Family Champion

Recently I had to travel for work and missed my family terribly.  It was only for a few days but I longed to be home with my husband and our son Justice.

I believe this longing for home and family is inherited from God. The Bible shows us, story upon story, God is a good and loving Father who has gone to extreme lengths to be near His kids.

In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve walk out of the flourishing garden and life God created for them because they made the devastating choice to decide for themselves, independent of God their Father, what was good and evil in their own eyes. But God knew they would make this choice to severe their dependence solely on Him. He had a way to bring them back to Himself once again. Nothing would keep His children away from His love and presence forever.

The Old Testament is brimming with stories of God chasing after His kids, walking with them through the struggles of life and ultimately drawing them back to Him.

God’s pursuit of His children is called mission. Mission is the redemptive work of God. It’s also a participatory word. The redeemed followers of Jesus – those who’ve acknowledged their need for Him and accepted His free gift of grace – make God’s mission known and lead others into experiencing it by how they love those around them.

The mission of God is illustrated throughout the Biblical narrative. One example is found in the Exodus story. Throughout 400 years of grueling captivity, God heard the cries of His enslaved children, the Israelite’s. He responded by empowering Moses to speak up for the Israelite’s and free them from the hand of Pharaoh.  God didn’t stop there.  He used Moses and Joshua to lead the people to the Promised Land; a vibrant and flourishing land flowing with milk and honey. The Exodus and Promised Land stories point to the story of Jesus and the redemption, freedom and life of flourishing He freely gave through His life, death and resurrection.

The first mention of God as redeemer is found in Exodus 6:6. “Therefore, say to the Israelite’s: ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.’”

The Hebrew word for redeemer is go’el. Christopher J. H. Wright writes, “A go’el was any member within a wider family group upon whom fell the duty of acting to protect the interests of the family or another member in it who was in particular need. The term might be translated, ‘kinsman protector’ or ‘family champion.’”

The Israelite’s would have understood go’el – God’s rescue from slavery and His redemption of them – to be a family matter. The God of the Israelite’s would act as their family champion and provide freedom and flourishing out of His overflowing love for them.

Upon miraculously crossing the Red Sea and securing safety from oppressive Pharaoh, Moses and Miriam burst into song for the God who protected and championed them to freedom with these words:

In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling.” Exodus 15:13

God was go’el for the nation of Israel. He brought them out of slavery, captivity and oppression. He rescued them from political unrest. He avenged their oppressor Pharaoh. Years later, Jesus, the personification of the same God who was go’el for the Israelite’s, became go’el for the entire world. He is the “family champion” for God’s global family and He leads the way to a holy dwelling with God. As the Redeemer of the world, Jesus took on the mission of God to protect, defend and rescue, especially those enslaved, under threat, experiencing loss of all kinds, poverty, hunger, persecution, and every type of injustice.

Christopher J. H. Wright explains further, “As go’el, therefore, God will exert himself to whatever extent is necessary on their behalf for their protection or rescue.”  This is the mission of God; to extend His reach into all the Earth, to protect, to be Father and family champion for all people. It’s why Jesus came. It’s why He is the rescuer, the redeemer and the hope for the world. And He doesn’t stop there.

As God empowered Moses to participate with God as go’el redeemer, for the Israelite’s, by His Spirit, God empowers His followers to join Him in His global redemption project. The greatest commandments Jesus gave are found in John 13:34. He said to His disciples, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Today is as good as any to live like the redeemed. The reach of God extends to you and through you, fueled and powered by His Spirit, to protect, rescue, redeem and bring the hope of Jesus to your little corner of the world. There is no mountain too high, ocean to deep, political unrest too great, and division too wide for the love of Jesus to reach and redeem. There is a road that leads to the safety and protection of our creator and family champion and it’s found in the forgiveness, rescue and redemption only Jesus brings. He is the way, the truth and the life and he’s paved the road that leads to a holy dwelling of a good and loving God.

God doesn’t expect you or me to be the go’el redeemer of the daunting global issues we face today. Rest easy, that’s His job. He only asks we serve those around us, those in our spheres of influence, out of love, in the same manner He has loved us.

In a world questioning the goodness and presence of God, the actions and words of the redeemed, declare He is not only good, alive and well, He is with us in everything!

Follower and friend of Jesus, you are a family champion to your people so that they see and know the go’el who has been in hot pursuit to bring them home and to a life of flourishing designed for them. Love your people well today.

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Recognizing Injustice

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When I first became aware of the sobering statistics of modern day slavery I wondered how I had been in the dark for so long, not knowing there were 27 million+ people bound in slavery around the world. I was 28 the first time I learned that slavery still existed in the world – in the world I lived in, in my country, in my state, in my county, and even in my city.

How had I missed this?

By that age, I had traveled a handful of times internationally, including a 6-week long stay in Moldova – a European hub for trafficking victims – and yet I did not know about this ugly injustice. At 28, I had a seminary degree in world missions and yet I was unaware such acts of violence and brutality upon people, could and did happen every day to millions around the world.

Was I living in a barn in the middle of Iowa? No I was not thank goodness, but I sure felt like it as I slowly began to recognize a much different world than the one I had been living in.

Have you felt the same? Do you remember when you first learned of an injustice that made your blood boil? What did you do about it?

I knew I had to do something once I knew about the realities of treating people like cattle at the auction. I did my research, I googled up a storm, linked up with top organizations combatting slavery like International Justice Mission and learned all I could. And learn I did.

As a Christian, I began a hot pursuit of what God had to say about injustices in the Bible. I desperately wanted to know what I was to do knowing slavery was active all around me.

Did you know there are over 130 verses on justice in the Bible? That doesn’t include the dozens of mentions of righteousness (more on this later but by righteousness, I’m talking about it’s Greek root – a synonym of justice – not simply having to do with morality as the English language has reduced it to).

At the very core of God’s heart, is justice. It’s part of His DNA. Justice is the quality of being just or fair. It’s the principle of moral rightness. Therefore, injustice is a perversion of God’s justice.

Check out what Gary Haugen says about injustice in his book Just Courage.

“The sin of injustice is defined in the Bible as the abuse of power by taking from others the good things that God intended for them, namely, their life, liberty, dignity, or the fruits of their labor. In other words, when a stronger person abuses his or her power by taking from a weaker person what God alone has given the weaker person – God judges this as sin. And what has God alone given to all of His children? God has given life, liberty, dignity, and the increase that flows from a person’s love and labor. Accordingly, when more powerful persons abuse their power by stealing those good things, they commit the sin of injustice.”

In order to recognize injustice, I believe we must know the One from whom justice flows and whose throne is firmly grounded in justice. Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne.” Psalm 89:14

How then do we know God?

God, in His love for us and desire for us to know Him personally, reveals Himself to us in a few unique ways.

First, we can know God by experiencing His creation all around us. When I slow down the rat race we call life, I am more aware of the beauty around me such as a magnificently colored sunset, the vast Pacific Ocean and it’s crashing waves tossing sand around forming the beach I so love to enjoy or the mountains of valleys of Yosemite. In creation, we can know God.

Secondly, God has revealed Himself to us in the person of Jesus. Jesus, is God’s way of writing Himself into our story so that we could relate to Him and know Him in a way that our pea-sized brains could comprehend. When we know Jesus, we know God.

Thirdly, God reveals Himself to us in the Bible. There we find truth about who He is, His character of mercy, love, grace and Creator of all good.

Keeping a Sabbath, talking and listening to God through pray and studying and meditating on the truths of His word, give me, not only eyes to see, but guidance to know what to do when I encounter an injustice.

Ken Wytsma says to “pursue justice means to pursue God.” The key to recognizing injustice, is to know the One who is just.

Modern Day Slavery and the Biblical Call for Justice

The following article was originally posted by Dharma Deepika: A South Asian Journal of Missiological Research, 2013. While it is long – due to the nature of the research journal in which it was originally written for – I do hope you learn something new and feel encouraged reading it through.

Close to Home
Shyima was 12 years old when authorities found her working as a domestic slave for an affluent Egyptian family in Irvine, California. Irvine has been rated one of America’s safest cities to live in for the past several years running. Shyima was only nine years old when, in her home country of Egypt, her parents sold her. Shyima was to work in domestic servitude for this family as they relocated to Irvine, California, USA.
Shyima was not allowed to learn English, or go to school, and was denied all medical treatment. She lived in a tiny area in the garage, on a thin mat upon the hard concrete floor. Other than a lamp placed next to her mat, her only companion was a spider. Shyima rose before dawn every morning and got the children in the house up and ready for school while their parents often slept in. After sending the children off to school, she worked until after midnight cleaning and doing chores around the house.
One morning, as Shyima walked to the curb in front of the house to take out the trash, a neighbor noticed her and wondered why this young girl was not in school like the other children who lived there. Not long after, an anonymous call was made to the local police authorities who quickly arrived at the house to investigate. Fortunately it did not take long for the police to see that they had a case of domestic slavery on their hands. They took the appropriate action to remove Shyima from the home and take her captors into custody. After over three years in captivity, deprived of nourishment, love and affection as well as basic medical care, Shyima was at last free.
At twelve years old Shyima was uneducated and unable to understand or speak English. Slowly she began to understand that she was a victim, and now a survivor, of modern day slavery. Shyima quickly learned English, got caught up in her school studies and was able to testify in English against her captors before a judge in southern California. Her captors were sentenced to prison, and after their sentences were served, they were immediately deported back to Egypt.
Shyima is now a beautiful, smart and courageous young woman who is training to become a police officer so that she will have the skills to help rescue other young victims of modern day slavery and give them the freedom she has today.
Two years ago I had the privilege and joy of meeting Shyima. She is a dynamic young woman with a bright future ahead of her. For Shyima, one of the safest cities in all of America was not safe at all.
A Journey Begins
In the spring of 2008, I watched a documentary called Call+Response.7 At the conclusion of the film, as the end credits rolled and the lights were turned on, I was stunned by what I had seen and heard in the film.

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This was the first time I had heard that there are 27 million people enslaved in the world today. The magnitude of that figure is nothing short of overwhelming. There are more people enslaved today than in the entire span of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
When I heard the term slavery for the first time in the film, I immediately thought of America’s own dark history involving the trans-Atlantic slave trade throughout the 18th century and into the early 19th century. President Abraham Lincoln had, in 1863, signed the Emancipation Proclamation, ending slavery in America once and for all and setting thousands of individuals free. At least, this is what many Americans are taught in history lessons. What is often forgotten is that it was several years after 1863 when word finally reached many slaves that they were free to go. Slave masters had purposely kept their government mandated freedom from the slaves, in order to continue to reap the benefits of using slave labour to harvest their fields.

Unfortunately, this deceit continues today. Not one country in the entire world allows slavery to exist by law and yet, not one country in the world today is slave free.
Fredrick Douglas, a runaway slave and survivor, abolitionist and author, and a man of unstoppable courage, foretold the future of slavery when he said, “They would not call it slavery, but some other name. Slavery has been fruitful in giving herself names…and it will call itself by yet another name; and you and I and all of us had better wait and see what new form this old monster will assume, in what new skin this old snake will come forth.”
Slavery exists and operates oblivious to boundaries. No place is free from this monster, as Douglas called it, and in some way, we, as members of society, are all affected by it. Slavery at its core is the exploitation of the most vulnerable. Slavery disregards culture, skin color, nationality, gender, economic status and religion. Slavery is what happens when justice is not upheld, not defended and not protected.

Gary Haugen, founder and president of the Washington, D.C.-based human rights organization, International Justice Mission, defines this injustice as follows: “Injustice occurs when power is misused to take from others what God has given them, namely, their life, dignity, liberty or the fruits of their love and labour.”3
In other words, injustice is a grotesque abuse of power that seeks to oppress people in order that others might gain a financial profit, while stealing from the oppressed the very nature in which God created everyone.
The Many Forms of the Monster that is Slavery Today
Of the 27 million people enslaved today, an estimated 1 million are in the richest nation in the world, the United States. According to the U.S. Department of State, more than 1 million children are trafficked each year and 80% of trafficking victims are women and girls. Fifty percent of all trafficking victims are minors. Lastly, human trafficking is the second largest criminal enterprise behind drugs, and it is the fastest growing in the world. Trafficking of persons generates in excess 32 billion U.S. dollars per year.
What does slavery look like today?
Kevin Bales, president of Free the Slaves, the world’s oldest human rights organization and considered to be the leading expert on contemporary slavery, describes modern day slavery as “… a booming business, and the number of slaves is increasing. People get rich by using slaves. And when they’ve finished with their slaves, they just throw these people away. This is the new slavery, which focuses on big profits and cheap lives. It is not about owning people in the traditional sense of the old slavery, but about controlling them completely. People become completely disposable tools for making money.”1
Unlike drug trafficking today, in which drugs are used only once, humans can be bought and sold over and over and over again, making the buying and selling of people a much more lucrative investment for those traffickers who have made a career out of exploiting others. From country to country and from city to city, this corruption can take a variety of shapes.
Before we identify specific types of slavery today, let’s review the key differences between old slavery from the 18th and 19th centuries and new slavery that we find around the world today.
Old Slavery                                            New Slavery
Legal ownership asserted                   Legal ownership avoided
High purchase cost                              Very low purchase cost
Low profits                                            Very high profits
Shortage of potential slaves               Glut of potential
Long-term relationship                       Short-term relationship
Slaves maintained                                Slaves disposable
Ethnic differences important             Ethnic differences not important1

As you can see, there are vast differences between the old slavery and the new slavery in our world today. What remains the same is the means in which someone becomes enslaved. In all cases, force, fraud or coercion are used to enslave others.

Today, in Cambodia, for example, sex tourism is a leading economic industry that drives thousands of young girls into brothels and nightclubs. These defenseless young girls are purchased for sex multiple times a night, often by foreign travelers on a sex tourist trip. Sexual enslavement is none other than rape for profit.
David Batstone, founder of the anti-human trafficking organization Not For Sale wrote, “In June 2006, Cambodia was ranked as one of the worst countries in the world for human trafficking.”2To further his point, Batstone refers to the 2006 Trafficking in Persons Report issued by the U.S. State Department, which speaks to Cambodia’s human trafficking situation: “Cambodia is a source, destination, and transit country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation and forced labour.”5
Another type of slavery plaguing numerous parts of the world today is bonded labour, also known as debt bondage slavery. Unfortunately bonded labour is spreading unabated in many countries in Southeast Asia. Bonded labour occurs when a loan is borrowed and labour is the method used for repayment. The lender issues a high rate of interest on the loan, making it impossible to ever fully work off the debt and repay the loan. As a result, it is not uncommon for entire families to be found working to pay off the loan generation after generation.
In India, for example, brick kilns are a common place to find entire families making bricks from sunrise to sunset and without the possibility of ever paying off the debt in full. It is because of this unjust system of debt repayment that allows for a life of slavery to be passed onto the next generation.
In addition to sexual slavery and bonded labour, we must also identify a type of slavery found in parts of Sub-Saharan Africa. Sadly, child soldiers are stripped of their childhood and family life in many parts of central Africa due to rebel militia groups moving through villages seeking to gain control of certain areas rich in natural resources. Human rights groups estimate that as many as 40 thousand children have been taken captive.2 These children, who are essentially kidnapped from the care of their families, are forced to serve a militia army by acting as soldiers, sex slaves, and baggage porters. Some of these children are as young as seven years old.
When Jan Egeland, the UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, visited northern Uganda he had this to say about the situation: “It’s a moral outrage, frankly, to see thousands of children that have been abducted, that have been maltreated, that are going through the most horrendous torture by the rebel movement… I cannot find any other part of the world having an emergency on the scale of Uganda with so little international attention.”
A former child slave in Uganda, Grace Grall Akallo, courageously shared these words before government officials in the United States, “Unfortunately, my story … has become so common that abduction is now a fear that daily defines the lives of children who live in the war-affected areas.”
A future of enslavement is far too close a reality for far too many of today’s youth and the most vulnerable individuals in society.
Yet, as followers of Jesus Christ, we know and we believe that this cycle of corruption, violence, enslavement and evil does not need to reach future generations. Evil will not prevail. In the end justice will prevail!
When God’s Children Pray
Gary Haugen founded the International Justice Mission (IJM) in 1997 to rescue victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and other forms of violent oppression. The staff at IJM is comprised of lawyers, investigators and social workers working through what they call field offices in order to combat modern day slavery in varying parts of the world. International Justice Mission operates out of 16 of these field offices in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Before founding International Justice Mission, Gary Haugen worked in the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice and was the director of the United Nations genocide investigation in Rwanda. What Haugen saw in the wake of that horrific genocide, in which nearly 1million people were brutally slaughtered over the course of a mere eight days, proved to be incredibly life changing for him. It was a tipping point in which he knew something must be done to prevent such an unbelievable atrocity from ever happening again. After much prayer, the International Justice Mission was born.
In each region they serve, IJM employees work closely together as they seek to secure tight knit partnerships with the national professionals to achieve the following four-fold mission they have adopted:
• Rescue the enslaved and provide immediate care for the victim.
• Ensure justice is upheld through prosecution of the perpetrator, slave master, and trafficker essentially holding them accountable before the law.
• Partner often with local aftercare facilities to provide a safe place for the victim to receive the necessary care and attention needed to rebuild their lives as a survivor of slavery.
• To work towards preventing human trafficking and continual slavery through structural transformation of entire communities.
One of the many reasons IJM is the success that it has been for the past 15 years is the importance of prayer throughout the organization. Staff members at the Washington, D.C. headquarters begin each morning with 30 minutes of silence to still their hearts and minds and begin the day seeking God. About two hours into the workday, the entire office stops what they are working on and gathers together to pray about the work God has set before them.
The staff members know and believe that the work they do requires utter and complete dependence on God for wisdom, discernment and encouragement in order to press on. They desire to work by the words found in Hebrews 13:3, “remember those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”
As part of this emphasis and dependence upon prayer, International Justice Mission hosts what they call the Global Prayer Gathering. This event is held each April in Washington, D.C. and draws in directors and staff members from their 16 field offices around the world. During last year’s Global Prayer Gathering on April 8-10, 2011, God pressed upon the hearts of many to spend time crying out for the men, women and children trapped in slavery in India specifically.
They did just that. The room filled with prayer as individuals gathered together in small groups and called out to God to rescue, restore and redeem India from the bondage of slavery that is so heavily woven and imbedded into many societies and cultures throughout that country.
For those who prayed at the Global Prayer Gathering for India, they believed God heard their prayers on behalf of those enslaved in India, yet, they had no way to foresee how God would respond to their cries for freedom of his people in India in the mighty way he did and as quickly as he did.
A young man enslaved in a brick kiln in Chennai, India managed to escape momentarily and was able to contact his brother to ask for help. The government officials of Chennai would later report that in this particular brick kiln, labourers worked in a burning chamber from 6 p.m. to 4 a.m. every day, while the rest of the time they formed bricks and dried them before placing them in the chamber to burn.
The man’s brother made a complaint to a local government office and an official there quickly reached out to a nearby IJM field office for help. Staff members investigated and found evidence there were in fact bonded labourers inside the facility. What they did not know was just how many.
When both national officials and International Justice Mission investigators entered the facility to free the young man who bravely asked for help, they were shocked by what they saw — there were more than 500 enslaved individuals desperate to be set free.
The rescue took place on April 27, 2011, just two weeks after the Global Prayer Gathering. God made known that day that not only did he hear the prayers of his faithful servants, he declared victoriously that he is the God of justice and he does desire to bring freedom to his children in a mighty and powerful way.
In a press release following this largest rescue in International Justice Mission’s history, Gary Haugen said, “Due to excellent collaboration with local law enforcement in India, justice has been delivered to more than five hundred people who are now in freedom. This extraordinary rescue proves that with political will and excellent execution, public justice systems can work to support the poor and violently oppressed – in India and around the world. This is yet another powerful example of that.”
Consider also the story of Kumar.
Orphaned at age five, Kumar became a slave in a brick kiln at age seven. He was forced to carry heavy loads of bricks on his head and work through illness and injury. While his peers were in school, he struggled daily with the physical stress of hard labour.
After several years at the kiln, Kumar was released from slavery through an IJM intervention in collaboration with local authorities. Kumar is now free to pursue his dream for the future: “I want to become a police officer so I can help and protect the good people of our village,” he told International Justice Mission staff. He has excelled in school and has recently begun an internship with one of International Justice Mission’s India field offices.6

A Biblical Foundation for Justice
“Is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”
These verses from Isaiah 58 are not only counter-cultural in today’s societies they are completely radical in every sense of the word. God’s words to his people through his prophet Isaiah above describe a hard, scary and extremely challenging way of life. Yet, this is the type of fasting, or worship, that God desires from his children.
There are more than 130 verses on justice alone throughout the scriptures. In fact, Psalm 89:14 says, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you.”
At the very core of God’s heart is justice. Justice is the quality of being just or fair. It is the principle of moral rightness. Injustice is a perversion of God’s justice for his people. To recognize injustice, we must draw close to the heart of God and allow his justice to become part of our DNA. It is then that we are able to recognize the injustice we see in our communities, in our cities, in our countries and across the globe. With eyes to recognize injustice, and the scriptures to guide us as we live lives of justice and of service to others, injustice will cease and freedom will come to the oppressed.
Dr. Mark Labberton director of the Lloyd John Ogilvie Institute of Preaching at Fuller Theological Seminary so boldly declares, “We should not fool ourselves into thinking that it’s enough to feel drawn to the heart of God without our lives showing the heart of God.” He goes on further to say, “God intends that from true worship will flow lives that are the evidence of his just and righteous character in the world.”4
In other words, when we draw near to God in worship unto him, we will inevitably reflect lives that serve others.

Dr. Labberton gives us another angle to consider this truth that worship manifests itself in care of the poor and oppressed here as he says, “If relinquishing control to God is what truly happens as we gather in worship, then it ought to be producing lives that are being transformed to look like Gods life. Then, the more that our worship services lead us into lives of worship, the more we would demonstrate this by attending to the neglected, loving our enemies and remembering those in prison.”
It is clear throughout the scriptures that God cares deeply about justice. So when we consider the atrocities of modern day slavery running rampant in our towns and communities across the globe, what do we make of God’s plan to rescue, restore, redeem and set free those enslaved and oppressed?
God does have a plan for his children, for those trapped in brothels across Southeast Asian countries, for the defenseless children forced into battle in central Africa, for those endlessly working in India’s brick kilns, for the hurting teenage girls of America who are victims of sexual exploitation on the boulevards of our cities, and for those who are tricked into leaving their homes for what they think will be a better life somewhere else.
So what is God’s plan for these people?
You are God’s plan for justice. I am God’s plan for justice. All of whom have been redeemed by the saving blood and sacrifice of Jesus Christ on Calvary’s cross are God’s plan to speak up for the voiceless and to fight for justice on behalf of those trampled by injustice. It is God’s plan that his children take seriously his mandate for justice and live lives that reflect the worship he so deserves and desires. When we do this, the world will know that he is a good and just God and the injustices of this world will have no room to take root in our communities.
Gary Haugen has said, “The most difficult thing to convince people is that God is good. When so many people are in such pain and suffering around the world, how are they supposed to believe that God is good? God has a plan to bring justice to the world – and his plan is us. We’re the plan – Jesus said that we are the light of the world. It’s our job to make ‘God is good’ believable.”
One of God’s defining characteristics is justice. God so strongly desires justice that he blatantly rejects our attempts at worship and praise if they are done with selfish motives, as was the case with the Israelites in Isaiah 58: 1-5. Hear their grumbles, “Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the house of Jacob their sins. For day after day they seek me out: they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them. ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed.’ “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?”
The Israelites were essentially offering God empty hallelujahs. They were frustrated with God. They complained before him because when they prayed, their prayers fell on deaf ears. When they fasted, they did not experience closeness with God. When they obeyed the laws, God was not impressed. Translate that into today and it might look like going to church every Sunday but not experiencing God, praying and not hearing from God, or attending a community bible study but feeling lonely. Or, like reading the Bible and feeling empty and unsatisfied. All of these acts quickly become empty hallelujahs if God’s mandate for justice is not obeyed as well.
Another example of empty hallelujahs can be read in Amos 5:21-24 “I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring me choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.”
God’s words here through the prophets Isaiah and Amos are clear. God is just not interested in attempts to worship him if worshiping him is done only to receive a blessing in return and to win his favor. Then it is no longer worship but poor and selfish attempts to manipulate God into giving us undeserved favor. Going to church, tithing and singing songs are completely meaningless to God if we are not spending ourselves on behalf of the poor. God is most concerned with his children living their lives in service to others.
In order to fully understand what true fasting or true worship is, we must take a look at the first time fasting and worship are introduced to the Israelites in the book of Leviticus. Worship is vital in the work of justice.
Leviticus 16:29-31 describes the Day of Atonement or the day of cleansing. It is here where God establishes the day of rest, the Sabbath, under the law. It takes discipline today to slow down and rest, even when that means simply being with our Creator in stillness and in silence. Read what Moses writes in Leviticus. “This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: On the tenth day of the seventh month you must deny yourselves and not do any work – whether native-born or alien living among you – because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the Lord, you will be clean from all your sins. It is a Sabbath of rest, and you must deny yourselves; it is a lasting ordinance.”
“You must deny yourselves.”
Denying yourself is the scary part. It is difficult to deny ourselves comfort, security, and safety. Yet God describes worship unto himself as doing exactly that. Doing the work of justice is scary because it reveals the unknown and removes us from the stability, security and comfort we have worked hard to establish in our lives. It calls us to be brave and courageous.
Look what God promises for those who do choose to loosen the chains of injustice. “Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose water never fails. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings. If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.” Isaiah 58:8-14.
This passage is full of awe filled promises for those who live to loosen the chains of injustice.
Last year I attended a conference where Gary Haugen took questions from audience members and was asked what his plans are for the near future with International Justice Mission. He said he planned to do less. Here is a man who spends his time drenched in the difficult, chaotic and messy reality of slavery on a daily basis, and he is going to do less, regardless of the increasing need that envelops him. When we slow down and do less, God can then build us up in his likeness, restore us, sanctify us and ultimately use us to do more for him than we could ever attempt to do on our own. We are more in tune with our surroundings and what is taking place in our own communities when we stop and seek the God of Justice by drawing near to him in worship. God will mold and shape our hearts to look like his heart for justice and our fears in doing the difficult work of justice will be replaced by courage and boldness to tackle injustices that exists around us.
Doing justice is messy, uncomfortable and counter-cultural. Dr. Labberton says, “Doing justice, unfortunately seldom feels comfortable. Yet that is the comfort God longs for the oppressed to know through the lives of those who worship in spirit and in truth.”4
People will know that God is good when his followers show up in the dark places and shine their light. Worship and justice cannot be separated. We see justice coupled with worship throughout the scriptures. Luke 11:42 is one example of this coupling. “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.”
It is absolutely imperative that followers of Jesus understand the biblical foundation of justice that God desires from his church in order to be effective agents of his truth to a lost and dark world of sin and suffering.
Community Prevention: A Case Study
Digging through the complicated web of reasons why slavery exists today, we will eventually make our way to the root cause, which is sin. The reason for all sin stems from the breaking of two greatest commandments. The first of these is when God’s children fail to love him first above all else, and the second is when God’s children fail to selflessly love their neighbors.

All sin can be traced to the breaking of these two commandments so clearly presented to us in the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 and again by Jesus in Matthew 22:36-40. “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Therefore, when these two commandments are not obeyed, individuals experience broken relationship after broken relationship, not only with God, but with each other too. Because our hearts are so easily motivated by our own selfish gain, rather than aligning with God’s heart of justice, harm is done to others instead of love and service. In other words, we hurt God by not obeying him, by not seeking him first in all things and by not desiring to please him.

We hurt others by isolating ourselves in an attempt to secure comfortable and safe lives for us and for our families, making little or no room for those around us in need.
With an understanding of modern day slavery and with a clear picture of what God desires of us in worship, our eyes will be open to clearly see the injustices existing in our communities and we may begin to mobilize one another into action so that we may work together to prevent further exploitation of the vulnerable around us.
One of the key essentials in protecting the most vulnerable in a particular community from being exploited into various means of modern day slavery is through collaboration of entities. Among the many works that International Justice Mission does well, collaboration with nationals and local government officials is among the most effective. International Justice Mission cannot conduct rescues, provide aftercare to survivors and prosecute slaveholders and traffickers without a rule of law established where they are working as well as officials who obey that rule of law and offer justice to their people.
As one body of Christ’s universal Church, with many members, we too can work together and take part in the work of justice through the multiple ways God has gifted each of us. Throughout the narrative of scripture we see time and time again God using very common, ordinary people to accomplish his extraordinary and profound work for good in the world and for all people. All believers in Jesus Christ are qualified to participate in this very rewarding call to justice.
Paul writes to the Church in Corinth regarding this wonderful work God does within us in order to equip and sustain us. “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.’” 1 Corinthians 1:26-31
When God’s children humble themselves and worship him by ushering justice into an unjust world, then all men will know that God is good.
Gary Haugen goes so far to say, “He [God] doesn’t have any other plan. In fact, it was precisely for such good works that we were created; they don’t save us or make us righteous before God, but they allow us to fulfill the godly purpose for which God created us.”3
Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
We know that these good works are what Paul is referring to because of what God told the prophet Micah. “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Further, Isaiah tells us what it means to learn to do right. “Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.” Isaiah 1:17.
It is not enough for Christ followers to attend our local churches, tithe, and sing our songs of praise. We must do more. For God has called us into such a rich relationship with him he desires that we participate in his perfect plan to bring justice to his broken and hurting world by obeying the much greater important matters of the law – “justice, mercy and faithfulness.” Matthew 23:23.
We must also disciple other Christians so that they too understand biblical justice and our responsibility within it. When this happens, works of justice take root in communities, and as relationships with one another are healed and mended, growth in spirit and in truth will sprout, grow and provide protection for entire communities.
Let me offer an example of how this is taking shape in my own community. I reside in a very unique area of America. In Orange County where I live – a suburb of the Greater Los Angeles Metropolitan area – more millionaires reside than in any other part of the United States per capita. However, despite the abundant wealth in the region, the percentage of poverty and the need in Orange County is also among the highest in the nation. With such a high number of impoverished people, vulnerable men, women and children are abundant.
Due to economic hardship as well as other factors such as lack of access to proper health care, many families in Orange County find themselves removed from their homes and with no other place to go except to the streets or rundown motels.
It is at such a motel that I serve alongside a small team of leaders from my local church. We seek to build a presence in hope of establishing relationships with the residents and with those in need living at the motel. We have discovered that one of the main reasons entire families are living in a tiny room, without kitchens and without any privacy, is that they lack healthy relationships with others. Essentially, they have been isolated from other family members and from the community. More often than not, these people have broken relationships with their extended families, preventing them from reaching out for help. They have broken marriages and come from broken homes.
As members of our church, we desire to fill in the gap created by brokenness, and offer ourselves as friends and followers of Jesus who want them to know that God loves them and God has a great purpose for them. We want to model healthy relationships with one another and sanctifying relationships with God through Jesus Christ.
At this particular motel where we work, there are dozens of at-risk teenage boys and girls. The adolescents struggle in school due to a lack of assistance with their schoolwork from the adults in their life. In a season when they ought to be learning their independence, they are completely dependent upon each other for survival. These factors and more make them some of the most vulnerable in society. How quickly and easily they could become involved in prostitution either by soliciting sex themselves or by recruiting others into sexual slavery due to their hunger for acceptance, for value and worth and out of desperation to leave their current situation behind.
Our hope is that by creating a consistent presence at the motel with these teens, and by encouraging them and helping them know how deeply loved they are by their Creator, we might help prevent them from feeling so desperate and so vulnerable – vulnerable to those who seek to exploit them through forced labour, or forced rape, for profit. Ultimately, we want these teens to know how precious they are and that there are other ways to climb out of a life of poverty.
The key here is that the followers of Jesus Christ are the ones who are expected to support those in need in any way necessary, and to model relationships just as Jesus modeled relationships with others as we read about in the Gospels. Jesus was intentional and community oriented, and by means of gentle and loving discipleship, those who followed him experienced his peace that surpasses all understanding. Ultimately we hope to see complete transformation through a relationship with Jesus Christ take place so that these individuals can avoid a life of enslavement.
An example found in the Bible of how one community helped prevent a life of servitude for one family is found in 2 Kings 4:1-7. A woman’s husband, a prophet and colleague of the prophet Elisha, has passed away. Now a widow, this woman fears her husband’s debtor will take away her two sons to work for him in order to pay off the debt her husband owed. This type of potential labour bondage is all too familiar in our world, as we have already seen. The widow and mother of two calls upon Elisha for help.
Elisha asks her how he can help and specifically asks what she has in her home. I imagine this woman, feeling helpless and that a life of slavery is inevitable for her sons, answers back somewhat distraught when she realizes all she has is a little oil.
A significant factor to consider here is the oil and what that symbolized among the Israelites. In the book of Zechariah we see a description of a gold lampstand with two olive trees on either side. When Zechariah asks God about the lampstand and olive trees, God replies, “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit.” The oil used in the story with the widow symbolizes that it is by God’s Holy Spirit that all things are made right.
Elisha instructed this newly widowed woman to ask her neighbors for empty jars they can spare. Elisha essentially encourages her to reach out to her community of neighbors and ask for their help. The two sons go door-to-door and round up the empty vessels. Before long, their house is full of empty jars.
She began to fill the jars with the oil she had and the oil kept pouring until every last jar in her house was full to the brim. Elisha then instructed her to sell the jars of oil and use the money to pay off her debt.
Her two sons were spared from a life of bonded slave labour and God used Elisha, his servant, to help her discern her resources and care and protect her children from harm. God gave her exactly what she needed and he used Elisha and the community to do it.
Be Brave
The realities of slavery are far too prevalent in the societies of our world today. This is due to the failure to love God above all and secondly to love one another unconditionally and without fail. If ever we are to put an end to such atrocities of sin today, we must first and foremost complete a self-inventory and ask God to search our hearts, to know our hearts and to make clean our hearts. As we begin to meet with him in silence and in times of Sabbath as established in Leviticus 16, we will inevitably begin living lives that reflect and illuminate God’s will for justice to prevail and to flow like a river from his throne of justice and righteousness.
Regardless of our geographical location in this world, we can all do our part to obey the two greatest commandments Jesus identified for us and together, in relationship with our communities, we can help protect the most vulnerable from a life of exploitation and harm.
Be bold, courageous and brave in life’s journey of worship and justice for God forever and ever.
May God’s children never tire of doing the good works set before us, so that all will know that God is good.
“Is it not the great end of religion, and, in particular, the glory of Christianity, to extinguish the malignant passions; to curb the violence, to control the appetites, and to smooth the asperities of man; to make us compassionate and kind, and forgiving one to another; to make us good husbands, good fathers, good friends; and to render us active and useful in the discharge of the relative social and civil duties?”-William Wilberforce

Bibliography

1. Bales, Kevin. 2004. Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy. University of California Press.

2. Batstone, David. 2007. Not For Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade – and How We Can Fight It. Harper One.

3. Haugen, Gary. 1999. The Good News About Injustice: A Witness of Courage in a Hurting World. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.

4. Labberton, Mark. 2007. The Dangerous Act of Worship, Living God’s Call to Worship.InterVarsity Press.

5. US Department of State. 2006. Trafficking in Persons Report. Washington DC.

Websites

6. The International Justice Mission. http://www.ijm.org

Films

7. Dillion, Justin. 2008. Call + Response.

Stewardship and Justice: A Challenge for Christian Consumers

 

 

This article is a part of the November 2013 issue of the Lausanne Global Analysis. Access other articles from this issue or download the full issue as a free PDF download

Our homes, workplaces, shops and markets are full of items made from around the world. However, we do not often consider the individuals behind the making of what we buy. We in the consumer nations should be concerned with the welfare of those making the products we buy and thus ask ourselves questions such as:

  • As followers of Jesus Christ, how do we respond to others with humility, love, compassion and justice through the purchases we make?
  • Is stewardship limited to our 10% tithe to church or does it encompass 100% of all that we have?

Consuming affects others

Ken Wytsma, in Pursuing Justice said, “We live in an interconnected world. The way we consume directly affects the lived realities of other people, whether we want it to or not.”1

Because our world is global, we have an opportunity to care for others across borders and cultures through our everyday shopping. We can care for the poor simply by being aware of the conditions in which they work to make our goods and by making purchases that help those behind our products.

Chocolate and slavery

CNN’s Freedom Project has told the story of Abdul (then ten years old) who was trafficked across a border to work in the cocoa farms of Ivory Coast seven days a week as a child slave.2 Chocolate is a precious commodity and likely a household staple in many homes across Europe and America. In fact, Europeans and Americans consume most of the world’s chocolate.3 The question arises whether it is possible to consume chocolate and make a way for children like Abdul never to end up working as slaves.

Electronics and war

With the increase in demand over the past 15 years for electronics products, such as cell phones and computers, the need for coltan, the mineral used to make these devices, has increased dramatically. The largest mine of coltan is in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

With such a high demand for coltan, militia groups have been fighting for control of this highly valued resource for years. The current rebel group fighting for control of coltan is M23. In the past two years, the Rwandan-backed group is estimated to have made over 250 million dollars from the sale of coltan.

When asked to comment on the current situation in DRC, Ryan Mariden, a board member with Africa New Day said, “I have seen firsthand the horrific impact these militias have on the children of eastern DRC. One boy shared with me his story of capture at age ten and his life as a child soldier that spanned over five years before he was finally free. What these kids go through is so shocking – so deplorable, that I doubt we would see it in our worst horror movies in America. Awareness is key. The political background in all of this is complex to say the least. What is needed is amplified world awareness, a beaming spotlight straight on Congo that will make the situation simply impossible to ignore.”4

Stewardship and justice

Tithing a tenth of our income to God is one way to express gratitude and acknowledgment that all we have are blessings from him. However, we often do not consider how we spend the remaining 90% — which is also a stewardship issue:

  • In Money, Possessions, and Eternity, author Randy Alcorn writes, “The tithe was never a ceiling for giving, only a floor. It was a beginning point. The tithe was a demonstration of obedience. Voluntary offerings were a demonstration of love, joy and worship.”5
  • A deeper look at God’s heart for the poor reveals he is much more concerned with how we daily spend the 90% than he is with the 10% tithe (Amos 5:22-24, Is. 58, Mt. 23:23).

Choosing to spend our money in a way that cares for those making the products we buy aligns our hearts with God’s heart for justice. What concerns him ought to concern us. This is both obedience and worship, and it creates space to share the Gospel across borders and cultures.

The Cape Town Commitment puts it this way, “We support Christians whose particular missional calling is to environmental advocacy and action, as well as those committed to godly fulfillment of the mandate to provide for human welfare and needs by exercising responsible dominion and stewardship.”6

In addition, Ken Wystma writes, “My greatest frustration with consumerism is that it encourages selfishness while reinforcing the lie that happiness is found in consumption — the opposite to Jesus’ call to give our lives away. And paradoxically, rejecting the consumerism of our culture is the way to find our greatest joy. What if consumerism that plagues our churches — that plagues our hearts — could begin transforming into compassion?”

Just purchases

Organizations such as Trade as One and Food for the Hungry encourage consumers to spend in a way that extends compassion across borders. Followers of Jesus can participate in restoration work throughout the world and the redemption of land and people by making purchases that seek to care for others globally.

Trade as One offers a simple approach: “Our mission is to use fair trade to promote sustainable business and break cycles of poverty and dependency in the developing world. We all have a conscience. We want to make sure people get the chance to use it when they shop.”7

Trade as One has established partnerships with a number of accredited fair trade groups that work to create jobs for the impoverished in an effort to restore dignity and the ability to provide for family and community. Consumers can buy their everyday products and be guaranteed no one experiences injustice in the making of that product.

In relation to chocolate, Trade as One has partnered with Divine, an organization based in Ghana that not only provides honest work for the cocoa farmers, but also ensures the workers own a significant portion of the business and therefore have a voice in its growth and development in their community.8

By considering others when purchasing, consumers can continue to buy chocolate and help to create and sustain jobs for others. In this way, injustice will be prevented, a life of slavery avoided and a self-sustaining livelihood developed for families and communities around the world.

Additionally, there are practical steps consumers can take to help to slow the demand for coltan and help protect the Congolese people from unnecessary suffering:

  • Only buy new electronics when necessary.
  • Tell others about coltan and encourage them to learn more.
  • Contact leading electronics companies and urge them to be vigilant in legitimately purchasing coltan from the Congolese people and not ultimately from the militias.

Conclusion

Jesus is the hope of the world. He uses his Church to spread his good news of life and love for all of his creation. As his Church, we can participate in God’s plan for justice in an unjust world, simply by making purchases that care for others.

Wendy McMahan, Director of Church Engagement with Food for the Hungry, put it this way, “As Christians, it’s important that we honor God in every area of our lives. We can’t separate our tithes and offerings from the way we spend the rest of our income. In God’s eyes, our spending is critical to our discipleship. Food for the Hungry works with church partners in the Global North who develop deep relationships with vulnerable communities in the Global South. When a church forms that kind of relationship, they begin to see how the choices they make every day have an impact on people living in poverty around the globe. It’s a wake-up call to do justice–not only by giving more generously, but by spending more wisely.”9

Nathan George, founder of Trade as One, offers this concluding encouragement: “We offer a fair trade food subscription service that provides a quarterly box of various fairly traded food from around the world. We connect you to the producers behind the food and tell you why it’s important to consume that product ethically. There is hope! Each year, more and more people catch the vision of fair trade—that the poor can come out of poverty simply by the choices we make in the products we consume. Our spending does make a difference, and it’s when we realize this, and embrace it wholly in connection with our faith and God’s love for all people that we begin to see why it matters.”

If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. – 1 John 3:16-17

References:

1. Wytsma, Ken. Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live and Die for Bigger Things. Thomas Nelson, 2013.

2. See the CNN Freedom Project site for Abdul’s story and more on slavery in West Africa’s cocoa field.

3.See the International Cocoa Organization website for more information.

4.See the Africa New Day (AND) website for more information.

5. Alcorn, Randy. Money, Possessions, and Eternity. Tyndale House Publishers Inc. 2003.

6. The Cape Town Commitment. Part I, 7A, 2010.

7. See the Trade as One website for more information.

8. See Divine’s website for more information.

9. See the Food for the Hungry website for more information.

What is God’s Plan for Justice?

Have you ever stopped to pick up trash on the ground that you didn’t put there? Not long ago I was walking down a fairly busy street with cars zipping by and as I walked by a bus stop, I noticed a piece of paper lying in the grass nearby. My first reaction was to ignore it, after all, I didn’t put there so it wasn’t my problem. I walked on past the trash.

I didn’t get much further down the sidewalk before I changed my mind about the trash and went back to pick it up. What excuse did I possibly have when there was a trashcan conveniently located at the bus stop nearby making it easy to discard properly?

Picking up the trash and putting in the trashcan where it belonged was really no big whoop. I was however, surprised by how difficult it was for me to just pick it up to begin with. Why had I hesitated? What was I afraid of? Sheepishly I admit I feared mostly what people I didn’t even know zooming by would think of me if they saw. How often does fear lock your kneecaps and paralyze you from action in life? Have you ever hesitated to help someone in need out of fear?

Ken Wytsma, in his book, Pursuing Justice, says that justice is what ought to be. It’s what life was like before sin entered the world back in the Garden of Eden. Life in the garden was created in perfect order by God and all things worked together as they ought to. It was just. Justice is such a vital part of Gods character. Wytsma points out there are more than two thousand verses in the Bible directly related to justice. He goes on to say, “Justice is the hallmark of God, a distinctive and pure feature of His character that defines Him and His will for the world.”

King David writes, “Your throne, O God, will last forever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.” In other words, justice is a big part of who God is. Psalm 45:6.

Gary Haugen, the founder of International Justice Missions, says that’s God’s plan for justice in the world is you and me. Yes you read that correctly. It’s us! And God does not have a backup plan. We are his plan for restoring and redeeming the world back to way he intended when all things were just and right. You can listen to a short video here of Haugen talking more on this.

I realize picking up trash on the ground is a teeny tiny example of the idea that we are God’s plan for justice in the world but what I like about it is it’s something we can all grasp. Trash should be thrown out in a trashcan. It should never be thrown on the ground. We all get that.

The same can be said about a number of hardships people face today. God never intended for children to be orphaned. He never intended for parents to bury their children. God never intended for children to be enslaved, trafficked or abused in any manner. And God never intended for his perfect and beautiful creation to be littered.

As unbelievable as it may sound at times, God’s plan to restore order the way he did intend is through us, his followers. In John 13:35 Jesus tells his followers, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

People will know that God is good and loving when his people do good deeds and love others.

So whether you pick up a piece of trash that shouldn’t be there or you provide school supplies to a kid in need as a new school year begins, be encouraged because you are carrying out God’s plan for justice in the world.

“Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, that you may live and possess the land which the Lord your God is giving you.” Deuteronomy 16:20

*Originally posted on http://www.conversantlife.com dated Aug. 27, 2013

Slavery in America: The Year of Jubilee

On the way to church this morning, my mom and brother and I were talking about how our world would be so different today if we still practiced Jubilee. We talked about how great it would feel to have our debt wiped away and the opportunities we’d be given if only it were still practiced today.

Directly after the service, I ran into a friend of mine who I traveled with to Malawi a couple years ago. It’d been a few months since we’d run into each other. It was great to see him. He shared with us that he had been in our neck of the woods earlier in the week and had thought of me while nearby. He drew out the night and day differences between the area where I live and the area where we were attending church this morning. He asked, “Why aren’t we hanging out with the people who live in your neighborhood more?”

Every morning, I walk through my condo complex, onto the main street and walk about 5 minutes to my families’ house in order to borrow a car to drive to work. On my way, I walk under a freeway overpass, wearing my business work attire and carrying my lunch and my purse at my side. There are two homeless people living under that overpass, one on each side of the street. I walk briskly, hand tightly on the straps of my purse and lunch bag and I try not to inhale the urine stench lurking in the air. After about five minutes, I reach the car I borrow and drive off to work in one of Orange County’s wealthiest cities.

Last weekend I had a conversation with a woman named Cathy. Cathy and I are working on a blog about American Slavery and Prostitution for the Slavery in America series here on ConversantLife.com. Cathy defined social justice in a way that really made sense to me. Cathy said social justice is removing barriers. Every morning, this past week, I thought about that as I walked under the overpass holding my breath and clutching my purse. What are the barriers that exist for the people sleeping under this stinky overpass?

On the way home from church, we talked about all the privileges we have as Americans. We were driving in a car; there’s one privilege that sets us apart from so many in our world. We have wireless internet in our homes and multiple computers just among the three of us. We can turn any faucet on in our homes and be assured it will spout out water until we deem it enough and turn the faucet off.

We talked about Isaiah 58. In the first part of the chapter, the people are grumbling at God because they fast and don’t think God sees their efforts. They humble themselves but wonder if God notices. The footnote for this passage in my Archeological Study Bible says, they were going through the motions of religion – specifically fasting – for the same reason the pagans participated in their rituals: in an attempt to manipulate God to act in their favor.

God responds in verses 6-7 with his purpose and design for fasting; the kind of fasting that is pleasing and acceptable to God. He says this:

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

After taking a delightful Sunday afternoon nap, I wanted to look at Isaiah 58 a bit further. I pulled out a favorite book of mine off my bookshelf and searched the scripture index for Isaiah 58. I didn’t realize until I opened up to page 300 that the author, Christopher J. H. Wright correlates Isaiah 58 to the Hebrew Jubilee tradition. He says this about Jubilee:

It [Jubilee] set a temporal limit on unjust social relations – they would not last forever. The jubilee brought hope for change. The Jubilee had two major thrusts: release/liberty, and return/restoration. That is, these economic terms of hope and longing for the future, and thus entered into prophetic eschatology.

You can’t talk about the year of Jubilee and loosening the chains of injustice without talking about Jesus. Jesus’ words in Luke 4:18-19 present us with a personal mission statement about what he set out to do in his earthly ministry. Jesus’ mission is exactly God’s mission found in Isaiah with the Jubilee. Check this out:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Jesus is quoting Isaiah 61, which was strongly influenced by Jubilee concepts. Jesus fulfilled his Jubilee natured mission statement as proclaimed and enacted, spiritual and physical, for Israel and the nations, and in both present and eschatological terms.

There is another time where Jesus refers to Jubilee like actions when he encounters the Samaritan woman at the well. The woman talks about where she worships compared to where the Jews worship. She referred to worship as a place and Jesus replies to her by saying that true worshippers worship in both spirit and truth. Jesus says that God is spirit and therefore we must worship him in both spirit and in truth.

Going back to Isaiah 58, the kind of worship the people were practicing, was worship in a temple, one day a week. The kind of worship God desires is the kind that gets us out of the walls of our churches and into the communities where we live. God desires that we worship him by removing barriers that bind people in a state of bondage and oppression.

No matter where you live, you don’t have to go far to see injustice and people in great need. For my friend I saw at church today, he went about 15 miles. For me, I simply walk just a few minutes before I am approached with injustice.

I’ve been writing a lot lately on the problem of human trafficking in America. Human trafficking is a secondary problem of many deeply rooted problems of injustice. Human trafficking exists because in many places there is an absence of the rule of law that would serve to protect the poor and the vulnerable, most of who are women and children. It exists because there is a demand for sex by a people who are broken and searching for satisfaction that only God can bring. It exists because we are an ignorant people when it comes to how our food, clothing and cell phones are made and distributed to us. It exists because kids are fleeing broken homes and ending up in the arms of strangers who take advantage of them. It exists because America’s immigration system is so screwed up and people so desperate for a better life that many end up in dangerous situations and in corrupt hands. And is exists because people like me walk right by need daily, holding our breath from the raw stench and dirt, ignoring the problems that lay awake in our backyards in this country.

Isaiah 58 ends with powerful promises made by the Lord for those who choose to leave the comfort of their church pew and worship him in spirit and in truth. He says your light will rise in the darkness; your night will become like noonday. He will always guide you, you will be satisfied in the midst of great need and you will be known. You will be like a well-watered garden; like a spring whose waters never fail. You will rebuild and will be called repairer of broken walls, restorer of streets with dwellings. You will find your joy in the Lord.

This human trafficking problem is much bigger than I first thought it would be. The ways of the Lord are much mightier still! Our hope is found in Jesus, the one who releases and restores! May we be people who practice Jubilee today, beginning with me.

*Originally posted as part of a series on Slavery in America posted on http://www.conversantlife.com