If I’m serious about “conversing” with God (check back on the last several posts), I must take the questions and concerns He expresses seriously.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about the question Saul of Tarsus was asked when he was relentlessly and mercilessly trying to stamp out the infant Christian faith. The point at which I had to do a “double take” was when I realized Saul didn’t seem to realize what he was doing constituted “persecuting” the Lord. In the best way he knew how, following the directions of the religious establishment. He thought he was right. He simply felt he was carrying out orders. After all, he was on a mission sanctioned (and perhaps financed) by the best that organized, institutionalized religion had to offer. So, can you understand a natural reaction he may have had:
“HOW AM I PERSECUTING YOU, LORD?”
This kind of post isn’t easy for me. Writing seems to come easily and naturally to me at times. Thinking, though, is quite another matter. Especially when I try to be honest, and examine my own life under the microscope of truth I try to use.
There’s a request in Scripture which forces honesty in the face of God: “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23~24.)
I feel sure that was something Saul and the Lord addressed during those days in Damascus while he was recovering his sight, getting a new set of orders and a new name. The evidence is quite clear that he took decisive steps to correct his conduct. But my responsibility isn’t to deal with what Saul was doing to hurt the One whom he thought he was serving. It is not my responsibility to figure out what he was doing or to try to correct his errors. Instead, is IS MY RESPONSIBILITY to consider how I treat the One whom I claim to love and seek to serve.
Do you understand why I struggle to address and answer the question? In the days since I first began to ponder this idea, I’ve attempted to look carefully at my own attitudes and actions. I know I want to be close to Christ as possible, and I also know there are areas of imperfection which He and I must address. Which we will need to continue addressing, if I know me at all. There are things I’ve done or said or thought which are disappointing to Him. And there are probably just as many things I’ve left unattended.
In addition, we should also consider how our activity (or inactivity) affects others. And how that affects our Lord. Jesus expressed very clearly that when we hurt (or help) others, there is a real sense in which that affects Him:
“Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ Matthew 25:44~45
He hurts when we persecute (or ignore, or exploit, or injure) others in any way. The poet said: “In every pain that rends the heart, the Man of Sorrows has a part.”
If that kind of thinking causes anything, it should encourage us to treat everyone right. It seems a pretty safe course of action to always treat others in the way we want to be treated.
As I continued considering this probing, painful question, my thoughts were drawn once again to the first chapter of Isaiah. Among other things, I recalled that one of my seminary professors, Dr. Leo Greene, was also an outstanding preacher. In his treatment of the prophet Isaiah, in the class of young seminarians aspiring to be “great preachers,” he annually delivered an expository sermon which he entitled: “The Great Arraignment.”
No one missed that lecture. Dr. Greene approached Isaiah’s message to a rebellious nation as if it were a trial. The Nation had committed offenses against a holy God. He had lodged a complaint against them invited to “reason together.” “You present your case, and I’ll present mine.”
One of Jehovah’s greatest objections was the way His people treated Him, thinking vain, empty, repetitious rituals composed real worship. I remember Dr. Greene, with what looked like the piercing eyes of a prophet, declaring: “A SOULLESS WORSHIP IS A HOLLOW MOCKERY.” That was one of Jehovah’s principle objections.
As I re-read that chapter in the prophet’s writing, it seemed to be clear to me that their offense caused great pain to the very One they professed to honor and serve. Does it rise to the level of persecution? It certainly seems to me to be one of the main grievances God has against His people. It certainly caused me new concern and reason to examine my motives for “worship.”
If I think putting on “Sunday go to meetin’ clothes,” and a sanctimonious face are “worship,” it will come as a shocking revelation to read the first chapter of the prophet Isaiah’s book. He likens unthinking, unfeeling, uncaring “worshippers” to cattle mooing and milling about the court like it was a barnyard. In the presence of the Holy, and acting with indifference! Profaning the Sacred by their superficial, unthinking “trampling of His courts.” Lest you misunderstand, and I appear to be judgmental, perhaps you would like to read the message Isaiah delivered for yourself.
Don’t do it, though, unless your courage, your heart and your brain are connected and functioning.
Isaiah has God asking this question: “Who has required this of you?” Who ever made you think you could enter my presence with impunity, and treat the presence of God with such disrespect? Where could you possibly have come up with the idea that by doing this you were serving, or worshipping the God of the Universe? How did you ever conceive of such an absurd notion, that you could simply “flip at tip” at Jehovah and selfishly, merrily keep the rest of the resources He’s given you as though they were your own?
The Israelites thought, at least on the surface, that they were worshipping. Serving. Impressing Him with their pious acts. They were mistaken. Thoughtless, religious routines not only do not please God. They are, in fact, a source of such great displeasure it makes Him sick. I’m not certain if that constitutes “persecution,” but it is obvious God is not impressed.
Below is just a brief sample of Isaiah’s indictment. I warn you, he hits hard! He pulls no punches. He calls people (me, for example) to task for their failure to place proper value upon the great God of the Universe. Next time I’m at worship, it might serve me well to understand where I am and in whose presence I stand. Worship is not performed by idle chatter, or cutting business deals, or “styling” or socializing.
I don’t make this stuff up, trust me. When the writer said: “The Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him” (Habakkuk 2:20) seems to suggest ser And when He says: “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). .
“To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me [unless they are the offering of the heart]? says the Lord. I have had enough of the burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts [without obedience]; and I do not delight in the blood of bulls or of lambs or of he-goats [without righteousness]. “When you come to appear before Me, who requires of you that your [unholy feet] trample My courts? Bring no more offerings of vanity (emptiness, falsity, vainglory, and futility); [your hollow offering of] incense is an abomination to Me; the New Moons and Sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot endure–[it is] iniquity and profanation, even the solemn meeting.” Isaiah 1:11-13
Now, is that enough to make us stop and think? Am I worshipping, or just ‘playing church?’
God’s Servant and son, your friend, brother, and fellow student ~donkimrey