Monthly Archives: July 2011

The Refuge: Human Trafficking at My Doorstep

The Hotel Refugio sits in the middle of downtown Juarez. It’s name suggests a place of “refuge” and “safety” but for twenty young girls it became their living nightmare. Over the weekend Mexican police authorities launched a massive sting operation seeking to rescue victims of human trafficking. This sting operation unfolded less than three miles from the steps of First Baptist Church, El Paso.

Under the shadow of our spire, twenty young girls had lived the horror of being victims of man’s inhumanity to man. These girls lived as pawns in the hands of men and women who used them to satisfied the sordid passions of  the depraved.  Only God knows the horrors these young girls experienced.

For decades Juarez has been a dangerous place for young women and girls. Thankfully, the Mexican authorities have stepped up their efforts to end this form of slavery. During the last year over twenty young women and girls had disappeared from the streets of Juarez, and this is just the number of those reported. Eight girls disappeared from one downtown high school. Can you imagine the outrage that would hit the streets of El Paso if eight coeds from UTEP or Franklin High had disappeared this year?

We cannot stand by idling while this kind of atrocity happens within our community. Pray for the police authorities as they seek to bring to justice to those who would kidnap or exploit young girls for their own profit or dark pleasure. Be vigilant to protect the innocent by reporting any kind of activity that reeks of this dark underworld. Make your home a safe place for the children of the streets. Encourage your elected officials to take very seriously these crimes within our communities. Through the ministries of our churches, let’s create safe places for teenagers to gather and hang out safe from the clutches of those who would prey on them when they are the most vulnerable.

If you suspect of a case of human trafficking you can call the National Human Trafficking Hotline (NHTH) offers a nationwide, 24-hour, toll-free telephone number (1-888-3737-888).

As the father of four beautiful daughters I cannot imagine one of my little girls getting caught up in this web of horror. We cannot stand by silently while this is going on around us.

Prayer for the Victims:

Our Father in heaven,

We plead with you to rise up and protect the innocent with your mighty hand. Create safe homes for the children of our land, and keep them safe when they are outside of our reach. Stand against those who would do them harm or use them for evil purposes. Bring shame and reproach on anyone who would use a child to satisfy his or her own sinful passions. Stir the hearts of those in places of power and influence to take up the plight of the children who are snatched and victimized. Fulfill the words of David when he wrote of you:

The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of trouble.

 

 

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The poor you will always have with you…

After an act of incredible love and worship, the disciples of Jesus questioned their Lord and Master on why He did not rebuke this blatant waste of expensive perfume by a woman who clearly did not grasp the “big picture.” In response Jesus said:

The poor you will always have with you…but you will not always have me.” Matthew 26:11 NIV

Captured in this statement rests a challenge for the devoted. Did Jesus suggest that the plight of the poor stood as a universal reality that could not and would not be change? Has the plight of the poor become our accepted reality?

I fear we miss understand Jesus if we suggest that He stood indifferent to the poor. Jesus demonstrated time and time again His open engagement with the poor and His gracious invitation to them to join Him among the ranks of His Kingdom citizens on earth even as they are in heaven.

Sincere, intellectually honest followers of Jesus must embrace the plight of the poor as part of their Kingdom assignment if they seriously intend to follow their Lord.

In 2002, President Jimmy Carter upon receiving the Noble Peach Prize said:

“At the beginning of this new millennium I was asked to discuss, here in Oslo, the greatest challenge that the world faces. Among all the possible choices, I decided that the most serious and universal problem is the growing chasm between the richest and poorest people on the earth. Citizens in the ten wealthiest countries are now seventy-five times richer than those who live in the ten poorest ones, and the separation is increasing every year, not only between nations but also within them.”

I have lived long enough to be an eye-witness to this reality. Since moving to El Paso, I face this reality every single day as I drive to work. From my office I can look out and see a third world reality just across the river. I wonder how high must we build the wall?

Yes ago, I traveled to Rio. We arrived just days before an international conference was to be held in that great South American city. On our way from the airport to the heart of city we traveled by some of the poorest and most dangerous neighborhoods in the world. Our guide noted the huge welcoming billboards that had been erected along the road. Brazilian leaders strategically placed these billboards to hide from the foreign dignitaries the plight of the poor. In the vain philosophy of: “if you don’t see them–they don’t exist.”

English author and critic of modern society John Berger wrote:

“The poverty of our century is unlike that of any other. It is not, as poverty before, the result of natural scarcity, but of a set of priorities imposed upon the rest of the world by the rich. Consequently, the modern poor are not pitted…but written off as trash. The twentieth-century consumer economy has produced the first culture for which a beggar is a reminder of nothing.”

A few days ago, I sat down with a father with tears in his eyes who shared with me that his children were hungry and he did not have any food to feed them. He was not a stranger standing on a street corner with a cardboard sign. I worshiped with him each week. Immediately I knew I must help and did, but deep inside I wrestle with the affluence of my life and the plight of my friend. Helping did not ease my conscience–in some ways–it only intensified my emotions.

In a world where Jesus’ words still ring true…”the poor you will always have with you”–we must choose to keep our eyes and hearts open. We cannot numb ourselves. We must  not build walls to hide the reality.

I cannot end this disparity alone, but I can do something.

Rick Warren is quoted saying that on his tombstone he wants these simple words:

“At least he tried”

Jesus calls us to His side with these words:

“Let your light so shine before men that they will see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”

In a world of brokenness: do good and let your life shine especially to the least among us.

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Same Sex Marriage Debate: A Huge Generation Gap

In recent weeks, the “same sex marriage” debate heated up again as the State of New York voted to legalize such unions. During the midst of the debate I have the opportunity to visit Albany, New York and to sit in on a session of the New York Senate. The capital grounds were abuzz with activity as loyal supporters of both side of the issue tried to make their presence felt. Songs rang out in the capital building ranging from the sounds of “Amazing Grace” to “I’ll Meet You in the Chapel.”

In May, a Gallop poll was released that noted a dramatic change in the public opinions of the American people toward the issue of “same sex marriage.” Back in 1996, only 27% supported legalizing “same sex marriage.” In May the number grew to 53%. For the first time since the polling had been done a majority of Americans polled supported the legalization of “same sex marriage.” In fact, in the last year there was a 7% change in favor of legalization.

One aspect of the report that tells a dramatic story is how these numbers change along generational lines. 70% of those surveyed between the ages of 18-34 favored the legalization. In 2010 only 54% of the same age group supported the change. What happened in one year to make such a dramatic difference?

Another tale of the survey was the fact that only 39% of those 55+ supported the legalization of “same sex marriage.”  Clearly the young and old see this issue from dramatically different perspectives. So how did this divide happen? Why do these generations see the situation through different eyes?

As a pastor, I suspect this divide has its roots in each generation’s ideas about truth–right and wrong. There was a day when our nation operated in the atmosphere of a biblical world view, but that day is long gone.  Many of our moral decisions rested on principles mined from the Bible. Marriage began with the union of “Adam and Eve.” Certain behaviors were sinful and wrong because God said so in the Bible. I must admit that my basic core values find their roots in the principles of the Bible. Homosexual behavior is a sinful unhealthy lifestyle because this is what I believe the Bible teaches, and I believe that life bears testimony to its truth. I am trying to choose my words carefully on this matter. I believe homosexual behavior is sinful and unhealthy. However, I am not suggesting that homosexual orientation is any more sinful than my heterosexual orientation–or my love for chocolate for that matter. The Bible establishes healthy boundaries for all kinds of behavior and homosexual behavior is one of many including adultery, lying, stealing, gluttony and greed.

Here is where the rub comes, if you don’t find your moral compass in the Bible then where do you establish your values of right and wrong. As the father of four young adults in the younger age group I can attest to the influence of the culture, entertainment, and media on this generation. Over the last twenty years our nation has been fed the concept that homosexuality is healthy, normal, and part of everyday life. Try to think of a popular television series that does not have at least one happy homosexual friend or couple. Night after night this generation has seen happy, normal, fun homosexual behavior. Meanwhile, this same generation is ignorant to the basic story line of the Bible. Tolerance has replaced a biblical world view and now my generation is view as closed minded, judgmental and out of touch with reality.

This generation gap will continue to create tension within the church and the culture. I fear the gap will only increase in the years to come unless a systemic change happens within American culture. The kind of change needed is “God-sized” and would probably finds its origin in another “Great Awakening” ignited by a national concert of prayer and repentance.

A beginning point would be getting the Bible off the coffee table or out of the back seat of the car and into the hearts and minds of the young. The Bible has a power from above to transform the hearts and minds of those seeking truth and guidance. Parents and teachers need to point young minds to the pages of God’s Word as “the” source of life and not one of many paths to truth. Holding the Bible high as a Word from above is critical if we have any hope of closing the generation gap and restoring a biblical worldview.

My simple first step in the journey as a pastor and leader revolves around preaching and teaching the Word of God day in and day out. I believe in the power of the unleashed Word of God. I have seen its power in my life, and in the lives of those I love. Let’s begin by teaching our children and grandchildren to love and revere God and His Word as the light of our path into the future.

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Tears for Little Eva

El Paso: Last week the Rio Grande swept away a tiny little five-year old girl in a red dress to her death. Rescuers pulled her little body from the river and rushed her to the hospital. The doctors and nurses trying to save her life gave her the Spanish name “Esperanza” which literally means “hope.” Sadly within hours of her arrival she passed away surrounded by nurses who lovingly walked with her to the end.

When I first heard the news, I suspected the worse. I suspected she died in an attempt to find “hope” in America. As the events unfolded, and the pieces of the puzzle came together my fears turned into reality. Her father, who had legal immigration papers to enter the United States, wanted to get his family in with him but they did not have the papers, so he devised a plan to swim in. He and his little girl Eva would go first, and then later his wife and two sons would follow.

One factor the desperate father did not anticipate was the strong current of the Rio Grande. Apparently as they entered the water, the current swept his little girl away and he swam after her. Rescuers threw him a life line that he refused in his panic to save his daughter. Sadly, he too was swept away and apparently drowned as well.

In Juarez, the lure of the United States looms brightly on the horizon. One can stand of a dusty hilltop in Juarez and look across the river into a whole new world. A world filled the opportunity and hope. A world safe from the senseless violence on the streets.

Even though a huge fence has been erected to send the message “keep out” the lights, the towering buildings, and the cars racing by on the interstate call out to the desperate to try anyway.

I suspect one of the most effective ways to limit the allure would be to bring “hope” to the people of Mexico. In Micah 7, the prophet laments about the plight of his day. He reflects on the evil that surrounds him, and then a glimmer of light breaks through the darkness when he writes:

7 But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD,
I wait for God my Savior;
my God will hear me. (Micah 7:7 NIV)

Pray for the work of the Kingdom of God on the streets of Juarez and all along the border. Pray for the gospel of hope to be preached far and wide. The hope that satisfies the human soul cannot be found in wealth, affluence and power. No, it is found in the peace that passes all understanding that can make a poor man the richest among his peers.

In Richard Stearns book “The Hole in Our Gospel” I ran across this anonymous quote that captures our situation in so many ways:

We have shrunk Jesus to the size where He can save our soul but now don’t believe He can change our world.

In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus cut to the chase when He taught us to pray:

Thy Kingdom come and Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

The work of the Kingdom of God begins here and now. Let’s get busy spreading hope especially to those living in desperation.

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Bad Marriage Advice: Stop Looking and Start Dating

Sunday the New York Times Magazine ran a front cover article entitled: “Married, With Infidelities.” Writer Mark Oppenheimer navigated the marriage advice from an unlikely source–gay activist Dan Savage. Savage, the author of a relationship advice column in Seattle entitled “Savage Love” weighed in on the whole issue of monogamy and sexual purity in marriage.

Savage recommended openly that some married couples need to embrace sexual exploration and expression over the restraints of sexual faithfulness in marriage. In his own “marriage” he has been unfaithful to his partner nine times over the course of their “marriage.” In the article Oppenheimer noted the stark differences between how men and women view sexuality. He points out many men can honestly say of an infidelity “She meant nothing to me–It really was just sex.”

Sadly this kind of thinking tears at the very fabric of love and marriage. For a wife, giving herself to her husband in an act of love is rarely “just sex”–it is the ultimate expression of love and vulnerability. In many ways Savage’s advice is truly “savage love.” In fact, I don’t believe you can really use the word “love” to describe the kind of self-centered attitude he advocates. Love puts first the needs of the other. Marriage thrives around “we” not “me.”

In a secular society that has thrown off the “old fashioned” values of a biblical world view, we find the marriages of our country being encouraged to take a wrong turn down the wrong path to love, fulfillment, and happiness. I believe God had it right from the beginning when Moses wrote:

24Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.  25And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed. (Genesis 2:24-25 KJV)

Cleaving to your spouse and to your spouse alone creates the “oneness” only found in a faithful, monogamous relationship. Don’t buy into the lie that a fling will help not hurt. Instead of a fling–do start dating again–start dating and pursuing your spouse. You might be surprised at what a little perfume, a single red rose, a romantic poem, or walk at sunset might do.

I will close with some sage advice I heard from Andy Stanley during a recent sermon on staying in love:

“Stop looking for the ‘one’ and be the ‘one’ for the one you love.”

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