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We Have Agreed to Meet…

First Saturday of Advent

Read Amos 3:1-3

“Hear this word that the Lord has spoken against you, O people of Israel, against the whole family that I brought up out of the land of Egypt: ‘You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore, I will punish you for all your iniquities.  Do two walk together, unless they have agreed to meet?…”

During Advent, we long for the coming of Christ – which will bring, once and for all, the complete and final abolishment of sin. But what is “sin”? And how do we know about it?

According to the truths of the Bible, sin entered the world with Adam and Eve. Since then, not only has everyone sinned (except for Jesus), but everyone has been sinful – stained by an inescapable inner propensity to sin.

God has chosen to let the human race know of their predicament of being sinful sinners. He did this by choosing a single nation to work with: Israel. He would give them the Law, which would describe God’s expectations on the race – expectations that they would soon find out that they can’t meet. The whole world would be able to understand God, His heart, His truth, and His plan, through his interaction with this chosen people.

In today’s passage, Amos refers to this special relationship and agenda God has with Israel. He has already mentioned their history together in 2:9-11 (“It was I who destroyed the Amorite before them…it was I who brought you up out of the land of Egypt…I raised up prophets…Is it not indeed so, O people of Israel?”). Now, he reminds them of their uniqueness: “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.” It’s not that the whole world was innocent, and Israel guilty…obviously not. But Israel has a different sort of relationship with God than others. “Do two walk together, unless they have agreed to meet?” God and Israel had met, and have been bound together by covenant. God holds them to a different standard than the other nations –  not a higher standard, but a clearer, revealed standard. To those with the Law, the consequences of sin must follow … thoroughly, and relentlessly.
At Jesus’ first advent, he was the fulfillment of the law –he lived the life God demands of every human being. Then, when he died and rose again, he conquered the powers of sin and death! True, we still sin, and we still die. But, eternally, the sins we commit and the deaths we experience will leave no permanent scars. We’ve been saved!

And while Amos’ Israel was chosen to model for the world God’s relationship to mankind, Christians have been chosen to model new, eternity-ready lives, lived in the Spirit. A gospel paraphrase of Amos’ words, for the church, could read, “You only have I known of all the people of the earth; therefore, I will forgive you for all your iniquities.  Do two walk together, unless they have agreed to meet?…”

We walk together with Christ. We’ve agreed to meet. Maranatha!

– EO

 
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Posted by on December 5, 2015 in Advent 2015, Amos, Uncategorized

 

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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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