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 New International Version (NIV). Note 1–3 insights or questions.
Reflect: It seems many of the people who heard Amos’ message might have been taken by surprise by his harsh words of warning and judgment. After all, these were good “church folk.” They were the people of God, and much of their communal, social, and even political life incorporated religious elements and observances. But their appeals to God and apparent reliance on Him would be their undoing (see Amos 5:18–20): “There was no shortage of religion and ritual in Amos’ day, but the rampant social injustice made a blasphemous mockery of it” (Christopher J. H. Wright, Old Testament Ethics for the People of God, p. 374).
Their lack of compassion, with little concern for the needs of others and the systemic unfairness of their society, was a stark contrast to both their self-indulgent lives of luxury and their supposed religious practices. In this context, God expressed His hate—this was very strong language—of their festivals and worship services, their many offerings, hymns, and worship music (see Amos 5:21–23). All the best worship services, most generous and sacrificial offerings, and beautiful music could not and cannot drown out the cries of the poor and oppressed, or paper over or excuse our failures to do justice. Indeed, in God’s eyes, their justice failures demonstrated the hollow nature of their pretensions to faithfulness.
In recent years, many churches have spent much time, energy, and attention working through issues and arguments about “appropriate” and “acceptable” worship styles and music. Remarkably, what seemed the greatest worship concern of the biblical prophets has been rarely raised in these debates: “the prophets insisted that those who lived in ways that denied or trampled on justice were not acceptable to God in their worship. Worse, the worship of such people was an abomination to God” (Wright, p. 267). The prophets’ words were harsh—and demonstrate how seriously God takes the issue of injustice and the call upon His people to act for justice. This is the “worship war” worth fighting. It is not about what music we play when we gather each Sabbath, but about how we seek to do justice in all our lives and each of our communities every day of the week.
Recalibrate: Why are worship debates so heated? And how have we got these so wrong—if we are to follow this call of Amos?
Respond: Pray these words: “God, may we worship You with our lives, by our justice-doing and by serving others in Your name.”
Research: Try introducing a worship service at your church with readings from Isaiah 1:13–15, Jeremiah 7:3–7, and Amos 5:21–23—perhaps in The Message paraphrase. How might these verses feel in that setting?
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.
Find your child’s favorite toy, the one they love the most. Where was it? Did your little one know exactly where it was? Read “Because I Love You.” Know that Our Heavenly Father loves us all and longs for us to love and look after each other.
God does not call you on the telephone or send you an email but there are many ways that He can speak to you. Remember a few weeks ago we watched a video about the prophets and learned that God sent the prophets (like Amos) to speak to the people and tell them important messages? Who do you think God uses to speak to you?
“It’s not fair!” he cried out. “You get to do whatever you want! and I don’t!” I have often heard these words come from my son’s mouth. His frustration with having to obey is extremely evident. His sense of justice tells him that everything has to be same for everyone, except when a difference benefits him . . .
We know from the previous chapters in the book of Amos that social injustice was one of the main things God accused Israel of forgetting to practice (Read Amos 3 and 4). In the context of Amos 5 one specific item that God is being intentional about within the idea of practicing to “hate evil and love good” is the reestablishing of justice at the gate. Basically, in those days, the gate was the place where you would go for help with a particular problem or dispute you had with another person. At the gate there would be an elder, someone who could pronounce justice; a fair and reasonable decision.
Let’s get real: Have you neglected to stand up for those who have been treated unfairly? Have you been treated unfairly? How did that feel? How can you make sure that you do not treat others with fairness regardless of who they are?
A few months ago some members of my church were in a huge debate over what color we should paint the youth room. As the youth pastor I should have been upset that my color choice was being rejected. Instead, I felt more upset that some members were choosing to let paint colors shape their religious experience for a whole week. Do you ever feel like the church focuses on the wrong things? How have you seen your church worship “hot topics” rather than God? In the time of Amos, God felt that people had begun to focus on the wrong things. Today, it is easy to point fingers at others and condemn them for making mountains out of mole hills, yet as I look at my life I realize that am guilty of doing the same! Today I want to challenge you to address the areas of your life where you are not worshipping God. What mole hills are you turning into mountains? How can you make God the central focus of your worship?
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.