And he said:

“The LORD roars from Zion

   and utters his voice from Jerusalem;

the pastures of the shepherds mourn,

   and the top of Carmel withers.”

Amos 1: 2

Amos, the humble shepherd, speaks, and the world listens to his words, for he is speaking into history the heart and the desire of the Lord, God Almighty. For God does speak His truth to us. This was true in the days of Amos some 2,900 or so years ago just as it is still so today. For a time or even for a season it may seem that the Lord’s voice is silent, but that never remains the case indefinitely. God cares greatly for us, and He also is truly concerned about the way that we go about living. There is no aspect of the manner in which people exist and in the form that our conduct of life is framed that escapes the Lord’s view. So, we can count upon the fact that He will hold us accountable for all of it. The Lord will respond to the good that we do and to the despicably evil that we carry out or that we allow to exist through inaction and failure to hold ourselves and others accountable for following the mandates that God sets out in His Word.

Like the citizens of Israel and even of Judah we may think that we are experiencing God’s blessing because we are comfortable, wealthy, and powerful. Yet, this is all a false form of security, for its basis is not God’s will or the Lord’s expressed desire. Instead, we, like they, are smugly self-satisfied in the accomplishments of our hands and with the power and the control that we think that we exert upon the world around us. Although Amos has commenced his series of comments about the wickedness of the world and of its nations with pointed expressions regarding the various peoples and counties that surrounded Israel and Judah, the prophet will, in turn, spin about and point the Lord’s figure of judgement inwardly toward God’s own nation and its inhabitants. They were to be held to an even higher standard of righteousness and compliance with God’s stated will than were their neighbors. This is not just a historic comment; rather, it is a basic reality of God’s character. He does hold His people accountable for living out the love, grace, mercy, and justice that the Lord has poured over us.

We may desire for the Day of the Lord to come when He will speak forth truth and justice into the world so that all that is evil will be destroyed and everything that is out of conformity to His Word will be set right again. Yes, we might desire for that great day to come, but we must also realize that the Lord’s judgement falls upon all people equally. So, as the Lord roars from Zion with His voice of righteousness sounding forth the end of all that stands in opposition to His will in the world, its reverberations are felt most powerfully by those who are closest to the source. Israel and Judah would not escape from the earth-cleansing work that the Lord would accomplish over the next periods of time, and we will not be granted immunity from His judgement, either. So, today is a good one for each of us who seek to follow Christ to examine the depths of our hearts and to turn to the Lord with a sincere desire upon our lips to know Him well so that we can live out the Lord’s will and the desires of His heart. This is a time for repentance and for the restoration of our faith. Christ is calling to His people to turn from our arrogance, our willfulness, and to renounce the ways of the world so that we can truly follow him and bring the light of justice and righteousness into the dark corners of that same earthly expanse.    

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

2 Corinthians 5: 20

This is the job title that everyone that follows Christ is given. We are the Lord’s ambassadors. He sends us out into foreign lands and commissions us to represent the Kingdom of God in all of our interactions with the inhabitants of those places. This is similar to what an official representative of a government is charged with in being sent to operate in a country other than that person’s native one, but there are certain important differences. Christ’s ambassadors may serve anywhere in the world, and our office is frequently found in our own front yard or at a table in local café. The diplomacy that we practice does not have a direct impact upon international trade agreements and seldom leads to the resolution of tensions that involve armies and the potential for large-scale violent engagements. Yet, the work that we undertake can be even more significant than that, for it contemplates the eternal destinies of souls.

As an ambassador that is sent out from a nation sets aside the rest of life and goes where dispatched by its leaders, so too, are we called upon by Christ to leave behind our concerns, fears, and issues of distrust and discomfort in order to engage with people who do not know Christ in a close and personal manner. We are to go to them with the message of Christ’s gospel of reconciliation, and we are to do this without regard for the potentially hostile attitudes of those to whom we are sent. We might be rejected and our message may even be ridiculed, but that is no loss to us, for Christ sends us out in the full confidence of our faith to speak truth into the lives of people that are lost and that need to know the loving grace that Christ desires to pour out upon them. The message that we are given to proclaim is one of peace between God and people, and it is the story of how any and all of us are brought into full and unfettered relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

This is a message of hope, of love, and of reconciliation. These truths are best conveyed as they are demonstrated through engagement with others, and this direct engagement aspect of the role of ambassador is both the most effective and the most dangerous one. The danger is found in the risk of rejection, ridicule, and even of attacks of various kinds and types. Yet, those are small concerns when it comes to representing Christ in the world, and they are mere wisps of shadows as compared to the sacrifice that the Lord made for us and for the people that we are sent to on His behalf. This calling to the role of ambassador is a holy one, and it is not for the weak of spirit or of heart and mind. However, in Christ, we are all conquerors over the world; so, our concerns, fears, and reluctance can be overcome by the presence of the Spirit with us in all that we do and everyplace that we travel in this world. As ambassadors for Christ we serve the Risen King, and we can go into every corner of our world with our heads held high confidently proclaiming God’s sovereignty, grace, love, and desire for reconciliation with all that reside there.   

Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner,

   but blessed is he who is generous to the poor.

Proverbs 14: 21

The people who live near us are not always nice and pleasant to be around. In fact, they can be utterly nasty and difficult. So, when the concept of neighbor is expanded to include the much wider range of locality that God tends to place into that word by way of meaning, the prospects for being required to engage with people who cause me anxiety, anger, or even who invoke hatred is greatly increased. But Solomon was not finished there when he set down these words of wisdom for the ages to come. He jumps from people who live in some form of proximity to us to the inclusion of others who have little to no economic means, the poor. Although any one of us may not have financial resources that place us among the elite of our world, most of us are also not living at the level wherein meals are doubtful and shelter is not even a dream that we can entertain. Yet, there are large numbers of people who, for various and often complex reasons, exist well below the governmentally defines poverty line.

These poor are everywhere in the world. There is really no culture or location that does not have them in its midst. This has been true for most of the earth’s history, too. In this simple, proverbial statement, the poor of the world are transferred from the realm of those who exist out there away from my door and they are brought into my front yard. Thus, they are defined as people that I need to care about at the level of individuals who have a story to tell and whose lives have an impact upon my own. There is no longer any escaping a certain responsibility to them that is placed upon me by God. Even if society might turn away from them, governments may try to regulate their coming and going, and the world attempt to deny them the basic dignity of recognition as God’s own beloved children, God does not grant His people with the right to think and to act in these ways.

We are to open our doors to our neighbors and to seek to know and to understand them. In so doing, we have the best opportunity to present Christ and His gospel of redemption to them. We are also made vulnerable and our personal strength and capacity to care for others is severely tested in the process of entertaining these neighbors. Yet, these are also times when we are taken ever deeper into our faith in God and dependence upon Him as the resource that we call upon when we reach the end of ourselves. Now, Christ adds to the mix of people who fill up the neighborhood where we dwell with the poor, the disadvantaged, the homeless, and the troubled people of our world, and He tells us to treat them as we do our neighbors. We are to look them in the eye, reach out with the hand of fellowship and care, and grant them the dignity that is their right as God’s creation. Christ loves these people greatly, and He calls upon each of us who follow Him to do the same.

Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his maker,

   but he who is generous to the needy honors him.

Proverbs 14: 31

Thus says the Lord of hosts, “Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.”

Zechariah 7: 9, 10

 

God stated a number of characteristics that were to be what would set the historic nation of Israel and its people apart from the rest of the world. These characterists came directly from the nature of God, Himself. One of the most important of these was the spirit of openness and acceptance for people who were from other lands, cultures, and beliefs. This ready acceptance of the foreigner into their land was derived from God’s primary desire to bring all who were lost and separated from Him into a transformative relationship with God.

 

This evangelistic purpose continues from the Old Testament narrative into the New with even greater emphasis on its centrality to the calling that is placed upon followers of Christ. We are to overcome our fears and discomfort with people who do not think, live, and believe as we do in order to allow Christ to work on their hearts through the connection that comes because of our relationship with them. In addition to Christ’s call to enter relationship with the foreigner, there is also this ancient mandate of God to care for the disadvantaged and the oppressed of the world. God’s people are to be the ones who bring mercy and comfort where the world has rained down oppression and pain.

 

These two biblical concepts still work together in our world today. Christ is our shield and protector. With Him there is nothing to truly fear except for refusing to follow His will. Wherever God’s people dwell there should be a place of rest and healing and a table of welcome set for the foreigner and for the disadvantaged people of our world. In a world where violence is a tool that evil uses to bring about a fear that separates people, Christ is the one true bridge into the peace that calms hearts and minds and that bonds souls together in love. As we welcome these sojourners into our lives, we are welcoming Christ to our table.

 

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

Matthew 5: 7

Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary.

Galatians 6: 9

 

The idea of “due time” is a hard concept to grasp, and it is even harder to wait it out. It is particularly difficult when it is someone else who is due and when it is my time clock that is ticking. Yet, I think that this is a big part of the point that Paul is making, for he had a very special and totally real grasp on the differences between human internal clocks and God’s eternal clock. Christ was willing to out wait Paul’s stubborn heart. Then Christ taught Paul how to view his interactions with others from a perspective wherein he no longer needed to be responsible for the results. This is a difference in viewpoint that changes lives.

 

We invest in people by giving them our time, understanding, tangible gifts, love, and our view of God’s wisdom and truth, and sometimes these people respond in ways that are amazing and transformative for them. There are other times when the investment seems futile or when the person simply rejects the effort to care for and about them. Yet, people aren’t like a poorly performing mutual fund; we don’t get to just change our investment to a different portfolio and go on with life. When we are involved with people, we can seek the wisdom of Christ’s Spirit first; then, we need to react to what He says to us, and we need to be brave enough to always tell others the truth as God reveals it.

 

The Lord may tell us to change our approach with someone, or He may lead us to simply continue to care about them and to provide a safe place where truth can be heard. Every person is different, and each situation is unique. However, there is one constant in all of this messy business of becoming involved with people’s lives, and that is that God is a shepherd who never stops seeking to save each of His sheep. He is the unending source of all of the strength, courage, wisdom, and grace that I will need to answer Christ’s call and to join Him in that quest.

 

 

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.

1 Peter 4: 7

 

Given that Peter lived a couple thousand years ago, he may have gotten things wrong. You see, we are still here, and the world continues to be a chaotic mess. Another possibility is that Peter spoke all of this with complete accuracy and an excellent understanding of the way that God works. In Peter’s day the end of the things that were necessary in order for God’s plan for redemption of people and of His creation had come about. Jesus had come, been sacrificed, and was risen. The Holy Spirit was resident in our world and dwelling in the hearts of people of faith. The only thing that was and is left in order for God to complete His work of final restoration rests solely in the Lord’s hands. That is the fullness of time.

 

It seems that Peter is calling followers of Christ to something quite different from an escape plan that has us sitting in meditative readiness for all of the insanity of life to end in Christ’s return. That could happen, but that is not the hope that we are to focus our minds and our hearts upon. Instead, Christ-followers are to be people who look to Him continually and who surrender our desires and our wants to Christ’s cleansing truth. We are to live in a state of readiness for that day when we will be face to face with Christ. It will come for everyone, but people who know Christ are prepared for that moment of glorious reckoning.

 

The centerpiece of this preparation is prayer. This is an on-going conversation with God in which we expose the deepest aspects of our being to our Lord and listen with absolute attentiveness to all that He says to us. Engaging in deep prayer requires us to be people who set aside the various devices that our world uses to distract us from attention to God’s will. The Holy Spirit will empower us to live within His control and to relinquish the escapism that our world invites us to engage with. God intends that this Christ-focused and Spirit-energized living will grant to His people the ability to live in continual engagement with His will and in response to Christ’s call to follow Him.