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Last Minute Gift Idea

Read Amos 8:7-10

(As we get closer to Christmas day, all of our cultural cues are telling us to immerse ourselves in nice thoughts and cozy things. Thus, it gets harder for us to look squarely at the tough passages in Amos. Hang in there with me! It is always darkest toward the dawn. Keep your hope stretched, your longing strong, and remain an Advent disciple to the end. I truly believe it will enhance your celebration of the 12 Days of Christmastide.)

A reminder before we get started: The people of Israel at this time thought everything was fine! Sales were up, net worth was up, attendance at attractive church services was up … how odd that this Judean farm boy was saying these ridiculous things about our need to repent!…

Each week, during our church’s morning worship service, we begin with Confession and Absolution. We collectively obey the scriptures to together confess our sins, and then we receive the assurance of God’s forgiveness, according to His Word (e.g., 1 John 1:8-9). Each week, I walk through the shame of my personal valley of the shadow of death, and am taken to the green pastures of experienced grace. My soul depends on this. As the Psalmist says, “If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, who could stand?” (Ps. 130:3). Instead, “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Ps. 130:12).

That’s why verse 8:7 is so startling to my eyes and ears. According to God-through-Amos, not only was Israel in the wrong, but they had taken the LORD to the point of no return. “The Lord has sworn … ‘surely I will never forget any of their deeds!’” If God said that to me … to any of us … we would be lost forever. Our eternal separation from God and consignment to the horrors of Hell would be final.

And my grief would be relentless. As Amos puts it, days would be dark, feasts would be cancelled, songs would be muted … and then, most severe of all, God says “I will make it like the mourning for an only son” (8:10). At our church recently, a family experienced the death of their only son. He was only 11 years old. The sense of loss was truly overwhelming. They, and everyone who knew them, spent many days in incredible grief. It’s a pain that this family, and our whole church, hope to never have to experience again.

But, that pain is the trajectory for our unsaved, unrepentant world. They are on a crash-course for a forever separation from the God they choose to ignore today.

Our world, blind and deaf to God, doesn’t need a gift, a cookie, a cup of wassail, a carol and a snuggle. The gift they so badly need is the gift of repentance. They need not only the baby in the manger, but the piercing truth of His words, and the benefits of His cross.

Our Father God is truly “acquainted with grief” (Is. 53:3) He chose to experience the loss of His only Son, so that our collective grief can be replaced by joy to the world. Amos boldly called the people back to God. Will we do the same? And, by doing so, go beyond the cozy Christmas glaze, and introduce the lost to the only gift that matters?

– EO

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Posted by on December 19, 2015 in Advent 2015, Amos, Evangelism

 

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If my sin has been cast as far as the east is from the west, why should it be reapplied to my forehead?

It was over a decade of being a Christian before anyone told me about Lent – the longstanding tradition of cordoning off the 40 weekdays prior to Easter Sunday as a time of focused mortification of our sin.

Imposition cartoonTo this day, Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent have become important to my spiritual rhythms. From the imposition of the ashes to “Black Saturday”, this season more than any of the others seems genuine, honest, and practical … where some serious spiritual work gets done.

Still, every year, there’s an old reflex within me that comes from my early days as a believer. A voice from my Christian past whispers to me, “Isn’t this stupid? Why wallow in your sin? It’s been paid for and forgiven … why focus on it? Is this just an old Medieval ploy by the church to try to make me feel guilty, so it can manipulate me?” 

(I know I’m not alone in harboring some of these thoughts. We celebrated Ash Wednesday at the independent Evangelical church where I recently served as pastor. The first time we imposed ashes caused at least one member of our congregation to leave. For her, it was just too morbid, too negative, too … “Catholic”.)

guilty dogsYes, there are some unhealthy Lenten practices out there, spawned by unhealthy Lenten theologies. Some turn Lent into a self-help season, or a weight-loss program. Others attempt to overcome sinful habits by their own power, which is futile. Some, believing God is mad at them for their sin, use the season to beat themselves up, thereby beating God to the punch. Still others act like angry dog owners, grabbing their spiritual lives by the scruff of the neck, and sticking their noses in the doo-doo of their sin, believing that, if we really see and smell how awful our lives are, surely we’ll stop making such messes in the future.

But, as David says, “I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me” (Ps. 51:3).  I don’t need a church calendar season to promote my sin-awareness (though some litanies help me take stock of some areas that have gone unattended, which is helpful).

Ps 103-12

So … should I go to the Ash Wednesday service tonight? Is there a way to enter into this classical family tradition in a healthy way? If my sin has been cast as far as the east is from the west, why should it be reapplied to my forehead?

Yes, I’m going. And I’m entering into Lent. More on why as our journey continues…

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Posted by on March 5, 2014 in Lent

 

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