It wasn’t just seeing church buildings. Watching the local news one night on television we saw a report about a sports camp being held in the town. The camp director was interviewed and he talked at length about how the real goal of the camp was to help the campers come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. The message from interviews with campers and staff both was all about knowing and glorifying Jesus Christ. The station wasn’t the least bit hesitant about giving a platform for talking openly about the Lord. It was pretty cool. I feel confident in asserting that was a news report we would never see on our local stations here. One evening we went out to dinner at a restaurant in the little downtown area of Meridian and sat in the patio area outside. I could hear music coming from somewhere nearby. It turned out to be the choir of one of the local churches. The church was having an outdoor service in the downtown area and it could be heard in most of that part of town.
We observed several instances of people behaving in ways that were…shall we say less than decorous and certainly less than loving to others. In some cases it tended toward almost offensive. Carissa’s comment was, “It is quite likely that those people will be in church on Sunday.” It is also apparent that prejudice and racism still simmer not far below the surface in that area. I could go on indicting the inconsistencies we encountered, but that’s not really the point I would like to make. The point is that the appearance of faith is not at all what God is trying to produce in us. He is not interested in a shallow intellectual belief that never touches the heart, will and actions of people.
In the day of the prophet Amos the people of Israel had the appearance of religion. They did believe in the God of Israel and they went through the motions of obeying the rituals commanded in the Law of Moses. But their faith never touched their hearts or their behavior. In Amos 5:21 the Lord said, “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. In verse 23 he said, “Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps.” When people gather in the name of the Lord acknowledging intellectually a “faith” in him, but then go and live in a way that is totally at odds with that faith, God says he hates their whole religion. It is an offensive odor to him. This is not to criticize the church in the South. There are many wonderful, serious followers of Jesus there. Instead we need to think about our own faith. We need to make sure that we do not repeat the mistake of ancient Israel. Whether some in the South are making that same error is not our concern. That’s between them and God. We need to make sure that we are not settling for a cultural faith, for that is always a temptation.
Let this serve as a reminder to us not to settle merely for the “culture” of the church, as some, maybe many, do in that part of our nation. It is a challenge to us to live out a vital relationship with God that touches everything in our lives. It is a call to make sure that we truly offer everything we are and do to God as a living sacrifice. Let’s make sure that we truly let God transform us into a new creation that reflects the image and glory of his Son.