OT: Amos 4:1-6:14
Today, Amos reviews the various, unheeded signs and punishments God has sent to the people: famine, drought, blight, mildew, locusts, plagues, wars (4: 6-11). Reading it, I noticed that it said that, while some cities didn't have rain, others did. Thinking about that, I decided that if I was one of the rained-on cities, I would think, "Well, we got rain, so I took that to mean that we didn't need to repent...so why are we getting punished with the drought cities?" Kind of silly, I know, but thinking of that got me thinking about the whole concept of collective punishment and how much pressure there would be to affect others if one know that he would be punished for their sins. I think that people still feel that pressure today, which is why many American Christians are desperate to keep/make/whatever America "a Christian nation." The fear is that God will punish us a nation if we turn too far away from Him, and so there is this pressure to forcibly keep the nation oriented toward God.
There is SO much I could say about that, b/c I've given it a considerable amount of thought, but what strikes me today is how grateful I am for the concept of individual judgment and salvation, a concept that was introduced by the prophets and continues through the NT. I am also relieved by the idea that we cannot bring people to God; God brings people to God. Our job is to preach, not convert. Even Jesus did not convert nearly the amount of people He probably wanted to, and we know that Peter, Paul, and the others met with mixed responses to their message. As a result, I feel a tremendous responsibility to preach the Gospel, but I don't feel an equal responsibility to convert or coerce. That's because 1) I know I can't change anyone's heart, and 2) I don't believe that we will be held accountable for the decisions of others, provided that we did everything we could to witness to them. One result of this new thinking is that it makes our evangelism a lot less self-centered. Sometimes, it seems to me that the frenzy about keeping America a "Christian nation" stems more from our own fear of national punishment than from actual concern for eternal souls who don't know God. Thus, our concern is ultimately more for ourselves. Also, because we are inspired by fear and not by love, our means tend to become more coercive than truly effective.
Sorry I rambled away from Joel. It happens:).
I was also struck by the description (and condemnation) of those who lived in luxury (6:3-7), especially since I was lounging on a couch while reading about the coming destruction of those who "lounge on your couches" (4). As always, such similarities make me think, "Is this talking to me? Am I this rich, indulgent person whom God is going to punish?" And honestly, I don't think that I am, but that's not much of a comfort, b/c I'm sure those people didn't think that they were, either. What does comfort me is the awareness that God's grace covers me, that I am seeking him with all my heart, and that I am trying my best to love others with actions and in truth. And according to 1 John, that last part is how we know we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in His presence, whenever our hearts condemn us.
NT: Revelation 2:18-3:6
In today's reading, Christ speaks to the churches of Thyatira and Sardis. Thyatira is great, except that they put up with the false teaching of a particular prophetess. What struck me about this criticism was that Christ doesn't seem to have a problem with the fact that they are being taught by a woman, but that the woman is teaching the wrong thing. She is teaching (and personally committing) sexual immorality, as well as "the eating of food sacrificed to idols" (2:20). Now, maybe it is tacitly understood that the fact that she is a woman teacher is bad, but on the other hand, Christ doesn't seem to leave a lot unsaid in these passages. He lets the churches know exactly where the problems are. I don't know; I just thought that was interesting.
I have heard the most about the church in Sardis b/c they are "lukewarm," although we don't get to the famous passage until tomorrow. Another well known charge is that they "have a reputation of being alive, but...are dead" (3:1). Such charges particularly hit home with American churches who, perhaps, have become too complacent or worldly. Which could be any of us--sometimes, it is hard to tell. That's what makes this passage so haunting to us. I think, Does my church fit this bill? I believe that we are alive, that we are doing good things for the kingdom...but there are many other Christians these days crying out to the church, begging it to have a heightened awareness toward the poor and oppressed. And we are not "there," "there" being where those "radical" churches are. Again, it all gets very confusing to me. I just want to please God and to live the way He wants me to, and I know my church does, too. It's just sometimes hard to know if we are doing those things, or if the OT prophecies and NT warnings describe us. Personally, I would like our own angel to come give us a rundown, like these angels did:).
A plea for God's mercy, and an affirmation that the psalmist will wait for the Lord.
One against pampering one's servants, and the other against anger and bad tempers.