Tag: Justice

Justice and Generosity

Justice and Generosity

Justice and Generosity

by Tim Keller

I’ve written a book that will  be coming out this month called Generous Justice. A number of people have asked me why I wrote it, and others have asked about the title itself. My answers to these two questions go together.
One group of people I hope will read the book is the young adults who express a passionate interest in social justice. Vol-unteerism is the distinguishing mark of an entire generation of current American college students and recent graduates. The NonProfit Times reported that teens and young adults are creating enormous spikes in applications to volunteer programs. As a Baby Boomer it is interesting to me that volunteering rates were high in the 1970s but had fallen off until the last half of the last decade when they began to rise again. Of course I consider this an excellent trend.
However, many people have imbibed not only an emotional resonance for rights and justice from our culture, but also a consumerism that undermines self-denial and delayed gratification. While they may give some of their time, they spend large amounts of money on entertainment, their appearance, electronics, and travel. For a great number, then, volunteering is part of their portfolio of life-enriching activities, but it is not a feature of a whole life shaped by a commitment to doing justice, including radical generosity with one’s finances.
One of the things that struck me as I was studying the Bible’s teaching on justice was how often financial generosity is considered part of doing justice. Job says, “If I have kept my bread to myself, not sharing it with the fatherless…if I have seen…a needy man without a garment, and his heart did not bless me for warming him with the fleece from my sheep…these also would be sins to be judged, for I would have been unfaithful to God on high. (Job 31:13-28)
Many people believe that “justice” is strictly the punishment of wrongdoing, period. They don’t think we should be indifferent to the poor, but when we help them they would call such aid charity, not justice. But Job says that if he had failed to share his food or his fleece—his assets—with the needy, that would have been a sin against God and by definition a violation of God’s justice. Of course, we can call such aid mercy or charity because it should be motivated by compassion, but a failure to live a lifestyle of radical generosity is considered injustice in the Bible.
Our culture gives us a mixed message. It says: make lots of money and spend it on yourself; get an identity by the kind of clothes you wear and the places you travel to and live. But also do some volunteer work, care about social justice, because you don’t want to be just a selfish pig. However, Christians’ attitudes toward our time and our money should not be shaped by our society; they should be shaped by the gospel of Christ, who became poor so that we could become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9).
The main theme of my book is that the gospel of grace will turn anyone who truly believes it into a person who does justice for those in need. Doing justice includes not only the righting of wrongs, but also generosity and social concern, and a willingness to live a more modest lifestyle in order to be generous to the church and to the poor. This kind of life reflects the character of God (Deuteronomy 10:17-18; Psalm 146:7-9.) We have the Biblical and spiritual resources to overcome the superficiality of our culture and become what the spiritual descendents of Abraham should be—a true blessing to our city and to the poor. (Genesis 12:1-3; Galatians 3:7)
The Beauty of Biblical Justice

The Beauty of Biblical Justice

The Beauty of Biblical Justice

Timothy Keller, Issue Number 29, October 2010

Editor’s Note:
This article is an edited transcript of a sermon, “Justice,” preached in October 2005 at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. To listen to the full sermon, visit the podcasts section of iTunes and search for “Timothy Keller Podcast,” or visit http://sermons2.redeemer.com/sermons/justice. Dr. Keller’s upcoming book will be entitled Generous Justice.

Isaiah 58 tells us about the importance of justice, the meaning of justice, and how to become people who do it.

Let’s start by looking at verse two, where God describes a particular group of people, who, the passage says, “day after day … seek me out.” The Hebrew Scriptures, when they talk about seeking the Lord, are talking about worship; they’re talking about going to temple and the sacrificial system: prayer and tithes. This is describing people who are diligent; who “day after day [they] seek me out.”

The passage goes on to describe them as people who “seem eager to know my ways.” The language here means to be passionate. In Hebrew it actually says (in spite of the fact that verse one says they’re in rebellion) that “they seek me diligently; they’re passionate to know my laws.” These people want to know how to live. They’re looking at the Ten Commandments. Their personal morality is practically perfect. Their worship—at least their fulfillment of the worship ordinances—is fastidious. And yet, they come to God, and in verse three they say, “Why have we fasted?” They want to know, “Why have we humbled ourselves and you haven’t noticed?” In spite of their moral lives, God is not answering their prayers.

God’s response is startling. He says, essentially, “Let me tell you what a fast is. Let me tell you what worship is. Let me tell you what it really means to seek me. In Isaiah 58:5-7, God says, “Is it not to loose the chains of injustice, to untie the cords of the yoke and set the oppressed free? Is not the fast I chose to share your food with the hungry, to provide the poor wanderer with shelter, to see the naked and clothe him?”

Justice: The Inevitable Sign of Real Faith

God says something astonishing here, and to get the full gist of it we need to look at Matthew 25. There, Jesus not only draws heavily on this passage, but on what’s said throughout the Old Testament, including Proverbs 14:31, where we read, “If you insult the poor, you insult the Lord.” Proverbs 19:17 tells us, “If you give to the poor, you give to the Lord.” In Matthew 25, Jesus talks about Judgment Day, when, He says, the Lord will have all of us standing in front of Him. On one side, He’ll set the people who are saved. On the other side, the people who are lost. And this is what He’ll say to the lost: “If you don’t love the poor, if you don’t love the hungry, the naked, the poor wanderer, the homeless—if you don’t love them, then no matter what you say, you don’t love me.”

A deep social conscience, and a life poured out in service to others, especially the poor, is the inevitable sign of real faith, and justice is the grand symptom of a real relationship with God. If you know Him, it will be there. It may come slowly, but it will come. If it doesn’t, you don’t have the relationship you think you have. Do you understand that this is at the heart of biblical faith? Do you see the importance of justice?

Now, why would God say that a deep concern for justice is the inevitable sign of a love relationship with Him? The second thing we learn here is the meaning of justice.

A deep social conscience, and a life poured out in service to others, especially the poor, is the inevitable sign of real faith.

It’s interesting, when we talk about justice in our contemporary society, we don’t have the same definition the Bible does. Behind the biblical idea of justice is the rich concept of shalom. Look at verse seven; there’s a deliberate paradox there. It says [describing justice], “Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter … ?” What is a poor wanderer? The word really means “a stranger.” A poor wanderer, according to the Hebrew commentaries, was an alien, a person from another country who had come into your country with virtually nothing—a refugee. But notice the synonym at the end of this sentence. It says you need to share your food, to provide shelter, to clothe the naked, and not turn away from your own flesh and blood. In this culture, where family meant everything, you were to treat the wanderer as if he were your own flesh and blood. God gives the stranger the status of family.

Shalom and Biblical Justice

God created the world to be a fabric, for everything to be woven together and interdependent. Neil Plantinga, a theologian, puts it like this: “The webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in equity, fulfillment, and delight”—[this] is what the Hebrew prophets call shalom. We translate it “peace,” but in the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight. It describes a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts are faithfully and fruitfully employed, all under the arc of God’s love.

Here’s an illustration of shalom: If I threw a thousand threads onto the table they wouldn’t be a fabric. They’d just be threads laying on top of each other. Threads become a fabric when each one has been woven over, under, around, and through every other one. The more interdependent they are, the more beautiful they are. The more interwoven they are, the stronger and warmer they are. God made the world with billions of entities, but He didn’t make them to be an aggregation. Rather, He made them to be in a beautiful, harmonious, knitted, webbed, interdependent relationship with each other.

Three examples might help further explain the concept. Physically, when your body’s working properly, every part works with all the others. But if you have cancer, it means a part of your body is at odds with the others. You experience the unraveling of physical shalom. Psychologically, your inner psyche has various parts: thoughts, feelings, and reason. When they’re working together you experience inner shalom, peace. But when your feelings crave something that troubles your conscience, you experience guilt. Which means you experience the unraveling of psychological shalom. Financially, when people have money, resources, and advantages, when they plunge them into the human community—so the parks are great and the schools are great and the houses are great—you have a strong social fabric. You experience social shalom. But when the wealthy ignore the less fortunate, when they hold onto everything, the social fabric unravels.

***

In the West, when we think of justice, we think of individual rights. We think justice means freeing individuals from the constrictions of the group, freeing them to do whatever they want regardless of what the group says. Biblical justice has a different trajectory. Biblical justice means interwovenness, interdependence, bringing individuals to see that our stuff isn’t just ours.

We do justice when we go where the fabric is breaking down, where the weaker members of society are falling through, where the interpenetration and the interdependence isn’t happening.

Bruce Waltke, a Hebrew scholar, adds perspective by helping us understand what it means to be “righteous” and “wicked.” Righteous people, Waltke says, deprive themselves for the sake of the community. Wicked people see their resources as belonging to them, and to them alone. Righteous people see that much of what they have belongs to the community; the wicked say no, it’s all mine. Read through the Bible with those definitions, and suddenly you’re reading a different book. Do you see now what it means to do justice? We do justice when we go where the fabric is breaking down, where the weaker members of society are falling through, where the interpenetration and the interdependence isn’t happening.

Notice that justice is depicted as sharing food with the hungry. The Hebrew commentators point out that this literally means to wait on the hungry. It’s not saying to give money so somebody else can serve the food. It says, literally, to serve the poor. That’s what it means to do justice. It means taking the threads of your life—your emotions, your time, your body, your physical presence, your money—and plunging them into the lives of other people through thousands of involvements.

Justice = Generosity

Fabric, threads, involvements—over, under, around, and through—that’s how you do justice. And notice the logic, notice how verse six talks about loosing the chains of injustice and dealing with the oppressed—and then it says to share your food. If you don’t share, you’re not only stingy, you’re unjust. A lot of people in Western countries say, “Wait a minute, you’re telling me that if I’m not giving, I’m being unjust? How could that be?”

Here’s an illustration. In New York, and in all the cities around the country, children are growing up in communities where—given their family circumstances and their school situation—they’re functionally illiterate. By the time they’re 15, 16, 17 they can’t read or write. When you get to that age and you can’t read, you’re ruined for the market, you’re ruined when it comes to economic and social flourishing. You’re locked into poverty for the rest of your life. That’s happening to hundreds of thousands of people in this city right now. Why?

The liberal analysis says it’s because of unjust social structures. The conservative analysis says it’s because of the breakdown of the family. But nobody says it’s the kids’ fault. Nobody says that a 7- or 8-year-old is supposed to think: “I need to move to a better school district.” No 7- or 8-year-old is supposed to think: “My parents are guilty of malpractice.” Nobody says that 7-year-olds need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. And yet, a child born into my family has a 300 to 400 times greater chance for economic and social flourishing than the kids in those neighborhoods. That’s just one example of the way in which the fabric of this world—the shalom of this world—has been broken. If I don’t share the advantages that this unjust world has dealt me, that in itself is unjust, isn’t it?

These kids are being ground down by the structure. … It’s not enough to do individual charity; you have to address social structures.

Isaiah doesn’t just talk about loosing the yoke, but about breaking it. A yoke, of course, is something you put on an ox; it’s a restraining device, a structure that limits the animals’ range of movement. For God to talk about unjust situations, like families and schools that produce illiterate kids—that’s a structure, right? That’s a yoke. These kids are being ground down by the structure. The passage, then, doesn’t simply tell us to get the kids out of the schools; it tells us to change those schools. Change those neighborhoods. It’s not enough to do individual charity; you have to address social structures—that’s what it says.

Identifying with the Poor

As we come to the last point, let’s go back to the question we started with: Why would Jesus say, “If you have a love relationship with me, you’ll care for the poor”?

When you look at Matthew 25 or Isaiah 1 or Isaiah 58 it’s easy to miss the point. It’s easy to think to yourself: Here’s God, Jesus, and Isaiah, and they’re all saying: “Worship ordinances: check. Personal morality: check. Social justice? You don’t have that down.”

“Ah!” you say to yourself, “My list wasn’t long enough. If I add charity, then God will answer my prayers; then He’ll give me the life that I want.”

If that’s what you think, you have missed the point. This is a critique of that kind of religion; it’s a critique of the people in verses two and three who are trying to put pressure on God, who are saying, “We’ve lived a good life and now you owe us.” That kind of thinking does nothing to change the fundamental self-centeredness of the heart. Think about it—if, with that mindset, you do good to the poor, live a moral life, read the Bible and pray, you’re not doing it for God’s sake; you’re not doing it for the poor’s sake. You’re doing it for you. You’re being good out of absolute self-absorption and that doesn’t help a thing. You haven’t changed the heart at all.

How can we get to the place where we obey God, and love the poor, and do good for God’s sake? For the poor’s sake and not for our sake? You have to experience the beauty of it. Let me explain: When Jesus says if you love the poor you love Me; when Proverbs says if you lend to the poor you lend to Me, when you insult the poor you insult Me—what is that saying? It says that God identifies with the poor.

Well, we tend to think, how nice that He empathizes with the poor. But it goes deeper than that. Christianity explains just how far God went to identify with the poor. When God came to earth in the form of Jesus Christ, He was born in the feed trough. When His parents took Him to circumcision, their offering was two pigeons—the offering that was accepted for those on the lowest rung on the economic ladder. Jesus was essentially homeless. He said, “Foxes have holes, birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” He rode into town on a borrowed donkey. He ate His last meal in a borrowed room. He was buried in a borrowed tomb. He was poor!

And more than that, He was a victim of injustice. Jim Boice, who used to teach at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, explained how Jesus’ arrest, interrogation, lack of defense council, the physical abuse—everything about His arrest and trial, was a miscarriage of justice.

So, when the Lord stands before you, if you say, “Lord, when did we see you naked? When did we see you thirsty? When did we see you a prisoner?” Jesus will be able to say, “Are you kidding? They cast lots for my garments. I was naked. I cried out in thirst. I was beaten.” Jesus Christ literally became one of the oppressed. He literally went under the yoke. And now, because of all that, He says, “I who deserved vindication got condemnation, so you—human beings who have messed up this world, who deserve condemnation—can get justice and pardon.” Jesus Christ plunged Himself into our lives. He took all the threads of His glory, at infinite cost to Himself, and threaded Himself into our lives, saving us from falling through.

That’s the beauty that will get you out of yourself.

When you see what He did for you, your fear is gone. He died for you—what’s there to be afraid of? When you see what He did for you, your pride is gone: He had to die for you, so what makes you think you’re anything but a sinner? When the fear and the pride go away and all we see is the beauty of what He’s done—then we can love Him just because He’s beautiful. Because of all He’s given me, I don’t have to do anything to get anything; I just want Him. I can love the poor for the poor’s sake. I can love God for God’s sake—that’s the beauty that will change your heart. That’s the beauty that will get you out of yourself forever.
Timothy Keller was born and raised in Pennsylvania and educated at Bucknell University, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and Westminster Theological Seminary. He served as a pastor in Virginia for nine years, and in 1989 he started Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan with his wife and their three sons.

City Church Team Participates in YWCA Race Against Racism

City Church Team Participates in YWCA Race Against Racism

rarThe City Church Team participated in the 2009 YWCA Race Against Racism. Running the 5k for the team were Aaron & Gail Anderson, Warren & Jami Bailey, Grace Zubrod, Janeen Shober, Melanie Webb, and Jacob McKinley. Thanks to everyone else who came out to help watch the kids and cheer us on. 

Here’s looking forward to next year!

Justicia Para Darisabel

Justicia Para Darisabel

(English version can be found here)

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Hoy marca el primero año de aniversario de la muerte de Darisabel. Un año de memorias dolorosas. Un año de cada día  revivir la paliza monstruosa que Darisabel recibió por las manos de un joven hombre atribulado. Un año lleno en que sus abuelos, tíos, y amigos íntimos fueron negados la oportunidad de prodigarle amor y regalos para la navidad y su tercer cumpleaños. Un año terrible en donde algunos momentos brillantes que quizás hubieran emergidos fueron eclipsados por las memorias constantes y los procesos preliminares. Mi instinto me dice que este año que viene no estará mucho mejor. La madre de Darisabel y su novio serán procesados por sus papeles respectivos en la muerte de Darisabel. El juicio está en posición de ser un recuerdo gráfico de un día que a todos nosotros nos gustaría olvidar. Justo la semana pasada, me senté en un juicio preliminar y en tiempo corto rápidamente pasé por el rango entero de emociones: furia, tristeza, incredulidad, y justo sintiéndome como si alguien me hubiera golpeado en el estomago.

 

Algunos de nuestros lectores más nuevos tal vez no sepan la conexión de City Church, por eso se las explicaré brevemente. Darisabel era mi vecinita, una compañera de juegos de mi hija de dos años, Amelia. Darisabel es la niñita en las fotografías con las colitas y pendientes. A ellas les encantaban  pasar el tiempo juntas. Con frecuencia Darisabel estaba  en nuestro patio trasero jugando con los niños o caminando por la casa cuando la cuidamos. Ella era una niñita preciosa con ojos azules deslumbrante, simplemente encantadora. Todavía puedo imaginarla cerca de la ventana abierta que está frente de nuestra casa llamando, “¡Amelia, Amelia!”

 

Todavía recuerdo el día que oímos la noticia. Había una ventana de tres meses en el invierno donde no habíamos visto a Darisabel. Sabíamos que su madre estaba saliendo con un nuevo hombre que tampoco nosotros ni la familia de Darisabel habíamos conocido. Elizabeth, Darisabel y el nuevo novio ya estaban viviendo en la calle Filadelfia y mantuvieron su distancia de todos  nosotros.

 

El 8 de Abril. 2008, yo recibí  mi copia del York Daily Record y leí el resumen informativo de la noticia sobre una  niñita de dos años quien fue golpeada  a  muerte con un controlador de XBOX. La noticia tenia una foto de la madre con un nombre que yo no reconocí, Neida Baez. Su rostro fue inolvidable. Me movió a lágrimas sin saber la conexión. Miré fijamente a la foto de Neida una y otra vez y aun le dije a mi esposa la noticia. Yo juré que la mujer se parecía a  la madre de Darisabel, Elizabeth, pero la conexión me parecía imposible. Yo conocía a Elizabeth. Nunca creí por un momento que ella hubiera sido capas de permitir algo como eso. Mi esposa, Gail, llevó los niños a la escuela aquella mañana y regresó con la  noticia horrorosa de la abuela de Darisabel. La puerta principal se abrió bruscamente con Gaíl llorando y lamentablemente  sin control. “Aaron,” ella gritó, “fue Darisabel.”

 

Nunca en mi vida he experimentado esos tipos de sentimientos. Gail y yo pasamos casi una semana sin mucho sueño. Lloramos amarteladamente en todos las horas del día. Compostura era  algo que yo no tuve durante mucho tiempo. En mi línea de trabajo, uno trabaja constantemente  con mucha muerte, sufrimiento, y las profundidades más bajas de la  posibilidad humana, pero esto fue algo muy profundo por lo cual yo no estaba  preparado. No podía contenerme hablando con mi mamá o mis amigos quien eran pastores. Para colmo, la familia me pidió que ejecutara el servicio de funeral, por lo cual yo agradablemente hice en asociación con pastor Euphemia, una mujer hispana que quía una congregación en York. Yo hablé de Mateo 10:26-31:

 

 Así que no les tengan miedo; porque no hay nada encubierto que no llegue a revelarse, ni nada escondido que no llegue a conocerse. Lo que les digo en la oscuridad, díganlo ustedes a plena luz; lo que se les susurra al oído, proclámenlo desde las azoteas. No teman a los que matan el cuerpo pero no pueden matar el alma. Teman más bien al que puede destruir alma y cuerpo en el infierno. ¿No se venden dos gorriones por una monedita?] Sin embargo, ni uno de ellos caerá a tierra sin que lo permita el Padre; y él les tiene contados a ustedes aun los cabellos de la cabeza. Así que no tengan miedo; ustedes valen más que muchos gorriones. 

 

Les recordé a la gente en la funeraria llena, que Darisabel era más valiosa que muchos gorriones al Padre. Hablé del hecho que Dios es Juez y puede juzgar sobre el bien y el mal. Las Escrituras me recordaron que justicia Divina para pecado había sido ofrecida graciosamente en la crucifixión de Jesucristo, un Santo Substituto, para pecadores. No estoy seguro que tanto consuelo mis palabras les trajeron, pero yo he mirado como Dios ha llevado su consuelo a esta familia afligida y en luto.

 

Un año luego, todavía nos preguntamos que  hemos aprendidos de toda esta tragedia. Tengo un perspectivo enteramente nuevo del embarazo en la adolescencia, drogas ilegales, justicia y la protección de los miembros más débiles de la sociedad. ¿Pero, cómo hemos sido todos nosotros cambiados por ésta? El Internet está lleno con rumores sobre los juicios que vienen. Los grupos de Facebook están llenos con miembros llamando para la justicia humana y Divina. ¿Pero, qué realmente ha cambiado?

 

Al fin del servicio funeral, les pregunté a todos allí que unieran sus manos para  hacer una promesa, para que la muerte de la pequeña Darisabel contara por algo. No estoy enteramente seguro como hacer eso. Al fin del mes, la abuela de Darisabel y yo asistiremos a la formación del primer capitulo de Prevent Child Abuse América de Pennsylvania. Alzar conciencia del abuzo de niños es algo que haremos para ayudar.

 

Pero seguramente hay que hacer más. Justicia humana tendrá su día cuando Juez Brillhart  renueve el proceso. En hecho, justicia humana tiene que tener su día porque la sangre de Darisabel lo reclama. Es el prorrogativo de Díos, imponer justicia Divina.

 

Yo  lo encuentro irónico que este año, la muerte de la pequeña Darisabel es observada durante la semana Santa. Esta semana, hace 2000 años, marca el sufrimiento de otro  ser  inocente. En una cruz vieja y torcida de madera, Dios el Padre permitió que su propio ser pequeño, Querido en el Cielo, fuera crucificado por los pecados e injusticias humanas. Justicia Divina ha sido ofrecida por todos nuestros pecados, aun los más atroces. Pensar en cuanto mucho castigo debería ser infligido hacia el hombre que torturó a Darisabel es un recuerdo de cuanto mucho Dios odia el pecado humano. Él lo odia tanto que tuvo que ofrecer su Uno perfecto, Jesús, por nuestros pecados. Todavía, justicia Divina sólo encuentra satisfacción para los que embracen  el regalo, que es Jesucristo. No hay ninguna otra satisfacción para  pecado que lo que Jesús nos ofrece. Isaías 53:5 dice, “Él fue traspasado por nuestras rebeliones,  y molido por nuestras iniquidades; sobre él recayó el castigo, precio de nuestra *paz,  y gracias a sus heridas fuimos sanados.

Ésto, en hecho, es como la cuenta de Darisabel conecta a City Church.  Nuestra esperanza es plantar una iglesia en la ciudad de York que ofrezca el consuelo, esperanza y el poder de transformación del Evangelio de Jesús. Estamos firmemente convencidos que Dios usó este evento para llamarnos al ministerio y servicio entre los residentes de la ciudad de York. Por eso, tenemos la intención de hacer que la vida de Darisabel cuente para algo, para llevar el poder de transformar del Evangelio a la gente, y quizás aparte de eso, poder evitar que no lleguen al mismo destino como Harve Johnson y Neida Baez. Tal vez, alguna familia que sea  tocada por el Evangelio cese de usar la violencia, las drogas, y el sexo para resolver sus problemas, y doble su energía hacía amarnos unos y a otros y a sus propios seres pequeños; pequeños como Darisabel.

Amelia entró meneándose mientras yo estaba terminado este boletín electrónico. No pude resistirme y tuve que besarla y abrazarla un poco más en luz de Darisabel. Mi corazón está roto por una niñita que debería haber tenido muchos besos y abrazos de su propio padre, pero en vez  tuvo su vida violentamente acortado por un hombre de mal genio con un juego en la mano. Confío que Darisabel ya esta en un mejor lugar. Me imagino que el domingo pasado  Jesús  montó una fiesta maravillosa de cumpleaños para ella en el Cielo. Yo oro que Jesús pueda ayudar a nuestra pequeña iglesia en la ciudad de York a hacer algo bien proveniente de la vida de Darisabel.

¡Nunca te olvidaremos Darisabel!

 


Family Remembers Darisabel – YDR

Family Remembers Darisabel – YDR

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Photo by York Daily Record

City Church exists to bring the redeeming Gospel to the city who is desperately hurting and in need of hope.  Darisabel’s story is one that we will continue to share.  The Leon’s are a vital part of City Church and along with them we desire to see the Gospel shine forth and stop the violence.

Read the article in the York Daily Record.

Torres Leon and her husband, Luis A. Leon, said the past year has been difficult for their family.

Torres Leon still thinks about her granddaughter, who had lived with her grandparents until a few months before her death, every day.

She still has the pink blanket that was tucked around Darisabel at Hershey Medical Center, and a heart-shaped mold of the child’s handprint that the hospital gave her the day Darisabel died.

via Family remembers Darisabel Baez on anniversary of her death – York, Pennsylvania

Justice for Darisabel

Justice for Darisabel

Update: Since the original date of publishing this post: Closing arguments have begun today in the trial of Harve Johnson. The trial is expected to wrap up in the next week. City Church has been meeting for 10 weeks, sharing the transforming hope of the Gospel in York City. I intend to write more when the trial is completed. Pray for the peace and prosperity of York City

Original post written April 7, 2009
(Spanish Version can be found here)

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Today marks the one year anniversary of Darisabel’s death. One year of painful memories. One year of daily reliving the monstrous beating Darisabel took at the hands of a troubled young man. One full year that her grandparents, under-20 uncles, and close friends were refused the opportunity to lavish love and gifts on her for Christmas and her third birthday. One terrible year where any bright moment that might burst forth was overshadowed by the constant memories and preliminary hearings. My gut says that this coming year won’t be much better. Darisabel’s mother and her boyfriend will stand trial for their respective roles in Darisabel’s death. The trial stands to be a graphic reminder of a day we would all like to forget. Just last week, I sat at a pre-trial hearing and in a short time quietly went through the whole range of emotions: rage, sadness, disbelief, and just feeling like someone had punched me in the stomach.

Some of our newer readers may not know City Church’s connection, so I’ll briefly explain. Darisabel was my little neighbor girl, a playmate of my own two year old, Amelia. Darisabel is the little girl in the pictures with pigtails and earrings. They loved spending time together. Darisabel was often in our backyard playing with the kids or roaming through the house when we babysat her. She was a beautiful little girl with the most dazzling blue eyes, simply enchanting. I can still picture her near the open window that faces our house calling, “Amelia, Amelia!”

I can still remember the day we heard the news. There was a three month window in the winter where we had not seen Darisabel. We knew her mother was dating a new guy that neither we nor Darisabel’s family had met. Elizabeth, Darisabel and the new boyfriend were now living on Philadelphia Street and kept their distance from us all.

On April 8, 2008, I picked up my copy of the York Daily Record and read the headline story about a two-year old girl who was beaten to death with an XBOX controller. The story had only one picture of the mother with a name I didn’t recognize, Neida Baez. Her face was haunting. I was moved to tears without even knowing the connection. I stared at Neida’s picture over and over and even told my wife the story. I swore that the woman looked like Darisabel’s mother, Elizabeth, but the connection seemed impossible. I knew Elizabeth. I never believed for a moment that she would have been capable of allowing something like this. My wife, Gail, took the kids to school that morning and returned to horrifying news from Darisabel’s grandmother. The front door to our house flew open with Gail weeping and wailing uncontrollably. “Aaron,” she screamed, “it was Darisabel.”

Never in my life have I experienced those kind of feelings. Gail and I both went about a week without much sleep. We wept bitterly at all hours of the day. Composure was something that I didn’t have for a while. In my line of work, one deals with a lot of death, suffering, and the lowest depths of human possibility, but this was deeper than anything for which I had been prepared. I couldn’t hold it together talking with my Mom or my buddies who were pastors. To top it off, the family asked me to perform the funeral service, which I gladly did in partnership with Pastor Euphemia, a Hispanic woman who leads a congregation in York. I spoke from Matthew 10:26-31:

There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

I reminded the packed funeral home that Darisabel was worth more than many sparrows to the Father. I spoke of the fact that God is Judge and is able to right the wrongs. The Scriptures reminded me that Divine justice for sin had been freely offered in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, a Holy Substitute, for sinners. I’m not sure how much comfort my words brought, but I have watched as God has brought His comfort to this grieving and distraught family.

One year later, I’m asking what we have learned from all of this. I have an entirely new perspective on teen pregnancy, poverty, illegal drugs, justice, and the protection of society’s weakest members. But, how have we all been changed by this? The internet is filled with buzz about the upcoming trials. Facebook groups are filled with members crying out for human and Divine justice. But, what has really changed?

At the end of the funeral service, I asked everyone there to join hands and vow to make little Darisabel’s life count for something. I’m still not entirely sure how to do this. At the end of the month, Darisabel’s grandmother and I will be attending the formation of Pennsylvania’s first Prevent Child Abuse America chapter. Raising awareness about child abuse is one thing we can help to do.

But surely there must be more. Human justice will have its day when Judge Brillhart convenes the trial. In fact, human justice must have its day because Darisabel’s blood cries out for it. It is God’s prerogative, though, to mete out Divine justice.

I find it sweetly ironic that this year, little Darisabel’s death is observed on Passion week. This week, 2000 years ago, marks the suffering of another innocent One. On a crooked old wooden cross, God the Father allowed His own little One, the Darling of Heaven, to be crucified for human sin and injustice. Divine justice has been offered for all of our sins, even the most heinous ones. Thinking about how much punishment should be inflicted on the man who tortured Darisabel is a reminder of how much God hates human sin. He hates it so much that He had to offer the Perfect One, Jesus, for our sins. Yet, Divine justice only finds satisfaction for those who embrace the gift of Jesus. There is no other satisfaction for sin than what Jesus offered for us. Isaiah 53:5 says, “He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed.”

This, in fact, is how Darisabel’s story connects to City Church. Our hope is to plant a church in York City that offers the comfort, hope, and transforming power of the Gospel of Jesus. We are firmly convinced that God used this event to call us to minister and serve among the residents of York City. And so, we intend to make Darisabel’s life count by taking the transforming power of the Gospel to people who otherwise might end up with the same fate as Harve Johnson and Neida Baez. Just maybe, some family that is touched by the Gospel will stop using violence, drugs, and sex to solve their problems, and turn their energy toward loving each other and their own little ones; little ones like Darisabel.

Amelia pranced in as I was wrapping this post up. I can’t help but kiss and hug her a little more in light of Darisabel. My heart is broken for a little girl who should have had lots of kisses and hugs from her own father, but instead had her life violently cut short by a short tempered man with a toy in his hand. I’m confident Darisabel is in a better place now. I bet last Sunday that Jesus helped throw her one awesome birthday party in heaven. I’m praying that Jesus can help our little church in York City make something good come out of Darisabel’s life.

We will never forget you Darisabel!