Return to Me… Refined and Pure

Look, I am sending my messenger who will clear the path before me; suddenly the Lord whom you are seeking will come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you take delight is coming, says the Lord of heavenly forces.
Who can endure the day of his coming? Who can withstand his appearance? He is like the refiner’s fire or the cleaner’s soap.
He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver. He will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. They will belong to the Lord, presenting a righteous offering.
The offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in ancient days and in former years.
I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against the sorcerers, the adulterers, those swearing falsely, against those who cheat the day laborers out of their wages as well as oppress the widow and the orphan, and against those who brush aside the foreigner and do not revere me, says the Lord of heavenly forces.
I am the Lord, and I do not change; and you, children of Jacob, have not perished (Malachi 3:1-6, Common English Bible).

When I started researching the refining process for silver during the Biblical era I was surprised to learn, the process used by Syrian potters for (silver dross) glazing pottery is likely the process used by Biblical era refiners all over the Middle East.

The ancients would mine and then smelt lead sulfide ore which is rich in silver. The ore would go through a reduction process that would leave it as a metal rather than an ore. The lead was then separated from the silver by blowing hot air over the surface of the melted metal. The process converted the lead to lead oxide which is what is referred to in the Bible as silver dross. The dross was then used in glazing pottery as stated above.

A flux of some sort was added to the remaining metal to dissolve other metals like copper, lead, tin, and iron. What remained was pure silver.

Crude processes like these are used in many parts of the world to this day.

In the lesson, Malachi is saying God will refine the Levites as the refiner’s process gold and silver. This figurative statement likely means they would go through difficulty. One must apply heat in the purification process. If one wants to sterilize something, heat is a requirement.

Remembering back to my Boy Scout first aid, if all you have for a bandage is a cloth of questionable cleanliness, one can pass it closely over a fire to clean it and make it safer to use as a bandage. Heat cleanses.

For the Levites to be cleansed it would require heat. The heat would be difficult times but in the refining process, air would blow the impurities away and eventually leave pure silver.

We all go through times of difficulty in our lives. When we feel the heat may God be at work refining us to be pure in our work for the Almighty.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

With Joy and Thankfulness,

Copyright 2017, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Return to Me… Worn Out

17 You have made the Lord tired with your words.
You say, “How have we made him tired?”
    When you say:
        “Anyone doing evil is good in the Lord’s eyes,”
        or “He delights in those doing evil,”
        or “Where is the God of justice?” (Malachi 2:17, Common English Bible).

There are things and times when we all feel worn out. I remember seeing a post on Facebook years ago when someone wrote, “Tired, so very tired.” It is a feeling I think all of us understand. There are stressful times in all our lives. We have times when we are worn out by work. We are often worn out by circumstances. We are sometimes worn out by people around us.

Have you ever had a person in your life that completely drains you? Most all of us have, even those who drain us have people who drain them. Much of it falls into the ways God wired us all different. Still, there are those who, by the things they do and the way they live their lives just wear us out.

Remember the kid that we ended up being assigned with for the special class project? Yeah, the one who was strong on ideas and weak on follow-through leaving you to do all the work. Or what about the person who always tries the short-cut but in the end makes more work for you? Then there is the person who, as we talked about yesterday, is always cheating. There is no end to the many ways people wear us out.

I also feel pretty certain that for some people, I am the one who wears them out. It could be that one of you reading this are saying to yourself, “Yeah, Keith, you are right. You really wear me out.”

As bad as it feels for any of us, it would increase exponentially for God because God has to deal with all of us. God has to face us and the ways we cheat the system. God has to deal with us and the ways we become more talk than action. God has to deal with us and the way we talk to each other and about each other.

While we are all guilty of doing wrong in the eyes of God. Of that, there should be no doubt. Hopefully, we aren’t saying God delights in our wrong-doing. Make no mistake, that just isn’t true. God wants us to be righteous. God leads us to righteousness. It is us who consistently, over and over, fall short.

There is good news coming. God still does want a relationship with us. More about that to come.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

With Joy and Thankfulness,

Copyright 2017, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Return to Me… Don’t Cheat

10 Isn’t there one father for all of us,
        one God who created us?
Why does everyone cheat each other to make the covenant of our ancestors impure?
11 Judah cheated—
        a detestable thing was done in Israel and Jerusalem.
    Judah made the Lord’s holy place impure, which God loved,
        and married the daughter of a foreign god.
12 May the Lord eliminate anyone who does so from the tents of Jacob,
        anyone awaking, testifying,
        and making an offering to the Lord of heavenly forces.
13 You should do this as well:
        cover the altar of the Lord with tears, weeping, and groaning
            because there is still no divine favor for your offering or favorable regard
            for anything from your hand.
14 But you say, “Why?”
    Because the Lord testifies about you
            and the wife of your youth against whom you cheated.
    She is your partner,
            the wife of your covenant.
15 Didn’t he make her the one
and the remnant of his spirit? What is the one?
        The one seeking godly offspring.
You should guard your own spirit.
        Don’t cheat on the wife of your youth
16         because he hates divorce,
says the Lord God of Israel,
            and he also hates the one covering his garment with violence,
says the Lord of heavenly forces.
        Guard your own life, and don’t cheat (Malachi 2:10-16, Common English Bible).

Several years ago, probably not too many years after Google became an available web search engine, a friend told me, “If you want a surprise Google yourself.” I didn’t think I would actually see something that would surprise me. I was wrong. What I found was not what my friend thought would surprise me. I am not sure what he thought I would find but it wasn’t there.

At that time I had a personal website where I would post manuscript versions of my sermons for family and friends to read. I would guess at that point I had about 40 sermons on my site. I didn’t think they were anything spectacular, but some of my favorites were there.

That my website showed up on the Google search wasn’t surprising either. I would have been more surprised had it not been there.

What did surprise me was that two of my sermons showed up on another website. It was a website where preachers could go and buy a sermon someone else had written. My permission had not been asked about including any of my sermons. If it had been a website that didn’t charge for the sermons I probably wouldn’t have been upset. That wasn’t the case. The owner of the website was potentially making money from my sermons. In other words, he was cheating me.

I confronted him via email (I wouldn’t know the guy if he knocked on my door). He replied back saying he didn’t have any of my sermons that all he had on his site were his sermons. I went back and checked and he had taken my sermons down. And still, I saw sermons not written by him.

All this is to say, I was being cheated, and I didn’t like it. Who does like it. When someone cheats us, it is no fun and we usually resent it. I know I did that day.

Malachi, in our lesson today, talks about cheating. As I read this passage I can’t help but think the first half addresses cheating in general but in the second half, he specifically addresses cheating on one’s spouse.

The short answer to both is, don’t do it because God doesn’t like it. For so many, cheating is a way of life. No, it would be better to say, dishonesty is a way of life.

When I was in the Navy, it was generally considered that a thief was the lowest life form on the planet. Why a thief? If you would steal from your shipmate, you would lie to or about your shipmate. If you can’t trust someone with something like honesty, you can’t trust them with your life either.

I would actually expand on that, if you lie to someone, you would steal from them. And, if you can’t trust them with being honest, you can’t trust them with anything.

Further, if someone can’t trust his/her spouse to be faithful, they can’t trust them at all.

In my research for today’s blog I ran across a very short poem I want to leave you with today. I think it sums things up pretty well.

Don’t Lie
Don’t Cheat
Don’t Make Promises
You can’t Keep.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

With Joy and Thankfulness,

Copyright 2017, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Return to Me…Some Tough Words to Hear

2 But now, this command is for you, priests:
    If you don’t listen, or don’t intend to glorify my name, says the Lord of heavenly forces, then I will send a curse among you. I will curse your blessings, and I mean really curse them, because none of you intend to do it.
I am about to denounce your offspring; I will scatter feces on your faces, the feces of your festivals. Then I will lift you up to me,  and you will know that I have sent this command to you so that my covenant with Levi can continue to exist, says the Lord of heavenly forces.
My covenant with him involved life and peace, which I gave him,  and also fear so that he honored me. He was in awe of my name.
True Instruction was in his mouth, injustice wasn’t found on his lips.
He walked with me in peace and did the right thing, he made many turn from iniquity.
The lips of the priest should guard knowledge; everyone should seek Instruction from his mouth,  for he is the messenger from the Lord of heavenly forces.
But you have turned from the path. You have caused many to stumble by your instruction. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of heavenly forces.
Moreover, I have made you despised and humiliated in the view of all the people, since none of you keep my ways or show respect for Instruction (Malachi 2:1-9, Common English Bible).

These are tough words. It seems pretty obvious that God was far from happy with the priests from Malachi’s era. It is difficult for me to imagine language from God that was much more difficult than these words from Malachi. I am about to denounce your children. I am going to spread feces on your faces. Could God say anything that would be more difficult than this?

In the latter of the two, it just seems pretty disgusting. I really don’t think I want to go any further on that front.

But, the former has always bothered me. Verses in the Bible where my children will suffer because of the things I do really does bother me. That would be like saying I go out and commit a crime and my child goes to prison along with me. It doesn’t make sense. Even more, verses that say, “I will punish your descendants to the thousandth generation,” does not fit the image of God that is in my mind when Scripture also says, “God is love.”

What is so tough about this passage has more to do with the people it is addressing than what it actually says. God is calling out the priests for their heresy, their taking advantage of their position, for leading people down wrong paths and more. God is far from pleased.

For a pastor, at least part of my role is that of a priest. At least to me, that means, I need to take a serious look at myself and what I preach and teach. I need to make sure I am not leading people down wrong paths. The consequences for such misdirection can be dire.

But, when faced with difficulty and warning in Scripture I always strive to remember, there is more grace in God than there is sin in us. If I am wrong, I pray God will point out my error so I might fix the issue and so I might confess my sin and receive that grace, even if I don’t deserve it.

I know the same is true for all of us. Thanks be to God.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

With Joy and Thanksgiving,

Copyright 2017, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Return to Me…Cheaters Never Win, or Do They?

So now ask God to be gracious to us.
After what you have done, will he accept you?
says the Lord of heavenly forces.
10 Who among you will shut the doors of the temple
        so that you don’t burn something on my altar in vain?
        I take no delight in you,
says the Lord of heavenly forces.
I won’t accept a grain offering from your hand.

11 Nevertheless, from sunrise to sunset,
        my name will be great among the nations.
Incense and a pure grain offering will be offered everywhere in my name,
        because my name is great among the nations,
says the Lord of heavenly forces.
12 But you make my name impure when you say,
    “The table of the Lord is polluted.
        Its fruit, its food, is despised.”
13 But you say, “How tedious!”
        and you groan about it,
says the Lord of heavenly forces.
You permit what is stolen, lame, or sick to be brought for a sacrifice,
        and you bring the grain offering.
Should I accept such from your hands?
says the Lord.

14 I will curse the cheater who has a healthy male in his flock,
        but who promises and sacrifices to the Lord that which is corrupt.
            I am truly a great king,
says the Lord of heavenly forces,
            and my name is feared among the nations (Malachi 1:9-14, Common English Bible).

I remember the childhood chant, “Cheaters never win.” It would go off whenever one person or one team gave the appearance of cheating regardless of whether any actual cheating took place or not.

We seem to have reached a point in our society where we expect cheating from so many people. We expect our politicians to cheat on everything from exempting themselves from legislation that affects the rest of us, marital affairs, taxes, elections, using their office for personal gain, using their office to intimidate others and so on.

We see people cheating in sports competitions with things like performance-enhancing drugs, using illegal equipment or altering equipment, computer hacking and that only is a short list of the ways people cheat. It would seem the apparently old cliche, “If you ain’t cheat’in, you ain’t trying” is in full effect.

Then there are the average folks like us. Yeah, we cheat too, well many of us do. We cheat on our taxes. We cheat on our spouses. We take any opportunity we can to better ourselves, even if it is at the expense of others. Have you ever gotten more money back than you deserved? Did you keep it? If you did, your cheating might have helped you, but it was at the expense of others.

Then, there is also the way we cheat God. In the lesson, God through Malachi, tells of the way some in Israel were cheating the Lord by bringing sick or old or lame animals for sacrifice when they had far better. Do you remember back when God brought the plagues on Egypt? The last of those plagues was the death of all the firstborn of Egypt. At that point, Pharaoh seems to give up and told Moses to take the Israelites and leave Egypt. Moses led Israel out of Egypt and to the Promised Land? As the Israelites wandered the Promised Land God gave specific instructions for the offering. It was to be from the best and the firstborn. Of course, the Israelites didn’t like to give their best, so they cheated God in their offerings.

When God gave instructions for the tithe, there were those who didn’t want to give. God called on them anyway. We will see in the upcoming days that the Israelites were cheating God by not giving the full ten percent (see Malachi 3:8-10).

Ever since God instituted the tithe people have tried to give less than what God asks. Just like the Israelites of Malachi’s day, when we don’t give the full tithe, we cheat God.

Guess what. God loves you anyway. Now, isn’t that a hoot.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

With Joy and Thankfulness,

Cioyright 2017, J. Keith Broyles, All RIghts Reserved

Return to Me…Respect God

A son honors a father,
        and a servant honors his master.
But if I’m a father, where is my honor?
    Or if I’m a master, where is my respect?
says the Lord of heavenly forces
        to you priests who despise my name.
So you say, “How have we despised your name?”
        By approaching my altar with polluted food.
But you say, “How have we polluted it[b]?”
        When you say, “The table of the Lord can be despised.”
If you bring a blind animal to sacrifice, isn’t that evil?
If you bring a lame or sick one, isn’t that evil?
Would you bring it to your governor?
Would he be pleased with it or accept you?
says the Lord of heavenly forces (Malachi 1:6-9, Common Engish Bible).

Yesterday afternoon I opened a bottle of Snapple and read the “fun fact” under the lid. I can’t remember it all but it said that a certain word, of which I had never heard, was the longest word in the English language that every letter repeated itself at least one time. I know, it is a ridiculously useless fact.

Respect is nowhere near as long of a word as the word under the Snapple cap. It isn’t a big word but it is an important word. The late Rodney Dangerfield made a career out of his belief that he got no respect. We hear people, at least to my knowledge, mostly me, who complain they are disrespected or like Dangerfield, they get no respect.

In truth, much like the priests in Malachi’s writing, many among us give God no respect. People fail in prayer, they fail in worship attendance, they fail in confessing who God is, they fail in their sin, they use the name of God in inappropriate ways. People fail in all the ways and more. We all do. If we say people fail because of their sin, then it should go without saying, we all fail. We all sin and fall short of the glory of God. Those aren’t my words, see Romans 3:23. Additionally, this passage from 1 John has a thing or two to say about that.

This is the message that we have heard from him and announce to you: “God is light and there is no darkness in him at all.” If we claim, “We have fellowship with him,” and live in the darkness, we are lying and do not act truthfully. But if we live in the light in the same way as he is in the light, we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from every sin. If we claim, “We don’t have any sin,” we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from everything we’ve done wrong. 10 If we claim, “We have never sinned,” we make him a liar and his word is not in us (1 John 1:5-10, Common English Bible, Italics mine).

John goes on to say (see 1 John 5:10) that when we don’t believe God (and Jesus’ testimony to be God’s Son) makes God out to be a liar. That is just about the ultimate in disrespect in my book.

If empirically based opinion polls are to be believed,  a very large percentage of people in American society profess a belief in God, even in Jesus and yet they live their lives as pagans. You cannot say you love God, that you respect God when you have no love for the Children of God. Again, 1 John reminds us, “If anyone says, I love God, and hates a brother or sister, he is a liar, because the person who doesn’t love a brother or sister who can be seen can’t love God, who can’t be seen” (1 John 4:20, Common English Bible).

In today’s lesson, Malachi is speaking of the priests who would sacrifice animals that were lame and animals that were sick. Remember, the law given in the Torah required sacrifices of firstborn animals who were without blemish be brought as a sacrificial offering. Here, the priests were failing miserably. So were the people who brought such animals. Any change Malachi might have brought forward didn’t have any real long-term effects. This was one of the primary reasons Jesus cleansed the temple.

Perhaps our offerings are yet another way we disrespect God. Do we give what we are supposed to give? Do we give with a cheerful heart? Do we give grudgingly? All of those bring disrespect to God.

Malachi calls for us to respect God. We respect God when we do worship, pray, study, give, and love our neighbor and more. All of us need to do some soul searching to see where we stand.

John does have some good news for us too. Check out verses seven and eight from that 1 John 1 passage about. My favorite part says, “cleanses us from every sin” and “cleanses us from everything we have done wrong.

What more could we ask? Doesn’t that deserve some respect?

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

With Joy and Thankfulness,

Copyright 2017, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved.

Return to Me…May the Lord be Great

A pronouncement. The Lord’s word to Israel through Malachi. I have loved you, says the Lord; but you say, “How have you loved us?” Wasn’t Esau Jacob’s brother? says the Lord. I loved Jacob, 3  but I rejected Esau. I turned Esau’s mountains into desolation, his inheritance into a wilderness for jackals. Edom may say, “We are beaten down, but we will rebuild the ruins”; but the Lord of heavenly forces proclaims: They may build, but I will tear them down. They will call themselves a wicked territory, the people against whom the Lord rages forever. Your eyes will see it and you will say, “May the Lord be great beyond the borders of Israel” (Malachi 1:1-5, Common English Bible).

God speaks through the prophet Malachi. Malachi is one of the minor prophets. He isn’t lesser because what he said was unimportant. Malachi is a minor sheerly because of the amount, the volume fo his pronouncements.

Malachi most likely lived after the completion of the second temple and during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, most likely around the middle of the fifth century B.C.

Today’s lesson reminds us of the origins of the Hebrew faith. Malachi speaks of Esau and Jacob and how God loved Jacob and rejected Esau. Malachi also reminds of some of Israel’s enemies and how God had and would continue to put them in their place. Israel would remain in God’s favor.

Then God, through the prophet says Israel will proclaim, “May the Lord be great beyond the borders of Israel.” The assumption here is, first God is already great in Israel. Well, that one is really beyond assumption. Because of the return to the Promised Land following the exile, as earlier prophets had previously prophesied, Israel was back on the God bandwagon again. At this point in history, they would believe God was great for Israel.

Here God is speaking that the Israelites will desire God’s greatness throughout the world. This idea speaks of God as omnipresent, always present. This speaks to the Christian understanding of God being with us in all times and in all places.

Often times we may want to say, “God where were you when….” What follows could be any number of things. All too often we want to know where God was when God was with us all along. We tend to blame God when in reality what we experience comes from our own poor decisions. Perhaps we experience crisis because of the poor decisions of others. We may even experience these difficulties because of natural laws work. If you drop a 500-pound weight from 100 feet in the air, it is going to crash to the ground. It is a natural law. Gravity works. And, just because a natural law works does not negate the presence of God in the world around us. The biggest trouble is, all too often, we fail to see God at the very times we could use the divine most. It doesn’t mean God failed to be present. It means we were unable to see.

The point of this lesson is, God is present and God is great. We shouldn’t need the Israelites to tell us this. We have our own history. We have our own experiences to lean on. We know the traditions of the Church. We know what this lesson and others say about the greatness of God. From that knowledge, it is a reasonable assumption to know that, just as God has always been present, God will be present for us too.

What a blessing. The Lord will be great.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

With Joy and Thankfulness,

Copyright 2017, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved