Saturday, February 7, 2015

Malachi 3 The Lord's Blessing

The Lord’s Blessing                                                                                        2/8/15
Malachi 3, I Corinthians 9:16-27, Mark 1:29-39

Our Best Job Is…To Know and Believe…The Lord’s Blessing…Today and on that Great Day.

Our gospel reading reminds us that Jesus came to bring and to be the good news of salvation.  He came to bring back sinners, to make people, his children, right with God, ultimately, his work will restore order to the cosmos.

The demons know this.  There are a few places in the gospel where Jesus tells people to not speak about who he is.  In this story, it seems that Jesus wants humans to not rely on otherworldly sources to nurture their faith.  But make no mistake, the demons know who Jesus is.  Do you know who Jesus is?

Elsewhere in Scripture, Paul writes that “at the name of Jesus every knee will bow in heaven and earth and beneath the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”

This passion for Jesus Christ is what Paul mentions in his letter to the Corinthians.  The specific context is a biographical paragraph where Paul tells why he must preach the good news.  He went to great lengths to help those who were Jewish and those who were gentile, those who had great knowledge of God’s law and those who did not know it nor feel bound by it, those who were weak and strong.  And to each audience he took special care so that they would have a clear way to understand God’s love in Christ.  In today’s language, he knew his audience.  But this passage isn’t just for preachers.  It is for all who believe in Jesus Christ.   The passion to know and love and spread the good news of Jesus Christ should fill us all.  Faith in the Lord is something that requires total effort.  Why claim belief in Jesus, if you aren’t really going to believe in him.  Why run aimlessly, when you can run purposefully?  Why waste time when there is the prize of everlasting life?

Which takes us to Malachi, containing the word from God to take him at his word, and see if he won’t bless the obedient.

Chapter 3 is broken into 2 parts, there is God’s weariness in hearing claims of his absence from justice, and there is the challenge from God to his people for him to be first.

Justice is such a tricky endeavor.  It is worth our attention and effort.  It is certainly a biblical attribute of God, and therefore something that his followers should seek to display.   Today’s reading shows the Lord seeming weary that people wonder if he is just.

Make no mistake:  The Lord is just.  He will send his messenger. He will right all wrongs.  He will set the right way for people to follow. He will stop sin.and will instill fear among the earth.  But I have this sense that we should be careful of what we ask for.  In today’s world, what would true justice entail?  Would it be to pay for all the sins of our history? ---the land grabs, the flexing of muscles when we need others resources?  Are we really prepared for total justice?

I can see why God wouldn’t want to hear “why do the wicked prosper?”  Are they really prospering?  Because if they aren’t doing justice, or following the Lord, they cannot be happy inside.  They might have outrageous checking accounts and even more outrageous egos, but would you really want to trade places with them, if it meant losing your soul?

Please do not misinterpret any sloppiness in my words:  God is just.  But God is also gracious.  And the second part of chapter three is fascinating.

It starts with justice.  God has established that people should bring their tithes and offerings to him.  God is Holy and All powerful and the Creator of the cosmos, and he has said that human beings should bring their tribute.  There is a powerful spiritual benefit when we take intentional steps to put God first.  Ultimately, it breathes health into our systems.

But grace also is evident in this passage.  The people had robbed God of what he said should be brought.  Robbery brought curse.  But justice would bring blessing.  And God says something astounding.

Bring your whole tithe, that there may be food in the storehouse.  Test me in this and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.

Or, in modern language:

Let’s make a deal.  You do the right thing, and I’ll knock your socks off.

The truth of the matter is that we have indeed seen the Lord’s blessings in so many ways.  If you pause and really consider the Lord, we have seen that food has been on the table, that heat has been in our homes, that we have homes, that we enjoy religious liberty and a government that relatively speaking has kept a freedom and way of life possible for the people.  We have stuff and opportunities and friendship.  All praise to the Lord.

But before Stockton is this idea of returning to the Lord, putting God first, listening to his word for our lives, and receiving that blessing from the Lord when we do what he says.

What I will be lifting up over the next 10 years is the movement of all members and worshippers becoming people who tithe, that will be the base from which we will launch in mission.  The church will move toward a return to tithing as well.  My suggestion is to do this thoughtfully and intentionally by increasing our giving by 1% of our income per year until we all arrive at 10%.  I am not the financial police.  I personally will not be roaming over giving patterns.  I will simply lift this up.  Because Malachi 3 fascinates me.  Please know it doesn’t fascinate me in a health and wealth gospel:  the ones who please God are known because they have material prosperity.  No, that is wrong and not validated by Scripture.  But the passage fascinates me.

I introduce here a chart that will be helpful to you as you consider your giving to God.  May it help you in the more fundamental matter of putting God first in your life, and finding the blessing that comes when he is first, and everything else is added unto him.

I also want to remind you that the end goal of tithing is not simply to meet a church budget.  That strikes me as too small a goal.  You’ve done that since 1867 without every member tithing.  If God wants you to meet your church budget in the future, it will continue.  If the congregation’s story ends at some point, then you won’t need a budget.

The excitement of tithing is that we can draw more close to our Lord.  He promises to bless.  And we can join in that work of blessing:   the church calls it Mission, and our contains our endeavors to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

Last week, I mentioned an example of the congregation having $80,000 dollars to give to mission.  What would we do with it?  How would we invest in mission?

Malachi brings out an important lesson for us here.  We read this passage as individuals:  How will God knock my socks off?  I do the same thing.  But the passage is really to the community. How will God knock our socks off?

There are so many different ways to give.  There are so many worthy causes.  There is so much vying for our attention.  How do we begin to respond?  We know that the world has changed.  The churches used to support the missions, and now individuals can do it with the click of a button.  The church as the conduit seems to be a fading model.  The individual ways we can give certainly seem efficient.  Just write the check and cross it off your list.  Hold on, did you hear how outdated my last sentence was?  Just push a button on your phone or text a number and it is done.  I don’t think this is wrong.  But I am starting to wonder if it is best.

I think of the phone calls and the mail and the energy expended to grab our attention.  What if that was taken away?  What if instead we decided together where our mission money would go? 

The cons would be:
            That not everyone’s choices might be chosen.
            The instantaneous nature of giving is taken away, and there
               might be sometimes when instant is necessary.

The pro’s would be:
            --That we would talk as a community about what is
            --That our work together is always stronger than our
                individual work.
             --That together we would know the Lord’s blessing.

There is a sense of personal satisfaction when you right the check, but consider a case study.

Many people support a child through Compassion International, World Vision, or other worthy organization.  For a dollar and change a day, a child is fed for the year, and receives instruction and medical attention.  The opportunity to transform is obvious.  Let’s say for example that there are 20 children sponsored by people who worship in this place.  Jim hosts 2 and Jenny hosts 2 and Johnny supports one.  We each write out individual checks and make this happen.  Praise to the Lord.  This is good, transforming stuff!

But what if instead, we challenged ourselves as a congregation to support 25 children.  The church would take on the responsibilities initiated by individuals, and the individuals would give, as part of their tithe, to this goal.  How would the church know the Lord’s blessing?

By identifying child sponsorship as a priority, and providing our tithes creates more than enough mission money, we could challenge ourselves to do more together than we can alone.  But also, we might find that we start to relate to the child we support. Perhaps we take on a small town with 25 children.  That is, we endeavor to support every child in that village.  Our small congregation is supporting the children of another small village.  Perhaps we then invite the community to double what we sponsor?  Our children might take on the letter writing—well, we need to recruit some more children to write!  So let’s go do that.  Some folk might decide to visit the village themselves, and bring lollipops and notebooks and stuffed toys to bless OUR sponsored children.  One of our walls could be devoted to the pictures we receive.  In this scenario, when we give our tithe, part of that money is paying the fuel bill or the staff salaries, but it is also raising a village.   That is the type of blessing that knocks my socks off.  How about you? 

And that is the point:  who knows, when we really start to engage with tithing and mission, what stories the Lord will put on our hearts.  The concern about ‘my mission’ not being supported’ might just be a straw man, because if we are listening to the Lord, and he is in the center of our work, he’ll direct our hearts.

The chapter of Malachi ends with a delightful and amazing story:  that God directs a scroll of remembrance be written in his presence.  He makes the promise that they will be mine.  Who?

Those that feared the Lord talked with each other and the LORD listened and heard.

People will say, well it doesn’t matter.  The evil are prospering  God isn’t there.  
But Scripture says that when we gather and talk with each other about the Lord, he is there.  Ken---at 3pm today, the Lord will be listening to our conversation.  And he is giving a promise in that moment:  You will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.

Tithing is simple putting God first.  Watching as he directs our work, which, because the Lord is involved, will involve so much blessing that we will not have enough room for it.

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