Yes, former CIA member, Tim Ballard, has founded Operation Underground Railroad to combat the fastest growing “enterprise” (criminal business) in the world: human trafficking. There are about 30 million people being trafficked worldwide in 2020, 8 million of whom are children, largely used for the sex industry or for harvesting organs. Tim’s voice message to the world? “There’s slavery, and it’s alive. It’s terrifying to talk about this. It takes guts to listen to this interview [link below] and guts to engage. You think you would have been an abolitionist. Now is your chance! There are more people enslaved today than ever before.”
Once I started listening to the interview on the Candace Owens Show, I couldn’t stop! I’m going to share a few of his most cogent points, but if you think slavery is wrong and should be eradicated, please take time to listen to the discussion. A few “must knows;”
*The U.S. is the greatest problem, because our nation is the world’s largest consumer of trafficking services. This is shocking and horrifying. No wonder we are accused by some as being “the Great Satan.” We need to repent as a nation and pray for an end to this grotesque immorality.
*There’s been a 5000% increase in child rape videos in the past few years [we’re talking 5-7 year-olds, not teens].
*Should we legalize prostitution? According to Ballard, no, but we should not be prosecuting prostitutes. Rather, we should be prosecuting pimps. If we legalize prostitution, children will be even more terribly abused. We must protect children. (Listen to his explanation; it makes sense.)
*Should there be a “wall” of protection between Mexico and the U.S. “YES!” Ballard cited the case of one young woman they rescued who was kidnapped and taken through the dessert of Mexico into the U.S. She estimated that she had been raped 60,000 times before being freed and said if there had been any opportunity at a border, she would have cried out for help. (Editorial note from me: Victims are frightened for their lives in most cases if they’re not too drugged.)
*What can we do? In Michigan, there is MAP (“Michigan Abolition Project”). If you want to learn more or help support those who are on the front lines, I can now recommend two international organizations:
Operation Underground Railroad is working in 25 states within America and in 22 countries around the world. Their website is:
“But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:22-23).
Last month, a new baby was born into my world of joys, and her parents named her “Hope.” Don’t you love it?! When was the last time you met someone with such an uplifting name? I think we’re living in a world that’s in desperate need of hope. Yesterday I hoped to sit with two different friends (coincidentally at the same hospital and close in time!) while their spouses had surgery to have tumors removed. (Although, I couldn’t find one of them! 😦 ) One is about my age, so in a sense having a tumor isn’t out of the range of normal possibilities (albeit still frightening), but the other person is a young woman who is like a spiritual daughter to me . . . so “way too young” (at least in my mind) to be going through what might be a life-threatening medical issue.
Last Sunday Alan and I went Northridge Church with our daughter Kathy and her family. As always, we heard an excellent message from their lead pastor, Brad Powell. Their current series is about going back to Square One in our lives, and this week’s topic was “Hope.”
Brad reminded us that Jesus Christ is our only hope, and He alone has the power to forgive and redeem our past, provide eternal purpose and power in the present, and guarantee the promise of resurrection and eternal life after death. If you are not a Christian, then feel free to disagree and tell me if you’ve found something that meets these needs in your life even better . . . but for me, I totally agreed with Brad’s assessment!
Near the end of the message, Brad shared a wonderful story about his father, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He had survived a lot of hard things in his life, so even though he was given a very poor prognosis, he lived in hope, and he lived much longer than expected! However, eventually it was obvious that he was dying and there was no hope of his surviving much longer. Brad’s father went from active to passive and died within a few days. All hope for his survival was gone, and he had no interest in prolonging his death.
But, not all hope was gone. Brad’s father still retained a bright hope for life after death, and when Brad went to visit, lamenting the fact that his father was dying, his dad was still able to manage a twinkle: “You can’t scare me with heaven!” No, death was not scary to Brad’s father, because he knew that the death of his physical body was just the segue to heaven and being in the presence of Christ forever! “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). Are you scared of death? I’m not. (Pain and the process . . . yes, but not my body being dead.) If you believe in Jesus, you needn’t be afraid of dying, and I hope nobody can scare you with the prospects of your going to heaven!!
(P.S.—If you’re not sure whether or not you’ll go to heaven when you die but would like to know, please click on the “Coming to Christ” icon at the top of this page. It will take you to a place that explains how to enter into a covenant with God whereby you can know for sure you will go to heaven when you die.)
Is the world really 6024± years old (as Young Earth Creationist Christians believe), or 6000± years old (as estimated by many Muslims), or 5780 years old (according to Jewish calculations), or 4.5 billion (±50 million years old according to current scientific theory)? No matter how people put the evidence together, no one can definitively establish the exact “when” or “how” the earth was created, but I heard a message last Sunday at church which made so much sense to me that I want to share it with you. (If you have time to hear the entire message [“Creation” presented on January 5, 2020], it can be found here: https://calvarygr.org/).
Pastor Jim used the miracle of Jesus turning the water into wine to illustrate several things about creation. In John 2:7-8, Jesus told the servants to fill the water pots with water and take them to the master of ceremonies of the wedding dinner. Within moments, the water had turned into such excellent wine that the M.C. thought it was better than anything else he’d tasted. When did the water turn into wine? Nobody really knows, but it was obviously a miracle, and somehow Jesus accomplished it. Also, the wine was only minutes old, but it appeared to be properly aged (which Jim said in those days would have been between one-two years). Likewise, God could have created the earth with the appearance of age no matter how old it actually is.
Jim also pointed out that the servants didn’t get in a fight with the M.C. over how old the wine was or try to prove anything to him. They recognized the miracle, along with Mary and perhaps a few others, but most of the people at the dinner party—including the man responsible for providing the feast—probably had no idea where the wine came from. If a team of scientists had been summoned to study the situation, they would have concluded that the wine must have been produced over the course of the past several years, because that’s what the evidence would indicate. Humility and prayer—not arrogance and arguments—should characterize Christians.
The age of the earth is not worth fighting about, and those of us who believe that God created the earth are never going to be able to “prove” God created the earth any more than scientists can “prove” that it began with a big bang 13.7 billion years ago. The origin of the universe has been revealed to us as a spiritual truth in the Bible, but God has chosen to leave some of the specifics as a mystery, just as Jesus did not explain how he turned the water into wine. What we can trust as reliable is the Genesis record concerning the process of creation. This can be beautifully harmonized with what scientists are discovering and theorizing about the origins of the universe. (If you’re interested, check out this post on Francis Collins, the head of America’s National Institute of Health: https://kathrynwarmstrong.wordpress.com/2019/01/29/do-you-know-the-language-of-god/ ).
As Christians, our job is to believe what the Bible teaches, humbly recognizing that we (I—you—any of us) probably do not have a perfect understanding of what it says today. Let’s not fight about it! When we get to heaven, we will know the Truth completely, but until then, we each have a part of the truth and some blind spots and errors in our thinking. God calls us to peace and grace!
I have no trouble believing the world could have been made in six 24-hour days, but I also know God created light and dark before the sun and moon, and “nights” and “days” were counted before there was a sun to count off 24 hours. So, the “day” and “night” could also indicate the beginning and ending of a period of time, such as “the Day of the Lord” as mentioned in Zacheriah 14:1, which is obviously a time of judgment, not a 24-hour period.
Imagine if you were God, trying to communicate the origins of the universe to people. How would you explain it? To me, God speaking the world into existence is completely compatible with the “Big Bang,” and the creation of life on various “days” can be perfectly harmonized with the idea of eras of evolutionary development. In Hebrews 11:3 we learn that “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” The deeper science delves into trying to understand what this world is made of, the more it appears that it’s made out of energy—something that is invisible! “All things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist” (Colossians 1:16-17). God, the self-existent one, created and sustains the universe, and nothing scientists find contradicts this fact, although neither can science prove this fact. God is God; we are his beloved creations, and He has ordained that rather than “prove” our way into knowing God, we are to believe, trust, and love our way into knowing God.
Wisdom, knowledge, and understanding are all rooted in faith. Faith takes humility. Faith requires us to surrender our hearts to God, accepting the mysterious and trusting Him to enlighten us in His time and way. I hope as we move forward into 2020, we will keep our eyes focused on God . . . looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our created universe, each one of us, and of our faith. Rather than worry about the whens and hows, may we accept the beauty of mystery and put our trust in the everlasting arms of God, so that with the Apostle Paul, we can know “the unsearchable riches of Christ . . . the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 3:8-9).
How Great Thou Art (Carl Boberg, translated into English and added to by Stuart K. Hine)
O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder Consider all the *worlds thy hands have made, I see the stars, I hear the *rolling thunder, Thy power throughout the universe displayed:
Refrain: Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee: How great thou art! How great thou art! Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee: How great thou art! How great thou art!
When through the woods and forest glades I wander And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees, When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur, And hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze:
And when I think that God, his Son not sparing, Sent him to die, I scarce can take it in, That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing, He bled and died to take away my sin.
When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart! Then I shall bow in humble adoration, And there proclaim, My God, how great thou art!
My father grew up going to church but rejected what he had learned as a child and became a self-proclaimed atheist for many years, so when I was a child, I never went to church or heard anything about Christianity. In fact, my mother wrote as a “cute saying” in my baby book that at some point I said, “I think I should know more about the Bible.”
After eagerly trusting Jesus as my Lord and Savior the first time I ever heard the good news that God loved me and Jesus died for me, I immediately shared the Good News with my parents. I don’t remember what they said, but my mother’s attitude was sort of a non-descript “That’s nice honey,” and my father’s was a condescending, “Well, you’ll soon grow out of it.”
I was much older before I got my courage up to ask them why they didn’t believe. My mother (who was at that time agnostic) said it was because she didn’t feel certain God was real. She was afraid he was perhaps just an abstract construct, so she was unwilling to trust lest she be disappointed or discover that she’d been deceived. My father, on the other hand, had a more definitive reason. He remembered reading Jesus’ command from Matthew 5:48, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect,” and—knowing that he could never be perfect—decided to give up before he ever started trying. Why ascribe to an impossible standard? Why undertake an impossible quest?
My husband’s parents both believed in God and felt that the Bible was true, but Alan’s father had an almost exactly similar stance to my father’s. He said he could never be perfect, and that if he were to say he was a Christian, then he would have to be perfect, and since that was impossible, he would always feel like a liar and a hypocrite.
Why did Jesus tell people to be perfect, since he knew good and well they couldn’t be? Was he trying to turn people away? Was he just setting us all up to feel like guilty losers who are nothing but failures? Was he suggesting that unless we attain perfection, we’ll never enter heaven?
NO! But, well yes (in a way)! Jesus spoke the truth, which is that in order to go to heaven, we must be perfect. Thankfully, Jesus is also the way: Although we can’t be perfect, he could, and he was. He fulfilled the Laws of God perfectly, but then he offered himself as a sacrifice for our sins. If we are willing to humbly admit that we aren’t perfect and never will be, and that we don’t deserve to go to heaven based on our ability to keep God’s perfect standards . . . if we are willing to admit that we are sinners (law-breakers of God’s perfect laws) BUT are also willing to accept the free gift that Jesus offers us—his death as the full payment for our sins—then we become children of God, joint-heirs with Jesus, and possessors of eternal life. When we accept Jesus as our savior and surrender our lives to Him, He becomes our Savior and Lord. The Holy Spirit indwells us and begins the good work of making us more and more like our Master, until someday—when we see Him face-to-face in heaven—we will at last become perfect, not because we are, but because He is, and He has made us like himself.
Now, that’s not so hard, is it? Nobody told me I had to be perfect to become a Christian. All I heard was that God loved me and Jesus died to save me, and that’s all you need to hear. Believe in Jesus and surrender your life to him. He will receive you, give you eternal life, and the Holy Spirit will indwell you to comfort, guide, and teach you. Life is hard, but trusting Jesus is inestimably easier than trying to attain perfection without the aid of the one and only, truly holy, 100% good Higher Power, which is God himself!
Texts for today’s meditation: Matthew 5:48: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Also: “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
P.S.—Thankfully, both my parents became believers in their eighties, and Alan’s mother became a believer in her sixties. I hope Alan’s father also became a believer, but I’ll have to wait until heaven to know for sure. At any rate, as long as you have life and mental faculties enough to choose Christ, it’s never too late. Hopefully, as we age, we’re better able to recognize our own lack of perfection and more willing to lean on God’s everlasting arms for help! He is “our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). My mother was never disappointed in Christ after she believed. Instead, she became peaceful about her impending death, which assured me that her future was secure. God is so merciful!!
Photo Credit for Painting: “Love Everlasting” by Yongsong Kim, permission granted by Foundation Arts, website: Havenlight.com
Have you drifted away from being involved in a church? If so, I would love to hear your “why” and if there is anything you can think of that would make the Church so appealing to you that you would want to go again.
I am thankful all my kids are involved in church communities, but it almost seems like this is now unusual rather than the norm for those between twenty and fifty. When I was a young mom, I very much admired a woman whose husband had been the pastor of our church. They had eight grown children who were all involved in churches, but in very different denominations. I thought that was really strange and wondered how the children of a minister could possibly end up going to such diverse churches. A generation later, I am no longer amazed. In fact, I’m sort of like that pastor’s wife!
Alan and I always attended very conservative evangelical Baptist/Bible/Brethren churches, and I assumed our children would follow in our footsteps. Totally not so! Now, I will say that I’ve attended almost all the churches where my kids fellowship (except our military kids, who moved to Belgium last summer), and I almost always feel blessed and instructed by what I hear, but a few of them have found church homes quite different from those in which they grew up.
What happens? Well, for one thing, as we mature, we have to decide for ourselves what we believe and what we’re going to prioritize in life. We aren’t born with spiritual life, we are born again into spiritual life. We may grow up in a Christian home, but we aren’t born with faith in God. We may be taught about God (as in the case of my children), or we may become curious about whether or not there is a God (as in my case, who did not grow up in a church). Either way, as we grow up, we have to evaluate what we believe about God, the Bible, and spiritual life.
For most of us, spiritual life is largely explored and lived out in community, and the “community” God has given us is the local church. If you want to learn more about God, read your Bible and pray, but also get involved in a church family. Like coals of fire, we burn brighter and longer when sharing the heat with other coals in the fireplace! Embers that explode and fall off the grate usually burn out very quickly.
That being said, as we approach the beginning of a new school year, I hope you make being part of a local church one of you priorities. If you live in the Grand Rapids area and don’t have a church home, I would like to invite you to visit my church, Calvary Church (on the East Beltline). We have a fabulous Sunday school class called Heirs Together that is really helpful for ages 55-75, but there are excellent classes for all ages. Please consider visiting our class if you’re in town and around that age!
This past Sunday our pastor, Jim Samra, just began a new series on the Book of Titus. It’s the first of a series of topical messages that will find their roots in Titus but cover a plethora of very practical topics, such as “What is Godliness?” The first message can be found here:
If for any reason you are disabled, have to work on Sundays, live in a country where there is no local church, or are otherwise unable to attend church in person, this sermon series will be online each week. (The new message is downloaded each Tuesday morning.) If you’re looking for a prayer group, I am part of a weekly “Zoom” prayer group that you are welcome to join. Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will connect you. Nurturing your spirit is every bit as important as nurturing your body (and I would say— “Even more so!”).
Hope to see you or hear from you soon—either at church, on Zoom, or in the comment box below with suggestions for how to make church a more spiritually nurturing environment for you and members of your generation! Thanks, and may God bless you in your spiritual journey!
“O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together” (Psalm 34:3).
I don’t know if you’re like me, but this directive seems a lot easier to me than some of them. For instance, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (from Matthew 22:39) seems impossibly hard unless I put it in the context of Luke 6:31, “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.”
Do you feel a difference? Here’s what happens in me. I am most aware of my own needs and spend most of my life providing for the needs and comfort of myself and my own family and friends. On the other hand, I try to treat all people with whom I interact with respect and fairness, and that is what I hope for from others toward me. I don’t expect others to meet my needs; I do expect that others will not thwart my honest efforts to meet my own needs. That is the essence of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” isn’t it?
So, I think of this command as the “Golden Rule,” sort of “Human Decency 101.” In the book of James we get another look at this command, where it is called the “royal law:” “If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors” (James 2:8-9). In this passage, we get another clue about what “loving your neighbor as yourself” looks like: No prejudice! No picking favorites when it comes to being kind and doing good. Be fair with everyone!
Being fair is the first step toward love, but probably not the last step. As we learn of Jesus, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). This goes way beyond being fair and giving everyone an equal chance to work for their own “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” I don’t know about you, but I am willing (and on occasions eager) to sacrifice myself to ease the burdens of those I love, but I don’t have a lot of natural compassion for strangers, at least for those who have no visible signs of disability or neediness. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure that if I saw someone dying by the side of the road, I would go to a lot of trouble to try to rescue them (although I stand in awe of the good Samaritan, who provided so fully for the wounded man’s care). Wouldn’t you?
I bet most people would go to the aid of someone in dire need unless they were afraid for their own life. This might be considered “Human Kindness 101,” which makes me think of the passage in 2 Peter, where we are told to grow one step deeper, from “brotherly kindness” to “charity.” This gets tougher! Many mature people have a heart for compassion and “brotherly kindness,” but few attain true “charity,” or the ability to love others (particularly “neighbors” when you define them as anybody in need) sacrificially. And, what about the beggars by the wayside? In America, we never used to see people begging anywhere, but now it’s not uncommon to see someone with a sign up and a hand out. When Alan and I visited Singapore, we learned that begging was an offense that could land you in jail, so there are very few beggars there. (There are those who peddle goods, however.)
To give, or not to give? That’s a complex question. Most of the research I’ve read suggests that beggars need to be steered toward agencies that can access their true needs and assist them in getting the care they need (which might be emotional as well as physical) before helping them learn how to help themselves. In Grand Rapids, we have several ministries, such as Mel Trotter, that will provide food, shelter, and support (including vocational training) for those who are destitute. Pine Rest Christian Ministries reaches out to those with true mental illness. Exalta Health is another ministry downtown that provides for medical, emotional, and spiritual needs at greatly reduced prices. If you have a heart to give, you might consider giving to a local ministry you personally trust to provide for the true needs of the poor. Internationally, there is a “Comcare Hotline” that can help people. Many communities have some type of church-related or government-based help for the poor. It would be worth our while to know what’s out there so we can at least make sure panhandlers know about these options. Beyond that, we have the resource of the Holy Spirit to guide us individually as we seek to love others in a way that is actually “loving” them rather than supporting possibly lazy or dysfunctional lifestyles.
Whatever we do, it’s good to keep in the forefront of our thinking the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This may not be the ultimate act of sacrificial love, but it sure is a good beginning! May we love others as we love ourselves, using the same standards of expectation and mercy. May we expect from others what we expect from ourselves. May we have compassion on those in genuine need, as we would want others to have compassion on us in our times of need. May we be fair. May we be merciful. May we pray without ceasing, asking the Holy Spirit to guide us into Love as we interact with all those around us.
“Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord,3 According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue:4 Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.5 And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;6 And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;7 And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.8 For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.9 But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins” (2 Peter 1:2-9).
Did Easter slip by you this year? Many people work in industries where there is no option to stop and rest on Sundays, and for others, attending church wasn’t a priority. Maybe you’re among those who were super busy preparing a feast for family and friends, hiding Easter eggs, and enjoying the cultural aspects of the holiday. If you weren’t able to attend a service anywhere and feel a tug in your heart that you may have missed out, then it’s not too late!
Hundreds of churches around the world now have their services on line! Why not take a break and take in what’s been going on at Northridge Church near Detroit, Michigan? This church is so full of love and energy to reach out to others that on February 17, 2019, they received the “Liberator of the Year” Award for Michigan and Ohio for their involvement in helping with the human trafficking problem. (They are the first and only church to ever be given that honor!) Northridge has also been so excited about Easter that they held 18 services where over 21,000 joined in worshiping and praising God together. You might be happily surprised by what you see, hear, and learn! And, if you live in the area, this coming Sunday (April 28, 2019), Dr. Hugh Ross will be discussing the interconnection between faith and science.