I have to make a confession…I have been reviewing the material I’ve been using in my messages, and I decided that I was too dark and dreary…that the material was too intense…and I needed to bring some messages that were more up-beat and encouraging.

But in doing that I was forgetting that the actual source of that material doesn’t really instigate from within myself…that IF I do this right, then the source of all that material will be the Lord Himself.

So it seems that regardless of what I want, it’s the Lord that wants me to concentrate on the ‘lateness’ of the hour (as we saw in last week’s evening Bible study from 1st John)…and the need for national repentance, and the need to turn back to God, as a nation.

So I can understand perfectly the first few words that the prophet Malachi recorded…”The BURDEN of the Word of the Lord to Israel”…

I am basically a fun-loving guy. A happy-go-lucky type. I like to laugh and joke around. But, this is SERIOUS stuff that the Lord wants me to relate to you. And it is that seriousness and the intensity of the message that is seen as a ‘burden’.

I spent a lot of the time recently trying to think of what light-hearted messages I could bring, especially considering that next week will be the 15th anniversary of that 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, with its resultant loss of life. And now the city of New York has once again become the scene of a terrorist attack in a night club, with another horrible loss of life, and more tragedy and heartache.

And I said to Dawn…kinda half serious…”Do you think God is maybe punishing New York for something?” That question came out just spontaneously, but as I thought about it through the day, I’m not so sure He isn’t!

In our Sunday morning Bible study, we have been looking at the Psalms recently, and we saw how the nation of Israel had become so thoroughly identified with one person, with David, who had become almost synonymous with Israel itself.

Well, we are a nation of thousands of cities, but just three of those cities are more or less representative of America itself…at least, in the eyes of the world. Those cities are New York, Washington D.C. and Los Angeles.

New York is the seat of our COMMERCE. American business and Wall Street have always been synonymous. And obviously our GOVERNMENT is concentrated in Washington, and our massive ENTERTAINMENT industry is centered in Los Angeles.

And much of the so-called ‘entertainment’ produced in L.A. is then broadcast all over the world. And as the world comes to identify us with our programming, they see a nation obsessed with sex! We use sex to sell everything, from cars to toothpaste. The world sees us as a nation of loose morals, rife with corruption, and overflowing with crime.

And I have to wonder if that image we are projecting to the world is all that wrong? And it becomes easy to see why so many people HATE us.

The events of 9/11 dealt with both New York and Washington, and now that terrorist shooting has again targeted New York City. If L.A…in the near future, were to suffer some equally catastrophic disaster, then I’m gonna start thinking that this is the beginning of God’s punishment on America for the way we have turned away from Him.

There are a lot of similarities between the way Israel is presented in the book of Malachi, and the way America is today. During the twentieth century America fought in a series of wars, allegedly meant to preserve ‘our way of life’, from acts of foreign aggression. And we emerged from those wars with an increased emphasis on personal pleasure…and a decreased interest in worshipping and serving the Lord.

Israel, in much the same way, after coming out of Babylonian captivity, began to down play their worship of God, and began to think more about their own personal pleasure. They began to cheat on their tithes…or to withhold them completely. They began to offer unacceptable animals for their obligatory sacrifices to God.

Their acts of so-called worship were less concerned with what God demanded, and more concerned with what they wanted to do. And I see the same thing happening here. I’ve known people who considered themselves to be strong supporters of the Lord’s work…who would take home their paychecks, and right off the top, deduct their contributions to their IRA account…and then the mortgage payment, and the car payment, the utilities and the credit card bills…

And then, with whatever was left over, they would take 10% of THAT, and offer it to the Lord, AS a tithe. Well, first of all, that is as WRONG as it can be. Your tithe, if you are going to make one, should be the FIRST thing you deduct. And secondly, as a Christian, you are under NO requirement to tithe at all! It was part of the law, and Jesus has COMPLETED that. What He asked for now, is that you bring ALL YOU HAVE to the altar, and expect HIM to meet your needs.

But, they were doing the same thing in Malachi’s time. They’d say, “Well, we gotta make a sacrifice to God”…and they’d look over their flocks, and find an animal that was crippled, or deformed in some way…and they’d say “Ok, this one isn’t worth anything, might as well offer it.”

And then they wondered why God was punishing them. And how far can we be, from the same fix?

A popular guy named O.J. Simpson almost certainly murdered his wife Nicole and her friend Ron Goldman…and a jury AQUITTED him! He was allowed to walk out of that courtroom a free man! True, now he is in prison, where he belongs, but not for cold-blooded murder, but for armed theft.

Two misguided young boys walked into their school in Colorado and murdered 12 of their classmates in cold blood. Another troubled youth in Connecticut took a high-powered rifle into an elementary school, and murdered dozens of tiny, helpless children. And 15 years ago we all sat glued to our TV sets and watched as men and women jumped to their deaths from doomed, burning skyscrapers.

And we all wonder…”WHERE IS GOD IN ALL THIS?”

Well, I’ll tell you where He is…He’s on His Throne, High and Lifted Up! And He’s waiting for HIS PEOPLE…to begin doing the things He commanded us to!

The same thing was true in Israel, when God sent Malachi to His Chosen People, warning them to return to Him. Religious apathy was rampant. Inter-marriages between Jews and gentiles were common…government taxes were imposing a heavy burden on the people…and they were withholding their tithes from God. THAT was Israel.

Then we turn around and look at us. The most popular ‘worship’ services today, the ones that grow BIG churches, make absolutely NO demands on the worshippers. They make no call to commitment to the Lord…or to the church. It’s just ‘show up, be entertained, and drop a big check in the plate, and you’ve done your part…see you next week’!

And to make sure people feel good, they drag out what they call ‘praise choruses’…those ‘7-11’ songs. You know them, they’re seven words long, and repeated eleven times! Eastern mysticism calls them mantras. And it’s pure emotionalism.

But, dig into the Word? They’re not interested in that. And look at all the inter-marriages today, between believers and non-believers…just like in Malachi’s time. And it’s NOT that I think marriage is reserved just for Christians. But I know, when a believer marries a non-believer, there’s trouble ahead for them.

And look at the tax burden we are called to bear, while the wealthiest among us pay almost nothing, comparatively. But we have income tax, sales tax, user tax, inheritance tax…it’s a wonder if you end up with a nickel left out of your dollar.

There are TWO questions that have to be answered, when it looks like the things God does, or the things He allows to happen, don’t make any sense…when it looks like God is STRANGE! Those questions are 1) Is God really able to change things?…and 2) does He really care about ME?

First, we have to deal with our confusion concerning God’s actions. In verse 2 of Malachi’s letter, God says to Israel, “I love you!” And then Israel answers “This doesn’t feel like love.”

So God goes all the way back to the births of Jacob and Esau as an example…and it applies to us, as well. Esau was the first born, and it was to him that the birthright belonged. But God chose Jacob, the younger, to be His own.

In the same way, Israel was the FIRST choice, and to them belonged the birthright of God. But Israel rejected their birthright, just like Esau did. Esau considered his belly as more important than God, and gave the birthright away, for a bowl of stew. And Israel considered a self-centered lifestyle to be more important than God, and they KILLED His Son, rather than recognize Him.

Where God says “Jacob I have loved, and Esau I have hated”, that does not mean ‘love’ and ‘hate’ as we think of them. It’s more like “I have chosen to have fellowship with Jacob, and not chosen Esau for fellowship.”

Verses 3 and 4 are a kinda long accounting of what became of the descendants of Esau, based on his rejection of his birthright in God. He was the father of the race of Edomites, who God later turned to destruction.

THAT should tell you, if you think God’s actions don’t make sense…maybe you are being punished for some rejection of your own?

In verse 6, God tells the Israelites that a FATHER is worthy of HONOR, and a MASTER is worthy of RESPECT…but HE is receiving neither from them, and the people answer “HOW are we dishonoring or disrespecting You?”

So God points out their shabby offerings, their “leftover” offerings…their “junk” offerings. The only way we have of demonstrating our love and appreciation to God, is through our OFFERINGS.

Now, I know that, 99% of the time, when some preacher takes a message from this book of Malachi, they will preach from the 3rd chapter, where it says “will a man rob God?”, and they will preach ONLY about MONEY!

Well, it’s true that the church NEEDS your money in order to operate. But that 3rd chapter also says “bring ye ALL the tithes into the storehouse”. And that is NOT talking only about MONEY! What about a tithe of your TIME? Or your TALENT and ABILITY?

God gives you roughly 12 hours of ‘day’, seven times a week. Do you spend an hour and a half each day serving Him?…by reading His Word, or by praying?…or witnessing to lost people? That would be a ‘tithe’ of your time.

What about your abilities? If, for instance, you are good with numbers, do you share that gift by helping someone keep track of their finances? Or if you’re good with your hands, do you volunteer to do some small jobs for someone who can’t do that? That would also be a ‘tithe’, of your talents and abilities.

When God chose Jacob over Esau, He was demonstrating that He IS God, and it is His RIGHT to choose. And now He has chosen US, the Church, for a time, to be His chosen. Do we respond with gratitude?

AS His chosen people, temporarily, we have certain responsibilities. Going back to that World Trade Center disaster,…Steve Doosey, the weatherman for Fox News network, related the story of a businessman who worked in the ‘twin towers’. On September 11th, he was working on his email from his office on the 83rd floor, when the first plane struck.

He quickly typed this message…”Dear son, my building just exploded. See you in Heaven”. And he hit the ‘send’ button. Later that day his son found this last note from him Dad.

Well folks, Heaven is real, if you have the key. And it’s coming. We may have very little notice before we arrive. Are you doing all you can to help others, NOW, while you can, to find their way there?

CAN God really change things? I have NO DOUBT, that IF all the people in this nation were to turn BACK to Him, like He told us in 2nd Chronicles 7:14…that He would act AT ONCE to restore this land. That if we would offer Him the BEST, instead of the LEAST, instead of our ‘leftovers’, and I don’t mean just our money, but ALL of the tithes…IF we did THAT, then HE would SURELY HEAL and RESTORE our land. YES, God CAN change things.

The 2nd question was “Does God really care about ME?”…In verse 5 it says “The Lord is magnified beyond the borders of Israel”. And in verse 11 it says “My Name shall be great among the gentiles.”

God’s purpose in choosing Jacob over Esau…and in choosing Israel over all the other nations of the world…and in finally choosing the CHURCH, over Israel…(temporarily, you understand that)…but we who ARE chosen, are to present and proclaim GOD to the rest of the world.

We are NOT supposed to try to KEEP Him, as some national TREASURE, to keep Him CHAINED inside the church, and only let Him OUT on Sunday morning, and IGNORE Him the REST of the time.

DOES God really care about YOU? He sent His SON, to DIE, in YOUR place…to PAY your DEBTS…and to PROMISE you that, IF you believe, He will TAKE you, one day, into HEAVEN! EVEN if you never SHARE His love with a single soul!

But, it is simply because He DOES love you so much, that we ought to be eager to SHARE that love with EVERYBODY!

When God’s ways suddenly seem confusing to you…when you see things happening all around you that don’t make SENSE anymore…then it is very possible that God is trying to TELL you, or TEACH you, something.

No matter how confusing or trying the times, God will ALWAYS demonstrate His CHARACTER, His HOLINESS, His RIGHTEOUSNESS…His RIGHT to RULE and to CHOOSE!

For now, God has rejected Israel for rejecting His Son, and He has chosen the church to worship and serve Him. And the church, which has NO RIGHT to EXIST, APART from God…seems to be growing WEARY of serving Him, and we seem to be seeking out DYNAMIC INDIVIDUALS, to place INSTEAD of God, and we worship THEM!

How I would like to see as many people show up for a worship service, as show up for the last game of the World Series! Can you IMAGINE people standing in line, waiting for hours, to get into a CHURCH? Boy howdy, but THAT would put God back on His Throne!

But, it never happens. Like it says in verse 13, “worship and service has become ‘wearisome’.” It’s turned into a CHORE!…and even when we DO come, do we come PREPARED to WORSHIP? Have we made sure our ‘feet are spiritually clean’? Have we brought a SACRIFICIAL offering, or some LEFT-over?

Maybe I should use myself as an example. I grew up outside Detroit, Michigan, and as a kid I loved to get the Sunday Edition of the Detroit Free Press, because I enjoyed reading about the adventures of DICK TRACY in the funny papers.

Well, later I moved away, and started reading other papers, and THEY didn’t carry Dick Tracy. And every once in a while I’d wonder if old Dick is still around.

But you know what? If I were to go back to Detroit, and FIND the Sunday Edition of the Detroit Free Press, I’ll bet I’d find that Dick Tracy IS still there, just like he’s ALWAYS been. It wasn’t HIM that moved away, it was ME!

The SAME thing is true if you start wondering where God went from your life. He didn’t MOVE. HE NEVER moves. GOD is the SAME, yesterday, today, and forever! And it isn’t GOD who CHANGED, the CHURCH did. The CHURCH now prefers to listen to some GLIB and ENTERTAINING preacher, rather than one who just preaches the BIBLE!

But God Himself said, in verse 14…”I AM a GREAT King! MY NAME WILL be FEARED among the nations!”

And His Name WILL be magnified BEYOND the borders of His chosen people. If WE won’t do that, He will get somebody ELSE to do it. Making that kind of choice, is His RIGHT!

So beloved, if God doesn’t seem to make sense…if God seems strange, it’s because WE are not LISTENING anymore!