søndag 31. mars 2013

Church service on Easter Monday

Sunday 31 March: CHURCH SERVICE MOVED TO MONDAY AT 17:00 (due to Easter holidays)

Monday 1 April: Church at Krona at 17:00

søndag 24. mars 2013

Amos 4:1-15 Fat cows and empty religion

Amos 4:1-15

Amos, the shepherd (or sheep-owner) from Judah, called to prophesy to the Northern Kingdom of Israel (also called Samaria). Amos, faithfully warning the people of God’s judgement. In chapter 1 he focussed on the surrounding nations, warning that people, all people, are made in God’s image and valuable in His sight – and therefore how we treat other people has consequences. Repent! Was his message – which means stop doing what you are doing and turn to God.
Then in chapter 2 we saw him shift his focus from the sinful nations to the sinful people of God. Slavery, oppression, corruption, greed, materialism, sexual mayhem – the people of God are in a mess. They have abandoned the God who saved them, who brought them out of slavery in Egypt. Instead, they have become just like the nations around them – back in a new form of slavery, (and old form of slavery) a slavery to sin and false religion. Repent! Is again his message. Repent and turn back to your God! To know God personally, deeply intimately – why would you throw that away Israel?
And be warned – to scorn (mock) the love of God, to throw his intimacy back in his face and dance down the street like a prostitute being intimate with all sorts of other gods and worldviews- well, that has serious consequences.

Amos uses the picture of a LION to remind us of who we are dealing with: the Sovereign LORD God, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

And in tonight’s passage the Lion roars out his warning on the evil women and on Israel’s false, empty religion – and ends the chapter on this frightening note: Prepare to meet your God in judgment, you people of Israel!

1. The evil women of Israel

v1 Listen to me, you fat cows living in Samaria, you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy, and who are always calling to your husbands, “Bring us another drink!”

It’s a brilliantly descriptive picture. Fat, selfish ladies, lying on their couches, belittling their servants, ordering their husbands to bring them a drink. Red in face, unhealthy, out of breath, adorned with jewellery, gossiping, consumed with climbing the social ladder, and they don’t care who they step on to get there. Oppressing the poor and crushing the needy. Evil women. Evil selfish women. Fat cows of Samaria (Northern Kingdom of Israel).

And because they are cows the judgement (in verse 2 and 3) is fitting: they will be treated like cows, lead away like animals with hooks in their noses. As they have treated the people around them like cattle, so will they be treated. In the end they will be thrown from their fortresses, 3:10 Their fortresses are filled with wealth taken by theft and violence.

Warning! The way of life you’re living is leading to disaster!

Fat cows. Indulgence and oppression are two sides of the same coin. These women indulged themselves – they lived for themselves. And so they used (oppressed) other people. If our main concerns are our own comfort and self-importance, then we will soon mistreat others. It becomes all about ME, about MY needs and MY feelings, about what *I* have done and why aren’t you doing as much as ME? Looking out for number ONE. MY job. Even MY church. (It’s Jesus’ church before it’s ours, let’s not forget that!). They lived for themselves and not for others - And when I describe it like that suddenly I see myself and my own attitudes reflected in these women, these fat cows of Samaria. Ouch!

It’s worth also taking a moment to see how these women had totally rejected what they were created to be. Instead of the loving helper Eve was designed to be for Adam, these women are abusing their husband, treating them like servants (bring us a drink) instead of looking for ways to serve them. They have neglected their responsibility in the home, not creating a place suitable to raise children in the instruction of the Lord, or a place which is open and hospitable to guests – but a place of oppression and selfishness.

Being a wife and mother is hard work – actually if you want to do it properly it’s impossible without the grace of the Holy Spirit. Because the heart of being a good mother and wife is the opposite of these fat cows; other-person-centeredness, service, love. And that does not come naturally to us. We need the grace of God.

As I was reading these verses I was reminded of a New Testament story, of someone who had built his life with wealth taken by theft, whose house was a fortress of ill-gotten gain, who lived like a fat cow – and Jesus looked up at him and said “Zacchaeus, come down”. Jesus said that he came not to condemn, but to save the lost. There is hope. And here, there is hope. There is as yet time to repent. Those who have ears to hear, listen!

The hope of the gospel is the hope for fat cows! When we turn to Jesus and cry for help, he comes to us, his Holy Spirit begins to change us from the inside out. We become regenerate. Like Zacchaeus (who you can read about in Luke 19), we start living a new life, with new desires, new actions. He stood up and said “I give back four times what I have stolen”. From his whole life being built on grabbing as much money as he could – to giving it away! His life had a new foundation: Jesus. And a new direction and purpose: self-sacrificial love, just like Jesus.

From a life built on ME to a life built on serving others because Jesus has loved and forgiven me. That’s repentance, that’s grace. That’s how the fat cows should have responded.

The evil women, the fat cows, have been warned.

And Amos’ warnings continue

2. Empty religion

4 “Go ahead and offer sacrifices to the idols at Bethel. Keep on disobeying at Gilgal. Offer sacrifices each morning, and bring your tithes every three days. 5 Present your bread made with yeast as an offering of thanksgiving. Then give your extra voluntary offerings so you can brag about it everywhere! This is the kind of thing you Israelites love to do,” says the Sovereign Lord.

Ah, Amos, our good friend, faithful proclaimer of the words of God. A man with courage! Can you imagine preaching these words? Warning people that their religion is empty, that their lives are a disaster? That they are rebelling against God even in their religion. Their religious devotion is empty because it is not done for God’s glory but their own. And Amos exposes it. How do you think people would have responded to his words?
The truth is sometimes very hard to swallow, and living a lie seems more attractive.

It is the same with the gospel. Jesus is hated, mocked, or ignored – but it’s not because people don’t like him – I mean, who can’t like a guy who goes around doing good, telling us to love each other, and then dying in our place in a HUGE act of love. So why do people hate Jesus? Sometimes it’s because of what we see in this passage – people claiming to follow him, very religious, good church-goers, generous – but full of themselves and their own glory, not God’s glory. They live for themselves – religion is just a way to exalt themselves, be important, save (justify) themselves. That’s what the Israelites were doing.

But the underlying cause is that we want to be God (certainly over our own life) and when Jesus claims to be God, and backs it up by his power and his resurrection – we get offended, we get angry. He’s rubbed our nose in the truth that we are not God and we don’t like it.

We don’t like it when he says “I am the way, the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me”.
We don’t like it when he says “If anyone wants to follow me, he must pick up his cross daily and follow me.”
He is the master, we are the servants. – and we don’t like it.

So we hide behind our worldview (“I don’t believe in God”) or our issues with God (“I could never believe in a God who…”) or our empty religions (whether that’s the major world religions, or New Age spirituality, or unbiblical “Christianity” (churchism, like in tonight’s passage)). We go through the religious motions, 5 Offer[ing] sacrifices each morning, and bring[ing] tithes every three days. sometimes even beyond the religious requirements 5 Then give your extra voluntary offerings so you can brag about it everywhere!. Who are they doing that for? God? Or themselves? It’s so easy to slip into me-centered Christianity (Me-ianity!)

All too often we go along with Jesus as long as what he’s doing seems good to us – but when his words seem hard, or contradict the “wisdom” of the age…..

Things like our sinfulness (but we’re good), God’s sovereignty (I’m in charge of my life, nobody tells me what to do). Roles of men and women in marriage and the church (but that’s sexist!). Sex (but we’re liberated!) Whatever it is! When we refuse to believe God’s word are we not doing exactly what the Israelites were doing? Worshipping God our way instead of his way. Empty religion.

Are we not the fat cows of chapter 4, entertaining ourselves while ignoring the word of God?

If I am not willing to obey God WHEN HIS WORD CONTRADICTS my own feelings on the matter, then I need to question my standing before God. Am I a Christian if I refuse to repent and believe? Christianity is not just accepting Jesus as Saviour, but also Lord. We will always be challenged by the Bible – how do we respond?

The Israelites’ heard their empty religion being exposed by Amos. And now they hear how God has been judging them, warning them to repent.

3. Repent!

6 “I brought hunger to every city and famine to every town. 7 I kept the rain from falling when your crops needed it the most. I sent rain on one town but withheld it from another. 9 I struck your farms and vineyards with blight and mildew. 10 I sent plagues on you like the plagues I sent on Egypt long ago.

Some of you have been wondering over the past few weeks why I’ve said that Amos’ judgement is a warning (stop! Danger ahead!), and not simply a declaration of a sentence (this will happen). Why is Amos the policeman giving you a warning (don’t do it again!) and not the judge pronouncing a sentence. Well, here we see it. It is so important to read the Bible IN context – both before and after. That’s why much of my preparation is simply reading the book, again and again. Thinking about the passage, thinking about the book. It is so important, because I want to preach to you what GOD THINKS, not what I think! A good definition of preaching is “thinking God’s thoughts aloud”.

Here we see the reason behind disasters. The reason for the judgement. It’s a warning. It’s a mercy. Do you see it there in v6, v8, v9, v10, v11? But still you would not return to me.

The purpose of God’s judgement was (and is) to drive them to himself. Just like last week – 3:6 Does disaster come to a city unless the Lord has planned it?

This is comforting: this world is not chaotic, out of control. Our Lord controls this world. Like a surgeon cutting into the body to expose a cancerous tumour, suffering in this world exposes the tumour of sin. Watch the news: wars, murders, theft, corruption, evil read the tabloids: gossip, back-biting, jealously, broken relationships, abuse. Sin exposed in all its ugliness.

We have not lived in a paradise. We see our sin leads to problems. We are without excuse. Yet we keep sinning.
We see the world is broken; we feel like we’re made for perfection – but we shrug off that feeling because we don’t give up the illusion that we are in control of our lives.
We have an empty space deep within us, but we ignore it.

The disasters around us, in our own lives, are shouting to us “Turn back! Repent and believe!”

What are we going to do? Will we be stubborn and cold-hearted? Will we be like Israel, like Egypt in the time of the Exodus? 10 I sent plagues on you like the plagues I sent on Egypt long ago.
Did you notice through this chapter how the judgements get worse and worse, like a voice shouting louder and louder. And still the Israelites stop their ears and refuse to repent. Stubborn people. Hard-hearted rebels.

But that’s them. What about us? Are we too not just like Israel, just like Egypt? Unrepentant? What will we do now that we hear the warning of God?

Repent and turn to him before it is too late! Prepare to meet your God in judgement, you people of Israel!

They did. 50 years after these words were spoken the Northern Kingdom of Israel was utterly destroyed.

What about you and me? Will we be prepared to meet our God in judgement?

4. Prepare to meet your God

This is no idle threat. GOD IS GREAT!

12 Prepare to meet your God in judgement, you people of Israel!” 13 For the Lord is the one who shaped the mountains, stirs up the winds, and reveals his thoughts to mankind. He turns the light of dawn into darkness and treads on the heights of the earth. The Lord God of Heaven’s Armies is his name!

That is why our rebellion is so foolish. We are not God. We KNOW. We are without excuse. We know we are rebels. The state of our world tells us that.

But we also don’t know. That’s why need the Bible. We need God’s revelation. He v13 reveals his thoughts to mankind. Last week we read 3:7 the Sovereign LORD never does anything until he reveals his plans to his servants the prophets.

So that we can KNOW. SO we can repent. There is a way out. That’s why it is the GOOD NEWS of Jesus Christ. Otherwise this suffering world would just be an endless warning siren with no way out. We would know that something’s wrong, but where would we go to be rescued? Where would we go to satisfy that deep longing inside of us. Praise God that he is a God who speaks, who reveals his thoughts to mankind.

But more than that. He did not just reveal his thoughts, but he revealed himself. He stepped into our world, this sinful, messed-up, world under judgement. And then he took that judgement upon himself so that we could see what kind of God he truly is. He is the God who is intimate with us, the father who lays down his life for his family, the husband who gives his life to save his wife, even though she has been unfaithful to him. Love that stretches so much further than sin.

His love swallows up sin, swallows up his own, righteous judgement.

That’s what we celebrate this Easter – that this great God who treads on the heights of the earth, the Lord God of Heaven’s Armies – he is the Saviour, the Man on the Cross, taking our judgement, making clear the path so that when we finally come to our senses and say “God I am sorry, I repent!” he can say “I forgive you”, and not “you are condemned” – which is what he should say!
Rom 8:1 So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. Isn’t that amazing?

If you are a Christian today you know your own hearts. I know that I am much more like a fat cow of Samaria than I am like Jesus. My Christianity too often devolves into Me-ianity. I disobey and argue with God’s Word and go along with my own “superior” wisdom so much.

So, if you’re anything like me, you will be rejoicing and singing this Easter. In Christ, we can say not Prepare to meet your God in judgment, you people of Israel! but Prepare to meet your God in salvation, you people of the Cross!”

onsdag 20. mars 2013

What's happening at Rock International?

Wednesday 20 March: NO BIBLE STUDY TONIGHT!

Saturday 23 March: Children's Church picnic (adults without kids also welcome!)
At the Farm (Tinnegrend 446 ) at 13:00. Easter egg hunt and activities for kids. This will be great!

Sunday 24 March: Church at Krona at 17:00 as usual.
Amos 4 "Fat cows and false religion!"
(and why God sends disasters)
Don't miss it!

If you've missed the previous talks from Amos they are downloadable here

Wednesday 27 March: NO BIBLE STUDY (Påskeferie)

Sunday 31 March: CHURCH SERVICE MOVED TO MONDAY AT 17:00 (due to Easter holidays)

Monday 1 April: Church at Krona at 17:00
Amos 5 "Seek me and LIVE!"

søndag 17. mars 2013

Amos 3:1-15 God is personal

Amos 3:1-15

It’s always a challenge preaching from the Old Testament because it often seems so far removed from our view of God as gentle Jesus meek and mild. But we must allow the Bible to change us, not change the Bible by our preconceived ideas! One of the ways we do this is simply not reading parts of the Bible we don’t like! For example, in the Bible study we’ve been battling through Romans 9, allowing God’s Word to stretch our mind and unlock great truths like diamonds: that God is sovereign, that he is merciful, that his mercy is based on his mercy, not our goodness! That’s the gospel! Not that we are good or better than others or will show God in the future through our obedience that we are worthy of salvation. No, God saves for his own purposes, for his own glory. And that is a good thing – because otherwise salvation would be based on performance (being good enough for God) rather than grace (being forgiven even though we’re not good enough).

This also means that we can never be arrogant about being Christians, or look down on other people who are not Christians. We’re saved by grace, by God’s will, not our own will.

Why am I talking about Romans and not Amos? Well, firstly to encourage you to decide to set aside time for the midweek Bible study. You’ve got 2 weeks to get that right: we start again on 3 April! But secondly because Amos 3 and Romans 9 both challenge us with the same truth: God is sovereign, he is merciful, and his mercy is based on his mercy, not our performance (thankfully!).

In Amos we come face to face with a holy God, who has purposes which are not the same as ours, and ways of doing things that aren’t necessarily what we would do.

As I was reading through ch 3 I found three verses which really “rattled my cage” –challenged me with my understanding of God.

2 From among all the families on the earth, I have been intimate with you alone. That is why I must punish you for all your sins.

6 (the point of all the rhetorical questions in v3-6) Does disaster come to a city unless the Lord has planned it?

12 This is what the Lord says: “A shepherd who tries to rescue a sheep from a lion’s mouth will recover only two legs or a piece of an ear. So it will be for the Israelites in Samaria lying on luxurious beds, and for the people of Damascus reclining on couches.

These are troubling verses – but it‘s these verses that give us the outline for chapter 3 of Amos:

1. God is personal (v2)

2. God will punish sin (v2 and v6)

3. God is merciful (v6 and v12)

The first point is the longest, but also the most important.

1. God is personal

1 Listen to this message that the Lord has spoken against you, O people of Israel and Judah—against the entire family I rescued from Egypt: 2 “From among all the families on the earth, I have been intimate with you alone. That is why I must punish you for all your sins.”

Listen to this message, says Amos. A message, not from Amos, but from the LORD. The Lord who roars from Zion and thunders from Jerusalem. “This is what the Lord says” is repeated 11 times in the first 2 chapters. Who is this Lord? Note the word there is in small capital letters – it is the letters YHWH, often pronounced Yahweh, which is the personal name of God, the God of Israel.

And he is the God who speaks. Speaking is how we get to know people well. Can you imagine a marriage without conversation – where the husband and wife never share with each other their deepest longings, their hidden secrets, the deep things of the heart?

Well, sadly, you probably can! In fact, it’s probably the norm here – people may be living together like husband and wife, but living two separate lives. My money, your money; my kids, you kids; my holiday, your holiday; my dreams, your dreams. No unity, no oneness, just a partnership that’s convenient as long as it works, and when it isn’t you just walk out the door.

But no, we’re designed to be in relationship, designed to be with another, deeply intimate. And that person is our Lord God Almighty. And when that relationship is in place, it sets you free to be intimate with others, especially your wife (or husband).

That’s why Debby and I always say that the secret to a great marriage is Jesus. It’s loving Him more than each other. Only He can satisfy the deepest longings of your soul – which stops you trying to get from your spouse (husband or wife) what you should get from God! This is a sin of idolatry: trying to get from your spouse what you should get from God: security, fulfilment, happiness. That will break your marriage. Your husband is not God! Your wife is not God (although she may look like a goddess, like mine :-) ). Jesus is your first spouse, your source of comfort and security and strength and fulfilment.

Sin, whether it’s idolatry, or simply selfishness: sin kills our intimacy. We are cut off from God, and so cut off from each other. Intimacy is risky – we reveal ourselves and we become vulnerable – we can be hurt. All of us have experienced being let down by others. We’ve revealed something of ourselves and been betrayed – the secret we told them in confidence is spread around, the weak spot only they know about is suddenly used against us. The one we thought we could trust suddenly speaks out against us – or doesn’t speak out, leaving us on our own. It hurts when people betray us. So we close ourselves off, try to protect ourselves.
In a world of selfish sinners it is a dangerous thing to expose yourself to another. As an aside that’s why you get married FIRST, THEN have sex is there – to protect us. Commitment before exposure. Promise before reward! And that’s why it hurts so deep when you “break up”. Sexually you are one, you’ve been intimate. Sexual intercourse is a huge expression of vulnerability – you are physically and emotionally naked with someone else. And now you are torn apart. It wounds you deeply. It must do!

And that is what we have done with God. The one who has been intimate with us, we have rejected. That’s what’s going on in verse 1&2 O people of Israel and Judah—against the entire family I rescued from Egypt: 2 “From among all the families on the earth, I have been intimate with you alone. That is why I must punish you for all your sins.

Israel is often described in the Bible like an unfaithful wife. Off she goes down the street, throwing herself at any man who happens to come by, prostituting herself – intimate with anyone else except her husband. And, as we saw over the last few weeks, that’s us too: like an unfaithful spouse, ignoring God, ignoring his words, loving evil and not Him. Doing what he has told us not to do. He is the faithful lover, we are the adulterer. God is intimate, vulnerable – and we have thrown it back in his face.

We are sinners, rebels against God, spreading a thin layer of spirituality over our sin and expecting God to be fooled! How often do we try to conceal our sins by smearing a small layer of religious devotion over it and think God will be pleased. Sometimes we hide our sin behind “grace” – but grace is not given so you can live your own life then pretend to serve God on Sundays. No, grace is given so you can stop pretending to be good enough, so you can come to church with your sins and confess them, not hide them.

When you marry someone, you marry all of them, not just a leg or an arm! When you are married you promise to live life, all of life, with them as your husband or wife. It is full 100% commitment. And that includes their sins. For better or worse! You promise. And God is like that good husband who sticks by his wife no matter what. He is personal and intimate with us – and therefore deserves and demands ALL of us. Not a little bit on a Sunday. All that we have, all that we are belongs to him.

He is the God who speaks. We must listen.
He is intimate with us, what a privilege. We cannot throw that back in his face. 2 From among all the families on the earth, I have been intimate with you alone.

God is personal.

2. God will punish sin

2 “From among all the families on the earth, I have been intimate with you alone. That is why I must punish you for all your sins.”

Sin is not primarily naughtiness – doing wrong things. The heart of sin is revealed in this verse: I have been intimate with you alone. That is why I must punish you for all your sins.

It is the broken relationship between us and God. That is the heart of sin: the upraised rebellious fist against our true King. The wife prostituting herself.

Now this kind of verse might be weird for those of us raised on a diet of gentle Jesus meek and mild, and “be good and Jesus will love you”. What a load of unbiblical rubbish. God reveals Himself in the Bible to be a HOLY GOD. And his goal for us is holiness. To be like Him. Not primarily happiness, not comfort, not an easy life – but holiness. Reflecting back to him his glory. Living for Him. Obedient to him. Living as his beloved children.

And our unholiness will be punished. It is against the laws of the universe. It doesn’t fit. It leads to deep unhappiness, to verse 10 “My people have forgotten how to do right,” says the Lord. “Their fortresses are filled with wealth taken by theft and violence.

The fruit of unholiness. The result of sin.
And because God loves us, because we are his, he will punish us. How? He will send disaster upon the city.

6 Does disaster come to a city unless the Lord has planned it? 7 Indeed, the Sovereign Lord never does anything until he reveals his plans to his servants the prophets. 8 The lion has roared— so who isn’t frightened? The Sovereign Lord has spoken— so who can refuse to proclaim his message?

Disaster strikes! Why? To wake us up to the eternal danger we face. We, like Israel, have forgotten to do what is right. The Lord is calling witnesses to observe the chaos and oppression in our lives, in our thoughts, in our relationships. That which we seek to keep hidden, to keep out of sight - that deep longing or knowledge that things are not as they should be.
As Morpheus says to Neo in the Matrix “Let me tell you why you're here. You're here because you know something. What you know you can't explain, but you feel it. You've felt it your entire life, that there's something wrong with the world. You don't know what it is, but it's there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me.”

That feeling drives us to God. That knowledge that something is wrong with the world, something is broken, this is not the way things should be. We were designed for intimacy with our God. Instead we have a broken relationship with God.

So the lion is roars, loud enough for us to hear! Will we listen? Disaster strikes. Will we understand?

I remember once walking with my best friend Grant when I was a teenager. Suddenly he stepped into the road to cross – but what he didn’t see was a car that had just come speeding around the corner (he didn’t see it because he had turned to talk to me). I lurched forward and grabbed him quite roughly and flung him out of the way. I saw his facial expressions – pain, anger, and then shock as the car sped past where he had just been standing, and finally relief and gratitude. “You saved my life!” he said. Probably not – I think the car had seen him. But maybe not. The point of this little story is that the pain of me grabbing him and throwing him to the ground was so worth it compared to being smashed by a car!

CS Lewis says “Pain is God’s megaphone to a deaf generation.” Sometimes we need to be knocked on to our backs before we look up and see reality. And that case pain is a good thing.

As Christians, we can understand pain, we understand suffering. It has a meaning and a purpose. v6 Does disaster come to a city unless the Lord has planned it?
50 years after Amos preached, Israel was carried off into exile. “Why?” they would have cried. Through Amos they could understand. They could understand that they had broken faith with God. They had been an unfaithful wife. They could understand the right judgment of God, and know what to do! Cry out to Him for mercy. Acknowledge their sins and seek mercy from God.

As Christians we understand. This world we live in is broken – and its brokenness drives us to Jesus. Pain in our own lives drives us to Jesus, to make us more like him.
In eternal terms, we will be like my friend Grant, blinking in shock and gratitude saying “you saved my life”

God will punish sins because

3. God is merciful

12 This is what the Lord says: “A shepherd who tries to rescue a sheep from a lion’s mouth will recover only two legs or a piece of an ear. So it will be for the Israelites in Samaria lying on luxurious beds, and for the people of Damascus reclining on couches. 13 “Now listen to this, and announce it throughout all Israel,” says the Lord, the Lord God of Heaven’s Armies. 14 “On the very day I punish Israel for its sins, I will destroy the pagan altars at Bethel (a city in Israel). The horns of the altar will be cut off and fall to the ground. 15 And I will destroy the beautiful homes of the wealthy— their winter mansions and their summer houses, too— all their palaces filled with ivory,” says the Lord.

I really like these verses- because two things are going on at the same time. Firstly evil is destroyed: winter mansions and summer houses built on slavery and corruption (from chapter 2), the poor being sued by the rich so that they can fill their palaces with ivory. They are getting destroyed. Amos is saying, like General Maximus in Gladiator saying to the evil Emperor Commodus “The time for honouring yourself will soon be over.”

The beautiful houses of the wealthy will be destroyed. The pagan altars at Bethel will be cut off and fall to the ground. Their false religion will be exposed and will be no more. All the evil done throughout the centuries in the name of “God” – all this will be revealed and cut off, punished.

The second thing is, as in every pronouncement of judgement in the Bible, there is always hope. Always a remnant who will be saved 12 A shepherd who tries to rescue a sheep from a lion’s mouth will recover only two legs or a piece of an ear. So it will be for the Israelites in Samaria lying on luxurious beds, and for the people of Damascus reclining on couches.

Oh, they don’t deserve saving, lying on their beds of luxury. But some will be saved. Not because they deserve it, but because it is the nature of God to show mercy to sinful people. He came personally, intimately, to pay the price for our sin on the Cross. Jesus’ blood covers us so that we can be part of the remnant rescued from the judgement to come. He knows we are evil, and yet reveals himself to us, is intimate with us, as a father and a husband to us, and ultimately dies for us, showing his love.

What are we to do? In the words of Amos chapter 5 (in two weeks time) “SEEK ME AND LIVE!” says the Lord God Almighty.

God is personal.
God will punish sin.
God is merciful.

Praise God!

onsdag 6. mars 2013

"Everything you've ever wanted to ask about Christianity"

"Everything you've ever wanted to ask about Christianity" - tonight (Wednesday) at 19:30 at Daniel and Debby's house (Harald Bjerkesgate 26).

Bring your questions like
"How can a loving God allow suffering?"
"Did Jesus really exists?"
"Is the Bible reliable?"
"Isn't Christianity just a psychological crutch"
and whatever else you'd like to ask!

Feel free to ask your questions in Norwegian - although the answers will primarily be given in English.

mandag 4. mars 2013

Amos and Mark Audio recordings

Here's a direct link to the folders for AMOS and MARK.

In these folders you can see and download all the sermons we have recorded.

This makes it easier to download a series to listen to in the car on the way to work, for example! :-)
May the Lord speak to you through his word.

søndag 3. mars 2013

Amos 2:4-16 Evil Religion

Amos 2:4-16

There’s something very satisfying about justice. When the baddies get what they deserve! Whether it’s in a movie like Die Hard where thieves and hostage-takers get stopped by our hero, our everyman – John McClane. Or when a politician is arrested and sentenced to prison for breaking the law. Or the Nuremburg trials where the Nazi leaders had to take responsibility for their atrocious and evil actions.

We like justice! Justice is good. Particularly on our enemies, those who have wronged us in the past. But what if we are the ones who have been unjust? Suddenly we’re not crying out for justice when we are the ones who have to say sorry, or admit that we were wrong, or make restitution (give back the stuff we took or broke).

We like the Bible, we like Christianity, when it condemns theft and murder and child abuse - but we don’t like it when the message suddenly turns from the evildoers (pimps, prostitutes, warlords, abusers) to US. ME??? Me? What have I ever done? How dare you! I’m good.
Well, you may well be. Maybe you truly have never hurt anyone in words or action. Maybe you’ve never thought a horrible thought in your life or said one little lie. But I doubt it. You see, maybe compared to the rest of us you might come out well. But if we compare to what we should be? Compared to Jesus who is the Perfect Human, the Second Adam (as we learn in Romans 6)? How do you compare then? How do I compare.

God is a Holy God, a Great King. He is perfect in his majesty, awesome in his power – like a blazing sun he will consume the darkness. That is what we are called to be! Blazing suns of holiness. But we - we are not even the flicker of a candle, we are shadows and dust, a faint echo of what we were created to be. And like shadows are destroyed by the light when dawn breaks - so will we when we face the holy God. I will send down fire… and all the fortresses…will be destroyed. Our God is a Holy God, an all-consuming fire.

We’re going to look at this chapter under three headings:

1. The shocking twist in Amos’ message

2. The evil religious people

3. The True Exodus! (I’ll explain this when we get there!)

1. The shocking twist in Amos’ message

Imagine yourself now an Israelite in 770BC, listening to the words of Amos. As we saw last week, Amos began with the words of God judging the nations around Israel. God roared out his anger at their abuse of people. How dare they treat people as if they were worthless! Slave trading, crushing people like harvesting crops, murdering unborn babies and their mothers, and even trying to kill people for all eternity by burning their bones. All this was known to the Israelites, experienced by them. Maybe some had lost loved ones in these attacks, or even escaped from slavery or a brutal attack.
There was no friendship between Israel and its neighbouring countries. There was war and distrust and hatred and continual small battles all along the border. So, exactly like the Middle East today, then…. 3000 years and we’ve learned nothing.

So, you’ve gathered to hear the words of the prophet Amos, declaring “this is what the Lord says”. And he starts by condemning the hated nations. Yes! At last! Justice! As Amos condemns Damascus, then Gaza, Tyre, hated Edom, Ammon and finally Moab – how do you think people would have been feeling?
Good! Maybe even shouting their approval. Yes! And then Amos says: 4 This is what the LORD says: “The people of Judah have sinned again and again, and I will not let them go unpunished!
Oh, hang on, that’s getting a bit close isn’t it? I mean, we are two separate nations and all but we’re still the people of God, aren’t we?

More than a few people may have started to get a bit uncomfortable when Amos announces that the Lord will judge Judah, the Southern Kingdom of the people of Israel, in the same way he judged the surrounding nations: 5 So I will send down fire on Judah, and all the fortresses of Jerusalem will be destroyed.”

And then the hammer-blow falls, and their shouts of triumph die in their throats. Amos says again: 6 This is what the Lord says. Oh no! Is it us next, oh dear it is isn’t it. Oh I can barely bear to listen.... 6 This is what the Lord says: “The people of Israel have sinned again and again”

Imagine the shock on people’s faces as Amos tells them that God knows exactly what they have been doing – and that their veneer (thin covering) of spirituality, of religion, doesn’t work. God sees what they are doing, just as he sees what the other nations are doing – and he will judge them all. Empty religion is no protection from an angry God.

With the benefit of nearly 3000 years separating us, we can laugh at their stupidity. But what if Amos then turns to us and says “The people of Norway have sinned again and again”? Or let’s bring it even closer to home “The people in Rock International Church have sinned again and again, and I will not let them go unpunished”.

How often do we think the same as the Israelite in 770BC? Think we can fob God off with a bit of religious duty, while live the rest of our lives the way WE want to, in rebellion against him.

He is a Holy God, a Great King. He is the God who sees, nothing escapes his gaze. Do not mistake his patience for approval for your evil acts. His patience is given to allow us time to repent and turn to him.

Be shocked. God is not just concerned with those “out there”, but with you. With your life. How you have lived. How I have lived. This is the “twist” in Amos. This is his real target. Israel. The people of God. You and me. The people of God.

And the people have been evil.

2. The evil religious people of God.

The first thing to notice is that the basis of judgement (the reason WHY God judges) is different from the other nations in chapter 1. Have a look at verse 4 They have rejected the instruction of the LORD, refusing to obey his decrees.

The nations were judged because they treated other people badly – they placed no value on human life, something which we should just know is wrong. I am a human, I am valuable – stands to reason that others are valuable! But now, with his own people, the reason they are judged is because they have rejected the instruction of the LORD. They knew better. They had been TOLD by God how they were to behave as his holy people.

And it made no difference whatsoever.

You see, being told what we’re doing is wrong does not make us automatically stop and repent. Because the problem isn’t a lack of knowledge but the problem is sin. And until you understand that you will always struggle! Your kids aren’t naughty because they don’t understand that hitting is wrong. No, they hit because they want to hit. That violence comes from within, from the desire to be God, to rule, to make other people do what you want them to do!

The Law, God’s Law, was given to show the people how sinful they were – and to reveal to them their need for a saviour: God himself. The Bible itself reminds us that it was not given as 10 steps to perfection, as another way to be right with God. Only God can make us right with God.

The opening words of the 10 Commandments: Ex 20:2–3 (NLT) I am the LORD your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery. 3 You must not have any other god but me.

And in Amos chapter 2 what do we find the Israelites doing? Breaking the first commandment. They corrupt his name. Worship him like Baal. They ignore his laws: Do not steal, do not covet (that’s the heart of greed and jealousy: wanting strongly something that belongs to somebody else. Covet – it’s a good word, and something that we’re all guilty of!).

They are 5 led astray by the same lies that deceived their ancestors. What kind of lies? That happiness is found in owning things, amassing wealth and power. That greed is good. That sex outside of marriage is good. That religion can be made up, and that it’s good. And if you make sex part of your religion that’s even better! That’s what the Israelites were doing: both in the Southern Kingdom of Judah and the Northern Kingdom of Israel.

6 They sell honourable people for silver and poor people for a pair of sandals 7 They trample helpless people in the dust and shove the oppressed out of the way.

Look out for number 1. Hey, it’s just business. Well, you should have read the small print in the contract before you signed it.
The word translated “honourable” in verse 6 meant “innocent before the law”. What was happening is that the justice system was corrupt. Judges were open to bribery (silver), verdicts were sold for as little as a pair of sandals or cases were brought over as small a matter as shoes—such was the covetousness (greed) of the time. The helpless were simply trampled by those with money and power, the rich getting richer and the poorer getting poorer. Isn’t it good to know that we have progressed so far in 3000 years. With all our vast knowledge and technological expertise we’ve managed to stop greed and abuse and exploitation.
Lack of knowledge is not the problem. It’s here, within us. You see, the Israelites knew what they were doing is wrong:

Ex 20:15 “You must not steal.

16 “You must not testify falsely against your neighbour.

17 “You must not covet your neighbour’s house. You must not covet your neighbour’s wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbour.”

But they did not care. And neither do we.

7 Both father and son sleep with the same woman, corrupting my holy name.

Wanton sexual immorality. Mocking God’s good order, his good provision of lifelong sexual union in marriage. Sex in marriage is good! Very good. Sex outside of marriage will hurt you very badly indeed. It’s not designed for that. It’s like petrol: put it in the tank, it’s good! Spray it around all over the petrol station – it’s very very bad!

Ex. 20:14 You shall not commit adultery.

But it’s worse than that – they are “corrupting his holy name”. What were they doing? Well, there was a Canaanite god called Baal. The Canaanites were the ones who used to live in Israel before God judged them for their evil. Cleverly the Israelites are now doing exactly the same things, even worshipping the same gods! See, Baal was cool: he was the god of fertility, and he needed regular reminders to keep the land and animals and people fertile. And the way you reminded him was… yes, you guessed it, by having sex with the temple prostitute. Even worse, they were pretending to be worshiping God: the holy Lord was being worshipped as a Canaanite Baal. The judgement in v7 is of the whole community, ‘father and son alike’, being involved in orgiastic Baalism with “the girl” at the temple. They have become like the Amorites who lived in Canaan before them. They are Canaan! So God warns them 9 But as my people watched, I destroyed the Amorites, though they were as tall as cedars and as strong as oaks. I destroyed the fruit on their branches and dug out their roots.

How much Baalism is in our society today! Sex is worshipped unconditionally. Women being reduced to objects – to be used and then tossed away as needed.

8 At their religious festivals, they lounge in clothing their debtors put up as security.

Ex 22:25–26 (NLT) “If you lend money to any of my people who are in need, do not charge interest as a money lender would. 26 If you take your neighbour’s cloak as security for a loan, you must return it before sunset.

They weren’t doing that - instead they were going to church with these clothes on! How disgusting. Rebelling against God – glorying in their rebellion! Then spreading a thin layer of religion over the top and thinking that the Lord of Heaven and Earth will be fooled.

How often do we do that? How often do we come to church with our sins hanging out as obvious as wearing someone else’s clothes, and we smear a small layer of religious devotion over it and think God will be pleased. Oh, we may even call it “grace” – but grace is not given so you can live your own life then pretend to serve God on Sundays. No, grace is given so you can stop pretending to be good enough, so you can come to church with your sins and confess them, not hide them. Say to God “I have sinned against you, broken your laws, rebelled against your kingship”. We come here as adulterers, porn addicts, liars, murderers, greedy people, full of jealously and discontentment, gossips, back-stabbers, Baal-worshipers! Let us remember that God accepts us just as we are. Let us repent. Let us remember that the purpose of the Law is to drive us to Jesus! We need a saviour, and he is waiting.

Let’s not be like the Israelites, 12 command[ing] the prophets, ‘Shut up! Lalala, don’t tell me I have to repent. Pretending we’re good enough.

The religious people of God are evil, and will be judged.

3. The Exodus (rescue)

10 It was I who rescued you from Egypt and led you through the desert for forty years, so you could possess the land of the Amorites. 11 I chose some of your sons to be prophets and others to be Nazirites. Can you deny this, my people of Israel?”

They were rescued from Egypt, set apart to be different, to be God’s people. But now they have become like the Amorites. Become like Egypt. Corrupt, rebellious. Evil! They need a new Exodus, a new rescue!

We, too, are called to be different, set apart – but when I look at the church in the West today I see very little difference between us and the world. We have become like the nations around us. We are Amorites, we are Egyptians.

Now I hope by now I’ve been able to destroy your confidence in yourself. I hope you are feeling despondent (hopeless) as Amos’ message comes to bear on you and blasts out its condemnation. I hope you feel like the Israelite in 770BC should have felt. I hope you hear the truth of the statement “The people of Norway have sinned again and again, and they will not go unpunished.” “The people of Rock International Church have sinned again and again, and they will not go unpunished” or put your own name here “Daniel has sinned again and again, and he will not go unpunished”

We need a rescue don’t we? We are in Egypt, an Egypt in our hearts, in slavery to sin, to the whims of our emotions, our desires. Whatever *I* want when *I* want it.

We need a new Exodus, a new rescue to save us from our Egypt of slavery to sin.

And dear friends, that’s what we have! Because God’s warning to the Israelites is a warning to turn to him and to seek forgiveness. The blazing torch of the Law lighting up our sinfulness and exposing our dark deeds is there not to condemn but to cause us to stop pretending we’re good enough and to cry out to God to help us. Like little children. And his reminder of the Exodus is a reminder that he is the God who saves.

“Daniel has sinned again and again, and he will not go unpunished” This is true! We will not go unpunished. But the question is who will bear our punishment. That is the glory of the True Exodus that Amos looked forward too, but which we know. The true Exodus took place on the Cross. That is the glory of the Cross. For there God stretches out his arms and cries out in a loud voice as he bears the punishment for sins committed by others. Jesus swaps places with us. He takes our punishment.

Israel may have been shocked by the twist in Amos’ message. They may have been afraid as his words revealed their evil hearts, the evil religious!, but they could flee to God and beg for forgiveness, beg for rescue from slavery, beg for the true Exodus, the true rescue, where God himself swaps places with us and takes the punishment we deserve.

“Daniel has sinned again and again, and he will not go unpunished”

That is right and that is good. I have sinned and I deserve punishment. I am not holy – and I don’t have to pretend to be! The glory of the Gospel is that, like a little child I can come with my broken life “I broke it, Daddy” , and Jesus bears the cost, he pays to fix it, to fix it forever.