Wednesday, October 21, 2009


So, last Sunday, the preacher got around to answering the very important question, the most essential question, "What does God require?"

I grew up in a religious tradition that made an awful lot out of that question. 

Most of the answers that were found and "fed" to us had to do with matters related to church stuff--religious jargon, patterns, practices and ritual.  Sort of like what may be back of the billboards I've seen around town touting one congregation as "a church you can believe in." 

My heritage was like that.  We wanted to be in the right church and most of our belief system orbited around matters of church and organized religion and established traditions.

See, we were very concerned to understand what was required so that we could "get it right," especially in the church.

But, on last Sunday, the preacher messed with my mind. 

He stirred up all the assumptions of my childhood. 

He whacked me bad, I'm telling you! 

Oughta be a law against it, I tell you! 

So, then on Monday, I have lunch with a buddy who also attends the same church. 

He's messed up too! 

"Larry, I got stuck on the Bible reading and couldn't get off of it.  I locked in and my mind rolled!" he confessed. 

He grew up in the same heritage.

"What does the Lord require of you?"

There it was in black and white, right off the page of the pew Bible and into my head and heart. 

Oh, man, this is gonna be good! 

Here comes the answer, we both thought! 

Then, he messed with us. . .I mean, the Bible messed with us. . .well, both of 'em messed with us!

"To do justice!"

Uh, oh.

To act today to see that fairness, equity and practical, earth-related righteousness wins and is established as "standard operating procedure" wherever I find myself. 

It's on me.

Oh, my!

"To love mercy."

Hit me again!

To really love, enjoy, even dance in forgiving and overlooking the mess-ups of others, especially the sure-enough-guilty!  To get a charge out of extending grace to those who don't deserve anything but punishment and disdain and rotten comments on blog pages!


And finally, "to walk humbly with your God."

In other words, don't go around bragging when you occassionaly satisfy the first two requirements!

Help me, Lord! 


My buddy at lunch commented that such was a pretty good rule for life.

I agreed.

In fact, it is the only rule.  The one certain requirement.

How have we strayed so far away?


Chris said...

It's a misinterpretation of scripture to imply that this is the only requirment of the Israelites, or anyone else for that matter. Micah did not repeal the institution of sacrifice of which the Israelites were reminded regularly.

Larry James said...

Sorry, Chris, but it is not a misinterpretation of scripture to note that persons who did not meet this basic, universal, first requirement by their inaction or misdeeds relative to these primarly matters, rendered their sacrifices ineffective, useless and empty. So it is today with all worship, church life and religion that does not lead us in the humble pathway of justice and mercy. Read the context of Micah 6:6-8 and you'll hear the prophet say the very samething, as do many others, including Jesus.

rcorum said...

I grew up and am still a part of that same faith tradition. In 1968 we should have been on the front lines of the struggle for the sanitation workers in Memphis where I lived. I think today we are trying to a better job at making Micah 6:6-8 more of a reality in our lives and churches, but I often feel like we are about 40 years too late, and are still not where we need to be.

Chris said...

Larry, you said it was the ONLY rule which it clearly is not and leaves a false impression.

Daniel said...

Chris, it is the ONLY rule. All of the OT law was simply an explicit attempt to get Israel to do those three things. If you look at the intent of the law, it was to lead God's people act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.

Sacrifice was not an end in itself -- it was attempt to show consequences of sin and the need for God's justice and mercy. The law is consummated in two commands: love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself.

Daniel said...

P.S. If you want to see how important religious ritual and observance was to God, I highly recommend a reading of Isaiah 58.

Chris said...

In regard to Micah 6:8, Dr. Burton Coffman said the following:

"this verse is often misinterpreted to mean merely "doing good to one's fellow human beings" ; and while God's true religion certainly does include that, it is a satanic error to proclaim that, "Nothing more is needed."
Commentary on Micah, page 361

Daniel said...

"doing good" is not what Micah is talking about. We have enough "do-gooders". What God needs is people who ACT justly, LOVE mercy, and WALK humbly with God.

Chris said...

It seems to me that doing good implies justice and mercy.

Anonymous said...

Chris and Larry:

Yes, Chris, you are correct, insofar as 'doing justice, loving mercy, walking humbly before God', in and of themselves, are NOT the only rule for life. As I believe, and I suppose you as well, one must be born-again to enter into the Kingdom of God, via the process outlined in Romans 10:9-10. One can do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before God and NEVER have a personal relationship with God.


Based on the tenor of his posts and comments over time, plus meeting and talking with him in person, I believe that what Larry is saying is that, AFTER one enters into a relationship with God through Christ, the point is to act justly, render justice, be merciful, give mercy, and be humble before, and walk humbly under, God. As Scripture says, "Obedience is BETTER than sacrifice" (I Samuel 15:22-23 and, basically, Isaiah 1:10-20).

Although we are called to sacrifice our bodies and selves (Romans 12:1-3 and etc.) to God, our own sacrifices can never take away our sin. Only Christ Jesus' sacrifice could ever do that. I think one part of Larry's point, both here and throughout the past year and beyond, is that oftentimes we get so caught up in obeying the so-called rules of church life, both inside and outside of the local church, that we forget that God calls us to something more profound. One can go to church every Sunday for an entire lifetime, doing everyting 'right' (read the Bible every day, pray, wear a suit and tie to worship, etc.) and NEVER have a personal relationship with God, let alone with His kingdom.

Worse yet, and I think Larry would agree with me, we can be born-again believers and completely ignore the systemic injustices in the world. (White evangelical American Christians tend to fall into this category, as we seem to inevitably be more focused on winning souls to Christ than on "making disciples." Being the dominant/domineering racial and cultural force in the country has, I believe, allowed us the luxury of this focus and worldview...)

To condense and summarize both of your points, in non-technical language: a person can and should open the garage door and go down the driveway, but that still doesn't make him or her a car.

I wish, hope, and pray that the two of you, Chris and Larry, can meet sometime for lunch, soon! 'Better idea - I'll treat!

God bless everyone here...

Geoff Whitcomb

Chris said...


I couldn't have said it better myself!


Anonymous said...

Since no less than Jesus said that loving God and loving your neighbor summed up the law and the prophets, I think it is fair to read this passage about doing justice and loving mercy and walking humbly with God in the same way. After all, who are you being just and merciful to? Your fellow man. So they say much the same thing. Is saying its the "only" rule really any different from saying something "sums up" everything else?

Chris, it is such numbing literalism and dissecting of everything that so turns people off. Just try to listen to the message without automatically picking it apart. I noticed you did not say a word about justice or mercy - just dissected and tore down.

I think the whole point of the passage is, as Larry suggests, to stop us in our tracks and make us think, something the outward forms of religion have oddly often kept people in all times and places from doing.

As our preacher said just last Sunday, "being in church doesn't make you a Christian any more than being in a garage makes you a car." So we need to be constantly reminded of what it does mean to be a Christian - mercy, justice, love, hope, faith. Passages like these are a great reminder of what really matters and don't really require a word by word exposition if you have any significant background in the Bible.


Anonymous said...

BTW, re: "a church you can believe in" billboards:

I likeour preacher's comment about these a couple of weeks ago. He said after 35 years in the church, he didn't see how anyone could "believe" in any church. As a preacher he just knew too much of what was wrong. Rather, he could only "believe" in the One to whom the church points.


Daniel said...

It is easy to DISCUSS justice in all its nuances and implications. However, it is an entirely different thing to ACT justly. God calls his people to ACT, not simply discuss the merits of justice.

Cody said...

Thanks, Larry, for the post. The sentiment is close to my heart and it is good to read words from someone of like mind. I reckon that if all I did with the rest of my life is to try to live into that requirement, or the one made by Jesus (treat others the way I would have them treat me) I would still have something to learn. Yet, I get told over and again that I need to do this or do that to be in line with God's Will or The Church. I think I'll take Jesus' words, try to live them into my life and let the cards fall where they may.

Larry James said...

chris, I'm ready to buy you lunch whenever you are next in Dallas! Let me know.

Chris said...

Sure thing, Larry. Thanks

Steve said...

Do you remember the Rick Warren interviews with Obama and McCain?

When asked what your Christian position means to you, this is the verse Obama quoted.

I remember there being some negative reaction to this among evangelical Christians.

Leslie said...

I think we debate something so simple because we'd rather talk about it than "Do It". This is a trick of the enemy to keep. He who has ears let him hear, the rest debate.

Leslie said...

oops, typo.
I meant to say..."this is a trick of the enemy to keep us distracted."

Anonymous said...

Amen, Leslie. We shake our heads at Medieval scholars debating "how many angels can dance on the head of a pin," but can't pull the log from our own eye.