Heroes of Faith 2 - Malachi - The End Of An Era message by guest speaker Jeff Louie. For more information, visit cornerstone-sf.org
It’s always a great delight to be here. It seems like yesterday and it was kind of yesterday. I was here last month. I always like to update you on my goings-on. It’s hard after a month because a lot has transpired. I’m wearing it, if you are very keen on observation, it will tell you. I made a trip to New York City, the place of my birth and the first 21 years of my life, two weeks ago. It’s always a wonderful time to go to New York City. There are a lot of things to see and reflect on, but I’d love to share with you some of the good buys I got shopping. I was reminded again, that in New York City at this time if you buy clothing, there is no tax, which is an incredible thing. It’s like a nine, 10% discount. The first article of clothing I got was a pair of new shoes at the Nike outlet. They already have outlet prices, but it was 30% off the outlet price, no tax, $30 out the door. But there’s more.
I went to a high lying area, Chelsea Market. If you’ve ever been to New York City, there’s a two-mile walk garden on the West Side. There’s a place called Chelsea Market there. On one end of the garden walk, there are artisans. The last time I preached, I didn’t have a wedding ring on. The reason is that I gained 40 pounds since I was married. After 40 pounds, it’s pretty tight. I like my finger, but it was turning blue. I bought this unusual ring. I don’t know if you can see it, but there’s a cutout here. It means if you need it smaller, you get a hammer, you knock it down, and if you need it bigger, you get a crowbar and you open it up. What makes it unique is it was formally a fork. I’m kind of weird.
There was a saying that I saw on one of the artisan’s booths. It said, “why do I need psychotherapy when I could be weird by living in New York City?” So this is something new here. When I go to New York, I see my mother, Lord willing, every year. We celebrated her 90th birthday. My sister still lives there. My older sister and her husband live there and we were able to spend six days. We went out to eat and things like that. I had a lot of time for reflection. I’ve been in the Bay area since 1990. When I see my daughters and the ones who live in LA, the others in the East Bay. I see my grandchildren. It’s about the present and the future, but when I go back to New York, it’s about the past and where I am today.
There’s going to be a photograph that’s going to be shown, and there’s a handsome young man there. What’s interesting is where this is taken. This is taken about two weeks ago. This place is where I spent the first seven years of my life. It is where my parents, brother, and sister lived with me. You can tell it has something to do with 115. How I’d say it’s on Mott Street, which is a very famous street in Little Italy in Chinatown. I’m glad they upgraded the place. They have a lot more security with that lock now. So you can be a little safer there. I’m pretty sure that’s pretty strong cellophane tape over my head with the 115. I’ve journeyed in life for 60 years, and I think about where I came from and where I am now.
I think about the process because it is a process. Life is not measured in days, months, or even years. It is measured in decades. That’s the crazy thing. As Americans, we want things and things to change, instantly, but it’s decades. It’s longevity. You begin to see life as you run on this journey. The reflection I had is about New York City. Going back to the place of my birth. I was born in the Old Manhattan General Hospital. Reflection, and that’s the theme of today’s message. Because as Pastor Terry mentioned, we are going to be studying the prophet Malachi, who is in the order of things, the last book of the Old Testament. There is a time of quietness and silence. Then Jesus will burst on the scene and it was the end of a generation.
It was the end of how God operated, preparing the way for something new. This is very, very important. Instead of reflecting or reminiscing on the 60 years of my own life, we’re talking about what has happened in a thousand years as God’s ancient people have journeyed with God. Where are they? What does God’s prophet Malachi begin to know about God? He needs to share with his people after a thousand years. It’s basically a lifetime. It’s very, very endearing. The more I read this passage, I used to teach Old Testament, the more I saw myself in this passage to the point that it changed the whole tenor of how I would approach this message.
The passage is quite lengthy. I’m going to read certain portions, then have a principle, and continue to read. We start with the first chapter. We’re going to read one verse as it sets the tone of the whole book. It’s a very unusual question because God deals with a most important issue that is causing him some concern. Malachi 1, “I have loved you, says the Lord, but you say, how have you loved us? Was not Esau, Jacob’s brother declares the Lord, yet I have loved Jacob.” Jacob is Israel. “I have loved you.” It’s a declaration as clear as you can have of God saying to his ancient people, I have loved you.
The response of the people is, we don’t think you love us. I think about this and say, “what a whacked group of people. These people are so wicked, evil. God’s so loving. Don’t they know that Jesus died on the cross for them?” Jesus didn’t die on the cross for them at this time. He will. The more I thought of this, the more I realized that this was some issue with some fallen depraved generation of 2,000 years ago. This was a default response of people who live in life who actually believe in Jesus, follow God, and go to church. I saw my own life. The first issue is about God and the fact that circumstances do not determine whether He loves us. In this passage, the historical setting is important to understand what is being conveyed in this prophetic message.
In the thousand years of the people of God’s existence in the Old Testament, we are coming to the end. The end is not the highlight or the gold medal moment of Israel’s existence. As a matter of fact, the highlight and the largest part where they had the greatest influence and national wealth was during the time of David and his son, King Solomon. After that, came a slow demise and a real downturn when the superpowers around the world began to dominate Israel. Israel has fallen so much that they no longer can have a king. Israel was now ruled by governors because other kings of foreign powers were dominating them. Subjugation by foreign nations. Not only have they fallen off the map politically, but financially they were no longer where they used to be. People used to come and give tribute to the Israelite kings. Now, they give tribute to other people. Let’s say the glory has passed.
Other books talk about how they were bemoaning the fact that as they rebuilt the Old Testament temple of God. It doesn’t even look close to what it used to be. It’s a shadow of what it was. Instead of saying, “oh, what a fallen group of people,” I realize it was a common thread in people and myself. When you and I experience a downturn in life, almost always the response, especially if you are a spiritual person, is where are you, God? We’re not talking about a blip. We’re talking about a massive downturn. We’re talking about you getting a job with half your pay, which is a common thing in this economy. You make money when you’re young. When you get older and try to get a job, it’s much harder. You realize when you’re 56, you’re not marketable anymore. That’s reality. Don’t tell me that you don’t feel bad when that happens. I felt bad when it happened to me. It happens in different areas of life. It can happen to your health, earning power, or relationships. It would be great for me to say, life always ends on a high note. You and I know that’s not true. Sometimes in life, it does end on a higher note. For many of us, as we journey for decades, there is a drop. We say, “where are you, God?” That’s very natural. What was being experienced by this ancient generation is something we experience in every generation that follows, who has a spiritual journey with God.
As the people of God, what Jesus tries to begin to change in us is the realization that the circumstances in life, with downturns, do not determine the degree of how much God loves you. It’s very important. I was watching the Olympics. It appears that Americans have won every other event. Next year, we will win every event. There’s no Olympics next year. That’s why we’ll win every event. There was one very interesting event. There’s a runner by the name of Allyson Felix. She’s old in terms of older in the standard age for competitors. She’s in her early thirties now, and I think this is her third Olympics. Allyson Felix is the most decorated female track Olympian. She has more medals.
During this Olympics, there was a race where she was favored to win the 400, her forte. She was penciled in to win. She was winning until the final step when a Jamaican leaped headfirst on a hard track and edged her out. This was her race. For me, I’m happy to run. But when you’re the favorite, if you don’t win, okay. I always wondered whether Allyson Felix was a person of faith. Last night I checked. Lo and behold, she was. Her father is a pastor. He is a New Testament professor at Master’s Seminary in Los Angeles. She wrote the day after she lost that she was disappointed, but ended her blog with this phrase, “all glory to God.”
Some of us are in a downturn and it’s a disappointment. Don’t let it convince you that God does not love you. He has demonstrated His love through the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. The best and one of the hardest things to learn in life is when you begin to downsize relationally, financially, and physically, you can say all glory to God. Do you know how hard that is? I’ll tell you. I can throw stones at these people for you to actually live it and say it. I just want to say that is hard. It’s one thing to preach it, it’s another thing to live it. That’s a hard thing. Well, we have to go on. The New York part’s going to come. We have to go on.
Malachi 2:6, “A son honors his father and a servant, his master. Then if I am a father, where is my honor? If I am a master, where is my respect?, says the Lord of hosts to you. Oh, priests who despise my name, but you say, how have we despised your name? You are presenting defiled food upon my altar. But you say, how have we defiled you? In that, you say the table of the Lord is to be despised, but when you present the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? When you present the lame and sick, is it not evil? Why do you offer it to your governor? Would he be pleased with you? Or would he receive you kindly?, says the Lord of hosts.” It just ends there.
What’s very interesting, it’s in the Old Testament. There were very, very high standards of sacrifice that had to be blemish-free, perfect, USDA grade. Triple, quadruple A, organic free-range. Everything and anything substandard was not considered acceptable by God. What is interesting, is not the fact that they were offering substandard offerings, but the attitude behind the offering. With action, there is always a motivation behind why you do the action. In the eyes of God, that is very important. Not that the action is not important, but the motivation that precedes the action is of more importance. The issue here is an honor. A son honors his father and a servant, his master. If I am a father, where is my honor? The second principle is about faith. There’s a difference between obligation and true love or true honor. I’ll put it in those words.
These ancient people, it’s not that they weren’t offering things to God. They were. Okay, a little substandard. God noticed it’s not passing the food inspectors. Behind that is this feeling that God notices. Beyond the act, there is the lack of honor they have before God. When I first read this, I said, “what a decrepit people! Don’t you see, God has eyes? Don’t you know there are always inspectors, the angels are inspectors? They got little thermometers or whatever. Making sure that the temperature of the food is right so it’s not spoiling.” The more I read that, it comes always to a point in my sermon development that I turn inward. It’s always when it turns inward that it gets very convicting toward me. Because when I turned it inward and I say, “how does this apply to me?” I said to myself, “man, I’m just like this. I’m just like this.”
I became a Christian about half a mile from that 115 picture in a little missions church in Downtown Manhattan. I’ve been a Christian for 53 years. I’ve been a pastor for two, going on three decades now. I’ve been in ministry a long time. I’ve been a Christian for a long time. I think I’m very, very competent in what I do. I want to tell you, I am so competent in what I do that there were times in my ministry and walk, I just mailed it in. You think it’s just what people see, the act, ritual, and tradition. God’s saying, “Hey, Jeff, where’s the honor?” But I do it well. Who cares if you do it well? Where’s the honor? Are you really doing it for me? Or you’re doing as a bunch of obligation, that’s your job.
For God, when it comes to faith, He understands the difference between obligation, mailing it in, and people who truly have honor and love for Him. I’ll tell you, it is so easy. Anyone who has done anything for a long period of time, and we’re talking decades, realizes how hard it is to keep your head from going into cruise control. Relationships come in. Sure, it’s fun the first month or year. The decades roll in. I’ll tell you, you could be there and not be there. Work is the same thing. Serving God, the same thing. The thing is after a thousand years, God is speaking to Malachi. He says, ‘look, it’s never about the cruise control or mailing it because you have to understand who you are worshiping and serving. Where is the fear of God? Don’t you know who He is? Many times, we forget who He is and replace it with ‘it’s all about what I need to do. There, the honor slips.
In Malachi two there is a third principle. This is another thing you do. “You cover the altar of the Lord with tears, weeping, and groaning because He no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. Yet you say, for what reason? Because the Lord has been a witness between you and your wife of your youth against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and wife by covenant. But not one has done so who has the remnant of the spirit. What did that one do while he was seeking a godly offspring? Take heed then to your spirit and let no one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth. For I hate divorce, says the Lord.”
What was happening back then? In the history of Israel, these people had just come back from long captivity. The whole nation was in prison in a foreign country, better known as Babylon, at this time. They come out and there are new inhabitants in the land. For a lot of people now, their spouses don’t look as attractive and young as the new inhabitants in the land. Even though they do not have the same faith in the God of Israel as their spouses did, the people now there were more exciting. There was a huge issue of breaking-up relationships. I think it’s self-explanatory, but there’s a principle here that transcends this because within it is this aspect of worship. The people are crying and groaning in public worship and God’s not answering them. Number three is behavior.
Life’s decisions are as important as public worship. I might even say life’s decisions are more important than public worship or are the foundation of public worship. I don’t want to say that public worship is not important. I’m saying, as you live life, that is what God is looking at. These people are crying and groaning. I’m thinking they have a good time. They have a good time in worship. From the eyes of God, He’s saying, ‘I don’t care how many times you cry. The way you live your life in the most intimate and hidden areas is what I’m looking at. How dare you come to me? Worship, gather to worship, have a good time of worship, and then in the other areas of life, you treat people badly. You’re not being faithful.
That’s the nature of religion. We live our private life, a separation between church and state. God doesn’t care about our private life. No, the way that God deals with our private life comes into public worship, and you always understand it. You can’t separate it, but we always do. Especially in America, we always do. Two nights ago, my wife and I were talking about a relative. A comment was made about this relative who is very involved in church. It seems he has a verse for everything. A comment was made saying that there’s an aspect of this person that is very bad because this person knows all these verses and serves in church, but treats his family the worst. He treats them the worst.
That’s what it’s talking about here. You can do everything for God, but the decisions you make in life and other areas outside of the corporate worship reality bring it in as the foundation of your worship. Don’t see it as a disassociation. Private and public life, it’s separate. Private life and public worship are separate. No, it’s not. Perhaps it’s separate in your workplace because they can’t hold you accountable for how you live your life privately. I’ll tell you, that’s the nature of Christ and God. There is no dissociation. There is an uplifting of how faith changes the relational and intimate areas of our life. In this aspect, our Lord is transformational and extremely radical in how He approaches connecting the dots in life.
The final passage is Malachi 3. “Behold, I’m going to send my messenger and he will clear the way before me and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to His temple and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, He is coming, says the Lord of hosts. Who can endure the day of His coming and who can stand when He appears. For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fuller’s soap. He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Israel and refine them like gold and silver so that they may present to the Lord offerings in righteousness.”
There are many themes in this. This is very Messianic. It’s about the prediction of Christ’s coming. I want to just go quickly over some of the things. It talks about purification. So that we may present and live our lives no longer disassociated with the other aspects of emotion and life choices, but in connection to present offerings in righteousness. Righteousness, as it is emphasized, that Malachi is not meeting up to the specs that the government has met as a standard. It is the emotion. It is the life choices connected with your life, with God. There is now a union and that is the purpose of Christ. The fourth principle will come up. Christ, we need to allow Him to refine us. Without Christ, I’m just like these people. I’m just like them. I’m a slave to circumstance, mail it in. I separate my public persona from my private. It takes Malachi saying, “The prophets couldn’t make the change, but Christ will. He will bring the union of life choice, emotion, and worship.”
I have to tell you, it is the end. It is the journey of transformation and change. The process of that is one of the most remarkable aspects of my journey in these last 53 years with Christ. From a default understanding of religion and religious activity to finally understanding that it is Christ who was molding and changing me in ways that are connecting everything. So that I’m calmer, more joyous, and a less hypocritical person in life. I can say that I am no better than any of these people who lived during Malachi’s generation. What changes me is not myself, but it is Christ who has begun to transform me and change me. I have to say before the final prayer, you need to allow Christ to begin and continue to change you because there will be many times we will slip back into these default modes of religion.
Some of you need to love the people in your life better. Others need to find confidence in God in the downturn. For others, stop mailing it in. It is God who you’re dealing with. This is a great book. I’m impressed by Malachi. Allow me to give the final prayer, and after that, the receiving of offering and a final song. Our heavenly Father, I pray for these, my friends. May your grace be upon these friends of mine. Uplift them Lord in Christ so that we are not just religious people or people of obligation, but we are people who are unified in our love for you and our honor to you, in the love we have for people around us. There’s a connection of all this in Christ. We pray this in Jesus’s name. Amen.