Monday, February 24, 2014

Yes, I Have a List for That!!

At any given time, my desk is littered with a dozen or more slips of paper filled with tiny, cramped writing--all different lists to help me organize my chaotic life. 

Taped to the monitor are lists for those books I want to read, movies to rent for date night with the husband, and publication dates to remind me when my favorite authors' newest books will be available.  Beneath my keyboard & on the wall cork-board are the lists of potential Christmas/birthday gifts for my family, party ideas for the kids' annual festivals, ideas for blog articles, and songs I might sing in worship one day.  Then, front and center are the typical long-range and weekly "to do" weekly lists.

Yes, there's simply something satisfying about drawing a line through a completed task, even if it's something as mundane as 'write letter to brother.'

The problem comes in those areas of my life that aren't conducive to list-making...or that shouldn't be reduced to a mere checklist to be crossed off. 

One such area is my relationship with God.

In Isaiah, the Lord criticizes the nation of Israel for completing their checklist of what they were outwardly supposed to do.

In Leviticus, God had instructed Israel in the offering of sacrifices to Him.  He had also commanded  a series of holy feasts and festivals (Lev. 23). 

Yet, here in Isaiah, God says, "'What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?' Says the LORD.  '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.  When you come to appear before Me, Who requires of you this trampling of My courts? Bring your worthless offerings no longer, Incense is an abomination to Me.  New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies--I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly.  I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, They have become a burden to Me; I am weary of bearing them.  So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; Yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen'" (Is. 1:11-15).

In the four verses above, we see the children of Israel (1) making sacrifices to the Lord, (2) going to the temple, (3) tithing, (4) celebrating the appointed feasts, and (4) praying to the Lord.

These were all actions God's child was supposed to do and yet God was condemning them for the very things He commanded.  The modern-day question we must then ask is 'Does that mean we can be attending church each Sunday, spending time in prayer every day, and even tithing but still not be pleasing to the Lord in our obedience?'

The answer is yes.  It all has to do with our hearts. 

All the above actions in Isaiah were done out of rote obedience.  Over time, the people's repeated obedience had turned into a cold religiosity that did not impact their hearts, which, in turn, did not impact their daily behavior.

In the very next verses, the Lord says, "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" (v. 16-17).

Although this people had completed their religious checklist, their daily behavior included ruthlessness, unjust treatment of others, and turning a blind eye to the orphan and widow.  This treatment of others showed more about their relationship with God than did their religious actions.

In the New Testament, James warns against this dead religiosity: "If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,' and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself" (Jas. 2:15-17).

Ultimately, a relationship with God that doesn't encompass our entire heart, soul, and mind--a relationship that doesn't extend a helping hand to those in need--is not the kind of relationship God wants with us.  If we can go through the motions and submit a completed checklist to the Lord at the end of each month but our hearts and daily actions remain unchanged, then we have a problem.

No, there is nothing inherently wrong with scheduling time for prayer, Bible study, or various ministry activities.  In all honesty, if I didn't include those items in my busy schedule, I would forget about them. 

Yet, in the scheduling of our time with God, we must be careful that we're not acting out of mere routine while leaving our heart and soul out of the equation.  Loving the Lord must be more than a mere going through the motions.  It must encompass our everything and reach beyond ourselves.

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