“Why the Devil Hates ‘Love, Central'”

**On Sunday, September 17, 2023, Central Baptist Church held its worship service as well as its church picnic off-campus, under the pavilion at Sherwood Forest in Sherwood, Arkansas. After a wonderful time of singing and a number of testimonies, I shared the following ten reasons why I thought the devil hated our “Love, Central” weekend of mission and celebration. The ten reasons and supporting passages are listed below, but you can hear the actual message in the last 15-ish minutes of this audio clip.**

  1. Because a church on mission is a threat to the devil’s mission.

Luke 10

17 The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” 18 And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.”

  1. Because the devil delights in an inactive church.

James 1

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

  1. Because the devil delights in a fractured church.

1 Peter 3

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.

  1. Because the devil loves a lie and detests the truth.

John 8

44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

  1. Because by going and proclaiming you are telling the devil that he cannot have you.

Luke 22

31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat,

  1. Because it is very possible that the population of heaven increased yesterday.

Luke 15

Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

  1. Because a Christian on mission has not been paralyzed by the devil’s accusations.

Revelation 12

10 And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.

  1. Because the devil loves the ugliness of sin and hates the beauty of obedience.

Romans 10

14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

  1. Because the devil hates joy.

Luke 10

17 The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” 18 And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.

  1. Because the church never looks more like Jesus than when it reaches in love to a lost world.

Philippians 2

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

“Love, Central”: A Sermon on Mission

In The Permanent Revolution, Alan Hirsch writes, “Of the 400,000 churches in the United States, only a few can be considered reproductive and fruitful.”[1]

David Watson has said of Christianity in the West:

It is widely held that the battle of the century will be between Marxism, Islam, and Third World Christianity. Western Christianity is considered too weak and ineffective to contribute anything significant to this universal struggle.[2]

Are these assessments too dire, too pessimistic? I think not. The fact of the matter is this: the world will be reached and revolutionized not by comfortable, wealthy, distracted, dying churches, but by churches of whatever size, possessing whatever kind of facilities or no facilities at all, and have a budget of whatever size or no budget at all, who are aligned with the missional, going, sending, engaging heart of God. 

It is not about money.

It is not about campuses.

It is not about the size of the congregation.

It is about a red-hot passion to see people saved arising out of deep and faithful commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord.

I would like to call us to mission, then, not with a view toward religious busyness or frantic activity but with a view toward the church being who we were called to be: the body of Christ reaching out to a dying world with good news!

I would like to convince you that mission is hardwired into the DNA of the church because the church is the body of Christ and Christ is the very manifestation and incarnation of the missional heart of our great God.

Why mission?

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Amos 5:1–17

Hear this word that I take up over you in lamentation, O house of Israel: “Fallen, no more to rise, is the virgin Israel; forsaken on her land, with none to raise her up.” For thus says the Lord God: “The city that went out a thousand shall have a hundred left, and that which went out a hundred shall have ten left to the house of Israel.” For thus says the Lord to the house of Israel: “Seek me and live; but do not seek Bethel, and do not enter into Gilgal or cross over to Beersheba; for Gilgal shall surely go into exile, and Bethel shall come to nothing.” Seek the Lord and live, lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and it devour, with none to quench it for Bethel, O you who turn justice to wormwood and cast down righteousness to the earth! He who made the Pleiades and Orion, and turns deep darkness into the morning and darkens the day into night, who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out on the surface of the earth, the Lord is his name; who makes destruction flash forth against the strong, so that destruction comes upon the fortress. 10 They hate him who reproves in the gate, and they abhor him who speaks the truth. 11 Therefore because you trample on the poor and you exact taxes of grain from him, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not dwell in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine. 12 For I know how many are your transgressions and how great are your sins—you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and turn aside the needy in the gate. 13 Therefore he who is prudent will keep silent in such a time, for it is an evil time. 14 Seek good, and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, as you have said. 15 Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph. 16 Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, the Lord: “In all the squares there shall be wailing, and in all the streets they shall say, ‘Alas! Alas!’ They shall call the farmers to mourning and to wailing those who are skilled in lamentation, 17 and in all vineyards there shall be wailing, for I will pass through your midst,” says the Lord.

Os Guinness has passed along a wonderful story about looking for the right thing in the wrong places.

One of the most celebrated personalities of the Middle East is Nasreddin Hodja, the endearing holy-man-cum-scholar of Turkish folklore. His famed wisdom is often threatened by his equally famed stupidity. One day, so a particular story goes, the Hodja dropped his ring inside his house. Not finding it there, he went outside and began to look around the doorway. His neighbor passed and asked him what he was looking for.

“I have lost my ring,” said the Hodja.

“Where did you lose it?” asked the neighbor.

“In my bedroom,” said the Hodja.

“Then why are you looking for it out here?”

“There’s more light out here,” the Hodja said.[1]

If you did not smile at that, I do not know how to help you! What a charming and absurd little story. Everything was wrong with Nasreddin Hodja’s search! His reasoning, his location, his efforts, they were all misguided. So, too, our search for God. We oftentimes do not know how to seek Him, how to search for Him, and we oftentimes look for him in the wrong places.

In the first half of Amos 5, we will find this phrase, or some variation of it, repeated three different times: “Seek me and live.” In order to do this, however, we need to understand what seeking God, what searching for God, entails so that we do not do so foolishly like Nasreddin Hodja. Fortunately, the Lord, speaking through the prophet Amos, directs us in our search.

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Matthew 23:37–39

Matthew 23

37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 38 See, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Diana Butler Bass once told this story:

Before she retired, my neighbor was a preschool teacher. One spring, she decided to raise chickens with the children. She had a chicken coop and brooder built at the school, and bought a flat of newly-hatched baby chicks which she introduced to the students. The children loved this, adopting the babies as their own, naming them and tending to them. Each morning, the preschoolers ran excitedly to the hen house to check on and care for their avian charges.

On one such day, the class went out to the coop to discover a fox had broken in. It was a horrible scene — every bird was dead. A dozen traumatized preschoolers howling in grief, my neighbor hurried them away from the scene of the massacre. She spent the rest of the day comforting the children and, during nap time, tended to the destruction left by the fox. She called the entire episode “The Great Chicken Slaughter.”

And there were never baby chicks at the preschool again.[1]

It is a dangerous world for baby chicks. A good momma hen will do all she can to protect them and under her wings and close to her heart is the safest place the chicks can be.

This is a simple image, a beautiful image, a powerful image: a hen protecting her chicks under her wings from the coming danger. And it is precisely the image Jesus uses at the end of Matthew 23.

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Matthew 23:13–36

Matthew 23

13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. 15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell[e] as yourselves. 16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ 17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? 18 And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ 19 You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. 22 And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it. 23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! 25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. 27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. 29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, 30 saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. 33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? 34 Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, 35 so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. 36 Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.

One of the stranger songs I have ever heard is Tom Waits’ 1999 “Chocolate Jesus.” He recorded it while singing through a bullhorn, a technique he also employed when he performed the song live on David Letterman. Here are the lyrics:

Well, I don’t go to church on Sunday
Don’t get on my knees to pray
Don’t memorize the books of the bible
I got my own special way
I know Jesus loves me
Maybe just a little bit more
Fall down on my knees every Sunday
At Zerelda Lee’s candy store
Well, I’ve got to be a chocolate Jesus
Make me feel good inside
Got to be a chocolate Jesus
Keep me satisfied
Well, I don’t want no Abba Zabba
Don’t want no Almond Joy
There ain’t nothing better
Suitable for this boy
Well, it’s the only thing that can pick me up
It’s better than a cup of gold
See, only a chocolate Jesus
Can satisfy my soul
When the weather gets rough and it’s whiskey in the shade
It’s best to wrap your savior up in cellophane
He flows like the big muddy but that’s okay
Pour him over ice cream for a nice parfait
Well, it’s got to be a chocolate Jesus
Good enough for me
Got to be a chocolate Jesus
It’s good enough for me
Well, it’s got to be a chocolate Jesus
Make me feel so good inside
Got to be a chocolate Jesus
Keep me satisfied

I agree with those who see in this song a lampooning of American Christianity, of what it has become. I am actually inclined to agree with the one reviewer who commented on songmeanings.com:

I see this song as a satire of America’s twisted version of Christianity.

America has commoditized religion (hence, chocolate Jesus wrapped in cellophane)—it has been monetized (sold at “candy store”), exploited (melted and poured over ice cream), and, most importantly, disconnected from its origins (don’t get down on my knees to pray…memorize books of bible…got my own special way). Christianity is used and abused (makes the chocolate eater happy and is good enough…but the eater doesn’t go out of their way for the religion, just uses for personal comfort).

One does not need to go out of their way to see the “Chocolate Jesus” phenomenon in America’s citizens, politicians, stores, and churches…(is there even a difference b/t the last two?)

Salvation is bought and sold in america…[1]

A religion that has been corrupted, detached from its origin, and valued largely for the pleasure it gives its adherents…that is a pretty good description of a lot of what passes for Christianity in our day. And, to read Matthew 23, it is a pretty good description of much of what passed for Judaism in the first century.

Beginning in verse 13, Jesus launches into a series of seven woes, seven indictments of the scribes and Pharisees, of the religious elites, the religious establishment. In doing so, Jesus paints a cautionary picture of false religion that we must heed.

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Matthew 23:1–12

Matthew 23

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Few people railed against the hypocrisy of the religious establishment as passionately as did Søren Kierkegaard. In his Attack Upon Christendom, Kierkegaard launched a broadside against the wealthy, powerful, hypocritical clergymen of his day. For instance, his words dripped with scorn when he wrote:

In the magnificent cathedral the Honorable and Right Reverend Geheime-General-Ober-Hof-Pradikant, the elect favorite of the fashionable world, appears before an elect company and preaches with emotion upon the text he himself elected:  “God hath elected the base things of the world, and the things that are despised”—and nobody laughs.[1]

I read of a famous clergyman who ruled the large church he pastored with an iron fist. When the inevitable news came to life that he was a womanizer he replied, “Great men have great needs.”

One critic referred to a famous Baptist minister of yesteryear as “excessively disputatious, outrageously arrogant, extremely bigoted, and at times desperately paranoid.”[2]

On and on it goes. One is sadly not hard-pressed to find examples of dishonest or crooked or wicked clergymen in either literature or the news. It was the same in the first century. In fact, In Matthew 23, Jesus launches a blistering denunciation of the crooked clergy, we might say. It is a hard chapter for a pastor to get through, for here Jesus calls ministers to a high standard indeed! But He is, of course, right to do so, and so we do not turn away from these great truths. Instead, let us turn toward them.

In the first twelve verses of Matthew 23, we find a contrast between the fallen religious system of the world and the righteous path of the Kingdom of God.

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Amos 4

“Hear this word, you cows of Bashan, who are on the mountain of Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to your husbands, ‘Bring, that we may drink!’ The Lord God has sworn by his holiness that, behold, the days are coming upon you, when they shall take you away with hooks, even the last of you with fishhooks. And you shall go out through the breaches, each one straight ahead; and you shall be cast out into Harmon,” declares the Lord. “Come to Bethel, and transgress; to Gilgal, and multiply transgression; bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three days; offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving of that which is leavened, and proclaim freewill offerings, publish them; for so you love to do, O people of Israel!” declares the Lord God. “I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and lack of bread in all your places, yet you did not return to me,” declares the Lord. “I also withheld the rain from you when there were yet three months to the harvest; I would send rain on one city, and send no rain on another city; one field would have rain, and the field on which it did not rain would wither; so two or three cities would wander to another city to drink water, and would not be satisfied; yet you did not return to me,” declares the Lord. “I struck you with blight and mildew; your many gardens and your vineyards, your fig trees and your olive trees the locust devoured; yet you did not return to me,” declares the Lord. 10 “I sent among you a pestilence after the manner of Egypt; I killed your young men with the sword, and carried away your horses, and I made the stench of your camp go up into your nostrils; yet you did not return to me,” declares the Lord. 11 “I overthrew some of you, as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and you were as a brand plucked out of the burning; yet you did not return to me,” declares the Lord. 12 “Therefore thus I will do to you, O Israel; because I will do this to you, prepare to meet your God, O Israel!” 13 For behold, he who forms the mountains and creates the wind, and declares to man what is his thought, who makes the morning darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth—the Lord, the God of hosts, is his name!

There is a scene in Thomas Shadwell’s 1675 play, “The Libertine,” in which the wicked character of Don Juan (called Don John in the play), stands on the brink of hell, sees the agony and torment into which he is about to be pulled, and yet still stands utterly defiant and unrepentant. He says this about the horrors of hell presented before him:

These things I see with wonder, but no fear.

Were all the Elements to be confounded,

And shuffled all into their former Chaos;

Were Seas of Sulphur flaming round about me,

And all Mankind roaring within those fires,

I could not fear or feel the least remorse.

To the last instant I would dare thy power.

Here I stand firm, and all thy threats [condemn];

Thy Murderer stands here, now do thy worst.[1]

The audience is supposed to be shocked by Don Juan’s defiance and stubbornness, and, indeed, it is shocking! Yet, if we are honest, have we not seen this kind of defiance even in our own hearts? Do we not know what it is to defy the disciplining hand of God, to refuse to tremble before Him? Do we not know what it is to choose our sin over His grace, maybe not so eloquently as Don Juan does here, but just as defiantly?

The audience should feel the same shock at Amos 4 for here too we see defiance and stubbornness and a refusal to repent.

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Amos 3

Amos 3

Hear this word that the Lord has spoken against you, O people of Israel, against the whole family that I brought up out of the land of Egypt: “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities. “Do two walk together, unless they have agreed to meet? Does a lion roar in the forest, when he has no prey? Does a young lion cry out from his den, if he has taken nothing? Does a bird fall in a snare on the earth, when there is no trap for it? Does a snare spring up from the ground, when it has taken nothing? Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it? “For the Lord God does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets. The lion has roared; who will not fear? The Lord God has spoken; who can but prophesy?” Proclaim to the strongholds in Ashdod and to the strongholds in the land of Egypt, and say, “Assemble yourselves on the mountains of Samaria, and see the great tumults within her, and the oppressed in her midst.” 10 “They do not know how to do right,” declares the Lord, “those who store up violence and robbery in their strongholds.” 11 Therefore thus says the Lord God: “An adversary shall surround the land and bring down your defenses from you, and your strongholds shall be plundered.” 12 Thus says the Lord: “As the shepherd rescues from the mouth of the lion two legs, or a piece of an ear, so shall the people of Israel who dwell in Samaria be rescued, with the corner of a couch and part of a bed. 13 “Hear, and testify against the house of Jacob,” declares the Lord God, the God of hosts, 14 “that on the day I punish Israel for his transgressions, I will punish the altars of Bethel, and the horns of the altar shall be cut off and fall to the ground. 15 I will strike the winter house along with the summer house, and the houses of ivory shall perish, and the great houses shall come to an end,” declares the Lord.

We have all watched with heavy hearts this past week the fires in Maui, Hawaii. The death toll continues to climb. The extent of the devastation is truly terrifying. But did you see the story of the Maria Lanakila church in Lahaina, in western Maui? All around it is destruction where the flames swept through, but the church has apparently survived relatively unscathed.

A lot of people are calling it a miracle. A lot of other people are offended that others are calling it a miracle. And a lot of folks—and I would put myself in this group—are being pretty cautious about labeling it one way or another. After all, lots of other churches did burn, so what exactly would this being a miracle say about those churches? But, of course, it could just be a miracle!

I suppose one question that comes to my mind is this: What if God had allowed that church to burn? If God had burnedthat church, had sent fire upon it, would it have meant that He failed to work a miracle? Or might it mean something else? How about this: If God sent fire against a church might it mean that He actually loved that church and that is why He sent the fire? Now there is an interesting question!

It is interesting to see this news story out of Hawaii right now as we are working through Amos and, particularly, as we are reading Amos 3. For here, in Amos 3, and again later in the book, the Lord is essentially saying this: “Because I love you, I am going to send fire on your sanctuaries. Because I love you, I am coming after your buildings and your altars.”

Let us consider the loving, disciplining hand of God.

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Matthew 22:41–46

Matthew 22

41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, 42 saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 43 He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, 44 “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’? 45 If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” 46 And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

In a 1957 article in Christianity Today entitled “I Believe: The Deity of Christ,” Andrew W. Blackwood wrote:

At Yale in 1955 a distinguished bishop of a major evangelical denomination delivered the Lyman Beecher Lectures on Preaching. In the midst of much sound material about God’s Good News came a paragraph that seems to have escaped public attention. The brilliant lecturer voiced dissent from a recent statement by the World Council about “Jesus as God.” That statement may have originated on the Continent, where the majority of leading theologians believe in Christ’s Deity. Not so the bishop.

The statement does not please me, and it seems far from satisfactory. I would much prefer to have it say that God was in Christ, for I believe that the testimony of the New Testament taken as a whole is against the doctrine of the deity of Christ, although I think it bears overwhelming witness to the divinity of Jesus (p. 125).

Blackwood, commenting on the bishop’s words, wrote:

If this were the teaching of many New Testament scholars today, and if I had to follow them, I should exclaim: “They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him!”[1]

I should as well! Why? Because the deity of Jesus Christ is taught in numerous different ways in the scriptures, our passage being one of the more important ones.

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Amos 2:6–16

Thus says the Lord: “For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals—those who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth and turn aside the way of the afflicted; a man and his father go in to the same girl, so that my holy name is profaned; they lay themselves down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge, and in the house of their God they drink the wine of those who have been fined. “Yet it was I who destroyed the Amorite before them, whose height was like the height of the cedars and who was as strong as the oaks; I destroyed his fruit above and his roots beneath. 10 Also it was I who brought you up out of the land of Egypt and led you forty years in the wilderness, to possess the land of the Amorite. 11 And I raised up some of your sons for prophets, and some of your young men for Nazirites. Is it not indeed so, O people of Israel?” declares the Lord. 12 “But you made the Nazirites drink wine, and commanded the prophets, saying, ‘You shall not prophesy.’ 13 “Behold, I will press you down in your place, as a cart full of sheaves presses down. 14 Flight shall perish from the swift, and the strong shall not retain his strength, nor shall the mighty save his life; 15 he who handles the bow shall not stand, and he who is swift of foot shall not save himself, nor shall he who rides the horse save his life; 16 and he who is stout of heart among the mighty shall flee away naked in that day,” declares the Lord.

At one time, there was a saying among the Jews of Poland that was used when they wanted to say that a man was not a good man. They would say, “He lives like a Christian.”[1] I repeat: “He lives like a Christian” was synonymous with “He is a bad man.”

How did this come to be?

A reading of the New Testament will show that the church has always struggled with sin. There is no perfect church, because even the redeemed people of God struggle with sin and need forgiveness. But one does wonder if this fact has been used as a cover for us no longer trying to be good.

Perhaps a little bit of church history will help us here. Fifteen-hundred years into the Christian story, Martin Luther called for a great work of reformation, what we now know as the Protestant Reformation and what some Catholics call the Protestant revolt. Luther nailed his 95 theses to the castle church door in Wittenburg on October 31, 1517. However, amazingly, five years later, in April of 1522, Luther would complain that the lives of the Protestant Christians were just as worldly as before the Reformation: “We who at the present are well-nigh heathen under a Christian name, may yet organize a Christian assembly.” As Luther began thinking about this problem—the worldliness of the church and how to have a true church—he toyed with an idea, as Harold Bender explains:

Between 1522 and 1527 Luther repeatedly mentioned his concern to establish a true Christian church, and his desire to provide for earnest Christians (“Die mit Ernst Christen se in wollen”) who would confess the gospel with their lives as well as with their tongues. He thought of entering the names of these “earnest Christians” in a special book and having them meet separately from the mass of nominal Christians, but concluding that he would not have sufficient of such people, he dropped the plan.[2]

What Luther was essentially toying around with was the idea of ecclesiola in ecclesia, a “little church within the church,” a separate group of serious Christian within the otherwise corrupt larger church.

But here is the problem: the New Testament does not know of a separate and serious church within the larger compromised church. It simply knows of the church. And the standard and call is the same for all: If you are a born-again follower of Jesus Christ it is your calling and responsibility and privilege to actually follow Jesus in the living of your life.

In Amos 2, beginning in verse 6, the Lord speaks to His own children through the prophet. He is going to name their sins. He is going to announce the coming of discipline. And He is going to call upon them to remember who He is and what He has done for them. In short, the Lord will be giving the answer to Luther’s struggle by saying this, in essence: “My people are to follow Me. My people are to be a holy people.”

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