No Longer Slaves, Week 3 — “Debris Field”

Yesterday’s message …

  • Allowed me to introduce our local partners in No Longer Slaves, Lily Pad Haven Ministries.
  • Drew from God’s words through Malachi to the children of Israel;
  • Focused on the image of the Refiner’s Fire.
  • Led to this bottom line: God removes debris to reveal design.


Have you ever noticed that if you have some litter, some clutter, some DEBRIS around your house or your apartment and you don’t remove it quickly, you just get USED to it?  Almost stop seeing it?  It works this way in my garage (pic).  There will be leaves, grass, furballs, spider webs, and I simply stop seeing them.  They’re obscuring the original, beautiful, clean garage and really, the only time I really think about it is when I drive past my neighbor’s house and his garage door is open and it is SPOTLESS and then, very briefly, I’m like, “I might be able to get mine looking like that one day.”  But then I get home and it’s “nope.”  I stop seeing what I ave allowed & tolerated.  You could say I’ve …. Settled.

                Most of you probably know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s true of your garage. Or your front yard.  Or back yard.  Or it’s true of your car … you’ve got wrappers from Chick Fil A 1995 still in there!  They’ve changed the menu and the logo since then!  Or it might be your health … you don’t do much for fitness, you’ve added some pounds, the extra beer at night is making your skin a bit splotchy, but you’ve stopped really seeing that debris a long time ago because you’ve settled.  It could be your marriage, layers of resentment obscuring the love that got it started.  Or even your connection to God, cluttered with the refuse of life because you never eliminated it and you tolerate it.  We’ve all got stuff that has settled IN to the landscape of our lives because we’ve settled FOR co-existence with it.  Like the bumper sticker!! (AV)

                And the thing is, the price of settling, of accepting the debris field that obscures potential, is so enormously high.  It’ why you’re still in that job you hate.  It’s why you tolerate the high levels of animosity in that marriage.  It’s why you start that away and alone time with God but give up on it after two weeks.  It’s why the bible is still an alien landscape.  Oh you’re glad you go to a church we we’re bible lifters and not bible scoffers, but the fact remains you never step foot in that wild and woolly library.  Or, even more ominously, it’s why you don’t remember that night three weeks ago and your friends have told you what you did but you sure hope you didn’t.  Actually, you came to church today to wipe some of that guilt off.  And it’s why some of you who are married have an intimacy deficit because your give your best self to fantasy on the computer.

                Yeah, ppl have settled FOR letting debris settle ON them for a long time.  Malachi, the last book in the OT, written before a 400 year period of silence betwixt the Testaments, addresses such a time as that.  Now: when we get to Malachi the people of Israel have been through about 300 years of defeat, displacement, and then return.  By all accounts, Malachi addresses a group of people who had lived through or at least heard about upheaval and turmoil, a group of people who against all odds were back home in Jerusalem, AND who appear to be settling in to the same kind of patterns of sin that got them in trouble in the first place!!!  For Israel, those sins-worthy-of-punishment always involved worshipping false gods and mistreating the poor.  You KNOW they were waiting for better days to come!  Reading their stories is like singing 99 Bottles Of Beer On The Wall:  second verse, same as the first.  If I believed in reincarnation, I’d say Malachi’s Jews were the reinc of the ppl Jeremiah and Micah. But I don’t, so they weren’t.  I don’t believe in reincarnation, but I do believe that some ppl never learn.  So Malachi becomes God’s mouthpiece for dealing with THIS generation’s litter.

                Look at 2:17, told in the sort of dialog fashion that is typical of much of the book: 

17 You have wearied the Lord with your words.

“How have we wearied him?” you ask.

By saying, “All who do evil are good in the eyes of the Lord, and he is pleased with them” or “Where is the God of justice?”

Listen y’all, God is saying, I’m tired and you are tedious.  Why does God say that?  Because they have reversed right and wrong. God is like:  You’ve called greed GOOD.  You’ve called racism MY WILL.  You’ve redefined marriage and called it LOVE.  You’ve elevated your opinion to the highest authority and called it “spirituality.”  And then in a moment of exasperation, God gives his next move:  READ 3:1a. 

“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. “

The church has historically read this as a foreshadow of John the Baptist.  We don’t know if there was a nearer, sooner, answer but they have to wait another 400 years or so before John got there.  Can you imagine telling people who’ve already been waiting like 300 years they’re gonna have to wait 400 more? 

                And even when John gets there, is he the answer?  If you know your history (and if you don’t, that’s OK) John appears on the stage but his job is to exit stage left once Jesus comes.  So:  wait it out.  Wait for John who is gonna make you wait for Jesus.  I have stuff I want to do but you need to wait for it. Because, APPARENTLY, there is something God does in the delay, there is a purpose to the wait that can’t be filled any other way.  Because look at the rest of 3:1:

Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.

How cool is this?  A reference to the Messiah and the ID of the Messiah the Lord.  Not a rep of the Lord.  Just the Lord.  That’s who we believe Jesus is, by the way.

                But Messiah – while people are WAITING for the next great thing, the next big break, for the chance to live up to their potential – is coming and is ministry will be FOR OUR BENEFIT BUT NOT TO OUR LIKING.  Look at 3:2:

But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.

Gulp.  He is working for your good but not for you ease.  You often won’t like what this Messiah does, at Christmas or any other time.  And look look look: he is a REFINER’S FIRE. Do you know how that works?  This way: silver has impurities, debris, FLAWS that obscures its true beauty.  The refining fire burns off the dross and leaves what’s pure.  Debris is gone; essence remains. 

                And that’s what Malachi says God does, not only for those waiting for Messiah, but I’d say for those waiting for what’s next.  Like you.  Like me.  When we’re waiting for the next thing or the next break, God rather uncomfortably pushes us away from settling and into refining.  He works in a way that is beneficial but not comfortable.  Look at 3:4:

and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.

Notice the “former years”?  Know the implication there?  That for Israel is a nation and us as people, there is an ORIGINAL, an AUTHENTIC, a DESIGN.  That God continuously wants us reconnecting with.  Because I believe God wanted Israel then and wants you and me now to STOP SETTLING and if he has to put us through some fire to get us there, he’ll do it.  Instead of WAITING for the next thing to happen or for life to get better on its own, he wants us to partner with him what he is doing in our lives, uncomfortable or not.  Here’s what he longs to do with all of us who have settled; all who have stopped seeing the clutter that obscures who we really are & who we could be:  God removes debris to reveal design. 

                You’ve settled for all kinds of compromise, all kinds of sin, all kinds of mediocrity, all kinds of complacency and the sad result is that it has built up and blocked out the real you.  The pure silver underneath the dross.  And so No Longer Slaves is the thrilling year that God invites you to let him do the hard work of removing debris to reveal what he has designed. 

                Because know this:  there IS a designed you.  A potential you. A you who has been fashioned as a piece of work, designed for relationships that work and a spirit that is in union with your Maker.  A designed you who can go to bed at night, do a searching and fearless moral inventory of the day, and sleep with a clear conscience.  A designed you who can actually introduce others to a living relationship with Jesus Christ.  Yeah, you!

                But when that designed you gets debris of sin or complacency all over it God won’t disregard sin to dispense blessing.  He’s not going to overlook rebellion in order to give you an overflow of favor.  I just know that in my case, he keeps delaying answers to some very specific prayers I’ve been praying a long time to rid me of my entitlement mentality.  I can be so “I’ve earned this, I need this, so NOW!”  And God would much rather me pursue relationship with him as opposed to the things I can get from him.  Did you hear that?  And so if he has to bring frustration and delay and even the fire of despair sometime to get me to see it, that’s what he will do.  REFRAIN.

                My goodness, some of you remember Chuck Colson.  (AV).  Time in prison for his shenanigans during the Watergate cover up.  Went from Ivy League degree to wearing an orange jumpsuit.  Know what? Colson later in life said prison saved his life. Because God had to rid him of ambition, deceit, and greed, and had to reveal the DESIGNED Chuck Colson who became one of the leading Xn thinkers of the last 50 years or so.  REFRAIN

                Or it’s like the great insight from Joni Erickson Tada: READ Contemp #239 is your trial an excuse for sinning? Wow.

                I want you to see how gracious a refiner’s fire is. It’s not a forest fire, which burns indiscriminately.  It’s not an incinerator, which burns comprehensively.  A refiner’s fire is controlled, targeted, and purposeful.  It could be the night in jail.  It could be the night on the couch.  It could be the job you lost.  It could be the girl who broke up with you.  It could be the church goal not met.  God so wants to display the DESINGED you he created that if he has to walk you through fire to get you there, then he will do it.  REFRAIN

                What I like most about Malachi’s teaching here is how much it gets us out of victim mentality.  Instead of crying out POOR ME! in situations, we move it to WHAT IS GOD TEACHING ME?

                So … when you get let go … AGAIN … from work, instead of they’re out to get me it’s what is God teaching me?  Why am I the common denominator here? 

                Or … when a relationship goes south … AGAIN, instead of why can’t I FIND the right person? It becomes, I must not BE the right person.  What is God showing me? 

                Or … when you can think of a million reasons NOT to share what Jesus has done in your life, instead of I’m scared! I don’t want to offend!  It becomes I am so loved and so empowered how can I not tell?  What is God showing me? 

                I get so caught up in the potential people have.  I happen to think the one of the best things a church can do is NOT to enable mediocrity but to empower beauty.  But it doesn’t come easily or quickly or without dealing with the sin that entangles you.  God won’t do it for you.  He will do it with you. 

All this is why I’m so glad to introduce our partners with Lily Pad Haven. Do you see how it works? You allow God to remove the debris obscuring the designed you and along the way, you’ll partner with God in removing all that’s been done to these young women — each one a blood bought daughter of the King! Check it out: