The Political Nature of the Gospel

bronze-augustusDr. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times that ushered a prophet call to American Evangelicals to understand the radical, political nature of the gospel and to take it seriously. At the same time, the media is presently interested to see what the “Evangelical” voting block will do in the 2016 Presidential race. Which raises the question, what is the relationship between the gospel and politics? Continue reading “The Political Nature of the Gospel”

Post-Christendom: A Time for the Church to Rethink Mission

statueWe live in a time of flux, change, and tumult. The old position of cultural privilege for Christianity in the West has eroded quickly. Since the time of Constantine, Christianity enjoyed a position of great influence in the West, but those days appear very much behind us. In the face of such radical cultural change, fear, anxiety, reactionary thinking comes easily, but how can we approach our new situation Christianly? Is there hope and opportunity in the face of so much change? Continue reading “Post-Christendom: A Time for the Church to Rethink Mission”

The Hope of Gospel Justice

Moody officially releases the book Gospel Justice on Monday, June 3.  Advanced copies have arrived at our office and I encourage you to add the book to your summer reading list.  The book also makes a great gift.  Please visit our website, www.administerjustice.org, to donate and receive a copy.

The hope of Gospel Justice is that “This book will stir your soul and prompt you to seriously consider what Jesus’ words, “Go and do likewise,” mean for you personally and practically.  Bruce Strom intertwines moving stories of real people in crisis with scriptural truths, producing a compelling call to action that no reader will easily ignore.” Carol Thompson, Executive Vice President, Christianity Today.

Gospel Justice tells the story of my personal journey toward understanding God’s heart for justice. I learned much about His heart through the parable of the Good Samaritan and the book shares the lessons I learned.  Along the way you meet real people with real needs who are beaten down by the effects of a sinful, broken world.  These victims of injustice need good news.  They also need practical legal help so they can be restored. 

As my friend Ken Sande states: “Justice lies at the very heart of the Gospel. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus fully satisfied the conditions of God’s justice. Now he is calling us to spread the precious gift of God’s justice into every sphere of life. Gospel Justice beautifully proclaims this call to action. Read it … and then take up its challenge.”  Ken Sande, Founder of Peacemaker Ministries and Relational Wisdom 360, author The Peacemaker.

The hope of Gospel Justice is that people will be inspired to take action.  For many it is a reminder of why they serve.  For others it is an opportunity to get engaged and make a difference.  God’s heart for justice should be evident throughout the book.  My prayer is that the book will be an encouragement to you and that you will respond as Ron Sider,

“Wonderful.  The stories will make you cry.  The biblical material will challenge your mind.  The stories of success will thrill your heart.  And the combination of evangelism and social justice is fabulous.  An inspiring book that nurtures hope and action.”  Ronald J. Sider, Founder, Evangelicals for Social Action, Professor of Theology, Holistic Ministry & Public Policy at Palmer Seminary at Eastern University.

That hope and action is the hope of gospel justice.  Read it.  Share it with others.  Then dare to go and do likewise.

Trafficking, Violence and Justice

The headlines shocked us as three women were rescued from a home in Cleveland after a decade of horrifick abuse.  The girls were taken when they were 14, 16 and 20.  One was forced to help the other with the birth of her child who is now six.  Another was brutally beat in order to miscarry. 

How can such evil be present in our neighborhoods?  The perpetrators of evil count on our belief that it cannot happen here.  The United States is a leading destination and transit nation for victims of human trafficking.  While the State Department would define that term narrowly to forced prostitution and forced labor, even those numbers are staggering.  When one broadens the field to include victims of sexual violence and exploitation that impacts 1 in 6 women today, and that may be low given the secretive nature of such abuse.

Last Saturday Administer Justice hosted a human trafficking forum which packed the community room at Gail Borden Library in Elgin. We were joined by the Elgin Police Department, World Relief, Metropolitan Family Services and Willow Creek.  The panel discussed the myths, the challenge of people coming forward, and the legal issues encountered by victims.  While most victims are American there are a significant number of foreign born victims who are exploited due to a lack of status.  Whether undocumented or not, the perpetrators of violence instill overwhelming fear in their victims to rob them of hope and dignity. 

Seargent Lullo with the Elgin Police Department described local prostitution rings where girls were moved from Aurora to several surrounding areas making it difficult for law enforcement to rescue them.  Interstate 90 is the most used highway for trafficking persons and O’Hare airport is a major hub in trafficking.  Combined the Chicago area has the 5th largest trafficking population in the nation. 

The panel included some amazing young women who are engaged in making a difference for the victims of trafficking.  World Relief works with refugees, immigrants and immigrant victims of violence and exploitation.  Metropolitan Family Services works with many Chicago agencies to comprehensively address the needs of victims.  Willow Creek similarly seeks to partner with those who are removing branding labels, vigilant in tracking traffickers, and working with World Relief and Administer Justice.

Kim Spagui leads Administer Justice’s efforts in assisting victims of trafficking, eploitation and violence.   Our AT LAST (Attorneys Targeting Labor and Sex Trafficking) program is designed to rescue and restore victims so they can have “hope at last”.  Kim was recognized last week for her efforts with the YWCA’s Racial Justice Award.  Kim’s work in the area is all-volunteer as she is only part-time on staff as our ESL Outreach Director.  We want to change that.

Evil is present everywhere.  Victims need help – especially in the suburbs of Chicago.  We launched a campaign to bring Kim full-time so we can raise more awareness and serve more victims.  If you want to be part of bringing hope AT LAST, please visit our web site, www.administerjustice.org, and donate today.  Every dollar makes a difference.  With your help we will continue to make a difference for our victim neighbors in need.

Women, a Pope, and Equality

Last Friday was International Women’s Day and March is designated as International Women’s Month.   The idea grew out of a rally of 15,000 women in New York City who gathered in 1908 to advocate for shorter hours, better pay and voting rights.  Today 27 countries recognize the day as an official holiday.   

Yesterday the white smoke rose from the sequestered conclave at the Vatican announcing the selection of Pope Francis.  Pope Francis will be the 266th pope and chose the title in honor of St. Francis of Assisi.  A native of Buenos Aires he is the first Pope from South America and the first Jesuit.  What the new papacy will look like remains to be seen, but the Jesuits have a long history of humble service to the poor and vulnerable. 

Early news reports were busy criticizing the Catholic Church for excluding women from the priesthood.  The truth is the Catholic Church has a higher percentage of women in leadership roles than most fortune 500 companies, but the further truth is that the call for shorter hours, better pay and voting rights has not been fully realized by women around the world.  In too many countries women are still property, labor or sex slaves.  While women in America have seen significant advances, there still remain inequities in pay and our women comprise the majority of the poor in this country with the poorest American being a single mom with a child under the age of six.

Administer Justice celebrates women.  Our board is better because of the women who help guide our future.  Our staff is stronger because of the women who demonstrate mercy and compassion to the poor and vulnerable every day.  Many of our volunteers are women who gladly give their time to help others regardless of their sex, race or other status.  We do this because we are Christ followers.  Jesus could not have ministered without the support of faithful women.  He treated women with dignity in an era when that was simply not done.  He demonstrated the infinite worth of women who would play significant roles in building and serving the early church.  We hope you will take time to read about the amazing women of Administer Justice by going to our home page and clicking on the celebrate justice banner.  Even as we continue to work toward a global recognition of the critically important role of women, we celebrate the contributions and advancements made since the early 1900’s. 

Thank you to all the women of AJ and to women everywhere who work to make this world better in ways great and small.

The Justice Conference

“Justice is a garment, a billion threads, interwoven, interlocked, knit together with strength and integrity. Pull one thread from the fabricimagesCAT60X30 and the garment begins to fray. Pull ten million threads and justice unravels into injustice.

The work of justice is to mend the holes injustice inflicts upon the garment. It is a brave, challenging, courageous work and it does not begin with expertise or duty. It begins with love… and love is a thread.”

This statement by The Justice Conference, http://vimeo.com/thejusticeconference, provides the underlying reason why Ken Wytsma and Kilns College joined with World Relief two years ago to launch a conference where varying voices of God’s heart for justice could be heard.  This last weekend was the third annual conference in Philadelphia and Marty Page, my wife Helen and I attended.  The conference draws approximately 5,000 people from across the country with varying backgrounds to join together around a discussion on justice.  Using art, music and speakers, the conference challenges us to think broadly about justice. 

Ann Mara was the conference emcee who began the conference apologizing for being so old – she had just turned 40!   Her comments were appropriate as at least 2/3 of those in attendance were between the ages of 20 and 35.  There is a movement among younger people today to be not only hearers of the word but doers.  The conference encourages them to explore how to not merely do, but intelligently and lovingly engage injustice.  As they state, “An understanding of God should compel love for others and engagement in justice.”

The conference certainly draws the right speakers to engage in this dialogue with a who’s who of the justice world:  Ken Wytsma, Leroy Barber, Noel Castellanos, Brenda Salter McNeil, Eugene Cho, Gary Haugen, Claire Diaz-Ortiz, Stephan Bauman, Sheryl WuDunn, Shane Claiborne, Chai Ling, Lisa Sharon Harper, Lynne Hybels and Dr. John Perkins.  Ken Wytsma has written a new book called Pursuing Justice published by Thomas Nelson which is an excellent backdrop to why The Justice Conference exist. 

As Administer Justice continues to expand its influence through the publication of the book Gospel Justice and launching of the national ministry, Gospel Justice Initiative, we look forward to being one voice among many in this justice arena.  A voice that seeks to encourage the Church and Christ Followers to join together to provide help and hope for those oppressed by legal injustice.  This voice has for too long been silent.  But no more.  In the midst of this broader justice movement, their is great hope and opportunity to engage, equip and excite God’s people to serve the legal and spiritual needs of the poor.  A new day is dawning.  Something new is coming.  The Lord is weaving a tapestry of justice to prepare the coming of his kingdom.  Join with us and

“Promote justice!  Give the oppressed reason to celebrate!”  Isa. 1:17 NET.

The Administer Justice Birthday Story

Administer Justice (AJ) is 13 today – Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2013.  Visit our birthday page on ways you can help us celebrate! 

In the year 2000 people actually had to mail forms to Springfield, so there was no way of knowing when they would be filed.  But God knew.  AJ would be His valentine to communities in need.

When Administer Justice began a core group of seven volunteer attorneys rotated meeting twice a month on a Saturday morning out of Fox Valley Church in West Dundee.  Two attorneys would meet with a handful of clients on a Saturday morning – 27 in that first year.  At that time I had no intention of giving up my lucrative law practice to take Administer Justice full time.  But God had other plans.

As the needs grew and the answering machine could not contain the calls, so did my heart.  Perhaps like the Grinch my heart was simply three sizes too small.  I liked my comfortable life.  I liked my position and my income.  I wanted to support my wife and newborn twin sons and allow her to stay home.  The poor would always be among us and one person can’t really make a difference.  Notice “my” focus on me. 

Like the Grinch, I did not understand that true joy was not found in material things.  True joy is found in loving and serving others, just as Jesus did.  Jesus showed one person could make a difference when they put their faith and trust completely in Him.  He chose the most unlikely group of twelve ordinary men.  But they changed the world.  They faced persecution and death because they knew a deep joy that came from their risen and ascended friend. 

While the remaining back story to AJ is in the introduction to the book Gospel Justice, I finally shut down my law practice and started Administer Justice full time in 2003.  I was alone in an 8×10 office, would not be paid for five months, my wife continued to stay home with our sons, and I knew we would live under the poverty line for many years.  I was angry at God for stripping me of my identity, my money, my life…  but there’s that “my” again.   As I stood over a printer unable to print an envelope I cried out – “God, what am I doing here!” 

God’s response was as clear as though it were audible – “My will.  For whatever you do for one of the least of these, you do unto me.”

As I wept I think my heart grew three sizes that day.  It is not my will but thy will be done.  Since that day we have served over 35,000 clients in need of help and hope.  More than 750 volunteers have joined with us along the way, including more than 300 attorneys.  Each day we have opportunity in the midst of difficult circumstances to provide the hope and joy that comes from Jesus.  Each day we serve with volunteers and let them know that one person really can make a difference.

So Happy Birthday AJ!  I pray there are many more to come.

New Report – 1 in 3 Illinoisans are low-income!

In January, Heartland Alliance released its “Report on Illinois Poverty”.  As stated in the report, “The economic crisis has pushed poverty to its highest point in decades.  Nearly 1 in 3 Illinoisans are now considered poor or low-income, an astounding statistic.  1 out of every 3 of us.

The cost to every one of us is great.  As highlighted in the report:  “Having limited resources results in limited opportunities and in families making short-term trade-offs with long-term personal and community consequences.  Deferring needed medical care.  Going to school hungry.  Skipping bill payments.  Postponing rent or mortgage payments.  Dipping into retirement savings.  The personal, social, and economic costs of low family incomes are far too great, compromising our state’s economic strength, human capital, and future well-being.”

The report showed the poverty rate has grown since the recession due to persistent unemployment, underemployment and low wages.  Illinois needs 528,844 new jobs to fill its job gap.  At least 241,093 people are living doubled up with another family.  As one said in the report, “I never thought I’d see the day when I didn’t have a home.”

The housing crisis continues to impact children who are kept from school or bounced between schools.  Seniors are impacted as 51.9% of all seniors do not have any retirement income aside from social security.  As one older person reported, “I lost my job due to downsizing in April 2009 and am now fighting with the bank to keep my home.  Because of this inability to fully maintain my mortgage (I’ve never stopped or missed a payment, but have paid what I can afford), I have an undesirable credit rating for the first time ever.”

“Poverty is not a story someplace else; it’s in our midst.” Someone testified before the Commission on the Elimination of Poverty.  Poverty is in our midst.  Seventy five percent of the poor will encounter legal issues from housing, to consumer, to fraud and they have nowhere to turn for help.  Without help they slide further into poverty and despair.

The City of Chicago has 1,450,756 poor which is a significant number.  To address those poor the City has a significant infrastructure and more than 36 different legal-aid organizations.  The Chicago suburbs have 1,564,231 poor with almost no uniform structure to address and only 2 legal-aid organizations covering that region.  Administer Justice is one of those organizations.  We stand in the gap on behalf of seniors worried about the future, children who cannot see a future, and the poor so they will have help and hope.  Our desire is to grow to meet this significant need, but we cannot do that without the donations of individuals, businesses and churches.  Please consider supporting our nation’s pledge of justice for all.

New Hope for the New Year

“I am so glad to see you here!”picHispanicMan

Juan raced to the help desk where Pam was seated.  He had good news – his foreclosure suit had just been dismissed.  Pam was stunned.  The joyous man before her was far different from when she first met him at her foreclosure workshop. 

Juan’s mortgage had been purchased by another bank and he’d not been given instructions.  He kept making payments to the former company.  The checks were not credited to his account and the new company filed foreclosure.  Juan went to a business for a loan modification, met with an “attorney” and was charged significant money to resolve the matter.  The “attorney” provided Juan a signed approval but the bank denied the agreement existed.  Juan returned to the “attorney” who kept telling Juan he would appear in court and take care of the matter.  Pam discovered he was NOT an attorney.  That person failed to complete paperwork correctly, did not go to court, and Juan lost his case as a result. 

Juan meant to come to us sooner but his mother fell into a coma in Mexico and his friend, who was on the mortgage, had to make an emergency trip to California because his son was murdered.  The world was crashing in on Juan when he finally walked through the doors of Administer Justice.  He was feeling hopeless as he joined more than twenty others in the weekly foreclosure workshop. 

After the workshop Juan was able to meet with Pam, and hope returned.  Pam prepared paperwork for Juan and told him how to present.    Even as she sought to provide hope, she believed the delay would prove fatal.  “I prayed for Juan, but I confess that I did not believe that God would answer this one the way that I wanted him to.”

God answers prayer.  The answer came not from the judge, but the bank’s attorney who read Pam’s motions, reviewed the proof and understood the injustice taking place.  He dismissed the action and told Juan he would instruct the bank to give him the loan modification. 

“I could almost hear God laughing and saying to me, ‘O ye of little faith!’  And it is true; my faith is sorely lacking.  But God works miracles in spite of our doubts and in spite of our lack of trust in Him.  I really believe that this was a miracle.”

Juan has new hope for the New Year, but not only Juan.  Pam raised the issue with Bruce who recognized the systemic challenges within the system and he is addressing these with the judges.  He also called a friend in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office to pursue the fraud being perpetrated by the person holding himself out as an attorney so that others are not victimized.

New beginnings – Les Miserables

“anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” 2 Cor. 5:17.

Happy New Year! Most of us are happy when a new year arrives. We make resolutions that we will be better and the year will be better. We strengthen our resolve to make that future possible. Can I suggest a different approach?

My family went to see the movie, Les Miserables, which was a surprisingly well done adaptation of Victor Hugo’s book and the acclaimed musical. Les Miserables means “The poor ones” or “The victims” and it is a story set in 19th century France to highlight the plight of poor victims. The lead character is an unusually strong man – Jean Valjean. He serves 19 years of hard labor for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving nephew. After being paroled he is unable to find work. His physical strength is of no use to him as others look down on him and refuse to hire him. He becomes angry at the world and at God, which leads him to steal silver pieces from a church.

The authorities capture Jean Valjean and bring him before Bishop Myriel to swear out a report. Expecting law, Jean Valjean is overwhelmed when the bishop extends grace. Not only does the bishop say he gave Jean Valjean the silver but he adds two precious candlesticks. The bishop expresses forgiveness and mercy, while exhorting Jean Valjean to give his life to God and do the same.

The story is probably known to you. Jean Valjean changes his name and seeks to run from his past but the other lead character Inspector Javert pursues him across France and across the years. Along the way we see Jean Valjean save the life of a peasant trapped under a cart, a man trapped at sea (book not movie), spares the life of a man who would be wrongly convicted, takes in the child of an expelled factory worker – Cosette – and saves the life of her future husband. On the other side we see Javert always resolute in capturing the escaped convict and bringing him to justice. Javert is convinced that a person cannot change and that justice is requiring one receive what one deserves. These two notions collide when Jean Valjean has the opportunity to kill Javert but instead shows mercy and sets him free. The great irony is that the man who had the law, money, position and authority is shown to be the true miserable. Bankrupt of any mercy, Javert ends his life. Jean Valjean who began as a poor victim ends his days rich in grace and mercy, surrounded by the love of his ward and her husband.

Les Miserables is a vivid portrayal of the book of James which reminds us, “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!” James 2:12-13.

My prayer in 2013 is that we will better understand how to demonstrate mercy to those around us, especially our 21st century poor victims in need. Let’s be less resolute and more merciful. May we administer true justice with mercy and compassion.