Yesterday I left my office around noon and walked the four blocks to the capital to welcome the NAACP on their 120 mile march from Ferguson to Jefferson City and to stand with them, pray, and listen as they called for change, accountability, and justice in policing and racial equality. My heart has been unbearably heavy the past 120 days since the killing of Michael Brown, as it’s torn a part a community I love and have served in several weeks over the last five years, as it’s highlighted the pain and injustice that has gone on since the foundation of this country, and as bias, discrimination, and the lack of love and understanding has been expressed in very impersonal and insensitive ways by many in the body of Christ and abroad that seem to negate the truth that Michael Brown’s mother reiterated yesterday that “all lives matter”. I sat in the bottom floor rotunda waiting among several high school students and teachers from East Saint Louis. And then we heard it. They were here. A roar outside above us that echoed through the corridors, into the dome and suffused every floor. “No justice, no peace” they cried over and over. When the doors opened protestors entered quietly and after several minutes NAACP chairman Roslyn Brock began with prayer, pleading, “O God of justice, hear our cries.” next to a hallway with an inscription above it that read, “Lord God of hosts be with us yet, lest we forget.”
No justice, no peace. I’ve heard and seen this phrase thousands of times since August 9th and I can’t shake it, nor should I. The truth is always clear and it always compels us into change that feels impossible. and thus, you cannot have absolute peace without justice, and you cannot have full justice without peace. Both hang in balance and anything short of complete peace and justice is momentary, insatiable, or counterfeit.
I’ve been reading a little book that’s rocking my world that was published a few years ago called Deepening the Soul for Justice by Bethany Hoang, a director of Biblical Justice at International Justice Mission (an organization you must check out, if anything). As I finished it this afternoon in a puddle of convicted and passionate tears, I remembered this coming week of advent was focused on celebrating Christ birth in the posture of peace. And while the book centralizes over the issue of justice, God has quickened my spirit to share with you some of Hoang’s thoughts, as it speaks indirectly of His peace. We wait on both and we cannot focus solely on peace in the coming week without the truth of God’s justice pressing in behind it. So in this season of finding peace in the second week of advent we must worship wholly in His peace and not dismiss His justice as they are connected; strung together at the ribs, tugging at one, beckoning the other.
Hoang writes on Transforming Justice:
“Seeking justice doesn’t begin at the door of a brothel. Seeking justice begins with seeking the God of justice.
For most followers of Jesus, the difference between a pursuit of justice that brings transformation for real people suffering real violence and a pursuit of justice that amounts to little more than good intentions is simple – perhaps even simpler than we want it to be. The difference is found at our starting point, every single day. It begins with the choices we make, large or small, all day long.
Fighting injustice – the abuse of power that oppresses the vulnerable through violence and lies- can be excruciatingly hard work. It can be exhausting. It is relentless. But Jesus offers to make our burdens light, even the burden of fighting injustice.
And so, seeking justice -bringing right order and exerting life-giving power to protect the vulnerable- does not begin at the threshold of abuse. Seeking justice begins with seeking God: our God who longs to bring justice; our God who longs to use us, every one of his children, to bring justice; our God who offers us the yoke of Jesus in exchange for things that otherwise leave us defeated.”
In contrast, if we want true peace to rule in our hearts as exhorted in Colossians 3:15, we must first seek the God of peace. Are you scrambling to be the fixer of your family’s problems or allowing fear and pain to reign in a place in your life Christ has clearly stamped, covered, and taken care of? If your life is lacking peace, seek first the God of peace; He promises to dwell in us richly.
“Prayer is the work of being still before the God who knows more of the reality of injustice than we will ever know, the God who alone can move and act through us to bring about greater levels of transformation than we could ever begin to dream on our own. … Praying through the calendar of meetings and projects for the day ahead. Praying through and releasing to God all that weighs us down as we enter and try to engage this work. We release and in so doing, we receive.
Contrary to what might seem logical, sabbath stopping is not meant primarily to help us “rest up” so we are ready for the next challenge; it is not meant to be pragmatic toward another end. The resting and stopping of sabbath are intended as being good in and of themselves – complete. They are a declaration of all that has come before as belonging to God, and a declaration that all that is left undone and all that lies ahead also belongs to God. All is from God and for God and by God. Sabbath is a declaration that it is God alone who reigns supreme in this day.
… Foolish as it seemed, it became clear to me that this command to “stop”, to “rest”, to “cease” and to be still is a command that pervades scripture. Nearly every issue that the Israelites faced – idolatry, murder, coveting, grumbling, lying – could be linked to their root disobedience of not keeping the sabbath and therefore not trusting God above all else. Exile, captivity by foreign rulers, even their oppression and enslavement of their own kin and neighbors had some link back to their unwillingness to obey God’s fourth commandment to honor the sabbath and keep it holy. Disobedience of the sabbath was, at root, a manifestation of both idolatry and injustice in the life of God’s people.
… Prayer in many moments can all too easily feel like an interruption. It feels inefficient and ineffective. Sometimes it might even feel irresponsible in the face of truly urgent matters. And that is exactly why the sabbath rhythm exists. When we least feel that we have time to stop is likely when we most need to do precisely that – stop. Without moments and days of intentional sabbath, I am bound again to the treadmill of prayerless striving.
… In Psalm 62 David exhort is to “trust in the Lord at all times … pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.” It would seem David makes a fundamental connection between choosing to trust in the Lord and pouring out our hearts. On the one hand, we cannot pour out our hearts to God if we do not trust God. On the other hand, we cannot learn to trust God unless we pour out our hearts to him. We cannot pour out our hearts to God until we have stopped what we are doing and intentionally rest in God’s presence. And we cannot rest in God’s presence -stopping from our busyness and efforts to make a difference and seeking to know God and God’s power above all- if we do not trust that God goes before and behind us, making a way, doing his work of justice through us, able to accomplish more than all we could ever ask or imagine. And we cannot trust God’s presence and power at work in our midst unless we actually stop and rest with God, allowing God to speak to us and even to show us his hand at work beyond us.”
In order to see and receive God’s peace, carve out true rest to lean into the Lord in prayer, not only to be heard, but to also hear. I love her line, “we release and in so doing, we receive.” Prayer is a spiritual practice that can easily be left undisturbed and can easily strip the clarity of your calling down to doubt and despair. How often have we hurriedly prayed, asking for something specific, and we miss the moment of sweet communion, the peaceful refuge of his presence? Prayer is perhaps the greatest and most effective way to receive peace.
I discovered that God gives us a great gift when we simply allow ourselves to open his Word and sit with it. The gift is not marked solely by new insights, promises and proverbs, though the scriptures are full of each. In sitting with God’s word, God gives us himself. And in giving us himself, God enables us to see more of what God sees, and in the ways God sees. We don’t need to come with anything other than a willingness to let the Holy Spirit teach us and open our eyes as we read. God meets us in these small moments and draws us further into the riches of knowing him and his word.
… Above all, cultivating a love for God’s word is one of the most important daily practices we can engage as we pursue justice. It is also a way we can engage with others, growing through a community committed to deepening the spiritual roots of desire to do justice. The pursuit of justice is never meant to be done alone, nor is the pursuit of God. Even when I think I already know what a certain passage has to say, when I sit down with a good friend or group of people and we open God’s Word together, even the most read and reread passages of Scripture take on fresh life. And when we begin to read and see Scripture -whether alone or with others- through the lens of grappling with the overwhelming reality of pain and injustice in our world today, God’s Word pierces through murky waters and seemingly impossible darkness with blazing clarity.
When you don’t know what to do about injustice, when you don’t know how to press on, when you’d rather shrink back or even -perhaps especially- when you’re ready to charge forward, open God’s Word. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you – this will draw you nearer to understanding justice first in the hear of God and next in our own lives. And the questions we bring to God with his Word will form each of us to reflect more and more of God’s heart for all people.”
This is so straightforward: peace is found in his Word, God reveals himself to us through his Word. I struggle with daily routine and this is reflected in my spiritual life as well, so it is always a conscious choice to spend time in the word for me. And in seasons where I am doing this daily, are seasons my soul has ceased less and less. In this season of advent, let’s be determined to examine His word more closely, more preciously, in the truth that this is the well our souls need to drink deeply and find refuge.
“God is greatly concerned with injustice that he continually invites his children to face darkness for the purpose of sending us in to scatter it. As we choose to face grave darkness in our broken world, one of the best ways to combat our own pendulum swings between apathy on the one hand and despair on the other is to also intentionally choose hope. Hope can be impotently naive and moorless when pursued as nothing more than a sentimental wish. But when hope is grounded in the reality of who God is and the reality of how God works in our world, it becomes a source of great power in the face of even the darkest circumstances.
Put simply, we are never first on the scene of anything in our world today, be it our personal lives or the lives of people across the globe. when we encounter injustice, whether in story or face-to-face, we are encountering a reality that God knows to its deepest depths. And when God invites us to act in the face of injustice, God is inviting us to join the work he is already doing. Our God is always first on the scene, but he chooses to draw us in and use us as his vessels. We serve a God who has already seen, already heard; God who is ready to send us. Above all, we serve a God whose glory cannot be quenched. Hope in our God’s glory will never disappoint (Romans 5:1-5).
… The choice to pray, to ask of God, to listen for his voice, leads up to encounter hope that trumps our temptation to despair. In prayer we are reminded that decades and even centuries of injustice sometimes take great time and persevering work to reverse. And so we wait in prayer with hope. We keep asking God and listen with great expectation. We bring God our hope for little girls locked in darkness. Hope for the slave trapped by viciously brutal owners. Hope for the unjustly accused. We pray with hope as Paul instructs, without ceasing.
… Choose to face darkness. Choose to cast despair to the wayside. Choose to let God lead you above all else. Choose hope.
When we look at the state of the world, especially these days it seems, it can look devastating and the idea for peace on a global scale looks impossible. When Christ returns to judge the living and the dead, justice will be served, fully and completely. Peace will be restored, fully and completely. The Kingdom is here and also not yet. And so these afflictions, wars, natural disasters are “the beginning of birth pains” for Christ’s return (Matthew 24:8). Our task is clear: to share a Gospel of peace, a Gospel of justice, a Gospel of reconciliation. It is hard to bear witness and take action against sin in the word, but we must not despair. We must choose hope and the truth that total peace is in store.
“Mark Labberton writes, “Christian worship corporate and individual can and should be one of the most profound and relevant responses to power abuse in the world. In worship we cast our lives upon the faithful and just power of God When we do so, we oppose all acts of unjust power.” This kind of worship is not easy. It is rarely comfortable and barely rational and yet it is the way the church has been called to move.
… Worship in the pursuit of justice roots us in truth, which is essential to our spiritual sustenance. Seeking justice without worship leaves attending to the second greatest commandment by bypassing the first. This pathway risks the unveiling of a new kind of legalism in our hearts. This new legalism is expressed in a ruthless pursuit of justice that stems from a heart that has not itself been examined for its own injustice.
… Worship in the pursuit of justice also has the power to connect us to one another. history is full of stories of justice heroes whose lives serve as a benchmark for the hopes of this generation. Heroes like William Wilberforce, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Tubman, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Sojourner Truth, and Martin Luther King Jr. are each rightly remembered for their leadership and inspiring voices. But what and whom -worship of the true God of justice- stands behind these leaders is often what gets missed.
In worship, our individual doubts seem less dramatic and lose power. When we look and listen and join with community around us, we will realize that we are not alone. The justice journey is corporate. Worship in the pursuit of justice not only connects us to one another. Perhaps most important, worship connects us -all of us, regardless of our particular gifts and skills and role in the fight- to the oppressed.
Worship is our well of peace and justice and we are meant to drink of it together. Whatever is unfolding in your life this week that is unbearable, I pray that you find his peace in his presence and that you would be both blessed by and a blessing to God as you worship with other believers this advent season.
“Every year that passes I become more and more aware of my need to be committed to practices that help me remember and in turn live in the reality of God’s promises. If we are going to persevere in telling stories of God’s faithfulness, we must ourselves remember God’s faithfulness. God’s abundant grace. The hope of God’s glory that will never disappoint. If we are going to persevere in bringing and end to injustice, we must continually remember the reality of injustice and the overriding reality of our God who loves justice.
When and if we open ourselves up to see inhumanity and injustice around the globe, “man’s inhumanity to man” can all too easily become crushing. Unbearable. Paralyzing. Even numbing. It can evoke utter despair. And yet God asks us, as those would take up our cross and follow Jesus to Golgotha, to allow ourselves to be drawn into the pain of suffering and violence.
Let it break our hearts. Even to lead other to these places of pain.
Yes, we are called to “bear witness” but our witness must not end with observation or with unbearable pain as the final word. We are called to live as those who, in the midst of the unbearable, in the midst of pain, do not shrink back but rather rise up.
We are called to rise up, engage injustice, take “the pain of man’s inhumanity to man” and bring it to the foot of the cross. At the cross we meet the God who drew near to us without fear. We meet the God who moved toward the oppressed. We meet the God who joyfully submitted to bearing all our sin, all our shame, all our burdens; the God who offers us his yoke, who makes our burdens light. At the cross we can proclaim with boldness the call of the psalms and the prophets, “I will remember the deeds of the Lord” (Psalm 77:11)
May we make choices every day that move us toward the God who alone can deepen the passion and conviction of his calling on our lives, the God who alone can sustain us; our God who will cleanse us from broken-hearted fear and despair; our God who, when we simply ask, will surely make us people who are marked and moved by great hope, courage and, above all, love.
May we move forward with deep roots, filled with the Holy Spirit, sustained by knowing the only hope that never disappoints -the hope of God’s glory, the hope of God’s healing, the hope of God’s kingdom, now and to come.
You are invited.”
Simply put: if that doesn’t make your heart want to explode with passion, I can’t think of a single thing in Christendom that will. This is the good stuff, people. The hard, good, beautiful stuff. It is at the foot of the cross that peace and justice meet in perfect harmony.
When I left the capital, my heart heavy, wondering how my country will ever be able to have a space for clear and respectful dialog about race, I wanted to despair. I wanted to give up caring about things I don’t know how to fix. I wanted to fold my arms around Michael Brown’s momma and tell her that if I could carry a little bit of her sorrow to ease the unbearable weight of loss, I would. But I couldn’t. Because two thousand years ago a whole nation waited to see an end to all the injustice, for a ruler to rise up and lead their people out of a season of silence and oppression. And yet one day, their answer came as a tiny baby, where nothing good came out of his home town, who grew steadily in wisdom in stature, who at the right time, proclaimed peace and justice, and proclaimed a Gospel that never overthrew a government, or eradicated disease, or ended suffering in the way Israel thought it would look like. But through obedience and self-sacrifice, he conquered death and gave his Spirit to guide those who would believe in Him. He is our salvation, he is our hope, he is our righteousness, he is our peace.
“Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.” Romans 5:1
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” John 14:27
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Romans 15:13
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” Corinthians 4:16-18
“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11
I pray that where injustices arise, that the body of Christ would rise up and be the Gospel reconcilers of our day, that we would also be the blessed peacemakers of Matthew 5 and comfort and restore our brothers. May we understand in word and action that we cannot have justice without peace, and peace without justice. May we long for Christ’s righteousness and truth to reign in our hearts and in our communities this Christmas. I pray that every day we would stop, see, choose, proclaim, and remember the justice and peace the Lord has for his creatures that Hoang has so beautifully pointed out.
If you are going through the unbearable this Christmas, if you are grieving, or alone, sick, oppressed, or waiting on something that seems out of your reach, I pray that you cling to these truths and that you will not succumb to despair. Christ is our peace and he longs to give you unlimited access to himself, if you are willing.
In the face of great darkness, let us worship with great might.
All is well, all is well
Angels and men rejoice
For tonight darkness fell
Into the dawn of love’s light
Sing A-le, sing Alleluia
All is well, all is well
Let there be peace on Earth
Christ has come go and tell
That He is in the manger
Sing A-le, sing Alleluia
All is well, all is well
Lift up your voice and sing
Born is now Emmanuel
Born is our Lord and Savior
Sing Alleluia, sing Alleluia, all is well