Church On The Edge
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Church On The Edge

Amos: Businessman or Prophet?

An excerpt from the book, Prophets or Patriots: How Evangelicals Are Giving to Caesar What Belongs to God.

Photo by Marten Bjork on Unsplash

It was Moses who said, “I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them! (Numbers 11:29)

Who are the prophets? What do they look like? Where do they come from? When the average person hears the word “prophet,” it conjures up all kinds of images.

Long haired, wild-eyed crazies, living off the grid or standing on Main Street with a sandwich board sign announcing the end of the world. Many imagine the prophets in the Bible as entering into trance-like states, jotting down the words of God as he dictates directly to them. Some evangelical churches and their pastors teach that prophets no longer exist, at least not in the same way as they did in “Bible days,” whatever that’s supposed to mean.¹

The truth is prophets are living, breathing, and I might add ordinary human beings. They have hopes and dreams, doubts, and fears. They like movies. Some play video games. Cold beers with fiery chicken wings may not be their sources of inspiration, but they sure go down good on Friday night after a long work week.

But what exactly is it that makes a prophet a prophet? For starters, a prophet is a seer. He or she “sees” beyond the surface of things. They are intuitive. They recognize the signs of the times. Those “signs” may be seen in world events or family relationships. But while others never really bother to reflect on these things, asking the deeper questions underneath the obvious external events, prophets cannot help but reflect on the less obvious, but more important issues beneath the surface.

All prophets also share two things in common, and these two things are inseparably intertwined. All prophets have a calling from God, and all prophets have a passion for following that calling.

Now, just maybe you’re thinking to yourself, “Well, that counts me out as a prophet, no calling from God in my life.” Don’t be so sure. I remember like it was yesterday, the intense struggle I faced as I wrestled with my calling to leave the business world and serve as a pastor. “Is God really calling me,” I asked? “How can I know for sure?” In my desperation, I began asking God for a sign, something that would prove God’s calling. That sign came but not how I imagined it.

I was literally on my knees in an empty church agonizing in prayer, straining to hear from God. “O God, please be calling me. I can’t think of anything I’d rather be than a pastor devoting my life to you and others. Please just give me a sign.” Suddenly, a hush fell over my heart. Words came to me, but they weren’t audible words, they were louder than that: “Your passionate desire to serve me is the sign you are seeking.” That was thirty-seven years ago, and I haven’t looked back. Actually, that’s not true. I’ve looked back several times, but I’ve never actually gone back, and so far, I haven’t turned into a pillar of salt either!

You do not have to quit your job, enroll in seminary, and serve as a pastor to be a prophet. You simply need to be passionate about things like justice, righteousness, and peace. Dishonesty, deceit, and division unsettle and provoke you. You resolutely refuse to identify with and take part in these things. You may speak out, or you may remain quiet, but in the words of my father spoken to me years ago, you understand that “Wrong is still wrong even if everybody is doing it, and right is still right even if nobody is doing it.”

Some prophets may speak only to God about what they “see,” but all prophets steadfastly refuse to engage in that herd mentality that conforms to expectations, spoken or unspoken.

WORKPLACE PROPHETS
Amos was a businessman. He is introduced to us as “one of the shepherds of Tekoa” (Amos 1:1, NIV), but the Hebrew word translated “shepherd” is not the common word used to describe those hired to tend sheep in the fields. Instead, in the case of Amos, the word speaks of someone who is in the sheep business. Amos was also a farmer. He raised sycamore-fig trees. I always think of my Uncle Roy when I read about Amos. I loved visiting his farm near Augusta, Georgia. As privately owned farms go, it was a large business, producing corn, pecans, soybeans, pigs, and cattle. Amos was a farmer-businessman much like Uncle Roy.

Amos lived in the southern nation of Judah, but his work carried him north to the nation of Israel, where he evidently did quite a bit of business. It was his frequent trips to Israel that inspired him to speak out against the corruption and injustice he saw there. The growing gap between rich and the poor, the needy crushed by the policies and practices of wealthy power brokers, a straw tax on the poor, injustice in the courts, false scales used to cheat buyers while increasing the wealth of dishonest sellers; Amos saw all these things.

“Therefore the prudent keep quiet in such times,” he says, “for the times are evil.” (Amos 5:13, NIV) But Amos did not keep quiet. “I am not a prophet, nor am I the son of a prophet; for I am a herdsman and a grower of sycamore figs,” Amos declared to Amaziah, the priest in charge of the mega-church temple at Bethel, and one of the King’s sycophants. “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, NASB)

How long did Amos’ ministry last? Some scholars speculate that it was as short as two weeks. Personally, I think it was longer, but the fact is Amos was a businessman who saw firsthand the unjust and corrupt business practices rampant in his day. His conscience would not allow him to remain quiet. Of course, as Amos tells us, there is a time to speak out and a time to remain quiet. As strongly as we may feel about certain issues, there are times when the best thing we can do, the healthiest thing we can do is to remain quiet. “There is a time to be silent and a time to speak.” (Ecclesiastes 3:7, NIV)

During my twelve years serving as an international pastor in Seoul, I led a remarkably diverse congregation. Our church consistently averaged twenty to twenty-five nationalities, as well as multiple Christian traditions. This mixed bag made for some interesting relationships among our members. I recall a former Russian paratrooper who, together with a United States Army paratrooper, collected the offerings on Sunday, and developed a close bond. We had members from China who not only loved their country but, for the most part, had no qualms about their government, at least no more than we do about ours!

As pastor of this diverse group of people, my goal was to lead them, all of them, to grow in the grace and love found in Jesus Christ. It was a unique and challenging opportunity. Diversity defined us. Unity around the person of Jesus was our goal. I was compelled to pray long and hard about the Jesus I preached. A capitalist Jesus, a socialist Jesus, a communist Jesus; there was no place for these Jesus’s in our church.

The Jesus we needed was above and beyond these things. His kingdom is not of this world. The challenge I faced was to avoid becoming entangled by issues that detracted from the good news of God’s kingdom that is the heart of Christ’s message.

What matters to God is that justice rolls on like a river, and righteousness like a never-failing stream. (Amos 5:24, NIV) People, regardless of their nationality, ideology, or political preferences, are the catalyst for this justice. Laws can be skirted, loopholes easily found, the letter may be followed while the spirit is ignored, but people, changed by the unfiltered truth of God’s Word, are where God’s kingdom is found.

I’d like to share one example, among many, of what I’m talking about. It was just one part of a longer sermon, but one Sunday, I took time to teach about God’s instructions to his people concerning the gleanings or leftover crops in the fields after harvest time. God commanded the harvesters not to collect the gleanings, but rather to leave them for the poor.

I applied this practice to companies whose primary goal is to maximize profits at the expense of caring for their employees. A classic example of this is those companies that work employees just enough hours to avoid providing health insurance. This is a common practice among even multi-billion dollar companies.

After the message, one of our business leaders, a highly successful businessman from Britain, approached me. He had never recognized the connection between the gleanings and the greed of profit maximization in modern-day businesses. We had lunch together not long afterward, and he shared with me his commitment to changing the way things were done in his company. It wasn’t my politics that persuaded him; it was God’s instructions about greed and its effects on the poor that motivated him to change.

I learned a lot about the power of preaching God’s kingdom. The most important thing I learned was that God’s kingdom stands apart from and above our earthly kingdoms.

I no longer serve Christ as a pastor, and the nature of my ministry and calling has changed. More than ever before, I feel compelled to cry out against the dangers of mixing God’s kingdom with the kingdoms of this world. It is dangerous, and among the many ways it hurts the church is the not so subtle way it equates Christ with a political party or worse, a “chosen” nation. It borders on heresy, and I believe it is the greatest danger in American Christianity today.

  1. What most evangelical churches mean by saying there are no prophets today like there were in “Bible days” is that the words of the prophets recorded in Scripture possess an exclusive authority that modern-day prophets do not. What disturbs me about this understanding is the dichotomy it creates between “Bible days” and modern times. God is the same God today as He was then, and the issues the prophets addressed have and will always be relevant to our lives, our countries, and our world.

My book, Prophets or Patriots: How Evangelicals and Giving to Caesar What Belongs to God, is available now through Kindle, on Amazon. The hard copy will be out soon. Learn more about what it means to follow Jesus at danarmistead.com.

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Seeking to live on the edge, like Jesus. danarmistead.com

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Dan Armistead

Dan Armistead

Dan is the former pastor of Seoul International Baptist Church and Adjunct Professor at Torch Trinity Graduate University in Seoul, Korea.

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