“Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High, and call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me.” (Psalm 50:14-15)
Maybe you’ve invited a neighbor or coworker to church and heard the excuse: “Why would I go to church? Christians are all so judgmental!” Of course, whenever I hear someone say that I’m tempted to reply, “Well you should come then…you’d fit right in!”
Sadly, even though her blanket statement might be ironically judgmental, we all know she has a point. A lot of Christians do tend to be just as self-absorbed, self-serving and self-righteous as everyone else…even though we’re supposed to know better. Our coworker may not see herself as having a problem, but she can certainly point out what turns her off to the church.
She’s not alone. In a 2007 poll conducted by the Barna Research Group, nearly 90% of respondents aged 16-29 indicated that their main objection to organized church was that Christians are too judgmental and hypocritical. Rightly or wrongly, fairly or unfairly—if that’s what they’re seeing in the church, why wouldn’t they stay away on Sunday. Not only that, but when we see our politicians courting the Christian voters with one hand and tweeting venom with the other, it should make us pause and wonder, ‘What really makes God’s people…God’s people?’
Maybe it’s time we paid attention—to our critics…and to God.
In Psalm 50, the writer (identified as Asaph) writes a song that sounds more like one of the prophets. While most of the other psalms focus on praise, or thanksgiving, or even lament, this song sounds more like an oracle. It begins with a spectacular appearance of “The Mighty One, God, the Lord,” who comes in “beauty” and “fire” and “tempest” (vs. 1-3). He has come to judge, but not to judge the nations and pagans. Instead, he bellows out, “Gather to me this consecrated people, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice…I will testify against you, Israel.” (vs. 5, 7)
Yikes! We sometimes wonder when God will come and judge all those bad people, but what will we do when he comes to judge His church?
Asaph the psalm-writer/prophet continues to speak to God’s people on God’s behalf. God doesn’t need their sacrifices of bulls and goats—he doesn’t simply want them to go through the motions—instead, “Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High, and call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me.” (vs. 14-15)
Their covenant with God isn’t about what God needs from them; it’s about what they have already received from Him. God has chosen them, blessed them and adopted them as His own. All He asks in return is gratitude, obedience, and trust. In that way, God tells them, “you will honor me.”
This isn’t a new message for the people of God—then or now. My identity isn’t found in going to church or simply calling myself a Christian; it’s found in worshiping God, “in Spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24) It’s not about sacrificing bulls and goats, it’s a about offering our bodies “as living sacrifices.” (Romans 12:1) My covenant with God means seeking justice and righteousness (Amos 5:21-24); it “requires” me to “act justly, love mercy and walk humbly” with God (Micah 6:6-8).
God’s message is a gracious invitation to examine my own heart, actions, and motivations; not to judge someone else’s.
But the psalmist goes on to warn that God will indeed judge, “the wicked.” Who are they? They are the ones who recite God’s laws but cast them away when they are inconvenient; they are the ones who claim God’s promises but hate God’s instruction; they are ones who call themselves God’s people, but cheat, steal and lie their way to the top; the ones who praise the bad guys but bad-mouth the people who need them most (vs. 16-22). According to Psalm 50, the “wicked” aren’t the people lost outside our churches, they are the judgmental and hypocritical ones on the inside.
In Matthew 25:31-46 Jesus points out that there will be a reckoning at the end of time—a separation of the “sheep” and the “goats.” But it will most certainly come as a surprise to some of the goats! Jesus reminds us, Psalm 50 reminds us, the rest of the Bible reminds us…if we want to please God it’s time to be thankful of what he has given us, obedient to what he asks of us, and trusting of what he can do for us.
If you claim to be a follower of Jesus, then start following! He is our celebration and our song. He is Living Water; he is real life. Drink deep, and always stay thirsty for Him!