05 Sep


I’d like to invite you to consider a narrative way to think about the positions we take on issues where there are marginalized, oppressed, or powerless people involved.  This narrative arises from a compassionate God of justice who invites us to remember…and to participate.

We begin with a Hebrew root word — tsaaq.  This describes a cry or a shriek when an individual or a group of people are calling out desperately for help.  I will use the transliterated z’ekah here to describe this word as the act of crying out.

I invite you to follow this trajectory with me in God’s unfolding narrative.

After the fall of humanity… when sin has tainted God’s perfect creation, we see how quickly and how far humanity has fallen.

What began as an intimate partnership, in which Adam and Eve are invited to co-care for God’s creation, devolves into a tragic question that still plagues humanity today. It is a question on the lips of Cain who has just committed a tragic deed of injustice in murdering his brother. And here we come to our Hebrew word – z’ekah The blood of Abel z’ekah’d to God.  It’s a strange description but the powerless blood of dead Abel cried out for justice in the face of a horrific oppression.  Perhaps more disturbing is Cain’s response – a tragic question posed to the Creator – Am I my brother’s keeper?  Injustice. Apathy. Failure to take responsibility. Tragedy.

After Israel has been enslaved for 430 years in Egypt…when sin has tainted God’s perfect creation…

One group of people decides to take advantage of another group of people who are “strangers” in their land to accomplish their own desires. And before they know it , the community of Israelites find themselves on the “wrong” side of “The Egyptian Dream.”  They are powerless.  Strangers. Aliens. Israel is forced into slave labor where their only value is measured in bricks…and more bricks…and more bricks.  And what do they do after 4 centuries? They z’ekah.  And God heard their cry.  And He acted upon their cry.  God was on the side of the powerless and oppressed.  To be on the wrong side of power was disastrous times ten for Egypt.

After Israel is free and will eventually be given a land to inhabit…when sin has tainted God’s perfect creation…

Israel is blessed. But not because Israel is elite or better than.  Israel is blessed so it can be a blessing to the world – a light to the Gentiles. To do that God says remember.  Remember where you came from.  You once cried out.  You were rescued. And now you are to answer the cries, the z’ekah of the oppressed, the poor, the marginalized, the powerless.

God makes it plain.

“Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.  Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless.  If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry.  My anger will be aroused…”. (Ex. 22:22-24)

You once z’ekah’d. I answered your z’ekah.

You are now called to participate with me in answering the z’ekah of others.
If you take advantage of them, they will z’ekah to me.
I will hear them.
This will be disastrous for you.
Because you will have forgotten what it means to participate in my story.
You will have forgotten what it means to know me.

After God puts on flesh and enters the world through Jesus…when sin has tainted God’s perfect creation…

Jesus sat at table with the poor, the marginalized, the outcast, the oppressed, the powerless. He practiced a compassion, inclusion, embrace, and grace to all who z’ekah’d, in a way the world had never seen.  He defied religious etiquette and social boundaries to show the extent of God’s love and compassion. He built larger tables, greater expectations, and broader grace. And the “religious” rejected him.  Before crying out from a cross of execution, Jesus z’ekah’d what it meant to know him and to participate with him in his story.

I was a stranger and you invited me in. (Matt. 25:35)

I was an alien. I cried out.
You heard my z’ekah. You participated in my story.
You sided with the oppressed. You identified with the marginalized…no matter the cost.
You were your brother’s and sister’s keeper…no matter the risk.
You practiced compassion. You practiced justice.
You remembered.

Yes, that was me.
This is what it meant and what it means to know me.
Let’s do this.  Let’s co-care for creation. Together.

Now. Forever.

24 Apr


One of my favorite things about following Jesus is this:  There. Is. Always. More.

Let those words sink in for a moment.  No matter where you are in your journey right now, these words are true.

But it’s so easy to settle. Perhaps because we’re satisfied far too easily.  We find ourselves glazed over staring at a screen in our hand. Measuring our worth in “likes.” Just doing the minimum. Checking off the boxes.

This lyric in Derek Webb’s song, Wedding Dress, captures it bluntly:

“I am so easily satisfied
by the call of lovers so less wild
That I would take a little cash
Over your very flesh and blood”

We seem to so easily trade the real for the artificial.  This is the work of a thief determined to “steal, kill, and destroy” (John 10:10) fullness of life that has been offered by the author of life to each of us.

It seems that more times than not it’s subtle. Vibrant faith gradually becoming jaded. Joy creeping toward cynicism. Passion devolving into boredom. “This is as good as it gets,” the enemy whispers.  Slowly stealing life, killing hope, and eroding confidence in the Father’s life-giving grace.

The thief enters by “some other way” (John 10:1).  His desire is to infiltrate.  His hope is for the sheep to slowly begin to trust his voice. His determination is to lead the sheep astray – away from the shepherd who knows them best and knows what’s best for them.

In response to the thief’s mission, Jesus announces his own. “I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).  Not just any life and not just easy life. Fullness of life. Beautifully messy life that allows us to awaken each day with what author Mark Batterson calls “holy anticipation.”

This is why Jesus describes himself with two metaphors in John 10. He is “gate” and “shepherd.”   Life through him. Life with him.

This is a gate that, when entered, awakens dreams that have slumbered.  A shepherd who rekindles hopes that have smoldered. A Jesus who speaks life into the dead places of our lives. He is risen. And he is raising you. All of you. To life. To full life.  Now. Forever.

He is a lover of you. Refuse to settle for any “lover less wild.”  Wake up. Rise up. Experience life the way He designed. Full. Free. And embracing that…there is always more.

30 Jan

The Refugee

Many stories about refugees have been emerging over the past few days. You may have heard this one but it’s worth sharing again.

An evil leader in a small middle eastern town caused local terror by doing the unthinkable – killing infants. One of the families there was able to miraculously escape by crossing the border with their infant. They fled to a nearby country that they hoped beyond hope would take them in as refugees. The irony was that this country had once enslaved their ancestors, creating a tension that made everyone extremely uncomfortable. Thankfully, because this receiving country apparently had reasonable policies in place despite this historic tension, they took them in. And the family found life-saving refuge.

Some have debated the claim. But let’s be clear.

Jesus was a refugee.

And the implications mean something for today.

Make no mistake. Mary and Joseph fled from terror with an infant Jesus. Egypt had every reason to refuse them because of extreme past tension. They did not. Perhaps they actually had reasonable policies in place.

Either way, could they have ever known that as they allowed them entry, they were opening their doors to the Savior of the world?  Oh the irony. This same nation whose leader had once killed Hebrew babies now took in a Hebrew baby whose own leader was killing…Hebrew babies.

“But that was another time, different circumstances, and THAT infant was the actual Messiah,” we might all too quickly object. And then we remember.  We remember that refugee infant who was given refuge and grew into an adult rabbi who described the implications of caring for and not caring for the “least of these.”

Jesus: “Whatever you did/didn’t do for the least of these, you did/didn’t do for me.”

The religious: “But we didn’t realize that was YOU.”

Jesus: “It was.”

Yes, there are “least of these” everywhere. Right here in our own cities.  All around the world.

And then, there are some who are desperately fleeing terror looking for refuge. Helpless. Hopeless. Innocent.

Sure they could go looking for refuge somewhere else. We could debate whether or not they should or even could. But for very legitimate reasons many seek refuge in the United States of America, a country built upon open hearts and open arms. A country built upon equality and justice for all. A nation with the responsibility of recognizing itself as blessed, not for itself alone, but for the purpose of being a compassionate presence back to the world.

There are parallels.

God gave Israel some pretty specific warnings about never forgetting that they were not to be exclusive but always “a light to the Gentiles.” He reminded them constantly that they themselves were once slaves in Egypt (sound familiar?) who “cried out” for refuge. He reminded them to never forget the outsiders, the marginalized, and oppressed. Never. Ever. Forget. Because if they did, God made it plain they were living outside the purpose for which they were created.

But they forgot.

And when they did, God became flesh. To model an inclusive, embracing, even suffering love for the sake of the outsider, oppressed, poor, and marginalized. To answer that ancient, tragic question of Cain whose brother’s blood “cried out” for justice.  Am I my brother’s keeper?  An answer God would model in the flesh through Jesus with an emphatic, “YES! Always. Always. Always.”  And just when humanity narrowed “brother” or “neighbor” to blood relative or person next door or race or nation, Jesus shattered that border too.   THAT kind of boundary-shaking love got him put on a cross.

May we never forget.

As individuals. As the church. As a nation. May we not screen out Jesus, who didn’t just live in the flesh 2000 years ago, but in many faces, colors, and nationalities, stands at the borders yet again as an innocent refugee.

May we open our hearts, our eyes, our arms, and our homes. May we not live in fear. But in hope. Yes, secure the borders rationally, be responsible, and oppose terror and injustice diligently. But not at the expense of the helpless. Not even for a day.