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The Needy Unforgotten

December 3rd, 2014

But the needy will not always be forgotten, nor the hope of the afflicted ever perish.

Psalm 9:18

My wife and I are involved in not only serving as pastor and wife of a wonderful church in Southern Germany, but we are also involved in addressing the terrible scourge of human trafficking. The plight of the poor is demonstrated in the growth of prostitution and brothels in the world - it is the poor and the fatherless that become prostitutes. The statistics of those trapped in the trade reveal that more often than not, they did not choose prostitution, but prostitution chose them.

For example, prostitutes come from lower classes, from the poor of the world. Over 90% of prostitutes in the West were sexually molested below the age of 8 years of age. Over 90% of them were first prostituted at age 14 or younger. There is a reason why young women go into prostitution and poverty, family dysfunction, and the manipulation of cruel, uncaring people, mostly men but also some women. The pimps, the “lover boys” who lure young, vulnerable women (girls really) into the trade, the johns who pay for prostitution and make it a profitable business, and the common people who sit by and do nothing and allow it to happen - all of these, through their actions, or in their inaction, are part of the forces that trap these young girls into the business. Eventually these girls will leave the business, broke and broken, too old to attract clients.

Reading Psalms 9 and 10 the other morning I was touched by the words of God. The Lord promises retribution for the oppression of the poor, not only retribution against the individual but even against nations that condone or support the oppression. Psalm 10 in particular describes the thinking of the pimp and the “lover boys” who bring these girls into slavery.

In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the the weak, who are caught in the schemes he devises. He boasts in the cravings of his heart; he blesses the greedy and reviles the Lord…He says to himself, “Nothing will shake me; I’ll always be happy and never have trouble.”… He lies in wait near the villages; from ambush he murders the innocent, watching in secret for his victimshe catches the helpless and drags them off in his net. His victims are crushed, they collapse; they fall under his strength. (Psalm 10:2-10)

These words describe accurately what is happening in many parts of the world - young girls captured from villages, or manipulated by those grooming them for the business, those who know well how to recognize the vulnerable, the children of sexual molesters, the insecure and emotionally vulnerable.

Where is God in this? Has He forgotten their plight? Has He turned a deaf ear to their cries and a blind eye to their pain? The answer is No. He sees and will bring justice - either in this life or in the next. No man or nation can escape the retribution of God who judges those who oppress the poor. Reading on in Psalm 10,

But you, O God, do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand. The victim commits himself to you; you are the helper of the fatherless. Break the arm of the wicked and evil man; call him to account for his wickedness that would not be found outYou hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed, in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more. (Psalm 10:14-18)

God is merciful and gracious and He forgives all who repent and turn to Him in true faith. Thank God for His grace through Jesus Christ, without which none of us could stand before Him. But the oppression of the poor - not just through prostitution but in other means of human trafficking - is a moral blight to our world. God will bring justice, and any part we have played in the world’s injustices, we should repent of, stop the behavior, and seek to help the needy. When God’s judgment falls, and it will one day, we will want to be as far away from those who perpetuate the injustice as possible - far from them in attitude, in our hearts, in our secret lives, in our spending, in our conversations, in our activities, in everything about us. We may call them to repent, invite them to come to Christ, but in no way should we be involved in helping to prop up these injustices.

We need to be careful that we do not have a Christianity that is purely cerebral, that is purely idea and concept focused, for this is clearly not the Christianity of the Bible. Biblical Christianity was compassionate Christianity that brought truth, love, and hope to people, in the name of Christ through the gospel and in the name of Christ through physical and material help. Christ commanded help to the poor (Matt 19:21) and commended those who did it (Matt. 25:37-40). The apostles insisted that this was part of the character of Christians, to give to the poor and needy (Gal. 2:10). James went so far as to describe this as “pure religion” that is undefiled before God the Father, or acceptable to Him, was “to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction” and to keep himself unspotted by the world (James 1:27). John asked, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (1 John 3:17)

How are you helping the poor in today’s world? How are you speaking up for those who cannot speak up for themselves?

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A Word about Justice, God’s Blessings, and Ferguson

August 27th, 2014

Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him! … Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!

Psalm 33:8,12

For the last several weeks there have been unrest and demonstrations in the St, Louis, Missouri suburb of Ferguson. This stemmed from the killing of a young man by a policeman. I was not an eye witness to the attempted arrest and killing, and I cannot say with certainty what happened, and the reports from the news media have been conflicting - one eye witness saying one thing and another saying something different. Unless there is video coverage of this matter, we, the public, will never know with complete certainty what happened.

But the issues that have brought about the unrest and demonstrations are clear enough - Black anger at the feeling of having been disenfranchised as citizens, and police frustration at putting their lives on the line every day. As a pastor and Bible teacher I have no intention of wading into the troubled waters of political turmoil. The elected public officials have to sort out these matters, not me. But I do encourage us all to pray for them, for peace, for confidence and mutual respect to be restored, for without these no society on earth can exist.

It is simple enough to identify what we need as a society. We need peace and order restored. We need confidence in the police force restored. We need to restore the confidence within the police that they are supported by the majority of citizens, or we will have no police force at all. We need every ethnic group and every part of society to feel that they are fairly dealt with, that they can achieve their dreams, that they can live in peace and harmony and in safety. We need an ever-enlarging middle class, for unless the masses feel safe, secure, and respected they will revolt and the wealthy will not be safe - not even in their own homes. So how do we get there? How do we achieve these goals?

I have read many commentaries in the last few weeks - mostly political commentaries - and the bulk of them simply point the finger and do not offer any solution - it is easy to blame and hard to truly fix problems. Granted there is plenty of people to blame in this situation, but the problem goes deeper than this incident, deeper than the unrest in Ferguson, and unless it is dealt with on a broad-based approach, it will continue to eat away at our nation’s peace and security. We should not be fighting with one another. Christ said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand” (Luke 11:17). We should all work together to build a better nation, and not be caught up in divisions and sectarian violence.

The text above, “Blessed is the nation who God is the Lord” (Psalm 33:12a), was written for the nation of Israel, the people whom God had chosen, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They stood in a covenant relationship with Him and were chosen by Him. He promised to protect them, to enrich them, and to bless them if they would keep His commands. The passage reminded them that there was a God who stood above the things of this world who would protect and honor His commitments and who watched over His people. God’s people were to remember this always, to not be discouraged by set backs but to always trust and hope in Him and His protection. They were to rise in the morning and go about their responsibilities in faith and obedience, trusting that God watched over them.

It is important to remember that they were not always faithful to God, and their disobedience brought His judgment and punishment. Yet His punishment was for the purpose of correction and that He did not forget His people nor His promises to them. Even as he witnessed the destruction of the city of Jerusalem - the ultimate act of God’s discipline upon His disobedient people - the prophet Jeremiah proclaimed, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning. Great is Your faithfulness!” (Lam 3:22-23). Even in the days of Peter he proclaimed that God still promised the “restoring of all things” through the Messiah (Act 3:21). So God is faithful to His promises.

America was founded upon Christian principles, many of the earliest settlers coming from Europe to escape persecution for their faith. They longed for a nation where they could worship in freedom, and more than just freedom. They longed for a nation about which it could be said, that their God is the Lord. Yet there are some theological challenges with the interpretation that America is like a modern day Israel, a chosen people through whom the world will be blessed. More than once I have been impressed that many Christians misunderstand what this means, and how the truth here should be applied in our world today. The blessing pronounced above was the result of God’s election of Israel, and their election came at His initiation, at His choosing of Israel, and not Israel’s choosing of God.

Any nation and every nation could and should aspire to be a godly nation, to even be a “Christian nation” in the sense that the values of the Christian faith have permeated its values, its laws, and its social contracts. Yet the promises of God’s protection found here, if they are transferred to anyone, they are transferred to the Church Invisible, to the true believers in every nation spread around the globe. The principle we operate under, as God’s people among the nations, is the one espoused by God to Abraham as he pleaded for the salvation of Sodom. Abraham asked, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?”  God responded that if He found only ten righteous people He would not destroy the city (Genesis 18:22-33). So the presence of God’s people in any nation can serve as the protection for the entire nation, even for those who do not believe. God, in His righteous protection for His people protects more than just them.

And Christ said that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matt 5:13-14), so as His followers we are to bless others, to stand for righteousness and for justice, to speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves (Prov. 31:8-9). So what can we do? Here are some suggestions.

First, pray. Simple enough. Take time right now to pray for our leaders, for peace, for God to move, for harmony, for each of these needs.

Second, try to understand the other perspective. Both sides become more entrenched in their own persuasions unless we stop and try to understand how the others feel. There are some who feel that this is not really about race so much as it is about the “haves and the have-nots” or the poor and the wealthy classes.

Third, get to know someone of a different race. Make a friend with someone not like you. I know this is challenging, but these are the relationships that will bring about harmony, when we stop seeing people merely as “them” and start seeing them as friends. The problems of unrest will not be solved, in my opinion, by government alone, but by citizens, and by the Church Invisible being the salt and light in this situation.

Fourth, pray for our police forces across the nation. We must support those who protect us, or we will have no protection whatsoever. Get to know the police in your town. In South Africa a group of Christian women began to pray for the police who were facing very discouraging obstacles, and their ministry made a huge difference in many communities and in many lives. It is estimated that as many as 18% of police in America suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is a difficult job and not enough is said about it.

Fifth, Hope. I believe God can lead us to find solutions and remedies. If we do not, our society will not continue, or will continue on a very different level. There will not be a Holocaust, an Apartheid, or a “Gaza Strip” in America. The only reasonable, workable, possible, solution is for people to learn to get along. Mutual respect, consideration, and a common culture that all can share in are essentials.

The voices of blame on both sides seem to reach for solutions that are unacceptable. We need to be realistic, hopeful, honest, humble, and resolve the situation. I am convinced that this is not mainly a political problem that needs a political solution. Both major parties would agree that we need the goals mentioned above met - trust restored in our nation and unity in purpose, and the strengthening of the middle class across all ethnicities. The solution lies in the hands of the common people who will work and pray and hope for a better and more unified nation tomorrow.

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