The Shuddering Reality

God really hates the destruction of the poor.  Yet again, He talks about His people walking all over them, but this chapter’s different, in that God’s had enough.  “I will not overlook their sins anymore” (Amos 8:2).  It’s not just talk this time; He’s showing Israel there are consequences for their disobedience.  “The whole land will shake because of it”, and its people will mourn for their dead (Amos 8:8).

 

When God talks about the sun going down at noon and the earth being darkened, like a time of crying for the death of an only son (Amos 8:9-10), I can’t help but think of Jesus’ crucifixion day.  Yes, the shuddering reality is that our wrongdoing displeases God, but the marvellous truth is that Jesus took our punishment when He died on that cross – when the sky was darkened for three hours.

 

Here in Amos 8 though, God’s talking not only about a physical darkness, but a spiritual one.  “The Lord God says:  ‘The days are coming when I will cause a time of hunger in the land.  The people will not be hungry for bread or thirsty for water, but they will be hungry for words from the Lord.  They will wander from the Mediterranean Sea to the Dead Sea, from the north to the east.  They will search for the word of the Lord, but they won’t find it’” (Amos 8:11-12).  After this was written and before Jesus’ birth, there were apparently four hundred years when God didn’t speak through any prophet – the silent four hundred years, I’ve heard them called, and perhaps we’ll experience another time like that before Jesus returns.  So what to take away from this?  Well, I’m reminded of a phrase in Isaiah 55:6, which simply says:  “Seek the Lord while he may be found”.  If there’s something inside you that longs for God, reach out for Him with all your heart; I know you’ll find Him.

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Persecution for his Faith

We see in this chapter an all-too-familiar thing:  Someone doesn’t like what Amos says about the king’s family being attacked, so he meets with the king and falsely accuses Amos of making evil plans (Amos 7:8-10).  Then he confronts Amos and tries to get him out of the picture. “Seer, go back right now to Judah.  Do your prophesying and earn your living there, but don’t prophesy anymore here at Bethel” (Amos 7:12-13).

 

How does Amos respond?  Is he intimidated?  We’re not told how he feels, but he responds by stating the call God’s placed on his life, and being faithful to it. “I do not make my living as a prophet, nor am I a member of a group of prophets.  I make my living as a shepherd, and I take care of sycamore trees.  But the Lord took me away from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’  So listen to the Lord’s word” (Amos 7:14-16).

 

Sadly, we see this persecution regularly all over the globe.  In fact, we’re even promised that anyone who wants to live as a Christian will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12).  It happens to people in North Korea, stuck in prison camps because they or a member of their family chose to be a Christian, and it happens on a smaller scale – people mocking or showing anger at the way someone lives their life.  How will you respond when it happens to you?

 

Jesus and Paul give us some helpful tips.  “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12).  “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.  He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:44-45).  “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse” (Romans 12:14).

 

So, will you have confidence in God’s call on your life, and be faithful to it?

Don’t get too Comfortable

“You lie on beds adorned with ivory and lounge on your couches.  You dine on choice lambs and fattened calves.  You strum away on your harps like David and improvise on musical instruments.  You drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions, but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph” (Amos 6:4-6).

 

This chapter reminds us that life is not for our comfort; life is to live for God’s glory.  God doesn’t condemn Israel for eating meat or using lotions, but for living a life of excess, without even enough compassion to shed tears when fellow-countrymen come to ruin.

 

Is this so far-removed from us?  Maybe it’s easy to treat a home like a castle – to come into our four walls, to eat our food, snooze on our sofas and not to grieve … not to act … not to plead the cause of others.  Can you think of a situation in your country lately that you’ve actually wept for?

Concern for Justice

A fountain is something I’ve wanted for myself as long as I can remember.  I used to live near a friend who had a conservatory with a fountain just outside it.  You could sit there listening to the birds singing and the water bubbling …  I joked that for me, the commandment:  “Do not covet your neighbour’s house” should read:  “Do not covet your neighbour’s fountain.”

 

I love water-features, in garden-centres or in formal gardens, and here God talks about justice flowing like a river, and goodness like a never-ending stream.  He repeats His displeasure at the oppression of poor people, and assures Israel of His presence with them if they would do good.  Any worship-rituals the Israelites performed were worthless to God while there was no love of justice in the land.

Come Back

I hadn’t noticed this before, but the phrase used again and again in this short chapter?  “You did not come back to Me” (verses 6, 8, 9, 10, 11).

 

Have you ever had lots of things go wrong, and has it made you feel like God was distant?  He talks in this chapter about the things that went wrong for the Israelites:  Famine, drought, thirst, damage to crops (becoming diseased or being eaten by locusts), disasters, death …  Even though the Israelites had done wrong, they could well have looked at themselves and at the world around them, and wondered ‘What’s the difference between us and them?  Where’s our God in all this’ … and yet God sent all those things in order that they might come back to Him – to God who made the wind and the mountains, who reveals His thoughts to us, who darkens the days and lightens the nights, who’s full of power.

 

Could it be that Jesus is there in the middle of all your setbacks, waiting for you to come back to Him, to speak with Him as a man speaks with his friend?

Today’s Thoughts

The dimly-lit room was full, standing-room only.  I was numb to the anger I would feel several minutes later, when we said our goodbyes to the vicar.  I tried to suppress it by telling some joke, but the church had brought her in to conduct this service; why hadn’t she done a better job?  “We commend to You Your servant …”  It was just as if she had changed the name on a prewritten script.  For all I knew, the silence could be full of unanswered questions:  “But he wasn’t His servant.  How does God feel about someone who wants the benefits of believing in Him, but hasn’t served Him all their life?”  I wanted her to acknowledge these and offer some hope – to mention the thief on the cross – the one who came to Jesus in his last moments and Jesus comforted him with the words, ‘Today you will be with Me in paradise’, but there was no mention of him.  I don’t recall any comfort being given, or any passage from the Bible for us to think over afterwards.

 

As the service drew to a close, we all listened.  The song was familiar, my sadness fresh.  It seemed wrong somehow that the only thing which moved me, which captured for me the life of this man we were supposedly remembering, was a popular song.  The words seemed so appropriate to one of his daughters especially.

 

“Every generation blames the one before,

“And all of their frustrations come beating on your door” reminds me of her.

 

“I wasn’t there that morning, when my father passed away;

“I didn’t get to tell him all the things I had to say.”  Probably more than one person in the room could have gone along with that.

 

“I think I caught his spirit, later that same year;

“I’m sure I heard his echo in my baby’s new-born tears.”  Just days after his death he became a great granddad, and within the year he’d be a granddad again.  I don’t know whether his granddaughter has any of his features, but he’s not forgotten, and today always brings thoughts of a very special uncle.

Chasing it Away

“Does disaster come to a city unless the Lord has planned it?” (Amos 3:6).

 

This may not seem like a very encouraging verse on one level, but it is when you think of it the other way round.  If when disaster comes God causes it, that must mean that when disaster’s averted, it’s God who chases it away.  When we lose money but still make ends meet, when we have things stolen but no harm comes to us, we can give thanks to God for His protection.  He’s kept disaster from coming near us.

“I Need Some Help Here!” Book-Review: Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover

What I expected and what I got from this book were two different things.  The title “I Need Some Help Here!” makes me think of Michelle Pfeifer or Julia Roberts playing a harassed mum, up to her eyeballs in dirty nappies; yoghurt spattered on the wall; a pre-schooler with only one shoe …  I  expected lots of funny stories of little ones and their mishaps, and tips on how to cope with them; what I got was a very serious twelve chapters on how best to bring up children.  There were several stories, but more emotional than practical, and none that really made me laugh.  The first chapter was particularly hard-going.  To grab people’s attention, it should have started in chapter three.

 

This book could benefit new Christians, Sunday churchgoers, struggling parents or those who want to support them.  Its main themes being prayer and God’s sufficiency, there are prayers for children and their parents.  You will find useful advice in here (the chapter on mental illness especially), but Kathi’s packed a lot in to some of the chapters, so definitely not a light read to pick up and put down.  Changing the format to a month-long devotional might improve it somewhat, but I wouldn’t be falling over myself to buy this for a new mum.

A Better World

“For the many crimes of Israel, I will punish them. …  They walk on poor people as if they were dirt, and they refuse to be fair to those who are suffering” (Amos 2:6-7).

 

Seeing an end to oppression is really important to God.  These verses tell us walking all over people, taking advantage of them, is a crime in God’s eyes.  I’m sorry if you’ve been a victim of that, but I’m sure it doesn’t go unnoticed.  In our dealings with people, if we considered not only the law of the land but the words of our God, this world would be a better place.

Out of the Box

I had some great feedback about the series on Proverbs I did last month, so I thought we could try a shorter book this time – the book of Amos.  Are you with me?

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“These are the words of Amos, one of the shepherds from the town of Tekoa. …  ‘The pastures of the shepherds will become dry, and even the top of Mount Carmel will dry up’” (Amos 1:1-2).  This is an encouragement to all of us not to keep God and our work separate.

 

I wrote a song once, prayed and really felt I should sing it somewhere.  I shouldn’t have been surprised when the leader of the meeting told me afterwards that someone had really been helped by my song; that’s what God can do.  If you’re a shepherd (like Amos), He’ll talk to you about the pastures of shepherds.  If you’re a singer, He knows who you’re singing for and what you should sing.  If you’re a writer, He wants to inspire your words.  If you’re in an office, He knows all about it.  I remember a Christian friend telling me she left the office one night, not knowing what to do about a certain problem.  She mulled over it all night and still nothing.  Then she went to work next morning, switched her computer on and the answer just came to her.

 

What’s God like for you?  Is He distant, maybe someone you feel looking down when you’re singing hymns on a Sunday, or have you asked Him to be part of your everyday life?