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.

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Separating the Church from Babylonian Morality in the Race Discussion

If we fall into a politically partisan conversation, the Gospel takes a back to secular politics.

The following thoughts and observations come from and are inspired by a conversation between Preston Sprinkle and Dr. Ed Uszynski. (See Episode 877: Race, CRT, and Evangelicalism of Theology in the Raw.)

Sprinkle and Urszynski are in agreement that Christians generally are doing a poor job of grappling with the issue of race in the United States. Most Christians are vocal in their criticism of secular solutions, but few Christians are really engaging with the underlying issues.

Critical Theory, CRT and Marxist ideology and terminology are fueling the discussion in the secular culture. Identity politics, systemic racism, police brutality is the language commonly used in the secular world to frame the discussion. Whether Christians are condemning these concepts or aligning with them, Christians are not offering much in return.

In the podcast, one the two men (I can’t remember which) said that we should have different language inside the Church. We should have Gospel language that addresses injustice.

“We should have a theological understanding of the concept of justice…. We should be immersed in care and concern for vulnerable populations, regardless of color, regardless of gender, regardless of background. We should be robustly able to think about what it means to care for the least of these, to watch out for people who are being taken advantage of…. That’s a biblical idea that we should be deeply immersed in theologically and biblically.”

That, however, isn’t happening in most Christian circles. People who are engaging in the conversation are engaging in it with the secular terminology and don’t recognize that we need to separate ourselves from that secular perspective. We are defining ourselves in relation to secular concepts, rather than driving the conversation from a biblical perspective with biblical concepts and biblical terminology.

Christian are either adopting CRT in church, which is the primary, secular approach, or Christians are rejecting CRT without offering a Gospel orientated alterative. People address CRT (by opposing it), but they are largely not addressing or effectively engaging the race conversation on a theological level.

“We have done a horrible job, generally, in embracing, and believing and obeying the rich theological theme of what the Kingdom of God is designed to look like and how it is designed to function in terms of its multiethnic backbone.”

Continue reading “Separating the Church from Babylonian Morality in the Race Discussion”

Social Justice and Gospel Justice, Part I

Jesus and the early church focused on preaching the Gospel and doing justice

alone sad child on a street

I am involved in a faith-based, legal aid organization that provides legal services and holistic help to people who live on the margins of our society. We call it “Gospel justice”, which is the title of a book written by Bruce Strom, the founder of the organization, Administer Justice. (See Gospel Justice)

I am aware of the skepticism with which Christians, and conservatives, generally, view “social justice”. While many Christians of the more liberal stripe (and liberals generally) embrace social justice, more conservative and orthodox Christians have learned to disassociate from social justice.

Labels, however, aren’t ultimately we are very helpful when it comes to nuanced understanding. We also have to be careful here that we don’t mix politics and the faith to the determent of the Gospel. This is true on both sides of the political aisle. Our politics shouldn’t define our faith.

We follow Jesus on what turns out to be a rather narrow road that doesn’t often follow the paths the world has beaten. Thus, I have been thinking for months about writing on the topic of social justice. I guess it’s time I do.

Continue reading “Social Justice and Gospel Justice, Part I”

The Borderlines: A Place Called Earth

When we stand at the borderline and understand the limitations and futility of our lives, we have begun to see as God intended for us to see.

Oh, how I long for heaven in a place called earth
Where every son and daughter will know their worth
Where all the streets resound with thunderous joy
Oh how I long for heaven in a place called earth

Song writers have common themes and images that run through their work. Jon Forman is one of my favorite song writers because he resonates with a theme that has run through my thinking over the last decade: the transience of this life and the transcendence of the life to come.

In the song, A Place Called Earth, he focuses on the “borderlines” between the transience of our lives and the longing for transcendence. It’s an age-old theme. It’s a theme that has been the subject of some of the greatest writers in the history of world from the author of Ecclesiastes to Shakespeare.

The video embedded above was a recent live performance of this song off the new EP, Departures. Linked below is the studio recording of A Place Called Earth that was written by Jon Foreman with his brother, Tim, and Lauren Daigle. I encourage you to listen to it in all of its orchestral fullness.

The hope of the Christ follower is the longing for heaven, a place where everyone knows their worth through the eyes of Jesus who will greet us face to face. We have this hope, however, this treasure, in earthen vessels. (2 Corinthians 4:7) We long for heaven in a place called earth.

Oh, the wars we haven’t won
Oh, the songs we’ve left unsung
Oh, the dreams we haven’t seen
The borderlines

Jon Foreman’s plaintive voice captures the angst of these lines perfectly. We try to notch our belts with victories, but what of all the defeats? The songs we have left unsung? The great dreams we dared to dream that we haven’t seen?

All our victories are hollow trophies at the end of our days. Memories of them begin to fade from the moment of victory. Like the entropy to which our universe is subjected (Romans 8:20), those memories will fade into utter obscurity long after we have taken our last breaths.

We see this on the borderlines. On the borderlines, where we peer out over an endless expanse yawning out into a far distant future, and beyond it into an eternity we can’t even fathom, we realize our utter insignificance…. if we can see that far.

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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.

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