Monday, September 10, 2007

Famous Amos

What a troubling message the Prophet Amos had to bring to Israel. A message they most definitely did not want to hear. And it should have been obvious that they didn't want to hear it when you look back over their past experiences of listening to the LORD.

Amos starts by communicating how angry the LORD is with them, listing judgment on Israel's neighbors and then bringing very close to home in setting out His anger against their closet neighbor to the south, Judah. Things are not looking good, but then Amos really gets himself in deep cookie dough when he focuses his attention back on Israel itself.

The tragic sadness in this book, I believe, comes in chapter four where the LORD declares four times, "yet you have not returned to Me." Over and over and over and over the Lord tried to get Israel's attention so that they would repent and return to Him, but they would not listen.

Of course, I cannot be too harsh on Israel for I wonder how long the list of "yet you have not returned to Me." declarations would be if the list was referring to my life? Would it be four times or four-thousand times. I dare say, it most likely would be the later. :(

What will it take for me (and I must say, the church in the West) to heed the declarations of the LORD? How many times will God reach out to me, to get my attention, to call me back to Himself? Oh that we would learn to hear and heed early.

Oh, that we would respond as He states in chapter five; to "seek Me and live" and to "seek good and not evil, that we might live."

LORD, by Thy Spirit help us to hear and heed. To worship Thee by bearing forth Thy character in our world. Amen and amen!

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I know we’ve all heard the phrase that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting to get different results. Nowhere could that be more true than when it comes to listening to God. We can all avoid a lot of self inflicted heartache and trouble by listening to and obeying his commandments. I especially enjoyed the part where Amos told the king that he was not on the king’s payroll – meaning that the king could not pay him to say what the king wanted to hear.

But I always cringe when I read books in the old testament where all kinds of diseases and/or tragedies strike people because they were “bad.” I don’t claim to understand dispensation theology any more than I understand predestination versus free will theology, but I am inclined to believe that this is the age of “grace” even though bad things can still happen to anybody – good or bad – because satan is still alive and wreaking as much havoc as he can.

One thing I know for sure is that I watched my older brother die from a collagen disease that one of my friends has recently been diagnosed with. I read all the things that God is upset with in the book of Amos – worshipping other Gods while proud of their own holiness and tithing, trampling on the heads of the poor, sexual immorality and all the stuff that has always infuriated God, and my brother was not guilty of those things and neither is my friend. Meanwhile there are plenty of people who do what God hates who enjoy perfect health and financial prosperity even as they oppress the poor to enjoy monetary abundance and/or indulge in sexual immorality.

I personally believe that it is important when teaching from the old testament where God was always smiting people for being stupid and wandering away from him to point out that bad things also happen to good people and encourage one another to be careful not just about pointing the finger at others (i.e. those two ministers that went on national T.V. claiming that sexual immorality caused God to send Katrina to the people of New Orleans), but it is also important not to take on a lot of unnecessary shame and blame when and if bad things happen to us, personally.

It is human nature to start to bargain with God when bad things happen. People find out they are dying of an incurable disease and begin to plead and beg and promise to be better, to do this or that if only God will “un-smite” them so to speak. Yet all the bargaining in the world doesn’t bring a paraplegic out of a wheel chair or cure the same collagen disease that killed my brother and is currently causing my friend a great deal of suffering. So I feel that it is important to remember that we have a new covenant, a better covenant so as to prevent people from internalizing any shame or blame that is not deserved.

Deep inside we all know the difference between when we have stepped in a puddle and caused ourselves heartache by disobeying God and when we are just suffering something simply because bad things happen to good people as well as bad people and it is important, imho, to search our hearts not just for any rebellious attitudes or disobedience, but also to to see if we are internalizing shame and blame resulting in undeserved self-condemnation.

Different personalities have a tendency to swing too far one way or the other. A criminal personality (whether white collar or blue collar) has a tendency to never admit wrong doing or thinking anything wrong even to oneself whereas someone who just suffers from low self-esteem has a tendency to blame themselves for everything that is amiss anywhere in the universe.

And while it’s hard to cover all the basis with so much diversity within any group of listeners, I still encourage ministers to try because there is not a single doubt in my mind that in any group of church goers, both types of personalities are sitting right there listening – the type that believes there sure are a lot of OTHER people who sin – tsk, tsk, tsk, and the type who can’t seem to forgive themselves for things that God has long ago forgiven them for still suffering from perpetual guilt and shame.

So it’s like the shepherd who has all these sheep has to somehow manage to put balm in some of his sermon and tough love in part of it too and just hope and pray that the right people take the right words to heart. Not an easy job, but an important job.

Anyway that’s my 2 cents worth in my usual too lengthy format.

gentledove

Pastor Randy said...

gentledove,

Thank you for your open sharing, and you again pose some of the BIG questions in our walk with the LORD.

I surely don't have the answer for "why bad things happen to good people," other than we live in a broken world. And the the question, "why do good things happen to bad people?" well, I suppose the fact that Satan is alive and well may have something to do with it. And of course, there is the biggest issue of what we may call, "unanswered prayer" for those we love who are suffering. In that regard it seems as though any answer I give comes up short, and so I continue to pray for mercy and trust in God's sovereignty.

One thing that we can consider, at least as it relates to Amos and the other prophets, is that for the most part God was dealing with the Nation of Israel, His Chosen People, not with individual sin (though it was individuals that were sinning), but with the corporate sin of the nation. Yes, the nation is made up of individuals (even some evil kings) but the declarations came down upon the nation, in order to draw the nation back to the LORD.

Of course, this then begs the question of what about now? Can we relate this kind of dealing to the church today? I suppose this is where how you read, or don't read, dispensational theology comes into play.

Again, I don't have the answer...but it does cause me to sit up and take notice

Anonymous said...

When dealing with the Prophets of the OT, I try to remember something: The Prophets were used as the last klaxon horn before the disaster struck. Think of it this way:

From your house across the way, you see a guy driving along a road and as he starts down it, he sees a sign that says, "This road is a dead end. Really. It ends at a very tall cliff. Don't use this road." but the guy ignores the sign.

You shake your head in amazement, thinking that maybe he's going to turn around before it's too late. But he doesn't. He keeps driving along.

In a little bit, there's another sign that comes up and says, "Hey, honest, this road is going nowhere. Big cliff at the end. Turn around." But the guy still ignores it and drives blissfully along.

This happens a few times. Each time, the signs get more and more terse. Until, right before the drop off, one last sign comes up and says, "Big Cliff! Turn or Die!"

When reading the prophets of the OT, we're reading that last sign. The first sign could be the Word as it was given to Moses, the Law. There might've been other signs by other prophets, but the one that gets seen is that last sign, the biggie; like Amos.

I don't know if it's fair to take Amos and use it like a magnifying glass on every aspect of life. It could very well be just a Big Sign for Israel, and Israel alone. It could be there to show us that God doesn't change his Laws even though we're stupid. It also could be there to show us that God can see what will happen in the future.

And, yes, I think it could be a template for what could happen to the church if the church decides to ignore God's warnings or disregard the examples that are written in the Word.

Personally, though, I have a hard time seeing Amos, or any of the other prophets' writings as an individual thing. Corporate, yes, but individual? I could be wrong, and that's not a surprise here, but it might be a stretch to replace Israel/Judah/Babylon/Assyria/ad infinitum with ourselves or another individual. I just don't see that played out in these pages.

Does God deal with individuals? Of course He does. Does He deal with personal sin? Yup. But I don't think that's what's being written here. There's nothing here that deals with the age old question, "If God is so good, then ____" (fill in the blank).

God is giving these nations one last sign before they drop off the Big Cliff.

Just sayin' stuff to allow my ignorance to show through.

Dan-o