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.

But from there you will seek the LORD your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.

Deuteronomy 4: 29

The object of this message is Israel, but it could be any one of thousands upon thousands of people who have lived throughout history and who are with us today. So, that begs the question, where are those people? Like Israel was when it was taken into captivity in Egypt, they are far away from God, and the distance has been the result of their own thoughts, words, and actions. Any relational walls that exist have been constructed by those far off people, and all of the instances where the wandering people have felt estrangement from God or lack of connection with Him have come about because the people have turned their hearts and the reason of their minds toward other objects for the expression of their love and worship. But God is defined by grace, and His heart is attuned to the needs and to the desires of all people, even these lost ones that have rejected Him. God is open and receptive to their desire to find Him and to enter once again into a relationship with Him.

In the days of Moses, the Lord was willing to reach out into the dark corners of the world and to commission and send a great leader to the enslaved Israelites. So, Moses was there with them in order to do God’s will among the Egyptians so that their power and control over the destiny of the Israelites was defeated. In more recent times, God sent Jesus to join with us in our struggles with sin as it attempts to exert the same sort of power and control over us. Jesus performed the redemptive work that the Father directed Him to do, and He set us free from enslavement to all that is anti-love, spiritually broken, and dedicated to a death that is preferred to living fully in the presence of God. As God used Moses to lead His people back into relationship with Him, so too has He sent Jesus to show us the way into that eternal relationship that has its beginning in this life and that continues unabated for all time, even through the infinite years that exist beyond an earthly grave.

It is never too late to seek the Lord, and no one has traveled beyond the boundary of Christ’s redemptive reach. We may have known God at one point in our lives; yet, we have walked away from Him and gone off on a journey of our own choosing. Still, the Lord is not far removed from where we are dwelling. Christ does not ask us to change all of the aspects of life in order to be suitable for His presence. He takes who we are as being sufficient, and He accepts what we are doing as being satisfactory for His grace to enter in to even the darkest places in our hearts and our minds. Christ brings the light of truth into the world’s oppressive darkness as He casts the hopeful light of the dawn of a new day before us. This is a day when the oppressive weight of slavery is to be removed from our backs and the harsh demands of the world’s idols will be set aside and cast down in favor of the lightness and joy that flows out of the gospel of Jesus Christ. So, for any who are far away, this is a good day to turn to the Lord and to seek after His presence with an open and a receptive heart.      

Give thanks to the God of gods,

   for his steadfast love endures forever.

Give thanks to the Lord of lords,

   for his steadfast love endures forever.

Psalm 136: 2, 3

We live in a world where there are many gods. They are all around us, and their presence is almost impossible to ignore. People spend all forms of their capital on them. We worship at the alters that have been erected by the priests that serve them, too. Although we may not identify these entities as deity, the way that we devote ourselves to them and the sacrifices that we are willing to make to them suggest otherwise. Each person may have his or her own forms and versions of them, but almost everyone goes to these pagan temples and expresses loyalty and fealty to the lords of those places.

This is the point in the narrative where I might begin to list out the various ways that this modern version of idol worship takes form and shape. I am not going to do that. Instead, I am asking that each of us consider for a moment and ask the Lord to reveal to us what it is that I worship and where do I go to seek the face of the god that is worshiped during my days. This process itself may be very powerfully revealing to some of us. It might even grant new perspective to the way that resources, time, and passion are allocated and spent during the course of the day.

At the end of this process; although, I suspect that the need for seeking the Lord’s guidance on what it is that I worship will never find its end, I hope to be placed in a position where my worship, adoration, and priority would be given to the one true and everlasting God as Lord over my life. Hence, the reminder from the Psalmist that there is only one God that reigns supreme over all others and over everything that might seek to rise to that level of significance in my world. There is a singular Lord to whom I owe my allegiance and from whom I should take direction in everything and for all aspects of the way that I live out my days. Again, one God, one Lord, and anything or anyone else that seeks to take precedence or to give direction to my heart and mind is an idol to be discarded and abandoned on the waste heap of lost and dead things of this world.    

But I am the LORD your God

from the land of Egypt;

you know no God but me,

and besides me there is no savior.

Hosea 13: 4

 

There is both reminder and warning present here. God is sending them to His people through the words of Hosea, and they are specifically directed toward the people of Israel. However, it would be a very great mistake to simply relegate these words to that shelf labeled History and to an obsolete application. The issues that were troubling the Lord in the days of Hosea are still with us now as we seem to have a remarkably similar capacity to go our own way in life. The Israelites were guilty of worshiping other gods and of behaving in ways that were contrary to God’s will, His Word and Law. There were many times when they were even openly defiant of all that God stood for and entered into behaviors that He expressly forbade or that were significantly divergent from the Lord’s nature and character.

 

If this doesn’t make you think of many of the aspects of our world and of these days, then I think that we are living in on different planets or in alternate realities. This is a world where substitute gods are common. People turn to various forms of idol to pour out their passion in worship and to form up the ethical and moral structures that support their responses to all that comes along in the course of their days. Many of us seem to have little stomach for staying true to the harder aspects of following God. Frankly, we do not trust the Lord enough to enter into the riskier and the less comfortable aspects of loving others in a manner that is truly sacrificial, of serving the needs of the pour and the disadvantaged even when that costs us in terms of real currency, and of pouring out all of ourselves in a life dedicated to worshiping the Lord. It does seem that too many of us desire to be able to shape and to mold our god with our own hands rather than to surrender ourselves to His transformative work upon us.

 

God makes His desires very clear, and He also reminds us of the fact that He has never waivered in what He requires of His people or in the way that He enters into our lives for our benefit. The Lord wants us to commit all of our being to Him. This is true in our public, personal, and most private lives. He wants us to go through our cupboards and closets, our outward and our innermost expressions of our identities, and sweep out all of the idols that we have collected and stored up there. He also tells us to turn to Him as the only source of our salvation, and this is true regarding salvation for our souls and for that saving that is required every day in great and in subtle ways. Then we are to live out our days as an expression of that passionate worship that God so longs to receive from His people. That means that we would be unreservedly loving, compassionate and merciful, caretakers of creation, people who embrace the foreigner and those who are different from us, and actively engaged in proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ though our words and our actions. So, in loving and in following God, we will be people who truly surrender our entire beings to the Lord’s transformative work in and upon us.