Friday, May 30, 2014

More Valuable in Mexico

Shopping in Mexico can be tremendous fun with many super bargains readily available. But darker transactions also take place as traffickers convince American girls that they can make more money across the border. 

A story from my friends at Plur Life Ministries illustrates the allure and potency of this evil lie that entices girls away from their homes to places where they can't speak the language and have little hope of getting help. It's a ploy used around the world.
It was a little after midnight at a recent event when a volunteer mom was working the far edge of the parking lot. Strategically placed in the path of kids walking to their cars, she spotted two young men with a young woman. But they weren't leaving. Rather they were heading out into the field. 

The mom handed each a kandi (a colorful beaded bracelet that in this case spells out Plur Life's web site) which they received gladly. As the trio walked away, the mom assured the girl she was valuable. Without hesitation the young woman replied, "I'm more valuable in Mexico." 

Twisted ideology. Her self-worth had become so tied to a dollar amount for her body, she couldn't hear the expression of value for her soul.

Many young women and men are emotionally bruised and battered because from a young age they've been immersed in the lies of our culture. Emotionally abusive parents may tell them they're worthless. Easy access to abortions communicates the silent message that life is cheap. These lies mix with a deluge of music videos that objectify women and glamorize prostitution. Movies and television oversexualize girls and boys from a young age.

To perform on demand, young actors (like the young woman headed for the field) must embrace the lies of those who hold their futures. It's what's expected if you want to succeed. For there to be any hope of ending human trafficking, the entertainment sphere of society needs transformation. That requires individuals to value the truth enough to speak out against the lies and stand up for ideals that run counter to pop culture. People like blogger Cap Stewart with the courage to make a difference. Those making music videos, games, films, and television programs can promote the reality--that each girl and boy is precious no matter where they are, whatever they look like, however they've been raised. They don't need to take their clothes off for the highest bidder. Rather they have minds to develop and character to cherish and can even become positive role models. 

Connecting people who work in various spheres like entertainment is an important aspect of the Transform LA/Transform USA/Transform World movement.  Please leave a comment (just click on "no comments") if you'd like to get involved and we'll do our best to connect you with others who are like-minded. By getting involved maybe you can help keep a young woman from heading into a field or even to Mexico.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Path of Greatest Resistance

 A wise friend once told me that the best choice is usually the hardest one. I must have heard her voice this morning when I decided to walk home from the brake shop instead of take the ride they offered. It was an uphill climb all the way, but I knew that the benefits would be worth it. So I walked and was surprised to find the hidden advantages worth more than getting my heart rate up. That walk gave me the solitude I needed to think about the title and content of this post.

Sometimes the easy choice isn't best when it comes to God's justice either. It takes some thought to figure out the benefits of God's way, and even then some of them may remain hidden. Isaiah 55:9 says:
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts [emphasis added].
Nowhere is this seen more than in the biblical issues involved with the persecuted church. Yesterday, The Voice of the Martyrs' (VoM) Persecution Blog posted a fantastic article that explains how this human rights issue is not simply a problem that needs fixing. It involves suffering with a purpose that's biblical, so biblical that sometimes the work VoM does even feeds the problems.

My life's had enough trouble of it's own that I haven't paid much attention to the persecuted church until recently. Taking time to find out more has not been an easy choice, but it's the right one so for several months now I've been praying (thanks to the reminders of a FB friend) for Saeed Abidini. An Iranian-American pastor from Boise, Idaho, he was in Iran during the summer of 2012 to visit family and help build an orphanage. His arrest and subsequent imprisonment and torture are egregious human rights violations. Cast only as "social justice" issues, there's no purpose or value in his suffering or that of his wife and children. However, God places immeasurable value on this travesty and uses it to show the world that belief in Jesus Christ is worth whatever it costs.

So it is with all suffering. According to Romans 8:28, "we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." Working according to a biblical perspective gives suffering a purpose far higher than mere social justice advocates might fathom.

A few days ago a Christian friend asked for prayer as she walks alongside a teen's mom while that teen makes decisions that keep her enslaved to human traffickers. My friend cries and prays with the girl's mom, and loves on this young woman in every way possible trying to help her reject the life of slavery. She's trying to encourage this girl to enter a program that could change her life. By looking to the one who brings lasting hope, my friend shines the light of Christ into a very dark place. Many other believers stand with her in prayer. At the same time God is God whether we understand His answers or not. His ways are far greater than our's; His purposes sometimes beyond our comprehension. For some reason that girl went back to the streets.

And, she may continue to make decisions that keep her enslaved. Traffickers frequently brainwash their victims convincing them they need to stay in the "life," even when given the freedom to come and go. Their poor decisions break the hearts of all who genuinely care. This happens with many homeless people, too, as they brainwash themselves to think life on the street smoking pot or drinking alcohol is better than working, taking responsibility for their well-being, or finding a place to stay where they can be safe and have relationships with their families. Such lies are why social justice alone will never eradicate injustice or redistribute wealth to where people are equal.

Genuine equality comes through a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He's the only one who can bestow a right sense of self-worth. That's why believers withstand torture and imprisonment rather than renounce their faith. Being delivered from sin and evil into eternal life is worth dying for.

That's why rather than focus on social justice, I prefer to focus on a biblical understanding of the 7 challenges identified by Transform World and learn how Christ wants me to make a difference--one that sets people free into the truth and light and makes suffering count for all eternity.

Every believer can start making a difference for people around the world like Saeed Abidini and their families, who suffer for believing in Jesus. Please join us on a national prayer call for the persecuted church on May 31st.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Tangled Topic of Social Justice

Photo by Ann-Margret Hovsepian
I've been silent again for awhile. Part of it has been the book I'm finishing. Part of it was attending the Evangelical Press Association convention and having a house guest from Canada. But a far bigger issue has been trying to wrap my mind around the whole idea of social justice. Hang with me, and see if my logic makes sense. 

"Social Justice: the distribution of advantages and disadvantages within a society." That's's simple definition for a very complex subject. Thinking about the redistribution of the advantages reminds me of the Marxist slogan: "from each according to his ability to each according to his need." And, mainstream America used to find that idea pretty scary.
Regardless, this definition of social justice also brings to mind poor children, maybe without fathers in the home, growing up with an inferior education. The lack of opportunities might cause them to end up on drugs or committing crimes. Or maybe that poor child runs away and becomes homeless digging in a dumpster for food. Or perhaps she becomes a trafficking victim. So the privileged feel compassion (or guilt), get involved, and contribute time and money trying to untangle this mess of society's making. 

Yet I wonder if trying to put society's ills under the social justice umbrella doesn't just tangle the mess even more. Oh sure we see bright flowers here and there produced by marvelous organizations who educate the poor and give them resources that improve their lives and the lives of the generations to come. That's wonderful as far as it goes, but so much more needs to happen.

That why I believe a true biblical viewpoint of justice encompasses a much bigger picture and offers far better solutions based on the transformed hearts of the problem solvers. Another definition from equates justice to righteousness. That makes biblical sense. Searching Bible Gateway for verses sharing justice and righteousness yields 52 results in the New American Standard version.

A few examples from the 32 set forth in the New International version include: 
Psalm 36:6  "Your righteousness is like the highest mountains, your justice like the great deep. You, Lord, preserve both people and animals."
 Psalm 50:6 And the heavens proclaim his righteousness, for he is a God of justice
Amos 5:24 But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!
Transformation of the heart brings the righteousness of God into the equation. Too many times even those who claim to promote "biblical justice" leave out this critical factor. Yet see what happened in the life of  Zacchaeus after he had a personal encounter with Jesus that transformed his life. Luke 19:8-10 says:
But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount." Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Saving the lost sometimes doesn't look like "social justice." What kind of justice is it to save a wealthy tax collector? When a homeless person refuses to work and expects someone to support him, isn't it better for him to receive the consequences of his choices? If someone suffers for any reason, might there not be a grander plan than a mere mortal would put in place? I'm all for justice, that's why I write this blog. But it seems to me that if justice stems from the righteousness of God (not man), the result is grace flowing out through compassion and empathy rather than guilt-driven or self-righteous works.

Perhaps Zacchaeus demonstrates the power of God in response to the cries of those like David in Psalm 143:1, "Lord, hear my prayer, listen to my cry for mercy; in your faithfulness and righteousness come to my relief."

A transformed Zacchaeus wanted to come to the aid of the poor because of the righteousness of  our great God at work in and through him. What else can explain why this greedy tax collector would give half his possessions away. Some who experience a relationship with Jesus may not give money but may be led to love a prostitute, a pimp, and/or a John and pray for the power of God to get them off the street. Another may hold a vomiting girl who's on ecstasy at a rave making her a prime target for a trafficker. Social justice somehow seems far too small to accomplish this level of compassion combined with the insight and wisdom to administer it in the most effective ways. It seems to me that the idea of social justice too easily leads to abuses such as judging who is doing what instead of focusing on what really matters--a relationship with the living God, who empowers us to be more like Jesus. Only a life dependent on Jesus Christ can love their neighbors in the best possible way, whatever that may be.

So what do you think about social justice? Am I missing something?