Maggie H. Johnson

Writer • Speaker

Category: Justice (page 1 of 2)

My Soap Box

Several years ago, I began praying a very specific prayer: God, make me love the things you love. That short, seemingly insignificant request quickly became a defining moment. I was prepared to love things like systematic theology, trendy worship music, and evangelism. But I was not prepared to love the poor, the victim of domestic violence, the immigrant, the orphan, or the underprivileged.

One thing is clear to me now: God cares about justice (Micah 6:8; James 1:27; Isaiah 61:8; Isaiah 1:17; Psalm 140:12; Amos 5:24; Zechariah 7:9; Deuteronomy 16:20). Apart from the underlying tenor of redemption through Jesus Christ, God’s most prevalent concern, which is repeated from Genesis to Revelation, is justice. And because God cares about justice, that means I should too (Proverbs 29:7).

sparks image

As citizens of Heaven, we operate under different standards – those of grace, compassion, and forgiveness. We are governed by principles of the Kingdom, not of culture. And we like to talk about that when it comes to alcohol, premarital sex, marriage, and other hot-button topics. But there is an unsettling silence when it comes to doing justice. In his book Generous Justice, Pastor Tim Keller says,

If a person has grasped the meaning of God’s grace in his heart, he will do justice. If he doesn’t live justly, then he may say with his lips that he is grateful for God’s grace, but in his heart he is far from him. If he doesn’t care about the poor, it reveals that at best he doesn’t understand the grace he has experienced, and at worst he has not really encountered the saving mercy of God. Grace should make you just.

Doing justice is the natural consequence of falling in love with Jesus. 

Not long ago some friends of ours were approached by a single mom at their church. She and her two kids could no longer afford to live in their apartment and they needed a place to stay…indefinitely. She offered to pay as much as she could in rent, but the couple wouldn’t take her money. Our friends let this family move in and live in their house free of charge.

Much to our shock and disappointment, our friends were chastised by other Christians. You’re enabling her, they would say. What if they take advantage of your generosity, they warned. They should at least have to pay your increased water bill, they protested. Our friends came to us – distraught and confused – asking for advice. Had they done the wrong thing? Were they being foolish by letting this family stay with them for free?

My response was swift: “You did the right thing. You’re showing all of us what it looks like to be a follower of Jesus.”

Then I pointed them to Isaiah 58, a passage that often feels like it was written specifically for the American church. God says, “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” (v. 2). Ouch, God. As if we were a nation that does what’s right. As if we were obedient followers. The Israelites were doing the thing they thought would make God happy: Fasting. But while engrossed in their religious pursuits, they were simultaneously neglecting and mistreating the poor. So God calls them out: “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” (v. 5-7; emphasis mine)?

In Isaiah 58:10, God says to spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed. Our friends were doing just that. They were spending themselves on behalf of this sister. They were letting her stay for free so she could get back on her feet. Letting this woman live with them was not going to make them go into debt or compromise their checking account, so they chose generosity over greed. They chose faith over fear.

Doing justice is the natural consequence of falling in love with Jesus. 

Doing justice is the response to a God who rescued us when we were spiritually impoverished. We act justly because we know what it means to be in need. We pour ourselves out for those in need because Jesus poured himself out for us.

We can go to church every week as if we were devout Christians. The taste of alcohol may never cross our lips as if we wanted to do what’s right. But loving Jesus looks like doing justice.

Books I’m Reading in 2016

I have a tendency to burn myself out on mildly interesting obligations instead of reserving space for the things that truly light my fire. This will forever be my struggle, I suppose. It’s a constant resetting of priorities and passions. I can hear my mama’s voice whispering, “You can’t pour out of an empty well,” and that’s when I know it’s time to rearrange my life once again.

My spirit is one that needs inordinate amounts of blank space to flourish. It needs quiet mornings, soft music, strong coffee, provocative books, and soul food. It needs crackling fires, vulnerable confessions, and acoustic guitars.

I’m planning several things this year in an attempt to nurture this quiet place in my spirit. Writing retreats, more reading, and intentional time spent cooking to name a few. For accountability reasons, I’m sharing with you, my reader-friends, the books I’ll be devouring this year.

all the books 2016

  1. Overrated by Eugene Cho: Eugene Cho is a pastor and visionary. I’ve been following him on Twitter for quite some time, and when his new book came out, I knew I wanted to read it. The subtitle of this book is “Are we more in love with the idea of changing the world than actually changing the world?” The subtitle alone makes me antsy to crack open the cover of Cho’s first book. My day job is working in development at a non-profit, and social justice is what fills my days. Sometimes it’s hard to get people to care about your cause in a way that elicits action, and that can be incredibly discouraging. I’m anticipating thought-provoking, soul-stirring passages from this book that will speak straight to my heart.
  2. Two-Part Invention by Madeleine L’Engle: I’ve already started reading this captivating memoir. L’Engle removes a veil and lets us peek into the joys and heartaches of her life. She particularly focuses on her marriage to Hugh Franklin. Several friends have recommended this book to me, and I can already see why. With just a few chapters under my belt, I find L’Engle’s transparency calming and her humor unassuming. I’ve heard that the story gets harder to read due to tragedy, but I don’t want to avoid the hard parts. How can I face the tragedy of my own life if I cannot hear the grief of another?
  3. Saving Casper by Jim Henderson &  Matt Casper: This is a follow-up book of sorts. A few years ago, I read a book by these same guys called “Jim and Casper Go to Church.” In the first book, a pastor named Jim Henderson hires an atheist named Matt Casper to attend and critique churches all over America. In a nutshell, I loved the book. But Henderson caught a lot of flack from Christians because not once did he attempt to convert Casper. He simply listened and had honest dialogue about faith, churches, and well-meaning Christians. So, I’m assuming that’s how “Saving Casper” came to be. The subtitle reads, “A Christian and an Atheist Talk about Why We Need to Change the Conversion Conversation.” This one feels so personal, reader-friends. I wholeheartedly believe that the Church needs to do better here.
  4. Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist: Okay. So I’ve already read this book, and it’s convinced me that Shauna and I would be the best of friends if we actually knew each other. She’s passionate about in-your-face community, loving people by feeding them, and hearty recipes. I LOVE ALL OF THOSE THINGS TOO, YOU GUYS. Instead of reading this one again, I’ll be meeting up with some fellow Shauna fans to cook through the recipes scattered throughout her book. Cannot. Wait.
  5. Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin: I heard Jen Wilkin speak at a conference I attended last year, and she is the real deal. In her book, Wilkin teaches women how to study the Bible and how to engage both their hearts and their minds. I’m expecting a lot from this one, I won’t lie. From my experience there are very few women’s material that does an adequate job engaging one’s mind. But after hearing Wilkin preach a few months back, I don’t think she will disappoint.
  6. I Suffer Not a Woman by Richard and Catherine Kroeger: Now onto the nitty gritty books. These are my favorite kinds – the ones that make me wrestle and reconsider. This husband-and-wife team came together to write book researching and revisiting the interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:11-15, which is one of the most hotly debated passages when it comes to gender roles and a woman’s place in church. This book was suggested to me by a friend about a year ago, and I’m just not getting around to it. I have no doubt it will be one of substance and depth.
  7. Slaves, Women, & Homosexuals by William J. Webb: Mr. Webb is a professor of biblical studies at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto, and this is the book in which he has chosen to address the hermeneutics of passages surrounding slaves, women, and homosexuals. From reviews I’ve read, Webb dives into the cultural analysis of these portions of Scripture and discusses them in light of proper hermeneutic. With high tension around all three of these groups – from human trafficking to gender inequality worldwide to gay marriage – what you think matters.
  8. Homemade Decadence by Joy Wilson: One of my cousins gave me this cookbook for Christmas! If you don’t already follow Joy the Baker, you’re missing out on all the good things in life. This is her second cookbook, and from what I’ve skimmed through, it looks incredible. Who needs a New Year’s resolution to lose weight when you’ve got the best dessert recipes this side of the Atlantic?!

That’s all I’ve got on my list so far! Do you have any recommendations? What books are on your list? Let’s make 2016 the year we flourish. Let’s do things that fill us up. I’ll start by cracking a book.

What Will You Do?

It’s all over Facebook with status after status about our Christian response. My Twitter feed is pummeled with photos and links and hashtags. We are facing the worst refugee crisis since World War II, and the age of social media has made it easier than ever to do something. With nearly 11 million people displaced, half of those being children, the Church cannot afford to be silent. And we do not have the luxury of saying we don’t know how to help. All across the internet, we are being bombarded with real, practical ways to save a life. World Relief, The Justice Conference, and Ann Voskamp have teamed up to give the Church a one-stop-shop for impact. It’s called We Welcome Refugees and you can access the link here. You can follow #WeWelcomeRefugees on Twitter and Facebook, you can donate to an organization, you can sign a petition, or you can send supplies. As stated on A Holy Experience, Ann Voskamp’s blog, you can help Syrian refugees stranded on the Greek Island of Lesvos by sending tangible items. See the list below, and mail to:
Hellenic Postal Office of Mythymna
℅ The Captain’s Table
Molyvos 81108, Lesvos, Greece

ITEMS TO SEND for SYRIAN REFUGEES on GREEK ISLAND OF LESVOS:

Sneakers, gym shoes for men, women and children (all sizes) are a HIGH PRIORITY
Sweatpants of all sizes.
Briefs/underwear for men, women and children (all sizes)
Men’s trousers (small, medium and large) and shoes
Baby powder milk
Any non-perishables like nut butters or other long-lasting foods.
Diapers
Feminine products
Sleeping bags
Plastic to cover the floor/for shade
Tents/tarpaulin
Mats (camping or yoga mats)
Hats and caps for sunshade (adults and children/light colours because of the sun)
Electric Plug for multiple devices (european voltage)

refugee crisisDaniel Etter // The New York Times

As Christians, this crisis should elicit a strong reaction from us. Jesus himself was a refugee child, escaping to Egypt with Joseph and Mary until the threat of death was gone. Because our very Savior knows the plight of the refugee, our hearts turn in tenderness toward Syria. Because we know grace and abundance, we can give out of our overflow. Because we pray for the protection of our own children, we can move to protect the children of others.

I work at a non-profit legal clinic committed to providing justice for low-income families, many of whom are refugees. In all of 2014, we had around 80 asylum cases. In 2015, we already have well beyond 100. The crisis is real, and it’s not just happening in Syria. You have the power to save a person’s life. This is what it means to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Because of the impact of one church in Berlin, hundreds of Muslim refugees are coming to faith in Christ. We love people because we know love. This is what it means to be the Church. A faith that does not act is a faith that’s hollow. Tell me, Church. What will you do?

20 Things I’ve Learned In My 20s

There’s a long maturity jump between ages 23 and 26, but I never realized it until I looked back to reminisce over the past few years. The 20’s have become formative years – the ones that usher us into adulthood and challenge us to be our own person. We’re stretched and strained, all while learning what it means to be an authentic human with original thoughts and convictions. I’m just over halfway through these vital years, and I’m determined to squeeze every last drop of growth out of them. But for now, here are 20 things I’ve learned…

Getting Dressed

1. Crockpots are the best invention of all time.

2. Joy is a choice.

3. The best medicine for a hurting heart is good friends and red wine.

4. You can’t be faithful in the big things unless you’re faithful in the small things.

5. Your mistakes don’t define you.

6. There’s no such thing as over-communication.

7. Get new running shoes every 6 months.

8. You have to prioritize your own time for rest because no one else will.

9. Having boundaries doesn’t make you a mean person.

10. Age does not always equal wisdom.

11. Rake the leaves before the first snow.

12. Downy Wrinkle Release spray is your best friend.

13. Find friends who disagree with you.

14. If you love God, you’ll love people.

15. You’re not as important as you think you are.

16. You’re more loved than you think you are.

17. Do your own research. Never rely on anyone to convince you something is true without looking for yourself.

18. Read long books.

19. Know the difference between a hobby and a job. You don’t need to love your job in order to work well.

20. Quiet is necessary for creativity to flourish.

Welp, there you have it. What are some things you learned in your 20’s?

We are the Rebuilders

My mom has always been a woman of repetition. She recites the same tid-bit lessons she used when I was a child and relays stories that have been told over and over again. But the best part about my mom’s repetitiveness are her prayers. She has interceded like a broken record – pleading from the heart of a desperate woman. One of the things I used to hear her pray often was that God would grow me into an oak of righteousness, which is language pulled straight from Isaiah 61:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.

Just like other passages in Isaiah, this one points to Jesus. It’s easy for us to detail Christ’s mission by saying that he came to sacrifice himself for sinners, but there’s so much more packed into that that we often forget to convey. Through his death and resurrection, he brought comfort to the brokenhearted and proclaimed freedom for captives and replaced our grief with praise – so that we would be called oaks of righteousness. In praying for me to become an oak of righteousness, my mom was asking God to take hold of my rambunctious heart and to align it with Love.

photo-by-pasquale-vitiello-n-239Being an oak of righteousness means going on mission with God. It means your heart is infused with the things that fill God’s heart. You love what he loves. You burden over what burdens him.

So what does God care about? Luckily, Isaiah 61 doesn’t leave us hanging: God loves justice (Isaiah 61:8). In his economy, the last are first. The tables are turned and the cards are redistributed in a manner that magnifies the kingdom. And when we’re connected with him, our priorities mirror his. I had the privilege of hearing Sarah Bessey speak this past October, and she said something that is still ingrained on my heart: “Justice flows from the heart of God. When we’re attuned to his heart, justice flows out of our ordinary, everyday lives.” It’s similar to our understanding that people who love God will also be people who love other people. One cannot be separated from the other.

Isaiah 61 paints a beautiful picture of what it looks like when we take our justice-seeking roles seriously: “They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations” (Isaiah 61:4). We are the rebuilders. We are the ones who commit to the hard work of building up our homes and families and neighborhoods. We are the ones.

But justice-seeking doesn’t look the same for everyone.

Jared will support a Compassion International child, Tiffany will volunteer at a soup kitchen, Scott will donate clothes to a homeless shelter, while Heather will provide free counseling to victims of domestic violence. We all have a part to play. Impact is multiplied when we work together for peace.

As individual oaks of righteousness working together, we can create a forest of realized justice for our brothers and sisters.

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