May Christmas bring all the love and joy that only Christ can give.
Millions of families were tricking and treating last week. Halloween has become one of biggest holidays in our nation, with millions spent on costumes and candy. The Stay Puff Marshmallow Man comes around the corner and our childhood fears are celebrated in a holiday about goblins and spooks.
Most families assume the scariness of Halloween is a pretend night of fearfulness with the reward of getting candy from our friends. And while we know there are dangers in the world, we seldom consider the unseen dangers our families are facing each day. As long as we have no serious issues or tragedies, we assume all is well.
But all is not well. Life is scarier than we want to believe. Visit Facebook for a few moments and you’ll quickly discover the fears, illnesses, heartaches, loneliness, and distress people have within their families. Even when our families seem to have everything going their way, we know they will face situations that are difficult, and even tragic.
Our families are in danger, not only for their everyday safety and health, but for much more serious concerns than these. Ghosts and zombies may not exist but we are in a battle “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 ESV). We may choose not to believe there are evil forces at work, but if we do, the only losers are the families we love. “Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8 NRSV). Our families are in danger, no matter how cool they may act, or successful they appear. Our families are in danger of dying without God, an eternity of agony that we cannot imagine and cannot bear to consider. But we must.
We have many ways we help our families. We take care of one another when we are ill, we celebrate the good times, and we cry together in the hard times. Yet none of these actions protect our families from the forces of evil seeking to destroy them. We do not have the resources within us for the most insidious threat of life. “In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.” (Eph. 6:18 MSG). When we fail to pray for our families, we are willing to let them live wasted lives, and even sadder, we are willing to risk their eternity.
Who is praying for our families? At the end of each day, may your answer and mine, be “me!”
Here are a few resources to encourage you as you pray for your family.
People are still suffering the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy one year later. They are still recovering from loss of loved ones, of their homes, of their livelihoods, of their hope. When disaster strikes, the aftermath can be more difficult than living through the storm itself.
Margaret McSweeney, author of Aftermath: Growing in Grace through Grief, states a truth that “Grief can change life in an instant, and for many of us, grief leaves a calling card: a huge hole. A cavity. An abyss. Sometimes the remnant of our shattered lives teeters on the edge of a personal Grand Canyon. How do we regain balance? How do we regain hope? How do we rebuild? And where is God?” Grief keeps us twisting on a cords of shock, anger, denial, and depression, and we do not have the resources within to make sense of our loss.
Many victims of Sandy are still asking questions, and searching for answers. They have discovered their nation and government have moved on, leaving them struggling to find a foothold. Red tape and lack of understanding or concern for their situation has hindered their ability to move on. Human answers haven’t been enough. Human answers will never be enough.
Margaret’s prescription to live through the aftermath is two-fold. First, pick up a Bible and read. God will guide you to the verses you need for your grief. I know more than one person who opened the Gideon Bible in their hotel room and had a life-changing encounter with God. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path (Psalm 119:105).
Second, pray. God promises He will respond when we cry out to Him. For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things (Psalm 107:9).
There is hope for every grief, but the hope we need is greater than any human response can offer. As Margaret writes, “God’s eye is on the sparrow, and His eye is always on us, too. When our wings are too heavy and we crash into that sliding door of grief or we get trapped in the abyss of a trampoline and entangled in the safety net, God will provide the necessary strength so we can once again learn how to fly. . . . He waits for you with wings for your soul.” Hurricane Sandy has brought great grief to many people, but the aftermath of grief is not the last word, nor is it beyond the hope that God can provide.
According to several of the national news organizations, the response of many Americans to recent legislative actions was a request that life be fair and that our legislators act with fairness. I thought this was an interesting request since from the time we are old enough to understand why things happen as they do, we hear the phrase, “life isn’t fair.”
“Fair” is subjective. One employee considers an action to be fair while another sees it as unjust. Two mothers sit in a courtroom, both sure their child was treated unfairly, yet only a jury can determine who is right, and even that jury may be swayed by any number of personal experiences. Two children grow up in the same home, yet throughout their lives one or the other is sure they were treated unfairly. How recent has it been that you or I made a judgment or a statement knowing we were biased by our prejudices or our attitude? Since when has humankind been consistently capable of fairness?
Is it fair that 20% of the world’s people consume 80% of the world’s goods, and yet we make little effort to change this? Where is the fairness of a world where the divide between the wealthy and the impoverished grows greater each year, enabled by systems that offer more and more opportunities for the wealthy to grow their wealth? How can it be fair for a child to grow up in a country that has never known peace, and yet their government continues to fight and kill? Who would describe it fair that one place has abundant rain while another suffers through years of drought, and yet little is done to change the conditions that cause it? What kind of fairness is it that one nation lives under a violent dictator while another is a democracy, and yet democratic governments reinforce the hold of the dictator? When has it been fair that some have no voice, suffer persecution and exploitation because others are more powerful and can hold them in bondage simply by physical and cognitive force? We only have to look into our own hearts to discover a lack of fairness, even as we voice our expectations that others should be fair, life should be fair.
The reality is that life isn’t fair, and this reality spills over into business and the economy of poverty. Because of this, fair trade prinicples were implemented some years ago, in recognition that the poorest of the poor, unfairly, have little opportunity to break the cycle that continues from one generation to the next. You may be reading this and thinking, “What’s unfair about that?” Even this is a judgment from one person to another, evident in our response to the poverty we see and read about every day.
But many do believe poverty is difficult to escape unless the business world implements principles that do not exploit, but rather empower those who hope for a better life for their families, their communities, and even the world. This is why many commit to practice fair trade and are willing to abide by fair trade principles to participate in freeing as many individuals, societies, and even nations, from the poverty that keeps them imprisoned to crime and exploitation. Many invest their lives and wealth (wealth of money, health, power, commitment, concern, passion) to live and work among the impoverished, or establish a multitude of opportunities that empower and free people from poverty.
What about you? This is Fair Trade Month. Take time to consider your own commitment to fairness, especially for the poor. Learn about fair trade companies, like WorldCrafts. Several resources are listed below that will inspire you to grow in fairness, to seek fairness, and to live fairly in an unfair world.
So who is the judge of fairness? There is only one judge of fairness, for the standard for fairness is found in the heart of God (Deuteronomy 10:18), and as long as this world is in the hands of people, rather than under the lordship of Christ, life will be unfair. Decisions based on human wisdom apart from God’s cannot have, and do not have, the breadth of understanding needed to insure that our judgment is fair. We seldom are capable of seeing even the short term results, much less the long term impact, of the decisions we make. But when we abide in Christ we have the greatest potential to break out of our limited understanding to see the world, to see each person, through God’s perfect knowledge and love, through His compassion and wisdom, with his righteousness and justice. He is our only hope, our only source, for the fairness our nation and our world longs to see.
Not far from my home is an immigrant community. Hundreds of people coming to America, in search of hope. Unable to speak the language. Jobless. Desperate. Willing to risk crossing borders illegally to find work.
How desperate do you have to be to risk your life to illegally enter another country in search of hope? Most of us can’t imagine that level of desperation. I wake up in the morning, arise from a comfortable and clean bed, brush my teeth with clean water, pour fresh milk over my cereal with a banana and raspberries, put on clean cloths, get in a fairly new car, back out of a driveway looking at my home surrounded by green grass, flowers, and trees.
Few days pass that I don’t wonder about the woman just like me, on the other side of the world, rising from a dirt floor, abandoned by a man who treated her like the dirt floor, not sure how she will feed her children, who perhaps has hardly ever seen anything green, anything clean, and seen very little beauty. How desperate can she become before she takes desperate measures to save her family? She is the woman who will never come to America. She is too weak, too powerless, to even consider an escape from her situation, to ever cross a border in search of hope.
But her situation isn’t hopeless. A simple purchase of a handmade craft, made by that woman so far away, can bring her a living wage, food for her child, clean water, and freedom from exploitation. How does this happen? The answer is fair trade, a commitment to make a way and a place for the poor to gain a sustainable income with dignity.
Make an investment to stop the cycle of poverty, desperation, exploitation and hopelessness by celebrating Fair Trade Month. This month and every month consider the impact that every purchase makes. Gift a friend with a fair trade purchase from WorldCraftsSM where fair trade guides each and every trading decision made. Because of this, their practices are radically different from those of other businesses.
Fair Trade Federation Principles:
I am watching our author Brenda Ladun, news anchor for ABC 33/40 evening news. She is a beautiful woman, inside and out, who faced breast cancer surgery twice. She gave a face to breast cancer in Alabama as we journeyed with her through every decision and treatment. When she lost her hair a second time, she invited her viewers to vote on which wig she would wear. She posted the wigs online and she wore the wig that received the largest number of votes.
I believe Brenda’s book, Behind the Scenes of Breast Cancer, is one of the best
books available to encourage women through the journey of healing after breast cancer treatments. Because of Brenda’s efforts, the book contains an excellent DVD with professional help from professional doctors regarding exercise, nutrition, reconstruction, and other important decisions that have to be made.
Today I was finishing lunch when one of the young women in our office came in wearing her new head scarf to cover her now bald head. She is a lovely young woman going through breast cancer treatments, but facing it with faith and hope. Seeing her reminded me that breast cancer is close to us, an uninvited guest that intrudes into the lives of our family and friends.
Let’s not miss this month, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, to pray for our sisters with cancer, to encourage them, to help them, and raise awareness of this devastating illness.
|My Birthday||Birthdays for the 80% Poor|
|Buying an angel for the front porch||Poverty|
|Chatting with family||Loneliness|
|Discovering Google knew my birthday||Invisible|
|Review of the next WorldCrafts Fair Trade Tour||Exploitation|
|Fellowship, music, worship||Persecution|
|Walking at the Botanical Gardens||Drought|
|Watering the blooming azaleas||Thirst|
Bells chimed four times this morning at churches across Birmingham to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of four little girls who died while attending church on the morning of September 15, 1963, at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. That morning a bomb set by Klansmen, exploded at the church. The explosion interrupted a Sunday School Lesson titled “A Love that Forgives.” This morning that same lesson was taught and this time completed.
Living in Birmingham has made the civil rights movement more personal for me. The first time I walked through the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, the photos and stories brought me to tears. I saw photos of Birmingham police spraying water on peaceful protestors. I read the story of Martin Luther King’s imprisonment in a Birmingham jail, where he wrote one of the most powerful letters in history, simply called, Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Sadly, this letter was written to pastors who turned against his peaceful protest. Why was he in Birmingham? Because Birmingham was the largest city in Alabama, and one of the most segregated in the South.
No doubt, prejudice and hatred are still alive in Birmingham. This is the nature of mankind without Christ. On the other hand, the sister of one of the little girls who died 50 years ago sings in the choir with me today. We join our voices every week to praise the God who created both of us in His image.
Prejudice is found in every heart—preconceptions about another person, prejudgments of another’s actions, a bias for those who are like us—because we did not put the thought away when it first arrived in our mind.
How do we gain control of our minds? How do we have the mind of Christ? We are certainly commanded to think as Christ (Romans 12:2). Kimberly Sowell, in her book, Lost on a Familiar Road , addresses the challenge of conforming our minds to Christ’s desires, Christ’s thoughts. Be sure to get the Lost on a Familiar Road Devotional (ebook only) to guide you in the journey of living with the mind of Christ.
We get up in the morning and drive to work. We park our cars, or walk from the bus, and often enter a building where we spend much, or even most of our day. We work alongside the same people day after day, people we did not get to choose. We have our good days and our bad days, and as my assistant often reminds me, what we consider priority for our day is often replaced by someone else’s urgent need.
Because of all these realities, we don’t always arrive at our workplace thinking about how we can make a positive difference. I confess there are days when I arrive at my office focused on a problem or a person with angst instead of cheerfulness. Sometimes I’ve already brought others down before I recognize the issue is mine, not theirs.
This past week I had an appointment with a doctor I see twice a year. The staff is always pleasant, and the visit went as usual. After seeing the doctor I went to the front desk to get my next appointment.
I never know what to do when I am standing there and waiting because I feel like I am listening in on their workplace conversation. At the same time, there is nothing else to listen to! So I couldn’t help but hear that one of the young women had very sore feet. I could tell in the way she was walking that her feet were hurting. She expressed this to her coworkers and turned to tackle her next project—still requiring her to be standing on her sore feet.
Then one of her coworkers approached her, and insisted that she rest her feet. She said she would handle the work that needed to be done. When the young woman with the tired feet hesitated both coworkers in the room insisted she rest.
Now I don’t know these lovely young women, but they are influencing their workplace—influencing one another and every patient that comes through. I was reminded it is the small opportunities we have every day that makes a great impact on the lives of those around us. I wasn’t even involved in the conversation or the work, but I was influenced by these three young women.
Influence is powerful, spreading both good and bad, like an infection, to everyone around us. Influence is observable, and is seen even when we are not aware someone is watching, or someone is listening. Every day, time and time again, we are given the opportunity to be a positive influence. I am thankful for three young women whose interaction influenced me in ways they may never know.
Every product we purchase comes to us through fair or unfair trade. We seldom give thought to how an item was produced or to the treatment of those who made it, but as Christians our spiritual wholeness includes integrity in trade. This is especially true in how we handle our dealings with the poor. The Bible reminds us that “the fallow ground of the poor would yield much food, but it is swept away through injustice” (Proverbs 13:23 ESV). In other words, unfair trade takes away the little the poor may own.
Unfair Trade and Poverty
Unfair trade not only takes the little the poor may own, but also leads to entrenched poverty and hopelessness. Poverty produces desperation. Desperation produces exploitation. Exploitation produces suffering. Suffering produces hopelessness. The hopelessness of poverty is not God’s plan. Rather, the Bible is clear that God’s people are to intervene to keep people from becoming desperate and exploited as slaves or prostitutes, or end up with diseases and addictions that have been forced on them. “Now in case a countryman of yours becomes poor and his means with regard to you falter, then you are to sustain him, like a stranger or a sojourner that he may live with you” (Leviticus 25:35 NASB). The Lord requires that we make an investment in the lives of the impoverished.
Fair Trade Principles
One important investment is fair trade. Fair trade insures opportunities for marginalized workers including fair wages, child rights, and humane working conditions. The Lord requires us to give the poor worker “his wages on his day before the sun sets, for he is poor and sets his heart on it; so that he will not cry against you to the LORD and it become sin in you” (Deuteronomy 24:15 NASB). The Lord warns us not to oppress the needy worker. “‘You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired servant shall not remain with you all night until the morning. You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the LORD’” (Leviticus 19:13–14 ESV). Prompt and fair payment is critical for life to those who may go without food, shelter, clothing, or dignity, because of their poverty.
The Dignity of Fair Trade
Fair trade restores dignity to the impoverished. We join the Lord in His work as “He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap” (Psalm 113:7 NASB). Fair trade restores dignity as women are freed from prostitution, families remain together because selling a child is no longer necessary, teens receive an education so they can choose a different plan for their lives, and communities are transformed where people for the first time have an income they can depend on. Fair trade gives hope for a better life and restores the dignity God intended for all people.
Restoring dignity to the poor honors God. “He who oppresses the poor taunts his Maker, but he who is gracious to the needy honors Him” (Proverbs 14:31 NASB). Regard for the needs of the poor worker is required because of who God is. We should need no other incentive.
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