In Our Own Backyard: Children and Sexual Slavery

Swing set. Photo via cvm /

Everyone who desires to follow Jesus’ command to love can pour that love into their own communities, where thousands of children languish in foster care, are legally tangled in the juvenile system, and are raising themselves with no strong adults to guide them forward.

These children in our communities are vulnerable to human trafficking unless each of us does something about it. Right here at home.

In Matthew 5, Jesus tells us to love our enemies. We should love even the unlovable, especially the downtrodden, the forgotten. Don’t be afraid to love those that the world says aren’t worth it, the throwaways, the ones we too often pretend don’t exist.

Love big, love strong, love deep with compassion and bravery. Love those who spit in your face and curse you, the ones who break your heart over and over again. Your love may be the catalyst that keeps that one person from becoming a statistic.

Who will end slavery? You will. How will we end slavery? By God’s grace, through love and fortitude. Not in a faraway place but right here, at home.

To Spiritually Thrive, We Must First Spiritually Survive (And Help Others Do the Same)



Theology doesn’t save us from spiritual burnout — people do.

No matter how convincing our doctrines and beliefs may be, they’re ultimately empty and unsatisfying if there’s no human relationship personifying them.

Throughout our faith journeys we’ll be faced with moments of suffering, hopelessness, and sheer desperation — sometimes lasting for what seems like forever. We’ll want to give up — sometimes we will.

These hardships can devolve into isolation, bitterness, and ultimately transform what was once a healthy spirituality and turn it into a total rejection of God. Within Christian culture we label this as “burnout,” but in reality it’s more of a “falling out.”

Not only do we have a falling out with God, but we also disassociate ourselves from other believers and those closest to us. When we feel hurt, betrayed, or abandoned by people we assume God is to blame, causing us to doubt God’s love for us — even questioning God’s very existence.

Many quit faith not because of a newfound disbelief in God, but because of broken and unhealthy human relationships — people are the main reason we give up on God.

They've Got Your Number...

Illustration by Ken Davis

I’VE BEEN SPENDING a lot of time with my credit card company lately. Nice people work there, of course, and I try to make every phone call a time of conviviality and respect. It’s what good people do.

Credit card guy: Sir, my name is Brian, and ...

Me: No, it’s not.

“Brian”: I beg your pardon?

Me:  Be honest. They give you anglicized names to sound more American, right? So when did you get that name?

“Brian”: When I was born.  It’s also my father’s name.

Me: And, you’re calling from, like, Mumbai or ...

Brian: Texas.

Me: [awkward moment of silent self-loathing, mercifully cut short by seeing a butterfly. Pretty.]

But you readers understand my point. American jobs should be for Americans. Honest, God-fearing Americans who embody the spirit of freedom and entrepreneurship. Like the guy in Kansas who, according to Brian, had just purchased an iPad with my credit card number. Brian was calling from Texas to make sure this was okay with me, which it wasn’t.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for buying an iPad or any of the high-tech gadgets that I’ve had my eye on. And I totally get that the guy in Kansas feels the same way. In fact, I was cool with him right up to the point where he decided to keep it for himself.

Fortunately, I wasn’t charged. (Note to guy in Kansas: Next time buy two, and call me.) As a result, Brian sent me a Visa card with a different number.

It felt like a new beginning for me, a fresh start in a life that has few do-overs. It was a moment for celebration so, giddy with excitement, I took my new card and bought something from Target.

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'Daddy, why are those people sleeping in the park?'

MY 5-YEAR-OLD daughter, Zoe, is in preschool. This means, as most parents of school-age children know, that there is a birthday party to attend approximately every other weekend of the year.

On the way to one of these myriad celebrations, we stopped by the church in downtown Portland, Ore., where my wife, Amy, is the senior pastor. She had a daylong meeting, and we needed to switch cars, as hers was the one with the gift in it.

As we came down the front steps of the church and onto the South Park Blocks, a local city park, we saw at least half a dozen emergency vehicles parked in a haphazard formation along the street and on the sidewalk in front of a small public restroom. Several officers were standing together, making calls on their radios and discussing the situation at hand. At their feet was what appeared to be a lifeless body, lying on the pavement underneath a blue tarp.

“Daddy,” Zoe said, “what are those police mans doing in the park?”

“I’m not sure, honey,” I said, “but it looks like somebody needed their help.”

“Is somebody in trouble?”

“Something like that,” I sighed. “Make sure you don’t drag that gift bag on the ground. We don’t want to mess up your friend’s present before we get to the party.”

My first thought was, God, please don’t let it be Michael. Michael is a man about my age who lives outside and wrestles daily with an addiction to alcohol, among several other things. We have helped him get sober, only to see him relapse. We helped him get into supportive housing, only to watch him get into a fight and get thrown back out onto the street.

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A New Relationship with Iran

DEALING WITH IRAN is complex for many reasons. This is not a made-up country whose borders were dictated by politicians in the last century; it is Persia—the great empire that fought with Greece before the beginning of the Christian era, the Asiatic power that imperial Rome was never totally able to subdue. From that long history emerged a people with a deep sense of proud history and a realization of national sovereignty that helps guide the destiny of the nation and its peoples.

I recall a conversation years ago with then-Iranian President Mohammad Khatami about nuclear power. He was not in favor of creating weapons of mass destruction, but he clearly promoted Iran’s right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. To deny this right is an affront to national sovereignty, he argued.

After the unfortunate history of the past government, once again Iran is governed by a president and a cabinet that call for peaceful nuclear development and for a new and more open relationship with the West. This is the fact that has emerged into a clear interim agreement between the so-called P5+1—the members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany—and Iran. As reported, the goal of ongoing negotiations is to open the door to a 24/7 inspection of nuclear facilities and other guarantees to ensure that Iran will not make nuclear weapons.

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Shalom and Gender Justice

Stained glass window depicting Adam & Eve, jorisvo /

Stained glass window depicting Adam & Eve, jorisvo /

Two things are clear in both creation stories: 1) both men and women are created to exercise equal dominion, and 2) according to Genesis 1:31, this relationship between men and women was “very good.” This is what right relationship between men and women looks like. It is only after the fall of humanity — when we decided not to trust God’s ways, when we decided to grab at our own way to peace and gratification — that women were subjected to men. And I see nothing in the text that says this is the way God wanted it. Rather, I see this is the natural result of choosing to exercise a human kind of dominion rather than one that reflects the image of God. Humanity grabs at its own peace at the expense of the peace of all.

Kicking the Outrage Habit in the Blogosphere

Women outraged looking at a computer screen, VanHart /

Women outraged looking at a computer screen, VanHart /

“All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits,” wrote the psychologist William James.

I think that may be as true online as it is in real life. We tend to do things in a fairly regular pattern; log onto email first, check the news, browse social media, read blogs, get outraged.

Yes: outraged.

Some days I am amazed at how much potent vitriol gets spewed all over the Internet. (Other days I’m just used to it.)

One of the strangest of online habits may be when people repeatedly get upset with the same bloggers and websites, and exclaim their feelings in the comments section and on social media. It’s as if they are going into McDonald’s every day and complaining about all the fast food that’s in there.

The upside of websites you find horrible is that you don’t have to read them.

On Scripture: It's Not About You

Teacher mentoring students, iofoto /

Teacher mentoring students, iofoto /

 A life transition — like any effort to follow Jesus — is stressful: packing and unpacking, bidding farewells, refocusing from one set of commitments to a new future. It might be summarized in the early North African church leader’s interpretation of this Sunday’s Gospel reading from Luke 14:27: “Take up your stress and your tortures.” (Tertullian)

This September, my family’s transition from the hazy days of summer’s more casual pace back into the back-to-school rat race is tougher than usual. It not only involves our own children finding their way back onto their college campuses, but I am going too, to teach at Valparaiso University where I’ve been appointed to an endowed professorship which supports the study of Christian values in public and professional life.

Of necessity, most roads back-to-school are paved with lines of procedures, rules, and formalized rituals. The foundation of learning, however, is far less formalized or predictable — it’s more relational, like a disciple and master, protégé and mentor, choral director and chorister. Whether in musical arts, as in in Vy Higgensen’s Gospel for Teens program, or in biblical hermeneutics, the best learning happens in healthy relationships.