Sunday, October 4, 2015

An Uncomfortable Truth

Fact: Christians outnumber orphans 7 to one.
Question: Why then are there orphans?

The only answer I can come up with is that Christians don't take seriously God's call for us to take care of orphans. Certainly anyone who has adopted has been told by someone else, "Oh, I couldn't do what you've done." Families who've adopted are viewed as being somehow better people and some view them with either a distant respect or with distrust. After we adopted one orphan and then hosted another, we were told, "Well, at least you are done now." As if somehow we can check taking care of the orphan off our spiritual check-list and now move on to the widows and the poor (as if all of them aren't interlinked together in scripture).

Not long ago, I read through all of the Old Testament prophets. While not necessarily easy reading, it was highly convicting. What I noticed was that they always called for repentance (first as a repentance from sin and a turning back to God, which is an inward action) and then a call to social responsibility (taking care of the poor, the widows, the orphans, the sojourners, the refugees). An inward change leads to outward acts. Why don't we see that in the modern church?  We tend to see repentance soley as a fleeing from sin, but we don't connect the dots towards outward action and social justice.  In fact, many churches view social action as akin to socialism.  I once spoke with a pastor who, when asked to write out his mission statement for the church he was interviewing for, literally wrote down what scripture called the church to be and do and was told by that church that he was a "socialist." Because, even today, Jesus challenges our social conventions and shocks us either into obedience or separation from Him. Don't believe me?  Just try and live out the Sermon on the Mount and see how those around you react.

Yet Micah 6:8 commands us, "He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God?"

God links justice with mercy. Why?

In his monumental work The Prophets, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote:

God's concern for justice grows out of His compassion for man. The prophets speak of a divine relationship to an absolute principle or idea, called justice. They are intoxicated with the awareness of God's relationship to His people and all men. Justice is not important for its own sake; the motivation for justice, and the validity of its exercise lie in the blessings it brings to man. For justice, as stated above, is not an abstraction, a value. Justice exists in relation to a person, and is something done by a person. An act of injustice is condemned , not because the law is broken, but because a person has been hurt. What is the image of a person? A person is a being whose anguish may reach the heart of God.

Ultimately because it shows that God loves people above justice. Because of this, a person's "anguish" reaches the very heart of our Creator. Justice is not just about taking care of injustice, but, ultimately, in taking care of others to ensure that all have what they need. It's about dependence on Him and interdepenced on each other.

Jeremiah 22:3 tells us, "This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place."

God is telling all of us to walk in this manner, not just a select few. He is not asking, He is commanding. Too often Christians view those who do act on His command as being special or different.  Mother Teresa, Gary Haugen, and Katie Davis should be the norm, not the exception. All of us should step up to be a voice for the voiceless and the vulnerable. We should be leaders in compassion, sacrificial courage, and A Christ-centered conscience. As Gary Haugen, founder of International Justice Missions, said, "God has a plan to bring justice to the world - and His plan is us."

But this requires us to move in godly obedience.  He wants action, not excuses. He calls for acts of love of endurance for the long-term to bring about change. We are to be brave, not safe. He has called us to love the unlovable, touch the broken and improverished, free the enslaved (and for those who don't see the modern slavery all around them, they are blind to the millions who are trapped in trafficking. The city of Charlotte, that we live outside of, is tenth in human trafficking in this country. And every 30 seconds, another person becomes a victim of human trafficking), and helping the victims of oppression and injustice. This means getting down into the dirt and reality of this hurting world. It means finding the beautiful where the world sees none, value and worth, where the world views them only with disgust and indifference.

Isaiah 1:17 states, "Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow."

Are we?

Are we walking in justice, mercy, humility, and love in obedience to God's call?  Are we the good Samaritans of the world, or do we move to the other side of the road?  How do we view the poor, the needy, the immigrant, the widow, the orphan, and the weak?  Do we love them as Christ loved them with a sacrificial and servant's love?  Do we embrace them? Defend them?  Protect them? Love them?  Christ does and, as His followers, we are to be known by our love. But are we?

Do we heed the warning of James 5:1-6?

"Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days . . . You have lived in luxury and self-indulgence. You  have fattened yourselves in the day of the slaughter . . ."

Strong, harsh words.

Reading those words makes me uncomfortable, but God isn't concerned with my comfort. Why? Because too often comfort makes us complacent. For those who disagree and believe that God wants us to have a comfortable life, I would challenge you to read the prophets, about the disciples, and even of His own Son.

And for those who would defend themselves with, "But I'm not wealthy," by most of the world's standards you are. More than a billion people in the world live on less than a dollar a day.

"To whom much is given, much is expected," Luke 12:48.

Being the body of Christ is not about building bigger churches, being "better" versions of ourselves, getting richer and healthier, but in loving others, in serving others, in seeking justice for others because God requires us to. Ultimately, when we love, serve, and strive to help the least of these, we are doing so to give God glory, to point others to Jesus. We don't have to work for our salvation, but from our salvation flow good works. As it is said, "Faith without works is dead" (James 2:17).

Do we seek after justice, righteousness and peace?

Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners, wrote of the Old Testament prophets:

. . . some of the strongest language in the Bible about worship and justice, and it clearly makes a connection between the two. God "takes no delight" in the "noisy" worship of his people if their worship is disconnected from jusitce - from making things right for those who are poor and oppressed.

So, are we?

If not, why not?

Either because we don't believe God means it or because we just don't want to.

Repeating Micah 6:8, "What does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."

It's not about offerings, it's about obedience.

How different will not only the church but the world be if we took this at face value and acted as we are called?

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