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A Sermon Given 1/16/2010 at the Alafia River Rendezvous Church Service

powder_hornsI was enjoying my local conservative newspaper one evening and the front page was filled with complaints about our government. Some of the complaints were:

  • Refusing to bring forward laws, those which were most beneficial and necessary for our own good;
  • Our States were being forbidden to pass important laws unless they first suspended their activities until permission could be obtained; unfortunately, those same leaders were withholding permission; and
  • There was my favorite complaint, a multitude of new offices were being created, and those very representatives were being sent to harass us and take away our very economic existence.

The articles I read went on to say that no matter how much we were asking for relief, even in the most humble of terms, what we got back was more oppression. Yes, the editorials stated that we were being led by someone whose character was marked by behavior that might actually define a tyrant, and questioned as to whether any of our leaders were even fit to govern a free people.

Now this could have been this morning’s paper but it was actually taken directly out of the Declaration of Independence. Those are some of the very complaints our ancestors had with the leaders of the 18th century. You might want to ask yourself, why are we still, some 235 years later, complaining about the same things? Why after all of the sacrifice, suffering and history, are the people of this nation failing to solve the most basic problems within its government? Is human nature so corrupt that there is no hope for us?

Today, I have good news; our great God actually gave us the road map to a better world. It was written down around 750 BC, during the time of Isaiah in what we know today as the Book of Micah. So who is Micah you might ask? Well, we don’t know much about him. His name means “one who is like God.” He lived during a time when the people of Israel had abandoned God. Idolatry and abhorrent lifestyles were prevalent among the people. The rich took advantage of the poor and the Laws of God were being rejected. Micah came out and warned that the lands and the people’s freedom would be lost unless they changed. The people were religious alright, but it was an empty ceremonialism. Religion had become a matter of form; ceremonial observances were thought to be enough. There was an attitude that as long as the external acts of worship were performed, the people were entitled to God’s divine favor and protection. The people had replaced heartfelt worship with empty rituals, thinking that this is all God demands. They had divorced God’s standards of justice from their daily dealings in order to cover their unscrupulous practices. Unfortunately, the people rejected Micah’s message from God and Micah’s prophesy was fulfilled. Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC and again by the Romans in 70 AD and yet again in 135 AD. Frightening isn’t it, they lost their freedom for almost 900 years by not listening to their God.

Our times are again sounding similar and unless we put our knowledge of history to use, we could repeat those same mistakes, mistakes that could be fatal to our freedom and the freedom of generations to come. So I chose for today, our Scripture passage from the Book of Micah, where he was asking God what they should do in order to get back on His good side. I read from Micah 6:6-8: 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. Micah is asking God, what do you want us to do? This is a very personal question too and it may be the greatest question any human can ask God, what do you want of me?

Micah starts off by first asking God do you want me to give You really important sacrifices, “like my best calf?” Back then, families kept a fatted calf, to be used for that special occasion. You remember the story about the Prodigal Son and how his father was so happy for his son’s return that he threw a banquet, serving their “fatted calf.” Families would not have given their calf up easily.

Micah also asks, will it take gifts so great that they are impossible to comprehend, “like thousands of rams or ten thousand rivers of olive oil?” Here Micah is really asking whether God wants the impossible from us. No one would have had thousands of rams and one river of olive oil would have been hard enough to comprehend but 10,000 rivers?

Micah again asks, “God, do you want me to give up the most valuable thing I might cherish, my first born child?” While we would love all of our children equally, in Micah’s time, it was the first born child who would be granted all of the legal rights as heir to an estate. The first born assured that the legacy of a person would continue to the next generation. A first born child might very well have been the most difficult to ever give up.

God answers Micah back by saying; “I don’t want any of those things.” Here is what I want of you: “Act Justly, Love Mercy and Walk Humbly with Me.” Pretty amazing isn’t it. The question of all times, what does God want of us and the answer is just three basic things that anyone can do. Well, let’s take a closer look at what God wants from of each of us and see if we really did those three things, would we have a better world. If we chose leaders that did those three things, would we have a better country? If our country did those three things, would we assure freedom for ourselves and our children?

I first need to draw your attention to the way God’s answer is worded. It is stated with three action verbs, act, love and walk. There is no free pass here, no way to avoid effort on our part. God is emphatic that we must take an active role in changing ourselves as well as changing this world. God is calling to everyone — do something!

For any of us to act justly, we must give everyone that which is due to them. God’s commands, however, do not demand justice. God commands us to act in a just manner meaning we are not to give others “what is due them” in our own eyes, but “what is due them” according to God’s eyes. To act justly, we need know God’s Law well enough to understand our Master’s perspective on justice. Jesus tells us that we are to “love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” 1 So justice must be delivered through loving eyes, just like God’s. Jesus adds a second commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 2 Strange, isn’t it justice and love working together.

So justice then, is to be compassionate and fair. And we must conclude that the only difference between justice and vengeance may be the love of God. There is no place that we can see this more clearly than in the death of Christ. The Romans and Jews killed Christ for vengeance but Christ’s death for mankind’s sins was history’s greatest act of justice. In an act of supreme love for us, justice for sin was satisfied for all.

And now we have this concept of love again, we are to love mercy. God was telling Micah that while He realized mankind may come to know that justice is necessary, justice can be cold and unfeeling. So to act justly alone is not sufficient; we must also love mercy and do what mercy requires us to do. Mercy comes from characteristics that include kindness, benevolence, and charity. Part of what mercy requires is to be willing to forgive others as God is willing to forgive us. It is this very aspect of mercy through which our own salvation comes, not because of the good things we have done, but because of God’s unconditional mercy. 3 To be merciful is to help someone when they are not deserving of help.

And lastly, God calls us to walk humbly with Him. It helps if we first acknowledge that we are sinful people, separated from God but willing to acknowledge God’s own mercy. It is only through a humbling of ourselves that we will be allowed to walk with God. “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 4 The Apostle Paul points out that it is self-focused pride that leads to unbelief and lack of faith 5. The humble attitude required by the Lord will always show itself through a life of prayer, repentance, and service. Just a quick note here: to be repentant is not only to be sorry but to change direction, something necessary if we are to walk WITH God. God chooses the path, we follow Him.

Are there any of us that have not reached out to our God in prayer and petition and asked for a favor? And how many of us have wondered, God, do you hear me? Why don’t you answer? Well, there is an amazing benefit that comes from humility. To fully comprehend this, I need to tell you a little about Moses.

Moses had every opportunity to boast about his many accomplishments. Instead, he never forgot his faith as he led the people of Israel out of Egypt. Of all the character traits of Moses, the Bible cites only one: his humility. In the Book of Numbers 6, we are told that “The man, Moses, was exceedingly humble, more than any person on the face of the earth.” So how are we sure? Well, God used Moses to lead 2 million people out of captivity to the Promised Land. God spoke to Moses face to face and as a friend. Moses was humble enough to always notice when God was close.

We know that humility born of a deep respect for God was a large reason for this honor given to Moses 7. God cared so much for Moses that He even wrote down in stone, the exact commandments to follow. Wouldn’t it be great if you could receive answers direct from God and in writing too? What perfect humility brought Moses was perfect communications with His God. Think about that, the ability to know when God is near you and to hear God when He speaks to you. Now that my brothers and sisters is a worthy pursuit.

Moses also listened to the counsel of other wise men and shared leadership instead of drawing all of the glory to himself. God used Moses to write the first five books of the Old Testament. The opportunities given to Moses during his first 40 years were all orchestrated by an influential God. His training in the wilderness was provided by a faithful God. And Israel’s journey to the Promised Land was guided by a patient God. Yes, Moses understood that it was by God’s grace that he became the person he was 8. And the good news is that same opportunity for perfect communication with God is available to us. A lot of Moses’ humility came through hindsight. Moses frequently looked back and saw all the years God worked with him, even though, at times, he wasn’t aware of it.

As lovers of history, each of you share that same hindsight gleaned by Moses. Just think back of the journey of our ancestors who stepped out in faith, fought, died and persevered to give each of us the freedom we enjoy today. You are the people who know best that it was not chance alone that our great country was created but through divine providence and the hand of a loving God that we are a free people. Like looking at the backside of tapestry, Moses at first could not see the purpose for all that had happened to him, but when the tapestry was turned over, he could clearly see the greatness and mercy of God in his life. Moses learned that when God is involved, all things work together for good 9.

At the end of his life, Moses’ own words state why he and all people should obey God. In Deuteronomy 10 he said, “Therefore know this day, and consider it in your heart, that the LORD Himself is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other. You shall therefore keep His statutes and His commandments which I command you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may prolong your days in the land which the LORD your God is giving you for all time.”

What Moses said so eloquently is lived-out by following the prophet Micah’s teaching. The verses in Micah are my favorite Bible verses and I think of them daily as I reflect on the graciousness of my God. One day I was reading a story about our 18th century forefathers and how they would sit by their fires in winter camp and carve maps, pictures and sometimes Bible verses on their power horns, making a pictorial history of their life. I could not think of anything more important than a good horn and dry powder during the formation of our great country. So that is why I chose to scrimshaw Micah 6:8 on my horn. Like my forefathers did, my horn is my constant reminder of God’s answer to the question I have always pondered: God, what do you want me to tell the people you bring into my life? And God’s answer to me is to tell all of you to act justly in all you do, to love mercy and, like Moses, to walk humbly with your God everywhere you go.

Now, be strong and of good courage, do not fear or be afraid of anything; for the LORD your God goes with you this week and He will not ever leave you or forsake you.

Notes:

  1. Mark 12:28-30
  2. Mark 12:31
  3. Titus 3:5
  4. 1 Peter 5:5
  5. Romans 11:20; 12:3
  6. Numbers 12:3
  7. Isaiah 57:15; 66:2
  8. 1 Corinthians 15:10
  9. Romans 8:28
  10. Deuteronomy 4:39-40
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