Malachi

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 3:1.

Malachi reiterates familiar OT guidelines and warning on how to live despite 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 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 with 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 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 when 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 from one of their charlatan’s mantras proclaiming God grants better health and wealth, to be experienced in this lifetime to those who contribute financially to their cause. There is a story that partly sums it up:  The deacons of a church were praying over the offering they had just collected. They threw the money up in the air and said, God, you take whatever you need and the rest is ours (for elaborate excessively large homes, designer cars, etc.).

In African Christian communities, they call this type of western prosperity gospel by a the label casino theology.  They define it as  how parishioners are asked to give their tithes and offerings sacrificially in the hope that they might receive multiple-times more in return.

What adds to the confusion, is 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.

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 theme of indulgences, abuses of influencing financial donations in exchange for an ROI for the giver by way of blessings in personal health, or success, etc. here in this lifetime.   Christians do not believe in purgatory (a limbo place the departed go for the purposes of cleansing or purifying of their soul). That was the portal of opportunity the indulgence seekers hawked by saying buy an indulgence and decrease the time there for either a donor or loved ones (you had to be specific to get your certificate).  This led to a  reformation backed up by scripture.

Similar to the time of selling indulgences, the current financial offerings don’t always go into ministry but instead line the pockets and bank accounts of the leaders and are displayed in their elaborate lifestyles.   It’s a slippery slope to say good things will come to donors way in terms of health and welfare, in this lifetime if you tithe.  To explain or justify a lifestyle by saying it’s a blessing from God is unconscionable to the universal message of  Jesus.  I don’t begrudge a comfortable home,  adequate transportation, having enough resources so as not to distract the leaders from doing ministry.  I do believe in tithing but with a watchful eye to where the money is being used.

Biblical witnessing 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. 4:9-10). There are many verses that indeed inspire and are capitalized on in prosperity teachings.  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.  It also is considered the third wave of the pentecostal movement.

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.

Truth:  Some people are so poor, all they have is money.  Often said: man sacrifices his health to make money.man sacrifices his health to make money. Then he sacrifices money in the recuperation of 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 his book,  before the intertestamental period; he points to the future by writing 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, let there be no confusion, I was given this ticket from God to go anywhere I choose.

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 think there are predestined folk (cf. Rom. 8:29-30, Eph. 1:4, 11) especially selected elected by God in the eternal past to do really significant public things for Him (like Martin Luther, Billy Graham). However, predestination includes all to be called by God. I am part of the fold of the all who God wants to be saved, with 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. In love, He predestined my adoption (Eph. 1:4-8) as he does everyone. That may sound akin to universalism except there is the issue of man’s free will.

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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