Personal Accountability in the Book of Amos

Bible Backgrounds: AmosThe first four chapters of Amos are gut-wrenching. Amos is a prophet delivering God’s Word to the nation of Israel. He is not happy. Nor does Amos beat around the bush; he calls Israel out in a very explicit way. He begins by preaching judgment on the nations that surround Israel. With each pronouncement he moves closer and closer to Israel like a noose tightening around their neck. Midway through Chapter 2, the full judgment of God is being preached on the nation of Israel and their sins are many.

The prophet tells Israel that their days are numbered because they are taking advantage of the needy. The Israelites  “sell the righteous for money and the needy for a pair of sandals” (2:6), “turn aside the way of the humble” (2:7) and “a man and his father resort to the same girl” (2:7). Amos paints a picture of Israel that is disturbing. It is a land that is built on the backs of the poor and is characterized by sexual immorality. What’s even more disturbing is that Amos preaches that the Israelites do these things to “profane [God’s] holy name” (2:7). 

Amos is suggesting that the Israelites take delight in their sin. They take pleasure in flaunting their sins before God and they mock Him with their disobedience. Their disobedience is not cause by ignorance; rather, they have gleefully chosen to live in sin.

What’s even more disturbing to me is that I can see this in our own culture. We live in a world that often celebrates what God has called out as sin. Our world mocks those who attempt to be loyal to God’s Word. Our world often profanes the Holy name of God.

The first four chapters of Amos are difficult to swallow because the prophet is preaching to Israel collectively. He is dealing with them on a corporate level as a nation and things appear to be hopeless. Amos preaches that “flight will perish from the swift, and the stalwart will not strengthen his power, nor the mighty man save his life. He who grasps the bow will not stand his ground, the swift of foot will not escape, nor will he who rides the horse save his life. Even the bravest among the warriors will fly naked in that day” (2:14-16).

God’s wrath is going to crush Israel. They are going to be punished for their sins.

There’s a shift in the fifth chapter of Amos. The prophet takes a break from proclaiming doom on the nation and begins speaking to individuals within the nation. He tells them repeatedly to “seek the Lord so that [they] may live” (5:6). Amos is writing a dirge for the nation of Israel (5:1), however, in the midst of the nation’s funeral he is preaching life. Amos preaches:

“Seek Good and not evil, that you may live; and thus may the LORD God of hosts be with you, Just as you have said! Hate evil, love good, and establish justice in the gate! Perhaps the LORD God of hosts may be gracious to the remnant of Joseph” Amos 5:14-15, NASB.

In the midst of a doomed nation, Amos offers a prescription for life. He speaks to individual hearts and tells they must swim upstream to avoid the current of their culture. They must hate evil and love good. They must seek and establish justice. They must look to God for life!

The same is true for us. Jesus stands in stark contrast to our culture. Much of what He preached seems upside down to us. He taught that the last shall be first (Matthew 20:16) and that the meek shall inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5). He also taught that He is the only path to God, “I am the Way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6).  Jesus taught a message that is often ridiculed, distorted, and even profaned in our culture … and it is left up to the individuals within our culture to embrace Christ’s message.

Amos preached that individuals needed to seek good and not evil. Jesus is the good they need to seek. Jesus says that if we know Him, we know God and if we’ve seen Him, we’ve seen God (John 14:7).

In the midst of a culture that is sinking under the weight of its own sin, Jesus is the answer. 

 

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God, Faith, Empirical Evidence and Grace.

skepticSkeptics commonly charge that if any such thing as God actually existed there would be empirical evidence available for all of us to study and thus recognize His existence. Empirical evidence meaning evidence that can be observed, measured, and experimented with according to Scientific Methodology. Skeptics suggest such evidence would remove all doubt to the existence of God and presumably put us all on the same playing field.

My first reaction to such claims is that I’m not entirely sure it’s impossible to measure and observe the existence of a Biblical God … and I plan on writing some posts in the future to address this. However, I suspect what most skeptics are objecting to is the fact that God hasn’t removed each and every one of their own doubts. One skeptic I encountered took great offense that Jesus would offer proof to “Doubting” Thomas by way of allowing him to examine His scars, however, He has never appeared and offered the same proof to modern-day skeptics.

So skeptics take umbrage to the idea that God has not removed all of their doubts, questions, fears, and concerns. Why wouldn’t God make His presence known beyond a shadow of a doubt for everyone to see? It’s a fair question. In fact, it’s a question I’ve asked in the past and it’s the question I hope to address with this post.

It’s quite helpful to examine the life, ministry, and teachings of Christ when asking questions of God. Christ is, after all, the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15). The Son reveals the Father to us and, as it turns out, Jesus was asked a very similar question as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew:

10 And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” 11 Jesus answered them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted. 12 For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him.13 Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 In their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says, You will keep on hearing, but will not understandYou will keep on seeing, but will not perceive15 For the heart of this people has become dullWith their ears they scarcely hearAnd they have closed their eyesOtherwise they would see with their eyesHear with their earsAnd understand with their heart and returnAnd I would heal them.’ 16 But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear.17 For truly I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.

In this passage, the Apostles ask Jesus why He so often teaches people using parables. In other words, they asked Him why He didn’t give it to the people strait. Why did Jesus speak in parables when He could offer them empirical, objective, measurable, and scientific proof? Jesus’ answer provides us with a clue as to what’s going on.

Jesus tells His disciples that he speaks to the multitudes in parables because while they are seeing, they don’t see, and while they are hearing, they don’t understand. Jesus tells His disciples that the hearts of the people have grown dull. There problem wasn’t that Jesus had failed to provide them with proof, but rather they had rejected the proof He had already offered. The same Jesus that now spoke to the multitudes in parables had healed the sick, preached that the Kingdom of Heaven was near, healed the blind, exorcised demons, and even raised the dead! He had given them proof but they failed to accept Him as their Lord and Savior. They saw, but they didn’t see. They heard, but they didn’t understand. Their hearts were dull. So now, Jesus spoke to them in parables.

By their very nature, parables are designed to make people think. They take a fable, fairy tale, or story and place it along side reality in a way that illuminates and reveals the truth. On the surface they may seem like simple stories, but as you dig into them a little but truth is revealed. Jesus used parables when speaking to people who had, by and large, rejected Him. Their hearts were dull, so Jesus used parables to engage their mind. He wanted them to think about what He said. His parables served two purposes. For believers, those who had been granted to know the mysteries of the Gospel, would hear a parable and learn even more about their God. Unbelievers, those with a dull heart, would in turn be given something to chew on, to ponder, and to contemplate.

The alternative was simple. Jesus could have simply given them undeniable proof, but he had already done that. He had performed miracles and preached the Kingdom and they rejected Him. So He spoke to them in parables as an act of grace. Jesus didn’t want people to reject Him outright and then face the consequences of their decisions. He wanted them chew on the parables, contemplate them, and engage their minds until their heart followed. Why?

“[Because] The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” 2 Peter 3:9, NASB.

It doesn’t matter how skeptical you are. You could be the staunchest of all the atheists and God’s desire is for you to come to repentance. He does not want you to perish in hell. So Jesus spoke to them in parables as a way to save them from themselves. It is better for the skeptical to ponder and contemplate a parable than it is for them to outright reject Christ. Parables are an act of grace.

In the same way, God has given us enough evidence in our world to lead us to Christ. The skeptic who demands empirical, measurable, scientific, and undeniable proofs from God is failing to see the evidence that is already there. They see without seeing, they hear without understanding. And in all fairness, yes God could appear and prove His existence to them beyond a shadow of doubt, but then they would be forced to make a choice their heart may not be ready to make. Many of the skeptics who watched Jesus perform miracles blamed evil spirits. Others failed to understand. Others demanded more signs. God bowing to your wishes and appearing before you to perform miracles is no guarantee of your willingness to believe …

Some would claim it was all special effects. Others would say it was magic or evil spirits. Others would claim God’s “in your face” miracles violated their free will to choose. Still more would demand more and more proof. Their resistance and denial would lead to their perishing.

So God gives you enough to engage your mind and your brain. He gives you enough proof to ponder and consider the world around you. To study Scriptures for yourselves. He is patiently waiting for you to accept Jesus because His desire is for none of us to perish. He is patiently showing all skeptics grace. 

“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” Romans 1:20, NASB.

Mental Health and the Church: The Need For Christ

IMG_1235A proper understanding of mental health as it is presented in the Bible must begin with the Doctrine of the Fall of Man. As the story unfolds, Satan, in the guise of a serpent, tricks Adam and Eve into eating the one fruit that was forbidden by God (Gen 3:1-6). It is through this act that sin entered the world and mankind has been afflicted with a sinful nature since. Charles Ryrie writes, “Every facet of man’s being is affected by this sin nature. His intellect is blinded. His mind is reprobate or disapproved. His understanding is darkened, separated from the life of God. His emotions are degraded and defiled” (Ryrie, 1986, p. 252). Because of this fallen state, mankind suffers from total depravity. In other words, our entire person is affected by our sinful nature – body, mind, and spirit. All illness, whether physical or mental, is a result of The Fall of Man. The Apostle Paul confirmed this when he wrote, “To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscious are defiled” (Titus 1:15, NASB). Because of sin, our minds are defiled.

The relationship between sin and mental health must be properly understood before there can be any hope in understanding our subject. While, in many (if not most) cases, it would be inappropriate to attribute a person’s specific mental illness with specific sins, it should be understood that all illness is ultimately the result of mankind’s sinful nature. Thus, there is a spiritual element to mental illness. To ignore this fact would be detrimental to everyone touched by mental illness. In fact, any treatment plan for mental illness that does not address spirituality falls woefully short. Daniel J. Simundson writes:

What can be fixed by human effort? Not all guilt can be removed by better therapy. No amount of treatment by doctors, drugs, electric shock, or group therapy can turn us into loving human beings who act only out of concern for the other. The effects of sin cannot be completely removed, though to a greater or lesser degree, they can be modified and their impact ameliorated (Simundson, 1989, p. 145).

The sinful nature of illness necessitates that salvation must be included somewhere in the discussion. Namely, if sin is to blame for the presence of mental illness in our fallen world, Christ must be offered as an essential element on the path to mental health. Simundon writes, “As Christians, we must include an eschatological hope in our discussion of mental health. What we really need is ‘salvation,’ something that reaches beyond the promises of this [fallen] world” (Simundson, 1989, p. 145). Of course, the “eschatological hope” Simundson writes of has a name – Jesus Christ.

Jesus is essential in our discussion of mental health. He is the ultimate healer. Scripture presents Christ as the face of salvation. Thus, if spirituality is to be included in a complete treatment plan for mental illness, a generic and general spirituality will not suffice. Those suffering from mental illness must be offered nothing less than Jesus Christ.

When Christ as offered on the path to mental health there is hope, healing, and forgiveness.

View all posts in this series.


 

Sources

Ryrie, Charles. Basic Theology. Chicago, Illinois: Moody Publishers, 1986. Digital.

Simundson, Daniel. “Mental Health in the Bible.” Word & World Spring 1989: 140-146.

 

Lessons from Genesis: God Delights in Blessing Mankind

genesisIn the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” These are the words that open the Bible’s account of creation. Far too often, we read these words and immediately try to turn Scripture into a science textbook.

  • When did He do it? 
  • How old’s the earth? 
  • How did He do it? 

I don’t mean to suggest these question are not important, however, I do believe there is a more important and better question … Why did He do it? 

Why did God create the heavens and the earth? One answer I hear quite often is that God created the heavens, the earth, and ultimately mankind because He was lonely and longed for companionship. I’m not sure about this answer. God is presented in Scripture as living a perfectly harmonious and unified relationship of Father, Son, and Spirit. It is a relationship so closely knit that the three persons of the Trinity are defined as One God. Three in one. God exists in the most perfect relationship imaginable so I tend to reject the argument that He was somehow lonely and needed mankind to complete Him. I also believe Scripture provides us with a better answer.

Over and over, God is presented as declaring His creation as “good.” God created light and saw that it was good (Gen 1:3-4), God created the earth and the seas and saw that is was good (1:10), God created vegetation and saw it was good (1:12), God created the sun and the moon and saw it was good (1:18), likewise God goes on to create all the animals of the sky, oceans, and land and declares them as good. Good for what we might ask? What is all this stuff good for?

It’s good for us. Mankind. The one and only creatures that were created in God’s image.

Chapter 2 of Genesis demonstrates to us that God created mankind from the dust of the ground and then “breathed the breath of life into us” (2:7). Then God proceeds to create the Garden of Eden for mankind in verse 2:8. He didn’t create man for the Garden, He created the Garden for the man!

Out of the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (2:9).

God cause to grow trees that were pleasing for food and sight for mankind. He wasn’t just concerned with feeding us, He also wanted us to enjoy ourselves. I can imagine God thinking to Himself as He created:

  • “Oh yes, they are going to love this tree! It is beautiful! it is good!”
  • “These tomatoes are so juicy and ripe … just wait until he sinks His teeth into them!”

God created the world the way He did to bless us. There is something innate to His person that wants to see mankind blessed. He created us in His image and placed us on a planet that is conducive to our survival and enjoyment. He blessed us because that’s the kind of God He is. He is a God who blesses. The prophet Isaiah described Him as an Artist:

“But now, O Lord, You are our Father, We are the clay, and You our potter; And all of us are the work of Your hand” (Isaiah 64:8). 

He is the potter and we are the clay. Carefully crafted in the image of the Father, Son, and Spirit and created to be blessed and to glorify Him. Isaiah also reveals we were created to glorify the God who created us (Isaiah 43:7). That’s the way it was meant to work. He blesses us and we glorify Him.

It’s easy to see how God blesses us. Just look out your window at the world we live in. Look up into the mystery of space in the night sky. Look at you family and loved ones. God blesses us. It might be harder to discern how we are supposed to glorify Him. Scripture tells us there is one vehicle between our blessings and His glory – Jesus Christ.

The apostle John tells us that nothing that has been created has been created apart from Jesus Christ for it is through Him that all things were created (John 1:1-5). All of our blessing came though Jesus Christ … He is the vehicle through which God the Father blesses us through creation. Likewise, it is through Jesus Christ that we glorify God. Jesus said that He is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life and no one gets to the Father but through [Him]” (John 14:6). God the Father blesses us through Jesus and we glorify the Father through Jesus. There simply is no other way.

And here is the wonderful part. The same God who delighted in creating the world to bless us is still delighting in creating for us. Revelation tells us that we will someday inherit a new heaven and a new earth to replace the one we have tainted with our sin. Guess where that new heaven and new earth is going to come from …

“If I [Jesus] go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:3).

Just as God the Father created the heavens and the earth through Jesus to bless mankind at the beginning of time in Genesis, He is creating a new heaven and a new earth through Jesus to bless us at the end of time. He will continue to bless us and we can continue to glorify Him through His Son Jesus.

“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). 

Our God is a God who delights in blessing His creation. How can we not have the desire to glorify His Holy Name.

Amen?