Friday, November 14, 2008


I have been thinking a lot lately about justice, what it means to Jesus, and what part I play in it. Its funny to think that, up until this summer, I thought that when the bible referred to justice, it meant making criminals pay for their crimes. When Jesus was preaching on the mount, he said "God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied." I thought that he was referring to people who really hate sin, and the coming day when Jesus will come back and judge those who hadn't prayed the prayer of salvation. Now, to come to read and learn that the justice Jesus speaks of is the justice for people that are held down and taken advantage of is an eye-opener. Its weird how I brought my own impressions of Jesus into the text and found a way for the words to fit my meaning. My mental imagery of justice was the scene in the last 'Left Behind' book where Jesus starts blowing people's heads off with his words as they scream in agony. That was justice to me. It made me feel good because there were people who had made the decision not to follow Jesus, and even worse, they said things that were blatantly AGAINST Jesus. And it was these people who would get their dose of Jesus' justice when He came back and went Delta Force on everyone.

So now justice is starting to look new to me, and its still forming itself in my mind. The scene that I am setting involves the three characters in the play; the oppressed, the oppressor, and me. How does Jesus' brand of justice play itself out on the stage of my mind? When I run through scenarios that I've been taught in my past, the characters don't end up looking like they are supposed to. For instance, the issue of poverty in the US. Who is playing each part? Who is the oppressed? That's easy; the person in poverty is the oppressed. The oppressor can be anything from government, to housing arrangements, to education, to employers, to culture. So, I must look at where I have interjected myself into this situation in the past. In the past, and still to this day, I find myself pointing the finger at the oppressed themselves as the culprit. That can't be right, can it? My response to poverty has been to accuse the impoverished of laziness, or assaulted their allegiance to certain type of clothing or music or language. I could also make a very convincing case as to why they were oppressed for a reason, and how their oppression could end if they would only do X, Y or Z. And, of course, the XYZ prescription for the healing of their poorness were things that I have done in my life to get me to where I am. "I went to college, I'm doing great. If they would just stop listening to that filthy _____ music and got a job they wouldn't be so poor. I did it, why can't they!" So my answer for their pain and oppression is to put an additional load atop what they already have. The oppressor, whoever or whatever it is, is never even identified, and I continue with my previous life, feeling much the better because of the confirmation that I have received about where I am in life. The burden has not been shifted at all.

Its not supposed to be this way, though. The story I read in the Gospels doesn't have the same ending and the attitudes and focus of the part played by 'me' is nothing like that. In my life, the part played by me is Jesus. I don't think that anyone would argue that Jesus has called us to be the representation of him on the planet earth. So how does he insert himself into the justice drama? Is there a story in Jesus' life that I can model?

Not surprisingly, Jesus' life is the perfect example of how this should play out down here. His entire existence is the screenplay of the infiltration of justice into the world of human oppression. The oppressor can be many things, but they all come from one thing. Jesus said that everyone who sins is a slave to sin. The great divide. The chasm between man and his creator. The ultimate oppression. Scripture alludes to the hold that sin has over humans, and how powerful that hold is. Sin is the oppressor and humanity is the oppressed. So how does Jesus respond as he comes into this dynamic as the third party?

The answer can best be described by following the burden; following the pain, heartache and dehumanization. In the story above, the pain and heartache start with the oppressed, just as it is here. However, the response by me, who is the Jesus in that play, is to keep the oppression right where it is. I believe that is because if we are to truly bring Jesus' brand of justice into the fold, we have to do what he did; take the pain, heartache and dehumanization onto ourselves. And that's really, really hard. The other response of judgement and finger-pointing is the common human response. And it can even be justified by reason and logic. But as we know, the kingdom that Jesus came to establish has nothing to do with reason or logic. He chose to take the burden of our oppression and take it completely on himself. Now I don't need to go into an atonement discussion, but you get the meaning. Jesus had every right and justification to point the finger of righteousness at us and say "get off your butt and get to work". But his revolution of love doesn't work that way. Thank god it doesn't work that way.

So what is justice starting to look like to me? Its starting to look like me, acting on Jesus' behalf, diving into the oppressor/oppressed standoff and changing the course of human history by taking the oppressed's pain upon myself. Its even more Jesus-like if I do this when the oppressed don't deserve my efforts. But there is also an interesting result to this action when it comes to the oppressor, and this, I believe, ties in to Jesus' ridiculous call to love our enemies. If I enter the oppressor/oppressed tension and choose to be a burden taker; if I invite the oppressed to hand his load over to me, I also must do this for the oppressor. And since the oppressor is the one with the power, I don't have anything to take from him other than future pain that would have been destined for the oppressed. And Jesus tells us that this is how we will bring heaven to earth. In stark contrast, my natural response to the oppressor is to get fired up and to try to destroy him. After all, the oppressor is evil, and Jesus definitely wants me to stand up to evil and defeat it, right? Not so fast. Once again Jesus starts talking silly and calls us to ""turn the other cheek" and to "pray for our enemies". This falls nicely into the above category of 'not reasonable and logical'. I had a short conversation last week with a friend about politics and world events. I brought up the fact that I had read a few articles suggesting that Israel was possibly getting ready to bomb Iran. His response was something to the effect of "Oh, I hope that they do, and I hope they bomb them off the map." I have been in this situation before and I have been the one calling for the death of millions of people in what I believed was a righteous act of acting on behalf of the oppressed.

Time and time again, Jesus insinuates that if we are to be part of his 'anti-world' and 'pro-kingdom' movement we are to follow his lead and take up our cross, even to the point of our own persecution and death. He never says that we must destroy or take vengeance. And somehow, Jesus says that our sacrifice and love for the oppressed will be honored and exalted in heaven. He says that when we take on these tribulations it will produce perseverance, character and hope, and that we should actually take joy in these trials instead of doing everything we can to avoid them. These ideas go against everything my heart desires, and that is why I know it is the right path.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


I have this cell phone. It is a Nokia. I bought it because (1) it was little and could fit into my shirt pocket, and (2) it was $50 with a $50 rebate. Where I come from there is a name for that and its called FREE. I never regret paying free for something and its amazing how little buyer's remorse there is when you've paid $0 for something. Its a good little phone with all the basic features, and I could pay Texas Hold 'Em on it until the free trial period ended after 30 days. It sucks because I was up a ton of fake, cell-phone world fantasy cash before it went away. Oh well.

For every bit that I like my phone, I dislike worship music. Pause. Pause. Pause. I was just waiting to be struck by lightning or a Pontiac. My dislike for worship music is based in many things, most of which would require the GDP of a small African nation's worth of therapy to fully purge, but I think that it can be summarized in my inability to offer songs to my creator that lack fire, passion, beauty, or creativity. It like making a cheeseburger for Jesus and choosing to get one from McDonalds. I used to feel really guilty that I didn't like those songs because I thought that it was a vital part of being a christian. I go through periods where I think that I'm liking it, but that normally coincides with some other event in my life that has messed with my mind. Trust me in that I know this is my issue and many people are drawn into closer communion with God through signing worship songs, but I haven't found the place in scripture where singing songs with people is a real priority. So I take my leave to the coffee pot on many a Sunday. Ironically, my response to the coffee is to thank God for his goodness, but they tell me that doesn't count. I guess it was worth a shot.

The reason I bring up these two, seemingly unrelated topics, is that I have found a way to worship God through my cell phone! And no, I'm not talking about calling 1-888-WORSHIP and paying $1.99 per minute so I can sing to Jesus and have it recorded and looped all day every day so my worshipping gets 'maximum bang for the buck'. My cell phone was in my golf bag during a tournament earlier this fall, and I got caught in a downpour. The phone got wet in my bag and something got fried. Since then, my cell phone thinks that an earpiece is plugged in, thereby disengaging the phone's microphone. This makes it so the only possible way to use the phone is to use the speakerphone. Its really more of a walkie-talkie now than a cell phone. But it was free! So, how do I use this cell phone to worship the creator of the universe? Its simply actually; I use it.

When Jesus asked Peter if he loved him, and Peter responded three times to the affirmative, how did Jesus respond back? I can imagine being there with the others and Jesus starts talking crazy again. Three times Jesus? OK! We get it! IF WE LOVE YOU, WE SHOULD FEED YOUR SHEEP. Enough already! But this is a telling conversation because we know that when things are repeated three times in their world, it means that the thing being said is very important. I wonder if we surveyed each other and asked 1000 Christ-followers what they do to show God that they love him. I bet we'd get some crazy responses. But there is a theme throughout the gospels that links love of God to love for people. And more specifically, oppressed and hurting people. It starts at the greatest commandment to love others as we love ourselves (if we truly dig into how much we love ourselves, we'd read that verse with much more humility) and continues through his repeated references to preaching the 'good news to the poor'.

So when I look at my cell phone, and curse the fact that I have to talk on speakerphone in the library, I see an opportunity to worship God. I know that I have these resources that I have been blessed with. I know that there is a need for resources throughout the world. I know that there is a part of my mind that says "I need a new cell phone", but there's also a growing part of my mind that is starting say "you have no idea what real need is". So I make a counter-cultural choice; I'll just keep using it. Whenever I am spending money, I am starting to check myself with the question of my real need compared to what I know is going on out there. A new cell phone would probably cost me $50. That's $50 less in my pocket to pay my bills, and therefore, $50 less that I have to respond to a need. If I truly claim to follow Jesus, and I claim to love him more than life itself, I feel that I must look at things this way. And its far from perfect. But that doesn't mean that I don't start walking down that road. I want to be the real deal. I want to be genuine. I don't want to be an easily-labelled hypocrite. I want to learn to be ridiculously generous and selfless. I want to purge from my psyche the idea what a 'normal life' looks like. I want to love Jesus and bring his kingdom to earth. So I don't buy a new cell phone. When my car breaks down, I buy the most economical car I can find, completely void of any features or upgrades, because I want to feed Jesus' sheep. If I pay $3000 for a car instead of $20,000 for a car, I would save $17,000! That is an amount of money that can dig fresh water wells in Africa, help out a friend facing foreclosure, buy gas for the single mother at the gas station, tend to his sheep.

Do I sell everything and give it to the poor? My friend Mitchell and I had this conversation today. I don't know. But its one heck of a goal isn't it? What kind of character would you have to have to be willing to give it all away? Who would take everything they have, give it up, and become nothing? I know a dude who did that. And even further, he gave to the point of sacrifice. I get the idea that Jesus doesn't want us to seek comfort, and then give what we have in excess of that. He calls us to give till it hurts, just like he gave till it hurt. And out of that is where our character is grown and refined. So its not really about dollars paid; its about pain paid. Do I EVER really seek pain for myself so that another will benefit?

So every time I pick up that old Nokia, I resist the urge to start talking about my needs. I ask God for some of his true perspective and then start looking for some sheep to feed. That's the life man.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Before Tomorrow Comes

I couldn't sleep but had to listen
To a conscience knowing so well
That nothing comes from indifference
I look inside of myself
Will I find some kind of conviction?
Or will I bid the hero farewell?
Will i be defined by things I could have been?
I guess time will only tell
So don't let it be
Before tomorrow comes
Before you turn away
Take the hand in need
Before tomorrow comes
You could change everything
I curse my worth and every comfort
Its blinded me for way too long
Damn it all I'll make a difference from now on
Because I'm wide awake to it all
So don't let it be
Before tomorrow comes
Before you turn away
Take the hand in need
Before tomorrow comes
You could change everything
Does anyone care it ain't right what we're doing?
Does anyone care it ain't right where we're going?
Does anyone dare justify how we're living?
Does anyone here care at all?
We could be so much more than we are
Oh this much I know. . .
These are the lyrics from a song entitled Before Tomorrow Comes by Alter Bridge. They are a secular band. Why can't I find this kind of sentiment from people who claim to follow Jesus? Download the song, please.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Mr. President

I wake up this morning to enless video clips of celebrations surrounding the election of Barack Obama as our new president. For millions of African Americans, this morning represents a new day and the fulfillment of a dream that was, until recently, only that. I can not help but smile as I see the joy on their faces and, at a minimum, I rejoice in the progress that America has made when it comes to the issue of race. I am so happy for all those people. I did not vote for Barack Obama, but he is my president-elect, and I will support him. I am a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, and my goal is to unite people. I will not be grumpy or pessimistic. I will not look for any reason to bash him. I will not lament any loss of lifestyle that Mr. Obama's presidency may bring to me. That is not who I want to be. Instead, I will choose to focus on his positives and offer my service to him as he leads America in some very hard times. And now begin the days of Barack Obama; may they be blessed.