In July, Phil McLaughlin led a team from Sunbury Baptist Church, Australia, to South Africa, where he spent three weeks: two weeks with the team in various communities and one week supporting a building project in Sommerset Community. He reflects on worship and justice.
Isaiah 58:6-12 – ‘Is this not the fast that I have chosen: to lose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh? Then your light shall break forth like the morning, your healing shall spring forth speedily, and your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you extend your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul, then your light shall dawn in the darkness, and your darkness shall be as the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought, and strengthen your bones; you shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. Those from among you shall build the old waste places; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; and you shall be called the Repairer of the Breach, the Restorer of Streets to Dwell In.’
“This whole chapter of Isaiah has been going through my mind for months, and recently the Lord brought it to me in a whole new light. Our service is meant to go beyond our personal growth because worship and justice go together. We need to serve with acts of kindness, of generosity and of justice . The more we spend time investing into and building a relationship with Hands at Work, the more I see worship and justice going together. You cannot separate them.
God is saying, ‘I don’t want your worship if it is not played out in action’. There are only two commandments: love God and love others. There are four groups of people to take care of: the poor, the widowed, the orphaned and the refugeed. God says, ‘You WILL take care of them. You WILL bring them into your lands and make them your own’. As I read that in a new light, I realised that it is a command. In that passage, God said, ‘If you do not want to do it, remember you were once slaves in Egypt’. In the New Testament, we see that we were once slaves before Jesus died for us, and we were not just saved with the ‘ABC prayer’. Jesus brought us home with him and adopted us. How grateful I am that Jesus forgave us for our sins – we became legally adopted sons and daughters of a good, good Father. Why do we worship? We worship because we were once vulnerable and picked up out of the hole of brokenness. Once broken, Jesus rescued me. That is why I worship my Father.
As I reflected, I could clearly see it played out in Africa. Now, I know that if I see someone in the hole, I don’t need to second guess whether I have enough time or money. I rescue them, because my Father did it for me, which is why worship and justice go together. We are so grateful to our Father and that is why we reach out. Jesus went all the way – He laid down His life. The most terrible thing, more than the pain and suffering, is that the Father shut the door and then turned His back on His son, which is when Jesus became sin for us. When I understand that He stood in the gap for me, justice should become second nature for me. Out of true worship, justice will come, and we will stand in the gap for the poor, the orphaned, the widowed and the refugee. Jesus stood in the gap and that is what He is asking us to do for others. When we understand that, there will be justice.
It has been a wonderful journey for my wife, Rachel, and me over the last six years. When we came back from Africa the first time, we were so overwhelmed, but as you continue returning, you learn to serve people one by one. God has taken us on this journey and shown us the impact Hands at Work is having. I remember once saying, ‘If you’re not interested in missions, you’re not interested in God’. I know that I would not be standing here today if God was not a missional God, and He has called each one of us to uphold His justice.