15 06 2017

Today’s Scripture is Amos 2.

This is what the Lord says:

“For three sins of Moab,
    even for four, I will not relent.
Because he burned to ashes
    the bones of Edom’s king,
I will send fire on Moab
    that will consume the fortresses of Kerioth.
Moab will go down in great tumult
    amid war cries and the blast of the trumpet.
I will destroy her ruler
    and kill all her officials with him,”
says the Lord.

This is what the Lord says:

“For three sins of Judah,
    even for four, I will not relent.
Because they have rejected the law of the Lord
    and have not kept his decrees,
because they have been led astray by false gods,[b]
    the gods their ancestors followed,
I will send fire on Judah
    that will consume the fortresses of Jerusalem.”

Judgment on Israel

This is what the Lord says:

“For three sins of Israel,
    even for four, I will not relent.
They sell the innocent for silver,
    and the needy for a pair of sandals.
They trample on the heads of the poor
    as on the dust of the ground
    and deny justice to the oppressed.
Father and son use the same girl
    and so profane my holy name.
They lie down beside every altar
    on garments taken in pledge.
In the house of their god
    they drink wine taken as fines.

“Yet I destroyed the Amorites before them,
    though they were tall as the cedars
    and strong as the oaks.
I destroyed their fruit above
    and their roots below.
10 I brought you up out of Egypt
    and led you forty years in the wilderness
    to give you the land of the Amorites.

11 “I also raised up prophets from among your children
    and Nazirites from among your youths.
Is this not true, people of Israel?”
declares the Lord.
12 “But you made the Nazirites drink wine
    and commanded the prophets not to prophesy.

13 “Now then, I will crush you
    as a cart crushes when loaded with grain.
14 The swift will not escape,
    the strong will not muster their strength,
    and the warrior will not save his life.
15 The archer will not stand his ground,
    the fleet-footed soldier will not get away,
    and the horseman will not save his life.
16 Even the bravest warriors
    will flee naked on that day,”
declares the Lord.

Taken from:  https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Amos+2 

Just to give you some context of why I’m mentioning these scriptures, I am reading through some of the Old Testament prophets, and Amos is my current stop.

To give you some biblical context, let me turn back to Amos 1, to tell you about the writer.  Amos is a shepherd in Tekoa, and while he’s tending his sheep one day, he saw a vision for Israel from God.  Amos’ name means literally burden-bearer.  I haven’t finished reading the book of Amos yet, but just from chapters 1 &2, he’s got quite the load on him. I wouldn’t want to be the one who had to share this message to the people.  He’s calling out the people for what they’ve done wrong and how they’ve wronged the people of God and how they’ve disrespected God.  I imagine that his audience would have rather killed him than to listen to him tell them how much they’ve done wrong.  Often, when you do expose the wrongdoings of the world, you are shunned or disliked.  But share it anyways, if you are so led to do so.  But don’t share it to highlight how awesome you are, but to push someone else closer to their awesomeness.

Anywho, let’s dig into Amos, shall we?

Chapter 2 has two very different groups of people.  And really, Chapter 1 and verses 1-3, is all about how the “outsiders” to God have desecrated God.  And then the rest of chapter 2 focuses on how God’s people are going to face judgement.  So I’d like to divide them in two contrasting sections.

1. God’s Judgement unto the nonbelievers.

First, I’d like to examine what God says he’s going to do with those that don’t believe in them.  God has called out these people for what they’ve done wrong.  There are many wrong doings in Chapter 1.  In almost every incidence, God is bringing down fire upon these people, and destroying pillars of their strength, whether it be a wall, a gate or fortresses.  I don’t think this is without symbolism.

When I was young, one Sunday morning at like 7:00am, my dad woke me up in a start.  He told me to put on my shoes, put in my ears and get outside.  My dad was panicked.  I hurried through everything, as my dad tried to get my sister up, and get her shoes on.  My whole family stood on the front yard as we watched my next-door neighbor’s house catch on fire.  It burned for hours.  When it was over and the fire was put out, nothing was usable anymore.  Later, we walked through the rubble, and the smell of burnt things, it penetrated the air.  We stepped on wood that evaporated into black dust and ask.  Wood that once was strong, and it was now dust.  Crumbling.  Fire destroys matter.  It burns it away until it is no longer any worth.  I was so moved, by the realization that my neighbors had literally lost everything.  It had been burned away.  Useless, worthless, ash.  In the same way, God says he’s going to destroy these entire cities.  He would leave people homeless, hopeless, with nothing.

That fire would destroy their fortresses, their walls.  He would take away every element of their feeling of safety that they had ever had or felt.  He would take away anything that made them feel like they were safe, and would leave them vulnerable to attack.  Essentially, leaving a lamb in the middle of a pit with a bunch of hungry lions.

At first, my thought was WHY?  Why would a loving God do anything like that?  Why would the God who sent Jesus down in love, destroy people through fire?  Why would he do that?  And I get angry that this is not the God that I love and serve.

But if you look at the first sentence for each judgement, God clearly describes what these people have done wrong.

For example, in the circumstance of the people of Moab, he’s judging them because they desecrated the bones of Edom’s king.  I don’t know what this means, or what this means that they did to deserve this, but it was pretty bad.  Edom’s king was seen, from what I understand, as a king of war hero.  So, to put it in context, I think of someone doing something awful to the grave of JFK.

And as I wonder why he would destroy with fire, and break their defenses, I realize it’s a judgement thing.  But, the hope is that they would use these situations to realize that they have put their trust in the wrong things to keep them safe.  I hope that they would realize that they are living their lives according to a sense of non-morality.  I hope that they would use this to turn themselves and change their lives.  But often, when those who have done wrong are called out and punished, they do not turn and change their ways.

2.  God’s Judgement unto the Believers.

When people are loved by God, I’ve heard the sentiment that they believe that they can live whichever way that they want, because God will never stop loving them.  I’ve witnessed this attitude, and it often doesn’t lead people to being good people.  While it is true, I believe, that when God loves you once, he doesn’t ever stop loving you.  The Bible frequently says that we cannot be separated from the love of God.  But I don’t think anyone gets an exception to the expectation that God’s people will try to live by producing the fruits of the spirit in their lives.

That’s kind of the attitude that I imagine Judah and Israel have towards this grace and belovedness.  According to this passage, they seem to think that their special chosen-ness has exempted them from living right, as you should.

This is not true.

Because they have rejected the laws of the Lord, they have not kept his decrees, because they have worshipped false Gods, God will destroy them with fire, and will eat away at the fortresses of Jerusalem.

Because they sell their people and exchange them in case of money, they oppress the poor and deny justice to those who are oppressed.  Because they use prostitutes and share them amongst family members, because they shame the name of the Lord, because they do not honor the offerings given to the Lord, and take offerings for their pleasure.  Because of all of them, God says he will not relent, he will not hold back on his punishment.

But look at all of the things God did for them!  He destroyed the enemies while they were standing there watching, he destroyed their crops, and made it so they cannot grow their food.  He took them out of Egypt, where they were enslaved, and led them throughout the desert, so that he could give them the land of the Amorites.  Not only that!  But he raised up their children to be prophets, he further showed how special that they are to God, and yet, they neglected their chosen-ness.  They desecrated their specialness.  No wonder he was going to destroy them.  No wonder!

Notice, he never says that he will not love them.  He never says he’s going to leave them.  But he does not say that he will protect them from the consequences that are going to happen because they  have done so many wrong things.

3.  No one can escape the consequences.

If we are honest, we don’t like the consequences that we have to face or that we experience.  We like to get off scot-free.  We like to not have to deal with the natural consequences.  I have this student that I taught this year….and nothing ever seemed to be his fault.  He would get called out for something  and immediately, his response was “I didn’t do it.”  In fact, in the last few days of school, I asked him to come to my desk because I was going to ask him to do something and he immediately said “I didn’t do it.”  A lot of times, I imagine that when we experience a consequence, I bet a lot of us look at God with that same expression.  But really, if we get down to it and break it down, we often do the things that deserve those consequences.

If I get caught speeding, which I have done before, I often liked to blame it on that hill or the traffic or whatever to make myself feel better about the fact that I have a state trooper in my rearview mirror.  But the reality is, I shouldn’t have been speeding.  The reality is, that we all are going to have the natural consequences to whatever we’ve done wrong.  No matter how strong we are, how fast we are or how accurate we are, we will not be able to escape that consequence.  Even though every time that I speed, there’s not always a state trooper nearby, you can rest that at some time or another, I will get caught.  Every consequence to what I’ve done wrong may not happen immediately, but it will happen at some time or another.

Closing Remarks

So, what do we do?

We live right.  We make good choices, and we do the right thing.  Nothing else really matters, does it?

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Highways and Hedges

14 06 2017

Let’s look at Luke 14 for our Context today:

Then said he unto him, A certain man made a great supper, and bade many: And sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready. And they all with one consent began to make excuse. The first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it: I pray thee have me excused. And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them: I pray thee have me excused. And another said, I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come. So that servant came, and shewed his lord these things. Then the master of the house being angry said to his servant, Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind. And the servant said, Lord, it is done as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room. And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. For I say unto you, That none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper.

Sometimes, the scripture that we read, the words that Jesus says, are very hard pieces of scripture to swallow.  This is one of those passages for me.  I first heard this passage when we got one of our new pastors after the pastor who stayed in my church for a long time.  And he preached a message on it that I will never forget.  I remember sitting there, and this pastor was using the month of August, his first month, to focus on evangelism.  And this was one of those passages.  I’ve been visiting a lot of churches lately, which coincides with God’s call for me to go away from my home church to find a new place to serve and be fed.  That’s for another time though.

This passage really has been something that my mind has drifted towards time and time again.  It’s just been emerging in my life over and over again, and so I felt the need to focus on this passage.  When I’m focusing on this passage, I find many parallels in this story.

Jesus is the “certain man”  who is hosting a banquet for many guests.
 He’s the one that has laid it all out.  He has made all of the preparations, prepared the food, found the chairs, clothed the table.  He’s lived the life like we’re supposed to, and he died according to this great plan.  I think we forget sometimes that these stories are not just stories, but they directly relate to the life that we live.

Jesus’ followers make more excuses than actions.  I’m sure you’ve said it before.  You’ve made an excuse, as your reason to not spend time with him.  If you’re anything like me, I make excuses of exhaustion to keep me from doing something.  I make excuses of being tired as justification to be unkind to people.  I make excuses of being too busy to keep me from serving the church.  I’ve heard it and you’ve probably said it.  Jesus hears all of our excuses.  But, let’s examine ourselves for a second.  We’re supposed to be the people that follow Jesus.  We’re supposed to be the worshippers of God.  We’re supposed to be the ones who are learning him and getting to know what it means to be a follower.  We use excuses of other priorities and other commitments to things and people to keep us from being there with God.  We use the excuses of family to keep us from doing the things of God.  If I’m honest, I’ve used my job, my busy schedule and my friends to keep me from doing the things that I am supposed to do with God.

On a corporate level, the church has many excuses too.  We use the excuse of people not being the “right” kind of people for us to love and help.  We say that just because that person is gay or trans, we can’t love them.  Instead, we spew words of hate and hurt.  We rebuke those who need social services, yet the church does not provide meals and homes for those who go without.  The church, us as members, do not invite the homeless in so that we can share our lives with them, like Jesus said to do.  We do not love those who are in prison, because after all, they got themselves there, even though the bible tells us to be there for them.  We excuse ourselves from caring for our neighbor, simply because that neighbor does not meet our standards.  I love the following meme:

Image result for love thy neighbor meme

We like to put qualifiers on grace.  But Jesus didn’t do that.  He didn’t say we got a choice in who we loved or how we loved them, he said to love them.  Period.  That’s it.  That’s the way that Jesus lived.  But we are pious and think that we can say who can get our grace and our love, our food and our presence.  What idiots we are!

God gave us no qualifiers.  He met us where we were.  That’s it.  Let us do the same.

Jesus’ response to our excuses.

So, let’s look at the story.  There were all of these excuses, and yet the food was still prepared.  No one who was invited was coming, yet the food needed to be eaten still.

Let’s think of the invited as church members, people who are supposed to be the ones who are eager to be in the banquet.  Those who are supposed to desire the one that made them.

Unfortunately, we often miss the mark, because the banquet table is full and the plates are empty, seats are vacant, and the host is lonely.

So, Jesus told his servants to go out to the city, go get the disabled, and bring them in.  These are the people who are often close by the church, but do not enter.  THese are the people who know about Jesus, but don’t have much experience in the church.  The people who stay home on SUnday mornings, but they watch church on TV.

Did you see what Jesus did there?  He rejected those who were in the church making excuses and went after those who don’t have that church.  He sends for them.  He gets them.  And they come.

But there was still room.

So he sends out the servants to get those people who are on the highways and hedges, and tells them to get over here, and enjoy the feast.  These are the people who are the “lowest of the low” those who are out there and we typically ignore.  He tells them to come on in, pull up a chair and eat plenty.  They’re foreigners to the gospel, and he tells them to come in.  He tells them to go for it and to come on by.  And everyone ate and enjoyed themselves.

Those are not the people of our modern churches.  These are the homeless, the smelly, the prostitute, the rejected….all of the people that we pretend don’t exist, they do at the table.  All are welcome to the table, but that doesn’t mean everyone is there.

Who do you want to be?

I don’t want to be the invited, who give an excuse for missing out on God.

I don’t want to be the adjacent ones, because they’re the ones that don’t have a relationship in the first place.  They know about Jesus, but don’t have a relationship.

I don’t want to be the highways and hedges, because they’re the ones that have no clue who God is.

I want to be the servant.  In the story, it’s the servants that go out and call everyone to the table to invite them.  It’s the servants who are reporting back to the master.  That’s who I want to be, inviting everyone to the table, because there is more than enough.

Are you a servant?  Are you the invited who miss out?  Are you the adjacent ones who don’t have a relationship?  Are you the highway or hedge?