Series: Shepherds Roar
Message: Our Own Issues
Preacher: Dany Hernandez
Reflection: Nathan Brown
Live Wonder: Zan Long
Live Adventure: Zan Long
Live Beyond: Art Preuss
Live Purpose: Kyle Smith
Editor: Becky De Oliveira
Refresh: Begin with prayer. Ask for the Holy Spirit to open your heart to new understanding and for God’s character to be revealed.
Read: Amos 5-6 in the English Standard Version (ESV). Note 1–3 insights or questions.
Reflect: Those of us who grew up in church can recognize an altar call approaching. It might be the context—perhaps toward the end of an evangelistic series or summer camp—or a certain style of sermon. Some preachers and some church cultures use public appeals much more than others. In some quarters, the altar call is less welcome, seen as a kind of emotional manipulation and perhaps even spiritual abuse. And altar calls have been used in those ways. Before we get too critical, dismissive, or cynical, we might pause to remember those times when our own hearts have been moved and have responded to these kinds of invitations. But, nonetheless, we tend to know an altar call when we see it coming.
Which is what makes Amos’ “altar call” so interesting. We might not have seen it coming. After long descriptions of violent and catastrophic judgments, without any apparent sense of conditionality or contingency, we are not expecting the quiet music and gentle invitation to “Come to Jesus.” And that isn’t what we get either. This altar call comes in a different cultural context to that we are familiar with.
But three times we read an altar call: “Come back to me and live!” (Verse 4); “Come back to the Lord and live!” (Verse 6); and “Do what is good and run from evil so that you may live!” (Verse 14). By repetition, we are assured this is not an accidental invitation. While unfamiliar to us, we begin to realize that this is the call that the harsh prophetic words have been leading to. The prophet is still shouting and his alternatives are stark—indeed we are told that God “will roar through Israel like a fire, devouring you completely” (Amos 6:6, NLT). But the shouting is to get the people’s attention, to warn of the risk of destruction and alert them to the continuing possibility of mercy.
It isn’t an altar call we have seen coming, but it is urgent, compelling and merciful nonetheless. And it lets us know, almost 2,800 years later, what the prophet’s message was truly about—and the response he was seeking.
Recalibrate: Is there an “altar call” experience that you can point to as a significant turning point in your life and faith? Spend some time reflecting on that experience. Has its meaning changed for you today?
Respond: Pray these words: “God, however You speak to us, may we hear Your voice and respond to Your call in and on our lives.”
Research: The “altar call” as practiced in many churches today is a relatively recent innovation: What does this say about our understanding of the Gospel and God’s call on our lives—and how these have changed?
Remember: “This is what the Lord says to the nation of Israel: ‘Come to me and live’” (Amos 5:4, ICB).
Nathan Brown is a writer and book editor at Signs Publishing Company, near Melbourne, Australia. Nathan is author/editor of 16 books, including two this year—Of Falafels and Following Jesus and For the Least of These.
With your little one, say the Words to Remember for this week: “This is what the Lord says to the nation of Israel: ‘Come to me and live’” (Amos 5:4, ICB). Now replace the name of Israel with your name and then your child’s name. This is what the Lord says to everyone: “Come to me and live.”
Watch this short video about repentance. Do you understand what the word means? (Ask someone if you need help understanding!) Amos is teaching people that God is patient with sinners. He wants us to repent and turn away from sin and follow Him and His plan for our life.
One of my kids’ favorite games to play outside with me is Hide and Seek. Being the more “experienced” player in the game, I can hide in places they have not thought about before. When this happens, they start calling out, “Daddy! Where are you?” When I notice that they are about to give up, I whistle and see in them a renewed desire to find Daddy. The best part of this game for me is to see their faces when they actually find me.
There are three times that God shares in Amos Chapter 5 for His people to seek “Daddy.” This week we will look a little deeper at what it really means to seek God, to live, and to love.
Let’s get real: When was the last time you were really excited about being intentional in looking for God?
Last summer I spoke at a summer camp. It was awesome! There were bonfires and smores and boat rides. It was a blast! At the end of the week I did an altar call where I encouraged people to accept Jesus. Have you ever been somewhere where the preacher did an altar call? How did it make you feel? I think sometimes altar calls can feel awkward or pushy. A lot of times our friends stand up and so it makes us feel like we have to as well. As you read the altar call in Amos how does it make you feel? I hope it moves you to something deeper than standing up because “everyone” else did. I pray it moves you to realize that Jesus has a life for you that you could never have imagined!
Zan Long is GRC director for faith development for ages 0-17. She lives in Sydney, Australia, and serves at her local church in nearby Kellyville.
Art Preuss pastors in Massachusetts at the Springfield, Florence, and Warren Adventist churches and serves in the U. S. Air Force Reserve as a chaplain.
Kyle Smith is the associate pastor of youth and family ministries at New Haven Adventist Church in Overland Park, Kansas.