Monday, April 16, 2007

The Micah Challenge

One of the purposes for doing and being the church together is so that we may come together to understand the nature of God and learn how to live this nature out. This is sometimes a difficult task as we can be easily lured into the trap of conforming God to our own image and understanding…and comfort levels.

Yesterday we held an awareness event for the International Justice Mission and many of us met on Friday night to watch the movie Amazing Grace, the story of William Wilberforce and his tireless efforts to abolish the slave trade in Britain.

Today is Compassion Sunday and we saw a moving video that tends to remind us all that there are weak and oppressed children who need our love, commitment and financial support.

It is sometimes difficult for us to embrace the concept of a God of love and a God of justice. The God of love that has first loved us so that we may love others, we rationalize, certainly desires me to have compassion for others. The God of justice, on the other hand, seems to demand vengeance and anger and wrath towards those who would oppress. How can these two, seemingly opposite, character traits co-exist in not only God but co-exist in ourselves.

Of course to understand how God would have us live, we come to understand that we need to know more about God, His Story, and His people. We sometimes believe that we can do this by only reading the New Covenant, the New Testament as it pertains to the gospel of Christ. But we are missing a tremendous amount of the story if we claim that the Old Testament does not apply to us. Jesus constantly quoted the Hebrew Bible in his ministry on earth and this in itself tells us that His covenant acts as a lens from which to read the wisdom of the OT.

Micah the prophet spoke God’s word and truth at a time when Israel and Judah rose to great heights of economic affluence but had fallen to great depths of spiritual decadence. Micah, for the most part, spoke truth against the social injustices of the ruling classes. Many people were going through religious motions and yet their hearts were very far from the heart of God. Micah is correcting this legalistic understanding of God when he writes.

He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8 NASB

We often wrestle with the question of understanding God’s will for our lives. Sometimes we feel like we want to do more for God. We watch movies like Amazing Grace or read the stories of the history makers for God and there is something deep inside of each of us that says

“I want to make a difference, I want to be used by God for noble reasons.”

But life seems to be going along the same way as it always has. We start believing that we cannot make a difference, that as long as I am comfortable, going to church, tithing appropriately, praying, serving, and controlling my anger that this is as good as it gets. There is nothing wrong in these actions in themselves, in fact all serious followers of the Jesus way will be doing these things, but this is what Micah is correcting in God’s people way back when. He is saying that these actions of sacrifice and outward activities are not what God truly wants from us. The heart of God, the essence of God is one of justice and compassion. He desires us to know his heart and in the process that our own heart, our essence is transformed into his. So lets look more closely at the three requirements of Micah 6.

Do justice!

Some translations use the terms “act justly” but in several translations there is the outward action of doing justice. It is clear from the Bible that justice is very close to God’s heart.

1. ‘Act justly’ or ‘do justice.’ You will probably not remember any definition of justice I give you, but you will want real life practical examples. But for you definition people out there, here are a few definitions.

Walter Kaiser says, Justice is “to act with equity, fairness and deference to those who are in a weaker social position…”

Bruce Waltke says, “Beyond obeying commands, this encompassing, ethical term pertains to establishing a relationship that one gives back what is due and beyond that, as one is able, to deliver the oppressed and to punish the oppressor.”

I like another definition: “Doing justice is repairing the fabric of society where it is falling apart.”

The people of Israel weren’t doing justice but they were very religious. They did the sacrifices of worship but justice and care for others was ignored. Jesus went off on the Pharisees because of this and probably even quotes a little bit of Micah 6:8 in Matthew 23:23,

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things."

He is not dismissing the requirements of tithing but He exposes their hypocrisy. They are doing the outward act of tithing but not practicing justice, mercy and faithfulness. Jesus and Micah are basically saying that,

Worship without justice is hypocrisy.

Even if you do religious things like tithe or offer sacrifices but you don’t love others then your walk with God is fake. We can sit in here and nod in agreement with the Word of God, sing songs and give an offering but never do justice and love mercy. We can have ‘church’ and then go out of here and just think about ourselves, what we will acquire, do and achieve but not care about others. Worship without Justice is Hypocrisy. Religion without justice is hypocrisy. Church without justice is hypocrisy.

Jesus tells us, “Do not neglect the more important things.”

This aspect of doing justice needs to naturally come out of who we have become as new creations in God. Think about the times when we are angry at an injustice. If we were to be honest with ourselves we are far more angry and indignant when we have been personally wronged. Someone breaks into our car….We are mad! Someone gossips about us…we are mad! The city hasn’t filled in that pothole down the street… we are mad! Ryan Smyth is traded from Edmonton…there is crying in the streets…we are mad!

A child is kidnapped, raped, and sold into prostitution…our heart is sad momentarilyand life goes on. Where is the righteous indignancy of the church in these cases? Where are the doers of justice?

Micah 6:8
What does the Lord require of you? Do justice. This is clearly an essence of God that is at the core of who He is.

Proverbs 21:3
To do righteousness and justice is desired by the Lord rather than sacrifice"

We live in a society where we feel it is not politically correct to take a stand on what is right and wrong. The apparent subjectivity of what is right and wrong has hamstrung us to believe that we cannot be a prophetic voice for the victims, the oppressed, the helpless. Why are we so afraid to speak truth in love? Why are we afraid to speak boldly, clearly and with conviction that,

“This action is not okay.”

Doing justice comes out of what is going on in your heart. If you have been given a new heart as the bible tells us when we believe in Jesus as saviour and Lord then what comes with that new heart is a clearer awareness of the heart of God as His spirit transforms us back into His image.

If we are not bothered by injustice, if we find ourselves not really concerned about the plight of others, if our heart doesn’t break at the abuse of children, or the psychological abuse of others, or the abuse of power by the strong over the weak…if there is not something inside of us screaming….

“This is wrong and must be stopped!”

Then we need to really consider whether in fact we have experienced a spiritual re-birth or not?

Imagine if you called for help and no one came.

If we find ourselves more concerned about our comfort, our rights, than we are about the suffering and injustice in the world, it is time for us to re-evaluate what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

“Cowardice asks the question: is it safe? Expediency asks the question: is it politic? Vanity asks the question: is it popular? But conscience asks the question: is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular- but one must take it simply because it is right.”
Martin Luther King Jr.

We cannot do justice if we do not believe that God has something to say about right and wrong.

The Bible is clear, the wisdom books, the prophets, Jesus Christ…. ll confirm, God is a God of justice.

Restorative justice asks is there is a form of punishment that e that will actually help restore the wrongdoer to the doing of what is right.

Outrage and lament are the proper, sensitive, and morally appropriate responses to injury and oppression.

The righteous person cares about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.

Proverbs 29:7
Learn to do right! Seek justice, Encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, Plead the case of the widow.

300,000 people die in Africa approximately every month because of HIV/Aids. That’s just about the same as perished in the tsunami last Boxing Day. HIV/Aids is delivering a tsunami a month to Africa. And yet many of those people who die could live usefully and productively very much longer than they do if access to anti-retroviral drugs were available and affordable as they are in the West. But there, they are either unavailable or totally unaffordable. That’s a matter not just of charity, but also of justice.

"Justice denied anywhere diminishes justice everywhere."
"True peace is not merely the absence of tension, it is the presence of Justice."
"We who have been seared in the flames of withering injustice, will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty river."
Martin Luther King, Jr

A strong passion for Justice without mercy or compassion is generally harsh, narrowminded and punitive. So Micah reminds us that justice must be hand in hand with the love of mercy and compassion.

Do Justice
Love Mercy

Love Compassion, love kindness.

If we love justice more than we love kindness and compassion then we are in trouble.

“The quality of mercy is not strained, It dropped as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the plain beneath . . . . And earthly power doth then show like God's When mercy seasons justice.”
Shakespeare, “The Merchant of Venice"

Justice must be seasoned with mercy and compassion.

Compassion is utterly central to the teaching of Jesus. This is the ethical paradigm of the life of faithfulness to God, as we see it in Jesus. Jesus sums up theology and ethics in a very short saying (six words in English). It is found in Luke 6:36 with a parallel in Matthew 5:48.

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate.

It is so easy for us to forget compassion. Or it is easy to have compassion from afar. We can pray for and love the poor and oppressed, we can consider the life that brought someone else to a place of brokenness and have compassion on them but what about when it is in our own backyard? What about when it encroaches on our right to be comfortable?

We can only love mercy when we know we have received mercy. We can only understand that we have received mercy when we can not only accept that we are forgiven by God for the sins we have committed, but that we rely on his grace daily to forgive our very sin nature.

The most gracious people I know have recognized and confessed their sin nature and claim God’s grace.

When we understand that we have been made right with God not by our own goodness, rather by his own sacrifice. When we have come face to face with our ugly side, our sin nature, and our own capacity for evil and hatred….And know in our hearts that it has been made right by the blood of Christ that we can’t help but have compassion for others.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:8-10

This great passage doesn't end on the truth that we can't earn our salvation. Instead, it goes on to remind us that grace is God's way of working his artistry in us — we are his "workmanship." God's grace makes us new so that we can do something significant by his power to display his glorious grace to others. Put bluntly, grace is not just about saving us FROM the wrath of God, but it is also about saving us FOR God's purposes in the world.

God has prepared for us in advance good works for us to do. We are not saved by our works, but we are saved for good works…..We are not forgiven so that we may simply bask in the forgiveness of God and go on our own self centered way….Rather we are forgiven so that we develop a heart of gratitude and we desire to do God’s work.

The absence of compassion in one’s makeup is indicative of the absence of understanding of their own capacity for sin and evil. The absence of compassion is indicative of our own slavery to our natural sin nature.

So we recognize that the life that God would desire for us to live is a life of doing out of our being.
Live a life of doing out of your being

We do God’s work out of being saved and made right with God for his purposes. Doing God’s work comes from developing a heart and soul and mind that understands and applies God’s justice and mercy.

Finally, Micah tells us, walk humbly with your Lord.

Do Justice
Love Mercy
Walk humbly with your Lord

When we are doing justice and loving mercy then we are walking humbly with our God. When we are intent on ‘repairing the fabric of society where it is falling apart’ and acting ‘with equity, fairness and deference to those who are in a weaker social position’ then we are walking humbly with our God. This is in imitation of God. Jesus gave up His position in Heaven and stepped down and died the shameful and painful death of the cross to rescue us in our weaker spiritual position of sin. We have experienced grace and therefore we enter into the life of those who are in a weaker physical position of suffering and do justice and show mercy. This is walking humbly with our God. Our justice doesn’t lead to pride because we were in bondage in the sin of Egypt but now we are free by grace. So, we enter in to serve others not in a position of pride but of humility walking humbly with our God.

Get it from your head and your heart to your hands: What could it look like individually and corporately to live Micah 6:8?

We are not to live this way out of guilt, which won’t last very long. We lived this way because we have experienced grace. That is we want to live this way because of what Jesus has done for us.

Corporately, becoming a fellowship of followers of the Jesus way who do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly….Volunteering at the Mustard Seed, sponsoring a Compassion child, A corporate missions trip to a Compassion project, we cannot become corporate doers of justice until we become individual doers of justice.

Developing a heart of justice and mercy begins with the little things.

So what we need is individual’s in here to take the truth of God’s Word from their heads and their hearts and get it into their hands. We need people who truly believe that Worship without Justice is Hypocrisy. We need people who are not just ‘doing church’ and the rest of the week basically living for themselves.

Micah 6:8
“He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Get it from your head, to your heart to your hands.

Would others say I am a doer of justice, a lover of mercy, and a humble follower of Jesus?

If not, why not?

Grace call us to the Jesus lifestyle of making real differences in the world around us. This high and holy calling is what we've been remade by grace to do — God planned in advance as our role in this world. So let's be more than reminded; let's be changed. Like Newton and Wilberforce, let's recognize that God has great things for us to do by his powerful grace so that the world can see the church as Jesus in action in today's world.

Lets leave here today and choose to accept the Micah challenge.

Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly.
What do we offer God today?
This is my offering…….Bob Stenhouse


Anonymous Penny said...

You have quoted one of my favorites, from Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice.

Wonderful reading. Do you mind if I link to this posting?

11:15 AM  
Blogger Stew Carson said...

Go right ahead Penny. Spread the mesage fo the Micah Challenge!

11:23 AM  

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