Jesus, Justice and Bruised Reeds

God’s justice is characterized by His preference for mercy.

“Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory; and in his name the Gentiles will hope.” (Matthew 12:18-21 ESV)

These are the words of the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 42:1-4) that Jesus fulfilled according to the Gospel of Matthew. They are echoed in the baptism of Jesus when the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in the form of a dove, and a voice from heaven spoke and said: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:17)

Of particular note to me is the statement that Jesus came “to proclaim justice to the Gentiles”, and he will “bring justice to victory; and in his name the Gentiles will hope!” For the past two years, I have read through the Bible from start to finish focusing on the theme of justice (among other things).

The theme of justice is everywhere in scripture when you look for it! Justice is particularly embedded in the messianic prophecies and promises. The coming, the life, the death and the resurrection of Jesus is all about righteousness and justice.

I believe that modern Americans have a warped view of what justice means, biblically. We tend to view justice as retributive and punitive. Justice in a popular sense tends to mean people getting their just desserts, but that isn’t what we see in Scripture.

The prophets warned God’s people about two main things: idolatry and failing to do justice. Obeying God’s commands fit more or less into these two broad categories of worshiping God alone and doing right by people.

These are the two great categories of the ten commandments. Thus, the law is summed up this way: love God and love your neighbor.

When God executed judgment on His people in the OT in keeping with the warnings spoken by the prophets, He always did so in hope that His people would turn from their wicked ways. Judgement as a subset of justice was redemptive. It’s aim was to guide people back to right relationship with God and to each other.

Overarching God’s justice is His preference for mercy, because His ultimate desire is for relationship with us. He desires also that we would have healthy relationships with each other (love your neighbor) in the same way. A right relationship with God and with our other human beings (and the world we live in) is the essence of what it means to be righteous and just.

Continue reading “Jesus, Justice and Bruised Reeds”

Breakfast in America: A Litmus Test for the Church?

We can forget that we are ambassadors for Christ everywhere we go, in everything we do, and to each and every person that we meet

I was listening to an interview of Kevin Finch. He is the nephew of the well-known pastor, author and thinker, Eugene Peterson. Kevin comes from a long line of pastors going back generations, and he is the founder of a ministry to people in the food industry called The Big Table.

The food industry may seem like a strange idea to target for a ministry. Kevin is eloquent in explaining his call to this ministry, hearing the clear voice of God and all. The website provides some further insight.

The restaurant and hospitality sector of the workforce is the largest sector of the workforce in the country, doubling any other industry. It is also growing faster than any other segment of the workforce. The Big Table website describes it as a “catch basin” for “all of the most vulnerable demographics” – single parents, at-risk teens, immigrants, ex-felons trying to turn their lives around, etc.

Perhaps, one reason for the vulnerable demographic is that anyone willing to work can get a job in the restaurant and hospitality world. It is often the first place people look for entry level work and the last place people look when all else fails.

“But put so many at-risk individuals together under one roof and it is not surprising that this industry has the highest rates of people struggling with alcohol and drug addiction, massive amounts of divorce and broken relationships, redline stress levels, job instability, rapid turnover, and almost no safety net.”

Restaurant and hospitality workers get paid (often not very much) for serving others with smiles on their faces, while a large portion of them suffer in own their lives. The website reports the following:

  • Forty three percent (43%) of workers in the restaurant and hospitality industry fall below the “survival” line – DOUBLE the rate of any other working population;
  • Workers in the restaurant and hospitality industry struggle with drug and alcohol addiction more than any other working group; and
  • Benefits, like health insurance, vacations, sick time, etc. are largely not available for workers in the restaurant and hospitality industry.

In my own experience, I see that workers in the restaurant and hospitality industry are often exploited. They don’t get paid overtime. Bosses often schedule them part time to avoid overtime pay so they have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet. Many get paid less than minimum wage and must rely on tips. They sometimes get paid “under the table”, which usually means they are paid less.

Working conditions can be extremely stressful in a hot kitchen or full restaurant, under the pressure of demanding bosses, expectant and often ungrateful patrons, and ever changing conditions. The lowest paid workers are often the first target of angry customers and critical bosses.

One of my first jobs in high school was as a busboy in a popular restaurant. I noticed (and can still see in my mind) that every seasoned waitress, Maître d’, cook, and kitchen worker smoked cigarettes like chimneys. The stress of performing in that pressure cooker environment clearly showed in the worry worn faces of those veterans on which smiles often lost their battle with the struggle of simply getting through the night.

So, what does any of this have to do with the Church in America?

Continue reading “Breakfast in America: A Litmus Test for the Church?”

Apologetics: What It Means for Our Speech to Be Seasoned with Salt

The phrase, “seasoned with salt”, alludes to the words of Jesus that we should be salt and light to the world.

I have been impressed over the last few years about the need for Christians to be gracious, always, when addressing people, especially people who do not believe in Christ. Maybe I have been so impressed because of the many examples on social media in which people “defending” Christ or Christian values are anything but gracious.

The direction from Scripture is clear. The following two passages are instructions on how Christ followers should relate to outsiders:

“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” Col. 4:5-6 (ESV)

“[A]lways being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” 1 Pet. 3:15-16 (ESV)

I believe God wants is to take these instructions to heart!

I have seen so many examples of ungracious responses from people purporting to defend the Christian faith and values that it seems to me we are failing generally on this point. We seem to be failing to put on Christ and to display his character to the world, and our failure is having an impact. It’s just not a good one!

When people display godly character in their conversations they really shine. When we aren’t gracious, “seasoned with salt”, gentle and respectful, we risk eclipsing the message of the Gospel by our demeanor. The world needs to see Jesus lifted up, but we may be blocking their view.

Assuming that God is serious about the way we should respond to outsiders who don’t know Christ, what does it mean to be gracious? What does it mean to season our speech with salt? What does it mean to provide a defense with gentleness and respect?

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Opening Our Eyes and Ears to the Global Church to Gain Perspective

American evangelicals can gain perspective from other believers

I recently read an article by Ed Stetzer and Andrew MacDonald, Waking Up After QAnon: How Can the Church Respond, posted by Christianity Today. The secondary headline is: Evangelicals disproportionately believed conspiracy theories in 2020. How do we recover?

I do not agree completely with everything in this article, but I think it is more “right” than wrong. The following assertion, for instance, certainly rings true to me:

“For years a segment of Christianity has sought to reclaim the United States of America as a Christian nation—or at the very least a nation founded upon Judeo-Christian values. However, they have, at the same time, witnessed the American culture (and, yes, what they see as American elites—media giants, big tech, politicians, and Hollywood) adopt a more secular and progressive agenda.”

I know this to be true because I “grew up” in Christianity in an atmosphere influenced by the Moral Majority and efforts to reclaim the Christian heritage of this country. It was a patriotic movement made “sacred” with Christian reference and fervor.

The community in which I was engaged out of college joined the effort. It seemed that some momentum was being generated in the direction of reclaiming the United States as a Christian nation…. at least while I remained in that community. When I left to go to law school, my perspective changed.

Looking back, I see that patriotic Christianity appeals to a certain narrative of faith and a desire to protect what is familiar and comfortable. It affirms a sense of place in the world as an American Christian who believes fully that the United States was blessed by God more than other nations in the world and stands alike a city set on a hill for the world to see.

While I think there may be some truth to that blessing from God, we shouldn’t confuse His blessing for a time (and for His greater purpose) with our own desires for prosperity, influence, protection of lifestyle, culture and familiar life. God raises kings, and he takes them down.

The patriotic movement in the church going back in time was influenced, in part, by the “prosperity gospel”. A certain exhilaration accompanies the thinking that we are part of a sacred movement of God’s people uniquely blessed with faith. It was a kind of manifest destiny for the church.

I imagine the 1st Century Jews saw the world similarly, though they didn’t have the prosperity or power of American Christians in 1st Century Judea. Their sense of being God’s people and being culturally “right”, however, made it difficult for them to accept that God loved Gentiles who didn’t observe Jewish rituals. It caused the first schism in the early church.

The American exceptionalism that is part of the allure of this politically-charged faith embraces modern Israel and the Jewish state. They see a kinship there, and I believe are prone to the same kind of error that the early church fell into.

Moving on from that community of my early walk in Christ and seeing faith and the world from different angles changed my perspective. I loved my time in the community of my early Christian years. They did many things right, and they were eager and earnest in their faith in refreshing ways, but I have come to see that God is bigger than our patriotic ideas of Him.

(Not that all the people in the church I attended wandered down that road. I know many of them still, and many of them did not get swept up in the patriotic fervor. They have adjusted and adapted, and their perspectives have changed also.)

The real point here is that God has a global and universal purpose. We are as much a part of that purpose as my brothers and sisters in China, or India or in the African American churches in the US.

That is not to say that everyone is right about the way they view the world from their own unique vantage points and perspectives, but it means I need to listen to them because they offer perspective that I have trouble seeing from my own, limited position. Perhaps, if we can all come together in the shared experience of Christ who died for all mankind and learn to set aside the things that divide us, we can catch a more global and universal glimpse of what God is doing in the world.

The Stetzer and MacDonald article makes the following statement regarding the headlong embrace of Donald Trump: “Christians need to understand how this foolishness not only hurts relationships in the local church and community but diminishes our witness. In such situations, our gospel witness is at stake and we cannot afford to be passive.” This is a major concern.

We may have trouble seeing the ways in which we have wandered off the narrow path unless we take time to listen to what other believes are saying.

Continue reading “Opening Our Eyes and Ears to the Global Church to Gain Perspective”

Knowing Our Ultimate Destination, How Should Children of God Live in a Modern World that Is Foreign to Us?

We are part of a great multitude from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages….

Followers of Christ are going to end up as part of “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb… and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God….’” (Rev.7:9) Knowing how our journey ends as children of God, how should we live in this world?

Jesus introduced the kingdom of God to the world and invited the world to “enter” it. Just as the first century Jews were only a portion of the world to whom Jesus extended that invitation, we in the West and in the United States of America are only a portion of the global world Jesus invites to enter God’s kingdom.

Jesus came, not to condemn, but to save the entire world full of people. We might as well get used to the diversity now.

I think it’s easy for us in the US to miss the fact that the global church today doesn’t look like us at all. The “average” Christian in the world today is a 22-year old brown female. Only 12% of the Christians in the world live in North America (including Canada). Only 37.5% of the Christians in the world live in the “west”.

It’s a human tendency to separate from and even to demonize things that are foreign to us. It’s also a human tendency to embrace things that are familiar to us, even to our detriment. Jesus calls us to separate from the world, which is familiar to us, and to embrace God’s kingdom, which is foreign to us in our “flesh” (as Paul calls it).

Jesus calls us to reject the sin that is familiar to us in exchange for His righteousness that is foreign to us. Righteousness is not of us or from us; righteousness is of God and from God.

Thus, Christians are uniquely called to be different from the rest of the world that embraces the familiar (both things of the world, generally, and specific aspects of this worldly specifically, such as gender, race, nationality, etc.). We are called to separate from this world that is familiar to us and to embrace a world that is foreign (the spiritual realm into which we must be born again).

This model of Christian living is demonstrated by Paul and the disciples in carrying out the Great Commission. Paul said that he became all things to all people that he might win some.

Paul quoted pagan poets and philosophers in his address on Mars Hill. (Acts 17) That means he read them and understood them. Thus, he was able to quote them appropriately and use those references that people knew to point them to God. This is because Paul embraced the fact that he was in the world, though he was not of the world.

This is what is means to carry out the Great Commission – to “go into all the world” making disciples. In the case of those disciples, God “encouraged” them with local persecution to scatter to Judea and and beyond. (We don’t always embrace what is foreign and unfamiliar to us willingly!)

We have the same command and challenge in our modern world. We don’t do these things easily or willingly. it takes us way beyond our comfort levels that are defined by what we know and what is familiar to us. When we take up our crosses and follow Jesus, he takes us into foreign territory!

One example of foreign territory is the modern worldview informed by Critical Theory. CRT informs the world on issues of racial injustice. As members of a kingdom comprised of every nation, tribe and tongue, we need to be able to speak into issues of racial injustice, and not just stand aloof.

Continue reading “Knowing Our Ultimate Destination, How Should Children of God Live in a Modern World that Is Foreign to Us?”