Sacrifice vs. Obedience.

We are all familiar with 1 Samuel 15:22,...

And Samuel said, "Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,as in obeying the voice of the LORD?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.
How many sermons have we heard already on this text - not to mention how many times we have heard our Christian friends, other bloggers or speakers make reference to this verse on their way to some other point. That is, by now, if we have been a Christian for a while, we will be somewhat familiar with the verse and the thought behind it: Avoiding obedience by doing things that in and of themselves are "good" cannot pacify God and trying to do so is just plain dumb.

Notwithstanding - we often do just that, not only individually, but corporately. Take the congregation (for instance) that has an outreach event. We say - an outreach event? You mean a concentrated evangelical endeavor meant to present the gospel to the unchurched through some sort of public forum (be that a social event or a performance or what have you)? Yeah. I mean that kind of event. You say - never in a million years could such a thing ever be bad.

Follow me for a second here. Let us first lay aside Saul's very poor motives excuses for not keeping the command of God - we could spend a lot of time playing with that - but we all know it was wrong, and most of us know why. Instead let us concentrate on the fact that even if Saul did sacrifice those animals - it wouldn't have been very profitable considering - yes sacrifices at the time were considered a "good" thing - but doing a "good" thing --instead of-- doing what God asks - instead of doing what is right, is not worship, it is a lame attempt to buy off God. We can guess at Saul's mind set
God must be pacified, and since God likes sacrifices, even though I am unwilling to do what He asked me, I can make it up to him by doing something that I -am- willing to do, and He will appreciate my efforts because they are the sort of thing (sacrifices) that I understand God to like.
I reel back at the blind arrogance of that mind set. Not that I imagine myself above Saul so that I "righteously" condemn it - hardly, I am not reeling back in a sort of exalted and righteous disgust - rather I can see myself in this sort of blind arrogance, and that is what causes me to hate it so!

You see, that attitude pictures God as just another deity (small "d") to be pacified by good deeds - and the deeds themselves have no relation to anything else - it is as if there were a list of good deeds, and if God asks you to do something - you can ignore it as long as you make up for it by doing something else from his "good deeds" list. That mind set says, I will worship God in whatever way seems right in my own eyes. That mind set is carnal, and entirely foreign to obedient Christianity. If I am unwilling to share my faith in my own walk with the Lord...

Which brings us back to our outreach event.

Can you imagine a church where every believer was living for God? I am talking about people who put God's agenda first. Can you imagine a church like that? Do you think they would need an outreach event to swell the ranks?

Now imagine a different kind of church - and I know this will be a stretch for some - but imagine a church where people miss prayer meetings because they would rather stay home and watch "The Sopranos." Imagine a church where 90% of the congregation hasn't led even a single soul to the Lord in the past five years. Imagine a congregation where many of its members are willing to work overtime to finance a large, comfortable house, in a comfortable neighborhood, with two or more comfortable cars - but can't put more than pocket change in the offering plate on Sunday. Imagine this same group now planning and holding an outreach event - and you will start to pick up on where I find my thoughts lately.

I could care less for such an event. Yeah, the event itself is nice - you know balloons for kids, or a barbecue - or whatever. Yeah it brings out the "worker bees" in the church who do practically everything anyway - and yeah it is mostly attended by them and their families - and yeah, at the end of the day the over-worked pastor did managed to corner a few people and awkwardly share the gospel - but is this a healthy event? Is God really pleased that a sick and near dead church pretends to be alive?

Do you see my point?

Now, I am not trying to poo-poo (can I say that on Frank's blog?) corporate evangelical efforts. Truly - just as there was nothing wrong with a sacrifice done right in Saul's day - so too there is nothing wrong with a healthy church hosting an outreach events in our day. But what --is-- wrong is when we do that sort of thing --instead of-- sharing our faith individually, instead of living a truly repentant life. The great commission has become the greater omission - and rather than do what is commanded - some substitute a living witness with planned - even annual "evangelical" events - as though evangelism was something you "do" and not the very fragrance of Christ within you.

I point it out, not so that we can slap one another on the back knowingly and agree that this is bad, nor to speak to those who see themselves in such a state and demand that they pull themselves up by their own bootstraps - but rather to remind us that the church must manifest the glory of God on the earth in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. If we don't see this happening - let's stop "playing church" and get honest with God. If our heart burns within us at the thought - we ought not to set that aside for another day. Consider how we sing, "There is room at the cross" - we ought to sing, "There is room -on- the cross" for us.

Worship God this Lord's day!