Liberty and Justice for All

Martin Luther King Jr speaks at a 1961 Luther League rally. Click here for photo credit and to hear the audio of his address to this group.

S (Scripture): Psalm 10:17 Lord, you listen to the desires of those who suffer.
You steady their hearts;
you listen closely to them,
18 to establish justice
for the orphan and the oppressed,
so that people of the land
will never again be terrified.

O (Observation): Many of the Psalms are examples of God’s people crying out for help as foreign powers overtook Israel, God’s people overtaken and oppressed. Many of the psalms are examples of God’s people showing full dependence on God to help them through their current predicament, in order to be brought to safety. God’s people seek justice. God’s people seek to be made whole again.

A (Application): How appropriate for a text like this to come up on a day when we recognize a national leader who sought justice for all people, especially for equal rights for African-Americans in our nation.

A lot of people think we are a post-racial society. That we are beyond racism. That many folks fought for equal rights for blacks and that all is well now. Yet that is simply not the case.

Bryan Stevenson – author and lawyer – has spent years seeking justice for black men and women wrongly accused of crimes. He shared that truth and reconciliation are the two components necessary to bring about healing and health. Stevenson says that in America we have sought reconciliation without truth. That is an empty reconciliation.

As in the psalm for today, we seek out God to establish justice for the orphaned and the oppressed. Martin Luther King Jr, Bryan Stevenson, and so many others call upon their fellow Americans to seek out justice for all people. Without knowing the truth of our ugly history, how can we truly reconcile?

Here is some homework for you…some things for you to look up:

  • The 14 Words
  • Black Wall Street
  • National Lynching Memorial

This research you are about to do is part of the truth-telling that is needed to seek true reconciliation with those we have hurt in our own backyard.

Whether anecdotal or systemic, many truths must be reconciled for us to come together in harmony.

So take that first step. If you’re the praying type, pray. Then take the time to research these items I listed above. Then, get involved with MLK activities today. Learn more today. Participate in conversations (or host a conversation) on race relations. Find someone with whom you disagree (but love dearly) and try to figure this out together.

Whatever you do will be worthwhile. This endeavor will bring joy and frustration, hope and helplessness…my hope is that this process will break you down, but build you back up with a sense of purpose to seek liberty and justice for all.

P (Prayer): Lord, you guide us in the way of truth and justice. Don’t fail us now. Amen.

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Are You In Balance?

Photo credit here.

S (Scripture): Amos 5:21 I hate, I reject your festivals; I don’t enjoy your joyous assemblies.
22 If you bring me your entirely burned offerings and gifts of food—
I won’t be pleased;
I won’t even look at your offerings of well-fed animals.
23 Take away the noise of your songs;
I won’t listen to the melody of your harps.
24 But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
25 Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings
during the forty years in the wilderness, house of Israel?

O (Observation): God – through the prophet Amos – speaks words of correction to God’s people. They thought if they fulfilled their obligations of giving up offerings to the Lord that they would be in the clear with God. Yet God seeks more than just offerings and sweet songs. God wants justice to roll down, not just burnt offerings at an altar for God. What good is a burnt offering to God to someone without food to eat or a roof over their heads?

Amos 5:11 lays out a clear accusation against God’s people: “you crush the weak…you tax their grain.” God’s people have ignored the pleas of the weak and powerless. God will then show correction to God’s followers. God will also call forth justice to flow.

A (Application): I’m always feeling a bit guilty about not doing enough of the right stuff. I’ve got it so good. And the more I read Scripture and write out these devotions, the more I sense that God is pulling me in the right direction.

I’m one who very much “senses” God’s presence. That needs to well up inside of me, before I start taking action. That’s a good thing. That activity of the Spirit, stirring my heart, motivates me to take action and to bring others with me.

Yet I also must recognize that sometimes the actions are what will stir me. Sometimes the Spirit will simply be in the actions: serving the homeless, giving to a charity, getting to know others in my neighborhood.

In all, what I find is best for the Christian journey is to spend time with God, with fellow followers of Jesus, and with those not in my regular circles. Doing these 3 things (think: triangle) helps me to see a bit more clearly when I am lacking in one area (or more) and maybe I’m spending too much time in one area (while neglecting other areas).

May this be a helpful tool for you to discern where you are being called to spend your time and may justice flow from this exercise.

P (Prayer): Gracious Lord, you call us to spend time with you, with fellow Jesus-followers, and with those we do not know. Help us also to follow your call to be a part of the justice that flows down like streams. Amen.

Proactive or Reactive? Lord, Help Us

candlelight_t580

Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Psalm 119

156 Great is your mercy, O Lord; give me life according to your justice.
157 Many are my persecutors and my adversaries, yet I do not swerve from your decrees.

O (Observation):  The psalmist is looking to God to bring favor while he is being persecuted by those who choose not to follow God’s plans.   The justice the psalmist seeks is God’s justice, not the justice of the world.  When the world gets enough voices going in the same direction, the powers that be move justice towards the loudest voices.  If the just have no voice, they can seek only God’s justice.   Such may have been the case for the psalmist…very little voice…a lot of noise coming from the unjust.

A (Application):  I’m proud to have been (and continue to be) a part of the #MurfreesboroLoves movement, based in Murfreesboro, TN.  We called together people from all walks of life a few weeks ago to demonstrate that love will define our community, not white supremacists, who planned to hold a rally on our public square recently.    We had literally 100’s of folks come out to stand up against hate and for love of neighbor.

The Murfreesboro Loves movement gave the voiceless a voice, a rallying point around which many would gather to show mutual care and love for one another.

Instead of being only “against” a group of people, we also tried to convey a message of being “for” one another.

The truly hard work comes in trying to also show love towards those we rallied against.  We chose a particularly non-violent, separate stance.   We stayed away from their rally, and instead chose to greet them with messages of love and that hate was not welcome in our town.  We did this with demonstrations, posters, marches, and banners along Old Fort Parkway and Church Street – the 2 main thoroughfares through which the rally folks would have to drive through to get to the rally site.

They ended up cancelling the rally, but our message was heard loud and clear.   We did our best to stand for God’s decrees – decrees that call for us to do justice, to love kindness, and walk humbly with God.  A diverse group of people upheld God’s decrees:  atheists, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and people of other faiths, as well.

God works in many ways, through many people.  Today, I thank God for choosing me to be an instrument of peace.

And yet…no matter how hard we work to show love for neighbor…we still see random acts of violence, the devastating violence of mass shootings.  We wish to be proactive in our movement towards peace and love…and yet sometimes, all we can do is be reactive.  Such is the case in this shooting in Texas.  We see yet another mass shooting, this time in Sutherland Springs, TX, on November 5, 2017.

We react with mourning and grieving and questions…lots of questions…and anger…and hatred.  In God, we hope…  May we take this time to mourn and allow God to enter our suffering.

P (Prayer):  Lord, you guide us in many ways, sharing your message through many types of people.  Continue to show us your love and grace this day, and continue to surprise us by working in ways we have not foreseen.  We need you now, as always, to love us through these days ahead.  Amen.

 

God Is Our Protection


Photo credit here

S (Scripture): Psalm 119: 89 Your word, Lord,
stands firm in heaven forever!
90 Your faithfulness extends from one generation to the next!
You set the earth firmly in place, and it is still there.
91 Your rules endure to this day
because everything serves you.
92 If your Instruction hadn’t been my delight,
I would have died because of my suffering.
93 I will never forget your precepts
because through them you gave me life again.
94 I’m yours—save me
because I’ve pursued your precepts!
95 The wicked wait for me,
wanting to kill me, but I’m studying your laws.
96 I’ve seen that everything,
no matter how perfect, has a limit,
but your commandment is boundless.

O (Observation) & A (Application): A precept is a rule intended to regulate behavior or thought.  The rules given to God’s people do have a limit.   That limit is that some will embrace and follow the precepts, and others won’t.  And even when those who like to follow the precepts will not follow them perfectly.  

But adopting these precepts is life-giving.   When a people embrace the same set of social parameters, folks can relax a little and see that embracing the precepts makes for longer, more fruitful life.  Survival is no longer the only goal.  In an agreed-upon set of parameters, life can thrive!!!   And trusting in God and one another builds community. 

God’s people start to realize this as they live with these precepts and rules.  

And yet when enemies don’t follow the rules, threats remain.  But our fate lies not with threats or enemies.  Our fate is secure in God’s mercy and justice.   Our lives are frail, but we are in God’s care.   In this, I have hope. 

P (Prayer): Lord, protect us through this weekend. Amen. 

Justice and Restoration

Image credit here.  

S (Scripture): Isaiah 42:1 But here is my servant, the one I uphold; my chosen, who brings me delight. I’ve put my spirit upon him;
he will bring justice to the nations.

3 He won’t break a bruised reed;
he won’t extinguish a faint wick,
but he will surely bring justice.

6 I, the Lord, have called you for a good reason.
I will grasp your hand and guard you, and give you as a covenant to the people, as a light to the nations,
7 to open blind eyes, to lead the prisoners from prison, and those who sit in darkness from the dungeon.
8 I am the Lord; that is my name;
I don’t hand out my glory to others or my praise to idols.
9 The things announced in the past—look—they’ve already happened, but I’m declaring new things.  Before they even appear, I tell you about them.

O (Observation):  As God’s people of Israel stand almost totally decimated, a word of hope comes from God.   God declares that people can recount history’s, but only God can look forward in time to tell us what may happen.  

God declares that His servant will one day come to bring justice throughout the earth.  The servant will not fight for justice…but would live out justice, and in a new way.   The Servant will bring justice by restoring folks into community: the blind will see, the prisoners and those sitting in dungeons will be freed. 

These indeed are words of good news when you are sitting in a dungeon or cannot see, and are thus separated from one’s loved ones and friends.   

God is the one who will do justice through God’s own servant.  God will rely on no one and no other thing.   

A (Application):  In the battles that rage in our nation’s government, in the discomfort around the dinner table, God provides a ray of hope: Jesus Christ.   

Jesus wishes neither to conquer anyone nor command our words and actions.   Jesus – God’s servant described in Isaiah? – is the new thing that God has done in the history of the world.  Jesus, the Suffering Servant, has entered our governmental proceedings and sits with us at the dinner table.  

Do we let Jesus speak in these places?   Is Jesus’ version of justice allowed to be heard?

How will we live as people of hope?  How will we be living out Jesus’ justice?  Will we use our hands and voices in God’s name?   

How will we bring about restoration in the name of God?  I think of an old picture, tattered, beat up, maybe even torn…and some skilled person can reassemble the pieces and bring forth what was originally intended for the picture.    This is what justice means: being restored to our original intention, as God sees us.  

Let us remember this as we speak and act in the name of Jesus in our day.  And let us remember that OUR version of justice should always give deference to Jesus’ version: restoring outsiders to the community.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, restoration comes through you and you alone; help us to be your hand and feet and voice  Amen.   

Trust the Pregnant One: “God with us”


S (Scripture): Isaiah 7:10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz: 11 “Ask a sign from the Lord your God. Make it as deep as the grave or as high as heaven.”

12 But Ahaz said, “I won’t ask; I won’t test the Lord.”

13 Then Isaiah said, “Listen, house of David! Isn’t it enough for you to be tiresome for people that you are also tiresome before my God? 14 Therefore, the Lord will give you a sign.  The young woman is pregnant and is about to give birth to a son, and she will name him Immanuel [“God with us”].  15 He will eat butter and honey, and learn to reject evil and choose good. 16 Before the boy learns to reject evil and choose good, the land of the two kings you dread will be abandoned. 17 The Lord will bring upon you, upon your people, and upon your families days unlike any that have come since the day Ephraim broke away from Judah—the king of Assyria.”

O (Observation):  King Ahaz is the king of Judah, the remnant of God’s chosen people.  They are less than perfect, and God has called upon Isaiah (touching a burning coal to his lips, remember?) to speak truth to God’s people.   Isaiah called upon God’s people to trust God and believe that Judah is NOT beyond redemption.  

What will this redemption look like?  

The young woman is pregnant and is about to give birth to a son, and she will name him Immanuel [“God with us”].

Sound familiar?   See Matthew 1:23 : )

In Isaiah’s time and in the time of Mary’s pregnancy, God’s people are in a time of difficulty.   They are in need of salvation and help from the Lord.   

God remains faithful.  God gives them hope. 

Isaiah reminds King Ahaz that Judah’s enemies – in the span of about 2-3 years (or, about the time it would take for the pregnant woman to give birth and teach the child right from wrong) – will be no more.  They can trust that God will provide for them.   

A (Application): So many things to do and so little time and motivation.  We all hit roadblocks.  We see obstacles and challenges and don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.  We feel trapped. 

We want to be smart enough to figure a way out. We want to work harder to make the work “ours” – to put our stamp on it.    We want to prove to God how worthy we are.   

And the sad thing is, we sometimes make it not realizing that it was God who gave us what we need to make things work.  We forget that God gave us the relationships and the skills we need to make things work out.   We forget that God called upon others to provide us guidance and wisdom.  

We claim for ourselves what God has done, is doing, and will continue to do.  

We forget that hope came through a pregnant woman – Mary – which was not our doing.  We forget that God is our protector, choosing instead to protect ourselves by shouting on social media about how we need to be stronger as Christians.  We shout about how we need to really step up and claim God for this nation and to push back all others.   

Instead, I call for unity, in the midst of diversity.  We come together, people of varied nations and tongues, seeking goodness and mercy and justice for all.  We do this, confident that the Lord will provide us with merciful and just leaders.  

This starts with you.   Where do you see a need for justice?  Where do you see a need for mercy?

Remember that you need others to be just and merciful for you, too.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, make us wise not in the ways of the world, but wise in your ways.  Amen.  

One Nation, Underwood

S (Scripture): Proverbs 29

25 The fear of others lays a snare, but one who trusts in the Lord is secure.
26 Many seek the favor of a ruler, but it is from the Lord that one gets justice.
27 The unjust are an abomination to the righteous, but the upright are an abomination to the wicked.

O (Observation): Peace and security comes from the Lord, not from any earthly ruler or authority.   Trusting in God brings one justice and hope.  

And who is an abomination?   Depends on the viewpoint.   The unjust acquire wealth and status in ways that make the righteous jealous – though it shouldn’t.  The upright are an abomination to the wicked, because the upright are genuine and receive eternal favor without working lies or deceit.  

A (Application): The freakiest line from the latest House of Cards series is the title of this blog post.  President Francis Underwood pontificates on the future…and he says, “One nation.  Underwood.”  How creepy.  

How often does the “bad guy” win?   How do we allow this?   We do allow it, by the way, either because we stick our heads in the sand or because we are complicit with the system.  

…until we lift our heads…until we are no longer complicit…

We reach a true freedom when we begin to believe in and trust the Lord.   We can walk upright (repenting as we go) fearing no ruler.  We will do no battle.   Instead, our upright nature will drive the wicked ones crazy.   

Our trust will be in the Lord, and as we trust the Lord, we will see that our spirit is not captured.   Our will is set free in order that we live upright lives in the midst of an unjust world.  

Francis Underwood rules through wicked means.   Will you?  Or will you let genuine love for your neighbor guide your ways and your will?

P (Prayer):  Lord, lift up our heads to you!  Amen.