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.

Asking for Promises

Stop asking me to make more promises as if the ones I’ve already laid out are not enough.

I heard that, loud and clear. As I was making goals a few weeks ago, I began almost scared to write anything down on the paper. What if God asks us to move again? What if something terrible happens to someone in our family? What if we lose all of our savings somehow?

I was praying through these, not in an all-spiritual kind of way, but in an “OH CRAP please no please no please no” type of way. I was suddenly almost frantic as I thought about the vast unknowns we could be walking into.

And then I felt in my spirit a stern, but loving, voice tell me that He’s promised lots of things that I can cling to. 100% security and rest all the time is not one of them, because He has much better promises. Promises that He has a plan and a purpose. A promise that He will never leave me. A promise that I will see miraculous things come to pass. A promise that He will do whatever is best for those who love Him.

I can’t ask God to make promises merely for the sake of my comfort. He has literally done everything possible for me. He has moved mountains. He have never left me (Deuteronomy 31:6). He promises I don’t have to worry (Hebrews 13:5). He has guaranteed salvation and written my name on His hands (Romans 10:9, Isaiah 49:16). He has promised to bear my yoke. He says He will give me victory and rest and peace (Romans 8:37, Matthew 11:29, John 14:7).

So God won’t promise I will live in the same house for the rest of my life—but what He does promise is so much bigger and better. If I cling to my own perceptions and desires and wait to be vulnerable and dig into community until I have this one little promise, I will miss out on so much of what He has called me to do.

This year, as I set my goals and intentions, I am believing God is going to do huge things. I am believing for healing in an area of my life that I’ve been harboring for years and years. I am asking boldly for purpose and strength. I’m learning I can’t reasonably ask for these things and also ask for everything to remain exactly the same. And I am learning I can be not just okay with that, but overjoyed in the promises of what is to come.

You Have Something to Say

You have something to say.

You have something important, life changing, thoughtful, exciting, and challenging to say.

You are thinking that what you have to say doesn’t matter. There are a billion people out there, right? Someone has probably already said it.

But YOU have not said it.

You have a unique combination of talents, loves, passions, followers, those you follow, experiences, dislikes, strengths, and purpose. There is not another with your package of gifts.

There is something you have been given to say that can only be said by you.

The world needs you to say it. In your way, in your words, in your actions. We need YOU to stand up, to say it. There is no one else that can say it the way you can, and it’s time for you to give the gift of your words.

So sing, play, write, whisper, speak, teach, yell. Say what’s on your heart, in your mind. Because you have something to say.

here's something about God:

Something about God is that He loves giving gifts. Something about life is it likes to cover up gifts and make our current situation THE Most Important Thing Ever. Just Getting Through mentality takes over, and gifts are buried under stress and busyness until one day you look back and realize what you had been handed.

I can look back on seasons of life and pick out all of the gifts I didn’t see at the time. I’m thankful, so thankful, but I’m determined this won’t be a pattern in my life. I’m not ever again going to be so focused on my current situation I can’t see the gifts, the wonderful, personal gifts around me. 

That’s the best part about God’s gifts: they are personal. For me it could be chopping veggies—give me a cutting board and a knife and any day gets better. Or a sunny walk. Living close to family. A new song I’ve got on repeat. Feeling strong and healthy.

I don’t know what God has for me in this season, or the next, but I do know I will have open hands, an open heart, and open eyes to taste and see and name and fully experience the gifts God places so gently in our hands.

Friday Fav: The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey

On Fridays I want to share something I’ve been loving lately aka a Friday Fav! I’d love to hear about what you’re loving this week, so be sure to let me know in the comments!

This week I am LOVING the podcast The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey.

Source
Source

I listen to podcasts ALL the time, and I came across The Happy Hour when I saw Shannan Martin was on last week. Turns out this show is a gold mine. Each week Jamie interviews an amazing woman talking about life, faith, marriage, books, and more. Some awesome interviewees include Jen Hatmaker, Jennie Allen, and Melanie Shankle. Each interview is like meeting a new friend. Jamie Ivey is a great host and interviewer, and the episode with her husband is so adorable. You can (and should…really, it’s great!) subscribe at http://t.co/B8OAgdLJQ2 and listen while you’re driving, working out, folding laundry, whatever. I’m pretty positive you’ll love it as much as I do!!!

What about you? What are you loving this week?

Resolve

2014

Some people hate on resolutions, but I personally LOVE them. I have always loved the idea of a fresh start. For the last few days I have made a mental list a mile long of resolutions, but yesterday, as I stopped and prayed and reflected, I realized I just have one goal for 2014:

Listen to God. Do what He says.

Okay, maybe two goals.

This is a year of big dreams. It is a year of leaving behind hesitations. It is a year of anything. It is a year to go, to love big, to forget about containing my passion and just go for it.

A year of FREEDOM.

Freedom from my own rules and insecurities. Freedom to revel in the grace God has given me. Freedom to do crazy things in the name of Jesus. Freedom to forget about my pride and people pleasing ways and just DO IT.

(Nike should hire me for an ad campaign, right?) (Probably not)

So what about you? Do you need to focus this year on freedom? If not, what other word are you proclaiming over your year?

Happy 2014!

Worship

For a long time worship was singing.

Then it became playing guitar, too.

Now, a few years, a lot of mistakes, and lots of learning later, to me, worship isn’t just music.

Worship is freedom.

It is freedom to sing or to stay silent.

Freedom to move around or be still.

Freedom to raise my hands or kneel on the floor.

Freedom to draw.

Freedom to dance.

Freedom to sing at the top of my lungs.

Freedom to walk or run or write a poem or paint.

Worship isn’t just music, and it isn’t just at church.

Worship is basking in the freedom of knowing God’s perfection and throwing your expectations of yourself out the window.

Worship is giving up illusions of control and just being…free.

Freedom

What about you? What is worship to you?

Hold On

“Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”  1 Timothy 6:12

“If anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in him.”  1 John 2:5a

I don’t know about y’all, but obedience has been hard lately.  Not just in my actions, but in my attitude.  It is, in comparison, so easy to not steal or cheat or lie (not saying these are easy, but sometimes they are easier).  But changing my heart? My desire for acceptance and love? The times I am prone to self-pity and low self-esteem?  Sometimes it seems impossible.

But life goes on. God does what He says He will do. He brings victory. Sometimes it is easier than others.  Sometimes it may be a battle we fight our whole life.  But we press on, and we hold on until the end, and our hope is fulfilled.

So you go into a situation where you will be made fun of armed with love.  Ad when that love runs out you sing “Jesus Loves Me” in your head. Not as a comfort, but as a reminder the Lord has done too much for you to not obey.

Or when you are convicted to pray for your persecutors and a minute later there is a rude joke about you.

Or when you are tired and you’d just rather…not. Not have to think of obedience and this separation from the world.

Even when it’s not easy, we hold to Christ. Even when it hurts and it seems unfair, we keep holding on.  Our knuckles are white, our hands are hurt and sweating and you know if you just let go things might get easier.  But we keep holding on for “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us a glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor 4:17). And holding on is going to be worth it, friends.

Waiting for You

Things about me you should know: I am a planner and I take pride in that. Oops, pride. That pesky little thing that keeps me from relying on the Lord, His plan, and His grace.  The past year I have been pushed a lot to give up my plans.  Through uncertainty in graduating and a job that requires being extremely flexible, I have realized I’ve gone from one extreme view of God’s plan to another.

You see, in high school, I was so afraid to make any decision because I was worried I would be outside of God’s will for my life. Then in college I learned of God’s sovereignty and that my decisions do not dictate God’s plan. However, my warped view of that lead me down a road where I assumed any decision I made, if I felt a “good feeling” about it, was ordained by God and so it was not important if I prayed or studied or asked advice.

 

“‘Everything is permissible’–but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible’–but not everything is constructive.” 1 Corinthians 10:23

Now, the Lord has blessed me in many ways this last year, but I truly believe if I had prayed about some decisions, I would have come to different conclusions that weren’t quite so self-seeking.

So I am determined, as I look for a job for this summer and the future, to be a person of faith. To listen and trust the Lord will provide. To wait on Him.