Just having a conversation about Justice.

Today and tomorrow I am at The Justice Conference, hosted here in Portland. So grateful to join in the conversation.

The Justice Conference 2012 is the second annual international gathering of advocates, activists, artists, professors, professionals, prophets, pastors, students and stay-at-home moms working to restore the fabric of justice. For some it means speaking. For others it means singing. For some it means going. For others it means giving. For all, it means living with mercy and love.

Justice Conference founder (and lead pastor of Antioch Church in my beloved hometown of Bend) Ken Wytsma writes on why justice matters to followers of Jesus and all who trust Scripture:

People matter to God and therefore they should matter to us – every bit of them from the salvation of their souls to the meeting of material needs (see 1 John 4:20-21).
Justice is rooted in the character of God, commanded in his Holy Scriptures and exemplified in the life of Christ and the history of the church.
Justice is the right ordering of our relationships with God and neighbor.
Justice, in all spheres and slices of life and especially in the social sectors, is biblical, God-honoring and right. Politics, theories or political platforms, however, are open to dispute and disagreement.

Because Justice is much bigger than “social justice,” he gives a helpful pie-chart to see how various kinds of justice are interrelated:

Romans: the more one deals with it, the more precious it becomes and the better it tastes.

On Romans:

“This letter is truly the most important piece in the New Testament. It is purest Gospel. It is well worth a Christian’s while not only to memorize it word for word but also to occupy himself with it daily, as though it were the daily bread of the soul. It is impossible to read or to meditate on this letter too much or too well. The more one deals with it, the more precious it becomes and the better it tastes.”

—Martin Luther, The Letter of St. Paul to Romans, written 1546

Chart source: Mark Barry, Visual Unit

[in]complete love: the ruts where we get stuck.

“I will heal their backsliding.”
—Hosea 14:4

I talk with backsliders all the time. Most don’t notice their rut or direction, and almost as many don’t really care. It usually their closest loved ones who seek out a pastor for advice and encouragement.

I also find that when people strongly desire change (circumstantially), but are not willing to change themselves, they are in the throngs of many dangers. At least one of those is how we creatively find ways to meet our heart longings in ways that can slowly (or quickly) destroy us. Our poor decision-making accumulates over time, for very few people wake up one day and say “I want to run from God and make a mess of my life.” Little by little we get stuck in a rut of our own choosing, not recognizing the warning signs, and sometimes ignoring them. When confronted by loved ones, we minimize, deny, deflect, distract or minimize our issues, numbing the pain while making it worse.

Consider the analogy of a muddy road:

God’s people let themselves drift. We fall into backsliding gradually, a process unfolding over time. This is no surprise, for apart from the grace of God we remain children of Adam our entire lives. We can never shake off our old nature completely; it clings to us with the tendrils of countless sinful tendencies.

The life of God’s child is illustrated in a frequent scene in rural Michigan [or Central Oregon, where I grew up] during the winter weeks of heavy snow. The lanes and smaller roads, many of them unpaved, become muddy and nearly impassable. Looking down these after a snow, at first only one set of tracks appears. As each subsequent vehicle follows the same tracks, the ruts grow increasingly deeper, until someone finally becomes stuck and can go no further.

Similarly, God’s children are prone to follow the tracks of their muddy human nature, following those tracks wherever they lead. The further they go, the deeper they sink into the ruts, step by step, one thing leading to another until they get stuck. What are these ruts believers are so inclined to fall into? I can enumerate at least these six:

  1. Coldness in prayer
  2. Indifference under the Word
  3. Growing inner corruptions
  4. The love of the world
  5. Declining love for believers
  6. Man-centered hopes

—Joel R. Beeke, Getting Back in the Race: the cure for backsliding

Backsliding is always an issue of love. Our heart longs for something, usually a legitimate need, yet we somehow invent illegitimate ways to meet those needs. (Such as when a teenage girl desires affection from her father but goes with a vastly incomplete substitute: a boyfriend.) When we’re bored with God and His good will for us, we seek out alternative routes to travel. Killing sin isn’t about never getting in a rut; it’s about finding the desire to run to God, and seek help, when we get stuck.

For more on backsliding see:

Every day I talk to a potential backslider. Myself. (You do too.) Preach the Gospel to yourself each and every day. Teach yourself to love God and His good news.

Image credit: “Bad Road” by National Library of Scotland

Vulnerable.

“Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to be make sure of keeping it intact, you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket of coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
—C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves (New York: Harcourt Trade Publishers, 2003), 121.

Love is a thread.

In the garment of justice, your love is an irreplaceable thread.

The Justice Conference
February 24+25 in Portland, Oregon
thejusticeconference.com

A mark of a maturing believer and follower of Jesus is a growing awareness of the true needs in the world, and a love for those people with a passion to help meet those needs and build bridges for the Gospel message. We see the inequity in the world and are not content to wait on governments to move solely for the sake of the marginalized, needy, poor, and destitute. We give up personal comforts so others can have the basic necessities for health and life.

Justice is about reconciliation, which is rooted in love. We who have been reconciled with God, get to see His reconciling work spread to every area of our lives and all of creation. What began as a personal relationship with God adds a public dimension that becomes a transformational relationship with the world. One day the universe will be set right (final justice), though we don’t have to wait until then to meet the needs that are within our control today. The love of Christ compels us.

When 5-1=0.

Our son loves to make up math equations. For some reason, he likes to insist that two plus two equals five. He may end up being a genius, become a trusted expert in the field of quantum mechanics, or write, prove and publish theorems in differential geometry. But we all know that his math right now is not so good. Of course, 2 + 2 = 4, just as 5 – 1 = 4.

But what about when 5 – 1 = 0 ?

A quick lesson in divine mathematics, for all of us; or, at least for me.

First Corinthians 13:1-3:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Paul makes the same point five times:

  1. If I speak eloquently, but do not have love, then I have become a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal.
  2. If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, but do not have love, then I am nothing.
  3. If I have great faith, but do not have love, then I am nothing.
  4. If I give all my possession to feed the poor and do not have love, then it doesn’t amount to anything.
  5. If I surrender my body to burned, but do not have love, then it profits me nothing.

Do you see that? If we have the five, but lack the One, then we have zero. In this way 5 – 1 = 0. I love math, and have always felt I’ve been apt to do well in problem solving. The issues here are not so simple, though, because without God’s Love at work in my heart I have nothing, because I am nothing.

If you’re like me, you long to have the gifts described — eloquent speech, prophetic powers, great faith, treasures to share with others, even the courage to give up your life when needed — but can be certain none of those are ends in and of themselves. Each is meant to be used in the service of others, motivated by a deeper motivation of sacrificial love. This will no doubt take determination and courage, coupled with true generosity to embody the grace given to us in Jesus. It is far easier to do that other five than the One.

Who will join me in living a love of love, no longer okay with being a zero?

Better than expected.

Few things in life are ‘as advertised,’ and far fewer are better than expected. As my wife often writes about, expectancy is better than having expectations. True Hope does not disappoint, though we live in constant disappointment it seems, a frustration on our ill-fashioned ‘hopes.’

This week Kari and I celebrated eight years of marriage, and I must say that life with her is better than expected. I did have ‘high hopes’ for our life together, yet the trajectory of our shared life, growing in gratitude and humility together daily, as Christ leads us, has been the true joy of this adventure. Here’s to eight times eight more years together in this life!

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