Burden Bearers

Scripture Focus: Amos 1.1-2
1 The words of Amos, one of the shepherds of Tekoa—the vision he saw concerning Israel two years before the earthquake, when Uzziah was king of Judah and Jeroboam son of Jehoash was king of Israel. 
2 He said: 
“The LORD roars from Zion 
and thunders from Jerusalem; 

Reflection: Burden Bearers
By John Tillman

Amos, the fig picker and shepherd prophet, was an outlier. He was not trained as a prophet, was not a part of the priestly lineage or profession, and was not a part of the higher class of educated people from whom most prophets came. And even if all of that were not the case, he was an out-of-towner. He came from the southern kingdom of Judah to the northern kingdom of Israel to confront one of Israel’s most powerful and successful kings.

Financially and militarily, Israel was at a peak of power when Amos arrived. 

Because of God’s compassion for the people, God had used Jeroboam II to save them militarily, despite him being an evil king. (2 Kings 14.23-27) But God would also remove him. Bad news was coming. The good times were about to be over. The country was proud, powerful, and profitable but the stench of spiritual rot was real and the wealth of the few was squeezed from the poor. (Amos 4.1-2)

Amos would have been comfortable among the fishermen-followers of Jesus. When these men confronted the religious elite of their day, the Sanhedrin were astonished that “they were unschooled, ordinary men…” (Acts 4.13

Amos shared the background of the shepherds in the fields who heard of Jesus’ birth. He would have been more familiar with the smell of the sheep and the fields than temple courts and palaces. But instead of carrying “good news of great joy,” Amos carried news of great suffering, judgment, and disaster.

Amos’s name means “burden” or “burden bearer” and he certainly bore a burden. He was burdened with bad news. Yet, the Lord was still willing to relent. (God turned back two judgments due to Amos’s prayers. Amos 7.1-6) Amos was burdened with a love for Judah and Israel. Yet, he would be accused of being an unpatriotic outsider and a conspirator against the king. (Amos 7.10-17)

Often, part of the “good news” of the gospel is the “bad news” of our sins. This is a part of the burden we bear toward others to speak this truth to them in love.

May we, like Amos, be burdened to intercede and intervene. 

May we bring to others the news that Jesus Christ will, if we ask him to, bear our burdens of sin and spare us as a remnant from the judgment to come.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; my God, I put my trust in you; let me not be humiliated, nor let my enemies triumph over me. 
Let none who look to you be put to shame. — Psalm 25.1-2

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings

Amos 1
(Listen – 2:38)
Psalm 144 (Listen – 1:56)

Read more about Pie In The Sky and Strange Fruit
The trees in the kingdom of God will bear fruit that heals the nation, redeeming the “strange fruit” of oppression and hate.

Read more about The Losers Who Write History
Even under a “good” king Micah spoke of the leaders of Judah when he said, “Therefore because of you, Zion will be plowed like a field…

Confessing Christ, Full Grown

Luke 4.41
Moreover, demons came out of many people, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew he was the Messiah.

Reflection: Confessing Christ, Full Grown
By John Tillman

Very few individuals, before the resurrection, stated out loud their belief in who Jesus truly was. And most of them were women.

Simeon, and Anna are the first. But it is somewhat easier to proclaim a baby the Messiah. Baby Jesus as Messiah isn’t making any demands. This is why Baby Jesus is widely culturally acceptable. It is only once he opens his mouth to speak that people reject him.

It is more difficult to stand before a man who, by inaction, allowed your brother to die and call that man the Messiah, as Martha did.

It is more difficult to admit that the man who confronted you with your sexual sin is the Messiah, as the Samaritan woman did.

It is more difficult to speak what has been revealed to you by God when you don’t fully understand it yet, as Peter did when he confessed, “You are the Messiah.” Peter showed that he didn’t fully understand, only a verse or two later when he rebuked Jesus for talking about his upcoming crucifixion.

Like Peter, we have a tendency to want to tell Jesus what to do instead of doing what he tells us. Jesus corrected Peter for not being concerned about what God, what Jesus, was concerned about, and he would say the same to us today.

Peter, and the rest of the disciples, despite being exposed to so much otherworldly power, were concerned about earthly kingdoms and power. Even after the resurrection, moments before his ascension, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

We must stand and confess, not just the Christ Child and the childish, temporal hopes we may have for this world, but confess Christ the Crucified King. We must stand before the man who says, “In this world you will have trouble,” and accept it as he did, “for the joy set before him.” We must stand before the man who said, “take up your cross,” we must, like him set our face, “like a flint,” toward our sacrifice.

When we pray “your kingdom come”, the kingdom must come in our hearts before it can be realized into the world.
The kingdom among us, is realized in our work together.
The kingdom among us is realized as we sharpen each other.
The kingdom among us is realized when each part of Christs’ body does its work.

Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Love the Lord, all your who worship him; the Lord protects the faithful, but repays to the full those who act haughtily. Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord.  — Psalm 31.23-24

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Amos 9 (Listen – 3:08)
Luke 4 (Listen – 5:27)

Additional Reading
Read More about Beyond Admiration
The difference between an admirer and a follower still remains. The admirer never makes any true sacrifices. He always plays it safe…he renounces nothing, gives up nothing, will not reconstruct his life, will not be what he admires, and will not let his life express what it is he supposedly admires.

Read More about Doing All Things Well :: Readers’ Choice
As we follow Christ, we are meant to take on this mantle of confidence and comfort. This is not a confidence in our ability or a comfort in our own power, but an indwelling, filling, and freeing expression of the Holy Spirit with us.

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Better Things to Do

Amos 8.5-6, 11
When will..the Sabbath be ended
that we may market wheat?
…buying the poor with silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals…

“The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign Lord,
“when I will send a famine through the land—
not a famine of food or a thirst for water,
but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.

Reflection: Better Things to Do
By John Tillman

At this time of year a basket of ripe fruit brings connotations of joy and celebration, but as God explained to Amos, the ripeness of the fruit was not the ripeness of joy, but of inward sin.

The people of Israel only seem religiously observant. Inwardly, they are wishing that the bothersome business of worshiping God could be over with so they could get back to making money.

In a day when only openly religious businesses dare to be closed on Sunday, we may not comprehend a time when no business in the nation-state of Israel would dare to be open on a religious holiday.

In our culture, extended holiday hours are expected. They are a fact of life and many work additional jobs during the holidays to get by.

Although I’ve never rushed out of church to open a grain market, at times I have needed to get to the mall and open a Santa set. In my own life and the lives of many others, additional holiday employment doesn’t supply luxuries or money for presents, it is needed to get by. The additional work I get around the holidays has at times provided nearly a third of our yearly income. The gig economy is not always pretty.

The poor indeed are bought with silver.

We see repeated in Amos the theme of economic sins being prioritized by the Lord’s prophets in his messages. The uncaring attitude that the wealthy market owner has starts with a greedy lie that he has better things to do than worship God—namely, to wring out profit from every minute, every worker, and every square foot of land.

As we move into a cultural season in which we will all interact with many seasonal workers—often undertrained and often sleep-deprived—may we at a minimum interact with them with mercy and grace. And, for those who are supervisors and managers, may we work to humanize our treatment of our employees and better their lives encouraging as much rest as is possible in this season of economic frenzy.

And in moments of worship, whether private or corporate, may we remember there is nothing more profitable that we could be doing than worshiping God.

Amos is clear that if we don’t value worshiping God, the punishment is a famine. Not a famine of profit, or water, or food. A famine of the Word of God.

Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Come now and see the works of God, how wonderful he is in his doing toward all people.  — Psalm 25.1-2

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Amos 8 (Listen – 2:16)
Luke 3 (Listen – 5:24)

Additional Reading
Read More about Inattentiveness in Worship :: Readers’ Choice
We must cultivate in worship a certain kind of inattentiveness toward other worshipers and even toward the leaders—maintaining our attention on God as the focus of all our joined efforts.

Read More about Prayers God Hates
Jesus, like Jeremiah, was concerned about oppression. We see this not only by who is driven out, but by who Christ calls in their place. The blind. The lame. The children. Christ makes room for the marginalized and the oppressed, and in they come.

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Under His Covering

Luke 1.49-51
The Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.

Amos 5.24
But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!

From John:
There are echoes of Amos (and other prophets) in Mary’s song, especially in relation to God’s compassion for and provision for the outcasts, the poor, and the oppressed. As you read both scriptures this weekend, may we join in Mary’s song, and let our voices sing out for the oppressed.

But I’m really writing to introduce the first contribution by a new guest writer, Dena Dyer. Dena sent me this contribution months ago and I knew it would line up perfectly on this day, so I’ve been impatiently waiting for the chance to share it with you.

Dena is a friend from seminary days and has a wonderful voice, both as a writer and a singer. You can follow her and find out about her other writings at her Facebook page. I look forward to sharing more from Dena in the future.

Reflection: Under His Covering
By Dena Dyer

When my friend Renae invited me to her country home for coffee and conversation, I eagerly accepted. After a long, refreshing talk, we toured the land around her house. Her husband, a teacher and part-time landscaper, had created several lovely sitting areas and interesting out-buildings around the property.

Not far from the house, Renae pointed out a small pond. “We built the duck pen first, but later decided to build homes for the birds. We wanted to keep them safe when they enjoyed the water,” she said.

I exclaimed over the craftsmanship of the two small abodes. The first was built to look like a Japanese pagoda. A foundation had been laid on four stilts, which secured the building to the pond floor. Tiny wooden steps led from the base of the duck house to the upper level, which was covered by a large peaked roof. It was beautiful, well-built, and practical.

“The ducks are dumb. They don’t use them,” Renae explained. “They sit on the pond, out in the open, and sometimes get killed and eaten by falcons.”

“What? Are you serious?” I asked. She nodded.

It struck me later that God is like Renae’s husband—a master craftsman who has given us everything we need. His gifts are beautiful, well-built, and practical.

However, we are like the ducks. Instead of accepting his grace, strength, and mercy for our daily challenges, we attempt to live life on our own terms. Then, when Satan throws hardship, temptation, or other spiritual arrows at us, we are vulnerable. Often, we get eaten alive.

I want to be more like Mary and less like a stubborn, silly duck. When God sent an angel to the young Jewish girl, Gabriel told her that he had chosen her to be the womb for the Messiah. In faith, she accepted that her heavenly Father had favored her above every other human being. She trusted him to provide for her in a myriad ways and leaned on him to give her strength throughout Jesus’ birth and life. She lifted the name of God high, instead of lifting up thousands of questions, as I would have been tempted to.

The wise men gave three presents to the baby Jesus, but God also gave three presents to Mary. He gave her the Messiah, but he also granted her joy and peace. I’m so thankful she opened all three gifts.

Has God granted you a spiritual gift that you haven’t opened out of rebellion or apathy? Confess that to the Lord, and make things right with him.
Has there ever been a time when God protected you from something because you trusted in him and followed his commands?
How can you encourage those in your community to seek shelter with God this week?

*This devotional was originally posted as a part of The High Calling devotional series.

Prayer: The Greeting
To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; my God, I put my trust in you; let me not be humiliated, nor let my enemies triumph over me.
Let none who look to you be put to shame.  — Psalm 25.1-2

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Amos 5 (Listen – 3:44)
Luke 1:1-38 (Listen – 9:26)

This Weekend’s Readings
Amos 6 (Listen – 2:13) Luke 1:39-80 (Listen – 9:26)
Amos 7 (Listen – 2:45) Luke 2 (Listen – 6:11)

Additional Reading
Read More about The Spirit of the Lord :: Epiphany
The growth of Jesus in Mary’s womb symbolizes his growth and gradual manifestation in our lives. Mary lent Jesus DNA, and cells, and tissue—her body knit him together and delivered him into our world. Mary lent his Spirit flesh. Jesus gives our flesh Spirit.

Read More about Dream Like Joseph :: Readers’ Choice
Mary, and Joseph after her, answered, “yes.” They accepted the danger. They accepted the unknown. They accepted the world-flipping power shift that would start with Mary and be concluded by her first-born son.

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The Church’s Primary Role

Psalm 150.6
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!

From John:
Usually when we say the church shouldn’t “be political,” what we mean is that it shouldn’t disagree with my politics. Politics is a poor substitute for the gospel. We must continually remind ourselves which one we must serve.

Reflection: The Church’s Primary Role
The Park Forum

It is easy to forget, in the deluge of political conversations that have consumed the past few months, that although the church’s role in this world necessarily involves politics, it is not itself political.

The book of Psalms spans every possible human emotion, reflects on geopolitics, laments evil, and cries out for godly leadership on earth—yet it concludes with three psalms dedicated entirely to praise.

The psalmist not only calls the Church to worship, but rebukes every earthly system of power and authority that will ultimately prove insufficient to deliver what humankind needs most. N.T. Wright, as he concludes his book Simply Jesus, reflects on how the church can maintain its focus on God’s calling and sovereignty amidst shifting political powers:

We must give full weight to the difficult but important biblical vision of God’s sovereignty over the nations and his determination to shape their fortunes to serve his higher purposes. This belief is so important for any vision of what it means to speak of Jesus’ kingship in the present time that we must spell it out slightly more fully before drawing the threads together.

First… God wants the world to be ordered, not chaotic. He intends to bring that order to the world through the work, the thought, the planning, and the wisdom of human beings….

Second, even when the rulers are wild or wicked, God can bend their imaginings to serve his purpose…. Third, then, God will in the end call the nations to account….

Yes, God can and does work in all sorts of ways outside the church. There are many movements of thought and energy totally beyond the life of the church in which wise Christians can discern and celebrate God’s sovereign and gracious presence….

But we do not, because of that, lose sight of one of the church’s primary roles: to bear witness to the sovereign rule of Jesus, holding the world to account. And when I say “bear witness,” I mean it in the strong sense I spoke of earlier. Like a witness in a law court, we are not just telling about our private experiences. We are declaring things that, by their declaration, will change the way things are going.

Prayer: The Greeting
To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; my God, I put my trust in you; let me not be humiliated, nor let my enemies triumph over me.
Let none who look to you be put to shame.  — Psalm 25.1-2

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Amos 4 (Listen – 2:21)
Psalm 148-150 (Listen – 3:04)

Additional Reading
Read More about The Compelling Gospel of Billy Graham
The true gospel stands apart from political maneuvering and manipulation. We each may attempt to change it to suit ourselves, yet it is in fact working to change us.

Read More about Political Promises
May we not trade our role as ambassadors of a heavenly kingdom for an inferior role as a political party’s “yes-men.” May we speak up for the downtrodden and helpless no matter which party is against them.

Support our Work
Each month over 22,000 Park Forum email devotionals are read around the world. Support our readers with a monthly or a one time donation.

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