One Step Forward Makes a World of Difference

Pastor Jeff Struecker

We are 2 Cities Church, and we are now at week six of a study through the book of Amos, the words of the prophet Amos from the Old Testament. Now, if you were with us last week, I challenged everybody, if you live in a city where there isn’t perfect justice, then would you become a voice to just try to make a little bit of difference? -just one step of difference in your city. And by the way, even if you weren’t here last week, I don’t need to remind you that there is no such thing as a perfect city, because there are no perfect people. And when there are no perfect people, there’s no such thing as perfect justice. It doesn’t matter where you live.

Well today, I want to take that idea, and I want to take it one step further because for the children of God (this is us who called Jesus our king), you have been adopted into the family of God. And what you’re going to hear from the prophet Amos today is the heart of the father as he speaks to his children.

I think if you listen closely, you can almost hear his voice quiver with heartbreak as he talks to his children, because he’s saying to them, “I adopted you into my family and I called you to be my sons and daughters. I wanted you to make an impact in your neighborhood ever since I called the first of my children, ever since I called Abraham our father in the faith and ever since I said to him, ‘Abraham, I’m going to bless all the nations of the earth through you.’ Israel, I called you to myself, and I called you my children. And Israel, I wanted you to be a blessing to the nations around you, but instead of being a blessing to them, instead of being my representative to them, instead of being my voice to the nations around you, Israel, you broke my heart because you became just like them. In fact, Israel, you became worse than them. And what I wanted to do in you, Israel, what I wanted to do through you, you weren’t listening because you were so busy acting just like all of those foreign nations around you.”

I really believe God does want to bring his kingdom to earth, and he wants to do it through his church. I really strongly believe in a mighty church that can make a world of difference. In fact, I’ll show it to you in these words. This is where I am going with this sermon today. Here it is:

One step forward, when God’s people just make one simple step forward, I believe God meets them when they take that step forward. I believe the power of the Holy Spirit of the living God works through them when they take that step forward. And I really believe that it can change the world. I hope you believe it too.

One step forward makes a world of difference!

I believe that 50 people, just 50, with the passion for people who are far from Jesus and 50 people with the power of the Holy Spirit can accomplish more than 50,000 without. And today, what you see from the prophet Amos is what God wants to do or had tried to do through his people. But they weren’t interested, because they were so focused on what was happening around them and the way that the nations around them, that they were no longer passionate for the glory of God. They started to live for their own glory. I get this directly from Amos chapter six, verse 12 today. Here’s how God describes what this mighty group of men and women in ancient Israel could have been:

Amos 6:12 Do horses gallop on the cliffs? Does anyone plow there with 

oxen? Yet you have turned justice into poison, the fruit of righteousness into wormwood

That word wormwood is a another form of poison. “I wanted to do justice through you, Israel, but you were so focused on living like everybody else around you that I couldn’t because you lost your passion for people far from Jesus, and you lost the power of the Holy Spirit when you started to live in your own power.”

So now what we’re going to do in Amos chapter six is kind of a laboratory experiment. We’re going to work our way through this chapter, and we’re going to see what happens when this goes backward, what happens when God’s people stop seeing their real place on planet earth, what God really wants to do through his people, and they start to look at what they want, start to live for their own glory. 

Instead of asking, “Why not me, God? I’m ready to take one step forward. Would you meet me? And would you make a world of difference through me?” Instead of asking, “Why not me?”, they start asking a couple of different questions, and these questions radically changed Israel’s future. I hope that you can see this in your own heart. When you start to ask these questions, when you start to live this way, it’s going to change your future, too.

Not me!  It’s not my problem.  V. 1-7

So here’s question number one. Well, here’s statement number one that they make. They first say, “Not me.” They say, “Not me, God. It’s not my problem. What’s happening around me is not my problem.” And this is the spiritual condition of complacency. 

We’re going to start in Amos chapter six, verse one, and you can just hear how at ease, how passive, how complacent God’s people become in their own neighborhood. Amos chapter six, starting in verse one:

Woe to those who are at ease in Zion and to those who feel secure on the hill of Samaria— the notable people in this first of the nations, those the house of Israel comes to. Cross over to Calneh and see; go from there to great Hamath; then go down to Gath of the Philistines. Are you better than these kingdoms? Is their territory larger than yours? You dismiss any thought of the evil day and bring in a reign of violence. They lie on beds inlaid with ivory, sprawled out on their couches, and dine on lambs from the flock and calves from the stall. They improvise songs to the sound of the harp and invent their own musical instruments like David. They drink wine by the bowlful and anoint themselves with the finest oils but do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph. Therefore, they will now go into exile as the first of the captives, and the feasting of those who sprawl out will come to an end.

There’s a military command in the US military. It’s the command of “at ease”. When you have soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in a formation, and they’re all standing there and they’re ready to respond to the next command, they’re generally at the position of attention. When you want them to let their guard down, when you want them to take a break, when you want them to just chill for a little bit, you put a group of warriors at ease. The words at ease being used in the Bible are really, really important words. Sometimes being at ease in the right circumstances is a good thing. Sometimes at ease means that you’re secure. Sometimes at ease means that you’re peaceful. But that’s not the way Amos is using it.

Sometimes being at ease in the wrong circumstances is a really bad thing. And sometimes being at ease means that you’re complacent. Sometimes being at ease means that you stopped caring. And I really believe what Amos is saying is “Israel, you should have been at attention waiting for the next command from your father, waiting to hear from God, but you weren’t. You were at ease.”

And if you were to just look naturally at Amos chapter six, you can see why they’re at ease. You can see what started to substitute for the voice of God in Israel. It was ultimately their bank account. They started lying down on really rich furniture, sleeping on beds of ivory, and they were trusting in their wealth and in their bank accounts more than they were trusting in the powerful hand of the Holy Spirit. 

And God says, “That whole bank account is going to evaporate. You’re going to go from trusting in your bank account to bankrupt real quick. And Israel, you were sprawled out on your bed.” The words sprawled out is the phrase that you would use for somebody who didn’t come home tired from work and fell into the sofa or into the bed exhausted. It’s the word for somebody who got so drunk that they passed out. 

“Israel, you were so drunk with your sin and the sins around you that you passed out, and you couldn’t hear my voice anymore. Israel, you were sprawled out on your bed and you dismissed any thought that anything bad can happen to you.” And if you don’t believe it, God says, “I want you to go to these three powerful cities in your land. Go to Calneh. Go to Hamath. Go to Gath, and see what I did there. And if I can do it to those cities, Israel, I can do this to you as well.”

There’s a public restroom that I use sometimes. And the public restroom stinks. I mean, it just smells like urine. If you were to look around, sometimes I’m the only one in there. So I’m flushing all of the stalls. I’m trying to figure out what on earth does this smell come from, because it smells dirty in here. And here’s what I’ve noticed over the past several weeks: The people who do some cleaning in the restrooms, I think they realize that it stinks. I’m not exaggerating or making this up. 

So, instead of fixing the problem, what they’ve started to do is leave the doors to the restroom open so that when you go in there, now you don’t notice how bad the smell is because it’s not all cooped up in one area. And I can’t help but think to myself, Instead of trying to spray some air freshener, instead of trying to open the doors and air it out, why don’t we just clean up the bathroom so that it doesn’t stink anymore? 

I think what God is saying is, “Israel, your land reeks because it’s dirty. And what you’re trying to do through your bank account and through your foreign pagan lifestyle is, you’re trying to spray some air freshener. You’re trying to leave the doors open and you’re trying to make it better, but it stinks. And until you treat the problem, that smell is always going to be there.” And God is saying, “Israel, I want you to stop trying to mask the smell. I want you to look to me and to lean on me, and I will fix the smell. I will make it better.”

I believe God is calling all of his children to be at attention and to hear from him. And I believe what God really wants from us today is to not be embarrassed, not to be ashamed about it or to try to hide anything from him and to try to mask the smell and act like it’s not that bad. “It’s not me, God.” Instead of acting like that, I really believe what God wants us to do is to run to him with the problem and to open our hearts up to him and say, “Here it is, Father. I’m a mess. I’ve got problems in my life. These are my problems. They’re not somebody else’s problem. And it’s ultimately my heart that’s the problem.”

When we’re willing to say that, God says, “Good. Now we can get some work done because now I can really use my spirit to work on the problems in your life, to work in you first and to work through you second. But as long as you hide it, as long as you try to mask it, as long as you try to act like, ‘It’s not me; it’s not my problem.’ As long as you act like that, there is no power. There’s no way that the power of the Holy Spirit is going to work through you.”

Who me?  It’s not my fault!   V. 8-14

So the first and one of the biggest problems in Israel is that they’re claiming, “Not me. Not my problem, God.” But there’s really only one thing I can think of that would be worse spiritually than saying, “Not my problem”, and that is to say, “It’s not my fault.” You see, Israel goes from saying, “It’s not me. It’s not my problem,” to, “Who, me? It’s not my fault, God. It’s somebody else’s fault.”

And this is no longer the problem of complacency. Now we’ve crossed over to the problem of pride. You guys know this statement. What goes before the fall? Pride. Pride is dangerous to you. Pride is dangerous to everyone around you. And we’re going to see just how dangerous pride is. We’re going to see just how the father feels about pride from Amos chapter six, because listen to what God says next to his proud arrogant, spiritually haughty children. Amos chapter six, picking up now in verse eight: 

The Lord God has sworn by himself—this is the declaration of the Lord, the God of Armies: I loathe Jacob’s pride and hate his citadels, so I will hand over the city and everything in it. And if there are ten men left in one house, they will die. A close relative and burner will remove his corpse from the house. He will call to someone in the inner recesses of the house, “Any more with you?” That person will reply, “None.” Then he will say, “Silence, because the Lord’s name must not be invoked.” For the Lord commands: The large house will be smashed to pieces, and the small house to rubble. Do horses gallop on the cliffs? Does anyone plow there with oxen? Yet you have turned justice into poison and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood— you who rejoice over Lo-debar and say, “Didn’t we capture Karnaim for ourselves by our own strength?” But look, I am raising up a nation against you, house of Israel— this is the declaration of the Lord, the God of Armies— and they will oppress you from the entrance of Hamath to the Brook of the Arabah.

Israel did this classic move that people have been doing for thousands of years. Unfortunately, God’s people have been doing it for thousands of years. They looked around them, and they started to put the blame for what was happening around them on somebody else. They said, “It’s not me.” And what they really started to do is they started to rationalize sin. They started to look for someone else to put the blame on. “It can’t be my fault. It must be the fault of the government. If we had a better government, we wouldn’t be in the situation that we’re in. Or maybe it’s not the government’s fault. Maybe it’s the other political party’s fault. It’s their fault that we’re in this situation. Or maybe it’s big business. It’s their fault that things are the way they are.”

As long as they were looking outside of themselves, they could not see inside themselves to see their own faults, their own problems, their own mistakes and their own failures. Jesus said it this way: “You are so proud that you can’t see the log in your own eye. All you can see is the speck in your brother’s eye, a very tiny splinter in someone else’s eye. But you’re so proud, you can’t even see the log in your own eye.” 

Pride is dangerous. It’s dangerous to you; it’s dangerous to everyone around you. But spiritual pride is exceptionally dangerous. What spiritual pride does is, it says, “God, the problems that I’m going through are not my fault. They’re other people’s fault.” Or sometimes spiritual pride will get even worse, and it will say, “God, it’s your fault that things are the way they are.”

And let me tell you what spiritual pride will cost you. First, spiritual pride will cost you experiencing God’s grace because God’s grace comes when you say, “God, I am a mess. God, I need you. God, will you forgive me because of the mess that I’ve made?” And it takes humility to be willing to be that vulnerable, that humble before God. But spiritual pride will also take you a step further. It will not only cost you experiencing God’s grace; it will cost you experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit, because now you’re trying to fix your problems in your own power instead of allowing God’s spirit to give you the power that you need to handle what you’re going through. 

Spiritual pride is sawing off the branch that you’re sitting on, and you’re going to come crashing to the ground.

The language that the Bible uses when it talks about pride is using the wrong measuring tape. Say that you’re working in your wood shop or you’re working in your home, and you need a board that’s half a meter long. So you take out the tape measure and you start a board left and you try to decide, Is this board half a meter long? But the board isn’t half a meter long. It doesn’t measure up. 

Spiritual pride says, “There’s something wrong with the tape measure. Get rid of the tape measure. I need a half a meter board, and I know this board must be half a meter. So I’m going to get a different tape measure. I’m going to get a tape measure that tells me what I want it to tell me, instead of telling me the truth.”

People all over the world do this every day when they look in the mirror and they cannot see that there’s a problem inside of them because they are so focused on what they see around them. “It can’t be my fault because it’s got to be my neighbor’s fault. It can’t be my fault. It’s the government’s fault, or it’s my boss’ fault or it’s my professor’s fault. It’s somebody else’s fault.” That very idea starts to saw the branch off that you’re sitting on.

See, God’s people made two fundamental mistakes and I’m praying that 2 Cities Church doesn’t make these mistakes in Amos chapter six. The first mistake is they ask, “Who, me? It’s not my fault.” Or, “Not me; it’s not my problem.” And as long as you’re asking, “Who, me?” or as long as you’re saying, “Not me. Not my fault, not my problem,” you cannot get to the point I believe every church of the Lord Jesus Christ is called to.

They should look around them, see the problems in the world around them, and start to ask a different question. They should start to ask the question, “Why not me? God, why don’t you just go ahead and use me to make an impact that will change the world?” When you are willing to ask the question, “Why not me?” instead of saying, “Not me,” now you can take one step forward, and I promise you, in that small step, the Lord will meet you. The power of the Holy Spirit will start to work through you, and that small step will change the world.

I asked my friend, Keni Thomas, who is a Nashville musician, if he’d be willing to start doing a little bit of music for our church from time to time. I asked him this Sunday if I could use one of his music videos to try to drive this point home. I want you to hear Kenny’s thoughts on what happens when a person starts to ask the question, “Why not me?” instead of simply saying, “Not me.”

[music video shown]

I love that guy like a brother, not because of his skills as a musician, but because he was one of those guys on the battlefield next to me in Mogadishu, Somalia, fighting right next to us. 

I have this vision for 2 Cities Church, and it’s people who are looking at the world around them and saying, “God, I used to be the kind of guy or the kind of gal that said, ‘Not me. It’s not my fault, God. It’s not my problem.’ But now I start to sense your power in my life, God. Now I start to sense your plan for bringing your kingdom to planet earth. And God, now I’m asking a very different question. Now I’m asking the question. ‘Why not me? Why not use me?'” 

I’m praying that God would raise up a thousand men and women all over the world who would say, “Why not me, God? Why not use me?”