At the time Malachi was written, the priestly tribe of Levi had stopped administering the law as prescribed by God, permitting intermarriage with foreigners, idolatry and hypocrisy. Today, the church in America, in its commitment to lukewarmness, has likewise become largely irrelevant, despised and humiliated. We are called to lead others in obedience to God's Word, and to obey it as we lead. But do believers today look any different from unbelievers? Are we aware of the consequences?
He said: 'Return to Me.' We say: 'How'
He said: 'You are wearing me out.' We say: 'How'
He said: 'Marriage Matters.' We say: 'How?', part 5
He said: 'Marriage Matters.' We say: 'How?', part 4
He said: 'Marriage Matters.' We say: 'How?', part 3
He said: 'Marriage Matters.' We say: 'How?', part 2
He said: 'Marriage Matters.' We say: 'How?', part 1
He said: 'You have turned away.' We say: 'How?'
He said: 'You've despised me.' We say: 'How?'
He said: 'I've loved you.' We say: 'How?'
If you think I like country, you should see me around a Ray Stevens CD. Now that's living. We've arrived. If we can do Ray Stevens on a Sunday morning, we have arrived. And not just "Everything Is Beautiful." Remember that one? It's one of Ray's that even churches put in their hymnals, but they need to stick that one in some church hymnals. If God needs to unleash a half-crazed Mississippi squirrel to get his church back on the narrow way, I'm for it.
There's something else he would suggest we try before you sneak a half-crazed squirrel into a church service. Lord knows I have enough of them around my backyard that I could bring a few right now. He wants us to sneak back in attention to who he is and what the Word of God says. Specifically, I believe if you could take one book that's in your Bible and teach it to the church today to re-communicate to them what God expects, it would be this little book we're having some fun working our way through. It's the book of Malachi.
The thing that ties Malachi together is about seven or eight times in this book you'll find God saying, "I'm telling you, this is how I see things." Again and again the people say, "What do you mean that's how you see things? We don't have a problem here." God says, "I loved you" and people say, "How have you loved us?" God says, "You despise me," and they go, "What do you mean we've despised you?"
We've had some fun tying the connection together. It's almost like a man and a woman who keep missing each other. The guy will say something. The woman hears something completely different. The woman tries to share her needs and her feelings, and the guy goes, "What are you talking about?" So we've had some fun labeling this book, as a big-picture idea, God Is from Mars; We Are from Venus.
Every time God tries to communicate to us what it is he's after, we keep going, "Okay, this is what you want?" He goes, "That's not what I said." In fact, if you'll remember last week we took a pretty serious look at the end of chapter 1 when God again and again said, "You despise me," and the people go, "You're going to have to straighten us out on that. What do you mean we despise you?"
God went straight at them and said, "I'll tell you how bad it has gotten. It has gotten so bad that I just wish you'd shut the doors." God didn't send a half-crazed Mississippi squirrel to the people who were supposed to represent him to the world. What God did is he sent a prophet who was completely filled with his Spirit who spoke the truth for God to the people. He tried to lay it out for them as clearly as he could.
To wrap up what God has said so far in the book of Malachi, in effect, it's simply this: "It would be better if you would sleep in as opposed to sleepwalk through your corporate gatherings with me." What he was saying, in effect, was, "Lip service is something I desire even less than no service. Really, you'll find that our Bible, the last book of our New Testament says the exact same thing. God says, "I wish that you were either hot or cold, but because you're lukewarm I'm going to spit you out of my mouth. You make me want to vomit."
You're going to find out that God gets a little bit passionate about people who fulfill their service to him in a half-hearted way, in a way that confuses people's image of who God is. A number of years ago, when we started this church, we had an opportunity with about 2,000 to 3,000 college students who came to Dallas for a conference. They took a survey we put together, and it was a simple word association survey.
Right here in this neighborhood and neighborhoods within probably a five-mile square radius of here, they went door to door, knocking on people's doors, asking them a simple question. The question was a word association game. It was things along the lines of "When I say to you 'church,' what's the first thing that comes to your mind? When I say to you 'God,' what's the first thing that comes to your mind?"
It's interesting. When you say "God," the number-one response from folks is "Jesus." For about 40 percent it was the number-one word association. When you say "God" to people they'll go "Jesus," which is really interesting. Secondly, though, when you say "God," the second largest response was "love." The third largest response by a long shot over everything else that came after this was "church." When you say "God" to people they go "church."
In other words, what I'm sharing with you is when you really talk to folks and ask them, "Who do you picture God as? What's your view of God? What's your image of God?" for a lot of people… They might say "Jesus," but the question is how they understand Jesus, how they view Jesus. Is he this soft figure who was always loving and tolerant and accepting of all people, which is how most folks view Jesus? Boy, I'll tell you what. You read the Gospels, you'll find that he indeed was loving, but he was anything but tolerant.
This Jesus, who is God, you're going to find represent his heart here in Malachi when he said, "I wish you'd quit showing up as opposed to coming here and giving me lip service that you love me." You're going to find out this week he takes another step. "Because you do keep showing up and going through this rote religious service, I'm going to take dung and wipe it on your face." Welcome to church. This is Jesus, who's loving.
Most folks, though, and the reason God says, "You make me sick. You make me want to throw up. You make me want to just smear your face with refuse," is because he knows the way believers act informs the way most people view him. In that little song Ray Stevens wrote, having some fun, he said, "I've heard about all of the wonders God has wrought, how he parted the waters for Moses and all of the wonders he has done in this great big world, but I saw him set back this church straight. The pastor got saved, the deacons got saved, because for the first time they saw something alive in their midst, and they didn't know what it was, because for the first time the church was engaging the way God wanted them to."
We didn't just ask the word association with "God." We asked them "church." Now it shouldn't surprise you when you say "church" the very first response people give is "God," but when you work your way down, the other words that follow shortly after that are words like yuck, irrelevant, boring, messy, dead. That's people's view of the church. When you look at the Scriptures at what God intended for his church to be, you'll find out that anything but that is what the church should be.
If we are people who know Christ… We realize that not everybody who's here today does, and we couldn't be more thrilled that you're trusting us this morning to share with you who God is and what he wants to do engaging with you and, specifically, what he wants to produce in those of us who have already claimed to have a relationship with him. He takes it very seriously when we say we're going to wear his jersey, represent his name, and be his voice to a generation.
There was a survey a number of years ago that some other folks did, and it was included in a little book called The Day America Told the Truth. It ranked 75 different occupations in terms of how you trust them, how you view them, how you respect them. The good news is that evangelists weren't last. The bad news is that we beat out mob bosses and drug dealers. The way our world, and they didn't just interview secular and non-secular…
They just said, "We're going to go up to random people and ask them to rank these 75 different professions." I mean, politicians, used car salesmen, lawyers… They were all 1 through 72, but when you got to evangelists, specifically the most visible picture of evangelists who are out there for folks, they were 73. Mob bosses were 74, drug dealers were 75, and I bet you after The Sopranos had a few good years of running on Showtime we might have slid back down to 74, because there's just not that negative a view of them.
God goes, "You know what? People who take my name, folks who are supposed to be evangelicals, people who share the good news, who are messengers of the good news," which is really what that word means… "They shouldn't be 73. They ought to be angling up there more toward number one. Share my story. Share the story of grace and hope and be my people who show that you've heard that story of grace and hope."
What you find is God sending to the group of people, who in this day and age Malachi was written were to be his mouthpieces, his agents, his ambassadors, his representatives to the world, a prophet, a half-crazed Palestinian prophet, to state the case in order before their eyes and say, "We've got to get this thing together." This is the book of Malachi. Now the application for us is going to be obvious before I'm done today.
The agent God uses today, the people God uses today is not a specific nation he had raised up, that he had given his Word to, that he had given the revelation of truth to, that he wanted to be a kingdom of priests. Because they were continually unfaithful to what God had called them to do, because they didn't listen to Malachi and the 17-some-odd other prophets before them, he said, "Time is up, and I'm going to sub you out and sub somebody faithful in. It's not going to be according to who are physical descendants of one man anymore as much as it's going to be people who rightly respond to my Son." That's the book of Malachi.
God makes it clear, "There's going to be a day that I'm going to use my Son to call my people who are descendants of Abraham back into a relationship with me, and they will do what I've asked them to do," but part of the way God is going to woo them back is by the way we live in a relationship with him today as Jews and Greeks, Gentiles and physical descendants of Abraham, slaves and free men, barbarians and Scythian, male and female, how we all come together under Christ and live in a relationship with God that can best be defined as blessing and we are in a good, happy, well spoken of place, not prospering, necessarily, but having hope that passes understanding.
As the Jews see God's people walking with him and experiencing that blessing, God will use that to restore them into relationship with him to accomplish what he said he would accomplish with them in his Word. Malachi was written to these people before they went into that time of great discipline, but you're going to find, obviously, tremendous applications for those of us today who make up the church in America.
I'm telling you, the church in America is every bit the bastard son and ambassador for God that Israel was about the time Malachi was written. It's no wonder that people see the church as messy, irrelevant, yuck, because we are adopting the same superficial response to God as an institution as the Jews had done some 500 years before the Lord came here.
So let's dive in. Turn with me to Malachi, chapter 2. Let me let you dig through this with me here. This is what it says: "And now this commandment is for you, O priests." He talks to the leadership of the people. "If you do not listen, and if you do not take it to heart to give honor to My name [as I've intended for you to do, as leaders of others] …then I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings…"
In your Bible, if you want to really understand your Old Testament, there's one section you ought to read, because it spells it all out for you. You read Deuteronomy 27 all the way through 30, but Deuteronomy 27 and 28 especially, and you will go, "I see. I see what the Old Testament is all about now." God called, by grace, a group of people who were being persecuted by other folks out into a relationship with him. He used his servant Moses to bring them to a place that he was going to lead them into a home.
He said, "You're going to be my people, and you're going to be holy like I'm holy. You're going to live differently in this world than the rest of the folks live who don't understand how I created you to live, because everybody has rebelled against me. Abraham did, Isaac did, Jacob did, and, Moses, you did. I'm going to call you back now into relationship with me. I'm going to tell you how man is supposed to live in response to God."
These folks were given then what's called the Law or the Torah or the Canon,which is the measure of what God says people ought to look like and live like. He said, "This will never make you acceptable to me. What makes you acceptable to me is that my grace will prevail over you, but in response to what I've shown you, I want you to live this way." He tells them, "If you do this, things will be well for you." He labels the word blessing on them, which in the Old Testament did have more of a physical, material tie to it than he says it will in the New Testament.
In the Old Testament he says, "Look, Israel, if you live like I've asked you to live in humility before me, if you love justice, if you practice kindness, if you walk humbly with the Lord, then it will be well with you and your descendants, but if you don't, then I'm going to take my hand of protection and blessing off of you, and you wouldn't believe the things you will do as a society."
You'll find out that's exactly what happened throughout the rest of your Old Testament. God in his grace kept sending to them prophets who would go back and remind them what God had said and kept calling them to repentance until finally God sent the fullest revelation of who he was: his own Son. The Bible says, "You want to know what God is like?" The people whose doors we knocked on around here got it right if they define him correctly.
You want to know what God is like? Look at Jesus. To see Jesus is to see the Father. To hear Jesus is to hear the Father. He is the visible image of the invisible God. Then he calls people to live by faith in a relationship with him, and the question is…Are the people who live in relationship with Jesus by faith people that we can say, "To see the church is to see God"? That's the question.
What he said here in this little text of Scripture is "Priests, you're not doing what I've asked you to do, which is to continue to communicate what is my standard of holiness for my people. Don't compromise what I've asked you to teach because it's not politically correct or culturally connecting. Stay with the standard." This is what it says: "…I will curse your blessings; and indeed, I have cursed them already…"
Part of this has in mind what's called the Aaronic blessing. Moses, as you know, was Aaron's half-brother, and they were descendants of one of the sons of a guy named Jacob whose name was Levi. The Levites became very well known in the Scripture, because when Moses went up… Even folks who don't know their Bible know this story thanks to Charlton Heston and Cecil B. DeMille.
Moses went up on the mountain and hung out with God for 40 days, and when he came back down, Aaron had been convinced that Moses was never coming back down, that he died up on the mountain, so they had all given Aaron all their little gold and precious jewels, and he had melted it down and built for them a golden calf and said, "This is your god," and they all worshiped this calf, or not all of them, but 11 of the 12 tribes did in great number.
There was one family that didn't. It was the family of Levi. Because of their faithfulness to not worship this golden calf, God said, "You guys are going to serve me specifically in the manner in which I have revealed who I am to Moses. You guys will administer the means of grace I have given you in order to allow people to relate to me." The tribe of Levi.
So the Levitical priesthood became a group of folks who were to be individuals who primarily reminded folks of who God was and what he wanted them to do in relationship with him by faith. They had stopped doing it well, and God said, "Therefore, when you give what's called the Aaronic blessing…"
It comes in Numbers, chapter 6, where it says something very familiar. If you were ever in a church growing up that was more traditional, you heard a pastor say something along these lines: "May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace." That is the Aaronic blessing.
The priest would say that every time somebody would come and offer a sacrifice for God. God said, "You know what? You were to be an agent through which, when you spoke those words, my blessings would unroll and unfold on those people, but I'm telling you something. Your words are empty, and no longer do you have the ability to impart a blessing, because you are a false priesthood and are not leading well amongst the people."
I'm going to insert a little joke here, and it goes with this little book of Malachi and with what I said earlier about how people view the church and view leadership and The Day America Told the Truth. The leadership religiously of this world today is doing the exact same thing the leadership did back then. It's a tired joke that has bad theology written all over it, but it's about a couple that's on their way to their wedding, and they get killed.
So they're standing before Saint Peter, as the joke always goes, and they're getting ready to be admitted into heaven, apparently, for some reason, in the joke. So they say to Saint Peter, "Hey, we were on our way to our wedding." He said, "Yes, I know." They said, "We were wondering if we could still get married now that we're here in heaven," which if they had read their Bible they would know they couldn't, but this is a joke not a theology lesson.
Peter says, "Well, let me check. No one has ever asked that question before." Off he goes. He's gone for a long time, and he comes back looking very worn out and very exasperated, sweat on his brow. He says, "Yes. Turns out I will be able to let you get married in heaven." They go, "Listen. While you were gone all that time, we started talking. We realized this is kind of a permanent deal up here.
That song 'Amazing Grace' says, 'When we've been here ten thousand years our praise has just begun.' We realized this thing is going to go on for a while. If it doesn't work out, is there any way we could get a divorce up here?" Saint Peter gets really chapped, really ticked off. He looks back at them and says, "Look! It took me three days to find a priest. Do you have any idea how long it's going to take me to find a lawyer?"
Now, if it takes a half-crazed Mississippi squirrel to get the pastor saved, if it takes a book like Malachi to call the priests back into relationship with God… If you look at the church in America today, there are a lot of guys who stand where I stand who, at the end of the day, just like the little character in the Left Behind series, will find that his church has been delivered and gone to be the true church in relationship with God in heaven. Some pastors are going to be left behind.
Just to make it clear, they won't be left behind because they didn't do enough for God. No one will be left behind because they weren't faithful enough in what their works looked like. They'll be left behind because many people think it's their works that will get them in relationship with God. The Scriptures make it clear that God forms a relationship with us always through one thing: our responding to his gracious call on our lives and to his incredible gift of grace, giving us what we don't deserve and not giving us what we do deserve, which is called mercy.
When we avail ourselves to God, and just like Jews in the Old Testament were saved not by the law but by their accepting God's provision made clear through the law, that if they trusted in the provision God gave them and by faith responded to it he would cover their sins, just like when Christ came and we respond to God's love in reaching out to us and his offer of provision for us to cover our sins and we have faith that God has done it, he will allow us to be forgiven.
The point then becomes…How do you know you've really done that? The answer is by the way you respond. It's not what you do that gets you in; it's how you respond that proves you know what he has done. That's about as clear as I can say it. If you continue to live a life that has no sign that you honor the Lord and desire to give him your life, to give him your heart, that all you have is his, then he says, "I don't care what you profess. It's pretty easy to see you don't possess a relationship with me, because people who possess a relationship with me think differently, love differently, live differently."
I have said this before. I'll say it again. The greatest confidence I have that my life is changed is not that I don't sin but that when I sin I hate it. I didn't use to hate it. I used to hate it when I got caught, and now I hate it when I get caught, but I just hate it anyway, because I know what it does to the God I love who has made himself so obviously available to me.
This is what he says: "I've made you basically an ineffective priesthood. It doesn't matter that you give them your little blessing when they come to your temple. It doesn't matter what you say you believe and what you call the people to believe. You are ineffective and impotent in your leadership." He goes on to say, "Behold, I am going to rebuke…" He makes a little wordplay right here. He uses a Hebrew word that means basically seed, or your offspring.
There's a word that sounds phonetically just like it in the Hebrew, and it's the word you'll find there where it talks about spread. What God says is, "Because you aren't going to have faithful folks who do this, then I'm going to do something else," in a word that sounds very familiar to them. It was a little pun. He says, "I'm going to rebuke your seed, your offspring, those who come after you, and I'm going to spread refuse on your faces, the refuse of your feasts, and you'll be taken away with it."
This is the picture God has going on here. Do you want to know what's going to be your lineage? Your lineage is going to be (I don't know any other way to say it except to say it in a way that'll communicate to you) crap on your faces. You kind of go, "Man, what is this? Are you allowed to say that?" The Bible says that. The Bible says it right here.
What God says to the Levitical people is, "When the people come and offer a sacrifice to me," which was a picture of the ultimate sacrifice which was to come, "the way I'm going to care for you is I'm going to allow you to take the shoulder, the cheeks, and the stomach of those animals, and you get rid of what's called the offal, all the stuff of the animal that is worthless and cannot be used, and you throw that stuff away," all of the entrails, all the stuff you couldn't eat that wasn't edible.
"The best of the meat you offer on the altar of sacrifice for me. You don't keep that. The best animals, the best portion goes to God. But I'm going to provide plenty for you: the shoulder, some of the stomach, and some of the good meat around the cheek area of those animals. The rest, though, you either throw away because it's worthless and unclean or the best of it you give to me."
God says, "I'll tell you what. Just like you throw away the dung and the intestines and what fills those intestines because it's unclean and stinks and you want it out of there…" He says, "I'm going to take that stuff and smear it on your faces, because you want to know how I view you? I view you the way you view what fills those intestinal tracts."
When I was a young man, one of the things I wanted to do was potentially get involved with some medicine. My father was a business administrator at one of the largest hospitals in St. Louis, so I asked my dad, "Dad, are there some doctors I could go down there and just hang out with? Frankly, I'd love to do an autopsy." So my dad set it up that I got to go in and do an autopsy. Actually, I thought I was going to observe.
I was a kid of my generation. I watched Marcus Welby, M.D., so I thought I'd be up there kind of like Kramer, eating Junior Mints, watching something that would go on down there. I thought I was going to be up where there's this nice little glass bubble, just looking down when I wanted to look down and looking away when it got tough. My dad said, "Sure. Dr. So-and-so, who's a pathologist, said you could come over today and help process this particular body." I go, "Great."
So I walk in, and I walked in at ground level. I thought I was going to go up top, but I walk right in. He goes, "Put your gloves on, and here's your little robe, and you might want to grab one of those masks." I go, "What are you talking about?" He goes, "You don't watch an autopsy; you do an autopsy." The very first thing I saw was the neurosurgeons were just completing this elderly man… They treated his body with incredible respect, but he had Alzheimer's.
He died of pneumonia in the hospital, and they were doing some research. The man's family had given his body to research, to medical science. They had just gotten through (you with queasy stomach, watch yourself here) cutting his scalp right across his head all the way down to the back and had peeled his hairline all the way up over his face, and then they had a saw and were sawing on his cranium.
So the very first thing I saw was them take his scalp, pull it up over his face, and then remove his cranium and take his brain out. I wasn't doing too well. I kind of walked up going, "Oh, what have we here?" I'm just watching, and they took the brain out and put a balloon in there, and they were measuring the size of the brain. They saw what the size of the cranial space was. They were trying to do some research.
They thought maybe part of what causes Alzheimer's was pressure on the brain, that the brain would continue to grow and it would affect certain areas. That's what they were doing in the research in those days. When they got done, after they had all the measurements done, they put the man's brain back in and put the cranium back on and sewed the scalp back up. Then he goes, "Okay. Are you ready? Now it's your turn." I went, "Oh my goodness."
We cut that brother open from neck to gizzard. They took the ribs and spread them back, and I learned more about how my body was put together. I can remember thinking… As a kid, one of the things we used to do was climb up in trees, and we would go out on branches. We would get as high as we could. As friends, we'd have competitions to see who could drop from the highest point and land. I know. There's not a lot to do in Missouri when you're a kid.
I can remember thinking, "All of those times that I dropped and fell like that, how in the world did I not push everything down to my toes?" God put that thing together in an incredible way. As I was in there, there was an orderly who was helping us, and they were letting me at different times move some organs around so they could do some things and measure some things. That guy explained to me how the arteries of the heart… This guy died from pneumonia, but his heart had hardened. It was like hard macaroni running to his heart.
When people now talk about cholesterol and what it does to your veins, I have a visual image of that. Then they moved down. We got a little bit farther down the stomach, and this is where it comes. They said, "Don't you dare get sloppy with the scalpel down there." I go, "Why?" That orderly showed me. He said, "You cut that and we're running for cover." It was the intestine. He said, "If that thing breaks, we're going to know it." It was nasty. It broke, and we ran for cover. All we wanted to do was to get that out of there and clean it up and get it away.
What God says is, "You know what? In the same way, Todd, that you wanted to run from those little feces that were locked inside that dead body for a few days, I'm going to make individuals who falsely represent me to be just as despised as that." That's your Bible. What God is saying here is, "I don't take lightly the folks who are going to represent me who are going to go through lip service but miss the heart of what it's about."
He goes on to say, "You should have been like my servant Levi. I want my covenant to continue with my faithful son Levi, who did great things when he walked with me and followed in my steps, but because you don't do that…" He goes on toward the end of this passage and says, "In fact, I've asked you, as a group of people, when you went into this land I was going to give you, to not allow… As a divine act of justice, I'm raising you up to bring judgment on folks who have for hundreds of years rebelled against me."
God's plan was to use Moses and Joshua and the nation to literally eradicate everything that was in that land, but they didn't do it. They didn't follow God. They let some survivors in there. They let some people stay and live, and those people then grew back strong in number, and they kept their traditions, practices, and false worship with them.
There were some good-looking women who came from some of those people who survived, so some of those men God had called to live differently started to see some of those pretty gals and started to marry them. When they married them, they would get in their household, and now you would have a faithful man to whom it had apparently been revealed by the grace of God how to live married to this woman who should have been judged and never made her way to planet earth because her family would have been eradicated because they were a group of people who lived in constant rebellion against God.
Now that family lived, and their traditions and false worship lived with them, and all of a sudden, now you have in homes mixed marriages with, if you will, believers, or said believers, people who would walk with God, now living with folks who had no idea who God was. And guess which one prevailed. The end of Malachi, in verses 10-12, is him saying, "You have loved the daughter of a foreign god," which is to say, "You have married idolatrous women."
Folks, again, regularly ask me, "Is it that big a deal to marry somebody who is not a believer?" I'm going to tell you something. Not only is it a big deal to marry somebody who is not a believer, male or female, but it's a big deal to marry somebody who is not a sold-out, devoted follower of Christ, somebody who won't just give lip service and say, "Yeah, I'll get married in a Christian wedding. Yes, I'll get married, and let's get a pastor involved," but somebody who isn't radically devoted to Christ.
He says you don't want to mess with that. "What fellowship does light have with darkness?" he says. I don't want you dating, because why would you defraud them by acting like you want to knit your hearts together when you know when you knit your hearts together what's going to happen is you're going to be forced to knit your beliefs together?
It says, "By wisdom a house is built, by understanding it is established." If you come into that marriage with two different blueprints, you are destined for destruction. You cannot build one house two different ways and have it stand. This is what the people were doing, and it made God a little bit angry. The best way he could describe it in Malachi 1 was, "I wish you'd shut the church down," if you will, "shut the temple down, shut this idea that you represent me down."
In Malachi 2, "I'm going to make you despicable in the eyes of the people, as despicable as the entrails of those animals they are sacrificing so there will be no mistake about how I view you." So what's the application to us? The application to us is…Wow! God is pretty serious about those who take his name. Well, who takes his name today? It's folks who profess to believe that they have a relationship with God. How? Through his Word, through his Son, the Living Word, Jesus Christ.
The church in America today has largely become messy, irrelevant, a joke in the eyes of a watching world. Look at what it says in Malachi, chapter 2, verse 9. This is what he said he would do specifically to the people in that day. In verse 9 he says, "I will make you despised and abased before all the people." Some translations will say, "I will make you hated and humiliated." If you wanted to know a good way to describe the church in America and, really, the West today it would be in those two terms.
The church is seen as irrelevant, it is hated, and it is humiliated. Why? The answer is not because they are committed to holiness but because the church, in large, is committed to lukewarmness, and God says, "That doesn't fly right with me." There's a guy, as you know… I talk about him every now and then. He was on the cover of this little magazine. His name is George Barna. He talks about all of the different things that are going on in the church in America today, and he talks about how the American church is viewed by the people in a way that would be despicable.
He talks about a couple of things… He calls them SSIs (strategic sources of influence). As an example, if you go to MapQuest and type in an address, malls and movie theaters and things like that will show up, areas of interest around, but it won't give you any information about what places of worship are around there, because MapQuest knows that people think what places of religious influence are around, and there are over 300,000 Protestant churches around. They're largely irrelevant.
The strategic influences that exist out there today are movies, TV, music, the Internet, books, parents, and politicians. The church and spiritual things don't even show up when you ask people, "What's the major influencer in your life?" If you look at what makes up the meeting of our body, the 19- to 37-year-olds, you'll find out that there is a higher view of lesbians than there is of folks who say they are purveyors of good news, that TV stars and movie stars instruct them more than religious people do. Why?
I'll tell you this. If I was God and I was going to let somebody be an influencer of a generation, I think I would go ahead and let Hollywood do it over the dead, inept leadership in the church today, because the leadership in the church today… I'm not talking about every individual. What's really interesting about this is that in this very magazine that they're talking about the problem with the church, it goes through and talks about the Presbyterian church, the Methodist church, and the Episcopalian church, every one of those denominations wrestling with certain standards of applying God's long understood Word on the culture.
Now I'm going to tell you this. I have friends in the Presbyterian church. I have men who are pastors in the Presbyterian church who I'd love to be on this staff. I have friends in the Methodist church who are doing incredible works for God. I have friends in Episcopal churches who are fully devoted, passionate followers of Christ who love the Lord every bit as much and are every bit as effective as anybody I would associate myself with. I love to share life and ministry with them.
But when you go to the overall umbrella of where their denominations are heading, they are abandoning and forsaking their call. What God says is, "You know what's so confusing? Of course the world is going to run toward darkness, but when you get guys who stand up and say they represent God and make excuses for why you can twist and distort God's Word to endorse what the people in Hollywood are doing, they are more of an abomination to me."
I can remember as a young man I was forced (that's the right word) to take part in a youth Sunday one time. Just because of the way God wired me, I played the character of John in this thing. I did it just because it was easier doing that than to get whupped by my daddy. So I went and did this thing, and I can remember I was in the back of the place where we did it afterward, and I had some old man walk up to me and say, "Son, God used you today in my life. I think when you get older you're going to be a pastor."
I was about half-cocked to deck him, like, "Don't you prophesy over me, old man. I might be a lot of things, but I will not be an irrelevant agent in society." That's the way I viewed the church leadership I was around. By the grace of God, as I got older, I saw pictures of men who were anything but what you see in Malachi. They were anything but what you see, by and large, in the major denominations today. They were faithful men who were exactly what God called men to be.
I thought, "You know what? I can give my life to that. In fact, I can't imagine giving my life to anything else." Now I don't mean by that full-time Christian service, because even after God won my heart completely, I was tracking to head somewhere else with a profession, and just for me. Not in a higher calling, not in a better calling than most of you did God lead me to do what I get to do today. I love what I get to do today, but it is not a more spiritual calling.
There is no more spiritual calling than being faithful wherever you are in service of Christ, and I am so thankful and even sometimes envious of the fact that God has you as missionaries in banks, in real estate companies, in classrooms, in homes, in neighborhoods, in law firms, in entrepreneurial leadership positions where God is using you as agents of light who rightly respond to his Word, who are fully devoted, who God delights in being a role model to his world.
I get to do it where I get to do it, and we do it together, and by the grace of God in places that people respond to his Word and are fully committed to it, his grace prevails and the very opposite of him wanting to spit us out of his mouth happens. He surrounds us. He strongly supports us as he sees that our hearts are completely his despite our failings.
What Malachi does is it holds up Levi and says, "This is what I want you to know about my servant Levi." Levi made an impact because of a couple of simple things. I just want to walk you through them. First, it says Levi was a godly man. He was a godly man because he taught God's Word. Levi didn't sit back and ask himself what it was he should believe. You cannot lead if you do not teach. That's my point. Levi didn't sit back and start to try and describe to people what he thought they should think about a certain topic.
Levi ran to God's Word that he revealed on Sinai and said, "What does God want us to do? How does God want us to view this? How does God want us to view folks who don't know him? He wants us to love them and call them to repentance. He wants us to be a holy priesthood. He wants us to be a kingdom of priests. By holiness, he doesn't want us to go set ourselves up on some mountain and isolate ourselves; he wants us to live where they live, but to live on a different plane than they live, and then to be in the world but not of the world."
This is what it says in Malachi, chapter 2, verses 4-7: "True instruction was in his mouth…" See it there in verse 6? That's what made him great. "…he walked with Me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many back from iniquity." It goes on in the next little passage to say, "For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth…" Do you want to know what God views as individuals who are leaders? He sees leaders as individuals who are biblically based.
When somebody approaches them and says, "What should we do? How should we respond to this issue? What shall we say about this in society? What do you think about this life choice? What do you think about this view of life in general? What do you think about this expression of sexuality?" we don't sit back and philosophize. We don't sit back and try and come up with our own very eloquent explanation for how we can just be this tolerant group. We go, "Let's see."
What we can do right here is debate all day and the most eloquent among us win or the largest number of us win or we can go and believe God exists and that in love he has introduced his Word into our world and we can respond to it. What a faithful pastor, priest, godly man, godly woman does is instruct people from the Word. You can't lead, you can't be who God wants you to be if you don't know your Bible.
You have to get in the Book. You have to read it, understand it, wrestle with it, quote it, walk according to it, and submit your life to it. Billy Graham says the thing that set his ministry apart is as a young man he said, "I decided to believe that the Bible was God's Word and to avail myself to it completely." I'll tell you, I made a similar commitment to say, "Lord, I'm not going to sit there and be creative and try and figure out what I think people should think. I am going to humble myself under your Word.
Once I've done the apologetic study and work and convinced myself that it's reliable and true, I will then surrender and submit to it, and if anybody can ever show me anything that I believe or any way I live that is inconsistent with your Word, I will, as best I'm able and as much as you want to have your way with me, correct my life by it." It is the number-one core value of our church. We stand firm where the Bible is firm. We remain flexible where it is flexible, but it is our authority, conscience, and guide.
Secondly, not only can you not lead if you don't teach; you can't teach if you don't live what you teach. This is what Malachi said. If you look again at Malachi 2:4-7, this is what he said was true about Levi. "What made him so effective in his generation was that he was an individual who walked with me in peace and uprightness," right there, if you want to go back and look sometime, in Malachi 2:6. Instruction was in his mouth. He led because he taught, but then he walked with God. That's pretty obvious.
In Romans, chapter 2, in fact, this is what Paul said when he was talking about the Jewish people, when he walked with them. He said, "If you bear the name Jew and rely upon the law and boast in God, that's a good thing. If you know his will, if you approve the things that are essential, if you're instructed out of the law, that's a good thing. If you view yourself, because you have the Bible, as somebody who is a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature because you have in the law an embodiment of the knowledge and the truth, that's awesome."
But he says, "Don't just say you have that stuff to guide the blind, to lead people who are in darkness to light, to teach the immature, to be a corrector of the foolish. Live like it." In other words, if everybody is sitting there trying to put the puzzle together and you think you have the picture that makes the puzzle work, put your puzzle together. You go, "Of course." Do you want to be an agent of change? Do you want to be somebody God doesn't despise but delights in?
This is the key. First, know the Bible. Teach it. Secondly, live it. You have to be a person who knows God's Word and lives God's Word, and how do you do that? The answer is you do that because you fear God and reverence the Lord. Exactly what it says in Malachi, chapter 2, Levi did. You're not going to live what you teach unless you fear God and stand in awe of his name. The Bible says in Proverbs, chapter 1, that is the beginning of wisdom. There is no knowledge apart from understanding rightly who God is.
Now if I could just convince you today that God was there, he did exist, he did crash into our world, reveal himself through Moses, and reveal himself most fully through his Son and has left us a record of who he is, how he loves us, and how he wants us to live in relationship with him by the power he gives us, wouldn't you go, "Well, man, Todd. If I just believed that, I would be this kind of person"? This is where God calls us to be people of faith.
Let me just show you why this message is so relevant to our world today. I'm just going to throw up some indicators in our society and show you why I think the book of Malachi is the supreme book for the church in America today. By the way, I want to let you know Watermark is not a perfect church, but I would say that, as a body, as a core, we are purposing to be fully devoted to Christ, to be competent in the Word, competent in the way we do life and applying the Word, connected with one another, committed to God, and calling each other to live by the standard of Scripture that God gives us.
The reason I love this book and the reason I'm teaching it to us is as we continue to go forward and be a light to the world, I'm not scolding us for who we are; I'm saying, "Do you see how serious this business is with God that we stay where we are?" For those of us who are here who are waffling or have never really taken a step to respond the way God wants us to, it is a prophetic call to repentance. For me, it is a reminder that God does not take lightly the bastardization of our privilege. The last thing he ever wants me to do is give him lip service and go through what's a nice order of service here but to stay on mission together.
Here are a few things just to show you society, just between believers and nonbelievers. "Read all or part of a book for pleasure in the last month." Being informed people. Believers, you'll find out, have this response. Nonbelievers, typically, almost the exact same thing. In fact, nonbelievers are reading more than others. Readers are leaders. They're learners, and they're being able to be in conversation with other people. They know what society has to say.
"Donated any money to a nonprofit organization in the last month." Believers: 47 percent did it. Look at that. Nonbelievers are giving just like us. Next one. "Have been divorced." This is a little bit tricky. It's 27 percent, and that number I think is low. These statistics are a little old. But nonbelievers, 23 percent. Let me just show you this. Part of this one, specifically, is not just saying that the church is less committed to marriage than others.
Part of this is God uses the devastation of being unequally yoked to somebody who will not love you as Christ loved the church, who will not respond to your leadership and love in the right way, to break us, to call us to the end of ourselves, so, many times, when you're a believer and you say, "I'm divorced," many of those folks came to Christ through their divorce. Nonetheless, we all know there are marriages right here in our midst that are on the brink of that with both people professing a devotion to Christ. It's hard to believe.
Next: "Had a discussion about politics in the last week." In other words, agents of influence in their society. That's what God has called us to do. A corrector to the foolish, a teacher of the immature, a guide to the blind: 41 percent. How about nonbelievers? Do they have a viewpoint? You bet, and they are militant about communicating it out there. They are just as evangelistic as we are. In fact, more so.
Next: "Intentionally encouraged or complimented somebody in the last week." All that is is all through your Scripture, "Encourage one another day after day as long as it is called 'Today,' lest any of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." Do we as believers do that? About 86 percent of us say we do that. How about nonbelievers? Yeah. About 8 out of 10 of them are doing it. Pretty similar.
Look at this one. "Subscribed to cable television." Now why is this significant? Because of the resources that go there certainly, but also because of the content we easily accept that's on there. Frankly, having that available in your home is one thing, but if you're having it available in your home and you cannot say no to it, that is another thing altogether. I'm not here to tell you that Christians shouldn't have cable television. I have satellite TV in my home, but you have to be able to make sure that in having that stuff in your home…
I don't personally have movie channels there, and let me tell you why. Not because if I had movie channels God would love me less but because if I had HBO I'd watch it. If I had Showtime, I'd watch it, and I would fill my mind with all unpleasant things and delight in it, and I can't handle it. How many Christians? Seventy percent. How many non-Christians? Seventy percent. Same. In other words, we're both having the opportunity to engage in the same things.
Next one. "Contacted a public official to express your opinion in the last year." You'll see believers: 41 percent. Nonbelievers: 40 percent. Same thing. Both efforting the same way. "Had a session with a professional counselor in the last year." You'll find that believers find that they have to go to some little person in an office and lock themselves in, because that's the only place they can get care, correction, and encouragement. How about nonbelievers? Same thing.
Don't you think there should be some difference in the fact that God has called us to be a different kind of community that deals with problems differently? I do. I absolutely do. "Filed a lawsuit against someone in the past year." Believers: 3 percent. Nonbelievers: 4 percent. Uh-oh. I think 1 Corinthians 6 has something to say about this. I could go on and on with indicators like this.
What am I saying? What I'm saying is the church has lost its edge. It is no longer the light God wants it to be. Why? Because we don't know our Bible, we don't teach our Bible, we don't live according to our Bible, we don't reverence and fear God. Gang, what does all this have to do with us? Part of it is simply this. What is the greatest legacy you can leave? We say in Watermark, our name, there's one thing that specifically should capture what it is.
When there's a flood and the water goes to a certain level and then recedes, there's a line there, a watermark, a lasting impression. What's the lasting impression we can make as a generation? What's the greatest gift Levi could have given the nation? I'll tell you what it is. It's somebody who walked in his steps as passionately for God as he did. That's what God wanted from Levi. That's what God wanted Aaron to do: to raise up a godly son who would come up after him who would raise up a godly son to come after him.
The grandson of Aaron was a man God specifically blessed. His name was Phinehas. Why? Because there was a bunch of idolatry going on in the nation, and the Jewish people were wedding themselves to daughters of a foreign god. God brought a plague amongst the people. In Numbers it talks about this. Twenty-four thousand Jews had died. Moses was in the Tent of Meeting pleading with God for mercy and grace to come upon them.
Then some Jew walked into the midst while the nation is absolutely repenting over this horror that had fallen. Eight times the death and consequence on that nation that happened to us on September 11 had happened amongst them as a people. They are weeping before God, and then some bold, brazen Jew walks into the assembly with his arm around a Moabite woman and says, "Hey, these women are better-looking than our women, and I don't really care what they believe." He walked into a tent and started having relations with her.
While everybody else was stunned, Aaron's grandson picked up a spear and said, "I'll be right back." He walked into that tent and stuck a rod through the one who was on top of the other. It had a spear on one end of it. He walked back out and said, "I think that'll take care of that problem." God said, "That blesses me." Now, I'm not advocating that in terms of an application today, but I'm telling you, in that day and age when God was revealing who he is, he said, "That's what I want. That's what I've called you, as a Jewish people, to do."
For us, he doesn't want us to use a sword; he wants us to use the sword of God's Word to call them to repentance and to let him come and bring justice on his own. He says he will, and it's ours to warn those who are doing that that there are consequences coming. Phinehas was faithful, but where was Phinehas' son and Phinehas' grandson and great-grandson and on down the line?
Here's the thing. Are we a faithful church today? By the grace of God, maybe so. Here's the question…Will we be in 5 years? Will we be in 10 years? Will we be in 20 years? Will we be in the next generation? The greatest gift a godly man can give his people is a disciple who is just as committed as he is. That is why Ezra, a contemporary of Malachi, is another man God held up. This is what Ezra was known to do.
First, Ezra set his heart… He said, "I'm going to be devoted to God." Ezra set his heart to study the law of the Lord, it says, and then it says he set his heart to live it, and then it says he set his heart to teach it. Right there it is. Ezra set his heart to study the law of the Lord, to practice it, and then to teach his statutes and ordinances in Israel.
Here's the question I have for you this morning. Do you want to be a godly man, a godly woman? Do you want to leave a lasting impression? Do you want God to associate you with him and not with dung? Learn the Book. Commit yourself to the Bible. Set your heart to say, "I will be a fully devoted follower of Christ. I will stand firm where it is firm, and I will be flexible where it is flexible. It will be my authority, conscience, and guide. I will know it. I will speak it with grace and truth in season and out of season."
You commit yourself to that. You study it, you live it, and then you give it to others and build it into them. God is looking for a few good men and a few good women who will be faithful today and be faithful tomorrow.
Father, I thank you for this day and a chance to think together and a chance for us to be called back to the standard you have intended for us. I thank you that in this church, Lord, you have given us favor among the people and that you're adding to your number day by day those who are being saved, that we are giving attention to the Scriptures, to the apostles' teaching, that we are sacrificing for one another, as is consistent with your Word.
I thank you, Father, that you have given us in this body a reputation that is allowing us to introduce people to the God who should be renowned in all the world. May we continue. We just say today, Lord, with fear and trembling, there but by the grace of God, our attentiveness to your Word, our submission and surrender to your Spirit, there we go in Malachi, there we go in these churches that are starting to bastardize their call.
We don't ever want to go there, Father. We pray you'd put us out of business. We pray you'd take leadership out of significant places of leadership if they start to compromise on these things and that you would allow us to prevail for you. In Christ's name, amen.
When it comes to communication, men and women often struggle to understand one another. Even though we care, at times we just can't make sense of what's being said. In the same way, the nation of Israel misunderstood what a relationship with God should look like, even though He repeatedly revealed His heart to them. And even today, churches and followers of Christ miss what He's trying to say. In "God is from Mars, We are from Venus", you'll see God's effort to clearly communicate what a vital, abundant relationship with Him entails as expressed in the book of Malachi. You can learn volumes from this small book that caps off the Old Testament as you consider who God is, who we are, and what it takes to live in right relationship with Him.This series includes the 5-part sub-series on marriage entitled "Why Marriage is a Big Deal to God".