Saturday, September 23, 2006

Playing Church

They call it “the C Word” today. Commitment. Even television commercials push the concept that life is better if you don’t have to make any commitments. I can understand that with phone service. But there are times when commitment is good and necessary. In fact, if you claim to be a Christian, you have made a commitment – which God expects you to keep!

What God wants from us, as individuals and as the church, is often very different from the popular perception in a lot of places - including both conservative and liberal churches. He doesn’t want religion – even orthodoxy – He wants our commitment. Amos 5:21-24 reads this way:

21 "I hate, I despise your religious feasts;
I cannot stand your assemblies.
22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship
offerings, I will have no regard for them.
23 Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your
harps.
24 But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!

God not interested in how our worship services look, or sound (or smell). He’s not interested in body count. His interest is not in the outward trappings of religion. Rather, God is interested in the attitude of our hearts as we come before Him to worship. In this passage God is telling Israel that He’s not interested in their proper worship; their sacrifices. But, didn’t God tell them to do those things in the first place? Yes, He did. But there needs to be more involved than just the right form. Look at some examples.

Israel sang and played religious music. Take a look at verse 23. The Israelites probably had some nice choirs. Maybe even entire orchestras at times. The Hebrews were noted for musical skills. But God says, “Take it away. I don’t want to hear it.” It was hollow. Their lives indicated that their words were false (no matter how beautifully they sang them). What they sang and what they LIVED were two very different things. It was just “holy entertainment,” devoid of true meaning.

Israel also went to church a lot. These folks celebrated all the feast days in the Old Testament. They even held “solemn assemblies,” according to v. 21. The problem was not that they missed church. The fact of the matter is that they probably saw church attendance as a sort of magic shield between them and trouble. Why should they ever have problems? After all, they were a nation of church-goers. Yet this wasn’t enough for God then – and it isn’t enough today. Real worship of God cannot be boiled down to attendance at certain rituals and feasts, although we certainly should attend church services – even Bible studies and prayer meetings. But, just attending isn’t the point. Our participation has to have heartfelt meaning. It has to reflect a relationship between God and His people. Israel simply clung to a form of worship without substance. Their hearts were not really in it. Our worship services may look different from those in other places, but what matters is whether or not our hearts are lifted toward God.

Israel even made the proper offerings. Take a look at verse 22. Is this the real nitty-gritty? Is this where Israel made up for their indifference toward God? They may have thought so – just as some folks think so today. But God did not accept their tithes and offerings.

There really are a lot of people who think that they can do as they please as long as they keep putting money in the offering plate. They think they can buy God. They obviously don’t realize that He already owns everything! He can’t be bribed. Think about it. He doesn’t need our money. He wants us to give out of love and gratitude; not guilt; not duty; not an attempt to buy His favor.

Obviously there’s nothing wrong with music, church attendance or offerings….In fact it is God who told us He wants them in the first place! Is this hypocritical? Contrary? No. He wants them offered up with the proper attitude – not just as a religious exercise.

More on this topic will follow!