More Thoughts on Justice

Last week I wrote a blog post reviewing the new book Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live & Die for Bigger Things by Ken Wytsma. Before you go on, please check that post out. It lays the groundwork for what I’m going to continue to talk about (and it includes a chance to win a copy of the book!).

Pursuing Justice really broadened my horizons on the concept of justice. Specifically, biblical justice – what God intended the word to mean & how it’s been twisted and misconstrued. Most people associate the word justice with the criminal justice system, or with “getting justice for someone/something.” Passed that, and for Christians specifically, I think we often fall into 2 camps:

  1. Those who view justice as some fringe concept mentioned from time to time in the Bible, but think that it doesn’t really apply to living our lives.
  2. Those of us who do value the concept of “justice” but who may have a much more narrow definition of justice. Continue reading

Good Reads: Terrify No More

I finally got the chance to read a book that has been sitting in my stack for months, Terrify No More. It is written by Gary Haugen, the president & CEO of International Justice Mission (IJM).

It’s no secret that IJM is one of my favorite organizations (read my previous post about them here). For those of you who are unfamiliar, IJM is “a human rights agency that secures justice for victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and other forms of violent oppression”. You can read more about them on their site.

As for the book, here is the official description from Amazon.comTerrify No More -Young Girls Held Captive & the Daring Undercover Operation to Win Their Freedom:

In a small village outside of Phnom Pehn, little children as young as five years old were forced to live as sex slaves. Day after day their hope was slipping away. Tireless workers from International Justice Mission (IJM) infiltrated the ring of brothels and gathered evidence to free the children. Headed up by former war-crimes investigator Gary Haugen, IJM faced impossible odds-police corruption, death threats, and mission-thwarting tip-offs. But they used their expert legal finesse and high-tech investigative techniques to save the lives of 37 young girls and secured the arrest and conviction of several perpetrators. Terrify No More focuses on this dramatic rescue story, and uses flashbacks to tell those of many other victims who were given a second chance at life by this amazing organization.

It is an intense book. At times it was very difficult to read about the abuse that these girls suffer day in and day out. Personally, out of every kind of evil that I can imagine in the world, none makes my stomach turn worse than child sex trafficking.

And while some of the graphic details included in the book were hard to confront, it is the reality for the 2 million children in the world who are trapped in the commercial sex trade (according to UNICEF, 2010).

I am always a proponent of awareness and education when it comes to issues like this. We all need to be made aware of what’s going on in our world, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us. Only then can we be moved to help do something about it.

What fascinated me the most was learning how the IJM investigators work – how they gather information, go undercover for video evidence & facts, the complications they often face in getting the local governments & police to support them (who are often part of the problem), and finally how they go in (and sometimes very literally) pull the girls out to freedom. Their work & their courage amaze me.

I am so grateful that there are people in the world willing to risk everything for those trapped in these unspeakable situations.

One thing that Gary does a great job emphasizing is that while we can often feel hopeless in trying to help everyone, the team at IJM is always focused on the one. The one precious girl rescued from a brothel or the one man freed from a life of slavery in a brick kiln. Each is a tremendous victory.

And while I didn’t actually get to finish the book, I highly recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about the issue of child trafficking and the admirable work that IJM does to fight it. I started telling the girl next to me on the plane about it and ended up giving my copy to her. I’ll have to get another one soon…

“Learn to do good; Seek justice, rebuke the oppressor; Defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.” Isaiah 1:17 (NKJV)

Wake Up

I am reading “Radical” by David Platt. The subtitle is Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream. Wow, it’s a good book. It is really challenging me and making me take a look at how I am living my life, and where I have not been doing such a good job.

I’ll admit that I was afraid to read this book at first. Afraid of how it would convict me and what it would then require of me to do or to give up. I am certainly feeling stretched already, but am glad for the conviction.

This is an excerpt from close to the beginning, and it really spoke to me.

I’m calling it “Wake Up“:

…We do have to give up everything we have to follow Jesus. We do have to love him in a way that makes our closest relationships look like hate. And it is entirely possible that he will tell us to sell everything we have and give it to the poor.

But we don’t want to believe it. We are afraid of what it might mean for our lives. So we rationalize these passages away. ‘Jesus wouldn’t really tell us not to bury our father or say good-bye to our family. Jesus didn’t literally mean to sell all we have and give it to the poor. What Jesus really meant was…’

And this is where we need to pause. Because we are stating to redefine Christianity. We are giving in to the dangerous temptation to take the Jesus of the Bible and twist him into a version of Jesus we are more comfortable with. A nice, middle-class, American Jesus… A Jesus who brings us comfort and prosperity as we live out our Christian spin on the American dream…”

…Wake up and realize that there are infinitely more important things in your life than football and a 401(k). Wake up and realize there are real battles to be fought, so different from the superficial, meaningless ‘battles’ [we] focus on. Wake up to the countless multitudes who are currently destined for a Christless eternity. The price of our nondiscipleship is high for those without Christ. It is high also for the poor of the world…

Half of the world struggles to get by on less than $2 per day while we sit in our comfortable homes with our endless supply of food and clothing. 26,000 children under the age of 5 die every day due to diseases that can be prevented. Millions of people are facing another day of not knowing Christ and risking unimaginable suffering for eternity. The price of not obeying what Christ has told us to do all along is quite high.

We CAN do something about these realities.

The problem is, I AM comfortable with my material possessions. I don’t WANT to give up everything and to risk it all.

But, if we really do claim to be followers of Christ, as Platt says, we must commit to believe whatever Jesus says and then we need to commit to obey what we’ve been told. We can’t cherry pick our favorites and ignore the hard parts. We can’t claim to follow Him if we refuse to believe ALL of what He said. “The gospel does not prompt you to mere reflection; the gospel requires a response.

So this is what I’m working on – figuring out what my response is supposed to be. We have a couple small things in the works and I look forward to sharing those with you as they develop.

But for now, how does all of this strike you? Do you think we need to take back our faith from the American dream?

Good Reads: Heaven is for Real

My mom is in a book club, and often asks me for some suggestions. Knowing that she is coming into town this weekend, I wanted to get her something. Heaven is for Real is a book that just came out in November and has been generating a lot of buzz lately. It’s spent several weeks in a row in the #1 slot on the New York Times Bestseller list, which is definitely a great feat for any book, especially a book with Christian content. So other than that, and the very basic premise of the story (it’s about a very young boy who during an emergency appendectomy experienced a glimpse of heaven), I didn’t know much about it. So I ordered the book from work (yes, disclaimer, I do work for Thomas Nelson, the publisher). Figuring I might as well read it before handing if off to her, I cracked it open Thursday night to read a few pages. I then proceeded to read it at lunch on Friday and then I finished it Sunday. I’m not sure I have ever read a book so quickly. I really, honestly, couldn’t put it down. The story is that amazing.

I highly recommend this book for anyone and everyone! It is a very easy, quick read and the things you read will astound you. Colton is almost 4 years old when he has an emergency appendectomy (and with various complications actually had 2 very serious surgeries & a harrowing 17-day hospital stay) during which he travels to heaven and back. However, it is not until about 4 months later that his parents start catching on to what has happened as Colton starts sharing very blunt comments like “that’s where the angels sang to me” and how “Jesus used Dr. O’Holleran to fix me.”

In the next few months and years Colton shares bits and pieces of information with his parents of what he experienced of heaven. He is even able to tell them where in the hospital they each were and what exactly they were doing while he was in the middle of surgery. He tells them about meeting his great-grandfather in heaven (who died long before Colton was even born) as well as the sister who his mother miscarried after just 2 months of pregnancy (also before Colton was born)!

He describes Jesus (“his eyes are sooo pretty”), Jesus’ horse (“he let me pet his horse”), heaven as filled with rainbows, God on His throne and how Jesus sits on God’s right side and Gabriel is on His other side. He met “Jesus’ cousin” (John the Baptist), saw the wounds on Jesus’ hands & feet, and sees a glimpse of the final battle of the Apocalypse.

His bluntness in his answers and his 4-year-old innocence leave no room for doubting his honesty in what he saw.

In the ladies’ small group Bible study that I lead, we just finished a long study on the book of Revelation. This book, and Colton’s descriptions of different aspects of heaven, made what we just studied so much more vivid to me. There were honestly consistent moments during my reading that I would uncontrollably well up with tears and gasp from being overcome with emotion. Do you know what I mean? It’s almost too indescribable for words to read these descriptions of what heaven is like and have it confirmed that it is real, and so much better than we can even imagine.

I have never read any other modern-day book about someone’s experience who has claimed to have seen heaven, so I can’t make comparisons. But something tells me this has got to be one of the most credible, just coming from the untainted view of a 4-year-old.

I am so excited to know that we will actually know our loved ones in heaven, even the ones we have never met! He hangs out with the great-grandpa and sister he had never met on earth, yet he knows them in heaven and even misses them terribly once back.

Here are some of the other miscellaneous things that I learned from Colton’s experience: there are “no old people” in heaven. The heavenly bodies that we’re given are from our prime. People get wings in heaven and some are bigger than others. There are dogs in heaven, and other various animals. Jesus really, really loves the little children.

I will stop there, but I am so excited about this book! I will be telling everyone I know that they must read it. So consider this your invitation to go pick it up. I promise that your faith will be strengthened because of it!

Good Reads: Following Jesus Through the Eye of the Needle

This is a simple book review that is long overdue.

Before traveling to a place, I always like to try and read a book about it. Particularly before trips to foreign countries. So prior to our trip to Haiti, I wanted to find a book that might give me a little insight into the country, the people, and the culture.

The book I found was Following Jesus Through the Eye of the Needle: Living Fully, Loving Dangerously. I didn’t get it finished before we left, but had at least a good portion of it done. I then enjoyed reading the rest after we returned. If you are interested in reading about mission work in Haiti, I do highly recommend this book.

It is about a young guy, Kent Annan, and his wife that give up their life in the US, sell most of their possessions, and move to Haiti to work with Doctors without Borders. Wanting to immerse themselves in the culture first, they move in with a Haitian family in a town far outside of the capital. They live with them for several months (which provides some great stories) before moving back to Port-au-Prince, getting a modest house built, and jumping into their work. He takes the reader through the ins and outs of life in Port-au-Prince – how he has to take 4 different modes of transportation just to get to work every day. He takes you through his interactions with new acquaintances and his fumblings at trying to live among the people and not be viewed as a “rich American”.

From a cultural perspective, it was a fascinating and eye-opening read for me – learning about social norms, family life, the challenges of everyday life, etc. in Haiti. It helped me have some sort of informed reference point for when we went. Equally interesting to me, and I didn’t realize it until we got there (and started our work of building 2 houses), was reading about the difficulties in the construction process of their home, the interaction of the Haitian workers, and how they related to Kent, who the Haitian workers would call “boss”. He had set out to live amongst them, to build a modest house so as to be viewed as more of an equal, but was still being called “boss” because of the color of his skin and his country of origin. It was interesting to then be there in Haiti, working alongside Haitians on each house, and much of the interactions and challenges were very similar.

Aside from that, this book challenges the reader to have courage in going through the eye of the needle. To reject the ordinary life and follow the calling God has placed on each of our lives.

I don’t know if God will ever call us to be missionaries in another country (though we have talked about it), but no matter what, I don’t want to live an ordinary life. I do want to have the courage to follow through on our callings, whatever they may be.

Finding Purpose In Our Everyday Tasks

In my previous post, I talked about something I learned from a book our small group just went through together – Pathway to Purpose for Women, by Katie Brazelton. In this post, I wanted to share another great thought from the same book. The book’s overall goal is to help women discover their ultimate purposes that God has ordained for their lives. What she’s talking about is that life-altering, impossible-to-accomplish-without-His-help purpose and mission.

So many of us (myself included) desperately seek to know what that grand agenda is. We want to be part of something significant, something that makes a difference in people’s lives and in the world. Something that marries together our experiences, our life roles, longings, and passions. But often it takes years of purposeful searching to figure out what ours is.

Brazelton offers steps for us to work through, to help us process & figure it out. Many of the steps struck me hard, and I need to go back and spend more time on them. One of the most significant for me was: Do what matters today.

Before God reveals to us our grand life purpose, he has some testing and refining to do in us. We will not be trusted with the bigger things until we can prove we can handle the smaller things – our everyday tasks. We must joyfully, and purposefully, take pride in our everyday tasks that He entrusts to us, even when we feel that they are completely unglamorous and insignificant.

Brazelton says: “Every day he considers our willingness and faithfulness in the ordinary things to see if we can handle the challenging, unique assignments that he loves to entrust to those who are faithful. It is not God’s plan for you to spend today chasing after your future one thing when your many things are right in front of you. You were born to make a Christlike difference in hundreds of ordinary ways…

Every experience, every encounter, every responsibility may very well be adding up to something He wants us to use later on. We are taught lessons of patience, kindness to strangers, and faithfulness in the dry spells. He uses our challenges and hard seasons to help us be more empathetic to others going through similar scenarios later on. We are stretched sometimes beyond what we think we can handle and later on are able to have confidence in the abilities God has gifted to us.

God wants to use what we are given today to prepare us for what He will entrust us with tomorrow. It is up to us to focus on the responsibilities He has placed before us – our roles in our families, in our jobs, development in our own spiritual walks, in relationships with neighbors and friends and co-workers, in the PTA, as coaches of our children’s sports teams, and as we serve in the random opportunities He opens up daily.

So I am working on embracing my everyday tasks with joy, knowing that every piece is significant and is a part of the process. I don’t want to miss out on my time of preparation for the things God will use me for later. I am working on it…

Do you have a hard time focusing on what He has given you to do today?

Whatever our season of life, it offers its own opportunities and challenges for spiritual growth. Instead of wishing we were in another season, we ought to find out what this one offers.” John Ortberg

Taking Courage

I’ve been reading through a book with my small group called “Pathway to Purpose for Women: connecting your to-do list, your passions, and God’s purposes for your life” by Katie Brazelton. It is a great book about discovering how your life roles, longings, and experiences point you toward your life mission. Toward God’s bold agenda for your life. It has been very insightful and helpful. We’ve spent the summer on it and honestly I want to go back and read it again now. There are definitely some chapters that I feel like I need to go back and spend some more time in.

One of those chapters (and one of her steps on the Pathway to Purpose) is Taking Courage.

The author talks about how we are all vulnerable of being sidetracked from our life purpose by fear. Fear can prevent us from being all that God designed us to be. She says that “once fear has you in its wicked grasp, it blocks creativity, productivity, and relationships.” Fear can hold us back from authentic relationships, meaningful tasks, and our grand life purpose.

She talks about some of the more common fears that can sidetrack us:

  • Fear of ridicule & criticism – “Do you have a fear of ridicule or criticism that keeps you from pursuing your purpose?” A fear that others will laugh at or tear apart what you have set out to do?
  • Fear of success – This one is not immediately as recognizable, but can also be paralyzing. What if I succeed? What will be expected of me then, and will I be able to live up to that? I’m scared it will be too hard…
  • Fear of being found out – This is the fear that others will find out that “you’re really not smart enough, good enough, funny enough, articulate enough, organized enough, or loving enough to really fulfill God’s purpose for your life.” What if God chose the wrong person for this job and they all find out?
  • Fear of failure – Definitely one of the most common fears. The fear that you’ll look like a fool, that people won’t believe in you the next time…

I know I struggle with all of these from time to time. I hate that these fears can hold me back from taking a leap of faith, from doing what God is really calling me to do… whether it is in the scope of a grand, over-arching life purpose or just in the day to day nudgings from the Holy Spirit (to share about Christ with someone, to buy a homeless person a meal, to take a risk at work).

We must put our trust in the Lord. It is a command we are given. But it doesn’t mean that the task at hand will be any easier. We are definitely in for a wild ride when it comes to following our calling from God.

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. Do not be afraid, for I am with you.” -from Isaiah 43

Brazelton says that “taking courage is a determined act of our will that helps us release our fears and enables us to move forward. Taking courage is an act we initiate that is based on something real and reliable – God’s steadfastness. Taking courage begins with our understanding that the Lord God has called each of us by name and promises to be with us.”

“Don’t be afraid of the will of God. The will of God will not take you where the power of God cannot keep you.” -Adrian Rogers

“Positive Christian women move out even when their knees are shaking. Why? Because they have been kneeling on those knees that are shaking. Not only do they know who they are, they know whose they are.” -Janet Congo

What do you fear? Are your fears blocking your creativity, productivity, or relationships? How do you get past them?