Monday, April 27, 2015

3 indicators of preachers who speak for God

Read Micah 3.

The bottle-neck is always at the top.  As Micah begins to deliver the second message from God, he names three specific types of national leaders that have caused the problems.

Corrupt Rulers.  (vv.1-4)
Their charge was to protect and serve the people in government and judicial decisions.  The lawbreaker should experience the consequences and the victims receive just reparations.  Instead, rulings were made according to bribes (vv.9-11a).  This robbed the people who could afford the pay-off and left victims worse off.  In short, the national leaders treated the people as their prey.  When finished, there was nothing left.

The predicted result was a time of accountability for their sins.  Babylon would conquer Jerusalem and carry the Jews into captivity.  Then, they would pray and plead with God, but it will be too late.  God's judgment is based upon His unchanging truth, not on a bribe.

False Prophets. (vv.5-7)
While God's prophets tried to call the nation to repent of their sin and coming judgment, the phonies preached counter messages of "you are okay," "God is not going to punish us," and "peace".  The false prophets never heard from God.  They made up their messages, preaching what people wanted to hear, and said what they were paid to say (v.11c).

Instead of receiving a vision (God's word) from the LORD, they spoke out of their own spiritual darkness.  God provided no spiritual wisdom or insight of His truth to them.  As a result, their prayers also would not be heard.  In the day their false messages proved untrue, there would be nothing for them but disgrace and shame.

Ungodly Priests. (v.11b)
In this brief mention, it is clear that these men loved the robes, the rituals, and religious trappings of the Temple.  But they lacked a heart for God.  Instead of serving the people in their worship and sacrifices, they were only there for themselves and taking from the people.

Here is the result of the sins of all three of these national leaders: "Zion shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins." (v.12)

But there is a fourth type of leader in the nation doing the work of God with a whole-heart.
God's Prophets (v.8)
Micah was not alone.  The LORD had many others speaking on His behalf.  What characterized the type of people who genuinely served God?
1. "filled with power, with the Spirit of the LORD"
No one can be effective for God without the empowering of the Holy Spirit.
"But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." (Acts 1:8)

2. "and justice and might"
The message was not his but God's word.  It was not his judgment but the consequences of their sin against God.  And, Almighty God is more than capable of delivering on what He says.  Therefore, the true preacher's ministry is not personality driven but always points people to the LORD.

3. "to declare to Jacob his transgression and to Israel his sin."
One indicator of a false teacher is that they do not preach against specific sins.  Not so with God's preachers.  They are willing to stand on the unchanging truth of what God has said and offer hope through repentance and faith in the LORD.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

5 statements of Jesus regarding the use of Authority

Read Micah 2.

A disgraced leader finally was forced to admit his immorality, cover up, and lying.  When he spoke to the nation, he said he did it for "the worst possible motives--because I could."

The LORD takes very seriously those who abuse their power and influence over others.  Leaders in Judah used their God-given wealth and position to greedily oppress and take advantage of the people.  Their sins included seizing property (v.2) and separating parents from their children (v.9).  At the root was their sin of pride (v.3).  They foolishly thought that they could do whatever they wanted and get away with it.

Second to the rich and powerful were the abusive influences of ungodly religious leaders.  While the prophets of God preached repentance of sin, the false teachers responded with "do not preach" (v.6).  They countered by saying that God would not punish His people and He would not take them from the land He promised to them.  They tried to dupe the people with their messages of peace, prosperity, and partying.  "I will preach to you of wine and strong drink" (v.11).  The people surrounded themselves with those who spoke what they wanted to hear rather than the truth.

Meanwhile, God's judgment was coming upon a people who were unprepared.  "It will be a time of disaster" (v.3b).

Jesus had much to say about authority and the proper use of power.
1. Jesus is the source of all power.
"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me." (Matthew 28:18)
2. Jesus is the example of how to use authority.
"...even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."(Matthew 20:28)
3. Jesus forbids the abuse of power.
"You know that the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  It shall not be so among you.  But whoever would be great among you must be your servant." (Matthew 20:25-27)
4. Jesus gives authority for opportunities to serve and protect others.
"Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God." (Romans 13:1)
5. Jesus will hold each individual accountable for what He gave them.
"Everyone to whom much is given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more." (Luke 12;48)

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Crying in Court

Read Micah 1.

The prophet Micah lived in Judah and wrote at about the same time as Isaiah.  His book is comprised of three messages of a legal case against God's people.  Though the impact caused him to deeply grieve over the judgment to come, the content did not originate from him.  This is "the word of the LORD" (v.1).  Micah only delivered what God said.

As the courtroom assembles, all people of the earth are called to listen to the case.  God is not only the judge, but He rises in verse two to be the witness against the accused.  In verses three and four, the All-powerful, Almighty God steps forward.  There will be no rebuttal witnesses and no defense.  The basis for the complaint against the defendants is based upon the Mosaic Covenant found in Deuteronomy 27-28.  If the people obeyed the LORD, they would be allowed to enjoy the benefits of God's promises to Abraham, including the promised land.  If they disobeyed, those blessings would be withheld and instead the nation would experience God's curse, or punishment.

First on trial was the northern kingdom of Israel.  Their ungodly leadership and rebellion against the LORD is well documented.  The capital of Samaria would be crushed, along with all the structures and symbols of their false worship.  The land will be cleansed of their idols and temples used to practice religious prostitution.  God used the Assyrian army to fulfill this prophecy in 722 B.C.

Second to face prosecution was the southern kingdom of Judah.  While Jerusalem maintained worship of God at the Temple, their leadership and national obedience proved to be hit and miss.  Judah is accused of acting like it's rebellious neighbor.  Again, the Assyrians will carry-out God's initial punishment against Judah.  The "conqueror" in verse 15 refers to the Assyrian king Sennacherib.

Such a message greatly affected Micah emotionally.  "For this I will lament and wail; I will go stripped and naked.  For her wound is incurable, and it has come to Judah." (vv.8-9).  Centuries later, the Apostle Paul expressed similar grief over the spiritual condition of the Jews.  "...I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.  For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh." (Romans 9:2-3)

Who are those people for whom we weep and pray for because they do not know the Savior?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

5 reasons to be mad at God

Read Jonah 4.

Jonah became exceedingly angry.  He submitted to God's assignment.  He preached a message of eight words.  The entire city of Nineveh repented and put their faith in the LORD God.  After one of the greatest times of ministry results in history, Jonah was so distraught he wanted to curl up and die.

Why?  The Assyrians were Israel's enemies.  He wanted God to wipe them out.  Jonah knew all along that if he went to Nineveh and warned them, they would respond and God would be gracious to them (4:2).  God did not do what Jonah wanted done, so he sat pouting, mad at God.

In verse 2, Jonah gave five reasons for his anger.  Each of them relates to the LORD's character.
1. God is gracious.
Grace is getting what we do not deserve.  The Assyrians were so evil, Jonah was correct.  They deserved to be destroyed.  But when they heard God's message, they turned to Him in hope of deliverance from His judgment.  Jonah expected God to be gracious to him but not to those sinners over there.

2. God is merciful.
Mercy is not getting what we do deserve.  When the Assyrians fasted, prayed, and turned from their sin, God showed compassion toward them.  Jonah lacked any pity for these people (v.11).

3. God is slow to anger.
If it were not for the patience of God, we would all be gone at our first sin.  "The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance." (2 Peter 3:9)

4. God is loving.
He abounds in love.  His love is steadfast or faithful all the time.  This is difficult to hold on to when things do not go the way one expected or wanted.  It is easy to bask in the love of God when life goes well.  But can we bask in that same love if life does not turn out the way we planned?  His love is over all His works.

5. God is tenderhearted.
God is not relentless in meting out punishment for sin.  His grace, mercy, patience, and love is shown in His willingness to relent and demonstrate compassion on those who respond to His offer of forgiveness.

Jonah cared more about himself, his reputation and his comfort, than he did about the eternal destiny of these people.  The question everyone must answer before God is, "How much do I care about the eternal future of the people around me?"

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

God gives second Chances

Read Jonah 3.

Is there anyone who has not felt at some time that they ruined everything; that it was all over; that there was no hope of recovery?  Here is a wonderful example of how God's forgiveness includes restoration.

 God did not change His mind, nor His plans, nor His assignment for Jonah.  What did change was Jonah.  When the prophet changed his heart, God changed his circumstances.  Then, Jonah received another opportunity to obey the LORD.  Indeed, in this life, God does give second chances.

 The vast city of Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian Empire.  Depending upon the exact meaning of chapter four and verse eleven, population estimates range from 120,000 to as high as 600,000.  The Assyrians were well-known for their evil, violence and cruelty.  As enemies of Israel, Jonah would have preferred for God to destroy them rather than minister to them.  But here he is, reluctantly preaching an eight word message of coming judgment.  Would they kill him for saying this or simply ignore him?  No one could have imagined the results.

In a ground-swell of a spiritual movement, people began repenting of their sin.  When the king heard of it, he issued a royal decree for everyone (including the animals) to show outward signs of mourning and fasting.  Moreover, he ordered all the citizens to cry out to God for mercy and turn from their sin against God.  To this day, there is no record of such a thing that would match this.  Dr. Howard Hendricks referred to this chapter as "the world's greatest evangelistic rally held by the world's worst evangelist."

The people of Nineveh were condemned.  God did not change.  They did.  Every believer in Jesus has an assigned message.  It is not limited to a single city or a specific time.  It carries a weight far beyond the matters of life and death.  "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him" (John 3:36).  All are condemned already.  The good news we share is that Jesus offers deliverance from eternal judgment and a personal relationship with the LORD Himself.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

How can a God of love allow This?

Read Jonah 2.

How many people, when under great pressure and awful dilemmas beyond their control,  have questioned God's love, His love, and even His existence?  They willfully choose to rebel and forsake their faith, instead of realizing that this is the very proof God's personal commitment to them.

To say that Jonah found himself in a distressful situation grossly understates the problem.  It is one of the most famous incidents in the Bible.  The prophet rebelled against God's assignment to go to Nineveh and foolishly thought he could run away.  But the God of heaven is personally committed to each individual.  He loves us us so much that He will only allow a person to go so far and then He will intervene.  The intervention can be painful.

When Jonah did not drown and he did not die in the belly of the great fish, he realized that God miraculously preserved his life.  This is a wonderful illustration of God's grace.  Grace is getting what we do not deserve.  Not only was he alive, but the distress brought him to repentance of his sin of disobedience.  Though human commitments to God, to marriage, to children, to employment and other relationships may fail, the LORD's commitments are sure and certain.

1. God proves His commitment to us by controlling our circumstances. (1:17)
"And the LORD appointed a great fish..."  It was not an accident that Jonah was swallowed up.  God was in control and prepared for this moment.

2. God proves His commitment to us by answering our prayers. (2:1)
"I called out to the LORD, out of my distress, and he answered me."  The answer was not what Jonah original desired, but the distress caused him to submit to God's will for his life.

3. God proves His commitment to us by restoring our fellowship with Him. (2:7)
"When my life was fainting away, I remembered the LORD, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple."

4. God proves His commitment to us by endowing us with His deliverance. (2:10)
When Jonah changed his mind and heart toward God, the LORD changed Jonah's circumstances.  The reason God delivered him was so Jonah could get back to work on God's assignment.

Any other pursuit in life will ultimately prove to be empty and worthless.
"Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love.  But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay.  Salvation belongs to the LORD!" (vv.8-9)

Monday, April 20, 2015

6 insights for those who run from God

Read Jonah 1.

Nineveh was the capital city of the Assyrian Empire.  But as great as their city was, so was their evil.  The Assyrians became a growing threat to the northern kingdom of Israel and God wanted to eventually use them to discipline His people.  Jonah rightly feared the Assyrians and, apparently, also knew of God's plan (see 4:2).  Jonah's preference would have been for God to destroy Nineveh.

When the LORD said, "Go!" Jonah said, "No!"  Instead of trekking 500 miles northeast to his assignment, the prophet booked passage on a ship to Spain in the opposite direction.  Alton Fannin wrote an insightful outline for this chapter explaining what happens when a person tries to run from God (Proclaim, 1987).  I have embellished it somewhat here.

1. When a person runs from God, he has heard from God. (vv.1-2)
"For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." (Hebrews 4:12)

2. When a person runs from God, he believes he can escape from God. (v.3)
"Where shall I go from your Spirit?  Or where shall I flee from your presence?  If I ascend to heaven, you are there!  If I make my bed in Sheol, you art there!." (Psalm 139:7-8)

3. When a person runs from God, everyone pays for it. (vv.3-5)
"For none of lives to himself, and none of dies to himself." (Romans 14:7)

4. When a person runs from God, he sleeps while others perish. (v.5)
"Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning.  For some have no knowledge of God.  I say this to your shame." (1 Corinthians 15:34)

5. When a person runs from God, he confuses unbelievers. (vv.6-9)
"And he said to all, 'If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.'" (Luke 9:23)

6. When a person runs from God, he loses respect from from both sides. (vv.10-16)
"And the Lord turned and looked at Peter,  And Peter remembered the saying of the lord, how he had said to him, 'Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.'  and he went out and wept bitterly." (Luke 22:61-62)

Instead of running from God, He wants us to...
"Come" (Matthew 11:28-30) and then
"Go" (Matthew 28:19-20)

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The high price of Pride

Read Obadiah.

The Edomites were descendants of Esau.  The Israelites were the family of Jacob.  Even before birth, these twins boys struggled against each other.  For centuries thereafter animosity existed between the two nations.  Edom refused passage to Israel during the Exodus and instead of helping their national brother, they came out for war (Numbers 20:14-21).  God admonished the Jews not to hate the Edomites (Deuteronomy 23:7).  But it was Edom that caused the tension in the relationship and repeatedly sinned against Israel.    And, the occasional skirmishes continued throughout the Old Testament.

Edom became known for its wise men, its wealth, its alliances with other nations, and its naturally secure location.  The people lived in high caves on the mountain.  With such environments of safety, they felt untouchable.  They believed they could do whatever they wished and even God could not do anything against them.  But their sins piled up to the point of God's intervention.  God said, "I will bring you down" (v.4).  As Walter L. Baker points out, "Judgment against Edom is mentioned in more Old Testament books than it is against any other foreign nation." (BKC, p.1453).

When the land of Israel was invaded, the Edomites not only did not help their brother, they helped the enemy.  And then, they helped themselves to some of the spoils.  Beside their sinful attitude of pride (v.3), the LORD saw what they sinfully did and did not do in verse 11.
1. They sinned by omission.
"On that day you stood aloof."  When the attack came against the Jews, they gloated (v.12).  James wrote, "So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin" (James 4:17)
2. They sinned by commission.
"...strangers carried off his were like one of them."  God compared them to thieves and even thieves would not act as they did (v.5).

The Golden Rule applied here.  "As you have done, it shall be done to you" (v.15).  Edom will be wiped out.  "There shall be no survivor for the house of Esau" (v.18).  But God's blessings will come upon Israel.

Pride and disobedience always leads to God's intervention with punishment.  Humility before God and obedience to His word pleases Him.

Friday, April 17, 2015

What did God say about the future of Israel?

Read Amos 9.

Though repeatedly warned of the coming judgment, many people said, "Disaster shall not overtake or meet us" (v.10).  In simple terms, they did not believe what God said.  But their feelings did not change the facts.

The destruction of the nation was so certain that in this fifth vision the LORD personally appeared to Amos.  Not only would the structure where the northern kingdom worshiped be destroyed, but the enemy would pursue the people to kill them (vv.1-2).  The people will run for their lives but God detailed for them that they will not be able find a place of safety anywhere (vv.2-4).

Nineveh had long forgotten the days of Jonah and their historic national repentance.  Assyria became even more evil and brutal in their treatment of its enemies.  However, God makes sure in this message that it is He who is in control.  He brought the Jews from Egypt and established them on this land.  These are His people and the judgment against them is from Him (vv.5-8).

What about the unconditional promises the LORD made to Abraham and his descendants?

At the end of verse 8, God said, "...except I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob."  Not everyone in the nation was unrepentant.  "All the sinners of my people shall die by the sword" (v.10a).  God does not forget.  He will deal with the sin and keep His promises.  There remained and remains a future for the Jews.

The last five verses provide the turning point to the prophecy of Amos.  There is coming a future day for Israel when the following will take place:
1. "I will raise up the booth of David that has fallen."
The reign of an earthly Davidic kingdom though gone, will be reestablished.  As a tent or awning, that rule will cover the entire land; no longer a divided kingdom.
2. I will "repair its breaches."
There was and is so much brokenness.  The regathering and reuniting of the the nation under a single king is their future hope.
3. I will "raise up its ruins."
The palaces, the Temple, buildings and homes were all leveled.  And, as predicted in Revelation, there is even greater destruction to come.  But God is personally assuming the responsibility here to see that one day the land will not lie in ruins.
4. I will "rebuild it as the days of old."
The last king to reign over a united kingdom of Israel was Solomon.  Those were the days of that glorious Temple, luxurious structures in Jerusalem, and the world looked to the nation as the people of God.  The LORD will see to it that this reputation is rebuilt.  And, not just for the Jews, but "...all the nations who are called by my name."
5. "I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel."
In agricultural terms, the nation's restored prosperity is amazingly described.

As an exclamation point to these prophecies, God declared, "...they shall never again be uprooted out of the land that I have given them."

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Why is our nation not in Mourning?

Read Amos 8.

Philosopher George Santayana is credited with this statement: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

In the fourth vision of Israel's impending doom, God showed Amos a basket of summer fruit.  The interpretation is simple.  Israel was ripe for judgment.  The time had come for the LORD to respond to the unbridled sin of the nation.  In particular, the business community was singled out for their greed and dishonesty.  They even complained at having to stop their commerce for the scheduled times of worshiping the LORD.  They "trample on the needy and bring the poor of the land to an end" (v.4).

The scene of what was about to take place is graphically described by God.  When the Assyrian army invades the land, the dead bodies will be "thrown everywhere" (v.3).  Their songs will be turned into sobbing and their feasts into famine.  They will cry out to God, but He will not listen.  They will seek Him, but He will not be found.  Since they rejected His messages delivered by the prophets when He urged them to repent, so He will withhold His word when this judgment falls (v.11).

Even the youngest and strongest will not be able to endure (v.13).  Where are the false gods and false teachings in which they trusted (v.14) instead of the God of heaven?  All those alternative beliefs proved powerless in the day that the all-powerful One meted out what He promised.

Here was God's question: "Shall not the land tremble on this account and everyone mourn who dwells in it?" (v.8).  Hebrews 13:8 reminds us that Jesus Christ is "the same yesterday, today and forever."  If a nation (a people, an individual) does not listen and take heed regarding the judgment to come, how do they think they shall escape?  The reason there is no trembling and mourning over their sin is because they do not believe their is an accountability.  The message in the middle of Amos is "prepare to meet your God" (4:12).

The solution?  Jesus said, "Come to me..." (Matthew 11:28)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Confidence in the face of Opposition

Read Amos 7.

God's judgment on the northern kingdom was certain.  Amos had been called and assigned by the LORD to warn the people and urge them to repent of their sin.  To reveal to the prophet how the punishment would occur, God showed him five visions; three in chapter seven and two in chapter eight.  The destruction in the visions was so great that it moved Amos to intercede for the nation.

1. Locusts. (vv.1-3)
This dreaded plague against Israel's crops would have meant famine.  Amos cried out for God to forgive the people and not do this.  God heard and answered the judgment part of that prayer.

2. Fire. (vv.4-6)
Such a disaster would not only destroy all the crops but all the structures of the land as well.  Amos prayed for this not to happen and, again, God answered his prayer.

3. Sword. (vv.7-9)
In other words, war by an enemy nation would inflict upon Israel what God wanted to accomplish.  There is no recorded prayer and no changing of this plan.

To illustrate how out of line the nation of Israel had become, God is pictured holding a plumb-line against a wall.  God's standards of what is right does not change.  Holding up His righteousness next to Israel vividly revealed their crookedness.  God did  not move.  They did.

The northern kingdom had separated itself from Jerusalem and established an amalgam of false worship.  It is no surprise that the priest of Bethel and the king refused to listen God's word.  Instead of listening to the message, their solution was to get rid of the messenger.  But, Amos knew that the message was not his and the assignment was not his.  God designed and planned the life of Amos to fulfill His purpose at this point in time.  Such understanding gave Amos confidence to stand strong in the face of opposition.

Knowing how God created us as individuals, what He has given to us in abilities, and taking full advantage of the opportunities He provides will result in a life that pleases Him and fulfills us.  There is no greater confidence than the sense that one is in the center of God's will for their lives.

"For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." (Ephesians 2:10)

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

God's response to corrupt Leaders

Read Amos 6.

The notables of Israel enjoyed political and social positions (v.1).  They lived in luxury (vv.4-6a).
While these leaders benefited from the nation's blessings, they paid no attention to the nation's spiritual bankruptcy.  Indeed, they were key influencers in the corruption of justice and by their own examples led the people away from doing what was right (v.12).  

In their thinking, success and prosperity came by their own doing (v.13).  The sin was not in their possessions or their power but in their self-centered pride (v.8).  Instead of grieving over the ruin they had caused (v.6), they felt safe and unaccountable.

How would God respond to such attitudes and behaviors?
"You will be the first to go!" (v.7)

They lost sight of the true goal of this nation in being examples of people who lived to please God.  Success and prosperity were results of God's sovereign blessings upon them.  They lived in a land that God gave them.  The people were God's people.  Being such abhorrent managers of God's possessions warranted the Owner to remove them and punish them.  He used the Assyrian Empire to do His work of judgment.  It was a brutal scene as the invaders literally pulverized (v.11) the cities of the northern kingdom.

Popularity, personality, and political party does not a leader make.  Character does.  People tend to overlook broken promises, failures to act, and immorality in order to selfishly keep their favored person in leadership.  God does not overlook such moral and spiritual sins.  A leader's judgment may or may not come in this life.  But be assured that according to the promise of God there is an eternal one waiting for them. "But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for the murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death."

It is for this very reason that God in His grace sent the prophets to call the nation to repentance while there was hope.  And, so it is for us.  "For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and the through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope." (Romans 15:4)

Monday, April 13, 2015

Man, this is the Life!

Read Amos 5.

The people of Israel enjoyed a time of great prosperity.  They felt they were really living and could behave however they wished without answering to anyone.  Note what this attitude led to in verses 10-12.
1. They oppressed the poor through taxation.
2. They wasted resources by excessive lifestyles.
3. They hated and then afflicted the righteous by rejecting the truth.
4. They distorted justice by taking bribes.
5. They turned away from those in need.

These, the LORD called their great sins.  Their financial independence resulted in the wrong sort of life-independence and wastefulness.  The problem came when they forgot the source of their blessings and decided to live independently of God and His word.  By not listening to the truth, they were not prepared for what was about to take place.  Everything they had, all their possessions, their pleasures, their very lives, would soon be gone.

Three times in this chapter God called to them, "Seek me and live."  Further, there was the urging to "Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts, will be gracious..." (v.15).

Amazingly, when life seems to be going well, many want to take the credit for their blessings or successes and find little to no time for God.  And,when circumstances are not going well, these same folks want to give God full credit for the bad things and decide that their faith was somehow invalid.  The bottom-line is that they choose to interpret their faith in God by their own feelings instead of the facts.

A self-focused and selfish life can only be based upon temporal values that one day will all be left behind.  The Apostle Paul was correct, "If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied." (1 Corinthians 15:19).  Living for Jesus means we keep eternity's values in view and experience a life that transcends our circumstances, good or bad.  Both are tests of our faith, not the truthfulness of God.

"I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Galatians 2:20)

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

How can God get our attention?

Read Amos 4.

Israel lived in prosperity.  They offered sacrifices every day, tithed every three days, and beyond that practiced generosity giving.  But their behavior was arrogant and demanding.  They oppressed the poor and exploited those in need.

God responded to their sin in five ways in order to gain their attention and lead them to repent.
1. Famine (v.6)
2. Drought (v.7-8)
3. Blight (v.9)
4. Pestilence (v.10)
5. Destruction (v.11)
And, five times God repeated the phrase, "yet you did not return to me."

"Therefore...prepare to meet your God, O Israel!" (v.12)

They forgot that God was in charge and ignored His interventions to gain their attention.  Who is this One who commands such obedience?  Here are His claims (v.13):
1. He forms the mountains.  The God of the Bible claims credit for shaping and fashioning the mountains.
2. He creates the wind.  The God of the Bible takes credit for selecting and dispatching the wind currents.
3. He declares His thoughts to humans.  The God of the Bible has made Himself and His word known so mankind is without excuse (Romans 1:18-20).
4. He makes light and darkness.  The God of the Bible commanded light in the beginning "and there was light" (Genesis 1:3).  He can move the clouds and the storms to darken a day.
5. He treads above the earth.  The God of the Bible oversees all that is happening in His world and is ready to respond.

Who is He?  "The LORD, the God of hosts, is his name!"

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Are you in agreement with God?

Read Amos 3.

After delivering eight pronouncements of coming judgment, Amos then began preaching God's messages to Israel.  The LORD began by reminding the Jews of His unique relationship with them.  God sovereignly chose Abraham and his descendants as a people of His particular love and care.  He established this with an unconditional and unchanging covenant (Genesis 12, 15, 17).  But despite all He had done for them over the centuries, the northern kingdom of Israel proved to be consistently in rebellion against God.

To illustrate the absolute certainty of the punishment for their sins, the LORD asked seven questions in a row.  The answer to all of them was no.  The second part of each question, will not happen without the first.  Again, in this chapter, God used the comparison of a roaring lion.  "The LORD God has spoken, who will not fear?" (v.8)

In His great love and mercy, the LORD warned the people in order that they might repent and turn to Him.  Every time, before God executes His judgments, He sent His spokespersons, the prophets, to deliver the message of what is to come.  To place fear in the Gentile neighbors, He invited them come and watch what will take place (vv.9-10).  There would be no fortress or hiding from the Assyrian invasion.

When the kingdom divided and the northern ten tribes separated from Jerusalem, Jeroboam set up his own altars, creating his own religion of false worship.  Those altars and the symbols of Israel's prosperity will all be destroyed (vv.12-15).

Israel had a choice.  The solution was so simple.  "Do two walk together, unless they have agreed to meet?"  The lack of agreement with Israel was not God's doing.  They were not walking with God because they decided to go their own way.  The result of such a decision is disastrous 100% of the time and is today.

God in His loyal love for the world has given fair warning of the coming eternal judgment.  The reason is so that everyone would have the opportunity to repent of going their own way and turn to Him for forgiveness.  There is no other escape.  "If we confess our sins (literally to agree with God), he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9)

Monday, April 6, 2015

Attitudes toward God determine how we treat People

Read Amos 2.

His name means "burden bearer" and, indeed, Amos bore the burden of declaring God's judgments.  While seven neighboring nations are included, the primary audience in this book is the northern kingdom of Israel.

The sins that brought about these punishments mostly involved their mistreatment and abuse of people.  However, the sin of Judah was generally stated as "they have rejected the law of the LORD and not kept his statutes" (v.4).

Now, concerning Israel, the list of sins is longer than any of the others.
1. They showed no pity on the poor and sold them into slavery. (v.6)
2. They oppressed the poor with a corrupted judicial system. (v.7a)
3. They openly practiced sex outside of marriage.  Note that God took it personally as against His holy name. (v.7b)
4. They allowed the poor to use their coats as loan collateral in violation of God's specific laws against this. (v.8a)
5. They used confiscated wine to drink in some so-called act of worship. (v.8b)
6. They rebelled against God after He delivered them and made them to prosper. (vv.9-12)

The result would that no one will escape when the judgment falls on Israel.  The Assyrian invasion was brutal.  Those who were not killed lost everything as they scattered far and wide.

This passage should cause us to think about our own attitudes, particularly as it relates to our treatment of the poor.  The Apostle James wrote: "Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?....If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself,' you are doing well.  But if you show partiality, you are committing sin..." (James 2:5-9)

A person's attitude toward God will inevitably be seen in the way they treat people.  If one is angry at God, they will be angry with others.  If they claim independence of God, they will act arrogantly toward others.  If they chose to ignore the God who loves them, they will also chose to ignore the people who love them.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The certainty and only deliverance from God's Judgment

Read Amos 1.

The prophet Amos lived in Judah but his ultimate audience was the northern kingdom of Israel.  God's pronouncements of judgment came like a roaring lion, ready to pounce on its prey.  And as such, the intended should have been frozen in fear of what was coming.

The writing structure of this book is fascinating.  Beginning in the north, the judgments against Israel's neighbors geographically move to the south, then to the west, circles to the east, and continues to spiral until they hit the final target.  Each paragraph follows the same poetic pattern:
1. Judgment is decided.
2. Sin is detailed.
3. God will deliver the punishment.

Each paragraph starts with the  same poetic device of "For three transgressions....and for four."  This is commonly used in the Old Testament.  Many hold that it not only points to an escalation the list of sins God has against them but combined the number is seven.  That may indicate that their list of sins is full or complete.  Further, chapters one and two present a total of seven pronouncements of judgments before finally addressing Israel.

In the historical context, it was Assyria who invaded this entire region and executed what is stated here.  However, the LORD made it clear that it was He who ordered and personally empowered the punishment.  No less than thirteen times the phrase "I will" appears in this first chapter.

In light of the consistent veracity of God's word, how much more should those who do not enjoy God's forgiveness and protection be frozen in fear of the eternal judgment to come?
"And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment." (Hebrews 9:27)
"It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (Hebrews 10:31)
Concerning Jesus, the Apostle Peter said, "And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12)

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Payback Time

Read Joel 3.

Here is a verse that is never quoted: "Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears, let the weak say, 'I am a warrior.'"  Verse 10 is the opposite of Micah 4:3 which is depicted in a sculpture at the United Nations building in New York City.

There is coming a day when the nations of earth will gather to fight an ultimate battle.  God's intention in the war is to avenge the blood of His people.  The place is called the Valley of Jehoshaphat.  The meaning of the word Jehoshaphat is "the LORD judges."  The description of this yet future battle exactly matches Armageddon in Revelation 14, 16 and 19.  Joel 3:14 calls it the day of the LORD and that multitudes will be in this "valley of decision."  It is not that the people will be trying to decide something; rather, it is God who rendering His decision, or verdict, of judgment against them.

The sin of the nations against the Jews and this land, promised to Abraham's descendants, is well documented to this very day.  Some of the sins of Joel's time are mentioned in the opening six verses. Every generation of Jews has had an enemy who announced their intent to annihilate them.  The very existence of Jews in the world and a Jewish state on at least part of their land is a testimony to the power, protection, and grace of God.

However, in that day the Messiah will visibly be revealed to the world with His heavenly army (Revelation 19:11-21).  He will destroy all of Israel's enemies and establish His kingdom in Jerusalem (Joel 3:16).  As the closing verses of this chapter foretells, the Jews will finally acknowledge Jesus as God and King.  The land will become abundant and prosperous.  Instead of the drought (1:20), the streams that Ezekiel 47 prophesied will flow from the throne of God to water the land.

And, believers will rule and reign with Christ in that earthly kingdom.  "Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection!  Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years." (Revelation 20:6)

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Understanding that day Today

Read Joel 2.

As one reads this chapter two understandings are required.  First, the term "the day of the LORD" includes both the judgment of God and the joy that will follow.  Second, quite often in the prophetical books there is a merger of the immediate historical context and the future events regarding the end times.

The immediate threat to Judah was the coming invasion by the Babylonians.  In chapter one they are compared to a devastating locust plague.  Innumerable and unstoppable describes this army from the north.  However, it was God Himself who was the real power of this judgment.  Notice the four-fold claim in verse 11 using the word "his": "The LORD utters his voice before his army for his camp is exceedingly great; he who executes his word is powerful."

"Yet even now" (vv.12-13) the LORD issued a call for the nation to repent.  Even with the coming punishment on its way, there is a repeat of 1:13-14.  Their relationship with God had been broken due to their sin.  Instead of tearing their garments in the cultural display of grief, He asked them to tear their hearts and return to Him.  The need for prayer and fasting is so urgent that everyone was to stop what they were doing and gather together (v.16).  This was an emergency!

There is a change in theme beginning at verse 18 as the LORD speaks of restoration for Judah.  As God described that future time, He will remove their reproach among the nations.  He will remove their enemies.  The land will flourish again.  And most importantly, "You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the LORD your God and there is none else.  And my people shall never again be put to shame." (v.27)

Not only has the world not seen the fulfillment of verse 27, but the events of verses 30-32 remain future to us.  Jesus referred to this passage in Matthew 24:29 and said that these events would take place in junction with the tribulation.  This is confirmed in Revelation 6:12.

If the judgment is certain, then why pray?  Because of the nature of God.  Verse 13 tells us who God is: "Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster."  The real question is never about God's love for us, but our loyal love for Him.