Sermon series: Apathy - Who Cares?
A fictional tale is told in management seminars about a young manager who was to replace a retiring executive. The younger man approached the older, venerated leader and asked, "Sir, I know of the legend that you have become as a leader in this company. Could you give me some advice as I try to fill your shoes?"
The older man pondered the question and responded: "Three words: Make good decisions!"
"That is good advice," the young man replied as he wrote this down. "And what is the key to making good decisions?"
"One word," the veteran executive replied. "Experience."
"And how do I get this," the eager young man asked as he scribbled "experience" on his paper.
"Two words," the retiring man answered. "Bad decisions."
Richard Petty, an Ohio State University psychologist, estimates that each of us is faced with hundreds of decisions each day. They range from trivial (Italian or Mexican for lunch), to moral (good from evil), to priority (best from better). In these decisions we want to make good choices.
Why? Because we are the sum total of our decisions. We make our decisions, and our decisions make us. Mary Kay Ash said, "Be careful of the choices you make today. They will become your lifestyle tomorrow."
Each day we face choices regarding our walk with God. From the closing of Malachi's book let me explain five areas where we are forced to make decisions.
I. Will you render service to others? (3:13-15, 18)
Some of the people Malachi addressed were guilty of whining and complaining. They were talking to each other about their complaints against God. When confronted they denied any wrongdoing. This is the seventh time in the book they deny their errors. What were they talking about? Serving God was drudgery. It was useless. Worshipping, tithing, and serving had no purpose. It was all empty, vain, and futile.
This complaint rears its ugly head in our hearts today. Some people stop serving because they don't see any benefit. "I'm not getting anything out of it." Or, "I've been faithful, yet God doesn't bless me. And, what's more, evil people seem to prosper while good people suffer."
Malachi raised the bar on service. He showed that service distinguishes the righteous from the wicked (3:18). Righteousness in God's sight is more than a profession of faith. The righteousness of true faith will prove itself in a heart of service.
Serving God is serious business. He commands us to serve. Isn't it interesting that we want to be called a servant, but we don't want to be treated that way? We want people to look at our humility and say, "What a servant." But when treated like servant we complain and compare, just like the Israelites in Malachi's day. Then we say, "That's not fair. I'm not being treated right." But here's the thing: servants don't have rights. They have given up their rights. Servants don't talk about fairness. They serve.
By the way, all the great people of the Bible were called servants. God referred to Moses as "my servant Moses" (4:4). The ultimate servant is Jesus. We should follow His example.
Each day presents the choice of serving or not. What is your decision?
II. Will you revere God? (3:16)
Some of the people Malachi spoke to took God seriously. They "feared Yahweh and had high regard for His name" (v. 16). Fearing the Lord is a synonym for the heartfelt worship of God for who and what He is. Sinclair Ferguson wrote, "It is at one and the same time (1) a consciousness of being in the presence of True Greatness and Majesty; (2) a thrilling sense of privilege; (3) an overflow of respect and admiration; and perhaps supremely, (4) a sense that His opinion about my life is the only thing that really matters."
When we fear God, His fatherly approval means everything and the loss of it is the greatest of all griefs. To fear God is to have a heart that is sensitive to both his God-ness and his graciousness. To esteem His name means to honor His person. These actions acknowledge that the Lord is who He claims to be: the Sovereign God of the universe, the Creator of all things, and the Redeemer of humankind. He is to be held in awe. We are to tremble at the thought of offending Him in any way. He is not to be trifled with. He is a consuming fire and we should tremble in His presence.
A.W. Tozer said that to know God is to fear Him and to be stunned by the splendor of His majesty. God exists not just to meet our needs. If anything we exist to meet His demands. Again, He is the master; we are the servants. He has rights; we have responsibilities. He is to be worshipped; we are the worshippers. God is not just the big guy in the sky or the man upstairs. He's the Lord of Hosts, the Most High God, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, the Almighty. He is holy, holy, holy. The only proper response He deserves is one of great reverence and respect.
Martin Luther told the great humanist scholar Erasmus, "Your God is too man-like." Luther's other great cry was "Let God be God." When we share such thoughts God is feared. When we see Him as Glorious One our hearts are hushed in reverence before Him.
Each day presents the choice of fearing God or not. What is your decision?
III. Will you be rewarded by God? (3:17)
Benefits come with reverence of God. Verse 17 reveals five aspects of God's character that identify the rewards God offers to those who serve and fear Him.
A. God listens to us
"The LORD took notice and listened" (3:16). When we reverence God, He gives us His undivided attention. The image communicated is that of God leaning forward to take in everything that is being said about Him. When we turn to God, He tunes in to our frequency.
B. God remembers us
"So a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who feared Yahweh and had high regard for His name" (3:16). Oriental rulers frequently recorded the names and deeds of citizens who did beneficial deeds to make certain they were not forgotten when the time came for appropriate rewards. God keep tabs on us all. He remembers what we have done. In fact, the only thing God forgets is our confessed sins. God said, "Look, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands" (Isaiah 49:16). We write something on our hands so we won't forget it. God doesn't forget us. He remembers.
C. God claims us
"'They will be Mine,' says the LORD of Hosts" (3:17). The word mine is emphatic. Those who fear God belong to Him. When we come to faith in Jesus Christ, we transfer ownership. We are not our own. God owns us. We are a chosen people, a claimed people.
D. God treasures us
"'A special possession on the day I am preparing'" (3:17). Special possession means to set aside a thing or property. For example, you have many possessions, but those items of great value are placed somewhere for safekeeping. God treasures us in the same way. We matter to Him far more than we know.
E. God spares us
"'I will have compassion on them as a man has compassion on his son who serves him'" (3:17). Malachi is a book of warnings of God's judgment. But it also is a book of compassion in sparing those who serve, fear, and honor God. We deserve justice, but God grants us mercy. We don't receive what we deserve. We receive more than we deserve. God spares us.
We all like rewards, be they bonuses, frequent flier miles, or cash back from our favorite store. No better rewards can come than those from God.
Each day the evil one confronts us with assaults to deceive and destroy us through wrong thinking. He would have us not believe in these rewards. So we are faced with a choice: will we believe the lies of Satan or the words of God? What is your decision?
IV. Will you be ready for judgment? (4:1-3)
Make no mistake about it: There will be a day of judgment, symbolized by a fire. On this day God will intervene dramatically in the affairs of history. On that day sinners will be burned up the way fire singes and destroys hay. The phrase "not leaving them root or branches" (4:1) indicates a complete removal from the face of the earth. The wicked are like ashes under the feet of God's people. And the saints, in contrast, will see a new day: a day of rejoicing and celebration. Just as the rays of the sun bring warmth and health, God will bring wholeness to every aspect of life.
Malachi reminds us that the day is coming. On that day we will be treated either as sinners or saints.
Are you ready for the coming judgment?
Seattle's famed Kingdome - home of the Seattle Seahawks, Mariners, and at times, the SuperSonics - was destroyed on March 26, 2000. The demolition company took extreme measures to ensure no one would be in danger. Engineers checked and rechecked the structure. They evacuated several blocks around the Kingdome. Safety measures ensured the countdown could stop at any time if there was concern about safety. All workers were individually accounted for by radio before the explosives were detonated. A large public address system announced the final countdown.
In short, the company took every reasonable measure and more to warn people of the impending danger.
Malachi warns of a coming judgment. That day could be this day. Are you ready? Will you face judgment as a sinner - condemned to experience the wrath of God? Or as a saint - one who has trusted in Jesus Christ as Lord. What is your decision?
V. Will you remember God's law? (4:4)
The Law of Moses was God's rule of life for the Jews. The word translated remember means to obey. Obedience to God's will brings the greatest fulfillment. Keeping God's Law doesn't save Christians, but we do enjoy the most rewarding way of life by conforming to His commandments.
A TV news camera crew was on assignment in south Florida filming the widespread destruction of Hurricane Andrew. In one scene, amid the devastation and debris, stood one house on its foundation.
"Sir, why is your house the only one in the entire neighbor¬hood that is standing?" asked the reporter. "How did you manage to escape the severe damage of the hurricane?"
"I built this house myself," the man replied. "I also built it according to the Florida state building code. When the code called for 2x6 roof trusses, I used 2x6 roof trusses. I was told that a house built according to code could withstand a hurricane. I did and it did. I suppose no one else around here followed the code."
In Matthew 7 Jesus told His disciples that following His word is like a man building his house on a foundation of rock. When the storms come – and they will – that house will stand.
Each day presents the decision to obey God's Word or not. What is your decision?
These five decisions are monumental. Will you render service to others? Will you reverence God? Will you be rewarded by God? Will you be ready for judgment? Will you remember God's law? What is your decision?
In his sermon "The Writing on the Wall," William Willimon tells the story of an aggravating funeral at a country church.
The preacher pounded on the pulpit and looked over at the casket. He would say, "It's too late for Joe. He might have wanted to get his life together. He might have wanted to spend more time with his family. He might have wanted to do that, but he's dead now. It is too late for him, but it is not too late for you. There is still time for you. You still can decide. You still are alive. It is not too late for you. Today is the day of decision."
Then the preacher told how a Greyhound bus had run into a funeral procession once on the way to the cemetery, and that could happen today. He said, "You should decide today. Today is the day to get your life together. Too late for old Joe, but it's not too late for you."
I was so angry at that preacher. On the way home, I told my wife, "Have you ever seen anything as manipulative and as insensitive to that poor family? I found it disgusting."
She said, "I've never heard anything like that. It was manipulative. It was disgusting. It was insensitive. Worst of all, it was also true."
Today is the day of decision. What is your decision?