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‘In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans’ (Rom. 8:26).  That’s an enormously helpful verse if you’re interested in genuine communion with God.  The Spirit knows that we’re weak, that we struggle to pray and that we often don’t know what to pray—and his desire is to help us.  This means that we don’t need to pretend to be giants in prayer or make resolutions that are out of our league.  Since the Spirit knows our weakness, we can be real with our Father, accepting how babyish we are in our faith, and simply stammer out what’s on our hearts.  …Cry for help.  Don’t try to be impressive.

—Michael Reeves, Enjoy Your Prayer Life (Leyland: 10Publishing, 2014), 37.

While under Old Testament law the high priest would go into the presence of the Lord in the Holy of Holies on behalf of the rest of Israel, the Son takes us before his Father—and there the Spirit helps us.

—Michael Reeves, Enjoy Your Prayer Life (Leyland: 10Publishing, 2014), 27-28.  Emphasis in original.

To know you are a beloved child of God protects you from thinking of prayer as a ladder to God or an exercise by which you work your way into his favour.  Prayer doesn’t make you more accepted.  Instead, prayer is growing in appreciation of what you have been given.  It may be that your heart is cold, your love is weak and your prayers are shabby, but what matters is that, united to Christ and in him, you are a cherished son—and your Father delights to hear you.  Of course, with any other God we’d have to come in the strength of our own fervour; with this God we come in his.

—Michael Reeves, Enjoy Your Prayer Life (Leyland: 10Publishing, 2014), 26.  Emphasis in original.

Jesus’ prayers are not just significant because he’s praying on earth as the model human.  No, he’s also showing who, eternally, he is.  John tells us, ‘Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself’ (Jn. 5:19).  …For him, everything flows from his communion with his Father.  And so for eternity he has enjoyed communion with him and he has prayed to him.

The Son, then, is the first pray-er.  And the salvation he brings is a sharing of his own communion with his Father.  Prayer is learning to enjoy what Jesus has always enjoyed.

—Michael Reeves, Enjoy Your Prayer Life (Leyland: 10Publishing, 2014), 20-21.  Emphasis in original.

Dad, Christmas 1968

Dad, Christmas 1968

The Statler Brothers used to sing a song entitled, “More Like My Daddy Than Me,” about sitting at a high school athletic awards banquet, remembering what it was like to be one of the kids standing up front being honored, and the surprise of sitting out in the audience as a parent instead, looking and acting like his dad used to.

 

Over the last several years I’ve come to appreciate that song more, as I hear myself answer the phone or tease my kids and find my father’s words and tone coming from my lips, or the time I was smiling about an old Christmas photo of me sitting on the floor, knee tucked under my chin, only to realize that the picture was taken eleven years before I was born.

A few years ago, before we came to West Virginia, I was out clearing poison oak and other vines from the side of the house.   The work clothes I grabbed used to be Dad’s uniform at Cummins; the shirt has his nickname emblazoned on it (no one at work knew him as Dale; he was always just “Rowdy”).  As I tugged away at the vines, I started thinking about how many hours Dad has spent taking care of this same house.  He grew up helping his grandparents farm this land, and for the last almost thirty years that he has lived there he has done home and outbuilding repairs, cleared the fields for planting and harvesting, and done a little of just about everything imaginable.  For most of his thirty-five years as a machine repairman, Dad worked second shift.  That meant every morning he got up at 8:00, put in a full day’s work around the farm or elsewhere, and then cleaned up in time to work a shift or more at Cummins.  He generally got home a bit after midnight, went straight to bed, and was up the next morning to do it again.  He worked hard to provide for his family, and he worked hard to teach us kids how to work—no small feat in itself!

About a year before we moved, April’s and my roof had to be replaced; the shingles Dad and some friends from church had put on in 1988 finally wore out.  Despite the aches and pains that come from a lifetime of hard work, Dad cleared his schedule to help every day that I could work on it.  He cut and laid metal, invented a tractor loader-mounted scaffold system that would let us walk the steep parts of the roof, and in general made the job possible.  But then, for as long as I can remember Dad was always first in line to help neighbors, whether it was plowing snow, cutting firewood, or clearing storm damage.  He has a genuine gift for seeing and meeting the needs of others, though he prefers not to make a big deal about it.

Things are different these days, Thanksgiving 2015being a couple of states away.  Now the help comes more by phone, getting his input on what’s gone wrong with a vehicle, hearing the latest adventures on the farm, and looking forward to the next chance for him to teach his grandkids how to drive a tractor (we’ll work on plowing later).  But it’s rare for a week to go by without needing one or more of the lessons he has taught me.

Growing up in a relatively small town, it wasn’t uncommon for someone to ask who my family is.  Over the years I found what a privilege it is to be able to give the names of my parents and grandparents and to be told stories of them as dependable, hard-working people.  That’s a legacy to hold onto and to build on to.  It feels strange to wear my dad’s hand-me-down clothes and to see him staring back at me from the mirror; those are big shoes to fill.  But it’s also a pleasure and an honor to realize that I’m starting to be more like my daddy than me.  Happy Father’s Day, Dad.

An earlier version of this article was posted December 4, 2011.

In the previous post, we saw from Micah 6:1-8 that the Lord has made His requirements very clear.  When He says to do justice, to love kindness (faithfulness, mercy), and to walk humbly with our God, recognizing who He is and who we are, and so responding by a life that loves God and neighbor, He is commanding us to be like Himself.  But if there is no problem of clarity, there is still a greater problem: we haven’t done it.

The Problem: We aren’t like God (6:9-7:6).

The problem is, all of us know better than we do.  Micah warns his hearers and us: Don’t ask God to agree with sin!  Does the fact that so far the wicked have survived and prospered mean the Lord doesn’t mind sin, after all?  Can God pretend fraud is okay?  Because fraud and lies are everywhere.  But no; judgment is falling, and none will escape!  Why?  Because they’ve been walking with the wicked kings Omri and Ahab, rather than “walking humbly with your God” (6:9-16).

In the meantime, looking for a godly person is like being a farmer with no crop (7:1-2).  As Titus 3:3 puts it, they are hateful and hating one another.  “Concerning evil, both hands do it well” (v. 3a)—when it comes to sin, they’re ambidextrous!  Everyone’s a crook, out for his or her own gain (v. 3b).  The most trustworthy are still sharp and vicious—trust no one (v. 4)!  You can’t even trust your closest friends and relatives (v. 5-6; cf. Matt. 10:34-39, which quotes Micah).  Have you ever been betrayed by someone so close?

Have you ever been the betrayer?

We tend to read this and identify with the oppressed and mistreated, remembering the times we’ve been hurt.  But remember Romans 3, where Paul takes a selection of the psalms talking about the worst enemies of God and His people—and says they’re about all of us (see especially Rom. 3:9-18).  If we’re honest, we’re no strangers to looking out for Number One, to talking about others behind their backs, to running over others to get what we want most.  Left to ourselves, Micah 7 is talking about us.

But what about those who haven’t heard the gospel?  What about those who haven’t read Micah 6:8, and don’t know to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with their God?  There isn’t enough space here to answer in detail, but take some time to read and consider Romans 1 and 2.  To summarize those chapters, none of us has obeyed to the extent that we know to do.  All of us have an inborn sense at some level that we owe our Maker our love and obedience—but we run from that knowledge, and instead worship other things, whether official gods or just our own appetites (Rom. 1:18-32).  Those who have received God’s written word know this—but they’ve still disobeyed and are guilty (Rom. 2:1-13).  But those who haven’t heard that written word still have a conscience—but have gone against it are and guilty (Rom. 2:14-16).  How old were we the first time we said, “I know I shouldn’t do this, but…I’m going to do it anyway”?

The standard is clear: be like God.  But we aren’t, and we haven’t really tried to be.  So what do we do?  Where do we turn?

The Solution: Look to the incomparable LORD who judges and forgives (7:7-20).

Instead of looking to family and friends (v. 5-6), we look to the God who saves and hears and raises and brings us into light.  That doesn’t mean we don’t care what those we love do to us; it does mean our hope is in Christ in such a way that when people fail—or even betray—our world isn’t shattered.  Rather than hiding and protecting our sin, when we look to Christ we will confess our sin, and it will be forgiven (v. 9).  If we’re in Christ, when we sin, we will be disciplined—but not forever, because “the LORD pleads [our] case and executes justice for [us],” rather than against us (remember 6:1-2?).

And as He rescues His people, the Lord will bring shame on those who have mocked, desolation on those who once brought desolation (v. 10, 13).  “Where is your God” (v. 10; cf. Ps 42)?  With His people—forever.

But it is not only a day of judgment as the Lord acts, but also a day of building and gathering—all kinds of people (v. 11-12).  People will swarm from Assyria to Egypt, from Egypt to the Euphrates—from one fullest extreme of the Land to the other and back again.  They come from sea to sea, from mountain to mountain—everywhere.  That could just mean that He is gathering Israel from places of captivity; Micah’s first readers probably took it that way.  But the New Testament shows a bigger picture (and so does 4:2)!  We see Assyrians and Egyptians and Greeks and Romans and Nazis and us being brought into the kingdom of Christ.  Oppressors become the remnant, wolves become sheep.

Because the Lord will shepherd His people (yes, really).  Micah prays: Lord, shepherd Your flock, like You did before (and like You promised in chapters 2, 4, and 5).  Back when You gave Your people peace and made them lie down in green pastures.  Back when Bashan and Gilead were beautiful, hilltop farmlands, rather than Assyrian-occupied war zones.  Back in “days of old” (same Hebrew as 5:2, here pointing clear back to Exodus and Joshua).

And the Lord replies: Oh, yes, I will shepherd you again, just like I did in Egypt, with signs and wonders that will awe the nations (v. 15-17).  I will again deliver you by a dying Lamb’s blood smeared on wood.  I will again deliver you from slavery, feed and guide you step by step.  I will again bring you into a Promised Land that you’re not strong enough to claim.  The nations will be silenced—and so will the serpent (cf. v. 17) that inspires their rage against Israel and Israel’s King.

So look at this Lord (v. 18-20)!  Other, fake gods were said to be incomparable because of their supposed strength or valor.  But this God not only calls everything out of nothingness, not only defeats all enemies, but He forgives like no other God!  He “passes over the rebellious act of the remnant of His possession”—just as He passed over the Israelites in Egypt.  How can He do that?

Because, as 6:7 put it, this Lord really has given His firstborn for our rebellious acts, His only Son for the sin of our souls!  And this Son is the only one who has truly and perfectly done justice, and perfectly loved faithful lovingkindness, and perfectly walked in humble wisdom with His Father—and at the cost of His broken body and poured-out blood we are forgiven!

And so “He delights in unchanging love” (v. 18)—the hesed kindness of 6:8—and will again have compassion.  “He will tread our iniquities under foot”—like Israel threshing enemies (4:13), like a Son of woman crushing a serpent under His heel (Gen 3:15), He will crush our sins into nothingness.  He “will cast all [our] sins into the depths of the sea”—just as He did with Pharaoh’s enslaving army.  Sin won’t be allowed to hold onto us—it is no longer our master.  He has kept every promise, and will keep every promise.  So look to this justice-doing, faithfully loving, all-wise Lord, who kills sin and saves sinners!

The audio of this sermon, which was preached at Grace Chapel Baptist Church, Kingwood, on Sunday, February 7, 2016, may be listened to below, or it may be downloaded by right-clicking and “Save Link As” here.  The rest of Micah may be found via the links below:

Micah 1-2
Micah 3:1-4:8
Micah 4:9-5:15

How often do we get frustrated in life because we aren’t sure what we’re supposed to be doing?  If you get to play board games with a child (and some adults), isn’t amazing how often the rules change?  How do you feel if your boss keeps changing his mind about what your priorities ought to be?  “Why are you working on the project I gave you yesterday?  I want you to do this one instead!”  It’s hard to please anyone if you have to guess what they want, and especially if they play hard to get.

Is God like that?  Has God left us to figure out what He wants, with a high penalty if we fail to read His mind?  Some have accused Him of this: “You mean that someone who’s never heard of Jesus would be sent to hell for not believing in Jesus?  How is that fair?”  For others, and especially for some Christians, it’s more a fear of missing God’s will in the moment: “What if God wanted me to go to that school instead of this one?  What if I marry the wrong person?”

So the question is, “How can I please God?”  And thankfully, He hasn’t left us to guess.

Remember, Micah’s prophecy is written in three cycles, presenting the same themes from three different angles.  Each cycle begins with promised judgment against those who fight against God, and then moves to hope of redemption for the believing remnant.  In the first cycle, the Lord promised that He is coming to judge evil and to gather His people (Micah 1-2).  In the second, we were pointed to Jesus, the perfect King and Teacher (3:1-4:8), and called to trust this perfect King in every circumstance (4:9-5:15).  And in this last cycle, we begin with a summons to the courtroom, where we learn God’s requirement (6:1-8), our problem (6:9-7:6), and God’s solution (7:7-20).

The Requirement: Be like God (Micah 6:1-8).

As the chapter opens, we have the prosecutor, Micah, appointed to bring charges and speak for God (6:1).  The mountains—the land itself—will be the judge and jury (v. 2), and the Lord Himself is the plaintiff, bringing His case against His people.  But notice how He opens: He invites—dares—Israel to take the role of accuser instead (v. 3-5).  “I’m so sorry for mistreating you by rescuing you out of slavery and oppression!  Do you remember when I hand-picked leaders to bring you out of Egypt?  Remember when Balak wanted to destroy you, and I wouldn’t let him?  Remember how I took you from Shittim to Gilgal, crossing the flooded Jordan on dry ground?  Now, why was it you decided you needed better gods?  What was it I did to you?”

Obviously, Israel has no charges to press.  Instead, they have a question: What does God want from them?  We might be inclined to ask the same questions: Shall I make sacrifices?  Bring burnt offerings and calves?  Pay my dues (v. 6)?

Shall I make extraordinary sacrifices?  Vast herds of irreplaceable livestock, washed down with raging torrents of valuable olive oil?  Give ‘til it hurts—or even bankrupts—to show how serious I am (v. 7a)?

Shall I make heart-rending, unfathomable sacrifices—even my firstborn child?  Will that make up for my sin?  Will that show how sorry I am?  Will that get God’s attention?  Do I know God is happy with me by counting how many tears I’ve shed (v. 7b)?

The question sounds pious enough, but there are two really big problems with it.  First, it’s insulting.  They look at God’s astonishing kindness and faithfulness and reach for their wallets.  “Okay, that’s one ‘brought us out of Egypt’ special, forty years of manna, a few dozen enemy kings…what’s the total?”  They’ve seen judges, prophets, and priests can be bought (c. 3)—so what’s God’s price?  Sometimes we imagine that we can impress God—or at least pacify Him.  What’s the bare minimum to make God okay with me—and are bonus points available?  The question asks, “How can I repay Him?” and waits for an answer.

But second, the question has already been answered.  “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?” (v. 8).  It isn’t that God had changed His mind about the sacrificial system He had commanded through Moses, but there’s something else He wants more (see 1 Sam. 15:22-23, Ps. 51:16-19, and Amos 5:21-24, among others).  He doesn’t want people who think they can pay their obligations and then do as they wish; he wants people who increasingly look like Him.

Micah 6:8 gives three characteristics that God requires.  First, “To do justice”—to do what lines up with what God says is right.  It is the opposite of the wealthy schemers of chapter 2, and the crooked judges of chapter 3.  To do justice means to oppose evil and love what is good.  It means standing up for the weak and helpless—born or not yet born.  It means opposing systematic mistreatment of groups of people based on economics or where they’re from or what they look like.  It means refusing to turn a blind eye when something’s not right.

And who teaches us what justice looks like?  We look to Jesus, who is angry with the uncaring men who want to use a man’s withered arm to discredit Jesus, and so proceeds to heal him on the Sabbath (Mark 3:5), and who takes the side of widows against those who would rob them under a cover of religious-sounding words (Mark 12:38-40).  Because Jesus’s character is the very definition of what is just and right, we follow His lead.

Second, God demands that we “love kindness.”  Other translations render it “to love mercy,” or “to love faithfulness.”  The Hebrew is hesed—faithful, covenant-keeping love, like Ruth to Naomi, like David and Jonathan, but especially like the Lord to Israel.  To love hesed means to keep our word—we will be faithful to our promises.  It means we won’t just tell others not to harm the weak, but we will actively benefit them.  That doesn’t mean we have to favor any one specific program, government or otherwise; we may disagree about the wisest approach to caring for the weak and poor.  It does mean that we look to do good toward those who can’t pay us back—just as Christ has generously come to our rescue.  It means that we don’t just oppose abortion (though we do), but also look to care for unexpected children and their (often overwhelmed) parents.  We are called to reflect God’s faithful, loving mercy, just as Jesus did at every moment.

And third, the Lord requires us “to walk humbly with your God.”  The word here is not the usual word for humility.  It’s more the idea of walking wisely, thinking through what we do.  If we recognize who we are in relation to God, we will pay attention to how we live.  Knowing that we will give account, “we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him” (2 Cor. 5:9).  In other words, Micah says that what God requires is for us to love God (ordering our life in relation to who He has made us to be) and to love neighbor (dealing with others with the same kind of justice and kindness that God has shown to us).  Some of the rabbis of Jesus’s day and before recognized that this summarizes the law given to Moses.  But how much more, when we see Christ Himself perfectly living out this law, fulfilling its every requirement!  Again, Jesus’s example perfectly defines this wise, humble walk.

So now we know—what God demands from us is that we be like Him.  And He hasn’t changed His mind (see 1 Pet. 1:13-19, for example).  There’s just one problem, to which we’ll turn in the next post.

In the meantime, the audio of this sermon, which was preached at Grace Chapel Baptist Church, Kingwood, on Sunday, February 7, 2016, may be listened to below, or it may be downloaded by right-clicking and “Save Link As” here.