Wall Builders - Malachi 3
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Back in 2020, the summer of the pandemic - a lot of people picked up new hobbies. For my wife - her new hobby was Chickens. For me, I wanted to learn how to build things. I used to say I’m about as handy as a foot - because when it came to building ANYTHING I was less than useless. BUT - the summer of 2020, when the world was all shut down, I learned how to build a chicken coop. I’m not going to lie to you - I’m very proud of what I built. It wasn’t actually a professional job, and if you look too close, it’s actually really poorly done - but I was proud of what I did. I think we’ve got a picture of it [show coop]. What I loved about this coop is that it was so sturdy. I don’t know if you know this - but you can buy these truly terrible chicken coops. They’re made of whatever the level just above cardboard is - and they break really easy and they’re just no good. But this coop I built, this was a sturdy coop. When we moved up here, it was the middle of March - and we were not able to bring the Chicken Coop up here with us, but we still had our three chickens. Now if you remember March - it was cold and snowy, not really a great time to be building a chicken coop, so we needed something quick and easy to put together. And we bought one of those terrible, pre-made chicken coops. And I know this is going to be shocking to you - but it was a TERRIBLE pre-made chicken coop. It’s like plastic held together with zip ties! With my old coop, made with two by fours and proper chicken wire - those little goobers never got out unless we let them out. But NOW, if you ever come over to my house and you sit in the kitchen - even if the chickens are all locked up in their coop, you might look up and see one strutting across the backyard. The material is so flimsy and cheap - they can peck right through it. And they do! No matter how many times we stick them back in the coop and close up the holes - they will find a way to get back out. Because the truth is - the materials you use to build determine how strong what you’re building is going to be. Now this applies to a lot more than just Chicken coops - we’re going to see it in our scripture lesson for today, AND in each of our lives in the modern world.
Today is actually a very exciting Sunday. As you know, we have been reading through the Chronological bible together as a church - and today is our last day in the Old Testament. Next week we get to meet Jesus! I mean, we’ve been talking about Jesus all along, because everything in this book points to Jesus, but you know what I mean. And so what that means is that I just have one week to talk to you about the post-exilic period. You remember the story - we had the united Kingdom, King David, King Solomon. Then there was civil war - and the country of Israel divided into two kingdoms - Israel and Judah. Then the prophets come along, warning the kings to behave, which they ignore so we wind up with Empires and Exile. Basically, a series of empires comes in and destroys Israel, takes all the people and deports them to exile. To live as servants in the capital city. Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians. Daniel and the Lion’s Den, the story of Esther - these are exile stories. Now the last thing that happens in the old testament is that Israel gets to go home. The Emperor of Persia decides to let the Israelites go home and rebuild the temple. And that’s the setting for our scripture lesson. Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament - and he was around after the reconstruction and the dedication of the second temple. So the books of Ezra and Nehemiah detail the process of the people coming home and the struggles of rebuilding, and Malachi is the prophet for that time period. And there’s actually this amazing parallel - because Ezra and Nehemiah are all about building a wall around Jerusalem, and rebuilding the temple and the drama with the builders and the materials used and whatnot. But Malachi, our scripture lesson for today, it’s still all about rebuilding - but it’s about our hearts, our character. Malachi’s message is basically, “look, if we’re going to rebuild this kingdom, if we’re going to be God’s people - we can’t go back to the habits of the old kingdom, the sinful way we used to be before we got conquered."
Actually, this is really important. Malachi is one of those books of the Bible that most people have never opened. It’s in a section of the Bible called the minor prophets. They’re only called that because they’re really short. They’re not less important, they’re just shorter books than the big boys - like Jeremiah or Isaiah. But here’s the problem. We don’t read the minor prophets very much, but they are some of the most relevant and most important books of the Bible that have concrete application to our lives today. A lot of these prophets talk about how we are supposed to act as a society. The minor prophets show us that God cares about the morals of a nation. I mean, listen to this. Chapter 3, verse 5 [read it]. Whew - that’s like a laundry list of topics that our politicians argue about all the time. It’s a real shame we overlook the minor prophets - because trust me, there’s a lot in there.
But let’s back up to verse 1, chapter 3 which says, [read v.1-4]. Did you know that when they find silver in the ground, it’s always dirty, full of all these impurities? And what they would do to clean up the silver - is that they would melt it down, and the impurities, which was called the “dross”, would rise to the surface and they could burn it off, or scoop it out like a pool skimmer getting bugs out of your pool. What Malachi is saying is that we come to God as we are, full of all these imperfections and impurities. They’re baked right into our personality, into our identity. But if we’re going to follow God, he’s going to melt us down. He’s going to skim off all the dross, pull out all the impurities, and get us ready so we can truly worship him. Because whether you’re rebuilding a long lost kingdom, and good and moral society or just rebuilding your own personal life - the material you use matters. What Malachi is telling us is that faith is not an affirmation of who you are. Jesus does not come into our life and say, “I love you so much and I’m going to pretend like I don’t see the sin in your life.” No, what Jesus does is come into our lives and say, “I love you so much. I see all your sin, and I’ve got a solution to that.” Faith, the process of believing in God and growing closer to Jesus, faith is a refining fire. We are, all of us, unrefined silver. Inherently valuable, but useless until we have been reshaped, remade in God’s image.
Let me see if I can explain it like this. Imagine that there are three levels to your faith. Level 1 is where we say, “I believe enough to benefit from it.” I believe in God, I’m going to let Jesus into my life so that I will personally benefit. If it doesn’t personally benefit me, if it doesn’t make my life more comfortable - I don’t want any part of it. This is level 1 Christianity, I believe enough to benefit from it. I believe in Jesus because I don’t want to go to hell. I just want that benefit. Level 2 is where we say, “I believe enough to contribute comfortably.” I believe, I have faith, not just because I want to benefit, not just because I want to stay away from Hell, but I’m actually on team Jesus. I believe in his mission, and I’m willing to help out - as long as it’s comfortable for me. I think this is where a LOT of American Christians are at. We will serve, as long as it’s what we already want to do. If you ask me to serve, if you ask me to do something I don’t really feel like doing - I won’t. I believe enough to contribute comfortably - that’s level 2. Now Level 3 is where we say, “I believe enough to give my life.” This is not, “I just want to benefit from Jesus,” and this is not “convenience Christianity” - this is where you are 100% completely sold out for Jesus. You will do anything for Jesus Christ because he is the primary motivation in your life.
You actually see these levels of faith as we walk through the book of Malachi. Remember level 1 - I believe enough to benefit from it. Verse 13, [read 13-14]. What is the use of serving God? What have we gained by obeying his commands? The key here is that the right thing to do is always the right thing to do - regardless of whether it benefits you or not. Let me see if I can explain it like this. I had a teacher in high school who used to love pranking people for Halloween. Basically what he would do is dress himself up like an overstuff scarecrow - very fake looking, and he would sit on the front porch with a bowl of candy in his lap. The candy bowl had a sign on it that said, “please take only one piece.” And what he would do is sit there pretending he was a fake scarecrow, and people would come up and take one piece and move on. BUT if someone took multiple pieces, he would jump up and scare the bejeebers out of them. So one year, he’s got his prank set up all ready, and up the driveway comes a dad with his little boy. The little boy dutifully walks up, reads the sign, takes one piece of candy and then goes back down to his dad. The dad, however, encourages his little boy, “Timmy, go get a handful of candy.” And the little boy scolds his dad, “No dad, the sign said one piece.” And the dad argues with the kid, “nobody’s watching, it’s fine - you’ll get more candy this way.” But Timmy was having none of it, he shook his head and started walking down the street to the next house. But the dad couldn’t let it go, and so HE went up the driveway and grabbed a big ol’ handful of candy out of the bowl - and that’s when my high school teacher, the scarecrow, jumped up and taught that dad a lesson. Level one faith is where we believe enough to benefit from it, and if we don’t benefit from it we start to ask the question, “What do I gain from obeying God?”
Remember - obeying God is the right thing to do because he’s God. Obedience is actually a process of growing in trust. When God asks us for obedience, God is asking us to trust him. Like a father with a young child, asking the kid to trust him with something because the father knows what’s best. I know you want to eat a giant pile of candy, but I also know that will make you sick - that’s why I’m asking you to come over here and eat this healthy food. (I know that’s an oversimplification, but you get the idea). When we submit to God, when we obey God - that is us saying, “I trust you God more than I trust myself about what is good for me.” There’s this really horrible idea going around our culture that we know what’s best for us. Even after we’ve eaten all the candy and thrown up a bunch of times - STILL we are convinced that we know what’s best for us. But as a follower of Jesus, I have this crazy idea that God probably knows more than I do, and he knows what’s best for me, and he has asked for obedience. God is teaching us to trust him.
You see it in verse 8, this is God talking through Malachi, [read v.8]. Uh oh, pastor’s going to talk about money. Don’t worry - I’ll use myself as an example. One of the easiest and most obvious examples of obedience and trusting God is with our finances! Back in 2018, I was transferring from one church to another. I was up at a church in the UP, and I was transferring to a church down in the Flint area. And it was a bit of a crazy transition, because my wife gave birth to my second son Amos, 6 days before we moved downstate. And at the time, things were really crazy. We were totally overwhelmed with this new church, new city, new baby. I mean, we kept asking ourselves “how on earth are we ever going to handle being parents to TWO children?!?” [pause] I know it seems silly now, but at the time it really did feel like chaos. Now I have a personal goal of giving ten percent of my income to God - that’s what we call the tithe. And it’s something the Bible outlines for all Christians. You take your paycheck and move the decimal over one space, and that’s how much you should be giving. But we just had a baby. And moving is really expensive. And we didn’t know much about this new place. And so I stopped our giving at the old church, but I felt a little fear and so I said, “eh, let’s just hold off on giving right now.” I got scared. I didn’t want to trust God with obedience, and so for a little while I didn’t. Now thankfully I had some really wonderful people come into my life and challenge me - and we set a goal to build back up our giving. And it took a couple months of increasing and putting it in the budget, but we’re living at 10% giving now. When we don’t obey, and we don’t trust God - especially with our time and our money - Malachi says we are CHEATING God. That’s level one nonsense.
It keeps going in verse 9, [read v.9a]. Now I want to be careful with what you hear with that - it’s not that we’re cursed like the evil queen cursed snow white or whatever - no, what he means is that this world is going to present us with a choice. There’s going to be the way that makes sense to the world, and the way that makes sense to God. The logic of the world is a curse to our growth. If you take the money example, for me - I could find a lot of ways to spend that money on myself. But by giving that money away, I show that God is a priority in my life and I grow in my personal generosity. I grow spiritually. It keeps going, [read v.9-10] Malachi tells the people, if you get back to obedience - if you trust God and obey, he will open the windows of heaven for you and pour out a blessing so great you won’t have the room to take it in. And remember - Malachi is talking to people who are rebuilding a nation. If we could have generosity built into the foundation of our nation - God would pour out his blessings on this new thing we’re doing. And remember that line, “pour out a blessing so great you own’t have enough room to take it in.” Think about a cup of water and you just keep pouring and it overflows from the cup into everything around it. This is the way blessings work in our lives, and this is the teaching I want you to grab onto. God is equipping you for exponential growth. When you are blessed, it’s not for you to cling to. It’s not for you to grab and hold - God pours into our lives so that we can pour into those around us. And I’m not just talking about money anymore - this is something that we see in every area of our church. We don’t want to just be disciples, but we want to be disciples who make other disciples - who pour into the people around us and work together to grow closer to Jesus.
Okay, there’s one more thing I wanted you to see in the text today. The end of verse 10, hear this again, [read v.10b]. I love that. Try it! Put me to the test! God, speaking to the people through Malachi, is actually challenging the people to test him! He’s like, bring it on! And the message for us today in the modern world is that God is challenging us to be honest about our convictions. On a really simple level - your life and your beliefs should line up. We’re not just Christians on Sunday morning. Following Christ is a 24/7 thing. I heard this thing a couple weeks ago, and I found it really convicting - it goes like this. Imagine you’re in a country where being a Christian is illegal. Like, overnight let’s say the law of the land changes and it is not illegal to be a Christian. If the police looked at your life, would they have enough to convict you? If you take out all the Christian T-shirts, and the little wooden bible verse posters on the wall - just looking at the way you live your life, would the police believe an accusation of Christianity? Can we put you to the test? God is challenging us to be honest about our convictions. If we really believe in God we should trust him, and if we really trust him - then we should see it in our actions and the way we live our lives. The way we work, the way we treat people, the way we spend our money. Try it. God says. Put me to the test.
The good news this morning is that God pushes us to the next level. This is one of the things I love about the minor prophets. Like, don’t get me wrong - I’m very excited that we get to Jesus next week - but we could spend a ton of time in these tiny book because they’re so practical! They confront us with the fact that our lives and our convictions don’t always line up. For Malachi, he talks a lot about tithing and giving in the church - and that’s a great example, but this also goes for all of life. Let’s get into this for a second, because this drives me nuts. All churches everywhere will say something along the lines of “come just as you are.” God meets us wherever we are. Romans tells us that while we were still sinners, God loved us. Before we loved Jesus, before we clean up our life - God loves us, God meets us as we are. Come just as you are - all are welcome here. But God doesn’t want you to stay there. God pushes us towards growth, towards salvation, towards perfection. When God reaches down into the mud, to pull us out of the mess we have made of our life - he doesn’t leave us muddy. God is teaching us to trust him. God is equipping us for exponential growth. God is challenging us to be honest about our convictions - and none of that is God patting us on the head and leaving us in our sin. Truly all are welcome here, and we DO come to God just as we are - but we don’t get to stay that way. We are here to grow. God pushes us to the next level.
And so the response is for us to challenge ourselves to get to that next level. Remember the levels? Level 1 - I believe enough to benefit from it. Level 2 - I believe enough to contribute comfortably. And Level 3 - I believe enough to give my life. And this applies to all the different habits of growth in being a Christian. At Aldersgate Church we have five core habits. Prayer, Time in the Bible, Service, Accountable Relationships, and Tithing. And we did this thing a couple weeks ago at our staff meeting where we rated ourselves on each core practice. On some of these I’m an L3 - I give my life, I adjust my schedule, my moneys, my revolves around these - and on others I’m more of an L1. I believe enough to benefit, or I’m willing to contribute comfortably - but I’m not at that life changing level, I’ve got room to grow.
So here’s what I want you to do. This is my challenge for you In the sermon notes I put the grid. The three levels and the five habits, and I want you to rate yourself. Where is your growth area? For example, I have a friend who is a musician. I’ve played with a lot of worship teams in a lot of different churches. But this musician played guitar - but he only came to church when he was playing. If we rotated musicians - if he wasn’t on the stage, he wasn’t in church. He was at level 1 - he was benefitting, or maybe he was contributing comfortably, but he wasn’t making church a priority. It was more about what he got out of it. And he was a really nice guy - he wasn’t like snooty about it, but church was about the performance for him. He only went when he got something out of it. So I challenged him, in a nice way, hey - I see you’re not playing this Sunday. I really hope you come and worship with us, even when you’re not on the stage - because I wanted him to grow in his relationship with God and his commitment to the church. It should never be about the performance - about “getting to be up front” - it should be about worship. So that’s my challenge - take the grid, be honest about where you are, and then challenge yourself to move to the next level.
I think about that chicken coop. My old one was built with the right materials - and it was so sturdy and strong. But the new one is slapped together with cheap materials and it’s terrible. If you build your faith life on solid ground, on a foundation of Jesus - with each new level you’ll grow closer to God. And I guess I want to leave you with this last note. I don’t mind if you’re a level 1. Everyone starts somewhere. It’s okay to be at level 1, as long as you’re working hard to get to level 2, working hard to get to level 3. The foundation determines the strength of the wall. Build your life on a foundation of Jesus Christ, and then move to the next level. Let’s pray.