Introduction and Chapter 1:
Redeeming Justice: What Justice Is and Why it Matters
Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, that you may live and possess the land which the Lord your God is giving you. -Deuteronomy 16:20 (NASB)
Your throne, O God, will last forever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom. -Psalm 45:6
He is the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them- he remains faithful forever. He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives good to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked. -Psalm 146:6-9
“Put simply, truth corresponds to what is; justice to what ought to be.” (pg. 8)
“When we understand that justice is rooted in the character of God and flows from the heart of God, we can begin to see that it permeates all of life.” (pg. 9)
“Justice is the single best word, both inside and outside the Bible, for capturing God’s purposes for the world and humanity’s calling in the world. Justice is, in fact, the broadest, most consistent word the Bible uses to speak about what ought to be, and it has been used throughout the centuries by Christians and non-Christians alike to describe vital areas of human and divine concern.” (pg. 9)
“A biblical understanding of how expansive justice is will carry us into a strong, broad, and deep appreciation of the fullness of God’s heart for His creation.” (pg.10)
- Why do you feel drawn to this book and this topic? What have you seen in your life or in the world that moves you to Pursue Justice?
- In the Introduction, Ken shares a story of visiting the elderly and learning about the nature of true love – love that doesn’t expect anything in return. Have you ever had a similar epiphany about true love and God’s heart for orphans and widows? Describe.
- At the end of the Introduction, Ken describes his goal as “redeeming” the word justice. Have you seen or experienced situations where justice was either talked about narrowly or negatively such that it would need to be redeemed? Give an example of how justice was used in your faith tradition growing up and what the connotations were.
- How have you defined justice in the past? Do you agree we tend to think of the English word as having more to do with Criminal Justice?
- Is justice, defined as ”what ought to be,” a concept worthy of pursuing for you? If yes, why?
- In chapter one, we are asked to see through the lenses of Truth and Justice. The goal is not to do more justice and thus burn out. Rather, we need to realize that justice is a lens we look through and it is integral to the way we think, pray, act, hope, believe, work, spend, live and love. Have you heard justice explained like this before? What stands out to you in a new way?
- In knowing God’s heart for justice (Deut. 16:20) and what man’s heart is prone to (Mark 7:21), what attitudes and actions do you need to take to draw nearer to God’s heart and start to live beyond yourself?
- Justice is like a mosaic. It’s not only about single pieces – it’s also about all the pieces working together as a stunning whole. What are some of the aspects of justice that grab your heart or to which you feel personally called? What are areas of life and culture that have justice components that we tend to miss?
Reflections / Prayer / Notes
Dynamic Art: Justice as a Way of Knowing God.
The heavens proclaim His righteousness, and all peoples see His glory. (Psalm 97:6)
The Lord is known by His acts of justice; the wicked are ensnared by the work of their hands. (Psalm 9:16)
He did what was right and just, so all went well with him. He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me? (Jeremiah 22:15-16)
“We don’t want to be critical of other generations and peoples while remaining blind to issues of our day.” (pg. 20).
“When God asks us to know Him in this dynamic sense, He is, in effect, saying, Know Me by knowing how I bring justice and shalom together in a beautiful, just society. Understand your unique, individual, and active part in restoring what I intended” (pg. 23).
“God’s dynamic art is the part of creation that includes people, God’s purposes, and the future—in other words, things not yet fully realized. Dynamic art is the part that involves us in collaboration and relationship” (pg. 24).
“We never worship justice. We worship God. The question is, can we worship God without justice?” (pg. 31).
- On page 19, Bonhoeffer is quoted as saying, “Only he who cries for the Jews is permitted to sing Gregorian chant.” Ken summarizes by saying, “If we don’t cry, we shouldn’t sing.” What does this insight from Bonhoeffer say to you about the connection between praise and justice? How might we envision contemporary worship differently based on this relationship between worship and justice?
- Ken argues that “justice is a theological necessity.” That justice is a way—or one of the ways—we come to know God. Have you ever thought about justice in this light?
- Ken often says, “When we study God, we learn about justice; and when we study justice, we learn about God.” In what ways have you seen this to be true? Give an example of how learning about God stirred your heart for love and justice. Also, what is an example of looking at love and justice that taught you something about God’s heart?
- Many public figures have remarked: “Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice.” Contemplate and discuss what the world’s view of peace looks like vs. God’s plan of Shalom (pg. 24). Do we often reflect in our churches and homes about God’s plan for fullness and goodness – in urban areas, in the Middle East, in the developing world, and in our own spheres of influence? Pick one part of the world and discuss what the shalom or peace could look like in that place.
- Chapter 2 explains, “religion, routine, and ritual carry with them the appearance of wanting to know God.” The busyness of life makes it so easy to compartmentalize our pursuit of God to only a few hours on Sunday mornings or holidays. How are you fostering an eagerness and pursuit of Him? Share some ways to make every task and activity in your daily walk an opportunity to honor God, love others and exhibit justice.
- God’s love defines who He is. What reality defines you? What could you be blind to as an individual? As a group? Or as a generation?
- What is an injustice in today’s world that needs to be made right? Is engaging in that injustice something that should define you?
- Look at the Interlude, “The Garden,” following chapter 2 and discuss how food, the earth and the act of gardening can impact both our understanding of justice and our understanding of God.
Reflections / Prayer / Notes
Advent: The Gospel and Justice.
Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations… He will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. (Isaiah 42:1,4)
Listen to me, my people; hear me, my nation: Instruction will go out from me; my justice will become a light to the nations. My righteousness draws near speedily, my salvation is on the way, and my arm will bring justice to the nations. The islands will look to me and wait in hope for my arm. (Isaiah 51:4-5)
“We always have the ability, it seems, to cross oceans to make converts, yet—as Jesus discussed with the Pharisees in Matthew 23—neglect the weightier matters of the law, like justice and mercy and faithfulness.” (pg. 38).
“God’s plan of salvation and restoration, both temporally and finally, are organically connected to the restoration and institution of justice. Justice cannot be divorced from God’s heart and purposes—it permeates them” (pg. 42).
The promise of salvation is frequently laced with imagery of justice, righteousness, and goodness. We cannot extract one piece of God’s plan for salvation and think we have the complete picture or the whole good news (pg.43).
- The Codrington sugar cane plantation’s inhumane treatment of slaves as a method to finance missions to spread the gospel of Christ is a painful example of hypocrisy and injustice. Since the abolition of slavery in America it may be easy to become either unaware or even blind to the fact that inhumane conditions still exist today. The Archbishop of Canterbury said, ”We must take things as they are at present” (page 38), but this not the gospel Jesus taught. In fact, Jesus, in Matthew 23, held it against the Pharisees that they neglected the weightier matters of the law, like justice and mercy and faithfulness. Have you experienced people or Christians who still believe or act like “we must take things as they are at present?”
- Chapter 3 opens with a quote from John Perkins saying, “Preaching a gospel absent of justice is preaching no gospel at all.” Do you agree that justice is a necessary competent to understanding the Christian gospel? Have you ever seen the spiritual and material aspects of life pitted against one another in Christian teaching as the teeter-totter analogy on page 39 illustrates?
- On page 40 there is an illustration of the spiritual and material aspects of life as two rails on a set of tracks. Is this illustration helpful? Can you think of another analogy to show the interconnectedness of the Hebrew notion of spiritual and material as being intimately and inextricably connected?
- Reflect on some areas of your life in which you may have separated the spiritual from the material: work life, home life, how you spend your resources or live out your talents and gifts. Take a look at the last 30 days; how have these two sides of life found unity for you?
- On pages 40 through 45, the connection between salvation and justice is presented in both the Old Testament and New Testament. Had you ever realized that salvation was, in such a strong sense, a working out of justice? How did these pages change the way you view the connection between justice and the Gospel, or good news, of salvation?
- Read 1 John 3:16-18 and discuss how this passage might be relevant to a holistic understanding of the Gospel.
- Chapter 3 closes with the story of Advent Conspiracy. How do you think we can re-envision Christmas to more accurately reflect the advent of peace on earth and good will to mankind in Jesus Christ? Go to adventconspiracy.org and discuss as a group how you or your church might get involved or create something similar and turn Christmas upside-down.
Reflections / Prayer / Notes
Human Rights and Happiness: Recovering the Moral Value of Happiness.
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. (John 15: 9-11)
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)
“Why do we cling to a thin individualism rather than embrace a robust love for our neighbor? I believe it’s because we’ve robbed justice of one of its prime motivators: godly happiness.” (pg. 53).
“Instead of running from God to attain happiness, I realized happiness was found in running toward God.” (pg. 55).
“True happiness doesn’t distract us from loving God and pursuing justice—it motivates and rewards us.” (pg. 64).
“Happiness is not the enemy of the Christian message. It is essential to it” (pg. 64).
- How have the early chapters in Pursuing Justice, affected your understanding of the idea of justice and its relationship to the Christian life?
- Did the idea of “moral happiness” change your understanding of the nature of happiness? Is so, explain how?
- Ken gives a third reason for doing justice, a personal one. He writes, “doing justice fulfills our deepest longings and leads to peace and joy.” (pg. 53). Do you agree? Describe how you have experienced doing good leading to joy in your life.
- In chapter 4, God’s loving purpose concerning rules is illustrated with a roundabout yield sign. What areas of God’s rules do you find it difficult to yield to?
- What aspects of our culture, community and family seem to represent the dichotomy of happiness being found at “the expense of others or growing the goodness of others?”
- Happiness is a “state of being” as opposed to a simple emotion. How does this change in definition alter the way we live our lives?
- In addition to the false dichotomy of giving and receiving (pg. 63) mentioned in Chapter 4, what other false dichotomies exist within the Christian community that make it difficult to talk about faith with others? How might these be overcome?
Reflections / Prayer / Notes
Love as Sacrament: How Justice Informs Love.
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13: 34-35)
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:13)
But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. (1 John 3:17-18 NASB)
“Our culture’s concept of love is primarily self-driven and pleasure-seeking. Jesus’ formulation, rather, expects and anticipates sacrifice.“ (pg. 72)
“Love is less about a focus on self than a deep and abiding concern and focus on the other” (pg.73).
“Scripture does not command us to “love” in some abstract, disembodied way, but rather to work out our love in the world. Charity puts action into the word ‘love.’ Love is a decision. It is an action and a pursuit. Love works” (pg. 77).
“You can’t rob Crazy Horse to pay Bishop Tutu and call it social justice.” (Daniel Fan as quoted on pg. 78).
“Charity, while valuable and active, is something we can choose on our own terms, and therefore it is incomplete. Justice, on the other hand, is something we often wouldn’t choose, and it does not usually occur on our terms” (pg. 81).
- This chapter begins with the argument that when we define love as “intensity of longing or desire,” we are in affect ascribing the definition of lust to the meaning of love. Have you ever thought about this correlation? How would it change our conception of love if we redefined it along the lines of sacrifice? How would it change your church if Christians redefined love as Jesus did?
- Go to the self vs. sacrifice poem on pg. 74. Which juxtaposition of self vs. sacrifice do you like best and why?
- On pg. 75 and 76, the story of Randy Jacobs and Ken’s wife, Tamqra, are used to illustrate how common people sacrifice within the contours of everyday life. Who is someone in your life who does or has been an example of this kind of sacrificial love?
- What are some memorable ways that others have shown their love for you through sacrifice?
- Justice makes demands in all circles at all times. What are practical applications of showing God’s love within your family, community, and the world?
- What did you think about the distinction between charity and justice? Have you ever experienced how acts of charity can actually be a substitute or excuse for someone to not fully pursue justice?
- Sometimes it’s easy to be blind to the injustices right around us—as is illustrated by the movie The Help. What is an area of justice right under your nose God might be calling you to see? What would be a step you could take this week to pursue justice or reconciliation in this area?
Reflections / Prayer / Notes
Stained Glass: When Religion Gets in the Way of Justice.
Your hands are full of blood: wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow. (Isaiah 1:15-17)
Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! (Amos 5:23-24)
“I’m convinced we’re only one step away from allowing comfort to replace faith, conformity to replace zeal, and consumerism to replace sacrifice” (pg. 89).
“It’s easier than we think to have the spiritual exteriors without the spiritual heart. We must be careful not to mistake the packaging for authentic living, or to confuse the décor of religion with genuinely loving our neighbor” (pg. 91).
“True morality—genuine righteousness and justice and love—can never lead to external legalism because we cannot be fully righteous and just and loving. For that we need God’s grace, every moment of every day, and grace is the stake through the heart of legalism” (pg. 92).
“If we see righteousness and justice more as synonyms and less as opposites, it flips our whole mental picture of who Jesus was encouraging when He said, ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’” (pg .99).
- What do you think of this chapter’s title? Have you ever witnessed religion getting in the way of justice?
- How comfortable should we be in talking about religion as being part of the problem as well as part of the solution with justice and human rights? In what ways might this help or hurt your relationship with non-Christians?
- “If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person?” (1 John 3:17 NLT) In your life right now, who needs God’s love shown to them?
- Eusebeigenic sin (sins of the righteous) is picked up in a place of holiness or religion. One of the eusebeigenic sins is legalism—or rule bound rather than grace-based living and thinking. How have you seen legalistic Christians distract people from an understanding of mercy and the opportunity to receive and give grace in the name of Christ?
- If being righteous means doing justice, how would this change our understanding of righteousness and holiness?
- If we understand the synonymous relationship of righteousness and justice, how could it impact our understanding of the connection between loving God on one hand and loving others on the other?
- Have you seen the easy slip into Pharisaical behavior and thinking played out in your Christian walk? How can your community or church guard against the negative moralistic tendencies of religion in favor of a robust and healthy understanding of morality and justice?
- “To empty ourselves creates If we can’t create our own security, we have to hope for it, wait and pray for it. Giving our lives away necessitates faith because we have nothing left but our trust in God.” (pg. 101) Can you identify ways in which we trade radical faith and trust in God for our own personal comfort and security?
Reflections / Prayer / Notes
Remember What You Saw: How Empathy Carries Justice.
Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering. (Isaiah 53:4)
During that long period, the King of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them. (Exodus 2: 23-25)
Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt. (Exodus 23:9)
“Without entering into another’s story, we are left to help from the outside, relying on our best intentions, which is often a recipe for doing more harm than good.” (pg. 108).
“Sometimes I find myself becoming more comfortable with categories or labels than with the people behind them. That’s when I need to remember—when I need empathy to move me past the labels and connect me again with the human story and with God’s call to love and stand with the vulnerable” (pg. 118).
“The danger is that we view empathy as the end of our engagement with injustice, rather than the entry point” (pg. 120).
“Empathy is an engine that powers justice. It is ingrained in us because God placed it there, and it is designed to help carry justice forward.” (pg. 122).
- That theme or themes do you feel have emerged in the book so far?
- If empathy is a trait we should characterize, what steps could you and your family take to heighten a sense of empathy toward others?
- With which section of society do you find it difficult to empathize? What, specifically, is so difficult about entering into and sharing that specific group of people’s feelings and experiences?
- Joseph Goebbels used “reverse empathy” to make Jewish people appear better off than others in an attempt to eventually dehumanize them. What elements of our society are currently being reverse-empathized? What should our attitude and actions be concerning this group within our society?
- Who has God put on your heart to empathize with? Would others around you know you have these feelings by only witnessing your actions?
- Can you think of an example of a time when you valued or devalued a person based on empathy?
- When you are going through pain and suffering, how would you want people to show empathy towards you? How can you do the same for others?
- How should the biblical narrative of Israel’s slavery and pilgrimage in the land affect our view of others?
Reflections / Prayer / Notes
Playstations and Poverty: Growing Up (in) a Consumer Culture.
If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. (Matthew 18:6)
“Every culture has a dominant export, and in every culture there are people who no longer wish to be part of exporting it. The question to ask ourselves, then, is, what is my life exporting?” (pg. 131)
“If consumerism can be created, it can be combated. If selfishness can be taught, selflessness can be learned” (pg. 131).
“My greatest frustration with consumerism is that it encourages selfishness while reinforcing the lie that happiness is found in consumption—the opposite of Jesus’ call to give our lives away. And paradoxically, rejecting the consumerism of our culture is the way to find our greatest joy” (pg. 135).
“If we’re part of a larger story than we realize, let’s weave a narrative characterized by God’s definition of enough, rather than our culture’s” (pg. 137).
- What themes, if any, have you noticed in your reading of Pursuing Justice so far? What themes, if any, do you feel compelled to address?
- Take a look at the last two paragraphs on page 131. Then answer the question: What is my life exporting?
- The interlude separating chapters seven and eight depicts a consumer’s brain. How might we guard our own brain and our children’s and family’s brains from looking like this? From a biblical perspective, what should a brain look like?
- “The way we consume directly affects the lived realities of other people, whether we want it to or not.” How do the revelations of how cell phone minerals are mined affect your ability to empathize? How should this information affect our actions going forward?
- What does an attitude of gratitude look like in your life? How might we instill this attitude within our families and those we come into contact with?
- What are practical ideas to effectively teach our children and those we have influence with to have hearts that break for things that matter?
- In what areas of your life do you and your family need to combat consumerism and learn to live more simply and ethically?
Reflections / Prayer / Notes
Compassion Can Kill: The Need for Wisdom and Accountability in Generosity.
If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them. (James 4:17)
But you must return to your God; maintain love and justice, and wait for your God always. (Hosea 12:6)
“Compassion must be guided by relationship. Love must be demonstrated with respect. And the twin principles of ‘do no harm’ and ‘don’t do for others what they can do for themselves’ must be followed.” (pg 143)
“Mutually beneficial relationships are vital because they are the only way to ensure we understand and honor the dignity of our brothers and sisters, whether they are our neighbors or people across the world” (pg. 148).
“When doing justice or engaging in charity, good intentions do not guarantee a good outcome. We need to build and develop capacity over time” (pg. 157).
“Compassion alone does not guarantee effective results. Sacrificial and relational love, however, enable us to partner with others and learn from them” (pg. 158).
- Is the idea that “compassion can kill” or that helping can sometimes hurt those being helped new to you? If not, describe how you’ve experienced this or studied it in school or another book.
- Being aware that “compassion can kill” is a very important part of justice. In what ways has the church missed this concept? What are ways the church has gotten it right?
- In what ways have you or someone you know gotten compassion wrong?
- What assumptions about aiding others inhibit successful aid?
- What would a “short-term” mission trip look like if it were steeped in humility and focused on relationships? Have you been a part of a successful short-term trip? An unsuccessful short-term trip?
- Jesus was measured by results in those receiving his care and not simply in the act of compassion? In what ways can measure ourselves by the good that comes to others rather than simply the act of giving?
- Describe the difference between relief—having to do with aid—and development—having to do with empowerment—in the area where you live or in a country you are involved with?
- What role does empathy play as you educate yourself on the needs of the most vulnerable?
Reflections / Prayer / Notes
Why Do You Call Me Good?: Reflecting the Goodness of God.
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.
(2 Corinthians 12:9)
Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them . . . But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matthew 6:1, 3-4)
Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. (Luke 16:10)
“Sometimes I wonder what we’re really doing. Are we trying to be good because it’s an adventure? Or are we committing ourselves to justice because God is just?” (pg. 161).
“Justice both demonstrates the need for grace and is completed by grace” (pg. 162).
“The call to justice is a God-given whisper of what we were created for, a trace of God’s true image in us that helps us believe we can be active participants in bringing about the goodness of God’s kingdom” (pg. 164).
“God does not call us to create our own goodness out of thin air, as if justice were something we could accomplish with a checklist and a bit of hard work” (pg. 166).
- What role do you feel humility has in pursuing justice?
- The chapter opens with this quote from Leo Tolstoy, “Everybody thinks about changing humanity. Nobody thinks about changing himself.” How have you seen this to be true? How do you think we could change the conversation from being only about doing justice to also becoming just?
- “Act justly . . . love mercy . . . walk humbly” (Micah 6:8). What do all three areas look like in your life right now? Where could you improve? Where could you use some help?
- If we were honest with ourselves, would the desire to be a hero be more a part of our desire to do justice than the desire to be faithful? What are some ways individuals and churches can we keep their motives pure?
- What gifts has God given you? How might He be calling you to use those gifts in order to restore justice to those around you?
- A big theme in this chapter is listening. What are things you feel we need to be listening to? Whose voices might you need to hear?
- Based on this chapter, what might a prayer to God for us to be engaged with Him in justice look like? What might we need to confess before we start doing?
Reflections / Prayer / Notes
God’s Love Language: The Love of Others in the Love of God.
Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God. (Proverbs 14:31)
Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. (Matthew 25:40)
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. (1 John 4:7)
“The more we know God, the more we understand what concerns Him. The way to do more justice is not simply to do more justice—it is to grow closer to the heart of God.” (pgs. 173-174).
“Our love spotlights God’s love. And our mercy gives testimony to God’s mercy. But to take it farther, our love must enact justice, because our justice equates to love.” (pg. 177).
“The ethical demands of God’s love force us into the awkward position of not just changing one or two behaviors, but of revaluating our entire framework of life.” (pg. 179).
“If we care about the kingdom, we work toward the same end as the King. If we love someone, we love what that person loves. God is absolutely clear about who and what He loves.” (pg. 180).
- The interlude preceding this chapter talks about the “one for one” concept. How is this ‘pay it forward’ principle something you could adopt in your own life?
- How would it affect our actions if we truly understood the principle of extension that what we do to others we are visiting upon God?
- When have you experienced righteous anger? Can you think of a public example of righteous anger in society today?
- How can you apply the principle of extension (pg 171) in your daily life? Who is in your sphere that you need to serve and love as God would desire?
- What do you think of the 6th Love Language Ken describes (pgs. 175-177)? What are illustrations of how loving the things people love is a way of loving them? Is there something God loves that he might be calling you or your church to love as well?
- This chapter ends with the statement, “If we care about the kingdom, we work toward the same end as the King.” What are some ends we pursue in the American Church that might not be what the King cares about? Likewise, what are some ends we can pursue in the American Church that the King does care about?
- Is God asking you to commit tangibly to pursuing justice in an area he cares about? If so, use the space below to write out a prayer dedicating yourself to the task or asking God for the strength to engage.
Reflections / Prayer / Notes
The Anatomy of Apathy: How We Settle for Less than the Golden Rule.
Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you. (Luke 11:39-41)
Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone. (Luke 11:42)
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James 1:27)
“Avoiding bad allows us to keep our hands clean. Doing good often asks us to get our hands dirty—but that’s how shalom spreads.” (pg. 189).
“If doing justice is a rescue boat we steer into the storm of injustice, personal morality ensures that the hull is sound and watertight.” (pg. 191).
“The golden rule requires me to love, give, sacrifice, serve, initiate, speak up, create, listen, practice justice, and much more.” (pg. 192).
“We may not choose apathy, but when we choose anything other than love and empathetic justice, we get apathy by default.” (pg. 197).
- Does the command to love in its fullness scare you? What do you think we’re afraid of losing that would hold us back from fully giving ourselves to the command of love?
- Is pursuing the justice of law the same as pursuing the justice of Matthew 25 (helping the week and needy)? What is similar? Where do they differ?
- The inscription at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum reads: “Thou shalt not be a victim. Thou shalt not be a perpetrator. Above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.” Why do you think the emphasis is on the bystander?
- Ken graphically describes how apathetic or selfish prayers might be dissonant in the mind of a God who simultaneously hears the cries of the oppressed. Does this idea and the picture of the two girls challenge you? If so, in what ways? How might it change our prayer lives if our requests of God for health, assistance and strength were tied to our commitment and desire to pursue justice? For example, “God, give me strength so I might be a better advocate for the week and needy.”
- Describe the difference between “doing good” and “not doing bad.” Can you give examples of both that you’ve experienced and/or seen?
- Martin Luther King Jr. reversed the question in the story of the Good Samaritan from, what does this mean for me? to what does this mean for him if I do not stop. Where is an area where we could do justice if we weren’t concerned with how it would affect our own lives?
- If you are in a group study, take some time to share prayer requests and confess areas where you find it hard to engage or love as you feel you should. Pray for each other and the grace and strength to live and love according to the Golden Rule.
Reflections / Prayer / Notes
Justice in Society: Why Justice is Always Social.
Test everything. Hold on to the good. (1 Thessalonians 5:21)
I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me. (Matthew 25:40)
He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me? (Jeremiah 22:16)
“Woe to us if, when confronted with the countless injustices in our world, we think we must choose either right belief or right action. Orthodoxy and orthopraxy (right belief and right practice) go hand in hand for followers of Jesus, just as they did for Jesus Himself when he ministered on earth.” (pg. 209).
“Arguing theology isn’t the same thing as doing justice or living a just life, commands about which the Bible is quite clear.” (pg 209).
“For the sake of those living with injustice, we must be precise: social justice as a goal—working to ensure that a society is as just and free of evil as possible—is a part of the biblical universal of justice, and is therefore necessary.” (pg. 215).
“Arguing against social justice doesn’t make the world more just. If you don’t like the way justice is being politicized, go and do better. The answer is not to run away from justice. The answer is to give your life away.” (pg. 218).
- This chapter is proceeded by an interview with Lisa Sharon Harper on “Race in America.” What stood out or struck you about Lisa’s comments? In what way do you see advantages for some and disadvantages for others in our culture because of race?
- Does the phrase “Social Justice” concern you? Is it a phrase that is loaded with negative connotations because of your upbringing or political affiliation? What are your fears or misgivings concerning the pursuit of justice in our society?
- Ken defines Social Justice as “justice in the social sectors,” or as the social slice of the pie of justice (see the illustration). Do you feel this is a fair and accurate definition?
- Can you agree that regardless of political affiliation, justice in society is something we should all be concerned about? Is there a tension or fear in agreeing to this?
- What is an area of social justice in our society that is particularly divisive? Based on the theology of justice and what ought to be as presented in this book, what do you think might be the biblical response? Feel free to disagree with each other.
- Justice in a society relies on the ability of that society to allow and nurture dignity for all its citizens. In fulfilling His Father’s plan, Jesus paid special attention to those who were not dignified in the society of his time. Do your political views allow for the dignity of all?
- “If we follow Jesus, then we will be led, regardless of our political views, into social situations that are uncomfortable, difficult, or costly” (pg. 216). Are your views of society keeping you from uncomfortable, difficult, or costly relationships? Do you tend to think Americans care more about individual rights as citizens than civic responsibilities as citizens of God’s Kingdom?
- In what areas of your life do you see a disconnection between orthodoxy and orthopraxy (between right thinking and right action)? Where do you have a difficult time living out the theology you claim?
- Take some time to specifically discuss and then pray for the needs of those in the social sector of biblical justice: the orphans, the widows, the immigrant, the worker, the poor and the vulnerable.
Reflections / Prayer / Notes
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).
- Before reading this chapter, had you ever thought of justice as a form of worship? How does this change the way you worship God?
- 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?
- 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.)
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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
Debt to Society: Grace and Reconciliation in Establishing Shalom.
Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs. (Proverbs 10:12)
Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8)
You levy a straw tax on the poor and impose a tax on their grain. Therefore, though you have built some mansions, you will not live in them; though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine. For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins. (Amos 5:10-12)
“When we’re broken, we know we need help. When we’re bent, we can assume everything is fine. We can believe that being close enough to good is good enough.” (pg. 237)
“Justice cannot simply be punitive or reparative; it must involve forgiveness. Yet to truly forgive we must look into the face of evil” (pg. 242).
“Grace, manifested as love, is the only way to both erase the debt of sin and injustice and restore relationships through reconciliation” (pg. 243).
“This is the ultimate goal of justice: not only that debt is paid, but that relationship is restored” (pg. 244).
- Reconciliation takes time, something we’re not fond of giving up. Have you experienced reconciliation in your own life? Is there someone that you need to reconcile with today?
- Read Amos 5:10-12 again. Have you seen this practice in your community and nation today? Have you benefited by receiving into your surplus from others who had less to begin with?
- Celestine Musekura said, “There is no justice without forgiveness, and there is no forgiveness without justice. Before I forgive something, I have to judge it as evil.” Does this statement line up with what you have been taught by your parents or in church? Fairness and justice are concepts that young children understand well; why do children easily understand justice?
- We may all know that we’re supposed to forgive ”seventy times seven” (Mat. 18:22). And injustice can all too often take the form of offenses that are not illegal but that are still hurtful—still a violation of shalom. How do you manage life with someone who won’t stop causing injustice in whatever form against you?
- On page 237 Ken talks about C.S. Lewis’ “bent creatures.” Take some time to pray and reflect upon what ways your heart is “bent”? Discuss your thoughts on this analogy for describing sin.
- Does the concept and description of “debt” give you a new sense of the phrase, “debt to society?” How does the concept of debt change or affect your view of punitive justice and the prison system as a way of enacting justice? Is it an effective form of establishing shalom and reconciling relationships? What are some ways it might be needed?
- What are some ways sentences other than prison time could be more beneficial to society?
- On page 243, Ken writes, “Grace interrupts the hopeless standoff between what is and what ought to be.” Think of the injustices you commit in your life. In what ways can we place a greater spotlight on grace: God’s grace in the gospel and the grace we need to have for each other in keeping relationships in harmony?
- For further study on the criminal justice system and the issues of race, consider reading Michelle Alexander’s, The New Jim Crow.
Reflections / Prayer / Notes
Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe: How Justice Surfaces the Need for Grace.
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9)
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. (1 Corinthians 15: 10)
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
(2 Corinthians 9:8)
“It is impossible to navigate the world without stepping, somehow, into a system of injustice, however small or subtle . . . That’s where grace comes in. Our pursuit of justice both surfaces the need for, and is made complete by, grace” (pg. 254-255).
“Grace both covers and sustains us. We must work to unite these two ideas about grace, or we can become unbalanced in our perception of our own righteousness” (pg. 255).
“Covering grace without sustaining grace can make us consumers of grace. As if grace were a product, we keep it for ourselves” (pg. 255).
“If we think that grace was only intended to sustain us, rather than also cover us, we don’t take seriously enough the messiness of life, our own weaknesses, and the mystery of God.” (pg. 256).
- We are often blind to or neglect the presence of injustice in our lives. Even a seemingly innocent childhood rhyme can cause emotional harm to another person. If you took a moment and looked around, what injustices surround you? Do your actions contribute to any injustices? Did the story of Elmina cause you to reflect in any new ways about things you take for granted?
- What is your response to Willard’s excerpt from The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives (pg. 253-254)? How can you relate to what he writes?
- How does grace sustain you? What does consuming grace look like?
- How would you explain “covering grace” and “sustaining grace” in your own words?
- “Injustice is a cold, unrelenting reality. It can be tempting for us to use our comfort to ignore injustice or rationalize it away.” (pg. 257) In what ways are you able to rationalize away the injustices around you? What steps can you take to change this habit?
- When we recognize our need for grace, we are able to show others the grace we have been shown. Take some time to recognize the ways that God has shown His grace in your life. How can you use that grace to show others grace?
- In your group, share about heroes in your life who exemplify sensitivity to others and display a deep concern for how things will be understood by different ethnicities, genders or in various socio-economic classes. How does their example of justice, maturity and grace inspire you?
Reflections / Prayer / Notes
Learn to Change the World: Education and Knowledge in the Pursuit of Justice.
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:13-14)
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deed. (Hebrews 10:24)
“Education can help us perform the twin tasks of evaluating our lives and understanding how we ought to live.” (pg. 263).
“It doesn’t matter how much passion we have if we don’t have the skills or the information to be effective. This is where education enters the picture, for education develops our minds and builds capacity and engagement in us.” (pg. 266).
“If we want to change the world, we have to be equipped; we have to grow; we have to learn how to change it.” (pg 266).
“Education can do more than teach us to care about injustice—it can equip us to do something about it.” (pg. 269).
- What are you willing to do to promote justice? What are you not willing to do?
- One way of fighting injustice is by knowledge and education. How can you improve or expand on some of the gifts and abilities God has given you through learning or education?
- How do we balance education and experience with action and urgency? In addition to studying this book, what are some ways you’ve found to be helpful in educating you to issues in your community or world and what is needed to address them? What are some book recommendations you can give to the group?
- What cause(s) are you passionate about? What education do you need to gain to better understand the complexities of these causes? How will you pursue this knowledge?
- Do you believe as a society we believe or truly value the role of education for equipping young adults to make a difference in the world? Are we too casual with education? Do we overestimate its worth? Explain.
- How are knowledge, empathy and education connected in the path of pursuing justice?
- “In a cultural climate where it’s far easier to cast stones and critique, let’s instead choose to engage.” (pg. 272) What stones do you need to lay down in order to engage?
- If there are parents in the group, what are small steps that can be taken with children to help them realize it is better to give than receive and to empathize with others?
Reflections / Prayer / Notes
Give Your Life Away: Why It’s Better to Give than Receive.
Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely, who conduct their affairs with justice. (Psalm 112:5)
Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 10:38-39)
But many who are first will be last and many who are last will be first.
His master replied, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:21)
“The truth is, we are all giving our lives away—the only question is, to what?” (pg. 278).
“Perhaps that’s the crux of the difference between the American Dream and the call of Jesus: Jesus requires us to have enough faith to choose to die at the moment our culture offers us life.” (pg. 279).
“What we find is justice, obedience and right living affect all other things. They are gifts that transform the giver. They are acts that shape the one acting.” (pg. 281).
“True happiness, a state of joy and contentment, comes not in pursuing pleasure as an end, but in giving our lives away.” (pg. 283).
- Can you think of a moment in which you had to choose between an easier road and a harder one? Which one did you choose? How difficult is it to decide between instantaneous gratification and a better fulfillment in a future you can’t see?
- Giving your life away looks different for every person. What does it look like in your life right now?
- What would you identify as some of the key things in American culture that temp people to “seek their own life and fulfillment” instead of losing their lives in order to find them?
- Habakkuk 2:4 says, “The righteous will live by faith.” Ken translates this in dedicating the book to his wife in the King James Version: the just will live by faith. When you’re not looking out for your own life, when you’re pursuing justice, how will you be taken care of? Explore the role of faith in seeking to live a life of sacrifice and justice.
- What areas do you find it easy to trust God and in what areas is it hard to have faith?
- In Chapter 18 we read the story of Jim, who works locally as an electrician, and is lifted up as an example of living justly. Maybe, like Jim, your calling is not a lifelong mission in a foreign land, but you’re right where God would have you. How, at this time and place, can you be noticing things that are wrong and work to make them right and live according to God’s standards? What are the simple things you can do within your profession to promote justice and the way things ought to be?
- “The objects of consumer culture, ironically, consume us.” (pg. 278) What are you consumed by? What areas do you need take back from the consumer culture and give over to God?
- One of the temptations in giving your life away is to seek to promote justice or be a radical Christian in your own strength and to hope for significant change in a short amount of time. What ways can you encourage each other as a group to be patient, seek to do justice in the strength that God would provide and to walk humbly trusting him for the results and to keep you satisfied, full of joy and from burning out?
Reflections /Prayer / Notes
Live and Die for Bigger Things:
Better a little with righteousness than much gain with injustice. (Proverbs 16:8)
Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. (Philippians 3:19)
“We wait and wait for God to tell us one action, one specific task, and we won’t move until we hear it. While we wait for God to call us, however, we do nothing.” (pg. 293)
“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” (pg. 294).
“Passion and suffering are married at the cross. They are married in love. They are married in every situation in which we lean into suffering and sacrifice as Jesus did. Jesus’ passion was the ultimate expression of giving His life away. His passion was the ultimate pursuit of joy.” (pgs. 296-297).
“In pursuing justice, we don’t need a formula, but a desire to see love reign.” (pg. 297).
- What is currently motivating you to give your life away?
- Have you ever encountered someone who was “all on fire”? What did you or can you learn from that person?
- What about Pursuing Justice inspires you, challenges you, or surprised you?
“Pursuing justice is not about creating a formula, but a desire to see love reign. Not a list of wrongs to right, but a hunger for the joy that comes in giving. Not simply a cause, but a calling to live and die for bigger things.”
- The very first question we asked was, “Is justice, defined as ‘what ought to be,’ a concept worth pursuing for you?
- Have you come to a conclusion? What changes are occurring in your life because of your pursuit of justice? What are a few big takeaways you will carry with you from this study?
- Challenge: blog your thoughts on the book, recommend it to a friend or let Ken know your feedback!
Reflections / Prayer / Notes