Amos 9:8-15 – Grace Has the Last Word

The eyes of the Lord God are upon the sinful kingdom,
    and I will destroy it from the face of the earth
    —except that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob,
says the Lord.

For lo, I will command,
    and shake the house of Israel among all the nations
as one shakes with a sieve,
    but no pebble shall fall to the ground.
All the sinners of my people shall die by the sword,
    who say, “Evil shall not overtake or meet us.”

On that day I will raise up
    the booth of David that is fallen,
and repair its breaches,
    and raise up its ruins,
    and rebuild it as in the days of old;
in order that they may possess the remnant of Edom
    and all the nations who are called by my name,
    says the Lord who does this.

The time is surely coming, says the Lord,
    when the one who plows shall overtake the one who reaps,
    and the treader of grapes the one who sows the seed;
the mountains shall drip sweet wine,
    and all the hills shall flow with it.
I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel,
    and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine,
    and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.
I will plant them upon their land,
    and they shall never again be plucked up
    out of the land that I have given them,
says the Lord your God. (New Revised Standard Version)

Doom and hope. Judgment and grace. Suffering and glory. These are the movements and rhythms of the Old Testament prophets. 

There was injustice aplenty in ancient Israel way back in the eighth-century B.C.E. Not only were the poor and needy in the land trampled upon, but the people in power saw nothing wrong with building their wealth and status by taking advantage of the less fortunate. 

Yet, God was not okay with this state of affairs. Thus, the time was imminent when God would deal with the situation by destroying an inequitable and exclusive way of life in which the privileged enjoyed a lifestyle on the backs of the unprivileged.

The Lord clearly communicated that the people will be sent away to a place with no chance to oppress others. Death would come to many. The oppressors shall die by the sword, even though, in their arrogant inebriation of power, they actually believed disaster wouldn’t ever happen to them.

However, it did. And history shows that the prophecy of Amos came to pass. The Assyrians, a powerful people who had their own egregious sins to deal with before the Almighty, were the instruments of divine judgment upon God’s people. Israel was conquered, the people deported, and the proud oppressors became the lowly oppressed.

Even in such a terrible time for Israel as that, judgment doesn’t have the last word – grace does. God would not completely destroy forever. Restoration, renewal, and fruitful times will come as a result of God’s mercy toward a wayward people. 

The Lord spoke a promise that it will not forever be this way. Rebuilding and restoration will eventually happen. God chooses to act with mercy and demonstrate grace because that is what God does. 

We may often get the wrongheaded notion in our creaturely pea-brained heads that God executes judgment to teach people a lesson or make a point, like some capricious schoolmaster who wraps kids on the knuckles with a ruler when they act up in class. But God acts out of holiness, justice, and grace. The Lord maintains righteous decrees while showing mercy to the undeserving.  

Israel deserved only judgment, not grace. God would have been completely justified to destroy rich and powerful oppressors and never restore or renew them. Yet, be that as it may, this is not how the Lord of the universe operates. God’s grace overwhelms human sin. Grace always has the last word.

Try and understand grace and you will be befuddled. Some things just defy comprehension. Sometimes it’s just best to observe and appreciate. Grace is wildly illogical, nonsensical, and unconditionally free. Grace shows radical acceptance where there ought to be only hell.  

God’s grace is downright scandalous. Whereas we might have a stick-it-to-the-man mentality, God is much bigger than petty petulant posturing. The Lord doesn’t sit in heaven and scheme clever ways to irritate sinners and put them in their place, like some belligerent divine bully.

Rather the Lord of all continually conspires within perfect Love how to guide folks mercifully and gently to Truth – utilizing incredibly diverse tools of divine kindness to woo people to the source of amazing grace.

The height of grace, the pinnacle of restoring the fortunes of Israel, came through a baby, by a humble birth in the small village of Bethlehem. 

Jesus came to save the people from their sins. God acted by entering humanity with free divine love so that there could be new life and fresh hope. Therefore, let grace wash you clean. Allow mercy to renew your life. Let worship of the newborn king shape your season and the New Year.

Gracious God, although you are careful to uphold your great holiness, your mercy extends from everlasting to everlasting. May the gospel of grace form all of my words and actions so that true righteousness reigns in my life through Jesus, your Son, my Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit are one God, now and forever. Amen.

Romans 8:1-8 – The Privilege of Life in the Spirit

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. (New International Version)

It is a great privilege to be a Christian and possess God’s own Spirit in our lives. There are four privileges of the Christian to take note of so that believers can truly live in the Spirit and not in the flesh (sinful nature).

First Privilege: There is now no condemnation.   

No condemnation means “without judgment.” God pronounced a verdict, and the decision is final. We are united to Christ by means of God’s Spirit. Since God does not condemn us, there is no need whatsoever to condemn ourselves or other people.

Since we do not sit under judgment, believe the sin issue has been taken care of once for all through the life and death of Christ. If you do not feel forgiven, then put yourself in a position to believe. Allow the Holy Spirit of God to take the redemption of Christ and apply it to your life in a real and practical way.

It would be silly to go into the bathroom, turn on the shower, then just stand in the middle of the bathroom without getting under the showerhead. Because you did not put yourself in a position to become clean! You may passionately believe a shower, soap, and shampoo will make you clean. Yet, if you do not actually avail yourself of the privilege of taking the shower but just stand there and look at it, you will not become clean. 

We must put ourselves in a position to experience the privilege of God’s grace, our wonderful state of cleanliness, and the lack of condemnation through reading the Word of God on a regular basis; praying in the Spirit on all occasions; and practicing the silence and solitude necessary to receive the cleansing work of the Holy Spirit.

An illustration of marriage might help us understand both our reality and our responsibility. Two people are declared “married” in a formal wedding ceremony. The couple then works out their shared union together over a lifetime. The Minister does not pronounce condemnation at the ceremony but declares a blessing.

From that point forward the two persons must work on their marriage. They must believe their relationship is important enough to warrant putting themselves in a position to grow together by intentionally doing things like creating date nights and conversations on the couch; learning, appreciating, and participating in the other’s interests and life. 

God is not opposed to effort – but to the notion that we save ourselves. Just as we do not marry ourselves and pronounce ourselves a married couple, so we do not save ourselves. Having a marriage license in hand does not mean there is no effort to be done in the relationship. A marriage is both a legal reality, and a kind of mystical union between the spouses.

Second Privilege: Freedom from sin and death.

In Holy Scripture, sin is not only personal struggle but an ever-present reality in the world. Unfortunately, the power and presence of sin is everywhere within people, institutions, and systems. Because sin is everywhere, death is everywhere. Biblically, death refers not only to the body, yet also to the spirit. Death is a relational term. It’s to be separated from God, apart from a relationship. Conversely, life is connection, to be in union with God. 

God sent the Son. God’s Son became incarnate, a sin-offering, an atoning sacrifice for our sins. God condemned sin in sinful humanity. God met the righteous requirements of the law. God effects holiness in us by means of the Spirit. 

Rather than saving us from sin then simply telling us to live a holy upright life, God the Father and Son sent God the Holy Spirit to indwell us so that we can live like Jesus. Therefore, we must put ourselves in a position to experience this saving work through dwelling in the Scriptures and letting the Spirit and the Word effect practical change in our lives. 

I often quote Scripture from memory. I don’t really set out to memorize Scripture so much as I set out to dwell in it to the degree that it ends-up becoming a part of me. The goal is to become awash by the Spirit and the Word so that in every decision, in everything said, and in each action, we are moved by the Holy Spirit.

Third Privilege: We possess the mind of Christ.

The rub of the problem all Christians face, living in a sinful world, has to do with our mindset. What occupies our minds is what determines whether we will have life and peace, or not. 

If the object of our thoughts is continually away from Christ and the Spirit, we will have loose thinking.  If we put ourselves in a position to indulge the sinful nature, it will affect our mindset. Our mental choices can lead to life or death.

For example, alcoholics know they have two choices: the way of life or the way of death. The first step of the twelve steps is to admit powerlessness over alcohol and that my life has become unmanageable. The second step is to believe a Power greater than myself can restore me to sanity. The third step is to turn life and will to that Power. 

We are powerless over sin, which will, if left unchecked, lead to death. Yet, in the Spirit, we have the possibility of life. Sin, like alcohol, is a daily possibility, even after giving my life and will to God. However, there is also the possibility of life. And that hope of life is what we possess when we have the mind of Christ and the Spirit. We hope through the power of the Spirit to overcome death, embracing choices which lead to life.

The Spirit is not some vitamin supplement to the Christian life, or a protein shake that helps us become healthy.  The Spirit is life and peace, a person, not simply a force. The Spirit brings us the practical benefits of new life in Christ. So, what we put into our minds is vitally important. It’s not about willpower but about putting oneself in a position to receive spiritual power to mold, make, and change us.

Relying solely on willpower is setting yourself up for a crash. Evidence-based studies repeatedly demonstrate that we as people tend to overestimate how much self-control we will have against temptation when we are not in the “heat of the moment.” We too easily believe we can handle more temptation than we can.

Those who are most confident about their self-control are the most likely to succumb to temptation. The key avoiding situations where vices thrive and, most importantly, for individuals to maintain a humble view of their willpower.

Fourth Privilege: The Holy Spirit indwells us.

The Spirit is the distinguishing mark of the Christian life. The Spirit opposes the sinful nature and expects us to do the same. We need not live the Christian life on our own power because of the Holy Spirit. 

There is an internal struggle within us that desires to do right but has a compulsion to do otherwise. It’s the indwelling Spirit that gives us victory. Christ’s life, as much as his death, achieved salvation from sin for us. The very same Spirit that helped Jesus in life and raised him from death belongs to us!

When I was a kid, I remember my grandmother canning grape preserves. I sat on a stool in the kitchen and watched her, looking forward to yummy grape goodness on my next piece of toast. I once asked Grandma, “Why are you always melting that wax over the fruit?” I didn’t understand how wax could make my toast taste any better. She answered, “The wax seals the jar tightly so the fruit can’t be contaminated. If I didn’t seal it, the fruit would eventually rot.” 

You and I are God’s preserves. God not only chooses, redeems, and calls us; the Lord also has a plan for preserving us – to give us the indwelling Spirit so that we can live free from sin and do the will of God.

So, may Christians everywhere appreciate the privileges of no condemnation, freedom from sin, possessing the mind of Christ, and the power of the indwelling Spirit. May you avail yourselves of the Spirit and experience life and peace so that you will love God, love one another, and love the world through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Almighty God, fill us with the knowledge of your will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. Help us to live worthy of the Lord Jesus and to please him in every way; bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power according to your glorious might so that we may have great endurance and patience, joyfully giving thanks to you. For you, Lord, have rescued us from the dominion of darkness and have brought us into the kingdom of the Son you love, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Amen.

Amos 8:1-7 – A Prophet’s Perspective on the Powerful and the Poor

This is what the Almighty Lord showed me: a basket of ripe summer fruit.

He asked, “What do you see, Amos?”

“A basket of ripe summer fruit,” I answered.

Then the Lord said to me, “My people Israel are now ripe. I will no longer overlook what they have done. On that day, the songs of the temple will become loud cries,” declares the Almighty Lord. “There will be dead bodies scattered everywhere. Hush!”

Listen to this, those who trample on the needy
and ruin those who are oppressed in the world.
You say to yourselves,
“When will the New Moon Festival be over
so that we can sell more grain?
When will the day of rest—a holy day, be over
so that we can sell more wheat?
We can shrink the size of the bushel baskets,
increase the cost,
and cheat with dishonest scales.
We can buy the poor with money
and the needy for a pair of sandals.
We can sell the husks mixed in with the wheat.”

The Lord has sworn an oath by Jacob’s pride:
“I will never forget anything that they have done.” (God’s Word Translation)

I’ve been in the church most of my life. I have listened to thousands of sermons, as well as preaching thousands of them myself. I can count on both hands how many times I’ve heard a sermon from one of the twelve minor prophets in the Bible. Although I personally have preached on them more times than that, it still pales in comparison with how many sermons I’ve preached from the New Testament gospels or epistles.

This, I believe, is an indictment on us, especially those with privilege and power. If you add the major prophets, we have sixteen books contained in Holy Scripture calling out powerful and influential people’s oppression of others. To overlook such a girth of text is to stick our fingers in our ears and refuse to listen to God.

Those with power, position, and privilege must continually be vigilant to use such influence for the benefit of all persons – not just themselves or people just like them. The books of the prophets make it quite plain that God cares about justice. God will uphold the needy. The Lord will stand with the oppressed. If we fail to share a divine sense of justice and injustice, there will be hell to pay.

“Extreme poverty anywhere is a threat to human security everywhere.”

Kofi Annan

God is longsuffering. The Lord patiently awaits us to pay attention. Yet, eventually, that patience will run its course. A prophet will be sent to voice God’s concerns. Like a basket of ripe fruit now finally ready to be eaten, so God’s justice is ripe and ready for action.

The prophet Amos delivered a scathing message to the ancient Israelites about their total disregard for the poor and needy in the land. The people in positions of authority and power only looked on the less fortunate as commodities – as pawns to be taken advantage of for the rich merchants. 

Because the wealthy never took the time to listen to the poor, God would not listen to them. Judgment was coming, and it would not go so well for the power brokers of society who only thought of their business and squeezing others for more money.

The bald fact of the matter is that few people rush to have poor folk as their friends. Those in poverty are often overlooked and disregarded. Either they are ignored altogether or are given hand-outs and services without ever having any significant human contact. Even when there is help, it comes from a distance.

In other words, those in authority rarely take the time to listen and get to know the real face of poverty. If there isn’t a photo opportunity, then encounters with the poor are not likely to happen with politicians, or anyone else. After all, so many are busy making money, checking stock portfolios, and considering how to get bigger market shares…. 

Oh, my, perhaps we have an answer as to why there is no revival in the land. God shows such solidarity with the poor that to ignore them is to ignore him.  No matter our financial picture and outlook, every one of us can grace the poor with the gift of time and listening.  For in doing so we might just be listening to the voice of God.

Gracious God, you are found everywhere – both the halls of power, and the back alleys of slums.  As I seek you more and more, may I see the face of Jesus in everyone I encounter, whether rich or poor so that I can share the gift of life with them all.  Amen.