More Thoughts on Justice

Last week I wrote a blog post reviewing the new book Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live & Die for Bigger Things by Ken Wytsma. Before you go on, please check that post out. It lays the groundwork for what I’m going to continue to talk about (and it includes a chance to win a copy of the book!).

Pursuing Justice really broadened my horizons on the concept of justice. Specifically, biblical justice – what God intended the word to mean & how it’s been twisted and misconstrued. Most people associate the word justice with the criminal justice system, or with “getting justice for someone/something.” Passed that, and for Christians specifically, I think we often fall into 2 camps:

  1. Those who view justice as some fringe concept mentioned from time to time in the Bible, but think that it doesn’t really apply to living our lives.
  2. Those of us who do value the concept of “justice” but who may have a much more narrow definition of justice. Continue reading
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Good Reads: Pursuing Justice (& Book Giveaway!)

Pursuing JusticeSocial justice, social good, and biblical justice are popular buzz words these days. But what do these terms really mean? And are they just a fad or do they embody a lifestyle that we ought to pursue?

In Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live & Die for Bigger Things, Ken Wytsma explores these questions and so much more. This is a book for those who claim to be followers of the justice movement, for those who have been jaded by these terms, and for every Christian earnestly seeking to live out God’s call for their life.

Wytsma takes the reader down a path of understanding exactly what biblical justice really means, how the thread of justice is woven throughout Scripture, and into an exploration of what this means for us as Christ-followers today. We see that: “Justice cannot be divorced from God’s heart and purposes – it permeates them…” This is not something we can simply glaze over and cast to the side as a nice-to-have. “Justice is a necessary part of God’s call in the Christian life.” Continue reading

Tornado Cleanup in Rainsville, AL

Some of the trees that we spent the day cutting up & moving.

This past Saturday we had the privilege of traveling to Rainsville, AL to work with others from our church doing cleanup from the devastating April tornadoes. The rest of the group went down Thursday night to be able to work all day Friday & Saturday. As we didn’t have another day off of work that we could take right now, we were glad to at least be able to help on Saturday.

Rainsville is a small town of 5,000. It’s in the northeast corner of Alabama. We heard varying stories, but they either had an F4 or F5 tornado cut a 30+ mile path through the area. It killed 35 people and injured hundreds. In the aftermath, this area of the state has felt largely overlooked. They just haven’t gotten the attention & help that the larger cities have had.

We ended up at Gary’s house for the day. His house was untouched, but he had a lot of downed trees & debris on his property. A tree had also fallen on his RV. But he is the first to tell you how lucky he was. He lost 9 friends.

This is the side of Gary's property, where we were working all day. You can see the damaged RV and bent/downed trees.

When the storms approached, he was outside. He said there was no warning – just talk of approaching strong thunderstorms. When it blew up on his property, he didn’t have time to do anything else but to grab hold of his shed door. Apparently he hung on with both hands as the tornado blew over the side of his property. Apparently afterwards, he (or “they”, not sure which) had to remove a 2 inch piece of glass from his chest. He said they are still getting little pieces of glass out from around his eye.

Gary is a first responder/EMT/rescue diver. We learned that he has spent the last 3 months helping everyone else. It was only a few days ago that he had gotten a small chance to start on is own property. Even Friday night he was out diving to help retrieve cars from a nearby body of water. He only got 1 hour of sleep that night.

I think we all felt so glad to be able to help someone who has spent all of this time helping everyone else in his community. It really was a privilege.

A mangled swingset thrown onto his property. I don't think it was his, but never got a chance to ask.

So we spent the day clearing debris. Everything from small branches to huge trees. These trees that were four & five feet across had been completely toppled by the tornado. We had 3 chainsaws going at a time. I heard that on at least one of them that we went through 3 blades in a matter of hours. That’s how much wood was being cut & moved. By the end, with no more blades, we had run out of things we could do. We had 5 huge stacks of wood/branches, probably 10′-12′ high each. It’s amazing what 25 people working together can accomplish in a short period of time.

Here are 3 of our 5 large debris piles. These are at least 10' tall.

While we weren’t able to get away for a week-long mission trip this year, we were very glad for at least this small chance to help.

God’s Word in Action: Together We Can Change the World!

This is an article that I wrote for this new campaign that we launched at work this Spring. It’s called “God’s Word in Action” and has been my favorite project by far. I am blessed with being able to run the marketing for it. I wanted to share this with you and let you know what we’re up to in the Thomas Nelson Bible Group.

God’s instruction that we should serve others is unmistakable in Scripture. It’s not a choice that we’re given. It’s a command. God charges us to reach out to those in need – in our neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces, in our cities and nation, and around the world.

In fact, God issues a specific call that we are to especially look out for “the least, the last, and the lost” – the marginalized and disadvantaged in our society. The widows, the orphans, the sick and the poor.

Did you know that there are over 2,000 verses in the Bible that deal with God’s view on justice & poverty? Verses like this one:

“Stand up for the poor and the orphan; advocate for the rights of the afflicted and those in need.” Psalm 82:3 (The Voice)

Thomas Nelson, Inc., one of the world’s oldest and largest Bible publishers, has selected this verse as the theme of their God’s Word in Action campaign. They are striving to put God’s Word into action by helping others in tangible ways and inspire others to do the same.

Thomas Nelson has partnered with World Vision as part of the campaign. Every Thomas Nelson Bible purchased at Christian retail helps World Vision eradicate poverty & preventable deaths among children.** When you buy a Thomas Nelson Bible, you can know that you are helping save children’s lives in the U.S. and around the world.

According to World Vision, each day more than 24,000 children die from preventable causes. The donation from Thomas Nelson will target the fundamentals of child health, including clean water and nutritious food. Water is one of the world’s most important natural resources, yet every 21 seconds, a child dies from a water-related illness. Worldwide, one in four children doesn’t get the nutrition he or she needs.

The God’s Word in Action campaign will support sustainable solutions for clean water and secure food, including digging and improving wells, teaching good hygiene practices, providing food aid, improving agricultural practices, and monitoring children’s heights and weights.  It will help children like Mariama, 6, who suffered from trachoma, a blinding eye disease from unclean water, until World Vision installed two water pumps in her village in Niger.

For children living in need in the United States, contributions will make available top-quality necessities that disadvantaged families are unable to afford. Donations also will assist community-based medical facilities in providing children with personal care items.

“As a Bible publisher, we’re making a concerted effort to ensure that we’re living out what God calls us to do as people and a company,” says Thomas Nelson’s Senior Vice President & Bible Group Publisher Gary Davidson. “In today’s economy every penny counts, but we felt strongly that this was an important investment. We’re in a business of developing life-changing products, and it’s only fitting that we are actively involved in other life-changing initiatives.”

In addition to the financial donation to World Vision, Thomas Nelson is creating a movement to encourage Christians to put God’s Word into action in tangible ways. We all have different passions for our personal areas of service. Some feel strongly about helping the homeless, while others thrive doing service at nursing homes or working with children. Some feel called to go on mission trips around the world, while others constantly look for service opportunities every day in their own neighborhoods.

It does not matter what you do, as long as you do something. Start somewhere. Buy a cup of coffee for the car behind you and leave a note for them expressing God’s love. Give up buying lunches out for a month and donate that money to an organization that feeds the hungry. Volunteer to tutor at an underserved school in your area. Just start today.

Thomas Nelson’s Bible Group has built a website that is full of ideas on how you can help others. You can sign up to receive weekly Bible verses, action challenges and ideas. You can also share a story of what you or someone you know has done to put God’s Word into action and help others. Get inspired and then take action.

Join the Movement Today! Learn more by visiting www.SeeGodsWordinAction.com.

Buy a Bible, Help a Child

Every Thomas Nelson Bible you purchase at a Christian retail store helps World Vision end poverty & preventable deaths among children in the U.S. and worldwide.** Just look for any Bible with the Thomas Nelson logo. For more details and to join the movement visit www.SeeGodsWordinAction.com.

Together We Can Change the World!

**Applies to sales at U.S. Christian retail stores only from April 1, 2011 – March 31, 2012. Thomas Nelson will donate 10% of its year-over-year net revenue growth achieved during that period to World Vision, with a minimum donation of $75,000. In addition, when World Vision combines our $75,000 minimum donation with grant funds and corporate donations, the donation multiplies 4 times to provide $300,000 in help to improve the health of children. Just look for any Bible with the Thomas Nelson “house” logo. For more information about World Vision, visit www.WorldVision.org.

Helping at Help Portrait 2010

Last Saturday, Cason & I had the privilege of helping at Nashville’s Help Portrait event. Help Portrait is a movement of photographers giving back to people in need in their local communities. It was started in 2009 by a well-known photographer here in Nashville (Jeremy Cowart). This year, Help Portrait events were held in 47 US states and in 46 countries. 7,015 volunteers and 3,550 photographers donated 54,526 portraits to people and families in unique circumstances (the homeless, people in addiction recovery programs, families who lost everything in a fire or flood, families who may never have had a family portrait taken before).

That’s the overall gist. I heard about the event last year and was eager to try and volunteer this time around. Cason & I have no notable photography/editing/photo printing skills, but wanted to see if we could help in other ways.

So we ended up as Patron Guides. We were the ones that got to escort the guests around through the whole experience and make them feel special and loved on. At the event here in Nashville, that included a breakfast or lunch area with donated food brought in for people to eat, an area with Vanderbilt doctors doing free optional head and neck screening exams, a donation area with coats, blankets, shoes, for those that needed them. My personal favorite was the next area – hair & makeup. The hair & makeup artists would do quick makeovers on the women (& an occasional man) and make them feel really beautiful. That was an integral part to making many of the women feel special & valued. There was also a kid’s area with crafts and a Santa to take pictures with. Finally, there were the rows of photographers, ready to go to work.

Some of the photographers, ready to go to work.

My first patron of the day was Amy. I wish I had taken a picture of her with my camera. She was a really neat woman. She came in with a group of women from the Magdalene House – a residential program for women who have survived lives of violence, prostitution and addiction. Read more about it here. Amy was extremely outgoing and friendly. She was just loving being there. The part of her story that I heard is that her Dad died a week before the infamous Nashville floods, then she and her mom both lost everything in the flood. She hit her lowest point this summer and at some point entered the Magdalene program. But she says she is doing really well in her recovery program, is back in a church, etc. Amy was almost more concerned about going around and visiting with the other women that came in from the same program and making sure everyone else was having a good time. She was just a treat to be around.

Cason got to spend time with a man named Jimmy. One of the only men that I saw that wanted to get some makeup. He was a hoot! He told the makeup artists to make him look like Morgan Freeman! He was the first adult to go sit on Santa’s knee for a picture. He also said he was proposing to his girlfriend later that day and posed in his picture with the ring.

Jimmy & Cason

There were some sweet families in the middle of the day that we got to escort around. A mother with her young daughter that started crying as she was getting her photo framed and was thanking everyone.

The last group of the day that we were there for was the most impacting for me. Continue reading

Good Reads: Following Jesus Through the Eye of the Needle

This is a simple book review that is long overdue.

Before traveling to a place, I always like to try and read a book about it. Particularly before trips to foreign countries. So prior to our trip to Haiti, I wanted to find a book that might give me a little insight into the country, the people, and the culture.

The book I found was Following Jesus Through the Eye of the Needle: Living Fully, Loving Dangerously. I didn’t get it finished before we left, but had at least a good portion of it done. I then enjoyed reading the rest after we returned. If you are interested in reading about mission work in Haiti, I do highly recommend this book.

It is about a young guy, Kent Annan, and his wife that give up their life in the US, sell most of their possessions, and move to Haiti to work with Doctors without Borders. Wanting to immerse themselves in the culture first, they move in with a Haitian family in a town far outside of the capital. They live with them for several months (which provides some great stories) before moving back to Port-au-Prince, getting a modest house built, and jumping into their work. He takes the reader through the ins and outs of life in Port-au-Prince – how he has to take 4 different modes of transportation just to get to work every day. He takes you through his interactions with new acquaintances and his fumblings at trying to live among the people and not be viewed as a “rich American”.

From a cultural perspective, it was a fascinating and eye-opening read for me – learning about social norms, family life, the challenges of everyday life, etc. in Haiti. It helped me have some sort of informed reference point for when we went. Equally interesting to me, and I didn’t realize it until we got there (and started our work of building 2 houses), was reading about the difficulties in the construction process of their home, the interaction of the Haitian workers, and how they related to Kent, who the Haitian workers would call “boss”. He had set out to live amongst them, to build a modest house so as to be viewed as more of an equal, but was still being called “boss” because of the color of his skin and his country of origin. It was interesting to then be there in Haiti, working alongside Haitians on each house, and much of the interactions and challenges were very similar.

Aside from that, this book challenges the reader to have courage in going through the eye of the needle. To reject the ordinary life and follow the calling God has placed on each of our lives.

I don’t know if God will ever call us to be missionaries in another country (though we have talked about it), but no matter what, I don’t want to live an ordinary life. I do want to have the courage to follow through on our callings, whatever they may be.

Haiti Wrecked Me

This is my last post recapping our construction mission trip to Haiti over the July 4th week. To read them all, click here and continue back to the first one titled “We Came Back Changed”.

Haiti wrecked me.

At least for a little while…

When we first got back, it was so hard to process all that had happened. I needed some time for it to all sink in. To think about it and weigh the significance of it all. I still have not finished the last 2 days in my journal because I almost can’t put it into words, at least words that do it proper justice. That, or I don’t want to close that chapter. I’m not sure.

When I walked in to work on Monday morning and people started asking about the trip, it was so hard to figure out what to say first. How do you sum up something so substantial into a few trite statements. “It was great” doesn’t work. And how interested are people really? I could talk about the week and all that happened for well over an hour, no problem. But how many people really want to know about it, really? Most people just ask to be polite. “Oh, how was your trip?” But then it’s right on to the next thing. So it was hard to know how to handle all of that. How to handle those conversations and then move on back to my “real world”.

Something else I didn’t anticipate were my emotions. For those that were truly interested, I’d start to share a few specific stories. It’s easier to break it down that way. Katiane’s story was one of them. Not 30 minutes into my first day back to work, I was crying as I talked about her. I didn’t think that was going to happen. I remained a bit emotional that first day, and probably the next few.

That entire first week after we got back, it was hard to focus on anything. Haiti wrecked me. All I wanted to do was to read more about what was going on there, to learn all that I could. I wanted to talk about it with others. I wanted everyone else to know the severity of the situation there. It was so hard to get back to my “real world”. To do my job, to clean my house, to start another class for my MBA program. I realized that our garage was bigger than the houses that we built. I got annoyed when we had to clean the house and dust all of our stuff, and all those other upkeep things you have to do with the more possessions that you acquire. It took up my time that I could be doing other, more important things. It was all weighing me down.

After experiences like that, it really makes you question what you are doing with your life. What am I doing here? Am I really helping people? What difference am I making? What kinds of things and activities do I need to cut out so that I really have time to do more for other people?

I found other opportunities to plunge into. Not huge things, but little things. I got involved in helping promote the World Vision Aids Experience that is in town right now. I signed up to help at a World Vision artist associates concert later in August. I found out about, and signed up, to help with a benefit dinner for International Justice Mission in September. And I still so badly want to sign up to be a friendship partner to a local refugee family. I am just afraid to commit the time to a family and then have to let them down.

Haiti wrecked me. At least for a little while…

It has now been exactly one month since we’ve been back. I find it a struggle to keep that fervor that I had 4 weeks ago. Why is it that an experience so significant, that we felt like changed us so much, can start to slip away so easily and so soon? It scares me a bit. I don’t want it to fade. I don’t want to be coerced back to my normal patterns. I want to hold on to that feeling and the preoccupation I had with figuring out what I could do to make a difference. The knowledge that our “stuff” doesn’t matter. That there are so many people in this world hurting and in need, and that we can do something about it…

We are only given one chance here on earth. I want to make it count…

“Brothers and sisters, in light of all I have shared with you about God’s mercies, I urge you to offer your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice to God, a sacred offering that brings Him pleasure; this is your reasonable, essential worship. Do not allow this world to mold you in its own image. Instead, be transformed from the inside out by renewing your mind. As a result, you will be able to discern what God wills and whatever God finds good, pleasing, and complete.”
-Romans 12:1-2 (The Voice)

Photos taken by Jason Welch. Check out his photography blog here.

Nashville Rising (& Serving Together)

I haven’t written about the Nashville flood yet, because I’m just not sure I can do it proper justice. And there are many others out there who have done some amazing posts/reflections on it already. I am not necessarily the best writer. But I do want to say a few things.

For those that may not be aware, on the weekend of May 1-2, Nashville got 13-15 inches of rain. It was 28% of our average annual rainfall in just 48 hours! We just thought it was going to be a rainy weekend. No one saw this coming.Thousands of homes have been destroyed. People lost everything in a matter of hours. Interstates were turned in to rivers. 20 something people died in the flood. Famous Nashville landmarks were filled with water – the Country Music Hall of Fame, Titans Stadium, Opryland Hotel… Estimates put the damage at more than $1.5 billion. This was no 10-year flood, 50-year flood, or even 100-year flood. I have now heard that a rain like this only happens every 5,000-8,000 years!

Here are a few things to read and view, in order to get a good feel for what happened:
“We Are Nashville” post – an excellent read and what started a “We Are Nashville” movement
This is an excellent short video overview of the flood
Some incredible pictures of Middle Tennessee flooding

The most amazing thing of all has been to see people, neighborhoods, churches, communities reaching out to each other and helping each other. You don’t really hear stories of people blaming the government for not helping, or of much looting, or anything like that. That’s the main point on all of the media coverage that I’ve seen on the Nashville flood – that people are just getting out there and doing their part to help each other.

Cason & I had the privilege to be able to volunteer on Saturday through Hands on Nashville. We signed up to help with generic flood clean-up right here in our own zip code. I really wasn’t sure what to expect or what we’d encounter. We got to the center and as soon as they found out I spoke some Spanish, they sent us out to a trailer park on Antioch Pike. If you’ve seen much of the media coverage and the pictures, this is right by the area where the interstate (I-24) was completely flooded and a school building went floating down the road. A long stretch of Antioch Pike was just completely decimated. We got to this trailer park and there were about 8 trailers at the lower end that were destroyed. They were all Hispanic families so I was able to put my (rough) Spanish abilities to use a little bit. We helped to gut the trailer of Juan, Yane(?), and their children. Everything had to come out – carpet, floors, walls, insulation, cabinets. Pretty much everything that the flood waters touched had to be thrown out. Another girl & I packed away anything salvageable from their kitchen area which was already infested with ants by that point. It was heart breaking to work side-by-side with this family as we tore up what was left of their home, throw things in to piles at the curb, and stack up their few remaining possessions. By this area’s standards, they didn’t have much to start with, and now they have far less. Someone was able to secure them a storage unit (it was either donated by the place or it was purchased by someone on their behalf). So we helped load up their remaining possessions and took them over there.

I felt strange leaving them to go back home to my nice, dry house. I can’t imaging what they, and countless other families around here, are going through. It just doesn’t seem right… It’s something else I just can’t put in to words.

Anderson Cooper came to Nashville to report on the situation last week. They called the segment “Nashville Rising”. Yes, as a city, Nashville has suffered a terrible disaster. So many families have suffered so much loss. But it really has been amazing to witness so many people coming together. I think I heard that within just the first few days of Hands on Nashville starting to coordinate volunteer efforts, there were like 11,000 registered volunteers. And that doesn’t count the amazing efforts of churches and other groups.

Bottom Line: The work is far from over. Please continue to give, pray, and help. But God is definitely doing a great work in this city and I have never been so proud to be a Nashvillian!

**Update: Here’s another great story to read more on the personal side of the loss and devastation, from MSNBC – “In Nashville, hope springs among the tears”

**And one more heart-wrenching account of the wide scope of what happened: What the Media Missed in the Nashville Flood

The First Missions: Blessed to be a Blessing

Do you know where & when the first “missions” happened in the Bible? Most of us think of the New Testament when we think of missions – the Great Commission, Peter, John, Paul’s journeys, Philip and the Ethiopian…

But none of those are the correct answer. A couple of weeks ago, Scott Harris, our missions minister did a sermon about this and I was on the edge of my seat.

Are you ready for the answer?

It is actually all the way back in Genesis 12:1-4. Way back at the beginning. This is the story when God sent out Abram:
“Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was 75 years old when he departed from Haran.”

God commanded Abram, at the age of 75, to leave everything that was comfortable to him and to follow wherever God was leading. It really is an amazing story to follow… all of the things that he went through, the trials, the hardships, the tests. Yet God worked amazing things through Abram. He used him to bless all of ‘the families of the earth.’ What a high calling.

One of the biggest things that I took away from this was that we don’t just want to live a mediocre Christian life. We must be willing to leave what is comfortable and to follow wherever God leads.

Scott focused in on a unique top line/bottom line perspective. The top line is to ask ourselves “how has God blessed me?” The bottom line is to ask “how does God want to use me to bless others?” We are blessed so that we can be a blessing to others. It really is that simple. We just need to use the things that we have in order to help others. If we have extra money, time, the gift of hospitality, if we’re a great cook, or make amazing crafts, if we have extra space in our house to host people and activities… God blessed us with all of these things and these abilities, so we are to use them to help bless others. Simple, right?

So I ask myself, and encourage you to ask yourselves also, – how has God blessed me and therefore, how does God want to use me to bless others?

Serving Refugees, Post #3: How We All Can Help

As a recap, I’ve posted twice now about World Relief and how we can serve incoming refugees. You can read those here and here. You can also visit the World Relief corporate site here to see if there is an active office in your area.

World Relief helps resettle refugees into cities across the US. These are families escaping their countries due to some type of awful persecution. They are looking for a safe place to raise their families and to earn a decent living. But it is a very hard situation. Generally they leave their countries with virtually nothing and come here to a new land, to a language they don’t know, and an entirely new culture. Some come from places where they’ve never had electricity or running water. They are basically expected to move here and assimilate quickly into a new life, find jobs not knowing the language, and make a decent living for themselves and their families.

This is where World Relief comes in. They help them get an apartment here, adjust to life, and find employment. But they are only able to give them $425 per person, one time only. A family of four comes and only gets $1700 one time and that goes to pay for their deposits, rent, utilities, everything. That money does not last long. How long would $1700 cover your family of four?

And here is where volunteer and donor support comes in. Here are some simple things you can do to help:

Continue reading