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This Month's Scripture Verse:

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.
2 Timothy 3:1-5


Friday, January 15, 2016

The Part Of The Bible That Best Describes America Today

I have two churches that I regularly attend. The one church is located in the area in which I live while the other one is located near where the daughter's family resides. What will be reviewed today is a sermon (click here for the audio link and the Scripture passage) from the senior minister of the latter church, Reverend Steve Constable (click here for short biography). The sermon was given in 2012 and it provided a running commentary on Amos 6 (click here for the chapter or read the chapter from the audio link previously provided). 

Why review this particular sermon? This blog is reviewing this sermon because of the Scripture being commented on. For the sixth chapter of Amos is the part of the Bible that best describes America today. And what is sad about that statement is that what best describes America is tragic and it includes many of my fellow religiously conservative Christians.

Amos 6 can be divided into two parts. The first part describes the complacency and apathy exhibited by the Israelites at the time. The second part discusses the Lord's reaction to that complacency and apathy. Historical background for Amos' time can be found at this link. And it is in this background information where we can first spot the parallels between Israel at the time of Amos and America today. Because of their victories and prosperity, both had much to be proud of. And perhaps because of the comfortable lifestyle enjoyed by both, the haves has good reason for not caring about the plight of the vulnerable.

Here we should note the specifics of Amos' description of the people back then. For they lived in luxury, ate well, drank better, enjoyed their own creative ventures, and ignored the real state of their nation as measured by their rejection of God and their neglect of those who were at risk. 

And whereas we can easily understand why today's nonChristian Americans might revel in the same way of life as Amos was condemning back then, we need to search for why Christians can join their secular counterparts in embracing the same way of life. For we Christians should be more leery of the comforts of materialism than nonChristians, but such is not the case in too many instances. After all, we have been warned by Jesus against storing up treasures on earth, warned Paul against loving money, and warned by John against loving the world (click here, here again, and there). But we have failed to pay attention and perhaps the following is one reason why that is so. We've been often told that we can ignore the unpleasantries that are coming to the world because we will gain great riches in heaven and experience wonders when we can see God in His fully glory. However, what some infer from that is that we are free to embrace the non-taboo earthly pleasures without reservation because our joy is meant to glorify God. 

Anyway, Constable drew some interesting parallels between Israel of Amos' day and today's America as well as making some important points. First, he describes Israel's complacency and its coming conesquences. He describes Amos' first audience as those who were in power and states that, in a democracy, what we should be doing today is to first take our grievances to our leaders. However, getting people to do this depends on how tolerable the injustices one experiences or sees are. So when evil and tyranny are visited on others only, motivating people to stand up to those injustices is problematic. He then lists historical movements in America which didn't begin with the actions of those in power. Instead, they were started by the actions of small groups of what was then powerless people. Thus, no one who lives in a democracy is relieved of their duty to speak out.

Second, Amos talks to people who have a certain misperception of the way things are. Israel's leaders were told that Israel was not operating the way it was designed to.  But they responded as if they were in denial of what was wrong. And thus they told the people that things were never better. Those who were well off were all too eager to believe what the leaders said. And just as those who were comfortable embraced denial as a way of seeing their world in Amos' day, so can any of us do the same today. That means that evil does not just exist in our leaders who practice injustice, it can reside in us who are too comfortable to care about what is going on around us. 

Third, Amos was speaking to people who were living in the past and took credit for what God achieved. Isn't this the same for Americans today as we point to our past and our victories over others, our standard of living or other achievements? And because the people of Amos' time lived in pride, they could not see their future. That neither the Israel of Amos' time nor today's America can find true security in its past victories. Then note how, according to Amos, God detested the 'pride of Jacob' and Israel's reason for its false confidence. Constable then makes this personal for Christians as he tells us that it isn't until we experience trials that we realize in whom we really trust.

Constable then summarizes what is taught in Amos here. It is about the Israel's rulers and people who refused to change because life was too good for them, their refusal to listen to what was real because what was false ticked the ears, and their insistence on denying the future because of what happened in the past. And though Constable's application to the individual Christian and his/her personal piety may not appeal to nonChristians, he makes valid points that should move us to act as better citizens in a democracy.

Finally, Constable describes three implications he sees from what Amos 6. with only the first two applying to those working for social justice regardless of their religious beliefs. He first asks if we are grieving over the injustices that are happening around us. Here, Constable, without using Francis Schaeffer's words, gives us Schaeffer's warning against making idols out of personal peace and prosperity. And second, he paraphrases Paul when Paul stated that the Church and its Gospel is foolishness to the world. 

Again, there is some of what Constable says here that, because it applies to a Christian's personal faith, may not be of interest to  nonChristians working for social justice. But much of his sermon on Amos should be used to stir people of all faiths to look to help others and not just live for their own peace and comfort.

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