Do you need to return to the Lord (part 4)?

Over the last week, we’ve been considering some challenging verses in Amos, and looked at how they could apply to church groups and denominations, and also to local churches.

Again, it’s important when we apply Scripture that we don’t just apply it to others. Let’s not be guilty at pointing the finger and bishops and pastors, but not considering the truth of God for ourselves. How might these verses in Amos apply to us as individuals? Remember, the overall thrust of the passage is that God is warning His people by giving them difficulties and problems. He wants them to respond to the problems by turning to Him. So perhaps we could apply it like this:

“I gave you heartache and lack of peace in every way,
yet you have not returned to me,” declares the Lord.

Is that what the Lord is saying to you?

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Do you need to return to the Lord (part 3)?

Over the last two days I’ve made some suggestions about how we can apply some challenging verses from Amos to today’s church.

Today I want to explain further why blessings and warnings are often physical in the Old Testament, but spiritual in the New. The answer is very simple. It’s not that God was not concerned with spiritual things in the Old Testament. It’s just that the Old Testament is full of types and shadows of spiritual reality. So we understand, for example, that the cloud and fire that showed God’s presence during the Exodus is a type or shadow that points us to a spiritual reality in the New Testament. That spiritual reality is the presence of God by His Spirit today. What was a physical sign of a spiritual reality has become that spiritual reality.

So we took the physical warnings Amos gave to Israel, and applied them to today’s church. But we did so in such a way that applied mainly to denominations. That’s OK, but I’m not responsible for a denomination, and you’re probably not either. It’s easy to point the finger at others – but perhaps the Lord would like to point it at us. Let’s make sure the application can hit home to our own local church:

“I gave you half-empty evening services
and lack of souls in every prayer meeting,
yet you have not returned to me,” declares the Lord.

Is that what the Lord is saying to your local church?

“I gave you overworked Sunday School teachers
and lack of workers in many ministries,
yet you have not returned to me,” declares the Lord.

Is that what the Lord is saying to your local church?

“I gave you large expenses and lack of income
so your bank balance has sunk,
yet you have not returned to me,” declares the Lord.

Is that what the Lord is saying to your local church?

“I sent disunity among you as I did in the past.
I caused your young men to leave,
along with your recent converts.
I filled your nostrils with the stench of your unhappiness,
yet you have not returned to me,” declares the Lord.

Is that what the Lord is saying to your local church?

“Many times I struck your sermons and bible-studies,
I struck them with shallowness and empty platitudes.
Secular culture devoured your understanding and spiritual growth,
yet you have not returned to me,” declares the Lord.

Is that what the Lord is saying to your local church?

Now before I get into trouble, let me be quite clear. I am not saying that I am certain that the Lord is judging your church. I am not saying that if you are experiencing any of these things then that is definitely a sign that you are on the wrong road and are refusing to return to God.

But the Lord’s question is clear. When difficulties come, do we turn to the Lord?

There are too many churches who are struggling, but simply shrug their shoulders and claim that we live in hard times, and the day of small things, but they never turn to the Lord. I fear that the Lord will do even harder things so that the church returns to him. There are too many churches who are bowing to cultural demands, but simply shrug their shoulders and claim that it’s the only way to reach a post-modern generation, but they never turn to the Lord. I fear that the Lord will do even harder things so that the church returns to him.

Is the Lord saying to them and to us: “Therefore this is what I will do to you… and because I will do this to you, prepare to meet your God (Amos 4:12).

Do you need to return to the Lord (part 2)?

Yesterday I posted some challenging verses from Amos, and asked “How do these verse apply to God’s people today?”

It’s usually not possible – or at least very unwise – to give exactly the same application today as was given in the Old Testament. Too much has changed since then: language and culture for a start – not to mention the incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ and the gift of the Spirit!

One simple thing to do is to take what God says to national Israel, and look to apply it to the church. But if that’s all we do, then often that’s not enough. Theologically, too much has changed since then.

A helpful guide is to understand that the blessings and warnings that we receive are more likely to be in the spiritual realm than the physical. I don’t want to make the difference between physical and spiritual too great, it’s not as if there are only physical blessings in the Old Testament, and only spiritual blessings in the New. There is both physical and spiritual in both Testaments. But it is true to say that in the Old Testament, spiritual blessings and warnings tend to be expressed in physical ways.

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Do you need to return to the Lord?

I was preaching from Amos chapter four recently, and was particularly struck by these verses (Amos 4:4-11):

“Go to Bethel and sin;
go to Gilgal and sin yet more.
Bring your sacrifices every morning,
your tithes every three years.
Burn leavened bread as a thank offering
and brag about your freewill offerings—
boast about them, you Israelites,
for this is what you love to do,” declares the Sovereign Lord.

“I gave you empty stomachs in every city
and lack of bread in every town,
yet you have not returned to me,” declares the Lord.

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Wedding night bliss (Song of Songs #4)

We’re slowly working our way through Song of Songs, a poem describing six scenes in the lives of two lovers (Solomon and the Shulammite woman). Scene one (1:1-3:5) was their courtship (part a, part b). Scene two was Wedding day glory (3:6-11). We’re now reading for Wedding Night Bliss (4:1-5:1).

New Explorations

Remember that Song of Songs is a story, and you can see it unfolding in front of you. “How beautiful you are, my darling! Oh, how beautiful! Your eyes behind your veil are doves.” (4:1). Now he’s said that before – do you remember (1:15)? But now he goes further. Now he’s married, he enjoys more of her than he enjoyed before. So he doesn’t just describe her eyes, he describes her hair. As you go through the verses, you can see Solomon in your mind’s eye, studying her face, being intimate in a way he’s not been before. “Your teeth are like a flock of sheep just shorn, coming up from the washing. Each has its twin; not one of them is alone.” Try saying, “Hey girl, you’ve got all your teeth left – great!”

“Your lips are like a scarlet ribbon; your mouth is lovely.” Do you see his eyes moving around? “Your temples behind your veil are like the halves of a pomegranate.” He’s on his way down from her face now: “Your neck is like the tower of David”. She doesn’t look like a giraffe, but she is elegant. “Your two breasts are like two fawns,” he’s moving to parts of the body that he wouldn’t look at before. And that’s as far as he gets. The excitement of that is too much for him, I think – he doesn’t go any further.
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Wedding day glory (Song of Songs #3)

It’s been nearly a week since my last Song of Songs post. In the introduction I explained how the Song was not an allegory, but a poem describing six scenes in the lives of two lovers (Solomon and the Shulammite woman). Scene one (the longest scene, 1:1-3:5) was their courtship (part a, part b). We’re now ready to move onto the second scene: Wedding day glory (3:6-11).

Wedding Day Glory

As you go through this section, we read a little bit about Solomons ‘best men’ (vv7-8), a little bit about the wedding car (vv9-10), a little bit about Solomon himself (v11), and that’s it! We’ve had two and a bit chapters on their courtship. We’ve got four chapters ahead of us on their wedded life. And just six verses on their wedding.

There’s a lesson here isn’t there? Important though weddings are, marriage is much more so. If you spend more time planning your wedding that you do preparing for marriage, then you’ve got your priorities wrong.
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Wooing, waiting and winning (Song of Songs #2b)

Over the past few days we’ve been looking at Song of Songs. In the introduction I explained there were six scenes in the song, and we have started to go through the first scene. I described this first scene as wooing, waiting and winning which describes the Shulammite woman and her quest to win Solomon’s heart. Last time around we left them on their first date, lying in the verdant grass, staring up at the fir trees above them.

2:1-2: And what does this do for the woman? It fills her with confidence: She was “darkened by the sun”, but now she is “a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys”. Men, we have a real responsibility for our girls. Because Solomon has accepted her for who she is, she has confidence in herself. And it gets better, because Solomon disagrees with her. You’re not a lily, he says to her. You’re the lily, “a lily among thorns”. Not very fair on the groupies, but he wants her to be confident that it’s only her. Even on this first date, and this very early stage, he wants her to know that she’s the only one for him. Remember: if your girl or boy is only a lily among lilies – then don’t go out together. Wait. A lily among thorns – that’s the right time.
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