A Mixed Up Minister?
What insights does the book of Jonah have for ministers today?
Led by The Revd Tom Stuckey, a former President of the Methodist Church.
Bible Study on Amos - 4/4
Amos was written for our instruction and encouragement (Romans 15 v4). Sometimes the Bible has pictures we can’t appreciate; but in today’s chapters we get a number we can identify with. However it is worth noting that Amos uses some words in these three chapters that are significant The Lord God 11 times in 46 verses. Previously only 9 times in 100 verses. Amos stresses the fact God rules as covenant Lord despite all the horrors. Also he uses the words my people Warmth despite the sadness!
Lets think about pictures:
1. Pictures in AmosL~
Amos saw quite a number and God spoke; we see them now but the people of Amos' day just had his very plain speaking!
~**Locusts (7:1) Nothing green left when locusts get to work as is spelt out in Joel. As in our last study what we call natural things are supernatural because the Lord is sovereign over all, if we have eyes to see - and Amos gets the message all right.*~~*Fire (7:4 - see also 1:4, 7, 10, 12, 14 and Hebrews 12:29) - Our God is a consuming fire!] Dry and dusty parts of the world bring the devastating possibility of fire - a fearsome prospect! Fire burns up what the locusts might leave.*~~*Plumb line (7:7-9) Here is God the building inspector. He is just not arbitrary in his judgment. God sets the standard 'among my people'. Was Amos acting as God’s plumb line? The inspector will no longer turn a blind eye to irregularities. See 9:1, God the building destroyer 9:14 where God is the rebuilder.*~~*Basket of fruit (chapter 8) This looks good: it is harvest time! Ripe fruit - but ripe for what? Remember how they were priding themselves on their prosperous lifestyle but didn’t see how sick they were. Here is crunch time!**~
2. Pictures and parables for us (8:5-6)L~
We get a picture of a consumer led, materialistic society (v5a). Trade must go on. It was interesting to note that even after the tragedy of September 11th 2001 Wall Street had to get going quickly. In this religious society financial pre-occupations won hands down. They were out to exploit people for dishonest gain (vv5b and 6c). They were not covered by any Weights and Measures Act. They were into oppressing the poor, the underdog (vv4 and 6). They were domineering and overbearing (then as now poor get poorer rich get richer!), and of course complacent (6:1-3). Affluence rules OK. In Revelation 18 trade and commerce for greed go under the hammer!
As a preacher I was struck by the words of Dallas Willard: “Does the Gospel you preach have a natural tendency to produce disciples or consumers of religious goods?” Are my shopping habits really any different from my non-Christian neighbour's? In Matthew 18:23 –35 Jesus tells a story of someone in debt who is forgiven and then is merciless to poorer people. The King does not show mercy when the man has refused to do so!
Recently I read these words paraphrasing some of Jesus words: ‘Economic activity is to benefit people, not people benefit economic activity!’
People of Amos' day did not see it. Do we? Our bargain is slave conditions for others in the global market. UK and overseas farmers suffer from our cheap goods in the shops, quite apart from slave conditions in factories. And in the UK poor pensioners can’t benefit from cheap bulk buys; you can’t buy one chop!
The response of Amos to pictures is challenging. In 7:2 and 5, locusts are not just a natural disaster: God is speaking - "Forgive!" Amos has got the message of the locust and the building inspector. He pleads with God and changes God’s mind, it seems. The harsh message doesn’t stop Amos praying for mercy. He sees that despite their affluence the people are small. That’s the real picture. He still has hope! God is merciful and the people’s lifestyle can stop oppressing to the poor.
3. Pictures to inspire (9:11-15)L~
~**A Rebuilding Programme (v11f). We get great rebuilding stories in Nehemiah and Haggai too. Judgment is not the end, merely a preparation for rebuilding We can have hope. There is a great day of the Lord after the gloom. Headway is a movement of people praying, looking and working for God's work in restoration and revival.*~~*Eden Restored - a truly great harvest, not like the basket of ripe fruit. There will be an ecological transformation after disaster! Ecological change is part of God’s agenda not just the Green Party.*~~*Homecoming (v14) Exiles return: refugees come home! This is real security and prosperity: God is for all. In a world with so many refugees and asylum seekers God’s word paints a wonderful picture that should inspire us in loving concern for the refugee and the asylum seeker and action to make the world a place where they can go home.**~
So we can pray in hope.
The best is yet to be, said John Wesley! That was true for Amos day and it is for our day. Do we believe it? Let the pictures of hope thrill us and give us hope.
We may feel the local and global situation is very tough. But with the sovereign Lord there is always hope; baskets of fruit can be ripe to eat and enjoy, rebuilding is possible, homecoming can be expected, Eden can be restored. After all the Lord is working towards a new world where righteousness and justice are the norm. Is your heart beating in time with His? Do you have a vision for the future that impacts present prayer and activity?
Questions to PonderL~
from agonising with Amos 7-9
~nnIn 7:1-9 Amos listens to God and prays to God. What ways do we use to listen to God? How do we check it is God we are hearing and not ourselves, Christian tradition, or simple prejudice? What plumb line can we use?n~~nHow does the picture of a plumb line help us see the rightness of God’s judgment? Can you suggest Bible passages which give us a handy plumb line against which to test our lives and life styles?n~~nDo we know of questionable business practices? What really motivates business people today? If we see questionable practice and motive; what is our response?n~~nWhat motivates those who are involved in the business world? Is bending (or even breaking) the rules an inevitable part of business Life? How can you be honest and succeed? Can the church today make any difference to what happens in the world of commerce? If so, How?n~~nToday we affirm, debrief after a failed interview, don't believe in right and wrong so much; BUT do we lack real love, truth and justice? Amos seems very hard! Is it fair to let people, groups, notions not be judged? Is there not a standard of truth and justice today?n~~nGod is against pretence in worship and work; confidentiality can sometimes seem devious; what guidelines should we suggest to avoid this accusation?n~~nHow do we balance the immediate hope we have in God with the long term hope of heaven?n~~nThere is a holiness without which we will not see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). Does practical holiness on the whole of life occupy enough of our church thinking, praying and fellowship? How could we develop this?n~~nWhat are the proper responses of the church to the needs of the country and the world?n~~nHow does the message of hope in Amos 9:1-15 help us to keep the message of Amos in perspective, seeing God’s ultimate purpose for the world’s good?nn~