I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.
I want no more of your pious meetings.
Does the above phrase sound like a rebellious teenager?
How about this?
I hate your new moon celebrations and your annual festivals. They are a burden to me. I cannot stand them!
You may think that sounds like an even more rebellious teen, but fact is that’s God Himself speaking! That’s right, teens are not the only ones who have a hard time stomaching pious, hypocritical religious worship services. God may actually have more in common with rebellious teenagers than He does with pious worshipers! Not in all cases of course, but in many still, when a worship service is conducted with a Pharisaical attitude, God Himself rejects it as well as some teenagers. God tells us exactly why He rejects some religious worship services.
When you come to worship me, who asked you to parade through my courts with all your ceremony? Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts; the incense of your offerings disgusts me! As for your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath and your special days for fasting— they are all sinful and false. I want no more of your pious meetings. I hate your new moon celebrations and your annual festivals. They are a burden to me. I cannot stand them! When you lift up your hands in prayer, I will not look. Though you offer many prayers, I will not listen, for your hands are covered with the blood of innocent victims. Wash yourselves and be clean! Get your sins out of my sight. Give up your evil ways. Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows. Isaiah 1:12-17 NLT
God and teens are both repulsed by false worship. False worship is not only worshiping on the “wrong day,” it is also worshiping the wrong way on Sabbath. God is not impressed with stuffy, dry, formal, ceremonial worship any more than your teenager is. But worship service doesn’t have to be that way. Just earlier this summer I was visiting a church out of state with a friend. They were having communion service. When it came time during the service to dispense the bread, the pastor realized he had forgotten the bread, and his wife had to run out to the car to get it. Everyone chuckled. The pastor had announced earlier that he was going on Sabbatical right after the service. I joked with my friend that it appeared he was already on Sabbatical. I joked about it not to be critical, but because I could identify with his need to get away. Waiting for his wife to run to the car to get the bread did not ruin the service at all. I hardly imagine the original communion service in the upper room being a “formal” service. I imagine it to be quite casual, though very sacred and meaningful. You don’t have to be formal and stuffy to be sacred. Sometimes formal and stuffy can be a way to cover our sin and hypocrisy. When that happens, both teenagers and God Himself turn up their noses at our so-called worship services.
We tell our teenagers straight from the Bible,
“Keep the Sabbath day holy. Don’t pursue your own interests on that day, Isaiah 58:13 NLT
Then, many of us shake hands with the visitor, and smile to let them know they are welcomed. Then we quickly forget they are even there, so we can go to our favorite Sabbath School class, where we love to debate theology with our best friends. Debating theology while ignoring the needs of others on the Sabbath? Sounds like pleasure seeking to God! Here, I will let God speak for Himself.
What good is fasting when you keep on fighting and quarreling? This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with me. Isaiah 58:4 NLT
Isaiah 58:1-14 describes what Sabbath keeping and true worship is all about. Pleasure seeking is not just when a teenager plays a video game on the Sabbath. Pleasure seeking on the Sabbath also includes church leaders ignoring the needs of those around them, so they can enjoy their own Sabbath School class and worship service just the way they like it, before inviting their favorite friends home for lunch.
While the offering system is a systematic way to get outside of ourselves with our possessions, Sabbath worship is a chronic way to get outside of ourselves with our time. God tells us what Sabbath keeping and worship looks like to Him.
“No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help. “Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal. Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind. Then when you call, the Lord will answer. ‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply. “Remove the heavy yoke of oppression. Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors! Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Isaiah 58:6-10 NLT
How do I know God means Sabbath keeping and worship by calling it a fast? Because right after this He says,
“Keep the Sabbath day holy. Don’t pursue your own interests on that day, but enjoy the Sabbath and speak of it with delight as the Lord’s holy day. Honor the Sabbath in everything you do on that day, and don’t follow your own desires or talk idly. Then the Lord will be your delight. I will give you great honor and satisfy you with the inheritance I promised to your ancestor Jacob. I, the Lord, have spoken!” Isaiah 58:13-14 NLT
Following our own interests on the Sabbath is not limited to secular entertainment. Following our own interests on the Sabbath includes doing church your favorite way with your favorite people while ignoring the needs of the least of these around you.
The Tampa First and Homosassa Seventh-day Adventist churches are a couple of the several churches I currently work with here in Florida. Both of these churches have worship service on Tuesday. Oh, they still have Sabbath services, but they keep worshiping God throughout the week. On Tuesdays they have worship service by feeding and clothing the hungry in their community. Before you laugh and say, “That is not a real worship service,” read Isaiah 58 carefully again. It is exactly a real worship service. It is worshiping God by serving others. See Matthew 25:31-46. Real worship services are not formal and stuffy. One of the biggest mistakes we make as Adventists is thinking formal and stuffy means sacred and reverent. Sacred and reverent can also be casual and informal. Sacred and reverent does not mean formal worship. Sacred and reverent means sincere worship.
I have seen teenagers eager to get involved in clothing the homeless and feeding the hungry, because they can sense they are making a real hands on, practical difference in the community, unlike sitting on the back pew listening to a dull sermon. If we do worship the way God describes in Isaiah 58, we can create a worship service both God and teenagers can accept.
You may study this week’s Sabbath School Lesson here.