Tag Archives: Bible

Where Is The Middle Ground?

ropeThis is the question when it comes to sexuality issues for many in the United Methodist Church. For decades our church has wrestled with this question and tried to find the safe place to stand that holds both Scripture and culture together.  I am not writing to those who wish to rehash all of that.

I am writing to the majority of pastors and churches who wish to go on like this issue won’t affect them or their churches, to those who want to keep their heads down and focus on their local church, to those who don’t want to inform their congregations of denominational troubles because of the conflict it will bring.

I am writing to let you know, as politely as I can, the middle ground doesn’t exist anymore. Actually, I doubt it ever did.  We were only made to believe that it did because we were not forced to make a decision.  We could go on doing what we do at the local level and hide our dysfunctional denomination.  We could table the issue, talk in code, manipulate words, ignore the elephant and continue to dialog with a vain hope of discovering middle ground.

There is none.

The culture won’t allow middle ground. Sexuality has become peoples’ identity.  It is the core of who we are.  Our uniqueness, our distinctiveness, our individuality springs from our sexuality.  God made us this way and there is no ability, reason, or need to conform to an ancient standard.  To say otherwise is to deny our rights, our freedom, our God-given being.  We define marriage, parenting, and family in new terms that must be accepted, respected, and taught without question.

The Scriptures won’t allow middle ground either. They are clear about sexuality.  They state that our identity is much grander than our sexuality.  Our identity is found in Christ and He is remaking us into His image.  That process is called sanctification or, as Jesus put it, “Neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.” Our sexuality has a context that is not to be desecrated or debased.  Throughout Scripture the message is clear: The context is within marriage between a man and a woman.  Anything other is to be left behind.

The church has reached the point of decision because the culture and Scripture do not coexist on this issue. One is right, and therefore, one is wrong. General Conference is only a few months away and again these two positions will clash.  Only this time, there will be no fence to sit on, no place to keep your head down, no middle ground.

The United Methodist Church will be the first large denomination to address this issue since the Supreme Court ruling on June 26th of this year.  Do you think the culture will allow the church to maintain its current position without a fight?  And do you think the news cameras will not be there to cover it?  And do you think your church won’t hear calls of bigotry and intolerance?  And do you think your people will not be confronted on social media by friends and family as to why they belong to a hateful church?  Don’t be fooled.  The culture won’t allow it.

When that happens, which way will you go? It’s the broad road or the narrow way, the rock or the sand, the sheep or the goats, the wheat or the chaff.  The middle ground is gone.  The time for choosing has come.

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The Favor of God?

At the risk of sounding like Joel O’Steen, how would you like to have the favor of God?  Would you welcome an angel to show up and tell you, “You are highly favored of God.”  That’s what happens to Mary.

mary and angelLuke records it this way, “In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.  The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” (1:26-28)

Many of us think that if we had the favor of God, our lives would be great.  That’s how we interpret our circumstances. When things are working out for us we feel like God’s favorite.  Good circumstances and we feel loved and favored by God.  Bad circumstances and we think, “why doesn’t God love me?”  Can you relate?  But if we actually examine that thinking in light of Scripture, we will find that our circumstances and the love and favor of God don’t usually go together the way we think they should.  Let’s take a closer look at Mary. 

“Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.  But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.  You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David,  and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:29-33)

That sounds pretty great.  But look at the circumstances she is put in because she has found favor with God.  Mary is maybe 15 yrs old and pregnant.  She is engaged to be married so this is going be very difficult to explain.  Can’t you hear her parents and friends, “Sure you’re still a virgin, right.”   But explaining it is the least of her worries because being unmarried and pregnant is a capital offense.  The law says to stone her to death. 

She has become the best bit of gossip in town.  Everyone will be yippin’ about her.  She will be an outcast and probably carry a stigma for the rest of her life.

Her fiance gets cold feet (for good reason) and wants to call the whole thing off and has to have an angel show up to convince him to still marry her.  Talk about a shotgun wedding.  And then no marital benefits until after the baby is born.  You don’t think that caused issues for these newly weds?

It’s no wonder Luke tells us that Mary “hurried” and got out of town.  She spent three months with her cousin Elizabeth. And here is some favored circumstances – 2 pregnant women under one roof.  (God may have done Zechariah a favor by shutting his mouth until John was born!)

christmas pictures 005Mary finally goes home but 6 months later, the govt orders a census.  She’s in no condition to travel, but can’t stay at home because of her stigma.  So she walks/rides a donkey to Bethlehem.  That trip is going to put you into labor.  The whole way she has got to be praying for a place to lie down, a place to have this baby.  (Have you ever prayed for a parking space?)  She has to be thinking “This is the Son of God, I don’t need the Ritz-Carlton, but come on Lord, I know You are going to provide.” They arrive in Bethlehem and there is no place for them except a cave that reeks with animals.

“Greetings, you who are highly favored.  The Lord is with you.”  Are you kidding?  After all of this you can understand v.29 “Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.”  When we look at her circumstances we might question whether God really loves and favors her or not. 

 And it’s not just Mary.  The Bible is full of this kind of thing.  In the Old Testament,  Joseph dreams of ruling over his brothers, but his brothers sell him into slavery and later he is thrown in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.  Moses thinks God is going to use him to deliver his people from slavery, but ends up spending 40 years as a shepherd on the backside of the desert before God calls him.  David is anointed King at the age of 12 or 13 but spends the next several years living in caves, running for his life.  And then in the New Testament, you’re not really doing your job unless you are thrown in jail.  Paul could give a prison tour of the Mediterranean.  And of course there is Jesus.  He suffered and died for our sins, while He was innocent. 

How many of you still want the favor of God?

I will be the first to admit I don’t like this.  I think the love and favor of God should mean that all my circumstances work out the way I think they should.  Isn’t there a verse in Romans, “And we know in all things God works for the good of those who love him”?  Yes, yes there is 8:28.  But it seems my idea and God’s idea of “good” are two different things.

When my circumstances are not working for my good, I’m the first one to start praying, “I thought you loved me? I thought I was your favorite….ok, at least top ten.  Is this your favor? Lord, do me a favor.  Don’t do me anymore favors.”  We need to rethink what the love and favor of God look like in our lives, because it doesn’t seem that our circumstances give us an accurate view.

Maybe God has a bigger view of my life than I do.  Could it be that God sees a grander picture than I can imagine and is working for my good on that scale?  That He sees needs I am unaware of?  That He is working for my good because of circumstances I can’t or won’t acknowledge?  Isn’t that why Mary is pregnant to begin with?

Whenever we begin to doubt God’s love and favor for us because of our circumstances, whenever we don’t get the raise or promotion we deserve, or get into the college we dreamed about, or ride the bench for the season, we need to go to the Word of God.  I like Psalm 103 for such occasions.  JesusOnCross_011-219x300The Lord loves us and shows us His favor in ways we can’t possibly comprehend.  He sees our biggest need – to be freed from sin and all it’s consequences, especially death.  And so, in His love and favor for us, God gives us His only Son to die in our place and give us eternal life. 

But, this is where I have such a hard time because I feel and see my circumstances.  And it is so easy to let them determine my reality.  But the reality is my feelings and circumstances change like the weather.  They come and go.  They are a terrible guide for life.  In the midst of my feelings and circumstances, I have a choice:  Do I believe them or the Word of God?  Faith is choosing the Word of God over my feelings and circumstances.  In most cases, faith is choosing the Word of God in spite of my feelings and circumstances.

Gabriel declares the Word of God to Mary.  Jesus will be called “the Son of the Most High, He will reign forever, His kingdom will never end.”  “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”  (Luke 1:34) She is saying, “I’m a poor girl in a nowhere town.  I’m not even married yet.  My circumstances don’t line up with what you are telling me.”

 “The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.” (1:35-37).

“Nothing is impossible with God.”  Do you believe that Word of God in spite of your circumstances?  Will you believe that Jesus is the Lord reigning over the world right now in spite of the circumstances in the news?  Will you trust that God’s love and favor is upon you even when you don’t feel it? 

 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” (1:38).  Mary chooses faith over feelings.  She chooses to believe the Word of God in spite of her circumstances.  That’s why she is highly favored.    And because she does, we receive God’s love and favor in the Son she bore on Christmas.  Merry Christmas!

Do you still want the favor of God?  Believe the Word of God over your feelings.  Let the Word of God define your reality, not your circumstances.  Allow God to show you the bigger, grander picture of your life and His love in Jesus Christ.  And when you do, like Mary, you’ll be bringing Jesus into a dark and dying world that desperately needs to hear and see the love and favor of God.

Psalm 103

Praise the Lord, O my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, O my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The Lord works righteousness
    and justice for all the oppressed.

He made known his ways to Moses,
    his deeds to the people of Israel:
The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
    slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
    nor will he harbor his anger forever;
10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
    or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
13 As a father has compassion on his children,
    so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
14 for he knows how we are formed,
    he remembers that we are dust.
15 As for man, his days are like grass,
    he flourishes like a flower of the field;
16 the wind blows over it and it is gone,
    and its place remembers it no more.
17 But from everlasting to everlasting
    the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,
    and his righteousness with their children’s children—
18 with those who keep his covenant
    and remember to obey his precepts.

19 The Lord has established his throne in heaven,
    and his kingdom rules over all.

20 Praise the Lord, you his angels,
    you mighty ones who do his bidding,
    who obey his word.
21 Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts,
    you his servants who do his will.
22 Praise the Lord, all his works
    everywhere in his dominion.

Praise the Lord, O my soul.

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Inheriting the Land

I have found myself reading Psalm 37 this past week. It has been very encouraging in the last week of the election. It begins by saying, “Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.” That in itself is worth a roll of Tums. But I have been drawn to the number of times this Psalm makes reference to inheriting the land. Five times in the NIV it uses this phrase. And I can’t help but think that is what is at stake in this election on November 6th. Someone is going to “inherit” the land and all that goes with it.

Listen to who will inherit the land: “Those who hope in the Lord” v.9. “The meek” v.11. “Those the Lord blesses” v.22. “The righteous” v.29. Those who “wait for the Lord and keep His way” v.34. It is clear that the wicked will be no more, their power will be broken, but the righteous will be delivered and saved.

We have a real hard time looking at the world in these terms. No one likes to refer to someone else as wicked. And honestly, apart from Jesus Christ, who can claim to be righteous? We just don’t talk like that and certainly don’t like to think we have to make choices between good and evil. We think that there is no black and white, just shades of grey. But the Bible doesn’t seem to have those hang ups. It has no problem calling things good or evil, black or white, righteous or wicked.

People on both sides of the issues agree that this election has starke contrasts. We are deciding between two completely different paths for the future of our land. Can I look at these paths and label one righteous and one wicked? Yes, I can. How can I? Is it based on my own preferences and opinions? Am I the final judge? No, not by a long shot. My opinions and preferences are simply mine and are not to be used to determine righteousness and wickedness. Then who gets to decide? What is the standard? Where is the scale to weigh these paths?

The Bible is the standard and the scale. And Jesus is the judge who gets to decide. So by looking into the Scriptures we should be able to determine which path is good and which path is wicked. But before we put these issues into the scale, we need to decide if we will abide by the outcome of God’s Word or rebel against it.

Facing us this election like never before are some clear cut issues. Your vote one way or the other will determine if people must violate their conscious and religious freedom and be forced to pay for abortions. Will marriage be redefined by the government? Will we continue to amass unstainable debt and pass it to our children and grandchildren? Will we continue to disregard the Lord in public life? To continue down this path is wicked. Not only is the future of our country at stake, this election will have eternal consequences.

There is a clear choice between good and evil this time around. I believe Mitt Romney is a choice for good. I’m not suggesting he is the “hope and change we need.” I don’t put my hope in a man and expect him to be my messiah. Jesus is all sufficient in that catagory. But what Romney stands for in this election is good in contrast to what our current president stands for. Never has the contrast been clearer. Which will you choose?

However the election turns out on November 6th, the truth remains: “The power of the wicked will be broken, but the Lord upholds the righteous.” (v.17) I don’t know if November 6th will be a foretaste of the final victory this Psalm talks about or not. I pray that it will be. Regardless, how you vote on that day will be a good indicator what you might be inheriting on the Day that really matters.

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The Pulpit and Politics

Should pastors preach on political issues? I have heard both yes and no. From my congregation I have heard people tell me, “I’m a big believer in separation of church and state.” I’ve also heard, “Why don’t we hear about these thing from the pulpit?” I believe that pastors have a responsibility to preach on political issues…..sometimes. Not all the time, but definitely some of the time.

I believe that because there is nothing outside the realm of the Lordship of Jesus Christ. As Christians we don’t get to compartmentalize our life and surrender only parts of it to Jesus. We do not have the option of saying, “Be Lord of my life here and here, but not here.” I also believe that the wisdom contained in the Scriptures can and should guide our lives, especially in how we live them out in society. The whole “Love your neighbor as yourself” and “You are the salt of the earth, light of the world” thing means we should be informed and active for His glory in the world around us.

Most pastors want to avoid controversy that preaching on a political issue is sure to bring. I certainly don’t want to cause rifts in the church. But if the Bible says something about a particular issue, don’t you want to know what it says? Don’t you want to know what God’s opinion is on the subject so that you can live in accordance with it? The Bible certainly doesn’t shy away from political issues. It is full of examples of preachers confronting, encouraging, and preaching to rulers, kings, judges, cities, and whole nations. And the topics range from adultery, extortion, private property, taxes, freedom, limits on power, role of governments, poverty, and the list goes on.

It has only been recently in American history that we expect preachers to remain silent on issues. During the Revolutionary War the British called the clergy, “The Black Robe Regiment” because of their preaching and influence in current affairs. Preachers did not shy away from preaching on God-given rights, limits of power, freedom, equality of all men and so on. And their legacy was passed on. What would have happened if preachers had remained silent on the issue of slavery? What would the civil-rights movement have been like if Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. had decided not to preach on political issues?

As I stated earlier, I believe a preacher should preach on political issues. Not all of the time, but when it is needed. Take for instance the issue of marriage. Since when did marriage become a political issue? The church has been consistent about what marriage is and is not for two thousand years. Marriage is an institution established by God. The pastor who remains silent in the face of the government redefining it is not worthy of the calling and leads his or her people astray.

The Apostle Paul told the church at Ephesus, “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. 27 For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.” Acts 20:26-27. As a preacher, I know that I have a duty to proclaim, as best I can with love, the whole counsel of God. I am not looking to offend anyone by doing so. But I have found the truth contained in the Word of God is offensive all by itself. Perhaps the reason most people don’t want to hear about politics from the pulpit is because it would require some rethinking and possibly even – change.

Over the next month I am going to be addressing some political issues and exploring what the Bible says about them on my blog. On October 24th I am leading an Election Issues Forum at my church so this will be kind of a warm up. I have found Dr. Wayne Grudem’s book Politics According to the Bible very helpful. You can hear Dr. Grudem speak about pastors preaching on political issues here.

I hope we will have some good discussions and gain insight into the wisdom God offers to us in the political arena. DISCLAIMER: I do not pretend to think that my opinions on these issues are from the mouth of God. I have tried to form my opinions based on His Word, but I am still quite falliable – just ask the Mrs.

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“Daddy, Is Death a Cuss Word?”

My daughter asked me that question when she was five years old. My grandmother had just died and she could see the pain and grief in our family. “No, honey,” I replied, “but it should be.”

I was reminded of her question because this past weekend I buried a ten year old boy. He is the same age as my youngest son. In fact, they played on the same basketball team at the YMCA two years ago. His name was Ryan. He was a great kid from a great family. He was full of life and energy. He was killed in a tragic accident on a playground. One minute he was playing, the next minute he was gone.

His life was short, too short. The words tragic, senseless, unbelievable just don’t communicate the depth of loss that our entire community felt when we heard what happened. This isn’t the way a young, good life is supposed to end. And the void he leaves is too big to fill, even with all our tears.

We are left asking hard questions? How could God let something like this happen? Was this God’s will? Why didn’t God do something about it? In our gut we know this isn’t right. Something tells us in our hearts that this is not the way life is suppose to be. We want answers.

I don’t pretend to have answers to all of these questions. I don’t know why we suffer tragedies like this. I don’t know why some people get cancer or die in a car accident. The world is broken. We experience pain, sorrow, despair, and tragedy. And death is no respecter of persons – even little boys. I can’t answer why God allows a freak accident to take Ryan’s life.

But I do know this: Ryan’s life, not his death, was and remains God’s will. I can’t answer why God didn’t do something that day on the playground to save Ryan’s life. But I can tell you that God did do something to save Ryan’s life before Ryan was even born.

God sees the brokenness of this world. He understands the pain, hurt, and sorrow we experience in our lives. He knows what it is like to lose a son. God experienced how tragic, senseless, and unbelievable death is and He did something about it. He sent Jesus to pay the penalty of sin so that we might live forever. And when Jesus died, God raised Him back to life. Jesus has overcome death and because He lives, we will live to.

You see, God took the long view. Can you see it from His perspective? Do you hear His words to us, “I am the resurrection and the Life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” John 11:25-26. That is and remains God’s will for Ryan, for you, for me, for everyone! Death does not have the final word on life. Jesus secures for us eternal life. This is the hope we have in the midst of our pain and sorrow.

But our hope is bigger yet. Revelation 21:1-7, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain,for the old order of things has passed away.”

5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

6 He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. 7 He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.”

It has been said, Christianity is optimism with scars. We know that this world is broken and we are broken right along with it. We bear those scars. But the scripture we read speaks of the optimism, the hope we have. It tells us what God’s will is and what He is doing about it. He is going to take this broken world and start over. A day is coming when God, Himself, will wipe away every tear from our eyes. Death will be no more, mourning and crying and pain are gone. He is going to make all things new.

Ryan’s mom told me of a dream she had the night he died where she saw Ryan and he told her, “I’m ok. They fixed me.” She asked, “How?” He didn’t give any answers. He just grinned.

I’ve got good news. God’s not going to stop with just Ryan. He is going to fix it all. He’s going to make all things new. And so with scars on our hearts, we can say with confidence, “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O Death, is your sting? But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

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Inconceivable!

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” Inigo Montoya utters these great lines to Vescini as he continues to say “Inconceivable!” in one of my favorite movies, The Princess Bride. I can’t help but think the same thing is going on with the word “love”.

I ate lunch today (like I do most days) at Chick-fil-A. The place was packed. It took 20 minutes from the time I ordered to the time I received my food. There was no place to stand. The line was out the door and the drive through line wrapped the building through another parking lot and spilled onto the street. Yet whenever the manager would shout her appreciation for everyone’s patience, the place cheered.

Some folks think, because of the owner’s comments about the definition of marriage, that supporting Chick-Fil-A today is hateful and discriminatory. To oppose same-sex marriage is not loving in their view. I believe they think that because they don’t know what love is.

I know – how dare I write that! Saying someone doesn’t know what love means is so…unloving. Love is a many splended thing so I will not try and give an exhaustive list of everything that is love. (I would encourage you to read 1 Corinthians 13 if you haven’t attended a wedding recently to brush up a little.)

Perhaps it might be more palatable to say, “I believe they think that because they don’t know what love isn’t.” We’ll see. Either way I am with Inigo. Love doesn’t mean what they think it means.

Love is tolerance, liberals say. Love is unconditional acceptance of whatever behavior I feel like (at least when it comes to sex but not eating at certain fast food restaurants). Love accepts people for who they are. After all, God accepts me for who I am. God is love. And that is kinda close but misses the mark.

God is love and He accepts us as we are – but He certainly doesn’t leave us that way. No loving parent accepts whatever behavior a child exhibits. While they love and accept the child, they correct the child and show them the proper behavior. Even if it is painful to them and the child. They do this BECAUSE they love the child. To accept “whatever” behavior is a clear sign, not of love, but of indifference and apathy. Yet that is what liberals mean when they say it is loving to accept behavior that God calls wrong. What they are saying (but don’t realize) is that they are more loving than God. The Bible is clear about marriage and sex. To ignore or cut out the parts of Scripture that are “offensive” and then claim to do it because they are loving is to claim they are more loving than God. They know better than God. They are more tolerant than His Word. That kind of pride and hubris ends poorly every time it is tried.

God gives us the boundaries because He loves us. It is like He is standing in the middle of the road holding a sign and screaming, “Turn around! The bridge is out!” That is love. Especially when people run Him over. And if we know the bridge is out and danger is ahead, is it more loving to say, “Stop!” or to tolerate and accept their decision to drive off the cliff?

I realize that some may think, “I guess that means we should stone to death children for disobeying their parents. Isn’t that what the Bible says to do?” It does say that, Leviticus 20:9. If you want to use that argument you should read all of chapter 20. There is plenty of stuff that requires the death penality. The truth is sin – any sin, all sin – brings the death penalty. Romans 6:23 tells us very clearly, “the wages of sin is death” and that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom 3:23) No one is righteous in God’s eyes. We’ve all sinned in some form or fashion and we all deserve to die.

“But God demonstrated his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Because of Jesus’ death, our dealth penalty has been paid. That is love. Inconceivable love. So no, I don’t advocate fulfulling the law in Leviticus today because it has already been fulfilled in Jesus. The issue is whether or not you have received this gift of grace. If you do, you’ll experience transformation. This is the “God loves you too much to leave you the way you are” part. Romans 6 is a fantastic place to read about it.

I went back to Chick-Fil-A tonight about 9pm. The drive through line was still wrapped around the building and the wait for a milkshake was over 20 minutes. Inconceivable!

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When Social Justice is Unjust

With the recent ruling on Obamacare and people’s attempts to declare mandated government action “compassionate” and “just”, I felt I would post this article again.  It was orginially posted in the summer of 2010 on Dale Tedder’s blog.  Thanks Dale for not deleting it.  I hate retyping things. – Mike

 The phrase “social justice” is thrown around these days like a buzz word on steroids.  Almost every problem faced in society from poverty, health care, environmental concerns, homelessness, etc are now labeled as “social justice” issues. 

 Now don’t get me wrong.  I am all for justice in a social setting.  But what exactly does this phrase, “social justice” mean?  Ask ten different people and you will get ten different definitions.  Ask them what the difference is between justice and social justice and you are more likely to get blank stares.  Why, then, with such ambiguity about what social justice is, do we use the term like a trump card?

 The term “social justice” has only been around for the past 75-100 years.  I believe people use this term because we can demand justice.  If something is unjust, we have a right, a moral obligation, and a duty to God to change the unjust situation.  There is power with a phrase like “social justice.”  And that is where the danger lies.

 Think of what we call social justice ministries today and you will most likely think of working with the homeless, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and taking care of the poor.  All of these ministries are essential, but they are not justice ministries.  They are, in fact, mercy ministries.

 People have confused justice and mercy.  Those who confuse justice and mercy would look at the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) and surmise that Jesus is being unjust.  How can the rich get richer and the poor get poorer in the kingdom of God?  How can there be such inequality in talents given from the outset?  Is Jesus being unjust when he takes from the servant with one talent and gives it to the servant with ten?  No, the lazy servant did nothing, contributed nothing and therefore received nothing.  Justice was met.

 The classic definition of justice advanced by Thomas Aquinas is “the habit whereby a man renders to each one his due by a constant and perpetual will.” (Summa Theologiae II-II, q.58,a.1.)  To “give a person their due” is the broad definition of justice.  It works on all levels.  If the worker is due wages, the employer should pay.  If the criminal is due punishment, they should receive it.  If the employer is due satisfactory work, the employee should give it.  In short, justice is something that is earned.  When a person receives what is owed them, justice has been met.

 But by calling merciful acts “social justice” we run the risk of injustice.  When we mandate acts of charity, they cease to be charitable.  When mercy is demanded or owed, it is no longer mercy.  It becomes oppression.  We cannot force people to be loving.  Mercy and love must be freely given if it is to be mercy and love.  It cannot be coerced or required by men.  Only God can require it because mercy comes from the heart.  When we can demand mercy, we become tyrants and “social justice” becomes unjust.

 Micah 6:8 says, “And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”  In order to function properly, society needs both justice and mercy.  God has judged what is just and unjust.  He has determined the standard for right and wrong. We walk with humility by acknowledging that and obeying Him. 

 Jesus tells the parable of the vineyard in Matthew 20:1-16.  In it the landowner is both just and merciful.  He pays the workers the agreed upon wage.  That is justice.  Those who worked less were not owed the same wage but received it.  They would be unjust to demand equal pay for unequal work.  They received it because the employer was generous and merciful. 

 We are to be both just and merciful.  To confuse the two takes a society towards oppression.  If we cannot define justice correctly, we won’t have any.

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