Archives For Social Justice

I’ve written a bit about Francis and Lisa Chan’s new book, You & Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity. The book is now available, and you definitely need to read it, whether you’re married, engaged, think you might someday be married, or know someone who is or will be. This book is perspective changing, and I’m excited for people everywhere to begin digging into it.

I just came across this 13 minute video that really conveys the heart of the book. The stories in this video are so powerful. They will inspire you to see your marriage as bigger than your own happiness. God has a purpose for you and your marriage. A mission to pursue. He wants to change lives through your marriage, and not just your own. I’m so thankful for people like this who challenge us to see our lives and marriages as God sees them.

Settle in with a box of tissues and watch this video, then order the book below.

You and Me Forever from You and Me Forever on Vimeo.

 

Order the book now at Amazon or at youandmeforever.org.

You & Me Forever Cover - Francis & Lisa Chan

 

How do you reach an impoverished neighborhood with the gospel?

A typical approach is to send in money occasionally. But poverty is actually far more complex than most people imagine. It takes on a variety of forms, and it stems from impossibly deep-seated assumptions, systems, and processes. It’s actually a huge misunderstanding of the problem to assume that poverty is primarily financial. Financial poverty is deeply connected to and very often caused by other forms of poverty, such as relational poverty and spiritual poverty.

La Luz 1So if you truly want to reach an impoverished neighborhood with the gospel, you have to first take stock of what kind of poverty has taken hold. And you need to be ready to respond—not just financially, but holistically. If you find relational poverty, are you prepared to offer yourself so that their relationships can be enriched? So that these human beings can see their value as human beings? So that you can learn to appreciate everything they have to offer each other and the surrounding society that views them as lazy and disgraced? Are you prepared to enter into their spiritual poverty and show them (not just tell them) the depths of the riches available to them in Christ?

It’s the depth and complexity of the problem and the high non-financial cost of truly addressing these needs that ensures poverty will remain around the world.

My geographical area is affluent. Everyone around me has more than they need. Way more. And yet there are pockets where poverty has an iron grip. In one of these pockets, in one particular neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley, the people are what you’d call “working poor.” They have jobs, and they work hard. Yet their wages do nothing to bring them above the poverty line. This kind of poverty can’t be eradicated by telling the people to work harder, or even by sending in money. It requires incarnation.

When Jesus wanted to help human beings who were trapped in their cycle of need and deep-seated spiritual poverty, he did more than send us a message of hope. He did more than sending us laws or even forgiveness. He sent himself. He entered into our mess so that he could lead us out of it. Personally. Profoundly. We call this the “incarnation”—God took on flesh.

La Luz 2One of the churches that Eternity Bible College partners with is incarnating the gospel in this particular impoverished neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley. They’re not inviting these people to join them for their suburban church services. They’re not sending in money or work crews. The leaders of this church moved into the neighborhood. Incarnation. The life of the working poor has become the life of these church planters. Church is in the neighborhood. The gospel is in the neighborhood. The gospel is not foreign, coming in from the outside. With this team of church planters, the gospel took on flesh and dwelt among the working poor.

This church will soon be hosting an event that is a great example of this approach. The church is called Living Stones/Piedras Vivas (the church is bilingual because the neighborhood is bilingual—incarnation), and the event is called La Luz. And there’s a way you can help them with it. One way that the church wants to help the poverty in the neighborhood is by providing the children of these working poor parents with the opportunity to play soccer. The local parks and rec department has had to raise its fees for soccer. This instantly excludes many of the neighborhood children from organized soccer, which means instantly increased relational poverty.

So Living Stones is doing two things to address this need. First, they are putting on a week-long soccer clinic for the neighborhood kids, taught by Division I collegiate coaches and players. This clinic will also give them opportunities for displaying and sharing the gospel, thus addressing the spiritual poverty. Second, they are raising money to give 100 scholarships to neighborhood kids so they can play in the soccer league. Members of Living Stones and their kids have been investing in this soccer league by playing and coaching, so allowing more neighborhood kids to participate is a means of addressing their needs on a number of levels.

To learn more about this event or to invest financially, click here. For more fundraising opportunities, click here.

Those of us who are living and serving in more affluent suburban contexts have a lot to learn about incarnation from churches like Living Stones. It may not mean hosting soccer clinics or offering scholarships (though it may). The important thing is that we deeply consider how to present the gospel in a clear way to the people God has placed around us. How do we portray the gospel with our lives, and not merely with our words?

David SterlingLike most everyone who heard the news of this past weekend, I was angered and appalled at the news of LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s (alleged) racist conversation with his former girlfriend V. Stiviano. His words are almost unbelievable and unbearable to listen to.
I don’t believe I have a racist bone in my body. If I become aware of any racially insensitive thoughts or comments, I seek to change them immediately. I have friends from numerous races, nationalities, and ethnicities. I teach on racial unity. I speak against racial prejudice (prejudice of any kind, for that matter). I believe people should be treated like human beings regardless of color, class, creed, culture, or whatever other category we like to tag each other with.
I have listened to and read on the public outrage over Sterling’s comments. The people of the public are right for their shock and anger over such racism. It’s heinous.
Yet I find myself asking: How many of those who are commenting on this issue harbor racist thoughts themselves? How many of those who decry his racism speak and/or act as racists themselves? What if their conversations were recorded like Sterling’s were? What if we were able to hook them up to a “racial heart monitor” to see what’s happening on the inside, in their thought life? Are we naive enough to believe that many of these people wouldn’t be exposed for having racist tendencies of their own? It’s one thing to condemn very public comments by a very public figure in a very public way; it’s another to condemn yourself for thinking, speaking, and acting like him yourself.
What about you? What about me? Are we harboring “closet racism” ourselves?
Please do not mistake my questions as any kind of defense of Donald Sterling; if he is truly guilty of these words then he is indefensible. (My prayer is he would publicly confess his wrongdoing and take responsibility for his hurtful actions, and that his wrong would further eradicate racism from all races.) I in no way am coming to the defense of this man. I just believe his stupidity gives all of us an opportunity to examine ourselves and see if we are like him in any way.
Racism is a result of humanity’s fall into sin and death. God’s original plan for the world was for people of every color and culture to bear His image and bring about His ways on the earth in total peace and complete harmony. He has never abandoned this vision. The book of Revelation shows us that He is redeeming and restoring people from every ethnicity:
Art Night 003

“All Nations” by Andy Barber (2014)

And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth” (5:9-10; my bold and italics).

After this I looked, and behold, 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, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands (7:9; my bold and italics).
All of this was launched in our crucified and resurrected King, the Lord Jesus. When He came announcing the return of His Father’s kingdom (see Mark 1:14-15), He did so by treating people as human beings. He did not view people through the same lens as we so often do based upon our prejudices. And His death tore down the greatest racial divide in human history: the one between Jews and Gentiles (see Ephesians 2:11-22). Everyone who is in Christ is now a member of this renewed humanity that God is forming in the world—a people of all colors, cultures, and classes. The church is to embrace one another in love without prejudice (see 1 Cor 12:12-13; Gal 3:25-28; Col 3:9-11). We are to lead the way in showing the rest of the world what racial harmony, unity, love, and peace looks like.
While Donald Sterling’s comments are awful, what if we took the time to see if our own reflections come back through our TV sets or computer screens as we watch or read about the fallout of his words? What if we used this time not so much to stand in judgment of him but instead we rushed to judge ourselves, making sure to cleanse ourselves of the filth of racism in our hearts and in our churches? Maybe—just maybe—times like these would lead people to look to the church for the answers to the problems that still plague our world, giving us the opportunity to tell them the good news of Jesus.

US BorderUnited States citizenship is a hot issue. Many people in the world would love to become US citizens. And many people inside of the US are trying very hard to keep them from becoming US citizens.

Now, like almost every other American, I admit that I did nothing to earn or deserve being born in the United States (and thus becoming a US citizen).[1] I also acknowledge that statistically the odds of me being born in the United States were not in my favor.

I was born in 1983. According to the United Nations 2012 Revision of the World Population Prospects,[2] there were 646,453,000 people born between 1980 and 1985. Of that number only 18,331,000 were born in the United States. So, I basically had a 3% chance of being born in the United States. This was slightly better than my chances of being born somewhere in Central America (a lower 3%), but slightly worse than my chances of being born in Pakistan (4%). I probably should have been born in China (an 18% chance) or India (a 19% chance).

Almost everyone in the world would admit that there are advantages that come with being a U.S. citizen. As a Christian, I think it is only fair to ask myself, “How am I using those advantages for the sake of the gospel?” and “Will I be held responsible if I do not use those advantages properly?”

In Matthew 25, Jesus tells the parable of the talents. In the parable, a man puts a certain amount of his wealth in the hands of his servants before going on a journey. We are told that he gives to each of his servants according to their ability. When the master returns, he asks for an account of what his servants did with his money. Those servants that were faithful with what they were entrusted with are praised by the master and then given even more responsibility by the master. The servant who was not faithful has his talent taken from him, and he is thrown into the outer darkness.

Harsh as it may seem, this parable reflects the reality that God expects his people to make good use of the abilities, opportunities, and resources he has given them. I believe that my US citizenship is one of the “talents” God has given me. In light of this, I decided to ask myself hard questions to see if I was being faithful with this particular “talent.” Here are some of the questions I asked myself:

1)    Am I using my money and my ability to generate income for the sake of the gospel? In 2011, the median household income in the United States was $50,054. In 2011, 33% of the population of India lived on less than $1.25 a day; in Kenya 43% lived on less than $1.25 a day.[3] Those of us in the United States are filthy rich compared to the rest of the world. Am I giving faithfully to my local church? Am I giving generously to groups seeking to further the kingdom of God? Are there areas in my life were I can cut back on my spending so I can be more generous?

2)    Am I making good use of my time? Because of technological advances my family does not need to spend hours each day carrying water or gathering fuel to heat our home. What am I doing with that free time?

3)    Am I taking advantage of my religious freedom to share Jesus with my neighbors? I live in a country where it is legal to be a Christian. Am I actively engaging with people who don’t know Jesus or am I am content to just hang out with other Christians? Am I taking advantage of the freedom to share my convictions with others?

4)    Am I participating in the political process in a way that makes Jesus look good? I live in a country that allows its citizens to participate in the political process. Am I participating in a way that promotes peace? That works to defend the poor and the oppressed? That confronts greed? That encourages the love of friends and enemies alike?

Of course, there are many such questions that we should be asking ourselves. These are only a few. My hope is that Christians living in the United States will begin to see that their US citizenship is not primarily a “right” but a “talent” that God has entrusted to them for the sake of the gospel advancing.

 


[1] If they were still alive I would definitely thank my great-grand parents for hopping on that boat that brought them here.

Zimmerman TrayvonA young man is dead. The man who killed him has been found “not guilty” of murdering by reason of “self-defense.” The media on the left and right is exploding with analysis, accusation, race-baiting, and outrage. People on social media are either celebrating or lamenting. Politicians, celebrities, and other elites are making emotionally charged political statements on both sides of the case. The question is how do we respond as Christians who are citizens of the USA and of God’s kingdom.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on this case. I have personally seen racism but don’t claim to know what it means to be black in America. I am not a leader in the realm of racial reconciliation. I am a Christian pastor. My attempt at answering how we ought to respond is limited to my desire to faithfully proclaim the gospel to a people who need to live well as citizens in two kingdoms.

I do not believe our response as Christians ought to be restricted to a particular set of behaviors, with the exception of prayer. I am not sure what your lot in life is and in what manner you are compelled to respond. Your responsibility here is likely different if you are a politician, pastor, homemaker, mechanic, or college professor. However, I do believe our response to this situation can rightly be grounded in at least three different attitudes of our hearts and minds.

1. We ought to grieve over our fallen world.
I did not celebrate the day George Zimmerman was declared not guilty. I grieved for the parents and family of Trayvon Martin. No matter how you feel about this case, it is tragic that a family lost a young son. Death is a terrible and relentless enemy that pursues us all. I grieved over the racism and division that is so prevalent in our world. It does not matter what you believe about the nature of this case. The fact remains that the debates surrounding the case have exposed a people who are divided over racism. Racism is at heart the hatred of the image of God in another person and is always tragic. We thus should grieve over the fact that an entire group of people suffered egregious injustice in our country for hundreds of years. Let us not so quickly dismiss the ongoing effects of that wound and the manner through which that same group of people now view the justice system. Finally, I grieved over the sinfulness of humanity. Our sinfulness leads to all manner of offense against God and one another. We can see that sinfulness abound in many ways surrounding this trial and the response to it. We ought to grieve because we love God and thus hate what offends him. We ought to grieve because we love people and hate what hurts them.

2. We ought to be thankful for a God who is just and has shown us immense kindness in common ways.
Whether you believe justice was done in this particular case or not, you can affirm our God is just. Whatever happens in human justice systems God is not lacking in his application of justice. He will finally and fully avenge all sin. Further, we ought to be thankful for the common kindness of God we see in a human justice system that tries cases in a courtroom before jurors and not in the mass media before the populace. Our system doesn’t always get it right but I remain thankful we do not live in a country with a kangaroo court.

3. We ought to find hope in the character and work of God as supremely demonstrated in the cross and resurrection.
We grieve but not as those without hope. We are hopeful because we have a God who is both just and merciful. We believe God has demonstrated his justice and mercy most clearly in the cross of Jesus Christ. God demonstrated that he will not and cannot just let sinners slide by. He paid the penalty for sin due to all of us in Christ. He simultaneously showed his mercy toward sinners in willfully punishing our sin in his Son. This is gloriously good news in which we find hope. However, our hope does not end there because the story does not end there. Jesus Christ was also bodily resurrected from the dead thus being vindicated. Jesus’ resurrection carries the promise that God will resurrect our bodies as well. This means that Satan, sin, death, racism, and injustice don’t have the last word. Jesus has the last word and what hope he provides!

“When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
‘Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?’
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:54-57)