What is social justice?

“Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” (Isaiah 1:17)

'poor' photo (c) 2006, Tinou Bao - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

I was reading a touching story on Christianity Today by Russell Jeung in an article entitled Saved By My Refugee Neighbors in which Mr. Jeung and his family moved into a low-income community in Oakland to try to effect social change there. But instead, he was enveloped with kindness by the residents there. It was he who was transformed more than he transforming them. And even though no Bible passage was cited, you cannot help but realize that he’s truly living out Matthew 25:35-36: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”

And in the middle of the story, this sentence stuck with me: “… social justice isn’t about asserting [one’s] rights, but about taking responsibility for others.”

It just happened that I discovered Mr. Jeung’s story a couple days after the Supreme Court ruling on DOMA. Although I do not agree with the ruling (and I’ve clearly written about my opinion on this before), part of me feels the pain of the homosexual community for always wanting to be recognized with equal rights. In addition, I was wary of what kind of response that various groups would give. My prayer was that everyone would respond and communicate in grace.

And then, to my dismay, I read someone who posted this: “I do not support homosexuality or homosexual marriage. …… We have a right to speak what we believe, same as you have a right to speak what you believe.” I was sad after reading that last sentence. Why would anyone have the need to emphasize one’s “rights” to speak what one believes? Why is there (on both sides of the DOMA ruling) such a focus on “rights” for themselves?

Again, Mr. Jeung wrote: “… social justice isn’t about asserting [one’s] rights, but about taking responsibility for others.” Can we stop looking to defend our own rights, and start looking at others’? The mark of true social justice is in taking up other people’s causes, not your own. For example:

“Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 31:9)

Social justice in the Bible is speaking out for others, not for yourself. And it is more than words, but also in deed and in truth:

“But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:17-18)

Social justice is not just a suggestion, but a command. And failing to do social justice is displeasing to God:

“Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place. … if you will not obey these words, I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that this house shall become a desolation.” (Jeremiah 22:3,5)

So let me close with Mr. Jeung’s words yet again, and may we take heart: “… social justice isn’t about asserting [one’s] rights, but about taking responsibility for others.”

Stop Asking “What’s In It For Me?”

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While playing with my kids on our street a few weeks ago, my neighbor came over and said hi. “Wow you have four kids!” He exclaimed, paused, and then continued, “I guess it’s better for the future.” “What do you mean?” I asked. “You know, when you’re old, they’ll take care of you.”

I went silent for a while after that because I got a bit angry and I didn’t want to say something I’d regret. I kept thinking, “Is this the reason that you think I have children? That thought never entered my mind!”

But then I realized two things. One, although I never thought about my retirement care, I am still a sinful human being. From time to time I did stuff for my children and I secretly wanted them to appreciate me. In pride I wanted a pat on the back from people that I manage my kids well. Although by God’s grace I’ave learned to have fewer and fewer of those selfish thoughts, yet I still need to admit my propensity toward seeking self comfort and self interests.

And for another, I realize I am an Asian. My neighbor knows Asian culture, and he knows lots of us wish their children would take care of them when they get old. It’s a very typical Asian way of thinking. What he doesn’t realize is that although my primary earthly culture is Chinese, I have learned to live as a citizen of the kingdom of God.

I know this is an unusual story to share on this Father’s Day, but somehow I just felt today that I wanted to urge all my fellow father friends, especially those who are brothers in Christ, to stop asking “What’s in it for me?” when it comes to you being a father and a husband.

This “What’s in it for me?” attitude is what leads to broken families, divorces, fathers leaving children, etc. The sense of entitlement in a marriage, the insatiable need for validation in parenting, are all deadly to healthy family life. You don’t even know whether tomorrow you might die or not, so why do you want your children to serve you when you get old? No, today you should do all you can to pass your faith to the next generation.

Indeed, parenting is an exercise of making disciples for Christ out of your children. And this is the model of the virtuous cycle that God intends for fathers to start: “He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children…” (Psalm 78:5-6)

Growth happens together, not in isolation

'Tree Silhouettes' photo (c) 2009, John Morgan - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

The other day I was talking with some Christians, and someone said that she’s been disappointed in church, but she longs for those times when she “feels close” to God. Then someone else said, “Yeah I understand. And sometimes it’s just easier to grow in faith by yourself, focusing on your own relationship with God.”

As soon as I heard that, I went, “No, I don’t and I can’t agree to that. Let me explain…

“It is tempting to see spirituality as a pursuit that you do by yourself in isolation. Too often we make spiritual formation such a mystical exercise, and we overly uphold the virtues of solitude and meditation. But biblical spirituality is not like that…

“When you read the Bible from start to finish, God’s focus is on building a nation of priests, a people that He calls His own, and raising faith communities that encourage each other and grow together in unity. Think about those times in your past when you experience significant growth in your lives. Invariably, what comes to mind are people who were there, whether they were ones who mentored you, inspired you, walked alongside you, or were served by you. Our periods of intense growth are inevitably marked by the community we belong to (and by “community” I don’t necessarily mean “church” but people who you share your lives with)…

“It’s especially evident when you read the New Testament. Throughout the synoptic gospels and the epistles, most of the time, the reader is presumed to be a community of believers, not individuals.”

Ephesians 4:12-13 says that Christ is “… building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” This process of growth in faith and spiritual knowledge and maturity is meant to happen together. And that is indeed how we usually experience it in our lives.

I’m an introvert myself, so I struggle with this as well. But it’s clear what God wants. I also need to remind myself that I shouldn’t be a lone ranger, thinking I can just grow by myself. “Personal” growth is not necessarily a good goal to have. Don’t think of yourself as more spiritually mature than other people, because as a community, we all need to attain maturity together. We need to share our lives and lives our lives with each other and to grow together. It could be messy, but it’s worth it.

May you have a *Confusing* Easter Sunday

'Why' photo (c) 2011, Ksayer1 - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Millions in this country will be celebrating Easter this Sunday. Either masses of people are delusional for believing a dead person became alive, or it really happened, and the implications are far-reaching. In any case, no one can possibly ignore Easter.

And I hope you experience a “confusing” Easter this Sunday. Let me explain.

Last night we had a worship band practice. During prayer time, someone prayed that God would act in such a way that we cannot attribute the reason to anything else other than God in action. And fellow band member Ted prayed, “God, when we come together to celebrate Easter, please confuse us! Confuse us!”

I loved that prayer. It reminded me that a few weeks ago, a pastor showed this viral video to us to make a point:

The video’s really funny (and I feel bad for those drive-thru workers). And it’s a great illustration for how confusing it could be to see God working — because if the car is moving and no one is driving it, how else can you explain it?

In the same way, I hope this Easter Sunday, you will be confused as well. Not just confused intellectually that someone might have risen from the dead, but also confused how a God could go to this length to rescue us, and confused how God loves us.

May you all have a confusing Easter Sunday.

When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54)

King of California

I’ve been tried explaining to 7-year-old Chase what “government” is. He wants to see “government” so I said one of these days I would take him to Sacramento to visit.

“At Sacramento, will I see a chair for the king there?” Chase asked me earlier today

I said, “Er… you think there’s a king in California?”

Chase: “Yeah.”

I said, “So who’s this King of California? What’s the name of the king?”

Chase replied, “God.”

Surprising lesson learned from our 3+ months of sickness

'Medical thermometer' photo (c) 2010, Keith Ramsey - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Ever since mid-November of 2012, members of our family of six have been suffering from sickness, one after another, with at most a few days of reprieve in between. It’s been a tough few months, especially while taking care of an infant. Reading Wendy’s Facebook timeline from the last few months, it was like our house was a constant war zone — and I’m not sure this thing is over or not. Yet this journey has taught me a somewhat surprising lesson.

At the beginning, it was mostly the three older kids who got sick one by one — common cold during the winter season. After a month, Wendy started getting sick as well. Even the baby had some running nose. The younger kids then had another round of cold and flu symptoms. And when we got better, we let loose and ate some fried food, and then everyone started coughing and sneezing all through January. A couple of them even had eye infections.

"We got sick again!"
“We got sick again!”
"Headaches, chills, coughing... when does it end?!"
“Headaches, chills, coughing… when will it end?!”
sick
 

It was around this time that we started thinking, “There’s no way we could be chronically sick for so long! There must be a reason!” So we started placing blame. “It must be that kid that came to our house that spread the germs to us!” or “We should not have eaten at that restaurant!” We thought about giving up the dog because we didn’t even have time and energy to take care of multiple sick family members. Friends chime in with their kind-hearted advice and help. Some offered us humidifiers. Others gave us aroma therapy. Wendy got some Chinese herbal medicine.

And then I started getting sick as well. After two months of pridefully thinking that I was immune to the “Chan family epidemic,” I got stuck with bad cough for over a week.

This week I got sick again. I knew I spent too many nights working late into the night. I felt a sense of achievement that I was able to resolve a bunch of home finance issues, and I finished filing the tax return in February! I also had to work overtime to meet the deadlines of a couple of projects at work, and I was catching up on an online TV show, so I stayed up quite late. On Thursday morning, I felt a bad headache. I also felt like I couldn’t regulate my body temperature. It was stupid of me to still drive to the office, only to leave early and come home to discover I had a fever. I felt chills and I felt my lack of sleep. I crashed in the bed and still felt pretty sick after hours of sleep.

And then I started getting into the blame game as well: “Perhaps the kids aren’t washing their hands thoroughly!” or “Why do I feel so cold! What’s wrong with our heater!”

It was at that moment that an innocent comment by Wendy woke me up: “Hey, look at what you’re wearing! You should be wearing a jacket!”

She was right. Why did I assign blame on other people when I should’ve been looking at myself? What went wrong? To start off, I trusted the satisfaction of my achievements (home finance, work assignments) more than God. On top of that, I wasted valuable rest time by watching some online show. I was prideful for thinking that I wouldn’t get sick, and now look where I am. And of course I should be wearing a jacket when it’s cold.

I read an article called “Can blaming others make people sick?” in which researchers find that if you harbor blame and bitterness, you’re more likely to get sick. But I think it’s more the other way round: when you get sick, you’re likely to try to blame other people for it.

I discovered Psalm 38, a peculiar psalm that speaks to me. Please read it. The psalmist was apparently suffering from lack of strength in his flesh and bones (v.3), headaches (v.4), wounds (v.5), depression (v.6), burning sensation (v.7), failing eyesight (v.10), lots of pain (v.17), etc. But the psalmist doesn’t think he should blame others (v.14). He thinks he’s sick because of his own sin (vv.3-4,18), his own foolishness (v.5), his restless heart (v.8), and perhaps it’s God’s will to discipline him (vv.1-2). Interestingly, his hope is not in medicine. What he realized he needed to do was to confess his sins (v.18) and to wait for God (v.15), because he is certain that God understands his sorrowful state (v.9), that God will answer (v.15), and that God is his Savior (v.22).

I heard a second-hand story about a pastor who suffered a sudden bout of sickness, such that his entire body was in pain. He tried to sleep, but his sleeping position gave him incredible pain. He tried sitting down, but it was painful as well. Standing up was uncomfortable. After some experimentation of different body positions, he finally found one and only one position which didn’t yield any pain — a kneeling position of prayer. It was like God was teaching him that the only way out was to rely on God.

We tend to blame others for our own problems not just because we’re physically sick, but spiritually sick. In fact, everyone is spiritually sick, because we all need Jesus to be our doctor (Matthew 9:12).

And the great irony is that Jesus, who is not sick, and who heals our hearts, does not blame others, but he takes the blame for all of us by dying for our sins on the cross (2 Corinthians 5:21). And that’s why he’s our most wonderful Savior.

One Thing MUST Lead To Another

-= Bruce Berrien =- / Foter.com / CC BY

Whenever my son Chase experiences something exciting — like a baseball game, a visit to the aquarium, or a fun birthday party — the next time he sees a friend, inevitably Chase would tell his friend all about what happened. As I watch him recount his exciting experience to his friend, I would think in my heart, “Son, you’re so predictable! I knew you were going to say that!”

But, hypothetically, what if I take Chase on a fun vacation trip, and then afterwards he wouldn’t even say a word about it to his friends? It would seem unnatural. I would question whether my child Chase actually enjoyed the trip in the first place. Because, for Chase, enjoying an event MUST lead to sharing with others about that event.

As a child of God, I can think of many other cases where one thing must lead to another.

Belief -> Action    •   •   •    If you ask most Christians, “Do you believe in the importance of prayer and studying the Bible?” You’d get a quick “Yes” response. But then why are our prayer and devotion lives usually so impoverished?

Saving faith -> Works    •   •   •    If you have saving faith, it must lead to good works, otherwise that faith is a dead faith (James 2:26) If a tree says “I am an apple tree! I am an apple tree!” But then you don’t see a single apple on the tree, you’d go, “No, you’re not an apple tree.” The right tree must bear the right fruit (Luke 6:43-45).

Worship God -> Forsake idols    •   •   •    A true worshipper will abhor the thought of idol worship. But Jesus knows our hearts and wants us to examine whether we are serving God or money, because one cannot serve both (Matt 6:24).

God loves us -> We love people    •   •   •    If you have received God’s rich love for you, you must love people as well (1 John 4:11-12).

Love God -> Obedience    •   •   •    It doesn’t make sense to love someone yet disobey that person habitually. So genuine love for God must lead to obedience toward God (John 14:15).

Touched by good news -> Share good news    •   •   •    This is similar to what Chase would do. If he has a cool experience, he’d like others to know about it too, and perhaps to come along with him. It’s natural for kids to do it, and it should be natural for us as well.

Can you think of other examples?

Reading the list above, you might feel bad for falling short. And I’d say that’s good. Why? It would be strange if anyone can read this list and think they’ve accomplished all of it. The fact that we admit that we fall short means we do not trust in self-righteousness.

I am not trying to put you through a guilt trip. Nor am I saying “Do more! Try harder!” Read the list again. Each of these can only happen in the indicated order. For example, you cannot muster enough strength and will power to love people unless you receive love from God first. So pay attention to the items on the left. All of these require resting on the basis of who God is or what Chist has done on our behalf.

And that’s just the amazing part of it. It’s never about our ability or performance. For our part, we are compelled by God’s overwhelming revelation of Himself, or his abundant outpouring of His grace, and we respond to Him according to the praise and glory He deserves.