February 2023

Unfaithful, 26 February 2023

Honor: The Book of Malachi
Malachi 2:1-16

Series Big Idea: The last book of the Jewish Bible (Old Testament) offers challenging words about bringing honor to the LORD.
Big Idea: Our faithful God calls us to be faithful…to Him and one another.
What is your favorite attribute of God? We know God is love. He is holy. He is righteous and just. He is ever-present, all-powerful, and all-knowing. My favorite aspect of God’s character is His faithfulness. My favorite hymn declares
Great is Thy Faithfulness.
Faithful. Full of faith. Remaining loyal and steadfast. True. Devoted. Unwavering. Constant. Does that describe God? Does that describe you?
Last Sunday, Pastor Donald kicked off Honor, our series on the book of Malachi, the last book in the Jewish Bible, the Old Testament. It’s important to understand the context. Malachi is a powerful, prophetic message to God’s people who have been unfaithful to Him…and chapter two begins with a warning to the priests.
“Listen, you priests—this command is for you! (Malachi 2:1, NLT)
I wish priests, pastors, Christian leaders were known as the most godly people in the community. It breaks my heart every time I hear of the moral failure of minister…and yet I know I fall short. I’m not perfect. I need God’s forgiveness, grace, and mercy for my pride, my selfishness, my lack of faith, my worry,…
Listen to me and make up your minds to honor my name,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, “or I will bring a terrible curse against you. I will curse even the blessings you receive. Indeed, I have already cursed them, because you have not taken my warning to heart. (Malachi 2:2, NLT)
One role of Old Testament priests was pronouncing blessings on God’s people, but God threatens to turn them into curses.
I will punish your descendants and splatter your faces with the manure from your festival sacrifices, and I will throw you on the manure pile. 4 Then at last you will know it was I who sent you this warning so that my covenant with the Levites can continue,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. (Malachi 2:3-4, NLT)
God doesn’t sound happy! God hates religion, or at least half-hearted, when-it’s-convenient, going-through-the-motions activity. Have you ever done this? Maybe you’re there right now…here not to truly pursue God, but to do your religious duty for the week. The priests were not honoring God, so God was threatening to make them unclean, literally and figuratively.
This text was not written to us, obviously. It was written to a people almost 2500 years ago, but there are common patterns humans seem to engage, regardless of time or culture.
Back in November, I mentioned Pastor Soper’s summary of the cycle the people of Israel went through during the Old Testament.

Israel forgets God >>> Israel forsakes God >>> Israel worships other gods >>> God sends judgment upon Israel >>> Israel cries out to God >>> God raises up a deliverer >>> God saves Israel >>> Israel pledges to serve God >>> [repeat]
Perhaps this same cycle is relevant today. If so, where are we? Where are you?
I want to stress we’re still looking at warnings to the priests.
“The purpose of my covenant with the Levites was to bring life and peace, and that is what I gave them. This required reverence from them, and they greatly revered me and stood in awe of my name. 6 They passed on to the people the truth of the instructions they received from me. They did not lie or cheat; they walked with me, living good and righteous lives, and they turned many from lives of sin. (Malachi 2:5-6, NLT)
That’s what Old Testament priests were supposed to do. They were to teach the Law and acts as messengers of God. Today, the role of the priests and clergy is first to set an example for others to follow (“Follow me as I follow Christ,” Paul wrote) and then to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry. This is known as the priesthood of all believers.
We are all called to be priests, to be missionaries, to make disciples, to worship God with all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our mind, and all of our strength. We are all called to love our neighbors as ourselves.
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10, NLT)
But back to the Old Testament priests…
“The words of a priest’s lips should preserve knowledge of God, and people should go to him for instruction, for the priest is the messenger of the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. (Malachi 2:7, NLT)
Then we have that all-too common preposition.
But you priests have left God’s paths. Your instructions have caused many to stumble into sin. You have corrupted the covenant I made with the Levites,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. 9 “So I have made you despised and humiliated in the eyes of all the people. For you have not obeyed me but have shown favoritism in the way you carry out my instructions.” (Malachi 2:8-9, NLT)
This is sobering, especially for a professional Christian like me! But this is relevant for you, too. Have you caused anyone to sin? Have you wandered from the LORD? Is your life one worth imitating?
Now the message shifts from the priests to all believers, what is known as the third oracle of Malachi…three questions.
Are we not all children of the same Father? Are we not all created by the same God? Then why do we betray each other, violating the covenant of our ancestors? (Malachi 2:10, NLT)
These people have one Father, a reference to God or possibly Abraham. They are all masterpieces created by the same God, but they’ve been unfaithful not only to God, but to one another.
Judah has been unfaithful, and a detestable thing has been done in Israel and in Jerusalem. The men of Judah have defiled the LORD’s beloved sanctuary by marrying women who worship idols. 12 May the LORD cut off from the nation of Israel every last man who has done this and yet brings an offering to the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. (Malachi 2:11-12, NLT)
They have been detestable! History is filled with people—men and women—who have been led astray by their spouses. The Jews were not to marry those of other faiths because God knew their hearts would be led astray. There are many examples of this, both then and now, and the penalty was strict…cut off from the nation, either a literal death or that they would have no descendants. The reference to offerings is yet another declaration that religious activity without obedience is worthless. To obey is better than sacrifice. God wants all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength…24/7/365, not just an hour on Sunday. But let’s go back to the point of this detestable thing…intermarrying with pagans, with those who worship other gods.
You are your friends. Choose wisely. This is why Paul wrote,
Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers. How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14, NLT)
We often apply this to dating, forbidding Christians from marrying non-Christians. This is so vital. There are some unusual examples of “missionary dating” being successful, but too often well-meaning Christians dating non-Christians are lured into abandoning their faith. This command could be relevant in other relationships, too. This does not mean we are to avoid unbelievers. We are simply not to be influenced by them. Light should penetrate the darkness, not the other way around. Someone said,
“When Jesus hung out with sinners…they changed. He didn’t.” We are to be in the world, but not of it.
When we talk about the holiness of God, we’re speaking of how He is set apart, distinct, different. It is our calling, too…all of us. We are not supposed to act like the world. We are not supposed to do what they do, but rather live an alternative lifestyle of righteousness, integrity, generosity, compassion, and most of all love.
I get angry when I hear accounts of so-called Christians behaving just like the world, seeking power for their sake, ignoring those in need, embracing lifestyles forbidden in scripture, spewing pride, and even promoting violence. There’s a great scene in the tenth chapter of Mark. James and John, two of the disciples, asked Jesus if they could sit on his right and left in his glory.
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. (Mark 10:42, NIV)
Power is seductive. It is attractive. It’s one of the greatest temptations. Jesus continues,
Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:43-45, NIV)
The Bible is true. Every word. Problems arise when we ignore the Bible or misunderstand it. Some statements—especially in the Old Testament—applied to particular people in a particular time, but Jesus’ words are usually universal, and this is clearly the case here.
Most of us love the idea of being a servant…until we’re treated like one! Jesus is our perfect example, and its only by knowing Jesus and being filled with the Holy Spirit that we can become like Jesus. It’s not about trying harder. It’s not the result of a new year’s resolution or a self-help book. You are your friends. Choose wisely. Choose Jesus. Now another subject emerges.
Here is another thing you do. You cover the LORD’s altar with tears, weeping and groaning because he pays no attention to your offerings and doesn’t accept them with pleasure. (Malachi 2:13, NLT)
When is the last time you cried out to God? What makes you weep? What causes you to groan in desperation? Sometimes God’s response to our prayers is related to our obedience…or disobedience. I am
not saying if you’re a good boy or girl God will grant your every wish. I’m not saying if your prayers aren’t answered how and when you want, it’s the result of sin. But in this case, God identifies the problem with their worship. Their crocodile tears are not the result of sincere worship. They have been unfaithful.
You cry out, “Why doesn’t the LORD accept my worship?” I’ll tell you why! Because the LORD witnessed the vows you and your wife made when you were young. But you have been unfaithful to her, though she remained your faithful partner, the wife of your marriage vows. (Malachi 2:14, NLT)
Wait, God cares about my marriage? He cares about my faithfulness to my spouse? In a word, yes!
Didn’t the LORD make you one with your wife? In body and spirit you are his. And what does he want? Godly children from your union. So guard your heart; remain loyal to the wife of your youth. (Malachi 2:15, NLT)
Most of you who are married made vows, not only to your spouse, but also to God. It’s one thing to break a promise to a person, but another to be unfaithful to God.
If you’re married, are you honoring your vows? Are you faithful in sickness and in health? I have to admit when I spoke those words almost 33 years ago, I didn’t imagine pushing a wheelchair all winter. I never imagined COVID. I didn’t anticipate surgeries. And I have no regrets!
Better or worse. We never really think about the worse part. What if a child is seriously sick. What happens when a career change is made, a job relocation, a car breakdown, or mental illness in the family? How do you respond when your husband drives over your foot with your Jeep in front of the church building?!
Richer or poorer. I suppose this one is easy for young couples to envision since they’re often poor as church mice like Heather and I were when we got married.
Married people, guard your heart. Protect your marriage. Kindle your romance. Remain loyal to your spouse…even when you don’t feel like it. Be faithful.
I want to pause for a moment and address those of you who are not married. If you’ve never been married, I want to say I’m sorry…not because you’re single, but because of the way Christians and churches often treat singleness as some kind of disease…when the Bible clearly teaches it is better for some not to marry. Marriage is not the fix-all, cure-all guaranteed to “complete you.” It’s hard work. It can take your focus off God if you’re not careful. There’s nothing wrong with you if you’re single, whether you choose it or haven’t met the right person yet. Married people, let’s stop treating singles as second-class citizens. Instead, let’s welcome them into our families. Let’s do life with them.
Some of you are unmarried as a result of death. I’m so sorry for your loss and pray God floods your life with peace and comfort.
Some of you are unmarried as a result of divorce. Malachi addresses you, too.
“For I hate divorce!” says the LORD, the God of Israel. “To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. “So guard your heart; do not be unfaithful to your wife.” (Malachi 2:16, NLT)
God hates divorce, but He does not hate divorcees. There are many reasons why people get divorced, some permitted by scripture, others not. Many divorcees never wanted a divorce. Those seeking divorce to end all of their problems are often disappointed. Divorce is messy…and expensive…and often inevitable. God hates it because He knows the pain it causes. It violates His plan for a man and woman to be one and, frequently, create a family together. Marriage is a beautiful symbol of His relationship with His people.
If you’re married, guard your heart and be faithful to your spouse.
If you’re single, embrace the benefits of your marital status. Single parents, I realize this is especially challenging. You have the toughest job in the world, but remember you’re a part of a family. Get connected to a
Life Group. Take some initiative. If you’re new around here, come to the After Party today. We see you. God sees you. You don’t have to do this by yourself. You weren’t meant to do this by yourself. We were all created for community. We are different part of the body of Christ and we need one another, We need to be faithful to one another, and faithful to God.
If you are seeking a perfect mate, focus on being the perfect mate…and be patient.
If you’re divorced, receive God’s grace, mercy, and healing.
God hates divorce because it hurts people. It may be necessary, but it still causes pain.
God’s vision is for family is clear from the opening pages of the Bible: one man and one woman may marry, which often leads to children. Single people are to remain committed to celibacy.
But the message of this text is more than the faithfulness of a husband and wife. It’s about the relationship between God and Israel. The prophets spoke numerous times about God divorcing Israel, His “wife,” for unfaithfulness.
Our faithful God calls all of us to be faithful…to Him and one another. He is good. Hallelujah!

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

You can watch this video and others at the First Alliance Church Video Library

Prayer as an Expression of Hope, 5 February 2023

Prayer as an Expression of Hope
40 Days of Prayer

Matthew 6:13b; Mark 13:24-26

Series Big Idea: We are beginning the new year on our knees, joining other Alliance churches for 40 Days of Prayer.
Big Idea: Prayer produces hope as we are reminded of the power and glory of God.
Someone has said humans can go
40 days without food
3 days without water
8 minutes without air
1 second without hope
Author Lewis B. Smedes put it this way:
Hope is to our spirits what oxygen is to our lungs. Lose hope and you die. They may not bury you for a while, but without hope you are dead inside. The only way to face the future is to fly straight into it on the wings of hope…hope is the energy of the soul. Hope is the power of tomorrow.   
Who could use a little more hope?
What exactly is hope? It is a verb. I can say, “I hope the Philadelphia Eagles win the Super Bowl next Sunday.” It is also a noun. We can be full of hope. The Greek word for hope used in the Bible is”elpis,” meaning to anticipate, usually with pleasure; expectation or confidence.
Like faith, the power of hope lies not in the person hoping, but rather the object of hope. I can hope this chair will hold me up, but I have no bearing on whether or not it breaks. That belongs to the chair and its strength.
You can hope for anything…a new car, a perfect spouse, a wonderful job, 80 degrees and sunny! In the business world, it has been said that hope is not a strategy…”I hope we start to make some sales so we don’t go bankrupt.”
Today we finish our 40 Days of Prayer series with our Christian & Missionary Alliance family.
We’ve been looking at the LORD’s Prayer, the prayer Jesus taught His disciples to pray.
We began with prayer as Worship:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name;
Then prayer as Kingdom Partnership:
thy kingdom come; thy will be done; on earth as it is in heaven.  
Prayer as Petition:
Give us this day our daily bread.  
Prayer as Confession:
And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those
who trespass against us.  
Prayer as Spiritual Warfare:
And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.

One of my frustrations about prayer is when people make it about a list instead of a relationship. Jason did a great job a few weeks ago preaching about “give us this day our daily bread.” We
are to ask God for things. He’s a good, good Father who gives good gifts to His children. But a wish list is not a relationship. We were created to know God and be known by Him. Prayer is not just talking to God. It’s not just talking with God. I submit to you that prayer is doing life with God.
Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica,
Never stop praying. (1 Thessalonians 5:17, NLT)

How can we do that?
If I close my eyes and fold my hands while I drive my car…
How can I pray when I’m asleep?
How can I pray when I’m at work focusing on a project?
If prayer is something we do, we must surely stop.
If prayer is something we are, we can never stop praying.

Allow me to explain what I mean. Ever since I married Heather, I have been involved in a marriage. Date nights are a part of marriage. Phone calls and texts are a part of marriage. But I’m still married when I’m asleep. I’m still married when I’m out of town. I’m still married when I’m at the office. Why? Because marriage is about a relationship.
I have a different relationship with the barista at Biggby Coffee. I go there for a transaction…I ask for tea, I pay the barista, and they give me tea. Period.
Tragically, many treat prayer like a barista transaction. God, this is what I want. Give it to me. Now, please. If not, I will be angry, doubt You, or even abandon You.
Prayer is not about a transaction. Prayer is about a relationship, and relationships are not just what we do, but who we are.
It is vital for us to have “dates” with God where we set aside everything and focus on Him. For many, closing the eyes, bowing the head, and folding the hands can aid in that focus. But prayer doesn’t end when we say amen. Our relationship with God continues throughout the day and night.

Never stop praying. (1 Thessalonians 5:17, NLT)
Today’s theme is Prayer as an Expression of Hope:
For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.
Why is this an expression of hope?
God and His Kingdom are forever.
Last week I was driving around my old stomping grounds in Ann Arbor. It’s been about seven and a half years since we moved from Michigan to Toledo, and in less than a decade, so much has changed. New people live in many of the homes in our old neighborhood. Stores I used to frequent have closed. I ate breakfast in a new restaurant in space that used to be a different establishment.
I drove by The Big House—Michigan Stadium—and what used to be a cutting edge, high tech video board has been taken down, most likely to be replaced by an even brighter, higher-definition one.
Everywhere we look, our world is changing. Few people stay at the same company throughout their career. Little people grow up to become big people. The weather is constantly changing. People even change spouses when their marriages fail.
It’s no wonder people are desperate for hope. One pastor recently wrote, “We no longer trust the government, the medical profession, the judicial system, our academic institutions, or our churches.”
But God and His Kingdom are forever! That’s real hope. One of Jesus’ best friends, Peter, wrote,
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, (1 Peter 1:3, NIV)
A living hope. Jesus died to give us hope, forgiveness, peace, reconciliation to our heavenly Father, but then rose from the dead. That’s real power! That’s real hope!
When we hope in temporary things, we’ll always be disappointed. They become false hope. Paul said to his apprentice, Timothy…
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. (1 Timothy 6:17, NIV)
Followers of Jesus view their resources as something to steward, to share, not something to worship. Where is your hope today?
Even in the midst of trials, we can have hope. In fact, it is through trails that we encounter hope. Listen to these words:
We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. 4 And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. 5 And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. (Romans 5:3-5, NLT)
When is the last time you rejoiced over your problems and trials? It sounds crazy, right, but you can trust God’s Word to be true. None of us enjoy suffering, but suffering shapes us. It develops our character. It makes us stronger.
For the past five weeks or so, Heather has been using crutches due to a broken foot. The crutches are uncomfortable and she is using her arms in ways she’s never done before, but those muscles are getting stronger. In the same way, when we are tested, our character grows. Furthermore, we’re reminded of our weaknesses, how little we can control, and the hope of heaven. The hope of salvation. The hope of eternity with God.
Some of you are struggling right now, and I want to encourage you and tell you two things:
1.    You are seen. God sees you. If you’ve shared with others, they see you. You are loved. You are accepted. You matter. You belong here. You are family. No matter what you’ve done.
    Your story is not over. If you are a follower of Jesus, the best is yet to come. I promise! Here’s a glimpse of what’s ahead:
“At that time, after the anguish of those days, the sun will be darkened, the moon will give no light, the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
Then everyone will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds with great power and glory. (Mark 13:24-26, NLT)
That’s hope! That’s what we have to look forward to very soon! Be encouraged, family.
This prayer in Romans perfectly describes how I feel about you.
I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13, NLT)
Please open your Bibles to Matthew chapter 6. We’re going to look at the end of verse 13.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. (Matthew 6:13b, NKJV)
How many of you see that? How many of you don’t? This is called the doxology, and it’s missing in many Bible translations, though there’s probably a footnote somewhere. Let Dr. Scot McKnight explain:
Readers of most editions of the Bible will find a note that the best and earliest manuscripts do not have the commonly recited doxology at the end of the Lord’s Prayer: “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen” (KJV). Neither does Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer in Luke 11:1 – 4 have a doxology. Those words appear to have been formed on the basis of 1 Chronicles 29:11 – 13 by someone later than Jesus and the writing of the gospel of Matthew; the doxology was added to the Lord’s Prayer in public prayer, and then was gradually added to the text of the New Testament itself. We recite them today because the public recitation of the Lord’s Prayer seems incomplete without such an ending.
The Story of God Bible Commentary)
It’s a fitting conclusion to the prayer, reminding us that God is worthy of our praise. He is all-powerful. There is evidence of His Kingdom breaking forth here on earth, but more is to come.
As we pray, we can praise and prepare for eternity.
The next life will be filled with music, praise, and adoration. I don’t expect to play a harp on a cloud, but we will certainly worship Almighty God. When we sing, we prepare. When we look back at Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and the miraculous resurrection, we are reminded of who he is and why he is worthy.
Jesus Messiah
All our hope is in you, Jesus, the light of the world!

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

You can watch this video and others at the First Alliance Church Video Library