As we conclude our series on the Old Testament book of the prophet Malachi, we learn that there is a reference that will remind us, of all things, of Christmas! You’ll find that the message from Malachi 3.16-4.6 is both a challenge to those who are far from God and an encouragement to those who follow and obey the Lord. You can watch the message alone below, or the whole worship gathering below that.
A friend gave me permission to tell you this story that happened to her recently.
She and her family were getting parked at a big-box store; they’d pulled into a space, and someone was about to pull out of the space in front of them, so they prepared to advance in order to be able to drive out of the space instead of backing out – makes good sense, and keeps the insurance people happy!
Trouble is, not seeing her vehicle, someone decided to pull into the space they were advancing into. My friend and her family backed up, graciously, and got out of the car to go into the store. Her son stared intently at the other driver, who became confrontational. The other driver shouted at the young man to stop staring at her.
His parents said, “It’s okay, really.” The other driver became quite belligerent about it, until, finally, young man’s father said, “He’s autistic.”
The driver gave a quick shock apology. Everybody moved on.
In the store, however, the driver encountered my friend, hugged her, and apologized profusely. “We live in fear. We don’t know how people will act toward us.” She had felt threatened by the stares from the young man.
This driver was a woman of Islamic faith.
Mic drop number two.
She told my friend, “I couldn’t sleep tonight if I did not apologize. I wouldn’t want to treat others the way I feel I am treated.”
Then, as she walked back to her cart, she saw my friend’s husband and son, and she apologized to them, too, and they spoke at length. “Lately,” she said, “everyone is living in fear and judging us.”
This isn’t just one of those parking lot rage stories that had a happy ending. There is a lesson for us all here, a multi-faceted lesson. There is more to it than this, but at the very least we are called not to judge a book by its cover. That was a lesson for both the autistic young man and the Islamic woman. Beyond that, though, it is a lesson for us all, at the very least, to be kind to one another – even, and perhaps especially, people who seem different, or dress differently, or hold views that are different from our own.
Jesus may have told us not to judge, but he didn’t mean that we should check our brains at the door. We are to judge to discern; we are not to judge to condemn. We can judge for discernment in a manner that honours another person as a human being made in God’s image, even if that person’s views or lifestyle or what-have-you varies greatly from our own, without condemnation.
“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7.12, NLT).
If you want to see a great example of how we can look at others differently, watch this video.
As my friend Carey Nieuwhof has pointed out, the much-publicized decision of the United States Supreme Court in late June should come as no surprise to followers of Jesus, because it’s foolish of us to expect a secular society to follow Christian principles and practices.
We who are old enough to remember what a more ‘Christian’ Canada was like may have more adjusting to do than the younger generation. Just as some young people today are astounded to learn that the world existed before the Internet, some mature followers of Jesus are astounded to learn that we no longer live in a world where Christian principles and practices are universally known and lived out.
That’s a challenge for the church going forward, but it’s a challenge the church can meet if it has the will to do so. What will that look like, for us as individual believers?
First, it will mean pulling back the reins on judgment of people who aren’t Christians. Years ago, that judgment came out when someone showed up to church not dressed appropriately. Nowadays, that judgment can be unleashed in other ways, but we should refrain from judging, and welcome people who are brave enough to cross the threshold of the church and check us out.
Second, it will mean taking the church outside the four walls of the building and into the neighbourhood. As Alan Roxburgh has written in several of his books, the church in the 21st century must become “missional”. That means we don’t go to church, we take the church out into the neighbourhood. We get to know our neighbours, and learn how we can serve them in Jesus’ name. We take God’s love to them, wherever they are and in whatever state they find themselves; we don’t wait for them to come to us.
Third, it will mean being more intentional as Christians and as the church at living out God’s Word and his love, since we can’t assume anyone knows anything about the faith. I heard a story last Sunday about an individual who was asked to put on some music at work, and it turned out to be Christmas carols…and it wasn’t Christmas. This person simply didn’t know what Christmas music was; she or he had no Christian background (and, it seems, never visited the mall in December!). By not assuming people know anything about the faith, we can be sharper in our witness and more clear in our expression of God’s truth – with care and concern, not condescension.
Living Faith, a statement of faith of The Presbyterian Church in Canada, says this: “…in the spirit of humility, as beggars telling others where food is to be found, we point to life in Christ” (9.2.1).
God’s love for the world has always been sacrificial. Though the world around us – right now, anyway – might seem less Christian, God’s love is no less powerful. How will you be the living expression of God’s love today?
“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3.15b, NIV).
I wrote a few weeks ago about how disturbing I find it to see transportation vessels in some position other than what is intended – such as the Costa Concordia lying half-submerged on its side in the sea. As a railfan, you can imagine how disturbing I found it to see the accident involving VIA Rail Train #92 earlier this week. Seeing FP40-2 locomotive #6444 lying down in the ballast on the engineer’s side was very disturbing, as was the loss of the three crew members’ lives.
Like many others awaiting the findings of the Transportation Safety Board, I was wondering, What could have caused this derailment? After all, the weather was clear, it was a straight stretch, the track appeared to have been in good repair; the train was using a crossover to move from one track to another. Then came the report: the train was moving at 67 miles per hour, when the legal speed to move through a crossover is 15 miles per hour. And no brakes had been applied. Ouch.
There may be many unanswered and unanswerable questions surrounding this tragedy. But there also may be lessons for us in our walk with God.
Slow down when you’re changing tracks. The physics of how trains move through crossovers necessitate that it be a relatively slow movement compared with normal track speed. For us, the emotion of significant change in our lives necessitates that it happen slower than the normal pace of life. For example, when someone you love dies, you’re ‘changing tracks’: let the process of grieving take its course, and don’t be afraid to let that happen slowly. Or, if you are retiring, that means ‘changing tracks’ too; ease into it, and take the time to get used to the change.
Be aware that your movements are being recorded in the “black box”. Unfortunately for this incident, the railways’ “black boxes” (which are orange!) don’t record voices in the cab, unlike aircraft “black boxes” which do. Had there been an indication of what the two engineers and the trainee were talking about, it might have given the Transportation Safety Board some clues as to why the train was speeding through a crossover. In our lives, however, nothing we do is truly kept in secret. God, who is all-knowing, all-powerful and everywhere, knows what we say and what we do at all times. I don’t mean by this that we should view God as a “Big Brother” figure, or even a Santa Claus figure; no, God is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent with a purpose of love. He longs for us to be in constant conversation with him, and he is disappointed when what we do or say does not reflect the faith we profess. And Scripture says that we will be judged at the end of time based on what’s in our “black box”, but that’s a judgment not for our salvation (which is based on faith), but for some other divinely intended purpose.
It may seem like a stretch to pull these thoughts from the tragedy of a train derailment, but they are meant to encourage us to pay careful attention to the details of our lives, that we may live them to God’s glory!
“Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90.12, NIV).