Friday, March 14, 2008


i started this as an email to some friends and then it just got too big, so it's going here.

those of you that i've talked to recently know that i'm a bit skeptical about a lot of the i guess what you'd call 'emergent' philosophies on the church's role in dealing with poverty and social problems. i'm not sure if i believe that 'another world is possible' unless this other world is the world to come.

i worry sometimes that we forget about the intense starvation of the soul lacking true connection with God and others, that often, but not always comes along with physical needs. i really do believe that we're all broken and inherently messed-up, and because of that, every society on this earth is just as broken.

i look at my kids on sunday morning and their broken families where mom is drunk and dad isn't there and the older brothers and the uncles are in prison. i look at their apartment where there's no furniture, just air mattresses and a tv. they don't have much, but what they're starving for is love and some kind of meaning and sense of connection, because for them, that doesn't exist.

so i try my best to do both. they learn about God and everything he's done for them, but i also make them lunch, hook them up with art supplies (they have playstations but no crayons), and just give them a safe place to hang out and talk about what's going on with them while i have the chance to. a lot of the time, kids in this neighborhood end up moving and disappearing and no one ever sees them again.

what i want them to look back on though, is not the crafts we did or the hot chocolate i made, the games of checkers. i want to be sure they know that they are loved by God and that they know how to love him back.

and this summer, with my loans being paid off by the end of the month, i'm praying about moving down there, living in this neighborhood instead of driving in every sunday morning. i'm already checking out apartments and seeing what the options are.

so with these rambling thoughts in mind, that's why this segment of a john piper talk really jumped out at me and hit me where i needed it.

the full part is here, but this is what really grabbed me:

Calls to Repentance

Now there are only a few branches that spring up out of the trunk of God's wrath, only a few calls to repentance. One we saw in 5:6, "Seek the Lord and live." So there is hope for the converted. But 5:14, 15 make it clear that conversion is more than just changing your mind about God. It means exchanging love of comfort for love of goodness and justice. Amos says,

Seek good, and not evil, that you may live, and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, as you have said. Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

O, to have a church full of people who don't care if they live in comfort, but who hate evil, love good, and who devote themselves to establish justice in the gate! People who feel grief and indignation not just when their right to get rich is threatened, but also when children die of starvation and anyone dies without salvation.

What does it mean to have justice established in the gate? I don't think it means to have a society without distinctions, but a society without oppression. No more exploitation; no more small print in the contracts; no more price-manipulating monopolies; no more Marie Antoinettes who say of the poor, "Let them eat cake." And no more Robin Hoods who steal from the rich. No more central socialist committees who hold a gun to your head and tell you how much of yours is really your neighbor's, and no more fat capitalistic cats who walk by Lazarus every day on their way to work off their latest five pounds of wine on the silver running machine. No more false advertising; no more slipshod workmanship at $30 an hour. When every wage is fair, every contract is plain, every agreement is kept, and everyone strives for the advancement of his fellow man and not just his own—and all to the glory of God, then justice will be established in the gate.

And how shall we do it? By striving to produce men and women whose hearts are aflame with the righteousness of God. And by struggling together to know what elements of righteousness should be enacted into civil law. When a slumlord gouges a Laotian family with exorbitant rent in the Phillips neighborhood, it is not necessarily because of bad laws; it's because of a bad man. Therefore, we must guard ourselves against the naïve idea that those who work for rent control at city hall are necessarily working harder to establish justice than those who work to convert evil men so that their hearts and business practices will ring with the righteousness of Christ.

If America stays free—which, by the way, is not the main goal of the church but, I pray, a happy byproduct—if America stays free, it will not be because Christian right-wingers push through a prayer amendment, or because Christian left-wingers push through bigger government subsidies for housing and health and jobs. It will be because the salt of the earth and the light of the world have exerted such a profound spiritual effect on the heart and soul of the nation that men and women feel pangs of conscience when contracts are broken, and refugees are gouged, and prices are inflated, and workmanship is shabby, and babies are intentionally aborted.

Constraining civil laws are necessary in a fallen world. But if violations of love are not treated at the spiritual spring, then the river of evil that flows out of man's heart will break through every legal dam and sweep the world away with injustice. One group on earth has this potential and this mission—the Church of Jesus Christ. If we are not wholeheartedly engaged in this indispensable spiritual work, no one else will do it, for no one else has the message of redemption. And justice will most assuredly, then, not be established in the gate. And then, who will stand when the Lord roars from Zion?

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