Archives For Justice

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A few years ago, I saw one of the funniest and disturbing things on the internet. Someone had put together a collection of different reviews of all the wonders of the world, places like the Grand Canyon, the Pyramids of Egypt, and Niagara Falls, and the reviews all had one thing in common.

They were all written by people who gave these majestic wonders only 1 star.

As in 1 out of 5 stars.

Go look at some of these reviews People left 1 star reviews for the Pyramids complaining about being inconvenienced by not being able to leave out the same gate, someone referred to Stonehenge as “just a pile of rocks” and someone gave Sequoia National Park a 1 star review because, and I quote “I lost my keys in the restroom and nobody helped me out.”

These are people who are standing in front of some of the most mysterious breathtaking wonders that we know about. They are standing in front of things that when people first discovered them they were speechless. Imagine the first time a Native American stumbled across the Grand Canyon, imagine the amount of wonder and awe that they would’ve had.

But in 2009, one Brad M. saw the Grand Canyon and said this in his Yelp review:

“as amazing as the views are it is really kind of boring. Every 500 ft a new vantage point of the same thing: a really big hole in the ground.”

The Grand Canyon is a boring, big hole in the ground?!!

An Actual 1 Star Review of Yosemite Park

An Actual 1 Star Review of Yosemite Park

I know this is funny, but it’s a sad kind of funny because this is actually something I see in our culture and in the mirror a hundred times a day.

I also believe this is happening in the way American Christians are approaching worship. I think we need to start reconsidering why we worship, and also why we don’t.

This is at the heart of why this past Sunday at the Highland Church I preached on how important it was for Christians to engage in worship, specifically by singing together, and today I’d like to follow that sermon up by giving 3 Reasons Why I think Christians need to re-discover the habit to sing in church.

1. Worship is For God

Every week I see some article that someone shares on social media on their opinion on what’s wrong with the worship in the church these days. These articles range from: “There’s not enough Hymns or Hillsong or Tomlin” to “the music is too loud” and “the men don’t sing.” Sometimes they are saying “we should do high church liturgy” to “we should definitely not do that.”

And I get all of that feedback, I honestly do. But you should know that every week, your worship leader has a thousand problems and preferences that they are having to navigate as they plan out a corporate worship. But here’s the one thing I’d like to point out about most of the conversations I’m seeing about the churches worship.

It’s about me.

I like Hillsong, and the banjo and the Book of Common Prayer (all of which are true, and would be an awesome combination for some Sunday), but sadly most of our talk about worship preferences leave out a central idea that can save our shrinking souls.

Worship is, and has always been, for God.

I think when we forget this we become like the person who went to went to Niagara Falls and left a review saying it was just a “waste of time.” They were there, but they couldn’t experience what was right in front of them.

Do we realize who we are singing to each week?

Do we realize what story we are singing about each week?

How in the world did we lose that breathtaking vision that Heaven is leaning over the rails listening to what we have to sing?

Do we honestly realize that when we sing, it actually pleases the God of the universe?

How did we start to approach this moment, as if it had anything to do with our preferences?

2. Worship Makes us Honest

I think that the real reason we don’t sing, is because singing makes us vulnerable. Where else in life do you normally sing out loud where others can hear you? Singing puts us out there in a way that can leave us feeling exposed to others, and I think that’s the reason we’re tempted not to do it..

I think we come up with all kinds of reasons after the fact, but the truth is that we don’t like feeling so uncovered. So we protect ourselves and we lose the very thing that drew us to church in the first place, the joy of feeling the pleasure of God.

This dawned on me back when I did jail ministry in Ft. Worth. Every week, I would worship with a group of 20 guys in a 10×10 room singing along with a CD, and every week these men, facing shame and years of incarceration, were singing with great joy, at the top of their lungs. We sang off key, we clapped out of time, and it was the best worship experiences of my life.

Because it was real worship done by people who had come to the end of themselves and had nothing left to hide.

There’s a reason that Paul, the earliest church planter, would write back to the churches he planted (often from jail) reminding them to sing together. Maybe that’s also the reason he had to write so much to churches to mediate arguments. Because when churches gather not everyone is going to get their way.

And not getting our way, is a really good thing for most of us to experience on a regular basis. Because I’m not sure we’re experiencing it in many other places. If you watch enough cable television and consume enough advertising, you will fool yourself into thinking that you are the center of the world.

I think corporate singing, is still a really good way to remind us of how small we really are, and where we really fit in the universe.

Inside of the Durham Cathedral

Inside of the Durham Cathedral

This is the very reason that The Church made huge Cathedrals in the Medieval ages, it wasn’t because they didn’t care about the poor, (they were the ones who taught the world to care about the poor). They made these huge Cathedrals, because they were, for most people, the largest things that they would ever walk into. They were the Grand Canyon of those people’s world.

They made the Cathedrals because the Church has always known that one of the deepest needs of the human soul is to feel appropriately small…To get outside of ourselves.

3. Worship Changes Our Heart

The Church has always known what the New York Times just stumbled across last month, that wonder and awe leads to service and justice and compassion. This is why the largest book in the Bible is the Psalms, because God knows that the Psalms can do what the Prophets cannot.

When we worship, it softens our heart and makes us more susceptible to the strange ways of the Gospel. I’ve seen this time and time again, the biggest lever to changing the human heart isn’t a sermon, it is what we hear ourselves sing.

I believe that the way Jewish/Christian ethics were woven into most of our hearts, wasn’t primarily from that Bible class, but from hearing our grandmother sing things like “Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother” or our dad singing “Each day I’ll do a golden deed, by helping those who are in need.”

Our songs have shaped the way we view the world, and how we think about things like justice and mercy toward other people. They have given us courage to resist the status quo and to live in counter-cultural ways.

I like the way Richard Beck says this in his book Slavery of Death:

[Remember} how central and vital singing was to those involved in the American civil rights movement.  Singing is what drove the movement.  People would gather in churches and sing freedom songs before going out to face angry mobs ready to curse at them, spit on them, even violently beat them.  And then they sang in jail.  These civil rights activities never stopped singing.  Why?  For the same reason Paul and Silas sang.  For the same reason the early Christians sang in the catacombs. For the same reason we need to sing.  To find our courage.  Singing is a way to resisting despair and fear.  Singing is an act of resistance.

Now I don’t know what style of worship your church has, and maybe it does need to change, but I don’t think a church’s style matters as much as we think.  What really matters is that we learn to engage worship, not as an individual, but as a community, for the pleasure of God.

Corporate worship can’t be judged individually, because it can’t be done individually, and it’s never, ever done for the individual.

It’s done for God.

And while it may not look like much, and often has sounded like even less, it has changed and blessed the world.

So for God’s sake, for the sake of the Church, for the sake of the poor, for the sake of the world, let’s stop giving 1 star reviews to our church’s worship, we are the Church, let’s start singing along.

On January 19, 2015

There is a Promised Land

“Before I was a civil rights leader, I was a preacher of the Gospel. This was my first calling and it still remains my greatest commitment. You know, actually all that I do in civil rights I do because I consider it a part of my ministry. I have no other ambitions in life but to achieve excellence in the Christian ministry. I don’t plan to run for any political office. I don’t plan to do anything but remain a preacher. And what I’m doing in this struggle, along with many others, grows out of my feeling that the preacher must be concerned about the whole man.” —Martin Luther King Jr.

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On the Thursday morning that Dr. King was assassinated he also was attacked by one of his own friends….with a pillow. On the day of his death, Martin Luther King Jr. got in a pillow fight in his own hotel room.

I don’t know about you, but that fact makes me smile in some deeper parts of my soul. The realization that even though hate might kill this good man, it couldn’t kill the goodness and joy in the man. I smile at the realization that during Dr. King’s final moments alive he was able to smile.

And then I wonder…how did he do that?

Standing on Promises

This past summer I went to Israel with a group of people For the most part, we were your usual group of Christians touring the Holy Lands, retired doctors and lawyers and teachers on a pilgrimage to see where all the stories that had saturated their imagination had happened.

For the most part we were white and southern. But that doesn’t quite account for all of us. There were several African-American women from Memphis, and I spent the majority of the first few days seeing the Holy Lands with them. Mainly because they were so nice and kind, but also because I didn’t want to just see the Holy Lands, I wanted to see it through their eyes.

See, I’ve learned just enough about the Bible to remember that the Bible is harder for me to read than others. The Bible is hard for me to read, not because of a lack of training or my ability to never quite get above a B in Greek. It’s hard for me to read because or where I read the Bible from, and where I don’t.

People who have known systematic oppression and marginalization were the ones who wrote the Bible, it is as it were, a history written by the losers. And so when my new friends were seeing these stories of the land of liberated slaves I wanted to know how they saw it.

And that brings me to Mrs. Shirley.

Mrs. Shirley was a senior saint who also happened to be African American. She had lived her entire life in Memphis and she had seen a lot. She told me about her family’s struggle to rise out of poverty and her concern for her children and grandchildren to do well in a system that seemed stacked against them
And then she told me a story that became one of my favorite memories from the trip.

When when she was only 14 years old, and she got to walk with Dr. King when the Civil Rights movement came to Memphis. In order to go on one of these marches she had to go through all the training about how to keep the protest non-violent in the face of other people’s great anger, she was trained how to respond if people spit on her, or how to react if she or someone she cared about were beaten.

But the advice that really stuck with her was when the civil right protest organizers told her that if that the police released the dogs that they should try to remain calm and keep walking hand in hand. As she was telling me this story, Mrs. Shirley remained calm, as if she was still following the instructions, but she had a fire in her eyes as she was remembering.

I didn’t know how to respond to her story so I asked her if she was scared during all of this and she said, “No, not really.” Then a few minutes later she came back and said, “I can’t lie. I’m embarrassed now, but I was scared. What I really afraid of was the idea that those dogs might bite me.”1183155006_08b1215aeb

Protests and Pillow Fights

I don’t know what you did over this holiday weekend, but I joined the crowds watching Selma. The movie about Dr. King and the civil rights stand off that ultimately past sweeping Federal Voting reform. During that movie I wept on more than one occasion. But the scene that touched me the deepest was watching little African-American girls march with dignity into the angry crowd armed with billy clubs and attack dogs.

I wept because I now knew who that little girl was, and I knew that even thought she might not look it, she was afraid.

But Mrs. Shirley, like so many of my black brothers and sisters who lived through the civil rights movement, wasn’t angry. She wasn’t angry at other white people, and incredibly enough she wasn’t angry even at the people who had unleashed the dogs on her. She had every right to be furious but she had chosen another path.

So eventually I asked Mrs. Shirley how she did it. I wondered what could move someone to refuse to harbor bitterness against those who wish you evil. And that’s when Mrs. Shirley told me the most profound gospel-like things. She said something to me that made me realize how Dr. King could get into a pillow fight on the day of his assignation, even after saying the night before that he knew his life was in danger.

Mrs. Shirley said she wasn’t angry because, “There is a Promised Land”

And suddenly it all clicked for me. Mrs. Shirley wasn’t just there to see the Holy Lands, Mrs. Shirley was there because her entire life had been oriented around a God who makes promises that the future will be better than the past.

There is a Promised Land.

The civil rights movement succeeded because tens of thousands of men and women trusted that what God had promised would one day become a reality, and they were able to refrain from violence or anger because that God would one day keep his promises.

If we want justice, if we want to keep from getting angry in the face of injustice, we must remember this. There is such a thing as a perfect justice and one day it will roll down like a river. There is such a thing as a perfect righteousness and one day it will flow like a never-ending stream. If we want mercy than we must remember that there is such a thing as a good and compassionate God.

That’s how you do it. There is a Promised Land, it’s not quite here yet but it is coming and it changes everything.

The final public words of Dr. King were spoken in a church in Memphis and as we look back on a year of racial tension, injustice and peace, his words are just as hopeful and calming as they were on the day he spoke them:

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

I’m happy tonight.

I’ll die tomorrow.

I think I’ll have a pillow fight in between.

Because there is a promised land.

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

good-evil-verse-slide-copy.jpg

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