Monday, February 29, 2016

Friendship that is Through the Roof

Dara and Jaclyn a couple of years ago.
These two have been friends from birth.
I know of no sisters that are closer, and
their friendship makes them both better.
Good friends. We all want them. They’re usually not found on Facebook or on other online “communities,” by the way. Real friends share the good times and make memories. They are the ones before whom you can take off the mask and open up your heart and say what you really think without being misunderstood or judged. Friends make you better. When you need to be shown a blind-spot in your life, a friend points it out. But the hard times are when true friends are really revealed, and it’s when you need them most. If you’ve ever experienced desperation, you know this is true.

Desperation is not a fun place to be. You can drift in one of two directions: despair or determination. A good friend will not let desperation turn into despair, but will help you turn desperation into determination. A great friend will sacrifice and show determination on your behalf when you’re desperate. 

There’s an example of some great friends in the fifth chapter of Luke who by faith meet desperation with determination. And we’re going to see them all meet a friend who’s the greatest friend.
On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. (Luke 5:17)
Most likely, these important men were coming from all over Israel to see Jesus for themselves and report back to other religious authorities who sent them. Luke has previously told us that news about Jesus had spread all over the land. And remember, Jesus had just sent the leper to go to the temple to show himself as genuinely healed to the priests. By sending him, Jesus essentially served notice to them that he was indeed the legitimate Messiah. Know this: these representatives were the serious, conservative, religious “defenders of orthodoxy” of their day. 
And the power of the Lord was with him to heal. And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. (Luke 5:17b-19)
This needs some explanation. Jesus is obviously teaching in a nice house of someone wealthy. It’s big enough to accommodate a crowd, it’s filled with dignitaries from all over Israel, and it has a roof with “tiles” (Luke's is the only gospel to give us this detail). There were not many tiled roofs in Israel (most consisted of beams and sticks covered with thatch and mud). But the tile-roofed homes were nicer, more water proof, more substantial, and could serve as a mezzanine floor or deck. To break through  these tiles was a job (and wasn’t appreciated by the owner!). 

Imagine being there in the house when this happened. What’s your reaction if you’re an important religious leader, finally meeting with this young, popular, talented spiritual leader, and you hear knocking and chipping on the roof? What are you thinking when dust begins to fall and beams of light crack through and more dirt—getting all over you, Jesus, the furniture, & food? This hole was made bigger, then these rubes began putting something through the hole! Then you see that it’s a person on a stretcher. And these rednecks are lowering him down with ropes! 

How do you react at this point? I’m pretty mad. This isn’t just a distraction—it’s an intrusion! Someone could have gotten hurt by this stunt—the man who’s already paralyzed or one of the ones below! They’ve destroyed property & made a mess! What are these guys thinking!?

I’ll tell you what they were thinking: they love their friend who is in a desperate state of existence. 

Now, let's put ourselves in the shoes of the guys on the roof. Rewind the tape: How in the world did they come to conceive of this audacious idea to lower a man through a roof? Here’s my possible scenario: 

One of these guys heard from someone about this man named Jesus—maybe about how he’d been healing people or the miraculous catch of fish or how demon-possessed people had been freed, or perhaps how the leper had been cleansed. When he heard about Jesus, he immediately thought about his poor, paralyzed friend. Maybe he had been with him when his friend had the accident: when he fell off the wall, or was run over by an ox, or dove into the shallow creek, or got kicked by a horse. It was a wonder he lived, but he was unable to move from the neck down. He would require extensive help for the rest of his life. There were no wheelchairs or pain killers or Physical Therapists. His boyhood friends watched him shrivel up and waste away. Fun and laughter subsided as cold reality set in. Hopes for career and family died. Gone. It was heartbreaking. 

I know a little of what a friend feels like when a tragedy like this occurs. My high school friend Doug was an incredible athlete and popular and cool. We were both competing for the same position in football, then over a break, he had an accident and was paralyzed. Believe me, that’s not how you want to win a position. We were all shocked. Being paralyzed was no longer far away to me. When he finally came back to school, he was confined to a wheelchair. It was heartbreaking and awkward. What should I say? Of course he wasn’t all about sports and girls as before. But he wasn’t sad and dejected either. Amazingly, Doug had joy. Doug had trusted Jesus.

Back to my scenario: so one friend, upon hearing about Jesus, must have talked to the other friends of this poor man. They all decided: “Let’s carry him to Jesus.” So they made a stretcher and together told their friend of their plan. His reaction must have been affirmative. After the long walk to Capernaum, their muscles were aching but spirits still high, they encountered a problem: There was a huge crowd packed around the house. One friend said, “Lets go to the roof.” Without hesitation they mustered their energy and climbed the back steps. One started tearing up the tiles while another tied some rope to the four corners of the stretcher. I have to think the paralyzed man whispered a sincere “thank you” to his friends for their great effort on his behalf that day as they lowered him through the hole. 

But what would Jesus do? The men weren’t really thinking about that. They only wanted to get their friend before him—he’s his only chance. When their friend touched the ground, they peered through the hole and saw the room of dignitaries looking at them in disgust, and Jesus…who smiled.
 And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” (Luke 5:20)
Jesus saw more than a paralytic. He saw a man and his friends who believed. Just like the leper, these guys made a bold move to get to the one who they knew could do something. And he gave the man a gift: he forgave his sins

Wait, what? I’ll bet no one was expecting that! 
And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Luke 5:21) 
Already there's a big contrast: On one hand there's a paralytic and his friends who believed Jesus could heal and went to great lengths to act on that belief. On the other hand there's a bunch of self-important religious types who objected to Jesus' words of forgiveness as blasphemy. 

The men on the roof think Jesus is big. The men in the house think Jesus is small. 

Those in the house don’t even consider he might be God! He can’t be! It doesn’t even cross their minds. Don't think Jesus didn’t create this tension on purpose. He absolutely did. Look:
When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? (Luke 5:22-23)
Here he gets to the crux of the issue. They don’t like that he said, “your sins are forgiven.” It doesn’t even occur to them that he can. Oh, their theology is good. They know only God can forgive sin and not a mere man. They're asking, "Who does he think he is?"

Jesus asks them in effect, “What, you don’t think I’m God?” He just proclaimed forgiveness—which they can’t verify with their eyes. So he asks in effect, "What if I proclaim healing—which can be verified? Would you believe I’m God, then?"
But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. (Luke 5:24-25)
This is the big deal: Jesus gives them undeniable proof that he has the power to make the paralytic walk—something only God can do—in order to show them something bigger: that he also has the power to forgive sin

You see, everyone else in the house could walk, so they didn’t need physical healing. But they all were sinners who desperately need forgiveness, i.e., spiritual healing. Truth is, their paralysis was far worse—with far greater consequences. But they were not desperate. Because they were blind. They missed the point and Jesus’ implied offer.
 And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things today.” (Luke 5:26)
Of course they had! But did they see what God wanted them to see that day? Did you? Here are four lessons:

• Jesus is the Messiah predicted by the OT. 
He is the Son of Man (a messianic term in the Old Testament), and he is God in the flesh. He claimed to be and proved he was. Luke wants us to see this again!!

• Faith is revealed by determined action. 
Faith here is not seen as agreement with truth about Jesus’ identity. It is the determination to allow nothing (crowds, roof, reputation) to prevent access to Jesus. Hear me: While the Bible doesn’t teach a works-based faith, it does teach a faith that works. You can tell one’s faith through one’s actions. In fact, if a person does not have a changed lifestyle, they have not experienced saving faith. Faith without works is dead faith (James 2:17). Jesus said that you can tell a tree by its fruit. I could quote many more examples.

• Friends will do anything for a friend. 
These guys' love is through the roof! Do you have friends like these guys? More: Are you this kind of friend? To have friends you must be one. I’d say the former paralytic was eternally grateful to these guys. Have you ever seen the movie, “It’s A Wonderful Life”? Do you remember what the angel Clarence said? He was right.
Friends are good.
Friends who help you turn desperation into determination are really good.
Friends who will sacrifice and show determination on your behalf when you’re desperate are great.
But even greater is a friend who will do all that to bring you to Jesus. 

• Receiving forgiveness is bigger than receiving healing. 
God is the only one who can forgive sin, because all sin is ultimately committed against him. He forgives through the sacrifice of Jesus. Jesus is a better friend than even this guy’s faithful friends. Why? because he knew sin was worse than paralysis, and he went even further: he secured this man’s forgiveness himself. He died in his place. John 15:13 says, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” If you believe, that’s the kind of friend he is for you. What’s more? He died for us while we were his enemies. Romans 5:6-8 says, "For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." 

I think it is safe to say Christ’s love and friendship is through the roof!

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Touching People

It is sad that we've come this far. We are afraid to touch. There are so many reasons: I don't want someone to get the wrong idea, I don't want to get sick, I don't want to violate someone's space, I don't want to be sued for sexual harassment, and on and on. Problem is, we are hurting ourselves and people around us by not touching more often.

Less than a year ago, The New Yorker magazine published an article entitled, The Power of Touch. In it, Maria Konnikova lays out a convincing case for the basic need for regular human touch for healthy living. She begins by recounting the tragic story of thousands of neglected Romanian babies who, because of the dictator Ceaușescu's policies, experienced severe sensory deprivation in the first months of their lives, primarily for lack of human touch. The results were devastating. I remember seeing the news reports in the early 1990s of the kids of understaffed orphanages in cradles who rocked habitually back and forth with blank looks on their faces. It was pitiful. The article goes on to prove the essential need we all have for the meaningful touch of other human beings.

Dacher Keltner, Ph.D., a professor and Executive Editor of Greater Good, a University of California Berkeley newsletter agrees. In his article, Hands On Research: The Science of Touch, he writes:
[A]fter years spent immersed in the science of touch, I can tell you that [human touches] are far more profound than we usually realize: They are our primary language of compassion, and a primary means for spreading compassion.
In recent years, a wave of studies has documented some incredible emotional and physical health benefits that come from touch. This research is suggesting that touch is truly fundamental to human communication, bonding, and health.
These are not new revelations. As Scott Heydt wrote,
In the thirteenth century, German emperor Frederick II ordered a despicable experiment that tells us today about the importance of touch. Frederick wondered what language and words children raised in isolation would learn. His servants kidnapped infants from homes with strict instructions—no touching, cuddling, or talking with the children, under any circumstances, afterward. Not to spoil your day, but do you know what happened to those babies? They died before they learned to speak! 
It seems Jesus knew this need we have for human touch. He's always touching people. One instance in particular has stuck out to me. The man "filled" with leprosy in Luke 5.

Some faces of leprosy. It is a terrible disease.
In Jesus day, sin and sickness were often considered related. There was a popular doctrine of “divine retribution.” Think of it as the Jewish version of Karma. If you were good, blessing came your way. If something bad happened, it meant you must have sinned. God was repaying. It’s interesting that those who were sick or had a skin problem or disabled or women on a period or even touching a dead body and many other things could make you “unclean” according to the OT law. Unclean. Dirty. Nasty. Pretty harsh terms. It’s easy to say to someone, “Ew, you’re dirty.” But it’s hard if you’re on the receiving end. We all played “cooties” as kids, but it’s no game to really be considered an outcast because you’ve got some condition, disease, or because you’re different. What’s bad is that in Jesus’ day, this shaming and shunning was compounded by the belief that the person was sinful—and was therefore (they believed) shunned by God. And what was at the top of the list of afflictions you didn’t want? Leprosy (there are 2 whole chapters in Leviticus devoted to leprosy!). I want you to think about what it must have been like to wake up one day and see a spot on your face. You tried to cover it but it grew. Then another spot and another. Despite desperately cleaning and treating the areas, they started festering and then rotting and then stinking. I’m telling you, today it would be bad. But then it was your worst nightmare. When you couldn’t hide them any more, you had to go to a priest to be examined. Look at Leviticus 13:
45“The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ 46He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.” 
The hands and feet of leprosy.
That really sucks! This means you had to leave your family & town to live a cursed existence. You were a leper. If you were lucky you might find more lepers who had formed a colony for survival. If you weren’t, you’d just be an individual outcast in your own area. Everyone shunned you. Children shrieked and ran away. Family and friends forgot and avoided you. According to Jewish Rabbinical writings, you were literally the "walking dead." You could go nowhere without shouting: “unclean!” so that people would know to stay away. And the whispers. People would imagine all kinds of reasons for why you were the way you were. The assumption was that you deserved it. You were sinful.

Jesus went against this. In Luke 5 we read:
12While he was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy. 
The word “full” means covered or severe. Although leprosy is a general term for a whole category of skin disorders and diseases (from pigmentation issues to scabies, shingles, and measles), here it most likely referred to Hansen’s disease. All are terrible, and were much more so then. There was no effective treatment until 1940s. Until then it was a painful curse one lived with for life, which was usually cut short. This poor guy, according to Dr. Luke, was at the latter stages of this terrible disease. Imagine the desperation, imagine the despair. Then he hears about this Jesus, who claims to be the Messiah, who has healed some people. I imagine he determined in his heart he was going to try to see him. I envision he took advantage of the crowd's clamoring to see Jesus to get close unnoticed. Perhaps someone saw him and shouted, "Leper!" when he was near Jesus, and the people lurched back in horror. In the awkward silence of that moment, I think he made his move.
 And when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged him, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” 
That’s pretty remarkable. It's a statement of faith. He called him “Lord.” The Greek word can mean, “master,” but it happened to be the very word Jewish scholars used to translate “YHWH,” God's most holy and personal name.  At the least this is a statement of submission to Jesus’ authority, but more probably, he is claiming Jesus is God. It is likely the latter, as evidenced by his following statement: “if you will you can make me clean.” He’s not even questioning whether Jesus can. He’s saying “Jesus, you can. I know you can. The only question is if you will.” That’s impressive. Perhaps we can learn to pray like this. “Jesus you can. If you will, make me…” There’s nothing presumptuous, nothing entitled, nothing selfish about that prayer. There is only a statement of faith. Why don’t we pray statements of faith in him? 

What happened? 
13And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, 

He touched the leper

That’s risky & completely unnecessary, right? Jesus healed some people at great distances! But he intentionally touched this leper. What an amazing show of compassion! How long do you think it had been since someone “clean” had touched him. Years? Decades? Wow. I'm sure this wasn't just a quick, tip-of-the-index-finger touch. I imagine Jesus took his distorted, bulbous, festering, rotting face in his hands and brought him close to his eyes—seeing the hurting soul underneath who was created in the image of God—and smiled before he said, 
“I will; be clean.” 
Of course we know what happened next:
 And immediately the leprosy left him. 
This must have been amazing to see. I wonder if Hollywood could do it justice. All swelling & bumps disappeared, raw flesh was recovered, ugly scabs were healed, all discoloration returned to normal, the itching and stench ceased, lost fingers and toes and cartilage regrew, and the pain went away. Completely. Instantly. perfectly.

But I bet the man never forgot Jesus' touch. 

I can't heal, but I can touch. Even in this litigious, sexually out-of-control culture of ours. In fact, meaningful touch is probably needed more now than ever. And it's more effective than ever.

So touch your spouse. Meaningfully. Often. Touch your kids. Hug them, kiss them, hold hands, rub shoulders, scratch backs, scruff up hair. Never let them want for your tactile affection. It's big.

Also touch other people who need to know someone cares. Friends, fellow Christians. An arm around a shoulder, a pat on the back, and other appropriate contact is uplifting, reassuring, and care-giving. Just a handshake is a good thing, but don't stop there. And men, I'm talking to you. We've let all the cultural focus on homosexuality keep us from showing friendly healthy affection between men. It's ok.

Oh, and touch a leper or two. I'm not just talking about those literally suffering from leprosy—of which there are still many in this world, by the way—and Christians should certainly lead the way to find and treat them. (I recently heard a fascinating podcast about the last leper "colony" in the USA, and some of its members still live. It's heartbreaking what they've experienced.) I'm primarily talking about people around us who are considered unclean, and are scorned and ignored by others. Who are the "lepers" around you who need your touch?

Monday, February 15, 2016

Whirlwind Week and Weather

Wow, the last week has been crazy (mostly good!).

I spoke last weekend at the Tennessee State Fellowship of Christian Athletes College Advance, where hundreds of students from dozens of colleges and universities met together for a weekend of spiritual growth and encouragement. I was feeling a bit nostalgic when I began with them, as I thought about how much the TN FCA College Advance has influenced my life. I was a broken high schooler in 1984 when my dad took me along to the Advance to hear Dave Busby, a victim of polio who had cystic fibrosis. He talked about being a disciple—the first time in my life I heard about this pursuit that would change my life. In 1987 I was in college when Alan Duncan (who was effectively discipling me) spoke at the Advance. Among other things, it was the first time I was faced with implications of God's sovereignty (thanks Jeff Joslin!). Fast forward to 1996 (20 years ago) when I was asked to be the Advance speaker. My wife was (very) pregnant with my daughter (Duncan), who was born just two weeks later. Incidentally, I was on pins-and-needles the whole time, afraid Darla was going to go into labor while I was so far away (we lived in Johnson City and the Advance was near Nashville) and this was before cell phones! Some of the leaders played a cruel joke on me: they told me I had an emergency phone call about my wife! Panic stricken, I started running for my truck! I was going to leave right then, without my bags, and let them figure out who would speak at the rest of the Advance! They thought it was funny. I didn't. Anyway, at this year's Advance, my daughter Duncan was there in attendance! Crazy.

In short, the Advance went very well I think. What did I talk about? The ultimate pursuit: Discipleship. Yep.

There have been a handful of times when I have witnessed an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. One of these times happened at this Advance. It had nothing to do with me. The unofficial theme of the weekend was sexual purity and forgiveness of sexual sin. It was hugely on-the-mark for this group. During the last large-group worship meeting on Saturday evening, Marvin Mumford was leading the musical worship time before I was to speak, when everything broke. People began weeping and praying and confessing sin and crying out to Jesus. It was remarkable. I didn't really know what to do! I was just praying it was for real. I asked an old buddy (Lance Brown), "What should I do?" He assured me that some of the guys he brought from Vanderbilt were being legitimately impacted by God, and pulled me out of the room to pray. Good move. I determined to press on and finish the last trait of a disciple. And I think God continued to speak.

Here's my grandmother (affectionately known as, "Booboo").
She's sharp as a tack at 99 years young.
I left Middle Tennessee around 11PM and returned home around 3AM, getting Darla some roses for Valentine's Day on the way home. The next morning I went to church with my grandmother who turned 99 years old that day (yes, she's a Valentine baby!). After church we enjoyed a potluck birthday celebration with her church family and then spent a little time with our relatives at her house. Good times. She is a godly woman who has loved everyone more than herself. A disciple of Jesus Christ. She typed every paper my pastor grandfather wrote from college to his doctorate degree. I get the feeling she deserved the degrees!

Meanwhile, I was occasionally checking the weather reports that were calling for a quickly developing snow event. I hustled the family home and I jumped in the car and headed for Virginia (where I am as I write this) in order to try to beat the storm. Bad move. It began snowing right as I got out of Knoxville. It never let up. By Morristown, the Interstate slowed as the snow deepened. I jumped off before traffic stopped altogether and drove to 11E to miss the traffic jam as it was getting dark. The snow continued to pile up. I got back on the interstate near Greeneville (now there was very little traffic), and white-knuckled it all the way to my destination in Danville, VA. Yeesh! I quit counting the wrecks and stranded cars! Insane! Thank you, Lord, for your guidance.
The stately and huge chapel at Hargrave Military Institute
(obviously before the cadets arrived for the service).

Today I began speaking to the student body at Hargrave Military Academy, an all boys school in Chatham Virginia, for a three-day spiritual emphasis. This is a TOTALLY different type crowd than that of the College Advance. What is my subject? The ultimate pursuit: Discipleship.

I pray that my voice will hold out. I pray that I won't wreck the car I'm driving (roads are covered now with ice!). But more than anything, I pray that God will raise up some disciples—some radically committed followers of Christ—from this group of cadets.

God, do this!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Righteous Outrage

I was minding my own business last week, studying the passage in Luke for the sermon on Super Bowl Sunday. Frankly, I was thinking I needed to weave in a football analogy or two, not be too long, and perhaps offer a reminder that there are more important things in the world than football. Oh yeah, and explain and apply the passage. 

That’s where my journey to outrage unsuspectingly began.

First, you need to know that I’m not given to outrage—and this becomes more the case as I grow older. In fact, I’ve become rather jaded to the supposed outrage of others, like that of the Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter varieties, as well as the war on the “War on Christmas” and other Christians-losing-their-majority-status causes. It all feels so manufactured. It seems to be either politically expedient, self-absorbed, or just petty. The offended sometimes attempt to identify their causes with that of antebellum slavery, Hitler’s treatment of Jews, or the Jim Crow south. To me, these are spurious comparisons. I’ve often wondered what the great evils of our generation really are (if there are any) and whether they are of the caliber of abolition, the anti-Nazi resistance, and the civil rights movement. Now I think I’m understanding what they are—at least one of them.

So there’s this prophecy Jesus read from Isaiah that we discussed last week that predicted what the Messiah would be about. In short, he would be empowered by the Holy Spirit to proclaim good news to the poor, give liberty to captives and the oppressed, and give sight to the blind. Jesus subsequently told his hometown audience that he was fulfilling that Scripture right then. When they realized that was different than the Messiah they wanted, they, outraged, tried to kill him. Luke then shows Jesus going about literally fulfilling this prophecy by his priorities, namely: preaching, releasing people from demon-possession, and healing people of various physical ailments. 

As I was considering ways we should apply this passage today, I was struggling with the “proclaim liberty to the captives” and “set at liberty those who are oppressed” thing. Jesus obviously had applied it by setting free people enslaved/oppressed by demons. Of course there are demons (and those oppressed by them) around us today. Demons may not be active today in the same way as they were (although they certainly are in other parts of the world). The devil and his demons aren't fools. They masquerade and deceive in different ways to our scientific culture that isn’t as susceptible to superstition. But I think demon-oppressed/possessed people are just as common and just as much in bondage today as in Jesus’ day. They are controlled/enslaved by a sinful spirit who hates them and uses them for the enemy’s purposes. Truth is, sin itself enslaves. It does through ignorance. It is an evil tyranny. 

As I thought about slavery in our culture, I remembered what I have heard about the growing problem of human trafficking. "Human trafficking"—the name itself is a problem due to its vagueness and vastness—and I want to be clear. There are many ways people (humans) are exploited by others often by moving (trafficking) them to places where they depend on those taking advantage to make money for them against their will.
I know, SO confusing, right? Officially, the U.S. National Institute of Justice defines the term thusly: “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons by improper means (such as force, abduction, fraud, or coercion) for an improper purpose including forced labor or sexual exploitation.” 

Human trafficking is quickly becoming a “catch phrase” about a big category of stuff from sex-slavery to sweat shops where people—usually women and children—are abusively exploited against their will. It happens everywhere in the world and EVEN HERE in Knoxville

Of course, there is no end to the exploitation in other parts of the world by abusers. Particularly in the non-Christian world. Yes, we (Christians) should do something about it. We (most importantly) must pray, plant churches, and (at times) give and go to bring an end to abuses of people created in the image of God. But in our “Jerusalem,” aren’t we especially obligated as Christians to recognize evils against people and do something? Absolutely. 

How, you may ask, are “humans” being “trafficked” here? (I truly hate that term). Primarily by sex slavery. 

Many times pimps will "brand" their slaves as a reminder of
who "owns" them. This is a real example.
"Sex slavery" is my term (although I'm sure it's not original) for what’s going on. And it is a huge evil, both in scope and severity. Yes, it is here in East Tennessee. There are thousands of sex slaves among us, before our very eyes, “owned” by pimps and managers and family members who are exploiting people (usually kids and women) for personal gain. It is absolutely evil beyond description, in some cases WORSE than what was done to Jews by the Nazis and to blacks by southern slaveholders (not to diminish the evils of the latter in any way). 

This is what I mean: there are little kids and teen girls who are lured away from their families (usually broken families) by men who show them attention and shower them with gifts and compliments, and don’t just stop when they take advantage of them sexually. They then exploit the girls’ emotional attachment, often get them dependent on drugs and financially, and frequently beat them in order to instill fear so that these girls will “work” for them to make them money. How do they “work” for them? Frequently as sex slaves. They will farm them out to have sex with anyone for money. This happens online, through Craigslist and other websites, ads, and publications, as well as more traditional forms of prostitution (i.e., hanging out on street corners). Of course I’m generalizing greatly so you get the picture. The victims can be boys, the abuse can be different forms of domination/enslavement, it can be different deeds (other than physical sex), and for different forms of payment or services.

These exploiters are evil. I struggle to have any compassion for them. I know I need to remember that they were perhaps exploited themselves and had broken families and experienced other factors that pushed them this way…but honestly, I’m going to have to work on that. I know they need Jesus and that he forgives even them. Seventy times seven. John Newton and Amazing Grace. I know. I know. God help me.

Of course the victims are to be pitied. Greatly. Even though some of them have made poor choices. As Christ came to rescue us (Romans 5:6-8: weak, without hope, unrighteous, sinners, ungodly), we must go to their rescue.

But there’s another component to this equation that is often overlooked. The “user.” The customers in this evil industry are the (typically) thirty- and forty-something white men who pay these prostitutes to have sex. Oh…and the people of all ages who view porn


Yes. The fuel that fires the exploitation furnace of sex slavery is porn. The millions of people who watch people having sex online. The revenue of this industry is in the billions per year…maybe even trillions. Truth is, no one knows for sure how much money is being generated. Ads (a majority of the proceeds), memberships, products, and supporting services are what drive the sex slavery industry.

If you view porn, that’s you. 

It's not harmless. Besides being immoral, it hurts you.

In addition, the young people who are exposed to easily-accessible porn often become victims, users, and exploiters themselves. Sex-slavery exploiters aren’t stupid. They are like clever drug dealers who give samples so that people will want more.

Point is, all aspects of this industry are happening here. And it’s not uncommon. As I dug in and read more last week, I became more horrified and saddened. That gave way to anger. And then brokenness. I'm a dad of two girls. Even more, I'm a Christian man. I can't live and let this happen to people.

It became more to me than just an example of possible application for a sermon on Super Bowl Sunday.

Someone has to be bold to set the captives free. To fight for those who are sex slaves is not for the faint of heart. But if it sets people free, is it not worth the effort? Is it not the right thing to do?

It seems overwhelmingly difficult and perhaps impossible. How do I…how do WE as a church make a dent in this problem? I’m sure that’s what the early abolitionists (who were "inescapably Christian") asked when America was becoming rich by the slave-driven cotton industry. I’m sure that’s what “confessing” Christians in Nazi Germany asked. Some like Dietrich Bonhoeffer answered and pleaded with fellow Germans, worked to stop the Nazis—even taking part in trying to assassinate Hitler, and ultimately gave his life...seemingly in vain. Yes it's difficult. But Christ is stronger! He sets captives free! 

Along with abortion, I think I’ve found the issue that is our generation’s great evil, an issue that is worthy of the church’s united effort to be salt and light.

Lord, let me be a part of the fight. 

Go to the Street Hope website for more on the sex slavery issue (a.k.a. "human trafficking") in East Tennessee. For those interested in learning more and discussing how we at Providence Church might engage to stop this evil and help those who are victimized, come to Providence on February 25 at 7:00pm. We'll hear from experts in our community and pray. That's where it begins.