I don't know about you, but I start to get nervous when somebody says they have good news and bad news. Somehow the bad news always sounds worse.
Somebody's compiled a list of good and bad news that preachers might hear:
Good News: Now that you have an associate, you don't have to prepare a sermon every Sunday.
Bad News: He can preach better than you can.
Good News: With your new wireless microphone, everybody can understand your sermons.
Bad News: The hard-of-hearing suddenly discover they disagree with you.
Good News: Mrs. Jones is wild about your sermons.
Bad News: Mrs. Jones is also wild about "The Gong Show" and "Texas Chain Saw Massacre."
Good News: Church attendance rose dramatically the last three weeks.
Bad News: You were on vacation.
Good News: It's Sunday!
Bad News: It's Sunday ...
Today, the passage we're going to study has some good news for us. The good news is really good. That makes the bad news easier to take. The bad news, though, is disturbing. These words, although they were written 2,400 years ago, contain good news and bad news for all of us today.
These words are written to God's people, who have returned to Israel after being in exile. We're going to see God give good news to his people, but also diagnose a problem which, if left uncorrected, will be fatal for them. That's why it's important for us to hear today. God's got his finger on a condition that we don't always know that we have. It's not all hopeless - there is good news as well as bad news. It's important that we know we have this problem, though, and to address it as soon as we can.
Please open your Bibles to the last book of the Old Testament, the book of Malachi, chapter one.
The Good News
First, the good news. Malachi 1:2 says, "'I have loved you deeply,' says the LORD.'" I told you that the good news was really good. God loves his people deeply. It's not always obvious that he does. God spoke these words to a nation which had just spent years in captivity in Babylon. The good news is that even when life knocks it out of us, God says he loves us deeply. The ultimate expression of this love is Jesus Christ, who showed us his love by dying for us. God loves us.
The most famous verse in the Bible says, "For God so loved the world..." It's easy to read a verse like that and leave it as an abstraction. God's love for us isn't an abstraction. Right here, right now, as God looks at you, he loves you. We are the object of our Creator's affection.
The Bad News
I'm glad God gave the good news first, because it helps us deal with the bad news. The bad news is that God has diagnosed us with a spiritual problem that needs correcting. Left unchecked, this problem is spiritually fatal.
When we go to the doctor, the doctor usually tells us what things should be like. She'll say, "A normal blood pressure reading is 120/80." Then they'll tell us what our condition is. They might tell us that our blood pressure is 140/90. Then they will tell us what will happen if we don't deal with the problem. God takes these same steps. He tells us what we should be like, what we are like, and what will happen if we don't address the problem.
What We Should Be Like
God begins by describing what our relationship should look like. He says:
The LORD Almighty says to the priests: "A son honors his father, and a servant respects his master." (Malachi 1:6)
"But my name is honored by people of other nations from morning till night. All around the world they offer sweet incense and pure offerings in honor of my name. For my name is great among the nations," says the LORD Almighty." (Malachi 1:11)
"For I am a great king," says the LORD Almighty, "and my name is feared among the nations!" (Malachi 1:14)
This passage is like a triple-decker sandwich. At the beginning, middle, and end of this passage, God says, "I am worthy of your worship." Just like it is right for a son to honor his father, God is worthy of our honor. Everywhere in the world, there are people who are bringing honor to God. He is the great King, and he is worthy of all of our worship.
Here's what God is saying: I am worthy of your worship. I am worthy of your worship. Worship not just as in songs and prayers. God is worthy of all of our worship, in all of our lives. Worship is not limited to certain places and times. Worship is how we bring glory to God with all of our lives, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. God says, "I am worthy of being worshiped with all of your life."
So far, I think that most of us agree. There is probably nobody here who would argue with the statement, "God is worthy to be worshiped with all of our lives." The angels worship him for who he is and what he has done. People today are gathering all over the world to worship God. The Bible says that one day, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. God is worthy of our worship.
One of my favorite hymns puts it this way: "Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all."
What We Are Like
God spoke these words through the prophet Malachi, and probably everyone there said, "Tracking. Got it. Good points." God then delivered the bad news: they might have thought they were worshiping God, but they weren't. God looked at their worship and said, "I would rather you not worship me at all than worship the way you are worshiping right now." These are pretty strong words, especially since we know that God is looking for worshipers. What offended God so much that he wasn't prepared to accept their worship?
Centuries earlier, God commanded his people to bring him sacrifices as acts of worship. He had told them to bring animals without defects or blemishes.
That's not what was happening when God spoke these words. Verses 7 and 8 say:
"You have despised my name by offering defiled sacrifices on my altar.
"Then you ask, `How have we defiled the sacrifices?'
"You defile them by saying the altar of the LORD deserves no respect. When you give blind animals as sacrifices, isn't that wrong? And isn't it wrong to offer animals that are crippled and diseased? Try giving gifts like that to your governor, and see how pleased he is!" says the LORD Almighty.
Verses 12 to 14 say:
"But you dishonor my name with your actions. By bringing contemptible food, you are saying it's all right to defile the Lord's table. You say, `It's too hard to serve the LORD,' and you turn up your noses at his commands," says the LORD Almighty. "Think of it! Animals that are stolen and mutilated, crippled and sick--presented as offerings! Should I accept from you such offerings as these?" asks the LORD. " Cursed is the cheat who promises to give a fine ram from his flock but then sacrifices a defective one to the Lord.
We read this and say, "What a bunch of jerks!" It was unbelievable. Instead of giving the best animals to God, they would look for the animals that were good for nothing else and offer those to God. Instead of giving God their best, they were giving God their hand-me-downs, their broken and useless animals.
The problem wasn't just with the animals. It was the thought behind the animals. Last month, Charlene and I were in Boston together for a couple of weeks. A friend's wife was flying out. He had given her flowers, and it wasn't really practical for her to take them home with her on the airplane. Instead, they gave me the flowers to give to Charlene from me. I've never given my wife used flowers before. I didn't earn a lot of credit for them, even though I tried.
The reason is that my gift of used flowers didn't reflect a lot of thought on my part. It cost me nothing. It spoke very little about how highly I value Charlene. Giving Charlene cast-off flowers isn't really about the flowers. It's about how much I value her.
God wasn't offended because he needs what we have. It's about priority. When we give God what's broken, useless, and left-over, we're communicating that we think he's worth. We're attaching a value to God, and saying, "You're really not worth that much." It's a heart issue, not a heifer issue.
What Will Happen if Left Untreated
What happens if this problem isn't addressed? This situation displeases God, just like giving used flowers to my wife really doesn't score me points with her. Verse 9 says, "Go ahead, beg God to be merciful to you! But when you bring that kind of offering, why should he show you any favor at all?" It's enough that this isn't pleasing to God, but there's more. It's also going to affect us if we don't recognize and deal with this issue in our lives.
Verse 10 says, "'I wish that someone among you would shut the Temple doors so that these worthless sacrifices could not be offered! I am not at all pleased with you,' says the LORD Almighty, 'and I will not accept your offerings.'" The Message says, "Why doesn't one of you just shut the Temple doors and lock them? Then none of you can get in and play at religion with this silly, empty-headed worship."
When we give God less than our best, God says, "You may as well have kept the doors closed at church. I'm not into religion that's a show and that costs nothing." God isn't into playing the religion game. When we give God our second-best and our left-overs, our worship is a sham. It's a condition that is dangerous to our spiritual health.
The Best I Have to Give
At this point it seems like all of this is about something a long time ago and far away. We don't give God sacrifices anymore. We don't know what it means to give God diseased animals. The same principle applies today, though. Romans 12 tells us that we are to present our bodies, ourselves, as living sacrifices to God.
The reality is that we are in the same situation. God announces his love to us. That is the good news. He is worthy of our worship - worship that is not one hour a day once a week, but twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. We're in danger, too, of offering God what is good enough instead of our best.
God isn't asking us to give us his best because he needs our best. God doesn't need anything from us. He's not short of money, and he doesn't need us to give him anything that he doesn't already have. The issue is our hearts. The issue is making sure God is the priority of our lives.
I want to clarify a couple of things before we explore what this might look like in our lives. Guilt is not the goal of this passage. It's easy to take a passage like this and make everyone feel bad. Guilt doesn't get us any closer to dealing with the heart issues. If you walk out of here motivated by guilt today, you'll make some changes and they'll last about a week, but no more. God didn't give us this passage to make us feel guilty. He gave it to us so we would recognize the issue and deal with the heart issues that keep us from worshiping God as we should.
It's also important to remind ourselves that the issue isn't professionalism emotion. God is asking us for his best, but it's not about technique. He wants our hearts, but it's not about our feelings.
Let's think about what it might look like in our lives.
Time - Time is our most valuable resource. Most of us are time-starved. We all could use a few more hours a day.
The result of this is that we often cut out what is important in favor of what is urgent. God is important but he is rarely urgent. The busier life gets, the more we cut back on having enough time for God.
All of our time is God's - all twenty-four hours, seven days a week. But he doesn't expect us to quit our jobs and do nothing else but focus on him.
But what would it look like to give God our best time, not our left-over time, not the time we didn't need? Not when we're at our worst. What would it look like to give God the best of the most valuable thing that we don't have enough of already? Time is the currency of relationships. If we starve a relationship of time, pretty soon there is no relationship at all.
The mother with three young children, the commuter who leaves for work early and gets home late, those of us who live in real life with real pressures - are we figuring out how to reflect God's worth in our schedules? Does he show up when we're at our best?
Sometimes my life has gotten out of control. I end up being so busy that God gets my time when I'm beat, if he gets any time at all. What would it look like to give God a portion of your time, the best portion, in your life?
Money - The average evangelical Christian gives 4.2 of their income to the church. That's two-fifth of a tithe. One-sixth of Christians give no money at all to the church. Surprisingly, the more money a person makes, the less likely they are to tithe.
The good news is that God doesn't need our money. God has enough money already. He doesn't need any of ours.
It's not our money that he needs. But he wants our heart, and the heart is somehow attached to the wallet. Jesus said that our heart somehow follows our treasure. "Wherever your treasure is, there your heart and thoughts will also be."
This is getting personal, but I need to ask: what would it look like if we gave God not just our leftover money, that which we didn't need? What would it look like if we gave God our first and our best?
Worship - Worship is both a lifestyle - how we live - and an act. Here, I'm talking about acts of worship, personally and together. I'm talking about the times we spend worshiping God alone, as well as we come together to worship God.
In this passage, God challenged the people, "You wouldn't treat your governor this way!" When God has our hearts, what does that look like in how we worship? Does it affect how we prepare for corporate worship before we ever leave the house? It may affect what we do the night before. It might affect the time we leave the house. It may affect how our heart is engaged as we come to worship. It will definitely remind me that I am not the point of worship - God is. The point isn't my enjoyment. The point is God.
Service - I've noticed that a lot of Christian organizations have lower standards of service than non-religious ones. Last month, I was with a group that was experiencing this. They ball was getting dropped all over, and it seemed like everyone who could do something about it was okay with it. One of my friends said, "This would never be tolerated in the business world. It's crazy that it's tolerated when the organization is a Christian one. Our standard in serving God is supposed to be higher."
What does it look like when we give God the best of our service? It means dealing with issues, not accepting sloppiness, lateness, not following through on what we said we would do.
I realize I'm meddling here. I'm going to stop. The last thing I want to do is to motivate you to feel guilty.
What I'm going to ask you to do is to ask what God would say as he looks at your life. He's given you the good news - he loves you. The bad news is that we are in danger of the spiritual condition of giving God less than our best. We're going to listen to a song, and I'd like you to spend a few minutes asking God what it would look like for you to give God your best, the best of your life. When it comes to God, good enough is not good enough.
Father, thanks for dealing with us on this issue. Thanks also for dealing gently with us this morning.
We love you. Thanks for your promise that when we put your kingdom first, and its righteousness, everything else that we need will be added to us.
May you have the best that we have to give. In Christ's name, Amen.