Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Lord in Our Midst: Honoring God With His Gifts

One epic that has always amazed me in American history is the story of the Native American. The most ironic thing about this part of our history concerns the way in which Europeans treated the land. First, they took what they wanted. And then they divided portions of what was left over and gave it as a gift to the Native Americans. Do you realize how odd that whole arrangement was? Europeans took the land that belonged to someone else. Then, they gifted some of it back to them! And what’s more, these European settlers took the best for themselves. The beautiful coastal regions of the East, the fertile soil of the southeast, the natural harbors at the base of the Mississippi River, the scenic mountainous and hilly regions of this “new” land. And they eventually gave the Native Americans Oklahoma! Now let’s just admit Oklahoma doesn’t have much to offer as far as natural resources or natural beauty. My parents lived there for a few years, and I’m sorry if you are from there, but the reality is: the land that is now Oklahoma was not the choice land of the past or the present!

It’s very easy to be critical of our ancestors. You’ve read those stories. You’ve probably had similar thoughts. I want to open our eyes to a humbling reality. There are many European settlers reading this. And what I mean by that is this: Some of us have learned the art of taking what doesn’t belong to us, taking the very best for ourselves, and then giving the less than desirable portion back to its original owner, if we give anything back at all. Only the recipients of our injustice are not Native Americans. The recipient of our injustice is God.

The prophet Malachi presented a message to the Hebrews. The message was delivered to Israel just after they returned from Exile in Babylon. They returned to find Jerusalem utterly destroyed. No more temple, no more city walls. There was no pride in being a resident of Jerusalem in those days. But they set out to change all that. Ezra and Nehemiah record the stories of the rebuilding of the temple and city walls. They set out to make things right. They enacted religious reform in those days. In their minds, the Exile resulted from their unfaithfulness to YHWH. Well, they were not going to let that happen again! The message delivered from Malachi probably originated during the time the temple was being reconstructed, before it was actually finished. This was a time of great expectation among the Hebrews. At least it began that way.

The fact is, things were not going as planned. Their neighbors, the Edomites, were making life very difficult. These people who were actually distant relatives of the Israelites (Jacob and Esau) were presenting an uphill battle for God’s people. Raiding their villages, taking their own exiles, burning their construction projects. Some even believe that they destroyed the 2nd temple and that the temple completed during the days of Ezra/Nehemiah was actually temple number three! These people, the Hebrews, fully expected God’s blessings to rain down when they returned. After all, they were doing right! They were following God. They were constructing the Temple. But something just wasn’t right. In the midst of this difficult time, Malachi pulls out a mirror to show the people what was really happening around them.

You see, these people wanted God’s blessings, but they didn’t want to wait on God to give them. So, they took matters in their own hands. Remember their main obstacle, the Edomites. Instead of waiting for God to deal with this problem, and instead of recognizing what God was already doing about this problem, just read the first few verses of Malachi.<
“I have loved you,” says the Lord. But you ask, “How have you loved us?” “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” the Lord says. “Yet I loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his mountains into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.” Edom may say, “Though we have been crushed, we will rebuild the ruins.” But this is what the Lord Almighty says: “They may build, but I will demolish. They will be called the Wicked Land, a people always under the wrath of the Lord. You will see it with your own eyes and say, “Great is the Lord—even beyond the borders of Israel!”
God is relaying an important message to these people: The problem is already being addressed. I have chosen you! And I am already punishing Edom. But in their humanness, these people of God couldn’t see it, so they took matters into their own hands. Malachi 2 speaks of God’s distaste for divorce. Sometimes we cherry pick this one section and do not concentrate on its context! Do you realize what stood as the root of this conversation? These Hebrews saw the political and economic incongruity between themselves and the Edomites and they devised a plan. Many of them began to divorce their own wives and marry Edomite women to form political alliances with their enemies, the idea being, if God will not take care of us, we must make amends with our enemies, we must take matters into our own hands! Chapter 3 gives another illustration of Israel’s lack of trust in the Lord.


Times were rough for these Israelites. Not much food at their disposal, not much abundance in the city of Jerusalem following their return to the city. And again, their humanness took over, they took matters into their own hands. They knew in their hearts that they were supposed to give their tithes to the Lord. But it was kind of hard to give away what little they had. They usually gave their tithes in the form of crops or animals. It was kind of hard to give away their crops to God when they couldn’t keep food on the table for their children! You see, they had convinced themselves of something. God is not going to take care of us any longer. So, we have to do it ourselves. They thought they were just being prudent. They thought they were being wise. But God had another name for it, robbery! God tells them explicitly, I will take care of you! “I’m already taking care of you.” But they refused to listen. And they fell into an old habit. They took matters into their own hands.

And the reality is, some of us continue to take matters into our own hands.

Let’s get real for a moment. When it comes to economics, 21st century America does not have much in common with the Jerusalem of 500 BC. The residents of that city were living in squalor. We live in the most prosperous nation in the history of the world in her most prosperous time. Residents of Jerusalem in those days didn’t know where their next meal would come from. Some of us are in the same boat. But that’s only because we can’t make up our minds, Chili’s or Don Juan’s? So, both of us try to take matters into our own hands, but for different reasons. They did it out of fear for their lives. We do it because at the end of the day—if we’re really honest with ourselves, we will just admit it—we’d rather spend our money on us than give it to God. God called what they did “robbery.” I wonder what He would call our habit.

I know none of us like to talk about money. Money is right up there with religion and politics in terms of off-limits conversation in our world. Nonetheless, I feel a calling to remind us of the importance of this issue every now and then. This subject, money, is discussed more than just about anything else in Scripture. One in every six verses of the New Testament concerns money or possessions. The Old Testament is filled with prophetic messages like this one urging people to get their priorities right in terms of giving. The fact of the matter is: money is a serious issue to God. And for that reason alone, it needs to be a serious issue with us.

But I don’t want to approach the subject of money the way we typically do. Typically, the preacher gets up here and tries to guilt you into giving more. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not above using guilt! Sometimes preachers use fear, “Give or else…!” Fear is a very effective tool, sometimes. But I don’t want to concentrate on fear either.

Instead, I want to ask you this question: Where do you want Glenwood to be in five years? You are part of this family. We are brothers and sisters with a common mission. I know you do not want to simply come into this room for the next five years and pass time. You want to be part of a special family that is actively, powerfully, and courageously engaging the mission of God. So, again, the question: Where do you want Glenwood to be in five years? Would you like to see Glenwood make inroads into the un-churched community of Tyler? Would you like to see us pour more resources into missions, in the city and around the world? Maybe you would like for this family to help better equip our families and the families of this community to raise godly children, or, to help our couples and other couples build stronger, God-honoring marriages. The news this week from Charlottesville reminds me that the church has an enormous role to play in this world!

Church, if we would all simply make it a priority to give consistently, we could realize many of these dreams! It’s really just a matter of consistency.

I know how life works. You plan to give. You know you should give. But things happen. Your child’s soccer registration is due. Your car needs repairs. Gas prices go up! And at the end of the month, you simply don’t have anything left. But I’m telling you, I think many of us have our priorities turned upside down. What if we realized that this money that we get from work it’s not ours at all. It was God’s to begin with. What if we set aside the money we give God first! And remember, 10% was only the starting point for these Israelites, the bare minimum of the law! If Christ calls us to exceed the requirements of the law in the New Testament, where does that leave us? You are not giving or withholding from church, you are giving or withholding from God and God’s mission.

Church, I don’t want this to be a downer sermon. I want it to be one of recommitment. I want to challenge us to make our dreams for this family into realities. I believe God is using us to do some pretty amazing things right now. We are engaging our community through service in ways we’ve never done before. Our children and teens are going on mission trips together. Our own members are studying and writing curriculum for our Bible classes. We encounter God here together weekly. Sometimes I wonder how much more God would be doing if we did one simple thing. What if we honored God even more by returning to Him the choice portion of His gifts to us? I don’t mean to suggest that if we give our pocket books would suddenly become fuller! I don’t believe in a health and wealth gospel. But I do believe there are tremendous blessings available to those who fully engage God’s mission. I believe the more we give to God the more God opens up doors of ministry to us. If we show God we are faithful with some, God will give us more to steward.

I have faith in the words of Malachi. If we give great gifts to God, if we would simply honor God with the gifts He has so graciously given us, we would see the hand of God working in this world in ways we can hardly imagine!

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