There were 3 Christians talking about how they give to God. The first Christian said “I draw a circle on the ground, then I throw my money in the air and what falls inside the circle I keep and what falls out of the circle I give to God” The second Christians said “I do the same but I throw my money in the air but what falls outside the circle I keep and what falls inside the circle I give to God” The third Christian said “I also throw my money in the air and what stays up in the air I leave with God and what falls to the ground I keep.”

So here we are in Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament. It’s been a challenging book, where God confronts his people then and now:

God's people have drifted from God. Their only hope is that the Lord does not change. Malachi 3:6

I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. (NIV)

I can't tell you how precious is this truth, the Lord does not change.

In a world of change, He is the only person you can perfectly rely on. And the Lord Jesus is no different, He is the same ‘yesterday today and tomorrow’. You don't have to be afraid that God is going to wake up in a bad mood and throw everyone out of heaven into hell. God hasn’t changed and neither have his people, God is consistently faithful and his people are consistently unfaithful. Verse 7

Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. (NIV)

God heard the cries of his people and He led them out of slavery in Egypt, He brings them to Mt. Sinai and enters into a covenant and He promises that I will be your God and you will be my people. Then weeks later they are worshipping the golden calf, getting drunk and sleeping around.

God then led them into the promised land. He blessed them with land, a temple and a king. They were called to be a light to the nations. Instead of trusting God they trusted the nations. Instead of fearing God they would fear the nations. Instead of loving God they would love the gods of the nations.

They became worse than the other nations and yet God did not give up on them. This was the reason they were not destroyed, because I the Lord do not change. After 800 years of rebellion : God says “I have remained faithful to you even when you have remained faithless to me.” Looks look at the rest of verse 7

Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty. (NIV)

If you come back to me, I will come to you. Friends, I want to say the ultimate proof that God is for you. We have a God - Father, Son and Spirit saying “No matter what you have done, no matter what you have become, it’s time to come home and come to me.” Return to me and I will return to you.

The issue at hand here in verses 8 and 9. They were stealing from God.

“But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’ “Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’ “In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. (NIV)

This is one of the hardest statements on money in the bible. God says a lot about giving to God's work in the local church and wider mission. Most is positive.

By giving we are investing our treasures in heaven with never ending dividends. “Any temporal possession can be turned into everlasting wealth. Whatever is given to Christ is immediately touched with immortality.” (A.W.Tozer)

By giving, we are partners with God in the work of the local church. If you gave this year those 66 people who said yes to Jesus are part of your work. We are partners in work of the gospel around the world, we have 10 missionary families to feed. Our giving makes friends for eternity, we will meet many people in heaven and who will say “I praise God for your supporting that person who shared Jesus with me. “Im here because of you…” Giving releases the hold that greed has on us. It's more blessed or happy to give than to receive.

2 Corinthians 8:9 tells us that all driven by the generosity of our Lord Jesus.

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. (NIV)

There is no one richer than the owner of the universe.
There is no one poorer than a man stripped naked on a cross, that’s Jesus
There is no one more desperate than a person who deserved to go to hell yesterday
There is no one more thankful than a person who is co heir with Christ, that’s you

Lots of positive reasons to give but in Malachi 3 we are hit with a hard word. When you refuse to financially give you are stealing from God. The notion of giving a tithe of 10% goes back to Abraham, where Abraham gives 10% of his war booty to the priest king Melchizedek. God repeatedly instructs his Israel to Tithe. The tithe was to support the operation of the temple and priests. The same percentage meant those who had more should give more and those who had less would give less.

Proverbs 3:9-10 tells us that point was to give God your first and your best portion

Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine. (NIV)

Give God the first portion of your income, whether it came from a wage, inheritance, investments, capital gain, social security, shares or pocket money.

Jesus himself says to the Pharisees to pursue justice without neglecting tithing. If the Jews who lived before Jesus were expected to at least tithe, then how could we who live after the death and resurrection give less.  Knowing the harvest plentiful and workers few, Jesus commanded that those who preach the gospel should be supported

Notice that the failure to give is viewed as theft. Why theft? Everything belongs to God and God has first claim of your income. It was always his.

In 1992. MBM was in its 2nd year and we had maybe 30-35 adults on a very good day. Our giving container was a small letter box. Two homeless teenagers came to church. The prayer that Sunday went long and as I got up to preach the two teenagers moved to the front of the church. I thought “Isn’t that beautiful they are so eager to hear the word of God” I didn’t know that they had just stolen $250 from our unlocked and unchained letter box.

The next day one of our middle eastern brothers went to youth refuge and told them he knew that they stole the money. He then said “if I wasn’t a Christian this is what I would have done to you both” But then he said “…now that Christ has saved me, I won’t do that.” Then he shared the gospel and said they needed to repay it. It was best $250 we lost. But we did put locks and built deep boxes to prevent that happening again.

Friends, God is saying, if you withhold your giving to your local church you are like those teenagers. As if you’re reaching into the giving container and stealing God's money.

I know one man who was so convicted of this that he paid back 8 years of giving to clear his conscience. He knew he had benefited from a ministry he rarely contributed to. I don’t think that it's necessary to do back pay. Christ gives us fresh start.

Don’t let another year go by where you’re stealing from the God who lovingly chose you and has given you every good gift. Taking from the God who did not withhold his one and only Son, and has prepared for you a resurrected body. Keep from a God who has a new creation waiting for you.

Why is God so interested in our money? God wants us to trust him in all areas of life, not just salvation. Kanye West was asked, are you now a Christian music artist?He said, I am a Christian everything! Jesus wants to be Lord of everything including our finances. It's why I say this pledging season is not about budget. Sure, if we don't hit budget I will have to let go of staff. But the bigger issue is this: It's about you and God. It's about your heart and who is truly first. It's about believing that your life is in God's hands. It's about grasping that everything you have belongs to Him. And that God has first claim on your finances.

What stops us giving is important, FEAR - will God take care of me? It can be scary.

When Sandy and I were in Bible college in 1987-90, we lived off savings, we had college fees with no fee help and no student allowance. We had 2 kids under 3 and for 3 years our only income was $3,000 per year. I said to Sandy, I don't think we need to tithe, she was adamant, we always give God our best. I’m so glad I listened to her because otherwise I would have missed out on how God graciously took care of us.

Why don’t people give? FOMO, fear of missing out. Fear of missing out on a pleasure that last for hours, days and weeks but not for eternity. Look at your credit card details and see where your heart is. But let FOMO work for you. How about fear of wasting my money? Fear of getting to the end of my life and storing so few treasures in heaven. Fear of never knowing how exciting it is to see God come through when you put him first.

Just on that, I find it amazing that God is telling Israel to stop stealing and give to the priests, this is the same half hearted and hopeless priests. You don’t give based on the quality of ministry. You give because God wants to work on your heart. I remember John Maxwell, a former pastor and leadership guru, he tells the story of how a man in his church who was a big giver said to him, “Pastor John, I'm withholding my tithe because I disagree with the decisions of the elders” So John said, “Well, let's go on our knees right now and I want you to let God know why you are about to steal from him.”

Speaking of missing out. God says in verses 10 and 11.

Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the Lord Almighty. (NIV)

God invites Israel to test him, to trust him, to not hold back. To give God the full tithe and God promises that they will drown in a sea of blessings. Give and God will give you even more. Sounds like a ponzie scheme or pyramid business, the closest example of this in the New Testament is in 2 Corinthians 9:6-8

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. (NIV)

That sounds a little like a prosperity gospel, except he says "Having all that you need not all that you want." Trust me and I will entrust you with what you need to give to others. There are no Ferraris promised nor ocean views in Manly. Trust me, test me, I have your back so give what I have given you. For some it may be a lot for others a little.

God says: "Use what I give you so that you keep blessing others for the gospel."

Here are some ideas:

Re-invest. We Christians are the ultimate re-gifters. We get these financial gifts from our Lord and we re-gift to the poor and those who work for the gospel.

Yes, we have those who did what is right and went bankrupt. They still had what they needed and still gave. Don’t let Gods generosity end with you. He doesn’t want your leftovers after you spent it on whatever you want. That is not giving God your best. He wants you to trust him.

Based on a church survey, 32% of MBM tithe, 25% of MBM give 5-9%. Everyone of us in these categories have had to take that jump, and we all have a story of how God had our back. The good news is this, unlike praying or witnessing or being patient, you can put this right in a moment. Every day I have to decide to pray, every day I have to decide to forgive. But with Online banking you can lock in your giving for the whole year with the press of a button or the filling out of the form.

We don’t give more or less in a big church than in a small one. We are to give our first portion and best portion, whether we are a 16 year old teenager, a 25 year old young single worker, a 40 year old married with 2 kids, a 60 year old facing retirement or a 70 year old pensioner.

I'm so thankful for MBM and I join King David who said in 1 Chronicles 29:14

But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand. (NIV)

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