lohmann:  puts it nicely in her poem At Birth, I Was Handed a Ticket.  The last stanza is about the end of life: “Nobody told me when I’ll have to get off this train, nobody handed me a schedule.  But I’d like to be ready when the conductor signals my stop.  I’d like to be willing to surrender my one-way ticket and go down the aisle to the opening door, take the steps leading to the ground, leave all my baggage behind.”

The metaphor of the emotional baggage we carry, if not repacked or gone through periodically, weighs us down, burdens us.  In my limited understanding in working with geriatrics, often the unpacked traumatic or confusing events are stuffed away unattended, unresolved, hauntingly creeping back with the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s. It seems to come on in a continual loop of a rerun movie within a mind that has decreased cognitive ability to resolve.

I am biased about my home country just as another believer in another place would say the same thing about their country.  Conversely, there are those born in this country who do not think it is be-all and end-all.  I would not change  God’s ordained plan for my life or the who, what where, when, and how of it. The freedom I have and can choose from is an example.  Part of that choice is to choose whether to accept any prejudices against me because of my skin color, age, or gender.  Some people, equal to me in those areas mentioned vulnerable to prejudice, live in other places of the world, have a different context to live in than I.

But I often wondered why those within the same environment (like a home) and raised in relatively the same ways turn out so different, i.e. twins where one is an achiever and the other isn’t?  The social sciences have lots of explanations for why some choose one path over another attributing to the varying degrees of levels of a person’s character, growth mindset, their soft skills, grit, resilience, executive functioning and agency within a person.  Fortunately, if not innate, all of these things can be learned from history and the Bible (King David, Jonathan, Esther, or Ruth),

I wrongly thought that those who are predestined folk (cf. Rom. 8:29-30, Eph. 1:4, 11) as those who were the select, the elected by God in the eternal past to do something really significant for Him (like Martin Luther, Billy Graham).  But predestination means all who are to be called by God. I am part of the fold of those whom God wants to be saved, me having come to the knowledge of the truth  (1Tim. 2:4).  I believe faith is through grace alone (Eph.  2:8-9).  In the scope of things, I am but a tiny part of the world, but my soul is as large as anyone else, and it will transcend me.  Guess you could say my heavenly adoption papers have been accepted.

A verse (23:23) in Matthew is pertinent to Malachi.  It describes prosperity preaching: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But have neglected the most important matters of the law – justice, mercy, and faithfulness.  You should have practiced the latter, without neglect of the former.”

 

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