God’s Reckless Mercy

Who needs your mercy and forgiveness instead of judgement? How quickly do faces come to mind?  How often do their sins float through your thoughts? Your reasons for judgement may be well founded and maybe these people aren’t remotely sorry. God understands. This is how things stood between him and the people of Nineveh.  In a surprising move, instead of wiping them out, he sent Jonah with a simple message, repent or be destroyed. God didn’t owe the sinful Ninevites the courtesy of a warning. I think his desire for repentance and relationship, carried more weight than his absolute right to judge and condemn them.

I love stories of repentant sinners and prodigals. They give me hope for my own lost and wayward soul prayer list. So, why didn’t Jonah break into a happy dance when Nineveh repented? Instead of enjoying the thrill of being used by God to save an entire city, he exploded with anger. Who knows that without Jonah’s message and Nineveh’s repentance, another Sodom and Gomorrah event was scheduled to occur? Why couldn’t Jonah celebrate that, even for the sake of innocent children?

The people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them” (Jonah 3:5 ESV).

“But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry” (Jonah 4:1)

To find an answer, let’s transport this scenario into the present day, so we can better understand Jonah’s response and God’s forgiving nature.

 Recently, I attended a service featuring a group of men from our local Teen Challenge Ministry. Men and women in the Teen Challenge Recovery program often enter with criminal records and  substance abuse  problems. When they commit to enter the program, they kick addictions cold turkey, and enter a new life of discipleship in Christ. Many of their testimonies are harrowing.

One young man stood out because he did not come from a broken home, abuse and neglect like the others. His background included a stable, Christ-centered family and a dynamic church.  After a college education, he started a career in money management, married and fathered two children. An experiment with cocaine became a love affair that cost him his job, his family and his faith. He left his parents and wife on the hook for tens of thousands of dollars of credit card debt. Finally, his criminal activity left him with nothing except the choice to enter Teen Challenge for a year or spend eighteen months in jail.

Listening to his story, I wondered how his extended family responded to his repentance? What does forgiveness of such acts look like, as this family struggled for years to resolve the consequences and damage this young man generated? Did  they lose or re-finance their homes to pay debts? Drain savings? How did his wife, suddenly thrust into single parenthood and one income, provide for herself and her children?

My thoughts drifted to Luke 15, Jesus’ story of the prodigal son. I looked at the older brother’s feelings with fresh eyes. Consider what happened in this family because of the prodigal’s selfishness and sin. First, he broke his family’s hearts, wondering and worrying about him.  Secondly, when he finally came home, he came with nothing. He spent his entire inheritance.  What did this mean for the entire family going forward, financially? Is he trusted with more money, at the risk of him squandering it?  Is he made to work in his father’s business and pay him back, displacing another sibling or employee? Did he also leave behind unpaid debts?  Lots of questions here.

As the prodigal’s sister, I’d need extra doses of God’s grace to believe his story of repentance and forgive him for hurting my parents deeply.  Second, I’d feel mixed up about spending money on a dinner party to welcome him home considering how he squandered everything he’d been given. Finally, I’d be deeply concerned about my flakey brother re-entering the family business.

As I pondered all of this, I came to a revelation when I examined the responses of God to Nineveh and the father to his prodigal son.

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it” (Jonah 3:10 ESV).

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20 ESV).

God’s forgiveness and mercy will never make sense to the natural mind. Mercy is risky and forgiveness is often not deserved, at least that’s how humans see it. The stink of Nineveh’s sin made it to God’s nose. The prodigal son wasted his entire inheritance on immorality. Yet, in both stories, God sees potential and boom; judgement plans are canceled, and mercy’s showers start to pour.  Jonah didn’t approve. The older brother didn’t approve. Sometimes, neither do we.

 God views prodigals and sinners differently from us. He longs for us to adjust our paradigms and see people’s value as he does. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). He’s profoundly serious when he expects us to balance hatred for sin with love for the sinner.  Jonah never did, as far as we know. The stench of Nineveh’s sin, which Jonah experienced first-hand, overpowered the reason God called him to the city, to save humans from destruction.

God’s highest priority is to redeem people from hell and hellish living. The mess of that redemptive process can be overwhelming to us, when we engage with sinners. God understands intimately. His entire creation ended up sideways, due to sin. Instead of irreversible judgement, his only child endured a brutal death to make a path of forgiveness and restoration for us. He will grant us eyes to see potential in the worst offenders, if we ask him.

Lamp and Sword

****Further 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

  • If you are struggling to forgive someone, particularly when there is no sign of remorse, I suggest a read-through with these verses. When you are a victim of someone’s sin, be it great or small, your inner sense of justice is disturbed. Only God can set it right. Sometimes we can receive justice in the natural, but there are times when we don’t. These are the places where God completes the picture for us and gives rest to our souls.

Romans 5:8, Matthew 6:14-15, 5:43-44, Psalm 7:11, Amos 5:15, Ephesians 5:2, 1John 4:8

 

  • Sometimes our thirst for judgement is directed towards people we’ve never met. We are aware of their sins on a national and international level. Liars, cheats, murderers, thieves, abusers and such can stir up great anger and we cross the line, rejoicing in their downfalls and misfortunes, forgetting that they too are souls God loves, and for whom Christ died. If you find yourself brimming with unrighteous anger when you are confronted with evil current events, I suggest you ponder these verses. Ask God to help you pray for justice, victims of evil while also praying for the repentance of wicked perpetrators.

Romans 5:6-8, I Timothy 2:11, Romans 12:20-21, Romans 2:1-4, I John 4:20

  • A Divine Revelation of Hell,” is a book written by Mary K. Baxter, based on thirty days of visions God sent her as to what hell might be like for those condemned to its fires. If your heart needs a jumpstart to care about and pray for the wicked and lost, this will do it. The book is easily available used and new on several different online sites.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Obeying God When You Want to Run Away

Ever feel like you want to run away from life? I loathe the physical act of moving my legs fast, but I’m a fantastic metaphorical sprinter.  When life becomes painful and messy, I’ve attempted to check out and go elsewhere. Maybe you can relate?

 

  • During my second, full day of childbirth labor, my crazy dial went red zone. I gripped my husband’s hand, and stated calmly, “I can’t do this anymore. Take me home.” Ken refused that request kindly but firmly.

 

  • My first week teaching in an inner-city high school, a few students unused to boundaries, cussed me out, threw music in my face, threatened me with gang violence, overturned chairs and my piano then instructed me that they’d chase me off like the previous three vocal teachers. Eager to accommodate them, I composed a resignation letter during my second week.

 

  • When we adopted Bella, a beagle/lab mix, the rescue organization embellished her resume by including the word, “housebroken.” In truth, Bella did her puppy business only on our carpets, or during endless walks around our neighborhood. She refused to consider our backyard as an option. This occurred during a bitter Michigan winter when I developed intense bronchitis.  After months of cleaning up accidents and stumbling around on ice-covered sidewalks, sick, she showed no improvement. I wanted to return her.

 

Everyone wants to run away from life, at some point. Jonah fled from his assignment from God to preach in Nineveh.  After some research, I understood why. First, the city was huge, sixty miles wide and populated by close to a million people. Where modern Bibles say in chapter four, “a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left,” God isn’t talking about stupid humans. The word “people” in original Hebrew, is the word for children. Scholars estimate the greater population number based on the number of children so young, they didn’t know right from left yet. So, one prophet, called to preach repentance to a million people.

Secondly, Jonah expected great resistance. Nimrod, the architect of the tower of Babel, built in rebellion to God, also founded Nineveh. The worship of Ishtar or Astarte, the goddess of fertility, death and destruction, dominated the cultural and religious life of the city.  Immorality and violence existed to such an extreme in this place, God said to Jonah, in the first verse of the book, “Go to Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”  Apparently, many angels lodged complaints about Nineveh.

Imagine walking through the most dangerous neighborhoods of any large city shouting, “Repent of your sins or God is going to destroy this city!”  I don’t know many people eager to take on the kind of assignment God brought to Jonah. Nevertheless, God expected obedience from Jonah and he still expects it from us.  Instead, Jonah ran in the opposite direction and set a chain of tumultuous events in motion that still ended with him preaching in Nineveh.

How can we stay put in our assignments and circumstances into which God directs or allows us, when our minds and emotions scream for us to run? How do we show up for our life authentically, with all its pains and trials? How do we stay fully engaged instead of phoning it in?

  • First, discern whether your situation is a result of your own poor choices, someone else’s sin or if you are right smack where God’s planted you. Sometimes he places us deliberately in difficult situations for many reasons like, our growth, to encourage and lead others and to change environments around us. Knowing how you landed where you are, is important to move forward.

 

  • If you are in a tough place due to your wrong decisions and actions, God is still there. “If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there” (Psalm 139:8 NLT). Jonah landed in a fish’s stomach, due to disobedience, but God never turned away from him.  Like Jonah, cry out to God and repent. After that, God is eager to forgive and re-appoint you into the plans he’s designed for you, just like King David and the apostle Peter.  Your ability to squirrel up your life is never greater than God’s power to forgive and restore. “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” I Peter 5:10

 

  • You may be jammed up due to another’s sin or other circumstances beyond your control. An unfaithful spouse, addicted child, ruthless employer, devastating weather events or economic downturns, can turn your life upside down.  Consider Sarah’s predicament, in Genesis 20, when Abraham’s cowardice and lying turned her into a king’s concubine. God protected her from rape and blessed her life immeasurably while calling out Abraham’s sin through a pagan king. Imagine the pain and betrayal she felt from her husband, yet God turned the situation around for her good.  He is marvelous at doing that for his children.  There are always new beginnings waiting, with God.

 

  • Lastly, when you find yourself in God-ordained circumstances that confound, depress and hurt, remember, God did not place you there to destroy you, but to refine you. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV). God’s plans to develop our character and deepen our faith usually involve some pain. Invite a couple trusted friends to partner with you in prayer so you can go through the mountain instead of being crushed by it. Find scripture pertinent to your challenge, memorize and speak it out loud. The Word of God changes hearts and environments. “You have tested us O God; you have purified us like silver” (Psalm 66:10 NLT). “I have refined you, but not as silver is refined.  Rather, I have refined you in the furnace of suffering” (Isaiah 48:10 NLT).

 

 If you run from God’s assignments, he will plunk you in a different furnace to accomplish his purposes in you.  Jumping from church to church, job to job, relationship to relationship, does not create character depth. I stayed in that inner-city school until God led me out, and Bella still lives with us five years later. Strength is gained through God-directed perseverance.

 

Jumping around only makes us good jumpers. What if Joseph escaped from prison and ran back home?  How does that work out then for him to rule over Egypt and save his family from starvation?  What if the apostle Paul escaped one of his prisons? We’d be missing key New Testament books.

 

Remember Jonah the next time you’re tempted to let Satan chase you off. Instead, trust God to do amazing things in the most unlikely circumstances.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Take Down Jealousy Before It Takes You Out

 

How much are you willing to pay for the luxury of jealousy?  I sacrificed contentment and joy for a few years envying other ministries.  I sinned against God and I robbed myself of enjoying my own backyard because I frequently sighed for the greener grass in other yards.  Somehow, I overlooked the fact that those people battled weeds, weather and rodents too.

God performed wonderful works in the church I served in at that time with salvations, healings, restorations and such. Nevertheless, for a couple of years I managed to maintain this “Oh that IS really great, but….” attitude.   I celebrated the victories each time, but of course ongoing, normal challenges waited to be faced after the victory dances died down.  I’d mutter things like, “I’ll bet pastor So and So doesn’t have to deal with this stuff at his church,” and other jealous, self-pitying comments in that vein.

When we struggle with envy, this is what we do.  We look at other’s lives and decide they are making out much better than we are.  We minimize the wonders God performs in our lives because we are too busy wanting what someone else has. Often, the truth is we know nothing except our limited viewpoint from our backyard. Satan whispers in our ears about the lush beauty of someone else’s grass while covering our eyes to their lawn problems. Also consider that their lawn might indeed be perfect but what we can’t see is that they’ve got black mold inside their house.

In the book of Obadiah, we see generational strife between two peoples who should have been allies and instead became enemies due to the sin of jealousy hundreds of years earlier.  Jacob, the forefather of the Israelites, envied his brother Esau, the forefather of the Edomites, in his position as their father, Isaac’s favorite and due to receive all the blessing and fortunes as the firstborn son.

Jacob’s mother, Rebekah fostered this jealousy and even conceived a devious plan to steal Esau’s birthright. The irony is that God wanted to prosper Jacob and cause him to receive the firstborn blessing, but this is surely not how he planned to do it.  Instead, Jacob and his mother’s deception set in motion events that reverberated evil for many generations to come.

  • The jealousy of Jacob’s youth continued right into his own dysfunctional family unit, with his two wives, Rachel and Leah. Barren Rachel felt tremendous jealousy towards fertile Leah.  Leah envied the love Jacob showered on Rachel and her two sons but only shared with her in smaller measure, even though she presented him with many sons.  And in this messy, emotional stew, Leah’s boys learned jealousy at home.

 

  • Jacob and Leah’s sons, brothers to Joseph, son of Rachel and Jacob, zealously carried the family banner of jealousy. This caused to almost murder Joseph and sell him into slavery. The price they paid with their father’s grief and their own fearful guilt in Egypt years later, is something to see.

 

The Bible shares several other stories of envy ending poorly.  I assure you these people also did not fully consider where they might end up once they started down jealousy road.

  • David envied Urriah for his beautiful wife, Bathsheba. He stole her virtue, caused Urriah’s death and then David and Bathsheba paid a dreadful price through the death of their child.

 

  • Finally, the tragic story of King Saul’s jealousy of David is a cautionary tale to anyone who thinks God is treating someone else a bit better than themselves. In this case, Saul suffered the consequences of his own sin. Instead of being genuinely repentant, he became insanely jealous of God’s new man.  Saul moves from anointed of God to suicidal madman, with jealousy coaxing him on.

 

How can we recognize, repent of and refute jealousy in our lives before we wind up crumpled by our own jealousy?

  • Take note of whom you criticize. Sometimes judgement is rooted in jealousy.  We want to bring people down, so we feel better about ourselves

and not feel jealous of them.  That’s not the way to do it.

 

  • Pay attention to your unguarded daydreams. Are they filled with potential and possibilities from God or are they consistently musing over the trappings of someone else’s life?

 

  • Notice how you feel when someone is living in or receives something for which you are desiring or believing. God wants us to be authentically joyful for them and trustfully peaceful about his process in our lives.

 

  

  • Choose deliberate thanks for every bit of goodness and mercy in your life. Start your prayer times with thanking, not asking. 

 

  • Be honest with yourself and God when jealousy’s fingers start to clench your heart. Everyone is tempted by envy, but we do not need to give way to it.  Ask God to replace your discontent with contentment and hope.

 

  • Memorize Scripture to toss back at Satan when he tempts you this way. Here’s some suggestions:   1 Cor. 13:4, Proverbs 14:30, Gal. 5:22-23, Psalm 37:1-3, James 3:14-16

                                 

 

 

How to Keep a Grace Posture in a Wicked World

Gloating is a sly character who nudges us from righteous victory, into celebrating the destruction of someone under the power of sin.  Well-written stories lead us to root for the hero and applaud the demise of the villain, especially if the punishment fits the crime. Who doesn’t want Robin Hood to bring down the Sheriff of Nottingham or Luke Skywalker to cut Darth Vader in half with that light sabre?  There is a God-given quality in all of us that seeks for balance in the world, for Davids to defeat Goliaths.

I remember an elementary bully who tormented my brother relentlessly.  Bruce found creative ways to ruin our neighborhood playground by pushing kids off swings, smearing dog poop on the slide and other nasty stuff. One of his favorite tricks involved sneaking up on kids hanging upside on the monkey bars and pushing their legs off.  I’m positive angelic host guarded that playground because there should have been some serious head injuries.

One day, Bruce and a couple of his buddies hung upside down on a parallel bar right over a generous mud puddle, the kind created by busy children in grassy playgrounds and a good thunderstorm.  While my friends and I watched from the swing sets, a group of kids Bruce’s age, sick of him bothering their younger siblings, dumped he and his friends on their heads, in the puddle.

Possibly, that part of the plan could be deemed kid justice but then, the perpetrators started wailing on Bruce. They kept beating him until he stopped fighting.  Most of the playground cheered and sneered while Bruce and his friends slunk home.  I know that kind of scene comes across great in movies, but even to my child eyes, it reeked of revenge. Bruce came from a family of alcoholics, who beat their children frequently, and everyone on the street knew it.  Yes, Bruce needed some standing up to and consequences, but he also needed someone to recognize that he was trapped in sin, just like his parents.

The people of Edom hated their brother Israelites due to the theft of Esau’s birthright by Jacob.  They  felt that Israel didn’t deserve to live in the fertile promised land, while they carved out their existence in the rough mountains.  Then, when Israel turned to worshipping other Gods, in the promised land, that truly frosted the Edomite’s cookies.  You need to be filled with a good deal of unexpressed anger, hatred and resentment to act the way they did.

First, they blocked the Israelites escape routes from the God-sent judgement of the Assyrian army.  Then, they took their revenge a step further and slaughtered all the fleeing Israelites they came found.  Finally, the Edomites threw themselves a gloating party, celebrating the demise of Israel, and God heard them.

“You should not gloat over your brother in the day of his misfortune, nor rejoice over the people of Judah in the day of their destruction, nor boast so much in the day of their trouble.” Obad. 12

We can transition from righteous rejoicing to gloating over an enemy’s fall, when we forget two things.  First, every perpetrator of evil is themselves a victim of Satan. He’s lied and deceived them to such a point that sin is normalized.  Second, we lose sight of God’s desire that no one should perish. This does not mean that we oppose justice and punishment.  God’s laws and precepts are perfect and designed to benefit humans, not harm them. His design for justice decrees that lawbreakers must face consequences, sometimes severe ones but never with gloating or boasting.

Justice is rolling out in unprecedented ways across the world right now. Human and drug trafficking kingpins, like El Chapo, and their organizations, are being exposed. Millions of people are awakening to the true nature of the abortion industry. Those are just two of many examples.

What about the injustices we experience personally?  Violent crime, sexual abuse,  unjust firings or demotions, theft, fraud, even just plain old bullying can tempt us to sin in so many ways.  When we are in pain, it becomes easy to want revenge and to rejoice in an unhealthy way when our perpetrator is brought to justice or is brought low by their own life choices.  This is a tough, tough place to be and only God can keep our hearts and minds in such a place. He still commands us, in Phillipipians 4:8, to focus our minds on what is true, noble, of good report, pure, lovely admirable, excellent and praiseworthy.

How should mature believers respond righteously when we see wickedness exposed and justice administered?  How can we avoid falling into sin ourselves if we or someone we love is the victim of violence or wickedness?

  •  Forgive those who sin against you and yours whether they seek forgiveness or not. This is non-negotiable for your own spiritual health  Mark 11:25
  • Trust God to execute justice rightly, even when it doesn’t seem to be happening. Isaiah 35:4
  • Pray that the wicked are exposed completely, and that they are unable to hide their deeds any longer. Mark 4:22
  • Pray for yourself and other victims they they are redeemed and restored by Jesus Christ. Don’t make a place for thoughts about revenge or retaliation, as these things are pure poison to the soul. Isaiah 61:7,  I Peter 5:10, Psalm 71:20-21
  • Pray for evil doers to come to saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Like Bruce, many wicked people are raised in sin and know no other way of life.  2 Peter 3:8-10 Although this will not excuse them from judgement by God, recognize that their path to The Light has been thwarted by darkness at every turn.
  • Ask God to keep your heart and mouth pure that you do not gloat about lives crushed by their own sinful choices.  It’s just too easy to slip into a “Good! They got what’s comin’ to them,” posture when we see lawbreakers brought to account.  Psalm 51:10

God seeks righteous, pure hearted people in these last days, people who will pray and stand faithfully for truth. Don’t be placed to the back of the ranks because God catches you dancing on graves.

 

Obadiah- Sowing and Reaping

As a minister of music, I hated being the deliverer of bad news to folks who ached to be on worship team but lacked the right skills. Kristy (not her real name) never made the cut for any vocal group she auditioned for in her high school, yet she and her mother pleaded for an audition.  They both felt certain God “called” her to be on our worship team.  As she sang the same way which I presumed kept her out of school vocal groups, my heart sunk. Her heart clearly burned with passion, but she possessed not a single skill or natural ability to match.

When I first began to speak, my tone of voice and my heart emanated kindness and compassion. Unfortunately, Kristy came at me with pride, denial, anger and hurt. I confess, my peace shoes fell off, my cloak of humility slipped off my shoulders and grace fled my heart.  I became defensive and terse once she attacked my authority and judgement and it ended poorly between us.  She and her mother glared at me from the pews for several years after that.

A dozen years later, as a lay person in a large church, I auditioned for a 1st soprano opening on the worship team.  The team informed me that although they enjoyed my voice, the slot would be given to  another sister, whose audition sounded quite out of tune to me.  I struggled to hide my shock. (Turns out, she was a former member of the team who stepped down for a while. The auditions were a bit of a set-up.)

To add further insult the worship leader asked, “There’s a tenor opening? Interested?”  I stammered that I’d think about it and get back to them and beat feet out of there. Angry retorts about my years of training and my previous position as minister of music bubbled in my mind while I fled to my car. Then Kristy’s face popped up in my mind.  It occurred to me that God allowed that humbling moment so that the next time I faced a Kristy (which I did many times in the years to come as a high school vocal teacher) I’d hold onto my peace and kindness regardless of how others behaved.  I’m certain that experience was a lesson in God’s harvesting law class.

I walked back in the building and took the tenor slot, humbly.  Within six weeks, two first sopranos left, and I filled one of the slots joyfully for many years.  I think God used my humbling and my response, as good seed that reaped my desired harvest.

God’s laws of sowing and reaping are irrefutable.  You can find a trail of them all throughout Scripture, from literal laws about crop-growing to spiritual laws about our attitudes and works.   In Obadiah, verse 15, we find an ominous warning.

As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head.”

All the evil acts of the Edomites towards Israel, from blocking their flight away from Pharaoh, during the Exodus, to cutting them down while they fled Jerusalem from the Assyrians centuries later, eventually rain down on this bitter nation. The law of sowing and reaping finds them, and they are wiped out permanently, as a nation.  There are people who live in their former lands, but they are not descendants.  The history of the Edomites becomes so sketchy that no one can lay claim to this day that they are a direct descendant.  Quite a contrast to Israel’s descendants.  What if the Edomites stood side by side with their brother Israelites, instead of toe to toe?   I expect their history and descendants would be entirely different.

The apostle Paul echoes this warning to sinners in the Galatian church in Galatians 6:7-8.

“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.  For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.”

Then, he flips the equation in verse nine, and speaks to those who are sowing good seed but aren’t seeing their desired harvest.

“Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.”

To the Corinthian church, Paul speaks about the quality and amount of what we sow in 1 Corinthians 9:6.

“He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”

Every day, believers sow seed.  Our words and actions go forth to others and into the supernatural fields God has ordained as either good seed or bad seed.  What we do and say will bring a harvest in God’s perfect time.  What kind of harvest are you experiencing right now?  If some of it is bitter, nasty and weak, ask God if you are reaping some seed you’ve forgotten you sowed.  I’m not saying every negative thing that comes our way is our own harvest.  Weed seeds can blow in on the wind or be carried by birds.  We know God allows us to face these trials and challenges, but it is important to our sanctification to discern whether our weed beds are of our own making, like the Edomites.

Additionally, when we do face tribulations, not created out of our own poor choices, we can still reap a harvest of goodness, grace and mercy. How?  When we show compassion and love in action towards others experiencing illness, setbacks, crisis and all manner of evil, we are sowing seeds that will be a much-needed harvest for ourselves in our own day of trouble.  I wonder if the Edomites ever sorted that out?

So, here’s a few general items from my list of deliberate seed that I’m sowing.  How about you?

  • I’m giving generously, out of love and gratitude to God, of my time, money, skills and all other physical resources, with full confidence that my upcoming needs will be met in God’s perfect time.
  • I’ve asked God to put a watch over my mouth and my emotions so that my words and responses reflect Galatians 5:22 and not my flesh. I expect that others will return the same to me, not always, but much of the time.
  • I’m sowing the seeds of the Word of God more deliberately into my own heart such that they are there, growing strong and ready to face the storms of 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

 

Read the following Old Testament verses and then reflect on the questions below.

Genesis 26:12, Leviticus 26:3-5,  Isaiah 65:21-22,  Jeremiah 12:13

  1. Is there a relationship between obedience and harvest?
  2. Do these laws for an agrarian society apply to people who aren’t farmers or growers?

Read Revelation 14:15-19.  What do you think the phrase, “the harvest of the earth,” means?  Feel free to use commentaries if you are entirely stuck.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Obadiah-A Feud on Steroids

Family feuds can create ripples of waves, which keep relationships turbulent for generations.  The infamous Hatfield and McCoy feud began in Kentucky in 1865 when Asa Harmon McCoy, brother to Randolph McCoy died at the hands of the “Logan Wildcats,” a local militia group which included William Anderson Hatfield, known as “Devil Anse” (There’s a clue!). Asa served in the Union Army, so Anderson and his militia felt within their rights to shoot him as an enemy combatant.  As years passed the bitter seed grew, and land disputes, stolen livestock and other criminal activities resulted in murders and retaliatory murders. Young and old Hatfields and McCoys perished due to unresolved anger and misplaced pride passed from generation to generation like an heirloom quilt.

God inspired Obadiah to deliver a rebuke and warning to the people of Edom because of a generational feud between them and Israel.  Edomites, the descendants of Esau, carried hatred about his stolen birthright for centuries and acted towards Jacob’s descendants accordingly. Since Obadiah shares no point of reference about his credentials or origins, scholars can make a best guess that he lived during Elisha’s time and served as one of the earliest prophets around 840 B.C.  His economy of words is a message itself as to the intensity of God’s anger.

The sins Edom committed are recounted in this short book. Obadiah tells us that the mildest behavior they demonstrated was to turn their backs on their brothers when Israel faced enemy invasions. Their worst sins are far more egregious. When Philistines and Arabians attacked Jerusalem, not only did the Edomites not offer refuge to the Israelites fleeing the city, they murdered them on the roads and pathways where they fled to escape the conquering armies.

God is blunt throughout Scripture about how he will deal with those who mess with his people.

            “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse…”

 Genesis 12:3

“… when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. And I will enter into judgment with them there, on behalf of my people and my heritage Israel, because they have scattered them among the nations and have divided up my land…” Joel 1

“And on that day I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem.” Zechariah 12:9

For the Edomites, their judgments are specific and harsh:

But how Esau will be ransacked, his hidden treasures pillaged!  All your allies will force you to the border; your friends will deceive and overpower you; those who eat your bread will set a trap for you, but you will not detect it. In that day, declares the Lord, will I not destroy the wise men of Edom, men of understanding in the mountains of Esau? Your warriors O Teman will be terrified, and everyone in Esau’s mountains will be cut down in the slaughter.  Because of the violence against your brother Jacob, you will be covered with shame; you will be destroyed forever.”

Why does God laser in on the “wise men of Edom?”   The answer lies in verse 3.

“The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rocks and make your home on the heights, you who say to yourself, ‘Who can bring me down to the ground?’”

The Edomites carried a grudge for centuries. They took pride in it along with their geographic positioning in the mountains. In every way, they felt themselves to be superior to Israel, yet Israel inhabited the promised land, not them, and they couldn’t abide that.  They obviously rejoiced and felt justified in murdering fleeing Israelites just like the Hatfields and McCoys.

Pride is usually at the root of unresolved feuds.  I knew a church in which battles erupted over a stained-glass window that needed to be moved for a building project.  The church designated a new home for the window, in the addition, but some in the congregation who opposed the project, weaponized the window’s history.  Without consulting the church, these folks lodged a complaint with the town’s historical society. Their move never gained traction but did generate uproar and divisions in the church.

I know families whose holidays and special occasions are marred consistently by unresolved hurts between members.  This one can’t sit by that one, and we will purchase gifts for this one’s children but not for that one and blah, blah, blah.  There may be valid reasons why some of these feuds start. Jacob performed a wicked, deceitful act when he tricked Esau out of his birthright.  That is not the way God wanted to convey the promised blessing to Jacob.  Esau’s feelings of anger and betrayal were valid.  One wonders if he rehearsed them over and over to his family before he eventually forgave Jacob and reconciled with him. (Genesis 33) Although Esau forgave Jacob, his legacy of bitterness remained unresolved in his family and many murders and other sinful acts occurred because of it.

I see several key lessons for us in this first portion of Obadiah:

  • The bitterness you harbor today will sow seeds that can reap a terrible harvest for generations to come.
  • When God blesses someone else with something we’ve longed for, we need to trust him to know what is best for us and not poison our souls with jealousy or anger. We can always choose righteous reactions in response to sinful behaviors against us.
  • Pride is rebellion in God’s eyes but cherishing pride as a trophy sin and passing it on to others, is going to produce dire consequences.

The division between the Edomites and Israelites resulted in death, slavery and captivity for many descendants and rendered Israel a powerless nation for centuries.  I wonder how many churches and families are unable to move in kingdom authority and power for the same reason?

 

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

Read the following verses and then ponder these questions:

  1. Does God still feel this way about the Jews even though many rejected and still reject the Messiah?
  2. Do his judgements against their enemies still hold?
  3. Where does God land on all this concerning the bride of Christ and her enemies? (These verses you’ll need to search out for yourself.)

God’s love for Israel – I Kings 10:9, Deut. 7:6-8, Deut. 14:2, 2 Samuel 7:23-24, Psalm 105:8-15, Zech. 2:8

God’s judgement on her enemies – Genesis 12:1-3, Joel 3:1-2, Ezekiel 38:1-23, Zech. 12:9, Romans 11:1-36

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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