Step into Lent and work toward Slavery’s End

Why would anyone knowingly commit to a lengthy period of abstinence? Well, in a culture that hardly wants for anything, purposefully engaging in self-denial can be sobering. We only have to have the wifi drop out for 30 minutes and it’s like the end of the world. Our affluent existence has fast food, express lanes, rapid transit, priority post, and apps to jump the coffee queue. Not waiting has become such a phenomenon in our connected age that Michael Harris has written The End of Absence, exploring the social impact of never having to wait for anything.

Generations past observed Lent as guided preparation for the celebration of the astounding redemptive victory of Jesus Christ. The 40 days of Lent drove people to hunger for the relief Jesus had brought in his death and resurrection. Their waiting was a living prayer that they were longing for a better world: the new heavens and the new earth.

And us? Maybe we can use the season of Lent to remind us – who have just about everything – that “a person’s life does not consist in the abundance of their possessions” (Luke 12:15). In our age, that alone would be a lesson worth learning.

But we can go a step further. We can use a time of “self-denial” to prompt our prayers for the people who go without just about everything, every day. We can pray for those who have no freedom, whose lives are bound by violence, whose daily existence is blood, sweat and tears. Who cry out to God for justice, and who long for relief.

I have a friend who has decided to cut out food between their morning and evening meals for Lent. From Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday they will skip midday food and snacks. Sure, they’ll get hungry, and when they do, they’ll be prompted to pray for the millions trapped in modern day slavery, who are hungering and thirsting for righteousness. My friend’s tummy rumbles will be a gut-level reminder that their world is not right – that our world is not right. That a large percentage of the world “goes without” every single day.

And you might be amazed how self-denial lets you step into solidarity with those in slavery

Why not join my friend? You could fast from food, from social media, from coffee, from alcohol – lots of things, really. And you might be amazed how this intentional, focused self-denial allows you step into solidarity with those trapped in the violence of slavery and forced labour.

You could use the physical reminders to

petition God, that he might bring freedom to those who are trapped in slavery
pray for the protection and provision of IJM workers in the field, that they might continue to bring freedom to the captives
ask God to open your heart to how you can support IJM’s work, and so share the burdens of the world’s most vulnerable people

All the while, you can also take comfort in the fact that the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus is God’s ultimate statement that he will end all slavery. Until he does, the Victory won by Jesus is his guarantee that he will continue to do his work through us.

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8, NIV)

(This post was originally published at www.ijm.org.au )

Last day in the office…😳

Actually, there are still a few days to go: A few hours Saturday editing my final Gateway sermon, and then a Sunday farewell service, and with that my pastoral duties at Gateway conclude. It feels weird. It also feels right.

I’ve been working part time for International Justice Mission since April. The role sharing between Gateway Church and IJM has gone as well as expected, but knowing I would eventually move into full-time work with IJM, it also felt like a progressive letting go. So now, as I spend my last day in the Gateway pastor’s office, I am settled and peaceful.

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I walked in this morning and Salila was looking at me: she always does this. She’s been in my office for about the last ten years. Her photograph was a gift from Austin K Graff, one time IJM Church mobilisation and social media wizard. Salila would always remind me that while I was free to do my work, millions of others weren’t. While I relaxed with my coffee there were children with no memory of ever playing, and only ever of slaving from 4am to 10pm in a brick kiln’s hell. While I slept peacefully and soundly, there were people of the other side of the world putting themselves in dangerous, life threatening situations in order to rescue others out of slavery and brutality.

Salila’s smile is evidence that freedom comes as the law is upheld. Her personal transformation reminds me that God is always at work to rescue from the fall, to end our chaos, to calm our fears, and to make things right again.

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The greatest reminder of this glorious work of God is Jesus’ Cross and Resurrection. His defeat of evil is the sole means IJM and their partners can undo the wickedness of violence and slavery. His is a glorious work of freedom: and when the Son sets you free, wow, you are really free!

So from next week, my sole work focus will be to introduce the people of Jesus to the people of Salila. I’ll be carrying the good news of Jesus through the God’s good people at IJM, and in the name of Jesus inviting the church into this grand endeavour to bring freedom in Jesus’ name.

And yes, there will be more to say about that…

 

 

Do we really believe in the sovereignty of God?

This morning I read this tweet:

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…and I started to wonder (again) why some reformed churches tend to have a low growth rate, little emphasis on evangelism and a poor outward focus. It just doesn’t make any sense.

As IJM‘s Gary Haugen reminds us, the sovereignty and faithfulness of God – themes which resonate deeply in reformed thought and reformed preaching – are the bedrock of mission, every work of justice and compassion, every act of witness.

God is sovereign – so he knows my needs and the needs of my city. He is all powerful, he will give me what I need to do what he calls me to do (see Matthew 7:7-12)

When Jesus returned to the Father, he reminded his disciples – as he gave them his great commission to disciples the nations – that all authority in heaven and on earth had been given to him. His presence and his resurrection power would embolden witness and empower everything we do to share the good news.

These wonderful realities must be at the forefront of all mission and ministry.

And I wonder, if mission, outreach, sharing the good news, and living the ‘new goods’ are not at the forefront of all we’re doing as churches and individuals, whether we actually believe in God’s sovereignty and faithfulness at all.

Stand For Freedom – Cockburn Central Event

Rob Finestone Photography

Rob Finestone Photography

Stand4Freedom is a multisite event all around the world during April 6 – 12. Standing for 24 hours in one location is a unique way to raise awareness about modern day slavery.

Rob Finestone photography

Rob Finestone photography

According to the Global Slavery Index there are an estimated 36 million slaves in the world today. Other estimates have the figure at nearly double that amount

Rob Finestone Photography

Rob Finestone Photography

We joined the IJM Australia Stand For Freedom effort for two reasons. One was that very few people are aware that slavery is still an issue in our world.

Matt and Tereza stopped by and signed the petition

Matt and Tereza stopped by and signed the petition

The other is that as people serious about the Gospel of Jesus we can’t just sit back and let that situation slide. Every Christian, every church, every community of Christ followers should be worried by the sheer prevalence of violence, human trafficking, and slavery that exists in our world. In many cases, these horrific incidences of slavery exist in contexts where the Christian church has a distinct presence.

Sarah and Shelly - total legends

Sarah and Shelly – total legends

It could be that standing in our safe and secure suburbia might not change the experience of many of those 36 million slaves.

But one thing is for sure: all the people we chatted with during the 24 hours, the nearly 100 people who signed the Locust Effect Petition, and even all those people who just drove past really slow and read the signage – all of them now know something more.

Monday morning crew at Cockburn Central

Monday morning crew at Cockburn Central

And somewhere down the track, maybe even on the Day of Days, when we all stand before the Christ who bought our freedom, none of us will be able to say that we didn’t know.

Jase & Jules - huge commitment from these two!

Jase & Jules – huge commitment from these two!

Way to go IJM Australia! Way to go Gateway Community Church #Stand4Freedom team!

Cockburn Central Town Centre - our home for 24 hours

Cockburn Central Town Centre – our home for 24 hours

Thanks for showing your support and your care for the people who, at least at present, have no chance of reading this blog.

Grace and peace,

Dave