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Life

Jesus is the Blazing Center of Social Justice

Last night here in Pretoria, I went to a showing of the newest Invisible Children movie.  Before the movie was played, I was in the main building where there were dozens of Christian ministries and non-profits represented.  I didn’t know everything would be so “Christian” because I knew that Invisible Children has never made any kind of profession to be religious.  So, I was hopeful that this night would be about Jesus.

The program started out with an Afrikaans girl who prayed.  Her first word was “Jesus…”  She prayed that God would open our hearts to the injustice in the world.  She prayed that we would be empowered to do something.  She prayed, “In your Name, Amen.”

That was the last time I heard Jesus’ name.

There were other people who spoke after the film.  They talked about how South Africa could help.  They said they “had meetings…and thought and prayed about” how to be involved.   They said this is an “interdenominational” movement.  They said that we “cannot turn a blind eye toward this.”

And you know what?  I would be all for it — if it had to do with Jesus.

By my guess, I’d say there were about 3,000 people at the program, and as always in a group that size, most probably do not follow Jesus.  As I sat there, I said to my friend Rylan, “They missed a huge opportunity to share the gospel tonight.”

Then you might say, “Well, James, this isn’t about the gospel.  It’s social justice.  It’s a non-religious movement.  It’s about people working together to make a difference.”

And I would reply that if that’s all it is, it’s a problem.  It’s a problem because there are thousands of people who may be fooled into believing that if you give a couple bucks, write a few letters, spend a night on the streets, and buy some merchandise you will have done your duty.  Even greater than that, it’s a problem because there are possibly thousands of people who will not understand the greatest injustice ever committed: we have sinned, and continue to sin, against Almighty God.

We will not properly understand injustice in our world until we understand the injustice of sin that lives in our hearts.   We have highly offended God.  We have trampled upon his glory.  We have committed awful crimes against the Creator.  We deserve to die because of our evils.

But God sent Jesus to earth.  The God-man came down to live and work and teach and bring us back to God.  He lived without any injustice in his heart, because he was God.  Even so, we couldn’t overcome our own injustice.  In fact, we are so unjust that we did the unthinkable.

We killed God.

But it wasn’t for nothing.  God used his own death to justify all those who come to him.  No one understands injustice more than God does.  Jesus was innocent, and he was murdered.  No one has been sinned against more than he has.    Because of this, we will not be rightly passionate about social justice until we understand the justice that God satisfied when Jesus’ died on the cross.  Therefore, if any social cause is not grounded in Christ, it is meaningless.

Invisible Children is neither a good nor a bad thing.  It depends on who you are in it for.  If the blazing center is Jesus, then it is good.  If it is for any other reason — noble as it may be — it’s bad.

The sad fact is that anything not done for Jesus — for the glory of God — is a sin.  As great as it seems for someone to rescue children from being slaves of a crazed terrorist, it doesn’t justify anyone before God.  If anything doesn’t bring glory to Jesus and  lead people to him so they might be rescued from bondage — physically and spiritually — it simply draws attention away from Christ and toward something else.

The prophet Isaiah puts it this way.  “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (64:6).  The phrase “polluted garment” in Hebrew means “bloodied rag.”  I know this is gross, but in our day, this is akin to a bloodied tampon.  You say that’s disgusting.  You say that’s vile.  It’s in your Bible.  Disgusting is the point Isaiah is making.  Anything “righteous” that is not done to the glory of God is like a bloodied tampon.  That’s how disgusting social justice is to God if it is void of Jesus.

Know that I’m not bashing Invisible Children. I don’t hate social justice campaigns.  This blog isn’t about that.  It’s about you and me.  It’s about our wrongs.  It’s about our injustices.  It’s about our hatred, resentment, bitterness, greed, envy, jealously, lust, malice, harshness, lying, cheating, stealing, mocking, jeering, and a thousand other sins that we commit daily.

It’s all injustice.  Against God.   Against his glory.  Against his perfection.  And it’s ugly.  So ugly that God had to die to forgive us.

My plea is that you examine yourself and repent so you don’t stand before God and show him a bloody towel and say, “Look at my good deeds.”  I pray that you stand before God and point to Jesus and say, “There’s my righteousness.  There’s my goodness.  There’s my justice.”

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Life

If the World Was How it Should Be, Maybe I Could Get Some Sleep

A couple years ago, Jars of Clay wrote a song called “Oh My God” on their Good Monsters album.  It’s truly one of the greatest songs I’ve ever heard or read (it’s good without hearing the music).  I’ve been reflecting on this song for the past few months and I can’t seem to escape the deep, heartfelt, and even eerie mood the song exudes.  The song is about the phrase “Oh My God.”  People of all backgrounds, races, religions, and creeds use it.  For some, it’s a praise, a curse, a plea for help.  For others, it’s a question, a knee-jerk reaction, a response to pain. 

The song doesn’t have a chorus.  There aren’t really “verses” either.  It’s a poetic rant of the world’s problems.  Dan Haseltine, Jars’ lead singer, was interviewed about the album and specifically this song.  “[The phrase] means so many different things and it’s used in so many different contexts,” he said, “but in the end, it means that at some point in every person’s life, they have to confront whether or not God is real.”  Who says “Oh My God”?

Liars and fools; sons and failures
Thieves will always say
Lost and found; ailing wanderers
Healers always say
Whores and angels; men with problems
Leavers always say
Broken hearted; separated
Orphans always say
War creators; racial haters
Preachers always say
Distant fathers; fallen warriors
Givers always say
Pilgrim saints; lonely widows
Users always say
Fearful mothers; watchful doubters
Saviors always say

Haseltine said that he had things like McDonald’s and the lottery in his mind when the song was written.  “Those things play a weird role in the story of mankind of working out his salvation and his place in the world. And those are the kind of things that cause me to kind of have these little crisis moments.”

What kind of a world is this that there is poverty, war, genocide, and…McDonald’s?  Good question.  There is killing going on in the world, all the while Americans ask, “Lord, can I please have a raise? a better car? a bigger house?”  Jars of Clay spent some time in Rwanda before the song was written and genocide was taking place in a church of 5,000 people.  Haseltine says that those people weren’t praying for a nice car or more land, but to be delivered from death from their neighbors.  “[That] causes a bit of a crisis of faith, and at the same time, it also makes me realize there has to be a God, because my own sense of justice does not have a context for this. ”

Someone has to be in control of a world with so much hatred, violence, disease, hunger, and hundreds of other problems.  God has a greater sense of justice and in his time, he will reconcile the world to himself.  Even now, it is being reconciled to himself.  My heart is to be broken and contrite over this world that is so lost and lonely.  The only solution for the world’s problems is Jesus.  My heart is to have such an empathy for the people of this world that I lose sleep for those who don’t know Jesus. 

Sometimes I cannot forgive
And these days, mercy cuts so deep
If the world was how it should be,
Maybe I could get some sleep
While I lay, I dream we’re better,
Scales were gone and faces light
When we wake, we hate our brother
We still move to hurt each other
Sometimes I can close my eyes,
And all the fear that keeps me silent
Falls below my heavy breathing,
What makes me so badly bent?
We all have a chance to murder
We all feel the need for wonder
We still want to be reminded
That the pain is worth the plunder

Sometimes when I lose my grip,
I wonder what to make of heaven
All the times I thought to reach up
All the times I had to give in
Babies underneath their beds
Hospitals that cannot treat
All the wounds that money causes
All the comforts of cathedrals

All the cries of thirsty children – this is our inheritance
All the rage of watching mothers – this is our greatest offense

Oh my God

“For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Rom. 9:3).