Day 215: Isaiah 58-60; Authentic Actions

Today’s reading starts out with a subject that is near and dear to my heart.  As a worship leader, I spend a rather large time thinking about Christian worship and the actions behind it.  Moreover, I don’t just think about what we do, but why we are doing it and how we are doing it.  Are the things that we do on a Sunday morning (and I speak of Sunday morning because our corporate worship is a reflection of our worship in day to day living) actually bringing us into an encounter with God.  Are the songs that we sing, the actions that we take, the posture that we assume all things that are bringing us closer to God?  Or are the simply the things that we all feel like we are doing?  Are we just taking these actions because we’ve always taken these actions… is tradition actually the god we are worshiping?  Are we more concerned about whether we like the song… the beat… the instruments?

In many ways, this is a question that has been asked of the people of Israel, God’s chosen, for many hundreds of years, and is one that is focused in on when it comes to the prophets.  If you remember back to the narrative history, there were a lot of things that pulls the people away from the Lord.  No matter what it was though, it all wound up being idolatry because it pulled them away from worshiping the Lord.  Interestingly enough though, we don’t hear of these things creeping in by way of the Temple.  No, usually corporate worship is the last thing to be affected by the actions of Satan as he tries to lead us astray.  It starts of with little things at home.  Busy schedules lead to a desire for ‘me time,’ not that me time is bad but it does often tread the line of selfishness.  Selfishness has a tendency to snowball into a lifestyle of ‘me-centered activity’ which then ends up showing up in how we worship, wanting songs that fit our style of music and sermons that are about what we want to hear.  Christians today “church shop” until they find the church that is “just right for them.”  Culture doesn’t help this at all because we live in a very individualistic society where we can have anything we want at any time…  Sound familiar?

Yet they seek me daily
    and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that did righteousness
    and did not forsake the judgment of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments;
    they delight to draw near to God.
‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not?
    Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’
Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure,
    and oppress all your workers.
Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
    and to hit with a wicked fist.
Fasting like yours this day
    will not make your voice to be heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
    a day for a person to humble himself?
Is it to bow down his head like a reed,
    and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
Will you call this a fast,
    and a day acceptable to the Lord?

While there are a myriad of other things we could look into as far as idols go, the fact is that how we worship corporately is a reflection of how (and what) we worship individually.  God addresses this head on here (and in many other places in the Bible as well) pointing out that what the Israelites were doing was so self focused that it meant nothing to Him.  Even their worship had become about them.  The writer is addressing fasting in chapter 58, but fasting is an element of worship, a way of humbling oneself before God.  Yet it is clear that the people of Israel missed the mark, as we too are missing the mark.  God goes on to say,

Is not this the fast that I choose:
    to loose the bonds of wickedness,
    to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
    and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
    and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
    and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
    the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
    you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you take away the yoke from your midst,
    the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
if you pour yourself out for the hungry
    and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
    and your gloom be as the noonday.
And the Lord will guide you continually
    and satisfy your desire in scorched places
    and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
    like a spring of water,
    whose waters do not fail.
And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
    you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
    the restorer of streets to dwell in.

The Church today is falling victim to a selfish and individualistic culture.  The ‘Worship Wars’ that took place and are still taking place are just an example of this.  Churches divided because of selfish desires.  Congregations that are worshiping separate just to keep people happy that they can have “their own music.”  The right had of the body is trying to eat while the left had is covering the mouth.  The left foot is trying to walk while the right leg drags behind.  We need to get beyond ourselves and seek after God once again… is your church’s worship centered on God?  Or is it about keeping people happy?  Is your worship centered on God?  Or are you only concerned with keeping yourself happy?



Day 142: Esther 1-4; Esther the Hebrew Queen

Today we take a step backwards in history, to the time when some of the people of God are still in exile.  The particular dates of the book of Esther happen after the edict of Cyrus goes out allowing the Jewish people to return to Jerusalem, the first wave of people to return to Jerusalem.  The Persian king that is referenced here, Ahasuerus, is actually the Persian King Xerxes I, who reigned over much of the known world.  As we read, from India to Ethiopia.  That is a major chunk of the world today, and as you can see by the map here, a fairly major chunk of the known world back then as well.

The Persian Empire in the Time of Esther Photo Credit: www.edsitement.neh.gov

The Persian Empire in the Time of Esther
Photo Credit: www.edsitement.neh.gov

Though God is never explicitly mentioned in the entire book of Esther, we can very clearly see His hand at work in all of this, once again providentially providing for His people, even in their time of Exile.  The fact that Esther even has a chance to come before the King, much less become queen is indeed an act of God.  Generally speaking, the Hebrew people were despised by other nations.  Remember all the way back to Egypt, when the people had to live in another region of the land because they were Hebrews?  This is why Mordecai instructs her to keep her identity and ethnicity a secret.  So we see that king chooses her and appoints her queen, an act that can also be attributed to God.  As she rises to the throne though, she is not left to fend for herself.  With the help of Mordecai she is able to thwart the assassination attempt on Xerxes.

Xerxes I was a Zoroastrian Persian Shahanshah ...

Xerxes I was a Zoroastrian Persian Shahanshah (Emperor) of the Achaemenid Empire. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The true conflict of the narrative of Esther arises when we meet Haman, a new addition to the court of King Xerxes.  We read that Mordecai refuses to bow down or pay homage to Haman, which makes him angry.  This is a clear example of the Hebrew Mordecai remembering his identity as a chosen member of Israel.  Though he is far from his land, he clearly has not forgotten the God that he serves.  Mordecai’s actions make Haman furious though, leading to the plot to kill all of the Jews throughout the kingdom of Persia.  This is, as you can imagine, a potential disaster for the Hebrew people.  Yet God is so easily thwarted from His plans and promises to His chosen people and Mordecai points this out.  Esther has been chosen for such a time as this, appointed to a position where she can change the course of this evil plot…

Have you ever found yourself in a position like this?  I mean sure, you probably have been selected to be a king or queen, you might not be able to pass laws or issue decrees, but Have you ever found yourself in a position of influence where you can change things?  Correct injustices?  Speak on behalf of those with no voice?  In many ways, Queen Esther could be the face of the growing social justice movement that has become a major player in both Christian circles and in the political arena as well.  We, in the Western Church, find ourselves in some of the wealthiest, most prosperous conditions in the whole of the known universe.  We throw away things that people fight for on a daily basis in 3rd world countries.  I wonder what would happen in the church in America opened its eyes collectively to these issues?  We have resources upon resources.  We are called to reach out to the poor, the elderly, the sick, the lonely, and the lost.  We are called to be the voice of those who have none.  Perhaps we have been appointed to do this work in such a time as this.