The holidays are always a time of reflection. During the Thanksgiving season, we reflect on those blessings we have received and the things for which we are most grateful. As Christmas nears, we reflect on the story and meaning of Christmas, Jesus’ birth, and look forward from the cradle to the cross. We spend time with family and friends, miss loved ones who are no longer with us, break from our busy schedules, and reflect on those things that matter most in life. And then, of course, there’s the New Year. We sometimes think of past flaws or failures, and set goals for change.
Recently, I spent time studying the book of the Old Testament prophet Malachi. As I reflected on the “burden of the Lord” (Malachi 1:1) to his people, I found three points of reflection that stand out as I examine my life, our culture, and focus on the return of Christ. Perhaps now, most of all, I find the timing of this message to be significant. The message of Malachi is the last time presumably that God speaks before the opening of the New Testament, and ultimately, the coming of Jesus.
The people of Malachi’s day were arrogant, hard-hearted, and lived with a sense of entitlement. The last chapter of Nehemiah, chapter 13, corresponds to this time period, and helps us understand what was going on in the lives of the people. God’s word to them was, “I love you and have chosen you for my covenant” (Malachi 1:2). This message was a burden because the people presumed upon His love, and they were living the way they wanted to live. Because of His great love for the people, God attempted to correct them and show them the error of their ways. He knew that Jesus was coming. He wanted them to accept the Messiah. But every time He speaks, they arrogantly question His words.
We live in a culture where the prevailing mentality is that of arrogance and entitlement. Religion is cultural and social, but not truly personal. In the eyes of many, God’s ways have become relative and subjective, and if confronted, they respond by pointing the finger back with accusations of hatred and judgment. Even many of us have become distracted, at ease in our lives, or so frustrated that we simply want to give up. Nevertheless, God calls out to us. Jesus is coming. I sense the parallel between the days of Malachi and the first coming of Christ, and our day and the second coming of Christ.
I sense God calling out to us in this holiday season to reflect upon His Word and find focus…focus in our faith, our families, and our finances.
FAITH. In Malachi’s day, the priests did not honor the house of God, the sacredness of God, and were in turn dishonored by people who no longer reverenced the order of God. Nehemiah 13:7-9 reveals that the priests moved the equipment for worship and sacrifice out of the house of God and replaced them with “household goods.” In a way of self-reflection, I ask, “Has the church become a place where we spend a great deal of time, but treat it with no greater sanctity or priority?” The priests did not receive their proper portion due to the lack of tithes and offerings being paid, and left the work of God to tend to their own fields (Nehemiah 13:10). The people brought and the priests offered blemished sacrifices upon the altar (Malachi 1:7-14), and they became insincere and synthetic in their worship (Malachi 2:13). Even though they wept and shed tears, God refused them. They were going through the motions because that’s what they were supposed to do, but faith was just another common aspect of their lives. Their belief system did not truly affect the way they lived, and God was displeased. Even so, He called out to them and pleaded for change.
In our own lives, have we replaced the things of God with the stuff of life? Do our hearts and lives actually display a fear and reverence for God, our churches, our church leaders, and the reality that Jesus is coming soon?
FAMILY. In Malachi’s day, the people gave little or no priority to the marriage covenant. They practiced divorce openly, and seemed frivolous with the spousal relationships (Malachi 2:14-16). They left their sacred unions for foreign women, intermarrying with foreign religions and cultures that were contrary to God’s ways (Malachi 2:11; Nehemiah 13:23-27). The people neglected their responsibility to raise Godly seed (Malachi 2:15), a matter that throughout Scripture is clearly very near to God’s heart. They lived with no regard for God’s established design for the family. As a result, they lost their families, they betrayed their faith, and refused to respond to the voice of God that was so clearly calling out to them.
The part of this reflection that most saddens and convicts me is revealed in Nehemiah 13:24. The Bible says that their children spoke half in the language of Ashdod, but could not speak the Jews language. If we call ourselves Christians, the people of God, do our children speak the language of God? Our families and children know pop culture, the latest trends, the newest technology, text messaging, and social media communication techniques, but do they know the Holy Scriptures? Do they know how to pray? Do they know where to turn in crisis? Are we speaking God, or are we so caught up with affairs that we are losing an entire generation? Where is the focus and priority in our families this holiday season?
FINANCES. In Malachi’s day, the people worked and dishonored the Sabbath (Nehemiah 13:15-22). They also failed to pay the tithe (ten percent of earnings) and additional offerings to God (Malachi 3:8-12). In our profession it is very difficult to be off on Sundays (or any set day) for worship. I think the most pressing question is – at least some point during the week – do we place a priority on worship and rest, or are we stressed out, overworked, and spiritually emaciated? Are we so focused on earning and extra jobs, that we forsake priorities such as corporate worship and family time? Do we honor God as the source of our finances (and all that is represented by the term finances – work, giving, saving, spending, time, etc) and trust Him to provide? Are we good stewards of what He entrusts to us, or do we rely on our own means and capabilities?
As the economy continues to fail and budgets tighten, we have been forced during the holidays to focus more on spending time together rather than buying elaborate gifts. I struggle personally to put work aside and practice saying “yes” more to my wife and daughter. I am reminded of the things that matter most, time that will never return, and a God who has always been faithful to meet every need. As we reflect on the message of Malachi, has our handling of finances (and all they represent) created a spiritual deficit in our families and finances?
The sobering conclusion in all of this is that there is coming a time when we will again see a true distinction and separation between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not (Malachi 3:18). If the lines have become blurred in our culture, homes, and churches, then God is bringing focused clarity and distinction because – as He says in Malachi 1:11 – from the rising to the setting of the sun His name will be great among the nations.
My prayer for you this holiday season is that you will find focus and fulfillment in all aspects of your life. If we have been wrong, misled, occupied, or sidetracked, I know God is giving us the chance to get things right. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!