You Shall Not Fear

I am currently reading the books of Kings, about how those in power quickly and repeatedly fell away from the Lord.  Shortly after I read Psalm 9 yesterday, I turned to the second book of Kings, and it seemed to reinforce and build upon what I had heard in the psalm.  The second book of Kings explained why Israel had fallen on hard times, yet again:

They do not fear the Lord, and they do not follow the statutes or the ordinances or the law or the commandment which the Lord commanded the children of Jacob, whom he named Israel.  The Lord made a covenant with them and commanded them, “You shall not fear other gods or bow yourselves to them or serve them or sacrifice to them; but you shall fear the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt with great power and with an outstretched arm; you shall bow yourselves to him, and to him you shall sacrifice.  And the statutes and the ordinances and the law and the commandment which he wrote for you, you shall always be careful to do.  You shall not fear other gods, and you shall not forget the covenant that I have made with you.  You shall not fear other gods, but you shall fear the Lord your God, and he will deliver you out of the hand of all your enemies.”  However, they would not listen, but they did according to their former manner.

2 Kings 17: 34-40

In another translation of the Bible, the word fear is replaced with venerate.  At the time this was written, their were Egyptian gods and other gods that the people fell to worshiping, venerating or fearing.   They made statutes of them, including the well-known golden calf.  I have long thought my faith superior to these early Israelites because I know there is only one God and I don’t worship any other…  or do I?

I certainly don’t go to a church for another god.  I certainly don’t proclaim that there is another god.  But as I look around the world and self-reflect, I must confess: I bend to the will of lots of people, that are not my God.  I serve and spend my time on lots of things, that are not for my God.  I fear lots of things, that are not my God. Three times in just six verses, we are told, you shall not fear other gods.  Many times throughout the bible we are told do not be afraid.  There really is only one thing to be afraid of — not having a relationship with God.  If we are with God, what is there to be afraid of?  No virus, no social media post, no politician, no group that does not share our beliefs, has any power over us if we are with God.  No struggle here on earth, no pain or suffering has any meaning or hold on us and is not worthy of our fear, if we are with God.

Our country is currently spending a lot of time fighting.  Fighting about the control of the virus, fighting about which political party is better, fighting about whether historical statutes should be toppled, fighting about when to kneel and when to wear masks, fighting about the names of sports teams and which people are good enough to have their names on buildings.  We are fighting over false gods.  We fear the backlash of society if we were to gather in groups and just pray rather than march in the latest politically sanctioned protest.  We fear false gods.  We look for the approval of society, the likes on Facebook, when we blast whatever group is against us.  We venerate false gods.

We have become a society riddled with fear, which leads to anxiety, depression and hate.  But the fear is man made, due to the man-made gods that we revere, venerate and serve.  We care more about what others think than what God does.  We care more about what happens in this temporary world than the everlasting life that God promises.  We care more about being on the right political team, rooting for the right sports team and raising our kids in the right social groups than we do about being on God’s team.  Trying to find approval on earth is hard — because everyone has their own interests at heart.  Finding approval with God is actually fairly easy.  He just calls us to love.  He asks us to love him with our whole heart, soul and mind and to love our neighbor as ourself.

God offers us an outstretched arm to deliver us from all that is wrong with the world, if only we would take hold of it.  The Israelites failed to do so thousands of years ago and so spent years in exile and hardship.  Their temple was destroyed.  It is easy to believe that the same may be happening here as we allow fear to overtake us — fear not of God, but of other things.   Rather than turning toward God, we turn away.  We allow our churches to be closed.  We allow ourselves to be swept up in division rather than love.  We look to blame rather than to seek.  We fail to seek the true answer to our problems, we fail to seek God.  We fear false gods, we serve false gods, we venerate false gods, and we don’t even pay attention enough to know we are doing it.

God,

You are my one true God.  I want to place you above all things.  But I sometimes fail.  I fear not having a relationship with you.  I fear not sharing in your eternal exchange of love.  But I sometimes am distracted by the every day fears on earth.  I lose my focus and, when I do, I sometime lose my faith and trust in you.  If I focus, I know that there is nothing else to fear.  I trust in you.  Please help our country focus on you.  Please help us stop fighting over false gods.  Please help us turn back to you.  Help us see that you alone are what we need and what we long for.   Help us to heal rather than divide, to praise you rather than to blame others.  Help us to seek and grab your outstretched arm, which you never stop extending.

No false gods

I will have no false gods.  As long as I can remember, I have known that this was one of God’s commandments.  It was an easy one, I believed.  There is only one God.  I don’t believe in any other gods.  I don’t believe any other gods exist.  Check.  One commandment followed.  I thought…

Foolish by nature were all who were in ignorance of God, and who from the good things seen did not succeed in knowing the one who is, and from studying the works did not discern the artisan; Instead either fire, or wind, or the swift air, or the circuit of the stars, or the mighty water, or the luminaries of heaven, the governors of the world, they considered gods.  Now if out of joy in their beauty they thought them gods, let them know how far more excellent is the Lord than these; for the original source of beauty fashioned them.  Or if they were struck by their might and energy, let them realize from these things how much more powerful is the one who made them.  For from the greatness and the beauty of created things their original author, by analogy, is seen.  But yet, for these the blame is less; For they have gone astray perhaps, though they seek God and wish to find him.  For they search busily among his works, but are distracted by what they see, because the things seen are fair.  But again, not even these are pardonable. For if they so far succeeded in knowledge that they could speculate about the world, how did they not more quickly find its Lord?

Wisdom 13:1-9

I do not call them gods, but I have put things before God.  The so called good things in life: food, money, power, jobs, family, friends.  Is it wrong to enjoy life?  “Foolish by nature were all who were in ignorance of God, and who from the good things seen did not succeed in knowing the one who is, and from studying the works did not discern the artisan.”  The failing in enjoying the good things is not recognizing God in all of them.  The joy that we feel in beautiful things — incomparable to the beauty of their creator and the joy He can bring.  Humans are better than anything we can create.  Similarly, God, our creator, is far greater than what He has created.  Every powerful force that we see on earth, whether natural or man made, is nothing when compared to God who created and fashioned all power.  Because I cannot fathom this beauty and strength, this power and joy, I sometimes let it fall to the back of my mind and instead focus on the lesser things in front of me.

I don’t think of it as worshipping a false god — because I still allow myself to think of this as I did as a child — worshipping is something you do in church,  and I only worship God in church.  And therein lies my problem.  I limit my worshipping to church.  I only worship God in church.  But my focus and energies on these lesser things outside of church is putting these things in front of God.  God gives us so much evidence of his goodness, his power, his strength, his majesty, his beauty and the joy that only He can provide us.  How do we not more quickly find the Lord?

Lord, forgive me.   Sometimes I need the smack in the face to see what is right in front of me. You have made so many wondrous things.  I am distracted by the beauty that surrounds me.  I am mystified by your strength and power.  I am in awe.  My mind wants to know and see what it cannot even begin to understand.  Forgive me, God.  I am lazy.  I settle for what I can see rather than searching for what I do not understand.  Help me.  I want to keep your commandments.  I want to put You above all things.  Help me to keep that focus so that I might do your will.