AMOS THE SOCIAL JUSTICE WARRIOR

The Hebrew prophets in the Old Testament were prominent figures in social justice during their time. Often, they were included in their writings and homilies scathing rebukes towards those who would impose injustice upon the masses. While their primary concern was the people’s relationship with God Himself, the prophets understood that tending to the needs of the poor was a crucial aspect of conveying God’s for the world. Moses can be considered the first prophet called to the divine stage to deliver God’s people from social injustice; however, the prophet Amos and his ministry provided a clear framework for how the ideal role of the prophet (old and new) as a social reformer was intended to look like.

Amos is the author of the Book of Amos, the third book in the Old Testament involving the writings of the Minor Prophets. He was a shepherd from a Hebrew village called Tekoa. He did not receive formal education, whether it be theological, spiritual, or otherwise. He was a man of humble beginnings and was most likely a man with a humble end. Called from God during his time as a lowly shepherd, Amos preached to Israel during a time of oppression of the lower class (Am. 7:15).

Amos prophesied to a society drenched in dire classism, with an elite tier of Israeli authorities (civil and religious) who enjoyed wealth and prosperity while the majority faced poverty and affliction. The epitome of Amos’s prophetic ministry is summed up in this verse: “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream,” (Am. 5:24 NRSV). Amos’ words can be applied to any social situation which Christians may face today, and the fact that Amos regards justice and righteousness as inseparable concepts is significant in that it teaches us that God is both just and righteous.

The people whom Amos prophesied to had “turned justice into poison and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood,” (6:12b NRSV). Such scathing words for those enjoying a luxurious lifestyle while the poor rot in the streets are rare in Christian communities, where many choose to blame the poor for their failures rather than beseech the rich to have mercy. One has to wonder who the modern Christian can relate to more in the context of Amos’s oracles of woe. To the prophet himself or the wealthy and unrepentant people?

Imagine sitting in church on a Sunday morning, and as you leave the church building, your pastor is confronted by a lower-class man, who claims to have obtained a prophetic mission from God. “Do horses run upon rocks?” He demands of him, “Does one plow the sea with oxen? But you have turned justice into poison and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood,” (6:12). One does not have to wildly conjecture what the response might be. “Just another nut job,” the pastor might think to himself, nodding to the man and hurrying to his car.

Amos himself confronted social issues head-on. He declared the judgments of God and the path to salvation as shortly and sweetly as possible, disavowing any possibility of lenience on the basis of partiality. Yet, even with his stern and bold personality, Amos had a loving and godly spirit. “Seek good and not evil, that you may live;” he pleaded to the people of Israel, “and so that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you,” (Am. 5:14-15a NRSV). Needless to say, Amos set the standard of which attributes a godly prophet should have: boldness, steadfastness, compassion, and love.

Now let us compare Amos with the magnitude of preachers today who allegedly preach the Word of God. Many Christian preachers stand at the pulpit and espouse from their mouths what may prove contradictory to the gospel. If you turn on the television, finding a well-dressed preacher pronouncing that God desires his children to be wealthy is not uncommon; he says that nice things are signs of God’s favor or that we are able to acquire whatever we desire if we simply have enough faith. This is not the message which Amos brought to God’s people; in fact, it is the exact opposite. Do you know of a Christian who has exposed the lavish lifestyles of many contemporary preachers today as Amos did in his time? Or is the luxury enjoyed by countless Christian leaders considered to be the normative function of their office?

God called Amos to preach to His people about the social issues in his day. In a way, God is calling us out to perform a similar service. The Torah prescribes that we do not “render an unjust judgment” (Lev. 19:15), and Amos’ command to hate evil, love good, and establish justice rings through the countless centuries by communicating about the Holy Scriptures. Jesus’ promotion for social justice is unique in that he encourages his disciples not to express justice and goodness through the Law but through acquiring a spirit of love. The purest expression of the Christian life is a boundless love for both God and one’s neighbor (Mk. 12:28-34). Prophets today possess this responsibility that was thrust upon Amos back in the days; unarguably, it is the responsibility to proclaim to the unjust and the ungodly the words of the Lord and their social implications.

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How can you be more like Amos in your ministry?

THE IMPACT OF MATERIALISM IN CHRISTIAN CULTURE

This culture of “have it now” and instant gratification has negatively impacted Christianity as it has blinded Christians to the call to sacrifice. In the famous words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of his world… When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Sadly, this call has gone unheeded and disrespected by many evangelicals today; instead, Christians today brag about their new home, new job, or new car. Searching through the #blessed category in social media outlets reveals the strong correlation which many make between God’s favor and material possessions, without realizing that the bible states otherwise. Remember the words of Jesus: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God,” (Mark 10:25 NRSV).

Many Christians today are distracted by social media and by the “interconnectedness” which technology brings. They are too busy tweeting about their material blessings while countless children die of poverty every year. The materialism in this present age has undeniably made the world revolve around the individual. In addition, Christians presently consider themselves blessed when they enter into a top-tier college, acquire a dream-job, or attend a renowned Christian rock concert. While God loves his children and certainly tends to their needs, God does not will for Christians to pursue temporal, material endeavors.

Consider the lives of the apostles, who, upon their apostleship, did not pursue great worldly feats. However, they endured civil and religious persecution by various authorities because of their commitment to making a change in the world. If Peter were alive today, would he have spoken of the wrong concept of being blessed? Certainly not, and according to tradition, Peter requested to be crucified upside-down due to his conviction of unworthiness to share the same death as Jesus Christ.

The love of money and possessions is not exclusive to Christianity; however, even Christians are not immune to the trap of greed and covetousness. Nonetheless, the command to the rich, young ruler applies to our lives as well. Besides, we are expected to sell all that we have (or are able) and give it to the poor in order to follow Christ. If we seek to humbly brag about our newest gadgets, feats, or any other material possession or achievement, then we will fail to sacrifice any luxury to help others and instead rot in the pit of our worldly desires.

 

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WHAT DO YOU THINK SACRIFICE AS A CHRISTIAN AS YOU THRIVE IN THIS “HAVE IT NOW” MENTALITY?

THE CONSEQUENCES OF INDUSTRIALIZATION FOR CHRISTIANITY

In this fast-paced life where each man tries to outplace another, it must be noteworthy to ponder on this question: Where is the time for family, the time to acquire wisdom, and the time for God? Apparently, industrialization has provided a fatal consequence that has created a spiritual lethargy in the hearts of many people. To illustrate this point, a man is more likely to wake up at the crack of dawn on a Sunday morning to drive to work but not to bring his family to a house of God and meet his fellow Christians for worship. This situation proves how the fast-paced, consumer-driven culture has groomed people who value material value over essential things like love, peace of mind, and security. It is a culture that has bred these ideas: money over wisdom, quantity over quality, and work over God.

People’s desire to acquire what they want by any means can be witnessed in different outlets of our kind. For example, microwaves instantly gratify one for being able to heat a meal in a few minutes. This meal will likely not taste as good as one that is skillfully prepared. Another example is slow internet connection which drives the public mad; therefore, it is common knowledge that many people pay top-dollar for the fastest internet connection to acquire more information at a greater pace. In the case of smartphones, they enable one to speak to a friend wherever the latter is, purchase an item desired only a moment ago, or Google something he or she is likely to forget tomorrow. All these situations show how instant gratification has become a marketing strategy for the industrialized world. In addition, the desire to acquire as much as possible in the shortest amount of time has made the modern generation into a people of constantly-growing impatience.

Another consequence of the industrialization of society is globalism. This result is not inherently evil in any sense since it having a basic understanding of other cultures, literatures, and religions is convenient and helpful. Globalism has connected the people through facets such as the internet, industry, and international politics. Considering these reasons, globalism has positive effects; however, how does it affect people in their everyday life?

Consider the famous fantasy novel by J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit. The story begins with a hobbit who lives in a very closely-knit community of people. This community does not always agree with each other or necessarily appreciate another’s company at times, but the tale excludes the modern reality of globalism. The geography and understanding of other cultures the hobbits possessed was the feature of local legends and folklore, but the hobbits’ understanding of their own roots and ancestry ran deep. In this novel, Tolkien sets the stage of a community which revolves around the very opposite of globalism: localism. Neighbors acquired what was not rightfully theirs, the local alehouse was the go-to for every hobbit, and the gardener provided services for those in this closely-knit community.

This narrative is a far cry from the contemporary reality, which showcases men and women willing to drive miles upon miles to their respective jobs. The communal-style of living featured in the book is contrasted by globalism which encourages people to buy from large markets rather than locally or listen to globally-acclaimed music rather than local producers. The result of this practice is that people are incredibly likely to not know anything about the community where they belong. They are also likely to refuse to participate in local events. They would not be willing to understand the roots and ancestry of the places surrounding their homes. Needless to say, we have become a non-local people, with much of our lives taking place not in our local area, but in the cities which are miles away, and working with people who live maybe even farther. In a nutshell, globalization is a consequence of the industrialization of society; it has severed the historical affinity which men had with their local communities and the interconnectedness of neighbors and small business owners.

 

 

 

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THE SOCIAL GOSPEL OF JAMES

“Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you… You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you.” (James 5:1, 6 NRSV)

 

The ideology which James maintains carries with it scathing words of rebuke for the “rich people… who have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure.” However, is there anything wrong with wealth? Everybody enjoys having nice possessions, so why would James, Jesus’ brother, rebuke those who enjoy their temporal, corporeal lives in the world?

James was a social reformer, and judging by this passage taken from his epistle, one can infer the presence of wealthy Jewish Christian in the first century of the church. To James, hoarding riches for oneself and living lavish lifestyles while those of the lower-class lived lives filled with hunger, thirst, and loneliness were ungodly. James’ mind would have been well-acquainted with a certain teaching of Christ. Eventually, it taught that the person of Christ resides within the hungry, within the thirsty, and within the lonely (Matt. 25:35). James saw the danger in living luxuriously lifestyles while letting the poor rot in the streets. James also saw that form of indifference as a deeply ungodly and non-Christian way of living. It was in this context that James penned the words, “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries…”

The lack of concern for the poor is a gaping hole in the existence of the Christian church. Considering James’ words in the first century, we can only imagine what sort of polemic would be employed against the modern body of Christ! Will the Church heed the social implications of the gospel? Will we turn a blind eye to those in the streets and a deaf ear to those who beg all who can listen for help?

The atoning life and work of Jesus Christ is inseparable from its practical implication, which is to care and aid those who are weak and needy. In fact, James taught that the only “religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27 NRSV). The blessed apostle’s definition of pure religion and its social ramifications remains as incontrovertible and applicable today as it was in the first century. Will we heed them?

 

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How can you heed James’ definition of pure religion?

THE SOCIAL TEST FOR JESUS

In Luke 7, John’s disciples told him about Jesus. He sent his disciples to Jesus to ask him if he was the Messiah, the one they were waiting for (or were they still waiting for another one to come?). During that time, Jesus already cured many diseases, stopped plagues, and warded off evil spirits, and healed those who were blind. Yet, John still asked as though needing proof: “Are you really the Messiah?” Jesus did not answer John’s disciples. Instead, he told John’s disciples to tell John of what they had seen and heard.

This account suggests that John was measuring Jesus up. He was unsure if Jesus was the one he was prophesying about. John and his disciples were expecting Jesus to have the spirit who would purge humanity of evil. However, Jesus operated differently. Instead of spending his time “purging” the world of criminals, he spent his time serving the weak. He gave relief to those who had been suffering and the poor were receiving glad news. As what Rauschenbusch writes, “Jesus felt that John would recognize the dawn of the reign of God by the evidence which he offered him. What, then, would be proper evidence that the reign of God is gaining ground in our intellect and feeling?”

In today’s world, what evidence should propel us to give to others for being Christ’s believers? Is it when we say that God changed our lives that we must give to others? Going to church every Sunday and labeling ourselves as Christians are certainly not enough. What is our weekly church attendance and religious affiliation to the hungry and the oppressed? These do not mean anything to them unless we extend a helping hand, like Jesus did.

People will not care about what you have to say unless what you will have to say will help them meet their basic needs. In a usual scenario, would you find yourself unable to pay attention to what another person is saying when you’re feeling hungry? It would be hard to focus on something when the discomfort of hunger is bugging you, wouldn’t it?

If people are suffering and you are not really doing anything to alleviate their suffering, then you wouldn’t really get the people’s attention. In the marketplace, to truly make your message heard and reach the heart of people, you need to serve them first. Like Jesus, the evidence of your faith in the Lord is reflected in carrying out His platform, which, at the minimum, is helping the poor and lightening their burden.

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Will you pass Christ’s social test?

SOCIAL PLATFORM OF JESUS

When Jesus arrived in Nazareth, he was brought up to the synagogue on Sabbath day, as was his custom, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. It read:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 14:18-19 NRSV)

 

The passage from Isaiah was important to Jesus as it summarized his aims for society in it. Jesus announced it as his program. Jesus promised that his aims would be realized: good news to the poor, freedom for the captive, and healing and restoration for the blind. Walter Rauschenbusch notes, “Social and religious emancipation are woven together in these phrases. Plainly Jesus saw his mission in raising to free and full life those whom life had held down and hurt.” Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21 NRSV). Rauschenbusch asks us, “Must the platform of Jesus be our platform and program?”

How have we lived our lives helping the poor, releasing people from bondage, giving sight to those who cannot see, and freedom for the oppressed? More importantly, are we the ones who are stealing from the poor, putting them in bondage, deceiving them, and oppressing further those who are already oppressed? What role have we taken on in our society? Again, have we taken on Christ’s platform for our lives or have we not?

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How have you taken on Christ’s social platform?

THE DANGERS OF WEALTH

Money is actually a form of test God gives us. Money reveals the status of our heart. It bares what occupies our heart. In his time, Jesus saw how people mocked the value of their life because of the money they possessed. It kept the lowly low. Similarly, in the present, the wealthy have lost the capacity for a meaningful life.

Jesus deeply believed in the value and dignity of human life. His actions showed how he wanted to restore people to the status wherein they could regain their dignity which society stole from them. He sought to create solidarity and save the lowly. He demanded that his disciples live the kind of heroic life in the service of God’s Kingdom. He challenged them to lose their lives, because for Jesus, losing their lives was much more than losing money. Losing their lives required surrendering their life for the service of God.

The prophets in the Old Testament supported Jesus’ view on the dangers of loving money. They condemned injustice and extortionate money-making schemes even more fervently than Jesus did. For one, Paul stressed, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains” (1 Timothy 6:10 NRSV). The danger of loving money is very real. It can cost you your own life, not just your physical life, but also your eternal life.

In the modern world, people are not very vigilant about the dangers of wealth and falling into the trap of loving it. They are encouraged to love money, to desire for material wealth, and to live for it alone. The extreme legalism that Christians suffered in the past has been replaced by extreme liberalism, which does not set boundaries for how far they can push themselves to the point of completely turning away from Jesus.

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What does your perspective of money reveal about you?

WHEN WEALTH IS A LIMITATION

A passage in the Bible mentions Jesus inviting a young man to a more heroic type of existence, cutting loose from his wealth and living a life devoted to the Kingdom of God. Apparently, that invitation was a chance for the young man to live an abundant life, one that was not defined by material wealth. The young man might have stood before kings and crowds, and ranked with Peter, John, and Paul as a household name. However, the young man did not rise up to Jesus’ offer to him. What could have held this young ruler back from accepting Jesus’ offer of a truly good life? Jesus himself pointed out that the young man’s demeanor was caused by his great wealth (Luke 18:18-25 NRSV).

If this particular man in the story were poor, he would have had less to leave and might have even taken Jesus on cheerfully. Recalling the story of the young ruler, Jesus quipped that it was exceedingly harder for a rich man to enter the Kingdom, where men live for justice, brotherliness, and optimism.

By that statement, Jesus does not mean that if one is rich, then one would not enter the Kingdom of heaven. Inferentially, Jesus is speaking about the status of one’s heart. He means that when one’s affections are set on money and material wealth, then one would have difficulty surrendering to God. On a similar note, it will be hard for you to do the work of advancing God’s Kingdom if you are more concerned about your riches than you are about Jesus. Take this simple example: A lot of people still have a hard time tithing because they cannot separate themselves from the tithe. They cannot surrender it to God, because in their hearts, the money is actually more precious to them than Jesus.

Needless to say, Jesus has extended this offer to you. Maybe God has been tugging at your heart to surrender something to Him and in exchange for this act of faith is a chance to live a heroic life. However, in the back of your mind, you are thinking about how you can pay the mortgage payments for the car and house you have come to love so much, or you are thinking about that corner office, or about those out-of-the-country vacation tours and the latest gadgets and luxuries. Then you tGoing back to the tale involving you, you decide you cannot and you reject Christ’s offer, just like the rich ruler did. You are not very rich, but you are saddened that you cannot meet Jesus because of the material wealth you are holding on to, or maybe you cannot follow Jesus because of the dreams you cannot let go of.

It is not evil to be rich or to have material wealth. What makes being rich or having material wealth bad is when it drives a person to be corrupt, hence hindering them from serving and helping others. When this happens, they become disillusioned. Eventually, they begin to disregard what is important in the Kingdom of God, not realizing that at the end of the day, what matters in light of eternity is only true foundation we can rely on in life and that all the rest is just scaffolding.

Not only does the Book of the Month Club provide a pathway to knowledge, wisdom and insight, it also sets you up to be in attendance at the Spring Session of  Prophecology 2018: Birthing House: The Latter Rain, February 23-25, 2018.

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Is wealth being a hindrance for you to serve the Lord and to advance His Kingdom?

SETTING THE SPIRITUAL TEMPERATURE IN THE MARKETPLACE

There are only two people in the marketplace: those who measure the spiritual temperature in the ecology by which they are in, and those who set it.

Those who measure the spiritual temperature are called “religious thermometers.” Like a thermometer, they only read the temperature in the environment they are in. They criticize the world for its “sinfulness” and point out what is unholy or unclean in the world. On the other hand, there are people who are “spiritual thermostats.” They set the temperature in the environment.

As prophets in the marketplace, your purpose in the marketplace is to change the spiritual temperature. Thermostats set the temperature of the place. You are not in the marketplace to condemn people and to let them know of how sinful they are.

Prophets in the Bible called the people into repentance to change the spiritual temperature in the city. They were there for a purpose. These prophets had the mission to create spiritual temperature in the ecology that is on fire for the Lord.

Paul’s message ruffles feathers in the marketplace. He was not merely pointing out how people in the world were missing the mark. He was also trying to cause social transformation.

God designed you—with your talents and your connections—to influence culture.  He has placed this passion in your heart for a specific marketplace. That is because you are assigned to go into that particular marketplace and begin to turn the ship around.

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How are you being a spiritual thermostat in your marketplace? Or, are you just being a spiritual thermometer?

ARE YOU A LOVER OF MONEY?

In the King James Version of the Bible, a single word represents those who are “lovers of money,” who are said to be simply “covetous.” Covetousness is about being consumed by the desire for more, to make material wealth the chief object of one’s affection. What did Paul say about this sin that we see so widespread in the marketplace? The reason a lot of people are primarily in the marketplace is that they desire more material gain.

Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment;

 for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it;

but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.

 But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.

10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. (1 Timothy 6:6-10 NRSV)

The Apostle Paul did not say money is evil; after all, money is something very useful in today’s society. It is the love of money that is the root of all kinds of evil. When you set your affection on money, instead of on God, this is where the problem begins. The prophet is not immune to this sin or to the temptations to this sin, and he must always check his heart for the sin of covetousness. People who love money are never content. To the contrary, believers find their contentment in the Lord. Those who love money do not appreciate the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross; instead, they fall into many snares. In addition, they make themselves the victims of many foolish and harmful desires and pierce themselves through with many sorrows.

When people are in love with themselves and when they love money, then this excessive love would produce arrogance, pride, and boastfulness. Boastful thoughts result in boastful words. What do your conversations sound like? Is there constant boasting in your conversations? How do you overcome being boastful? Easy. Just accept the value and the death of Christ, knowing that it is only through God’s grace and love that we ever have anything, that we can overcome this arrogance.

The perils of being proud or haughty happen when one thinks more highly of one’s self than one should. For example, Diotrephes was a man whom John called proud. He described him as one “who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority” (3 John 9). The times are perilous when you see people love themselves rather than God, love their money, and boast in their vain pride.

We see people who are blasphemers. They speak bitterly and abusively. We see Internet trolls who are relentless in attacking people—keyboard warriors—because they cannot attack these people face-to-face. They attack their leaders. They rebel and disrespect authority, and they make their rebellion and disrespect known online.  On a similar note, there are also people who are ungrateful. Instead being grateful, these people complain and grumble over everything.

We see young people rant on their social media accounts about their parents and how much they hate them. In Romans 1, and here in 2 Timothy 3, we see that when one defies parental authority, one sins against God. Paul wrote to the Ephesians and said that children must obey their parents for this is right (Ephesians 6:1).

What would Paul, a prophet in the marketplace, want Timothy to do about such conditions? What would a prophet in the marketplace do in view of the peril of these sins? These questions are answered in the next chapter. Paul instructs us on how to be prophets in the social media marketplace. He says, “Proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2 NRSV). Paul’s statement implies that the Word of God is the remedy to the perilous times. As Warren Berkley puts it, “The only message that can well inform people of their sin, then offer forgiveness, is the Word of God, the gospel of Christ.”

 

Not only does the Book of the Month Club provide a pathway to knowledge, wisdom and insight, it also sets you up to be in attendance at the Spring Session of Prophecology 2018: Birthing House: The Latter Rain, February 23-25, 2018.

 

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How are you being a lover of self in your way of life?