Searching for the word of the Lord

The “pieta” by Michelangelo

“The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign Lord , “when I will send a famine through the land— not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord . People will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the Lord , but they will not find it. “In that day “the lovely young women and strong young men will faint because of thirst. Those who swear by the sin of Samaria— who say, ‘As surely as your god lives, Dan,’ or, ‘As surely as the god of Beersheba lives’— they will fall, never to rise again.” – Amos 8:11‭-‬14

Well this is an interesting passage buried here in Amos…I really like this guy. He calls it like it is in a very refreshing way. He reminds of some of the other great thinkers and Christian apologists that I admire like C.S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, and A.W. Tozer. In this passage Amos is providing a prophecy from God about a somewhat different and unusual calamity to come. Unlike many of the previous calamities this coming famine and thirst will not be because of a physical need or the result of an invasion from afar.

The thirst and hunger will come from a spiritual emptiness within – the peoples souls will thirst for “the word of the Lord”. What does God mean by the “word of the Lord”?  There are three interpretations that come to my mind: 1)  it could mean the inspired word of God found in the Old testament (and New Testament) of the Bible; 2) It could be the prophetic words given by prophets like Amos and others; 3) it could be a “reflection of Him“, a reference to Jesus who Himself was called “the Word” in the book of John 1:1.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:1

Apparently there will be a time, that has already happened, or will happen in the future, when “the word of the Lord” will be difficult to find. We will “stagger from sea to sea” looking for it and we will not find it.

It occurs to me that there are at least two ways to look at this spiritual “famine”. It could be referring the time when God seemed to go silent between the prophets and Jesus which has already happened, or it could be the time after the resurrection of Jesus and it is still happening for those who do not have ears to hear or eyes to see. As a follower of Jesus I believe that even after Jesus left He is always with us in the form of the Holy Spirit. God’s indwelling Spirit forever fills the emptiness within for those who invite God into their soul.

For those who do not accept Jesus or the spiritual nourishment He promises the famine continues and they “wander from north to east, searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it.” So in the words of Forrest Gump “I think maybe it’s both. Maybe both is happening at the same time.”  Perhaps the spiritual famine was the time before Jesus, but it also continues today for those unwilling or unable to accept the spiritual food and Living Water that God offers us through Jesus.

Prayer: Thank You God for ending the spiritual famine through Jesus Christ.

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Justice into Poison

For the Lord has given the command, and he will smash the great house into pieces and the small house into bits. Do horses run on the rocky crags? Does one plow the sea with oxen? But you have turned justice into poison and the fruit of righteousness into bitterness— you who rejoice in the conquest of Lo Debar and say, “Did we not take Karnaim by our own strength?” For the Lord God Almighty declares, “I will stir up a nation against you, Israel, that will oppress you all the way from Lebo Hamath to the valley of the Arabah.” – Amos 6:11‭-‬14

This is a complex and confusing passage with many mixed and murky metaphors. The general topic here is God’s judgement on “the great house” and “the small house”. I assume this is a reference to Israel in some way. Although as we will see, connections to the White House and our other government “houses” are also possible.

The metaphors pose two rhetorical questions “Do horses run on the rocky crags? Does one plow the sea with oxen?” Both of these questions seem to be alluding to a state of affairs that makes no sense or is not possible. A horse can’t run on rocky crags, at least not for long, and unless these oxen can walk on water one could not “plow the sea” with them. Both of these things are physical impossibilities, or would at least result in serious injury to the animals involved. These impossible acts are compared to something which apparently should be equally impossible or harmful to “animals” – the people have “turned justice into poison and the fruit of righteousness into bitterness”.

What a timely message amidst the turnover and turmoil at the FBI. I will not wade into the muddy morass of who is right or wrong, but it does seem clear that justice has become poisonous. Lawyers are accusing one another of a “lack of candor” – what most of us would call lying. Accusations of obstructing justice abound across the political spectrum. Perhaps there should be a new term “poisoning justice”. There would be a long line of people guilty of this crime including Democrats, Republicans, Independents, and many others.

The second accusation, turning the “fruit of righteousness into bitterness” seems to referring to a more general moral breakdown where right and wrong become all muddled and confused. This also a timely message as there are so many cases of bitterness about things which are intended to promote righteousness. There is no moral clarity or common ground. The end result is a polarization between people that does not help anyone to love their neighbors.

So this passage has taken us into some deep water full of turbulence. What is the take home message? I am not sure. Perhaps it is that we should carefully consider how we define and discuss justice and righteousness so that we are not contributing to the sort of problem God is illustrating here.

Prayer: God help us to know and apply Your definition of justice and righteousness.

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Righteousness like a never-failing stream!

Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord ! Why do you long for the day of the Lord ? That day will be darkness, not light. It will be as though a man fled from a lion only to meet a bear, as though he entered his house and rested his hand on the wall only to have a snake bite him. Will not the day of the Lord be darkness, not light— pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness? “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! – Amos 5:18‭-‬24

I officially like Amos. He seems like a kindred spirit to me, like someone always game for an adventure that I could imagine grabbing a beer with. The language and descriptions he uses feel like they are born of abundant life experience with things like lions and bears. Perhaps he is drawing on his experiences as a farmer and a shepherd.  The closest I have been to a lion or bear is the zoo or a distant beach in Alaska.  I have certainly not fled from a lion or a bear. I think the closest encounter I have had was when I wrestled a deer outside my office.  Why you ask was I wrestling a deer outside my office, excellent question….

I am a geology professor at a regional university. A number of years ago I was meeting with a student in my office. In the middle of our meeting we heard what sounded like someone dropping a bowling ball in the hallway.  We both looked at each other and decided to peek our heads out the door to find out what was going on.  As we did we saw a crowd of students fleeing down the hallway in distress.  I was puzzled and perplexed so I decided to go see what they were running from down the hall.  When I got to the corner of the building I saw what the bowling ball noise was coming from.  A young deer was charging the full length windows at the corner of the building, bashing his brains out against the window.  Blood was smeared in long streaks down the glass.

I was a recently transplanted from Oregon into a new position and state. My first reaction was to think “someone has to help that deer”.  Well no one else was stepping up so I ran outside, jumped over a wall, and grabbed the deer by the neck to prevent him from bashing his brains out against the window.  I think it was at this point that it occurred to me this was an predictable wild animal and I may actually be in some danger.  Fortunately for me another crazy individual decided to help me by holding the deer’s legs while I held his head until the police showed up and put zip ties on the deer’s legs and placed him the back of the police truck.  I am not sure what happened to the deer after that, and perhaps I do not want to know, but I was shaking from the adrenaline.

I had to give a lecture shortly after this excitement and I failed to notice that I had deer blood smeared on my shirt.  There was more chatter than usual in my 120-student lecture class and finally a young woman raised her hand and asked “Dr. Wampler is it true that you just wrestled a deer”. Word travels fast in a student body and this was before smart phones and Youtube.  I can only imagine what would have happened if someone had a video of the event on their smart phone.  I would probably forever be branded as the “deer wrestler”.

Getting back to reality…it seems the main point of this passage is that God is warning that we should not long for adversity like lions, bears, and deer bashing their brains against windows.  The coming day of the Lord will “be darkness, not light— pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness”  So in the end God will win, but it will not be a pretty scene and one that we would probably avoid if we could.  Justice will “roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”

What does it mean for justice to roll on like a river?  Or righteousness like a never-failing stream? Combining these two river descriptions I get the picture of a large meandering perennial stream like the Mississippi River. I had to look up the word justice, and here is what Merriam-Webster says, justice is “the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments. So the metaphor essentially means a perennial and consistent adjustment of rewards and punishments, in this case by God, the One River.  God is the ultimate arbiter of our punishments and our rewards. At this point in history there was no escape from the snare of sin and falling short of God’s expectations.

Fortunately for us the snare has been broken and God has extended His arm to save our souls from this darkness and train us “cave dwellers” to live in the light. When God chose to bring light into the darkness through Jesus He essentially promised that if we seek Him we will find Him, no matter how dark and confusing it gets. His justice will roll on like a river, but this is a river He has promised to help us cross.  This is a reassuring truth to be sure.

Prayer: God thank You for freeing us from the snare of sin and bringing light into darkness 

Posted in Amos, Conflict, Covenant, Following God, Forgiveness, Free Will, God's Love for Us, Obedience, reconciliation, Redemption, Sin, The Earthly Realm, The Nature of God, The Spiritual Realm, Trusting God | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Director of the Drops

He who made the Pleiades and Orion, who turns midnight into dawn and darkens day into night, who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out over the face of the land— the Lord is his name. With a blinding flash he destroys the stronghold and brings the fortified city to ruin. There are those who hate the one who upholds justice in court and detest the one who tells the truth. You levy a straw tax on the poor and impose a tax on their grain. Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them; though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine. For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins. There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts. Therefore the prudent keep quiet in such times, for the times are evil. – Amos 5:8‭-‬13

The water imagery in this passage is beautiful and spot-on from a science perspective. The same God who set the sun, stars, and planets in motion also “calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out over the face of the land”. It was God’s idea to set the waters in motion in a grand hydrologic cycle that gives and sustains life on Earth. A world without water in motion would be a very boring and dead place. A little bit like a world without God I guess as God, in many ways, is like water.

Does that mean that God’s hand directs every drop? I don’t think so. Let me explain, or in the words of Inigo Montoya from Princess Bride, “…No, is too long, let me sum up.” God’s direction of everything aspect of the hydrologic cycle, directing the drops, would remove the “freedom” of this Earth system to operate within the broad physical laws that God Himself created. It would be “rough” magic and remove the “free will” of the planets natural systems. I think there is a parallel between this and the free will God has granted us humans who were ultimately created by God too, but through a physical act between two humans.

Do I believe that God created the universe and us like a magician pulls a rabbit out of a hat? No. I believe He created the logos and physical laws that in turn govern the physical universe. Does God occasionally do things that are outside these physical laws?  I am confident that He has and will do this when it involves our relationship with Him.

When it comes to the metaphysical world of our souls and spiritual existence are part of a spiritual cycle created by God.  Our souls are separate and distinct, and as we learned yesterday, God wants to “pluck us out of the fire” here on Earth to be with Him. Our “drop” of soul will someday be poured out and join the spiritual ocean, but there is the difference between the physical and metaphysical worlds in my opinion.  In God’s spiritual ocean we remain distinct and unique.  God knows us as individual souls and wants us to join Him, not to disappear, but to become what we were always meant to be – with Him.

Prayer: Go thank You for loving us as individual souls and allowing us to be with You if we choose to be.

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A Burning Stick Snatched from the Fire

“I gave you empty stomachs in every city and lack of bread in every town, yet you have not returned to me,” declares the Lord . “I also withheld rain from you when the harvest was still three months away. I sent rain on one town, but withheld it from another. One field had rain; another had none and dried up. People staggered from town to town for water but did not get enough to drink, yet you have not returned to me,” declares the Lord . “Many times I struck your gardens and vineyards, destroying them with blight and mildew. Locusts devoured your fig and olive trees, yet you have not returned to me,” declares the Lord . “I sent plagues among you as I did to Egypt. I killed your young men with the sword, along with your captured horses. I filled your nostrils with the stench of your camps, yet you have not returned to me,” declares the Lord . “I overthrew some of you as I overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. You were like a burning stick snatched from the fire, yet you have not returned to me,” declares the Lord . “Therefore this is what I will do to you, Israel, and because I will do this to you, Israel, prepare to meet your God.” He who forms the mountains, who creates the wind, and who reveals his thoughts to mankind, who turns dawn to darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth— the Lord God Almighty is his name. – Amos 4:6‭-‬13

Well Joel was 123 and out. It was so quick I had to take a day off the water to recover and regroup. So today we float on into the book of Amos. Amos is another of the “minor” prophets, maybe he will best Joel for water references. Amos was apparently not a “religious” man born of other prophets or religious people.  He was apparently a farmer and a shepherd, a person of humble means.  I am looking forward to learning more about this man and How God is leading him.

This passage gets into deep water right away with some pondering about what we are to do if God “sent rain on one town, but withheld it from another”. This would seem to be a variant of a question that many ponder which is “why do bad things happen to good people” or “why would a good God allow bad things “rain” to happen to some people and not others? The answer provided by God is that He wants us to be “returned to me”, “me” being God.  So when we encounter a “dry town” we are not supposed to frantically go in search of a “wet one”, we are to frantically pursue God, the Father of the Rain.

It sounds like all the adversity and calamity that the people of Israel are experiencing has only one purpose, to drive the people back to God. The imagery here is very powerful and poignant, “You were like a burning stick snatched from the fire, yet you have not returned to me”.  One would think that upon being “snatched from the fire” we would be grateful “sticks” and seek the arm that reached out and delivered us from the fire, but God has given us the freedom remain in the fire if that is what we choose.

In the end God wins, the people of Israel will either meet God because they seek Him or because His presence will become self-evident. “Therefore this is what I will do to you, Israel, and because I will do this to you, Israel, prepare to meet your God.”  God is asking the people to prepare themselves to meet the One “who forms the mountains, who creates the wind, and who reveals his thoughts to mankind, who turns dawn to darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth”.

I find it interesting and intriguing that included in the list of amazing things God can do is tucked, “reveals his thoughts to mankind”.  This one item seems somehow out of place and different than the others.  It is the only item that involves God reaching out to us on a soul to soul level, His mind to our mind and our thoughts to His thoughts….

So I confess I am a Star Trek fan and I actually grew up watching the reruns of the original series with William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy.  Spock had this neat mind-meld trick where he could communicate mind to mind and soul to soul with pretty much anyone, even other species like a large silica monster that can dissolve rock. I am pretty sure that God does not have pointy ears like Spock and He does not need to stick His fingers on our faces to make a soul to soul connection.

So what is God telling me here.  I guess it seems like He is saying that when things are hard and when we are encountering adversity like Job with wave after wave of troubles our first response should be to run to God as fast as our legs can carry us.

Prayer: God help us to respond to difficult times by seeking Your face.

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The Valley of Decision

Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision. The sun and moon will be darkened, and the stars no longer shine. The Lord will roar from Zion and thunder from Jerusalem; the earth and the heavens will tremble. But the Lord will be a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel. “Then you will know that I, the Lord your God, dwell in Zion, my holy hill. Jerusalem will be holy; never again will foreigners invade her. “In that day the mountains will drip new wine, and the hills will flow with milk; all the ravines of Judah will run with water. A fountain will flow out of the Lord ’s house and will water the valley of acacias. But Egypt will be desolate, Edom a desert waste, because of violence done to the people of Judah, in whose land they shed innocent blood. Judah will be inhabited forever and Jerusalem through all generations. Shall I leave their innocent blood unavenged? No, I will not.” The Lord dwells in Zion! – Joel 3:14‭-‬21

What an interesting turn of phrase here in Joel, “the valley of decision”.  That can be taken so many ways.  At its most literal it would be a geographic location, specifically a valley, where an important decision was made.  What was the decision and who made it?  Lets plumb these depths and see what we can learn.

Apparently the “valley of decision” was the name of a romantic movie from the 1940’s based on the Marcia Davenport novel by the same name. It tells the story of a young Irish house maid (Greer Garson) who falls in love with the son (Gregory Peck) of her employer, a local steel mill owner. I am pretty sure that God did not have this movie in mind when He inspired Joel to write this passage.  I am not sure what romance with a backdrop of the Pittsburgh steel industry has to do with a “valley of decision”. I guess I will have to watch the movie and find out.

In my exhaustive research I also found out that “the valley of decision” is a music album by a group called Albert Griffiths and the Gladiators (2011).  I download their album and it is reggae-style music which I do not always like, but this album is pretty good. I found myself head bobbing as my head was pondering this passage, but I am pretty sure this is also not what God had in mind when He inspired Joel.

I digress, too much reggae I guess, but in the words of Elliot from the movie ET “This is *reality*, Greg”. So let us return to the wording in the passage and see what we can learn.  The valley of decision was filled with “multitudes” which to me means lots of people or perhaps all people in the world depending on how you think about it.  So we have this valley, either a place or perhaps a metaphorical valley, that is filled with people and then something happens, “the day of the Lord is near”.  It is a time when “The sun and moon will be darkened, and the stars no longer shine”.  This sounds like the end of the world to me, judgement day. In the midst of this end times chaos God will be “a refuge for his people”.

Now one could interpret this verse purely in terms of the people of Israel and historical events, but I think there may be a deeper meaning here.  I think it is a description of the end times when we will all be given a choice of whether we will take refuge in God or ourselves. When God comes “the mountains will drip new wine, and the hills will flow with milk; all the ravines of Judah will run with water. A fountain will flow out of the Lord ’s house and will water the valley of acacias”.  I am not sure what this means, but one could certainly interpret it as a reflection of Him, a reference to the coming of Jesus to rescue His people for all time through His death on the cross, “the new wine”.

The passage ends with a pretty definitive statement, “The Lord dwells in Zion!”  I think that is true, but it may be a little more complex than it seems.  Is Zion merely a geographic location?  Perhaps it represents a holy place that God has prepared in each one of us, a “God-shaped hole” or as Blaise Pascal actually put it:

“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace?

This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself”

I think the people of Israel, and all of the “multitude”, including myself, have a God-hole that we seek to fill with everything and anything.  In the end we will have a choice whether to let ourselves be stripped down to the soul and replaced by God’s presence, Emmanuel, God with us.

Prayer: God thank You for preparing a place in each of us for Your Holy Spirit to dwell.

 

Posted in Conflict, Covenant, Death and Dying, Following God, God's Love for Us, Holy Spirit, Jesus, Joel, Obedience, reconciliation, The Earthly Realm, The Nature of God, The Spiritual Realm, Trusting God | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Autumn and Spring Rains

I will drive the northern horde far from you, pushing it into a parched and barren land; its eastern ranks will drown in the Dead Sea and its western ranks in the Mediterranean Sea. And its stench will go up; its smell will rise.” Surely he has done great things! Do not be afraid, land of Judah; be glad and rejoice. Surely the Lord has done great things! Do not be afraid, you wild animals, for the pastures in the wilderness are becoming green. The trees are bearing their fruit; the fig tree and the vine yield their riches. Be glad, people of Zion, rejoice in the Lord your God, for he has given you the autumn rains because he is faithful. He sends you abundant showers, both autumn and spring rains, as before. The threshing floors will be filled with grain; the vats will overflow with new wine and oil. – Joel 2:20‭-‬24

In today’s passage God is recounting how He will show up and have the backs of the people of Israel amidst calamity and invasion from the north. God describes drowning the invaders like a huge gust of wind, blowing them east into the Dead Sea and west into the Mediterranean Sea. This reminds me of the scenes from the Lord of the Rings when many foes are felled by superior power. Certainly God has that power if He chooses to use it and witnessing His doing so could certainly be scary. Perhaps that is why the passage says “Do not be afraid, you wild animals, for the pastures in the wilderness are becoming green. The trees are bearing their fruit; the fig tree and the vine yield their riches.

I find it interesting that God refers to the people of Israel as “wild animals”. The last time I remember reading about “wild animals” was back in Daniel when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon was domesticated by God after begin given the mind of an animal. So what is the difference between being a wild animal and being a human? I would argue that the main difference is that humans have the ability to reason and make choices and wild animals are driven by instinct and impulse. We make choices based on a complex calculus of emotions, physical needs, and experience.

So why would God refer to the people of Israel as wild animals? It seems like they were behaving in a way that made them subject to instincts and impulses rather than the reason given to them by God. The evidence for this appears to be the bad fruit, or lack of fruit, that the people are experiencing. God, the Father of the Rain, promises here to give the people “autumn rains because he is faithful”. God will make the people fruitful if they are “glad”, and “rejoice in the Lord your God”. God’s rain will bring both judgement and growth for the people.

God will send “abundant showers”, “both autumn and spring rains, as before”. I am not sure what is meant by “before”, perhaps that was hearkening back to God providing rain on a dry and dusty land or water to fill ravines. Rain is a funny thing. If you have too little rain plants die, too much rain and rivers flood, and rain at the wrong time and things get water logged.

I spend quite a bit of time in Haiti and it rains a lot there during certain times of the year. The first rainy season starts about when I usually arrive in Haiti, in Mid-May. For some reason most Haitians do not really like the rain, although they do appreciate the need for rain for their crops. I am not sure why they dislike the rain, perhaps it is because it sometimes brings danger and adversity in the  form of thunderstorms and hurricanes.  I suppose that is the same reason we fear God sometimes. We are afraid of the adversity and danger that following Him might lead to along the way. I guess the reassuring thing for me is that God has promised to be with us in the midst of adversity, ready to carry us like a son or daughter.

Prayer: Thank You God for providing the rain we need and being with us when things get hard.

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