Have you heard that on April 22, 1997, at 922 NW 91st, the Britton Christian Church, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, around 11:00 am, a robbery was committed? An undetermined amount of money was stolen. This doesn’t appear to be the first time that this crime was committed. The evidence strongly suggests that this in only one of many unchecked offenses that have been going on over a long period of time. The evidence also suggests that it was an inside job. There were no visible signs of forces entry. No destruction of property. More than 250 people were present at the scene of the crime and at least two hundred people are presently suspected of actively participating in the robbery. None of the suspects has been apprehended. The authorities are still investigating. An ongoing examination of the evidence will continue.

One of the authorities commented that in all of his years of investigating robberies he has never seen anything like this one before. A large sum of money is missing, but no money seems to have changed hands. The money appears to have been stolen from God…address unknown. No indication of weapons used and no visible signs of struggle. It appears to have been a robbery without a weapon.

I have come today on behalf of the authorities to issue warrants for arrest. But I have also come to announce that the Judge in the case, who is also God, is willing to suspend the sentences and pardon all who will make a vow never to commit this heinous crime again.

This is the message that the prophet Malachi delivers to the people of Israel. We find in the book of Malachi that the prophet goes to the people in God’s behalf. He is pleading with them people to return to God what they have stolen from Him. He reads God’s love letter to them, expressing the pain of God’s unrequitted love. He conveys the message the Lord has given to him by saying:
Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD Almighty. “But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’ {8} “Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’ “In tithes and offerings. {9} You are under a curse–the whole nation of you–because you are robbing me. {10} 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 you will not have room enough for it. {11} I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit,” says the LORD Almighty. {12} “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the LORD Almighty. (Mal 3:7-12 NIV)

The Lord said to the people: “I have loved you; I have delivered you; I am your Parent; I am your Partner; I entered into covenant with you; I married you; You became My people and I became your God, your companion, your keeper and provider, and yet you have despised Me and dishonored Me and withheld yourselves, your service, and your substance from Me who withholds nothing from you.”

The relationship has been one-sided and one-sided relationships don’t work We need to do all we can from our side, and on our part to keep open the channels between us and God. Healthy relationships cannot be one-sided. In the relationship between parents and children, both sides must be considerate of each other. In the relationship between husband and wife, there are certain initiatives a husband must take and certain responses a wife must make and vice-versa. If it is one-sided it will topple over. And if one-sided relationships do not work in human experience, what makes you think that one-sided relationships will work with respect to the structure and the function of the interaction that takes place between us and God? There is something that we must do in order to maintain a right relationship with God.

Malachi said in the first chapter of his book that a son honors his father and a servant respects his master, but the people of God despise God. The people said, “Well, how is it that we have despised you?” And the Lord answered, “You have offered polluted bread on my altar.” You have given Me trash and mess and refuse and dung and garbage. You have given Me far less than your best. And that doesn’t work with Uncle Sam so why should you think it will work with Me? Try that for taxes or tuition or rent, or mortgage or clothes, or the car note. All of these consist of regular, serious, and substantial payment and yet you think you can still stroll into My presence and do less for Me than you do for yourselves, for your conveniences, and your comforts?

For some odd reason, the most uncomfortable time of the year in most churches is when the leaders get together and seek God’s will for the upcoming year. Any talk of money in the church automatically sends folks flooding out the door vowing never to come back until all of the talk of money ceases or spouting off statement like, “all the church ever talks about is money!” What insanity! It amazes me that we don’t sit around and talk about the mortgage company, the gas company, sanitation department, or the car dealership that sold us our car in the same way that we talk about the church. A couple of years when my grandfather passed away, we didn’t receive one phone call from the electric company extending their condolences, but we sure did receive their bill. When my grandmother was having tests run a couple of months ago, not a soul from the sanitation department showed up to hold our hand or pray with us, but we sure did receive their bill on time. When my children were born, nobody from the gas company sent a word of congratulations, but they did send their bill. I never hear from any of these folks unless I fail to pay my bills on time, or unless they are billing me for services rendered. Yet God comforts us at ever turn, He blesses us with every possible blessing, and He redeems our lives so that we mighty live in the fullness of His Spirit and we turn our pockets inside out and say, “Lord, I just don’t have anything left.”

The prophet Malachi declares that we have left God, we have departed from Him, we are mouthing the words, “I believe,” but our actions are not consistent with what we are saying. In Malachi 3, the prophet announces the Word from the Lord, “If you will return to Me, I will return to you.” If you do something, then I will do something. And it is at this point that Malachi says, “Will a man rob God?” Will anybody be so bold and brazen to rob the living God? Will people in their mortality and weakness and shortness and frailty and brevity of days on earth rob God, while they are open to all kinds of accidents and tragedies and contingencies and calamities and setbacks and illnesses and uncertainties? Will we, in our weakness and vulnerability and dependency rob God? The God who owns and sustains the whole universe? Will we dare rob God?

The question is not whether a person will steal from God. We can’t steal from God. For when you steal from somebody, that means you are taking from behind the person’s back. The person from whom you steal can’t see what you are doing, he doesn’t even know what is going on. When you rob somebody, you are doing it to their person, in their face. You are openly assaulting and assailing the victim. You are robbing and traumatizing a person in the person’s presence. The question we have to ask this morning, and the question each of us has to answer for ourselves is, “Will we dare rob, assault, and assail the Lord God Almighty? God, all-powerful, all knowing, all wise, all loving, and everywhere present. Will anybody dare be that ungrateful?

Everything we have comes from God. We brought nothing into this world and we will most surely take nothing out of it. There are no bank accounts in burial clothes, no cash in a casket, and no Brink’s trucks in a funeral procession. If you have anything, God gave it to you! I know there are those who say, “I got it on my own. I did it for myself. I worked hard at my job. I got up early every morning and went to work.” I understand your commitment. I understand the bold demonstration of responsibility and character. I understand your tenacity to the task at hand. I just want to ask you this morning, “Who woke you up so you could get out of bed? Who started you on your way? Who gave you strength to stand and life to live and breath to breathe and love to enjoy and hope to hold onto? Who opened the job door for you and gave you the opportunity to work? Who got you through the interview?” The Book of James says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” (James 1:17) Jesus said, “Freely you have received, freely give.” And Paul said, “What have you got that you did not receive?” When will we learn to shout like Paul, “I am what I am by the grace of God!”

So God said to the people through Malachi, the prophet, “You have robbed Me!” and the people said, “How have we robbed You?” God said, “You have done it by withholding your tithes and your offerings. And if you really want to mend your broken relationship with Me, if you really want to keep faith with Me, if you really want to pick up the broken pieces of your shattered life and put them back together again…here’s how you do it.” “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse…” not just a little bit, not just what is left over at the end of the month, not just what your friends are bringing, not just what you can do without, but all the tithes…the full amount! Don’t hold back part of what is His! Pay the whole thing, the whole tenth, without robbing God, without cheating, without defrauding God. Malachi says, “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse.” The word “storehouse” is translated from the Hebrew word that means the temple treasure. The same word is used in Nehemiah 13:12, which says, “Then all Judah brought the tithe of the grain and the new wine and the oil to the storehouse.” (Nehemish 13:12) They brought, all of Judah, the tithe of grain and the new wine and the oil into the storehouse…which storehouse? The United Way? March of Dimes? The Fellowship of Christian Athletes? The NAACP? The Alumni Association? Campus Crusade for Christ? Which storehouse was the Lord speaking about?

The word means the treasuries of the house of God? The tithe is explicitly and exclusively a holy offering unto God through the institution of the congregation of the people of God…the church. This concept of the tithe is demonstrated and substantiated in Leviticus 27:30, which says, “And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord’s. It is holy to the Lord.” (Leviticus 27:30) The tithe is the Lord’s. It is holy unto the Lord. There is further documentation that the Hebrew word in Malachi, that we translate as storehouse, refers to the temple treasury. 2 Chronicles 31:11 says, “Now Hezekiah commanded them to prepare rooms in the house of the Lord, and they prepared them, and brought in the offerings and the tithes and the dedicated things faithfully.” The tithe was not to be broken down by the person, or distributed in the community according to the notions and taste and priorities and pet projects and concerns of an individual. The tithe was to be brought into the house of the Lord and to be dedicated holy unto the Lord. Now that much is explicit! That’s not my opinion. It’s in the Word of God. It’s God plan for the people of God.

Where shall we tithe? Not to the radio or television evangelist or preacher, because you are not going to call them when you get sick or when you need somebody to preach a loved one’s funeral, or when you need somebody to come to the hospital to see you, or when your marriage is faltering and you need somebody to help you put it back together. You aren’t going to call Billy Graham, Robert Schuller, or T.D. Jakes or any of those preachers. You are going to call some preacher in town. We need to pay our tithes at the house of God where we minister, where we pray, where we are fed, where we are cared for, where we are being discipled, where we are ministered unto, where we labor to serve the Lord faithfully.

I understand the temptation today that we are faced with when we see dynamic, uplifting ministry taking place on the television set or over the radio. The appeal goes out for us to give. We see thousands of people in the audience. We hear a powerful message. We hear top-quality musical production. We see huge video screens with share, heart-tugging video presentations. We hear the appeal for us to send money to keep this or that great ministry going. We mail a check. I dare say this morning that if Mike and Connie Hays are not first giving their tithe to the Lord to be used in His ministry in the local church where He has placed us before we give to other ministries, then we are out of the will of Almighty God. Connie and I give to other ministries, but not until we have at least given our tithe to the Lord’s work going on through this local Body of believers. It is bad stewardship to send $10.00 here and there to every ministry that is doing great work for the Kingdom when we aren’t even brining a tithe into the storehouse of the Lord so that He can minister to those who need to hear the Gospel here in this community.

Let me give you an example of what I am talking about. I have come to love and appreciate the ministry of Promise Keepers. The ministry to men has grown at an astronomical rate over the past seven years. Today, Promise Keepers has a ministry all throughout North America and even in other parts of the world. Their budget is more than 30 million dollars and they are adding staff every week. I have friends that work for Promise Keepers and I know the character and integrity of those individuals who work for that great ministry. One of the things I appreciate most about Promise Keepers is their passion to build the local church. Bill McCartney and the other leaders recognize that a national ministry can’t support mom and pop, little Johnny and sweet Cindy in Backwoods, Oklahoma. God has raised up a local pastor to minister to, train, and nurture those folks in Backwoods, Oklahoma. Every Promise Keeper’s event you go to where an offering is taken up, you will always hear, “If you aren’t tithing in your local church please don’t give to Promise Keepers. We take up an offering to reach men for Christ, but your tithe is for your local church.” Why is that important? You ask such good questions.

As I have spoken to many churches and pastors over the past three or four years about building their ministry, one of the most prominent issues which they quiz me about is, “How can we do anything when our finances are so slim?” The people in our church want to know the money is going to be there before they ever start a new ministry.” I had lunch this past week with an Episcopal priest and one of his leaders who are wanting to start a ministry to the poor, but the people of their church are skeptical because they don’t believe that they can fund a ministry to poor people. I will guarantee you that if the people of that church believed in tithing there would already be money there to serve more of the poor than they could handle. The local church is being hamstrung because the folks in the local church are either not tithing or they are sending their tithes to national ministries which will have little, if any impact on their local community.

I love the story of the little country church which had their treasurer resign. When the resignation was turned in, the church asked the local grain elevator operator to take the position. He agreed under two conditions: 1) No treasurer’s report would be given for the first year. 2) No questions were to be asked about finances during that year.

The people were surprised, but finally agreed since most of the them did business with him and trusted his integrity. At the end of the first year he stood before the congregation and gave his report.
* The church indebtedness of $228,000 has been paid.
* The minister’s salary has been increased by 8%.
* The Cooperative Program gifts have been paid 200%.
* There are no outstanding bills.
* There is a cash balance of $11,252.
Immediately, the shocked congregation said, “How did you do it? Where did the money come from? Who died and left us the money?” (That’s the way most churches experience an excess of money these days) He quietly replied, “Most of you bring your grain to my elevator. Throughout the year, I simply withheld ten percent on your behalf and gave it to the mission of the Lord here at the church in your name. You didn’t even miss it! Do you see what we could do for the Lord if we were all willing to give at least a tithe, ten percent, to God, the One who really owns it?” And so the new treasurer had made his point.

John and Sylvia Ronsvalle have written a study of the giving habits of American Christians to the mission of Jesus. They have learned from their studies that the average American family gives an average of 2.86 percent of their income to the church. Some of us think that this figure is brought low by the poor people of our population who are unable to give to the extent that wealthier people can, but you are wrong. Statistics have shown time and time again that poor people give a greater percentage of their income than those who have more to give.

I put my pencil to work this past week and found out some interesting things. The poverty level in America is $13,440. A tithe on $13,440 is $1,344. We have approximately 250 families who are connected with this church. If our 250 families would pledge $25.00 a week to the ministry of our King in this community, we would have $325,000 for the mission at the end of the year! That is a surplus of more than 40,000 over our present budget. There are some of us who are struggling to make it on this level of income, but there are others of us who make more than $13,440 a year. $325,000 if all of those families who are connected with this church would tithe on a poverty level income! That’s $325,000 a year to use to share the Gospel with others, take care of the sick, provide assistance to the needy, educate those yearning for Biblical truth, feed the hungry, minister to the elderly, provide Tae Kwon Do classes to the neighborhood, and then we would still have money left to do even more!

Do you see what can happen in a local church when God’s people catch the vision of the incredible ministry that can take place when we bring our tithes together and trust God to invade the darkness of our communities with the Gospel in reaching people for Jesus Christ! I’m not talking about maintenance churches which simply want to continue to bless themselves, but I’m talking about visionary churches who have a heart to reach their communities with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I’m not talking about churches whose first question is, “Where are we going to get the money?” but I’m talking about churches whose first question is, “Lord, what would you have us do?” and then are willing to trust that where He calls He will most certainly provide.

If the people of God will turn back to the One who promises to provide, and trust Him with every area of our lives so that we are no longer scared to tithe what is already His, then the church will be loosed to become a powerful force of ministry in every little village, community, town, and city in this country. When God’s people begin tithing once again the church will have more than sufficient resources to meet human needs and the name of Jesus will be exalted and the gospel will be preached and missions will grow throughout the world.

The tithe is a basic admission that God is the source of your life. If you praise God without bringing your tithe, your are praising Him on credit! “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse.” Yes, I believe that God had a place like Britton Christian Church in mind when He said, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse.” Don’t split it up, but let me make a powerful and meaningful impact upon the life of Oklahoma City and the life of the world. Let it be a witness of life and hope. Let it be a light shining in the darkness of confusion and disruption. Let it be one place where young folks can come and be safe. Let it be one place where anybody can come and get a meal and help and hope and love and joy! Let it be a house of prayer for all people! Let it be a rock in a weary land and a shelter in a time of storm!

The Lord God says, “And try Me now in this,” says the Lord of hosts, “If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it.” Try Me now in this! Let me demonstrate that I will “open you the windows of heaven, and pour out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” The cry of the world is that we don’t have enough. We don’t have enough joy! We don’t have enough peace! We don’t have enough hope! But when we learn to trust God, when we stop robbing Him, when we learn to seek Him first, we will no longer have to cry out “enough,” but we will shout from our rooftops that there is not room enough for us to hold all of the blessings the Lord has for us! Lord, bring that about today!

I am so excited about next Sunday, May 4 — The Day of Dedication! I sense the powerful Spirit of Almighty God sweeping across our community and calling us to trust Him, to seek Him, to worship Him, to serve Him, and to give Him the glory for all that He has done and will do through you and me. On May 4, we will come before Almighty God and lay our tithes before Him trusting that He will multiply their power for ministry so that many will come to know Jesus as Lord and Savior. I hope you are earnestly praying each and every day so that May 4 will not only be a victory for the Body of Christ at Britton Christian Church, but so that it might also be a victory for you as you seek the Lord with all of your heart and begin to learn that He is able, He is faithful, and He provides. The Lord is calling today, “Return to Me!” Will you trust Him?

Robbery Without A Weapon
Malachi 3:7-12