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Oct 7 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

October 7, 2019

This is what the Lord GOD showed me: behold, he was forming locusts when the latter growth was just beginning to sprout, and behold, it was the latter growth after the king’s mowings. When they had finished eating the grass of the land, I said,
“O Lord GOD, please forgive!
How can Jacob stand?
He is so small!”
The LORD relented concerning this:
“It shall not be,” said the LORD.
This is what the Lord GOD showed me: behold, the Lord GOD was calling for a judgment by fire, and it devoured the great deep and was eating up the land. Then I said,
“O Lord GOD, please cease!
How can Jacob stand?
He is so small!”
The LORD relented concerning this:
“This also shall not be,” said the Lord GOD.
This is what he showed me: behold, the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. And the LORD said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” The the Lord said,
“Behold, I am setting a plumb line
in the midst of my people Israel;
I will never again pass by them;
the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate,
and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste,
and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.

Amos 7:1-9

Intro: Amos has an unusual story, as he explains later

I was no prophet, nor a prophet’s son, but I was a [shepherd] and a dresser of sycamore figs. But the LORD took me from following the flock, and the LORD said to me, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.” (Amos 7:14-15)

God put him on this mission after Israel passed the point of no return
– they had strayed so far from God, they were no longer “his people”
• God showed Amos the consequences of their betrayal
◦ but the way God delivers the vision is rather interesting
• it is as if he was trying out various possibilities with Amos
◦ there is an obvious pattern here, as if they were following a script
– God described a catastrophe; first, a locust invasion, then a fire storm
• Amos protested to both with the same words (with one exception)
◦ such disasters would result in Israel’s extinction
◦ so both times, God relented, “It shall not be” — or “Okay, not that”
• this sort of conversation has been referred to as “prophetic dialogue”
◦ here the drama is played out to underscore God’s goal
◦ it was not to decimate Israel or destroy them completely

This is explicitly stated near the end of Amos:
Behold, the eyes of the Lord GOD are upon the sinful kingdom,
and I will destroy it from the surface of the ground,
except that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob . . . .
All the sinners of my people shall die by the sword
(Amos 9:8-10)

The third vision reveals how God would judge his people selectively
Amos, what do you see? – a plumb line is a string weighted on one end
• holding the other end, the hanging string would delineate a true vertical
◦ today, building a wall we would use a bubble level or laser
• in the vision, the walls were already built
◦ the plumb line was being used to test the integrity of the walls
◦ the idea: God had a criterion for determining his true followers
– when meditating on this passage, what came to me was this
• almost any object or event can embody a revelation
◦ a carpenter’s tool, a farmer’s harvest, a produce stand
• if we look, we’ll notice; if we notice, we can observe
◦ the language here is important:
“showed me,” “Behold” (4x), and “what do you see?”
◦ asking ourselves, “what do you see?” can take us to a deeper place
◦ into the moment and into ourselves
But do not try to force a meaning on things
Simply listen and whatever God has to show you come to you

I did not choose this passage today to share my meditation on it

Something else is on my mind, and it has bothered me for a long time
– I have always been drawn to Christian mystics
• to those souls that have hungered and thirsted for God
◦ and devoted their entire lives to pursue him in script and prayer
◦ who gave up everything, taking on vows of poverty and chastity
• but on occasion, I’ve been creeped out by their beliefs or practices
◦ an easy example is the severe asceticism of some
(to rivet their attention on God and avoid sin, they abused their bodies)
◦ what bothers me is the absence of support from or correlation to scripture
– I’ve wondered, What is the source of their insights if not Bible?
• their own experience? culture? philosophy? other influences?
• there is a sad history of mystics within the church who went too far
◦ for instance, the Gnostics, Arians, and Montanists

Recently I’ve been reading an author whose name I won’t mention
(because I really enjoy his books and don’t want to discourage anyone from reading them)
– he is insightful, inspiring, helpful and encouraging
• but he describes the awareness gained through contemplation
◦ as “the ground of awareness itself”
◦ and “the flowing luminous vastness that is interior silence”
• years ago I read Paul Tillich’s definition of God as “the ground of all being”
◦ I get it–the statement is true, but it’s an intellectual concept
◦ and it isolates one facet of God while excluding others–
others that are equally important
– what concerns me is the vagueness of these formulations
• Tillich also stressed the idea of God as “the wholly other”
◦ it is true, God is transcendent
◦ but the other half of the truth is that God is immanent
• I realize God is beyond the ability of the human brain to define
◦ but does that bring me any closer to him?

I read somewhere that much of our theology is negative
– we say that he is invisible, intangible, immutable, immortal
• we also refer to him with absolutes
• omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, all-loving
– but these statements don’t do much to connect us to him
• they do not spell out the ways he is here for us
• Christian spirituality includes a great breadth of truth
◦ the journey will take us deep in to some regions,
◦ but each region is one vein of an infinite matrix from which no other vein can be excluded

We have to be exercise caution with theology

It can be a short step from truth to heresy
– this happens when one half of a truth is overemphasized
• G. Campbell Morgan referred to St. John as a “contemplative”
(others have used the term “mystic”)
◦ in his gospel, he says the logos that came “was God”
◦ in 1 John, he says God is phos (light), zoe (life), and agape (love)
• these represent multiple aspects of God’s nature
◦ they work because John does not insist on one to the exclusion of any of the others
– read 1 John closely – John’s theology is emphatically personal
• his reference to the “blood of Jesus” is concrete not abstract
◦ the application of Jesus’ blood is mystical
◦ but the shedding of his blood was literal
• in fact, the biblical revelation of God as Person is so strong,
◦ it risks anthropomorphism (describing him in human terms)
◦ yes, there’s the cloud that obscures our vision (Mt. 17:1-8)
but there’s also the voice from the cloud–
the voice of a Person who owns Jesus as his Son

God is not an abstraction nor is he a concept
(and you are not a concept, and I’m not a concept)

I think many Christians pray to their concept of God
– we cannot dispense with our concepts,
• we just have to remember that God is person
◦ he has a name
◦ and he’s revealed it to us so we can call on him
• the prophets’ and apostles’ encounters with God,
◦ were never like floating in a vast luminescence
◦ they were a meeting of minds, conversations, I-Thou
– last week Kelsey reminded us, God is not an object
• we cannot study him under a microscope or find him through telescope
◦ we can’t make images of him, because God is Spirit (Jn. 4:24)
◦ our exp isn’t something we can carve in wood or sculpt in stone
• but we can make this positive and definite statement:
◦ God is person
◦ that is what makes it possible to be in relationship with him

There’s one other facet that needs to be clarified

It has become popular in some circles to stress monism–oneness
– this is obviously important because God is One
• Jesus and the Father are One
◦ we are One with Jesus and One with each other
• but oneness does not obliterate our individual selves
◦ and it does not obliterate dualism
◦ Kelsey pointed out last week that dualism is important
but some believers don’t see it’s importance
and some are even anti-dualism
– we’re told that dualism is a Greek idea, derived from Plato’s philosophy
• that monism was the Hebrew worldview
• but read the first chapter of Genesis
◦ God brought order to the original chaos by dividing things
◦ first light and darkness, then an expanse separating waters,
then the dry land and oceans
• dualism AND monism are two halves of the same whole
◦ we are looking at the reverse sides of the same coin
◦ “diversity within unity” describes both the triune God and his church
– I regret there isn’t enough time to go over this as much as I would like
• but give dualism some serious thought
• the basic categories of scripture are: heaven and earth
◦ God and humankind–i.e., God and us!

Conclusion: What is the true heart of Christian spirituality?

You see, this is the wrong question
– the correct question is Who is the heart of Christian Spirituality?
• there is one obvious answer: Christ!
• not a vaguely defined universal Christ-consciousness
◦ but the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5)
– what our souls hunger and thirst for,
• what we are striving for in Christian spirituality is to know Jesus (Php. 3:7-11)
• our progress is measured by our growth in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:18)

In my first lengthy conversation with Fr. Romuald, he told me,
“In the Hebrew language, there are no abstract or impersonal words. Everything is concrete and down-to-earth language. All Hebrew says is ‘you’ and ‘me.’ There is no verb in between us. It is, ‘I for you, you for me.’”

This has been my primary concern today
to remind you, make certain your contemplation
is an opening to the Person and to his presence
And that our spirituality is definite
and therefore we speak openly and clearly (2 Cor. 3:12)
Our goal is not to become more spiritual
or mystical,
but to know Jesus Christ
And then, to get to know him even better,
until knowing him, we are fully transformed by him

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