"Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the house of Jacob their sins.
For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.
'Why have we fasted,' they say,
'and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?'
"Yet on the day of your fasting you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for a man to humble himself?
Is it only for bowing one's head like a reed
and for lying on sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
"Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
"If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
"If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
and the Lord's holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
then you will find your joy in the Lord,
and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land
and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob."
The mouth of the Lord has spoken.
- Isaiah 58 (emphases added)
This is my confession: I am no better than Israel when these words were spoken by God through the prophet Isaiah.
For a long time I have been talking about justice, about walking alongside the oppressed, about serving others. This past week, however, I was forced to face up to the reality that talk is a lot easier than action.
With all the reaction to President Trump's executive order to ban refugees from entering the United States, I've had to question where I stand on this issue and what my reaction will be.
First of all, I vehemently disagree with turning away people who are seeking refuge. I believe anyone who reads the Bible and takes it seriously cannot dismiss the Lord's desire for us to welcome foreigners and those desperate for help. So the president's ban is disappointing and shameful.
However, when I consider what my reaction will be, things are not so clear. I am not afraid of refugees or muslims or terrorists - the worst any of these people could do is hurt me or my loved ones physically. As a Christian and a disciple of Jesus, I should live expecting such treatment (John 15:18-19). So it is not fear that gives me trouble when considering my reaction - it is comfort.
If I boil this issue down to a very personal level and consider how I may practically help those refugees who are no longer welcome in the United States, my instincts to preserve comfort and convenience kick in.
Would I welcome a refugee family into my home?I want to say yes, but the truth is that it would be very inconvenient and uncomfortable for me and my family.
Will I write a letter to my congressman and/or other elected officials?I want to say yes, but how would I find the time? What would I say?
Will I donate money to organizations who are helping refugees?I want to say yes, but I've got so many other people and organizations who need my support as well.
Will I pray for refugees?I want to say yes, but my prayer life is a joke. I can't even remember to pray for my own family much of the time, so how can I realistically commit to praying for people who I don't know.
All of these are confessions. I'm not proud of myself. I'm humiliated.
A few years ago I read a book called Overrated by Eugene Cho, pastor and founder of One Day's Wages. The thesis of this book is that our generation is very aware of issues of justice. We are very concerned and quick to respond to injustices in the world. The problem is that we are not quick to act in meaningful ways. Therefore, we risk becoming the most overrated generation in history - one with incredible potential to do good, but without the willingness to enact justice.
I am overrated. I have big ideas and feel strongly about issues of justice - systemic racism, poverty, mass incarceration, immigration, the death penalty, human trafficking, war - and yet, what do I do? I continue living my comfortable life, mostly concerned about myself and my family.
This post is not about where I stand on issues of justice. My stance doesn't matter if I'm not willing to do something about it. This is about my heart and my lack of willingness to do things that are difficult on behalf of the oppressed.
Some people actually believe that if our hearts are in the right place then it doesn't matter what we do. If you read Isaiah 58 above that is clearly not true. God told His chosen people that their religious disciplines were worthless if not accompanied by acts of mercy and justice. I have been so quick to give myself a pass because I've felt that my heart was in the right place - that I was taking the right stand on issues. Now I can see that Isaiah 58 could have been written about me:
For day after day Dan seeks me out;
he seems eager to know my ways,
as if he is a person that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of his God.
He asks me for just decisions
and seems eager for God to come near him.