Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Can Complementarian Fathers Raise Strong Women? What I'm Teaching My Daughter

I believe the Scriptures teach that in the marriage relationship, wives should submit themselves to the leadership of their husbands, as husbands conversely love their wives by ultimately sacrificing their lives for their brides.  That isn't limited to being willing to die for her.  It also includes living for her exclusively, and giving of yourself without thought.  

The cultural description for this position is called complementarianism, and it is the belief that while men and women are essentially equal image bearers of God, they bear functional distinctions that complement each other.  The theological term for this concept is "male headship," and even in many evangelical Christian circles, its about as popular as a Philly steak-laden belch in a crowded elevator.

I won't belabor the Biblical and theological rationale for the classical complementarian position in this post (I've already done that here, for those who are interested.)  Instead, I want to address concerns I've heard lately that ask what kind of women emerge from homes that follow this philosophy of marriage and family.  Many have implied, and a few more have explicitly stated that male headship teaches women to be "weak."

Well, as the father of a soon-to-be 4 year old daughter, I certainly don't have all the answers.  Truth be told, having a daughter has raised many more questions than I had prior to her arrival in our family!  Furthermore, I acknowledge that I can't ultimately control the outcomes of my children's lives.  They will all ultimately make their own decisions.  But this doesn't relieve me of my responsibility as a dad to raise them in the fear of the Lord, nor does it justify abdication of setting goals for what I want to help my children accomplish.  

I also admit that for far too many, "headship" is ill-defined as something that benefits dad, and it sometimes takes the form of Dad being a drill-sergeant to the whole family.  Those guys aren't leaders.  They are jerks.  And they aren't practicing Biblical headship.  Instead, they are practicing a form of chauvinistic, gender-specified fascism.  Men, if the way you lead your home makes you more comfortable and your family less secure, whatever you are practicing isn't what the Scriptures call "headship."

So, what is the profile of a young woman raised in a complementarian home?  Well, I'm going to do my best to see the following realized in my little girl.

1. I will teach her to love Jesus.  This is the most important decision any of my children can make.  I want my daughter exposed frequently to the message that she, like the rest of humanity, is fallen in her sin and in desperate need of a Savior.  I want her to learn how to share her faith, and how to present the Gospel above the fray of "comparative religions" so that Jesus is truly seen as being offered to the whole world.

2. I will teach her to be well-read and globally aware.  I want her to be able to have intelligent discussions relative to science, politics, technology, culture, and faith.  And when I say "intelligent discussions," I mean the sort of invigorating talk that will cause her to react with a yawn to tired "talking heads" on TV, or to the over-simplified arguments that are so often given in our current culture-war environment.  I want her to know how the world works--not just our country, but the world!  I want her to be comfortable having discussions about global issues with anyone on the globe! And, I want to instill a compassion in her that will serve as a "pilot light" to ignite the knowledge she gains into action that will serve others in the name of Jesus.

I want her to be comfortable living anywhere in the world, and competent with the cross-cultural skills that should befit any young person whose prime of life will span the mid-21st century.  Most importantly, I want her to develop a genuine love for people of every nation, tongue and tribe.  I want her to have fun exploring the world God created and the people He placed in it.

3. I will teach her to fight.  Unfortunately, we live in a world where too many young men are emerging as barbarians who have no idea how to treat a woman.  Everything from over-sexualized commercials to the trafficking and sex trade itself betrays that even full-blown, tolerant egalitarianism can't wipe away the propensity of some men to treat women like a commodity.  

To be sure, I have no problem being her protector, and in the event that her safety is threatened by said meat-heads, I would have no problem using my own bare hands to pound them into a bloody pulp to the greater glory of God and the joy of all mankind.  But since I'm realistic enough to know that I won't always be there, I intend to teach my princess how to defend herself.  If she needs training that can't be provided by her old man, we will send her to classes.  But at the end of the day, I want my young lady to know how to completely and permanently wash out a guy's kneecap, as well as how to be disabling with a groin shot or pepper spray, and if absolutely necessary, lethally accurate with a 9mm.  

I want her to cherish peace, and stay away from trouble if she is able.  But when confronted with a threat to her safety or the safety of weaker people with her, I want her to be able to take care of business. (and for what it's worth, she's already proving at 3 to have the spunk to do it. Just ask her two older brothers!)

4. I will teach her self-awareness.  I want her to discover how God has gifted her, and help her develop and use those gifts for His glory.  Through everything from choosing hobbies to determining how she will educate herself, I want her to know beyond a doubt who God has created her to be, and I want her to live out the purpose for why she was placed on this planet at this time in history.  

Her mother and I are keenly aware of her "life story" from the time she was born until the moment we met her at a hotel in Guangzhou, China.  There is no doubt in our minds that God gave her to us for the purpose of raising her up for great things.  So, she will need to learn what she is good at, and what she isn't good at.  She will need to learn how to check her own gut, and make sound judgement calls based on Scriptural principles applied to her own self-awareness.  Whatever she decides to do professionally will be greatly enhanced if she does it with a keen sense of self-awareness.

5. I will teach her discernment when it comes to boys.  In some sense, she is in the worst possible environment for meeting boys.  As a pastor's daughter, she will no doubt meet a lot of meat-heads who can fake it really well and talk about Jesus in a way that is so convincing that it seems they actually know Him personally.  But there is a huge, HUGE difference between men of God and "church boys."  And I intend to teach her the difference.

It is unfortunate that in so many churches, young men are allowed and almost blessed to remain immature, unemployed, uneducated, irresponsible, and generally ambivalent about anything in life except their latest high score in World of Warcraft or Halo.  Additionally, many young men are highly capable of employing "church language" to fool a gal into thinking that they are sincere in their walk with Jesus, when in reality they just sincerely want to take advantage of the girl.  

Regrettably, the church--the one environment where strong men should be ever present and ready to help young bucks with their needed cranial-rectal extractions--is often the place perceived to be filled with women and weak men.  And the result in too many churches can be a minefield of spiritual sounding 30-year-old adolescents who don't have their own act together and are consequently in no way qualified to marry--which means they have no business dating!  As blunt and crass as it may sound, most "Christian" young men are absolutely and completely full of crap.

Fortunately, my little girl has a daddy who was once one of those young men.  I know them well because, well, I WAS one of them.  Thankfully, I had strong men who taught me Sunday School and walked with me in life in my church, which helped me more quickly cross over the bridge of authenticity from "church boy" to "man of God."  I honestly don't know where I would be today without men like Markley Edwards and Bill Merritt, who were straight and frank with me about what God expects from young men who belong to Him.

By the time she is ready to date young men, I want her "Bull meter" to be hyper-sensitive, because I don't want my young lady married to a loser she has to support one day because he is too busy still being an adolescent idiot.  And in the event that said adolescents try to force something on my little girl: well, see # 3 above.  :)

6. I will teach her to have a healthy self-image not defined by men, or by women's magazines aimed at men.  The percentage of young ladies today obsessed with their body image is astronomical, and sad.  So called "women's" magazines--which in reality are no more than rags teaching females how to be everything desired by a middle-aged boy who can shave--simply enhance this crisis of ladies who are implicitly told to interpret the whole of their existence though she shape of their bodies and the aggressive expression of their sexuality.

My little girl knows Dad thinks she is beautiful, and she always will.  But there is something else I think fathers should teach their daughters that is far more important; that GOD thinks they are beautiful just as they are.  As such, no one else's opinion matters.  If they disagree, then they are simply wrong.  From our Creator originates all things, including the base definition of "beauty."  In light of His all-expansive, multi-ethnic, expression of the concept through a myriad of body types, hair colors, and cultural fashion expressions all around the world, a nearly naked, borderline anorexic Victoria's Secret model shouldn't be seen as the "ideal."  If anything, that picture should be beneath our little girls.  And any boys who see that picture as the ideal should be beneath them as well.

Our daughters should have a healthy image of themselves as truly beautiful, and they should be given the creativity within Biblical boundaries of modesty to express that beauty in a way that enhances this healthy self-image.  Furthermore, she should never, ever change her appearance merely to satisfy a male suitor.

7. I will teach her how to be a voice of wisdom.  Though I don't believe God placed the burden of ultimate responsibility on women in the home or the church, I also reject the idea that male headship means that a woman's voice isn't to be highly valued.  I don't want my daughter bearing burdens God never intended her to bear.  But I do want her to be a meaningful contributor, and valued ministry partner with those who are charged with that burden.

I can't count the times I've been "saved" by no more than a gentle touch of my arm by my wife, who pulls me back from the edge, and speaks great wisdom by giving me a broader perspective I did not previously have.  Honestly, the Association of churches I serve has been spared plenty by my hand because I have a godly wife who headed my stupid ideas off at the pass!  (And I'm not the only one who realizes this.  See Ed Litton's post here.)

I want my daughter to be a voice of wisdom like her mother, and I want her to use that voice frequently, whether it is a work, or at church benefiting her pastor, or at home benefiting her husband if indeed God grants her a spouse.

8. I will teach her that she doesn't "need" a man.  Too many women are encouraged to find the lion's share of their future as beginning on their wedding day.  To be sure, its a big day, and certainly a major milestone that should last a lifetime.  But there is a previous step to this vision that is all-too-often missed in many Christian homes:  If she doesn't know herself, and isn't confident in herself, marriage won't fix the problem.  It will make it worse.

I recently met a new leader at one of our churches.  She is my age, gainfully employed as a professional, confident in her role and calling, and has never been married.  She isn't some rabid feminist with a chip on her shoulder, and she isn't bitter toward men.  She simply learned who she was in Christ, and accepts that she can fulfill that role faithfully without a husband.  And she is right!

It is true that most women will get married, and most will want to get married.  That's OK.  At the same time, our daughters should be taught that they don't "need" to get married--at least not in the same way that they need food, shelter and clothing.  Our daughters have a greater daddy than us in their Heavenly Father.  If they are Christian, they have a husband in His Son, and they have a protector/provider/empowering affirming presence in His Holy Spirit.  I want my little girl to know that she is already complete, and doesn't need a spouse to be complete.  

If God grants her a husband, then that is a wonderful thing that she should cherish, and in that event, fairy-tale day dreams about the wedding day are fine. If however, she ends up like Lottie Moon; well, she will be in good company!  (for those who know Miss Moon's story, it should not surprise you that I would find Crawford Howell Toy to be a wholly unacceptable son-in-law!)

9. I will teach her that men who can accept all of the above might...might be worthy of her submission.  Simply put, I will teach my daughter that men who are too weak to lead a strong woman--men who are intimidated by strong women--aren't fit to be husbands.  Typically, these kinds of men manifest in one of two ways: they are either the obvious "wimp" who never makes a decision and leads the way, or he becomes a "dictator" in his own home; overpowering the voice of his wife by intimidating her because, deep down, he is afraid to admit that sometimes, she might be smarter than he is!  I believe that wives should submit themselves to the leadership of their husbands.  I also believe that women who want to become wives should choose carefully to whom they will submit.

Candidly, this is the point where mate selection breaks down almost irrevocably in our culture.  Cultural pressures encourage young women to try and get the guy with the prettiest eyes, the best hair, or the hottest car.  Books and movies marketed to teen girls enable such surface-level criteria for establishing a long-lasting relationship.  I won't keep my daughter from those movies.  I'd much rather see her roll her eyes in disgust after seeing one.  But the only way that will happen is if Dad teaches her how to think critically and deeply about the kinds of relationships she develops.  If you can't see yourself ever trusting the leadership of a particular young man, then you shouldn't marry him.  And if you aren't going to marry him, then you have no business dating him!

10. I will teach her that it is up to her.  From a purely statistical standpoint, there is a 90% chance that one day, my role as provider and protector of my daughter will come to an end on her wedding day.  More than likely, sometime within the next two decades I will escort her down an aisle, and give her to another man.  In that moment, she will become his responsibility.  In the meantime, I can give advice and counsel.  I can offer my blessing on her relationships when I believe they are wise.  And, I can warn her when I perceive her to be going down the wrong road.  But ultimately, it is up to her to decide who she marries.  Ultimately, it is up to her whether she gets married.

Additionally, her own life decisions regarding education, career, and calling require the guidance of two parents who love her very much.  Yes, my wife and I want a complementarian daughter.  No, we do not want to raise a "doormat."  We want to raise a strong woman.  And by God's grace, and especially within the gender framework we believe He has designed, we believe we can.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Future of Pastoral Ministry: Are we Really Up to This?

I spent this morning with a colleague working on the contours of a potential Doctor of Ministry program for Maryland pastors, and among other things, we discussed the future of pastoral ministry.  For a few semesters, I've had the honor of teaching Pastoral Theology at a local seminary,and one of the units we cover relates to the task of leadership in emerging culture.  As an introduction to this unit, I give the students a description of what the world will look like in the not-too-distant future.  We look at shifts that are coming in the area of population, family dynamics, medicine, sexuality, environmental concerns, technology and religion, and then discuss how these shifts should affect the way we lead churches to make disciples in the future.

Once during this presentation, I had a young man come up to me after class and say "wow!  I'm not sure I'm ready for this!"

How about you?  Are you ready for ministry in the 21st century?  What follows are nine scenarios that WILL take place in most churches within the next 20 years.  It is likely that many of these have already taken place, and if pastors are going to lead well, and in a way that honors Jesus, they need to be ready for how to minister among the following:

Scenario One:  A pastor is called to a church with the expectation that he will "help us reach the young families."  Problem is, everyone in the church is over the age of 60, and more than 50% of the community within 10 minutes of the church is also in that age range.  

By 2030, it is estimated that more than half of the U.S. population will be over the age of 50.  This "graying" of America is presently going almost completely unnoticed by most churches, who tend to go after the prized "young families with children" category.  Yet 80% of those over 50 live in a multi-housing situation ("55 and older" apartments, duplex communities, retirement and assisted living communities), and 98% of all multi-housing residents are without a relationship to Jesus.  Are you keeping pace with the generational shifts that are taking place around your church, and how your church should respond to those shifts?  In the future, if you really want to penetrate your community, chances are you won't be reaching that many "young people."  Are you thinking through how this affects programming, staffing, facility usage?

Scenario Two:  Multiple families visit the church who do not speak English, politely nod and smile, and never return. 

 By 2025, Hispanics will outnumber African Americans by 3 to 2, and will comprise approximately 40% of the U.S. population.  Over a decade ago, Oscar Romo noted that America, "hardly the 'melting pot' described by history texts, has become a land marked more by diversity than homogeneity."  In no area is this fact more clear than in the area of language.  A guest speaker at our Association's annual meeting three years ago told me that he walked into one of our malls, ate lunch, and walked back to his car, and never during that time heard anyone speaking English.  I responded by saying "welcome to central Maryland!"  And this dynamic is eventually coming to nearly every part of the United States!  

Is there an unreached pocket of people in your area for whom language is a barrier.  God doesn't intend for linguistics to be a stumbling block to the cross.  Are you capable of helping raise up ministries to help people from other nations who speak other languages to more easily assimilate?  Conversely, are you willing to greet them in their own language and make them feel welcome?

Scenario Three:  A married homosexual couple with three adopted children visit your church.  

This is one of those issues when if you are a pastor, you need to go ahead and check all your political arguments at the door.  What we believe society should or shouldn't do in this situation is of absolutely no consequence, because they are doing it anyway!  The fact is that homosexual marriage is, well, a fact.  Its true here in Maryland, in six other states, and is likely to be true nationwide in a very short time.  Truth is, we live in a nation and culture in which our understanding of marriage has been devolving for decades.  

Now that this is a reality, how will we minister to the parents and their children?  How should our children's departments be equipped to minister to the kids?  How are you equipping other couples in your church to interact with and minister to these precious souls? How can you uphold clear Biblical standards in love?  How will you help these parents and their children navigate what it means to follow Jesus, and what implications that decision may have on family dynamics?  Are you ready to admit that you don't even have all the answers to these questions, and walk slowly and in love with those who seek your counsel?

Scenario Four:  A young person who has visited your church for a while repents of her sin and receives Jesus as Lord and Savior.  As you prepare for her baptism, you discover through her testimony that she was born male, but had gender-reassignment surgery a few years ago.  

Scripture has no category for an "androgynous Christian."  There are Christian men, and Christian women, and the discipleship models spelled out for us in the New Testament tend to be described in conjunction with one's gender.  Sometimes the church argues forcefully over the appropriate "role" of men and women in the life of the church.  But regardless of what you believe on that issue, we can agree on this:  The reason the argument is sometimes so intense is that we all recognize that gender identity matters! 

Therefore, in a situation like this, you have someone created in God's image and likeness who has become a follower of Jesus, and how must now be discipled in accordance with her/his gender identity.  Are you prepared for the Biblical, moral, psychological and bioethics questions that will necessarily be part of that conversation?

Scenario Five:   More and more people, it seems, are asking you to perform funeral ceremonies for their pets.  You have noticed over time that the grieving process for a family losing a pet, as well as the elements of the funeral itself (pictures, memorials, poems, etc.) indicate a much greater value on animals than in the past.  

We are already witnessing attitudes in our culture that betray a gravitation towards increased "equalizing" of animals and humans, and too many in the church have bought into this idea.  Are you prepared to lovingly confront the false idea that "all dogs go to heaven," and re-assert the essential distinction between human beings, who are created in God's own image and likeness, and pets, who are not?  Are you ready for the backlash that is likely to come from supposed "mature" Christians for simply asserting the Biblical truth that their pet doesn't possess an eternal soul?  Are you ready to point your people to the serious theological implications of believing otherwise? (Did Jesus really die for a DOG?  Seriously?!)

Scenario Six:  Because of growth, your church starts a "video venue," and begins live-streaming worship and sermons via the internet.  You notice that you have a growing "online" audience, many of whom log in every Sunday, and who financially support the ministry.  Through connections with these people on social media you discover that, although they may live hundreds or even thousands of miles away, they consider your church their "church home."  

Today's advanced and inexpensive technology means that churches are asking questions that would never have been considered even 20 years ago, and one of the biggest questions today has to do with the legitimacy of the so-called "internet church."  In the future, how will your church ensure that the Biblical principles and practices commensurate with a covenant community are observed in this environment?  

Are you ready for the conversations church leadership must have in the future related to how everything from church discipline to fellowship can be achieved in this context?  The most obvious pitfall of social media is that our society has never been more exposed to each other, and simultaneously, never been more alone.  How can the church be truly "counter-cultural" in this environment?  At what point should we say "no" to certain forms of technology because they threaten sound ecclesiology?

Scenario Seven:  You discover through casual conversation that a yoga class has been started by leaders in the church, that participants freely greet one another with "namaste," and that Christian meditation has been confused with the emptying of the mind that is endorsed in many Hindu communities.  

Over the past decade, there has been a huge increase in ancient pagan practices, much like those that occurred in the days of the Old Testament.  The digital age, among other things, presents opportunities for the "blending" of faiths that was unheard of even two decades ago.  In what ways should you be prepared to bifurcate for your people between what can, and cannot, be part of the life of someone who follows Jesus according to Scripture?  Are you equipped to help your people understand the difference between "form" and "meaning" when it comes to practices, so that they can separate the truly harmless from the "seemingly harmless," the latter of which has deep roots in ancient paganism?

Scenario Eight:  You receive a call from a mainline church in town.  The size of their congregation has dropped to less than 20 members. They are fearful for their future, and they ask for your help.  It is simply a statistical fact that theological liberalism kills churches.  As such, expect the mainline protestant churches in your town to continue slowly bleeding to death.  Yet, the people in those dying churches need someone to love them by ministering to their needs and reminding them of what their faith once stood for.  Are you prepared to raise up leaders who can utilize those facilities to start a second campus for your church, or start a new church altogether?  Are you now able to be friends with these people, and love them through their struggles while holding firmly to your faith?

Scenario Nine:  Parents come to you for counseling regarding their son, who has been diagnosed with multiple "generic" disorders, but doctors have been incapable of specifying the problem, and the child has been largely un-treatable by psychiatrists.  You suspect the presence of demonic activity.  

I truly believe that we will see a sharp rise in obvious demonic activity in the west, and I believe it will unfortunately be mis-diagnosed as a solely medical or psychiatric problem.  As a result, too many children will grow up expressing the personality of a psychotrophic drug unless wise and godly pastors in the west learn to recognize the presence of demonic activity, lead families past the "exorcism" nonsense of Benny Hinn and the Church of Rome, and confront it head-on with the Gospel.

Scenario Ten:  In this "brave new world," God continues to seek worshippers, and Jesus continues to save people from sin, Satan, death, and hell in miraculous ways. 

I'm sure some of what I've written above scares some readers.  I'm equally certain that some of you are angry, and for various reasons.  As lovingly as I can say it, I don't care.  What I've described above is a culture that is emerging, and that is filled with people Jesus died to save.   And it is in this environment when I hear evangelical Christians having the dumbest arguments!  

Where the Mid-Maryland Association is concerned, I want us to be ready for that world so we can be faithful to Jesus.  So many of the arguments and "controversies" we have these days  are proven in contrast to the realities above to be as ridiculous as they appear to be.

We have some pure, honest, real-world "issues" coming, and we don't have time for the cosmetic ones.  Are we prepared to stop pining for the world as we wished it was, and begin preparing to reach the world as we know it will soon be?  I hope so.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Rise Up Church! The Battle Against Modern-Day Slavery

The down-side of popular legislation in the United States is that, after its passed, too many Americans believe the law by itself took care of the problem.  In no area is this delusion more demonstrable than the area of slavery.

We have had the 13th amendment since the close of the Civil War in 1865, yet in the United States, slavery has continued, primarily through the avenue of human trafficking.  This plague on society, which centers on the inhumane and violent treatment of women through the sex trade, has a more acute presence in my own state of Maryland. So, for those of you who live with me in the ironically named "free state," I urge you to call your legislators regarding the information below and DEMAND that they take action.

Yesterday, I received information from Maryland's Safe House of Hope, a ministry linked tangentially with our Association of churches whose mission is to serve as a place of refuge for women who have been the victims of sex trafficking.  If you are a fellow resident of the state of Maryland, then you and I live in a state that just last year received a grade of "D" from the Shared Hope Protected Innocence Report, which grades each state on how effective its legislative bodies are at putting an end to human trafficking.  In short, they called Maryland legislators incompetent.  And on this issue, they hit their mark.

In the next 10 days, you and I have the opportunity to change this.  Read the report below, weep for the reality that is embedded in our own back yard, and call the offices of your state delegate and senator.  

There are more than 500,000 professing Christians in this state.  If the church rises in one voice on this issue and demands that our lawmakers take action, it could be the difference between life and death for many young women in our state.  Call today!

'You can order a girl like a pizza'
Ten days are left to get bills through the state House and Senate to make human sex trafficking less profitable in Maryland. Without them, the forced prostitution of girls will continue to gross great wealth for pimps in Maryland. Nationally, prostitution was a $33 billion industry in 2012, importing 15,000 in addition to 100,000 U.S. teens.

"You can order a girl like a pizza; delivered to your place or you go to her place," Denene Yates, founder of Maryland's Safe House of Hope (safehouseofhope@gmail.com) told OneVoice Thursday, describing the scourge of sex trafficking in our state, and efforts to change the legal system and to bring hope to women trapped in an occupation they find disgusting but are helpless to escape. 


Forfeiting Trafficking Profits

The state can require a person convicted in Maryland for the illegal sale of drugs to forfeit to the state his bank account, his car, everything used in his illegal activities. If a person is convicted in Maryland of trafficking a woman (pimping), the state cannot take his ill-gotten gain. He may go to jail for a year or two, but his profits will be there for him upon his release.

A bill to change that, Asset Forfeiture for Human Trafficking (HB 713), is stuck in the House Judiciary Committee because the committee chair, Joseph Vallario, again this year refuses to allow it to come to a vote, even though it has 80 cosponsors; over half of Maryland's 141 delegates. Your call will be answered by a clerk, who will add your call to a log of calls kept by category; in this case, trafficking.

The committee must be allowed to vote - and approve - the bill in the next ten days or there will not be adequate time for it to move through the rest of the legislative process, according to Nancy Winston of Shared Hope International, a trafficking advocacy group, who coordinates legislative activity in Maryland as volunteer Chair of the Legislative Committee of the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force (nwinston@sharedhope.org).

To encourage Delegate Vallario to release this bill - and other trafficking bills - for a vote, call him at 800-492-7122, extension 3488 or e-mail joseph.vallario@house.state.md.us. Remind him that he was elected to protect our children. Pray the Lord will soften his heart. Your presence is also encouraged at a press conference on Tuesday, March 19, at 9:30 a.m. in Room 142 of the House Office Building, 6 Bladen Street, Annapolis MD 21401

Ignorance of Age No Defense

Thursday the Judiciary Committee approved a bill (HB 933) that would not allow a trafficking defendant to argue he was not aware of the age of the girl unless he can prove that he asked for valid identification to determine her age. 

The bill now goes to the full House for a vote, then to a companion Senate committee, and lastly to the full Senate, before it goes to the governor for signature. Pray for rapid passage and signature.

Trafficking a Child Under Age 16

Maryland makes abduction a misdemeanor but says human sex trafficking is a felony, for which the perpetrator can be imprisoned for up to life. This bill (HB 943) argues that the prostitution of a girl under the age of 16 (the age of consent) is abduction for human sex trafficking and should carry the penalty for trafficking. The average age at which a girl enters prostitution is 12.

Trafficking 18-20 year olds

Like the bill regarding girls under age 16, this one (SB 215/HB 1188) changes trafficking a girl aged 18-20 from a misdemeanor to a felony. 

Police Awareness

Police typically see prostitution as a crime voluntarily committed by the female, who should be arrested. This bill (HB 1056) provides training to help police recognize human sex trafficking as male coercion.

In Maryland

Denene's initial focus is to go out on the streets at 2 or 3 a.m. so she can make a personal contact with a girl and encourage her to walk away from prostitution. Her biggest need is for a support relationship for a recovering girl with someone who will be there for her later when trouble comes and she needs a place to live, food, etc. Otherwise she has no where to go except back into prostitution.

The journey from entrapment to freedom goes through a walk-in center, a safe place to talk (pimps try to frighten girls into silence), and, when the decision is made to leave prostitution, a group home. Denene needs four couples who will live as house-parents in group homes. She provides ten weeks of training. 

Girls who have been forced into prostitution usually come from homes where they have not been well parented. They are used to making demands and pushing until they get what they want. A house parent needs to be prepared to help the girl respect boundaries. 

Taking a preemptive posture, Denene has begun going into poor neighborhoods with parenting classes. Her biggest need; money, and housing for girls.

She also calls the websites where men go to get a girl and speaks with the girls, asking them "what are you going to do for yourself?," encouraging a sense of self-worth. For more on Safe House, go to www.safehouseofhope.org.

"Our Brothers' and Sisters' Keepers," a group of congregational and social service agency folks, will host a morning focused on human sex trafficking on Wednesday, April 24, from 9 a.m. to noon at Bethany United Methodist Church, 2875 Bethany Lane, Ellicott City 21042. Denene will share, along with a representative of the "Howard County Advocacy Group Against Slavery & Trafficking (HoCoAGAST)."

Breakfast foods and beverages will be provided. If you would like to attend, please contact facilitator Linda Hayes at 410-461-8100 or Martin Brooks at 410-465-2919, extension 12.

For more information see Safe House of Hope, or the Araminta Freedom Initiative

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Send the Whole Body; Change the Whole World, Starting with You!

I'm grateful to serve a network of churches that believes our calling is global as well as local.  For many decades in my denomination, it was assumed that Associations were, well, local, and that regional and international evangelism and church planting were the exclusive purview of SBC agencies charged with those respective areas.  But radical changes in transportation and communication over the past twenty years has made a truly "glocal" environment possible.

This is good for the church for two reasons.  First, as our global awareness continues to increase, so should our conviction that our responsibility for the global spread of the Gospel can't be abdicated by churches to mission boards.  Second, these shifts have resulted in the opening of missionary opportunity to people from every profession and walk of life.  Last time I checked, the Great Commission wasn't limited to those with degrees in missiology!

Jesus' desire is to send the whole body of Christ, working within the area in which they are gifted.

About 12 years ago while teaching evangelism at a Baptist University, a young lady came to me in tears.  After a moving chapel service that morning (it was "Missions Emphasis Week"), she was convinced that God had called her to be a missionary, but wrongly believed that this calling meant she had to give up on her love of children and teaching.  Because of this assumption, she was asking me for help in transferring from the College of Education to the College of Christian Studies.

Let me tell this story another way:  A young lady in a major that would allow her to virtually write her own ticket and go anywhere in the world, believed that to "answer the call to missions" she would need to switch to a major that would likely cause her to be refused admission to a host of places around the world--places most in need of the Gospel!  After helping her realize that her love for teaching and love for missions need not be mutually exclusive, I only had one question.  Twelve years later, I still have no answer to this question:  "How on earth did we in the church arrive at such a myopic view of what missions is?"  

I don't know where these assumptions came from, but this spring I'll be writing a book (due out this fall) that confronts such nonsense head on!  More on this later in the year.

Sometimes, I get questions from pastors and others in our Association about why we are at work in so many places around the world.  "It seems like most of what you guys do is just take mission trips all the time."  I get it.  And if "taking trips" was actually all we did, I'd be as skeptical about what we do as they seem to be when they ask the questions.  But we don't just "take trips."  Five years of "trips" to East Asia as resulted in a number of house churches that have introduced hundreds to Jesus.  Many "trips" to New York since Hurricane Sandy bore down on the eastern seaboard has helped deploy the body of Christ from the areas of construction, transportation, and health care to a place where these services are desperately needed.  And when they bring these things in the name of Jesus, more people follow Jesus!  Pastors and missionaries can't do this by themselves.  If we try, we sin against the people we presume to lead, and encourage them to disobey the Great Commission by omission!

So for the past several years, Mid-Maryland Association has continually emphasized sending the whole body of Christ.  Though we are at work on every inhabited continent, I can think of only one place where we are at work that is led by pastors.  In every other effort, its a federal government security specialist, a teacher, an HVAC technician, a sports apparel salesman, or a retired grandmother leading the way, and the effect of their service is reciprocal!

One example of this is below.  Recently, our Association partnered with one of our local churches on an exploratory trip to west Africa.  One young lady (she is in her early 20s), who also happens to be a teacher, wrote a summary of her experiences, and has given me permission to share those experiences with readers here.  Those experiences weren't all fun, and they weren't all pleasant.  But God used them all to move in her, and through her, to make Jesus known in a very dark place.  This is one of the best examples I've seen of how Jesus changes the world, and changes us, when we obey His command to send the whole church.

This trip has been such an incredible blessing in so many ways.  What I've learned in the past few years is that blessings aren't always received in happy circumstances.  Sometimes God teaches us through the hard times and that is no less of a blessing than those borne in happy times.  I've learned a lot about myself, both good and bad things.  I've gained a new "family" in my mission team and have shared experiences with them that probably shouldn't ever be repeated! :)

I've been to a part of the world that few people from the west have ever set foot on.  I've seen how people can struggle every day, but I've also seen how much joy a group of people--who we would consider destitute--can have.

I've had such a privileged life.  I wake up every morning knowing I will get to eat, drink clean water, and bathe.  I didn't have to worry about taking care of my younger siblings instead of going to school.  I didn't have to work in a field instead of play.  I was allowed a carefree, happy childhood, which I am incredibly grateful for.

I don't have to worry constantly about my safety or health.  We live in a society where a proactive approach to health is possible.  Eating healthy foods, exercising, and maintaining sanitary conditions are all possible for me.  I can afford a gym membership, fresh produce and meats, and can clean my hands in water that isn't contaminated.  I've taken all of this for granted my whole life.

I'm so thankful that God sent me on this trip.  I came in expecting that my role was to help other people.  While I do think I did some of that, I also believe that God's plan for me in west Africa involved the people who live there helping me.  I believe God wanted me to learn from them, about them.  I think I was meant to learn about myself--especially the areas of myself that I need to work on.  I am a selfish, fearful, and spoiled person.   Through this trip, I've seen these parts of myself in a very clear way.  This is not meant to be self-deprecating.  These are parts of myself (And if we are all honest, parts of all of us) that need work.

In short, this trip was amazing in so many different ways, and for so many different reasons.  I am so blessed to be able to experience these things, especially at my age.

To those of you who wonder why we do what we do, the words above illustrate but one of the many reasons why.  And if you have been "on the fence" for a while wondering if God can use you, let the words above sink deeply into your soul.  YES, He can use you!  And He will also radically change you for the better in the process!

Explore opportunities to change the world while God changes YOUR world at the "news and events" section here