Today’s devotional deals with some tough stuff. It is based on the church lectionary – daily and weekly Scripture readings from the Old Testament, Psalms and New Testament that correspond to the church year.
Each day I choose to focus on one of them and unpack it a bit.. well today they all centered around the same theme and it really hit home for me and relates personally to what God has been teaching me. Hope it blesses and challenges you.So glad we are journeying together.
As many of you know, I participated in JEANuary this year in order to raise awareness about the reality of Human Trafficking around the world. (Instagram: susiemiller5 has evidence of my 31 days of jeans right after indulging over the holidays… I mean come on- January is for yoga pants – not skinny jeans! …but it was a something that I could do.)
January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. During the month I learned a great deal about the reality of human trafficking and slavery that exists globally, including in the US. Here is an excerpt from a recent NPR article estimating over 30 million people are in slavery worldwide.
“Tomorrow the movie “12 Years A Slave” is set to open, based on the true story of a free black man kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1840s America. But the idea of kidnapping, selling, or even trading on people’s debts against their will is alive and well beyond the multiplex. Some 29.8 million people are caught in some type of slavery, according to the newly released Global Slavery Index. That figure includes women sold into prostitution, children forced to beg and girls bought by wealthy families to be their indentured servants.” http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=236407720
It was sobering, convicting and heartbreaking to read stories of those caught in this evil. One evening in January, I watched ‘The Butler” and tears welled in my eyes as I witnessed by the racially driven attitudes and violence. Slavery is an ugly scar in our countries history. But I learned that modern day slavery exists and that human trafficking is the world’s second most profitable crime after drug trafficking. “Human trafficking is the trade in humans, most commonly for the purpose of sexual slavery, forced labor, or commercial sexual exploitation for the trafficker or others.” (Amnesty International)
At the same time, I also learned about numerous organizations whose sole focus is to rescue and help those enslaved, promoting justice and freedom for the “least of these.”
“The least of these” is an interesting term from Matthew 25:40. No one is a “least of these” to our loving and gracious God, but in our humanity we do give a hierarchy to people. The rich and beautiful are granted favor, the powerful have greater influence, while the seemingly ordinary folks are often treated with less respect, deference or influence. Then there are those who the world considers “the least of these,”- the poor, oppressed, downtrodden, who are often silenced and invisible to us. They are precious to God… seen and heard and loved by Him. And He calls us to see them, hear them, defend them and most of all love them. Jesus says “whatever you do for one of the least of these, you did for me; and whatever you do not do for one of them, you did not do for me.”(Matt 25:40, 45).
Two things strike me about these verses. First, whatever we do or do not do is a direct reflection of our actions toward Jesus. This is convicting and requires me to evaluate how I use my gifts, time and resources. Second, twice Jesus says “ONE of the least of these,” not all those in need, but one. This encourages me as I see the ocean of need in the world today and feel inept, ineffective and overwhelmed. So much so that at times I have chosen not to act. But all through the month of JEANuary, I kept reminding myself that I was not called to do everything, but to do something and that changed everything!
No one can do everything… but everyone can do something! (the pic is a sign I made for Emily before she left on her 11 month mission trip, I get to hang it in my home while she is away and it is a daily reminder!)
Every day I see this sign and I am convinced of its truth. It reminds me that God calls us to love and care for the poor and oppressed and compels me to action. I have begun to do “something” to address the epidemic of human trafficking and I continue to ask God to show me what are the “somethings” that He wants me to do for the least of these and then I seek to be obedient in word and deed. Today’s reading relates to this directly as God condemns those who go through the motions of fasting and religious practices, but do nothing for the poor and oppressed.
Read Isaiah 58:1-8- Todays Lectionary reading about “True Fasting.”
Isa 58:1-5 describes the fasting and religious actions that we often take pride in or commend ourselves for making such sacrifices. And then verse 6 turns everything upside when God says this is not the type of fasting and sacrifice He is looking for!
Isa. 58:6-8 “ Isn’t the fast I choose: To break the chains of wickedness, to untie the ropes of the yoke, to set the oppressed free, and to tear off every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, to bring the poor and homeless into your house, to clothe the naked when you see him, and to not ignore your own flesh and blood? Then your light will appear like the dawn, and your recovery will come quickly. Your righteousness will go before you, and the Lord’s glory will be your rear guard.”
Ouch… this hits me hard and causes me to pause from all my trappings of “good Christian behavior” and requires me to re-evaluate what I am doing, and why I am doing it!
I am convicted by those whose lives are being poured out to save and care for the poor and oppressed. I want to do more…and this desire has turned into action little by little. I am seeking out what God is specifically calling me to do and looking for ways to follow the commands in these verses. I am in process…
Old Testament scholar Trent C. Butler writes:
“If ritual fasting was simply boosting one’s own religious ego, what was the key to divine blessing? What was acceptable to the Lord? God called for concrete action, helping others in need. Again the emphasis is on overcoming injustice with righteous acts. God does not want anyone under someone else’s yoke. Here is the beginning of the fight against slavery of every kind. God hates oppression. He wants his people to set oppressed people free. God’s people are dedicated to providing the basic needs of life to those who do not own them. We feed the hungry and provide shelter for the poor, homeless wanderer. We clothe those who cannot afford proper clothing, and we make sure we take care of our own flesh and blood” (Holman Old Testament Commentary: Isaiah, p. 334).
There is a clear message throughout Scripture: we are to love, care for and provide for the poor & oppressed, the widows, orphans and those in need. How will you respond, especially during this Lenten season as we take time to examine the meaning of sacrifice, repentance and renewal?
Questions for Reflection and Comment:
What thoughts and feelings do these verses and reflections provoke in you?
How do you deal with the overwhelming need in the world today and discern where to use your time, talents and resources?
What are some of the ways that you are involved in caring for the poor and oppressed? Please share other worthy organizations with us.
What are some “somethings” that you want to be part of?
Please comment below or email me your thoughts if you were prefer they stay private. Comments are for the purpose of sharing, learning, growing and encouraging one another.
Consider some of these verses where God speaks about the poor and oppressed and our responsibility toward them.
Theologian Warren Wiersbe summarizes: “True fasting will lead to humility before God and ministry to others. We deprive ourselves so that we might share with others and do so to the glory of God. If we fast in order to get something for ourselves from God, instead of to become better people for the sake of others, then we have missed the meaning of worship. It delights the Lord when we delight in the Lord”
Organizations to explore and support: (if you want to do “something’)
International Justice Mission: http://www.ijm.org/
Take a look at Gary Haugen’s new book, “The Locust Effect” about the plague and violence of poverty. He is the president and founder of International Justice Mission, a human rights agency that brings rescue to victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and other forms of violent oppression.
Freeset USA: http://usa.freesetglobal.com/
Restore One: http://restoreonelife.org/
International Princes Project: http://intlprincess.org/
Polaris Project: http://www.polarisproject.org/
Please post in the comments any other organizations that you know of or are involved in that specifically address this issues of modern day slavery.
Here is an interesting article by Ronald Sider, a professor of theology and culture at Eastern Seminary in Philadelphia, and president of Evangelicals for Social Action.
Today’s Lectionary Readings:
Psalm 51:3-6, 18-19
If you want to read through the New Testament during Lent (about ½ hour a day)
Read on Day 3: Matthew 13-18