Monday, January 21, 2013

Day Twenty-One: Mercy

The WORD of the Day:

"He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?" 

--Micah 6:8

Let Me Give You a Lift:

This is one of my favorite verses in the entire Bible.  If you'll remember from Day Eight, the prophet Micah's name means "Who is like Yahweh?" and he is known as the prophet of authentic service and worship.  If anyone can boil down what God wants from man to its most basic parts, it is Micah.  

In the verses preceding the one above, Micah is having a rhetorical dialogue about what pleases God:

With what shall I come before the Lord,
    and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
    with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
    with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
    the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

Micah's question here is simple: is there anything so grand in my possession that I could give it and please God, despite my ungodly actions? Without having to give my heart to Him?  The people living all around the Israelites at the time were polytheistic, and their worship involved great shows of sacrifice.  But Micah tells God's people that God doesn't need the big parade, and in fact it is quite silly because everything we have is given by God.  To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, offering God our possessions is a bit like a child asking his father for money to buy the father a birthday present.  The father may delight in receiving a gift from the child, but the giving of the gift does not actually give the father anything that was not already his.

Don’t misunderstand me, giving (of money, our time, and so forth) is important. But giving is not the point, giving is the byproduct. Let me offer explanation by way of breaking down Micah’s message:

First, Micah tells his readers that they know what is good, having been shown by God.  This is similar to what Paul tells Timothy about being “thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Next, Micah breaks what is “good” down into three categories:

Do justly.  In the Jewish culture, this would not necessarily refer to justice in the way we think of it.  Rather than laws and courts, this statement would evoke the idea of living in a just manner; treating others fairly. It means loving people, being a friend to others, even when they do not deserve it.

Love mercy.  This idea of mercy is similar to charity.  It evokes the idea of being a servant to other people when they are in need.

Walk humbly with God. This is perhaps the simplest, but also the most profound of the three statements, in that a humble walk with God is internal.  It is between one person and their God.  Others may see it reflected in action, but the primary beneficiary of such a walk with God is the individual doing the walking.  This means humbling ourselves so that God can exalt us.  It means accepting God’s grace and letting it work on our lives.

See how giving in everything else is really a byproduct of giving ourselves to God? In James chapter 1, the author (the half-brother of Jesus) says this:
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
And the apostle Paul, talking to the Galatians about how to conduct themselves in their everyday lives says this:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control; against such things there is no law.
There are many places in the New Testament where Jesus’ followers hearken back to this concept first outlined by Micah: How can we be sure that we are pleasing God in our everyday lives? Do justly. Love mercy. And walk humbly with Him.

Give it a Listen:

Today’s song is by Tenth Avenue North and it is called “By Your Side,” another favorite of mine. The song is about how God will never leave us, so it actually could have gone very well with yesterday’s note.  But I put it with today’s because of the video. TAN did their video in partnership with the Billy Graham Rapid Response Unit.  Now, the name Billy Graham means different things to different people; ignore that for a moment.

The Rapid Response Unit puts together volunteers and supplies and sends them to places hit by natural catastrophes to try and help minister to people (both physical needs, and spiritual needs). The video is a good illustration of how doing good for people really does glorify God and bring people closer to Him.

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