I Kill Me!

I enjoy laughing (at) with people. I find it entertaining to watch parents try to teach their kids to share. It’s obviously a long process which takes patience and typically involves a lot of frustration. I find it particularly amusing to see parents that are intervening on a little kiddy-brawl over some toy and eventually the parents step away, trying to convince themselves that progress is being made. At the same time, when the parent has turned his or her back, the child has once again snatched the toy back again.
The reason parents need to do all of that teaching is that we are all inherently selfish and self-centered. It starts as a baby when we have to learn to share, but it certainly isn’t something that stops there. Our selfishness doesn’t go away, it simply takes different forms as we get older. We learn to hide it, but it’s still there. We even start trying to convince ourselves that we aren’t that selfish and that we often sacrifice for others. But even our “selfless acts” are often selfish, seeking to fill a need within us for love or praise.
When we become Christians, we claim we are following Christ, but we often hold much of ourselves back because of our selfishness. Our service to him comes filled with conditions – I will serve if I want to, if it doesn’t interfere with other more important things, if it isn’t too difficult, if it doesn’t take too much time or energy, if I feel good about it afterwards…
Our place as Christians isn’t to pick and choose what we want; it’s to do God’s work wherever He sends us. For example, if we notice a need, it’s a good bet that God has put it in our way to notice it for a reason.
We may say, “But what if I don’t want to work in this ministry? I don’t like doing those things!” That is our sinful, selfishness attitudes coming through!
It isn’t about what we want!
The NT uses death as an analogy for being and becoming a Christian over and over again:

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.
-Gal 2:20
 
But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.
-Rom 8:10
 
For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.
-2 Cor 4:11-12
 
The saying is trustworthy, for: rIf we have died with him, we will also live with him.
-2 Tim 2:11
 
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.
-1 Pet 2:24

It’s not about what “I” like, what “I” want, or what “I” think “I” need, because, in a sense, “I” am dead!
Many years ago I volunteered to help with VBS. Do you know what task I got that year? Small group leader for a group of 3rd and 4th graders! Me, with a Bible and ministry degree, who had been teaching students for years, who can do music and has various technical skills, “I” am being asked to usher around a bunch of little kids! Part of me wanted to just say no.
But I remembered that it isn’t about the “I”, its about the ministry. “I” had to die, to remember that this was a need that I could fill, and “I” had the opportunity to minister to a group of kids for 5 days. Did I enjoy it? No! But I knew that it was what God wanted me to do that week.
When it becomes about me, the biggest problem is that it isn’t about Him. We become self-reliant, capable of doing it on our own, at least in our own minds. We are the opposite of the “poor in spirit” that Jesus talked about in the Sermon on the Mount. We no longer see our desperate need for the grace that comes through Christ’s sacrifice. It is reliance on that grace that must drive our lives, not reliance on ourselves.
 
When we are relying on that grace, some amazing things happen. We stop seeing things from our sinful, selfish perspective and we gradually start seeing things the way God wants us to see them. Our ministry opportunities aren’t chores we have to do, they are blessings – opportunities to serve. The people we come into contact with aren’t just people that might get in our way, they are people we can impact positively for Christ. Our lives no longer follow the pattern of simply following a bunch of rules, we see the Holy Spirit’s hand in our lives, guiding us along.
That is the Freedom in Christ that the New Testament also talks about that goes along with the death of our old selves. We have the freedom to follow Christ where he guides us, and we are no longer bound by the legalism of following the law. We will no longer seek to earn salvation; we will finally realize that we already have it!

It Isn’t That Complicated

We really do some ridiculous stuff sometimes, don’t we? For example, Francis Chan uses an easy analogy that points something that is pretty simple that we all do that really is unquestionably stupid. Imagine you have a teenage daughter, and you tell that daughter to clean her room. If she comes to you an hour later and says, “Hey, I went and I memorized what you told me: ‘Go and clean your room!’” are you going to be happy with her? What if she says, “I can now say ‘Go and clean your room’ in Greek!” or “Some friends and I have organized a study to get together weekly to talk about what it would look like if we followed what you said and cleaned our rooms”? While this would lead many lists of most inventive ways to avoid doing chores, this would probably not amuse you as the hypothetical parent.

The thing is, we do the same thing with our not-so-hypothetical Father, and He isn’t amused either. Jesus said it clearly;

If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
-John 14:15 (ESV)

What does this mean? It means that if you love Jesus (aka Christian) you will do what Jesus said. What does it imply? If you do not do what Jesus said, you do not love him (aka not-Christian).

This doesn’t mean that following Christ, keeping his commandments, is easy. The next verse in John is Jesus’ promise to send the Holy Spirit, whom he calls “The Helper” because he’s here to help us, and we most certainly need the help! But we have what we need to follow Christ – we have the help and the words, and it isn’t any more complicated from that point on than doing what Jesus said. Part of that is knowing what Jesus said.

We must know the Bible, understand what it says, study it in depth, and talk about it at church and in small groups. It should become central to our lives and the foundation for everything that we do. However, if we study the Bible but we don’t let it change us, there really isn’t any value in the study. If the Bible isn’t radically changing how we view and interact with the world around us, then we would just as well to study The Hobbit or Crime and Punishment or some Harry Potter novel. At least those wouldn’t make us uncomfortable.

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
-James 1:22

Check out Francis Chan in “BASIC: Follow Jesus

Thoughts to drive us

Desiring to be great is not a sin. It is motivation that determines ambition’s character. Our Lord never taught against the urge to high achievement, but He did expose and condemn unworthy motivation…Ambition that centers on the glory of God and welfare of the church is a mighty force for good.
-J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership

For too many years we felt like the fear of the Lord was a bad thing, and we didn’t realize that this is the very thing that would lead us to life. Without the fear of the Lord you’re not going to understand why you should follow Jesus. Without a proper understanding of the fear of the Lord we wouldn’t understand the power that’s available to us through the Holy Spirit.
God wants you to fear Him because that’s going to lead you to a life that you’ve never had. It’s a better life. It’s a secure life. It’s a life that we were created for.
-Francis Chan, “BASIC. Fear God

It is His grace that constantly provides us with life, guidance, comfort, strength, and anything else we need. We owe all our usefulness and goodness to His grace.
-Charles Spurgeon, Look Unto Me: The Devotions of Charles Spurgeon

If you desire to reach something higher than an ordinary, lowly existence, look to the Rock who is higher than you and gaze with eyes of faith through the window of persistent prayer. Once you unlock the window on your side of heaven, you will find it unlocked on the other side as well.
-Charles Spurgeon, Look Unto Me: The Devotions of Charles Spurgeon

Nowadays, there are millions of people on this earth who call themselves followers of Jesus, but their lives look nothing like his. And they’re not obeying the things that He called them to do. And yet in their hearts, they’re convinced they’re followers…
…In the Church we’ve done this weird thing where we go “The rules to ‘Follow Jesus’ are different than the rules to ‘Follow the Leader.’ See, in ‘Follow Jesus,’ we don’t actually have to do what He does, we just do it in our heart.”
-Francis Chan, “BASIC. Follow Jesus

See, these words that we give without action behind it, that was never acceptable to Jesus. He says, “It’s pretty simple. When I say, ‘Follow me,’ you follow me. You do what I do. And when I ask you to do something, you just obey.”
-Francis Chan, “BASIC. Follow Jesus

Hope…does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next
-CS Lewis, Mere Christianity

The goal of the missionary is to do God’s will, not to be useful or to win the lost. A missionary is useful and he does win the lost, but that is not his goal. His goal is to do the will of his Lord.
-Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest via www.utmost.org

Being a disciple means deliberately identifying yourself with God’s interests in other people.
-Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest via www.utmost.org

Most people spend their lives trying to make their heart’s fondest dreams come true. Isn’t that what life is all about, “the pursuit of happiness”? We search endlessly for ways to acquire the things we desire, and we are willing to sacrifice much to achieve them. We never imagine that getting our heart’s deepest desires might be the worst thing that can ever happen to us.
-Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods

Herculean Poverty

In many, maybe even most, ways, Jesus grew up in a pretty typical way. The Bible says that “Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” (Luke 2:52, ESV) Sounds pretty normal to me. The only story we have between his birth story and the beginning of his ministry is one odd account of him speaking with the teachers at the temple. While the story may be a little odd and shows us that Jesus was special, he was still just a kid. In around 30 years of life, that is the only story of significance that is shared with us from the Bible about Jesus, until he starts his ministry.
He gets a bit of a walking start, teaching here and there in synagogues and to small groups. People hear about him healing the sick, and the curiosity of the supernatural starts bringing in crowds. Matthew chapter 5 is the real launch of Jesus’ large scale ministry. It’s the “Big Show,” the start of crowds, recognition, acclaim, and fame in Israel. From Jesus’ perspective, this is the first opportunity to share God’s Word with a huge group of people. This is a significant time, and it calls for a significant message. What would be the first words that Jesus would share?

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 5:3)

Well that’s interesting! Someone’s getting the kingdom of heaven; those who are “poor in spirit.” People are probably thinking, “I’m poor in general, so that probably means poor in spirit. Is this me?”
Its one of those statements that you hear or read and sort of roll past. It isn’t complicated wording, there isn’t some sort of graduate-level vocabulary being used, and its not one of those statements that you get the impression the speaker went to the Thesaurus to come up with a complicated word to make him or herself sound sagacious. No, Jesus said some very simple words, words that we can easily roll past but that hold a very profound meaning.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

A simple statement that can be read so easily while hiding a depth of meaning and insight. What does it mean to be poor in spirit? Who is poor in spirit? It doesn’t even sound good – would you ever think, “I’d really like to be poor in spirit?” Or would you run into someone and say, “Wow, they’re amazing! They are so poor in spirit!”
The only way I can process “poor in spirit” in my mind is to start with the opposite – rich in spirit. People who are rich in spirit are confident in themselves and their abilities. They can do it on their own; they are strong enough to power through whatever is happening by the strength of their will and their abilities. They are all they need. They are rich in spirit!
We are called to be something different; in fact, we are called to be the complete opposite. We are to understand that we are nothing; we are weak, helpless, without power or strength or ability. In and of ourselves, we can’t do anything at all.
This is the attitude that God wants from us, so much so that when we have it we will be given the Kingdom of Heaven! Why? Because this is the attitude, the heart condition, that God uses – He works through our weakness and inability, not through our strength. He wants and deserves the glory, and when something as poor, helpless and pathetic as we are accomplishes great things through His power, He receives the glory!
Think about the examples we have in the Bible. Gideon was the least of the least of the least, a scrawny little geeky kid. God called him to lead an army, and then slashed the army down to almost nothing before He sent them to defeat an overwhelming occupying force. How about Moses, a stuttering, murdering goat herder who God used to defeat the mightiest army in the world and free His people to go to the Promised Land. Samson was the strongest, most powerful man of his day; think of him as an even more impressive Kevin Sorbo. However, it wasn’t until this powerhouse of a man was reduced to a pathetic, blind slave that God used Samson to defeat His enemies; that is what it took for Samson to make his heart right before God. Pray that we learn to be poor of spirit a little quicker than Samson!
D. Martin Lloyd-Jones writes:

[Poor in spirit] means a complete absence of pride, a complete absence of self-assurance and of self-reliance. It means a consciousness that we are nothing in the presence of God. It is nothing, then, that we can produce; it is nothing that we can do in ourselves. It is this tremendous awareness of our utter nothingness as we come face to face with God. That is to be ‘poor in spirit’.
-D. Martin Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount

We have to come to God and pray that He empty us of our spirit, our pride, our belief in ourselves. We recognize that we are nothing except what God has put in us, and we fully rely on His guidance in our lives.

Thoughts to drive us

Faith can be very creative.
-Charles Spurgeon, Look Unto Me: The Devotions of Charles Spurgeon

Jesus personally taught us how to think/pray today: Our Father…Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven!
-Louie Giglio, @louiegiglio

If you desire to reach something higher than an ordinary, lowly existence, look to the Rock who is higher than you and gaze with eyes of faith through the window of persistent prayer. Once you unlock the window on your side of heaven, you will find it unlocked on the other side as well.
-Charles Spurgeon, Look Unto Me: The Devotions of Charles Spurgeon

Fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms
-C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

It’s much easier to make a point than to make a difference.
-Andy Stanley, via @PastorMark

A missionary is someone in whom the Holy Spirit has brought about this realization: “You are not your own” (1 Corinthians 6:19).
-Oswald Chambers, @oschambers

Some come to church to worship, but it’s better to come worshiping to church.
-Louie Giglio, @louiegiglio

The God of the Bible says, as it were, “I am the poor on your step. Your attitude toward them reveals what your true attitude is toward me.” A life poured our in doing justice for the poor is the inevitable sign of any real, true gospel faith.
-Tim Keller, Generous Justice

Light is used to reveal things. Thus, a Christian’s light should shine so brightly that a person could not know him even one week without also knowing the gospel.
-Charles Spurgeon, Look Unto Me: The Devotions of Charles Spurgeon

Shakespeare, Aliens and AlGore

I like having answers. I have spent a large portion of my life seeking them; in high school, where I often came up with answers I didn’t want to spend time finding; in college and grad school, where I spent a lot of money getting answers; and in independent study, where I can study and make up whatever answers I want!

The problem with liking answers, and one that I try to avoid, is the idea that we can tend to think that we have all of them. I believe it’s a tough thing to balance; on the one hand, we remember we are but dust (there’s a good junior high joke there). On the other hand, we are called to “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” (1 Pet 3:15, ESV) We need to understand and have answers, but at the same time we have to be humble enough to recognize our lowly position compared to God, or we risk speaking too proudly and needing God to knock us down a couple of notches (see Job 38 – really, go read it…it’s scary!).

My favorite non-biblical quote is from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, act 1, scene V:

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

No matter how much we study, how many answers we seek, and how much knowledge we accumulate, we will never get to a point where we have even the slightest grasp of the whole picture. Even today, when science and knowledge are at higher levels than at any other time in history because of broad educational opportunities, along with advancements and technologies like the internet (Thanks AlGore!), we have only scratched the surface of God’s creation. Yet today there are many who think that we are far beyond scratching the surface; we are in fact nearing a grasp on understanding how the entire universe works! They are looking for a grand unifying theory, or a god particle, or some other scientific explanation for everything, and they believe those explanations are within reach of places like CERN or MIT. Many who are obsessed with science, and it seems particularly those who are fixated on evolutionary biology and physics, believe they have the answers and that the debate is over (another shout out to AlGore on that one as well). These individuals would do well to learn from Shakespeare – there is more in our universe than we could ever dream of, and to say we think we have a grasp on how everything works (or really how anything works) is ridiculous.

So what can we do? We can talk about what we believe and what we have learned, but at the end humbly acknowledge that all truth has come to us from God and He is continually revealing things to us. We can stand firmly on those things He has said in His word, we can speak with confidence towards many of those things that have truly been proven through science or philosophy, and we can humbly state what we believe to be true while acknowledging that at times we may be (and are) wrong. As Agent K points out in the movie Men In Black,

Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.

While there may not be aliens living with us on earth, it is interesting to think about what we “know” and how it will be viewed in the future. Are we standing on God’s truth, or are we taking a stand on something less? Are we pushing something that we cannot know for certain, or are we humbly stating our beliefs along with our faith that God is in control and knows everything?

For years I’ve heard people taking hard stands on things like the end times, the age of our planet/universe, what exact year Jesus was born, and a whole pile of other things that I really don’t think we need to be taking such a hard line on. Do we have opinions on these things? Yeah! Can we discuss them? Sure. Are these things the focus of our lives or our personal theology? NO!

“…what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)
“Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (Ecc 12:13)
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt 22:37-40)

None of these passages or numerous passages like them talk about ensuring you win the Theology Royal Rumble or that you pound your beliefs into others. What they do require is a searching of God’s Word in order to better understand what He has called each of us individually to do in order to worship and serve Him. We recognize that He is beyond our greatest imagination, that His workings are supernatural, that nothing we could dream up can come close to the truth of His awesome power and majesty, and that we can rest in the knowledge that He is in complete control of everything.

Thoughts to drive us

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
Hamlet, Act 1, Scene V

The image of God carries with it the right to not be mistreated or harmed.
-Tim Keller, Generous Justice

For lovely things would simply not be unless they were from thee. They come to be and they pass away, and by coming they begin to be, and they grow toward perfection. Then, when perfect, they begin to wax old and perish, and, if all do not wax old, still all perish. Therefore, when they rise and grow toward being, the more rapidly they grow to maturity, so also the more rapidly they hasten back toward nonbeing. This is the way of things. This is the lot thou hast given them, because they are part of things which do not all exist at the same time, but by passing away and succeeding each other they all make up the universe, of which they are all parts.
-Augustine, Confessions

If you have been assigned the goods of this world by God and you don’t share them with others, it isn’t stinginess, it is injustice.
-Tim Keller, Generous Justice

Evil is a parasite, not an original thing.
-C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

O thou, Omnipotent Good, thou carest for every one of us as if thou didst care for him only, and so for all as if they were but one!
-Augustine, Confessions

The gospel, in short, must be used to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
@DailyKeller (multiple sources)

God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.
-C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Jesus thinks I can get everything done today about as much as He thought His disciples could feed 5000 with a boy’s lunch.
-Louie Giglio, @louiegiglio

I remember one of my parishioners responding to one of my sermons… “All the poor people in my part of town have nice TV sets. They aren’t starving,” he said. But (Jonathan) Edwards says that this hardheartedness is not in accord with the Biblical command to love your neighbor as yourself. We don’t wait until we are in “extremity” before doing something about our condition, he argued, so why should we wait until our neighbor is literally starving before we help?
-Tim Keller, Generous Justice

We all want to help kind-hearted, upright people, whose poverty came upon them through no foolishness or contribution of their own, and who will respond to our aid with gratitude and joy. However, almost no one like that exists.
-Tim Keller, Generous Justice

If physical objects please you, praise God for them, but turn back your love to their Creator, lest, in those things which please you, you displease him.
-Augustine, Confessions

Die before you die, there is no chance after.
-C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces

Paul teaches that the money we have is as much a gift of God as the manna was a gift to the Israelites in the desert. Though some are more able “gatherers”-that is, some are better at making money than others-the money you earn is a gift of God. Therefore, the money you make must be shared to build up community. So wealthier believers must share with poorer ones, not only within a congregation but also across congregations and borders. (See 2 Corinthians 8:15 and its context.) To extend the metaphor – money that is hoarded for oneself rots the soul.
-Tim Keller, Generous Justice
(emphasis mine)

The gleaning laws enabled the poor to be self-sufficient, not through getting a handout, but through their own work in the field.
How can business owners follow the same principles today? They should not squeeze every penny of profit out of their businesses for themselves by charging the highest fees and prices to customers and paying the lowest possible wages to workers. Instead, they should be willing to pay higher wages and charge lower prices that in effect share the corporate profits with employees and customers, with the community around them. This always creates a more vibrant, strong human community. How could a government follow the gleaning principle? It would do so by always favoring programs that encourage work and self-sufficiency rather than dependency.
-Tim Keller, Generous Justice

What if you aren’t poor in spirit? That would mean you don’t believe you are so sinful, morally bankrupt, and lost that only free grace can possibly save you…Even though the Bible doesn’t use the term, by inference we can say that you are “middle-class in spirit.”
…My experience as a pastor has been that those who are middle-class in spirit tend to be indifferent to the poor, but people who have come to grasp the gospel of grace and become spiritually poor find their hearts gravitating toward the materially poor. To the degree that the gospel shapes you self-image, you will identify with those in need.
-Tim Keller, Generous Justice

Scary Justice

He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
-Micah 6:8

We didn’t talk much about justice growing up; at least not in the way I often hear it talked about now. We didn’t talk about giving hope to the oppressed, bringing poverty to an end, or changing social and political structures to eliminate disadvantages for those in need. As I went off to college, I immediately dropped into a Christian community where this was one of the most discussed issues, and it scared me. One source of my fear was intimidation; I was immediately entering into discussions and debates with people who had studied the subject at some length and had a far more nuanced understanding of the issue than I had. Another source of my fear was how I understood the message coming from one side of the debate: I had been born at a huge advantage simply because of who my family was, and I needed to intentionally give up those advantages to others who did not have similar family backgrounds for the sake of justice. And I needed to do it now. I didn’t (and still don’t) really know what any of that means and it certainly was not the best message I could have received from the discussion. However, it was a message that most certainly was being communicated, and many of my friends felt the same way I did. We felt like we had three options – agree, and take action to remove our “advantages,” though none of us knew what that meant; fall back and hide from the discussion; or lash out against those who were delivering this message and, in a sense, defend our families and our upbringing. At various times I tried all three tactics and accomplished nothing, except to bring about a profound confusion in my own mind about what the idea of “social justice” actually meant. In honesty, I still haven’t really grasped the concept, but God has taught me a few things since.

God is a God of justice, and we are commanded to play a role in supporting that justice in this world. It is true that some of us have been born with certain advantages that others haven’t. I was born in a loving, Christian family with good educational opportunities and with a broad base of support. I grew up with advantages like freedom to attend quality schooling, enough money to buy food and clothing, and parents that were actively engaged in teaching me and helping me to grow as a person. My family was far from rich, but this is more than many children can hope for. For example, I have students in my youth group now who were born in a country that hated them simply because of who their family was, they were driven from their homes while family and friends were killed, they marched through dangerous jungles so that they could live in cramped and dangerous refugee camps, and eventually relocated to a city with a completely different language and culture with nothing except about a $4,000 debt incurred in getting them there. No objective person looks at those two situations and says that the disparity in opportunity is fair.

The question we have to wrestle with is this: what do we do about it. I still believe that striving to give up everything I have been given is wrong; that is bad stewardship and shows a disrespect for the blessings that God has given me. However, I am called to “do justice, and to love kindness.” How can I use the gifts and blessings that God has given me to support and care for those around me who are in need? This is a question that needs to be asked often; not only now, but when I am looking to buy a new car, or home furnishings, or clothes: just because I can afford it on my income does not mean that is how God wants me to spend my income. As Christians, we should be marked by our generosity – our giving should not simply be about giving that 10% in the offering plate every Sunday, it should be that, PLUS other needs that present themselves. Maybe that means supporting a missionary that is working internationally, maybe that means supporting a local organization working with the poor. That might mean volunteering time to do some hands-on justice. It almost certainly means building intentional relationships to encourage and support others. Tim Keller comments on Jonathan Edwards’ view on the subject, saying;

Real love entails risk and sacrifice. Edwards responds that when you say, “I can’t help anyone,” you usually mean, “I can’t help anyone without burdening myself, cutting in to how I live my life.” But, Edwards argues, that’s exactly what Biblical love requires.
-Tim Keller, Generous Justice

As I said earlier, I was not taught about formal “social justice” growing up. But, you know what; I was taught that there was right and wrong, fair and unfair. I was taught that we were called to love and care for anyone who was in need. That lesson extended to our neighbors, when they were going through a tough time; to the illegal immigrant that moved into the community; to the hitchhiker on the side of the road; to the beggar we saw on the sidewalk. God gave us everything we have, including and especially the incredible grace we have received in the forgiveness of our sins and the regeneration of our dark, sinful souls into what God has and continues to create in us-something clean and pure and pleasing to Him. We don’t seek to bring justice to others out of obligation, but as a continuation of what God has done in us. We were poor, wretched, and blind, and Jesus Christ has given us everything! Now we can humbly go and bring those blessings to others.

Evil and Hope

We look around at the world and see a lot of things. We see beauty and many wonders, and praise the Creator God. We see mysteries and stand in awe at the Omnipotent God for whom all things are possible. We see the intricacy and order of our lives, our world and our universe and give thanks to the Immutable God.
However, we see other things. We see pain and suffering. We see natural disasters, like the tsunami that devastated Japan and the hurricane that ravaged Haiti. We see pure evil from other human beings, like the death, pain and suffering that my wife and I got a small glimpse of on our visit to Thailand. Or we see that evil all around the world in random acts of violence and destruction. We see that evil in the reports of hate-driven violence and abuse in our own country. We see that evil in the pain we see in our own children because of bullying; psychological and emotional abuse (not to mention physical abuse) that is driving teen after teen to attempt suicide because they have lost hope. They have lost hope that their lives will get better; that this fallen world can offer them anything good in the future; that there are people that care about them and believe in them – not some persona or mask they put on, but in who they truly are, warts and all.
I recently spent some time with a high school student who has given up on Christianity because of these very things. He sees pain and suffering all around the world and he wonders where God is in it all – if the God of the Bible is true, where is the justice that He promises? He has heard what the church has to say, and he just does not see it.
There is a song that means a lot to me called Be Lifted or Hope Rising by the David Crowder* Band. Take a listen;

The song reminds me of Revelation chapter 6, where it says:

I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” (vs 9-10, NIV)

These voices of the martyrs come from under the altar crying out for justice, that they be avenged for their wrongful deaths. They are asking the all-powerful and just God to make things right. Guess what…they are avenged! Justice comes, not only for the wrongs committed against them, but for every wrong committed to everyone!
As we view and experience pain and suffering in our personal lives, we have to remember that God is in control. He is coming back. He will bring justice and renew creation. We cannot let our personal pain and the current struggles obscure the fact that God is a just God, and that we need to “wait a little longer”(v 11). The reality is our world probably is not going to get better before it gets worse, but we can’t give up. Hold on to hope. Lift up your head; God is not done with you.
Just because the world is like this and is getting worse does not mean we are to give up on it. We are called to do our part to bring justice to the world in this life. That does not mean we are all supposed to become judge and jury for all of the wrongs that we see, like a bunch of Christian avenging superheroes.

We are called to love others, to act justly, to do what we are able to do to lessen the burden on others. That may mean working with refugees or the poor, doing international relief work, financially supporting organizations like Kiva or (RED), or to simply go out of your way to build a relationship with someone who needs a friend (people are not projects, they are friends). The truth is most of us should be doing several of these things. That may seem like a lot, like it requires sacrifice, pain and struggles. It does. Following Christ is not easy; if it has been, you are doing it wrong.

Thoughts to drive us

Thou owest men nothing, yet payest out to them as if in debt to thy creature, and when thou dost cancel debts thou losest nothing thereby.
-Augustine of Hippo, The Confessions

We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn’
-C.S. Lewis, @CSLewisDaily

It would be a good contest among Christians, one to labor to give no offense, and the other to labor to take none.”
-Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed

Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.
-Thomas Edison

God whispers to us in our pleasure, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.
-C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

If the last will truly be first, why are we always fighting to get to the front of the line?
-Louie Giglio, @LouieGiglio

Every sin is an act of cosmic treason, a futile attempt to dethrone God in His sovereign authority.
-R.C. Sproul

If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
-C.S. Lewis, @CSLewisDaily

After calming the sea he said, “Why are you afraid?” Not because Christians never drown. But they are safe in drowning.
-John Piper, @JohnPiper

Resentment is like taking poison and hoping the other person dies.
-Augustine of Hippo

[America] is the country with the most radical and realistic view of evil at its core-expressed in the notion of the separation of powers in the Constitution because of human nature and the abuse of power. But various philosophies and ideas have undermined that view over the last 200 years, so that American views today are weak, confused, and divided. On one side, many progressive liberals still think that we humans are essentially good and getting better and better. On the other side, many postmoderns actually think it is worse to judge evil than to do evil. And in the middle, many ordinary folk plaster life with rainbows and smile buttons and wander through life on the basis of sentiment and clichés.
-Os Guinness, “Author Insight: Os Guinness on Evil (Part 1)”

The real problem is not why some pious, humble, believing people suffer, but why some do not
-C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

Human sloth pretends to long for rest, but what sure rest is there save in the Lord? Luxury would fain be called plenty and abundance; but thou art the fullness and unfailing abundance of unfading joy. Prodigality presents a show of liberality; but thou art the most lavish giver of all good things. Covetousness desires to possess much; but thou art already the possessor of all things. Envy contends that its aim is for excellence; but what is so excellent as thou? Anger seeks revenge; but who avenges more justly than thou? Fear recoils at the unfamiliar and the sudden changes which threaten things beloved, and is wary for its own security; but what can happen that is unfamiliar or sudden to thee? Or who can deprive thee of what thou lovest? Where, really, is there unshaken security save with thee?
-Augustine of Hippo, The Confessions