Amos- A Warning for Callous Hearts

Self-absorption and a lack of self-awareness are officially at epidemic level in American culture, in my opinion. I remember a brief friendship during college, with a girl who leaped ahead of her time in this area.  Originally, I found myself drawn to her because of her humor and outgoing ways.  After a few months though, I realized that I knew all about her dreams to become a professional singer, which guys she crushed on, her hatred of all green vegetables and her favorite makeup brands while she couldn’t seem to remember my last name when she introduced me to people.

I’m not sure my “friend” even noticed when I drifted away until she needed me to accompany her on the piano for an event, and I declined, due to a previous commitment.  Momentarily at a loss for words, this clueless sweetie whined, “But I thought you were my frieeeeeeeeeeeeeend?!?”  My own courage surprised me when I stood firm and refused to cave, in what turned out to be our last conversation.

As I continue to reflect on and study Amos, I’m wondering if similar cries erupted from the Israelites when the cup of God’s anger finally filled and overflowed.  As conquering Assyrians invaded the beautiful promised land and either slaughtered or enslaved the inhabitants, I’ll bet many people couldn’t wrap their minds around it all. “God why aren’t you rescuing us!   “We’re your chosen people!  WHERE ARE YOU? “

From God’s perspective, he sent numerous warnings through his prophets, but blinded eyes couldn’t see, and stopped-up ears couldn’t hear.  Some of the specific grievances he conveyed through Amos centered around Israel’s complacency and pride. As a couple of examples:

  • They “trampled” on the poor while building gorgeous mansions for themselves. 5:11-12
  • They oppressed the righteous and accepted bribes. 5:12
  • They skimped when they measured out quantities of goods for the poor and used rigged scales. Additionally, they boasted about it.  8:5
  • They removed every kernel of wheat off the threshing floors instead of observing the Hebrew law that said the sweepings are to be left for the poor. 8:6

The self-absorption and lack of self-awareness of these folks rival any selfie prince or princess we might encounter today.  God is quite specific about how he will judge the luxurious, exploitive communities of Northern Israel.

  • He promises to destroy their homes AND their weekend cottages. 3:15
  • He promises that those who are spending their days agonizing over which marble tile to put on their mansion floor, will never walk on it. 5:11
  • He assures them there won’t be any more wine parties. 5:11
  • He declares that as they rise to fight off the conquering army, most of Israel will be slaughtered because of their pride. 6:8-9
  • He decrees that sons and daughters will die in battle, and everyone else will go into exile, far away from their homeland. 7:17

When most of our resources are channeled back into our own households, we are in danger.   When the majority of a church’s ministries are directed inward towards those already in the kingdom, that body is in grave danger.  Many in modern Christian culture are swimming along living cottoned lives of abundance, while those who are poor in spirit all around them are drowning.

I’ll state again, as I did in the last post, if we are foolish enough to think that God will deal with these sins less severely because we are on this side of the cross, that’s dangerous thinking and living.  Don’t mistake God’s delays in discipline for his stamp of approval on our choices. Throughout scripture, one of the rich threads woven in Biblical teaching is caring for the weak and poor among us.  From the Levitical laws through Paul’s instructions to young churches, the directive is repeated.  Blatantly ignoring God’s commands is always reckless to our own lives and those around us.

John, the apostle, questions our relationship with God, if we are insensitive to the needs of the poor.

“If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?  Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” 1 John 3:17

James, Jesus’ brother states it a bit differently but makes the same case, if you consider what the converse of this verse might be.

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction… “James 1:27

God expects us to be deliberate about directing some of our resources to those with less.  The opportunities are endless, and we must listen to the Holy Spirit’s directions for us, specifically.  Individuals cannot save the whole world, but they can support a child’s education in a third-world country, or repair a widow’s roof, or repair a single mother’s car.  Many churches take benevolent offerings regularly for these types of needs.  Please don’t ignore that little section on your giving envelope and assume that your tithes cover all that.  They don’t.

Let’s re-orient our thinking to less selfies and more self-less acts done quietly, without expectations of recognition.  Did you know that if you combine all the days of Jesus’ earthy life represented in the gospels, we can only account for 27 of them?  According to the apostle John, though, the works and wonders he did here were so numerous “even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” (John 21:25).

This means we don’t know any specifics about most of his days, filled with wonders and grace.  Only the people present and God the Father, know those stories.  I want to live like that, more oriented about the narrative my life is creating in heaven, than how many “likes,” I can get for my story here on earth.

 

Lamp and Sword

****Resources for study and reflection****

“Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path.” Psalm 119:105

“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword.” Hebrew 4:12

 

 

 

  • More verses about caring for the poor and weak. When you are trying to change patterns in your life, it’s good to incorporate several verses on the topic as part of your decision-making process.

Proverbs 19:17, Proverbs 14:31, Proverbs 22:9, Matt. 25:31-46, Psalm 82:3-4, Luke 6:38, Matt. 6:1-4, Leviticus 19:9-10, 1 Timothy 5:8, Romans 12:13, 1 Timothy 6:17-19

 

  • Short, thought-provoking article about poverty. Poverty is a condition of the soul, not just a lack of physical provision.

https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2015/october/biblical-answer-to-poverty-gods-people-and-marketplace.html

 

 

 

 

 

Amos- Of Fat Cows and Repentance

Great wealth can mess you over if you’re not wise and careful.  Here in the States we are watching the drama of an enormous college entrance scam unfold.  Wealthy movie stars, CEOs, coaches, university staff and other power brokers found themselves in full-on perp walks recently, with phones and  media cameras catching every humiliating second.  Parents conspired with university personnel and other individuals to bribe, cheat and lie with the goal of obtaining slots for their children in prestigious universities; spots the students couldn’t acquire on their own merits.

The consequences of these choices, to use wealth and influence illegally for personal ambition, is sobering.  I suspect some of these families might be entirely ruined by this scandal. Only true repentance before God and the people they wronged, can redeem their situations. How will this be made right to students turned away from those universities, the ones who earned those spots but didn’t get them? Lawsuits are already filed by turned away students.  I hope many of the accused repent and turn to Christ in the coming days and that God will send believers to minister to truth and grace to them.

For Israel’s Northern kingdom, a similar pattern of self-serving, immoral behavior ended in far more dire circumstances than prison time.  True to Amos’ prophecies, Israel is eventually conquered by Assyria and thousands of Jews are taken into captivity.  Prisoners of the Assyrian empire fared worse than a perp walk and incarceration.  Ankles and wrists bound in shackles, marched away from their home and spent the rest of their lives as Assyrian slaves, if they even survived the long trip.

When God singles out a specific group inside the greater population of North Israel and instructs his prophet to address them as “Fat Cows,” what follows cannot be good.  In Amos 4, God’s anger lasers in on the women of the Northern Tribes of Israel. “The cows of Baashan” is a reference to actual cattle in the Middle East who grazed on the lush pastures of what we now know as the Gaza strip. These cows fetched prime prices at the markets due to their sheer size and the rich quality of their meat.

Amos vividly describes the women of Israel as self-indulgent and callous. He says they “oppress the poor and crush the needy,” to fulfill their own desires. They are well-fed, bejeweled, pampered women who apparently bark orders at their husbands to keep them supplied with quality wine.  All their wealth and privilege is used to maintain their wealth and privilege.

As we keep reading on in the chapter, we are reminded that these are not heathen folks behaving this way.  These are the chosen people of God who still preserve the ridiculous optics of making sacrifices in the temple.  I wonder how many people are mimicking this behavior in the church today?  If most of the professing, church-attending Christians presented God a tithe this Sunday instead of a tip, we’d see deacons everywhere scrambling and scheduling special meetings to determine what to do with all the surplus!

When we live amidst prosperity and ease, our old natures can lull us into complacency and forgetfulness about The Source of everything we possess.  Further, the longer we are believers, the farther removed we become from the people we used to be, as citizens of Hell.  In short, we exhibit serious memory lapses of who we are and who God is.  That’s a dangerous place to be, a place in which God won’t allow his children to live on a long-term basis.

God’s holiness and great love for us will bring forth his judgement when we are blind to our own sin or, worse yet, see it but refuse to repent.  He simply adores us too much to continue to allow us to behave like Satan’s children.  That’s how Israel became conquered, enslaved people. We shouldn’t kid ourselves to think that living on this side of the cross, exempts us from God’s discipline. The hyper-grace nonsense I’ve seen over the last few decades did a great disservice towards helping Christians “work out their salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12) I call this stuff “ear-tickling” (2 Tim. 4:3) theology; all the goodness of God with a light touch on his holiness.

Israel’s stopped-up ears couldn’t hear God’s voice directly anymore and they rejected his human prophets who got up right in their grills. As a righteous, holy judge, God could not ignore their sinful ways.  Hard-hearted Christians will eventually provoke a strong response from God. I’m guessing the Israelites finally cried out to Jehovah with some sincerity as they stumbled away from Jerusalem in chains, watching their homes burn behind them.  Isn’t that exactly what we do when we find ourselves at the end of a bad road we’ve chosen?  “Where are you God, I’ve made a mess of things!”  The wonder is, his love for us is so complete, he will help us even when our awful circumstances are of our own making.

God will discipline us when we are dabbling or swimming in sin.  Sometimes it’s a very public thing, you know, like that parent in the grocery store who quietly lets the fit-pitching kid know they better knock it off, then hauls them out of the store when they don’t?  Our good Father is no different than this.  Don’t wait until he’s metaphorically hauling you off somewhere to repent.

The Hebrew word for repent does not mean to feel sorrowful or remorseful. Those feelings are merely the pre-cursors.  Genuine repentance means to turn completely away from a sin and resolve to allow God to rework us from top to bottom.  Resolve to listen to the Holy Spirit’s private warnings and promptings and for heaven’s sake, and yours, do not blow off conversations, teachings and preaching that prompt conviction and godly sorrow about how you are handling your resources and conducting your life.

 

Lamp and Sword

****Resources for study and reflection****

“Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path.” Psalm 119:105

“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword.” Hebrew 4:12

  • Companion verses to Amos 4- concerning oppression of the poor, selfishness and God’s opinion on that:
  • Psalm 10
  • Proverbs 17:5
  • Isaiah 3:14-26 (These people sound like Amos’ folk)
  • Ezekiel 12:12-13

 

  • Beautiful piece written by Catherine Booth, co-founder of the Salvation Army, on the true nature of repentance.

https://www.charismamag.com/life/women/9949-the-nature-of-true-repentance?start=1

 

  • A short devotional by Oswald Chambers, author of “My Utmost for His Highest,” on repentance.

https://utmost.org/repentance/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amos Part Two-Failures of Fidelity

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Every leader will face treachery and disloyalty, at some point.  Jesus said to expect it. In the churches we’ve served, my husband and I experienced betrayals of varying degrees. I recall one group of people who broke our hearts. Seven families joined our membership simultaneously, all with similar testimonies. “Your ministry showed me that I was living a religious life but not a Christian one.  I never knew Bible study, worship and walking with God could be like this.  I’m all in and I want to serve in God however I can.” I think that’s a fair compilation of what these families spoke to us.

True to their word, each of them became committed attenders and involved in ministry.  They frequently told us both how much we, and our church, meant to them. Several served on the church board. Sadly, within that church existed a small but poisonous group who, from all accounts, opposed previous pastors.  Over the next few years, they deliberately, methodically, planted evil reports about Ken and me into the minds of these families, new to the spiritual ability to discern.

We both noticed a lack of warmth from our formerly passionate co-laborers and friends. By this time the church had grown so significantly, (our Divisive Debbies simply couldn’t keep up with all the new folks and poison everyone’s minds, thank God) it took us some time to notice the shift in loyalties. They stepped down from ministries, their attendance grew sketchy, then all but one of the seven families left the church. When we followed up, they struggled to explain their reasons for turning away.  On a side note, I will testify to the power of an evil report.

I thought of those families when I read Amos 3:1-2. “I brought you up out of Egypt: You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth…” Ken and I invested the best of our time and energy into creating environments that grew disciples.  Those seven families joined our church because of what they observed God doing through us. They wanted in. Prior to that, some of them didn’t know Christ personally and others lived in bondage and religion. We thought we shared a special bond, one that would last longer than a few years.

The pain Ken and I felt from their betrayal, is a raindrop compared to the grief Israel’s betrayal caused God.  After all he did to lift them from slavery and establish them in their own prosperous country, they faltered in loyalty. The Northern kingdom of Israel, to whom God called Amos, experienced tremendous prosperity and influence under Jehovah’s hand of blessing.  Instead of showing gratitude with faithful, holy living, they turned to false gods, oppressed the poor, slid into immorality, became greedy and miserly, twisted the court system to favor the rich and rejected God’s prophets. Does this sound eerily like any culture with which you are familiar?

The timelessness of Amos’ cry for repentance calls out to today’s nations and the body of Christ. A nation will change when the body of Christ within repents. We are the moral compass of any society. When unbelievers observe the Truth living in us, it becomes light and salt to their dark, decaying lives. Take the time to read straight through Amos and feel the power of God’s anger towards Israel who became darkness and decay themselves. Many vivid word pictures describe his wrath.  “Now then, I will crush you as a cart crushes when loaded with grain…” found in chapter two is but one that talks about God destroying his beloved, chosen nation.

We are fools, if we think that his anger will not flash towards his chosen, royal priesthood, if they engage themselves in the same sins. Kingdom voices, wiser than mine, do not believe God is about to destroy America.  He is, however, right now rolling out judgement and justice against his people and against systems of men in ways we’ve not seen in many decades.  The Lion of Judah is roaring.

Those walking righteous, upright lives will be preserved while the wicked will be destroyed.  Don’t assume that because many seem to be rushing forward with evil behavior that they will be allowed to continue that way. Our role as believers, is consistently speaking and living truth with grace.  Remember, grace without truth is license and not God’s way. He will hold us accountable with how we’ve dealt with the wicked around us. “When I (God) say to the wicked, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not speak out to warn the wicked from his wicked way that he may live, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.” Ezekiel 3:18 Whoa.

He also expects us to come alongside believers trapped in sin and at least attempt rescue missions.  Some folks will choose to drown but we must stop making excuses for sin in the body or assuming someone else will deal with it.  “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently.  But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”  Galatians 6:1-2

Church leaders involved in secret sin are being exposed. I believe that others involved in open apostasy and heresy are living on borrowed time.  God’s grace does not override his judgement, particularly for pastors and leaders who lead the flock astray. (2 Timothy 4:3-4, Jeremiah 23:1) For every Christ follower, carelessness with sin and companionship with the world ignores the relentless clock ticking ever closer to our individual last earthly day or our collective meet-up with him in the air.

In closing let me share a quote from American theologian, Albert Barnes, sharing his interpretation of Amos 3:2:

“Nearness to God is a priceless, but an awesome gift. The most intense blessing becomes, by the abuse of free will, the most dreadful woe. For the nearer God places anyone to His own light, the more malignant is the choice of darkness instead of light. The more clearly anyone knows the relation to God, in which God has placed him, the more terrible is his rejection of God.  The more God reveals to any, what He is, His essential perfections, His holiness and love, the more utter, tearful malignity it is to have been brought face to face with God, and to have by our deeds said to Him, “On Thy terms, I will have none of Thee.”

Amos- Another Overlooked Shepherd

The near misses of my life are broad and varied, open doors I almost ignored. One of my dearest friends nearly slipped past me in 9th grade because she was and is, a quiet person of depth. I initially said a hard no to a great teaching job once, due to the size of the school.  Other near misses came close to robbing my life of people, richness, and unique opportunities, the most recent one being the purchase of our new home.

Two years ago, the Lord granted us a green light to sell our house and move nearer Lake Michigan and our kiddos.  My initial giddiness waned swiftly. We realized we entered a seller’s market with high prices and rapid sales, great on the selling side, lousy on the buying end.

Our long-suffering real estate agent cheerfully endured tours and critiques of dozens of homes.  Our must-have criteria included a fenced in yard or the ability to install one, and a walk-out ranch on a large lot.  Repeatedly, we smacked into association rules banning fences, sheds and the like, often unknown to the sellers until we started making offers and investigating.

When we did find a few homes that fit the bill on paper, they turned out to be in poor condition for the price. Other homes exceeded our budget.  In desperation, we decided to look at an over-budget house anyway.  It languished on the market for a month (a lifetime in our area) so we wondered what its ailments might be.

The house didn’t show well.  As soon as I entered it, though, I saw the possibilities of what could be. Signs of excellent maintenance and “good bones” abounded everywhere. Outside, the generous lot made my heart swell with all the possibilities for gardens and outdoor rooms.

The price snapped me back to reality, and I slipped into a funk. I barely examined the house, while Ken ran around doing all the measuring and note taking, we normally did together.  The asking price soared above our means, so I didn’t see the point. Thank God my gloomy attitude didn’t destroy Ken’s enthusiasm for placing a low offer, one which the owners accepted. This optimistic approach is one of the many reasons I adore that man. I hope I’ve finally learned that often the best people and opportunities come in unassuming ways. Given my track record, though, I’d write off Amos the shepherd-prophet, just like the Israelites.

Amos lived an unnoticed life until God called him up to the show. “I was neither a prophet nor a prophet’s son, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees.  But the Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’” Amos 7:14   In Israel, most prophets belonged to the school of prophets or came from a prophetic bloodline.  In modern terms, Amos worked as a farmer and gardener.  Israelites thumbed their noses at him because of this.  Before you judge, how might you respond if your lawn service guy, or maybe the lady selling you tomatoes at the farmer’s market, started sharing prophecies with you?

Amos himself lived in the Southern kingdom of Judah, but the sin of the Northern kingdom of Israel grew so great, God hauled him up there to warn the wayward Jewish nation.  Well, they didn’t take kindly to that at all and tried to write him off as a goofball.

Isn’t this exactly the way another shepherd’s brothers treated him when the prophet Samuel sought out God’s anointed king and then later when David turned up to fight Goliath? “When Eliab, David’s oldest brother, heard him speaking with the men, he burned with anger at him and asked, “Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the desert? I know how conceited you are…” 1 Samuel 17:28. 

Also, remember that most of the religious establishment rejected The Good Shepherd and mocked his humble ministry, like the fact that he rode a donkey into town instead of charging in on a white horse to overthrow the Roman government.  I wonder how many times we miss Jesus entirely because he comes to us riding humbly on a colt instead of sweeping in on a stallion?

The people of Israel rejected Amos and his serious warning from God about their impending destruction. They judged the package and ignored the message. Let’s not do the same thing. Amos’ prophecies are critical for the church today and still sound an alarm about sins all too common in our church culture. We will be discussing them in the next few posts.   I know at first glance, the minor prophets seem too cryptic and irrelevant to us.  I assure you they are not.

Despite our best efforts, God will not be boxed in by our personal preferences and expectations. God chooses to move as he will, with whom he uses. Each minor prophet earned a place in the Bible due to the timeless value of their messages. We can experience a powerful, authoritative and fulfilling life on the front lines of the kingdom, if we discern his voice and movements in unexpected places from unassuming people.

 

Lamp and Sword

****Resources for study and reflection****

“Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path.” Psalm 119:105

“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword.” Hebrew 4:12

 

  • Amos overview by Chuck Swindoll

https://www.insight.org/resources/bible/the-minor-prophets/amos

 

  • Amos’ use of metaphors and similes

Metaphors and similes create word pictures that helps us understand an idea better.  Isn’t it interesting that this rejected shepherd-prophet was a poet like shepherd turned king, David? Here’s a chart that I’ll fill in partially, with the metaphor on one side and the meaning on the other.  Can you figure out what point Amos was trying to make with the ones I’ve left blank?

“Now then, I will crush you as a cart crushes when loaded with grain.” 2:13 The Israelites are at the end of God’s mercy and now face his judgement.
“The lion has roared-who will not fear? The Sovereign Lord has spoken-who can but prophesy?”  3:8 Amos feels tremendous pressure to communicate the message the Lion of Judah has given him.
“As a shepherd saves from the lion’s mouth only two leg bones or piece of an ear, so will the Israelites be saved.  3:12  
“But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.” 5:24  
“Then the Lord said, ‘Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.” 7:8  
“This is what the Lord showed me: a basket of ripe fruit.” 8:1  
“…and I will shake the house of Israel among all the nations as grain is shaken in a sieve, but not a kernel will fall to the ground.” 9:9