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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Is religion about the worship of God?

Religion has been defined as: "an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods" (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/religion). Many of us call ourselves Christians and belong to an organization (or attend a church) that has a statement of beliefs and employs some kind of ritual or routine that is meant to worship God. Is that, however, how God defines religion.

James wrote: "If you claim to be religious but don't control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you." (James 1:26-27, NLT) In other words, if you really want to worship God in the way that is acceptable to him, you will be doing the kinds of things that "He" does.

This is the essence of what Christ told Peter just before he ascended into heaven: "If you really love me, feed (take care of) my sheep." (John 21:15-17) Christ made very plain to his disciples (and the Jewish leaders of the time) that God the Father was not interested in the rituals of religion. God wanted them to demonstrate the same compassion and love that "He" had shown for them. (John 13:35)

For some folks, the ritual of worship is everything. Many folks participate in public worship so that they can demonstrate their piety to each other - to show to the world that they are religious. Christ rejected this kind of religious display. He said: "Watch out! Don't do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to someone in need, don't do as the hypocrites do - blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity...When you pray, don't be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them...When you pray, don't babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again." (Matthew 6:1-7, NLT) Christ said that God was looking for sincerity and private demonstrations of one's devotion to God.

Finally, there was an occasion when Jesus Christ was discussing the subject of worship with a Samaritan woman, and he told her some things in the course of that conversation that are relevant to all of us. He said: "But the time is coming - indeed it's here now - when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth." (John 4:23-24, NLT)

The writings of the New Testament are very clear about the kind of religion that God is looking for among "His" followers. God is not looking for physical rituals of worship. God is not looking for structure, chants, readings, professions, statements, stained glass, pulpits or pews. God is looking for thoughtfulness, sincerity, spiritual depth and Godly compassion for others. That's the kind of worship that God wants and expects from us - at least that's what Scripture tells us.

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