Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Longsuffering Grace Checked by Justice

This is what the Lord says to Israel: “Seek me and live; do not seek Bethel, do not go to Gilgal, do not journey to Beersheba. For Gilgal will surely go into exile, and Bethel will be reduced to nothing.” Seek the Lord and live, or he will sweep through the tribes of Joseph like a fire; it will devour them, and Bethel will have no one to quench it.
Amos 5:4-6
Parents often struggle to discipline their children. We can see that a rebellious heart is being revealed in our toddler when she sits in the floor, sticks her pouty little lip out, and scowls at us. But the truth is that sometimes children can be such cute little sinners. There is a part of us imperfect parents that sometimes just wants to scoop them up in our arms and say something like, "Oh I just love you too much to tell you no." The Bible makes clear to us that our Heavenly Father is not subject to this weakness. That is not to say that He is short on grace. He is patient and longsuffering, slow to anger, and abounding in love; but He will not let sin go unchecked in the life of one of His children (Numbers 14:18 & Nahum 1:3).
The Old Testament prophet Amos illustrates this nicely for the people of Israel shortly before they would be conquered by the Assyrians and taken into exile. The Israelites were looking forward to the day of the Lord as the day when He would bring judgment on the wickedness of their enemies. But Amos says to them, "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..." (Amos 5:18). He goes on to explain that on that day the Lord would bring judgment not only on their enemies but also on their own sin which they had grown so blind to. Amos names Israel's sin in 2:6-8. He says that they have exploited the poor and the righteous as well as worshipped false gods through performing ritual acts of sex.
Amos shows Israel just how blind they have been to their sin. Their loving, Heavenly Father has been trying to get their attention for sometime now to no avail. They have silenced the prophets (2:12) and ignored all the warnings He has sent them. Finally, God has sent Amos (a shepherd from the kingdom of Judah) over to Israel as a prophet to warn them. In chapter four Amos lays out for Israel all the ways that God has disciplined them in patience, gentleness and grace, giving them opportunities to turn from their sin and return to Him. Amos reveals to Israel that God has sent famine on their cities (4:6); He has withheld rain (4:7-8); He plagued their crops with blight, mildew and locust (4:9); He sent pestilence and disease in the land killing young men and horses (4:10); and He even sent destruction on some of them (4:11). God did all of this in an effort to wake them up to their sin, to bring them to repentance. Yet, Israel remained hardened and oblivious, resolute in her ways. Now Amos has come to pronounce that her final judgment would be the destruction of the nation. And yet even after all this, Amos 5:4-6 tells us that God still holds out the opportunity for repentance. "Seek the Lord and live," Amos says.
I wonder how often we stubbornly or blindly fail to see God's warnings in our lives. How are we oblivious to the discipline that is designed to turn us from our sin? I'm not saying that every difficult circumstance in our lives is God's judgment, but we should stop and carefully consider, "Is the difficulty I'm experiencing right now God's way of graciously and patiently trying to get my attention, to reveal to me that I have been blind to sin in my life?" Maybe you have been through difficult circumstances recently. Maybe God has removed His blessing from your life. Maybe you have a general feeling of discontent, a restlessness, or a financial difficulty. Stop and consider. Is God trying to get your attention? Is their sin in your life right now? Perhaps you are falling prey to lust, pride, anger, or self-centered living. Heed the warnings of the Lord. Repent on your knees and ask for forgiveness. Ask Him to give you the strength to turn away from your sin and to live the way He has called you to live. And thank Him for His loving, patient, gracious warning that has restored you to right relationship with Him.
For further reading... 
  • Hebrews 12:5-11- Thank God that He disciplines us like a loving Father.
  • Amos- Read the entire book. It's only nine chapters.
  • Hosea- This prophet also ministered to Israel shortly before their destruction by the Assyrians.

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