I stayed home from church this morning.
It was hard, because I couldn’t really rationalize missing this time of fellowship with my brothers and sisters in the Lord. After all, the Bible instructs us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together (Hebrews 10:25).
In church, there would be singing, rejoicing, praising, and worshiping. The Word would come forth, edifying and correcting us in our walk with our Heavenly Father. There would be an opportunity to bring in our tithes and to sow offerings into good ground from which we would reap an abundant harvest. We would support and honor our pastor – our anointed shepherd – by being there to partake of the inspired teachings of the Bible and learn how to apply that wisdom in the conduct of our life.
But I’m not there.
I’m not sick.
I have reliable transportation.
The weather’s fine.
The laundry’s done. The bed’s made. Coffee’s still in the pot.
Life is good. I love God with all my heart. I’m not being rebellious.
So why am I not in church this morning?
Because the Holy Spirit is casting off a religious spirit that I didn’t even realize I still had.
When Paul writes about his old religion in Acts 26:5 he uses the Greek word thre¯skeia (thrace-ki’-ah), which according to Strong’s is “ceremonial observance: religion, worshipping”. He tells us he lived as a Pharisee – quite religious in their beliefs and in their actions. And many practiced ceremonial observance only, as the word implies, rather than having true faith in the Lord.
The Pharisees likely desired to obey God, but they had became so devoted to the Law (and to their interpretations and additions to it) that they failed to recognize Jesus Christ as the true Messiah even when he walked among them performing miracles and speaking divine truth. They were so blinded by their religion, they lost their faith and eventually through their ignorance had Jesus killed.
Jesus, recognizing their religious spirit, hurled these scathing words at the Pharisees:
Even so you also appear righteous to men outwardly, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets, and decorate the tombs of the righteous,… Serpents! Offspring of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell? (Matthew 23:28-29,33 MKJV)
This was indeed a stern decree about having only the outward appearance of ceremony without the inward cleansing and obedience God requires of His chosen.
So why am I not in church today? While I was praying earlier in the shower, the battle began. It was time for church, but the Holy Spirit told me to write.
“You told me not to forsake fellowship, ” but the Holy Spirit said fellowship with Me.
“I don’t want the pastor to notice me not being there,” but the Holy Spirit said those who do things to be seen by men already have their reward from men.
“My wife and kids won’t understand,” but the Holy Spirit said he who will not forsake all that he has cannot be my disciple.
“I’m supposed to be in church,” but the Holy Spirit said he who wins souls is wise.
“I don’t even know what to write,” but the Holy Spirit said I have made your tongue the pen of a ready writer.
“They won’t listen to me. Who am I to speak?” but the Holy Spirit said you are to go where I send you and to speak whatsoever I command you to speak. Behold, I have put My words in your mouth.
God was teaching me two things this morning.
First, I cannot make the same mistakes as the Pharisees and do things simply out of “ceremony”, limiting myself to only a portion of God’s Word, making it my “Law” while ignoring or overlooking the rest of the things God expects from us, such as teaching, healing, and spreading the gospel. Did not Jesus on the Sabbath day ignore the Pharisee’s warning and still heal the man’s withered hand? (Luke 6:1-11)
Second, it’s not up to me to write about what I think or feel. It’s my job to simply open myself to God and let him guide my words. While I had nothing to write about today, It seems the page is filled with a good testimony that many will hopefully learn from. I know I certainly did.
I pray that those who read this will see the truth that was revealed and not misinterpret what was written. I’m certainly not saying that it’s okay to skip church on a whim. Picnics, ballgames, and lounging in the park are not excuses to skip service. I assure you the Holy Spirit will not move you to hook up the boat trailer while your pastor is preaching. That’s a different voice speaking.
What I am saying is that we should always be about our Father’s business (which is saving souls) and heed the instructions of the Holy Spirit however and whenever those instructions many come.
And NEVER, NEVER, NEVER make the mistake of believing that attending church is the same as having a close personal relationship with God. There will be those who have never set foot inside a church who will be rewarded for their faithfulness with eternal life, and there will be many who sat religiously in church pews every Sunday and Wednesday who will look up in agony from the burning pit below and ask why.
1 Samuel 15:23 tells us to obey is better than to sacrifice. Today, I obeyed and followed the guide of the Spirit. It is my fervent hope that if you are bound by religion and doing things out of habit and “ceremony”, you will be liberated right now by faith. We truly serve a wonderful God who loves us beyond all we can imagine. And He wants to spend quality time with us.
So what about church?
I guess I really went after all. For in truth the church is us, if only we allow God to reside in us and rule from our hearts. Today I was ministered to by the greatest pastor the world will ever know. I sang His praises in my heart and I heeded His call. And there is no greater calling than to obey His voice and to take the hand of My Father as He lifts me up to show me His glory.
God doesn’t want religious people. He wants people who have faith and love Him. He doesn’t want people to only go through empty motions because everyone around you is doing the same thing. He doesn’t want people to “go” to church, He wants people to “be” the church.
With that said, I’m really looking forward to tonight at 6:00PM when I can once again fellowship with my brothers and sisters, sing songs of praise, and hear my pastor speak the ever-living Word of God. I will go to church tonight and, more importantly, I will be the church tonight.
All glory to God.
And, dear brothers and sisters, may you be blessed in all ways every day.