May 20, 2012 David Balzer

Amos 3-5: When God hates church

Let me ask you a personal question. Were you tempted, even just a little bit, just to stay in bed this morning? Not come to church? Because I know, sometimes, we don’t ENJOY church.

Did any of these excuses make their way into your head? It’s too cold. I’m too tired. I deserve some me-time. Church is boring. There’s no one I can relate to. It’s not meeting my needs. There’s too many children. There’s not ENOUGH children. The music is too old. The music is too MODERN. Nobody notices me. Everybody picks on me. There’s too much prayer. There’s not ENOUGH prayer. The sermons are too long. The sermons are too SHORT.”

The excuses and complaints go on and on.

And to be HONEST, I reckon some of that’s NATURAL. We’re HUMAN, and we’re often tempted to do stuff that’s selfish and not good for us. But YOU’RE HERE!

When God hates church (5:21-23)

But what if GOD didn’t enjoy church? What if the shocking truth might be that there are times WHEN GOD HATES CHURCH?

As difficult as that is to imagine, that’s the scene we’ve got here in Amos. Have a look at these shocking verses with me. Ch 5 v21.God’s speaking.

21 “I Hate, I DESPISE your religious feasts; I cannot STAND your assemblies. 22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. 23 AWAY with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps.

Here was Israel, doing exactly what God required of them. Celebrating religious feasts, bringing burnt offerings and grain offerings. Singing psalms, playing on harps.

But God says he’s not interested. He has no REGARD for them. Worse than that – he HATES it!

That should RATTLE us. UNSETTLE us. If God’s not interested in people’s worship, WHAT’S THE POINT?

So what’s going on? What’s BEHIND it? It’s important we find out. Or else we risk God thinking the same thing about US and OUR gatherings.

Prepare to meet your God (4:12)

And that’s something you don’t want to do. It’s an awful thing to fall into the hands of an angry God.

You see, we make a mistake if we come before God FLIPPANTLY. If we take him too lightly. We play a dangerous game when we think it doesn’t matter to God what we do.

Consider who God is, says Amos. This God you serve. Prepare to meet your God. He’s A ROARING LION. Ch 3:8.

8 The lion has roared- who will not fear?

Fearing God – it’s as logical as a lion roaring because it’s caught something. Or people trembling when the warning trumpet sounds. When God roars, people FEAR!

Prepare to meet your God says Amos. This is the God you’re offending. Listen to HIS NAME. 3:15. The Lord, the LORD God Almighty. In Hebrew, it’s Adonai Yahweh Elohim Tsaba’ot.

Adonai means Master.

Yahweh is God’s NAME. It means something like “I am who I am”.

Elohim means “God”

And Tsaba’ot means Almighty, but it also means Armies. GOD OF ARMIES.

Old versions of the Bible translated the phrase as “The Lord Yahweh, God of HOSTS. He is the Commander in chief of HEAVENLY ARMIES. He’s a God of WAR.

THIS is the God who hates your gatherings.

Again and again in these chapters Amos reminds us who God is.

4:13: Yhwh God of armies

5:14 and v15: Yhwh, God of armies

And again in v16. The Lord, The LORD God Almighty – MASTER Yhwh, God of ARMIES.

And finally, the end of Ch 5. V27. The one who’s said all this is the LORD, whose name is God Almighty.

That’s what he’s CALLED. But look at what he DOES. Back in Ch 4 v12

12 “Therefore this is what I will do to you, Israel, and because I will do this to you, PREPARE TO MEET YOUR GOD, O ISRAEL.” 13 He who forms the MOUNTAINS, creates the WIND, and reveals his thoughts to man, he who turns dawn to DARKNESS, and treads the high places of the earth- the LORD God Almighty is his name.

Or jump down into Ch 5 v8.

8 he who made the PLEIADES AND ORION, who turns blackness into dawn and darkens day into night, who calls for the waters of the sea and POURS THEM OUT OVER THE FACE OF THE LAND- the LORD is his name- 9 he FLASHES DESTRUCTION on the stronghold and brings the fortified city to ruin,

Powerful, destructive, controlled and controlling. When someone like THAT comes looking for you – WATCH OUT! PREPARE TO MEET YOUR GOD! Those are scary words. What an awesome, awful prospect.

Is that what YOU thought as you got in the car to come to church this morning?

The problem: Hypocrisy

So what is it that’s got God so angry? What’s Israel done that makes their gatherings such a stench in God’s nostrils?

It’s HYPOCRISY. Being two-faced. Saying ONE thing, but LIVING ANOTHER.

WE don’t like hypocrites – it’s the dishonesty. And we only catches GLIMPSES of the REAL person. But imagine how GOD sees it. You can’t HIDE anything from God, so he sees the big picture. He sees our hypocrisy, even before we see it ourselves. He sees our THOUGHTS and MOTIVES, as well as our secret actions and public ones.

For Israel, it’s the hypocrisy of bringing their sacrifices and offerings ACCORDING TO THE LAW. But wanting nothing to DO with the law in every other area of life.

And so God HATES their pious pretensions and pontificating. When their hearts are black and putrid. And their consciences are stony cold and dead.

Look at the picture in Ch 4 v4. What God sees when he looks at THE INSIDE as well as the OUTSIDE.

4 “Go to Bethel and SIN; go to Gilgal and SIN YET MORE. Bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three years.  5 Burn leavened bread as a thank offering and BRAG about your freewill offerings- BOAST about them, you Israelites, for this is what you LOVE to do,” declares the Sovereign LORD.

On the OUTSIDE, they’re fulfilling their religious obligation. But ON THE INSIDE, they’re BOASTING. Bragging about their virtue. The reality is their religious observance is nothing more THAN SIN.

That’s their attitude DURING THEIR ASSEMBLIES. But it’s an attitude that shows itself ALL THROUGH THE REST OF THEIR LIVES. It’s only a SYMPTOM of pride and selfishness that’s infected the WHOLE SOCIETY. Jump down to Ch 5 v11.

11 You trample on the poor and force him to give you grain.

Or v12

12 For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins. You oppress the righteous and take bribes and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts. 13 Therefore the prudent man keeps quiet in such times, for the times are evil.

God had TOLD them how to live. The whole book of Deuteronomy. To LOOK AFTER the poor. To make sure there was JUSTICE.

But instead they DO THE OPPOSITE. They take advantage of the poor. Step all over them as they climb the ladder to success.

And there’s only justice for the ones with the biggest cheque books. It’s all so corrupt, the wise man just keeps quiet. There’s no one to complain to.

And the greatest care people have is where their next drink is coming from. Picture in your mind God’s description of “the chardonnay set”. Ch 4 v1. These “ladies who do lunch”.

Hear this word, you cows of Bashan on Mount Samaria, you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy and say to your husbands, “Bring us some drinks!”

Is it any wonder God can’t bear to hear their songs of praise, or watch their offerings? He’s not interested in their attention for ONE DAY, when the REST OF THE WEEK they want NOTHING to DO with honouring him.

He’s not interested in their PICKING AND CHOOSING which bits of his law they want to keep. They’ll keep the OFFERINGS AND SACRIFICES bits , but not the JUSTICE AND MERCY bits.

And so God can’t BEAR the hypocrisy.

You didn’t take the hint (4:6-12)

It’s not as if God didn’t TRY to change their behaviour. Again and again he brought about exactly what he SAID he would in his law. Curses for disobedience. In Deuteronomy – the same place where he spelled out how they needed to live. He promises what would happen if they didn’t DO it.

And then he brings it all to pass, says Amos, But you still didn’t take the hint. Look there at Ch 4 v6.

“I gave you empty stomachs in every city… YET YOU HAVE NOT RETURNED TO ME, declares the Lord”

I withheld the rain from you… People staggered from town to town for water.. YET YOU HAVE NOT RETURNED TO ME, declares the Lord.

Again and again the CURSES. Again and again the CHORUS. “YET YOU HAVE NOT RETURNED TO ME, declares the Lord.”

V9. Struck your gardens with blight and mildew. Locusts devoured your figs and olives. V10. Plagues, young men killed with the sword. YET YOU HAVE NOT RETURNED TO ME, declares the Lord.

Overthrown some like Sodom and Gomorrah. YET YOU HAVE NOT RETURNED TO ME, declares the Lord.

So many HINTS. So many WARNINGS. So many CHANCES. But you’re the ultimate slow learners. With the WORST sort of learning difficulties.

And so V12. The report card comes back. Those dreadful words.

12 “Therefore this is what I will do to you, Israel, and because I will do this to you, PREPARE TO MEET YOUR GOD, O ISRAEL.”

And on into Ch 5. Not only the promised CURSES for disobedience. But God will bring the promised EXILE – removal from the land he’d given them.

5:1 Hear this word, O house of Israel, this lament I take up concerning you: 2 “Fallen is Virgin Israel, NEVER TO RISE AGAIN, DESERTED IN HER OWN LAND, with no one to lift her up.” 3 This is what the Sovereign LORD says: “The city that marches out a thousand strong for Israel will have ONLY A HUNDRED LEFT; the town that marches out a hundred strong will have ONLY TEN LEFT.”

It’s a DREADFUL message. So many taken off into exile, the towns are left like ghost towns. Complete with tumbleweeds rolling down the main street.

What God wants you to do (5:4)

But, as always, there’s some GOOD NEWS to go with the BAD. MERCY in the face of justice. Even in the face of the dire warning, God’s got a message for what he wants his people to do. 5:4.

4 This is what the LORD says to the house of Israel: “SEEK ME AND LIVE;

The God of life and light is the source of SALVATION. Lean on HIM. Rely on HIM for your future. Don’t go searching for EARTHLY protection. V5.

5 DO NOT seek Bethel, DO NOT go to Gilgal, DO NOT journey to Beersheba. For Gilgal will surely go into exile, and Bethel will be reduced to nothing.” 6 SEEK THE LORD AND LIVE, or he will sweep through the house of Joseph like a fire; it will devour, and Bethel will have no one to quench it.

Don’t place your hopes in the sacred places. In the rituals and sacrifices. Place your hope IN GOD.

The NATION might be doomed, but if INDIVIDUALS AND FAMILIES would seek God, then they might yet survive. Seek HIS way instead of THEIRS. HIS good instead of THEIRS. HIS priorities instead of THEIRS.

Down in v14 we see what it would LOOK LIKE to seek God.

14 Seek GOOD, not evil, that you may live. Then the LORD God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is. 15 Hate evil, LOVE good; maintain JUSTICE in the courts. Perhaps the LORD God Almighty will have mercy on the remnant of Joseph.

It’s about LIVING OUT goodness, not just SINGING about it. It’s about LOVING justice, not just doing it so you don’t get caught. Live out God’s character in your relationships. Reflect out his goodness and mercy and justice into the world.

Live THOSE THINGS out, and God won’t just be with you in NAME ONLY. Just with your IMAGINATION. He really WILL be with you. Living with you in a real way you can EXPERIENCE and ENJOY.

What a society THAT would be! Down in v24 God expresses his vision. (Get rid of your hypocritical songs and sacrifices, he says). BUT LET JUSTICE ROLL LIKE A RIVER, RIGHTEOUSNESS LIKE A NEVER-FAILING STREAM.

Rolling out from the privileged and powerful. Out to the poor and down-trodden. And out TO THE NATIONS. That they might see the righteousness and goodness and holiness of God. Rolling out refreshment and deliverance. Rolling out relief and life. Rolling out like life-giving rainwater floods across the desert. And the desert springs to life.

That’s what God wants to see. That’s what will make God LOVE their sacrifices and offerings and songs.

When God loves worship

And as we consider Amos’ words TODAY. Two and a half thousand years later and from a distance of 12000 km away. Many things have changed.

History tells us that God didn’t just WARN destruction. He BROUGHT it. And the temple was destroyed, along with all the places Israel in the north sacrificed at as well. And the whole nation was carried off into exile. First, Israel to Assyria. Then Judah to Babylon. And only remnants remained.

God had had enough of their imperfect, flawed, make-do sacrifices and offerings. In fact the WHOLE SYSTEM was obsolete and ineffective. And it needed to be REPLACED, not just DESTROYED.

And so, in the fullness of time, Jesus came to judge the REBUILT temple. And he preached WOE against the hypocrites of HIS day. Who, just like Amos’ day, abused justice and the poor. And who prided themselves on their religious practice.

And Jesus called them whitewashed tombs. Pure white on the outside – where people could SEE. But full of rotting flesh on the INSIDE. With motives and desires that were miles from God.

And then Jesus died as the PERFECT sacrifice. The once-for-all sin offering. The once-for-all guilt sacrifice. And the curtain of the temple. The barrier that separated God from mankind. Was torn in two. Destroyed. So that those who trust his sacrifice can enter. And can MEET God. And can offer him the worship he LOVES. Worship on the basis of ANOTHER’S efforts. Jesus’ PERFECT obedience.

And we can be confident that THAT obedience will ALWAYS be acceptable to God. Because God RAISED JESUS FROM THE DEAD. Declared him – vindicated him – as Lord and Christ and Saviour, and Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

And it’s on THAT basis we can come before God. On THAT basis that our worship PLEASES him.

Hebrews 10 talks about THE PRACTICAL DIFFERENCE that truth makes. The previous few chapters are comparing the sacrifice of Jesus to the old, obsolete Old Testament sacrifices.

And in v11, it sums up.

11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, WHICH CAN NEVER TAKE AWAY SINS. 12 But when this priest (Jesus) had offered FOR ALL TIME ONE SACRIFICE FOR SINS, he SAT DOWN at the right hand of God. 13 Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, 14 BECAUSE BY ONE SACRIFICE HE HAS MADE PERFECT FOREVER those who are being made holy.

That’s the reality. Those of us who’ve accepted Jesus’ sacrifice in our place have been made perfect. Forever! And then down in v19 we see THE PRACTICAL DIFFERENCE that makes.

19 Therefore, brothers, since we have CONFIDENCE to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a SINCERE heart in FULL ASSURANCE of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to CLEANSE US FROM A GUILTY CONSCIENCE and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us HOLD UNSWERVINGLY TO THE HOPE we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may SPUR ONE ANOTHER on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us ENCOURAGE one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Confidence, sincerity, full assurance of faith. Cleansed consciences. Holding unswervingly to hope. Spurring others on. Encouraging others.

That’s the attitude of gratitude God LOVES in worship.

When we come before God on the basis of Jesus’ work, when we appreciate the cross, then we come with the right attitude. We come without PRIDE. We come recognising we have NOTHING OF OUR OWN TO OFFER GOD. And we come with HUMBLE GRATITUDE for all God does on our behalf in Jesus.

And that makes our songs and prayers something that PLEASES God. That ENJOYS him, and GIVES him GLORY.

But it’s not JUST about getting our GATHERINGS right. God was turned off because of how Israel spent THE REST of their week. “I hate your gatherings, he said. “Let justice and mercy flow like a river!”

And God hasn’t CHANGED.

He demands that WE be consistent. That we aren’t hypocrites. We don’t just need to get our HEARTS right. We need to get our HANDS right, because that shows our HEARTS are right. It’s about DEED as well as CREED. WALK as well as TALK.

In the Book of James, James is sick of people who just TALK THE TALK, but don’t WALK THE WALK. 1:22 Don’t just LISTEN to the word. DO WHAT IT SAYS.

1:26:

If anyone considers himself religious and yet DOES NOT KEEP A TIGHT REIN ON HIS TONGUE, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. 27 RELIGION THAT GOD OUR FATHER ACCEPTS AS PURE AND FAULTLESS IS THIS: TO LOOK AFTER ORPHANS AND WIDOWS IN THEIR DISTRESS AND TO KEEP ONESELF FROM BEING POLLUTED BY THE WORLD.

Worship that God loves isn’t just about singing the right songs. It’s not even about getting our hearts and attitudes right WHEN WE MEET. It’s about Monday to Saturday. It’s about thinking twice before you say anything. Every hour of every day. Whether you’re relaxed at home with your family. Or at work. Or at church.

It’s about showing mercy to those who don’t have the benefits and advantages and privileges WE have. Doing it ALL WEEK.

It’s about NOTICING the ones everyone else walks past. About stopping and SEEING them. And HELPING.

It’s about being GENEROUS. Generous with our money, but also with our energy and emotions and time and possessions.

And worship that God loves is about working hard to keep yourself from being polluted by the world. Running away from the dodgy influences. Walking away from the conversation. Turning off the TV or computer. Ringing up a friend when you’re tempted to fall.

And that’s all MUCH HARDER than simply thinking about what we do on Sunday mornings.

Paul puts it like this in Romans 12:

12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to OFFER YOUR BODIES AS LIVING SACRIFICES, holy and PLEASING to God-this is YOUR SPIRITUAL ACT OF WORSHIP. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

EVERYTHING we do is pleasing worship when we do it IN VIEW OF GOD’S MERCIES. When we do as a sacrifice of thanks to God for his goodness.

Doing it all because God is SO VALUABLE. And his GRACE SO ENORMOUS.

You see, Church doesn’t start at 10am on Sunday, or even ten past depending on when you arrive. CHURCH BEGINS ON MONDAY MORNING.

Because that’s when you begin to LAY THE PLATFORM for your songs and prayers on Sunday. The platform of a living sacrifice. The platform of justice and mercy rolled out like a river through all your relationships and interactions. The platform of holiness and purity in every area of life. Hidden AND public.

That’s the worship GOD wants to see. 24-7. Not just 10 to 11:30. That’s what he DESERVES.

How pleasing to God is YOUR life of living sacrifice? YOUR spiritual act of worship?

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