Sunday, April 7, 2019

Sunday Praise & Worship Message - Return to God

Several days ago, I read an interesting article in Christianity Today stating that the number of American evangelicals is holding steady amid growth of the unaffiliated. The analysts who looked at this survey have an interesting name for the unaffiliated, those who have no affiliation with a religion. These individuals are known as “nones”. Some believe in some sort of god while others acknowledge the existence of some sort of god. Over a period of years, the number of “nones” have been increasing. In fact, the increase is beginning to rival the numbers of evangelicals and Catholics.

If the trend continues, the “nones” will slowly become the norm and our Judeo-Christian based nation will go the way of European countries. Over the past couple of decades, European churches have been losing members right, left and center. The decline in religion continues and will continue due to the lack of faith.

I heard of one story of a small church that had fifty church members. Within ten years or so, the church membership had dwindled to fifteen. The pastor of the church said that they will probably close the church and disband the remaining congregation. That story reminded me of the images of closed churches I saw while driving from Indianapolis to Logansport. In that ninety minute drive, I saw many beautiful churches that had weathered many disasters and tragedies only to find themselves boarded up and the congregations moving on and away.

As I reflected on the article, story and my own recollections, I began to think of the book of Amos. Amos was a minor prophet who spoke out about the major disparity between the poor and the rich and God’s power and place. His words resonated with me and what he was witnessing during his time is also what I see. 

Amos did not start his life as a prophet. At first he was a sheep herder and a sycamore fig farmer. From these humble beginnings, God chose him to deliver a message. In chapter 7 of the book that bears his name, he writes, “14 But Amos replied, 'I’m not a professional prophet, and I was never trained to be one. I’m just a shepherd, and I take care of sycamore-fig trees. 15 But the Lord called me away from my flock and told me, ‘Go and prophesy to my people in Israel.’” He told God’s people that prayers and sacrifices do not make up for bad deeds. The only way to please God was to live a righteous life and believe the Almighty with all their hearts, minds and souls. 

With those simple truths, why have we slowly fallen away from our faith? Have we lost our way or questioned God’s will and love? Although I would like to believe the situation is more complicated, I keep coming back to the story of the Israelites. They, too, found themselves drifting away from God. They began to move away from their faith and, in time, sought other religions and gods to worship. It is a familiar story for all of us. We, too, from time to time, find ourselves drifting away from God. When we experience horrible tragedies in our lives, we begin to question God’s love and even His existence. If we continue down this path, we will soon find ourselves joining the ranks of the “nones”.

God, in Amos 5, speaks to His people clearly and provides them with direction that they need to follow, “4 Now this is what the Lord says to the family of Israel: ‘Come back to me and live! 5 Don’t worship at the pagan altars at Bethel; don’t go to the shrines at Gilgal or Beersheba. For the people of Gilgal will be dragged off into exile, and the people of Bethel will be reduced to nothing.’ 6 Come back to the Lord and live! Otherwise, he will roar through Israel like a fire, devouring you completely. Your gods in Bethel won’t be able to quench the flames. 7 You twist justice, making it a bitter pill for the oppressed. You treat the righteous like dirt.

The words of the Lord are very clear. We are to go back to Him and live. Remember the words of Paul in Romans. “23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.

When we return to God, we, as His children, receive His love, blessings and that free gift of eternal life. If we choose to remain on a path away from God, death is at the end of that journey. We need to heed the words of God as provided by the prophets. George Santayana said, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

It does not take a person with a degree in religion to understand the past and the acts of the Israelites. We have the perfect example and the Word of God to remind us of our dangerous path away from God and its ultimate destination. 

When we begin to move away from God, He does not just give up on us. He will continue to reach out to us and remind us of the consequences of our choice. God loves us and will continue to reach out to us to give us a chance to return to Him. However, there is a tipping point in our choice. There will come a point when we will no longer have a way back.

Paul, in his first epistle to the Thessalonians, writes in chapter 5, “2 For you know quite well that the day of the Lord’s return will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night.

There is no question that the thief will come. The real question is preparedness. Will you be prepared for that moment? Until that time, God gives us every opportunity to return to Him. He loves us very much and we are His children. We, as His children, need to worship and, most importantly, love Him.

Let us always remember that He loves us and we have a choice. We can take the “road less traveled” that will make all the difference in our lives. Or, we can follow the other path that will ultimately lead to our separation from God and spiritual death. The choice is ours to make.

I pray every day for those who walk in darkness and I pray that I am given the opportunity to share the Good News with all. Each of us should be preaching the Word and sharing the Word of God including the prophecies. When we do those things, we can stand firm in His grace.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

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