Shalom-Seeking on Steroids


Last Sunday for OGC’s 22nd anniversary I preached a message on Jeremiah 29:1-14 called Our City, Our Mission. You can listen to the audio here.

In verse seven of that passage the prophet tells the exiles from Judah living in Babylon to seek the welfare of the city to which Yahweh has sent them. The word for welfare is the Hebrew word shalom. It often gets translated by the English word peace. The word flourishing captures well the comprehensive nature of the term.

In his book, Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just, Tim Keller shares an example of a radical form of shalom-seeking that illustrates a serious commitment to this ethic within a community. It’s a bit long but worth the read.

An intriguing real life example of an entire community doing justice and seeking shalom is laid out in Yale professor Nora Ellen Croce’s book Everyone Here Spoke Sign Language.  In the 1980’s Croce was researching hereditary deafness on Martha’s Vineyard.  In the seventeenth century the original European settlers were all from a region in Kent, England, called “the Weald” where there was a high incidence of hereditary deafness.  Because of their geographical isolation and intermarriage the percentage of deaf people increased across the whole island.  By the nineteenth century one out of twenty-five people in the town of Chilmark was deaf and in another small settlement almost a quarter of the people could not hear. (Today, because of the mobility of the population and marriage with off-islanders, hereditary deafness has vanished.  The last deaf person born on the Vineyard died in 1952.)

In most societies, physically handicapped people are forced to adapt to the life patterns of the nonhandicapped, but that is not what happened on the Vineyard.  One day Croce was interviewing an older island resident and she asked him what the hearing people thought of the deaf people.  “We didn’t think anything about them, they were just like everyone else,” he replied.  Croce responded that it must have been necessary for everyone to write things down on paper in order to communicate with them.  The man responded in surprise, “No, you see everyone here spoke sign language.”  The interviewer asked if he meant the deaf people’s families.  No, he answered, “Everybody in town–I used to speak it, my mother did, everybody.”  Another interviewee said, “Those people weren’t handicapped.  They were just deaf.”  One other remembered, “They [the deaf] were like anybody else.  I wouldn’t be overly kind because they, they’d be sensitive to that.  I’d just treat them the way I treated anybody.”
Generous JusticeIndeed, what had happened was that an entire community had disadvantaged itself en masse for the sake of a minority. Instead of making the nonhearing minority learn to read lips, the whole hearing majority learned signing.  All the hearing became bilingual, so deaf people were able to enter into full social participation.  As a result of “doing justice” (disadvantaging themselves) the majority “experienced shalom”–it included people in the social fabric who in other places would have fallen through it.  “When they had socials or anything up in Chilmark, why, everybody would go and they [the deaf] enjoyed it, just as much as anybody did.  They used to have fun–we all did….They were part of the crowd, they were accepted.  They were fishermen and farmers and everything else….Sometimes, if there were more deaf people than hearing there, everyone would speak sign language–just to be polite, you know.”  Deafness as a “handicap” largely disappeared.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Croce’s research was the revelation of how hearing people had their own communication abilities enhanced.  They found many uses for signing besides communication with the deaf.  Children signed to one another during sermons in church or behind a teacher’s back at school.  Neighbors could sign to one another over distances in a field or even through a spyglass telescope.  One woman remembers how her father would be able to stand on a windy cliff and sign his intentions to fishermen below.  Another remembers how sick people who could not speak were able to sign to make their needs known.
In other words, the “disadvantage” that the hearing Vineyarders assumed–the effort and trouble to learn another language–turned out to be for their benefit after all.  Their new abilities made life easier and more productive.  They changed their culture in order to include an otherwise disadvantaged minority but in the process made themselves and their society richer.
Martha’s Vineyard was a unique situation.  However, in every time and culture, the principle holds.  The strong must disadvantage themselves for the weak, the majority for the minority, or the community frays and the fabric breaks.
This sounds a great deal to me like 2 Corinthians 8:9. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. The Mega-strong disadvantaged Himself in the ultimate way for the mega-weak that we might become mega-rich in spiritual blessings. I know of no other motivation that will suffice for seeking the welfare of one’s city whether on steroids or any other degree of disadvantaging.


Somebody handed me a postcard last Sunday with this picture on it.

Needless to say, that got my attention.

The flip side contained this information:

It’s time to leave our beautiful churches and stand in the streets and cry out with wisdom.  We CAN change public opinion about abortion in our region! As we pray for our government to uphold life, we have a responsibility in our own region to be a witness.  After all, abortions are not happening in the Supreme Court building, they happen in our neighborhoods!  The church is required to be the conscience of America.  Let’s start in our own backyards. This is a call to action!  On May 7, thousands will gather in silent prayer from 10am-12pm, covering every abortion center in Florida.  We will lay aside our denominational differences and preferences to be the demonstration of justice for those who have no voice.  We will come as a silent force with one message: LIFE.

I checked out the website and found this video:

Turns out the All Women’s Health Center at 431 Maitland Ave, Altamonte Springs, just north of our meeting location, is one of the targeted abortion clinics.

Why not consider participating?

Hope in the Haze of the Mundane

Sunday’s message from Zechariah 1:18-21 is now on the website. You can listen to the audio here.

Reflecting on the four craftsmen of this passage, Matthew Henry wrote:

Which way soever the church is threatened with mischief, and opposition given to its interests, God can find out ways and means to check the force, to restrain the wrath, and make it turn to his praise.

Lift up your eyes and see the justice of God in the glory of His Son.

What God Truly Requires of His Covenant People

Today’s message is now online. You can listen to the audio here.

Matthew Henry writes this about what God requires of His covenant people in Micah 6:8:

The good which God requires of us is not the paying of a price for the pardon of sin and acceptance with God, but doing the duty which is the condition of our interest in the pardon purchased. (1.) We must do justly, must render to all their due, according as our relation and obligation to them are; we must do wrong to none, but do right to all, in their bodies, goods, and good name. (2.) We must love mercy; we must delight in it, as our God does, must be glad of an opportunity to do good, and do it cheerfully. Justice is put before mercy, for we must not give that in alms which is wrongfully got, or with which our debts should be paid. God hates robbery for a burnt-offering. (3.) We must walk humbly with our God. This includes all the duties of the first table, as the two former include all the duties of the second table. We must take the Lord for our God in covenant, must attend on him and adhere to him as ours, and must make it our constant care and business to please him. Enoch’s walking with God is interpreted (Heb. 11:5) his pleasing God. We must, in the whole course of our conversation, conform ourselves to the will of God, keep up our communion with God, and study to approve ourselves to him in our integrity; and this we must do humbly (submitting our understandings to the truths of God and our will to his precepts and providences); we must humble ourselves to walk with God (so the margin reads it); every thought within us must be brought down, to be brought into obedience to God, if we would walk comfortably with him. This is that which God requires, and without which the most costly services are vain oblations; this is more than all burnt-offerings and sacrifices.

May we heed Evan’s exhortation to live each day with eyes to see the opportunities He puts before us to live well with both bottom-line trajectories, horizontal and vertical, in mind.

How Do We Do Justice?

The question matters. The prophet Micah chides Israel for her penchant for reducing true religion in chapter six of his book to religious offerings of all kinds (vv. 6-7).

He then reminds them in v. 8 of God’s three-fold formula:

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

My post concerns only the first component – to do justice. What does that look like? The Hebrew word is used in the Old Testament some 418 times with various nuances of meaning, mostly pertaining to courts of law with a forensic sense.

It can, however, have a different flavor. For example, Psalm 106:3 reads, Blessed are they who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times. The synonymous parallelism in the Hebrew suggests equality between doing justice and doing the right thing.

Similarly, Job 29:14 says, I put on righteousness, and it clothed me; my justice was like a robe and a turban. Observe, again, the close relationship between righteousness and justice.

Isaiah 1:17 couches justice within a varied range of right behavior which further reinforces this nuance of justice as doing right by others.

Learn to do good, seek justice, correct oppression, bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.

Matthew Henry commented on this first requirement of true religion:

We must do justly, must render to all their due, according as our relation and obligation to them are; we must do wrong to none, but do right to all, in their bodies, goods, and good name.

Bible scholar S. Lewis Johnson offered this in a message on Micah 6:6-8 –

What is meant is simply the upholding of that which is right or what is accordance with his word in law and in life.  In other words, commitment to the Lord God, both as it pertains to the Lord and as it pertains to fellow Israelites.  Do you know how Luther translated this?  Luther had a happy way of getting right to the point of things, and he often manifested it in some of the ways in which he translated the Bible.  He says, “He hath showed thee, O man, what is good and what doth the Lord require of thee.  But to keep God’s word.”  That doesn’t seem to be too good a translation if you know Hebrew.  Actually, God’s word is not there and keep’s not there.  But he says, “To do justly,” what is to do justly?  Well, to do justly is really to keep God’s word.  That’s the way he rendered it, to keep God’s word.

So when Tim Keller in our Gospel in Life study during the 9:30 hour chooses to use the term justice to talk about what it means to do right by way of showing mercy towards the poor, the orphan, the widow, the oppressed et al, it seems to me he has hit the mark in interpreting texts like Micah 6:8 and Luke 10:25-37 and James 1:26-27.

Does Keller use provocative language to get our attention in the way he addresses the need for evidence of true religion in terms of ministries of mercy on our part that flow from true gospel life within? Absolutely!

Perhaps this is precisely what we need to blast us out of our spiritual complacency and propel us out into a needy world with compassionate deeds of mercy that meet urgent needs lest we prove unfruitful (Titus 3:14).

Your thoughts?

When the Divine Collides with the Depraved

Here, for your further reflection, is the conclusion to Sunday’s message in John 7:53-8:11.

Neither do I condemn you. That’s grace. From now on sin no more.That’s truth. How can He do this? On what basis can He forgive her sin and command her repentance? On what basis as the Holy One of God can He be just and yet the justifier of the likes of her, of you, of me? The cross! He sees the cross! He calculates the cross! He pleads the cross for her, for you, for me! For there in a matter of months He will give His life for her adultery and my lust and your deceit and our hypocrisy and an infinite number of other infinitely offensive sins by depraved sinners the likes of us. By that means and that alone can the wrath of God be satisfied, sin be punished, and the clemency of grace be bestowed. Hallelujah, what a savior! Jesus what a friend to sinners indeed!

Jesus is divinely flawless in His manner of dealing with both. The belligerent hypocrite He slams with conviction. Let him who is without sin judge. The broken prodigal He showers with compassion. Neither do I condemn you. But not a syrupy version of love so thus He transforms – go and sin no more.Which are we? Either way we need the promise of the gospel, the grace of God in Jesus on the cross to pay the penalty for our religious moralism and/or our shameful profligacy. See the Savior and His manner. He is the Messiah, repent and believe and go and from now on sin no more as a way of life in either error.

You can listen to the entire message here.