I was looking over the study guide for Chapter 14 of Pursuing Justice and loved it. Maybe you’ll be as convicted as I was?!
(You can view the rest of the study guides in their PDF form by clicking here.)
Rediscovering Worship: The Role of Justice in the Pursuit of God.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51: 17)
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? (Isaiah 58: 6-7)
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:16 ESV)
“Do we fast to manipulate God or to humble ourselves? When we pray on our knees, are we bending them to His will?” (pg. 225).
“Your worship is your leadership. It is your influence. It is your mission. Your worship is how people will perceive you and it is ultimately where people will follow you” (pg. 229).
“We find our greatest joy and fulfillment by worshiping God in right relationship, as we pursue His purpose in our broken world” (pg. 231).
“God doesn’t ask merely to hear our songs in worship—He asks us to hear His song that is meant to be sung among every tribe and nation, among poor and rich, among healthy and sick” (pg. 232).
1. Before reading this chapter, had you ever thought of justice as a form of worship? How does this change the way you worship God?
2. Read Isaiah 58. The Lord begins with rebuke, then gives instruction for repentance and finishes with promises of redemption. Is the rebuke of God mostly personal or societal? His instructions? His promises?
3. Read the “Sheep and Goats” passage of Matthew 25 and discuss what similarities (the people, the description of the needy, the connection between justice and our relationship with God etc.)
4. Ken makes the comment that how a worship pastor lives out justice might be more important than his or her music abilities and fashionableness. In what way is your church or the American Church structured to be led toward justice? In what way is your church or the American Church structured to be led toward entertainment, consumerism or self-help?
5. When you go to church, worship, pray, and learn are you seeking blessings from God or the will of God? Does what you sing in your “gathered” time line up with how you live during your “scattered” time? Try looking up the lyrics to a song that you sang during your last church service. Did you really mean the words that you sang?
6. On page 228 Ken poses a question: “Does your life inspire worship?” Take time to think through how you truly live – what does your life truly inspire?
7. On page 229, 1 Peter 2:12 is used to show how this command to build relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ throughout our communities (and our world) is evidence of God’s glory, even to those who do not believe in God. Is your church committed to this kind of worship? In what ways?
8. Consider taking the challenge of reading Isaiah 58 once per day for a month as a spiritual discipline. Or, consider reading through Isaiah 58 once per day for a week and discuss together at your next group meeting time.
Reflections / Prayer / Notes
I had the privilege of guest lecturing this morning for a Westmont College May Term class at their urban campus called “The Clunie House,” a restored Victorian Mansion in Downtown San Francisco.
Twenty amazing students doing a one month intensive before heading to Cambodia and Thailand.
Also good to catch up with my friend Rachel Goble, Founder of The SOLD Project.
(Originally published on the Huffington Post.)
As of late, I’ve become aware of a growing tragedy: the tragedy of fast-moving conversations.
Just think of the speed and shallowness of modern communication. Recent studies showed that the average attention span at present is just five minutes long — 10 years ago, it was 12 minutes. Additionally, Facebook now owns more than 25 precent of total time spent on mobile apps and each Facebook user spends on average 15 hours and 33 minutes a month on the site writing and interacting in sound bites.
Whether gun control, the problem of educating our youth or the nature of sexuality in America, most conversations running their way through the Internet and social media have, far too often, degenerated into a mire of pithy rhetoric and hollow opinion. Meaningful conversation has devolved to millions of people throwing around pictures, sound bytes and narrow conclusions on topics most are not afforded the time to study or reflect upon.
We’re forced by the nature of fast-moving conversations to accept or reject, without the time for the argument and analysis necessary to sufficiently and appropriately support our conclusions.
In such a global, fast-moving conversation, a person must almost detach completely to find the space to think. It is the difference between the monastery and social media: the first isolates you from outside thought while the other isolates you from your own thought.
I spent two years of my life journaling when I was in my 20s. It was a season of life-change and course correction.
What I learned while practicing the disciplines of solitude and writing was the amount of noise that exists. A lot passes for news in life, but a worthy headline is one that is still around after 30 days. I checked out of reading papers and endeavored to attune my ears only to conversations I knew would endure or were significant enough to compel my attention.
During this time, I read Henry David Thoreau’s Walden for the first time. At the end of my copy of the book was a short essay by Thoreau entitled, “Life Without Principle.” I returned to this piece many times.
Thoreau begins by writing, “Let us consider the way in which we spend our lives. This world is a place of business. What an infinite bustle! … It interrupts my dreams. There is no Sabbath.”
If Thoreau were alive today, he might have written that the poor fellow who spends the most time online has not heard from himself or herself in a long time. Conclusions a-plenty, deep thought maybe less so.
When we are inundated with noise and information, the opportunity to grow through the process of wrestling, praying, arguing, processing and conversing is lost. Fast-paced conversations are the death of reflection.
In the Old Testament there is a rich theology of “waiting on the Lord.” It seems many of the conclusions we are supposed to reach and much of what we’re supposed to know in life is found through the process of a long and slow meditative process.
When we lose this, I fear, we lose true education and learning. For faith and maturity, like stories, need the dialog as well as the conclusions.
The reality with social media is that the prevalence of words often leads to the cheapness of words. In deep conversation, tension results from exploration. But in shallow conversation, tension results merely from combat. The former is largely redemptive, the latter often contentious. This puts forth a significant challenge to education and the process whereby we learn and grow through the rough workings of ongoing, unhurried and deep dialog. As this goes, so too does our ability and opportunity to learn and grow as we relate and interact with other people’s ideas.
In addition to the loss of depth and the challenge to education in fast-paced conversations, I also fear the loss of something greater.
When all we do is speak with ready opinions, sound bites and conclusions, it dampens our ability to hear the truly prophetic voice — the voice that compels us toward justice and truth. Prophets, as they are called in the Old Testament and still can be today, are the God-given devices for bending society back when it veers from where it should be.
The prophetic voice speaks fast, hard and clear and is unyielding.
What happens, however, when everyone throws around conclusions and every voice sounds prophetic?
Put simply, when everybody speaks with a prophetic tone, it dilutes the value of the prophetic voice.
We need the ability to sustain dialog with others. And we need the ability to clearly spot God’s true prophets among the masses of us armed only with opinions, sharp words and a social media profile.
G.K. Chesterton in “Alarms and Discussions” (1910) wrote, “Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.” I take his argument to mean, beyond the humor of it, that deep things are the territory of the poets. It takes art and space to plumb the depths of a subject. Cursory matter, like cheese however, can be spoken of easily, quickly and doesn’t require the depth of poetic diction.
What we need these days is not an increase in provocative conclusions, but a growth in compelling explanations.
There is a fine texture to deep and original thinking. Deep reflection and sustained dialog lead to conclusions that are owned and understood.
I love the positive advantages of social media, the ease of spreading thoughts and ideas, the ease of connectivity with friends, family and engaged people from around the world and the speed and immediacy for having news and information.
Sometimes, however, there is a real drawback to fast-moving conversations. The death of slow conversation and reflection means the death of interaction and deep exploration. What we are left with when everyone is trading conclusions is simply to decipher which side of a line you or I stand on.
This issue or that issue.
Right or wrong.
With me or against me.
The death of deep conversation leaves us all victim to the tyranny of triviality.
Below is a short video of my friend Alexia Salvatierra who works with the Lutheran Synod as well as World Vision on Immigration and Community Organizing on how to educate around immigration.
Take four minutes to get to know one of the most joy filled people I know and engage a topic near to God’s heart.
Justice is very fashionable in our society – a buzzword for both secular and church culture.
When we talk about justice, our focus can often be exclusively on action. Justice becomes about doing stuff, fixing problems and taking a stand. A word that can lead us to a “checkbox” approach to the just life the Bible commands and our peers applaud. We simply have to make a list.
Give money to a nonprofit? Check.
Choose a favorite cause to follow? Check.
Post a provocative video on Facebook? Check.
We can resolve to embrace justice, and then busy ourselves checking boxes toward a better world and a better “me”.
But there is another facet of justice that often gets missed in the wake of our motivational, heroic and impassioned calls to action.
Whereas justice is about standing up, humility is about sitting down. Justice is about doing, but humility often takes the form of listening. Justice seeks to fix. Humility seeks to understand, see the other, and know its own weaknesses.
Humility is aware of our ongoing injustice despite all our good deeds. Simply resolving to do more just actions doesn’t lead to lasting, holistic change—the kind of change that transforms us into just people who God can use in His kingdom. Becoming just is first about heart change and character before it is about action and behavior.
C. S. Lewis once said, “everyone feels benevolent if nothing happens to be annoying him [or her] at the moment.” But what happens when doing justly is harder than we expected, when our resolution fades and our old habits reassert themselves? Truly changing our lives requires us to step back and allow God to change our hearts first—sustainable action can only grow out of a changed heart.
To that end, here are three essential steps in the journey of becoming more just.
Relearn a Theology of Justice
Justice is rooted in the character of God and flows from the heart of God. A theology of justice starts with what God says about justice
The potential for justice and injustice is latent in every person, every interaction and relationship, every job, every system, and every institution. Only God’s plan for justice, and remedy for injustice, is wide and deep enough to cover the human experience. The pages of Scripture, from Genesis to the Psalms to the Prophets to the Gospels to the Epistles, tell the story of God’s desire for justice.
Relearning a theology of justice is why we started The Justice Conference. Our goal was to help people move beyond causes and fashions and connect them to the big idea of biblical justice.
Justice isn’t a nice addition we tack on to our lives or our faith—it’s a necessary part of both. Justice is at the heart of the gospel and is synonymous with biblical righteousness. Being just, or pursuing a right relationship with God and others, can never be peripheral. Justice is central to life and faith.
See What You Don’t See
Just like drivers have blind spots, we live unaware of many of the most pressing issues in our communities and across the world. Becoming more just often begins with learning what we don’t know. Injustice can often lurk in our own traditions, families, and even in our own hearts. Awareness of a particular type of injustice, such as international human trafficking, is no guarantee that we will recognize an injustice happening in our own communities, such as gender inequality, or other global injustices such as economic exploitation.
Being humble opens our eyes to seeing the injustices we’re missing and prepares the soil for us to broaden our understanding of and response to the human experience of others.
Do the complexity of justice and the seeming intractability of injustice sometimes overwhelm us?
Being aware of our own inability to be just surfaces our need for God’s grace and strength. If issues like global poverty or immigration seem simple and straightforward, it probably indicates we aren’t casting a wide enough net in our pursuit of understanding biblical justice or empathizing with the plight of others.
So cultivate a teachable heart. Find the experts and the first-person accounts. Read books and watch videos. Study the story of justice in the scriptures. Refuse to reduce complex issues into either/or equations. Search for the voices that are crying out for justice and commit to being one of the few who are actually listening. Pray.
In the end, no matter how popular justice becomes, it isn’t a series of boxes to check off—it’s a resolution to ask God about His heart for the world, and a willingness to listen and obey when He answers.
As we learn to stand up and fight for the vulnerable and oppressed, let us also learn to sit down and make sure our just actions are less about being heroic, than being faithful.
 C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain. (New York: Harper Collins, 2001), 49.
“We don’t always need to see where the road leads — we simply need the faithfulness and commitment to take the next few steps in front of us.”
Here is an interesting question posed to Dr. Gerry Breshears: How can I forgive someone who isn’t around anymore?
Below is an e-blast that went out today for Pursuing Justice.
I can’t say how much I’ve appreciated artistic, administrative and technological friends who have lent time and energy to help promote the book. Promoting the book myself has been one of the most awkward things in my life. Promoting it with a group of friends who care about me and the project, however, has been priceless.
Thanks to many!!
Guest Blog by Keith Wright
A funny thing happened when I went to help change the conditions of the poor in Africa. I was changed.
Twenty years ago, I moved to post-war Uganda to do my part to help. What I came to realize was: God’s call for me to meet the needs of the poor also involved His desire to transform my life.
When we respond to God’s call to care for “the least of these,” we discover something that we have always known, if we are honest — that we are broken as well. No, we don’t often wonder where our next meal is coming from or mourn the loss of another child taken by a preventable illness.
However, we struggle with issues of contentment, relationships and identity that can leave us harried and unhappy. In Isaiah 58, God promises us that when we “spend ourselves in behalf of the hungry…our light will rise in the darkness…and our healing will quickly appear.”
My experience over the past two decades has been exactly that. God is standing by to meet our needs as we respond to the needs of others.
Last week, I was in Ethiopia and visited a teenage-led household. Gibril, a 14-year-old boy, is the oldest sibling of four who were orphaned when their mother died. They live in a small rented room with all of their belongings neatly placed in three small plastic bags. Their father had abandoned the family years ago.
I first met Gibril and his siblings three years ago, and they were inconsolable. There was no hope in their eyes or their future. This past week, I was thankful to see that joy and hope were back in in their lives.
Through child sponsorship, Food for the Hungry (FH) staff work with Gibril’s household, and thousands like it, to provide teaching, training, counseling and basic resources to inspire hope. I left my time with Gibril last week with a renewed sense of gratitude for my own family and the protection He has given us – but also with a sense of awe in how God can use people like us to inspire hope in such difficult circumstances.
FH is committed to what I will call mutual transformation. The impact of our work is not directed only at the poor of this world – but recognizes that we as responders have needs to be healed as well.
Feeling bewildered and lost in today’s fast-paced world? Start by giving your life away and engaging with those in need relationally and materially. I know you will be blessed as you do your part in ending poverty.
Outreach Magazine just posted an excerpt from Pursuing Justice on the nature of love and sacrifice.
Click the screenshot below to check it out!
[This piece first appeared on ChurchLeaders.com]
In Pursuing Justice, I write about the motto of Kilns College: Learn to Change the World.
A friend recently admitted that he was skeptical of my claim. He wondered if, at the end of the day, it’s possible to actually change the world. Doesn’t history show that injustice and sin are intractable and constant?
I’ve faced this question many times. Many people believe that the talk we hear about changing the world is simply triumphal and idealistic cheerleading designed to make us feel more important than we really are.
The truth is, those who believe that we can’t change the world and those who believe we can are both pointing at deep truths in the nature of reality. One sees the fact that no matter what our efforts, we can’t permanently and fundamentally fix the world and eradicate evil from the human heart, while the other sees the fact that we can and do change the world every day in both small, yet significant ways, and, sometimes, in large and weighty matters. How are we to understand these two realities?
Back in grad school, studying philosophy, the whole exercise of clarifying an argument always hung on a distinction – separating out a conflated idea into two clear and distinct truths.
The distinction here is: although we cannot fix the world, we can certainly change it.
My friend Keith Wright, International President of Food for the Hungry, has spent his life helping to grow healthy families and communities in the developing world. Recently, he shared with me a study by the World Bank that found extreme poverty, for the first time, has declined in every region of the developing world. Though that doesn’t mean we can fix every economic need in the world (after all, Jesus himself said that we would always have the poor with us), it does mean, however, that one significant and large element of the world is slowly changing for the better.
Another friend of mine is a very busy Urgent Care doctor in town. In spite of the demands of his career, Randy uses his own money and personal time to drive around a fully equipped medical van, ministering to homeless folks who have no other access to health services. Sometimes he treats frostbitten fingertips and sometimes he literally saves a life. Randy isn’t trying to fix every health need in town. He knows that even the folks he helps will have more medical needs in the future, but he serves knowing that, in that moment, what he does somehow fundamentally changes the world, if even in a small way.
Multiply these examples as more and more people heed the call to justice and love for fellow man and the amount of change that happens in the world can grow exponentially. This is why God commands us to do justice and why in the Old Testament he punished his people for neglecting justice, because what we do does make a significant difference for good or for bad in the world.
We don’t have to remake the world. Just because we can’t control nature, eradicate all evil or ensure that the hard-won gains of justice will last, does not mean that we cannot bring about worthwhile positive change in the world. Change is fluid; cultures evolve and devolve. Changing the world doesn’t guarantee that our victories will be permanent. And that’s okay.
There are always those who will react to idealism and the ever-prevalent change-the-world language today by choosing to adopt a pessimistic outlook on the potential for deep and lasting change in the structures of the world.
We can be hopeful, without being triumphalistic, however, and we can be realistic, without being pessimistic.
Only God can fix the world; but as we fulfill our calling and carry God’s good news of salvation and healing and justice into the world we become a very real part of changing it.
My friend Dave, who spends his life rescuing young girls from the sex trade, recently had a telling conversation along these lines while at the gym.
Dave was on the treadmill and the guy beside him asked him what he did for a living.
“I save girls from the sex trade by ransoming them out of brothels and slavery.”
The man responded, “Isn’t that kind of futile? If you save one girl, won’t they just grab another one to replace her?”
Dave replied, “I don’t think I’m qualified to answer that.”
The man looked confused.
Dave continued, “I’m not qualified to say whether it really made a difference, you’d have to ask the girl I ransomed from the brothel if it made a difference to her.”
The world changes every day in both big and small ways. I want to watch where God is moving and join him there, recognizing that changing the world is less about being heroic and more about being faithful.
The distinction is necessary: just because we can’t fix the world, doesn’t mean we can’t – and don’t – change the world every day in significant ways.
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