Category Archives: Social Justice

My own personal Jesus

I wanted to share with you a great post by Richard Dahlstrom.  Richard is a pastor in Seattle and blogs at Pastoral Musings from Rain City.  I strongly encourage you to read his stuff from time to time!  Anyway, today he shared some thoughts about something that I have struggled with for several years now. 

The notion of “inviting Jesus into our hearts to be our personal Savior”, became something I could no longer completely embrace, but at the same time, I knew not to just throw out my belief of a personal savior.  I’ve shared this struggle from time to time in my teachings at Redwood Hills, but never with the clarity that Dahlstrom does in this post.  I hope that you’ll take a minute to thoughtfully read this and then feel free to share your thoughts and questions about it.

I know you’ve heard it a thousand times if you’ve anywhere near the church over the past 50 years. “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior”. The phrase personal savior didn’t appear out of thin air. There are countless encounters in the Bible between God and individuals. God meets Jacob, more than once, in order to shape him as God’s child. God meets Moses personally. David compares God to a shepherd who cares for each sheep personally, and Jesus takes up that same theme with his story about leaving the 99 sheep to go after the one who didn’t show up for church 🙂 It’s because of all this that I want to be careful not to denigrate the phrase “personal savior”. There’s perhaps nothing more comforting in our faith life than the understanding that Jesus walks with us personally, guides us, comforts us, cares for us, heals us, transforms us.

And yet…

This piece of the faith, which plays so well in our individualistic culture, is in reality more of a sub-plot in God’s story than a main theme. The sub plot of your attendance at a baseball game might be your discovery of garlic fries. They’re good and as you enjoy them you might start a discussion with your friend, right there in the top of the 8th inning, about the cholesterol fighting merits of eating garlic. But your friend, as he distances himself from you in the interest in inhaling fresh air, will probably point out that the bases are loaded and there are two outs, and “we didn’t come here to eat garlic fries, we came here to watch the game!”

And so it goes. “We didn’t come to Jesus to get a personal savior. We came to Jesus to join a profound story that will end with a reversal of the global curse.” Global Curse means, precisely, that the curse is more than just personal. There’s a problem in the world and the problem isn’t just my thought life, or my finances spinning out of control. The problem isn’t just that I need a little help with my marriage, or the kids, or some career guidance. The problem is bigger. How big???

Of course, the great promise of Christianity is this (as one author has put it): “The answer of Christianity (is that) everything sad is going to come untrue and it will somehow be greater for having once been broken and lost.” We’re invited to Jesus not because we’ve personal problems that need fixing (though we do), but because the world is broken. I’m invited to step into the grand project of sowing seeds of hope in the world, offering a foretaste of what will be when Christ reigns fully and finally.

This is why I don’t like the phrase “accept Christ as your personal savior”. It’s not an untrue statement, as much as it’s the garlic fries at the baseball game. If all I do is sit by the snack booth and eat fries, I’ve missed the point. So it is for us, when we gather for worship and sing songs about all Jesus means to me…me…me, neglecting the grand cosmic transformation that’s unfolding, of which we’re invited to play a part. If I miss this, I remain entrenched the the kingdom of this world, singing songs about personal salvation and renewal, and comforting myself that I’m going to heaven when I die.

This is why I’m inclined to talk about sin as more than personal. It’s not just that I’ve failed God somehow – it’s that I’m part of global system that boasts genocide, sexual trafficking, and AIDS epidemic, gross economic inequalities, health issues, environmental issues, and the threat of nuclear annihilation. There’s a better story on the way…and it starts now, when I turn to Christ and become part of the solution.

Love and Peace.

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While we wait for the movie, let’s talk poverty

Most of us know by know about the US container ship that was attacked by Somali pirates and the captain being held captive.  Piracy off the shores of Somalia have been going on for quite some time now and only getting worse.  Most of world was fairly ignorant to these actions, until a US ship was attacked.  In fact, one french leader said that this was one of the best things to happen as any kind of attack on the US gains the attention of the world.  He was right…

A few days later, Navy SEALS shot and killed the pirates as they held our captain hostage.  The story unfolds like a movies script!  In fact, I was amazed at how many people I heard talking about the possibility of a movie coming out, telling the story of modern-day pirates battling the very cool Navy SEALS!  Admit it…this has blockbuster written all over it!

While we wait for the movie, it’s important to talk about the underlying issues of Somalia and its pirates.  Somalia has no government.  It dissolved several years ago leaving the people of this coastal African country to fend for themselves.  The result has been terrible violence, hunger and poverty,a nd it’s for this reason that Somalia has pirates.  This is what can happen to humanity when deep poverty begins to take over a people.  This kind of evil and violence has occurred for centuries whenever there has been inequality. 

When people feel forgotten…things get ugly.

The other night, I watched a news story on Somalia and it’s social / economic problems.  I couldn’t help but think about the Old Testament (books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus) and God’s instructions to Israel about Jubilee.  Jubilee was God’s plan for economic and civil equality.  The plan was that every 50 years, all debts were forgiven…land became available to occupy…food was free to everyone…and slaves were freed.  It was God’s way of protecting the wealthy from greed and over-consumption, while rescuing the poor and hungry from their demise…no matter how or why they found themselves in their poverty.

For God, Jubilee wasn’t about living nice and making things fair.  It was always about protecting peoples hearts.  When hearts are broken by poverty or decieved by wealth, God often gets left out of the picture.  The stories coming our of Somalia serve as a reminder of how God seeks to have our hearts.  Yes, the stories of modern day pirates make for exciting reading and story-lines, but it should also remind us that there’s something much deeper…much more evil at work here.  It’s incredibly an sad story…

Love and Peace.

Be a voice…maybe even an angry one

Yesterday while eating my lunch I did what I often do when eating lunch by myself, reading either the Seattle Times or the NY Times.  I chose Seattle Times mainly because I wanted to check in on some local sports.  Part of me wishes I hadn’t read it at all…

The front page held the story of a rural family who had endured many years of trouble and abuse.  That all ended last week when the wife refused to come home to her husband for fear of being abused again.  She told him she would come the next day to get her things and their five kids.  The kids didn’t survive the night as their father shot and killled each of them before killing himself.  It turns out that the state new their was abuse going on in the house, but never protected the kids…this whole story of broken families and systems makes me very angry!

Every day there are horrible stories breaking that none of us really want to listen to, but if we don’t…we certainly become either ignorant, numb or we never find ourselves angry.

This morning, I’m thinking about an old U2 song called “Silver and Gold”.  It’s a song about slavery and as I was listening to a live version of it the other day I noticed that he breaks from the song…begins to speak out against apartheid and you can hear that Bono’s voice is being heard.  His voice is full of anger toward the inequality and violence that made apartheid such an evil existence in our world. 

At the end of the song, Bono asks the crowd, “am I bugging you?  I don’t mean to bug you!”  It’s as if he knows that he can’t help but being a voice of hope to the world, but at the same time there would be so many that would rather he just perform…just entertain…just keep to singing. 

Most of us know that Bono has become a loud voice in our world.  He’s angry toward injustice, hate, disease, and the way the wealth of the world chooses not to listen.  I’m sure many would still rather hear him sing than speak of hope and justice…

I woke this morning angry.  It’s not that I’m grumpy or emotional, but there’s an anger stirring in me about five children being shot to death by their father.  I’m angry at the mom for thinking of her own self and not going home to protect her kids.  I’m angry most of all about the growing world of domestic violence and that it continues to be something the church (mine included) are simply too silent about!

Jesus certainly showed us when anger confronts injustice, that healing and restoration can happen.  He became angry towards the silence of the religious leaders as they ignored a crippled man on the Sabbath.  His anger lead to complete healing for the man, and the Bible paints the picture of it all taking place in the presence of their silence and hardened hearts. 

This image of Jesus’ anger leading to healing is a message to the church.  It tells us once again that the church exists for the world, not the world existing for the church!  There’s a big difference between both ways of thinking…

Being a voice in this world isn’t easy.  I certainly know that if you begin to speak out about things, people will be annoyed and even call into question your faith, theology, and motives.  So to that I say…don’t try and be the next Bono, because you’re not.  Try and search the scriptures and understand what they say about God and His mission in our broken world.  Pray that your heart will be filled with a compassionate anger and that your voice will lead to action from you and the others who are influenced by what or who you feel convicted to speak for.

Love and Peace.

A different kind of spring break

Today I came across this pretty cool article in the Seattle Times which tells the story of 18 college students from Seattle Pacific University who decided to spend spring break on the streets.  As in being homeless…

You can read the article here

After reading the article, it raised both thoughts and questions.  My first thought was that I continually believe that SPU is one of, if not the leading University in the northwest in terms of educating and training missional Christians.  Their Urban Plunge program has provided some incredible experiences for college students as they come seeking to learn how to contextualize their knowledge of the scriptures.  The second thought I had was that I believe the problem with homelessness is so complex, so political, so spiritual that we have yet to scrape the surface on addressing the core issues, let alone solving the problem. 

The questions that I now ponder after reading the story (and others like it) are that, is this sort thing becoming so popular on our college campuses that it’s now seen as the “cool” thing and not really about entering an experience that may hopefully lead to understanding and answers?  The other thing that I wonder is whether or not this is seen as helpful by the actual homeless of Seattle.  I understand doing things in the name of solidarity, but sometimes our good intentions become damaging.

However you interpret the story, I believe it’s something that will get people to think about the plight of the homeless around us.  My friend, Jeff Greer (check out his blog here) has been instrumental in helping shape the current Nickelsville Community here in Seattle, and he along with several others are leading the charge for churches to begin to recognize their role in both serving and existing among our homeless.  

For me, I’m both impressed and hopeful for these SPU students.  I’m impressed with their thoughtfulness and willingness to sacrifice a week of their lives for the sake of the poor, when so many (like I did in college) use it as a chance to sleep, play video games, and party with high school friends.  I’m equally hopeful that these future missional leaders will continue to explore ways to challenge the church to act and make a real difference within  their cities and communities. 

Love and Peace.

Using business skills for social good

Last week I was informed by a good friend that Northwest University in Kirkland, Wa. is getting set to launch a new and Master’s program in Social Entrepreneurship.  This is a great opportunity for someone who desires to one day start a non-profit, or for urban pastors who are realizing the cultural changes taking place and the need for a shift in some of our approach to reaching our communities.

This Friday the 27th at 7pm, Northwest University will be hosting a free lecture with guest speaker Victoria Trabosh.  Victoria is the founder of Itafari, a non-profit working to help genocide survivors in Rwanda.  She has 31 years of business experience and now gives her life to helping others learn to use their skills in the world of social change.

It’s free, so if you’ve got a heart for this kind of thing and nothing else to do…you should go!  Here’s the link to register…

Love and Peace.

Changed

I came across this amazing and beautiful song  by Aaron Neiquist today.  I’ve spent some time praying as I listen to the words.  Very fitting for this Easter season.  Enjoy.

Love and Peace.

what kills more than war?

What’s one of the biggest killers in the world today?  Not war…not HIV…not abortion.  The lack of clean water.  That’s right, the stuff that came out of my shower head this morning to which I gave very little thought.  There are parts in the world where people are sick and dying at growing rates because they just don’t have enough access to clean water.  But people and organizations like Charity : Water are doing much to bring hope and change.

Today is World Water Day. 

I encourage you to take 3 minutes to watch this thought-provoking video from the people of Charity : Water and then pray about doing something to help.  It doesn’t have to be big to start…maybe it’s just praying for a compassionate heart…maybe it means altering the use of your surplus of cleqan water…maybe you’ll find yourself on a plane one day to Central Africa building wells. 

Love and Peace.