The pursuit of justice


This song has haunted me for quite a few years. The words are strong, the message direct and could be considered over the top. But they aren’t without biblical basis.

Over the last six years I have read the bible from cover to cover at least five times. (not a brag, just a fact) And every time I get through to the end of the Old Testament I find myself struck by how many prophets use similar words to proclaim God’s judgement on the people He has chosen.

12 When you come to appear before me,
    who has asked this of you,
    this trampling of my courts?
13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
    Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
    I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.
14 Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals
    I hate with all my being.
They have become a burden to me;
    I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands in prayer,
    I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers,
    I am not listening.

Your hands are full of blood!

16 Wash and make yourselves clean.
    Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
    stop doing wrong.
17 Learn to do right; seek justice.
    Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
    plead the case of the widow.

Isaiah 1:12-17 (NIV)

Then there is this one:

21 “I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
    your assemblies are a stench to me.
22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
    I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
    I will have no regard for them.
23 Away with the noise of your songs!
    I will not listen to the music of your harps.
24 But let justice roll on like a river,
    righteousness like a never-failing stream!

Amos 5:21-24 (NIV)

God’s desire for justice is incredible. To the point that He won’t even listen to our prayers when we are not in step with His desire for the poor and oppressed. That’s massive. Think about it. In the midst of all the idol worship and debauchery of Israel and Judah, God’s main reasoning for their eventual destruction was their lack of compassion and justice in the practice of their faith. Justice and righteousness worked hand in hand.

The apostle James said it like this:

 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 (NIV)

So how does a Christian react to God’s demand for justice for the poor, the oppressed, the widow, the foreigner and the orphan? After much thought and a lot of prayer, I’d like to offer a few ideas.

The starter for me is the fact that all people are made in God’s image. That means no matter what race, religion, social status or physical location that person is in, they hold the same image of the creator that I do. And each person on this planet is special to Him. So when they suffer, He feels pain. When a fellow image bearer has their life taken away due to an evil action, I am confident His heart breaks. And if each person on the earth is special to Him, are they special to you? Do you feel the pain God feels for their situation?

When an injustice is seen, are you able to react as if that same action was being performed against you or your family? Does that change your perspective on what your reaction should be? If it was my kids’ high school that was attacked, I would sure want all members of my Christian family to stand up and demand action instead of rationalizing why action isn’t necessary or possible.

All of this causes my heart to grieve more and more when I see or hear about injustice in the world. Racism breaks my heart. Human slavery is disgusting. Abortion makes me want to vomit. Refugees being treated like people who are less than human is revolting. The acceptance of mass shootings in American society is abhorrent to me. These things should not happen if we were showing empathy and striving to establish justice.

My wife is beautiful, and she is also incredibly wise. As we have talked over these issues and how we react, she repeatedly reminds me that speaking words, no matter how smart or biblical they are are useless without action. And that is one more reason why I am very excited about my upcoming transition to the 25 Group. In my role, I am going to be able to learn about more and more ministries around the world that are seeking to enact justice in various segments of society. And then I get to educate the Christian community on these works and provide opportunity to partner with them. In our previous seven years of ministry, we have been able to do a lot of work with refugees and immigrants and will continue to do so. But now we get to expand our focus and invite all of you to get involved!

One other thought…

I’ve heard the statement “the issue is people are evil, and that will never change” or something similar. And it isn’t always spoken, but the sub-text to that statement is that since evil is rampant, we cannot do anything to change the situation. So why try? I’m sorry, but I cannot accept that statement as truthful. God would not be so forceful in His judgement if we were not supposed to resist and repel evil practices in the world.

I mean, can you imagine if Jesus had decided that the human race was too evil and therefore not worth getting involved with? He could have, but He didn’t. He chose to bring eternal hope to us, the oppressed even though we weren’t deserving of it. Isn’t that the best example of justice going?

The definition of success

Success. It is a dirty word in missions.

And it is so because it is incredibly difficult to define what success is in the work we do. Is it the number of people who leave their faith and begin to follow Jesus? Is it the number of churches planted? Is it the number of miracles that happen? Is it the number of buildings that are built or purchased that produce great pictures of people of different cultures and skin colours smiling together?

In public, most of us in missions are really good at trying to convince our friends, churches and supporters that we are successful. Look at our pictures! Listen to our stories! We are doing well so PLEASE don’t stop supporting us. There is an incredible push to find the next tale of a miracle or of a Muslim that hears a story of Jesus and wants to know more. In private though? Many of us battle doubts about our effectiveness. Are we truly cut out for this work? Why did God call us to the field when it is painfully obvious that we are failures. Especially compared to other missionaries whose stories are seemingly so much more powerful and exciting than what we have to offer.

Looking back over our almost seven years here in Houston, I have felt like a failure many times. And especially with the upcoming transition where GFM Houston is finishing operations this upcoming summer, the thoughts have crept in a few times that if we were only better at our jobs then we would not have to do this. If only I had prayed more, shared the Gospel more, spent more hours with people inviting them to get involved then the work could continue.

But that’s foolish. Thankfully Michelle and I are surrounded by a great team of workers and advisers who have helped us reject all of these lies. And while it is still difficult we are able to rest knowing a few truths.

God places us where He wants us, for what He wants us to do. So the Lord brought us to Houston, and placed us in our neighbourhood working with the people we work with so that His plans are accomplished. And those plans are much more extensive and involved then we can ever dream of. The ripples of our small interactions with people, the prayers shared and the Gospel preached may take a while to show up, but they will show up. Perhaps not even when we are still in Houston, in ministry or even alive, but they will eventually show up. That is what we all have to put our confidence in.

For example, the Diks family buys a house in a nice neighbourhood in Sugar Land. We aren’t sure why it took so long and then aren’t even positive we bought the right house. But there is a house next door that is a rental property. The first couple of years there is an Indian family that we pray for regularly as they are nominal Hindus but want nothing to do with Jesus. Then the husband of the family hurts his foot and asks for prayer. He is healed in the name of Jesus but still rejects the idea of following Christ. Over time they move out but they take with them a knowledge of the living God’s power as well as a Bible in their native language and a Jesus film.

The next neighbour is a Muslim family and they also want nothing to do with Jesus. But we keep praying and letting them know that we care for them. Our children are friends and many times we exchange food. (although to be honest, their gifts to us FAR outweighed what we sent to them) There are a few conversations about the Bible but it is clear they want nothing to do with a faith they have been tought is evil. Eventually they have to move back to their country, but they leave with a Jesus film, a Bible in their language and a reminder that we are praying for them.

Neither family ever began to follow Jesus that we know of, or even showed an interest. So did we fail?

If we measure by human standards, then yes. We probably did since neither of those families professed a desire to follow Jesus. But this work is not human and the timelines are not what we think they are. One day, we trust that the steps we took in obedience to God’s command will show fruit and if we do not see the fruit of those actions until the day we are gathered in heaven, then ok. It’s all for God’s glory anyways, not ours.

And there is the true definition of success in our work and Christian lives. Obedience. Did we obey God in the situations He placed us in with the resources He gave us? If so, then we are successful. Obedience almost always isn’t flashy or something that we would consider “newsletter worthy”, but it is so worth it when you can go to bed in peace knowing that this work isn’t all about you. In fact, it has very little to do with you!

Thanks for listening.