The Vineyard Church of North Grand Rapids
Blowing the Whistle: The Playing Field Isnâ€™t Level!
1. ILLUS: Just over 25 years ago, I was a graduate student in Dallas, Texas living in an apartment on a normally quiet street in a largely lower income Hispanic neighborhood. At 1:30 in the morning Carol and I were awakened by the sound of crashing metal and breaking glass right below our bedroom window. I drew back the curtains to see that my 1973 Volkswagen Super Beatle with a sunroof (a car I was uncommonly fond of), parked along the street, had been rear-ended by a big white Cadillac. A nice, somewhat disoriented woman, perhaps in her late sixties, smelling of alcohol, had driven right into my car. She was respectful and appropriately sorry. She said I shouldn't worry as she gave me her driver's license to copy her contact information. Then she drove off into the night. I don't think her home was in our neighborhood.
Texas was not governed by no-fault insurance law, so within a matter of weeks I went to a small claims court to settle this affair with the nice lady. Walking up to the door of the courtroom (dressed casually and feeling upbeat, like a grad student about to get a financial windfall), a tall, very handsome, tanned and well-moused, very-very well-dressed man walked briskly toward me, asked me my name, and told me that he was the defendant's attorney. She would not be meeting me at court today and if I should make any attempt to press any issue with the court that would reflect negatively in anyway on his client, he was prepared to give me hell, to turn every table on me, to make me pay for more in court costs than I could every hope to gain from insurance, to make me bleed for this day in court. Up to that moment in my life, I don't think I had ever experienced any injustice. I don't that I had ever been threatened with harm or loss by an adult before. I had never realized that a person could feel so alone and vulnerable in a court of law.
I'd like to talk with you this morning about justice. When rich and powerful people think about justice, they think about sending criminals to jail. For many of us, when we think about justice, we think about how the police and the courts bring criminals to justice. For a lot of middle class Americans, justice is mostly about safety.
How do you know if you're on the rich and powerful side of the tracks? (1) You can afford to hire an attorney to protect you in court. The poor and weak are assigned attorneys-not usually the best attorneys. (2) You and your parents watched America's civil rights movement pass by like a parade-mostly on television. The poor and weak were in the parade. The civil rights movement was a defining experience in their lives. (3) The proposed tax rebates being proposed by our president and congress will be little more than fun money-a nice gesture, not much-needed relief. When the rich and powerful think about justice, they tend to think about their personal safety. But when the poor and the weak think about justice, they have a different perspective. They tend think about respect, fairness, and equal opportunity. That's a very different perspective on justice.
If you take nothing else away from this Sunday, remember this: the God of the Bible looks at justice issues through the eyes of the poor and weak. When God talks about justice in the Bible, his concern is mostly that we treat the poor and weak with respect and fairness, and that we work to provide them equal opportunities in life. The God of the Bible cares about the poor (with uncommon and unexpected compassion), and so, he puts a high value on justice. He wants his people to make sure the playing field is level for people of every color and every income-every neighborhood and every school district.
Our Scripture text this morning is Amos 5:24-one of the OT's timeless texts, spoken to people like us-people who represent him in their communities. God said, "Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream."
TRANS: In order to understand the words of Amos the prophet, we have to know a little bit about Israel's Minor Prophets.
I. THE MINOR PROPHETS CALL US TO GIVE OUR HEARTS TO GOD (Micah 6:8, TNIV p. 635)
A. God wants more from our relationship.
As Matt communicated last Sunday, the 12 Minor Prophets ministered, spoke and wrote around the time of Israel's exile, about 500 years before Jesus was born. If God and Israel we're a married couple, we'd say their relationship was on the rocks-heading for a separation if not a divorce. Sometimes with painful longing and other times with angry frustration, God speaks through prophets like Micah, Amos, Zechariah, and Malachi to plead for his hard-hearted wife to soften her heart and reinvest in their relationship.
Some of the promises and warnings God gave through the Minor Prophets were related to people and situations different than us. But, in the midst of all the difficult ‘counseling sessions' we read in the Minor Prophets, God reveals some very personal and timeless things about his heart.
ILLUS: A few years ago my wife Carol and spent some time in professional counseling to work through some serious difficulties in our marriage. We both poured our hearts into renewing our marriage. I remember one session in the counselors office in which I was trying to express what I was most passionate about, and the counselor said, "Ray, there is something PRIMAL about your communication. Even your posture and tone of voice have changed. This passion, frustration, hurt, longing you're communicating is clearly coming from somewhere deep inside you-it's almost like a little boy is speaking to us. If we were all therapists, sitting in a counseling office, trying to help God with his relationship with Israel, we'd say to God (after hearting him speak through the Minor Prophets), this is clearly a PRIMAL sort of communication-you're putting your heart on the line, speaking from deep longing and even deeper hurt. It's as though we're hearing the Creator's voice cry out for a future he still longs for, but hasn't yet experienced. This is particularly true of the passage Matt preached on last Sunday-Micah 6:1-8.
B. God wants a wife whose heart beats with his heart.
1. Put on the spot, Israel responds to God's frustrations by saying, "Alright, alright, I don't want a divorce. What do you want from me? You want more worship and prayer, more music and meetings, more sacrifice and serving, more Bible reading and repenting? OK. I'll crank up my religious duties if that will make you happy".
2. Throughout the Minor Prophets God responds by saying that he doesn't want more religious effort, more volume, more money, more meetings; he wants a wife whose heart beats with his heart. He's the Creator of all men everywhere-every race, every culture, every class, every gender, every religion-and his PRIMAL, deepest longing is to see all of them living together in a just community where every one is respected, treated with fairness, and provided with equal opportunities in life. There will always be people around the world who are poor and weak, but their condition shouldn't be because of injustice.
For this Sunday and the next two, we're going to focus in on each of God's heart beats revealed in Micah 6:8-act justly, love mercy, walk humbly. If you want to develop and deepen your walk with God in 2008, there is no better way than to start the year by listening to his heart. PRAY.
TRANS: The Minor Prophets call us to give our hearts to God.
II. God calls us to invest our hearts in seeking justice for the poor and weak
(Amos 5:24, TNIV p. 626)
In Amos 5:21-24, God communicates, in the strongest possible terms, that if we want to deepen and develop our relationship with him, he doesn't want more church-he wants more justice . . . a greater focus on the respect, fairness, and equal opportunities being provided for the poor and weak.
A. Our Creator's heart beats with a constant, over-flowing longing for justice.
1. Jeremiah 22:15-17. Christians who don't think justice for the poor and weak needs to be a big priority in their faith, just don't know God. They might know church and know some Bible stories, but they don't have an intimate relationship with God. They don't know him like a loving, devoted wife knows her husband.
2. Amos 4:1-3; 6:1-6. God had given the Jewish people a geographical land that lay at the crossroad of the Mideasts' most profitable trade routes. From Italy to Iraq, Europe to Egypt. God set them up to be one of the wealthiest nations on earth (kind of like the United States). But, God accused them of using their wealth simply to indulge themselves in personal luxury while the poor languished. And, they used the influence that money buys to push their own agendas through life, even when the poor had to pay the price of injustice.
Amid uncommon wealth and great self-indulgence and shameful injustice toward the poor and weak, religious life was flourishing. Folks were singing up a storm in church, praising God for the blessing in their lives, and making sure programs for the family were well-supported. With more than an edge in his voice . . .
B. God calls us to pour our hearts into justice issues in our world (v. 24)
Imagine God speaking to us with a desperate tone of voice (like a husband might speak to his wife in marriage counseling): "You represent me, right? People see you and they think of me, right? People experience you in certain ways and they think that I am like you, right? They assume that we're joined together at the heart. They assume that our hearts beat as one. They think that we're lovers and partners in a shared vision and mission . . . isn't that right?"
"I want your interest and attitudes, actions and investments in justice for the poor and weak to pour into your world like a surging river in springtime that never runs dry-summer, fall or winter. My heart beats for justice for the poor and weak, so I want you to make respect, fairness, and equal opportunity to be a consistent, obvious interest and investment in your life".
Sometimes prophetic people pray and sing and dance for the day when God comes down to earth in a distant future and sets things right. There's nothing wrong with that. But, in the Minor Prophets God is communicating to us that he wants us to join him right now in setting things right. No one should have to wait for justice until the rapture or Jesus' return or heaven. God's kingdom is here, now! Our ministry is to announce good news to the poor, to let them taste and see now how good God is.
III. We can develop and deepen our walk with god in 2008 (a little less church, please; a little more justice).
Not everyone in West Michigan thinks the playing field is level. Have you talked personally with any of Grand Rapids' lower income, none white citizens? About racial profiling by law enforcement when their young adult children drive through Ada, Cascade, or Rockford . . . about how different public school system facilities and resources are on different sides of the East Beltline . . . about cost-saving reductions in weekend public transportation that keeps people without cars from being able take weekend jobs or even to get to church . . . about how many adults and children live without medical or dental insurance and regular care. Have you ever thought about how voting against school millage increases or higher taxes might be justice issue for individuals and families in West Michigan who can't afford to live on our side of this side of the East Beltline? Don't talk to me about your views; try sharing your Christian perspective with one of our lower-income, non-white neighbors.
Certainly, helping young women and men caught in crisis pregnancies-as the PRC does-is a justice issue. If one of my daughters or sons were facing a crisis pregnancy, I would gather all the resources I have available through my family and friends to provide the young parents and unborn child with all of the resources and support they need to move into the future. But not every young adult or unborn child has that kind of care and support. So, organizations like the PRC make sure poor women who don't have a supportive family or community can choose life without fear of loss.
But justice is a much bigger issue than West Michigan. We are Americans, and we hold most of the world's wealth in our hands, wallets, homes, and investment portfolios. We aren't smarter, harder-working, more responsible, or more valuable to God than other people around the world, but we earn and spend most of the world's wealth on ourselves.
Recent surveys by the World Bank reveal thatiIn our world, a billion people struggle to survive on less than $1 a day. 1.1 billion people still don't have safe drinking water. 10.5 million children die before their fifth birthday due to inadequate nutrition, clean water, and medical care. 824 million people in the developing world go to bed and wake up hungry. 77 million primary school age children are receiving no formal education. World-wide, fewer girls are provided with formal education than boys. Most of the world's medicines are available to the wealthiest and healthiest, while the poorest languish and die for lack of modern medicine. The world's lowest income countries paid $26 billion dollars in debt service in 2004 to the world's wealthiest countries.
Have you ever though that simpler living and generous giving here in America might be a justice issue in the eyes of most of the other people in our world? The extreme gaps in nutrition, medicine, and education are justice issues, any way we choose to look at it.
D. ILLUS: Video Clip-Bono
Want to learn more before you make a statement? Check out Micah Challenge International (www.micahchallenge.org)
Vote in every election for justice. Vote for national security and economic prosperity. Vote for character and morality. And, vote for justice.
Decide. We grow in wisdom, character, and godliness as we make decisions based on what we learn from the Bible. You might see in your program this morning a box for you to write a decision in. Have you heard God speaking to you this morning? I'm going to give you a minute and a half to make a decision-a big decision or a small decision. It doesn't really matter, as long as it's a biblical decision. Impressions and feelings are nice, but decisions move us down the path of discipleship toward Christ-like maturity.
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