In this worship gathering, we begin a series on the book of Malachi. (There is an introductory video I’ve put on YouTube that you can check out for an overview.) In chapter 1, we learn about how the people of God have let their passion for him wane. In the message, we learn how to avoid that in our time. You can watch the whole gathering below, or just the message below that.
A friend of mine relayed a story recently about Ray Stedman, a well-known American pastor from the 20th century. He had flown to a speaking engagement (remember the good old days, when people actually flew places?), and the airline lost his luggage (we don’t miss that part!). In that culture, preachers didn’t get up to speak without wearing a suit – and he didn’t have one, thanks to the airline.
Stedman asked his host what could be done, and the host pastor said he would arrange to get Stedman a suit in which to preach the next morning, making note of his measurements.
When the suit was delivered to the hotel, Stedman dressed, and tried to put his wallet in a pocket. Much to his amazement, he realized the suit had no pockets in the jacket or even in the pants!
He mentioned this to his host pastor, who quickly admitted that the suit had been acquired from a local funeral home!
This was a suitable reminder for Stedman, as for us, that ‘you can’t take it with you.’
I’m often amazed at the stories I hear – and sometimes witness – about people wanting to be buried with some sort of treasure that mattered to them, whether money or things. But they will do us no good in the afterlife. The only thing we can bring with us when we die, that will do any good, is faith.
As we are reminded when we sing the old hymn by Augustus Toplady, Rock of Ages, “Nothing in my hand I bring; simply to Thy cross I cling!”
So rather than filling our proverbial barns and buying more when they are full, we can invest in opportunities that will enable more people to carry faith into the afterlife. The dividends paid by that will last for eternity.
“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be” (Matthew 6.19-21, NLT).
Perhaps, like me, you are finding the restrictions of the pandemic, at least here in Ontario, wearying. Even with the promise that vaccines are rolling out, we get the sense that the process is slow. Even with the entertainment we have received over the past days, weeks and months from our neighbours south of the border, there is a feeling that so much of life has become elegiac – lamentable, in a sense.
And we have a problem: our culture has largely lost the ability to lament.
Most of the music we hear nowadays, at least popularly, is meant to be positive, even to hype us up. But there are occasions when we need artistic expression of other emotions to help us induce the feelings that need to be manifested.
As I write this, I am listening to a piece of music that, for me, evokes lament – the Adagio for Strings, by Samuel Barber, arranged for organ. Not exactly a top 40 hit.
But I find listening to certain pieces of music will conjure the emotion that is pent up inside.
So do the Scriptures.
Not all Bible passages, in or out of context, are meant to be “keep your chin up” texts; in both the stories and the songs of the Bible, there are laments. We find few, if any, of them paraphrased in the CCLI Top 150.
Of course, there is a whole book seemingly devoted to lament; we call it “Lamentations.” But there are many other examples in Scripture. Several of them are in the Psalms – and there are even different types of laments found there.
When we think of the Psalms, our minds likely move toward “The Lord is my Shepherd” (Psalm 23) or “I lift up my eyes to the hills” (Psalm 121), since these are words of comfort. Yet the beloved Psalter contains numerous laments; feel free to look them up after you’re done reading this.
But for now, consider Psalm 38. Read it over a few times, slowly, paying attention to your breathing as you do. Perhaps the Lord will highlight a particular word or phrase, as he did for me. Yours may be different from mine, as mine is different from another’s; God uses his Word to speak to our hearts and minister to us where we have need.
O Lord, don’t rebuke me in your anger
or discipline me in your rage!
2 Your arrows have struck deep,
and your blows are crushing me.
3 Because of your anger, my whole body is sick;
my health is broken because of my sins.
4 My guilt overwhelms me—
it is a burden too heavy to bear.
5 My wounds fester and stink
because of my foolish sins.
6 I am bent over and racked with pain.
All day long I walk around filled with grief.
7 A raging fever burns within me,
and my health is broken.
8 I am exhausted and completely crushed.
My groans come from an anguished heart.
9 You know what I long for, Lord;
you hear my every sigh.
10 My heart beats wildly, my strength fails,
and I am going blind.
11 My loved ones and friends stay away, fearing my disease.
Even my own family stands at a distance.
12 Meanwhile, my enemies lay traps to kill me.
Those who wish me harm make plans to ruin me.
All day long they plan their treachery.
13 But I am deaf to all their threats.
I am silent before them as one who cannot speak.
14 I choose to hear nothing,
and I make no reply.
15 For I am waiting for you, O Lord.
You must answer for me, O Lord my God.
16 I prayed, “Don’t let my enemies gloat over me
or rejoice at my downfall.”
17 I am on the verge of collapse,
facing constant pain.
18 But I confess my sins;
I am deeply sorry for what I have done.
19 I have many aggressive enemies;
they hate me without reason.
20 They repay me evil for good
and oppose me for pursuing good.
21 Do not abandon me, O Lord.
Do not stand at a distance, my God.
22 Come quickly to help me,
O Lord my savior. (NLT)
When David first wrote, or sang, this, he was acknowledging the pain in his heart. You can do the same as you read it. And as you acknowledge your pain, remember that the Lord is your Saviour; he will come to help you. He came to help David, and he has come to help me.
Earlier this month, my wife and I did some camping in northern Ontario. On the first evening, we were late arriving because we were detoured away from an accident on Highway 400. (Unlike Highway 11, some of the interchanges on the 400 extension are just for dead-end cottage roads, so we ended up adding about 3 hours to our trip.)
I was setting up the camper van, plugging into the electricity and water, and the chap at the adjoining campsite was inspecting the front of his trailer. Just trying to be a friendly camper, I made a compliment about his trailer, and he started telling me quite a bit of his life story.
I’ll spare you the details, but one part of his story struck me. He was telling me about the business he is going to start when he moves, and said, “I was raised an evangelical Christian…” and proceeded to disparage his upbringing.
My heart ached as I completed that conversation so I could cook supper, not only for him, but because I know there are others who have a similar story to tell.
In some ways, in recent years, it has become trendy to walk away from one’s spiritual roots, but it is especially poignant when those spiritual roots are in the historic, apostolic, biblically-based expressions of Christianity.
The reality is that no church is perfect, and most churches have made assumptions about how well-equipped parents are to raise their children to know and love and serve Jesus. They’ve let down their families. But every church that roots itself in the basics of Christian faith seeks to do its best to see its children grow in Christ. And when that doesn’t happen, the church mourns. It should mourn. And God’s heart breaks.
My fellow camper ideally would have held on to his faith roots, but he didn’t. I don’t know the reasons. But whatever your role in your local church, do all you can to disciple the children in your midst, starting with your own. Equip them, and their parents, to embrace and nurture faith in Jesus in a world that is doing its best to do the opposite. And leave the rest to God.
“[Y]ou must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up” (Deuteronomy 6.6-7, NLT).
Regular readers of Encouragement From the Word know that I ordinarily end my thought with Scripture. This week, though, I’m going to start there instead. Read this through a couple of times, slowly.
“Before the way of faith in Christ was available to us, we were placed under guard by the law. We were kept in protective custody, so to speak, until the way of faith was revealed.
“Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith. And now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian.
“For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you” (Galatians 3.23-29, NLT).
The context around the letter to the Galatians is that doctrinal troubles had arisen in churches there, due to the influence of what were called “Judaizers” – followers of Jesus who believed that in order to become Christians, Jews and Gentiles alike had to follow Jewish rituals. The apostle Paul wrote this letter to disabuse the churches of Galatia of the notion that they had to follow certain rituals in order to be welcomed into the family of faith in Jesus.
In our context, it has any number of applications that I won’t bother to list here. But I will say this: so often, we find ourselves wanting to be significant, wanting to be ‘somebody’, and we uplift ourselves at the expense of others. We’ve seen examples of this at both opposite extremes in the news recently.
Ultimately, though, if you want to be somebody, live by faith in Jesus.
Now, read that passage one more time.