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Justice and Jesus

By |2022-03-14T10:23:30-04:00March 14th, 2022|

Caesar Augustus (63 BC–AD 14), the first emperor of Rome, wanted to be known as a law-and-order ruler. Even though he built his empire on the back of slave labor, military conquest, and financial bribery, he restored a measure of legal due process and gave his citizens Iustitia, a goddess our justice system today refers to as Lady Justice. He also called for a census that brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem for the birth of a long-awaited ruler whose greatness would reach to the ends of the earth (Micah 5:2–4).   

What neither Augustus nor the rest of the world could have anticipated is how a far greater King would live and die to show what real justice looks like. Centuries earlier, in the prophet Micah’s day, the people of God had once again lapsed into a culture of lies, violence, and “ill-gotten treasures” (6:10–12). God’s dearly loved nation had lost sight of Him. He longed for them to show their world what it meant to do right by each other and walk humbly with Him (v. 8). 

It took a Servant King to personify the kind of justice that hurting, forgotten, and helpless people long for. It took the fulfillment of Micah’s prophecy in Jesus to see right relationships established between God and people, and person-to-person. This would come not in the outward enforcement of Caesar-like law-and-order, but in the freedom of the mercy, goodness, and spirit of our servant King Jesus.

A Time to Speak

By |2021-10-18T09:06:09-04:00October 18th, 2021|

For thirty long years, the African American woman worked faithfully for a large global ministry. Yet when she sought to talk with co-workers about racial injustice, she was met with silence. Finally, however, in the spring of 2020—as open discussions about racism expanded around the world—her ministry friends “started having some open dialogue.” With mixed feelings and pain, she was grateful discussions began, but wondered why it took her colleagues so long to speak up.

Silence can be a virtue in some situations. As King Solomon wrote in the book of Ecclesiastes, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens . . . a time to be silent and a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 7).

Silence in the face of bigotry and injustice, however, only enables harm and hurt. Lutheran pastor Martin Niemoeller, jailed in Nazi Germany, confessed that in a poem he penned after the war. “First they came for the Communists,” he wrote, “but I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.” He added, “then they came for” the Jews, the Catholics, and others, “but I didn’t speak up.” Then finally “they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up.”

It takes courage—and love—to speak up against racism and injustice. Seeking God’s help, however, we recognize the time to speak is now.

Not Seeking Revenge

By |2021-08-22T09:06:03-04:00August 22nd, 2021|

The farmer climbed into his truck and began his morning inspection of the crops. On reaching the farthest edge of the property, his blood began to boil. Someone had used the farm’s seclusion to illegally dump their trash—again.

As he filled the truck with the bags of food scraps, the farmer found an envelope. On it was printed the offender’s address. Here was an opportunity too good to ignore. That night he drove to the offender’s house and filled his garden with not just the dumped trash but his own!

Revenge is sweet, some say, but is it right? In 1 Samuel 24, David and his men are hiding in a cave to escape a murderous King Saul. When Saul wanders into the same cave to relieve himself, David’s men see a too-good-to-ignore opportunity for David to get revenge (vv. 3–4). But David goes against this desire to get even. “The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master,” he says (v. 6). When Saul discovers that David chose to spare his life, he’s incredulous. “You are more righteous than I,” he exclaims (vv. 17–18).

As we or our loved ones face injustice, opportunities to take revenge on offenders may well come. Will we give in to these desires, as the farmer did, or go against them, like David? Will we choose righteousness over revenge?

Good Trouble

By |2021-08-08T09:06:03-04:00August 8th, 2021|

When John Lewis, an American congressman and civil rights leader, died in 2020, people from many political persuasions mourned. In 1965, Lewis marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. to secure voting rights for black citizens. During the march, Lewis suffered a cracked skull, causing scars he carried the rest of his life. “When you see something that is not right, not just, not fair,” Lewis said, “you have a moral obligation to say something. To do something.” He also said: “Never, ever, be afraid to make some noise and get in good, necessary trouble.”

Lewis learned early that doing what was right, to be faithful to the truth, required making “good” trouble. He would need to speak things that were unpopular. The prophet Amos knew this too. Seeing Israel’s sin and injustice, he couldn’t keep quiet. Amos denounced how the powerful were oppressing “the innocent and tak[ing] bribes and depriv[ing] the poor of justice in the courts,” while building “stone mansions” with “lush vineyards.” (Amos 5:11–12). Rather than maintaining his own safety and comfort by staying out of the fray, Amos named the evil. The prophet made good, necessary trouble.

But this trouble aimed at something good—justice for all. “Let justice roll on like a river!” Amos exclaimed (v. 24). When we get into good trouble (the kind of righteous, nonviolent trouble justice requires), the goal is always goodness and healing.

Who Needs Your Support?

By |2021-08-03T08:49:28-04:00August 1st, 2021|

Clifford Williams was sentenced to die for a murder he didn’t commit. From death row he vainly filed motions to reconsider the evidence against him. Each petition was denied—for forty-two years. Then attorney Shelley Thibodeau learned of his case. She found that not only was there no evidence to convict Williams, but that another man had confessed to the crime. At the age of seventy-six, Williams was finally exonerated and released.

 The prophets Jeremiah and Uriah were also in deep trouble. They had told Judah that God promised to judge His people if they didn’t repent (Jeremiah 26:12–13, 20). This message angered the people and officials of Judah, who sought to kill both prophets. They succeeded with Uriah. He fled to Egypt, but was brought back to face the king, who “had him struck down with a sword” (v. 23). Why didn’t they kill Jeremiah? In part because Ahikam “stood up for Jeremiah” (nlt), “and so he was not handed over to the people to be put to death” (v. 24 niv).

We may not know anyone facing death, but we probably know someone who could use our support. Whose rights are trampled? Whose talents are dismissed? Whose voice isn’t heard? It may be risky to step out like Thibodeau or Ahikam, but it’s so right. Who needs us to stand up for them as God guides us?

Facing Fear

By |2021-02-26T08:06:07-05:00February 26th, 2021|

Warren moved to a small town to pastor a church. After his ministry had some initial success, one of the locals took a dislike to him. Concocting a story accusing Warren of horrendous acts, the man took the story to the local newspaper and even printed his accusations on pamphlets to distribute to local residents by mail. Warren and his wife started praying hard. If the lie was believed, their lives would be upended.

King David once experienced something similar. He faced an attack of slander by an enemy. “All day long they twist my words,” he said, “all their schemes are for my ruin” (Psalm 56:5). This sustained assault left him fearful and tearful (v. 8). But in the midst of the battle, he prayed this powerful prayer: “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. . . . What can mere mortals do to me?” (vv. 3–4).

David’s prayer can be a model for us today. When I am afraid—in times of fear or accusation, we turn to God. I put my trust in you—we place our battle in God’s powerful hands. What can mere mortals do to me?—facing the situation with Him, we remember how limited the powers against us really are.

The newspaper ignored the story about Warren. For some reason, the pamphlets were never distributed. What battle are you fearing today? Talk to God. He is willing to fight it with you.

A Mighty Stream

By |2021-01-28T08:06:04-05:00January 28th, 2021|

Among the many exhibits and artifacts exploring the harsh reality of slavery and its aftermath in the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC, I was grateful to discover the Contemplative Court. This tranquil room features translucent walls of bronze glass, and water appears to rain down from the ceiling into a pool.

As I sat in that peaceful space, a quote on the wall from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. caught my eye: “We are determined . . . to work and fight until justice rains down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.” These powerful words are drawn from the Old Testament book of Amos.

Amos was a prophet living among a people who were involved in religious activities, such as celebrating festivals and offering sacrifices, but whose hearts were far from God (Amos 5:21–23). God rejected their activities because they’d turned away from His commands, including those regarding justice toward the needy and oppressed.

Instead of religious ceremonies devoid of love for God and others, Amos wrote that God longed for His people to demonstrate genuine concern for the welfare of all people, a generous way of living that would be a mighty river bringing life wherever it flowed.

Jesus taught the same truth that loving God is connected with loving our neighbors (Matthew 22:37–39). As we seek to love God, may it come from hearts that also treasure justice.

Loving the Stranger

By |2020-10-12T09:06:04-04:00October 12th, 2020|

When I moved to a new country, one of my first experiences left me feeling unwelcome. After finding a seat in the little church where my husband was preaching that day, a gruff older gentleman startled me when he said, “Move along down.” His wife apologized as she explained that I was sitting in the pew they always occupied. Years later I learned that congregations used to rent out pews, which raised money for the church and also ensured no one could take another person’s seat. Apparently some of that mentality carried on through the decades.

Later, I reflected on how the Lord instructed the Israelites to welcome foreigners, in contrast to cultural practices such as I encountered. In setting out the laws that would allow His people to flourish, the Lord reminded them to welcome foreigners because they themselves were once foreigners (Leviticus 19:34). Not only were they to treat strangers with kindness (v. 33) but they were also to “love them as [themselves]” (v. 34). God had rescued them from oppression in Egypt, giving them a home in a land “flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:17). He expected His people to love others who also made their home there.

How could you welcome a stranger in your midst? As you consider this, ask God to reveal any cultural practices that might keep you from sharing His love to those you don’t yet know.

Rescue the Weak

By |2020-08-27T09:05:03-04:00August 27th, 2020|

Which would you choose—a skiing holiday in Switzerland or rescuing children from danger in Prague? Nicholas Winton, just an ordinary man, chose the latter. In 1938, war between Czechoslovakia and Germany seemed on the horizon. After Nicholas visited refugee camps in Prague, where many Jewish citizens lived in horrible conditions, he felt compelled to come up with a plan to help. He raised money to transport hundreds of children safely out of Prague to Great Britain to be cared for by British families before the onset of World War II.

His actions exemplified those called for in Psalm 82: “Uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed” (v. 3). Asaph, the writer of this psalm, wanted to stir his people to champion the cause of those in need: “Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked” (v. 4). Like the children Nicholas worked tirelessly to rescue, the psalmist spoke for those who couldn’t speak for themselves—the poor and the widowed who needed justice and protection.

Today, everywhere we look we see people in need due to war, storms, and other hardships of life. Although we can’t solve every problem, we can prayerfully consider what we can do to help in the situations God brings into our lives.

Touched by Grace

By |2019-08-12T17:16:05-04:00August 20th, 2019|

In Leif Enger’s novel Peace Like a River, Jeremiah Land is a single father of three working as a janitor at a local school. He’s also a man of deep, sometimes miraculous, faith. Throughout the book, his faith is often tested. Jeremiah’s school is run by Chester Holden, a mean-spirited superintendent with a skin condition...

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