Three Words: Justice, Beauty, & Evangelism

NT Wright is one of my favorite authors. Every time I read one of his works it challenges me to think more deeply on matters of faith. In the book Surprised by Hope**, Wright brings into focus how the hopes of eternity found in Jesus intersect with how we live today.

Toward the end of the book, Wright suggests that “the church is called to a mission of implementing Jesus’s resurrection and thereby anticipating the final new creation” (pg. 212). In other words, though we ourselves cannot make the world perfect, as followers of Jesus we should seek to help the world look as much like Jesus’ eternal Kingdom (the new creation) as possible.

He summarizes this mission with three words that have stuck with me since reading his book: Justice, beauty, and evangelism.

Justice is the idea of setting “the whole world right” (pg. 213). Where we see people hurting, where we see oppression, and where we see a degrading of human dignity so that certain persons or groups/classes of people are treated as less than human, Christians should be on the forefront of bringing healing, comfort, peace, and a return to dignity. The Gospel is about God’s solution to sin in the world, presenting Jesus as the one and only Savior-King. Sin is the reason why there is hurt, oppression, and degradation. The Gospel has social implications.

This is why the One who one day will make all things new, wiping away every tear, ending death, and removing pain (Revelation 21:3-5) tells his people to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, care for the strangers and the sick, and visit those imprisoned. Thus, we treat the “least of these” as we would Jesus himself (Matthew 25:35-40).

Not every individual and not every church will be able to address every social ill to the fullest, but we can find our niche and serve well there or support those who do. I am friends with those intimately involved in things like ending human trafficking and ministering to immigrants and refugees. My wife and I believe our main niche in this season of life is foster care. Opportunities abound to work for justice and seek to make the world a little better.

Beauty deals with creativity and the arts. Wright states, “Genuine art is thus itself a response to the beauty of creation, which itself is a pointer to the beauty of God” (pg. 223). He goes on to argue that understanding art in such a way is not to ignore or deny the reality of living in a broken and fallen world. But, he says, “We are committed to describing the world not just as it should be, not just as it is, but as–by God’s grace alone!–one day it will be… When art comes to terms with both the wounds of the world and the promise of the resurrection and learns how to express and respond to both at once, we will be on the way to a fresh vision, a fresh mission” (pg. 224).

In other words, Christians should seek to create good art (visual, audible, written) that leads people to see the grace and beauty of God through the present veil of darkness and pain. Christian art should rise above mere sentimentality and engage the world with how it presently stands, but it should also point to hope.

God, after all, gave us imaginations. He gave us the ability to tell stories through words, song, images, and paint (and a host of other mediums). Using our imaginations in contrast to pessimism, hopelessness, and darkness, we create beauty that reflects the creativity and re-creativity of God, and, hopefully, points people toward his glory.

Evangelism is “the personal call of the gospel of Jesus to every child, woman, and man” (pg. 225). It is the “announcement that God is God, that Jesus is Lord, that the powers of evil have been defeated, that God’s new world has begun” (pg. 227). Evangelism is telling the ultimate story of hope, the very thing that the work of justice and beauty point to.

The world is broken. Sin, mankind’s rebellion against God, steals, kills, and destroys. No one is free from the effects of sin and no one can escape the bondage of personal sin, at least without a Savior to free us from its clutches.

Jesus making all things new in eternity begins today in the hearts of women and men, girls and boys. We’re new creations in Christ, the apostle Paul told the church at Corinth (2 Corinthians 5:17). Acknowledging Jesus as Savior-King and becoming new creatures is to “experience genuine human life in the present [and] complete, glorious, resurrected human life int he future” (pg. 230). Evangelism, then, is telling a better story than the world offers by embracing the glorious wonders of everything the Creator offers.

Justice. Beauty. Evangelism. Wright’s book has helped me embrace these ideas in a deeper way in light of eternity. I pray this summary helps you do the same.

**NT Wright, Surprised by Hope (HarperOne, 2008)

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What These Pictures Represent

We moved into our home a year and a half ago. One of the reasons we bought this particular house was our desire to be foster parents and have plenty of room for kids to live, sleep, and play.

There were some pressing needs with the house, so decorating was hit and miss. We had some pictures we wanted to hang, and they spent the entire time in a pile on our bedroom floor until today.

The pictures represent our family but they also represent the craziness and unexpectedness of life.

When we first moved in, it was us and our dog. A couple of months later, we welcomed our first foster child. A month and a half after that, two more foster children. A month more and we decided it would be a good idea to get a puppy. Then we said goodbye to all three kids on the same day. Still, the pictures sat on the floor.

We spent the summer trying to train the puppy as we waited for our next placement. We got a call asking if we could take a sibling group of five. We said yes, bought some extra beds and secured a crib. Then we were told, “Actually, we’re not moving them yet.” Another month passed and we were asked if we could take the siblings again. This time we bought a car. Only again to have the situation change. So we sold the car. Then the car broke down (sorry, dad). Still, the pictures sat on the floor.

Along the way, we went from two dogs to one dog. We had to say goodbye to our 13-year-old furry friend as age and health caught up to him. Then, September came. We got a call asking if we could take another foster placement, this time a sibling set of two. Absolutely. The children moved in with us. A couple of weeks later, we found out we were expecting. Still, the pictures sat on the floor.

Winter came. Then spring appeared on the horizon. We realized we weren’t able to give our very large puppy the attention he needed between working, caring for two young kids, and being pregnant. We gave him away to a good home. We were sad about that, but he is happy and getting plenty of attention. Still, the pictures sat on the floor.

May arrived. The kids returned home. Being a month away from our baby’s due date, we decided to hold off on accepting any more foster placements, at least until we’re through the summer. The house seemed a lot quieter, but it gave us time to get the baby’s room ready and work on some other things around the house. Still, the pictures sat on the floor.

Today is the day after our baby’s due date. We’re still waiting for him to make his appearance. He seems as stubborn as his daddy. But, we finally brought the pictures down from the bedroom. I grabbed the hammer, nails, and level, and we went to work. For a year and a half the pictures sat on the floor, but now they hang on the wall. My wife says it makes it feel that much more like home.

A year and a half passed. We went from one dog to two dogs back to one dog to no dog. We went from one kid to three kids to no kids to two kids to two kids and expecting to baby almost here.

Life is crazy and unexpected. It has its twist and turns, but that’s part of what makes it fun. Sometimes in the craziness pictures collect dust in a corner for far too long, but eventually they end up on the wall where they belong.

Embrace the chaos and the unexpected.

(Now, maybe, the stairs will get painted that we ripped out and replaced six months ago…)

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I Love to Write

As long as I can remember, I have loved both reading and writing. Creating short stories has long been a hobby. Some elementary teachers even thought one day I’d grow up to be a professional author (that hasn’t happened yet). I have submitted some stories to various contests and shared them with others. Even though my stories have yet to be widely read, I still love to write.

I love to write because it lets my imagination soar. Our imaginations and ability to create art are a gift from God. It only makes sense that God who imagined, created, and tells a story through creation would impart the same to creatures made in his image. Humanity was designed to dream and create. Painting and drawing are not my forte, nor is making music. But I love to write and create worlds and characters through words.

I love to write because it helps me deal with stress. No matter your job, no matter where you live, no matter your family and friends, even with those being good, life is hectic. Certain things have to get done. We face pressure imposed by both self and others. We battle the tyranny of the urgent. Then life occasionally throws unexpected curve balls. We feel the stress. Each of us needs healthy ways of processing and de-stressing. Writing helps with this for me. Even if I begin a story and never finish it, I am able to channel thoughts and emotions in ways that reduces the pressure.

I love to write because it is fun. You might not feel the same way. Video games, jogging, or golf might be your thing. That’s the beauty of hobbies–our personalities, talents, and passions intersect to engage in something we enjoy. I hope the things I write can encourage others and bring them enjoyment. But even if I’m the only person to ever read something, I still love to write because it’s fun.

I love to write. Maybe you love something else. Find your hobby, make the time, and embrace it.

I Feel Old (and young)

You’re only as old as you feel, they say.

I’m a year from forty and most days I feel well past that. I feel it in how much my body aches and how hard it is to lose weight. Things weren’t like this when I was in my twenties.

I feel old but I also feel young.

My wife and I are a few days away from having our first biological child. I’ve been a dad as we have fostered. I’ve ran around the yard and kicked soccer balls. I’ve crawled on the floor and given piggy back rides. And then I went for the medicine cabinet to get the ibuprofen, knowing that I’d be stiff in the morning.

And yet, here we are. I’m 39 and about to hold my newborn child for the first time. I have friends my age who are the parents of teenagers. I sometimes think that’s where I should be. A newborn just might kill me.

I feel old but I’m also about to become a baby boy’s daddy. I dream of holding him, praying over him, reading to him. I dream of helping him learn to roll over, crawl, and then walk. I dream of running around the yard with him, teaching him to ride his bike, and how to throw a football or kick a soccer ball.

I’m old enough to know that it all will fly by too fast, but, Lord willing, there’s a lot of life on this earth left to live.

My body will still ache more than it did in my twenties, but I feel young as I think about being a little boy’s daddy. I’ll just need to remember to stretch extra before giving his first piggy back ride.