Thoughts About Justice and the Christian Life…

There is no peace without justice while we are living “east of Eden.” If shalom (universal peace and flourishing ) is the end goal of all of creation (human and non-human), then peaceableness is the top floor of shalom and justice is the bottom floor, the foundation; they are book ends if you will (read my thoughts about peace here).

So what is justice? In the Greek culture, justice most likely referred to the Greek goddess Dike, who would have been the personification of the virtue. This is where the Greek (and biblical) word díkaios would have come from, which means, “to be just, or right.” In the biblical sense, the word justice would imply not only the just execution of the law of goodness, but right living on behalf of those who cry out for justice.

The words “righteous” and “justice” seem to go hand in hand in the biblical narrative, and they actually could be defined by the term justification. In salvation terms, to be justified, is to be declared “right and good” before God and having been justly acquitted of one’s rebellion and brokenness because Jesus paid for what we deserved (justice) with his sacrifice.

So justice, in part, means to be free and forgiven of one’s inner and outer brokenness, and empowered to do what is right based on the freedom one has received. This is the long and difficult way of simply saying: justice is that state in which everyone receives what is rightful and appropriate. Since humans are created with certain rights (food, clothing, work), then a society is just when everyone in the society enjoys the goods that everyone has rights to. But a society is also just when there are consequences for those who have disregarded or kept others from these certain rights as well. A city that is just is a city that respects the dignity of every human, especially within the Christian worldview that believes that every human is created in the image of God.

At the least, in the talk of renewal, justice is absent whenever basic needs go unmet. This means that liberation from in-justice and repairs made because of the wrongs done are at the very core of justice. If one skimmed the Old Testament to search out who were some of the people whom God had special concern for in view of justice, you would see that it is the most vulnerable of society: widows, orphans, aliens, sojourners, the homeless, the naked, the hungry and the afflicted. And this justice was never a nationalistic priority that made one nation or one people group more important than another. Actually, we can see in the narrative of Scripture, when Israel took their nationality too seriously, or saw themselves as more important or elite and selfish, correction swiftly followed. Humans, universally, who are a part of the demographics of God’s special concern are to be an integral part of our every day relationships.

If we followed this theme throughout the Old Testament, it would be hard to ignore the loud and clear message that justice happens when the marginal ones are no longer marginal. And this Old Testament understanding of justice is fully embodied in Jesus, who was very concerned with those who were on the margins of society, those who were vulnerable and exploited by people who had the power, and in many cases, Western Christendom has been more about law and power than justice and service.

This can also be teased out to include all who have ever come to Jesus for salvation (the forgiveness of one’s sin and being declared right before God). We are all marginalized because of our brokenness, cut off from God, but because of God’s mercy and love for us, Jesus became one of us, to once and for all, deal with the rebellion and tyranny that we created, both internally and externally. God brought justice to humanity through the advent, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

The righteous demands of the law, or in other words, the legal expression of God’s justice, were satisfied when Christ was put to death and suffered the torment of separation from God, in our place. In simpler terms, it is because the “just” paid for the “unjust,” that we can be granted mercy and grace as people on the margins, and be brought near to God (no longer making our home in the margins).

This is justice, which flies in the face of a Western view of justice, condemns all of us, if we indeed held ourselves to the standard of justice that we hold others to. Justice does not make sense to a world committed to the four P’s: power, progress, profit, and pursuit of happiness, and within this world view, many forms of churches in the West have been engrafted.

When we see injustice happening in our city, it usually means that we will have to miss out on one or all of the four P’s if we’re going to stand against it. There’s no money in it for those who want to plead the case of the widow, feed and clothe the naked, or stand against oppressive systems and structures that abuse and exploit the weak. Actually, downward mobility is to be expected if one is going to give their lives to this kind of justice, and it’s hard to build a church when downward mobility is one of the chief engines of church growth. This new ethos must be present in the renewal of the Western church.

The result of living a life of justice in the biblical sense in our 21st century Western society, most of the time, means that we lose ground on the four P’s of our culture and this is not very attractive, at least not long term. To see renewal happen in churches then, I am convinced that we will need an uprising of men and women who are willing to not be controlled by the P’s within the old institutional church model, and begin courageously living as an alternative community in the midst of our over-indulgences and commitments to the bottom line and financial sustainability of church business.

This will not be an easy lot for the pioneers of renewal, but justice has never been an easy virtue to live by. After all, justice on God’s part was very costly. The promise of comfort is very seductive, especially when faced with needed changes in lifestyle to begin standing against injustice. Ultimately, justice will always prevail, with or without us, but we do have a choice to get in on the fight for “justice.” It’s not attractive nor easy these days to stand for what is just and right, nor is it always clear what we should be fighting for.

I hope in this short article I gave you the beginnings of a blueprint with which to pray and meditate about what justice looks life in your life and among those around you. We are living within a contemporary Christian culture that has lost much of the ancient orthodox faith that has painstakingly been passed down to us and made Christian worship more about events, projects, and business, but not justice. I believe this “norm” must be renewed to have not just a biblical view of justice, but a biblical life of lived justice.

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The Beauty of Marriage

I’m writing this a day before my wife and I’s 17 year wedding anniversary. I have been reflecting about love, beauty, marriage, and commitment quite a bit this year. From year 16 to 17, it has been one of our more challenging years of marriage for many different reasons within and without of our family unit. Naturally, when times are tough and love and beauty have to be intensely fought for, it’s easy to think, love isn’t there, beauty is being lost in this relationship, and is it worth it to continue fighting this hard for something that seems that won’t always last on this side of heaven.

But I believe today, that it’s precisely these moments, the ones that no one is proud of, the moments we like to numb ourselves from and pretend they’re not as bad as they really are (thus the featured photo of Amy and I not looking perfect Christmas morning… with tired eyes and bedhead! She’s gonna kill me for posting this one!). It’s the moments that you want to ignore when you go to a 20 year high school reunion, as you and our spouse are putting on your best face, because the beauty of struggle wouldn’t be understood the way you now see it. The worth of the struggle in marriage, and sticking in it regardless of the resistance that brokenness has created in the midst of passion, love, and desire. This is true for any relationship, not just marriage.

Much has been written about love, marriage, beauty, and the power of belonging. This is what some of the best movies create their plots out of. The “little guy” being called into something greater than he deserves to be involved in. The outcast making the big difference as fate would exalt her. The unlikely hero, the odds stacked against the main character, only for him to succeed after a type of death has been faced and conquered. This is the beauty of the stories we all love.

When I think of this in lieu of marriage, I think of the commitment a thriving marriage must have to stay committed to the other person regardless of the situation. I think of the times one of the spouses is the underdog, the poor pitiful mess up who can’t get it right, the one who has failed time and time again, who has mud on their face and is full of shame, the one who can’t seem to shed their childish ways, etc. I think of the plots that don’t end up happy and no one wants to write about. These moments aren’t just happening at an external level for everyone to see. No, all these failures and mess up’s are mostly happening in the privacy of a marriage, in front of the person who once fell in love with you because they loved who you were and likely because of the way you (or they) wooed and pursued you.

And now you find yourself in the midst of a marriage screenplay and you may feel like the character with the odds stacked against you, except you don’t have the hope of a Hollywood screenplay ending. There’s no more pursuit, and you are in the midst of the tension… “Will I be loved if I continue to fail.” “Will she still want to “belong” together if I prove to not have what it takes in business?” What’s gonna happen if I’m honest with all the shit underneath the surface of my poor pitiful existence?” “What if he stops being attracted to me?”

It’s in the midst of these moments where we have an invitation to allow the layers of self-protection we’ve gathered around us over the years to either fall away a little bit more, or to accumulate a larger collection of self-protective clothing. Each one of us, at some point in our younger lives, encountered messages that said we weren’t enough, we needed to be different in order to be loved, we had something wrong with us, others aren’t trustworthy, pain is to be avoided, etc. And in those moments we tried on new ways of being ourselves so that we would be protected from these negatives messages/experiences.

Over the years, as children, these protective layers worked, but when we become adults, they interfere with intimacy and closeness and the challenges of a close relationship begin to create a vulnerability in you that either pisses you off or scares the hell out of you. The choice to continue the status quo of our childhood or to walk into the mysteriousness of vulnerability is now staring us down in the eyes, and we want to crawl in a hole and die, or wage war! But there is another way….

Usually, the deciding factor of which way one chooses to behave (internally or externally) is dependent upon on the nature of the marriage or relationship. Is the environment of the relationship one of love and trust, or is it one of performance and deceit? This can only be honestly answered by you alone. We know ourselves, we know our layers, and we know what we’ve anesthetized ourselves from because of brutalness of being honest about what’s really inside. And to be honest about this, will indeed take a great act of vulnerability.

Love and trust flourishes in the context of a vulnerable relationship. A relationship that has offered the grace to the screw up, the failure, the one who can’t always perform at a level of perfection. The beauty of marriage is created by the ability of each person in the committed relationship to offer a secure place to be totally exposed, yet still told that they belong. The beauty of marriage is created by the ability of each person in the committed relationship to communicate how significant the other person is, regardless of all the past years of messages that have said the other person isn’t significant. The beauty of marriage is created by the ability of each person in the committed relationship to grant forgiveness when the other person isn’t able to offer one of the two routes above.

The beauty of marriage is created ultimately by God, who always fought for the wife who was childless, the man who wasn’t capable of a great speech, the outcast arrogant brother, the lying son who labored for his father’s approval, the oppressed wife who wasn’t given the protection she deserved, the prostitute who was constantly told that she was only worth the money she was offered for a night, the corrupt businessman, and the social outcast and untouchable leper.

God married himself to such people, and offered beauty in place of their ashes. Instead of asking for these people to perform, God came to them, fought for them and offered a place to belong. God came to such poor people (you and I) in the form of Jesus, and not only did he model the beauty of love, but made the reality of our poverty and death to be something that would actually give us life.

His death for our failures; this produced the greatest return ever. In the dark tomb of our failures, sin, and shame, we get caught up into a womb once again. A second conception now begins, a new birth story happens. As Jean Vanier puts it, with Jesus, a tomb always becomes a womb. And after the resurrected life, Jesus asks us to take his hand in marriage, first to receive a new life in a relationship that offers love and trust, a place of security and significance; and second, to be able to offer this relationship to others. This is the beauty of marriage.

I am thankful this weekend for a wife who has displayed the beauty and worth of Jesus to me in the midst of my narrative that has found me out as the fool, the screw up, the hypocrite. When I was down and out, she didn’t try to rescue me in a way that would anesthetize us from what was really going on. No, she courageously allowed death to take place, no matter how scary it’s gotten, so that in the burial of the tomb, the womb would produce a deeper more intimate new life, a life of vulnerability that cuts out the pretense and celebrates weakness and poverty as something rich and fruitful.

May you experience the beauty of marriage, or the beauty of love, that allows the proper parts of us to die, so the true self could be resurrected and rescued from all the self-protective layers that have kept us from intimacy from God and others. It’s the commitment to the fight, the commitment to allow death to take it’s course, to stay up on the cross as Jesus did for us, the journey of vulnerability, and the offering of second chances and grace in the worst moments in life. Put this definition of the beauty of marriage to the test, and I promise you, you’re ending will be significantly better than a “Hollywood ending.”

Love: Going All The Way

After a message about sex earlier that evening at camp, a high school boy begins a conversation with a camp counselor:

“Well, it’s a little late for me to hear that message.” said the boy. The counselor says, “Why’s that?” “Well, Sharon and I have already…you know…” The counselor says, “You know…what?” “We, uh, you know–we went all the way.” “What do you mean, ‘all the way’?” asks the counselor.

The boy thought to himself, how could this counselor be so dense? Then he said: “You know ALL THE WAY!” as he said it with emphasis as if to clarify the meaning. But the counselor didn’t let him off the hook: “No, I don’t know what you mean. What are you talking about?” “We had sex!” the boy blurted out. “Ohhhhh, that’s what you mean when you say ‘Going all the way’ ”, the counselor said with a show of surprise. “And you think that’s going all the way?” And the boy said, “Well, yes…”

“That’s not going all the way AT ALL…” the counselor explained. “I’ll tell you what going all the way is. There’s a guy in my neighborhood who has five kids, and his wife is now in a wheelchair and severely handicapped. He gets the kids off to school each morning, sells insurance all day to make a living, then comes home, greets his children home from school, makes dinner for the family, and at the end of the evening, he looks his wife in her eyes and tells her he loves her. I know he means it, too, because he tells me he’s the luckiest guy in the world to have been blessed with her. That’s what going all the way is.”

Going all the way looks different than most of us know…Any weak, unloving person can “go all the way” and think that’s love! Sexual contact and immature decisions don’t classify love or “going all the way! In our culture today, we have a weak, impotent understanding of what love is. Our cultural definition of love is a fleeting, moody, temperamental, selfish love that does’t stay long enough to experience the fullness of true love.

This advent season, what we need is a renewed vision of love, of a kind of love that is strong and will “go all the way” with the one it’s affections are directed towards. We need a love that can shape us into true lovers of God and people. After all, love is our identity. So allow me to attempt to offer a potential outlines that may be able to help us get to a strong, all the way kn f of love (I am indebted to Dan Allender’s book, Bold Love (1996) in regards to this outline and topic).

1. Lose Your Life: Love Jesus and His kingdom more than yourself. John 12:24-25: 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

To begin to lay a foundation of understanding of what this “strong, going all the way kind of love” looks like, we must go counter culture in our belief here. Modern counsel would tell us that to truly love others, one must learn to love ourselves first. This approach argues that the first priority to love, is yourself, your esteem, acceptance of yourself, your contentment & happiness, then you can esteem, accept & love others.

Although the gospel leads you to accept yourself in Christ, and indeed calls you to love people as you love yourself, this approach to love couldn’t be more opposite of what we read in Scriptures. The “me-first” mentality is destroyed in the gospels where we learn of a radical “others-centeredness”. To be a healthy person who cares for themselves is to be someone who has learned the art of caring for others.

The “take care of yourself” mentality has led many people to justify self-centeredness which definitely does not lead to the “strong, all the way” kind of love, and it has also made a nation of political Christians who love their own needs before the needs of those who are suffering around her. In America, it is common for people to spend more money on themselves during Christmas time than they do for family gifts of others. We are addicted to making ourselves feel better.

The “me-centered” approach actually promotes shallow love in such a way to where one is led to do things out of what’s comfortable for them, or out of fear of what others think, or out of guilt from their conscious of trying to be acceptable to themselves.

The gospel says that you are justified by grace through faith in our Lord Jesus! If that is not enough to move you us out of our self-contempt, poor self-esteem, self-protection mode, or lack of contentment in life, then there are deeper issues that needs to be addressed, not self-acceptance or more work!

Strong, all the way kind of love, as Dan Allender puts it in his book Bold Love, “is courageously setting aside our personal agenda to move humbly into the world of others with their well-being in view, willing to risk further pain in our souls, in order to be an aroma of life to some, and an aroma of death to others.” (19)

2. Courage: A willingness to sacrifice for a better day. Romans 8:18: For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. // 2 Corinthians 4:17: For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,

Paul is saying that our suffering will be outweighed by future glory, and that our present suffering is preparing for us future glory! So not only is our suffering not compared to what Christ has for us, but it is also apart of achieving the fullness that Christ desires for us. The gospel of Jesus swallows up suffering and uses it as a means to the end!

Again, Allender says in Bold Love: “…we will not be free to love until the cliche ‘this is not our home’ becomes real.” (139). We were created by God to defend that which is most precious to us. If something has value and worth to us, then we will courageously throw ourselves into danger to protect or preserve it.

A mother will heroically save her children from a wild animal, and a husband will fight a man with a gun who broke into his home to protect his family. Whatever your heart treasures, you will have the courage to sacrifice for it.

So the question you have to answer if you want to be a courageous lover is:

“Do you live for heaven?” or “Do you live demanding that life be like heaven?”

The root problem behind our desire to find concrete, manageable steps to live this Christian life often comes right down to the fact that we demand the right to find order, predictability, comfort and consistency in and from a world where there is little to none.

We spend most of our lives trying to change reality; the fact that life is awful and the truth that this world is not our home. “If we do not anticipate the regularity and tragedy of sin, we unavoidably come to believe that this world is our home.” (139)

This belief and understanding will never help us be rid of the lie that says, “This is your home. You deserve life, love, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” We will never choose the path of courageous, sacrificial love as long as we believe that this life is all there is or is at least as good as the next. I can say this is also true for those who are spiritually stuck in addiction, anger towards God, compulsive habits, unforgiveness & living a justified life because of their strict obedience to all the rules.

We are far too easily satisfied if we truly think that life would be good (better) if I just had this, or if it was just like that, etc…

This is why Jesus says in Matthew 6:33: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” To the degree that this life holds the possibility of “getting something”, we will forever labor and toil and destroy ourselves over things that only heaven can offer (Hebrews 11).

3. Calling: Living out the offense of the Gospel. 1 Corinthians 1:26-27: 26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak… to shame the strong;

The calling of every Christian is to courageously live out a disruptive goodness that embraces the foolishness of the Gospel; the foolish confound the wise and the weak confound the strong. God’s kingdom is an upside down kingdom compared to our impotent kingdoms we set up here on earth.

Our mission is to confound (astonish) the world through being the aroma of weakness and foolishness. Try that on for your mission statement. We appear foolish because our weapons are immaterial (Eph. 6:10-19). We appear weak because our strength comes through humility and submission to Jesus (Matt. 11:28-30; James 4:7).

We can live this way because in the Gospel, we believe and understand our utter helplessness without Christ, and we know our complete acceptance because of Christ.

This Gospel of Jesus produces complete humility before others and rids our hearts and lives of self-righteousness…especially in marriage. But it also give us a profound boldness and security knowing that the God of the universe loves us, accepts us and calls us sons and daughters of His. Thanks be to God!

In 2 Corinthians 4:7-12, Paul is saying that the way of the gospel is death leading to resurrection, weakness resulting in divine strength and power, and humility resulting in a triumphant exaltation, just like Jesus. Paul knows that his death will lead him to a greater life. Life comes out of death. Redemption comes out of devastation. The tomb of Christ became a womb of life. This is the gospel and we are called to live in light of this news. Don’t trade in your suffering and weakness for earthly power. Press into that which brings you low and ask Jesus for eyes to see his kingdom through the lens of foolishness.

4. Conviction: Joining God’s hatred of sin. Romans 8:12-13: 12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

We often hear the phrase “God hates the sin, but loves the sinner.” This sounds good, but the problem is that it is not completely biblically true. The problem comes because sin cannot be removed from the sinner without faith in Jesus.

Go with me here: Without the blood of Christ covering the sin of the sinner (you and I), what is sent to hell; the sin or the sinner? Hell is not a place that houses abstract concepts, sinful desires, and the like. It is a place that was created for Satan and his demons and those who follow suit. God loves shalom, therefore He hates those who willfully and continuously break shalom.

Consider Psalm 5:5-6: 5 “The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. 6 You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.” Or perhaps consider Proverbs 6:16-19: 16 “There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: 17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, 18 a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, 19 a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.”

As an old Puritan writer once said, “Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you!” Our hatred of evil in ourselves and others will deepen the wonder of the cross & the depths of his forgiveness of our sinful hearts. It will also help us have strong, all the way kind of love.

5. Craftiness: The wisdom of a snake, the innocence of a dove. Matthew 10:16: Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

1) Losing your life centers everything around Jesus, His Gospel, and His power. 2) Courage prompts us to face the inevitability of the fight; 3) Calling compels us to actually fight the good fight; 4) Conviction shows us the enemy who we should be fighting with passion and intensity; and 5) Craftiness enables us to get close enough to the enemy to destroy his power and offer the opportunity for surrender.

Only Jesus could make the kind of statement He did in Matthew 10. If anyone else said it, their motive would be questioned. But since we know Jesus is God, and He is good, perfect, loving and just, we now have insight into His intentions in saying this.

Frontal attacks are often expected, and easily guarded against, but surprise attacks often find the enemy on his heels, shocked, with his heart broken down by fear, wonder or amazement by which you have exposed him. This is actually spoken of directly and illustrated in Scripture quite a bit:

Proverbs 25:21-22: 21 If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, 22 for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.

Romans 12:21: Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Our craftiness at its core shows itself by choosing to do good to those who have done us harm. This can’t just happen if Jesus is not the center, and we have not courageously entered the battle, accepted our calling and live with conviction.

All this can’t happen until “the cliche ‘this is not our home’ becomes real.” (139). Whatever our heart treasures, we will have the courage to sacrifice for it.

“Do you live for heaven?” or “Do you live demanding that life be like heaven now?”

As the advent season comes to a close this week, may we all be compelled to explore the love of Christ, the fact that he came as a humble and weak baby, a human. That he entrusted himself to be born to an unmarried teen mom who became a refugee in Egypt, only to move back to Nazareth on the wrong side the tracks, and to live in such a way that he lost his life, was crucified outside the gates of the city, on the margins, because Jesus’ love is that way; humble, sacrificial, and accessible to all (on the margins, the weak and the powerful alike have access). Jesus’ coming and his life and death do much more than offer forgiveness of sin, they are our model for life and godliness and serves as a type of resistance to cultural norms that have clouded the true gospel.

This is the story we must enter, this kind of strong, all the way kind of love. This is the story of love that we must explore, and then allow it to shape us. We must look under every rock and cross every river in this story. We may be moved to sacrifice all we have when we find what it is we are to show love towards. We must live within the story of love and let our imaginations create new ways to live love. We must love when faced with grave injustices, indeed this love will be costly. This is where Jesus camps out…where he does his greatest work. This is where we encounter Jesus…it’s how others encounter Jesus. This is how Jesus is displayed, because Jesus is love. Yet this kind of love will cost our lives, our reputations, and will render us foolish.

Merry Christmas!

An Injustice Anywhere Is A Threat To Justice Everywhere

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This artwork is on the backyard wall of a home facing Roosevelt St. near my home. I drive or walk by it most days, and lately it has spoken much louder to me, of the urgent need for all of humanity to begin looking inward at the injustices that go on everyday, right in front of us, by us, and against us.

It has made me realize that what is going on in Ferguson is a microcosm of what is at war within our hearts and minds. Whatever your analysis of Ferguson is, it would be negligent of all of us to assume that “our” understanding is the “just” view, without taking into consideration all the injustices that take place within injustice. Our story isn;t the only point of view, and we could all spin most stories in certain ways to see the rationale of why people do what they do. But we don’t want to “spin” stories, which means we must be humble enough to step out of our stories and believe that there is truth and reason from the other person’s point of view.

Injustice breeds injustice. Hurt people, hurt people. To say that Ferguson is only a race issue is to ignore all the other injustices. To deny that what’s going on in Ferguson isn’t a race issue is to be ignorant of reality. To step into someones else’s story without a preconceived idea of what to expect is almost impossible, but it’s something we must work towards as neighbors and family members who share this beautiful world.

Maybe we have been guilty of having “single” stories of people and events. Maybe our single story of someone or a people group has become so dominant that we have become part of the injustice against that certain group just by the very nature of not being able to get into their shoes. Maybe our single story has been shaped by news reels and stories of other people from our “tribe”. Maybe our story has been shaped in concrete from snapshots of the worst days of those in the other “tribe”.

I long to get rid of my snapshot judgments and to step into the story of love that allows me to journey in the shoes of those who are different from me, to be a lover of diversity, even if that diversity is offensive to me, or even causes me to rethink the way I view or live within this world.

To be an agent of change, is to be one who accepts responsibility of our thoughts and actions, and I believe if we all begin there, inflammatory moments in our world would at least have more sane people on every side looking inward before arrows are shot outward. Division is dangerous and has ravaged humanity. Looking inward first can give us a clue of the cause of certain divisions and can give us the tools we need to begin rebuilding and reconciling from injustices that go unnoticed day after day.

This is what Jesus gives us the freedom to do. He doesn’t join anyone’s tribe or circle. He doesn’t have to defend any ideology or way of living. He is the way, and his way does not ignore injustice, nor does it exclude people. His way is full of love that pierces through lies and short-sighted worldviews. His way is peace and reconciliation that happens through broken people being accepted by him and freed up to deal with their own junk. Injustice anywhere is a threat to the way of Jesus.

A Path Towards Urban Renewal: Justice

Renewal. This is a loaded word. It’s a word that could be debated as to what it means for a city or neighborhood. I’m aware that attempting to define what renewal looks like is subjective and will certainly lack many elements that others think should be a part of renewal, especially renewal of the urban core. This is exactly why I am writing a series of posts not on what urban renewal looks like, but on what kind of people we must look like for urban renewal to have a chance to be a reality. This is an argument from virtues (areteology), rather than an argument from duty (deontology) or consequences (teleology).

The last post focused on being peaceable people, which in and of itself, cannot encompass the fullness of shalom (the way things are supposed to be). There is no peace without justice. What is happening in Ferguson, MO is all over the airwaves as well as the ISIS crisis that is killing and and displacing thousands of Christians in Iraq and Syria. There is no peace in these situations because there is no justice. If shalom is the end goal of all of creation (human and non-human creation), peaceableness is the top end and justice is the bottom floor, the foundation; they are book ends if you will.

So what is justice? In the Greek culture, justice most likely referred to the Greek goddess Dike, who would have been the personification of the virtue. This is where the Greek (and biblical) word díkaios would have come from, which means, “to be just, or right.” In the biblical sense, the word justice would imply not only the just execution of the law of goodness, but right living on behalf of those who cry out for justice.

Righteous and justice seem to go hand in hand in the biblical narrative, and they actually could be defined by the term justification. In salvation terms, to be justified, is to be declared righteous before God and having been justly acquitted of one’s sin because Jesus paid for what we deserved (justice).

So justice, in part, means to be free and forgiven of one’s sin, and empowered to do what is right based on the freedom one has received. This is the long and difficult way of saying that justice is that state in which everyone receives what is rightful and appropriate. Since humans are created with certain rights (food, clothing, and opportunities to work), then a society is just when everyone in the society enjoys the goods that everyone has rights to. But a society is also just when there are consequences for those who have disregarded or kept others from these certain rights as well. A city that is just is a city that respects the dignity of every human, especially within the Christian worldview that believes that every human is created in the image of God, the righteous and the wicked.

At the least, in the talk of urban renewal, justice is absent whenever basic needs go unmet. This means that liberation from in-justice and deliverance from oppression are at the very core of justice. If one skimmed the Old Testament to search out who were some of the people whom God had special concern for in view of justice, you would see that it is the most vulnerable of society: widows, orphans, aliens, the homeless and hungry, the hungry and afflicted, etc.

If we followed this theme throughout the Old Testament, it would be hard to ignore the loud and clear message that justice happens when the marginal ones are no longer marginal. And this Old Testament understanding of justice is fully embodied in Jesus, who was very concerned with those who were on the margins of society, those who were vulnerable and exploited by people who had the power.

This can also be teased out to include all who have ever come to Jesus for salvation (the forgiveness of one’s sin and being declared right before God). We are all marginalized because of our sin, cut off from God, but because of God’s mercy and love for us, Jesus became one of us, to once and for deal with the rebellion and tyranny that we created. God brought justice to humanity through Jesus’ bloody and ugly death on a cross.

The one who turns to Jesus for salvation, now stands before a just and holy God only on the merits of Christ’s righteousness that has now been assigned to us through what Jesus did to deal with the injustice of our sin against God. The righteous demands of the law—the legal expression of God’s justice—were satisfied when Christ was put to death and suffered the torment of separation from God, in our place. In simpler terms, it is because the “just” paid for the injustice of the “unjust”, that we can be granted mercy and grace as people on the margins, and be brought near to God (no longer in the margins).

This is justice, which flies in the face of a Western view of justice, which would condemn all of us, if we indeed held ourselves to the standard of justice that we hold others to. Justice doesn’t make sense to a world committed to the three P’s: progress, profit, and pursuit of happiness. When we see injustice happening in our city, it usually means that we will have to miss out on one or all of the three P’s if we’re going to stand against it. There’s no money in it for those who want to plead the case of the widow, feed and clothe the naked, or stand against oppressive systems and structures that abuse and exploit the weak. Actually, downward mobility is to be expected if one is going to give their lives to this kind of justice.

The result of living a life of justice in the biblical sense in our 21st century Western society, most of the time, means that we lose ground on the three P’s of our culture and this is not very attractive, at least not long term. To see renewal happen in cities then, I am convinced that we will need an uprising of men and women who are willing to not be controlled by the three P’s, courageously living as an alternative community in the midst of our over-indulgences and commitments to the bottom line and financial sustainability.

This will not be an easy lot for the pioneers of renewal, but justice has never been an easy virtue to live by. After all, justice on God’s part was very costly. What are you willing to give up to live a life of justice in your city? Is the promise of comfort too seductive for you to make radical changes? Ultimately, justice will always prevail, with or without us, but we do have a choice to be on the “just” side, but it’s not attractive nor easy these days.

Weekly @Switchfoot Song: Home

Home. I’m currently reading a book called Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement, and it is bringing out so much more from this song than it used. This is song # 5 on Switchfoot’s first album (The Legend of Chin) which talks about longing for home, a place to belong. Here’s the lyrics:

It’s a long way from Miami to LA
It’s a longer way from yesterday
To where I am today

It’s a long way from my thoughts
To what I’ll say
It’s a long, long way from paradise
To where I am today

All that’s in my head
Is in Your hands

It’s a long way from
The moon up to the sun
It’s a longer road ahead of me
The road that I’ve begun

Stop to think of all the
Time I’ve lost
Start to think of all the
Bridges that I’ve burned
That must be crossed

Over, over, over
Take me over

I’ve been poison
I’ve been rain
I’ve been fooled again

I’ve seen ashes
Shine like chrome
Someday I’ll see home

Home, home

I can see the stars
From way down here
But I can’t fall asleep
Behind the wheel

It’s a long way from the
Shadows in my cave
Up to Your reality to
Watch the sunlight taking over

Over, over, over
Take me over

I’ve been poison
I’ve been rain
I’ve been fooled again

I’ve seen ashes
Shine like chrome
Someday I’ll see home

This is a “gut” honest song. Confession you can call it, or maybe transparency, or both. “I’ve been poison, I’ve been rain…” Feelings of despair creep in so fast sometimes in life, especially when we make stupid decisions and get “fooled again” with the lust of this world, and the fraudulent beauty that lures us all in to destruction. Many times in life, I’ve felt a long way from home (physically and emotionally). I’ve felt displaced often. I am in a season of displacement (or one could call it homelessness). Things have been uprooted and what was home, familiar, safe… has changed. But it’s often in these season of life when we notice the “stars” from the bottom of our “caves” that we’ve been locked in (or that we’ve locked ourselves in). It’s in the darkness of the cave where we cling to the only thing we can… HOPE.

Hope. Home. As long as we have breath, we have the hope of going home. And in this sense, I mean home with God. To the “place” we’ve always longed for, where our deepest desires are met in one person, one being. Home is where you aren’t supposed to be fooled anymore. Home is the place you aren’t supposed to be worried about being accepted. Home is supposed to be a safe place. It’s a place where the vision of ashes can be seen as chrome (a metaphor for beauty). It’s a place where our sin can be forgiven. It’s a place where rivers of life and peace rush back into our souls.

This is the home I long for, and it’s the kind of home I long to offer (at least in glimpses) to my wife and kids and friends and family. A taste of home happens on this earth when we start being honest about where we are at, what we have done, and ask for help. It’s at this place where we will experience home; grace, forgiveness, mercy, peace. Home can be seen as a house, a neighborhood, a church, as family members, a city, or a country; but all these things have one thing in common… they can be taken from us, and when that happens, we become displaced, homeless, and we are found in a dark cave, longing once a gain for the hope of true reality with God. Home.