For six years, I have engaged a wonderful ministry called Bible Study Fellowship (BSF). I often tell people that I have not benefited more from any other ministry (or church, for that matter) than BSF. This morning, I spent time in Numbers Ch 1, 2 and 3. In these chapters, God takes a census and assigns encampments to Israel. He places His Tent of Meeting in the heart of the encampment. Why? Because God should be at the center of the life of His people.
Ok…nice cliche, but what does that really mean? It means that faithful obedience to God is more important than work for God (or anyone else). It means that it is more important that we know God’s word, believe it and obey it ourselves than teaching or helping others to do the same. It means that it is more important to obey the higher principle of love than sacrificing it for family, vocation, ministry, or even adhering to religious tradition (like attending a church service).
Does this mean that we don’t have to go to church? (Gasp!) We don’t have to give sacrificially? We don’t have to take communion, serve the poor, etc? Well, yes and no. Here’s the rub…people who know God’s truth, genuinely believe it, and desire to obey him want to worship him. They want to give sacrificially. They want to obey Christ’s command to be baptized and to take communion. They want to perform works of service. They want to work hard at their vocation. They want to pay all of the their taxes. They want to build healthy famililies and sacrifice for them. These are all things they naturally want to do and do them as well as they can (given the obstacle of our flesh). If you don’t want to do these things and are constantly looking for ways out of them, God is not yet in full control of your desires. That’s a problem that needs to be (and can be) addressed. (BTW, if you want help with this, keep following the blog or send me an email, firstname.lastname@example.org.)
For example, let’s say it’s Sunday morning…you’ve got the family all dudded up for church, about to walk out the door, and the phone rings. It’s the neighbor down the street (who is a ‘fringe’ person that frankly you don’t care much for). He is supposed to be at work in 15 minutes, and his car will not start…he’s asking for a ride. What do you do? I’ll argue that putting God in the center of your heart means caring more about providing for this person that you don’t even really like than taking your family to church. It means understanding that the love of Christ is better manifested by sacrificing the benefit and desire to worship with other believers. It means understanding that the blessings that come from sacrificing your desires for others are more significant than performing religious ceremony and tradition. It means providing an example of love to your family is better than getting them to church so they can hear a description of love.
So, ceremony and tradition are good things. Christ commanded baptism and communion for a reason. Worship is good, and we should not forsake gathering together on Sunday or any other time.
BUT, the goal of all of these things is not to make us rule keepers; it is to transform us to the point that we no longer need the rules!
My prayer for you and for myself is that we be transformed to the point that we are so much in tune with the heart of Christ that we no longer worry whether or not we are in His will…we are confident that our desires are His desires and can freely and aggressively pursue them. We don’t worry about God’s favor if we choose to leverage the resources He has assigned to us to manage (time, money, materials, relationships, etc) in a way that is non-traditional, because we are confident that we are focused on His Kingdom and not our own comfort or preferences.
I’m a long way from this personally, but as I’ve said, I’m praying for it because I believe God desires it for us and is the ultimate goal of our perfection.