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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Psalm 137

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.
4How shall we sing the LORD's song in a strange land?
Psalm 137:1-4

What a fantastic and glorious account we find here of what it is to have known the glory and beauty of the Church of God and then be forced through circumstances to sit in a worldly church and experience the shallowness of false religion. This, like so many of the scriptures presents a dual picture. First, it is the account of the captivity of the Israelites in Babylon. They were forced to be away from their spiritual and physical home in Zion and they wept for it. But it is also a picture of the Church of God as compared to worldly religion typified by “Babylon.”

A few times during my life I have, for one reason or another, had to be present in a false church. The first time was when I was in college. My room mate was greatly bothered because I was so conscientious about my life and living for God but I didn’t go to church services. (There was no church of God close enough for me to get to without transportation) She attended the close-by Methodist church every Sunday.

After several weeks I agreed to go with her. Remember, I grew up in the Church of God. I had quite literally never experienced false religion. I had no idea what to expect. We walked into a beautiful facility full of stained and varnished natural wood with plush carpet and stained glass windows. There was lovely organ music emanating from a hidden source. The atmosphere was hushed and reverent. But the building was absolutely devoid of the presence of God.

How did I know? I’ve never been able to explain it except to say that once you have known the presence of God, you will never be fooled by beautiful surroundings, a reverent atmosphere and sweet music.

Everyone sat reverentially as the choir filed in and the ministry took their seats on the platform. Everyone sat very still and solemnly bowed their heads while a deacon stepped to the podium and intoned the opening prayer, read very expressively from a prayer book. Then the minister of music took his place and announced the first hymn. While the choir carried the melody and harmony along with clearly pronouncing the words, the congregation muddled along trying not to disturb the worshipful mood of the atmosphere.

My heart cried with in me. I had only ever known the happy songs of people who loved the Lord, who triumphed over sin and trials and sang to rejoice in the victory. This music I was hearing here was something much less than music of the Beatles that resounded from every dorm room on our hallway. There was no joy. There was no experience of trial. There was no victory ringing in the words. Frankly, the Beatles' music had more feeling and definitely a better beat.

The minister spoke of Gideon and how God chose 300 men to fight the Midianites out of the massive army that the Israelites had assembled. (Judges 7, if you don’t remember the reference) But the emphasis was not on how God delivered the people, but upon how these were chosen because of their watchfulness and strength. The message emphasized that instead of the mighty God overcoming the massive forces of the Midianites as they “lay along in the valley like grasshoppers for multitude; and their camels were without number, as the sand by the sea side for multitude.” The glory was not in “The sword of the LORD, and of Gideon” but in the strength and faithfulness of the human. It was a very encouraging sermon, encouraging the human to be their best and do their best…

This verse settled deep into my soul and grew roots. Truly, there [I] sat down, yea, [I] wept, when [I] remembered Zion. Thank the Lord I didn’t have to stay there, but the Lord taught me a deep compassion for those trapped in false religion.
I never had to experience this the point of that complete deception in a congregation, but not too long ago the congregation I was attending began a slide into apostasy. Oh, I spoke up, but my words were criticized and scorned.
The last service I attended, there had been a good sermon and in spite of different issues, God had honored His Word with the spirit of the Lord moving on hearts. As the message closed and the minister spoke a short prayer, conviction was heavy. Then the song director stepped to the platform, called for the ‘worship team’ and announced a song of "praise to the Lord for this good message from the Word.” The pianist began a bouncy melody, the worship team began clapping and the Holy Spirit lifted and departed. I gathered my crutches and began my slow trek out. My future son-in-law met me at the back of the church and went after the car.

While I was waiting for Michael in front of the church building a lady from the congregation came out with fire in her eye and verbally attacked me for leaving. She had no idea that I hadn’t left until the Holy Spirit had departed….

Oh, so many people are trying to sing the songs of Zion in a strange land today! And they don’t even know it.

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