Last night

Grateful for my District Church community and the ways we’re growing together. And I believe we’re just getting started. There’s more to come.

The gospel is courageous

Archbishop Oscar Romero; April 16, 1978:Romero

A church that doesn’t provoke any crises,
a gospel that doesn’t unsettle,
a word of God that doesn’t get under anyone’s skin,
a word of God that doesn’t touch the real sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed —
what gospel is that?

Very nice, pious considerations that don’t bother anyone,
that’s the way many would like preaching to be.
Those preachers who avoid every thorny matter
so as not to be harassed,
so as not to have conflicts and difficulties,
do not light up the world they live in.

They don’t have Peter’s courage, who told that crowd where the bloodstained hands still were that had killed Christ: “You killed him!” Even though the charge could cost him his life as well, he made it.

The gospel is courageous;
it’s the good news of him who came to take away the world’s sins.

Ferguson, a broken world, and the authority of Jesus

On Sunday, I preached from Luke 4:31-44 on Jesus’ authority and healing. Last night, the grand jury returned a decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown. I’m still processing and praying through this, still figuring out how I’m supposed to respond. I didn’t write my message or preach with the Ferguson decision in mind, but I guess there was a reason God wanted me to be thinking these things through before yesterday evening. What I do know is that we live in a fallen world, where authority is not always exercised justly and healing is an ever-present need.

So here’s an excerpt from Sunday’s message — “The Authority of Jesus, a.k.a. Kicking Butt and Taking Names.” (You can listen to the full sermon here.)

Preaching, Nov 23, 2014

I’m sure we can all call to mind people in positions of authority; we might think of the President, Members of Congress, judges, police officers, teachers, or doctors. And we might also be able to call to mind what it looks like when folks abuse their authority—the Watergate scandal, for instance; corrupt government officials who line their pockets at the expense of those they’re supposed to be serving; doctors who take advantage of their patients or teachers who take advantage of their students.

But just like sin is not just the things we do but also the things we should do but we don’t, when those in authority don’t exercise it when they should, that’s also a problem: recently, the police in Hong Kong chose not to intervene when peaceful protesters were attacked; or the last four years have seen the most unproductive sessions of Congress in recent history—and, given that there’s so much still to do, I think we have the responsibility to call our elected representatives to use their authority to better serve the common good. Because, in fact, everyone exercises some sort of authority: parents over their children, celebrities over their fans, pastors over their congregations, voters over their representatives, and so on.

The biblical understanding of authority is much like the non-biblical understanding of authority, in that it’s connected to power, particularly to the legitimate use of power, and it could simply be defined as the “right to effect control over objects, individuals or events.” But the biblical understanding of authority is much more than that, too. It goes right back to creation, when God created human beings in his image—to be like him—and said to them, in Genesis 1:28:

Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.

That’s God delegating power so that the world might flourish, so that God’s kingdom might be seen on earth, so that all might be in right relationship with God, with one another, and with creation.

That’s the purpose of authority: that humanity might flourish.

That’s how authority should be measured: does it move us closer to God’s kingdom on earth?

In Jesus, we find the truest embodiment of authority rightly and responsibly exercised. Everything Jesus said and did brought more of up there down here. Theologian Darrell Bock writes:

Evil has severe angst in the presence of righteousness ready to be exercised.

When authority is rightly and responsibly exercised by a president, by a legislator, by a judge, by an officer of the law, by a teacher, by a doctor, by a nurse, by a famous person, by a parent, by a pastor, by you in whatever capacity you have been given a measure of control—when authority is rightly and responsibly exercised to bring more of God’s kingdom to earth, evil has severe angst.

Think about that: what you do matters; what you do with your life on the big picture level as well as what you do in your everyday has bearing on whether the kingdom of God advances or not. How you treat the homeless person you pass on the street; how much effort you put into your work; how much attention you give to your spouse; how you respond to people who are different from you or who disagree with you; how you forgive those who wrong you; how you deal with messing up—these are all instances where you can exercise the authority you’ve been given, and they all have bearing on whether the kingdom of God advances or not. What you do matters.

We inhabit what some theologians call the already-but-not-yet. See, the kingdom of God is at the same time past, present, and future. We know that Jesus came to earth, 2,000 years ago, and at that time, the kingdom of God entered into human history in a way it had never done before—the demons were cast out, the sick were healed, the truth of God and the word of God were embodied in a living, breathing human being—that’s the already. We know that Jesus will come again, to finish the work he started, setting all things right, reconciling all things to himself, bringing the fullness of heaven down to earth—but that is not yet here. And so in the present, in the here-and-now, the Holy Spirit is at work in us and through us—as the people of God and the body of Christ—revealing more of that same kingdom, proclaiming the good news of that kingdom, in the midst of the ravages of the Fall in sin and sickness and death.

Any healing that happens this side of Christ’s return points toward the story of the gospel and the renewal that has not yet come but is promised. But any healing that happens this side of Christ’s return will always be incomplete. We and our loved ones will still get sick, we will not always be healed, we will still die. But God’s story moves toward ultimate healing—no death, no sickness, no tears. It’s coming.

Lord Jesus, even as we give you thanks for living the life we could not live and dying the death we could not die and being raised to life that we might be made new, we long for you to come back.

In the here-and-now, break the chains of our sin and sickness and death. Heal us from the ravages of our wounds both physical and psychological, both mental and emotional. Liberate us from our addictions. Be the light in our darkness; be the hope in our disappointment; be the joy in our loss.

Set us free so that we might walk in the life you desire for us to live—life to the full, eternal life. Remind us that we live and move and have our being in Christ, that we have been given authority as image-bearers of the Most High, authority as redeemed children of our Father in heaven, authority as ambassadors of Christ in a hurting and broken world.

We pray these things in the name of the One who was wounded so that we might be made whole, in the power of the name of Jesus. Amen.

Ending poverty, ending violence

Locust Effect bannerMost people don’t live under the shelter of the law, but far from the law’s protection.

– United Nations


About seven years ago, I first learned about the horrors of human trafficking one Sunday at Ecclesia Hollywood.

Nearly 30 million people are currently enslaved.

About six years ago, I first read International Justice Mission President Gary Haugen’s book Good News About Injustice, and learned of the phenomenal work his organization is doing to combat modern day slavery and systemic oppression.

4 billion people are unprotected by the law … in
fear of everyday violence like rape, forced labor, and police abuse.

About five years ago, I first interned with Oasis USA, another anti-trafficking organization, and got even more educated about the issues, even more exposed to the brutality of bonded labor and sex trafficking.

For women ages 15-44, the odds of experiencing physical harm or death due to gender-based violence is greater than cancer, motor accidents, war, and malaria combined.

About four years ago, I moved to DC to work at Sojourners, an poverty-focused advocacy organization; I immersed myself in issues of justice and poverty, including systemic injustice and trafficking, and along the way, made a lot of friends who work(ed) at IJM.

Metro Cebu in the Philippines saw a 79% reduction in the availability of children for commercial sex after 4 years of IJM and local law enforcement partnering together.

Every year, I’ve learned something new, either about the brutal realities of injustice that plague people all over the world or about the tremendous work that is going on every day to bring light into dark places.

Gary Haugen’s new book, The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence, is out today, and it’s a good one, delving deeper than just quick fixes or band-aids, and challenging us both with the reality of how interconnected poverty and violence are and with the opportunity to change things for the better not just on an individual level but on the systemic level.

My old boss Jim Wallis likes to use the analogy of rescuing babies from a river. If you keep seeing babies floating down the river and you keep jumping in to save them, at some point you need to head upstream and stop whoever’s throwing them in!

This is the work of justice: not just rescuing those who are currently living under threat of poverty and the violence that accompanies it but also making sure that others never have to experience that life.

So what can we do? Awareness is the first step; action is the necessary second. Donors and development institutions can help by supporting the work of building professional and accountable police, and modern, functioning prosecutors, courts, and child welfare agencies.

  1. Awareness – Buy the book. Read it. Encourage others to understand the problem by doing the same. Check out the website.
  2. Spread the word – Tell your mom, your professor, and your barista. The global conversation needs your voice.
  3. Tell world leaders – Ask the world’s leaders to make this a priority. Start by signing the petition to the UN.
  4. DonateGive to help stop violence by donating to IJM’s life-changing work.

In short, I highly recommend Gary’s book and I strongly encourage you to go buy it.

Locust Effect badgeBONUS: If you buy your copy of The Locust Effect THIS WEEK, a generous friend of International Justice Mission will give $20 to IJM for every copy sold to help fight violence against the poor. What’s more, all the proceeds of the book’s sales will go toward the same cause.

Get educated. Get the book. Get involved.

Please.