Monday, December 15, 2014

Biblical Justice, A Christian's Responsibility

Over the past several years, my desire to eradicate modern-day slavery has led to an exploration of the social justice issues that undergird it. Seeing some disturbing approaches used to address these issues has begged the question, "What is biblical justice?".

The main Scripture verse frequently cited by justice proponents is Micah 6:8: 

"He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?" (NASB)
The Lord requires his people to "do justice," however without a proper context that phrase can guilt people into getting involved with agendas that aren't necessarily biblical. "God's going to hold you accountable," some justice advocates say. And, they're right. We will all face the Lord one day, and there's a real danger in ignoring biblical admonitions. But "doing justice" is not nearly so simple as some make it out to be. 

Who defines what justice is? And how should each individual live it out? Could using Micah 6:8 as a simplistic foundation for justice set people up to be judgmental of those who don't appear to meet the "right" standard?

These complexities are the main reason I've struggled for nearly five years to understand how biblical justice differs from the world's concept of "social justice." Does it? And, if so, how? Should every believer take care of orphans? America's foster care system certainly contributes to the problem of human trafficking. 

Scripture is also quite clear on God's expectations to help the poor (another contributing factor to human trafficking). Is one person expected to do it all? Wouldn't that responsibility place a tremendous burden on an individual's shoulders?

Justice Starts with The Man in The Mirror
 My friends have helped me wrestle with these issues. A former Bible Study Fellowship teaching leader came to the conclusion that.biblical justice begins with a "just" God--so much so that it required the sacrifice of His own Son for our sins. Otherwise we could never see God's image fully restored in us. Rather we'd be stuck with man's evil for eternity. 

Biblical justice must start with God's character--and His character development in us. Through His incarnation, resurrection, and ascension Christ gave astonishing gifts to humankind--the Holy Spirit's transforming power shaping God's character traits in each person who trusts in Jesus.

Whether he understands this concept or not, I don't know, but the image of God was certainly at work in Jeremy Green when he made this video a few days after the violence in Ferguson, Missouri.


Green said:
 "With all of the negativity and violence going on in the world right now, I felt the need to do this video."
He wanted to bring visibility to the viola and make a positive difference in the lives of others. The song Green chose reminds us to first look to ourselves, starting there to make the world a better place. For Green that means encouraging other kids to play an instrument. Music is a powerful equalizer bringing people together for good.

Though not all of us have such an obvious talent, the image of God has been stamped upon our souls making us yearn for justice. And Jesus Christ can help each individual figure out a way to make the world a better place. As the light of the world, Jesus brings understanding and truth into the midst of the most unjust situations. In a multitude of ways, in every sphere of society, He's the one with the answers we seek. No finite human being has the complete story or the whole solution. Starting with this biblical worldview reminds us of two key pieces of the justice puzzle: (1) I need God's wisdom to do my part and (2) when the body of Christ works together we can impact every sphere of society.

It's About Me
In his book Overrated: Are We More in Love with the Idea of Changing the World Than Actually Changing the World?, author and founder of "One Day's Wages," Eugene Cho suggests that the only way to genuine justice is through discipleship. Of all the books I've read on justice, his makes the most sense. He said,
The inescapable truth about justice is that there is something wrong in the world that needs to be set right. Sometimes the things that need to be set right are not just in the lives of those we seek to serve. The things that need to be set right may also be in our own lives.
We need to pursue justice not just because the world is broken, but because we're broken too (p. 52).
From the time I became a Christian, God has been using the practices that Cho recommends to heal my broken life and develop my desire to be just. Over the years I've learned to:
Never stop learning. Study the Bible. Read the news. Devour books. Engage people. Ask questions. Be a critical thinker and active practitioner (p. 161).
That in no way means I've arrived. In a recent sermon, "Responding to Ferguson: Violence, Justice, and Jesus,"  my pastor Dan Franklin raised some additional insights that remain an ongoing challenge. Too often I react to perceived injustice rather than listen, ask questions, and try to understand different perspectives. If I respond appropriately it decreases emotional reactions and increases communication, understanding, and reconciliation. This is yet another reason to depend on the Holy Spirit's ability to empower us as believers to do things God's way instead of our own (Galatians 5:16).

This past few months I've been writing a column for Shattered magazine about my transformational journey. This month's article focuses on how my awareness of social justice started on a cruise ship. But for many years the issues were so overwhelming that the best I could do was occasionally help feed the homeless, work with teens at risk, and donate money to help the poor. 

Working With Others Shoulder to Shoulder
After connecting with the Transform LA/Transform World movement, I've come to understand how personal transformation can turn the Body of Christ into a catalyst for transforming society.

By addressing seven challenges, the Church can impact every societal sphere:
  1. ideology (hyper-sexuality, materialism, various belief systems)
  2. relationships (broken families), 
  3. orphans, (foster care, adoption)
  4. poverty (the homeless and disenfranchised)
  5. human rights (the right to life, the persecuted Church)
  6. missional (evangelism, outreach)
  7. celebration (worship and prayer)
The first five of these challenges undergird human trafficking, which is why that remains a central focus of this blog. The last two are the solutions for societal problems such as modern-day slavery. Alone, no one person can possibly meet all these challenges. It's as individuals stand shoulder-to-shoulder with other believers that we can best learn, grow, share our burdens,and hold each other accountable--in essence, discipleship. 

Believers can't just do social justice. Those wanting biblical justice must be disciples of Christ. We need to keep reading authors like Cho, listening to pastors like Franklin, and learning from friends such as the former BSF teaching leader. Together, as we strive to develop godly character, we'll become increasingly just. And the Holy Spirit will guide us into the truth of what to do, when, and how. Becoming just, we won't be able to do anything less.
  Note: Key Links in the right-hand column will direct you to a variety of organizations involved in justice issues. And, if you'd like to follow "Shoulder to Shoulder" by email, there's a place to subscribe immediately below "About This Blog."

Finally, we'd love to know what you think of this blog's recent redesign or anything else that's on your mind. Please feel free to leave a comment.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Hope for Human Trafficking Victims

Photo credit: Katie Martinez
The transformation of a human life is far more astonishing than that of a homely moth turned into a spectacular butterfly. And, that's what's happening because of the lovingkindness of Christians, who have chosen to make a difference in someone's life.

In the past two days, I've received two emails that demonstrate how Christians can help bring about such a metamorphosis. The first came from a friend, who has taken the time to build a relationship with a teen trafficking victim.  This girl struggled to leave behind what she perceived to be the "family," she became part of shortly after running away from home. Deceived into thinking they cared about her, she was arrested numerous times while my friend prayed and encouraged her in every possible way to leave "the life" behind. Yet this girl continued returning to the streets until several arrests resulted in her being sent to juvenile hall. While there, my friend's influence finally came to fruition, and her prayers were answered. The girl accepted Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior and is now starting to live life on His terms. She's back in high school and doing well.

The other email revealed hope for the future of girls like her--as college graduates. Point Loma Nazarene University has begun offering a new scholarship program for former victims of human trafficking. And, hopefully this program will eventually spread far beyond San Diego.

A young woman's past shouldn't have to define her future and when people care enough to get involved, it won't. In his email my friend Jamie Gates, the director of the university’s Center for Justice and Reconciliation,  included the details of how people can help with these scholarships. With great excitement, he said:
We've launched a 45-day crowd-funding campaign for the Beauty for Ashes Scholarship Fund to help survivors of human trafficking get a college education!  We're aiming to raise $40,000 by Dec. 14, i.e. a symbolic amount equal to what it costs Point Loma Nazarene University to educate one student for a year; in practice this will serve multiple students in the first year, and is seed money for a long-term funding plan.  We want the world to see that Christians care about helping survivors move forward with "hope and a future."  We also know we serve a God who can do "abundantly more than we could ever ask or imagine"!
And the beauty is, as my kids say...this is for reals!  We already have three survivors in the early stages of applying to PLNU for the Fall of 2015!

Would you please get involved?  Would you be willing to mobilize those in your circles to get involved in the following ways:

Step 1Pray for us all in this endeavor, especially as survivors begin to join our campus as early as Fall 2015.

Step 2: Help spread the word.  Like, share and repost our online updates 

Step 3: Give even a little bit to the crowdfund campaign as early as possible to show publicly how wide the support is.  It will also greatly assist in encouraging others from off campus to give.  This campaign will only last 45 days.  Help us blow past the $40,000 seed money goal that our student leaders challenged us to meet.

Every little bit helps.  We're settling in for the long haul on this one.  This 45 day crowd funding's a major leap of faith.  But what a fun way to start!

Wouldn't you like to join Point Loma's fun and help change a life by praying, contributing, and spreading the word? By making this program a success, maybe in a couple more years the young girl who finally got off the streets can go to college. With the Body of Christ at work, the transformative possibilities are endless.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Why I Won't Be Attending the 2015 Justice Conference, Part 2

Some people might be surprised after my last post to learn that I actually agree with a good portion of what Ken Wytsma (the founder of the Justice Conference) wrote in his book, Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live and Die for Bigger Things. Still--while I appreciate Wytsma's heart for justice, his desire to challenge Christians to get more involved, and some of the personal choices he's made--I have some concerns. The "Interlude" involving a conversation with Lisa Sharon Harper was not one of them.

In response to Wytsma's question: "If you could say one thing to American Christians, what would it be?" Harper, who co-authored Left, Right & Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics and Evangelical Does Not Equal Republican or Democrat with D. C. Innes (a tea-party Republican) said:
We need to return to teaching Scripture. We have a scripturally anemic church. Think about this: John, in Scripture, says that Jesus is the Word! And here we, as a church, have basically tossed out serious study of God's Word. We have fill-in-the-blank study guides, and we quote verses out of context. You know it's bad when people are so starved for Scripture that they feel like fill-in-the-blanks are helpful. Scripture is supposed to be a feast! We have fed folks appetizers so often that they've started to think that's the whole meal. It's not.
I agree with Harper's statement. It's precisely because so many Christians  haven't feasted on God's Word that they may not pick up on the parts of Wytsma's book that at best seem oversimplified and at worst may even be inaccurate.

Studying Scripture at Bible Study Fellowship International (a highly regarded method used to examine and apply God's Word), for more than two decades plus working as an executive editor for almost 10 years at an apologetics' think tank taught me that sometimes a biblical interpretation can sound great, but one slight twist can introduce significant problems.

The first sentence on the left flap of Wytsma's book cover raised such a red flag. It said:
If God designed us to experience true happiness, why do so many of us feel dissatisfied and purposeless?
That statement presupposes that God designed human beings to experience true happiness in this lifetime. Scripture doesn't seem to support that premise. Even Jesus endured the cross and despised the shame for "the joy set before Him" as He gained victory over death and ascended into heaven. He also told believers to expect persecution. I doubt Saeed Abedini is experiencing joy while being tortured and locked away from his family. Or that the North Korean Christians forced to live in horrendous slavery would say they've found genuine happiness.

Though there was much to like in Wytsma's treatment of Chapter 4: Human Rights and Happiness: Recovering the Moral Value of Happiness (especially his explanation of the joy that comes from dying to self and serving others), I can't help but wonder who made earthly joy a "moral value." To pursue that "value" could be dangerous. Far too many Christians become addicted to the endorphin high involved with ministry. When Christian leaders start to feed off the adulation of those who think their particular form of ministry is the way to God, people often get hurt. That's why I cringed at last year's justice conference when a speaker called the audience "justice junkies."

In my experience being too focused on any one aspect of Scripture tends to lead to a truncated Gospel. An evangelist once tried to convince me that every Christian must be primarily focused on evangelism. Though spreading the Good News is certainly part of of God's call for believers, other aspects (such as justice) need attention too. And it seems Wytstma' about how the pursuit of justice is the primary way to know God neglects other equally important aspects. Thinking about his approach to justice raises many questions:
  • If, as Wytsma claims "there are more than two thousand verses in the Bible directly related to justice . . . compared to 1100 references to prayer and almost 700 for love" (p. 31), implying that the pursuit of justice is the highest purpose of believers, why aren't there more stories in Scripture of people showing how to implement justice?  Rather, from Abraham to David to Solomon to Daniel, Mary, Paul and the other apostles, we see Christ's followers pour themselves into seeking God, listening to Him and obeying Him--going where He wants them to go and doing what He wants them to do. Jesus modeled the way for us by His dependence on the Father. Christ also instructed His followers that apart from abiding in Him we can do nothing (see John 15:5).
          The Scripture about abiding in Christ appears to contradict Wytsma's statement on p. 2. "It's natural to want direction or a clear call. For most of us, however, that never happens." I disagree. Maybe believers need to pay closer attention to an active pursuit of God by studying Scripture, applying it and spending time in prayer. These disciplines lead believers into God's plans for their lives. Though we all need to do whatever we can to be just, too much busyness connected with social justice issues based on human effort could easily prevent someone from hearing God's call and obeying His voice. Throughout Scripture we see how He created individuals for specific work as evangelists, teachers, pastors, and so forth; all of which should include elements of being just. Didn't Jesus die so each individual could have a close personal relationship where they hear His voice and abide in Him and He in them? By abiding in Him we learn to love, to live according to truth, and to be just people doing whatever work God created us to do. 
  • While Christians should want to significantly impact their culture (and those involved with Transform LA and Transform World certainly do), aren't believers supposed to live as aliens in a foreign land rather than trying to force our concepts of justice on society in an attempt to make this world what we think it ought to be? Hebrews 11:9-16 describes believers as
aliens in the land of promise . . .looking for the city which has foundation, whose architect and builder is God. . . All died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. . . . they desire a better country, that is a heavenly one.
           Those verses don't mean we shouldn't be "just," and "do justice" or that we shouldn't do all we can to promote a biblical worldview in every sphere of society, but they signify that there's much more involved with God's plan than a pursuit of justice in the here and now. There's the reality of sin and rebellion against God along with the spiritual battles believers face that complicate matters. And, there's the matter of faith--believing what we cannot see.
  •  Could it be that rather than focusing on the pursuit of justice to know God as Wytsma recommends, we should focus on the pursuit of God to know what He considers just and to learn how to demonstrate mercy even to those corporate execs who offend us? Didn't Jesus take time for the hated tax-collector Zaccheus and wasn't Lazarus (a wealthy man) among Christ's closest friends? Didn't Jesus come for all sinners regardless of ethnicity or financial means or a person's ability to "do" good works? Simeon was "righteous and devout" (Luke 2:25) and rewarded by getting to see the Messiah. The prophetess Anna "never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers" (Luke 2:37). Isn't there much to learn from all these examples?
  • If believers primarily know God by pursuing justice, what about those believers who have been brutally victimized--are they doomed to know Jesus less? Wouldn't justice for them involve punishment for the perpetrators of the crimes against them? When they show "mercy" to their enemies aren't they reflecting Jesus in the highest possible way? Whose definition of "justice" are we seeking anyway?
  • What about those using all their strength to battle cancer or taking care of a quadriplegic spouse or working with an especially challenging child? Are they as well as the poor less able to know God because they are not perceived to be "pursuing justice?"
    I agree with Wytsma that "doing justice" is a biblical value that can produce a deep sense of satisfaction and help us know God. Yet if our efforts are not directed by the power of the Holy Spirit, who can define what justice looks like? Wouldn't doing biblical justice include speaking hard truths about  a drug addict's or violent criminal's bad choices and need for a Savior? Wouldn't biblical justice include rescuing women from the oppression of abortion and helping them with raising their babies or putting them up for adoption instead of supporting those who want to offer free abortions on demand? God gave us the body of Christ to function in a multitude of ways. 1 Corinthians 12 talks about:
    the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge . . . to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting miracles . . . But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills. . . If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? . . . But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body just as He desired. (Heb 12:7-18)
    If all of us made the pursuit of justice our primary concern, would the body of Christ be operating the way God intends? While Wytsma claims there are many forms of justice, the tone of the book conveys a particular sense of "doing justice" that I believe falls far short. Statements like "a central truth of the gospel is this: God's grace enacts and restores justice." make me wonder. Really? Doesn't God's grace mean we don't seek justice when others wrong us?

    The whole of Scripture instructs us that the more we seek God in every aspect of our lives, the more He'll teach us to be just. Ephesians 2:10 teaches that "we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them."Would He not want us to discover what those good works are?

    That's what excites me about the "justice through discipleship" promoted by the Freedom Summit. Every aspect of injustice is incorporated into human trafficking. Modern-day slavery is an umbrella for the injustice in a world inhabited by sinful human beings. It's an overarching symptom of underlying problems that concern every person on this planet, especially those who know Christ as Savior and Lord. Yet rather than promote a particular political ideology, the focus at the Freedom Summit will be on how God wants to work in and through His people to provide lasting solutions--all while growing in our relationship with Him.

    Saturday, October 11, 2014

    Why I Won't Be Attending The Justice Conference in 2015, Part 1

    Free abortions on demand. The twisting of God's marriage covenant between a man and a woman to support contractual marriage between members of the same sex. An anti-Israel stance. Those all seem to be the positions of at least one of the Justice Conference 2015's keynote speakers.

    For the past two years I've attended the Justice Conference. In 2013 I attended a simulcast at Friends Church in Yorba Linda. In 2014 while some of my friends attended the simulcast at Hillside, a Gospel-centered community church, I made my way to the live event at the  Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles. Both times I went wanting to learn more about "biblical" justice. Both times I left deeply concerned about the indoctrination of mostly young adults into an extremely short-sighted political system. And, I wondered if either Hillside or Friends  or many of the other churches around the nation simulcasting these messages recognized that some of them don't correspond to historical Christianity.

    This year when I saw the name of Dr. Cornel West as a keynote speaker, I wondered if the great divide among people who call themselves Christians might increase to the point where it can no longer be bridged. So I decided to see what I might discover about West's actual beliefs and how they correspond to God's Word.

    A theologian friend advised me to start with West's faculty page at Union Theological Seminary. Nothing clear there, so I proceeded to check out the school's mission and vision.

    Education at Union Theological Seminary is deeply rooted in a critical understanding of the breadth of Christian traditions yet significantly instructed by the insights of other faiths [emphasis mine.]

    Interesting. So is the reality that the school champions an actual coming together of the various world religions/ 

    Union Theological Seminary also fully supports gay rights and condemns those who do not, which means not only do they ignore the clear violation of Scripture when it comes to homosexuality being sin, they also ignore the biblical admonition to seek unity among the body of Christ. To exchange the covenant of marriage described in the Bible for the government contract of marriage is deeply troubling to many evangelical believers including me.

    With the liberal agenda of West's workplace, it would seem he must agree with those positions. But wanting to be certain of his own views, I dug a little deeper. West had posted the following video on his Twitter feed.

    Education at Union Theological Seminary is deeply rooted in a critical understanding of the breadth of Christian traditions yet significantly instructed by the insights of other faiths. - See more at:


    Though all of us might love to see a utopian society where if we laid down our arms, so would terrorists, that's not only impractical it's just plain stupid when dealing with evil. Hamas uses terrorist tactics. Like it or not, Israel is God's chosen nation. When they didn't fight back against Germany, they were slaughtered like cattle. Unfortunately as a member of P.E.T.A., West  might care more for cattle than he does for the Jewish children who would be destroyed should Hamas have their way. If Hamas would lay down their arms, it would save all the people in Gaza, yet West presents such an oversimplified erroneous position, it's far more than disturbing. It's illogical and unthinkable.

    So is abortion without apology, supported by Dr. West, who is the honorary chair for the Democratic Socialists of America. Yes, that link is to a petition (under West's name along with other supporters) to "stop forced motherhood," and you can sign it if you want. But first consider that there's an easier way than murdering unborn children made in the image of God. No one is forced to be a mom. Most of the time a woman can choose not to have sex. And if she is raped, gets pregnant, and doesn't want the child, many couples are clamoring for babies. Babies that according to Ps. 139:15-16, God knew in their mothers' wombs. He also ordained their days--Jesus had all the qualities of Jesus the moment He was conceived. So, too, was Paul known by God in the womb (see Gal. 1:15). Also consider that we will be held accountable by Almighty God Himself for what we do "to the least of these," as the Justice Conference organizers are so quick to point out. I can think of no one more vulnerable and voiceless than a tiny embryo endowed with every feature of being a human being; even viable by the 6th month of pregnancy.

    At the two Justice Conferences I attended, I learned some good things I didn't know. But I also recognized a politicized agenda, the oversimplification of ideas, and the deficiency of complex thought that leads to solid biblical solutions under the authority of a sovereign God. To resolve injustice, we must consider the breakdown of the family and how fatherless children are much more susceptible to poverty, criminal behavior, and the lies of human traffickers. Abortion and the devaluing of human life that has led to the serious oppression of Hispanic (see p.7) and African American women, horrendous disrespect for women and girls and even gendercide. The immigration of thousands of undocumented children, who having been made orphans by the appeal of coming to America are being placed at extreme risk for modern-day slavery.'s why I support attending an alternative conference. The Freedom Summit promotes "justice flowing out of discipleship." From lives transformed by God, genuine hope comes for the oppressed to be set free. And all the power of the Bible's living God  is unleashed when believers come together in community. Human trafficking epitomizes injustice. It is the result of broken families, poverty, ideology, a broken foster care system, and the violation of the right to life and dignity from conception to the grave--biblical issues on which there must not be compromise.

    Will there be people at the Freedom Summit who hold the same positions as Dr. West? Quite likely. Many people hold those positions. And where there are differing views (instead of indoctrination into one political agenda), dialogue can take place that leads into a deeper understanding of the issues. On July 10th and 11th, this conference in Orlando, Florida will offer insights on how to engage as a community, how to come together as the people of God to offer hope and healing in Jesus name--Name above all names; the only name by which we can be saved.

    Part 2 will explore some of my perspective on Ken Wytsma's Pursuing Justice. Wytsma is the founder of the Justice Conference and president of Kilns College in Bend, Oregon.

    Thursday, September 25, 2014

    The Fight Against Evil

    We're fighting a battle--a war on terror. The terrorization of boys and girls, men and women, ensnared in modern-day slavery is a war on human rights.

    That's one of the challenges Transform World leaders identified as facing our world today. Wanting increased clarity on the term prompted me to read the UN's "Universal Declaration of Human Rights." Adopted on December 10th 1948, not one dissenting vote was cast.

    HernĂ¡n Santa Cruz of Chile, member of the drafting sub-Committee, wrote:
    I perceived clearly that I was participating in a truly significant historic event in which a consensus had been reached as to the supreme value of the human person, a value that did not originate in the decision of a worldly power, but rather in the fact of existing—which gave rise to the inalienable right to live free from want and oppression and to fully develop one’s personality.  In the Great Hall…there was an atmosphere of genuine solidarity and brotherhood among men and women from all latitudes, the like of which I have not seen again in any international setting.
    Everyone agreed. According to the United Nations--each human being is of supreme value and has the right to live free and fully develop their personality. "Every" would include the mentally and physically challenged, the wanted and the unwanted, at any stage of development. Inherent in this declaration are the words "existing" and "to fully develop." This wording seems to imply that from the moment of existence, there are stages of development to come and that everyone is entitled to live them to their fullest.

    The articles clarify. Article 1 states:
    All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
    Hmmm, "endowed."  If human beings are "endowed," there must be an "endower." And, that Creator puts those endowments in place at the moment of conception. Almighty God alone could bestow intellect and conscience and the call for unity. These attributes are not a matter of happenstance, they reflect the Creator's very image.

    The United Nations got that right. Unfortunately other forces are at work in the world and always have been. Many human beings--past, present, and future--operate in the realm of evil. Today, that outcry comes from the highest levels of government. And yet, the terrorists--jihadists, pimps, and Johns are human beings too. The Bible explains that this horrendous battle:
    is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12).
    That's why this war must be fought on spiritual ground using God's weapons instead of man's. That's why personal transformation is so desperately necessary to affect the cultural changes that can enforce any declaration of human rights. Each individual personality develops according to good and evil influences and each needs to be treated with dignity and respect. Only the Holy Spirit can work the necessary changes in people born with a self-absorbed sinful nature changing them to better reflect God's image. Only a person filled with Christ's love cares enough about the wicked to make a difference. Jesus died for us while we were dead in our sin. He gives new life. He makes the difference--that's biblical justice.

    In a recent "Christianity Today" interview with Bethany Hoang, founding director of International Justice Mission’s Institute for Biblical Justice, Eugene Cho, founder of One Day's Wages an antipoverty nonprofit, said:
    Justice is part of the full scope of the gospel—it’s part of who Jesus is. Jesus’ words are more credible when his followers live them out, including God’s call to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with him.
    To better focus on biblical justice including personal transformation and the 7 challenges involved with human trafficking and its elimination, this blog continues to evolve. Soon (I hope) it's going to have a new name and a new look. We'd love some input if you have ideas. What do think it should be called? Are there ideas you'd like to see explored? Are there features we're missing? Your input would be greatly appreciated.

    Meanwhile one way to put forth some pressure on human rights is to join the prayer effort for Saeed Abidini. Until he arrives home, we must continue raising our voices in unity for biblical justice to prevail.

    Thursday, September 4, 2014

    What If Christians All Got Involved?

    This story speaks for itself. Meredith's adoption epitomizes God's adoption of His children. No matter how rocky the road we've been on or how challenging our behavior might be at the beginning of our relationship with God, He adopts us into His forever family and gives a place where we are loved beyond measure and are kept safe (Eph. 1:5-8). Even death's sting cannot touch us because we've been given the victory over it in Christ.

    That type of family makes for the best possible way to fight human trafficking. For parents to safeguard their children and where children don't have a family for Christians to embrace them, love them, and provide the support, encouragement, and affirmation they need.

    At the same time there is responsibility on the part of the child; Meredith had to recognize and receive their love. She could have walked out the door and never looked back. Instead several components likely contributed to her heartfelt joy:

    • Prayer. God is the One who changes hearts and minds. No doubt this girl had a troubled past and God did an incredible work of healing by giving Meredith a soft and tender heart. Zach and Anna appear to be a praying couple. I'd bet they were on their knees for this girl.
    • Perseverance. This couple pressed on despite the initial difficulties.
    • Generosity. Food, shelter, clothes, and other necessities don't come cheap even for a young woman who may be doing the best she knows how to meet her own needs. A big contributor to the problem of human trafficking is girls aging out of the foster care system with no family support. Forced to live on the street they become prime targets for traffickers.
    • Selflessness. A derogatory comment accused Zach and Anna of using Meredith to babysit their kids. In many (maybe most) families, older children help with younger ones. Some may resent it, but that's what families do. Meanwhile the mom generally performs a multitude of other tasks that help each child regardless of age. Not only that but parents problem solve for each individual personality and care for each child whenever they are sick. They cook meals for them, shop for them and on and on and on. Zach and Anna likely work hard to provide not only the material needs but the spiritual counsel and emotional support Meredith needs. 
    • Love. Real love has been given with no strings attached. The kind of love that listens and hears and cares and prays. The kind of love that satisfies and makes a person secure. The kind of love we all want.
    No wonder Meredith sobs from sheer joy. I wonder how many more young people might do the same if more Christians got involved. It wouldn't even necessarily mean direct parenting for some young adults. Imagine, what if small groups adopted those coming out of foster care and became their support system. Helping with rent on an apartment, listening and giving guidance, hugging and praying and loving. That kind of triumph over the evil one makes it a glorious day in the neighborhood.

    Thursday, August 14, 2014

    Finding Hope in the Midst of Terror

    Photo by Katie Martinez
    It's hard to believe that this month marks two years since I started working on this blog. The concept took shape after I attended the 2012 Slavery No More conference to learn more about human trafficking.   

    The blog began as a means to help others learn about the efforts to fight human trafficking. As more organizations started working with victims and awareness began to spread, the blog evolved as a place to set forth the realities of the underlying causes--orphans, broken homes, the ideologies of a hypersexualized culture and the devaluing of women, poverty, and human rights. At the same time, this blog attempts to advocate solutions to these problems--personal transformation which involves a relationship with Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and a celebration of life in Him throughout every sphere of society. Jesus provides light in the darkness. Hope for the hopeless. A refuge in every storm.

    This past week with constant news reports about ISIS, genocide, and the sexual violence again minority women, girls and boys, darkness appears to be closing in. I was surprised to find out that Western girls are even being recruited online to "marry" jihadists. As in other trafficking efforts, after these young women arrive in Syria they may be quite surprised to find that things are not as they seemed. Force, fraud, and coercion will likely be put into play. Severe punishments will be enforced for transgressing strict dress codes, beatings will be acceptable, and should one be caught in adultery (or perhaps even just accused of it), public stoning would result.

    In a casual conversation, one Muslim man in my own neighborhood told me that according to Islamic culture beatings are acceptable because they keep wives in line. Knowing how trafficking works, it's not hard to imagine how women who respond to these Internet recruitment tactics will be at the mercy of terrorists who could easily marry them for an hour or a day or not at all, but rather use them up and cast them away. That's what's to be expected where women have no rights. And, should they try to escape or their families try to rescue them, they cannot take their children with them because they would be the man's property.

    We already know ISIS tactics are evil. Wicked. And they bring tremendous grief. Add in the concerns about the brutality of human trafficking, and we wonder: Is there any relief? Is the name of this blog a complete misnomer? How can there possibly be a beautiful day in the neighborhood in the face of such travesties?

    This morning Psalm 33:13-22 reminded me that in God's neighborhood, it's still a beautiful day.
    The Lord looks from heaven; He sees all the sons of men; From His dwelling place He looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth. He who fashions the hearts of them all, He who understands all their works.The king is not saved by a mighty army; A warrior is not delivered by great strength. A horse is a false hope for victory; Nor does it deliver anyone by its great strength.
    Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him. On those who hope for His lovingkindness. To deliver their soul from death, And to keep them alive in famine.
    Our soul waits for the Lord; He is our help and our shield.
    For our heart rejoices in Him, Because we trust in His holy name.
    Let Thy lovingkindness, O Lord be upon us, According as we have hoped in Thee (NASB).
    We may not understand His ways, but God's view offers hope. He's in charge and we know we can trust Him. None of this is taking Him by surprise. It's right in line with His Word. We also know that in His eternal realm, people find the magnificent love offered to victims and terrorists alike. A hope that values women and supplies an indestructible life regardless of the circumstances. A hope that offers forgiveness and mercy to all who seek it, but also exacts justice to those who don't.

    That's why we pray. It's not easy and takes time, but it's in Christ that we find the beauty of reconciliation that seems impossible. Corrie ten Boom forgiving her Nazi guard. Amish families whose children were killed embracing the family of Charles Roberts, who walked into a one-room school in Pennsylvania with an automatic rifle and four hundred rounds of ammunition.
    From Israel to Indonesia, from Baghdad to the Balkans, groups like Christian Peacemaker Teams, the American Friends Service Committee, and other nongovernmental organizations promote reconciliation as the only way to overcome ethnic strife. (Why Forgive  by Johann Christoph Arnold, p. 205).
    Unimaginably, even in the midst of intense agony, there are already Iraqi Christians praying "Father forgive them . . ." And, even if these believers are murdered, they'll know the beauty of an indestructible life in the eternal neighborhood that reaches far beyond death. Meanwhile the rest of us must do everything in our power to come to their aid. Not to do so would make us as barbaric as the terrorists.

    Friday, August 8, 2014

    Reaching for the Stars in the Entertainment Sphere

    Smiley face
    "Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience,and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world" 
                                                            Harriet Tubman
    An African-American abolitionist and a humanitarian, Harriet Tubman was a dreamer. And, she was a great role model for every member of the body of Christ. Tubman demonstrated what can be accomplished when we want more for people than bondage to slavery.

    Guided by her passionate faith in God, Tubman consulted with Him frequently in her quest to free slaves during the American Civil War. That's what the members of the body of Christ need to do now in every sphere of our society. 

    Some in the entertainment sphere are rising to the challenge. They are determined to eliminate the underlying causes of human trafficking--dreaming big dreams fueled by passionate faith. The team at Unearthed Pictures said:
    We saw that men were largely absent from the fight on sexual exploitation - so how could a group of us walk away? We decided to dig our heels in and stay. We slowed down, listened and researched how to best engage the men fueling the demand, because in this battle, when you get the men, you get everyone.
    This team recognized that addressing the sexual brokenness of men could begin building a bridge to Jesus. So they started producing the Hearts of Men, a film about "the collision between our sexual brokenness and the relentless love of God." This message will not only diminish the demand for modern-day sex slaves, but it also has the potential to unleash revival. That makes this effort worthy of prayer, financial support, and every other kind of promotional support we can give it. 

    Cap Stewart, a videographer and media manager, is also doing what he can to expose the underlying issues involved with entertainment--issues that relate to each one of us. In his blog post "Sex Scenes in Movies Don't Bother Me," Stewart poses challenging questions that Christians need to ask themselves and start discussing with their friends. 

    Doing so can help Christians reach higher with dreams that can change the world. Leaders model the way for others. By discussing the issues, praying for, financing, and promoting entertainment that frees people from the lies of a hypersexualized culture, not only will we  diminish the demand for young girls to be sold as sex slaves, but we will also enrich our own lives. 

    A tremendous opportunity to support culture-changing entertainment is rapidly approaching, and we need to start talking about it now. The movie "50 Shades of Grey" will be released on February 14, 2015. Bold Christian filmmakers have taken on this erotic film by fearlessly scheduling a Valentine's Day release of the movie "Old Fashioned." Many people (including believers) may be inclined to follow the crowd and support the movie that features the bondage of S & M behaviors. Yet deep down most of us long for genuine romance, love, and a healthy marriage. Why not boycott the film that stimulates a momentary desire for cheap careless sex and increases the demand for porn? Instead Christians can promote the production that reaches for the dreams of the heart--old-fashioned romance where women are valued and men are chivalrous. It's the least we can do.

    Thursday, July 24, 2014

    Trippin' and Transformed

    Jesus Movement baptism at Corona Del Mar in the 1960s.
    Last night, my friend and I went to The Coffee Gallery Backstage in Altadena to hear "Trippin' the Sixties featuring Barry McGuire and John York.

    Unfortunately York, who used to play with the Byrds, had to perform solo at the last minute. Just before he was supposed to appear onstage, McGuire ended up in the ER due to heart problems.

    Despite being almost 70 years old, York rocked it, but I still missed McGuire and hope he recovers quickly. Who can ever forget his mega-hit "Eve of Destruction?" But even more memorable for me is his story of transformation during the Jesus Movement

    A lifestyle that led to the death of 16 of McGuire's friends through drug overdose, suicide and sexually transmitted diseases deepened his quest for truth and led him into a life-altering relationship with Jesus Christ. “Freedom is good, but freedom without rules will kill you,” McGuire said, comparing life to the vehicle code. “If you throw the rules away, you’re going to kill yourself and somebody else. There’s a road code for life, and it’s basically the 10 commandments. The two greatest commands, to love God and others, sum up all the rest.”

    When I got tired of the quest for freedom without rules and all the pain and suffering that lifestyle created I, too, entered a relationship with Jesus and experienced a similar transformation. Paul's words in Roman's 12: 1 & 2 challenge me, along with every other Christian, to offer myself as:
    a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
    Reading God's Word and growing in a personal relationship with Him is why I care about human trafficking. Without Jesus I would be too consumed with my own pleasure to bother. However, being a Christ follower doesn't leave me that option. I have no choice but to care about my neighbors, perhaps especially those at risk for being trafficked due to the underlying causes of  poverty, ideology, relationships, human rights, and orphans. It's not an option to continue seeking my own pleasure with no regard for my neighbors near and far.

    Andrew Murray in his excellent commentary on Hebrews speaks about the necessity of shifting our priorities from pleasing ourselves to pleasing God.
    "He learned obedience, and being perfected became to all them that obey Him the cause of eternal salvation." [Heb. 5:8-9, emphasis Murray's] Our obedience is as indispensable as His. As little as He could work out salvation without obedience, can we enjoy it. In us, as much as in Him, obedience is the very essence of salvation (p. 211).
    It's obedience by Christians that makes prayer effective (see James 5:16). It's obedience that guides us into the answers we need for a world on the eve of destruction. It's obedience that can eradicate human trafficking and the misery it causes. Only as lives are transformed in every sphere of society can the body of Christ make a significant difference. How are we being transformed, and what difference does it make? That's a question worth considering.

    Note: Barry posted the following on Facebook:
    Well, it's finally happened. For years I've been saying that this year is my last year for public appearances, and then that year goes by, and I say, "Well next year's my last year." But last night at Bob Stane's Coffee Gallery when John York and I got into our sound check, I started feeling a heavy burning sensation in my upper esophagus and down into my respiratory system. Some dear friends drove us straight to the hospital where I spent the night being poked and prodded, squeezed and tweezed, stabbed and jabbed until they finally ruled out the possibility of a heart attack. My blood pressure is perfect 120/80, my blood sugar level is perfect, my oxygen blood level is perfect and there were no heart attack enzymes in my blood. BUT, my body is telling me it's time to stop so stopping I am. My last public appearance was at the Acoustic Music San Diego sponsored by Carey Driscoll. I didn't know it at the time but I know it now. So if you've never seen me live on stage…hahaha, you've missed your chance.
     We can be confident that God has plans to keep Barry trippin' for the Lord.

    Thursday, July 17, 2014

    Messy Miseries in Kampala Orphanages

    Around the world, human traffickers exploit orphans in horrendous ways. These innocent children (and their families) need protection. In this guest post, my former neighbor Paul Brethen, founder and director of Net for Hope in Kampala, Uganda, describes this abuse and tells how Christians can insure that they are helping, not hurting, these children.

    Early one morning a board member from Net for Hope Foundation came to me and said that a former volunteer at one of our projects in the urban slums was arrested for sexually abusing the children in his orphanage. I knew this young man who used to teach children at our school how to dance. He was good even to the point of winning competitions and getting a lot of public recognition. The community praised him for what appeared to be a wonderful thing.

    He left the school and started his own organization and opened an orphanage. He took vulnerable children from the slums to exploit them for his own personal gain. He convinced the parents of 50 children to let them live in his orphanage saying they would be cared for, receive an education, and a better life then in the slums of Katanga. Most poverty stricken-families see this as a welcome opportunity to give their child a chance. Only it was a lie that led to misery and greater harm than good. Often these children are exploited and abused to raise funds for the unscrupulous to get rich on.

    This kind of deception works. People have sympathy for poor orphaned children whose parents have died and left homeless to survive on the streets. Sponsoring such children bodes well with donors who feel compelled to provide support. But such sponsorships can be a big scam.

    There are three things you should know about sponsoring children in orphanages. First, check to see if the organization is registered and certified by the local government. In Kampala the Ministry of Gender, Labor, and Social Development is now requiring that all orphanages meet specific standards of care and transparency. They are routinely checked and if not up to standards are shut down. If an orphanage is not registered, avoid it.

    Secondly, request the year-end record of accounts regarding distribution of funds and expenses from the organization. Many illegitimate organizations don't keep financial records. If they don't have them, don't donate. The funds may be paying for personal cars, land, furniture, frivolous things that have nothing to do with helping children. Often these children are barely kept alive with one simple meal a day, little clothing, no education or medical care even when donors are providing the money for them.

    Lastly, and this is a bit more tricky, but perhaps it's also the most important--unannounced onsite visits. Someone independent of the organization needs to show up and check the conditions of the orphanage and the well-being of the children. Unanticipated visits can reveal a lot. The young man abusing the children would arrange scheduled site visits to avoid donors from knowing about each other, prep the kids to look well kept and clean up the place. Because he knew when people were coming, he could make sure the children were ready. To ensure their cooperation, he terrorized the children by threatening to kill them if they told the truth about what was really going on. Even more he'd beat a child mercilessly in front of all of them to show how serious he was about carrying out his threats.

    During the unscheduled visit, requesting and receiving the background records of the children will verify that they are orphans. Still that can be misleading. The young man mentioned above falsified all the records to make it appear that the children had no parents. In Uganda, 85 percent of the children have at least one parent. This was the case for all 50 of these kids. Those who didn't have immediate family to care for them, had extended family willing to take them in.

    The good news is that the exploitation of children in orphanages is becoming more public. Policies are being considered and restriction of international adoptions have reduced the number of scams in developing countries. Remember money has been the motivation to exploit and abuse the innocent, so become a wise giver and don't be fooled with flashy websites, sympathetic pictures, and cries for help. By doing your homework, you'll be giving in ways that make a genuine difference.

    Sunday, July 6, 2014

    Amidst the Fireworks of Hobby Lobby and Undocumented Children

    Phew! The reactions to the Supreme Court decision in favor of Hobby Lobby this past week have been intense. Some are convinced there's a war on women. The desire of family-held corporations to uphold the moral convictions they built their businesses by makes far more sense to others.

    Simultaneously heated protests have been taking place in Murietta as hundreds of undocumented children are being bussed into California for processing. For some the idea of young people with no means of support being released on street corners is frightening; the challenges for meeting their needs, daunting. Yet some want to show these kids compassion by giving them a warm welcome.

    Christians are voicing their views on both sides of these issues and respectful dialogue seems appropriate as we celebrate freedom in the United States of America. From the foundation of our government, the freedom to voice our beliefs and act upon them  has been something we've considered worth fighting for. America's founding fathers didn't hesitate to express their faith in Almighty God as they explained how important He is to this country's well-being. Benjamin Franklin requested prayers at the Constitutional Convention saying:
    The longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this Truth--that God governs in the affairs of Men. If a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We've been assured in the sacred writings that unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it. I firmly believe this, and I also believe that without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel."
    Jedidiah Morse, the father of American geography (and Samuel Morse), agreed:
    To the kindly influence of Christianity we owe that degree of civil freedom, and political and social happiness which mankind now enjoys. . . . Whenever the pillars of Christianity shall be overthrown, our present republican forms of government, and all blessings which flow from them, must fall with them.
    So did the first Chief-Justice, John Jay:
    The Bible is the best of all books, for it is the word of God and teaches us the way to be happy in this world and in the next. Continue therefore to read it and to regulate your life by its precepts.
    Their words contain sound advice for today and reveal principles necessary for Christians to incorporate if they are going to meet the 7 challenges identified by Transform World. The same thing that united our country from it's earliest days can still unite believers. The authority of Almighty God is far greater than our differences. It's in knowing Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior that the Holy Spirit can bring us together to examine various positions on an issue and work through our differences to find the answers, particularly when it comes to the underlying issues of human trafficking.

    If God values life in the womb, and the Bible says He does (see Gen. 49:25, Judges 13:5, Job 31:15, Ps .139:13, Gal. 1:15),  then determining to value every human being from conception to the grave should be the place to start. That's a foundational truth for everything else. It tells girls and boys, no matter how rotten their lives are, they are valuable. That's true for undocumented children as well. These precious kids are so vulnerable--the best place for them is within the protection and care of their own families. We've long adhered to the belief that children removed from their homes for safety purposes should be reunited with their families as soon as possible. That raises many complex questions and concerns, and believers talking rationally and respectfully can be empowered by the Holy Spirit to find the best solutions in a fallen world. Maybe such discussions would help not only those from other countries learn how to deal with problems such as gangs and violence, but us who live here in this country as well.

    In Murietta yesterday, two believers on opposite sides of the issues evidently found the necessary common ground to ease their differences and promote dialogue. The Daily Bulletin reported that after 10 minutes of yelling at one another, Debbie (no age given) convinced Ryan Patterson (22 yrs. old) that she wasn't a racist. Then they decided to agree to disagree. "We're both Christians, though, so we agree on something important," said Patterson. Debbie said "she'd made a new friend." Though Patterson wasn't so sure, the best case scenario would be if they would listen to each other and keep talking.

    Collaborative teamwork--what a difference it makes. True leadership generates the ability to work through conflicts. Christians should be modeling the way by having the courage to hear and value the insights of others. For far too long, we've followed the poor example of egocentric politicians who shut down conversation and determine to do things their own way regardless of the consequences. That's not how you achieve "buy in." It's when people participate and know someone is paying attention, that someone genuinely appreciates their input. That's also when individuals most see Jesus.

    Almighty God gives true freedom, and that's what His children need to demonstrate when it comes to the social justice issues (Galatians 5:1, 13-16-25). No longer locked in our self-bound souls, we've been empowered by the Holy Spirit  with strength enough to be gentle and kind. We can demonstrate self-control no matter how convinced we are that our views are right. Love and goodness involve truth so that must be the goal--to find the truths about how to best love others as ourselves. By doing so we reveal the kind of freedom that makes a nation great. May God bless America.