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He said: 'Return to Me.' We say: 'How'

God wants people to return to Him, but too often people don't think they have ever left. We think our good deeds put us in God's good graces so we see no need to seek after Him. This message explains how sometimes the most dangerous place to be is that place where we are content and think we are in right relationship with God. Todd also discusses the often misinterpreted passage in Malachi about giving, and explains how the call for us today is to give our entire lives to God, just as Christ gave His life for us.

Todd WagnerDec 21, 2003
Malachi 3:6-4:6

Messages In This Series (10)
He said: 'Return to Me.' We say: 'How'
Todd WagnerDec 21, 2003
He said: 'You are wearing me out.' We say: 'How'
Todd WagnerDec 14, 2003
He said: 'Marriage Matters.' We say: 'How?', part 5
Todd WagnerDec 7, 2003
He said: 'Marriage Matters.' We say: 'How?', part 4
Todd WagnerNov 30, 2003
He said: 'Marriage Matters.' We say: 'How?', part 3
Todd WagnerNov 23, 2003
He said: 'Marriage Matters.' We say: 'How?', part 2
Todd WagnerNov 16, 2003
He said: 'Marriage Matters.' We say: 'How?', part 1
Todd WagnerNov 9, 2003
He said: 'You have turned away.' We say: 'How?'
Todd WagnerOct 26, 2003
He said: 'You've despised me.' We say: 'How?'
Todd WagnerOct 19, 2003
He said: 'I've loved you.' We say: 'How?'
Todd WagnerOct 12, 2003

We're making our way through a little book that you may not spend much time with on your own if you're going to self-select a place to read in Scripture. It's a book that closes a major effort by God to work with a unique group of people called Israel. We talked about how Christ is Israel's hope and consolation in some of our songs of the season. What does that mean?

We're going to wrap it up today in the book of Malachi, and explain to you why Christ, this Jesus that I believe in and believe that my eternity is forever changed by, is a Jewish hope, and God has allowed me to see what he offered them, as he always intended. If you have Bible and you can turn to Matthew and then take one book to your left, you'll find Malachi. It's the last book we have in our Old Testament.

We've explained Malachi this way to you. There is a great tension in God working to communicate to people what it is that he wants from them. It's like we just don't get it. It's like God is from another planet because he says one thing to us that he thinks is very clear, but we consistently miss it. That was true of Israel, and it's also true of us in many ways.

We've used this little hook throughout our series that God Is from Mars, and We Are from Venus, just like that book John Gray wrote about 10 years ago: Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus. Then we laughed about how the genders, who want to live together in relationship, often miss each other like two ships passing in the night because they are so different. So they have to work hard to understand each other.

In fact, I did a little search just for fun on some other books (other than Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus) this week to find out what else is available to help men and women get along. Some of the titles are really hilarious. One of the titles of a genuine book you can go get that was, in fact, a best seller for a while is titled, Why Men Can't Listen and Women Can't Read Maps. Another one was Why Men Don't Have a Clue and Women Always Need More Shoes. Both of them with a tagline that says, "Understanding men and women and how to get along."

We thought, as a public service announcement…given the tie that we have to Malachi with this and what time of year it is…that we would share a couple of quick things.We know these men and these women have to cohabitate together, want to be in relationship, but often don't understand each other. They forget how differently they respond to different times and seasons and even different responsibilities throughout the year, this being a time of year when many of us feel responsible to get gifts for one another.

If you've ever been to the Majestic at certain times of the year or other comedy clubs around town, you've heard of a guy named the Caveman. The Caveman is a guy who really talks about how men are…he uses the term…hunters and women are gatherers. Men are very conquer-oriented. If they're going to shop for a gift, for instance, they look at the gift as the game. They go and they stalk it and they hunt it and they kill it as quickly as they can, they mount it on the car, and get out of there and go home.

Women, on the other hand, like to walk out in the meadow a little bit and take in the beauty and pick some flowers, throw some berries in a basket, and eventually stumble on what they were there to look for, make their way back out of the meadow, and go home. They have a nice long day of it.

So we found a map that explains that to you. If you go shopping, it might help you to know what it is that you should expect. If the mission is to go to Gap and buy a pair of pants, this is how the men are going to go about it and how the women are going to go about it. So we figure that the quicker you can get your arms around that and accept it, the less frustration and tension there will be.

Likewise, I came across this thing that this guy wrote who was trying to help these men know how to buy the right gift. What I want to do as a public service announcement and to get us a little fun as we enter into this book where God is so different than we are that we keep missing his message is share with you some basic rules (hunters, men) about buying a gift. Just like when you go fish there's a size limit that is necessary for the fish. Here are some rules.

First, avoid sizes. Guys, if you have to get any clothing, get a size or two too small for the ladies, because somehow that always translates to her as a compliment. "Oh, I'd thought you fit in that. I don't understand that." Secondly (you need to know this, men), no pajamas or otherwise more intimate sleeping apparel. This is perceived and interpreted as a gift for you. So let's not go there, all right?

Third, if it comes from a store that you're comfortable in, you have to get it from somewhere else. There are no personal items for women in sporting goods, hardware, automotive, or fishing tackle shops. So you just don't go there. The possible exception to that is if you're going to get that romantic porch swing, maybe you make a swing through Home Depot or Lowes to build it for her.

Forth, no plants, flowers, or cards because these are for other occasions like weddings or deaths. They are interpreted as make-do gifts, such as those things you grab at the last minute when you're at the airport, the gas station, or the checkout stand. Let's not go there for Christmas.

Fifth, the gift has to be personal and impractical.The bread maker and blender are used by everyone in the house; therefore, it's not just for her. If it has a plug attached to it, it's not going to be a good gift. You need to know that. It must be hers and hers alone, with one possible exception. That would be an automobile (think sporty, not minivan).

Sixth, expensive candy is okay, but it does not constitute the main gift.Put this in her Christmas stocking with the plastic candy cane that you forgot to put back when you were walking around the store. Lastly, buy her something she already has. That way she can exchange it for something she really likes, and you'll never know the difference.

Anyway, just fun humorous things. Look how men and women are different. There are so many things that are out there. Some of them are funnier than others. The point is that our society knows how different we are, so they go to small end in writing books and using humor to laugh at ourselves. Sometimes if we do laugh at ourselves, it does help us understand a little bit more about the one that we're seeking to live in relationship with. We have to learn about the opposite sex, whether you're male or female, in order to get along well.

Let me just tell you this. All of the Scriptures are God's effort to tell us more about who he is and also to hold a mirror up to us to show us who we are, so that we can get along with him. Just like men and women are constantly working through struggles that exist in what we call the battle of the sexes, because we know we love each other and don't want to live without each other, in an even more pronounced way, God is desperate to have relationship with us. It's not always the way that we imagine. That relationship doesn't always go well for the reasons that we think it might.

All throughout history, God has introduced us to himself through different individuals who he raised up to communicate his truth. Imperfect men were used by God to parlay to us perfect truth. The Scriptures talked about how he inspired them. Not by, if you will, them seeing a great work of art or hearing a great piece of music or seeing a great sunset, though they were inspired in that way to do a great work of art or literature, but what the Scriptures talk about is that God used them, as only God can, to produce something that God would give us.

It was the means through which he desired to present his truth to us. If God wanted to, he could drop it from the sky. But he chose to use fallible men to produce an infallible book that he would be the author of, never denying their personality or the way that they were wired or even their culture. Through all of that, he gave us one book that we call our Bible.

These different messengers are making the effort to show us who God is, who we are, and how we can live in relationship to him. We talked last week how Malachi specifically means messenger. Malachi was the last messenger God was going to send a group of people there in the Old Testament to help them live rightly in relationship with him.

Otherwise, God was going to move forward and bring them to a time of discipline that would then, if you will, rip the scales off their eyes that were causing them to misunderstand who he was and, therefore, live in "misrelationship" with him. God was trying one more time to communicate, "Let me tell you who I am, who you are, and what it's going to take for us to live together."

Turn to Malachi 3:7. We're going to tear through this little book this morning, and we're going to give you some simple applications I think you'll find extremely relevant. You'll understand the context and effort God is making here is to say, "I'm going to tell you how far off you are in understanding who I am. Not to make you feel bad, but so you can get it right. Then we can have that relationship that we want."

In Malachi 3:7 this is what it says. "From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from My statutes and have not kept them ." So he says, "Return to me. You have walked away from what I've asked you to do, you've not lived how I've asked you to live; therefore, there's been a breach in our relationship." So he says, "Return to me. When you do, there's not going to be any probationary period. I'll return right away to you." Then it says, "But you say, 'How shall we return?'"

This has been why we've anchored the book in this theme (God's from Mars, we're from Venus). God has said throughout this book different things like, "I love you," and the people in Malachi's time said, "Well how have you loved us?" God said, "You've despised me," and the people go, "How have we despised you?" God has said stuff like, "You have turned from me," and they say, "How have we turned from you?" And God is always explaining it.

So right here, summarizing why they're in the condition that they're in, Malachi says, "Come back to me." The people said, "We'd love to come back to you. The problem is we'd have to leave so we could come back to you. We're already here." They didn't even know that just because they were physically doing some activities, they were living in proximity to where God was, and doing in proximity to what God asked them to do, that because their heart was not engaged, they were missing the point.

We use the analogy of a man and a woman. A lot of times a woman will say to a guy, "I wish you were around here more." A guy will say, "Wish I was around here more? I'm here all the time. I'm here right now. That's why you're interrupting me when I'm trying to watch my football game." The woman would say, "No, you don't get it. I don't want you physically in the house. I want you here living in a relationship with me.

It's not about geography. It's not even about things that you do (if you're going to move mindlessly through certain activities). I want to engage with you and to share our heart together." A guy sometimes will look at a woman like she's speaking a different language. "What do you mean? I can show you from my daytime or I can go through this last week and say, 'I've been here this much.'"

There are a lot of folks who have a hard time with God because they go, "Well, I don't need to return to God. I'm already rightly related to God." They would say some things like, "My works and my morality make me rightly related to God. The things that I do are better than the general public. So there's no need for me to repent. There is need for those who are doing wicked things, who are cheating, who are lying, who are hurting, or who are stealing. Those are the who need to return to God. But, by and large, if everyone lived like me, we'd be okay."

Some would say, "I'm very religious. I don't need to return to God. There's nothing that you could say about who Jesus is and what he did that would make me disagree with you." God would say, "I'm not looking for people who will check the right boxes on a quiz or a multiple choice test about who I am. I'm looking for folks who would engage with me."

Some might say, "I was baptized when I was a child. I don't need to return to God. I've never been baptized to any other faith system. So what's there to return to? I have been baptized by my mom and dad when I was an infant." This is basically what Malachi is trying to communicate to these folks right here. "You think you're close to me because of some of the things you've been doing. But you haven't been paying attention to what it is I've been calling you to all along. It's never been about religious effort. It's always been about the relationship."

I like to summarize this application for this little verse this way. It's the first one as we make our way through the end of the book. "The people in the worst place are people who think they're in the right place in relation to God when, in fact, they're in the wrong place."

A number of us would share that the folks who are hardest to reach with the compelling good news of who Jesus is and what he's done are folks who really don't think they need a Savior, or folks who think, by and large, that they're okay with God because they're better than okay with society. They're very moral people, so there's nothing to return to God for. They have a sense that their good is good enough.

One man said a long time ago that no lie is so great as a truth that is misunderstood. When a lot of folks hear that God calls us to live a life that looks a certain way, what we try and do is go, "Okay. Therefore, living our life a certain way is what makes us rightly related to God." Many, many people think they're in a right place with God when, in fact, they're in a wrong place, and they're, therefore, in the worst place.

You can't return to God if you don't think you've ever left God. You can't, if you will, repent of your own self-righteousness if you think your self-righteousness is what makes God loves you. We sang that song, "Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus." That song communicates a truth that confronts this idea which is that we are right with God through no merit of our own. It's his work which makes us acceptable to him. I'd offer this as clearly as I could to anybody who's here.

The Scriptures talk about the fact that we are saved by grace, not as a result of works…that's exactly what it says…so that no man should boast. "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, *it is *the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast." We are his because he has done a great work for us and we have received the gift.

One of the things that happens around Christmas is we always talk about the giving and receiving of gifts. That's why we have them up here on the stage. If I told you that one of these gifts was for you today, it wouldn't be enough that it's up here. You would have to come and receive that gift and open that gift and allow it to be appropriated to your life.

There are many folks today who understand that God offers them a gift and would tell you that, but they have never taken that gift, humbled themselves and acknowledged they've needed it, and received it and claimed that that gift is the means through which God has forgiven them. That gift is that Son who would come whose name was Jesus and be Immanuel (the Scripture says) which is God with us. " … Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."

There is no person who is in a worse place than the person who thinks they're in a right place when in fact they're in a wrong place. I will tell you that our churches, maybe some that are here, are full of folks who think because of what they do, where they attend, or how they give, that God must love them. Well, God loves you, but he loves you while you're a sinner enough to pay for that sin, so you don't have to. To not accept that and acknowledge your need is to be in a very wrong place with God. He says, "Return to me in humility."

In this next section, in chapter 3, verse 8, down to through verse 12, it simply says this. "Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, 'How have we robbed You?'" Do you, again, see this little idea all through the book?

"You're robbing me!"

"How are we robbing you?"

God says that you do it this way. "You rob me by taking the tithes and offerings that you're supposed to give me and not delivering them to me." He says, "You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation *of you *!" He goes on. He says, "Therefore, bring everything that is due me." In the Old Testament, there's this idea of a tithe, which was 10 percent.

"Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse…" I'm going to explain to you how it's different today. "'…so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,' says the Lord of hosts, 'if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows. Then [when you come to me and do what I've asked you to do] I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of the ground; nor will your vine in the field cast * its grapes *,' says the Lord of hosts. 'All the nations will call you blessed, for you shall be a delightful land,' says the Lord of hosts."

That's Malachi 3:8-12. Malachi is basically saying to the people, "You want to know why your land is in the condition that it's in and why it's not overflowing with milk and honey as it should be? That's because we cut a deal. If you lived in relationship with me because you loved me and you trusted me and did what I asked you to do, then I would do what I told you that I would do."

Things are not falling out like you want them to. God is trying to reveal this to Malachi. "It's because you're not living as I've asked you to live." He's trying to share with Malachi, "You tell the folks that, in effect, they're robbing me." This is the second time God talks about offerings in the book of Malachi. The first time they were offering the sick animals that were in their flocks, and it was a problem of quality.

They were cutting God out. Instead of taking their best and giving it to him, they gave him their sickly, the ones they didn't want to breed anyway, and sacrificed those. God said, "That shows that you don't really love me. You're just sneaking through the cracks hoping that I won't catch you or discipline you. Really, I'm not concerned about anything other than if you love me. By what you're doing, it's evidence that you don't love me." It was a problem of quality early in the book.

Now he's saying, "Here's another problem. It's a problem of quantity. You're always trying to trim off the edges and do what looks like enough when you and I both know it's not what you're supposed to be doing." I want to explain this to you, because this is one the places in the Scripture that poor teachers and poor students of God's Word will use to control you, to manipulate you, and to guilt you into giving today.

I've mentioned to you that Malachi is a book that was written about 2,500 years ago. It was written specifically to a nation that God had cut a very special deal with. He was going to work in a contractual, committed way with a group of people to reveal himself to the rest of the world. He told them, "The way I'm going to make the rest of the world take note of who I am is by making them take note of you. As you live in a relationship with me, I'm going to bless you as only God can bless you as a people.

When you do what I ask you to do and you separate yourself from the nations of the world by living in holiness and love and reconciliation and care and generosity toward one another, I will heap a blessing upon blessing upon you, I will give you victory and peace, and the nations of the world will want to understand what it is that makes you so great.

You are to explain to them that you live the way you live because you know me and you're blessed the way you're blessed because you live in relationship with me so that they can be blessed." God's plan from the beginning was that all the nations would be blessed through him.

I've mentioned to you a number of times that to really understand your Old Testament you have to understand Deuteronomy 28 though 30. I'm going to take you there, and I want you to look at a very small section. Deuteronomy 28:38-40. Let me show you what God says will happen if they don't do what they're supposed to do. See if this isn't familiar to what you see in Malachi. He says,

"You shall bring out much seed to the field but you will gather in little, for the locust will consume it. You shall plant and cultivate vineyards, but you will neither drink of the wine nor gather * the grapes *, for the worm will devour them. You shall have olive trees throughout your territory but you will not anoint yourself with the oil, for your olives will drop off."

Right here, God is saying, "I'm going to send (to devour) the locusts into your midst, and they're going to eat. No matter how much effort you put in to sow certain types of seed, it's never going to be enough for you because you're going to try and cut me out." The way God set up Israel, specifically, was there were 12 different men who were sons of the guy whose name is Israel (also known as Jacob), and those 12 tribes were given different apportions, different pieces of land, that God had given them, except for one.

It was the tribe of Levi. They were not given any land because they were to serve God in leading the people in worship. So God said, "The rest of you, take 10 percent of what you have as you make and live [10 percent of crops, 10 percent of your cattle, 10 percent of livelihood], and you give it to the tribe of Levi. I don't want Levi doing anything but working for you in worshiping me. They're going to be my priests who, in effect, will work in the land, in the temple, and take care of the temple services and the daily sacrifices.

So that they can be 100 percent focused on that which will be a constant reminder to you of my grace, if you will, that which allows me to cover your sin and overlook the wrong that you have done me, and what makes it so a people like you are allowed to be in relationship with me… I want them 100 percent committed to that, so you have to be giving them what I ask you to give them.

If you cut off giving to them what you're supposed to, they're not going to be able to give to me what they need to give to me. Therefore, I will not be worshiped the way that I deserve to be worshiped." That's all they say in here in the book of Malachi. The reason people weren't doing this was they were concerned if they gave 10 percent of what they had and their hard work, they wouldn't have enough.

God saying, "As it is, when you try and keep 95 percent for yourself [in this one particular vernacular] instead of 90 percent, you'll never have enough. I'll put holes in your pockets. But if you give me what I ask you to give, I'll take care of you like you've never imagined. Test me in this."

What's the New Testament application? Because in the New Testament this idea of a tithe doesn't really come across. First of all, I want to tell you this. When Israel gave, they didn't really give 10 percent. If you want to be consistent in giving in the Old Testament, you have to give about 23 to 24 percent.

The 10 percent was what really went to what was called the religious activity. There were a large number of other offerings that Israel was required to give to run the civil state, not just the religious state. Then there were a number of offerings that were to be given throughout the year that were special gifts to God. So it got closer to almost 25 percent of what they had was to be given back to the Lord. He said, "If you live with me as you should, I'll take care of you as a people. You don't have to worry about it."

There are a lot of folks who take God's specific deal with Israel and they drag it into the New Testament and will stand up in churches today and tell you, "If you want a blessing in your household this Christmas, then give to this church more than your 10 percent. You'll find out that God will give back to you two, three, or four times as much." They'll look you dead in the eye on your TV set, and they'll look you dead in the eye from up here, and they'll tell you this is a principle for you to apply.

I'm not going to do that because we are not Israel. What I am going to tell you is that there are principles that are likened unto this in the New Testament. It has much more to do with, again, not how much you give, but why you give and what kind of person God looks for to be in right relationship with him.

If you have a Bible, I want you to turn with me very quickly to 2 Corinthians 9. I want to show you in this little section what God would say. This is probably the major text in your New Testament that deals with giving. It'll give you the model that he wants us to look at today. This is what it says in 2 Corinthians 9:6-15.

"Now this * I say *, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully." The first principle of New Testament giving is give, because the size of the harvest depends on the size of the sowing. In other words, God is saying, "You will reap in direct proportion to what you sow." You have to ask yourself, "When do we reap, and what does God want us to sow?"

Most of us want to reap right now, and most of us think God is only talking about sowing money. I'm going to tell you both those things are wrong. In the New Testament when God talks about giving, he doesn't want you to limit that to what's in your pocketbook. He wants to limit that to what's in you as a person. God says, "The more of what you have and own...your life, others have said your time, your talent, and your treasures…the more of that you give to me, the more of your life and all that your life produces that you invest with me, the more you will reap from that."

The question becomes when. Most of us think, "If I do it in the spring, I want to harvest it this next fall." God says, "I'm going to take you to a different category. This life is the spring, and the fall is the life to come. Are there certain consequences in this life? Absolutely. But only that God uses to sharpen us back to a place where we would live with our eyes not set on this world but in the world to come. Anybody that tells you that you should do something now and will guarantee you a physical response on this earth is not reading their Bible. I'm going to prove it to you.

Secondly, look at verse 7. "Each one * must do * just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion…" Why? "…for God loves a cheerful giver." This is what it says in the second application. "You give because God loves a willing, sincere, and cheerful giver." The way you give to God is just as important as what you give. Here's the idea again. Remember what this is all about. Relationship. When you think of giving, don't just think of money. When you think of reaping, don't just think of next week, next month, or next season.

God wants us, as believers in the New Testament who have received a provision from God that should demonstrate his love for us to see with a different eye, that we then say, "Lord, here's what you want me to give. You want me to hold nothing back. You want me to give my entire life to you. The more of my life that I make available to you in service and love of others…the way I prioritize my life the way you want me to and take what you've given me and share it with other people…the more, it says, you will honor me as a faithful servant. But not now, necessarily."

God says, "When you do it, I don't want you going around serving me begrudgingly with a chip on your shoulder. I don't want you dragging yourself to church in bitterness. I don't want you serving your neighbor like, 'Look what I have to do because I love Jesus Christ.'" God says he delights in people who delight in honoring him with their life, as he delighted, if you will, in loving you.

Look at verse 8 and 9. This is what it says in 2 Corinthians now. "And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed; as it is written, 'He scattered abroad, he gave to the poor, His righteousness endures forever.'" Right here this is simply saying, "Give because God is looking for faithful men and women that he can give more to be faithful with.

This is the point. I want you to understand this and this part of giving in the New Testament. God delights in you stewarding what he has given you to steward. You need to know this. If you have $10,000 (just to use money as an illustration) and you are faithful with that… In other words, if God has given you $10,000 you have every bit as much of an opportunity to earn his full reward as a person who has been given $10 million.

In other words, the pastor who pastors a group of 20, if he is faithful with that group of 20 will honor God and be rewarded by God exactly the same way that a man who pastors a church of 2,000 will be rewarded, if that man of 2,000 is as faithful with that 2,000 as the man of 20 is faithful. You might be a one-talent person, a five-talent person, a ten-talent person, and what God looks for is if you use what he has given you by grace completely for him.

The Scriptures tell us that those who use it faithfully with some, God is eager to give them greater opportunity. That doesn't always follow financially, and it doesn't always follow in the size of your church, but it follows, certainly, in the sense that God says, "This person is somebody that I can trust. So in every way, I want to continue to increase his opportunity to glorify me."

In the New Testament, you want to give because God, we're told, is looking for faithful men and women who he can give more to be faithful with. God is already the one who has given you the grace to have sufficiency in everything. Any of us who have anything to give need to realize we have what we have to give (talent-wise, time-wise, life-wise, resource-wise) because God has given to us. It's our only to be faithful with, trusting him with the next.

Look what it says in verse 10, in this little section that's key to giving in the New Testament. It says, "Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest…" Watch this. "…of your righteousness." That's the goal in the New Testament. "You will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God."

Here's the point. Give without expectation of what it will mean for this life, but give with full expectation of what it will mean for the life to come. Right here he says, "Your giving your life and your sowing your life in relationship with me will increase your harvest of righteousness. You'll be made more like my Son, Christ, and you'll be enriched, so that in all liberality, in the way that you give and live and serve other people…."

The more than you live, the more that you give yourself or avail yourself completely to God, and you hold nothing back from him, the more God will use you to glorify himself and cause other people to give great praise to him.

We saw a little bit of that last week when we had a chance with some friends who live around us right here. We had a chance because they were in a different circumstance than we were. We don't have loved ones who are incarcerated who could not share with us their love this Christmas, so because we know that God loves those people who are incarcerated, we would come alongside them and, in the name of Jesus, give gifts to their loved ones from them in the name of Christ.

In us doing that and availing ourselves in that way and serving in ways that we can serve because we're not ourselves limited by our decisions, two things happen. Firstly, we became more like Christ wants us to be in the care and concern for other people and loved others as we want ourselves to be loved. Secondly, it caused others to give praise and greatness and thanksgiving to God.

What kind of great God is this? That people who don't know my father, my mother, my grandmother, my aunt, or my uncle would love them so they can love me. That's a good God. God is saying, "The more you give of yourself to me, the more I will work in you to be greater light for other people. See the giving here?

The principle is to give because God wants you to be the means through which his grace and greatness is known to others. Look at verse 12. "For the ministry of this service is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God." Why do you give in the New Testament? You share of everything you have, holding back nothing, because God wants you to be the means through which he cares for his people so that they can know that he cares for them. That's why we give in the New Testament.

Finally, in this last little section, I'll take you to another place in 2 Corinthians 8:9. It simply says this. I will tell you an application. Give because you are a Christ follower and the one you follow gave everything that he could give. God doesn't want us to hold anything back in our giving today because we follow our Master and our Savior who gave a model for how much you should give in the New Testament.

God doesn't just want us to cut him in on part of the deal. The Scripture says you give him your whole life. Don't cut out a certain habit. Don't cut out the way you deal with your family. Don't cut out with the way you do business. God says, "You give me everything about your life. Don't just give me a certain hour of your week. Or even worse, don't just give me 90 percent of the hours of your week, but have 10 percent of your life that you say, 'God is not going to invade this area of my life.'"

The New Testament response is your God has given everything for you, so you give everything to him. Now as I said, you need to understand the deal that God cuts with us is that he will increase us in righteousness, and he will increase our expectation of reward. Just like Israel wasn't sure that they could trust God season to season, many of us don't give our life and avail our resources fully to God because we're not sure we can trust him in the next season (after the grave). Is he really there? Will he really come through? Is he storing up for us treasures in heaven that thieves won't steal and rust won't destroy and moth won't eat? Do you believe him?

Do you believe him? The same fate decision that Israel had to make when it was relying on its very life is the same decision you have to make as you invest your life today. It's a decision of faith that is born out in how you live. I'll give you one specific historical example of a guy who we hold up as one of the persons who gave more for God than anybody in the history of the church.

His name was Paul. He was extremely well situated because of his professional career and place in family life and left all of that in order to serve God and endured many hardships. This Paul said simply this in one particular place. In Philippians 4:10 he says, "I've given God everything, if you will, and I've learned the secret of being filled, and I've also learned the secret of going hungry. Both of having abundance, and I've learned how to be okay when I'm suffering need."

Paul gave everything, and yet Paul sometimes suffered need. Paul sometimes was hungry, but Paul stored up for himself a full reward in the life to come. Does God sometimes resupply on this earth? Absolutely. Is that the takeaway from Malachi? No, it is not. What's the takeaway from Malachi? The takeaway from Malachi for us today is…How are you responding to God given how he's called you into relationship with him? Are you holding back what God has asked you to give him?

In the New Testament, what has God asked us to make available to him?Everything. Not a small portion of our income, but all of it. As we talked about (we did an entire 3-week series on this) the question to ask yourself is not, "How much of my money should I give to God?" but, "How much of what God has given to me is he okay with me using for myself?" That's a very personal question that each of us gets to answer and each of us gets to be recompensed for.

Be encouraged with this. If you're faithful with whatever it is that God has given you, you have the same opportunity to store up reward for yourself as somebody who has been given more. The issue is faithfulness and right response, not amount and public recognition.

All right. Moving forward. Let me show you Malachi 3:13 and following. It says, "'Your words have been arrogant against Me,' says the LORD. 'Yet you say, "What have we spoken against You [that's been so arrogant] ?"'" There they are again. "You have said, 'It is vain to serve God; and what profit is it that we have kept His charge, and that we have walked in mourning before the LORD of hosts?'" This is the same idea that we had a little bit before. The people were saying, "We've done what we're supposed to do. Why won't God do what he is supposed to do?"

The people say, "So now we call the arrogant blessed; not only are the doers of wickedness built up but they also test God and escape." That was the attitude of the people. Application for us today: before you blame God for your circumstance make sure you consider the choices that lead to your circumstance and then also make sure you understand his timing, which will ultimately lead to your deliverance.

What do I mean by that in terms of application? First of all, there are many of us who are certain circumstances in life that we complain, "God, how could you allow this to happen to us?" when we have chosen…apart from God's guidance (not submitting to his will and way and Word) we've busted through the little speed bumps of warning, sometimes through walls of warning…a life for ourselves or practices for ourselves or alliances for ourselves and friendships for ourselves that are going to bring horror into our life.

We've chosen to deal with conflict in a way that's inconsistent with the way Scripture says we should deal with conflict. We've chosen to busy ourselves trying to gain certain material things that bring stress into our lives. We've chosen to compare ourselves to others. We've chosen to value ourselves based on how we appear.

So all these different things bring about to us different circumstances. We sit there and we shake our fist at God. We say, "God, I'm miserable. How can you let me have such a miserable life?" He said, "I gave you my love and my Word so you wouldn't choose the things that you've chosen, but you've chosen what you've chosen, and now you blame me."

This is what it says in Proverbs 19:2-3. "Also it is not good for a person to be without knowledge, and he who hurries his footsteps errs." I like what it says in one translation. "…and he who makes haste with his feet errs. The foolishness of man subverts his way…" **Then what happens when man makes crazy decisions? It says,"…and his heart rages against the LORD**[and blames God for what has happened.]"

Remember, much of our circumstance is based on what we have chosen for ourself. On the other hand, there are certain things you didn't choose for yourself. A certain physical condition, maybe, that wasn't as a result of certain practices that you had. It was just your lot in life. You say, "God, how can you forget me? How come the wicked prosper? They don't get sick.

Why is my womb not bringing forth children when that woman's is? How can that teenage girl gets pregnant three times, have three different abortions, and I've been chaste my whole life until I met a faithful husband, and we loved you and honored you and served you, and yet there's no life in our womb. How can that be?"

To the Bev Johnsons… Bev is faithful and loves Christ and loves her family and for a year has battled this relentless cancer that's attacking her body. She wants to say, "God, where are you? What's the deal? How come you haven't healed me? I'm your servant."

God would say to Bev, "Bev, I'm going to heal you. I've just never promised you I'll heal you in your time, but I promise you there will be a day when your cancer…which is just one symptom of death, which is one major response to your rebellion against me as a people…is going to be healed. Because you love me, Bev, I'm going to heal you. And far better for you that I'm going to heal you one day ultimately at the resurrection than I just heal you from this particular symptom that you're going through right now."

When one of our good friends and members of this body was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus, I stood before you guys and I pronounced with incredible faith and absolute insurance that he would be healed. It just so happens, different than Bev, it looks like Joe is beating cancer on this side of the grave in a way that, so far, Bev's body has not done.

That's not what I meant though. I knew that whether Joe responded to chemotherapy and surgery or not, God one day would deliver Joe's body from that cancer. But I might not have seen Joe healed and free from cancer until I, myself, crossed to the other side. Do you understand the point? All of us want that to happen now.

I pray fervently for Bev, for Joe, and for every other person who asks us to pray for them. Can God heal them? Absolutely. Does God heal people today? Absolutely. Does he heal people today because of faith? Absolutely not. Faith is not a force by which we obligate God. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, and the conviction of things not seen. Even when cancer wins for a moment its ultimate sting will be stripped. That's the application here. Before you blame God, make sure you're not forcing God into a window of time God never committed to.

Moving on. Malachi is full of great application for us, this little book tucked away in your Old Testament. Look at verse 16. *"Then those who feared the LORD spoke to one another, and the LORD gave attention and heard * it, * and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the LORD and who esteem His name. 'They will be Mine,' says the LORD of hosts, 'on the day that I prepare * My * own possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him.'" *

What God is saying right here is certain people heard God's constant call in their life. "You're missing me. You're missing me." It says, "They gave attention to it and heard it," and this is what God did. The God who is willing (I would say it this way) to confront you when you say, think, or do the wrong thing about who he is is so willing that he is waiting to comfort you when you say, think, or do the right thing with him.

As clearly as I can put it, is this way. I don't know where you came in with God this morning, I don't know what you've been saying, thinking, or doing with God, but as you hear what I'm saying today and trying to communicate to you what God is trying to say through his messenger, if you respond rightly to it, this God who is willing to confront you is so eager to immediately comfort you.

Let me tell you where Malachi goes next. Look at verse 18, following this immediately. It says, *"So you will again distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him. 'For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze,' says the LORD of hosts, 'so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.'" *

God is saying, "Certain people are going to pay attention to what I have to say, and I'll remember them. I'll never forget them. I will inscribe them in the Book of Life, and they will not be forgotten. But there are some who will not pay attention to what I'm saying, who will not listen to my Malachis, who will not listen to my people who are messengers of truth and hope, and they will be put in a place that they will be consumed."

This is the application to this. God, who is willing to comfort you when you say, think, or do the right thing with him, is waiting to consume you if you continue saying, thinking, or doing the wrong thing with him. Some people might go, "Man, that's a pretty strong message, Wagner." I'm going to say, "That's exactly right."

It's a strong message of grace, hope, opportunity, but a strong message of warning. That's all that God is saying to Israel, and it's what he's saying to you today, people who he wants a relationship with. "Who do you say that I am? What are you doing in response to that? What do you think about me? Are you creating a god of your own ideas, or are you trusting me to be the God who has revealed himself to you? What are you doing in light of that?"

God is so willing to offer comfort to those who he confronts, but he is also willing one day to consume those who continually reject him. Malachi 4:2 says, "But for you who fear My name…" This is where Charles Wesley got this little verse from in "Hark the Herald Angels Sing." He applied this to Christ. "…the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall."

God is saying, "There's going to be a day when I show up like I've never been around before in your presence. It's going to be like when I rise up in all my glory and reveal myself in a way that I cannot be mistaken. There is going to be the regenerating work of righteousness which will prevail in you, and you will never die. You'll be like a calf that has been locked up into a stall and, all of a sudden, the doors have been broken open and you will skip out into the meadow free.

It says, "'You will tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day which I am preparing,' says the LORD of hosts." God is saying, "Right now, I know it looks like the wicked are rebelling against me and getting away with it and not having any consequences, but there's going to be a day when I'm going to show you to be wise. There's going to be a day when what you long for will happen, which is that you'll be vindicated in your faith."

"But you who fear my name," it says, "this day will come." It says, "You will tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet…" This is the application. I just put Wesley did. "Hark the herald angels sing."Let every messenger in this room…I've said before, angels, biblically, are not a specific class of being (spiritual or human). It's always determined by context.

God wants us, who have understood this message, to be angels who proclaim this good news that there will be glory…this is key…one day for those who love the newborn King. So this Christmas, you have to decide for yourself who you think Jesus is, what you say about Jesus, what you do in light of that, and how much of your life you give him, because the Scriptures would call us into account.

If you say God gave everything for you, and yet you're not giving God all of your life…you'll give him an hour a week, a percent of your income, but there are certain practices, and habits and areas of your heart that you're going to say, "God will not be sovereign over this…" If you're doing this the Scriptures would say, "Woe to you," because you don't understand the God who has come and who calls you to be in right relationship with him. He's not looking for polite people to do cultural things. He's looking for humbled, overwhelmed people who know they need mercy to respond completely to the mercy that's been given to them.

Wrapping up Malachi. You get to chapter 4, verse 4 through 6, and it says, "Remember [not just in your mind, but respond to] the law of Moses My servant, * even the * statutes and ordinances which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel. ' Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. 'He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.'"

Let me just make a quick application here. A man whose heart is not focused on loving and serving his family is a man whose heart is not focused on loving and serving God. As leaders of the church, the group of men who get to do that…I'm not just talking about elders, but the godly men who make up this body…when we get together and talk about the greatest problem that Watermark has to be the church that God wants it to be, it consistently centers on the men.

We have a number of men who, although they will tend here faithfully, will not focus on what God has asked them to primarily sovereign over. They are the elders of their family, the leaders of their family, and when they don't turn their hearts towards home, it is evidence that no matter where they show up on Sunday or what they say on some membership response form, if they do not cherish their wife, honor their wife, serve their children, disciple their children, love their children, and prioritize their week, it ripples through that family and through this church and this community and this state and this world in horrific ways.

God says, "When men really know who I am, when a nation really knows who I am, people will know their place," and uses fathers and children as a stereotypical teaching point here. The point is when you know who God is, you will fulfill your role that God has created you to fulfill, and you'll turn your heart fully towards what God has called you to turn your heart fully toward.

Men, I'll just let this verse speak exactly like it should and tell you no matter what you think you think about God, if your hearts are not turned where God says your heart should be turned, then you ought to think again about what you think about God. I'll let you wrestle with that. This is what Malachi says. "There's going to be a day when I'm going to come and I will set things back in order as I intended them to be."

The Scripture says that John the Baptist was the Elijah who was to come. A little bit later though, after John was dead, Jesus said John was Elijah and would've been Elijah the way Malachi anticipated him to be, had they accepted who Jesus was. Since they didn't, Jesus said there will be another Elijah that is to come.

Then it goes even further. In the New Testament in the book of Revelation in chapter 11, it talks about two witnesses. I want to show you this. It says, "'And I will grant * authority * to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for twelve hundred and sixty days [which is to say three and a half years] , clothed in sackcloth.'" They will look like Elijah, if you will, when he preached. "These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth."

If you take your New Testament after Jesus was rejected by Israel, after John was beheaded by Herod, you will find out that Jesus says, "John was that Elijah who was to come. I am the Messiah. They've rejected John, they're going to reject me, but my plan will not be thwarted." Here's your application, and there is not a better Christmas point that I could make.

We focus on Christmas always with a child being wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger. What you need to know about this Jesus who you need to think and say and do with, is this. The one who has come wrapped in swaddling clothes is coming again for a second Christmas. This time he'll be wrapped in sovereign greatness, and how you respond to him in word and deed will shape your today and it will shape your eternity. The good news is he wants you to know him and have your today eternally changed. Let's pray.

Father, there's a mouthful of application right here, but we want to leave with one thing clearly embedded in our minds, and that is this. This child who came who we celebrate this time of year, who came, as you will, as the Lamb to take away the sins of the world is the Lion of Judah, the Prince of Peace, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, the one who will reign forever and ever and whose light and lamp will not go out, and those who trifle with him will not find themselves leaving a humble Savior, but they will find themselves standing in rebellion before a sovereign King.

This one that has come wrapped in swaddling clothes in the first life will come again wrapped in sovereign greatness. So I pray for my friends who are here today, that they would understand who this Jesus is and they would fully and rightly respond to him in how they think and, therefore, what they say and do with this Jesus.

Lord, may we not hold back anything from you who understands this and may, as a result of us not holding back anything, there be an increasing gift of righteousness in our lives that causes others to have an increasing appreciation of who you are because we are servants of them. May that happen at Watermark. May you turn us all fully back to the roles that you have called us in.

May we have hope in the midst of sickness that the day is coming when you will deal with death and its haunts on our bodies. May those, Father, who are in a circumstance not of their choosing find the faith to wait for the day when you deliver them from it. Will those of us who are in circumstances we are in because of our rebellion against you humble ourselves, return to you, and begin to walk in obedience.

Father, may we praise you for the grace that is available and the greatness that is to come, and may we hark like herald angels sing that the King is coming again and this next Christmas, if folks have not received the gift of the first, will be a gift of justice and not of grace. I pray for those who are here today who have never understood the light of Christ, that it will be clear to them this moment and they will turn to you so you can return to them. Amen.


About 'Malachi: God Is From Mars, We Are From Venus'

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".