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MALACHI 3:8-12
Series:  The Windows of Heaven - Part Four

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
November 26, 2006

This morning we’re coming back to the topic of stewardship and the two sermons that we had looked at last Spring.  Remember two Sundays ago we looked at 1 Corinthians 16:1-4 - talking about three principles of financial stewardship?  Today we’re coming to the second of those two sermons.

The reason we’re coming back to these sermons is because of something that a number of us have been experiencing around here - as we’ve been going through our financial campaign for the Building Fund - as we’ve been looking at the budget and thinking about our own personal commitment to stewardship - there’s a growing awareness that God is continuing to teach us about stewardship - especially stewardship of financial resources.  Would you agree with that?

The point of looking at this teaching again is for us to keep learning - to see if we’re living by what God is teaching us.  To do some comparing.  Thinking about where we were 7 or 8 months ago and to see if we’ve grown in our stewardship - if we really are living like God wants us to live.

One request.  I need to ask your for help with this again.  Try to laugh at the jokes like you’ve never heard them before.  Nod with great interest at the illustrations.  You all did really good with that last time.  One more time - humor me.

A man had a broken Venetian blind.  So he called a repairman to come pick up the blind and take it to his shop and fix it.  The next morning when the family was having breakfast - seated at the table - the doorbell rang.  The wife gets up - goes to the door - and the repairman outside says,
“I’m here for the Venetian blind.”

Excusing herself in a preoccupied - busied - sort of way - the wife goes into the kitchen - gets a dollar out of the spare change jar - comes back - gives it to the repairman.  Then she gently shuts the door and returns to the table.  As she poured the coffee she explained,
“Somebody was asking for money.”

As we did two Sundays ago
I want to put you all at ease.  The point of talking about financial stewardship is not to make a pitch for money.  We’ve already taken the offering.  This is not about trying to make us all feel guilty about what we give.

Giving to the Lord is never intended by God to be a guilt thing. 
Let’s say that together, “Giving to the Lord is never intended by God to be a guilt thing.”  Giving is suppose to help us grow closer to God.  Try that, “Giving is suppose to help us grow closer to God.”  To experience His blessings - to live in a deepening - dependent - relationship with Him.  The question is, “Are we?” 

Two Sundays ago we talked about the decision that this congregation made to sell the Yosemite Avenue property and to remain here on G Street.  We talked about some of the ways God is giving us a glimpse of how He may use us - here at ground zero in Merced - surrounded by thousands of people who need to hear the Gospel.

We talked about how tearing down the old building and putting up phase one is not about steel and stucco.  Its about leading people into a relationship with Jesus Christ and helping them - equipping them - to become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.  That’s our purpose.  Let’s say it together. 
“Leading people into a relationship with Jesus Christ and equipping them to serve God.”  The whole point of building safe and expanded facilities is expanding ministry impact.

We’re seeing glimpses of where God is taking us in this process.  When we first looked at Malachi 3 - our passage this for this morning - when we looked at this back in April - there was grass right under where we’re sitting.  All this concrete didn’t exist.  There was no almost full court basketball or a regulation size AWANA square.  It wasn’t possible to play kickball where the ball gets kicked out of the stadium.

Right now there are an average of 15 to 20 kids in Children’s Worship and Sunday School.  The number of kids who’s lives are being touched is growing.  And that means families with kids are coming into the church.  The congregation is getting younger.  That’s a good thing - yes?

Spiritually - there are changes.  That’s a little harder to get a grasp on.  Because “spiritual change” deals with our hearts - inward stuff.  But, thinking about how God is working in the hearts of people here - even your own heart.  There’s growth.  There’s healing.  God is using us.  Hurting people helping hurting people to follow Jesus.

That inner Spirit led heart transformation leaks out.  God’s love demonstrated in our relationships here at church or in our families - at work.  Its evidenced as people are coming to trust Jesus as their Savior.  It shows up in our prayer and worship.  Its found in our growing focus outward - a rekindled desire to reach those around us with the Gospel.  God is at work here.  Praise God!

All of that is part of a process that God is leading us through.  Back in February of ‘02 when the congregation decided to sell the Yosemite property that was part of that process.  The decision to stay here was part of that process.  To build or not to build.  Those decisions have taken years of discussion and a whole lot of prayer.  We’ve been stretched.  We’ve been made uncomfortable.  We’ve had to continually go and seek God and to be certain that we’re moving through that process in the way He desires for us to go.

Its important for us to see the connection between the decisions we make in our giving and the process God is leading us through.  That connection is the contact point at which God draws us closer to Him - allows us to experience His blessings - to 
live in a deepening - dependent - relationship with Him.

That contact point is the part of financial stewardship that we’re going to look at this morning.  Not guilt.  Not sales pitches.  But the opportunity for a deepening blessed life with God..

Turn with me to Malachi 3 - the great Italian prophet Ma-la-chi - last book in the Old Testament - chapter 3 - starting at verse 8.  As you’re turning let me share some background - what’s going on in the life of God’s people.

n the book of Malachi there are a series of questions that the people ask God.  These questions come from God’s people who thought they were doing all the right things and yet God says that they were failing in their relationship with Him.  God says, “You’re messing up.”  The people are asking, “Say what?   How are we messing up?”

Before we come to verse 8 look with me at verse 7.  Verse 7 is the background for verse 8 - one of these exchanges between God and the people.  God says to the people - verse 7: 
“From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from My statutes and have not kept them.  Return to Me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord of hosts.  “But you say - here’s question - But you say, ‘How shall we return?’” 

Bottom line: 
God’s people didn’t realize that theyd left God.  According to them they were doing all the right things.  They believed in God.  They were going up to the Temple to do all the Temple things - offerings sacrifices.  So, when God says, “Return”  they said, Say what?  How can we return if we’ve never left?” 

So many Christians are
living the same way today.  BMW Christians.  With apologies to the ultimate driving machine - Christians who come to church for Baptisms, Memorials, and Weddings.  Christians who are going to services - going to Sunday School - living morally upright clean Christ centered religious lives - serving in the church - contributing financially - bringing their own children to Sunday School.

All of these things are not wrong.  They have their place and their value.  But, we can do all these things and still miss the heart of God’s call to His people to live in a personal
deepening blessed life with Him.

Dr. J. Vernon McGee in his commentary on Malachi writes this,
“Ritualism has been substituted for reality.  Pageantry has been substituted for power.  The aesthetic has been substituted for the spiritual, and form for feeling.  Even in the orthodox, conservative, and evangelical circle, they know the vocabulary, but the power of God is gone.” (1)

God says to His people,
“Return.”  Say that with me, “Return.”  We need to grab on to that.  Its so easy - even for us - to fall into this trap.  To be living - comfortable in our Christian religious experience - going along doing the Christian thing - and to not realize that in our hearts weve moved away from God.

Remember the
parable of the Prodigal Son?  Jesus speaks of a son who takes his inheritance - leaves his father - and wastes this tremendous inheritance on activities which surely displeased his father.  When the son hits bottom - alone in the ceremonially and physically unclean world of swine - the son comes to his senses - and decides to return to his father.   He changes his mind about the direction he had taken his life.  (Luke 15:11-32) 

To return - means to repent
- to change our mind.  It means to be walking in a direction - find out we’re going in the wrong direction - then turn 180º around and head in the opposite direction.

That’s what God is saying to His people,
“You need to change how you’re thinking about our relationship.  You may be doing all the right religious things.  But, you’re failing in your relationship with Me.  Return - turn back - to Me.”

Putting this
practically, God gives His people - and us - an illustration about what He’s talking about.  That illustration begins in Malachi 3 - verse 8.  “Will a man rob God?  Yet you are robbing Me!  But you say, ‘How have we robbed You?’ - Say what?  How have we robbed you?  We’re doing all the right things.  Answer - In tithes and offerings.  You are cursed with a curse - you’re missing out on My blessings - for you are robbing Me, the whole nation of you! 

Let’s pause and make some observations.

First -
The Question.

God asks,
“Will a man rob God?  Is it really possible that finite man could steal from the Almighty God who possesses all of creation?

Is it possible to steal from the IRS?  Not to compare the IRS to God.  But, it is possible to fudge on our declarations - not that any of us would do that - but to hold back from the IRS what is legally owed to the IRS. 
Stealing by holding on to something that rightfully belongs to someone else.  In this case the tithe that was owed to God was not being paid.  They’re robbing God by not giving Him what’s His due.

God telling His people,
“You’re robbing Me” is how God points to what’s seriously wrong in the hearts of His people.  Its that contact point between the financial decisions God’s people we’re making and the process God desired to lead them through - deepening their relationship with Him. 

God’s saying - you’re disrespecting Me.  You’re not honoring Me.  You’re thinking more highly of yourselves than of Me.  You’re holding back on something physical which shows that you’re really holding back in your hearts. 
“Where your treasure is, there your - what? heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)

We can talk all we want about financial stewardship - pass budgets based on faith and pat ourselves on the back - but if we’re not sacrificing to make it happen - if we’re not giving what God requires out of what God blesses us with - great or small - something’s not connected up right in our hearts.

Second observation -
The Tithe.  “Tithes and offerings.”

In Mark 10 there’s an account of
a rich young aristocrat who comes and kneels before Jesus.  Remember this?  We just looked at this in the Adult Sunday Bible Study.  This guy is very wealthy - a powerful man of great influence - probably a member of some ruling council.

his wealthy aristocrat has been listening to Jesus’ teaching and he senses that there’s something he doesn’t possess - something that Jesus offers - something about a relationship with God that he desperately desires.  Its gnawing at him.  As Jesus is leaving, the man runs up, kneels at Jesus’ feet and asks the question, “What do I need to do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus answers Him, 
“You know the commandments, ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, do not cheat, honor your father and mother.”  In other words, “What has God said to you?  Have you obeyed?”

Without hesitation
the young man says, “Teacher, I’ve done all these things from my youth up.”  Here’s an open-hearted, morally excellent, sincere, religious young man.  Since the point in a young Jewish boys life when he became responsible to obey God, he’s kept the commandments.  That’s impressive, isn’t it? 

Don’t miss this.  He’s done all the religious things he suppose to do - all the right things - and yet he was failing in his relationship with God.

Jesus tells him,
“Then the one thing you need to do is - what?  sell everything you possess, give all your money to the poor, and come follow me.”  We know what happened - right?  The young man goes away sad because he was filthy rich.  As far as we know he never sold anything.

Just like in Malachi -
Jesus pierces to the heart of the matter.  Contact point - right?  Finances and heart.  This man - with all his acts of religion - had glimpsed a quality of life that he lacked and he wanted it - a deepening blessed life with God.  He believed with all His heart that Jesus had the answer to the emptiness within his heart.  But he was sorrowful, because he also knew, at the words of Jesus, that he had to choose to surrender everything, to repent of everything he controlled his life with, and turn towards following after God on God’s terms and not his.

- same scene - Jesus looks around and says to His disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have riches to enter the Kingdom of God  Not because they’re wealthy.  But, because wealth - how we view it - use it - abuse it - tithe it or withhold it - represents self-control over our lives - demonstrates the attitude of our heart - self-controlled or God controlled.

Even the disciples struggled with this.  In Mark 10,
Peter - listening to this conversation between Jesus and this rich young man - Peter says to Jesus, “We’ve left everything to follow you!”  In other words, See, Jesus, we’ve taken the vow of poverty.  We’ve given up everything and followed you.  We’re doing all the right things.  But their words - their very claim to piety - demonstrates that in their hearts they’re still focused on themselves.

Jesus rebukes them with a reminder
- that no matter how surrendered they may think they are - they're not.  Despite their following Him the reality is that even the disciples have still not repented and surrendered their lives to God. (Mark 10:17-45)

Coming to the tithe. 
There are a number of observations that we could make - the whole teaching about 10% and the comparison of the Old Testament requirements and the New Testaments teachings about giving.  The bottom line of why God uses this illustration is because tithing is a physical demonstration of the spiritual attitude of our hearts - contact point - self controlled or God controlled.

Bottom line: 
It’s not the percentage God is after.  It’s our heart.  Try that together, “It’s not the percentage God is after.  It’s our heart.”

These are hard words to hear.  They wound our pride.  God saying to His people,
“Return to Me.  Change your thinking.  Who really controls your heart?”  Our attitudes in financial stewardship will tell us that. 

Going on in verse 10 - how do we return?  God’s answer - verse 10: 
“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, 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 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.

Let’s make two observations here.

First - where does the tithe go? 
The Whole Tithe Comes Into The Storehouse.  Say that with me, “The whole tithe comes into the storehouse.”

God’s people were instructed to give the first tenth of the produce - lambs - crops - whatever - bring the first 10% plus - it was actually much more than 10% - bring the first fruits to the Temple.  Point being that every time they did that it was a reminder that God was the master over everything they had.  They’re stewards of God’s stuff.  Not owners.  Its not up to them to decide what to do with God’s stuff.  Again the question of the heart - who’s in control?

The New Testament equivalent of the Temple is the Church. 
Acts 4:34  is an example:  “For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need.”

In the passage we looked at last week - 1 Corinthians 16 - Paul instructs the churches in Galatia. Macedonia, Asia, and Corinth to take up a special offering to be sent to the church in Jerusalem to help with the needy there. 

Paul writes, “
On the first day of every week - with regularity - each one of you is to put aside and save - giving priority to God - His portion comes off the top - as he may prosper - in proportion to your income - take up a collection.” (1 Corinthians 16:2)  Remember these principles?  Say theme with me:  “Regularity - Priority - Proportionality.”  That’s tithing.  The tithe - regularly - with priority - decided proportionally - the tithe is brought to the church.

That creates a struggle for us today.  There are a tremendous number of para-church missions today - Gospel For Asia - Mission Aviation Fellowship - Campus Crusade - and so on.  Great ministries.  Great impact.  Worthy of support.  There are a number of Christians who will use a portion of their tithe to support these organizations - 3% goes to this organization - 4% goes to that organization - 3% to the church.  There’s a challenge here for us to prayerfully consider that the tithe - the whole first fruits - should come to the church - not the para-church.

Point being - bringing the whole tithe - not a percentage of it - the whole tithe to the temple takes us out of the driver’s seat of decision.  Reminds us - teaches us - that we’re stewards not owners.  That’s God’s bottom line in tithing - God’s sovereignty over our finances - the heart surrendered to God - God in control.

Second observation -
The Blessings.  The windows of heaven opened up and God just pouring down His blessings till our lives get full and just overflow.  Huge crops.  Grapes that don’t shrivel away before they ripen.  No need to spray for insects or diseases.  Prosperity that goes beyond what we can imagine.  The people around us will look at us and marvel at the blessing.  Our lives will testify of God.

God says,
“Test Me now in this.”  Its like God saying, “Let’s make a deal.”  “Do you want to keep what Jay has in the box or trade it for what Carol has behind curtain #1?”  Only God tells us up front, “In the box that Jay has is an 8 track player and a slightly used special edition 8-track of the Bee Gees’ Tribute to Engelbert Humperdink.  Behind the curtain by Carol are riches without end - every need supplied.”

8 track or every need supplied?  Given that choice - unless we’re really a die hard Engelbert Humperdink fan - why are we hanging on to all this stuff like we own it?  Choose.  Return.  Let go.  Give it up - give your heart back to God.  And He’ll pour out His blessings on you.

Two thoughts of application
.  Thinking about what God says for our own lives - comparing where we were in April and where we are now.  Is God more in control than He was?  Are we still trying to hold onto a box of 8 tracks.

First thought of application: 
Trust.  Say that with me, “Trust.”

Giving is a very difficult issue to talk about.  Especially in the
se days  with all the demands on our finances.  There are some very hard choices that we need to make.  Providing for our families - planning for retirement - living - even in the central valley - isnt cheap.  Gas is going up yet again.  Our dollars get stretched.

Most of us can’t see how we’re going to live off 100% of our income.  If we give 5% away, can we really make it on 95%?  If we give 15% away can we really make it on 85%?

Remember the manna - the bread like stuff that God provided for His people?  Five mornings of the week - how much manna did God tell the people to collect?  Just enough for that day.  What happened if they tried to save some for the next day?  Worms - maggots - stench.  On the sixth day how much were the people suppose to collect?  Enough for that day and the next day - the Sabbath.  What happened when they obeyed God?  No worms - no maggots - no stench. (Exodus 16) 

Why did God set it up that way?  What’s God trying to get His people to understand?  Trust Me. 

Building buildings.  Sounds risky.  Expanding ministry.  An adventure.  A $300,000 loan.  Scary.  Reorganizing our financial priorities according to God’s priorities.  Growth.  Where all this goes - how we get there - the process we’re in - we’re gonna have to trust God. 

Second thought of application: 
God’s Offer.  Say that with me, “God’s Offer.”

ars ago I heard Frank Pastore - a believer in Jesus Christ who used to pitch with the Cincinnati Reds - I heard Frank Pastore talk about a trip he took with his son to Disneyworld - out in Orlando, Florida.

Does this sound familiar?  This is where you need to nod with great interest like you’ve never heard this before.  Okay try nodding.  Without falling asleep.

Disneyworld - Disneyland - same set up. 
When you finally get to the main gate there are ticket booths - then turnstiles - finally you get into this open area just inside the gate.  As you come through the main gate, right in front of you is this hill and above that is the Main Street train station.   

Then there are little shops with souvenirs and balloons and sometimes Disney characters walking around.  Then - finally - on each side of the entrance are these two tunnels that lead under the train tracks into Disneyland.  Remember this?

Frank was saying that for weeks they’d been building up this trip to Disneyworld - talking about Mickey Mouse and the rides and all the fun they we’re going to have.  Finally, after all this build up they got there - went through the gates and arrived at this entrance area. 
His son was in awe - absolutely overcome by what he saw.  Mickey!  Train!  Balloons!  So they stood there for a minute and then Frank said, “Let’s go!”  Let’s go through the tunnels.

And the son started screaming. 
“What do you mean let’s go?  We just got here.  Look, Mickey, train, balloons.  Why are we leaving?”

Frank had to literally drag his son - kicking and screaming - into Disneyworld.  Imagine this - a child being forced to go into Disneyworld.  Finally, when the son got to Main Street and saw Disneyworld - not just the entrance - he calmed down
.  He understood.

Grab this: 
So many Christians have some understanding and experience with God - salvation - a Christian lifestyle - the church and her traditions.  But, its like they only see the entrance - not the whole Kingdom of God - all that God offers us and wants to bless us with.  There’s so much more that we miss because we’re content with the basic things - the first things - focused on doing things they way we understand them - and not going on to the deeper things that God has for us.

Financial stewardship is trusting God - surrendering control of our hearts - surrendering to God’s sovereignty over our lives - giving up the junk we’re hanging on to - so that the priorities of our lives actually get rearranged - returning us to God - moving us into this process of a deepening - dependent - relationship with God.  That puts us under the open windows of heaven and His poured out blessings - a relationship with Him being the greatest blessing.

God says to His people
- we need to hear this for ourselves this morning: 
“Please, stop trying to do it on your own.  If you return to Me I will lead you in a relationship with Me and pour out My blessings on you in ways you can’t even begin to imagine and never could experience on your own.”





1.  Dr. J. Vernon McGee, Malachi, page 1019

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible®, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.