Why Justice Actually Matters

“The pursuit of society’s well being is not about charity, but about justice, and it’s an essential part of our commitment to the reign of God in our city.”

I heard this quote a few weeks ago from this video from one of TEAM’s partners, SAM, and I have thought about it daily ever since.

Justice is a big word. It’s almost kind of a trendy word right now, which means it is easy to dismiss, but when I look through Scripture, there is justice written ALL OVER it. Justice can be defined as making everything right or fair, but it seems like God’s definition goes a little deeper and means setting things right, to their original purpose (thinking back to the Garden of Eden, and humans in holy relationship with Him and one another). Yes, sin has made the world broken and messed up, but God is still present here, and His people are still present here, so we are able to give glimpses of the original purpose of creation–the love God and love others.

God goes as far as saying, “I, the Lord, love justice.” (Isaiah 61:8)

“’Cursed is he who distorts the justice due an alien, orphan, and widow.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’” Duet. 20:29

“He loves righteousness and justice; The earth is full of the lovingkindness of the LORD.” Psalm 33:5

“I know that the LORD will maintain the cause of the afflicted And justice for the poor.” Psalm 140:12

And that’s just a few. Do you know that the Israelites, God’s chosen and set apart people, were almost completely destroyed by the Babylonians and Syrians, and God said He didn’t hear their prayers because THEY FORGOT TO TAKE CARE OF THE PEOPLE IN NEED AROUND THEM (Isaiah 58, please read it!).

Did you know in the New Testament Jesus says God will divide his followers into two groups: those that took care of people in need and those who didn’t. And to the people who didn’t take care of people in need, he says, Go away, because you actually didn’t serve me. (Matthew 25:31-46; Matthew 7:21-23).

Justice and service are so integral to who God is that if we are not fighting for justice and helping people in need here on earth, we actually might not know God after all. (Matthew 7:21-23)

Justice as fairness can be tricky, because God is this beautiful paradox of grace and justice. He made a way where we didn’t get the punishment we deserve. He could have left us all to die without the hope of eternity, and that would have been a definition of justice. But He didn’t leave it at only fairness. His justice is filled with mercy and love, too, and He seeks to bring all of creation back to rightness and perfection.

Because if God wasn’t a God of justice and mercy, He also wouldn’t have had to send Jesus to die for our sins. By sending his son to be punished, God fulfilled the requirements of the law, showing His heart of both justice and of love and mercy.

When I look at the headlines, it is SO easy to write off the hurting. So easy. I mean, why didn’t they try harder in school? Why did they choose to enter that profession? Why did they buy drugs or alcohol with the money for their family? I can think of a million and one reasons why I can shut my eyes and turn away.

But I can think of the one reason why I can’t turn my head on the partnership of justice and mercy: God didn’t turn his head to me. He, full of mercy and love for justice, plowed a path for both justice and grace in my life. And He has commanded me to do the same on the earth.

So what does this mean for me, honestly and practically? It’s a journey I’ve been on ever since I spent every night for three months praying with 40 orphaned children that God would set them in families. But here’s the thing, even four years later, I still have to fight against apathy in my own life and for justice.

Here’s where that quote comes in–I am 100% committed to the reign of God in my community, and that means I am 100% committed to seeing the hurting healed, those in need provided, cared for, and known, and seeing the broken and dark places of Denton redeemed and full of light. If I am committed to the reign of God in Denton, I am committed to seeing justice and mercy reign.

And furthermore, I personally have to commit to giving my hands and feet and time and money to see this happen, not only because I want to see it happen but also because God made sure it happened for me.

How do you do it? I have a few things I do, but I honestly feel like God is calling me to so much more, so I don’t want to sound like I have it together or have something to teach you. But here’s what I am trying to do:

  • Research the specific needs of your community. Who is hurting? Where do they live? How are they living? Who is helping them?
    • For instance, Denton County has over 800 homeless youth, over 300 prostitutes, and is a major stop along one of the most popular trafficker thoroughfares (I-35). There are 115, 480 individuals in Denton that are classified as Food Insecure (Source).
  • Don’t turn away. When I see a shocking news story, I most of the time would rather walk on by than stop and read it. But I have to know the needs, to both honor the people walking that story and to be able to pray about how God can extend redemption to that community, and how I can be a part of it.
  • Pray for your church to be the church to people in need. But only do this if YOU are willing to act as the church to people in need.
  • Get to know the people in your community that are different than you. Race, class, religion, etc… You can’t serve them if you don’t know them.
  • Give your time away. This is the hardest for me because I would honestly rather read a book each night than attend meetings or hang out with people I don’t know, but every single time I give my time away I walk away knowing Jesus better than I did before.
  • Figure out where your strengths and skills meet a need in your community. Take personality and spiritual gift tests. Identify what you really love doing and figure out how it can help. Can you teach a class? Can you run the social media for a ministry? Can you give money? Can you pray? Can you rally people to volunteer? Can you cook a meal?
  • Talk with anyone you can about what they see as the biggest needs in the town and find out what they are doing to help. See if there are ways you can join them, either with time or prayer or money.

Just throwing this out there, but I have been super convicted for the last year about the fact that I live in a very Hispanic community and I don’t know any Spanish. We live in a college town and hardly know any college students. There are so many international families in the neighborhoods within walking distance from our church and I personally haven’t done anything to make them feel welcome or invited to our church!
 

I feel like the Holy Spirit in my soul is just crying out for justice in this city, this country, and the world, and I just can’t, I can’t, I can’t continue to ignore Him.

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In the Middle

Last October, I took a trip with TEAM, the missions organization I work for, to Spain and Portugal. On the trip, we explored the culture of each city and learned about the religious implications Spanish and Portuguese history have on sharing the Gospel today. This post is a long time coming…this trip had a profound effect on my heart and mind, but I wanted to process internally before putting it out there.

 

The beginning of a story is exciting, full of possibilities.

The end of a story is typically full of gratitude, thanksgiving, and excitement for the next steps.

But the middle of the story—that’s the everyday, one foot in front of the other part. It’s the drudgery, the hard work, the repetitiveness. The middle can be simple and even boring. But it’s also where the faithfulness is born.

One of my favorite things of my trip to Spain and Portugal was walking the journey of a church plant just outside of Porto, Portugal. I read this story from TEAM about this church’s journey and their difficulties finding a place to meet and grow as a body of believers. Communities in Porto are really suspicious of evangelical organizations. Some people might even compare them to a cult. But the Holy Spirit moved and this body of believers continued to grow—building or not.

This church got kicked out of the missionary’s living room, then moved to a space next to a bar. They were kicked out of there, and moved into a restaurant, only to quickly outgrow the space. They made another move to a larger building. They put so much sweat and tears into this next location to make it welcoming for visitors, but they outgrew this building, too, and knew they wouldn’t be able to find a building for rent that was big enough to hold them. Through more sweat, tears, and prayer, they eventually were able to purchase their own three story building and even build a beautiful sanctuary.

Porto Cathedral
Porto Cathedral

That evening, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of this church with the body of Portuguese believers there. There were young people leading worship as we sang, “Greater things are yet to come in this city.” It was surreal, this beautiful redemptive story wrapped in a bow. God provided the church with a building, where they are now thriving!

Looking back, it is so easy to forget all the doubts and questioning and the beginning and middle of this story. People came and went from this church throughout the years. Missionaries were lonely as they made a home away from what they knew. There were probably many nights wondering where there congregation could meet that week.  Yet, all the while, God was moving them closer to this moment of celebration, inch by inch.

Bom Jesus in Braga, Portugal
Bom Jesus in Braga, Portugal

Here’s the thing: we all have a middle to our stories. We all have the moments where we are so unsure we are where we are supposed to be that we want to quit. When things are so difficult that it’s easier to pack up and go home. But sometimes God asks us to show up in the middle and do the hard work and if we refuse, our stories don’t get the victorious endings they deserve. They don’t express the faithfulness of showing up every day to the thing you’re called to and doing it without glamor or fanfare.

A view of Porto from Porto Cathedral
A view of Porto from Porto Cathedral

It reminds me of one of my very favorite verses, “Let us hold unswervingly to this faith we profess, for He who promised is faithful.” Let us show up in the middle, let us keep doing the work God puts before us. Let us keep showing up, day in and day out. Let us hold unswervingly to our faith, even when it’s plain and simple and boring. I love the beginnings and the endings, but I hope I get better at the glorious, faithful middle.

10 Ways to Support a Missionary

Good morning! Today I’m over on TEAM’s blog talking about my favorite topic–encouraging missionaries! Here’s a little excerpt, and you can click over to see the whole blog below.

Source
Source

For many missionaries, the Christmas season is full of opportunities to share the gospel with people in their community. While the holidays bring many joyful activities, they can also magnify feelings of homesickness for some missionaries. We’ve put together a list below of 10 unique ways to give your missionary support this Christmas.

Read more here…

i’m proud of you.

Two things I am thankful for on a daily basis are my two biggest fans: my dad and my husband. My dad is my fiercest champion, and when I think of him I think of all the times growing up he took the time to look me in the eyes and say, “I’m proud of you. You can do anything you want to; do you know that?” My husband sometimes looks at me like I’m crazy, but I like to think it’s the cute kind of crazy, and he is always right there cheering me on.

Here’s the thing, though: thousands upon thousands of women don’t have those personal champions, and some are barely scraping by. The most heartbreaking thing I have ever witnessed was a mom dropping her beloved child at an orphanage, unable to stand by and see her child suffering from hunger and illness because of their poverty. The hopelessness on this woman’s face is as clear in my mind as if it happened yesterday. She had no way to support herself, no money, no sort of social system to help her climb out of a life of hardship.

The unique struggles of women in poverty are overwhelming, but their beauty and strength is inspiring.

This is why I was so attracted to Fair Trade Friday when I first heard about it. This monthly box club highlights companies that are employing women around the world. These companies become champions for these women, investing in their mind and spirit. The women begin earning money by making beautiful goods that vary from earrings and necklaces to bags to coffee to soap.

Not only is all of this stuff gorgeous, but it is all high quality, too. There are several ways to buy: a monthly club with a variety of good each month (it’s waitlisted now, so you can still sign up to be notified when it’s open), an Earring of the Month Club (open and a super affordable option!), a single box, or even individual products. By buying these things, you are supporting each artisan as she learns and grows and supports her family.

Here’s the thing: you are going to buy jewelry, and gifts for friends, and coffee, and I truly believe every dollar you spend says something. It can say, “I was running late,” or “I spent too much,” or, “I got a great deal,” or “I couldn’t resist.” And those things are fine, they really are.  But here’s what I want some of mine to say: “You are so strong and inspiring. I am proud of you. You can do anything you want to.”

Sign up for Fair Trade Friday club here.

Buy individual products here.

Check out the organization behind FTF Club, Mercy House Kenya.

Engaging Millennials in Your Mission

Whether its hunger or human trafficking, clean water or orphan care, millennials are passionate about injustice and want to be the generation that changes things. Why should that matter to you? Well, the millennial generation is entering the workforce like a tidal wave, which means your hiring, fundraising, advocacy, and vision need to include a plan to harness the power of these idealists and engage them with your mission. Here are five ways you can keep millennials in mind as you plan for the future of your org, although I would argue these principles are important to implement across all age ranges.

1.       Harness Advocacy

Millennials want their voice to matter—I would say, as a generation, our biggest fear would be that ours doesn’t. According to Pew Research Center, the average American has 732 online connections, but a quick Facebook or Twitter search of millennials you know makes it easy to see some people blow that out of the water on just one site. With more contacts than your tracking system would know what to do with, it is a shame that so many organizations have no easy way for users to share stories, pictures, or even a logo easily on social media.

charity:water is great at engaging millennials on this level, right on their homepage which boasts, “You can….for clean water. Start a Campaign.” They then have sharable images, hashtags, and resources to make everyone an advocate.

2.       More Distrust Doesn’t Mean More Info

You probably already know that millennials are distrusting of organizational structures such as the church or large organizations. It is easy to want to prove you are trustworthy and doing good things by adding more—more documents, more words, more webpages on your site. This won’t do anything to engage millennials. We’re used to 140 characters and our attention span has, in some sad cases, proven to be shorter than that of a goldfish. So instead of more, use less, but use it well. A two sentence story of a life changed laid over a picture will do more for you than your 10 page annual report ever could. Better yet, skip the print altogether and use a video.

3.       Continued Stories

Since millennials have short attention spans, to keep millennials engaged in the long haul it is important to share stories continuously. The story that got them involved won’t always be able to keep them giving or advocating for you if you don’t have something new to share. It is a legacy of stories, shared often, that will keep millennials engaged.

4.       Be Specific, Especially in Fundraising

Millennials want to know exactly where their money is going. A simple country name or vague “food and schooling” program isn’t enough to ignite passion.  But telling someone your fifty dollar purse was made by Mary in Uganda and allows her to send her children to school is powerful. Let them feel the power of their gift by going a little deeper.

Fair Trade Friday and Noonday Collection are both great at recognizing this. Every product comes with a tag, and Noonday’s come with the name and some info about the artisan who created your product.

5.       Hire Millennials

If you want to gain millennial attention, you have to have millennials on staff. They shouldn’t be hard to find, as more millennials want to do meaningful work than ever before (30% of millennials list “meaningful work” a measure of career success).  A few years ago, the organization I work for re-strategized, decentralizing the organization and hiring millennials around the nation. There was a 400% increase in recruitment for missions, and many of those joining were millennials because millennials were also the ones doing the recruiting. If a millennial working for you is excited about the mission, they become a force and your cause’s greatest champion among their peers.

Millennials can have a bad reputation, but if you can engage them in your mission, their impact is undeniable. By giving them a voice and a story to share, millennials can be a huge force for good.

and yes again

Last night I was sitting in a room of 100 people celebrating a missions organization that is doing new and exciting things really well and really humbly. It’s the fourth time this year I have gotten to sit in a room full of staff, donors, retirees, future missionaries, and former missionaries.

The planning and details are habit by now; we’ve done the same thing several times. But what I am never prepared for is the moment I look around the room at all the faces and see the years and years and years and years of missionary service represented.

Have you ever seen a room full of God’s faithfulness? Have you ever felt legacy like it is a presence in the room? Have you ever seen real life heroes sitting and eating and hugging and laughing?

Here’s what it feels like: joy. Joy not in circumstances or health or even home, for most of the missionaries I’ve talked to don’t really feel that they have a true home. But joy in service. Joy in faithfulness. Joy in yes.

A speaker last night said it best when describing a time he wrote a promise to the Lord during a season of transition. His simple promise? “Yes, and yes again.”

Do you know what kind of person you want to be? I look at these people and I know. I know the pain from exhaustion and failure and transition and homelessness and even sickness will always, always be diminished by this joy beaming from their souls.

I look at these people and I know who I want to be. I want, no I need, to be someone who says yes, and yes again.

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and they’ve never even heard

This weekend, I attended a Muslim Outreach Workshop hosted by iHOPE Ministries. There was so much good information I had to share, but as I sat down to write, I realized there was so much info I couldn’t fit it all in one blog post. Here’s Part I, and Part II will come your way soon!

 

I heard something crazy this weekend.

I was extremely blessed to go to a Muslim Outreach Workshop, hosted by iHOPE Ministries. iHOPE was founded by Renod Benajji, who was born in the Middle East and became a Christian at an early age. He was persecuted for his faith when he was younger and actually grew up hating Muslims. As the Lord worked on his heart (in his words: “Sanctification sucks.”), he came to love Muslims and now runs the ministry, which equips and mobilizes churches to share the Gospel with Muslims.

The workshop focused on reaching Muslims in your day to day life—at your college, across the street, at the grocery store. It focused mostly on Muslims from the Middle East, but the principles given seemed to apply to any background. 

Renod gave some background to Islam. The most interesting part to me was the comparison of Islam to Old Testament Judaism. Think of all the worst pictures the Old Testament could paint of God if you forget all the good and take them at face value—angry, merciless, wrathful, destroyer. That’s Allah to many Muslims.

The Problem:

The workshop opened with a little of Renod’s story, then we moved into stats regarding Muslims in the world. We learned there are 1.64 billion Muslims in the world. That’s crazy, the second largest religion. But then we heard something crazier: 1.4 billion of them have never even heard the Gospel. That means 85% of people who believe in Allah’s judgement and wrath and earning his favor through good deeds have never even heard there is a God who loves them, who gives them rest, who cares for them.

Those numbers flashed on the screen and I immediately saw the picture of Islamic extremists beheading Christians. Then the words flashed over the mental image: THEY’VE NEVER EVEN HEARD.

I think of the women covered head to toe, seeing the world through narrow slit.

I think of the men praying to a god who is full of wrath, empty of grace.

I think of the college students searching for meaning and purpose.

I think of little boys growing up do anything to please Allah.

They’ve never even heard, and if things don’t change, believers, if we don’t change, they probably never will.

How can they call on Him to save them unless they believe in Him? And how can they believe in Him if they have never heard about Him? And how can they hear about Him unless someone tells them?

Romans 10:14 

 

iHOPE is doing some really cool things to equip the church to reach Muslims. Check out more about their ministry here, and if you’re in the DFW area, I highly recommend checking out this workshop.

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5 Ways the Social Justice Movement Will Change the Church

The Millennial Generation’s heartbeat is that of justice. Our generation craves action and  hates injustice. We want the captives freed, the orphans adopted, the hurting healed, the lonely loved. 

This is evident in both the secular and church world, but I truly believe that this movement is huge factor in the next church culture shift.

5 WAYS

1. Giving will increase, while tithing will decrease. Overall, Millennials are a giving bunch—of their time, money, and voices (83% of Millennials gave to charity in 2013).  MIllennials will give money—but not only to the church. Tithes will most likely be split with child sponsorship organizations, mission trip donations, feeding programs, etc… The reason for this is two-fold: 1) The passion to see change in the world and 2) Distrusting the church to use the money for those in need.

2. The scope of what jobs are considered “ministry positions” will expand. Baby Boomers worked for money, while Millennials will work to be fulfilled.  When committing to ministry, MIllennials won’t just be committing to a church job. The field has expanded to include parachurch organizations, nonprofits, and mission organizations.

3.  Church attendance will continue to decrease unless churches uphold action as much as they uphold small groups and Sunday worship services. Millennials are done with talk and teaching (partly because they think they already know it all)—they are seeking people who walk the talk.  If the church isn’t meeting the needs of the local community and loving those who have traditionally been rejected, Millennials won’t have any part of it. The most talented speakers and musicians won’t capture us for long if there aren’t actions focused on meeting physical needs locally and around the world.

4. Church membership looks different to them. Part of social justice is including everyone, especially the least of these. I am sure more churches will grapple with controversial questions, including homosexual Christians in church membership, and many MIllennials would be in favor. According to Thom Rainer’s survey of this generation, “Millennials will exit quickly from churches whose members are shrill and unloving toward those with non-biblical views on sexuality.” To some Millennials, love would mean acceptance and that, in turn, would mean membership. It is just a matter of time before churches deal with this question and more in terms of membership.

5. Diversity will be a measure of church health. Ethnically, socioeconomically, relationally—diversity is seen as evidence of an active church body that is actively working in the community.  Millennials will judge a church on who it attacts. Are there many races? Family structures? Are people from “both sides of town” there? Is Jesus depicted as a white, suit-wearing Republican? These are all questions Millennials will ask as they look at churches.