Tag Archives: Social Justice

When The Saints Go Marching In

130521083430-01-ok-tornado-0521-horizontal-galleryIt’s been a heavy week. Especially if you live in Oklahoma.

But It’s been a hard week for anyone with a heart, we’ve all seen the pictures and video, and most of us have gone home and hugged the people we love a little harder.

Maybe you heard about the theological and political debates that it immediately spawned, or maybe you didn’t. But let me tell you what I’ve learned: Whenever something tragic like this happens, we immediately see two things happen. People try to leverage the event for more power or influence, and some people run to it to serve the ones who are hurting.

Why Bad Things Happen

So there’s this one time where Jesus is walking toward Jerusalem and some religious people stop him and ask him a pretty pointed question. They ask Jesus about these current events where some Galillean Jews had gone to the Temple and Pilate, for some reason, had gone in and slaughtered them

And so they were wanting some commentary from Jesus on why this happened.

Now in asking Jesus this question about suffering they are conjuring up all kinds of images, and thoughts that were common in the 1st century.

Actually they are common in all centuries.

They’re asking why, why does this happen, what does God think about this, is God angry, is this God’s punishment? They’re just enunciating a question that has been around since time began.

And that’s why Jesus answers the way He does. He brings up a natural disaster, and he tells them that these people didn’t die because they were more guilty, that we are all broken.

Now I think what Jesus does here is pretty genius. He doesn’t let them draw a straight line from cause and effect for specific sin to specific punishment.

Which is what religious leaders sometimes do, it seems like every time there is a natural catastrophe someone will try to leverage others pain for their own temporary glory. It’s started within two hours of the Moore tornado, because it always does. But I’ve noticed when they say that a certain catastrophe was due to a specific sin they tend to say that it’s a sin that they don’t struggle with.

No religious leader ever says the reason God sent that earthquake is because they were being materialistic, or prideful.

But Jesus response to tragedies like this isn’t to name a specific sin, but to point that there is this deep brokenness in the world. And unless we forget it’s in us too.

That’s why Jesus says Repent, because we are part of the problem, but we can also be a part of the solution.

In fact, as soon as I hear about tragedies like this week, I immediately wonder how long it will take before the world sees the church show up.

Because It seems like we always do.

When the Saints Come Marching In265904e9a0dbb6758fffb87f7635fe87

A few chapters earlier in the same Gospel, Jesus starting getting people to help share in his ministry.  He sends out 72 of his followers to different villages to preach and to heal.

And when they get back, they say, “even the demons submit to us in your name.”And Jesus responds with something that I love. He says:

 “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.  I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.  However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

He saw Satan fall like Lightning.

The disciples has been walking over hot sand, knocking on doors, asking to see the sick, announcing the coming of Jesus. All their actions took place in the visible world, which they could touch, smell and see.

But Jesus sees more, he saw that those actions in the visible world were having a startling impact on the invisible world. What we do has both personal and cosmological implications.

When natural disasters happen, it always takes me to dark places for a bit. When Leslie and I were at the Hills Church we did Tsunami relief and it was incredibly beautiful and tragic to hear the stories. It all started because one of our members saw the Tsunami on television and flew directly to the worst hit part of Sri Lanka and started making large promises on behalf of the church. And they kept them!

Earlier this week I spent the afternoon with Jon and Joann Jones. A few years ago the Burmese people had a horrible cyclone hit their refuge camp and do great damage, and if you remember that, when you heard that story you had to wonder where is God in that? But while all that was going on my friend Jon Jones was over there.

He’s been going over there for many years, working with those people, trying to get them food. He once told me that he couldn’t see an American dollar anymore without thinking about how much rice it will buy.

But I started thinking about it, this whole time, I was seeing that picture and asking where is God?

This week as soon as heard the story about Oklahoma and the great tragedy of Moore joining the great tragedies of history. I started hearing stories about elementary school teachers protecting their children at great risk to themselves. I immediately started hearing stories about churches and first responders making sacrifices and opening homes for victims.

It’s easy to pontificate and theologize about why bad things like tornadoes and tsunamis happen. It’s easy to use them as a platform to further whatever particular axe you have to grind, but let me tell you who you want to listen to right now. Ask the first responders and those churches who have skin in the game.

Ask the saints who are marching in.

Because if you are wondering why God allowed this or what His plan might be, I think we are asking the wrong question.

You need to see what Jesus sees.

Because I’ll tell you were God is.

God runs to Sri Lanka and promises them millions of dollars of church money for relief effort.

God is running all around Burmese refuge camps trying to get money for the victims of the cyclone.

God is laying on top of elementary school kids protecting them with great risk to Himself, and He is with the churches digging through the rubble and planning to restore and rebuild it.

That’s where God is.

And I see Satan fall like Lightening.

*If you go to Highland and you would like to give toward the effort, we are partnering with Global Samaritan for all relief, and you can give directly to them here.

Loving the Dream

Dr. KingFirst a confession: I’m really good at loving people…in theory. I’ve been taught how to look empathetic, how to mimic body language and at least look like I’m paying attention. I know what you’re supposed to do or say when someone is hurting.

On paper I’m pretty good at loving people.

I’ve read lots of books about loving God and loving neighbors, and I’ve given lots of thought about how to help other people love other people.

In fact, the only problem for me when it comes to loving people, is the actual people.

I also come from a generation is very cause driven. Most of the people around my age are passionate about good causes and making a dent in the universe. I think Dr. King is partially responsible for that.

Ever since I heard the story of the civil rights movement in the 60’s I’ve been drawn to the kind of ministry and churches that are working for a more Just world. I’ve read and heard a lot of Dr. King’s sermons.

I love the dream.

But all of this is not enough. Because loving the dream is much different than Dr. King’s dream of loving.

Just a few months before he was assassinated, Martin Luther King Jr. preached a sermon at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church:

If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. Every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize; that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards; that’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school. I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to love somebody.

Now I love that Dr. King said don’t tell everyone about my Nobel Prize, or my hundreds of other awards. Because in saying that, he has in fact told them about it.

I love this because I can see myself doing something like that. (Not winning the Noble prize, just the subtle bragging.)

I love it because it makes Dr. King more human, it makes me see him more as a person. Which is the beauty of his point.

I read a survey a few years ago, that said 6% of white people in America, think that racism is still a problem. To help put that in perspective, consider this: 12% of people think Elvis may or may not be dead.

But 93% of African American people think that racism is still a problem. And, at least in the world that I grew up in, and know today, they are right. Maybe not racism the way we might think of it. Not many people I know call each other names out loud, but it’s the more insipid kind.

It’s the kind that comes that involves loving ideas more than the people that are behind them.

A couple of years ago, I started testing myself. I started looking at my calendar and cell phone to see who I was regularly interacting with. I wanted to ask myself the hard question of who am I spending my time with…really. Am I spending time with people who are only like me?   Am I living the dream? Or just loving it?

Because no idea is more important than loving people. That’s What Martin Luther King Jr. wanted to tell his church.

You can’t love the dream. You can love people.

That is the dream.

So Thank you Dr. King for trying to love someone.

#eternalthreads

So this is a short video about the trip that Matt Pinson (The Highland Director of Communications) and I just got back from. We’d like to get the word out about what is happening in Nepal and ways that Gospel centered people are trying to stop sexual trafficking in creative and significant ways, so if you have a moment please click the share button at the bottom of this page to share this story with your friends. We’ve been looking for the “go viral” button on the internet but can’t find it anywhere. Continue reading #eternalthreads

The Red Thread Movement

So I just returned from a couple of weeks in Nepal working with the ministry Eternal Threads. It’s a great ministry that I highly commend that is working to create connections between 3rd and 1st world countries, and providing fair trade opportunities for some of the most vulnerable people in the world. (In fact, if you are a person with any influence in your church, and would like to throw a gathering for your church to shop and make a difference in the world at the same time, you can email eternalthreads@mac.com)

One part of the Eternal Threads ministry is something that has grown exponentially over the past couple of years. It’s called the Red Thread Movement, and what it is doing for the girls in Nepal is unreal!  For those of you who haven’t heard, The Red Thread Movement is an ACU student initiative that helps women who have been sexually trafficked from Nepal to India (over 12,000 girls are trafficked in Nepal every year) and because the culture is a very honor/shame based culture, most of the girls who are trafficked are too ashamed, or not allowed to go back home.

So Eternal Threads helps them go to a safe home where they are taught a sustainable business skill like sewing or being a beautician and then sent back to their villages. And they take the Gospel with them! These girls are planting churches in villages that no Western missionary could reach, and it’s working like crazy!

It starts like a mustard seed, and just keeps going.

But it’s not enough to tell you this in the abstract. So let me introduce you to Gita:

Gita came from a small village in Nepal, where her mother left to become a migrant worker overseas to hopefully raise money for her struggling family. That was over 5 years ago…they haven’t heard from her since. So Gita’s dad eventually remarried, and her step-mother was less than kind to Gita. The family had no money and then Gita met “Romeo.” He promised her the world and gave her hell. He romanced her, proposed to her, and slept with her, all within just a short time of knowing her.

Then “Romeo” told Gita that what he really wanted to do was get married in India, Gita didn’t have much holding her to her small village in Nepal, her prospects were extremely limited, so she went. And it’s here that Gita’s life really turns on a dime. At the border she was stopped by girls at a border station, girls who had previously been trafficked themselves, and it’s here that Gita learns about the true intentions about the love of her life.

She was less than 10 yards from a life of Hell on earth. And she was stopped.

They say that it takes the average girl anywhere from 1-3 months to be able to face the reality of what has actually happened to her, and how close she actually came to being forced into sexual slavery. At first they deny it, they think he really loved them, or that he really was trying to get them a legitimate job in India. But when it finally dawns on them what has happened they need more than just a place to stay.

They need the Gospel.  Continue reading The Red Thread Movement

More Than Civil

So this video was filmed right in the middle of the African-Americans starting to do sit-in’s on southern eating establishments. They were breaking several unjust laws, and forcing the issues of racial prejudice and injustice back into the forefront of the American white people. African Americans were being arrested right and left, and so Dr. King, as the leader of this national strategy, was brought onto the Meet the Press show to give the rationale behind this movement.

He was 31 years old.

Which is convicting in itself for me. That just happens to be my age. By the time Dr. King had lived as long as I had, he had a command of national issues, a passion for justice, and a strategy that was starting to pick up steam. I’m realizing I just might play too much Xbox.

But here in this video, Dr. King is taking quite a bit of flack, he’s being asked some hard questions by some white reporters who seem to be feeling some anxiety associated with the spirit of that age (not to mention some poor fashion sense). And Dr. King never loses his calm, he never responds belittling or with anger. Heck, he never even mentions that thing that the woman reporter is trying to pass off as a hat.

Now there is a couple of observations in here for us. For all the reporters logic, and sense, they seemed to be unaware that they were speaking squarely with the voice of the status quo. Their imaginations had been captured by the spirit of the age, and they could not see it. It’s always a danger that when God sends a prophet people won’t be able to even consider the possibility that they could be wrong and he or she could be right. We build monuments and bridges for Dr. King today, but in his day, in many of the circles that celebrate him today, he was considered as favorably as a turd in a punchbowl. There is a real danger of not doing a fearless self-inventory when we hear someone who disagrees with us, or calls us to something beyond what we currently think

The second thing that stands out about Dr. King in this video is how he treated these people, and how he responded to the face of some pretty insidious seeming questions. He was extremely civil. In our day, these kinds of conversations would have been filled with graphics, sound bytes taken out of context, and lots of yelling and red-faced name calling. It makes for some great entertainments, and some horrible people.

But that wasn’t what Dr. King’s dream was. Continue reading More Than Civil

The Human Capital

By now, most of us have heard of Ted Williams. The Homeless man with the Golden Voice, who was discovered by a Good Samaritan with a video camera and the foresight to introduce Ted to the world via YouTube. You’ve probably heard about Ted’s rise to fame over the past few weeks. He voiced a Kraft Mac & Cheese commercial. He was offered the announcer job by the Cleveland Cavs (who know what it’s like to fall on hard times). Maybe you even saw him on Dr. Phil as he was confronted by his family to stop drinking.

Suddenly he is a household name and his fifteen minutes are ticking. But his story has gotten me thinking.

One of my heroes is a guy named Larry James. Larry was a preacher for many years, he has spent his life telling the Jesus story. But these days Larry doesn’t do it from a pulpit. Several years ago, he started a ministry some of you might be familiar with. It’s called Central Dallas Ministries,(Recently re-named City Square) and it exists to do something about human suffering in Dallas…specifically about homelessness and poverty.

But what is interesting to me about Larry, is that he is adamant about his approach to ministry. He refuses to do ministry for people. He wants to do it with them.

I like that. Because we have a real propensity to work out of an us/them mentality. And this is where Larry James has helped me out so much. Most of the time we think about helping other people, we tend to think in terms of charity, or tax breaks, or hand-outs. But there is a better way.

I read Jay-Z’s book DeCoded last week, and in there he quoted a Jewish Rabbi about this particular issue. (I’ll let you fill in your own joke about a rapper quoting a Rabbi). This Rabbi pointed out that in Orthodox Judaism, there are 8 different levels to giving. The 7th is to give anonymously, which is a way to give without forcing dehumanizing the other person. But the 8th, and top form of generosity, is to give in a way that makes the recipient not feel like they are dependent on another’s hand-out, but somehow self-sufficient. This way, Rabbi Jay-Z argues, does not take away a person’s dignity. Continue reading The Human Capital

Mistaken Arrangements

I stumbled upon this video by Walter Brueggemann a few days ago. He’s describing the kind of prophetic vision of what Justice means in the Scriptures. And he’s doing it for a conference that is all about Justice. Which from looking at, sounds like an amazing conference. But it did get me thinking: Since when did Christians hold conferences on Justice? Since I’ve been around, most of our conferences are on preaching, or church leadership. But then it struck me, this conference isn’t for churches. Not once in the brochure did the word church show up. It’s a Christian conference for Jesus-followers, complete with worship leaders and Christian speakers talking about Biblical Justice. But it’s not for churches.

Because church leaders probably won’t show up.

Several times this week I have had significant conversations, with different people, about what Justice looks like in this time and place. Now these conversations are not new for me to stumble into. Unless someone has their head in the sand, it’s easy to recognize that God is stirring this passion up in the world again. Unfortunately, some (but not all) of our churches are the final ones to recognize this.

But I’ve been lucky. Continue reading Mistaken Arrangements

Living the Dream

So this past November, Leslie and I took our family to see the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. The Museum is filled with a history of the civil rights struggle from the emancipation of slavery, to the well-organized boycotts and sit-in’s of the 50’s and 60’s. And it ends in the actual hotel room where Dr. King was assassinated.

It is a Thin Space between Heaven and Earth.

In this museum, you can see the actual bus that Rosa Parks famously refused to give up her seat on. You can see the leather portfolio that Arthur Shores smuggled Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” out with. You can even see the gun that ended Dr. King’s life.

But across the street from the museum, you will see something else. There is a single protestor. Her name is Jacqueline Smith, and she has protested the museum without fail for the last 15 years. Since the museum was opened she has vocally spoken out to anyone who will listen.

Now, before you get the wrong idea, you need to know that Jacqueline Smith is an African-American who is all for Dr. King’s dream, and by no means is trying to desecrate his memory or his mission. But she knows what a lot of us don’t. She knows that when they first started the museum in 1987, the powers in charge had to clear out a lot of apartments to make space for the memorial. The problem was that these apartments were government housing. A lot of low income people lived there, and now they were out.

In order to honor a man who dedicated his life fighting for the underpriviledged, we kicked out the very people his life was oriented around helping.

Or at least that was Jacqueline Smith’s position. Continue reading Living the Dream

It Happens

So last night I went, for the first time, to Grace Fellowship, a community ministry of the Highland Church.  Grace is in a lower socio-economic area of town, and it’s primary goal is to take church to the people. One of my favorite aspects of Grace, is that across the street there is a community garden, where the neighbors can go plant, harvest and eat their own fruit and vegetables.

But that got me thinking. Continue reading It Happens