We’ve all heard of people who talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. And I would venture to say that, in most cases, we much prefer those who strive to make their actions line up with their words. As Christians, we are reminded time and time again, by scripture itself, some of our most beloved leaders, and even non-Christians that our behavior matters.
The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians: who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable. – Brennan Manning
When we Christians behave badly, or fail to behave well, we are making Christianity unbelievable to the outside world. – C.S. Lewis
Jesus is ideal and wonderful, but you Christians, you are not like Him. – Bara Dada
I definitely have a “talk.” I’ll be the first to champion community, simplicity, and justice with my words, but also the first to duck out of a church event without helping clean up because I’m tired. “Don’t they know I need my rest? I have to get up and go to work tomorrow. And I’m an introvert. I’m clearly exhausted.” I can simultaneously bemoan the fate of others while pulling up a new browser tab to eye new outdoor lounge chairs and an authentic leather backpack. I literally did so this morning. Where is my “walk”?
Within the last couple of weeks I’ve written about intention. That good actions born of a poor motive are empty. I believe this still. And yet, I also believe that “faith without works is dead.” Our motives are not enough. Our beliefs are not enough. Our words are not enough. And yet, holiness is hard. I have, on more than one occasion, heard a Christian utter “I’m not Jesus” when faced with a sin in need of repentance and change or an action that is right, but hard. We’re called to “be holy as He is holy.” But that is an ever-moving goal post, a lifestyle we can never fully achieve. Why try?
Micah prophesied to the Israelites in the late 700s BC (around 735 BC or later). During his lifetime, he witnessed the ascension of the last king of Israel (Hoshea) and prophesied of the destruction of Jerusalem, which would occur 200 years later at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar II. Within his words, we find the denouncement of idols, prostitution, dirty money, corrupt power, oppressors, and more. The wicked deeds of those who claimed to be God’s people did not go unnoticed or unaddressed. In chapter 6, Micah presents an alternative to the lifestyle the Israelites were leading. Similar to Jesus’ response when asked to identify the greatest commandment, Micah’s suggestion is rather simple:
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
As teachers, we are met with challenges each and every day, most of which stem from human relationships. Whether it is our interactions with administrators, colleagues, or students, each new day that greets us grants us an opportunity to live out Micah’s suggestion and Jesus’s commandment. We can fight for the oppressed, love others with kindness, and lay down our own selfish needs to walk in God’s ways. However, teaching is a stressful, hurried profession. Likewise, life is getting only more stressful and more rushed. And in my own personal experiences, living like Jesus is even more difficult when my posture is frazzled and filled with comeuppances, complaints, and self-centeredness. How then do we posture ourself to the way of life championed by Micah?
In 1 Peter, the author calls us to holiness. Holiness, it can be well argued, is focused largely on the attributes of Micah 6:8: justice, kindness, humility. In fact, Jesus began his earthly ministry by proclaiming the words of the prophet Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
A humble servant of the Lord, Jesus came to treat all with kindness, forgiveness, and mercy, providing for every man justice. We are called to do as He does, to live a life set apart. Peter reminds us of this ancient command (dating back to the Israelites in Leviticus). And he speaks also of our posture, the mindset and intention necessary to go out into our world and walk the talk.
“Preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ… Having purified your souls by obedience to the truth for a sincerely brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart…”
If you’ve ever done yoga, or any form of physical exercise really, you know that posture is vital. Moving without intention, without focus, will eventually bring about injury. Only with preparation and with alertness, can we move with grace.
As I walk through hallways and overhear conversations on a daily basis, I’m reminded of how desperately we each need grace and each need to walk in grace. Tensions are high. Emotions are tired. Our words lack love. But it’s love, it’s tenderness, it’s forgiveness, that those we come in contact with need from us. Much has been written over the past few years about holiness versus authenticity. Just the other day, I read an article about complaining and how it impacts our witness. I nodded my head in conviction as I read and was then flabbergasted by the words of dissension that followed in the comments. We so desperately want our own holiness not to matter. But it does.
Years ago, I read a story of a man who served meals to men in a prison. This was a prison in the Middle East. Many of these men were accused of horrible atrocities. To serve them meant kneeling before them, holding a bowl to their lips, and tipping the food into their mouth. This particular man one day recognized one of the shackled men. He had persecuted and executed the serving man’s friend, live on YouTube. As he knelt to feed him, he told the imprisoned man who he was, who his friend was. He acknowledge the hatred and the vengeance that could exist between them, then bowed before him, held a bowl to his lips, and, in tipping the food into his mouth, forgave.
I don’t know the religious beliefs of this man. But I do know that he did what we are each called to do. He demonstrated justice, mercy, and humility in the midst of circumstances that were hard and far less than ideal. He didn’t make excuses. He didn’t turn away. He stepped out and he lived the words of Micah 6:8, the words of 1 Peter 1, the words of Matthew 22: 37-40.
Teacher, I know your days are long. I know your days are hard. I know that you are tired, you are spent, you are aching. Know that I am too.
But also know – know that when we arm ourselves in the grace of Jesus, our weakness is overpowered by His strength. Know that when we set our eyes firmly on Him, our bodies are prepared for action. Know that we can love, we can pursue justice, we can love in kindness and mercy, and we can walk in the humility of a servant. Know that we must.
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