Archives For Justice

On October 29, 2013

Good and Evil: When Bad is Broken

“The Doctrine of (no Hell) can only be born in the quiet of the suburbs.” -Miroslav Volf

“Vengeance is Mine says the LORD.” -St. Paul

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Last week, I started a Bible study with a young Muslim man from West Africa. A few of us are reading through the Gospel of Mark together talking about the life of Jesus.

When we came to the part of Mark where Jesus exorcises the demon from the man in the synagogue, I told our African friend that most of us around that table had never seen this kind of evil, and I asked him if he had anything to say.

Turns out he did.

Today I’d like to finish this little blog series on Evil, with one more final, and I think timely observation. I started this series because Vince Gilligan had captured America’s imagination with the story of a High School Chemistry teacher turned Meth Cook, drug kingpin, and murderer. Little by little, Walter White broke bad. And I’d like to remind you one more time of the Creator’s philosophy of this story:

“If religion is a reaction of man, and nothing more, it seems to me that it represents a human desire for wrongdoers to be punished. I feel some sort of need for biblical atonement, or justice, or something…I want to believe there’s a heaven. But I can’t not believe there’s a hell.”

What an interesting way to say that.

The Hell of It

As fans of the show watched the unraveling of the character we’d grown to love to hate or hate to love, we noticed that there was also another character to Breaking Bad. Karma. Underwriting every scene was this idea that the other shoe was going to drop and evil people would get their comeuppance in proportion to their crimes against humanity.

But this is where I think Breaking Bad is more naive and hopeful than almost any fairy tale that has gone before it. Because the world doesn’t work as cleanly as that…and in some ways that is the point of the whole show. This is how Vince Gilligan wished the world worked.

And it’s why I believe in Hell.

But not the way you might think.

I’m not sure how God’s final judgment is going to work, I’m pretty sure it’s different than what most of us think of when we think of Hell and Satan with pitchforks. In fact, I’m pretty sure that it isn’t what most of my American friends think of when they bring it up. Because when the Bible talks about God’s final judgment it seems to always assume that this is a good thing.

In fact, the doctrine that God will judge the entire world was always seen by God’s people, not as a condemnation, but as a comfort. And it was also seen as a great resource for how to respond to evil in the here an now.

In the jarring words of the great theologian Miroslav Volf:

The practice of non-violence requires a belief in divine vengeance…My thesis will be unpopular with man in the West…But imagine speaking to people (as I have) whose cities and villages have been first plundered, then burned, and leveled to the ground, whose daughters and sisters have been raped, whose fathers and brothers have had their throats slit…Your point to them–we should not retaliate? Why not? I say–the only means of prohibiting violence by us is to insist that violence is only legitimate when it comes from God…Violence thrives today, secretly nourished by the belief that God refuses to take the sword…It takes the quiet of a suburb for the birth of the thesis that human nonviolence is a result of a God who refuses to judge. In a scorched land–soaked in the blood of the innocent, the idea will invariably die, like other pleasant captivities of the liberal mind…if God were NOT angry at injustice and deception and did NOT make a final end of violence, that God would not be worthy of our worship.

Is God a Pacifist?Mark Driscoll

Over the past week, it seems that there has been a resurgence of people claiming that the idea of non-violence is un-manly. Controversial Pastor Mark Driscoll is once again is being controversial, and once again the argument seems to be something like, to be a man means that you need to own a gun and be willing to take up arms against evil.

Now I own a gun, and understand the God-given instinct to protect the weak, but I don’t like this conversation at all.

It seems to me that the people who talk the most about Hell understand it’s implications the least. Because the good news about the coming judgment of God is that God will set the world right, And that His judgment works differently.

Think about how Jesus deals with those demon possessed. Whatever Jesus says, the demons obey. there’s no arguing with the Son of God for them. In Mark 5, Jesus kicks a whole legion of demons out of a person, and the person is still standing. Jesus’ judgment is for the person, and against evil.

Think about one of the few times that Jesus talks about the eternal fire of judgment. Look at what he actually says In Matthew 25, Jesus says, “Depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and His angels” 

Hell wasn’t made for people. Hell was made to judge the evil of the world. Hell was made because God cares about all the ways we’ve hurt each other. It is God’s final way to break bad.

Which brings me back to my friend from West Africa. He told us about Witch Doctors and goat sacrifices, about voodoo spells that drove a friend crazy, and ultimately about the civil war that ravaged his country and killed his father. He had seen men light other men on fire, behead one another and he saw dark forces at work behind it all.

My African friend has no problem with the idea that God has some judging to do.

The good news about the judgment of God is that there is such a thing as justice for us to work toward, but we must also recognize we will never be able to fully bring it because we are a part of the problem too. None of us know exactly what people deserve, and if we are honest none of us are qualified to dispense the judgment of justice toward others because we are deeply broken ourselves.

If there is a judgement day, then we don’t have to take the burden of justice all on ourselves. If God will set the world right, we don’t have to worry about trying to fix it all by ourselves. And we don’t have to take up the means of evil to defeat it.

Is God a pacifist? In a word: No

But that doesn’t mean that God’s people can’t be.

Because vengeance is His. One day God will make every sad thing come untrue. At the restoration of all things, when death itself is dead, when bad is fully broken.

On February 23, 2013

Everyday Idolatry: A Fair God

“Americans are so enamored of equality, they would rather be equal in slavery than unequal in freedom.” -Alexis de Tocqueville

Temple in Chennai, India

His name was Fred, and he was passionate about justice, he was passionate about equality and fairness. And so after Fred got his law degree, and became a civil rights lawyer. For years Fred served and fought for dis-enfranchised people who were being treated un-fairly. Eventually the NAACP gave him an award for the way he fought for the rights of African-Americans.

And then Fred Phelps left civil law and planted a church.

The Westboro Baptist Church.

The God-hates-fags-America-soldiers-and anyone-who’s-not-a-Phelps-church.

Most of us hear that and realize something went horribly wrong. But if we become what we worship, maybe it’s not that surprising. Because the end of idolatry is always bad.

Now most of the time when we think of idolatry, we think of primitive statues and ancient times. But idols are all around us, and they are in fact never bad things, just mis-ordered things. And that’s especially true with this particular idol.

More than Fair

Sometimes when I hear people talk about justice, I realize that, while we care about similar things, I find that I don’t want to be like them. Some of the people who have dedicated their lives to great endeavors, found themselves being incredibly angry. And I can understand why. Because we become like what we worship, and if you find yourself constantly bitter or angry maybe a question to ask is “What god am I worshipping?”

Back in the day of Jesus, there was actually several different gods of for fairness and justice. One was named Mazda, and he went on to develop a line of cars.The Roman’s had a Goddess for fairness named Equitas. And she was represented by a set of balanced scales.Equitas

Fred Phelps really did set out to change the world, he fought for justice. But it’s possible to be right in very wrong kinds of ways, it’s possible to serve God but worship an idol. And it will never end well.

I can’t tell you how often I hear people talk about God or Church or whatever it is, and I find myself asking, “Wait, are we talking about the God of the Bible? Do you think that God is fair? Because that is a huge American value, but not so much a description of God in the Scriptures.”

Think about the stories that Jesus tells that sit poorly with us, for example here or here.

One of the things about fairness, is that we rarely pull that word out when it doesn’t serve us somehow. Nobody ever says, “Oh Why God, why have you been so unfair to me? Why do I have so….much? Why do I have a roof over my head and access to food everyday, when so much of the world doesn’t?”

The U.S.A. is the wealthiest and whiniest civilization that the world has ever seen. We have aisles set aside just for dog food in our grocery stores. 1/3 of the world doesn’t have grocery stores at all!

Be careful with how you use the word fair.

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On July 3, 2012

#eternalthreads

So this is a short video about the trip that Matt Pinson (The Highland Director of Communications) and I just got back from. We’d like to get the word out about what is happening in Nepal and ways that Gospel centered people are trying to stop sexual trafficking in creative and significant ways, so if you have a moment please click the share button at the bottom of this page to share this story with your friends.

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On June 20, 2012

The Red Thread Movement

So I just returned from a couple of weeks in Nepal working with the ministry Eternal Threads. It’s a great ministry that I highly commend that is working to create connections between 3rd and 1st world countries, and providing fair trade opportunities for some of the most vulnerable people in the world. One part of the Eternal Threads ministry is something called the Red Thread Movement, and what it is doing for the girls in Nepal is unreal!

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On January 31, 2011

The Human Capital


By now, most of us have heard of Ted Williams. The Homeless man with the Golden Voice, who was discovered by a Good Samaritan with a video camera and the foresight to introduce Ted to the world via YouTube. You’ve probably heard about Ted’s rise to fame over the past few weeks. He voiced a Kraft Mac & Cheese commercial. He was offered the announcer job by the Cleveland Cavs (who know what it’s like to fall on hard times). Maybe you even saw him on Dr. Phil as he was confronted by his family to stop drinking.

Suddenly he is a household name and his fifteen minutes are ticking. But his story has gotten me thinking.

One of my heroes is a guy named Larry James. Larry was a preacher for many years, he has spent his life telling the Jesus story. But these days Larry doesn’t do it from a pulpit. Several years ago, he started a ministry some of you might be familiar with. It’s called Central Dallas Ministries,(Recently re-named City Square) and it exists to do something about human suffering in Dallas…specifically about homelessness and poverty.

But what is interesting to me about Larry, is that he is adamant about his approach to ministry. He refuses to do ministry for people. He wants to do it with them.

I like that. Because we have a real propensity to work out of an us/them mentality. And this is where Larry James has helped me out so much. Most of the time we think about helping other people, we tend to think in terms of charity, or tax breaks, or hand-outs. But there is a better way.

I read Jay-Z’s book DeCoded last week, and in there he quoted a Jewish Rabbi about this particular issue. (I’ll let you fill in your own joke about a rapper quoting a Rabbi). This Rabbi pointed out that in Orthodox Judaism, there are 8 different levels to giving. The 7th is to give anonymously, which is a way to give without forcing dehumanizing the other person. But the 8th, and top form of generosity, is to give in a way that makes the recipient not feel like they are dependent on another’s hand-out, but somehow self-sufficient. This way, Rabbi Jay-Z argues, does not take away a person’s dignity. Continue Reading…

On January 21, 2011

Mistaken Arrangements

I stumbled upon this video by Walter Brueggemann a few days ago. He’s describing the kind of prophetic vision of what Justice means in the Scriptures. And he’s doing it for a conference that is all about Justice. Which from looking at, sounds like an amazing conference. But it did get me thinking: Since when did Christians hold conferences on Justice? Since I’ve been around, most of our conferences are on preaching, or church leadership. But then it struck me, this conference isn’t for churches. Not once in the brochure did the word church show up. It’s a Christian conference for Jesus-followers, complete with worship leaders and Christian speakers talking about Biblical Justice. But it’s not for churches.

Because church leaders probably won’t show up.

Several times this week I have had significant conversations, with different people, about what Justice looks like in this time and place. Now these conversations are not new for me to stumble into. Unless someone has their head in the sand, it’s easy to recognize that God is stirring this passion up in the world again. Unfortunately, some (but not all) of our churches are the final ones to recognize this.

But I’ve been lucky. Continue Reading…

On December 1, 2009

Magnificat

So for most of this month I’ve been reading for a sermon series for January. I’m wrestling through the book of Acts, which as you probably already know is the sequel to the book of Luke. I’m also doing some teaching for a Christmas series for our young adults…It’s amazing how well these two topics go together.

One of the most disappointing things about Acts for me is the way we’ve read it throughout the years. The fellowship that I grew up in had a pretty narrow idea of what Acts was about. We approached Scripture asking questions that it wasn’t trying to answer (which didn’t stop us from squeezing out some answers). We asked it what kind of church we should have for one hour out of the week. Or what kind of programs we should run.

But the more I read this book, the more I realize that there is a deep power in here that is little talked about.

And it all starts with a single mom.

When I used to hear people talk about Mary, I would immediately think about what she wasn’t. Like most Protestants, it was easier to write her off as just some obsolete character. But there is a reason that God tells her that she will be called “blessed” for all generations.

Mary, as an unwed teenager is approached by an angel. Which is enough to make most Bible characters pee their pants. But she isn’t so much afraid of the angel, as she is about his message: “The Lord is with you.”

Because she knows what it means to say that the Lord is with you. Some of the worst plot twists in Scripture are preceded by that promise. In the Old Testament, a guy named Joseph (not Mary’s husband) gets betrayed by his brothers, sold into Egyptian slavery, put into prison, and the refrain through the entire chapter is: “The Lord was with him.”

So these are not exactly comforting words.

But then Mary takes heart, girds up her loins, and sings.

But this is no lullaby. This is a girl who’s got a fire in her belly, not to mention the Messiah, and now she’s starting to get the picture about how big what God is up to actually is. So she sings about the things that YHWH has done in the past, and about the victories that he has won. She sings about how faithful He has always been, and how he cares for the “least of these.” She sings of God’s power, of his mercy, of his justice.

And all of this is before Mary has seen God do one single thing that she’s singing about.

Mary is hoping forward. To a better world, that is literally giving birth right inside of her.

And the rest of the story Luke is writing is about the people of God putting skin on Mary’s song.

Did you know that in some South American countries, the Magnificat is forbidden to be sung? It’s because tyrants know the danger of singing a song like this. Did you know that is South Africa Christmas songs were illegal during the era of apartheid?

I think it’s because the unjust systems of the world know something that we don’t. That the advent season isn’t just about tinsel, lights, and good deals at Wal-Mart. There is a revolutionary bent to this story. That God is up to something new and just and beautiful.

And we call it Christmas.

On November 24, 2009

Emmaus and Social Justice

So one of my good friends wrote a blog recently about how to be a Jesus follower in a world that is deeply broken. It’s a great post, written by someone who has crossed socio-economic lines, and has the ability to communicate to both worlds. One of the observations he makes is that privileged Christians should make it a spiritual discipline to notice the brokenness around them.

He does a good job not demonizing wealthy Christians, but challenging us to look past our own self-inflicted boundaries. And he does it with this question: “Study and try to find a way that the system is broken without having to experience it.”

I saw a story on CNN this past weekend about a girl who was from another country who was promised a modeling job if she just came to the U.S.A. to work. She came, and immediately had her passport taken away and told that she had to work off $25,000 worth of debt before she could be a model.

And you probably know what kind of work they had in mind.

One of the people interviewed said that this happened all the time. It’s all around us, but no one was paying attention.

Did you know that 12 million people are considered by the U.S. State Department to be in slavery? And that 14,000 people are trafficked into the U.S. each year? Slavery is happening all around us.

But when was the last time you’ve seen a slave?

One of my favorite gospel stories comes at the end of Luke. The Disciples are walking away from Jerusalem. Crest-fallen, heart-broken, whatever words you want to use, they were deeply, deeply broken. Their hope, the one who was going to set the world right, had become a victim of the very systems he was speaking against. 

And so they’re all headed home.

But then the risen Jesus comes along side these disciples and they don’t recognize him. It’s a bizarre scene. They just want to cry alone, and here they are having to give directions to some country bumpkin who can’t tell when someone’s depressed. But this “stranger” refuses to leave them alone. He prods until they unearth the very thing that was the most tender to them, and then something even more strange happens.

Their eyes were opened and they saw the “stranger” was Jesus.

I’d like to tell you about how they thought Jesus was just a common beggar, who saw some people walking and was trying to ask for money out of those who had enough resources to travel.* I’d like to tell you about how their “eyes being opened” was a footnote of a story of disobedience in a Garden in the beginning. But the main point of this story is that these people were right next to Jesus, and for a while they didn’t even know.

Mark Twain once said, “I cannot see how a man of any large degree of humorous perception can ever be religious — unless he purposely shut the eyes of his mind & keep them shut by force.”

And to some extent I can see what he’s saying. Religion can do this. It can close us off, build walls to keep us in, and others out. But a genuine Christian faith has to refuse this, because central to our faith is a God who is opening our eyes.

We notice people because we follow a man who did. And not only did he notice them. He identified with them. And so maybe the call of Jesus is to start paying better attention. Look at that clothing tag before you buy that next shirt. Ask harder questions. Look past the parts of the world that work for you and ask who it’s not working for.

And while it must not stop with our noticing, it must begin there. Because in looking for others, we find Jesus.

*Jesus’ disciples were quite used to this occurring e.g. Mark 10:46-47

On August 17, 2009

The Day of the Lord

So last weekend our little family was driving past Don Pablo’s (a restaurant close to home) and we saw this guy. Holding up a sign that said “Turn or burn. Believe in Jesus” You know, the usual.

Now a couple of observations about this guy.

I know what he’s thinking. I’ve done this kind of thing before. He probably genuinely cares about people, and really loves the Lord. He knows that the Scriptures speak of judgment and wants as many people to be spared from said judgment as possible.

I mean think about doing this…all day long. It’s one thing to be shy about going up to people and telling them something like “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” It’s an entirely different thing to walk up to someone and say, “God is really, really angry with you.”

Now to be honest, I don’t like this method at all. I think it’s wrong at best, and depending on the person, it can be arrogant and hateful.

But it does tap into a theme that runs throughout Scripture. The theme of judgment.

Now I know that the wrath of God isn’t “in vogue” with my generation. We have seen people misspeak for God, and portray a God that was just generally mad at everything. But just because something isn’t popular doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

However, it may be different than this guy thinks.

The Scriptures refer to the time of God’s judgment repeatedly as the Day of the Lord. And it was a day that people actually looked forward to. It’s not that these people all assume that they were perfect or beyond judgment, but they did assume that this Creator God was good.

And it was comforting to know that there was someone who was keeping score.

There is a passage in Romans 13 where Paul tells the church there to give honor and respect to the governing authorities, and rightfully so. God doesn’t want the world descending into chaos.

But I want you to think about that text for a second. Paul is writing Jewish and Gentile Christians in Rome, where the slogan of the day was that Caesar was Lord. And while Paul does say we should give Caesar taxes, revenue, respect and honor. He stops short of the very thing they were being commanded to give. Worship.

Ceasar wanted people to worship him as the Divine son of God, sent to bring the Pax Ramona to the entire world.

And the reason that was important was because if Caesar was Lord there was no checks and balances to keep him accountable. He answered to no one. Re-read Romans 13 again in light of this and see if it doesn’t shed some new light on it.

Caesar, is a power that God has ordained. Obama is a power that God has ordained, Kim-Jong-il is a power ordained from God.

But they aren’t God.

Romans 13 isn’t a cart blanche commandment to obey all government orders if you are a Christian. They were respectfully not doing that at the time, and I’m glad that men like Dr. King saw past that reading of it in their day. It is a demotion from the position that Caesar’s just naturally want to take. But that is a position, Paul tells us, that is reserved for God.

And so judgment isn’t first and foremost something that is meant to just scare people. It’s a reminder to the powers that run this world that they answer to somebody. And that there will be a day that all powers are fully brought under the feet of Jesus. It’s also a reminder to leaders, church leaders included, maybe especially church leaders, that we answer to someone larger than popular opinion or church committee’s.

Now that’s not to say that judgment doesn’t have an individual level to it. The Scriptures say that everyone will face God. But the hell that was on the guy’s sign is also a word to the powers that be that they have a higher power that will hold them accountable.

That’s why Paul ends Romans 13 the way he does. By reminding the Christians he’s writing about why they live the way they do.

Because the night is almost over, and the Day is drawing near.

Because the One who sees what is going on will hold all accountable for what they did.

Because the Day of the Lord is dawning, then respect authority, even when they act-disrepectfully, but never transgress the one command of the God who sits on the eternal throne.

The command to love. That will be the language all of creation is fluent with on that Day.

Put that on a sign.

On July 29, 2009

The Flames Of Heaven

“I hate to admit it, but I have reached a stage in my life that if I am walking down a dark street late at night and I see that the person behind me is white, I subconsciously feel relieved.”
-Reverend Jesse Jackson

So by now most of us have heard of the recent Harvard professor, Henry Gates, unfortunate arrest by the Cambridge police, and you’ve probably heard sound bytes of Obama’s unfortunate statement about said arrest, saying the police there acted stupidly. Which only furthered both sides of self-righteous indignation about the incident. Continue Reading…