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Worship As A Lifestyle

The ancient prophets of Israel, handpicked by God and ungroomed by the world (“men of whom the world was not worthy”), seldom received a warm and hearty welcome from their contemporaries. Folks wanted little of what they were selling. 

Prophets lived on the margins of culture as antagonists and reformers more interested in God’s ethic than popular trends or passing fads. They showed little interest in tickling ears or fancies. They functioned as the public conscience and served the chosen by reminding them of their covenant responsibilities, an issue often shuffled toward low priority. God’s spokesmen provoked divine tension.

Conflict surrounded them as they relentlessly advanced the doctrine of radical commit-ment. They challenged Abraham’s blessed offspring to live like believers, to remember what made them great, to cultivate a community of love and fair-play and to keep a sense of gratitude that acknowledged by word and deed and worship that their lives were dependent solely on the kind intentions of the Lord.

But the case for grace is seldom embraced unchallenged by sin.

The prophet’s audience cringed at the primitive notion of discipleship. God’s gracious works were then, but this is now, they rationalized, and the platform of self-realization carried the day. Thus, the prophets were labeled irrelevant and crusty and viewed more as a hindrance than a help. They were simply too straight-laced to find general acceptance, especially among the elite crowd that excelled at man-made religion.

More than once, event organizers contacted the bureau and requested public speakers that favored a doctrine of “Conceive it! Believe it! And achieve it!” over the doom and gloom preaching of God’s spokesmen whose constant call to repentance wearied the local townspeople. They wanted men skilled in the art and science of tickling their ears.

Prophets lacked proper sensitivities, to say nothing of contemporary sensibilities. The popular complaint among the in-crowd was that the prophets were out of touch.

Israel turned out to be little different than the tribes they replaced. They, too, desired to do their own thing irrespective of their long-term best interests. They proved to be pleasure mongers and rebellious skirt-chasers, not unlike the pagans from whom they honed their sin craft. God sent prophet after prophet to warn them of the dangers of participating in the mainstream insanity of the world around them. They responded by inviting the world into their midst and into their hearts.

Conflict escalated as they set a course to incorporate the best of both worlds. They engineered a religion that maintained the appearance of the genuine article, but in practice suited their insatiable appetite for more money, sex, and power. They loved to play the Sabbath role and then run with the devil the rest of the week. They were quick to claim the blood of Abraham but slow to mimic his faith.

Their hypocrisy did not go unnoticed or unchecked by God. He loved them too much to allow their self-deceit to lead to self-destruction. Friends don’t let friends go to hell. God won’t let His precious children play church. Our heavenly Father seeks a genuine and honest relation-ship with all His children. He wants to do us good.

So He sent the prophets. And they said stuff like this:

“I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed cattle. And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs, or goats…Bring your worthless offerings no longer… They have become a burden to Me. I am weary of bearing them…Instead, wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless; defend the orphan, plead for the widow…Now if you consent and obey, you will eat the best of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword” (Isaiah 1:10-20).

A contemporary prophet of Isaiah, who delivered the scathing sermon above, says this about Israel’s empty worship:

“With what shall I come to the Lord and bow myself before the God on high? Shall I come to him with burnt offerings, with yearling calves? Does the Lord take delight in thousands of rams, in ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I present my first-born for my rebellious acts, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:6-8).

The prophets made it abundantly clear; God will not permit hypocrisy of worship. There is a direct relationship between how we live and how we worship. Authentic worship unfolds when those who praise and exalt God demonstrate their radical commitment to His commands by living a life consistent (in the light!) with His holy ethic. The divine love principle demands we treat one another right if we want to be right before God.

Amos, the country prophet who served Israel and Judah as a straight-shooting commentator on contemporary issues, candidly lays it on the line for the morally challenged descendants of Abraham.

“I hate, I reject your festivals (says God), nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; and I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings. Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:21-24).

Make no mistake. God does not and will not honor worship disconnected from love-sponsored morality. To qualify for real worship, a disciple must practice the ancient commandment of loving God and loving others. Worship disconnected from a love-sponsored ethic is little more than a charade. The prophets contend it does more harm than good.

Authentic worship displays a life-style consistent with the discipleship demands of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Worship is more, much more, than the Sunday morning designated hour when saints and pseudo-saints gather together to do church. Though the assembly time is of critical import, it is only a component of a life-style characterized by service (note the worship definition of Romans 12:1-2). Our Sunday morning worship is only as good as our Monday morning life sacrifice.

We are unique and holy as Christian disciples, not because we show up in suits and ties and silk finery on Sunday mornings with contemporaries of similar ilk, but because we reject the evil of this world in favor of the righteousness and justice advocated by our Holy God and proclaimed by true prophets of every age.

You would do well to listen.

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