I like this leftovers quote: The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found. ~ Calvin Trillin
Leftovers are good if you are talking about Thanksgiving Dinner. Leftovers are not always so good if you are talking about giving to God whatever you have left after you have had your fill. If a husband has a demanding job which saps energy, and all his wife ever sees is a tired, cranky, want-to-be-left-alone-in-front-of-the-tv-all-evening-every-evening kind of guy, the marriage will be less than what it could be. The wife needs more than just the leftovers. Children need more than the leftovers from parents who pay attention a minimal amount. God needs you, your heart, your energy, your focus, your mind… if the leftovers become a way of life the relationship will be less than what it could be.
When you make regular giving part of the fabric of your Christian walk, you will be changed, you will be blessed. Mathematically you will have less money in your wallet. If you have $100 for the month and you give $10 of it away, the math tells me you have $90 remaining. God invented the rules of math, so that does not change. He also invented the rules of the heart. Giving does something to you. You see your money and resources differently, your priorities are reexamined, and somehow the Lord will provide all that you need (not want, but need). Your giving patterns are an extremely important part of your discipleship. Giving does not mean you will be blessed by God and get more stuff, giving does something to your heart, it allows you to see the protective side of God. ///
Today I am talking to people who have given their life to the Lord Jesus Christ and desire to grow in their faith. If you are not sure about this Christian stuff, I am glad you are here, I invite you to listen and learn that once you give your life to Christ you never stop growing. It’s called discipleship. For you who have committed your life to Christ and feel as though you are giving the leftovers to God my intent is not to make you feel guilty, but rather I ask you to carefully consider your giving patterns. At the end of this message, Malachi gives the people an invitation… not a command, but an invitation… This message is for those who feel as though you are only giving to God the leftovers…..
Todays scripture raises a fascinating question… How do I change the things I don’t realize are holding me back? In Mal. 3:8 the people do not seem to realize how they are cheating God, saying they will do one thing but holding back… they are playing a game with God, perhaps to impress other people and/or trying to convince themselves… Back in my days of serving a church in San Francisco, Sally and I did not have a lot of money. One day a couple came that wanted to be married. They had moved from New York where the parents of the groom sold a grocery store and bought an apartment building in S.F. to retire. They wanted to know how much I charged. An honorarium I explained, no charge, no bill, but if they so desired a “tip”. OK they said. They wanted to pay Leonard, the pianist, too. Leonard did not have a lot, he was semi-homeless ~ “$25.00” he said. The day of the wedding the parents handed me an envelope of checks to give to the helpes. First check was to the church ~ $2000. WOW… Second check: Sally had acted as the wedding coordinator ~ a check for $50. That never even occurred to me she would get something. They had a check for me, still the most I’ve ever been given for any honorarium ~ $400. That is still a lot of money, but in those days fresh out of school that was an amazing amount. And the last check was to the piano player, guess how much he got? Just what he asked for, $25.00. Leonard never knew what he missed out on…
How do you know what you are missing? Do you ever think that perhaps there is more of God than you realize? You are living the $25 blessing thinking that is all there is, not realizing you are missing out on the $250 blessing. But I’m not talking about money, I’m talking about knowing God, about a relationship with God, the peace of God that goes beyond understanding. How do you know what you are missing?
Malachi’s challenge to the people is to let them know the blessings they are missing that they don’t seem to even realize they are missing. READ Mal. 3:7-8. They don’t seem to realize that they are missing something of God. Sally and I are watching online a cooking show “Master Chef” from I don’t know how many seasons ago… one by one the contestants are dropped out of the competition. One young woman was dropped from the top ten ~ in her farewell words she made the statement that when she was accepted into the Master Chef competition, that was the first time her parents ever told her they were proud of her. She saw that as a good thing, at last she had earned her parents acceptance. Sally and I thought, how sad, how much she was missing to not have supportive parents all along the way. She didn’t seem to know that….
The people are missing out on a full relationship with God. Somehow they don’t quite get it, thinking a relationship with God is good. They treat God as if he can be fooled ~ saying they are bringing the best offering but substituting inferior animals… READ Mal. 1:14. Notice the situation, God only asks you give from what you have, to honor the commitments you make. This is Malachi’s challenge/invitation to the people ~ be fully committed to God giving him the best you have, the best sacrifice, the first fruit of the Harvest….if you don’t want to give, don’t say you will. The worst thing you can do ~ not following through with your commitment and act as if you are honorable…
Israel had a heart problem ~ a divided heart. Leftover giving is a reflection of a divided heart. On the one hand the people want to follow the ways of God, but on the other hand they don’t want to fully follow him… The hard part of Malachi’s message is that the part of the divided heart that is holding back is at war with the part that wants to fully trust God ~ the word he uses is a tough word: contempt. READ Mal. 1:12-13. “A burden” is their attitude. You want to know what I detest more than anything in the role of a pastor ~ this applies to nobody in this room because if it did you would not be here…. ~ I HATE when people try to get something from me by telling me what they think I want to hear, especially when they sprinkle in fake spiritual talk/ To me, that is contempt for the things of God.
All of us are prone to schmooze God. You know how we try to fool God? By fooling ourselves. “how do we rob God?” the people ask innocently. As if they don’t know…. they probably have convinced themselves they are innocent. I was waiting at the bus stop on the Ave. in my days of college at UW. Many homeless people. A man approached me angrily that had been crossing the street, “Quit staring at me” he shouted inches from my face. I didn’t know what to do with an angry homeless dirty scruffy unshaven Vietnam Vet that walked with a limp (I wonder how I knew all those details?), so I whimpered out, “I-I-wasn’t.” He shook his fist in my face, scowled and was off. I was shaken. /// I was guilty. I had been staring at him and he knew it but I could not admit it and tried to convince myself otherwise. I fully follow God, and part of me wants to believe that, to convince myself… “how do I rob God?” I now wonder what would have happened if I would have said to that man, “I am so sorry, I was wrong, you do not deserve my disrespect.”
We are all prone to try and fool ourselves. Do you really think we can fool God? NO. But I have a chance in fooling myself. “I wasn’t staring at you….” “How have I robbed God?” for a person with a divided heart, the war is not between them and God, the real war is within…
Hear the fitting prophecy of another contemporary prophet Ezekiel 11:19-20… READ… God’s love for us, is NEVER the problem, the problem is always our heart…. God cannot penetrate the heart of a person who is at war, desiring God but contempt for God. I find it interesting. The people don’t know this when Malachi prophecies to a people with a divided heart, but he is speaking the final words before the time of the birth of Christ. Right after Malachi, my Bible has a blank page. To me, just me, that represents 400 years of silence. It’s over 400 years from the days of Malachi to the birth of Jesus Christ. The words of Malachi are the final words given to sustain the people of God for the next 400 years. These words are given to the people of the days of Malachi to help them get their act together with God, but they also serve as the words to echo through the years to find peace within yourself to make yourself presentable to God without a divided heart. The echo continues to us…for those of us who try to fool ourselves, who do not even realize what we are missing, who try to convince ourselves that we have it all together.
If God seems silent to you, the problem is not God, the problem is your divided heart. The problem is the war raging within. The problem is the conflict of desiring to fully follow God but holding back. I am speaking to those of you who are disciples of Christ, those who genuinely want to grow in your faith, but are having a hard time. The problem may be that you are fooling yourself into thinking you aren’t holding back.
When God seems silent, the answer is to TEST God. TEST God. The only time in scripture we are commanded to TEST God is Mal. 3:10 READ. This is the only situation given in the Bible in which God tells His people to “test” Him. ~ “to examine, scrutinize, prove. What do you think, is this eagle made of ivory? Let’s test it…[heat the needle and test.] God invites us to test Him in tithes and offerings and see if He proves His faithfulness. Tithe means 10% of income. This is an invitation, to give to God from your best. Give from what you have, and only make the commitment if you mean it. Make giving your top priority before other expenses and bills. “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse” ~ don’t pay every other bill and then give from the leftovers, but give the whole tithe. Then watch in wonder as he will amaze you by providing for your needs. Test God. It’s OK if you have a smidgeon of doubt and are nervous as you write out that check because that is what the test is all about. You need to see God at work/ experience what you did not know you were missing. The Lord will give you a peace in your heart. God really wants your heart, not your money, but your money is an indication of the state of your heart.
Invitation: talk to me this week if you would like to share a testimony next Sunday of what happened when you decided to trust God by tithing to him. What difference did it make? Tell us how it changed you, wonderful surprises along the way, whatever it is that you saw of God when you decided to test him….
Follow Christ ~ give your whole heart to him. It may be that you cannot even identify what’s wrong. The people in Malachi’s day even tried to convince themselves a blemished sacrifice was good enough, which resulted in a divided heart.
Tithe.// Test God. // Be amazed. // Amen.