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12/4: Staying Sharp

12/4: Staying Sharp

First Monday of Advent: Amos 1,2

Christians long for the second coming of Jesus, “the day of the Lord”. It will be a time of great joy for those who believe. But it will also be a terrifying day of judgment for those who do not. Jesus said, concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:2). He calls his followers to wait and be ready for His coming. But for many, it will be a surprise, and they will be caught living godless lives — which will result in judgment. The blatantly irreligious will be found wanting, yes … but also many who believe they’re a part of God’s inner circle. 

amos-600mapIn Amos 1 and 2, the prophet foretells the judgments of eight nations. Six of them are “secular,” and two are the divided kingdoms of the people of God, Israel and Judah. In sum, they provide a litany of specific offenses that will lead to condemnation from God. Wartime tortures (1:3,13), human trafficking (1:6,9), denigrating other foreign leaders (2:1), forsaking peace accords (1:9), “forsaking pity” and staying perpetually hostile (1:11) … all for the sake of imperialistic land-grabs (1:13). All of these charges have to do with international politics.

But then, to the (supposedly) godly nations of Judah and Israel, God brings punishments for different reasons. Here are three:

“They have rejected the law of the Lord, and not kept His statutes. Their lies have led them astray” (2:4).  God had uniquely revealed Himself to the Jewish people. The words of that revelation through the law of Moses was their special gift, and also their distinctive measure. They had let this inheritance slip, and were letting the lies of their day pull them from obedience to mandates of their God. I can’t help but think that Christians today are following this same path. 

“They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals” (2:6). The people of God had grown materialistic. They cared more about what they could purchase for themselves than the welfare of their neighbors, especially their poor ones. They spent more on shoes than on the poor. I can’t help but think that Christians today are following this same path.

You made the Nazirites drink wine, and commanded the prophets, saying, ‘You shall not prophesy'” (2:12). God ordained spiritual disciplines, which helped keep the peoples sharp and attentive before God, were downplayed, and even forbidden. Had they become passe? No longer appropriate for their then-contemporary world? Too legalistic for their enlightened minds? Had they grown tired of all that talk of sin, righteousness and judgement? For whatever reason, their faith-lives had gone unpracticed and unfueled. I can’t help but think that Christians today are following this same path.

Amos’ Advent challenge to the people of God: Yes, the world is full of unspeakable evils. It’s easy to say, “Hey, I’m no terrorist.”  But our plumb line is different. So, we need to let our love of God and His Word keep us from falling for the lies of our culture! We need to quit living for the promotion of our bottom lines, and be generous! We need to embrace our disciplines (e.g., be appropriately religious), and amplify Biblical truths! All the more, as we eagerly await the Lord “roaring from Zion” on that final day. May we not then be found to have lost our edge, and unconsciously drifted from God.

Stay sharp! “Prepare your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as He Who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct” (1 Pet. 1:12-14).

– EO

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Thy Kingdom Come … Now!

It’s Christmas Eve! At sundown, let the 12 Days begin!

But for these last hours of Advent, and for our final leg of the journey, read Amos 9:13-15 one more time.

hills“The time will come,” says the Lord, “when the grain and grapes will grow faster than they can be harvested! Then the terraced vineyards on the hills of Israel will drip with sweet wine. I will bring my exiled people of Israel back from distant lands, and they will rebuild their ruined cities and live in them again. They will plant vineyards and gardens; they will eat their crops and drink their wine. I will firmly plant them there in their own land. They will never again be uprooted from the land I have given them,” says the Lord your God.Amos 9:13-15, NLT

Two days ago, we saw that the “booth of David” would be rebuilt from the ruins. Yesterday, we were told that this Kingdom would be international in scope, possessing a remnant from “all the nations.” Today, we get a peek at what this rebuilt global community will look like.

A God-man cooperative! God will bring the people back, and God will plant them in the land. But it will be the people who will rebuild the cities, and plant the vineyards. Immanuel, “God with us”, will enfold us into a life of purpose, productivity, and celebration. (If any of you think heaven will be boring, don’t!).

wineAbundant prosperity! Our God, Who says “blessed are the poor”, has great riches in store for His people when He comes again. The imagery here is fantastic – enough to excite any commodities broker to buy low, and sell high! Production so abundant that the supply chain can’t even keep up? So much wine that it will look like the hills are dripping with it? (That doesn’t sound like Genesis 3:17-19, does it?) No more let thorns infest the ground … He comes to make His blessings FLOW far as the curse is found!


Abundant life!
I so love this picture. We’re not talking about a one-time feast (like many of our Christmas day celebrations). And we’re not talking about the consumerism-induced transience that has turned today’s believers into a bunch of frenetic church hoppers. And we’re not talking about “churches” that have become “as-long-as-the-front-door-is-bigger-than-the-back-door” retail franchises. No, God is going to “firmly plant them” in the land- what will now and forevermore be their land. Deep roots. No deracination. Never again will these aliens and strangers, these wanderers, these sojourners, have any cause or reason to leave. Home. Rest. Health. Peace.

Is all of this coming in the future, or do we get to experience it now?

Yes.

We celebrate Christmas Day on the 25th (the manger, the shepherds, the holy family). But the “thrill of hope”, why “the weary world rejoices”, is that the incarnation of Jesus on that first Christmas brought His Kingdom to bear on this world now! Through the work of the Holy Spirit, the divine cooperative has commenced. We can, now, experience abundant life, and usher others into the “foretaste of glory divine” that is life in His church! Hallowed by Thy name, now! Thy reign in the lives of your chosen people come, now! Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven, now!

– – – – – –

In conclusion, the short version of our Advent journey: We are a hell-bent people. We live for ourselves, and disregard others. And our worship of God is terminally infected by this condition. The Day of the Lord is near, and on that day, the plumb line will ultimately be dropped by God. He rules the world with truth and grace: Those who remain in their stubborn, selfish, godless ways will face a horrific judgment. Those whose hearts are pierced to repentance will get 9:13-15!

May your Christmastide be rich as you enter into the feast of abundance with your wonderful savior. He has come! … and is coming again! Maranatha!, and Merry Christmas.

– EO

 

 

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“Just Sayin’?” Uh…no.

Read Amos 8:1-3

The Amos reading tonight reminds me of the advent verses in the first chapter of John’s gospel. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory” (John 1:1, 14).

Jesus is the Word. Christians, like the Jews, have always been people of the book. We believe that a primary way that God has communicated to people is through words, through language.

The modern understanding of “objective truth” has driven many people, both believers and non, to a different type of relationship with words. We analyze everything. We treat our sentences and word choices like the matter in a physical science experiment. When we approach the Bible this way, we end up parsing, mincing and mining the texts – their history, grammar, authorship – in a pursuit of “the facts”. (So immersed our we in this brand of Bible reading that we cannot even see how unusual it is in the grand thousands-of-years history of the faith.)

When it comes to our Advent eschatology, we do the same. We rip into Daniel, Revelation, and all the other prophecies, trying to extract some sort of pre-history of upcoming events that is “valid”. Then we argue over our findings…

…As though this was the purpose of the prophets, and of the written words their revelations produced.

But … what does this have to do with Amos 8?

God has another word for Amos. As the book moves to its final chapters, the prophecies are getting all the more grim. God has more tragic news to share through His prophet … but His approach is very curious.

“This is what the Lord God showed me: behold, a basket of summer fruit. And he said, ‘Amos, what do you see?’ And I said, ‘A basket of summer fruit.’ Then the Lord said to me, ‘The end has come upon my people Israel; I will never again pass by them. The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day,’ declares the Lord God. ‘So many dead bodies!’ ‘They are thrown everywhere!’ ‘Silence!’” (Amos 3:1-3).

We don’t get this in English … but in Hebrew, God is doing a play-on-words. The word for “fruit” in Hebrew is pronounced kay-EETS. The word for “end” is KEETS. Get it? It’s a basket of kay-EETS, Amos, but what it really is is a healthy serving of KEETS … “the end” … the destruction of Israel.

Seriously? This is God almighty, informing Amos of a catastrophe that will leave bodies strewn everywhere … and He’s presenting it with a clever double entendre? One might consider this, well, kind of inappropriate. At the very least, it’s interesting.

I find it wonderful, for a few reasons. First, God is good, all the time. He doesn’t have to shift from being at once creative, artistic and engaging, and then become somber, sterile and matter-of-fact. The same God who playfully carved out the Grand Canyon is, with complete joy and goodness, bringing about His judgment on His own faithless people. No apologies. No change in character.

Second, it affirms again how important the creative use of language is to God. The way God speaks to His prophets reinforces to me both the truth and the beauty of God, and His Word. And we, made in His image and likeness, are the only creatures on the planet who are also users of language. What we say, and how we say it, are of enormous importance! We don’t just deal in “truth”. We deal in divine-image communication, which should be handled with great care, and for the most noble purposes.

“Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in[d] blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God (Rev. 19:11-13). He is coming!

– EO

 
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Posted by on December 18, 2015 in Advent 2015, Amos, Eschatology

 

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Shhhh!

First Monday of Advent

Read Amos 6:9-14

(For those of you who have been following along through this whole Advent blog … are you starting to find yourself longing for some grace?!? I sure am. I suppose that’s a good place for the soul to be during Advent…)

Today I’m amazed at just how stubborn and misinformed we can be when it comes to God.

In vs. 9-10, we have this grizzly prophetic anecdote. Because of the judgment of God on their sins, an entire household of ten will be found dead in their house. An uncle will come by to do his duty of cremating the bodies. While searching for bodies and carrying out his task, he will say, “Shhhh! We must not mention the name of the Lord!”

Why would anyone want to be careful not to mention the name of the Lord?

Perhaps this uncle is in denial. He is stubbornly refusing to believe that what has happened has anything to do with God. Despite the tragedy, he still doesn’t give God his attention.

Or maybe it’s the opposite: Perhaps he knows the LORD is behind the destruction, and he doesn’t want God’s wrath to be kindled any more than it already has been. God has his attention … but his response is misguided.

Our increasingly secular nation seems to be quoting this Samarian uncle these days. “Shhhh! We must not even mention the name of the Lord.” Do they say this because they stubbornly-yet-genuinely refuse to believe in God’s existence? Or might they, deep down, hold to some semblance of belief, and hate the mention of God because it reminds them that a day of reckoning is coming?

Either way, it is pathetic. Though God shows Himself strong all around us, let’s seal our mouths, plug our ears, and burn the bodies. Our godless world, at its most ignoble.

What’s wrong at the root is the theology behind the “shhhh.” tasteGod is nothing but good! He created an amazingly beautiful world. Her provides for us miraculously every day. He has saved us time and again (g
arden, flood, exodus, conquest, battles, returns from exile, and ultimately in Jesus). He speaks to us through his prophets. His people
have brought countless practical blessings to the world. And the good news, that God loves, forgives, blesses, empowers and makes alive, continues to take hold of people all over the world, filling them with “inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Pet. 1:8). That is God! And that is grace! Why would you want to “shhhh” that?

Well, ignoring God doesn’t make Him go away. Israel’s godless insistence on injustice, unrighteousness and self-confidence will result in their being “shattered to pieces.”

Advent. A time of proclamation. Don’t let the “shhhh” keep you from calling out to Him, and proclaiming His return.

– EO

 
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Posted by on December 14, 2015 in Advent 2015, Amos, Eschatology

 

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The Great and Terrible Day of the Lord

20151211_071329 (2)Yesterday, I penned these words: “Get up early … Take in the sunrise.” Today I was gifted with a beautiful desert morning – as if God was saying, “I’m good. I’m beautiful. And I’m coming soon. Return to me again today.”

The beauty of the sunrise is portent of grace for those who believe. For those who don’t, not so much.

Read Amos 5:1-20

(Amos begins by heaving a personal, heavy sigh. “They hate the one who reproves in the gate, and they abhor the one who speaks the truth.” Yup. More often than not, we believe that what we’re doing is the right thing. No one wants to feel like they need correction. No one wants to be called a sinner. No one wants a prophet meddling in their business. “For I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins” (v.12). Yah, that’s going to go over well.)

As is the case with all of God’s prophets and their prophecies, there is a grace-calm before the judgment-storm: “Seek good! … the LORD will be with you! … It may be that the LORD will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph!” (vs.14-15). That’s the call of Advent – return to the Lord, and seek His presence in a good, reconciled way! I hope you’re embracing that message, because…

THE DAY OF THE LORD

… His presence does not always mean mercy. He’s coming soon, and “will pass through the midst of you” v.17), but the result of that day, “The Day of the Lord”, will be bitter wailing, mourning and lament. In short: For those who have prepared for His coming, it will be the most fantastic day we could imagine! Beyond what we could ask, think, or imagine, actually. But for those who haven’t prepared, who aren’t reconciled with God, who have not been born again by the Spirit…

“Alas for the day! For the day of the Lord is near, and as destruction from the Almighty it comes … Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming … the day of the Lord is great and very awesome; who can endure it?” – Joel 1:15, 2:1,11

“Wail, for the day of the Lord is near; as destruction from the Almighty it will come! Behold, the day of the Lord comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the land a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it.” – Isaiah 13:6,9

“That day is the day of the Lord God of hosts, a day of vengeance, to avenge himself on his foes. The sword shall devour and be sated and drink its fill of their blood.” – Jeremiah 46:10

“For the day is near, the day of the Lord is near; it will be a day of clouds, a time of doom for the nations.” – Ezekiel 30:3

“The great day of the Lord is near, near and hastening fast; the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter; the mighty man cries aloud there.” – Zephaniah 1:14

Amos also says in today’s text:

“Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord! Why would you have the day of the Lord? It is darkness, and not light, as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him, or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall, and a serpent bit him. Is not the day of the Lord darkness, and not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?” – Amos 5:18

The spirit of the Advent season is so important! We don’t want to be on the outside looking in of God’s grace at the return of Christ. And we don’t want that for the world around us. Get ready … and spread the urgent word of reconciliation! Oh, and live well … that’s tomorrow’s theme.

– EO

 
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Posted by on December 11, 2015 in Advent 2015, Amos

 

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Please!…Seek Me and Live.

Second Thursday of Advent

Read Amos 5:1-9

If you actually enjoy bringing bad news, you’re pretty terrible.

Image result for getting my brother in troubleAmos wasn’t like that. He had a stern word for Israel … but he wasn’t like a young child who takes a perverse delight in narking on a sibling. He doesn’t want his brothers and sisters to get in trouble with the Father. No … his prophecy is a lamentation (5:1). He wishes it wasn’t true. But it is.

And it’s grim. The Word of the Lord to Amos is predicting a 90% military slaughter (5:3). Imagine this: In World War II, the U.S. had over 16 million people in the armed services. The total number of casualties? Over 400,000. That’s absolutely awful … but it was a mere 2.5%. To match Israel’s prospect, the U.S. would need to have lost over 14 million people. Can you even comprehend that kind of grief? And what such a defeat would do to your national identity?

With tears in his eyes, and a clear vision of Israel’s tragic trajectory, God cries out to His chosen people through Amos: “Seek me and live! Seek the LORD and live!” The choice seems so clear. But their hearts are so hard.

false teacherThis call to seek God, by the way, was not a call to get religious. The LORD says clearly, “Don’t seek Bethel. Don’t enter Gilgal. Don’t go to Beersheba” (v.5). These were the religious centers of Israel. Each place had deep religious roots (Bethel/Jacob, Gilgal/Joshua, Beersheba/Abraham). But these places had grown spiritually cold because of Israel’s injustice and unrighteousness, and would be of no help to them now. It wasn’t a time to get religious – it was time to go to God directly, and personally. “Seek me and live!”

Against this harsh projection comes a beautiful reminder. “Get up early, and go to the beach. Take in the sunrise. Watch the waves crash on the shore. Enjoy the sunset. Now look at those stars! The one who made all of this … it’s the LORD! You can enjoy all of this, and the God Who made it! …”

“Or you can experience the destruction that I can make happen just as easily” (cf. v.8-9).

The imminent return of Jesus, and therefore the season of Advent, should cause us to think very soberly about the state of our souls, the state of our churches, and the state of our world. Are we seeking God, and living? Are our churches, today, centers of real seeking and living? And, does the unbelieving world know how high the stakes are when it comes to God’s call to seek Him, and live?

Tomorrow, Amos will reinforce the gravity of what it means that Jesus is returning. We’ll pick it up then in verse 10 …

– EO

 
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Posted by on December 10, 2015 in Advent 2015, Amos

 

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Unbelief, Naturally

Read Amos 4:6-13

One of the reasons we don’t look forward to Jesus’ coming as much is we should is, because … well, it’s hard to believe. It would be an absolute miracle, and people just don’t believe in miracles these days.

For the past 500+ years, the Renaissance, Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution have led us to a naturalistic view of the world: Real truth, natural truth, is determined by scientific experimentation. Miracles don’t mix with this naturalistic approach – hence the term “supernatural.” The backlash of this new rational order is to cast those who believe in the supernatural as superstitious, backward and irrational. If there’s one doctrine we get mocked about more than any, it’s the idea that Jesus is going to come back and make everything right.

What does this have to do with Amos 4?

In these verses, Amos makes a list of disasters that had befallen Israel: Famine (v.6), drought (v.7-8), crop disease (v.9a), infestation (v 9b), and pestilence (v.10a). These kinds of events are happening all over our world right now. But, for the most part, the intelligent people of the western world have disassociated these things from God. Instead, we call them “natural disasters”.

Amos also describes wars (v.10b-11). We don’t call these “natural” disasters, but we still don’t attribute these to God. These are our issues as humans. We’re the sovereign creators of our own hostilities. So, neither wars nor natural disasters seem to make us think much about God.

God, Amos, and the ancients, didn’t see it like this. God makes it clear that there are no natural disasters. They are God-disasters. “I gave you … I also withheld … I would send … I struck you … I laid waste … I sent … I killed … I carried away … I overthrew.” God is the agent of all of these acts, and He is incredibly disappointed that the Israelites don’t see that. He’s trying to get their attention! But, four times God marvels that “yet they did not return to me” (v. 6,8,9,10,11).

The result of this callous numbness to the divine initiative? “Prepare to meet your God, O Israel.” They had forgotten Him. And they’re about to get re-introduced to “the one who forms the mountains, creates the wind, reveals his thoughts to mortals, makes the morning darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth – the Lord, the God of hosts, is his name!” (v.13).

So, our naturalistic bent has turned our attentiveness to divine revelation on its head. A Biblically appropriate reaction to tragedy should be: “This terrible thing is happening – God must be real, and is getting our attention!” Instead, our unbelieving world says: “Because this thing is happening, there must not be a God, because He wouldn’t ‘let’ this happen if He existed.” The louder God screams, the harder our hearts and minds become.
So many in our modern world don’t believe God exists. But this isn’t as new as we think. It has been the case for millennia. Don’t worry! God isn’t losing sleep because of people’s disbelief. He continues to be God. He listens. He speaks. He brings down, and lifts up. He’s in control. And He isn’t moved by His approval ratings.

What He has done is promise to return. So, during this Advent season, as we look around at all the craziness and tragedy in our world, don’t be duped by your culturally-derived propensity to be a naturalist. Let the living God get your attention! Return to Him. Prepare to meet Him.

– EO

 
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Posted by on December 9, 2015 in Advent 2015, Amos

 

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