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Justice: Healing Wrong v2

I first published this post over a year ago. Given the current climate I believe it is good to republish with some edits.

The common view of justice is one of punishment. Someone does wrong and they receive a ‘just reward’ for their wrong deeds. This is, at best, an incomplete and warped view of justice compared to the biblical view.

Justice is: make something wrong, right. It is making something bent or crooked straight again. As all injustice and evil is a perversion of the just and good.

Punishment in and of itself does nothing to correct the root causes of pain and suffering. Punishment that focuses on restitution and correction of wrongs brings justice to its fullness in the area of law and government.  However, in the social sphere, we must also look at the root cause in the human condition.

The human heart which is shaped by the environment needs healing beyond punishment. Individuals need a relationship with someone who will mentor them, guide them, and show them goodness. From a relationship, individuals can really begin to change. More on the dichotomy of individual and civil justice later.

Next, justice as “making wrong right” expands justice to include active good. Some things in life are just broken. People will lose their jobs. Parents will fail. People die. Although facts of life they are also ills, like getting a cold. True justice reaches out and attempts to heal the sickness.

Justice feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, is a father to the fatherless, and a husband to the widows. It does the good that fills the void left by brokenness.

We are just when we assist a woman who is abuse in escaping that abuse. The abuse is part of our broken world. It is a wrong in this world and is evil. It must be made right.

We make her life more ‘right’ when we remove the abuse. Counseling can help make her internal world more right. For the right world is the one with goodness, gentleness, kindness, love, joy and all such good things.

The same can be said for feeding the hungry, providing shelter for those who have lost homes, consoling a loved one and any other action that causes a move towards what is right, good, and beautiful. A shattered ceramic in Japan is repaired with silver and gold along the cracks. The one that is made right is not without marks, but it has been made right again for its intended purpose and is beautiful.

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The Church and Covid-19

              California has recently reclosed religious services. Churches are left with the option of defying ‘government’ orders and potentially blamed for the spread of Covid-19 and associated deaths or following orders and ceasing to be the church as we have known it. The Christian, and the church at large must decide when to disobey government orders and ignore all social opinions  in service of the Lord and when to submit to the government and be aware of the image of Christ (for the only stumbling block should be Christ and not us).

              The answer is simple. If church is simply an event to attend to receive teaching on scripture and enjoy a spiritual high in music, then quite honestly, there was never truly a compelling reason to value church in person above online lessons and worship music. If that is all church has been, then one should not go, and the church should not meet. We should live at peace and submit to the government.

But — if Church is a place where God works through his people, where God changes lives despite any flaws in the way we do worship in its emotional focus, the sermon in its disproportional length and emphases, and often marginal involvement in others’ lives; if communion is more than just remembrance like Thanksgiving and is something that the Holy Spirit shows up for; if it is the place that God calls all Christians to show up, fully present, in obedience to him just as much as feeding the homeless, doing good and avoiding sin; if going to church is where we obey the command to love one another and is the place through which we learn, focus, and fixate on this love for another – then, and only then we must… we absolutely must continue to meet regardless of the consequences.

              This church is worth showing up for even if the consequence is death.

The Individual vs the Masses

“The more I love humanity in general the less I love man in particular. In my dreams, I often make plans for the service of humanity, and perhaps I might actually face crucifixion if it were suddenly necessary. Yet I am incapable of living in the same room with anyone for two days together. … But it has always happened that the more I hate men individually the more I love humanity.”

Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

I dream of being the spark that changes the world. The speaker that moves the masses. The writer that moves a nation. I love political discussion and the advancement of civil thought that fixes what is broken. The problem is that given limited resources energy put towards social justice and government policies replace our energies towards those directly in front of us.

I love public speaking and if I ever have the opportunity to speak in front of groups for the intent of specific, researched, thought out policy changes, then I will. However, day to day experience allows me far more time to care for a hurting friend, supply food for a homeless person, loan money to someone in need, buy gas for someone who has run out, help a young kid with homework, or even just smile at a stranger.

The more I see first hand the plight of the unfortunate, the bullied, the poor, fatherless, and widow the more I desire to see individual care and support. Do not stop voting for policy changes. Don’t stop making those around aware of evils. But, do not cease to be aware of the needs directly in front of you. If we vote in to provide more government support for the homeless, in whatever fashion that is, but do not stop to talk with them, feed them, cut their hair etc. then do we really care about them? Or do we just want to feel good about ‘making a difference’?

If I say I care about the cause of anti sex trafficking, but do not support and pressure my friends to cease viewing pornography that supports the evil institution, then I do not care about stopping sex trafficking. I care about policy. I must choose people over policy.

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Average Joe

“There is no room here [the Christian life] for such contemporary ideas as the looking-glass self, and no consideration here for trivial contemporary obsessions such as one’s legacy” Os Guiness – Fools Talk      

Today I recount the story of the Christian called average Joe. He works as a routing and process engineer at a waste management company, is married to a wonderful girl Cindy and has three kids, Julie, Aaron, and Victor.

              In the future his grandkids call him ‘Pops’. His great grand kids know nothing about him, except the story of how he met his wife. He ran into her car on her way to a date. Her car was inoperable, so he gave her a ride. The man stood her up and Joe bought her dinner. They got married six months later. Aaron and Victors kids tell the story in jest and scold their deceased grandma as foolish for getting into cars with strangers. Julie tells the story in reference to God’s mysterious work and taking chances leads to a worthwhile life.

              Nothing else will be remembered of Joe. He did well at work and shared the gospel with several coworkers, four of whom eventually followed Christ. He stops to buy food for the homeless and plays with the children at church. When told he has done well for himself, he simply responds, “Well, my wife still loves me and all my kids are making wise choices. So, I guess I have.”

              He was saving money to take his wife on a surprise trip to Cancun. He loaned the money to someone in need at the church. They took the two-thousand dollars and left. He never told anyone. He lamented later that he hadn’t told his wife out of embarrassment rather than because he was turning the other cheek. In a later incident he was wronged much worse. No one knows but the offender, Joe’s best friend Greg, and the pastor who helped him through the situation. The incident died with them and I will not repeat it here.

              Joe struggled with pornography up until he was married. He had 4 relapses during his marriage. Each time he came forward to his close friends confessed and turned from his sin. He also struggled with a short tempter up until he was in his forties. The early death of his son changed his heart to always be compassionate.

              When his best friend, Greg, got terminal cancer he spent three nights a week for five months helping Greg’s family with needs. Joe cared for his parents in law as well when they were aging. He never got the big promotion due to these choices that took up his time.

He joined the water board on recommendation by his colleagues and helped secure more fair water policies for their town. NPR would eventually do a short documentary on the change, but his name was never mentioned.

              This is average Joe. He tried to be kind to whoever he met. He never failed to share the gospel when given the chance. He spoke almost every night with his wife regarding the good deeds laid before them. You will never read of him in a book. You will never see him on television.

When we get to heaven and we see everyone as they are, but just before we are healed of comparing others, we may notice that his crown is just a little larger, and his robes a little brighter than the pastors we see on television or book covers. Joe followed Christ in humility, he put others first, he did the good things that he came across, and he daily sought Christ for answers and forgiveness.

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Friendship and The Lord of the Rings

              I have been in 7 weddings as a groomsman or best man (I regret it not being 8 as I declined once to be a best man due to travel difficulties). The last three weddings I have been in I always give the same speech. Below is a piece of it.

              In the movie The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring we follow the characters Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin as they are caught up in a journey to destroy the Ring of Power.

              Frodo is elected to take the Ring because of his relationship with Bilbo, the one who found the Ring and left it to him. Sam is found outside Frodo’s window when Gandalf is discussing with Frodo the journey and is tasked to go with him (though also with a full commitment of loyalty). The two of them run into Merry and Pippin stealing from farmer Maggots crop and are then caught up in the adventure as they are chased by the Nazgul.

              They sort of get caught up in this adventure by circumstance. JRR Tolkien tells a different story in the book. Frodo leaves the Shire with the ring under the guise of looking for Bilbo. Merry, Sam, and Pippin all choose to go. They all encounter the Nazgul together and find themselves at Brandyhall. Here Frodo had made up his mind to leave them and was figuring out how to tell them.

              Frodo is shocked to find they have ponies ready, everything packed and all are determined to go with. They knew he was leaving on some long journey. He is shocked again when they can tell him details of his journey about the ring he had kept hidden. His friends commend him that he had been careful. But they, being his close friends were with him and new him so well they saw all the little changes and hints that let them put it all together.

              Finally Merry speaks for all of them,

“It all depends on what you want,’ put in Merry. “You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin – to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours – closer than you can keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo”

              The theme of friendship continues through the rest of the series. When I give a speech at weddings I add in bits bout a fellowship and “I can’t carry your burden but we can carry you” and so on and so forth with emotional things and strong analogies.

              But here we see a picture of friendship that we do not see very often anymore. Friends choose to give up their lives, their rest and good comfort, to help someone else in their specific journey. They knowingly face danger to help one carry a burden or finish a task. When I read the LOTR I don’t desire to be a Frodo, or Gandalf, or Aragorn – I wish to be a Merry, a Pippin, or a Sam.

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Key Issues and Direction of Future Posts

              Social media and the news pulls us in all directions. There seems to be an endless number of issues and it is a full time job just keeping up with issues without time spent changing them. I have several friends overwhelmed in complete distress over what to focus on. I always remind them the news is not to be our guideline for the issues we choose to respond to. Though it can give a pulse on what is going in the world they can easily take a statistical anomaly and make it appear to be a daily issue.

This distracts the Christian from responding to what they should. The Christian is called to take care of, those directly around them. The people they can directly impact. “give a cup of cold water to a little one” I attempt as often as possible to make my postings relevant to conversations I am having with those I am interacting with daily.

              I see five major issues affecting the church at large and my friends that I directly impact. Though I only wish to speak to four of these. They are “Calling and the will of God”, friendship, sexuality, dating, and social justice. Admittedly dating can be categorized under friendship, however, due to how much damage that it causes behind the curtain I believe it deserves its own section. The issue of social justice and political involvement is one I have an interest in but am behind on current trends and have not place to speak on it.

              Every young person, and by that I mean under 40, that I have talked to has struggled with understanding what they should do with their lives as well as how their lives are to impact the kingdom of God. When we understand the calling of God as it relates to every part of our life from how we dress, to food choices etc. it creates freedom, not stress, in serving Him.

              Social media primarily has affected friendships. Both in how it can undermine true community and how it encourages poor character such as petty-ness. I believe, outside of Christ himself, building solid friendship is the root solution to all other issues. Friendship supports all aspects of our life, calling, sexuality, dating, and our involvement in social justice.

              Sexuality has run rampant in culture and the church seems to still be undecided on how to respond. They oscillate between ‘sexuality as a single person’ and a near monastic lifestyle that encourages no thoughts of sex to complete freedom in marriage. Neither of these extremes are beneficial.

              Finally, I only know a handful of people undamaged by terrible dating choices. The amount of time lost to nights sobbing, stressing, playing games, or just wandering through romantic feelings lost is astounding. I wonder how much more we could do for the kingdom if we just fixed how we find a spouse.

              This is a brief summary of the issues I will be writing on over the next several months. What specific sub topics would you like to hear more about?

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Compassion for Strangers

I was on my way to work from a coffee shop for the sole reason that I enjoy talking to strangers. On the way I observed a young man in a very disheveled appearance having a fit; flailing his arms, talking and yelling to himself. He continues this for about fifteen feet, spins in three circles, and falls down flat on grass. His arm or leg occasionally twitches and flails.

               I felt like I was looking into a mirror of my soul. I sympathize with the struggle he must have with his own mind. I don’t know if he is aware of a fight in his soul, whether he is friends or enemies with voices in his head or even voices from strangers around him.

I wonder if the strangers in my head would get along with the strangers in his. I may never know because unfortunately I drove past him without stopping. Perhaps by God’s grace I will see him on my return and we can have a conversation. Maybe it will be the two of us, maybe it will be four or five of us.

Most of my adult life I have struggled with depression. I am convinced that all forms of suffering trivial or severe serve to make us more like Christ. I have been trying to figure out for years how depression is making me more like Christ. Despite many conversations with friends I never could figure out a satisfying answer.

               I recently woke up in the middle of the night in a great deal of angst over something that in a few years will seem trivial. I couldn’t fall back asleep, gave up, and went about my day on two hours of sleep. This morning I felt a sudden onset of guilt and regret over past choices with enough emotional force to make my chest hurt.

              It is a struggle. I am aware that my emotions are out of line. I am routinely fighting with myself. I wonder if this man intensely feels this struggle. Does he feel as though he has demons and wants freedom? I wish I knew how to help. I realized that even if I had stopped I would not have had the slightest clue as how to be helpful.

(As a side note, according to Jesus we are not to worry about what we will say when taken in front of courts and kings and queens for the Holy Spirit will guide us. I assert that he will do the same for us when speaking to his lost children. I should have stopped).

              I enjoy talking to strangers. But I find that those who are most strange are not strangers. When asked who is our neighbor, Christ responds with a story about a person who chose to be a neighbor to a stranger. Now here This young man taught me something important about my struggle; compassion. How can he be anything but a neighbor to care for?

Woman Amen – a lesson in humility

I am a hopeless romantic. When I listen to Dierks Bentley’s “Woman, Amen” for the first time my heart jumps a bit. I dream of the day when I meet the woman who gives “this drifters heart a home”.

Friends always at some point always seem to drift away. As careers, school, and spouses begin to take up time it becomes more difficult to keep up on consistent daily or weekly schedule. I myself have difficulty deciding what to do with my time: guitar, piano, voice, mountain biking, sailing, kiteboarding, writing, hiking, dancing, cooking, martial arts, lifting, and reading are just a few of my hobbies and interests. I want that day when I will have someone to stick with and who becomes the first one to say, “yes to” and the reason to say, ‘no’ to everything else.

Words matter and I cannot listen to songs without careful analyses. The song is not a cute romantic song about a mans love for a woman, but a ballad representing my sinful obsession with marriage.

The Christians call is to seek first the Kingdom of God and love the Lord your God with all your heart. As C.S Lewis teaches, we are to become little Christs. Our relationships and marriages are intended to make us more like Christ and help us seek His Kingdom. They are not an end in themselves. Kingdom first, then your spouse. If you miss this order you become as Solomon who was led astray by the women he married.

“She gives me faith, she gives me grace, she gives me hope… … strength … … love … love without end” “Thanks for the moon and the stars up above, Forgiveness’ a sin and your undying love, every twist every turn for the way you made sure, all my roads led to her” each verse focuses on the woman, with a nod to Christ.

I live the same priorities. In grade school I wanted to be good at everything  in preparation to seek the Kingdom in all things. After two heartbreaks and difficulty dealing with a revolving door of friends and friend groups, I started obsessing over the stability of a spouse to always be there.

Everything I chose revolved around a future spouse, even to the detriment of my own soul. I have given up new cars, motorcycles, trips, vacations, and my own hobbies (including writing) in an obsession with being able to provide my wife with whatever she wanted.

Did I have conflict with my family? It was practice bearing with someone difficult. Nothing involving doing good for the Kingdom of God in the present or the future, or about being more like Christ. (We will skip over the terrible marriage picture I had that bearing up under ‘relational suffering’ was a primary virtue of a good marriage relationship).

“This world has a way of shaking your faith / I’ve been broken again and again / But I need all the cracks in my shattered heart / ‘Cause that’s where her love gets in” The cracks in my life is where Christ’ love gets in. It is also through the brokenness that God worked to show me how I had replaced a desire to be a man after God’s own heart with a desire to be a husband after some fictitious future spouse. Seek ye first the Kingdom of Heaven, and all these things will be added unto you.

Epilogue:

I wrote the above piece in April of 2018. I am humbled that I learned nothing from what I wrote with my own hands. More than a year later and I found a girl that was everything I wanted on paper. From physical appearance to personality quirks and her relationship with God. Ironically what attracted me to her most was her very clear knowledge of her calling in all things to help those who need just a little bit of extra help in life. Something I had completely lost. Regardless of the lack of a ‘spark’ I became obsessed. Here was the kind, hospitable, spunky, slightly wild girl that I could go through life with.

Graciously God ended that relationship. It is the most painful breakup I have been through. I was breaking up with not just her but all my hopes for a spouse and family. God was cutting away the obsession that crowded out all desire for the kingdom of heaven. Cutting out part of ourselves even when good for us is painful. It is part of me learning to say ‘yes’ to the call of God to serve his Kingdom and ‘no’ to everything else.

Justice: Heal Wrongs

The common view of justice is one of punishment. Someone does wrong and they receive a ‘just reward’ for their wrong deeds. This is, at best, an incomplete and warped view of justice compared to the biblical view.

Justice is: make something wrong, right. It is making something bent or crooked straight again. As all injustice and evil is a perversion of the just and good. For the Christian good and right are all things that align with the character and nature of God, that is Jesus Christ.

This definition brings healing to the world rather than meaningless pain. Justice as only punishing a wrong does nothing to change the brokenness in the world or our souls.

Making wrong right, helping those in need, and healing pain is the compassionate side of justice that brings it to completion. The social outcasts and marginalized are the object of our justice when we assist in lessening their burden of badness and evil that has happened to them.

We are just when we assist a woman who is abuse in escaping that abuse. The abuse is part of our broken world. It is a wrong in this world and is evil. It must be made right.

We make her life more right when we remove the abuse. Counseling can help make her internal world more right. For the right world is the one with goodness, gentleness, kindness, love, joy and all such good things.

The same can be said for feeding the hungry, providing shelter for those who have lost homes, consoling a loved one and any other action that causes a move towards what is right, good, and beautiful. A shattered ceramic in Japan is repaired with silver and gold along the cracks. The one that is made right is not without marks, but it has been made right again for its intended purpose and is beautiful.

Unfortunately, there are many evils in the world and some which cannot be made right simply by kindness and beauty. Punishment is very necessary when setting the world aright. What should we do with the one inflicting the abuse? We certainly cannot make the abuse ‘right’. Punishing the abuser does not undo the abuse. What good is punishment then?

Punishment for the sake of punishment is closer to vengeance. It is not right. Simply causing pain in response to evil does nothing but cause more pain. Worse, it can damage the heart of the one inflicting the punishment.

The goal is to make wrong right. The intent of justice as punishment, is causing the evildoers heart to change from bad to good. The goal is a change of the heart from wrong to right.

Justice is the straightening of the bent. The undoing of wrong and creating of right.

Winning and Losing at Grocery Stores

 

I have reached a new level of adulthood. For the first time in the last year that I have been doing all my own grocery shopping, I checked to make sure that the eggs were not broken. I also, as a general practice, get lost at least two or three times every time I go to a grocery store. I found everything with one trip through. Win!

The obvious couple in front of me was checking out separately. As soon as I unloaded my groceries it was apparent I was going to be there for a while. She had a WIC check that was giving the clerk trouble. A call back for a question, an attempted processing, re calling, four-five attempts to send it through the machine to read it, finally an attempt to manually enter it which caused the system to crash.

I smiled at the couple behind me, as they appeared to be on the edge of being irritable. The poor girl checking out was horribly embarrassed. They were buying almost nothing but baby food.

‘Pay for their food and tell them that Jesus is looking out for them’

He wore Nike shoes, a nice Casio watch with what looked like a thousand functions, and her makeup was done very well.

‘Buy their food’

They probably did not need the WIC check. Annual income limit for one is 21k, for two is 30k. As we all moved to another register after this one froze I quietly asked the clerk, “How much was their total?” “25 dollars”

‘Pay for their food. For once, you have cash in your wallet.”

I had no doubt that they would get the WIC check working. The store wasn’t going to refuse their food simply due to issues with a machine. I let another couple that had come in behind me go first at the next register since it took me time to move all the groceries back to my cart.

“Are you sure?”

“Of course, I am sure.” I like spreading calm happiness. I let another couple with five items go in front of myself as well.

‘Pay for their food’

I am very willing to help people in need. But, I don’t consider people with smart phones, Netflix accounts, high speed internet, new TV’s and new car payments to be in need. Most people I meet who get assistance from family or some government program could happily make it on their own if they chose to spend their money on something other than entertainment and luxuries.

I loaded my groceries into my cart and then into my car. I took my cart all the back to the store front to see if they had made it through. They had, and looking at me the man said, “Thank you man,” “no problem” I responded. Inside, I said I was sorry.

I have spent more than twenty-five dollars on: food that has gone to waste, video games, late fees, dating websites, alcohol, cover charges, chocolate, massages, gym memberships, two subscriptions I don’t even use and countless other items.

I won at being an American adult that plans and checks their eggs. I lost at being a compassionate follower of Christ who puts eternity ahead of the present. I didn’t get lost in the grocery store, but I lost in modern ideals of optimization, need, self-reliance and so may good American qualities that get in the way of living for eternity.