Tag Archives: justice

How to bring righteousness to the world [Second Sunday of Advent, part 5]

14 Dec

In this series on the Lectionary readings for the Second Sunday of Advent, we have been following the life and ministry of John the Baptist and the message God was proclaiming through John: a huge roadwork project.  What is that project?  God wants us to repent, so that he might bring righteousness on the world.  And that brings us to the fourth reading, Philippians 1:3-11, which explains what this means for us.

There we read Paul’s prayer for the Philippians, a writing which would have been 25 years or so after the events of John the Baptist’s ministry. 

Very much like the church we heard about last week, in the city of Thessalonica, Paul had started a church in the city of Philippi, which like Thessalonica, is in modern-day Greece.  But unlike modern-day Thessaloniki, which is a bustling city, Philippi is now just an archaeological site.  In Paul’s day, it was another important city, however, not far down the road from Thessalonica. You can read about Paul’s visit there in Acts 16.    

We learn in his prayer in Philippians 1 that Paul had great affection for his friends there.  Take a look at Verses 3-5 and 7-8, and there we see Paul’s thankful and joyful prayer because of their partnership in the gospel. In verse 6 he expresses his confidence that God, who began good work in them, will carry it to completion. Sfter that encouragement, he concludes with some teaching and goals for them in verses 9-11.  It is a prayer for four things:

First, that their love may abound more and more in depth of knowledge.

Second, that they would be able to discern what is best.

Third, that they would be pure and blameless until the day of Christ.

Fourth, that they would be filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Christ.

The anchoring phrase of these verses is that first phrase of Paul’s prayer: that their love may abound more and more in depth of knowledge.  In the language Paul originally wrote this in, ancient Greek, this is a very vivid phrase.  It carries the idea of an overflow of love that just keeps growing beyond what can be contained.  What happens in that extremely loving atmosphere of a church family is that they will be able to discern what is best, and they will be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, which is the day of the second coming of Jesus.  This is a love that knows no bounds, and a love that is getting to know one another more and more.

Paul is once again, like he was last week with the Thessalonian church, looking forward to second coming of Jesus, now teaching the Philippian Christians how to act in preparation for that day.  They are to love one another with a growing, overflowing love, that is marked by knowing one another more and more.

That raises an interesting question: Is it possible to love someone who you barely know?  You may be aware of them, but it cannot be said that you love them.  Love requires knowledge.   And knowledge boosts love.  When they love like that, growing in their depth of knowledge for one another, Paul says, there will be residual blessings.  They will be able to discern what is best, and they will be pure and blameless as they wait for Jesus to return.  Love for one another ,then, is foundational for a church family.

Finally, take notice of last phrase of Paul’s prayer: “that they would be filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Christ.” This is the word that ties all our passages together: righteousness. 

Paul wants the people to be filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus.  From Malachi’s prophecy of the two messengers we learned about God’s desire for his people to be righteous. Then from Zechariah’s psalm in Luke 1, we heard Zechariah, the father of the first messenger, talk about God’s plan for rescuing his people so that we could serve him in righteousness all our days.  Next we looked at the ministry of Zechariah’s son, John the Baptist, who fulfilled the role of the first messenger, calling people to repentance and lives of righteousness.  Now we conclude with Paul teaching the people how this righteousness flows from Jesus.  Paul will teach in many passages that we do not have a righteousness of our own, but instead we can only accept the gracious gift of Jesus giving his righteousness to us, at one point describing it like putting on the clothing of righteousness.

After we take on Jesus’ righteousness, waiting for Jesus to return, we are called to lives of love, demonstrating the righteousness that Jesus came to give to us.  That is the amazing gift of Malachi’s second messenger, who is God himself, that he wants to cleanse us of our unrighteousness and give us his! 

What is this righteousness?  I mentioned that it is very much connected to the idea of justice, of making things right, flowing from a heart of love.

As we wait, then, for Jesus to return, we are to be a people so filled with love, abounding with love, that we work to make things right in our lives, in our relationships, and in the world around us.  That is the fruit of righteousness.  That is how we live and work and prepare for Jesus to return.  That is the work of clearing the debris, making straight the crooked paths, smoothing the hills and filling the valleys.  By loving one another with so much abundance, we are bringing justice and righteousness to the world.

To this concept of justice, I think of the recent report given at our local ministerium about homelessness in our school district, Conestoga Valley. It is rampant. CV has more homeless students in our school district than any other in the county except for the school district of Lancaster. This is why we support CVCCS and the Ministerium and Homes of Hope.  I encourage you to consider what role you can play, especially at Christmas, no matter where you live. Get to know your community.  Can you find any evidence of injustice?

Addressing injustice in our communities is just one example of how we can bring justice and righteousness and prepare the way for the return of the King.  Think about that return of the King.  What will he see when he arrives?  Just like the dignitaries that visit Jamaica, will Jesus find a road with potholes and debris, or will he find a road that is paved and cared for?  I’m not talking about actual roads, in case you were wondering!  I’m talking first and foremost about his church, but also all people, society, and culture. Will Jesus find broken relationships, people stuck in addictions, ravaged by injustice?  Will he see his church striving to love and to bring righteousness to the world?

Christians, justice and leadership in the Church [God’s heart for good government, part 5]

16 Nov

In this series of posts, we have been studying God’s heart for good government in Deuteronomy 16 and 17.  In those chapters, God created levels of governance for Israel: local, national, and over all, the king.

What have we seen in all these levels of government that God had for his people? Many things:  Justice is the foundation of governance.  All people are equal and to be treated fairly.  While there will be leaders, local and national, and they are to be people of high character and wisdom, it is God who is truly king, and we must follow his law.

So how might this passage matter to Christians?

First, these are principles that can apply to any nation, and Christians can work, and I would say should work, towards having national governments that are based in justice for all.  Where there is injustice in society, we Christians should work to correct it.

I’ve been so impressed with our sister church in Chicago, Kimball Avenue, (and even though they changed denominations recently, in Faith Church’s heart and mind, they are still our sister church!) and their Justice Watch group, and how they have for years worked on bringing God’s justice to their community.  It was in Chicago that I learned about babies in the water, which is a thought-provoking story to help us learn about justice.

We should be passionate, therefore, about justice inour community.  Are there any ways we seeinjustice around us? What can we do to address it?

Second, not only justice for the community, but also justice and godly leadership should be our goal in the church.  We can read in the New Testament numerous passages that talk about selecting leaders in the church, and here at Faith Church we have summarized them with the phrase: the spiritually mature should lead the church

But the leaders don’t do all the work.  Just as God wanted Israel to have lower courts and higher courts, we divide up into groups.  The top leader is not to handle it all.  In Ephesians 4:11-13, Paul wrote that the church leaders were to “prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the church may be built up.” Leaders, then, have a job, to raise up others, train them up, help them grow in their faith in Christ, so that more and more people can serve.

We seek to do this at Faith Church.  We have our Leadership Team and ServeTeams.  The Leadership team is focused onleading the church spiritually, while the Serve Teams direct the various areasof ministry.

Leaders in the church must follow theprinciples of leading with justice and fairness.  Leaders in the church must make God theirking.  It is not our church, it is hischurch, he is the one true leader. Pastors, staff and leaders are not to be put on a pedestal, worshiped,because that is a place reserved for God alone!

So let us be a people that pursue God’s heart for justice and worship him alone.

Justice [God’s heart for good government, part 2]

13 Nov

Imagine you were creating a new nation, and you were responsible for writing a document that would become the guiding principles for this whole new society.  What would you include?  If you could narrow it down to just a few key ideas, what is necessary?  What is the basis of good governance?

As we saw yesterday in the first post of this series on Deuteronomy 16:18-20 and 17:8-20, God’s heart for Israel was to have good governance, starting with the people choosing wise local judges.  But how were these judges to handle their position? Look at chapter 16, verses 19-20, and we see that justice is to be primary.  The New International Version, and many other versions of the Bible translate the first phrase as, “do not pervert justice.”  I prefer the New American Standard, which translates the phrase, “do not distort justice.”  The Hebrew word here can be translated, “to stretch out” or “twist”. It is an image of changing something into what it was not meant to be. 

God wants governance where justice is clear and unchanged.  But what does that look like?  Thankfully he gives the people some examples.

First in verse 19, he says, “Do not show partiality.”  Who normally receives partiality?  Think about our day and age.  White people. Rich people.  The principle is clear.  No matter who you are, you should be treated the same. Justice is impartial

Next he says, “Do not accept bribes.”  Who do bribes favor?  Those with the ability to pay them.  The rich. Bribes also favor those in positions of power who can receive the bribes, usually government officials.  Justice should not be for sale.

He further explains this in verse 19 saying, “bribes blind the eyes of the wise and twist the words of the righteous.”  That’s an accurate image.  One scholar I read said that this could also be translated, “bribes subvert the cause of those who are in the right.”  Bribes do that.  They take a situation that is supposed to be based on justice and righteousness and twist it, and subvert it, making it unjust. 

Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve had the opportunity to give a bribe?  I have, in places like Jamaica and Guyana.  Bribes were/are a part of their culture.  Go to the DMV, for example, and unless you wanted to wait in line forever, you would give a bribe.  Or what if you get stopped by the police, but you weren’t doing anything wrong?  You knew what they were looking for.  Give them a bribe and you have an easy day.  Don’t offer a bribe, and you get a ticket for a false violation.

The Lord repeats, therefore, his heart for just governance in verse 20, “Follow justice and justice alone.” So what is justice?  He has already illustrated it two ways: it is not showing partiality, and it is not taking bribes.  But what about the word itself? In these verses, there are actually two words for “justice.”  Let’s look at both.

In verse 19, he uses a word which refers to a just decision in an individual case.But in verse 20, he uses a word which is the abstract quality of justice – what is right, often translated “righteousness.”

There is a famous verse, Amos 5:24, that  includes both words: “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”

I know the USA is not perfect, but we do believe in justice as the foundation of society.  It is in the last line of our pledge of allegiance. “With liberty and justice for all.” Think about that.  It really matches up nicely with what we just read.

When is the last time you read the Declaration of Independence?  What you’ll find is that justice is all over the place in the text.  A major concern of our founding fathers was that the Colonies were being treated unjustly by the British King and government.  After winning independence, those same founding fathers crafted our Constitution, and the opening sentence, the preamble, says this:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The United States was created on a foundation of justice. 

But remember that what we are reading in Deuteronomy is not God’s covenant with America. It is God’s covenant with the ancient people of Israel.  God doesn’t have a covenant with America.  But we can learn his heart, his desires for how his people should live. God is saying that justice is the best foundation for society, and so it is best for any nation to make justice the foundation of their land. 

Here in America, ours has been a roller coaster history of trying to live up to the idea of justice for all.  How just was it for Europeans to sail to Native American lands and take possession of the land by force or by unfair purchases?  How just was it for Americans to enslave millions of people from Africa, people who had been ripped from their homeland and shipped perilously to ours?  While we can proud of our American ideal of justice for all, we must also confess there are many ways we have allowed massive injustice to reign. 

That is why God had Israel to set up law courts in all their towns.  Because he knows there will be injustice. There will need to be wise, godly judges who have the authority to bring justice to any situation where there is injustice. 

So in Israel’s local law courts, and in their whole nation, justice rules. Check back in for the remaining posts in this series, as we will look at God’s heart for justice in our world.

God’s surprising views on justice

12 Oct
Photo by Zalmaury Saaved on Unsplash

Last year we started studying the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy.  Then I went on sabbatical. We had covered the first nine chapters of Deuteronomy.

Now we’re heading back in! 

For the most part, though, we’re going to study Deuteronomy differently than we did last year.  Last year we went chapter by chapter, verse by verse.  But beginning with Deuteronomy 10, the book changes.  It becomes quite topical, and some topics are repeated in numerous chapters.  So as  we restart this study, we’re not going verse by verse.  We’re going theme by theme.  Or topic by topic, as you will see in this post.

We left off last year having studied chapters 8 and 9, and if you glance at them, you can see what Moses is doing.  He strongly urges the people to love the Lord, to follow the Lord, and remember how awfully they sinned against the Lord.

The really bad sin was when they made a golden idol in the shape of a calf and began worshiping it, saying things like they wanted to go back to Egypt, where they had been slaves?!?!?  We don’t have time to get into all the details of that story, but God was so upset at this, that he said to Moses, the game was over.  He was going to destroy the entire nation and start over again with Moses.  But chapter 9 ends with Moses reminding the people that he interceded for them, begging God to give them another chance.

With that we come to chapter 10.  What did God think about Moses wheeling and dealing?

Read chapter 10, verses 1-11. God relents!  And there is a new beginning.  

With that Moses wraps up the story of Golden Calf.  But why would Moses retell this story?  Remember that here in Deuteronomy, the people are on the verge of entering the Promised Land.  That Golden Calf incident happened 40 years prior.  Many of the people hearing Moses tell that story were not even there when it first happened.  So Moses has a good reason to bring that up: he wants them to remember their past.  They are not getting into the Promised Land because they were so good and special and powerful.  Nope, they are getting into the Promised Land because God chose them, forgave them, and helped them.  Moses wants the people to have a proper dependence on God, and to obey God and not make the same kind of nearly disastrous mistake their parents made.

That is why in the next passage, 10:12-22, Moses has some really important instructions for this new generation.  Look at verse 12-13.  Moses asks the people, “What does the Lord ask of you?”  It’s a great question.  One that we often ask as well.  “Lord, what do you want me to do?”

He answers, “Fear the Lord, walk in his ways, love him, serve him with all your heart and soul, observe his commands and decrees.” 

This is so central.  God wanted a loving connection with his people.  You can really see God’s heart for his people in this passage.  He is saying to them, “I want to walk with you, and be with you, that there may be genuine affection between us.” 

He goes on in verses 14 and 15 reminding the people that while God owns all of creation, guess who he decided to make his special people?  Israel.  Moses reminds them that God is the initiating force behind this relationship.  He started this when he set his affection on their forefathers.  People like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 

Because of God’s choice, the people need to see how their relationship with God is unique.  Because God chose them, they have some choices of their own to make.   He says in verse 16 “Circumcise your hearts, therefore.”

Circumcision was a big part of Jewish culture.  When God chose their forefather Abraham, God said the mark, the physical mark of their relationship with God, was that all males would be physically circumcised on the 8th day of the tiny little baby lives.  You might think, Why in the world, of all the things that God could think of to mark his people, did he go with that one?  We’ll never answer that question.  But this passage in Deut. 10:16 reminds us of something so important.  God actually has a deeper mark in mind.  The circumcision of the heart.  There the word “heart” is not referring to a person’s “blood-pumper”.  It’s not like God is moving his focus from one physical part of the body to another.  He also is not talking about emotion.  Sometimes in our day we cover our heart when we get emotional and say, “Awww, that’s so precious.”  But that is not what Moses is talking about.   In the Hebrew conception, heart referred to your will.

I recently listened to a Bible teacher named John Ortberg talk about this.  He said this: the heart that God is talking about here is your will.  This is your ability to exercise dominion in the world. The ability to choose.

But, he said, while will is central to who we are, it is terribly weak.  He referred to a scientist Valmeister who studied this.  Valmeister did experiments on will, and he found that our will can get tired, like a muscle being used. Our will gets tired, when trying to deal with the stuff of life and especially when making hard choices. Valmeister found that while our will is good at making decisions, it is also terrible at overriding our habits.  If we like to snack on sugary treats, and we do it every day, especially when we are stressed, our will is not good at helping us overcome that habit.

One thing, though, is easy for the will. Surrender. We all think that death to self is terrible and hard. Remember that Jesus said, unless we take up our cross and die to ourselves, we cannot be his disciple?  We hear that and think how awful it sounds.  Author Dallas Willard said that death to one’s lesser self is so that a more noble and glorious self can be born.  Our will was made to surrender to God.

Circumcision of our hearts, then, is another way to say, “People, surrender yourselves to God.”

And there is good reason to give yourself so completely over to God.  Look at verse 17, we can surrender to God because there is no god like our God.  He is the great God, mighty and awesome.  Above all gods.  When we surrender our lives to him, it’s not so bad.  It would be a major sacrifice if Moses had said to the people, “circumcise your hearts for God,” and God turned out to be some second-rate middle-level deity.  In the same way, it would be pretty pathetic if Jesus said, “Die to yourselves and follow me” if he ended up dying on the cross and staying dead, and never rising from the dead.  But no, YHWH is the one true all-powerful God, and Jesus didn’t stay dead, but rose again to victory over death, victory over sin, victory over the devil.  For us to surrender to him means we are giving our lives to the most powerful one who loves us.  That’s pretty awesome.  We can surrender to that!

As Moses continues through this passage, he describes God, and it becomes more and more clear how great it is to surrender ourselves to God.  Because there is none like him, God has some really interesting points of view about life.  Look at verse 18.  God has an eye out, a heart, for those in need.  He defends the fatherless and the widow, loves the alien, giving him food and clothing.  What an amazing God!

But it is not just God who cares for those in need.  Israel is to follow God’s heart, Moses says in verse 19, loving the alien, because they were once aliens. What a great God we have.  He cares for all people, and has a special heart for those in need.  When we give ourselves over to him, we will also care for those in need.

As we come to the end of this chapter, verses 20-22 give us a quick recap.  Fear God, serve him, hold fast to him.  He is your praise, he is your God, who performed mighty wonders.  Moses reminds Israel of the last 450-500 years of their nation’s existence.  When they first went to Egypt, they numbered 70 people.  Now they are in the millions, and God rescued them.  In other words, they have every reason to circumcise their hearts, to surrender to God, and to follow his heart, which is a passionate desire to help those, like they once were, people in serious need of help.

In the coming chapters, Moses wants the people to get this, so he brings it up again, and again. Turn to chapter 15.  I’m not going to read all of this.  Because we’re going to jump to chapter 19 as well.  In these chapters, I want us to see how Moses continues the theme of God’s heart for those in need.

Look at verse 1 of chapter 15, and the old NIV, says, “At the end of every seven years, you must cancel debts.”

Do you have debts? Doyou have debts that have been going on for at least seven years?  And did you just think, I’m going to head over to my bank tomorrow, and I’m going to plop my Bible down and have a little talk?  Please don’t do that.  They probably won’t be too thrilled with you trying to get out of a legally-binding document like a mortgage.

This verse is much better translated “Every seventh year you shall make a release.”  God instituted in the nation a regular pattern of release.  It did include debts, but also slavery, also land and more.  One scholar says, “The laws of release…provide a structure in Israel for maintaining a balance and equity in society, and especially for giving access to the wealth of the land to those who had not property rights of their own.” (McConville, 257)

Hear that?  You just heard God’s heart.  God’s heart is sometimes unexpected.  God’s heart sometimes doesn’t jive with the economic standards of the day.  In Israel, God wanted to make sure the people who owed money were not taken advantage of, or that paying back the loan didn’t destroy them.  And furthermore, look at verse 4.  “There shall be no poor among you.”

Look at verse 7.  “If there are poor among you, do not be tight-fisted or hardhearted.  Rather be openhanded.  Freely lend whatever they need!”  Verse 10, “give generously to him, without a grudging heart.” Verse 11, “I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.”  Over and over God is showing his heart.  We can really learn about God in these chapters of Deuteronomy!  God has a heart for those in need. 

Remember this all goes back to the fact that Israel did not earn their wealth and prosperity on their own.  God chose them, God saved them, God protected them, he forgave them when they sinned, and he brought them to a land that was capable of making them rich.  God did it all for them.  They had been enslaved and poor and powerless.  Now God is saying, remember where you came from.  Remember how I saved you.  Remember my heart for justice for those who are now like you used to be.  And love them, and give to them, and reach out to them.

In 15:12-18 this theme continues.  Again, hear the word release.  This time, he says, release servants.  And don’t just let them go, saying, “Good riddance, hope you can fend for yourself.”  No.  Give them what they need to make a new start. Look at verses 13-15.  “Supply them liberally!  Give to them as the Lord has blessed you.”

Now jump to chapter 19, and we continue to see God’s heart for justice.  This time with a really interesting idea: cities of refuge. In chapter 4, we learned that Moses created the first cities of refuge.  What in the world were cities of refuge?

Basically, Moses tells us in chapter 19 that cities of refuge were places of refuge for people who caused the unintentional death of another.

You might think, isn’t that rare, though?  Why is God so concerned about accidental death, something that hardly happens?  This one is personal for me.  On this blog I previously told my story, as I accidentally caused the death of an Amish lady in a car accident that was my fault when I was 17. 

When you lose a loved one it is hard.  When the cause of death is irresponsibility, that is even harder.  God know this.  He knows how bad it hurts when you lose a loved one, even when they die of old age.  But when they die unexpectedly, younger, and because of people’s stupidity or irresponsibility, it hurts even more.  People who lose a loved one that way might take revenge.  God had Moses and the people of Israel create cities of refuge where people could flee to their safety.  Again, we see God’s heart for those in need.

In chapter 19:14, there is another illustration of God’s heart. Don’t move boundary stones.  Don’t try to cheat property lines.  Here in America, boundary lines are set by law, and they are highly mapped out.  But even then, have you ever had a neighbor try to snag a few extra feet?

Our property has a rental property on one side, and different people have come and gone.  Each time a new tenant arrives, I talk with them about our garden.  I call it our garden, but it is almost entirely on the rental property’s back lawn.  So I explain that we have an agreement with their landlord to use it, and of course they can too.  We planted berries back there, and they are welcome to them.  So far it has worked great.  But what would be wrong is if I tried to say, that is my property!  That would be cheating.

God’s heart is a heart of justice, no cheating.  Likewise, in verses 15-21, God says that people accused of a crime must have testimony established by two or three witnesses.   Again, we see God’s heart is for justice.  No lying.

Moses in chapters 10, 15, and 19 presents to us that God is a God of justice.  God cares about the poor and needy, the fatherless, the orphan, the widow and the alien.  He cares about fairness and equity.  And we should too.  We should circumcise our hearts, and surrender to him, which means will we learn his heart, think like he thinks, do what he does.  We build our lives on his ways.

What is amazing is how this passion for God’s heart worked its way into the early church.  Jesus regularly taught about helping the poor and needy, and he himself ministered to them frequently.  So when you go to the story of the beginning of the church in Acts 2, what do you find?  Turn to Acts 2:42-47.

In Acts 2:44-45, they were together and had everything in common.  Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.  Sounds just like God’s heart in Deuteronomy!

Turn over to Acts 4:32, and we see this again.  Such amazing generosity!  Those first Christians had circumcised their hearts, were surrendered to God, and were being so giving.

Turn to Acts 6:1, and see how they talk about a ministry of caring for widows?  They got it.  The church knew God’s heart for those in need, and they did what they could do reach out.

When our church did a mission trip to Chicago in 2010, to work with our sister church there, it opened my eyes to God’s heart for justice.  I had been through four years of Bible College, and then through a seminary master’s degree, and somehow I barely heard anything about this.  In Chicago, they walked us through their neighborhoods and opened our eyes to injustice, and they also walked us through the Bible and opened our eyes to God’s heart for justice.  We looked at passages like we are studying in this post, and so many more.  It was embarrassing to me to realize that as a student of the Bible for so many years, I had missed this.  And it wasn’t like it was some small emphasis in Scripture that is easy to miss.  It is all over Scripture.  I am so thankful for how my church family has sought to identify the injustice in our community and seek to address it.

This is why Faith Church is so supportive of Conestoga Valley Christian Community Services, which operates a food and clothing bank.  This is why we have been a location for the summer lunch club.  This is why we support Homes of Hope.  This is why we give to the Conestoga Valley Ministerium Helping Hands fund, which provides support of those in need in our community.

This is why we support the idea of abolishing slavery around the world. This is why we support refugee resettlement.  Because that is God’s heart. 

What will it look like for you to so appreciate God’s heart for you, for rescuing you, for saving you, that you allow his heart to grow within you, so you that you reach out to those in need?  Do you need to be more giving, more generous, more involved in helping people?

Babies in the Water (or what is broken in society and how to fix it?)

2 Sep

Image result for broken society

You don’t have to search far and wide to come across preachers of doom and gloom.  Especially in an election year.  Especially in this election year.  Listen to the news and speeches from candidates and you can get the idea that our country is teetering on the precipice of total implosion.

Personally, I don’t believe it.  I’m concerned that the fear-mongering is possibly used to engender political gain.  I suspect that our nation is better off than what we so often hear.

But I also try to be a realist, and I see that there are systems and structures which are broken.   We need to identify them and seek to fix them.  When a group from Faith Church visited our sister church Kimball Avenue Church in Chicago, we heard an insightful story that I call “Babies in the Water”.  You may have heard a version of it before.  It is a story about seeing what is broken and how to fix it.  It goes like this:

Imagine you are spending a wonderfully cool late summer day (like today is, at least in Lancaster County), enjoying a picnic alongside a small river.  Your family has a blanket spread out, and you’re eating sandwiches and chips while your kids, standing on the riverbank, attempt to skip stones across to the other side.

Suddenly, one of your kids starts yelling frantically.  You snap to attention, heart immediately pounding, fearing one of your little ones has fallen in.  Quickly counting bodies, you breathe easier, they’re all running toward you.  Then you make out what they’re saying.  “There’s a baby in the water!”  You think to yourself, Can’t be…kids mistakenly identify things all the time.  But your children are beside themselves, and you see it too.  The distinct form of a baby, arms and legs flailing a bit, floating on its back down the river.  Then comes the unmistakable cry of an infant.  You and your spouse spring into action and rush out to save the baby.  Astoundingly, though sputtering a bit and cold, the baby is going to be okay. Image result for babies floating in water

You walk it back to shore to wrap it in the picnic blanket.  At the riverbank, your spouse is looking up and down the river for boats, for any sign of people looking for their missing baby.  There is nothing.

A few more minutes go by, and now you and your spouse are making calls to figure out what to do next, when your kids, back down at the river, starting yelling again.  “There’s another baby coming!”  And the same process you just shakily went through happens all over again.  Now you have two babies.

Over the course of the next few hours the babies keep coming and they don’t stop.  Your desperate phone calls lead to an emergency baby rescue committee from your church haphazardly taking shape.  People bring portable tents, baby food, diapers, blankets, and start a process for getting the infants to Child Services and foster homes.

And the babies just keep coming.  Soon your emergency committee graduates into a standing committee at your church.  People sign up to staff the river 24/7.  And the babies keep coming.

You recognize that the tents are not suitable for poor weather, so your committee raises money for a permanent shelter and over the course of a week, you put up a building.  And the babies keep coming.

This goes on for months, and there is no end in sight, so you put together a board, hire some part-time staff and a fundraising director.  And the babies keep coming.

We do this kind of ministry in many ways.  It is called mercy ministry.  Providing for needs.  Just as the babies absolutely needed to be rescued in this far-fetched story, there are many other real needs in our society that we need to address.  It honors God’s heart when his disciples share the Good News by providing mercy ministry for those in need in our society.

But mercy is only half of the solution to the situation, because, like the babies, the needs just keep coming.  There is a very important question that mercy doesn’t ask.   Mercy asks the question, “How can I help those in need?”  That is vital.  But there is another question that needs to be asked.  Do you know what it is?

Think about those babies floating down the river.  Mercy asks “how can I help them?” and the answer is clear.  Rescue them from the river or they will die.  Get them safe.  But there is another question, a very important question that someone should ask about those babies.

Where did they come from?  How did they get in the water?  Babies aren’t supposed to be in a river.  Who did this?  Why do they keep on coming?  And most importantly of all, what do we need to do to stop them from throwing babies in the water?

If mercy asks “How can I help those in need?”, justice asks “why are they in need in the first place, and what can we do to make right the situation that is broken?”  I tend to think that mercy is easier than justice.  People are missing meals, so we give them meals.  People need clothes, we give them clothes.  Homeless?  We help them get homes.  This is mercy, and it is right and good.  But what about justice?  Why are these social situations happening?  Well, the answer to the justice question is much harder to come by.

Over the last 8 years since I have become senior pastor at Faith Church, and especially in the past 5 years since our family moved to the Conestoga Valley school district in which the church is located, I’ve gotten to learn more and more about some of those broken systems and structures in our local community.   Through connections in the school district like the CV social worker, who reports to our local Ministerium, I’ve heard a lot about students in crisis.  We have a number of people in our church family who work for the school district, and they have talked about the brokenness.  For the last two years I’ve been on the Board of our local social services organization, Conestoga Valley Christian Community Services, and I’ve heard stories.  Also, I’ve had the chance to interact with East Lampeter Township police officers, and I’ve asked them the question “We live in a very nice school district.  A great community.  Lots of affluence.  Beautiful farmland.  Solid.  But there is another side, a broken side.  Poverty.  Homelessness.  School bus stops at the motels.  Why?  What is going on?  What is the cause?”

You know what these brave first-responders have said?  All of them.  Same answer.  No hesitation.  I think theirs is at least one answer or the beginning of an answer to the justice question about why there is so much ongoing brokenness in our community.

Join us on Sunday morning at Faith Church as we talk about what appears to be the reason for the brokenness in our community, and how we can start to address it.