taking the words of Jesus seriously


Today we’re chatting with Nancy Ortberg —author, speaker, consultant, wife and mother—about justice, a new generation of Christians and using our spending power to do good.

Nancy, you’re one of many Christian leaders today who has embraced God’s heart for justice.  What has it been—in the Scriptures, in your experience, the voices of others—that has convinced you that justice matters deeply to God?

Justice is one of the primary concepts in the Bible.  There are passages where God’s heart just aches for the marginalized and the poor.  And largely, those groups have been caused by the vast imbalance of power in the world.  JUSTICE works to correct that. Justice is the gap between reality and the Kingdom of God.  There would be no need for justice if that dream hadn’t been broken by sin.  It’s the vision of the world set right, the way God originally intended.

I grew up in a home that had generations of Christ-followers who were committed to sacrificial giving for the sake of those who had less.  These folks were not wealthy by any means, yet even out of there small amount, they deliberately and sacrificially gave and worked to help those who had less, in terms of food, and access to education/health care, etc.

Deuteronomy 15:11 is one of the most misquoted verses in Scripture… “You will always have the poor with you…” The last part of that verse?  “Therefore, I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.”  That’s pretty directive and clear.

I had a friend one time who used an ‘X-Acto’ knife and razored out all of the passages in the Bible that speak to justice and the poor.  He said you could use that Bible as a fan.  Jesus talks more about serving the poor than prayer and what it means to be ‘born again’ PUT TOGETHER.

Impossible to follow Jesus without being seriously committed to JUSTICE.

You’ve remarked that one of the primary ways you experience God is through activism. Can you say more about what activism looks like for you? How does it connect you to God?

I think what I just said, the gap between the Kingdom of God and our broken reality, is what compels me to activism.  God has invited us to partner with him and allow Him to use us, in doing the small things and the big things, to help set the world right.  That’s for now, not just for ‘heaven.’

To me, activism is a natural response of my soul filled up with God’s spirit.  He pours so much into my life, it overflows and I need to do something with all that amazing excess.  In addition, activism calls me to do that sacrificially, even when I don’t feel full.

Sometimes, there is something very powerful about stretching to help someone else when you are in pain.  Just taking the focus off of myself for a time is both a relief and a reminder of the love of God.

Matthew 12-18I think activism is on three levels: Relief, Development, and Systemic Change.  Our involvement in any of those levels can make a profound difference.  Any time justice is done, on any of those three levels, for a moment or longer, a small ray of light that is God’s Kingdom, pierces this dark world.

In last year’s commencement address at Westmont College, you noted, “Your generation has taken the word justice and blow the dust off of it…made it a lifestyle.” What are you noticing about this younger generation, in terms of the pursuit of justice? What’s different than in previous generations?

For most of them, it’s just a ‘no-brainer.’  There are no arguments about the place of justice in the life of a Christ-follower…there is simply a primacy of justice that mirrors what they see in Scripture.  They take it seriously, they inconvenience themselves for it, they pursue and insist on it.  They are relentless.

This generation is starting churches with a dedication around justice that is breath-taking.  They believe that, with God’s help, they can make a dent…and that that dent might just get people who don’t know God paying attention for the first time.

I see them committed to the belief that being made in the image of God means that everyone will be magnetized towards the work of justice.  They are making career choices with lower salaries, they are building community around this pursuit, they believe to their toes this honors God.

One of the ways you’ve chosen to leverage your own money, to end the cycle poverty, is through the work of Trade as One Can you explain how this works and the impact it has in the lives of folks we won’t ever meet?

I love that you are including the website, because that is probably the best place to get a quick glimpse at this remarkable idea.

Very simply, tradeasone is a site that partners with organizations who are working to give jobs to the poor, the marginalized and the ‘trafficked.’  Primarily based around the production of consumable products (coffee, tea, oil, rice, chocolate, sugar, etc.) you can use your dollars already committed to putting those items on your shelves, and purchase them through the tradeasone website.

The subscription costs less than $1/day and makes an enormous difference in the lives of the working poor.  It is a significant way in which Christians, making small, everyday purchases, can mobilize their spending power to do good.

How would you respond to the critique that Trade as One is mobilizing Christians to be consumers?

I can’t imagine that critique coming from anyone who knows anything about Trade as One.  These are dollars you and I are already going to spend for everyday food items.  These aren’t luxury purchases.

At RLC, a lot of our readers are folks who are on the front lines of the kingdom work God is doing in the world today. They’re applying their hearts, souls, minds and strength to practice the words and the way of Jesus. Do you have any words of encouragement or inspiration for these ones?

One of the passages of Scripture that is boring in my mind and heart lately is from Zechariah…the prophets’ reminder to “not despise the day of small things.” We all talk about wanting to ‘change the world.’  That’s actually God’s job.  Ours is to do the small things, and he aggregates those into the tipping point that changes everything.

For God, all change starts with small things. He is clear about that in Zechariah. It is why Jesus often talks about yeast and salt and seeds and light. It’s why after 400 years of silence, God started again with a baby and a manger.

The work of justice is from God’s heart, and the work you are doing is at the center of that.

About The Author


Margot Starbuck—author, collaborator and speaker—earned an MDiv from Princeton Theological Seminary and a Bachelor's from Westmont College. She’s convinced that because God, in Jesus Christ, is with us and for us, we’ve been made to be with and for others. So she’s passionate about equipping folks to love our (sometimes unlikely) neighbors and is the author of seven books and collaborator on others. She enjoys speaking to audiences around the country that include: Messiah College, MOPs International, Young Life Women’s Weekend, Urban Promise Ministry Summit and Wheaton College Center for the Application of Christian Ethics. Margot lives downtown Durham, North Carolina, with her three teens.

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