Saturday, July 23, 2011

Let Us Reason Together! The Biblical Plead for Justice

I love my son, Judah. Every time I come home from work, chaos ensues. We run rampant around the house and chase each other around. It’s so much fun! We also have little sayings we say to each other. Since my wife calls me by my given Afghan name, “Tofa”, Judah also calls me this instead of daddy sometimes. He even says it in the same voice inflection as my wife…its priceless. There are two little phrases that I often say to him as well. Both come from the Bible and I am not exactly sure how they got lodged in my head, but nevertheless they flow freely in conversation with my son. One saying is, “You are my son in whom I am well pleased.” I say this often to him as I shower him with praise for doing something well, or just because I love him no matter what he does. Of course, in the Bible, God says this to Jesus in a remarkable expression of His love for His Son and His obedience.

The other night I asked Judah what he wanted to do. He replied, “let’s reason together!” HA! This saying of course comes from Isaiah 1 and is something I commonly said to him over his short life as a funny little remark. I would say, Now, Judah, “Lets reason together!” and he was just start giggling or run around the house screaming. He obviously has no idea what it means, however, I thought it really funny that he wanted to do this the other night without any prompting from me.

God, in Isaiah 1:18 says, “Come now, and let us reason together.” This passage has always been lodged in my head because it starts off one of the most powerful books in the canon with emotion, pleading, and confrontation. God is directly coming to Israel and their people and making a petition to “reason together” with Him. He goes on to say, “Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be white as snow…If you are willing and obedient…you will eat the good of the land…” God is basically saying here: let’s figure this out. If you would just come under my plan, my instruction, obey me, then you will be in my purposes and you will be redeemed. This is of course nothing less than the gospel message….repent, do my will, and I will make you clean.

It is dangerous to pluck these verses out of context, however. What exactly is God wanting to “reason” about? What is it that He wants us to be “willing” and “obedient” to that will then make us “white as snow”? The answer can be found in the verses preceding these. Starting in verses 14 and onward, God is describing that He is fed up with His people. They “are a trouble to Me” says God. Then in verse 16 of Isaiah 1 comes this proclamation from God:

“Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean;
Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes.

Cease to do evil,
Learn to do good;
Seek justice,
Rebuke the oppressor,
Defend the fatherless,
Plead for the widow.”

After this command of biblical justice, God then delivers His “let us reason together” followed by the aforementioned, “if you obey and do my will, you will be white as snow” remark. An easy interpretation of these verses is that it is God’s will for justice and that He desires for us to obey in that….

But I doubt many would disagree with this. How could they? It is right there in Scripture. However, I am always confused and confounded by the desperate nature of the passage and the outcomes of it. If we “seek justice, rebuke the oppressor, defend the fatherless, and plead for the widow” then we will become “white as snow…and eat the good of the land”. Strong words indeed. Now some could say my interpretation is off, but I would then quickly point to Matthew 25 and Jesus’s call to the “least of these” with similar statements and demands. In this passage, Jesus is saying some people will “inherit the kingdom prepared for them before the foundation of the world” and others will “go away into everlasting punishment” or “depart from Him (Jesus), cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devils and his angels”, all depending on how we took care of others, particularly the “naked, immigrant, sick, lame…” Please interpret that someway else! I have yet to hear a pastor preach that without sugar coating it or glossing over the extreme nature of it. But more to come on this passage in a later blog post.

Let us reason together! Indeed! Let us! Let us be people who do the will of God, who obey His clear teachings of biblical justice for all, particularly the most oppressed and marginalized. Amen.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

58: The Film. The Hope to End Extreme Poverty

I love this excitement behind this vision ( Its easy to become pessimistic, hopeless, and numb when it comes to fighting the tough uphill battle of worldly injustice in the name of faith/Jesus. This is such a refreshing perspective: HOPE and SOCIAL JUSTICE. Ending extreme poverty as the church rises up to the call. Looking forward to this movie, but more importantly, this movement.

58: THE FILM Trailer July, 11 2011 from LIVE58NOW on Vimeo.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Solomon's Wisdom was Justice: Rethinking What it Means to be Wise

In the greater Christian community, Solomon is generally known for two things: his praying for and receiving wisdom from God and his eventual downfall following foreign gods because of his insatiable desire for women. The first notable irony is that he was given wisdom by God, was known for that wisdom throughout the entire Ancient Near East, yet couldn’t figure out that having over 700 wives and 300 concubines wasn’t wise…but that’s neither here nor there for my purposes in writing here.

When you think of what it means to be wise, what comes to mind? I think of years of experience in a given field of study or the fruits of living long life. I think of grey hair and phd's. The Bible also speaks of this kind of wisdom. Wisdom can be discernment, judging correctly, and knowing the correct path to choose when given many options. We also know from Scripture that the “wisdom of the world is foolishness to Christ.” This thought from 1 Corinthians is highlighting the infinite wisdom of God over man, especially of those who think they are wise and use that worldly wisdom for selfish needs, what the Word calls “crafty”. I also like another theme woven throughout the New Testament, of God choosing the “foolish things”  (i.e. unwise by our standards) of the world and the least likely of folk to proclaim His Kingdom...that He might get the glory. Jesus is constantly choosing the most unlikely of characters to be His disciples. In a world full of educated religious elite, Jesus chooses the likes of  fishermen and “uneducated, untrained” men that at times could barely mumble out a cohesive, comprehensible sentence. Unfortunately, as products of the Western Enlightenment, we have gone a long way in the opposite direction, preferring those with seminary degrees, bible training, years of experience, and special skill sets to become valid declarers of the Message.  We want educated and trained men and women…but that isn’t what Jesus wanted, or  what He needed and this is primarily because the glory of God could be more readily seen through these undesired types.

Nevertheless, God granted Solomon wisdom.  In 1 Kings, God said to Solomon, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” Can you imagine if God asked you that today? What would you want? I am not sure what I would ask for, but I am fairly certain that “wisdom” wouldn’t have been high up on my list. Solomon replies, “give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong…” There is so much to unpack here, but lets start with God’s reaction. The Bible says God was “pleased” by Solomon’s response, since Solomon asked for this and not “long life, wealth, power, or deliverance from enemies..” Instead, God was outright pleased because, as God himself would say, Solomon asked for “discernment in administering justice (Hebrew: mishpat).”

Notice the subtle, yet interesting different words used to describe this blessing from God. Solomon asks to “distinguish between right and wrong” and God grants him discernment in “administering justice”.  So, “justice” is being able to tell the difference between “right and wrong”. When we think about justice (particularly in the West), the first thing that comes to our minds is retributive justice, the idea of exacting punishment for a crime or wrongdoing. In other words, the Old Testament concept of an “eye for an eye”, which ironically Jesus later calls His followers to avoid and stop doing. However, the biblical concept of justice is much more robust and multi-faceted than this narrow understanding. It also includes restorative justice, social justice, and Kingdom justice.  The Bible is equally, if not more, concerned with this type of justice, especially Old Testament prophets and Jesus. And as it turns out…the wisdom Solomon was granted to bring about justice, was not narrowly defined as punitive righteousness or God-sanctioned war on  pagan enemy, but rather a wisdom in understanding how to order the Kingdom in a way which is “right” for every single inhabitant, but especially for the most poor, oppressed, and vulnerable of the other words, what we understand as, social justice.

This is confirmed by Psalm 72, written by Solomon. He says, “Endow the king with your justice, O God…” Solomon is asking for wisdom, for this justice God is providing him in response to his request. Solomon then goes on to describe in vivid detail what the justice he is getting from God means, and who it is for. I encourage you to read the entire Psalm yourself, but here are some highlights:
  • He will judge your people in righteousness, your poor with justice” (verse 2).
  • He will defend the afflicted…save the children of the needy…and crush the oppressor (verse 4).
  • He will deliver the needy…the afflicted who have no one to help (verse 12).
  • He will take pity on the weak and the needy (verse 13).
  • He will rescue them (the needy) from oppression and violence (verse 14).

This Psalm of Solomon’s is clear and straightforward: Solomon’s justice, as granted by God would be a social justice for the poor, needy, oppressed, and vulnerable. What’s more, going back to the original request, Solomon will use this justice to “determine between right and wrong.” Therefore, justice for the poor and others described in Psalm 72, is in fact “right” behavior and life pursuit, while anything short of that is “wrong” behavior and pursuit. 

While this should come as no surprise as literally the whole Bible talks of “justice”, I wonder how many of us (including me!) have ever truly contemplated that social justice is part of being wise (wisdom) and something that is “right”, and that a world and kingdom without it is, “wrong”. All I can say is: Amen to that! 

Friday, July 01, 2011

Reflections on the Fourth: A Global Perspective

4th of July was always one of my favorite holidays. I have always loved the summer feel with plenty of sunshine, family, friends, food, and beer. But I also loved it for so much more. I loved it because it was a day to celebrate the “best country in the world." Back in high school and my early college years, my friends and family can attest that I was one of the most patriotic people you could know. Mix that with the passionate edge I have towards almost anything I am fixated on, and what you have is one zealous person.

To illustrate an example of this, I owned a Dodge Durango at that time. You know, a perfect vehicle for a 19 year old living in the desert of Arizona. Of course, my license plate was personalized as well…reading: “onetyme”. But that’s a different story and I won’t go into that here …and every 4th of July in my patriotic fervor, I would buy American flags and hang them on the outside of my truck. I would ride through the city honking my horn chanting “USA, USA, USA” to anyone who would listen. I would bash liberals, homosexuals, hippies, foreigners, and whoever wasn’t like me basically. It was a perfect picture of who I was…

During this time, I also went on a missions trip to Argentina . It was an amazing experience…and to this day I can look back on the missions trips I did during that phase in my life and see that God was starting and cultivating what would later become my life’s calling. But I certainly didn’t know it then….but back to the story… I did really love Argentina, its people, and sharing the gospel. But when I landed back in America after a long month away from home, the first thing I did was kiss the ground. I was so happy to be back on American soil. I even wrote in my journal that I “missed the freedom of America”. Really? I missed…freedom? I wasn’t free in Argentina? Shows just how mixed up I was in my nationalistic tendencies.

Then Jesus stepped into my life…and He radically changed me…He changed my heart. He changed my worldview.

Part of this change was God’s huge sense of humor calling me to be a missionary. I mean, think about it… he called a patriotic, nationalistic zealot who kissed American soil when coming back from overseas to be a…missionary!?!? WHAT?!?! I am convinced to this day that He does things like this to show just how radically He can change ones heart and that the true power and change can only come from Him.

Anyway… He broke my nationalistic pride that was arrogant and self-righteous. He sent me to one of the toughest, most hated countries in the world and simultaneously cultivated a heart in me for “widows, orphans, and foreigners..” and the other words: the marginalized of the world. He did this by showing me that we too come from a spiritual family of foreigners and sojourners. He gave me His heart for every “tribe, tongue, and nation” and His worldview of love for “all that He has created.” He showed me that he favors no nation and is the Father of all people. Because God is the Creator and Father of all, in some sense the whole global community is one big family. But even more importantly in the context of this blog post and the 4th of July holiday, God showed me that the only TRUE freedom that we have is in Jesus..and that is available to all. Worldly freedoms are nice, but they don’t trump God’s. And He shows me the irony of the apostle Paul who was given freedom, yet still called himself a “slave to Christ.” Paul turned the freedom given to him in Jesus… to become a slave of Jesus. Amazing.

Now 7/4/2011 rolls in. But I don’t hang American flags outside my car windows anymore. I don’t run around chanting USA, USA, USA... I guess I have changed…I approach 7/4/11 with a global, macro worldview and not a national, micro worldview. I believe I have family in Central Asia, brothers and sisters in the slums of India, and see myself in the immigrants of the USA. I don’t believe God has a special place in His heart for America or any nation, and in my desire to be more like him: neither do I….. I no longer feel like I am an American. I feel like I am a World-ican. My heart knows no nationalistic pride and borders. My heart transcends nationalism and borders.

I would never say there is anything wrong with loving America (and Americans) In fact, I love America (and Americans). But my worldview formed by the God of the entire world won’t allow me to love this country or its people anymore than I love Saudi Arabians, or Afghans, or Indians, or Germans, or Chileans, or any other person or nation that I don’t come from/wasn’t born in…because, deep down in my heart…I truly believe… that we are all….one.