A pastor online wrote “I once had a pet raccoon by the name of Jason. Having affectionately cared for this “little bandit” for several months, I was amazed and frustrated when he forgot my friendship and turned on me. In fact, there were occasions when he sank his teeth into the very hands that fed him.
In the book of Isaiah, the people of Israel turned away from the Lord like rebellious children. Their worship and sacrifices no longer produced an odor pleasing to God, for their hearts were far away from Him. They resisted His gracious warnings and finally experienced His divine judgment. The land of milk and honey was looted and pillaged right before their very eyes.
That’s not a new thing, and we can learn a lot for the words of Isaiah. Mankind has again and again, since the beginning rebelled again the Lord. By all accounts it appears our world today is again in one of those cycles. From being a once obedient people, to being those who are in rapid numbers turning away, and looting and pillaging what belongs to God.
It doesn’t please God. It angers Him. He guides and instructs His people and they say, “We’ve got a better way.”
There are still large numbers of people who claim to be believers. But maybe for some it’s just for a show, it’s just so many words because we the world we live in does not seem to reflect a world filled with billions and billions of Christians.
So God comes to us, like he did in Isaiah’s time and says “You say you love me, but is it real?”
From Isaiah Chapter 1 [From the NLT – New Living Translation]1 These are the visions that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. He saw these visions during the years when Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah were kings of Judah.2 Listen, O heavens! Pay attention, earth! This is what the Lord says: “The children I raised and cared for have rebelled against me. 3 Even an ox knows its owner, and a donkey recognizes its master’s care-but Israel doesn’t know its master. My people don’t recognize my care for them.” 4 Oh, what a sinful nation they are- loaded down with a burden of guilt. They are evil people, corrupt children who have rejected the Lord. They have despised the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him. 5 Why do you continue to invite punishment? Must you rebel forever? Your head is injured, and your heart is sick.6 You are battered from head to foot-covered with bruises, welts, and infected wounds-without any soothing ointments or bandages.7 Your country lies in ruins,and your towns are burned. Foreigners plunder your fields before your eyes and destroy everything they see.8 Beautiful Jerusalem stands abandoned like a watchman’s shelter in a vineyard, like a lean-to in a cucumber field after the harvest, like a helpless city under siege.9 If the Lord of Heaven’s Armies had not spared a few of us, we would have been wiped out like Sodom, destroyed like Gomorrah.10 Listen to the Lord, you leaders of “Sodom.” Listen to the law of our God, people of “Gomorrah.”11 “What makes you think I want all your sacrifices?” says the Lord. “I am sick of your burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fattened cattle. I get no pleasure from the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.12 When you come to worship me, who asked you to parade through my courts with all your ceremony?13 Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts; the incense of your offerings disgusts me! As for your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath and your special days for fasting- they are all sinful and false. I want no more of your pious meetings.14 I hate your new moon celebrations and your annual festivals. They are a burden to me. I cannot stand them!15 When you lift up your hands in prayer, I will not look. Though you offer many prayers, I will not listen, for your hands are covered with the blood of innocent victims.16 Wash yourselves and be clean! Get your sins out of my sight. Give up your evil ways.17 Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows.18 “Come now, let’s settle this,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool.19 If you will only obey me, you will have plenty to eat.20 But if you turn away and refuse to listen, you will be devoured by the sword of your enemies. I, the Lord, have spoken!” 21 See how Jerusalem, once so faithful,has become a prostitute. Once the home of justice and righteousness, she is now filled with murderers.22 Once like pure silver, you have become like worthless slag. Once so pure, you are now like watered-down wine.23 Your leaders are rebels, the companions of thieves. All of them love bribes and demand payoffs, but they refuse to defend the cause of orphans or fight for the rights of widows.24 Therefore, the Lord, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the Mighty One of Israel, says, “I will take revenge on my enemies and pay back my foes!25 I will raise my fist against you. I will melt you down and skim off your slag. I will remove all your impurities.26 Then I will give you good judges again and wise counselors like you used to have. Then Jerusalem will again be called the Home of Justice and the Faithful City.”27 Zion will be restored by justice; those who repent will be revived by righteousness.28 But rebels and sinners will be completely destroyed, and those who desert the Lord will be consumed.29 You will be ashamed of your idol worship in groves of sacred oaks. You will blush because you worshiped in gardens dedicated to idols.30 You will be like a great tree with withered leaves, like a garden without water.31 The strongest among you will disappear like straw; their evil deeds will be the spark that sets it on fire. They and their evil works will burn up together, and no one will be able to put out the fire.
Isaiah, or I should say. God speaking through Isaiah, wanted to see people change their lives. He saw sacrifices, religious festivals, songs, praises, and a show of religious devotion. But it was all a show!
They believed that playing the religious game of checking in at the temple, offering the prescribed sacrifices, and placing funds in the treasury would keep God from bothering them so they could go on ignoring injustice, failing to do good, and not defending the weak and the disenfranchised.
Worship had become much like the campaign speeches of politicians in our own day. It was full of empty words. So much sound and fury that in the end represents nothing.
You know, “Senator, government spending is out of hand and the deficit continues to grow. How do you plan to address this very important issue facing the nation?
And the answer that comes back… “As you know, we are always working hard to establish a bi-partisan framework for bridging the gap in difficult decision making and I have strongly urged my fellow congressmen and women to continue in this path toward mutually established guidelines for growth and stability. We are considering a multilevel taskforce that will move us toward an equitable solution that meets the myriad of prepositional and systematic agendas.
What??? Excuse me Senator. That was lot of big words, but you didn’t say anything.
Well I have no further comment, at this time.
But you didn’t make a comment in the first place. You dodged the problem altogether so that you could continue with business as usual.
In Isaiah’s time, worship was very much like that for many people. Saying the right things and looking good in the right places and in front of the right people, without any real commitment to make any change. Without any real sincerity and integrity to follow up with their beliefs.
In God’s perspective, it was meaningless. Unrepentant sacrifice is no sacrifice at all. Meetings and services to honor God are dishonoring when we do not try to live the way God desires.
As Isaiah proclaimed, God has freely offered grace to us, he’s give us a thousand second chances, so we should be joyful to extending grace to others.
God changes us, so that we can change the world. Unless, that is, our professing to love Christ is just a bunch of hot air.
Evan Baxter, a congressman in the film, Evan Almighty, campaigned to change the world. It’s a slogan that’s used by many people to get elected and rarely followed up on, and God knows that. But in movie, God tells Evan, it’s time to “pay up” on that campaign promise.
I, the Lord, heard what you said, Evan, you want to change the world. But is it real?
I, the Lord, need some good people to change the world. So build me an ark.
Uh, ok God, but haven’t you been there and done that.
Yes, Evan, I have. Now build me an ark.
Evan realized he wasn’t up to the task. Being a politician, as the comedy goes, he realized he didn’t really know how to do much of anything without messing it up.
I won’t give you anymore of the story but God essentially says, “That’s OK, Evan, you show up, and I’ll do great things. You will participate in My majesty, but you must have faith.
That’s the task of followers as they seek to become more like Jesus. We are not up to the task. We’re flawed and weak and sinful, so we can’t really do anything without messing it up.
God says, “That’s OK, my child, you show up, and I’ll do great things. You will participate in My majesty, but you must have faith.
It’s not you, but I who do great things. Paul speaks in Romans of the gospel of Christ as God’s power to save all who would believe.
Christ came to cleanse and bandage our hearts, heads, our wounds and open sores. Jesus said that it is not the healthy who needs a doctor but the sick. He lived and died, and rose again, so that we might live in Him and through Him.
That was an act of God, not an act of man.
So will we trust in God or man? Isaiah says in a later chapter, “Stop trusting in man, who has but a breath in his nostrils. Of what account is he?”
Worship me, your Lord, with all your heart, and all your might, and all your Soul, and love one another. Don’t bite that hand that feeds you, don’t depend on your own skills and wisdom, or the skills and wisdom of other human being. Love me, trust me, worship me. All this falseness and pretence and talk means nothing if it’s not real. Was my death on the cross from you, not real enough?
Every week we gather together for what we call worship. We meet in a Sanctuary and prepare to meet with God. We talk with God in prayer and listen to Him by the reading His Word. We worship Him in song and in the giving of our offerings.
But this reading begs each of us to ask ourselves “Is it Real?” Are we really doing thing God’s way, or our own way. Are we really paying attention only to Him?
A.W. Tozer wrote that it’s difficult to get people to attend a meeting where God is the only attraction. That’s why we like our worship to be entertaining.
You’ll notice there is no problem keeping people focused at a rock concert or a major sporting event as we wait for the star to come out and take a take his or her place.
And when they do appear, people are magnetized. One hour, two hours, three hours go by sometimes, and people are on their feet the whole time, saddened the time has come to an end. On big jumbo screens we watch our favorite entertainers and cheer.
It’s this thrill of excitement that comes from these events has made a number of churches now try to recreate it. The minister enters the arena with spotlights and theme music, the band rocks, the singers have there hands swinging, each prayer is a dramatic performance, you’re all pumped up and you end the time of worship covered in sweat.
But is it real?
That’s what important to God. To us, we want to be entertained, but faith is not a feeling, it’s not an emotion, it’s not about getting an adrenaline rush. It’s about devotion, and obedience, and sincerity, and a desire to set aside our whole lives, not just an hour or two to Christ.
So here is the question: “Why are you here today?”
Are you here to soothe a troubled conscience?
Are you here to gain useful information?
Are you here to fulfill an obligation?
Are you here to be entertained by a mesmerizing musical performance? (if so you blew it on that one)
Are you here to meet with friends?
Or have you come to meet with God?
For you is it about all about the show, or is it real?
Because that’s all God really cares about.
God told Israel that their worship stunk! He said their offerings were rejected and their songs were just noise.
God wasn’t upset because they weren’t singing the right kind of music or because their worship wasn’t energetic enough or too energetic.
He rejected their worship because it was superficial; it wasn’t impacting the way they lived. Their worship was just an act that had nothing to do with the reality of their lives. There was no communion with God; it was just a bunch of fancy words and actions that didn’t amount to anything.
We can get confused in our worship because we can come to think of the people up front as performers and the people in the pews as the audience.
We’ve come to sit in the audience and watch the show!
But when we worship, we are not the performers, nor are we EVER the audience.
Every song we sing, every prayer we pray, every word we speak, is directed to an audience of ONE. It doesn’t matter whether or not we have had a good time if the Lord is not pleased. It is not us who is listening, it is Jesus Christ.
We can’t say that we love God and honor God and then ignore Him in the way we live our lives and relate to each other. If we truly seek and honor God, we will be changed by our encounter. True worship results in our hearts, our desires, and our priorities being changed. If we truly honor Him, we will follow Him. And if we leave our time of worship unchanged, we haven’t really worshipped at all. We haven’t met with God. Because when we meet with Him, and truly sit at his feet, and know that he is Lord, a take inwardly his love and sacrifice and saving grace, we change.
If it’s real. we cannot remain unchanged. If it’s real, He changes us.
And though us, God changes the world.
©2010 Timothy Henry