Advent: Does God Care About Social Justice? Part 3

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Israel’s Hope

How do we get ready for God’s coming?

This question pulsed at the heart of Jewish hope. After Israel had been defeated and exiled from her homeland (first by Assyria in 722 BC, then by Babylonia in 586 BC), it seemed like God had disappeared. Ezekiel wrote the dark words, “Then the glory of the Lord departed” (Ezekiel 10:18).

But the prophets promised that God would finally “return” and make everything right. Isaiah foresaw valleys being filled in and mountains being leveled to “prepare the way for the Lord.” At last, “the glory of the Lord” would be “revealed” and the good news would be shouted, “Here is your God!” (Isaiah 40:1-9).

So if God is coming, how do we get ready? This question was burning in many Jews’ hearts in the first century. They were groaning under Roman occupation, and many people believed that “the Day of the Lord” was finally dawning.

Jesus’s Coming

Of course, this is also the question of Christian “Advent.”

Advent is a Latin word that simply means “coming.” And the Advent season celebrates the central mystery of the Christian faith: the “coming” of Jesus was really the coming of God... Read More

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I write to help people stop and think, and thus to restart and live more thoughtful, loving, deeply human lives with others. As you stop and think with me, I hope you discover new beginnings that enrich and enlarge your love.

Does God Care About Social Justice? Part 2

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Last week, I asked, “Does God care about social justice?”

The Prophet Isaiah answers with a thunderous Yes. God not only cares about social justice. God cares about it infinitely more than our traditional religious practices like celebrating holidays, going to church, giving offerings, praying, and fasting (Isaiah 1:12-17; 58:1-12). In fact, when our faith is disconnected from justice for outsiders and the oppressed, God says, “I hate [it] with all my being” (Isaiah 1:14).

But perhaps Isaiah’s passion for social justice was a bit “extreme.” How does his teaching compare with what God says through the other prophets?

This week, I want to show you three more examples of God’s passion for social justice in the Bible.

In the Prophet Hosea, God promises to “stop all of [Israel’s] celebrations” and “holidays” (2:11). He declares, “I also reject you as my priests” (4:6). Why such harsh judgment?

“For I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Hosea 6:6

What God really wants is compassionate care for others, especially the unwelcome and unworthy... Read More

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Does God Care About Social Justice?

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In my research and teaching, I’m always amazed by this trend: religious activity often correlates with forgetting what God really wants. We can fill our lives with church, singing, and prayer but miss the point.

Reading the biblical prophets reminds me of watching Wile E. Coyote chase Road Runner as a kid. The prophets try everything they can to break through to the people, sometimes going to ridiculous lengths. But their message rarely catches up as the people race through their routines.

The irony is that the people won’t listen because they’re already certain that they know what God wants, and they’re busy doing it. So they see these prophets as distractions or rebels, and diligently defend their orthodoxy.

Isaiah summarizes the problem like this:

“No one stops to think.” Isaiah 44:19

This is a wild and arresting biblical claim: we can be convinced that we’re running towards God but actually be running away from God. Devotion can be dangerous, if we’re not willing to stop and think about it... Read More

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I write to help people stop and think, and thus to restart and live more thoughtful, loving, deeply human lives with others. As you stop and think with me, I hope you discover new beginnings that enrich and enlarge your love.

Dakar’s New Humanity

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Last week, I spent five, full days with twenty-four African pastors and community leaders in Dakar, Senegal. Dakar is the westernmost tip of Africa, and I was invited to cross the continent to give these women and men an intensive course in Christian Ethics.

Many things from this intense week impressed and inspired me, including these leaders’ deep thoughtfulness and passion for their communities. But what moved me the most was
the thick sense of love and affection that grew between us as we studied, discussed (and debated!), broke bread, and went out into the community together.

Ten nations were represented in the classroom. We came from different languages, cultures, economic backgrounds, and theological opinions. For my part, I had never been to West Africa before, and my students were total strangers to me when I arrived. And yet by Friday afternoon, we embraced one another with the warmest sense of love and cherishing. In those five days, we had become a new family, and we already started missing one another before we even said goodbye... Read More

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I write to help people stop and think, and thus to restart and live more thoughtful, loving, deeply human lives with others. As you stop and think with me, I hope you discover new beginnings that enrich and enlarge your love.

Midterm Elections Prayer

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Dear friends,

We have just had our midterm election in the United States. This moment reminds me of Paul’s challenge to Christians living in the world’s superpower: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). J.B. Phillips’ old translation is striking: “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God re-mold your minds from within.”

Isn’t this the temptation facing Christians around the world? If we don’t rebelliously “renew our minds,” we easily get “squeezed” into the mold of some camp that promises us security and power. But in the process, we make a mockery of Christ’s cruciform lordship and his command to love our neighbors – especially our poor and oppressed neighbors – as ourselves. Before long, our minds conform, and our Christianity and culture become virtually indistinguishable. Values completely foreign to the New Testament – racial superiority, personal privilege, political power – claim our passionate allegiance... Read More

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I write to help people stop and think, and thus to restart and live more thoughtful, loving, deeply human lives with others. As you stop and think with me, I hope you discover new beginnings that enrich and enlarge your love.

Why Christians Should Celebrate the Rise of Women Leaders

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Ethiopian Women Rising

Ethiopia’s new Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, has been making inspiring reforms since he took office in early April. Most recently, Abiy’s reforms have included appointing women to senior positions of government leadership. These appointments have made history in Ethiopia and news around the world.

On October 16, Abiy appointed ten men and ten women to his 20-member cabinet with women now heading important federal ministries like defense, peace, trade, transport and labor, revenue, science, and culture. Abiy said in parliament, “Our women ministers will disprove the adage that women can’t lead.”

On October 24, Abiy appointed Sahle-Work Zewde, an experienced diplomat, to serve as Ethiopia’s first female president. Abiy’s spokesperson Fitsum Arega tweeted, “In a patriarchal society such as ours, the appointment of a female head of state not only sets the standard for the future but also normalizes women as decision-makers in public life.” That night my friend Eden told me, “The glass ceiling has been broken.”

Then on November 1, the Prime Minister appointed Meaza Ashenafi, a respected lawyer and champion of women’s rights, to serve as the President of Ethiopia’s Supreme Court... Read More

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I write to help people stop and think, and thus to restart and live more thoughtful, loving, deeply human lives with others. As you stop and think with me, I hope you discover new beginnings that enrich and enlarge your love.

U.S. Embassy Talk: Enemy Love

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Dear friends,

Last week, I gave you a window into the youth workshops that Dr. Tekalign Nega and I have started leading in Ethiopia with the U.S. Embassy. This week, I’m excited to share some of that content with you. You can read my brief message on the common good and enemy-love below or, if you have Facebook, watch the video (starting at minute 21) here.

Have a great week,

Andrew

The New Ethiopia

Prime Minister Abiy has called for a “new Ethiopia.” What is the new Ethiopia, and what does it require to become possible?

I believe two things are essential for the flourishing of a new Ethiopia and renewal in any society: the common good and enemy-love. In this essay, let me briefly unpack these two ideas.

The Common Good

Humans are creatures driven by what we love. When we talk about “the good,” we’re using another name for what we consider worthy of our love. And what we love is what we give ourselves to... Read More

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I write to help people stop and think, and thus to restart and live more thoughtful, loving, deeply human lives with others. As you stop and think with me, I hope you discover new beginnings that enrich and enlarge your love.

Meet My Newest Friend, Ferdosa

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Meet my new friend Ferdosa from Dire Dawa in eastern Ethiopia. She inspires me, and I’m excited to tell you how we met – and why we’re holding hands.

This week, Tekalign Nega and I embarked on a new collaboration with the US Embassy here in Addis. We’re calling the project “Youth, Public Life, and the New Ethiopia.” In short, for the next eight months, we’re leading a series of workshops for youth around the country to promote the common good and human flourishing. Seventy million of Ethiopia’s 105 million people are below the age of 25, so youth like Ferdosa are extremely important for Ethiopia’s present and future.

Ethiopia has been journeying through a painful period of intense social and political upheaval for the last several years. In its wake, this year Ethiopia registered the largest number of internally displaced people in the world – more than Syria, Congo, and other war-torn countries. Much of this violence has been fueled by communal hatred and conflict, so our workshops are meant to create a safe space for Ethiopian youth to ask big questions, discover fresh perspectives, and imagine a new future as Ethiopia stands at the crossroads... Read More

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I write to help people stop and think, and thus to restart and live more thoughtful, loving, deeply human lives with others. As you stop and think with me, I hope you discover new beginnings that enrich and enlarge your love.

What Is Truly Important in Life? Jesus’s First Sermon

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Jesus’s Debut

Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount was his first major teaching in public according to his biographer Matthew. In contemporary language, it was his debut, his launch party, his initial public offering.

Matthew tells us that Jesus had been healing “all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering from severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed” (4:24). Jesus imbedded himself with the down and out, and he offered them liberation.

Unsurprisingly, then, Jesus was attracting “large crowds” from all over Syria, Israel, and the surrounding region (4:25). People were traveling to see him. The enthusiasm around  Osho in the documentary Wild, Wild Country comes to mind. Jesus was quickly becoming a celebrity minister, a superstar.

So when Jesus goes on the public record, what does he say? What does Jesus consider most important for these “large crowds” to hear as his new ministry surges with success?

Perhaps we can reorient our priorities today around what is truly important based on Jesus’s message... Read More

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I write to help people stop and think, and thus to restart and live more thoughtful, loving, deeply human lives with others. As you stop and think with me, I hope you discover new beginnings that enrich and enlarge your love.

A Wedding Homily for the Shadid Family

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Dear friends,

Andrew and Maryam Shadid graciously asked for me to officiate their beautiful wedding. With their permission, I’m sharing the homily below in hopes it would encourage others.

As always, I love hearing from you. Please don’t hesitate to drop a quick note or ask a question.

Yours,
Andrew

*****

Two thousand years ago, history changed forever. A revolution of self-giving love began in the heart of the human condition that opened the way to eternal life. And I believe that this ancient revolution shows us God’s design for holy marriage still today.

In occupied Bethlehem, under the shadow of a violent empire, Jesus was born to poor parents, Joseph and Mary. Before Jesus was born, his passionate mother sang a prophetic song about how her son would turn things upside down, bringing good news to the poor, hungry, and powerless.

And Mary was right. When he was just a little older than Andrew and Maryam, Jesus began preaching and embodying God’s love and justice for the poor, oppressed, and powerless... Read More

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I write to help people stop and think, and thus to restart and live more thoughtful, loving, deeply human lives with others. As you stop and think with me, I hope you discover new beginnings that enrich and enlarge your love.