Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Armed Conflict, Human Suffering and God's Kingdom...

Just today, I took another look at the human suffering around the world due to armed conflict. All of it is man made. Some would call the human suffering "collateral damage" - an unfortunate by product of war.

We just celebrated Memorial Day here in the USA where we remember and are grateful for those who have fought and given so much for our freedom and freedoms. It is almost hard to imagine that there are other places not so fortunate.

I am this week reviewing projects - disaster responses - to the "collateral damages" due to wars. Men, women, children - whole communities, whole sections of countries - caught up and, in many cases, victims of a conflict they had nothing to do with. They do now.

* Floods of Syrian refugees are looking for any place to escape the fighting and gain safety for their families. We have three on-going projects and two more proposed to help feed, shelter and give water to these coming out of their country to what they see as safer areas. Many walking away from their communities and homes with only what they can carry.

* A multitude of people are pouring in to the north part of the world's newest country, Southern Sudan. They are fleeing armed conflict only to find it following them as they arrive. We are targeting these areas with food and water projects but in reality are only able to make a small dent in the overall need.

* Refugees along the various borders of Myanmar (Burma) have left everything due to armed attacks on their communities. Several of our partners are trying to find ways to help these makeshift exiled communities especially with water and food.

I grow weary looking at these and new convicts every day. I am in no way as weary as those experiencing the conflicts. I, however, do often question if this is the way that it is meant to be and can only conclude that it is not.

Armed conflict can result for a number of reasons. Some reasons are good and noble while some are evil and even cruel. In the end, people suffer and the tragedy is that the brunt of the suffering is usually born by the bystanders, not the participants or the ones who started the conflict.

My consolation as I wade through and try to make sense of all these urgent needs (due to armed conflict) is that we come from a place that there is no armed conflict and we are going to a place where wars will cease, arms will be laid down and even the lion and lamb will live together in peace. I have to remind myself that what we see in terms of this age and suffering is a result of sin and the fall of man. Before, in the Garden, there was no war and resulting suffering. In the end, at the consummation of the ages, there will again be no war.

And when I look at the war and suffering happening throughout the world today, knowing that it will get worse before it will get better, all I can say is..."Yea, come Lord Jesus! May it be soon!"


Friday, May 18, 2012

Need a Model for Social/Kingdom Justice? Look No Further...

I've spent a lot of time this week on the theme of social justice as it relates to and is in reality kingdom justice. I would like to close out this week by sharing the model for social/kingdom justice: Jesus Himself.

Reading through the book of Mark in my morning devotions, I was once again struck at the life and ministry of Christ. I was amazed, once again, like the people of Judea, at seeing that He, Jesus, "does everything well." (Mark 7:37) If He is the complete God-Man then He, above all, would be the model of God's plan and purpose, in short His Kingdom, here on earth. So, what are the major things we see Jesus "doing well" in Mark's gospel?

* He was never too busy to stop and meet needs. When He was tired, when He was traveling, even on the road to Calvary, He always had time for those in need. Compassion incarnate.
* He touched people where they hurt. He physically touched the eyes of the blind and restored their sight. He placed his fingers in the ears of the deaf so that they could hear. He took the hand of the sick and dying and restored health and life. And He also spoke a word of authority and "touched" the hearts and minds of the demon possessed.
* He taught and proclaimed truth. In many places His "compassion" to the crowds was the teaching of truth that He had to share with them (Mark 6:34). In other situations it was the correction of incorrect beliefs especially those of the hypocrites of the day. We often only think of Jesus' compassion demonstrated in his healing ministry but there was a great compassion behind His proclamation of the Kingdom and the gospel.
* He was in constant contact and conversation with God the Father. He withdrew to spend time and renew His focus. He carried on dialogue with God even in the midst of the multitudes. He live a 360 degree awareness of moving, living, being and acting within the Father's presence.
* He established a whole new set of Kingdom values and truths that still befuddle us today: The first shall be last, the greatest is the least, the weak shall be strong, the master is really the servant, etc.

So, forgive me but I am a bit skeptical. When a follower of Jesus simply stops at feeding the hungry, giving help to the poor, advocating against human trafficking, etc., they miss the whole picture of what Christ, our social/Kingdom justice model came to do and establish. Conversely, when the church or evangelist stops at evangelism, they do the same.

Wouldn't it be great if people looked at us, the church today, and say, "...they do everything well!" And they would say this not because of us but because they have seen the glory and the justice of God's Kingdom in us!

Need a model for social/Kingdom justice? Jesus...

God bless...

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Further Explanation Regarding Kingdom Justice...

A good friend, Chuck, wrote me yesterday about a statement in my post and made a good point. I asked him permission to use it for today's post. In his note, Chuck said,...

"I have read with interest your last two blogs. You made many good points. I do, however, wonder about your statement: "None of my efforts at social justice will hasten or delay the coming of His kingdom." My understanding of the kingdom is that it "comes" whenever God's will is done. In the Lord's Prayer Jesus uses a parallelism to say basically the same thing. "Thy kingdom come" happens when and where "Thy will be done." For that reason I do believe your work and that of many others does, in fact, hasten the coming of God's kingdom. Our failure to practice social (or kingdom) justice, likewise, does, unfortunately, delay its coming."

Chuck made a good point and my response to him was...

"What I meant was that our efforts at social justice does not hasten the consummation (final coming) of the Kingdom. No doubt, when we minister to the least of these, we minister to Jesus and in fact demonstrate the coming of His Kingdom. In some modern missiological circles, there is the thought that our proclamation to the last (e.g. those who haven't heard) actually "hastens" the coming back of Christ (based on Matthew 24:14) Conversely, there is the thought in social justice circles that our efforts at 
making things "just" will hasten Christ's return (e.g. culmination of the ages) as well."

Herein is one of the mysteries of the gospel. God has set a time for the consummation of the ages and all things. My efforts at evangelism, missions and even social justice neither hastens nor slows down His appointed time. Yet, in all His infinite wisdom, He (for some reasoning way beyond my feeble mind) invites me (and you) to join Him in his work of reconciliation. This ministry of reconciliation entrusted to us encompasses both proclamation and demonstration of His gospel. The ultimate goal, when it is all said and done, is to make Him know and give God His due glory.

I want to thank Chuck for his clarifying question which helps me think through these great mysteries even more. But most of all I want to thank God for inviting me to join Him in reaching out to the helpless, homeless and hurting...all for the sake of His Name. 


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Social Justice and Kingdom Focus...

I made a statement (among many) in my post yesterday that social justice is of little value unless it is seen in a Kingdom perspective. Let me explain a bit more.

Our lives and very existence can be viewed as running on two tracks. One is the temporal, flesh and blood, seen life that that we are now living. It is real. It is where we have joys immeasurable and heartbreaks just as immeasurable. We feel, love, think and move in a real world. But in the end, it is a temporal world. We are eternal beings living in temporary confines. 

The other track is the eternal, the core of who we are, who we are becoming, and who we will always be.  It is seen yet only dimly; as if through a fogged over glass. Everything we say, do or experience is moving towards that day when the temporary shell of this world and its constraints will culminate us being freed and born into a new and truly freed existence of who we really are. 

These two tracks are not in competition. These two tracks are not separate such as to create a dualistic nature or reality. They are parallel and we move along them experiencing one of two things along the way and one of two final destinations: existence in and with God or existence apart and without God. 

Therefore, we strive for and long for justice, God's justice, here in this world as a foreshadowing and promise of things to come. Make no mistake. We all will arrive at justice, Kingdom justice. Either a glorious eternal existence in God and becoming fully who we were created to be or an eternal separation given over to our own desires, corruption and choices. 

Somewhere in the middle is where we are all currently residing. It is the place of the fallen where we long for, strive for and even yearn for God and His Kingdom justice. But we also fully recognize that it can never fully be until He brings it about through His sovereignty and the culmination of this age. 

So, I hope you understand now that I can only view social justice in the light of the Kingdom. I see our efforts at feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, clothing the naked, visiting those in prison, and taking care of the stranger pointing to what is to come. These actions bring God's values and a glimpse of His Kingdom into a fallen and corrupt world. It visually and physically demonstrates His love paving way for the proclamation of His truth that there is a better reality. It also works a process in our hearts and lives that conforms us who practice social action to become more like His Son, Jesus. And, moreover, it serves as a beacon to all that there is a God and a higher purpose in this life than today's existence. It doesn't minimize suffering or pain. It doesn't alleviate our responsibility to our neighbor in need. It does constantly hold before us that we must view all of life through an eternal, Kingdom-focused lens.

Whether we proclaim in word or in deed, it is all about God and His Kingdom and His righteousness.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Social Justice as Kingdom Justice...

More and more, I am coming to the conclusion that our term "social justice" is lacking. I am not disagreeing with the passion and movement behind the emerging church's emphasis on such, I am just having an internal conflict over terminology. Please bear with me on this.

Social justice, the term, in my thought process, is always going to be flawed. For to me, there is little justice that is noteworthy in societies because societies are made up of a fallen race of man. Our efforts and ideals of "social" justice will thus always fall short. The only exception I see is a totally redeemed society where "social" justice in reality becomes "Kingdom" justice.

Even under the best of circumstances, if any of us received the "justice" we deserved, it would be a terrible thing. However, because we are of the redeemed people, we receive a Kingdom justice, paid for by the precious blood of Christ. My Grandaddy Palmer frequently would reply when asked, "How are you Mr. Lonnie?", by saying, "Better than I deserve." In truth, all of us who follow Christ are "better than we deserve" because we have been born into a new, living hope and an imperishable inheritance through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

So, with fear and trembling, I want to make a few bold statements...

1. Social justice is of little value unless it is seen in a Kingdom perspective
2. There never has been a time that this world has seen complete social justice (except pre-fall)
3. There will never be a time that we will see perfect social justice until the time that His Kingdom comes in fullness
4. My efforts as justice are at best mirrors or dim, foggy views of things to come
5. None of my efforts at social justice will hasten or delay the coming of His kingdom
6. In social/Kingdom justice, the process is much more important than the product especially when it relates to my heart, attitudes and actions
7. Consequently, social justice has greater implications with seeing just systems implemented than equality of outcomes

There you have it. It may sound a bit jaded or a bit anti-social justice movement. On the contrary, I see it as realistic Kingdom justice and am deeply passionate about this topic.

One of my favorite prayers of all time is what our Lord taught us to pray. I pray it regularly...

Lord, Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven...

Looking and longing for a better day...

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Relationship Between Justice and Fruit...

In Matthew 12, Jesus talks about a tree and its fruit. He gives a simple rule that says a tree is known by its fruit: a good tree produces good fruit; a bad tree produces bad fruit.

All of this comes on the heels of Him be unjustly accused by the Pharisees. He had healed a man with a paralyzed hand (Matthew 12:9-14). Because it was done on the Sabbath (among presumably other reasons as well), the Pharisees began to plot how they might put Him to death. Jesus became aware of their intentions and withdrew to another place. However, the crowds followed and Jesus, having compassion on them, ministered to them and healed them.

Matthew then quotes a passage from Isaiah to show Jesus fulfilling prophecy where Isaiah says, "Here is My Servant whom I have chosen, my beloved in whom My should delights; I will put My Spirit on Him, and He will proclaim justice to the nations. he will not argue or shout, and no one will hear His voice in the streets. He will not break a bruised reed, and He will not put out a smoldering wick, until he has led justice to victory. The nations will put their hope in His name." (Isaiah 42:1-4)

Jesus then, as He almost always does, uses the opportunity of ministry for proclamation. He seizes upon the accusation by the Pharisees that He (Jesus) is demon possessed and "drives out demons only by Beelzebul..." (Matthew 12:24) He says, "Every kingdom divided against itself is headed for destruction..." (Matthew 12:25ff) This then leads into His famous passage of a tree and its fruit (Matthew 12:33-37).

What is interesting to me is that the whole chapter seems to be hinting at a connection between true justice and the fruits of our lives. And, in turn, the fruit of justice in our lives has much to do with the roots or "good tree" of our lives. The simple law seems to be if the tree and its roots are good, the fruit is going to be good as well.

I long to see justice. I am passionate about caring for the poor and needy, the homeless and the hurting. But I have found if I let my passion for the fruits outgrow my passion for the roots (Jesus Himself), I begin to miss the mark.

In the first few verses of chapter 12 of Matthew, Jesus says that He desires mercy, not sacrifice. This is in reference to Him being the Lord of the Sabbath. It also can apply to our efforts at social justice. He is the Lord of Social Justice! If we miss or forget that fact (HE is Lord), we can be striving for fruits that will only turn out bad because of the focus being on the wrong tree or roots.

Missions is about Jesus. Social justice is also about Jesus. In fact, what I learned in Sunday School many years ago is still true today: it's all about Jesus.

Friday, May 4, 2012

A Watchman...

In the book of Ezekiel, God appoints Ezekiel a watchman over the house of Israel (Ezek 33). His role as watchman is to blow the trumpet and warn the people when he sees the sword coming against the land. Anyone who hears and ignores will have their own blood on their head. However, if the watchman sees the sword but doesn't sound the warning, the fault will be on his head.

I am writing this blog today as a watchman. I have been honored and privileged to see what God has done through the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund. I have been a privileged recipient of those funds and now have the awesome responsibility of helping to distribute those funds around the world. Last year, through our WHF projects through BGR, we were able to see

* Over 1.5 M people helped with 500,000 receiving food and another 400,000 receiving help with their water needs

* Over 400 projects in about 65 countries. Most of these ministering to the poorest of the poor.

* Help extended to almost 5,000 communities either through disaster response or developmental ministries

* Water systems implemented in almost 300 communities giving 200,000 people access to clean drinking water

* About 200,000 people helped with  health care needs

The list goes on and on and on. And these are just numbers from a list. They are real people with real needs being met by real resources and most of it coming through our Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund.

Here is the watchman part, however. We are at critically low levels of hunger funds on hand as I write this. I want to make this known. This week, I had to say "no" to hungry children in a war-torn middle eastern country because we just didn't have the funds to help them.

Would you consider giving to the World Hunger Fund? Would you consider telling others about the great need that exists? Would you join me in being a watchman for those who cannot watch out for themselves?

For more information, please visit our BGR World Hunger link at: