Thursday March 18 – Day 30 – TRUE WORSHIP

 In Lenten Devotional

Thursday March 18 – Day 30 – TRUE WORSHIP

“Do you think the Lord
 wants you to give up eating
 and to act as humble
 as a bent-over bush?
  Or to dress in sackcloth
 and sit in ashes?  
Is this really what he wants
 on a day of worship?
I’ll tell you 
what it really means
 to worship the Lord.
  Remove the chains of prisoners
 who are chained unjustly.
  Free those who are abused!
  Share your food with everyone
 who is hungry;
 share your home
 with the poor and homeless.
  Give clothes to those in need;
 don’t turn away your relatives.” – Isaiah 58:5-7 (CEV)

Growing up, I spent a lot of time in my childhood church.  My parents were friends of the pastor and his wife, and I became friends with their two sons.  So not only was church a religious thing, it was also a very social thing as well.  My Dad served on council and my Mum spent a lot of time working in the kitchen for special church functions.  They did serve as best they could, because they knew it was the right thing to do.

Spending so much time in church allowed me to see human behaviour at it’s finest and at it’s worst.  One of my least favourite memories caused me to be so turned off with church and Christians that I let go of my faith.

I didn’t know his name, because he was a C+E Christian, which means he only attended church on Christmas and Easter.  We will call him Arnie.  Mind you, I am sure he attended more than that, but not by much.  He dressed the part and wore his suit and tie, and did what he felt was required by God in terms of attire.  To be honest, I only noticed him after what happened.  It was a usual Sunday morning service.  However for this Sunday I was sitting with my friend John.  John and I have been lifelong friends and in my youth (and to the day), whenever we spent time together we usually spent it laughing.  We simply couldn’t help ourselves.  And on this Sunday, we must have been really being ourselves.

John and I were talking, laughing together and yet completely listening to our Pastor’s message (those were the days that I could multitask).  But we must have been distracting to at least one person:  Arnie.

After the service, I was making my way downstairs to the basement where we would normally have coffee hour.  To this day I don’t remember why I was alone but there were no other adults near me.

Expect for Arnie.

Arnie began to talk to me.  Actually, it wasn’t actually talking.  He proceeded to grab me by my shirt and push me aggressively to the corner of the vestibule.  “Your laughing and talking distracted me in MY worship today!  What do you have to say for yourself?”  he then proceeded to warn me that I would never ever do that again or he would tell the Pastor and my parents.

My first thought was, “Who are you?”

My second thought was, “What did I do?”

My third thought was, “I don’t want to get in trouble”

After that day I would see him in church (very rarely) and I avoided him at all costs.  I am sure that the look I gave him was not a happy one.  What gave him the right to violently grab me and threaten me?  His righteousness.  I had disrupted his worship of God, something he was told he needed to do to be right before God and nothing should disrupt that.

Arnie focused on the things he needed to do for God, as opposed to his heart being right WITH God.

Arnie also failed to remember this teaching from Mathew 18:5-7 (GNT):

“5 And whoever welcomes in my name one such child as this, welcomes me.
6 “If anyone should cause one of these little ones to lose his faith in me, it would be better for that person to have a large millstone tied around his neck and be drowned in the deep sea. 7 How terrible for the world that there are things that make people lose their faith! Such things will always happen—but how terrible for the one who causes them!”

After that day, I couldn’t believe in a God that had guys like Arnie as His followers.  Arnie was the reason I walked away from the church in my teens.  I respected going for my parent’s sake, but the words, the music and the rituals meant nothing to me anymore.

The beauty of the Gospel is that it is always true, always loving, always genuine.  It shines even when humans get in the way and turn our hearts away from that beauty.  It just sometimes takes believers whose hearts have been transformed to inspire us again and to start anew.

When we lose the plot of God’s intentions, in other words, if we forget the reasons why God made the rules in the first place, we get stuck.  We focus on the things we are supposed to do – the actions of obligation – and forget the heart of God’s law.

Verses 5-7 outline what true worship really looks like in the eyes of the Lord.  We are to serve those who are treated unjustly.  We are called to give freedom to those who are abused.  We are to make sure that we share our wealth and abode with those who need it.  We are to clothe those who have nothing to wear.

It says nothing about physically threatening a teenager because he distracted your “worship”.

It says nothing about how the rituals and acts done in worship are more important than loving your neighbour or treating children with respect and love when they need correction.

Making a difference in our “corners of the world” are our true acts of worship, not simply singing to songs in church on a Sunday.

It took me a long time to deal with Arnie’s actions.  I never shared this with my parents, because I felt I was the one that was completely in the wrong.  When I fell in love with Jesus years later, I vowed to never forget Arnie and the lesson he taught me.  It may also explain why I was very supportive of having our children at the back of the room when we worship together in our gatherings:  the distractions of life ARE a huge part of our worship.  Our response to these reactions truly show how much we love God, because we put others before ourselves.  We remember what it was like to be children, and how important it is to love them. They need to feel that they are truly loved and have an essential part to play in the life of the church.

Our true acts of worship make a difference in the lives of those who need it.  God sees what we do and His heart is full.  What an amazing thing:  to know that your actions bring God joy!  Our Lenten journey calls us to share with others and to be generous of heart, to embrace justice and to “see to it” that it happens in the lives of those wrongly accused.  Don’t get wrapped up in the trappings of religion and ask God to open your heart and mind to what it means to truly worship Him.  Don’t be like Arnie.

See you tomorrow, church.

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