- 2017Feb 22
I have noticed something peculiar about traveling as a Houstonian. When a person not from Houston finds out you are from Houston, the phrase “Houston, we have a problem” quickly enters the conversation. The famous phrase from the Apollo 13 mission has become associated with the city, and has been used to reference anyone that has a problem. But the truth is that right now, America, we have a problem. We are a nation battling demons of division. We wrestle with everything from politics to racism. On a day when we focus on the horrors of modern-day slavery, the particular problem I am thinking about right now is the legacy of slavery in America and the enduring slavery that exists today.
My most recent encounter with anything to do with American slavery was during a visit to Gettysburg a few years ago. What struck me most about the experience was the horrible loss of life on both sides, and that at the end of the war, each man who was fortunate enough to survive went home as an American. Immediately after the war, slavery had been abolished, and Abraham Lincoln strove to accept former Confederates back into the fold as equals, making it his priority to focus on that which unites us, setting aside the recent pain of war in order to achieve a greater unity, as “a house divided against itself cannot stand”.
The harrowing truth that we must not fail to recognize is that no matter how hard we try to do it, we simply cannot unite as a people until we together choose to confront not only the legacy of the past, but also the real issues of our day.
I am glad that my church, along with many others, have led the way in this fight by taking a strong stand against human trafficking, and churches are engaging in real ways to support organizations that daily engage in the fight against trafficking. As we address the lingering legacy of the slave trade in our nation, the startling, glaring fact is that the slave trade not only still exists, but thrives in greater numbers today than at any time in world history. And although awareness is growing, and action is happening, we cannot deny that we as a nation are blatantly ignoring it. As we consider the horrors of American slavery, we are obliged to take a moment and absorb the fact that there are more slaves in the world today than were seized from Africa during four centuries of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
At a moment in which men, women, and children are being enslaved, raped, murdered and sold as property both here at home and around the world, there is a certain arrogance in turning our backs to those who still live through the nightmare we claim to despise.
There are an estimated 28-35 million human souls on this planet who daily endure the highest forms of unspeakable abuse and torture.
We as Americans generally consider ourselves to be civilized and advanced. Perhaps we should rather be embarrassed and humiliated that we’ve lost the plot of our great American novel in order to chase the fading allure of tabloid headlines.
As we now consider and address the evils of humanity, both past and present, and as we proclaim that the institution of slavery was and is and will always be evil, let us not be so myopic as to neglect the present suffering that still rages across the face of the earth. While we entangle ourselves in debate about what black people should be and white people should be, who is privileged and who isn’t, which lives matter and which don’t, and who should use what bathroom at sporting events, the world daily endures terror and patiently cries out for our action.
Slavery and trafficking of people is not a liberal or conservative issue, nor is it a religious or secular issue; it is a human issue that should shake us to the core and be of utmost urgency. What argument could be made from either end of the spectrum or any position in-between that suggests freedom from slavery is not a priority for all humankind?
Can there be such an argument?
In any action we take to set right that which is wrong, let us first address the pressing matter of our generation: let us raise a new banner of Justice, and unite with determination against the evil which continues to demean all who are created in the image of God. That banner is one we may proudly raise and defend.
A great way to start is by supporting these effective and reputable organizations that are already leading the way:
- 2017Feb 09
The lines are drawn. Headlines are swirling. People are doing all they can to get their thoughts out there as fact fades into opinion then into bias then into fact and back out again.
Leaders speak fiercely against that which they supported just months ago, people on all sides huddling up and circling the wagons.
Respected, thoughtful pastors have staked out their positions on either side of the debate, leaving many unsure of where to stand, or worse, leaving them to feel betrayed, confused, and opposed to good leaders they once supported.
Kind people who have been friends for decades are quickly destroying those friendships through impassioned debates on social media. Every day we read a new post from someone who is 'leaving facebook' to get away from it all.
To read the average news feed it would appear the world is melting and we are all going with it. The social environment around us is more politically charged than it has been in years, but the truth is, this is nothing new. Far from it...
Now would be a really good time to take a step back from all the noise and just breathe for a moment.
As we step back, lets step all the way back into 1st century Israel, a far off land we have heard so much about where Jesus began His ministry. . In the time and place where Jesus lived, political tensions were also incredibly high, and the Roman Empire was ruthless in their rule of the land. Having taken control, these Roman authorities were brutal to all those they encountered, and imposed large amounts of taxes on the people. Their rule was harsh, those who lived under their authority lived in oppression, and elements of revolt were springing up all around. The Romans kept a watchful eye for these pockets of revolution, and delivered a quick response to those who would dare challenge them. It was from this environment that God's chosen people cried out for a Savior, and they were generally looking for one who would save not only their souls, but their nation as well. Many hoped for a Messiah who would not only bring peace and freedom from sin, but one who would also forcefully overthrow the Romans and allow them to live in freedom and strength as a free people.
It was in the midst of this turbulent environment that Jesus appeared on the hillside, proclaiming, "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth" (Matthew 5:5). It was into this world of chaos that He said, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid" (John 14:27).
When Jesus had the audience and opportunity to speak out against the Romans and rail against government, He took a different direction.
He said, "My Kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36).
He said, "render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's" (Mark 12:17).
He said, "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 7:12).
Years later, the Apostle Peter said, "Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor" (I Peter 2:17).
The Apostle Paul said, "Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God" (Romans 13:1).
Keep in mind that these are men who ultimately met their fate at the hands of this same government. These are men who knew beyond a doubt that they were being treated unfairly by the state.
So why didn't they use their voice to cry out against this evil? Why didn't they fight back?
A short time reading the New Testament reveals that the writers intended to minimize political talk and focus on faith talk. Their focus is on belief, on behavior, and on doctrine. They speak not to matters of policy and law, but to matters of righteousness, sanctification, and unity.
This does not mean that the Christian leader has no place and no voice in the public discussion. In a free republic such as ours, the opposite is true, and we are obliged to speak to the issues of our day. But we do well to consider this: the Apostles used their voice not to change the current political situation, but to change the world forever by changing hearts.
They focused their efforts on building up, on encouraging the believers and pointing them back to that which is everlasting.
Their gaze was fixed squarely on the eternal, not the temporary.
As I visited Israel this past year, I was struck with just how many empires had come through this part of the world. Empires once mighty that are now long forgotten.
Names of triumphant rulers that are now nothing more than part of a name inscribed somewhere in the dust. But the eternal promises of God are strong in this same place, and make their presence felt in every rock, every tree, even in the air itself.
The Egyptian Empire came and went, the Persian empire came and went, and the Babylonian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine and British Empires followed suit. Eventually, President Obama and President Trump will be names in the footnotes of history along with Rutherford B. Hayes, Millard Fillmore and many other Presidents that most of us know little about these days.
We do ourselves a great good by looking to the past, studying what mattered then, what matters now, what will matter in a century, and what matters in eternity. The political pendulum swings, and will swing again, but "the Word of the Lord endures forever" (I Peter 1:25).
My prayer is that we as Christian leaders will be wise in our dealings, focused and speaking to that which is eternal, following the example of Paul, in asking others to "Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel" (Ephesians 6:19).
- 2017Jan 10
"See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland." Isaiah 43:19
There are those times in life where it feels you are being given a fresh start and an opportunity to reset, reflect, and move forward again from a different perspective. My family and I have been given one of those opportunities through a move to a house in the country.
We had been looking to move for some time, and when this particular opportunity came up it seemed too good to be true: not far from where we currently live, but far enough to be away from the hustle and bustle, nestled on a quiet country road with lots of space for our kids to roam and explore. We moved in around the first of the year, which makes our resolutions to purge and minimize much easier and much more urgent as we continue to decide what stays and what goes.
The views are beautiful, there are good places for writing, for drinking coffee, for writing while drinking coffee, trees for climbing, fields for running, and wildlife all around. I have always been a typical suburbanite, more accustomed to concrete than grass, and know next to nothing about country life. The world that involves managing acres of land, propane tanks, pole barns, and wondering what to do with a water well and the septic system are all new territory to me, but that is also part of the allure. Here I find a chance to learn and appreciate something new as we start this new year.
Among our first joys in this cozy country house was meeting our nearest neighbors, whom we have affectionately named Ozzie and Harriet. These two Cardinals appeared at our window right away, as if to welcome us to the neighborhood, and have appeared every day since. Each morning without fail we watch them perch outside our window for a few moments to say hello, and then they are off to chase one another around the yard, until finally landing on their favorite tree branch out back. They have been around the house longer than I have, and I hope they are willing to show me the ropes on how all this country life is supposed to happen.
I'm more than a little excited to spend my time by the window watching the adventures of these two love birds as they watch our family continue on this new adventure of our own. I get the feeling that while we are watching them, just maybe they are watching us as well with just a bit of curiosity, waiting to see how things turn out for the new family on the other side of the window. It will be exciting to see what 2017 holds for our us and for our new friends Ozzie and Harriet.