Living before Dying

You will die. It is one of the more uncomfortable truths about living. If you live, it is certain that you will die.

Sometimes in Christian teaching, we have emphasized preparing to die so much that we have made people think that is all Christian faith is about. We quote John 3:16, “…that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.” as if that is the whole gospel.

But Jesus did not come only to provide eternal life insurance. Jesus came to redefine how we live right now.

Of all the things that Jesus taught, very few were about getting to heaven when we die. Most of His teachings are about how we live our life on this earth. To believe in Jesus means to accept His priorities and way of thinking. Jesus described being His disciple as following Him by living as He lived: heal, teach, show compassion and give your life for God and others.

We are right to note that the Bible says we are saved by faith, not by works. But too many of us think that being saved only means going to heaven when we die. We are saved from eternal judgment, but we are also saved from self-centered living.

When we die, our loved ones may want to celebrate our lives. In these few years that we had on earth, will they be able to celebrate how we followed Jesus with all of our heart?

Love in Christ,
Greg Burriss, Pastor
Rocky River Baptist Church
Siler City, NC

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God’s Plan – Malachi Part 4

We started 4 weeks ago by suggesting that Malachi is a book of prophecy in which God is urging His people to renewal after they have been unfaithful. The book ends with the promise of fulfillment of God’s judgment and reward. The first 3 verses promise the judgment against the arrogant and evildoers and the reward of those who fear the Lord. The joy of that reward is conveyed with striking metaphors. “You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.”

After a reminder to obey the law that God gave through Moses, the book closes with a prophecy that Elijah will come in preparation of the day of the Lord. Elijah was a great prophet in the history of Israel during the time of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel (see 1 Kings 17 – 2 Kings 2). Jesus told his disciples that John the Baptist was the fulfillment of this prophecy as the Elijah who proclaimed the coming of the Lord (see Matthew 11:11-14).

The last verse of Malachi is a simple promise: “he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and hearts of children to their fathers.” This enigmatic promise symbolizes how God will one day bring justice and reconciliation to the world. John the Baptist prepared the way for the coming of Jesus Christ. The coming of Christ is the beginning of how God will make all things new.

Malachi speaks the words of God to us, urging us to live God’s way and reminding us of the promise of God’s reward. In the end, we remember along with Malachi that it is God’s work in Christ which brings that reconciliation, justice and ultimately God’s joy. Thank God for His promises and how He always fulfills them. One day, God will make all things right in the world. He wants us to be a part of that starting right now.

Love in Christ,
Greg Burriss, Pastor
Rocky River Baptist Church
Siler City, NC

Don’t Give Up on God – Malachi Part 3

Chapter 3 of Malachi begins with a prophecy of a coming messenger of the Lord. You may remember this from the opening chapter of the gospel of Mark, where we learn that this is a prophecy about John the Baptist. This messenger will bring a refining fire to God’s people. He will begin to make things right between God and His people once again. When John the Baptist came, he prepared the way for Jesus. In his preaching we learn that God does not take sin lightly, but God has prepared a remedy for our sin in Jesus Christ, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

Malachi tells the people that God’s judgment is coming. He lists several things that God specifically is angry about. God is angry that some bosses are taking advantage of their hired workers and not treating them fairly. God is angry because they are not treating foreigners in their land with decency and care. All of the sins in this list are judgments against people who are mistreating or taking advantage of other people.

Next, Malachi tells them that God is angry because they have been unfaithful in giving their tithes and offerings. God issues a challenge to the people. “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says that Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down a blessing…” Unfortunately, some preachers have used this very scripture to oppress people by telling them that they should give to the church before they meet their own needs. Such preaching oppresses people and does not bless as God intends. But there is reward in giving to God as He leads you.

Once again Malachi tells the people that they have dishonored God by declaring that God’s justice isn’t real. We can grow cynical as we see evil people prospering. But God tells us that His reward and remembrance will come to those who remember Him and His ways. Don’t give up on God! He has not given up on you!

Love in Christ,
Greg Burriss, Pastor
Rocky River Baptist Church
Siler City, NC

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5 days of scripture reading and prayer:

Day 1: Read Malachi 3:1-4. (You may think that verse 1 seems familiar. It is part of the gospel quotation introducing John the Baptist in the gospels. See Mark 1:1-3.) What consequences follow the coming of the Lord’s messenger? Pray that God will help you refine the parts of your life that do not please Him.

Day 2: Read Malachi 3:5. This verse lists numerous things that God will judge. Can you think of something that is a common part of each of these sins? (Do give you a hint of what I am thinking of, think of a sorcerer as someone who is conning people with false hope.) Pray that God will lead you to bless those in need and not make their lives harder.

Day 3: Read Malachi 3:6-12. What does Malachi accuse the people of robbing from God? Pray that God will direct you to give tithes and offerings that honor Him.

Day 4: Read Malachi 3:13-15. How have the people spoken against God according to these verses? Pray that God will give you increased faith that does not waver or grow cynical.

Day 5: Read Malachi 3:16-18. What will the Lord remember? Pray that God will help you gather with and strengthen other believers who trust in Him.

Breaking our Intimacy with God

After the complaints God makes through Malachi to the people in general, Malachi chapter 2 contains three complaints about the priests who offer the sacrifices on behalf of the people. He begins by reminding them of the faithful service of the priests in the past. “True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness and he turned many from iniquity.” The lack of faithfulness of the leaders was affecting the spiritual life of all the people.

The first area of unfaithfulness involves allowing the people to take foreign wives from the surrounding countries. Many people misunderstand this command in the Old Testament. God commanded the people not to marry people from other lands because they worshipped false gods. God was concerned that these spouses would lead them to abandon their true God. It was not a matter of nationality or racial heritage. It was a matter of faithfulness to the true God.

In our lives, we need to be careful not to marry ourselves to anything or anyone who will lead us to be unfaithful to the Lord. This could be a literal spouse or something impersonal. If it leads us away from God, we need to give it up.

Malachi then answers a question they have raised. They have been pouring their hearts out to God at the altar, but God has not answered. “You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand.” God is angry because they have not been faithful to their wives, abandoning them and even divorcing them.

Finally, Malachi tells them that God is tired of hearing them twist His moral commands and approve of people who are doing evil.

All of God’s people should be living according to the commands of God. Malachi singles out the priests in chapter 2 because they are responsible for leading the people to do what is right. But all of the people are also responsible to God for obeying the commands of the Lord.

God speaks to the people through Malachi and tells them that He cannot bless them because they refuse His commands. Even today, God’s church can only experience God’s full blessing when we do things His way!

Love in Christ,
Greg Burriss, Pastor
Rocky River Baptist Church
Siler City, NC

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5 days of scripture reading and prayer:

Day 1: Read Malachi 2:1-4. What disgusting metaphor does Malachi use to indicate how unhappy God is with the priests? Pray that you will be able to discern anything in your heart and life that really displeases God.

Day 2: Read Malachi 2:5-9. (Levi was one of the twelve sons of the great patriarch son of Isaac, Israel for whom God’s people were named. The descendants of Levi were designated to be priests and attendants of the religious services in the Temple of God.) What is the difference between Levi and the priests that Malachi is criticizing? Pray that God will help you be a faithful representative of Him before the world.

Day 3: Read Malachi 2:10-12. What has Judah done that is faithless before God? Pray that God will help you get rid of things in your life that stand between you and Him.

Day 4: Read Malachi 2:13-16. Why is God refusing to accept the sacrifices of the priests? Pray that God will help you to be faithful in all of your relationships.

Day 5: Read Malachi 2:17. What are they saying that wearies the Lord with words? Pray that God will help you trust Him and His justice and not grow cynical.

A New Start with Malachi

Happy New Year!

The book of Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament and the final book in what we often call the 12 Minor Prophets. They are not called Minor because they are less important, but simply because they are typically shorter in length than the 4 Major Prophets.

Scholars think that Malachi is last in this group because it was one of the latest written. In the Christian Bible, Malachi was probably placed at the end because it contains a clear prophecy of the coming of Christ. (In the Jewish Bible, the 12 Minor Prophets do not come at the end.)

But Malachi provides an important reminder and warning for those of us who follow Christ. In some ways the book of Malachi is a call to and guide for renewal in our life of faith, both as individuals and as a church. For the next few weeks I will share with you some points from the book of Malachi. I encourage you to read through the book as you read through these devotionals. As an aid to this, I will suggest a reading plan for five days each week.

Malachi chapter 1 contains two complaints that God makes against His people. The first is a reminder that God has blessed and loved them and rejected those who are not His people.

God then directs Malachi to complain about the cheap sacrifices that His people are making to Him. “’A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, where is my honor? If I am a master, where is my fear?,’ says the Lord of hosts…” God complains that the people and the priests are offering inferior offerings on the altar. He asks them if they would give less than their best if they were giving a gift to the governor. He complains that they are giving Him their leftovers and not the best that they have.

Is this the way we treat God? If someone famous and important came to visit us, wouldn’t we make sure that we only offered that person the best that we have? How can we give God less? God does not ask us to sacrifice things that we don’t have. But our sacrifices for God must be the best that we have. God has given us His best when He sent Christ to die on our behalf. As Jesus Himself said, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matt. 7:11).

When we talk about our sacrifice for God, we are not just talking about money. In fact, in the New Testament, the idea of sacrifice to God takes on a whole new meaning. We are to give all of ourselves to God. As Romans says, “present your bodies as a living sacrifice” (Romans 12:2). In the context of Malachi’s prophecy, this means we should be giving the best of our lives to God. In our work, our school, our neighborhood, God is first priority.

So this is our best New Year’s resolution: in 2015, God will be first priority in every area of my life. He deserves this and no less. And if we truly want the best result for ourselves, this is the best path to take.

Love in Christ,
Greg Burriss, Pastor
Rocky River Baptist Church
Siler City, NC

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5 days of scripture reading and prayer:

Day 1: Read Malachi 1:1. Who is the source of Malachi’s prophecy? Pray that God will speak directly to your heart and guide you as study His word.

Day 2: Read Malachi 1:2-5. (Edom was a country that bordered Israel and was one of its strong enemies. The Edomites were believed to have descended from Isaac’s son Esau.) Have you seen the Lord’s blessing in your own life that shows God loves you. Pray that God will help you remember all He has done to show you His blessing and love.

Day 3: Read Malachi 1:6-8. (Offering animals for sacrifice that had defects such as blindness was forbidden by God’s law and was considered sacrilegious.) What images does Malachi use to provoke the people’s understanding of their sin? Pray that God will help you understand how you have given Him less than your best.

Day 4: Read Malachi 1:9-10. Why would Malachi say that God wanted someone to close the doors to the altars? Pray that God will help you understand what He wants you to devote to Him.

Day 5: Read Malachi 1:11-14. What is happening that is causing God’s name to be disrespected among the nations, according to Malachi? Pray that God will help you honor His name and testify to His greatness through your devotion to Him.