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8.09.2016

The A21 Campaign

Greetings All!

Stop Before you're tempted to close out this 'thought' because it's "too long" (which in our fast-paced society tends to be anything more than a paragraph or two) I would encourage you to read on. What is shared in this thought is VERY important -- both for you and many others around the world -- 27,000,000+ others to be exact.  Believe me it will be worth you time; and all the more so if it moves you to do something in response to it.
It comes from a lady named Christine Caine, and is found in a book called, "Passion," edited by Louie Giglio, and containing articles by many authors including Francis Chan, John Piper, and others. Christine is the  founder of the A21 Campaign, one of the largest non-profit 

organizations in the world, dedicated to rescuing the victims of human trafficking (labor and sex slaves) in 12 countries. This article tells why she chose to get involved. It is impossible (if one has a heart) to read what she writes and not be moved. Please do.


Divine Interruptions

     "I found myself speaking at a conference in Greece around the time that a little girl named Madeline went missing in Portugal. Her picture was plastered across the TV, in airports, and in magazines. Interpol was searching for this little girl everywhere. I was, of course, very saddened by the disappearance of this little girl, but I didn't know her.  I hadn't met her... Then I saw a second poster for another girl that was missing. This child was named Sophia -- the same name as my second daughter... Suddenly these missing children weren't numbers. They weren't posters and they weren't statistics. They were real -- someone's daughters. Someone's sisters and classmates. I stopped and began to wonder if that were MY Sophia on that poster, what would I do to find her? What wouldn't I give up to see her safe? 
     I later found out that these children were the alleged victims of human trafficking, something that at that time I didn't even know existed. I assumed that the slave trade was abolished with William Wilberforce, but I was wrong. On my watch, in my generation, the current state of slavery has been flourishing in the dark rooms of the world.  With all our great Christian gatherings, our tremendous churches, our wealth of worship songs and resources, right now in the 21st century, there are more slaves on earth than ever before.  It was incomprehensible to me.  How could this be true? How could this happen in our day?   Yet it's true. During our day, more people are being trafficked and sold for labor or sex than ever before in human history. This is unacceptable not merely from the standpoint of human rights; it's unacceptable from the standpoint of the teachings of Jesus...
     With knowledge comes responsibility. We know the slave trade is alive and well right now. We know this, and because we do, we are responsible to do something about it... We might be tempted to equate compassion with getting sad watching a movie or hearing a story. That's not compassion; that's sentiment.  Compassion isn't compassion until you are actually interrupted. It's not real until it inspires you to action.  It was the action of the Good Samaritan, not his sentiment, that separated him from the others that walked by the beaten man on the side of the road... In our choice about whether to cross the road, we must begin by realizing that at one point or another, we were the one lying in the ditch and Jesus crossed the road for us.
     I am a rescued person. I did not discover I was adopted until I was thirty-three years old. Though our parents never told us the truth, on a single day we discovered this family secret and the truth was jarring to say the least. Suddenly I didn't know who I was.  I didn't know whether I was conceived in an adulterous affair or a one-night stand. I didn't know if I was the result of a rape or an underage pregnancy.  But as the panic set in, the Lord reminded me I didn't have to know the specific facts to know who I am... I may not know who I was, but I know who I am; I have been rescued by the grace of God in Jesus Christ.  Jesus walked across the road between heaven and earth so that I might cross the road for the sake of others.  I was saved by grace that I might walk in the way Jesus did in the world. This is the plan of God -- to use rescued people to rescue people... Jesus has set us free so that we might set others free. He rescued us so that we might rise up, reach back, and rescue others... It could be any one of the twenty-seven million slaves in the world right now.
     But that twenty-seven million must cease to be a number.  Just like you and me, these people are living, breathing human beings created in the image of Almighty God, full of God-given destiny and God-given promise. The same Jesus who set me free can set them free, but how will they hear those words if we do not go tell them? How will they ever know the truth if we, together, don't raise our voices and declare that we will not allow this injustice to prevail? The Apostle Paul said that it is for freedom that Christ has set us free (Galatians 5:1), and we must take that declaration to the world.
     Not long ago I was sitting at one of our shelters with Sonia, one of fourteen rescued victims. One of these young women, one that wasn't a statistic anymore, began telling me about how she was shipped to Istanbul in a container with sixty girls. During the trip, the oxygen tank broke, and when the crate was actually opened, thirty of the girls were dead.  The ones left alive had no passports because the traffickers had taken them. They were locked in an apartment and raped several times a day by men wearing law-enforcement uniforms, so the girls would not trust the police. Then, they were put in a little rubber dingy to be taken from Istanbul to Athens through the Greek Islands. While en route, the traffickers were spotted by a coast guard patrol, and so they threw the girls overboard. Keep in mind that these girls were from villages and had barely seen running water, let alone been in a body of water to swim. Only five survived. Sonia was one of them.
     She was eventually brought to our shelter when police raided a brothel in Athens. It was about that time in this unbelievable story that a Russian girl sitting near us (who had been rescued only one day before Sonia) began to ask me loudly in broken Greek: "Why did you come?" As best I could I began to tell her about how Jesus had rescued me and so I wanted to help her. I told her that God has a plan, a purpose, and a destiny for her life; that it didn't matter what she had gone through -- God was big enough to redeem her past. But it's what she said next that I'll never forget. As I was telling her this good news, she yelled back at me, "If what you are telling me about your God is true, then why didn't you come sooner?"
     Why didn't I come sooner? Those words are haunting. What is so important in our temporal lives that will distract us from the eternal purpose God put us on earth for? What deserves more attention than the very people Jesus died for?  Safety, comfort and security are NOT the goal of Christianity; freedom is.  And because it is, we must rise together to declare that this will not happen on our watch.  Not today.  Not ever again." 

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     I have heard many sermons on the Old Testament passages which speak of the "watchmen" posted on the walls of the city of Jerusalem. Men who scanned the roads and dark outlines of the surrounding terrain all day long, and all night long, watching for danger or any signs of the approach of invading armies. But Christine is right. As Christians we are to do more that simply watch out for threats to the people of God, or the Church. We are to watch out for evil and injustice wherever it occurs, and sound the alarm for other's outside "Jerusalem" who are being mistreated, abused, or are victims of the new forms of human labor or sex slavery.  Many of these victims who are forced into labor or prostitution are children as young as 11 years old (some younger). The question is what are we doing to stop it? To use her words, "we must rise together (as the Church) and declare that this will not happen on our watch."  We are placed on the walls to ensure such things do not go unnoticed or unaddressed.
     The question facing the Church in every generation is: Will we speak up?  Will we somehow get involved?  Will we take the necessary risks and make the necessary sacrifices? Or will we turn a blind eye, and like the majority (at least here in the States), pretend it's not happening around us so we can continue to pursue the three gods of our culture -- "safety, comfort and security."  If it were your 11, 12, or 13 year old daughter (or son) would you simply express your sad "sentiment" or would you be "moved by compassion" to do something to put an end to such evil -- even if your part is to rescue just one of the twenty-seven million slaves worldwide?  God has placed you as watchmen on the walls -- will you allow such a thing to happen on your watch without lifting your voice, or pen, or hands to do something to stop it? As the old Christian hymn declares: "Rise Up Oh Church of God..."  Will we?   Will we think, "How sad..." or will we be,  "moved by compassion..."

In the Bonds of the Gospel, Pastor Jeff


8.02.2016

What Jonathan Edwards Can Teach Us About Politics - Part 2

Greetings All,

As promised last week, this week's thought contains Jonathan's Edwards last three thoughts on the Christian's involvement in political things.
     Once again, it is taken from the article by Gerald R. McDermott entitled, "What Jonathan Edwards Can Teach Us About Politics."
     Hopefully you have been introduced to Jonathan Edwards (as he was one of the godliest and greatest thinkers to pass through the American scene).   Some of his writings are hard to follow (as those who have read, "The Nature of True Virtue," or "The Freedom of the Will" can testify).  Yet they are well-worth the time if you want some intellectually and spiritually challenging reading for your summer vacation!  With that being said, here are the last three of Edwards' six points on "public theology."   (To refresh your memory of the first three see last week's post at - www.thoughtfortheweek-jeff.blogspot.com )  Enjoy!

     "4.) Christians should remember that politics is relatively unimportant in the long run.  The key moments of history, Edwards taught, are not important elections or decisive wars, but spiritual awakenings. Therefore, the most important thing Christians can do for the good of their country is to pray for revival. Spiritual transformation brings more positive change to the world than political or social revolution.  From God's perspective, "one true Christian, however humble his birth and low his standing; however poor or ignorant or unknown (is more valuable than) many great men of the world, kings and princes, men of great power and policy... that are honored and make a great figure... [but] are wicked men and reprobates." God delights to "choose the foolish things of the world to confound the mighty... and things which are not, to bring to naught things that are" ((I Corinthians 1:27-28). For this reason Edwards did not hesitate to use a four-year-old girl's piety to recommend revival in a public treatise published in an era when children's and women's testimonies were widely considered unreliable. 
     5.) Christians should beware of national pride (or patriotism).  Edwards commended patriotism as a natural and loving response to the needs of one's nation. But, in words reminiscent of Samuel Johnson's remark that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel, Edwards warned that patriotism often serves self-interest.  It is particularly susceptible to self-deception, he argued, because its loyalties extend to a large number of people, making such loyalties appear altruistic. Look at the Romans, he suggested; they considered love for country to be the highest of all virtues, yet they employed their patriotism "for the destruction [subjugation] of the rest of mankind."  Edwards would be very wary of contemporary calls to regard America as a Christian nation needing to return to its lost Christian roots. No nation has ever been Christian, he insisted. There has never been a country where the majority of citizens were born-again or even regular church goers [Edwards even testifies that at the height of the revival only 25% of Nothhampton were true believers, with about the same colony-wide].  Most citizens of so-called Christian countries are not regenerate, and even the regenerate have an abundance of sin. No people has ever been righteous, least of all the colonial New England to which he preached. Edwards condemned eighteenth-century New England for it's religious hypocrisy, social strife, lack of compassion for the poor, and exploitation of the Native Americans.
     Edwards would also be critical of those who assume that America's future must be bright because God has favored her with so many blessings. This Northhampton (Massachusetts) prophet acknowledged that New England had been the recipient of unprecedented blessings, both spiritual and political. But, in a move missed by nearly all Edwards scholars, he said that such blessings could be a sign of impending judgment.  It is a familiar pattern in [biblical] history, he observed, for God to pour out spiritual revival just before He unleashes terrible judgement. Revival came to the Jews in Jesus' time, just 40 years before Jerusalem was brutally destroyed. God dealt similarly with Israel's ten lost tribes, the churches of North Africa and the Middle East after the rise of Islam, and the Protestant churches in France after the Reformation. Therefore, Edwards warned that it is foolish for a people to think its religious and political freedoms will guarantee a happy future. If a society is morally and spiritually corrupt, it will collapse despite having wonderful freedoms. Edwards repeated this warning to colonial New England during the French and Indians Wars.















     6.) Christians should care for the poor. Edwards was sharply critical of those churchgoers who, "pretend a great love to men's souls [but] are not compassionate and charitable towards their bodies."  When Boston's liberal preachers Charles Chauncey and Jonathan Mayhew were preaching that the poor were undeserving and their poverty was their own fault, Edwards told his congregation they should not be content until poverty was eliminated from their community.  It was not unusual for Puritan preachers to teach charity to the poor.  But Edwards was unusually fearless when confronting those he considered negligent. When Northhampton built a new church building that placed the poor in the worst seats, Edwards boldly declared that those with the best seats may have no seats at all in heaven.  He charged those who gave only their [unwanted things, or their worthless things to] the poor with lying to God, like Ananias and Sapphira, who God struck dead for their dishonesty (Acts 5:1-11).  In the 1740's Edwards established a deacon's fund specially for the poor and regularly called on wealthier Christians to make "frequent and liberal (generous)" contributions.
     Edwards taught that charity to the poor is at the heart of biblical theology.  Preaching from Matthew 25, he said that God is present in the poor, whom he constitutes as the "receivers."  Since we cannot express our love to God by doing anything to profit him, God wants us to do something profitable for our poor neighbors, whom he delegated with the task of receiving Christian love...  Edwards supported a state welfare program.  Since all human beings, even true Christians are naturally selfish, he contended, private -- even church -- charity is unreliable.  Hence, government shows it's "wisdom" when it administers a welfare program to assist the deserving poor.  Those who are poor because of laziness, or prodigality, however, do not merit such assistance.  Biographer Samuel Hopkins, who lived in Edwards home for six months, said Edwards himself was a stellar example of giving to the poor but usually gave secretly. One time, for example, Edwards heard of a family in another town that had fallen upon poverty because the father had become sick. Edwards, who rarely had enough to make ends meet, made arrangements to have the man receive a bundle of money without knowing from whom it came. On his deathbed, Edwards (who was well-known and well-respected) ordered that his own funeral be conducted "without pomp and cost." Any money that might have been spent for that purpose was instead to be given to the poor and needy."

     This gives you an idea of what one of the most God-centered and Christian thinkers in American history thought of a Christians attitude and involvement in politics and social issues. I trust that as this election year proceeds, you might consider his thoughts, since they come from a zealous evangelist, ardent revivalist, biblical thinker and godly husband and father.
     After all, as being "in the world but not of the world," the Christian is not really able to avoid "politics" completely.  Believers are simply asked to think, act, and hold to truly Christian ideals as they live out their faith within the realities of an imperfect society run by imperfect people like him or herself.
     In fact, in keeping with Edwards, what matters most are not the ideas, platforms, or policies held by any particular political party, for each one is terribly flawed and cannot escape being corrupted by the lure of money and the desire for power. Contrary to the persuasion of some, our country will never truly be "fixed" so long as it is run by sinners (be they sinners who are Democrat or Republican, or whatever other party one affiliates with)!  A host of individual citizens, committed to that which honors and reflects the nature of our just and merciful God, will do more to bring about healthy changes in society than any party's agenda or platform.  That's how I see it anyway, and I think Edwards would agree.
In His Service, Pastor Jeff

7.26.2016

What Jonathan Edwards Can Teach Us About Politics

Greetings All,

     In light of the coming election here in the States (which has many people from both sides a bit discouraged with the final candidate alternatives) I thought some biblically-based political insights from a man who lived long ago -- Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) -- would be useful in helping us choose wisely, regardless of which side of the divide you stand on.  Even those who have determined in protest -- not to vote at all, or vote for a write in -- could benefit from his thoughts on the issue. Although I must add that it's good to remember that Edwards wrote at a time when no constitution had yet been drafted, and the United States had not yet become the United States!

This "thought" is taken from an article written by Gerald R. McDermott, entitled: "What Jonathan Edwards Can Teach Us About Politics."  In his article he shares six of Edwards's views, though I have chosen to limit this week's post to the first three and give you the last three next week.  And before all my friends overseas press the "delete" button, I must add that the insights he shares are timeless and by no means restricted to U.S. politics!  Wherever you may live, I trust you will find them helpful.  Enjoy.

"Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) is widely regarded as the greatest theologian this continent has ever produced. As a key figure in the religious life of colonial America, Edwards was a multifaceted thinker whose total catalog of ideas is still being discovered. ... And while scholars have long recognized that Edwards possessed one of the most creative and powerful intellects on American soil [just to give you a sense of intellectual prowess, it helps to know Edwards entered Yale University at 13 years old, having already learned Latin, Greek and Hebrew], most have thought [because of his famous sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"] he was happy to let the world go to hell -- in both senses of that phrase. 
     But recent research indicates that Jonathan Edwards carefully observed the social and political currents swirling about him and developed an elaborate theory of what it means to be a Christian citizen in a civil community... The following is a six-point summary of Edwards's public theology:
     1.) Christians have a responsibility to society beyond the walls of the church. The election of a president who openly supports social policies repugnant to most evangelicals has prompted some Christians to suggest the church abandon efforts to change society.... Yet Edwards (well-known for his leadership in spiritual revivals) insisted that Christians should care about the material and social well-being of those outside the church. God has made us dependent upon our non-Christian neighbors for help, he taught, and therefore to fail to acknowledge our interdependence "is more suitable for wolves and other beasts of prey, than for human beings."  Edwards's convictions on this point stemmed from his belief that we are made in the image of God, who is always reaching out in relationship to others and cares for their bodies as well as their souls. Christians should do the same... Edwards practiced what he preached. Throughout a seven year stint on the Massachusetts frontier, for example, the New England theologian fought for the rights of native Americans who came to his mission church. He argued that Indian girls should be able to go to school, and wrote repeated letters to the Massachusetts Assembly urging the colony to honor its treaty obligations to the Housatonuk Indians...  
     2.) Christians should not hesitate to join forces with non-Christians in the public square to work toward common moral goals...Edwards argued that Christians have much in common with non-Christians: The same basic sense of good and evil, since God has engraved his moral law on every human conscience; similar appreciation for beauty, both material and moral; the same fundamental religious knowledge (that there is a God, and that He is good); and basic human feelings (pity for the poor and love for family).  Using Edward's principles, an evangelical could work together with a Muslim to fight pornography in their community. Both see pornography as a moral wrong, threatening the integrity of marriage and family.... Similarly, his public theology does not call for Christians to create new, separate political communities, or to shun communities outside the church. Rather, it encourages Christians to work together with like-minded citizens, Christian or not, to transform existing communities according to God-given principles of conscience. [Edwards, says McDermott, would have rejected "the historic Anabaptist approach, who choose not to join with those outside the church as equal partners in common work for the community, but remain separate from the rest of society in an alternative community intended to stand only as a distant witness to the rest of culture.]
     3.) Christians should support their governments but be ready to criticize them publicly when the occasion demands. Edwards believed that government is, "a great and important business," that, among other things, prevents, "citizens from tearing one another apart." He preached that a Christian should be "greatly concerned for the good of the public community to which he belongs," and willing to, "lay out himself... for the good of his country." .... But Edwards also warned that political leaders are prone to abuse their power, and encouraged citizens to criticize "the management of public affairs, and the duty of the legislature, and those that are at the head of the administration." More than once he used his pulpit to tell rulers how they ought to behave. One Sunday (with local politicians present)...he boldly advised the congregation that bad politicians seek only to, "enrich themselves, or to be great, and advance themselves on the spoils of others." The good magistrate, however, is not willing to "grind the faces of the poor, and screw their neighbors for filthy lucre." Little wonder that these politicians conspired with others to fire Edwards some months later."
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     I must confess I'm one of those people who are "discouraged" with the options left to us this November.  And I'm not alone if the lack of placards in people's front yards, and the noticeable absence of bumper stickers on cars are an indication of the lack of enthusiasm for either candidate. Yet despite that prevalent air of discouragement many feel, Edward's thoughts are helpful -- especially the thought that we live in a community, with Christian and non-Christian neighbors, whose physical and spiritual welfare IS to be my concern.  And it is helpful to remind ourselves that "God has made us dependent upon our non-Christian neighbors," and we should "acknowledge our interdependence," and that we do have "much in common with non-Christians,"  and should seek to "work together with like-minded citizens, Christian or not."
     After all, our God (who is sovereign over all), has left us here to be "salt" and "light."  Light which dispels the darkness, and salt which is NOT to remain separate, but be mixed into the whole to give it a better flavor.
Just some food for thought, Pastor Jeff

7.20.2016

The Disappearing Bible

Greetings All,

Today's "thought" comes to you from a section of Shane Hipps book "Flickering Pixels," entitled, "The Disappearing Bible." 
     It's a critique of the dangers of the digital age and the growing aversion to right-brain learning (seeking by linear deductive reasoning to solve complex ideas by in-depth study, in order to gain a comprehensive understanding of a topic), in favor of left-brain learning (seeking through art, photos, intuition, emotional stimulation, subliminal impressions, and a short not-so-comprehensive, "throw out a personal opinion and see how people respond" approach to topics). 
     The second, as Hipps points out, is an approach to learning that has made in-depth study of the Bible (to know it well) a thing that is avoided, or even seen as obsolete, in many areas of present-day church culture.  He is not opposed to visual or intuitive learning, but simply advocates what he calls "brain balance" -- seeing the need to retain our ability to reason through complex ideas, while taking advantage of digital technology and all that it has to offer.
     To use a common phrase, the growing popularity of the short, non-comprehensive, opinion-based blog, should not cause us to "throw the baby out with the bathwater."  Believers need both, lest they lose their grip on the truth and fall prey to whatever tweaks their emotions or happens to sit well with their current (but soon passing) preferences.  To help you as you read: right brain = intuitive/artistic/emotive, and left brain = reasoning/logic/science.  Enjoy.
The Disappearing Bible

     "Most books present an extensive, in-depth monologue, a thorough argument carefully crafted in linear, successive paragraphs and pages. This is true of both novels and non-fiction. The left brain is heavily engaged by such activity.  But Internet text presents a nonlinear web of interconnected pages and a vast mosaic of hyperlinks with no fundamental beginning, middle or end.  We are immersed in a boundless, endless, data space. These are conditions specially suited to the right-brain...  The power of intuition, emotion, holistic perception, and pattern recognition are all gifts of the right-brain. The right-brain is the hemisphere that allows us entry into spiritual practices like contemplation, centering prayer and silence. The left-brain is allergic to such practices; it is the dogmatic theologian rather than the intuitive mystic...
     The Internet is stunningly effective at enticing us to open a Pandora's Box of perpetual links, sights, sound, people, places, feelings, and ideas. Our intellects are spread a mile wide and an inch deep. Consider blogs. Their great wonder is their dynamic speed.  We are exposed to many more ideas than previously possible and given a chance to dialogue in near real time. Yet because of their brevity and the constant evolution of content, blogs are forced to stay on the surface. Blogs are ill-suited for deep-level analysis and thoughtful reasoning. The Internet makes a flat stone of the mind and skips it across the surface of the world's information ocean. A book, by contrast, is a sturdy submarine, diving the mind deep into the sea..
     The emerging right-brain culture presents other challenges as well. Protestant Christianity is a by-product of a single medium -- the printed Bible. Without printing, no one could have challenged the authority of the pope. How disconcerting to have a faith yoked so closely to a medium that is now in the dusk of its life, at least as we currently know it. Our culture has a shrinking preference for reading books, especially complex ones, and if the Bible is anything, it is complex. So it should not surprise us to see a growing biblical illiteracy in the electronic age.
     The Bible is an extraordinarily demanding library of books. The stories, letters, and laws are shrouded by the fog of time. The thick dusty languages of ancient Greek and Hebrew convey the message through cumbersome translations. The books were born in civilizations and cultures alien to us, and the assumptions and attitudes of the original authors often escape us entirely.  In many cases, excavating the meaning [of texts] requires the fortitude, patience, and discipline of an archaeological dig.
     In other words, bulging left-brain muscles are an essential tool for understanding the Bible. Unfortunately, our digital diet sedates the left-brain, leaving it in a state of hypnotic stupor.  The left-brain begins acting like our great Uncle Jerry, nodding off in his recliner after Thanksgiving dinner. Large portions of the Bible are growing faint and becoming inaccessible to the lethargic left-brain." 

     Hipps goes on to say these two forms of learning must find a way to co-exist.
     We must never allow the tensions and disagreements (and at times contrary purposes of the one as opposed to the other) prevent us from availing ourselves of the benefits of both. Each has its place, and it is always a danger to, "tear asunder what God has joined together."  If we are to "Love the Lord our God with all our... mind," we must seek to avoid anything that would disparage either the right-brain or left brain approach to truth.
     The Church suffers when the faith is made into something only the scholar and grasp, but it also suffers when people embrace ideas foreign to Scripture, or contrary to Scripture, simply because it came to them in a moment of earnest contemplation or artistic creativity. The two forms of learning balance each other off. After all, God could have created us without dividing the brain into left and right lobes. He could have created the lobes so they functioned identically. But He didn't.  And therefore, to disregard one, simply because we have a preference for the other, is to insult the Creator, and call His all-knowing wisdom into question.
To the end that we may love the Lord our God as we should -- with ALL our mind -- Pastor Jeff