Friday, October 26, 2012

Act justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly with God.

Micah 6:6-8 (NIV)

With what shall I come before the Lord
   and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
   with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
   with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
   the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has shown you, O mortal, 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.
Through the course of my life as a mainline Protestant Christian, different Bible verses have claimed a chief role in informing my reigning philosophy. Sometimes I have come across them on my own, sometimes a Sunday school teacher or youth leader brought them to my attention, occasionally with the full intent they hold sway over my pliable young mind.

Without citing chapter and verse, there are a few key phrases that trigger my mind and surely the minds of others who have a similar background:
  • “For God so love the world…”
  • “In the beginning was the word…”
  • “For I know the plans I have for you…”
  • “I can do all things through Christ who…”
  • “Put on the full armor of God…”
  • “The Lord is my shepherd…”
That’s just a half dozen off the top of my head. Surely there are more, and already as I start this paragraph I can think of a few others I could easily have included. As long as the list might get, it would not have included this passage from Micah until the last year or so. Somehow in all my exposure to church and the Bible and the all-star team of quotable verses, I’d missed Micah 6:8. I’m sure I heard and read it, but it never registered with my like it did until I heard a sermon based on the passage. I’m certain it was within the last three years, and I am nearly positive it’s been since Charlie was born. Why it never stuck before isn’t clear, but the reason it hit me hard when it finally did is because I heard the Word that day with the ears of a father.

Like so many other passages that become entrenched in my thoughts, this one speaks directly to me. Others offer encouragement or comfort, and then there are those, like this one, that clearly tell me what God expects of me: Act justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly with God. If ever anything was beautiful in its simplicity, it is these directives. Yet when I heard the passage that Sunday, and the sermon that followed, something clicked in my brain that these messages from God weren’t meant just for me, they were meant also for me to pass on to my children. And not just to teach them, but to live them myself and therefore teach by example.

The beauty of this verse is the open-ended nature of the question: “What does the Lord require of you?” It’s not what does God want from me in my marriage, what does God want from me as a parent, how does God want me to vote, where does God want me to work. It’s none of that because it’s all of that. What does God require of me always — every day, every scenario?

A person could act justly, love mercy and walk with humility without God in their life. In fact, if someone who wasn’t a Christian told me that was their personal philosophy, I’d probably assume they had a good grasp on practical matters and might very well be leading a good, worthy life. Yet I feel it’s only through God, and specifically the life and sacrifice of Jesus, that we can truly understand justice, mercy and humility. And I’m not sure we can realize the complete understanding while bound by human life.

As mentioned several times before, I’m not a theologian or minister or anything fancy like that. This probably isn’t the arena in which to delve into a full explanation of the way we learn justice, mercy and humility through Jesus. Suffice it to say there are clear reasons why I want to raise my children as believers and not just good people. When I began to understand what God did for me, simply because God created me and loved me and not because of anything I said or did or could do or say, my appreciation for life deepened and my ability to value close relationships expanded exponentially.

And when I was blessed with children — children I wanted because I felt the most important thing I personally could do with my life is try to raise another generation to do good in the world — I gained a new awareness for the responsibilities we have as humans to take care of each other, to think and act selflessly and to remember God always as the giver of all good things. And while I will do what I can to pass these lessons to my children, I know they’ll only really embrace these truths if they come to them on their own terms. And maybe they won’t ever see the world the way I do.

The one thing I can promise is they’ll never wonder where my heart lies, because I won’t let them go through life guessing about their dad. They deserve, and God demands, my honesty. I don’t intend to let down either of them.

A prayer for October 26:

Lord, thank you for speaking to me in so many different ways. Thank you also for letting me know the most important thing I can give you is myself, turning my life over to you who gave it, and caring for people the way you care for them. You call me to act justly and love mercy, and then show me exactly how you define those ideals. Help me teach those lessons to my children even as I struggle to learn them myself. And do not let me rise above humility in your presence. I am nothing if not yours God, and I am so glad you keep me grounded in this truth. Amen.

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