worship


I will turn your feasts into mourning

   and all your songs into lamentation;

I will bring sackcloth on every waist

   and baldness on every head;

I will make it like the mourning for an only son

   and the end of it like a bitter day.

Amos 8: 10

It seems to me that God actually enjoys a good party. He wants His people to feel joy and to express it through laughter and in gathering together to celebrate the faithfulness and the goodness that the Lord has poured out upon them. I think that this appreciation for a celebratory spirit in people is a part of why God called upon His people, the Israelites to plan and schedule several feasts and festivals as specific occasions when they would gather to remember all that God had done for them and to enter into acts of atonement for their sins and ones that sought to solicit the Lord’s guidance and direction for the future. Although for the most part we do not adhere to the same formal schedule of special events, people still do celebrate and remember that which is good in our world at specific times on our calendars. To this day, we are a people who enjoy the goodness with which the Lord has graced us.

Despite God’s desire for His people to celebrate His presence with them, He informed them through the words of the prophet Amos that their actions would lead Him to turn those festivals into wakes. Their sinfulness was leading them into destruction, and their disobedience to God’s will for them to be honest and just people was forcing the Lord to withdraw His protections from their land. This would be a drastic step on the Lord’s part, and He was not quick to take such a radical action. God would have preferred to see the Israelites recognize their sins, repent of them, and turn to doing the Lord’s will than to bring about punishment in the form of destruction, death, and captivity at the hands of another nation. Yet, that is what happened.

It seems to me that there are lessons for us to learn from what happened so long ago in Israel. None of us today live in a nation that was formed by God’s hand with the same specific intent as was Israel. That is to be a country that was governed and ruled by God’s Word alone. That sort of thing was, in reality, an example of why we needed Jesus. Israel’s failure as a holy kingdom was writ large across the history of the world. Jesus brought with Him an entirely new concept of nation under God’s authority that no longer has boundaries that can be drawn upon maps or be governed by people. Still, the nations of this earth are granted their existence by God, and they are intended to bring order to the world’s chaos and to promote justice for all people. These human-crafted and God ordained entities operate under a mandate to be peacemakers in the world. So, it seems to me that the warnings that were set out for Israel have pertinence to us today. We must be people who live honestly, promote justice, and seek to be peacemakers, or we too may find that all of our party décor will become blackened and our festivities will be converted to times of mournful wailing.

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And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophesy there, but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.”

Amos 7: 12, 13

The characters and the setting for this drama are important. Amaziah is a priest serving in the unsanctioned temple at Bethel in the northern kingdom, Israel, and Amos is the God-ordained prophet that has been given a message of repentance or destruction for both Israel and Judah, his homeland. The king of Israel is Jeroboam, and he has been continuing to lead his people ever further away from God’s law and into a form of worship that is a blend of various pagan beliefs, rites, and rituals that have been combined with worship of their one true God, Yahweh. Amos has come to Amaziah with a warning regarding the impending destruction that the Lord will cause to fall upon Jeroboam, his household, the people of Israel, and the land itself if they do not turn back to God alone and change their way of living so that it conforms to the Lord’s law of life.

Amaziah responds on behalf of his king with a caustic and dismissive comment about Amos being a seer. This is not a compliment, for the title that God-ordained speakers would be given would be prophet. Thus, labeling and dismissive statements are used to minimize the validity of Amos’ words of warning. Then the king’s advisor priest sends the offending prophet away and tells him to stay away, for these gloom and doom words are unpleasant to the king’s ear, and they tend to interrupt his times of rest and recreation. Jeroboam seems to hold that his own comfort is more significant that taking in the sound advice of God’s emissary. Despite these stern and derisive words of rejection, Amos is not silenced, and he does not go away to his homeland without continuing to deliver the truth that the Lord has revealed to him regarding the future destruction of Israel and the resultant captivity that its people would endure. 

In response to the Lord’s calling to speak the truth, Amos stands up in the face of rejection, dismissal, and even threats of harm, and he continues to proclaim the Lord’s word to the nation. The power and the authority of people, even of kings and of their ordained advisors, is of little to no importance when it comes to the authority that is contained in God’s Word and that flows out of the Lord’s calling to His people to proclaim His gospel message of justice, righteousness, and respect for all of creation. As God’s people we are all commissioned, as was Amos, to go to our kings and to their advisors and the priests of their temples with this same word of truth that comes directly out of God’s Word. We should not continue to ignore the voice of the Spirit as He speaks to our hearts and implores our minds to personally repent of our own wayward ways and to seek the same from our leaders and for our nations. The Lord is calling to us all to turn to Him so that we all “do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.” (Micah 6:8) 

Let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1: 4

Endurance is a word that brings out images of things that aren’t always so pleasant. These include copious amounts of sweat, long hours devoted to self torture, studying through the night in order to stuff data that is too big for my brain into its corners, and collapsing to the ground in a painful face plant when the legs are long past nonfunctional. Endurance is just not something that most humans find all that attractive. Most of us just don’t do it very well. We do not endure to the very end.

Yet, endure is what God has done with us, and endurance is what Christ needed to make it to the end in order to secure my place in God’s kingdom. Despite the insults, the indifference, and the failure that we people bring to the relationship, God continues to love everyone, to care about all of our needs, and He will stick with us until the very end of all that we are dealing with. God entered into a promise, a covenant, with us, and He does finish the course to its completion. In the process, He invites us to decide to join in and rely on His strength, wisdom, and encouragement to finish well ourselves. 

Regardless of what this day holds, the Lord has a plan for it. He does ask us to trust Him that this is true, and He does want us to keep going even when the weight of our concerns and cares seems beyond our capacity to hold up. There is victory to be found in those final, painful steps. There is glory to be gained by crossing the finish line as we realize that the strength to get there actually belongs to the Lord and is also supplied by and through His Spirit. It is then, when the only strength that I have belongs to the Lord, that I understand that each step I take in trust is a step deeper into the will of my Savior.

The LORD is good to those who wait for him,

   to the soul who seeks him.

Lamentations 3: 25

What is so hard about waiting? Patience in times of stress or distress is just not the sort of thing that most of us a wired to engage in, and waiting is hard to do even under ideal conditions. We want answers or we desire relief from the pain, and taking a long view on the presence of these virtues is not something that most of us do not enjoy. Yet, the Lord sees all of human history. He knows its beginning moment, and He is fully in touch with the hour that it all will be transformed back into its created perfection. There is no instant in between that catches Him by surprise. This can be hard to grasp for us, and it can also be difficult to comprehend how the God of grace, mercy, and love can still allow so much hardship, pain, and suffering to exist in an environment that He sees so fully.

For I am convinced that the Lord has the capability, capacity, and power to engage with and to handle any situation or circumstance that He might so choose to do. So, the presence of brokenness in our world is not the result of God’s weakness or of His disengagement or distance from us and from our reality. Instead, the Lord does allow the natural course of life on earth to follow where we have chosen to take it. It was our ancestors that brought about the rejection of God’s perfection, and we are equally involved in perpetuating this process of living outside of God’s will. Still, He seeks after each of us, and He pours out grace and provides the means of redemption for any of us that accept God’s gift of His Son. Even Jesus and the presence of His Spirit with us does not grant immunity to the broken nature of our world, but He does show us the truth of eternity and provide its hope to us even in the midst of our hardest days and darkest hours.

So, the Lord asks us to wait on Him. We can trust in the salvation for our souls that Christ provides, and we can have faith in the reality of a glory that exceeds anything that can be experienced upon this earth. Thus, these moments spent in turmoil and anguished anticipation are nothing more than a brief pause in the journey that this faith in Christ takes us upon. When the place where we are residing in life turns hard and our heart is made heavy by the burden that is placed upon us by the cares of the day, we can turn to the Lord with whatever strength and attention that we can muster up in that time, and we can rest assured that our prayers are heard, that God’s Word will provide wisdom and guidance for that time and place, and that the body of faith will be a refuge of care and companionship through the hours that creep along before the dawn of a new day. Thus, this form of waiting can, in fact, be some of the richest time with the Lord that we will ever experience in this life.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, but without sin.

Hebrews 4: 15

Let’s face it, there are days when I am not very strong. I don’t mean sore muscles or being weary from the drain of life’s activities, and I am not referring to emotional tiredness, either. There are just times in life when temptations of various kinds are more real than is the will to turn away from them. This is a challenging aspect of living in the skin that God has provided to me as a dwelling place for my heart, mind, and soul, and these are not times that make me feel especially good about myself when I look at what I am thinking and doing from the perspective of the cross that Christ allowed Himself to occupy for my sake. This contrast between my depravity and Christ’s holy yet bloodied presence makes me want to go away and hide in a dark corner with my shame and guilt covering me.

However I may feel about these things and in these dark hours of my soul, Christ calls to me to come out and to engage with Him in the truth of His gospel of love, grace, and redemption. My self-imposed cave of regrets is not the place where my redeemed soul is supposed to reside. My sinfulness does have consequences, and there is always human fallout to deal with, but isolation and separation are not the answers that Christ provides to me. Christ knows the intensity of the challenge that life in this world of brokenness and temptation provides as He experienced life in this place to its fullest without succumbing to those same temptations. Additionally, there is nothing that we can do or any place that we can journey that will take us beyond the grace and the forgiveness of the cross of Christ. Our Lord’s blood is more than adequate to cover any sin that we can commit.

Jesus wants each of us to live fully in His presence. He also desires for us to live out His calling to be people that proclaim the eternal glory of God in every aspect of our lives. We cannot do this if we allow our times of weakness to overcome Christ’s mission for our lives. However, we are directed by God to be people that recognize the destructive nature of sin and who, therefor, turn to God in repentance and with a desire to open up our areas of weakness to the restorative work of the Spirit. Sin does not need to win in this contest for our loyalty, for, in Christ, it has already lost the battle for the soul. Thus, our sins have been forgiven on His cross, we are granted mercy and grace by Christ, and His Spirit works within us to strengthen our resolve to live as holy and righteous people. As the writer of Hebrews went on to say,

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4: 16 

For thus sys the LORD to the house of Israel:

      “Seek me and live;

           but do not seek Bethel,

        and do not enter into Gilgal

            or cross over to Beersheba;

        for Gilgal shall surely go into exile,

            and Bethel shall come to nothing.”

Amos 5: 4, 5

In a strange sort of way one of the markers of humanity’s creation at the hand of God alone is our long-standing ability to ignore the obvious in order to do what it is that we want to do instead. In the days of Amos, God was very real and visibly present with the people of Israel. The history of all that the Lord had accomplished in establishing them as a nation was rather fresh in their national and personal memories. They could name ancestors that were born during the wilderness days and had crossed over the Jordan in that miraculous moment in which God demonstrated His power and His grace. Now, they had moved away from worship of the Lord as their one and their only God as they were regularly going to temples to place offerings upon alters dedicated to various other gods. Thus, God’s own people were traveling to Bethel, Gilgal, and Beersheba in order to bow down before and to seek favor from these other forms of so-called deity.

Do we not continue to do the same sorts of things today? We may not build elaborate buildings to house stone, bronze, and golden images of our various gods, but we do worship at their altars. The fashion of the day may call them by names such as government, wealth, military might, social power, or career. We can usually make arguments as to the worthiness or even as to the essential nature of the attention that is given to these aspects of life. Yet, the sort of devotion that is often granted to them is much like that which is described by God’s Word as the form of worship that was to be given to God alone. At issue is not the fact that we have devised systems of civil governance, means of earning a living, or even an organized military presence that is tasked with standing up to evil in our world; rather, the issue is the importance that is given to any of these entities and activities. When they become primary in our minds and in our hearts, then they have taken the place of God in our individual and our collective beings.

God is patient with us, and His blessings continue to be poured out upon His people. But this will not continue indefinitely. When Amos wrote his words of stern warning, things were going well in Israel and in Judah. There was wealth and prosperity in that land, and the next great peril in the form of Assyria was a weak and incapable neighbor far to the north. Yet, all of that would change very rapidly, and before too long both Hebrew nations would be overwhelmed and made captive. Our fate today will not necessarily look like that of Israel and Judah; yet, God has promised that a day of reckoning is to come soon. We will each be forced to respond to Christ with an accounting for the conduct of our lives, and He is a judge that knows all and one that hands out true and complete justice. We each individually and collectively as Christ’s church have choices to make. We can reframe our hearts and redirect our minds so that our devotion and worship is focused on God alone or we can expect to answer to Christ for why we chose to leave our best selves upon those pagan altars instead.

For behold, he who forms the mountains and creates the wind,

   and declares to man what is his thought,

who makes the morning darkness,

   and treads on the heights of the earth—

   the LORD, the God of hosts, is his name.

Amos 4: 13

When we are face to face with God, there will be two possibilities. We will either be looking upon the eyes of one that we know and who knows us with the deep intimacy of a close and loving father, or we will see the folly of our rejection of that same Holy One. On that inevitable day when all that has been the life that each person has lived is counted and given a reckoning by God, it will be too late to decide to repent and turn to Him. On that day and in that moment when eternity becomes existential reality, God’s presence and His holy justice will be too clear to turn away from or to continue to ignore. Beholding the face of the Creator, the one who formed the world that we have walked and the designer of each of us will be an event of joy beyond all human imagining or it will be terrible past anything conceivable.

Amos has been making an appeal to Israel and to its people to recognize the foolishness of their ways in that they have been living far outside of God’s expressed will. Their worship is false in both form and in intent. Their lives are dedicated to serving their own desires rather than to seeking to know God well and to give of themselves in worship of Him. The passage that comes just before this verse describes a number of actions that the Lord has taken to attempt to get the attention of the people of Israel, but they have not turned to Him in any of these instances. God promises that this state of sinful living will not be tolerated by Him for very long. There will be consequences, and in the end, there will be a day when all people will be required to fully behold the Lord.

Where Amos describes various forms of calamity and natural disasters that God has allowed to come upon Israel, in today’s world God tends to pour out His grace, love, and mercy upon us. Yet, we should not take God’s grace or His patience as a sign of either weakness or of permission to say and to do anything that pleases us. For, in the end, God still holds His standards of justice, peacemaking, love of neighbors, and devotion to Him as absolute. Through Christ we can be forgiven of any and all of our sins, but that grace is not a license to live as we might please. Instead, God desires to work in and through each of us for the redemption of a world that is heading along the same path of death and destruction as did ancient Israel. We will each behold God as the conduct of our life is judged; so, how much better would it be to behold His Christ every day of what is left of this earthly term and to be pronounced faithful and worthy at that final hour?  

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