Amos 1:6-8 | You Own Nothing

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So many of us live life as if we know it all or own it all – or at least we think we do. Day after day goes by, and we stress over and over about how to keep what we think we own – from the new Volvo in the parking lot, to the food on our plate.

As a former consumer packaging designer, I have often wondered what God thinks of consumerism. Little did I know that Amos held the answer to that question. In Amos 1:6-8, God pronounces a judgement over the Philistine Pentopolis, five cities that worked together to establish one of the most sturdy trade districts in the ancient world. Much of what God alludes to in this passage is how consumerism breeds strife and oppresses and humiliates others by constantly forcing them to partake in the ongoing debate about the value of products – which one is best, which to avoid, and the battle for brand loyalty.

The root of this issue in life is the self-perpetuating lie of ownership. In order to sell something, you must believe that you own it. But that is not the truth, and with that we find ourselves quickly in an oppressive society where greed and lust dominate, and we claim ownership to things we do not own – including each other.

consumerism

I have come to know firsthand, unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), that I own and have control over nothing. My dependency on God is absolute. There is not a stitch of clothing on my back, or a morsel of food on my plate that I can attest is really mine.

So many of us forget as well, that when we give our lives to Christ, that is exactly what we have done. Our lives are no longer our own. He “bought” or should I say “redeemed” us from death by dying on the cross. That comes with a price of knowing the Truth – part of that truth being that we own nothing. As God says in Psalm 50:12, “the world is mine, and all it contains.” I highly suspect this was what Christ was alluding to when he spoke to his disciples of “counting the cost” before you give yourself to Him.

Along with this realization, however, comes incredible gratitude. I think of all God has provided me, and how He has continued to sustain me in some of the roughest lessons and most sinful circumstances of my life. I am blessed to be alive, for even my body and my spirit are no longer mine – they are Christ’s. Glory be to God.

Matthew 5:19 | Some Things Are Worth Fighting For

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Child Taped

“Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 5:19 (NASB)

For the past 3 months, I have been going through a caustic battle of wills with a specific individual in my life. This fight had become so caustic, that we are no longer on speaking terms. The worst part is, is that I feel like a prisoner in my own life – or I had, until I prayed to understand the root of the problem.

I, like many prophetic people, have had a long life of rejection and persecution. I was physically and emotionally attacked when I was a child. I was persecuted for my faith in my community – and still am, even today. I have had pastors tell me that I am possessed, when unbeknownst to them I had been told hours before by the Lord that this is exactly what they would say and not to believe it. I have had family and friends berate me for years for simply having a voice, and standing up for what is right. You’re too “sensitive” or “timid” they would say. In theory, I knew what I was saying had merit – but in reality, I came from such a life of imposed control, that the moment I gained any measure of personal freedom I vowed to never again let one more boundary or rule ever become my chains again.

The irony, is that this retaliation made those chains all the more permanent. Instead of standing up for myself, after a while I chose to simply keep my mouth shut and “take it” best I could. The potential for conflict after a while simply becomes too painful for a soul and spirit already feeling worthless and beaten down as it is. One more negative comment, and I could crack. So, since life seemed to keep me on such a short leash of retribution, I have often kept silent.

I am being candid, as I know there are many reading this post who feel the same way I do. One tough break after another seems to come. You feel like a magnet for oppression – when in reality, we are the ones allowing it, as we are the ones teaching it is okay by never saying anything at all to put injustice in it’s place.

In Matthew 5:19, Jesus speaks of this odd dynamic. He reiterates that those who fail to stand up for the law (what is right), will end up becoming the least [dignified] in the kingdom of God. However, those who live by God’s commandments, and teach them, will be considered the greatest [the Greek here suggesting wide affecting]. If you wish to have impact, you have to stand up for the 10 commandments just as Christ did. By allowing injustice, you are teaching that those commandments are worthless. When that happens, it is you that is belittled, not your oppressor.

As I sat across from my counselor this afternoon, I reflected back on my practice of advocating for the homeless. I knew I had a blind spot in terms of setting boundaries, but until now, I never could pinpoint why. I feel a great burden has been lifted. Not only do the tenets of God deserve to be defended, but I deserve to be defended as well. That might seem to be a simple revelation, but when you have lived years feeling like others see you as garbage and a curse, it is a life changing revelation. The fact that God would set this entire situation up to teach me that, brings me beyond any gratitude that this mere heart could communicate. Once again, I am blown away by His love.

Amos 1:4-5 | When You Want to Beat’em, You’ll Join ‘Em

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I am forever amazed at the sheer simplicity of God’s sense of justice. His bottom line is always about unity. Unity with man, our unity with Him, and our unity with others – even the oppressor and the oppressed.

There are a lot of people out there that are offended when I tell them that when you read scripture, and witness life with God, you will quickly conclude that God does allow sinful or painful events to transpire in order to allow you or others to attain the Truth. God often uses a “means to an end” in order to utilize the damaging effects of sin to show us the value of doing things His way.

This observation has come from several places over the years, some through personal experiences and revelation, but most often through scripture. In the end, I have always witnessed with astonishment, the methods and effort God will go to so that we can relate in love to each other as human beings. In the end, much of God’s justice simply has to do with elevating the humble by bringing the proud down to their level. It’s all about perspective. When the strength of the humble is truly made known, often, one-time oppressors see just how wrong they were to oppress such a people in the first place. What often results, when God is involved, is a mutual respect and an understanding that “status” – the relenting caste system of civilization – is one of the most deadly forms of social poison known to man.

Kir of Moab (in modern day Jordan)

The Fortress of Kir, Moab

Amos 1:4-5, is a prime example of this. The history that God is foretelling through Amos, is a warning that if the Arameans (Syrians), don’t stop oppressing Israel, then God will give them a taste of their own medicine by allowing the Assyrians to drag them off as POW’s. Unfortunately, as we know historically, the Arameans did not take God’s warning to heart, and sure enough, they were humbled by being carted off like fish in a barrel to Kir, a massive fortress located in modern day Jordan. Interestingly, the name Kir comes from a root phrase in Hebrew that means, “a place of containment, for the joy of your oppressors in victimizing their captured”. Talk about the writing literally being on the wall, or in this case, fortress.

Amos 1:3 | The Problem with “Civilization”

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Thus says the LORD, “For three transgressions of Damascus and for four I will not revoke its punishment, Because they threshed Gilead with implements of sharp iron.” – Amos 1:3 NASB

Syrian Citadel

I remember once hearing a great quote by Ghandi when an American reporter asked him, “So, Mr. Ghandi, what do you think of Western Civilization?” Ghandi replied, “I think it would be a great idea.”

God expresses the same sentiment, interestingly enough, in Amos 1:3. The clue to unlocking this passage is not so much understanding the politics of the time and age of Amos, but understanding the insinuations made by the two locations in the passage – Damascus and Gilead.

As with many ancient Hebrew texts, specific names and places usually operate as symbols of their specific existence. For example, if someone were to ask, “When I say “Las Vegas“, what comes to mind?”, most people’s response would be “Gambling”. The same things works in scripture. So what does Damascus represent? Well the history lesson here is that Damascus is the oldest city on Earth by historical accounts. It was the birthplace, shall we say, of systematic society or civilization. In this passage then, we can safely consider that the focus of God’s judgement does not just refer to Damascus, but in a broader context, man’s attempts to be “civilized” and the sinful oppression that most often results.

Gilead is a little trickier to decipher, but the basis of what it refers to is more in the meaning of the title itself, then its history. Gilead, in this context, refers to the Hebrew notion of meddling unduly in another’s affairs – to draw attention to someone or “expose” or shame them by disrupting their culture and daily life. The word Gilead stems form the Hebrew word for “hill or mound of witness” or in modern terms, “the place where you are made an example of”.

So what about the sharp iron instruments? In history, there was a time when Damascus (Syria) attacked Israel under the Aram-Syrian king Hazael (2 Kings 10:32-33). There was a barbaric custom during this time in terms of war crimes, where people would literally be put on farm threshing floors, and torn to pieces by the iron prongs usually used to break the wheat from the chaff (grass stalk). In a more symbolic sense, God’s referring to this situation is indicative of the oppression of the innocent and righteous by stronger people who simply think they know better – much like us today saying that someone is unduly “raking someone over the coals”. In this case, the figure of speech used is, unfortunately, not just figurative, but literal as well.

After taking a look at these elements, it’s not hard to put together God’s sentiment here. He’s not just simply talking about Damascus. He’s talking about the ultimate failure of man’s attempts at creating a just and balanced society. And God, being an individual who defines justice, will not sit on His laurels and do nothing. He acts. But, in being merciful as well, He first warns – “This being the case, unless you change your actions, I will have to correct and re-balance things for you.”

Thankfully, we have a God that cares enough to do so. For believe you me, our Lord does answer, and answer, with vigor.

Mark 15:34-35 | God Why Have You Forsaken Me?

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Cross in the Wilderness

Of recent I have been going through a great trial, with no end in sight. It seems for me, and so many others around me, the doors to hope have been shut. One day, recently, I found myself in fervent prayer, praying in tongues and heard the Spirit cry out from my lips, “Eli! Eli!”. I realized I had just cried out in Aramaic the same cry of Christ, “My God, My God… [Why has thou forsaken me?]”.

This passage struck a chord with me and upon researching the verse, I found myself meandering through Psalm 22, the prophetic song Jesus was quoting while on the cross. And then, one passage caught my eye:

Deliver my soul from the sword, My only life from the power of the dog. From the horns of the wild oxen you answered me.” – Psalm 22:20-21

As I digested the passage, something came to me that uncurled a moment of intrigue. Metaphorically speaking, the “horns of the wild oxen”, refer in the Bible to the “declarations of wayward Israel” – the Jewish leaders that responded to his cry. Frantically, I returned to the passage in Mark:

When some of the bystanders heard it, they began saying, “Behold, he is calling for Elijah.”” – Mark 15:35

Christ says in the Psalms that God answered his question through this passage spoken by the pharisees. The pharisees, the religious elite, are recorded saying that Jesus is calling for Elijah. But why? I love Hebrew because there is always a deeper meaning to these types of scenarios. The name and character of one called an “Elijah” comes from the meaning of the name Elijah, which is “My Lord is God”, or more aptly, “One who follows God’s will (or character).” And here lies the moment of clarity.

Christ calling out this question, marks the moment when all sin falls upon him. He is in such confusion and agony, he adopts the most cardinal sin of all – a loss of trust in God. He cries out, hoping someone having mercy like God, will have compassion to help in a way what he feels God will not. He loses faith in God, and turns to the world for help. It is during that moment, God must turn away, because He, not Christ, is rejected. And at that moment, Christ takes on our greatest sin.

How many times have we fallen into the same trap as Christ as believers. We face a crossroads, we dig our heels in, and we fail to see when God is asking us to have faith enough to die, and be overcome, not so that we might face Hell on Earth, but that we might truly have the chance to be renewed and resurrected. By rejecting this notion, we find ourselves crying out for help in the wilderness, not realizing that the only thing really able to help us is our bowing to the Truth (Christ) of our situation. This is real faith, and it is humbling. Our true success rather, resides in trusting in God, that the death or failure ahead of us that we must accept is not the end, but simply the beginning of another more glorious chapter.