Imagine you were a student and you had a History oral report due. You have been told that you are permitted to use any visual and audio props you wish to include. The teacher says "Knock my socks off with what you can do". You brag to all your friends how fantastic your report is going to be. You build up great expectations for your teacher. To great fanfare it comes to your turn. You stand in front of the class and read from your miserably boring PowerPoint slides. You receive a lousy grade.
Imagine your boss has given you a major project. You get paid a six figure salary to produce excellent work. You receive a great budget for the project because the boss does not want there to be any excuses. With each progress update you build a sense of anticipation for the boss. The buzz is happening throughout the company as everyone looks forward to the results of the project. Finally the due date has arrived. The boss and all employees gathering in the warehouse for the unveiling. After all that time, money and anticipation you present some tooth pick models and children stick figure drawings. You are fired.
Of course these are not things we would offer to people in authority over us. We would do our best to honour their authority. Offering less than our best reveals the condition of our heart and shows great disrespect for the authority. If we can understand this concerning temporary things, why can't we also understand it for the more important permanent spiritual things?
Malachi the prophet records some of Yahweh's complaints against his nation Israel. It was not so much their action as it was what their action revealed about the condition of their hearts. It seems that the attitude Yahweh saw was exactly as described above. The people would make a big show of honouring him with their sacrifices but what they offered was second best. They offered the animals that they could not sell. Whatever was left over is what they put on the altar. Yahweh reminded them, in a very simple but direct manner, who he is:
"For I am a great King", says the Lord of hosts, "And my name is to be feared among the nations." (Malachi 1:14)
The Message puts it in a way we might more readily appreciate:
"I'm a great King, God-of-the-Angel-Armies, honoured far and wide, and I'll not put up with it!"
The people of Israel had moved away from Yahweh and had lost their respectful reverence of who he is. Have you read Revelation recently? Do you know who Jesus is? Do you draw close to him to allow the Spirit to keep alive your reverence of the Name above all names? Do you realize who the Father is and what we owe him? For most people the answer is no. We have tried to make him so user friendly that we have reduced him to best friend and chum. Although there is an element of that familiarity to our relationship, he is so much more than that.
Many of us are just like the Israelites, keeping ourselves at a distance, offering our second best, our left-overs. Instead of offering our first fruits we offer what we think we can afford after everyone else has had a go at our harvest. We usually give to him whatever is left offer of our time, when we are already tired and just wanting to sleep, if we offer any time at all. As for service, it's whatever we can fit in when and if we can fit it in.
Look around at other people's devotion to their gods which are no gods at all. Look at the effort of the Muslims to a god who offers no hope or love. Look at people's dedication to their health or education. Look at the effort people put into their causes. You would think that the Christian who understood who Jesus is and what he has done for us and what he expects from us, would give all that they have to him.
Be hot or cold, said Jesus, just don't be lukewarm. If you are I will spit you out. And that is exactly what most of us have become, lukewarm. Very few are filled with the knowledge, wisdom, power and passion of someone who knows Jesus. We are more the religious type who read their Bible before going to sleep, dutifully say their cold prayers, stoically attend church, pay their tithes and are satisfied with their "sacrifice". It looks good but Father knows our hearts. There is a lot of spitting going on.
We need to re-capture the vision of who Jesus Christ is, after the resurrection. We need to hear those words, "For I am a great King, and my name is to be feared among the nations", and understand who it is we serve. We need to lay it all out on the altar, our very best. Don't harbour the altitude that you can offer something less than you would offer a person of authority on this earth. Our best belongs to Yahweh. Our lives belong to Yahweh. Our time, talents, possessions, relationships all belong to Yahweh. Our lives should reflect our reverence for our Lord. Nothing less will do.