Clearing the Path

There is a farm in Pennsylvania that sits on 16 acres of beautiful hills and open fields. A creek runs through it, and when you climb to the highest point of the property you can see miles and miles of pastoral farmland in every direction. When my husband’s grandmother was alive, we would visit this place on weekends when we were in college and hike a well-groomed path through patches of trees and blackberry bushes to glimpse the vista.

His grandfather had carefully laid out the path many decades before, taking advantage of the natural topography so that the walker would experience the best parts of the land. The path was maintained every spring with mowing and clearing so that when you walked it, you were safe and protected. When you emerged from the trees to the open fields, all of God’s beauty was spread out before you.

Throughout Biblical history, God has been clearing out paths between us and heaven itself. God’s word, will, prophecies, and plans are all designed to lead us from the darkness of sin and death to new life through Christ. God carefully designs and grooms the way to salvation in a clearly defined path. Are we wise enough to follow?

Our scripture today comes from the book of Malachi. According to Britannica.com, Malachi was written to address the impending day of judgment in an effort to prepare the nation for what was to come:

The book consists of six distinct sections, each in the form of a question-and-answer discussion. With the aid of this unusual discussion technique, the prophet defends the justice of God to a community that had begun to doubt that justice because its eschatological (end of the world) expectations were still unfulfilled. The author calls for fidelity to Yahweh’s covenant. He emphasizes the necessity of proper worship, condemns divorce, and announces that the day of judgment is imminent. Faithfulness to these ritual and moral responsibilities will be rewarded; unfaithfulness will bring a curse.

When you read this, look for how God is clearing a path for the people to follow:

Malachi 3:1-4 (Common English Bible)

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.

It was always the mission of the Old and New Testament prophets to bring God’s message of covenant and reversal. God established a covenant through Abraham, reinforced it through Joseph, and defined it through Moses. The covenant promise continues through the major and minor prophets and always carries both warnings and hope. New life will happen, but a cleansing must occur first. We know that in a reversal of their expectations, God sent Jesus.

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.

We see this prophecy fulfilled in the form of Jesus, who was sent to do the final and ultimate refining. Those who repent and believe in him will never perish, but will have eternal life. They will become a righteous and pleasing offering to the Lord. Only in this way can any of us endure the day of his coming. Sounds scary, yes? But hang on….the hope is coming.

The offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord
        as in ancient days and in former years.

God’s covenant with Judah and Jerusalem will be fulfilled in the second coming of Christ. We can count on it! The ancient relationship between God and God’s people will come full circle when Jesus returns to claim us. What we need to do in the meantime is submit to the refining process.

Where is God trying to refine you right now? What hot, cleansing fire are you in? Is he trying to purge impurities out of your life so that you will be ready for a blessing?

Pay attention. You belong to the Lord. God has cleared out this path so that you are safe and protected as you follow his ways…you have nothing to fear.

Liquid Gold by Michelle Robertson

No Time to Waste

What would you do if you found out you were going to die next week? Would you change anything, make amends, have a party, or sit in grief? A few years ago, my husband received a false diagnosis. He was experiencing chest pains on a flight home, so he drove himself (NOT RECOMMENDED, BY THE WAY) to the nearest Emergency Room when he landed. It was determined that he was not having a heart attack, but an x-ray revealed a mass in his lung. A mournful radiologist informed him that further tests were needed, but it looked like cancer.

The next day he returned for the further tests and met with a specialist who informed him that he had pneumonia and would need several rounds of strong antibiotics. We praised God and that was that. But in the 24 hours between hearing “cancer” and “pneumonia,” he did a lot of reassessing of priorities. One of the funnier decisions he made was that he would take the entire family to Disney’s Boardwalk Inn for a couple of weeks. We would stay in the posh Steeplechase Suite, which is a penthouse suite of rooms that includes bedrooms, a dining room, a living room and a kitchen. It even has a full-length balcony overlooking the water. We like to tease him about that, and I have to say that those 24 hours helped all of us refocus on the priority of family. Since then we have made a much more concerted effort to be together. There is no time to waste.

In Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth, he tells them that the second coming of Christ was imminent. He encourages them to simplify their lives in preparation. He invites them to reassess their daily routines:

1 Corinthians 7 (The Message)

29-31 I do want to point out, friends, that time is of the essence. There is no time to waste, so don’t complicate your lives unnecessarily. Keep it simple—in marriage, grief, joy, whatever. Even in ordinary things—your daily routines of shopping, and so on.

There are several things that jump out here. Simplifying marriage might mean not reacting to every little picky thing and starting endless arguments. Simplifying grief might mean setting aside a set time to grieve each day and then getting on with things. Simplifying joy might entail celebrating a moment and then moving on to other priorities. But look closely at this next part.

Deal as sparingly as possible with the things the world thrusts on you. This world as you see it is fading away.

Deal as sparingly as possible with the things the world thrusts on you. This is just as relevant today as it was when he wrote it. Truly the news of the world, with all of its despair, violence, injustice, inequality, evil, and pure hatred will consume your daily routine if you let it. TURN OFF THE NEWS, PEOPLE. There is no time to waste in wallowing in things you can’t control.

We are still waiting for Christ to return, and Paul reminds us to make it good time. So evaluate your priorities. Spend time in prayer, scripture reading, witnessing, sharing your joy with your family and friends, and above all, keep it simple. There is no time to waste.

Simplifying Joy by Connie Outten