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Jesus often describes the Kingdom of God with parables, stories that pierce the heart and reveal the truth of God to those earnestly seeking Truth. Throughout the parables I am amazed at one simple fact; God desires that I enter the Kingdom and take a seat at the table.
Andrei Rublev’s Icon of the Holy Trinity at Mamre would serve us well in understanding the Kingdom of God and how it is realized in the community of faith today. This Icon shows us what Abraham learned when he was visited by the Lord in Genesis 18, that the Lord exists in perfect community and unity and most importantly that there is always a seat at the table. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are equally sitting at the table in Holy community facing you and I asking that we would join them in their communal feast! How the Church would be transformed if we understood that our ministry is to be a reflection of the Trinitarian fellowship and communion happening at this table! The very nature of this communion speaks to how we as servants of Christ should be engaging ministry and working in the Kingdom today.
First, we must understand that we are doing the Father’s work, not our own work. Our concentration should be on pleasing our Father and not ourselves. When we are committed to our Father’s work and calling in our live’s, we stop building our kingdom and we begin to build not with items of this world but of the kingdom which will never perish or fade. The Father’s work is not about self, it requires us to “seek justice, encourage the oppressed, defend the fatherless and plead the case of the widow.”
Second, the Kingdom is built upon the Cornerstone, Jesus Christ. The ministry which God has placed in our care is focused on Christ and his sacrificial work upon the cross. This work is about self sacrifice, not self exaltation! This admittedly, may be the hardest component of the Kingdom, when we live life through the sacrifice of the cross we turn people away from ourselves and “direct them to the gospel of grace–to Jesus Christ, that they might look to him to lead them, open their hearts in faith and prayer, and draw them by the Spirit into his eternal life of communion with the Father.”
Third and finally, we reflect upon the truth of praying (and living) to God the Father by the Son through the power of the Holy Spirit. By reflection of the Trinity we understand that God has created us to be transformed by community. The antithesis of building the kingdom of self is to focus on the community that is brought together by the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. Practically, this happens when we move away from thinking that “communion” is a once-a-month act and allow the Spirit to transform us into a community. Community means that we put the needs of others, before self and that we follow the model that our Lord Jesus Christ entrusted to us as we, together, take our seat at the table.
I had to apologize to my wife. It definitely wasn’t the first time, nor will it be the last that I wanted to seek forgiveness for my actions but this apology was unique. I had neglected something fundamental to our relationship and our lives together and I realized that I was not truly loving my wife. As I reflected deeply upon this I realized that I was not loving anyone…I was merely going through the motions. Allow me to explain…in the human sense of the word I love my wife well, I provide for her, protect her, listen to her needs, buy her flowers and all of the numerous trappings that come with the modern sentimentality of love. But this is not love, these romantic notions may be a small fragment of what love is but it falls woefully short of the love that God has modeled for us and called us to live out each day.
The love that we express in our society is a performance based “love.” Take a moment to reflect honestly about this. Our love is expressed to those who “deserve it” and have “earned it.” Every relationship that we have is entrenched with this worldview. We “love” our children when they behave and don’t embarrass us as parents, we “love” our friends and family members when they “love” us back and don’t betray our trust. We “love” our spouses when they do their share of the chores, help the household run smoothly or when they satisfy our emotional, physical and spiritual needs.
Shame on us.
Think of this amazing notion for just a moment…God loves us regardless of our performance! If we embarrass Him, betray Him, lie to Him, cheat on Him, forget about Him or neglect Him God still loves us. Not because of anything that we have done or could ever do, God loves us because of the sacrifice His Son made for us on the cross. God loves us so much that he sent Jesus to die on the cross (John 3:16) so we could understand how non-performance based God’s love for us truly is. God has shown us that he loves us despite our performance and that we are to love others in the same way, not based on performance but according to the worth God has ascribed upon us, the eternal worth which was purchased in blood by Jesus Christ.
Christianity is unique in this major aspect from all other world religions or belief systems…that “God is love.” (1 John 4:16b) Not that God knows how to love or that love is an aspect of who He is, but that love is the essence of His entire being. Likewise, to be called His children, we are called to love like God, “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” (1 John 4:16) I want to love others like God loves me, not based on performance but based on the eternal love that is mercifully shown to me every moment of my existence. That’s True Love and it’s time I live it out…will you join me?
Here is a simple concept, if you want to stay proficient in something you have to practice at it everyday. We’ve made catchy little sayings about it like “practice makes perfect” and I think we all wish we had more time to practice the things that we love and enjoy but lives are busy and everyday we face new challenges that steal away from our time. As a Christian this problem becomes more magnified as we try to make time to read the Bible on a regular basis. So I’d like to invite you into a little club, a not-so-secret society that will solve these problems, it’s called;
The “Ten Minutes a Day” club.
This club was first introduced to me by a Greek professor and the premise was simple, read your Greek Bible 10 minutes a day and you will keep your skills sharp throughout your lifetime. Now take this concept to reading your English Bible 10 minutes, everyday, and your growth in God’s Word will be unmistakeable. 10 minutes is not a lot considering you are given 24 hours each day, taking 10 minutes out of your day is very easy and everyone can find the time to work into their schedule. And the great thing about the Bible is that as you read it, you learn to love it more as God works his Word inside of your life and before you know it those 10 minutes blossom into even more.
So that’s it…no gimmicks or tricks just 10 tiny minutes of your time each and everyday. Will you take on the challenge and join the club? There are no fees or membership dues, simply open your Bible and read it for 10 minutes everyday. I’d love to hear your thoughts and any tips you have on keeping yourself in actively pursuing God each day.
I don’t want you to panic but I really need to tell you something, brace yourself….there are only 5 days left until Christmas (insert scream here)! Granted, maybe you are one of the elite few who had all of their shopping done by July but for the vast majority of us the season of Christmas can be an extremely stressful and anger inducing time. Some of the most flagrant disrespects of humanity happen during Christmas shopping. I’ve seen two grown women have a fistfight in the Disney store fighting over that one last toy, people have been trampled to death because of a “super sale” and people in general are rude, crude and only thinking about their well-being and survival. How did it go so wrong? How did the meaning of Christmas get lost in the lines at the mall waiting to see Santa? Perhaps we’ve never truly understood what Christmas meant in the first place.
I’m sure you’ve heard the catchy phrase before, “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.” Well that’s true but not complete. Even in Christian circles Christmas has become a commercialized and marketed product similar to a soup line; feeding the masses but nourishing no one. I don’t know how many Christian people have told me that they hate the Christmas season! Really?! How can anyone hate Christmas?
It’s time to take Christmas back. Amidst the hub-bub and bustle, the long lines and frustrating return policies the meaning of Christmas must be redeemed. Christmas is the season of life, it is the time of year that we remember that it is because of a little baby that we have life. God himself looked upon his most cherished creation (humanity) and decided to step off of his throne of glory and splendor to come to earth and be born a helpless little baby. He went from the greatest of strengths to the weakest of all, because he loved you and I more than he loved himself. Let me repeat that, God loves us more than himself and he showed us this in the manger as a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths. As the baby Jesus laid there sleeping those who came to worship realized that this new life would bring forth new life to all men.
So the next time you are standing in a long line, being irritated by a cashier or buying a gift for someone you hardly know remember this; You have been given the gift of life, you didn’t deserve it nor could you ever obtain it on your own, yet God came to earth in a manger, as a baby so that we could have life, life eternal. You know what…this IS the most wonderful time of the year.
(This post is my contribution to a series at Grace Church on the book “Spiritual Disciplines of a C.H.R.I.S.T.I.A.N.” you can read the other posts here)
A strange phenomenon has happened inside the halls of American Christianity, we’ve gotten the third member of the Trinity all wrong. That’s right, the Holy Spirit has been offended and we are to blame. Charismatics believe that they own exclusive rights to the work of the Holy Spirit and Evangelicals act as if He is something akin to the Force from Star Wars, yet both are wrong. The Holy Spirit is at work in each believer, equipping Christians with the ability to produce fruits of righteousness, to accomplish works that are impossible to our personal/human limitations and lastly through the blessing of spiritual gifts and enabling us to use our gifts in a way glorifying to God. We must make a disciplined effort if we wish to see these areas of our life continue to grow.
In his book “Spiritual Disciplines of a C.H.R.I.S.T.I.A.N.” Dr. Gil Stieglitz shows us the practical application of living the Christian life in a way which develops lasting relational and spiritual growth with God. Stieglitz calls this the “Disciplines of the Holy Spirit.” Through these disciplines we as Christians allow ourselves to be utilized by the Holy Spirit and He in turn guides us to be more Christ-like. Not only are we mimicking the qualities of Christ, we become those qualities. One of the practical disciplines involved is through the meditation of the virtues taught and modeled by Christ. A great example of this is the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12) where Jesus famously taught (and modeled) such virtues such as meekness and humility. By meditating on these attributes the Christian is led by the Holy Spirit to discover those virtues which are lacking or non-existent. As we follow this discipline the Holy Spirit draws out our weaknesses and turns them into strengths.
The Holy Spirit is also responsible for accomplishing what is only possible through the work of God. Jesus tells us “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” (Luke 18:27) All too often we place God into a box and we say things like “this can never happen” and yet we see God work in a powerful way through His Spirit. We must practice the discipline of making ourselves open to the working of the Holy Spirit on a daily basis. By reading God’s Word we can see numerous times when God interceded in an impossible situation, He did then and He continues to work powerfully in our lives today. We must trust Him for the impossible, for it is only possible through Him.
Lastly, all Christians have been given spiritual gifts specifically granted by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:7-11). These gifts have not been given for our own good but that we may glorify God and that we may “serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in it’s various forms.” (1 Peter 4:10) When we utilize our gifts on a regular basis we fulfill our God given purpose, God is glorified and man is edified.
As Christians we should daily ask the Spirit to strengthen us in these areas of growth. I challenge you to start now, read through this list of the “Fruit of the Spirit” taken from Galatians 5:22-23 and take a moment for reflection. What areas do you feel strong in? What areas do you need the Spirit to guide and strengthen you in? By practicing this simple discipline you will begin seeing yourself reflecting Christ more each day! Amen!
Recently, God has been working in my life or should I say shaping my life. I’ve come to realize that during this time the analogy God uses in the Bible about being clay in His hands has become more a reality than a good word picture.
Here is the beautiful thing about clay, if you keep it moist and supple it can be continuously molded and shaped. As the potter turns the wheel and skillfully runs his hands over the wet clay the impurities can be rooted out and the smooth clay begins to take its beautiful form. Should a new impurity form, it can be dealt with and removed. The clay itself can be flattened and in just a few moments be reshaped into the form the potter desires. All of this is only possible while the clay is moist and supple in the hands of the Potter.
Now if clay does not stay moist and supple it begins to become hard and brittle. Once the clay becomes hard it is no longer good for shaping, the clay will retain the shape that it remains in. At this point there is only one recourse for the clay…to be broken.
God works the molding of our lives the same way. Many times when we are going through a struggle in our lives God is shaping us for the beautiful form he has in mind for us. The key is to stay moist and supple in the hands of the Potter and trust that His design is perfect, His skill is beyond compare and His love for His creation is beyond understanding. If we reject God’s shaping the wheel stops and we slowly grow hard and brittle, no longer being useful to pour water on us for the shape has been set. The only way we can be shaped at this point is to be broken and for Potter to begin again.
We’ve all been broken, we cannot be fixed until we are. Stay supple in the hands of the Potter and trust that He is shaping you for His perfect purpose.
Summer is in full swing; people are barbecuing, kids are out of school, the temperature is always HOT and life tends to lounge around like a sunbather by the pool. Today is the day that America celebrates it’s independence, the 4th of July, and its a day that encapsulates the feeling of summer. Cook-outs, swimming pools and fireworks round out the perfect summer day. For many summer is the greatest 3 months of the year, the fun never stops and life is carefree…but herein lurks a disturbing problem.
Spiritually speaking, summer is the darkest time of the year. Our focus turns inward; how can I have fun, where can I go on vacation and how can I delay responsibility for another day, week or month. And while fun activities and vacations are important for any person or family we neglect one very important fact, the Devil doesn’t go on vacation and evil never takes a break! Yet, ask any pastor in America and they will tell you that church attendance plummets during the summer. A friend of mine who is a youth pastor told me that he has to cancel all youth programs during the summer because only a handful of kids would show up and that’s from a church with a large youth ministry! I know people who don’t set foot in church between Memorial day and Labor day and for no other reason than it’s “Summer.” And this goes deeper than simple church attendance, people stop fellowshipping, they stop reading their Bible and most importantly they completely lose focus on their relationship with God. Spiritually, the summer is a dark place and we are deceived to believe otherwise.
How then, can we bring “light” back into our summer? The first step is to remember to keep your focus on God, keep your relationship with Him strong and vibrant through prayer, fellowship and service. The next step is by opening your Bible and reading it!! Engage Scripture daily with a time of devotion and meditation. And the third and final step is to make yourself a plan! Plan what parts of Scripture you will read, study something that you never have before and make a list of books that will take your walk with God to the next level. Taking the time to cultivate your relationship with God now during the summer will pay huge dividends for you through the rest of the year. Your spirit, life and walk will be filled with light, not darkness.
Oh, and one last thing…go to church during the summer, they’re open, I promise!
Statistics though do not have faces. While it may be easy for some to read a statistical analysis of a criminal activity without feeling any compassion, sympathy or anger the stories of Sex Trafficking victims do not allow the same respite.
One such story is of Andrea, a girl who was abandoned by her family at age 4(9). Andrea recounts being shuttled back and forth between the US on numerous occasions. At the age of 7 Andrea was taken to a hotel to meet a john who read the Bible to her before he had sex with her and then read the Bible again after he was done. “Sex as a child always hurt” but Andrea’s captors would “train” her usually by rape or other sadistic methods. Though she was young Andrea recalled many times she would be taken to help “shop” for other young children, explaining how in Juarez Mexico her captors purchased a young 4 year old boy from a family for $500. When she was shuttled back into the US many of the children would be dropped off at service stations to men waiting in the restrooms…some of the children would return to the transport van while many would leave the van never to be seen again. The children who did return would be taken to stash houses, regular looking houses in regular middle class neighborhoods. Usually there were three age groups that her captors would hold down in the basement of the homes, toddler to 4, 5 to 12, and then the teens and “damaged group.” In the “damaged group” the men could beat you and do pretty much whatever they desired to do. The children held in the basement were malnourished, beaten both emotionally and physically but they would much rather stay in the basement…when they were summoned out it meant they would be used for another waiting customer. The average time span a child will be used in the Sex Trade industry is usually 2-4 years before they are either abandoned or killed, Andrea endured this type of life for 12 years, never experiencing a childhood.
The abuse that Andrea received runs much deeper than mere physical trauma. Her life was threatened regularly, the lives of family members and friends would be constantly threatened to keep her behavior regulated. Even with the opportunity of freedom the psychological terror that her captors literally beat into her kept her from ever trying to gain freedom. Many of the children would never even consider running to the police for fear of further brutalization as many law enforcement agencies would share in the corruption, turning their heads for large weekly payoffs from the Human/Sex Traffickers. Today, Andrea still lives in fear from her past captors as they are still at large and probably still terrorizing more young children.
Unfortunately this story is not the exception…its becoming the rule. Millions of children are treated just like Andrea was…every day, millions; hearing about one child treated like this is absurd but the harsh reality is that globally women and children are being abducted, sold, pimped and forced into a living hell. But the question must be asked, who would ever do such a thing? Who could ever perpetrate such an act and how does one become a customer to purchase something that God never intended to be sold? The answers may be as unnerving as the crimes they commit.
Of course, trying to find reliable estimates or figures on who is a Human/Sex Trafficker or customer of traffickers remains to be a rather murky engagement. What we do know is that the crime does not harbor favorites, people of every age, race and gender are involved in the Human/Sex Trafficking crime organizations. Referencing back to the DOJ’s “Characteristics of Suspected Human Trafficking Incidents, 2008-2010,” we see that the highest percent of traffickers were either African-American or Hispanic with Asian, White and “Other” finishing out the list.10 The figure which stands out the most is the gender of the traffickers. Men comprised of 80 percent of the traffickers while women made up nearly 20 percent of the arrested traffickers! When most people think of a child being brutalized, beaten, raped and starved it is almost against our nature to believe a woman could be involved in such a brutal crime, yet the statistics show otherwise. In fact, women often serve a key role in Sex Trafficking organizations as they are the ones who gain the “trust” of the child or woman when they are first brought in. But it is the women who also cause the most psychological damage as they are in charge of “grooming” the child/woman on how to act and what they are to do.
Statistical analysis on the customers of Sex Trafficking is even more scarce. Most of the information referenced involves trafficking outside of the United States as most customers of third-world countries “sex tourism” are customers from northern Europe and the United States.11 While many would believe that only pedophiles would be the customers of such sexual exploitation this assumption would be false. The vast majority of men traveling abroad have no criminal record and purposefully schedule trips specifically to be a “sex tourist.” Hot spots for such activity include Thailand, Cambodia, and most recently Brazil has begun to emerge as the leader in “sex tourism” travel. Frequently, travelers will disguise their trips as “Amazon fishing tours” while in fact they are targeting children that are made available to sexual exploitation.
The excuses that men give for their preying upon children and impoverished women are pathetic. It reminds me of those Dateline specials with Chris Hansen, “To Catch a Predator.” Men on this show are caught red handed, showing up to the house of a minor with the sole intent of having sex with them and even though there is a mountain of evidence against them the men will do whatever they can to point the finger elsewhere. Experts have given four possible ideas as to the motivation of these predators. 1) Travelers believe they are relieving the children of economic hardship when paying them for sex, 2) They believe that some countries are less “sexually inhibited,” 3) The thought of anonymity and freedom of their home’s moral standards, 4) Often travelers have racist beliefs, that certain cultures or people are “less than human” and can be treated accordingly.12 How a person can justify traveling to another country solely for the purpose of “sexual tourism” is beyond understanding and completely sickening. Can people be so utterly wicked, sinful and evil that they can exploit children sexually and then come up with excuses as to why its ok?
Unfortunately, one of the reasons that people continue to traffic people for the purpose of sex is that the governments of many countries have turned a blind eye or even a paid eye to the problem. As stated before, Human/Sex Trafficking is a $32 Billion a year industry and traffickers pay whatever is necessary to make sure their flow of money goes undisturbed. Couple this with the fact that many law enforcement personnel do not think there is a major problem of Human/Sex Traffickers and you get a toxic mix of corruption and ignorance that leaves many vulnerable women and children in a perpetual state of brutal abuse. As Gary Haugen president of IJM puts it, “You don’t run to the police; you run from the police.”13
With so much money, corruption and abuse, it seems as though it would be impossible to ever stop the global engine of Human/Sex Trafficking…
(This topic is too important for you to miss the next post! Click on the “Sign Me Up” button on the left of this page to be notified by email. Stay tuned to learn what YOU can do to make a difference…)
9 Andrea’s story is recounted in “The Girls Next Door,” by Peter Landesman (See Part 1)
10 Characteristics of Suspected Human Trafficking Incidents, 2008-2010
11 Arielle Eirienne 2009. “Child Sex Tourism: ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ in a Globalized World.” Student Pulse Academic Journal 1.11. Retrieved from: <http://www.studentpulse.com/a?id=34>
12 These 4 points are from page 3 of Eirienne’s article.
(A word of caution as you begin to read this post, the content and the subject matter discussed is not for the faint of heart. Please refer to the end of each post for references and applicable links. Lastly, do not shy away from the emotions that you feel as you read, rather, allow yourself to turn emotion into action.)
About two years ago I was first introduced to the world of Human/Sex Trafficking, I say introduced because in my mind these are things that had been abolished many years before, in America slavery ended with the 13th Ammendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1865 and much earlier in the French Colonies (1848) and British Empire (1833). While slavery was a cruel and evil practice, it was a practice that was rather easy to identify the key participants involved and enact proper legislation and measures to abolish it’s existence. Human/Sex Trafficking is completely different, completely sinister, completely discreet and ultimately a pure form of evil unknown to most people today. While I know that many of my readers come from different countries I am writing from my American perspective which I understand can be rather shallow and narcissistic at times evidenced by the fact that I just recently “discovered” the existence of Human/Sex Trafficking. My apologies in advance as I try to navigate through an understanding of this dark, evil world.
Two years ago my church held an end of the year campaign for IJM, International Justice Mission. IJM is a U.S.-based Christian human rights organization that rescues victims of violence, sexual exploitation, slavery and oppression.1 During this end of the year campaign our congregation was exposed to the truth of Human/Sex Trafficking. It is very real and it is flourishing at a phenomenal rate worldwide. In fact, after drug dealing, Human/Sex Trafficking is tied with the illegal arms industry as the second largest criminal industry in the world today, and it is the fastest growing.2 The fastest growing! Meaning, left at it’s current rate it will soon outpace illegal drugs as the number one criminal industry in the world! Armed with this type of information the church was moved to donate a substantial sum to help support IJM’s work throughout the world. Some good had been done and now I could rest I thought…”I wrote my check and did a good deed, what more do you want from me?” Unfortunately, this type of thinking is allowing the Sex Trafficking industry to grow at it’s astronomical rate and as more people turn their heads the industry will continue to flourish.
Perhaps flourish is an understatement. Human/Sex Trafficking has a total market value that is estimated to be above $32 billion!3 If every church in the world gave their yearly offering toward this I doubt we could even come close to the number of $32 billion!
Let me take a moment to share with you some more of the global statistics; there are nearly 2 million CHILDREN in the commercial sex trade with an estimated 600,000 to 800,000 men, women and children trafficked across international borders annually! Additionally, 80 percent of Human/Sex Trafficking victims are women and girls, and up to 50 percent are minors!4 To put this into perspective for you, IJM has to date freed more than 1,000 people from the Sex Trafficking industry a number that is to be applauded and celebrated. Yet, this makes up less than half a percent of the total children in the commercial sex trade industry today!
Globally the numbers are grim but the United States can no longer say this problem is a third-world epidemic. Domestic numbers estimate that 18,000 to 20,000 people are trafficked into the US annually while Kevin Bales, president of Free the Slaves5 estimates that there are “30,000 to 50,000 sex slaves in captivity in the United States at any given time.”6 In it’s newly developed biennial study, the Department of Justice recently released (April 2011) it’s “Characteristics of Suspected Human Trafficking Incidents, 2008-2010.”7 From January 2008 through June 2010 there were over 2500 reports of Human Trafficking investigated and the numbers revealed are shocking. Of the 2500 incidents 82 percent (2065) were classified as Sex Trafficking, and more than 1,000 of the incidents involved the prostitution or sexual exploitation of a CHILD!8 Furthermore, of the 2065 Sex Trafficking incidents 83 percent of the victims were United States citizens! What makes these figures even more shocking is the fact that these are only those cases we know about, as this comprises of only 10 percent of the estimated sex slaves in the United States.
One final statistic that cannot be overlooked, from the DOJ’s 2007-2008 report to the current reports information the number of incidents has more than doubled. The more we look into the closet the more bones we see are piling up.
Statistics though do not have faces…
(This topic is too important for you to miss the next post! Click on the “Sign Me Up” button on the left of this page to be notified by email. Stay tuned to hear the story of Andrea, who at 4 years old was thrust into the world of sex trafficking…)
2 IJM Sex Trafficking Fact Sheet: Http://www.ijm.org/downloaddocument?gid=1
4 IJM fact sheet
6 Peter Landesman, “The Girls Next Door,” NY Times, January 25, 2004.
7 Characteristics of Suspected Human Trafficking Incidents, 2008-2010
8 CSHTI, 1.