AGCC Sun. a.m. 11/11/2001
#1 (The "7 Questions of the Backslider" Series -- Malachi)
"HOW DO YOU LOVE ME?"
TEXT: Malachi 1:1-5
INTRO: There are many forms of eye disease, one very unusual one is called "Tunnel Vision." This eye disease causes you to lose your peripheral vision so that all you see if a very narrow field directly in front of you, as though looking through a narrow tunnel, hence the term for the affliction, "tunnel vision." The tragedy of this disease is that a person never quite has a complete picture of reality around them, and they can stumble, fall, or bump into things and cause injury because of their narrow perspective.
There is a spiritual "I" disease similar in nature to this physical "eye" disease. Israel developed "tunnel vision" many times, and it caused injury and lack of perspective that resulted in backsliding from God. In this series of sermons we will examine "The 7 questions the backslider asks God" … the book of Malachi is built around these 7 questions asked by a backslidden nation … and God's response to them.
Spiritual "I" disease is easy to diagnose. The person or nation that develops it only sees a narrow perspective, usually their own wants and needs. Their happiness only exists when everything is clearly going their way, when God's blessings are constant … and these blessings are understood only in a very narrow way, the way they want them to be. When REWARDS are more important than RESPONSIBLITIES "I" problems develop.
ILLUS:Backsliding is the easiest thing to do -- you do nothing. People seldom lose their religion by a blowout -- it is usually a slow leak. -- Croft M. Pentz, The Complete Book of Zingers (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1990).
This is where we find Israel in Malachi's day, a nation that is backsliding.
1. It was experiencing peacetime, but with the Edomites that surrounded them they probably experienced occasional terrorist attacks from their ancient enemy, thus frustrating them … sounds pretty contemporary!
2. Israel's economy was pretty good, but it was in decline and facing some difficulties … this may explain some of their failure to give their tithes. (Mal. 3:6)
3. Their worship had degenerated into rituals, no life to it … most of the people in the nation were religious but not really spiritual … sound familiar?
4. The age of miracles had apparently passed, there were the stories of Elijah, but nothing much seemed to happen anymore in the area of the miraculous.
5. They had grown tired of all the prophets saying the Messiah would soon come, yet it never seemed to happen.
6. They were bored with life, it was the 2nd or 3rd generation since the rebuilding of the temple and their restoration to the land under Nehemiah.
Where their earlier captivity had cured their idolatry, their present carefree lifestyle had produced apathy and discontent. They had become backsliders from God, and their attitude is reflected in 7 questions they ask Malachi and God ... the first question shows doubt about God's love for them. This is usually what we express when we are pulling away from God!
PROP. SENT: We must be careful not to measure God's love by just the circumstances of a moment, such "tunnel vision" will not let us see the love of God fully, but when viewed in a larger perspective God's love will be very clear.
I. GOD'S LOVE DOUBTED 1:1-2b
A. God's Passion 1:1-2a
1. "I" disease usually means a failure to see God's love!
a. And they had it bad!
b. God had clearly said He loved them … many times in history, and as recently as their return from captivity in Babylon to the promise land under their grandparents.
2. It is true that God had allowed their previous captivity, to cure them of their constant idolatry … but He hadn't cast them away or destroyed them.
a. This was evidence of His continued love for them.
b. They failed to see it as love.
c. Most children don't see discipline as love when it produces pain!
3. But they had found freedom again, and prosperity … and yet they were complaining that they didn't see God's love!
4. God appeals to their history … they are the descendants of Jacob, and God has loved Jacob, how could they say they weren't loved?
a. They didn't see it because they were only focused on NOW … their tunnel vision did not let them see the expanded view of history.
b. Most of the time when we are feeling like "God doesn't care or love me" it will be for the same reason!
5. The truth is that God loved them more than they appreciated … in fact, it wasn't because they were better than others that God loved them, it was because God CHOSE to love them … He had sought them out first!
ILLUS:God wants us to worship Him. He doesn't need us, for He couldn't be a self-sufficient God and need anything or anybody, but He wants us. When Adam sinned it was not he who cried, "God, where art Thou?" It was God who cried, "Adam, where art thou?" -- A.W. Tozer, Worship: The Missing Jewel. Christianity Today, Vol. 41, no. 5.
a. This has always been the case … God seeking us out even before we sought Him out.
b. This is proof of His love for us.
6. BUT … it is possible to turn away from His love, and this is what Israel was doing!
B. Griping People! 1:2b
1. They asked, "How have you loved us?"
a. They just didn't see God's love, they were too limited in their vision, only the present moment was their focus.
b. We cannot judge God's love based on the moment, God's love works through time and it will take time to see it properly.
2. So often we fail to see God's love when we are facing restrictions, or problems, or pain … but we must understand that even these events can be a sign of His love if they are teaching us how to avoid unhealthy choices in our life.
ILLUS:At a summer religious camp for children one of the counselors was leading a discussion on the purpose God had for everything He created. They began to find good reasons for clouds and trees and rocks and rivers and animals and just about everything else in nature. Finally, one of the children said, "If God had a good purpose for everything, then why did He create poison ivy?" The discussion leader gulped and, as he struggled with the question, one of the other children came to his rescue, saying, "The reason God made poison ivy is because He wanted us to know there are certain things we should keep our cotton-pickin' hands off." -- James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) p. 254.
3. God does not allow suffering and pain to just make us miserable, but to make us grow and become stronger!
a. Israel sometimes failed to see this, and the result was always the same, a cooling off spiritually and questions about God's love and concern for them.
b. All of life must be seen in a larger context to appreciate God's love for us.
4. Tragically, it had been 2 or 3 generations since Israel had returned to the land and rebuilt the temple and instead of being more mature they were more miserable!
a. It is unfortunate, but sometimes growing older only makes some people MORE bitter and not more spiritual!
ILLUS:It's scary to realize that most of the people who failed in Scriptures failed in the second half of their lives. -- Joe Aldrich, Leadership, Vol. 13, no. 3.
b. You can fall away just as easily later in life as you can earlier in life.
5. There is nothing more miserable than a believer who doubts God's love for them!
a. Their doubt about God's love had resulted in lifeless ritualistic worship.
b. Their doubt about God's love had resulted in poor giving, withholding their tithes. (Mal. 3:6ff)
c. Their doubt about God's love had resulted in boredom with life.
d. Their doubt about God's love had resulted in a lack of love for one another, hence divorce had become rampant, and marrying unbelievers had become common.
6. When you lose your belief that God loves you it will not be hard to live in a way that shows no love to anyone else!
II. GOD'S LOVE DEMONSTRATED! 1:2c-5
A. Gaining Perspective 1:2c-3
1. As a way of opening up their perspective God reminds them of His love for Jacob … their forefather.
a. By doing this He is reminding them of His covenant … to love always the descendants of Jacob, THEM!
b. They really needed to see BEYOND their present situation, and history provides great evidence of God's presence and love.
c. So often we fail to do the same thing, we get mad at God over something that HAS JUST happened and forget all His other mercies in the past.
2. It is such a simple truth, but it has profound power over our lives … GOD LOVES US!
ILLUS:Karl Barth was invited to deliver one of the distinguished lectureships at a theological seminary in the East, and while he was there a group of ministers and theologians and dignitaries of one kind or another sat down with him in a kind of question-and-answer period. Someone asked the question, "What is the most profound thought that you know, Dr. Barth?" This is what he said: "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so." -- W. Frank Harrington, "The Love That Brought Him," Preaching Today, Tape No. 51.
3. The ones who should have been concerned about rejection were the descendants of Esau … they had rejected the birthright and covenant, but Israel had no reason to doubt God's love.
a. God states here: "Esau I have hated."
b. This was not capricious, it was because of their rejection of the covenant that they were "hated."
4. The Israelites were not the ones in jeopardy, their doubts about God's love were unfounded.
a. Their previous adversity and captivity were not signs of God's hatred toward them, but evidence of His love, to turn them from their wickedness!
ILLUS:During World War II the famous American pilot, Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, was flying on a special mission to the Pacific Islands. The plane crashed, and Rickenbacker and his crew were lost at sea for twenty-one days. Rickenbacker wrote of that experience: "In the beginning many of the men were atheists or agnostics, but at the end of the terrible ordeal each, in his own way, discovered God. Each man found God in the vast, empty loneliness of the ocean. Each man found salvation and strength in prayer, and a community of feeling developed which created a liveliness of human fellowship and worship, and a sense of gentle peace. -- James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) p. 254.
b. Sometimes tough times in our lives help purge our tendency to turn away from God, we come to Him because we NEED Him.
B. God's Plan 1:4
1. Then there was Edom … perhaps Israel was angry that their enemy Edom was still prospering … Edom was rebuilding nearby too, and Edom was arrogant about their ability to prosper by their own strength.
a. Yet, Ezekiel had prophesied that they would be desolate. (Ez. 35)
b. Jeremiah had stated Israel's restoration and Edom's destruction: Lam 4:22 "O Daughter of Zion, your punishment will end; he will not prolong your exile. But, O Daughter of Edom, he will punish your sin and expose your wickedness."
c. Zechariah had also said the same thing. (Zech. 5:5-11)
2. Edom's bragging will one day be shown to be foolish … pride always is a prelude to a fall!
ILLUS:A minister, a Boy Scout, and a computer expert were the only passengers on a small plane. The pilot came back to the cabin and said that the plane was going down and unfortunately there were only 3 parachutes on board for the 4 of them. He added, "Since I am the pilot and have 3 children and a wife to support I am taking one of them" and then he jumped. The Computer Wiz said next, "I should have one of the parachutes because I am the smartest man in the world and everyone needs me" so he took one and jumped. The minister turned to the Boy Scout and with a sad smile said, "You are young and have your whole life ahead of you, I have lived a longer and a rich life, so you take the remaining parachute and I'll go down with the plane." The Boy Scout however responded, "relax, Reverend, the smartest man in the world just picked up my knapsack and jumped out … we each have a parachute left!" So much for pride!!! -- source unknown
3. Their failure to believe God loved them was evidence of their failure to believe God's Word since it had clearly predicted a day Edom would fall.
a. The issue was really their misunderstanding about God's love.
b. They thought God's love meant they were exempt from responsibility and effort.
c. So many times we pray the wrong way when things go wrong … we want God to just "fix" the problem without our involvement, but our prayer really should be more like this:
ILLUS: I asked God to take away my pride, and God said no. He said it was not for him to take away, but for me to give up.
I asked God to make my handicapped child whole, and God said, "No, her spirit is already whole. Her body is only temporary."
I asked God to grant me patience, and God said no. He said that patience is the byproduct of tribulation. It isn't granted; it's earned.
I asked God to give me happiness; God said no. He said he gives blessings; happiness is up to me.
I asked God to spare me pain, and God said no. He said I must grow on my own, but he will prune me in order to make me fruitful.
I asked God if he loved me, and God said yes. He gave me his only Son who died for me, and I will be in heaven some day because I believe.
I asked God to help me love others as much as he loves me, and God said, "Ahhh, finally! Now you have the idea." -- A Christmas card cited by Vic Pentz, "A Twinge of Nostalgia," Preaching Today, Tape No. 88.
4. They had no reason to doubt God's love, their future is like the past … secured by God's promises, it was not a time to pine about the momentary lull they felt.
C. Great Promise! 1:5
1. God assures them, "You will see it with your own eyes and say, 'Great is the LORD -- even beyond the borders of Israel!'"
a. While they may be momentarily locked into tunnel vision and therefore can't see beyond the narrow scope of "today" there will soon come a time when they will witness God at work, even beyond the borders of Israel, and they will realize that indeed God does love them.
b. God is assuring them about the future … after appealing to the past, in order to lift them from their backsliding in the present.
2. God's love at work can't always be seen in JUST the moment, or in just our OWN life … we need to look around! And if we do indeed look around there will be plenty of evidence that God loves us!
a. Backsliding begins with an "I" problem, and it is corrected with the lenses of the past and the focus of God's Word for the future … then you have good "vision."
b. Thank God His love isn't like ours!!!
ILLUS:If God loved you as much as you love him, where would you be? - Edythe Draper, Draper's Book of Quotations for the Christian World (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1992). Entry 4765.
3. God's love is powerful enough to change everything around them, and everything in them … but only if it wasn't doubted!
ILLUS:During the Korean War a South Korean Christian civilian was arrested by the Communists and ordered shot. But when the young Communist leader learned that the prisoner was in charge of an orphanage, caring for small children, he decided to spare him and kill his son instead. So they took his nineteen-year-old son and shot him right there in front of the Christian man. Later, the fortunes of war changed and that same young Communist leader was captured by the UN forces, tried, and condemned to death. But before the sentence could be carried out, the Christian whose boy had been killed came and pleaded for the life of the killer. He declared that this Communist was young, that he really did not know what he was doing. The Christian said, "Give him to me and I will train him." The UN forces granted the request and the father took the murderer of his boy into his own home and cared for him. And today, that young man, formerly a Communist, is a Christian pastor, serving Christ. This is the power of forgiving love that can only be described as superabundant, the kind of love the dying Stephen reflected in the Book of Acts. -- James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) p. 224.
4. What about you? Do you believe God loves you? If you doubt this it will show in the way you love others as well as the way you love self … and if you don't doubt it you will be poised to show the world the power of God's love in one life!
a. Backsliding starts here … doubting God's love.
b. This is the question that the backsliders asks, "How do you love me God?"
CONCLUSION: One of the early signs of drifting from God is bitterness and doubts about His love. So often we "judge" God based on material blessings or on just the moment. God's love however must be viewed over a lifetime or we may fail to see it properly. Failure to see God's love is a serious "I" problem, and means we need our vision corrected. God will not fail us -- He loves us more than we give Him credit for!!