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The Difficult Questions

Posted: May 29, 2012 by andreacaresse in Uncategorized
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It has to be one of the most difficult questions… where answers just never seem to do it justice.  Why do bad things happen to good people?  Why do we experience such tragedy?  If God loves us, why does He allow such difficulty?  I won’t begin to say that I have the perfect answer to these questions, or that my conclusions will rest all concerns in your mind.  But what I will write has come from my own experiences, and from seemingly useless tragedies in my own life… and from them I have found some reasons “why.”

When tragedies strike our lives they can be devastating.  It’s so easy to fall into a pit of desperation as we struggle to grasp the reasons behind terrible events.  Perhaps it’s the sudden loss of a loved one, a dear friend diagnosed with an incurable disease, a trusted individual who suddenly walks away, or even a physical and personal assault on your life and body that leaves you feeling empty inside.  When these things happen, the first questions we ask are: “Why, God?” “Why me/them?” “Why now?” “What possible good can come from this?”

When we’re in those moments, and those tragedies strike, it’s easy to forget that God has control.  We can’t imagine why God would allow such things, so we wonder if He could even stop it.   The difficulty lies in understanding that God does allow bad things to happen, but for an ultimate good.  “How can anything good come from this?” you ask… and this is an understandable question; don’t feel shame from asking it.  God knows we are human and have only our earthly viewpoint, and He knows how much we can handle. (Psalm 103:14)

Like everyone else on this fallen earth, I have experienced many tragedies in my life.  When evil would strike, a few years ago my response would be nothing but fear, confusion, doubt, and anger.  “God, why won’t You do something?  If You can stop it, why don’t You?” would be my main cry.  Not many years ago such tragedies would rock my faith foundation to the core.  The main reason for this is that I simply did not trust God.  I wasn’t sure if He really had my best interests at heart, or if He even really cared.  I say all this because trusting God in all circumstances is so extremely vital, especially in tragedies.  If you don’t trust God and believe that He has your absolute best in His heart, then you will never find peace in tragedy.  Even when we do trust and have absolute faith in Him, difficulty can cause us to lose our focus and doubt His goodness.  But if we never trust Him, we will never reach beyond those feelings of doubt and our hope will never rise amidst calamity.

When I heard about this week’s topic of “tragedies,” one example immediately came to my mind that I knew I must share, and that is the story of Tanner Cox.  In 2005 one of my cousins, Tanner who was only 10 years old, was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of brain cancer.  He underwent operations to remove the largest mass, but there were three more tumors still present and he began chemotherapy.  For two years he battled this disease and underwent treatments that took a major toll on his little body.  Throughout his journey, he inspired others by his faith and endurance.  His joyful spirit became known to all who interacted with him: family, friends, classmates, community members, local motorcycle groups, doctors and nurses at St. Jude’s, dolphin trainers at Sea-world through Make-A-Wish Foundation, celebrities like Vince Gill, and even the Yankees baseball team (his very favorite).   His family did everything in their power to make his story known so that prayers would be lifted on his behalf.  They maintained a website for updates and at every opportunity asked for prayer.  His condition appeared to be improving until one check-up revealed that the tumor was growing again.  Despite intense chemotherapy treatments, experimental medicines, and thousands of prayers, Tanner passed away two years after the diagnosis.

What good could come from this?  It may be hard to understand… but because of Tanner’s life, and because of his faith (and that of his family) the Gospel was shared countless times.   There are dozens of stories in those two years of people watching Tanner and his reactions and becoming inspired to learn more about his faith.  Many accepted salvation in Jesus Christ because of this boy’s testimony.  At his funeral, literally hundreds of people came.  All day during visitation a line stretched around the building to pay respects and show support for the family.  On the police escort to the cemetery, the police gave Tanner’s convoy a memorial solute as it passed by… even though he was only a civilian, and no one in his family was on the force.   Tanner made an impact; other lives were impacted by his.  A twelve year old who died of one of the world’s rarest forms of brain cancer made a tangible impact on the world around him the few years he had.

Even though Tanner’s story had a seemingly bad ending in our world’s standards, it in truth is producing a good outcome, because his life’s impact is not over.  Tanner’s physical body is the only thing that passed away. His soul is alive and thriving in Heaven celebrating in the presence of God’s glory.  Likewise, his testimony and example are still stirring in the hearts of everyone who hears it.  If you have read this, his story has impact you.  We may never know how many lives were changed by Tanner, but we know for sure that many came to salvation and are now living a more satisfying life, not to mention are now destined for Heaven instead of Hell.   Tanner and his family may not have seen what impact his life trial was having on others at the time, and likewise, we may not know this side of eternity what the purpose is behind tragedies in our own lives.  But when God is in control (and He always is), all things truly do work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Rom. 8:28)

From other trials in my life, especially those that have affected me more personally, one of the biggest, but hardest, lessons I’ve been able to learn is that there really is a purpose behind everything.  Our God isn’t a god of confusion or chaos; He is the God of order and intentionality.  It took me a while to understand this and accept it.  It took going through seemingly “useless” tragedies and then seeing incredibly great blessings come from them years later.  Goodness that I could not possibly have anticipated down the road.  Now when devastation happens, I am still in shock (that will never truly go away), but I know that there has to be a purpose.  This give me hope amid despair.  And I know that God has all things in His control, and I know I can trust Him.

When you trust someone, it isn’t based on emotions or feelings, but on the experienced and demonstrated character of the individual.  Either by words, actions, or behavior, they have proven themselves to be trustworthy.  Throughout Scripture God has proven that He can be trusted.  Even when His chosen people turn their backs on Him, He is consistent and follows through on His promises.  Throughout history people change, but God never changes.  He is constant.  He is the most trustworthy Person you will ever know. There may be days and events where you don’t feel like trusting God, but that doesn’t mean He can’t be trusted.  Our feelings have no impact whatsoever on God’s character.  Don’t just take my word for it, the Bible is full of testimonies of God’s trustworthiness: Proverbs 3:5-6Psalm 22:3-5Psalm 56:3-4Psalm 37:5-6Isaiah 26:4Psalm 111:6-8Psalm 31:14-16Psalm 118:5-9Psalm 91:1-4.  And these are only a very few of the numerous passages that describe God’s faithfulness.  Especially in the Psalms we can find a reflection of our own hearts in times of tragedy.  The author of these poems experienced great trails and we can read how he cried his heart out to God when he experienced pain…  And we can also see how he rejoiced when God answered his cries.  God may not answer us in the time and way that we expect or desire, but He is always there holding onto us.  You can trust Him.

A second lesson I have learned more recently, and that is that whatever we experience makes us better witnesses and tools for ministry in God’s Kingdom.  Whatever you experience now will strengthen you later.  Just like a broken bone is stronger after it heals.  When it happens it hurts like crazy and you want to die, but that won’t last forever… the healing will come and you will be stronger from this tragedy.   There have been so many instances in recent years where a friend will come to me and describe a situation they are struggling with or are going through, and I am thankful, truly thankful, to be able to say, “I’ve been there, I know where you are.”  If I hadn’t gone through the storm myself, I wouldn’t have been able to help them through it either.   When we go through tragedy and come out the other side we are then able to help others in the midst of it.  We can empathize and not just sympathize.  It’s one thing to say, “I’m so sorry…” and quite another to say, “I know exactly how you feel right now…”  There have been many times when I’ve thanked God for allowing me to experience heartache.  Without it I wouldn’t have gotten stronger in my faith, and wouldn’t have been able to help my other brothers and sisters in Christ.

If you’re in the tragedy right now, the pain is all you can feel, and I know —  it’s hard… I understand.  But God understands far better than I ever could.  He knows more about your situation than even you do.   He saw it before it even happened, and He sees what will come from it years from now.  Trust Him.  He knows what will happen because of this event, and every other event in your life.  Find rest in knowing you are in His hands, that He loves you, and that He has an ultimate good that will come from this.  Believe God when He says, “I will be with you.  I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5)   Even though you may not be able to feel His presence in this moment, He is always holding you.  He will never let you go.  And He has incredible, good, and beautiful plans for you.  Never forget that.

What Is Worship?

Posted: May 22, 2012 by andreacaresse in Uncategorized

When you hear the word “worship” what do you think of?  A particular style of praise and worship music?  Guitars, drums, v-neck shirts and skinny jeans? What about masses of people in a stadium rocking out to the latest popular worship song?   Or do you think about traditional hymns?  What about hymnals and organs?  Choir directors? Whatever the genre, do you instantly think of music and singing?

Well, have you ever thought of silence?  Of quiet meditation, just you and God? What about service?  When you hear the word “worship” do you ever think of sweating while you clean out your neighbor’s garbage?  What about washing an old lady’s car?  Do you think about simply the way you live your life?  How you speak and act?

Maybe you should.

Today we have the tendency to equate worship with a church service.  We even call the main gathering in churches the “Worship Service.”  We often equate worship with the act of lifting our hands and singing our hearts out to God.  It’s true that this is one form of worship.  There’s nothing quite like uniting with other believers to sing praises to the One True God, Creator of the Universe, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  This is one of the most well-known and enjoyable forms of worship; but this is not all that worship is or could be.

The Webster’s definition of “worship” describes one of the meanings as: “reverence offered a divine being or supernatural power; also: an act of expressing such reverence.”   We often express such reverence to God by song and rightly so.  The Bible is filled with passages that describe various kinds of music with instruments and voice as a way to give God glory.  It is right and beautiful that we do this.  But would we also do well to worship God by giving of ourselves in sacrificial service?  Yes.   How interesting that we call it “worship service,” and yet we as a church are often infrequent in our literal acts of the second part of that phrase: service.

Too often the Christian community takes the easier road when it comes to worship.  We will gladly sing and make a joyful noise, but we are less likely to give of our time, money, energy and comfort to God.  Our Savior is equally glorified, if not more so, by His people offering willing hands and hearts to others in need.  I’m thankful that my Savior got dirty and saved lost people… I’m glad He gave of his time and energy… I’m saved because He decided comfort wasn’t good enough and chose to bleed on a cross to remove my sin.

Worship is a way of life.  It’s how we greet our friends and family on a daily basis.  It’s the words we use when dealing with a confrontational stranger.  It’s how we respond to life-changing circumstances and how we thank God even in the hard times.  Worship is a state of being, a constant uplifting of God and not ourselves.  It’s giving God the glory when the world would tempt us to praise ourselves.  Worship is also choosing not to watch that movie, listen to that song, or view that image that is dishonoring God.  It’s making the choice not to indulge in something that debases everything God stands for.  Worship is choosing to run after Christ and not the world.

I can’t discuss worship and not mention the “great debate.”  Many Christians get distracted by musical genres during a worship service.  It’s a shame that we let our own personal preferences cloud what worship really is.  I don’t think God has a particular musical genre that He prefers.  Last time I checked, He created music of all kinds.  “And David and all the house of Israel were celebrating before the Lord, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals.” (2 Samuel 6:5)  That sounds like a party!  God’s very creative.  Don’t let your own preferences put God in a box.  And be careful not to make your own preferences outweigh the importance of giving God His due worship with a willing heart.  If that style of music you hear (be it drums and guitars or organs and pianos) is distracting you from praising God, you may need to do a heart check and think about what is really important.  It’s occurred to me, this contention between musical styles is an excellent distraction from the main point: glorifying God.  Hmm… who is “the author of confusion” again?  Oh yeah…

Never forget that God isn’t the only one who sees our worship; others are watching us too.  As Christians we are a light of God’s glory to a world looking for answers. The more we worship God with our lives, the more they will see Him.  The more we lift Him up and not ourselves, the better they can tell a difference between us and the world.  The more we serve the hurting around us, the more likely they will be to actually listen.  The more we unite as one voice to praise, honor, represent, and glorify God, the better witness we will be.  And that’s a worship style that we can all agree on.

Hey Ladies, the World Has Lied to You

Posted: May 14, 2012 by andreacaresse in Godly Womanhood

Society has for some time tried to define what it means to be a woman.  The worldly thoughts concerning a woman’s identity are pervasive and have even made their way into the church and family.  These public misconceptions about femininity can be, have been, and will continue to be destructive on biblical womanhood if women don’t take notice and stand up for the truth.

The last show of Lift Your Voice discussed biblical manhood and one of the points mentioned was the fact that society has warped what true manliness is all about; the same is completely true for women.  In our culture today there seems to be a propensity towards changing the male-female roles.  Culture loves labeling men’s roles as women’s, and women’s roles as men’s.  Why?  It may not seem like all that important of an issue to discuss, but the fact is that these differences were designed by God.  An attack on the definition of manhood and womanhood is in fact a direct attack on God’s divine order.  When the men aren’t the men they should be, it’s extremely difficult for women to be the women they need to be. The two sexes really do complement each other, it’s not two separate topics, but one unified topic of God’s special design for male/female relationships.

To see how humanity has chosen to twist the truth, let’s take a closer look and what society defines as womanhood.  For one, modern role models for women are practically nonexistent.  Young girls have their choice of the following as guides to live their lives:  anorexic and artificial supermodels, sexually promiscuous and in other ways morally corrupt celebrities, feminist activists who promote female dominance, TV and movie characters who warp femininity and make it comical or inferior, male-like bisexual and lesbian characters who struggle with being born female, and the list goes on.   When scrolling through the programs available on television, there are hardly any female characters who exemplify femininity.   We no longer live in “the good ole days” of black and white tv shows when many celebrity examples were good, decent, and edifying.

Not only are our secular examples lacking, but there are very few women leaders in the church itself to look up to for women.   All of the church’s pastors, most deacons, and leaders are men.  Many times the wives of these men don’t have the same calling, so they aren’t seeking to be mentors to young women.  Young girls growing up in the church find themselves looking to the male leaders for guidance and direction.  This isn’t usually the best idea and could be problematic for a variety of reasons.  So even in the church, girls have few options to find role models, especially if their mothers are not godly.

Society tells girls that when they have great bodies and need to use monthly products or take a pill, then they become a woman.  But that’s not being a woman. That’s being an object. That’s just being sexual eye candy. But that’s what society feeds young girls, and girls buy it because it makes them feel good and important, but they aren’t being cherished that way.   So often girls don’t even know what it’s like to truly be valued because they have poor male role models in their lives and so they go looking for affirmation wherever they can find it.  Culture quickly offers artificial confirmation to yearning hearts as long as girls conform to a worldly image.  But this fleeting sense of identity won’t last, because society is ever-changing.

Society also tells girls that they become women when they are in a physical or serious relationship.  Let me make myself absolutely clear ladies: that relationship you are in does not, and never will, define who you are.  If you are broken, a relationship will not heal you.  If you are single and lonely, male companionship will not feed your soul.  It’s satan’s lie to try to convince you that you are worthless without a man.  You are not and never have been worthless.  Period.   I know too many women who have been deceived by this, and I must speak boldly and bluntly on this issue.  Your identity should be found in Christ and no one else.  If you need a “soul-mate,” you won’t find it in another human being, only Jesus Christ can fill that void. Another person is just as fallible and imperfect as you are.  Why do we as people think that another person can heal us if that person obviously can’t heal themselves?  I’m not speaking only about accepting the gift of salvation (though granted that must the first step), I am also speaking of Christian women not giving Christ access to the most inner parts of their heart to take control over.  It’s human nature to want to hold back some for ourselves, but we can’t do this and have total healing – it must be given to God.  So if you’re thinking another person can fix you – STOP.  They can’t.  If you think many possessions, pretty looks, a perfect body, great career, or social popularity will satisfy or give you identity, you’re wrong.  They can’t do that for you either.  And gaining them won’t make you a true woman.

If you are a Christian, your identity is found in Christ, which makes you priceless in God’s eyes!  You are cherished and loved more than you could ever imagine.  Yes you.  If you don’t think God really loves you think about this:  Would God purposely create something He didn’t love?  Psalm 139:13-16 proves that God made you exactly the way you are for a reason.  Psalm 103:3-5 shows just a glimpse of all the love and forgiveness God has for you.  John 3:16, Romans 5:8 and many more show how far God has gone to demonstrate His love for you.  You are cherished by God, embrace that fact.

So what is a true woman? Check out this godly example.

A True Woman of God

Posted: May 14, 2012 by andreacaresse in Godly Womanhood

In the Bible there are many role models for young women.  A few more well-known passages are Ruth, Esther, The Proverbs 31 Woman and others.  Proverbs 31 is perhaps one of the most recognized passages in the Bible that paints a clear picture of biblical womanhood.  It may come as a surprise that for much of my life the significance of this passage was never truly made clear to me.  This sheds some light on how little womanhood is discussed in the church as a whole.  The argument could be made that for the most part, today’s church is broken.  But it is because her families are broken.  Women (especially as mothers) are often the “tie that binds” in families. When mothers and wives give up or lose hope, the family as a whole falls apart. Women are meant to be the caring and tending side of families. When that’s gone, the family unit can’t stay together very long.  Proverbs 31 shows us what a devoted woman of God who loves her family really looks like.  If you haven’t read this chapter yet, do so now.

Proverbs 31 was written by a king about his mother.  She made such a strong impact on his life, he wrote about her teachings of wisdom, and her life example.  Verses 1-9 demonstrate the kind of advice this mother gave to her son; 10-31 describe the kind of woman that this mother emulated, and probably instructed her son to find as a wife.  An interesting note is that verses 10-31 were written as a Hebrew acrostic (the first letter in the first word of each verse corresponds to the letters of Hebrew alphabet in order).  This can symbolically show that a completeness of the subject is being discussed.

Below is a rough examination that may help the modern young woman understand this poetic Hebrew passage.  After reading the original passage, compare it with the following.

A Godly Woman Teaches with Words And Actions

  1. Words: She (his mother) taught him the truth and gave him instruction.
  2. She loves him and asks him to look inside himself (reflection).  She reminds him where he came from and whose he is. She asks him to take a closer look at his life.
  3. She warns him about the devastation caused by promiscuity and loose living, and reminds him of past kings destroyed by such living.
  4. She informs him that kings live by higher standards and should not drink.
  5. She taught him the consequences of choices and ramifications of drinking, and that it affects more than just himself.
  6. She instructs him to give drink as a medicine to those who perish (instead of doing bad with this, do good instead).
  7. She reminds him that others are hurting and are in poverty.  It was tradition to give drink to those who were condemned to death, she reminds him that is it’s purpose.
  8. She tells him to speak up for those with no voice; to help those who can’t help themselves.
  9. She says “Lift Your Voice!” (I couldn’t resist)  and decide by the truth; defend what is right.  Defend the rights of the defenseless.  
  10. Actions: She (a true godly woman) is hard to find and should be cherished more than any wealth imaginable.
  11. She is trustworthy and her husband never regrets opening himself up to her.
  12. She has good intentions and is not spiteful in her purposes.
  13. She seeks out her own work and does it willingly.
  14. She puts forth effort to do her absolute best at home and abroad.
  15. She is self-sacrificing and appropriately gives  everyone their needs.
  16. She makes wise choices, is a smart planner, and uses money she saves (not from debt).
  17. She is a hard worker and does not take shortcuts.
  18. She finds value in her work and doesn’t hurry to get over it.
  19. She does her “woman’s work” with both hands without slacking and does not complain.
  20. She makes an effort to help those in need, she is giving and generous.
  21. She doesn’t worry about difficult times because she has prepared well.
  22. She is clothed in purity and righteousness, never to be put to shame.
  23. She respects her husband and this is known by others.
  24. She is willing to work and make a living if necessary, and will make arrangements to do so.
  25. She is spiritually strong and does not worry about tomorrow or the unknown.
  26. She speaks with wisdom and teaches with kindness.
  27. She keeps an eye on her family and is not idle toward them.
  28. She is worthy to have her children’s and husband’s praise.
  29. She is prized by her husband as “one-in-a-million” and far above average.
  30. She fears God above all else, and doesn’t place her value in charm or beauty.
  31. She is to be cherished, love her and praise her both publically and privately, never withhold how proud you are to be hers.

So when is a woman a woman, and not just a girl?  When she is able to teach wisdom, her heart is focused on God and righteousness, and she is able to put the needs of others ahead of her own.  True women of God are wise, loving, compassionate, submissive to authority, and pure of heart.

It has nothing to do with age, and everything to do with genuine character.

God’s Valentine

Posted: February 16, 2012 by andreacaresse in Relationships/Love
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This week we celebrated Valentine’s Day, a day when many celebrate love and those special to them.  So often we think of Valentine’s Day as a day reserved for couples and “people in love.”   Some jokingly refer to it as Singles Awareness Day.   But did it ever occur to you that we are God’s valentines?  You may never have thought about it in that way before, but we are.

“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

“For Your faithful love is before my eyes, and I live by Your truth.”  Psalm 26:3

Jesus told his disciples, “for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.”  John 16:27  Your love, LORD, reaches to the heavens,  your faithfulness to the skies.” Psalm 36:5

God our Father loved us and by his kindness gave us everlasting encouragement and good hope…”  1 Thess. 2:16a

And speaking about Jesus Christ, John writes, “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood”

So what is love anyway?  “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends…”  1 Corinthians 13:4-8a

With a love like this, why is it that so many people try to find their source of happiness and peace in earthly relationships and not in their relationship with God?  Clearly His is the best love imaginable!   A love where we never have to worry about rejection, lies, cheating, envy, arguments, or arrogance.  This is Perfect Love.  A kind of love that’s impossible for fallen human beings to attain here on earth.  Yet so often in relationships today we place our value in the “other person.”   We find our source of life in that individual, and if something ever happens (and it will) to disrupt the relationship, our world turns to chaos.   We put our hope for a future in them, and not our Savior.  No wonder so many relationships end in tragedy today.  We enter the relationship hoping that the other fallen human being will satisfy our deepest heart’s desires, only to be let down by them (because we are all fallen), and we feel that they no longer satisfy our emptiness, so the relationship ends.  If only we would place our source of life on Who we are supposed to… Jesus Christ.

God desires to be our source of life.  He created all people with that inner desire for a deeply satisfying love that has no limits.  When we try to find another person to fit the bill, they will  always fall short.  No one can fill that God-sized whole in your heart.   People fail us.  God never will.  Period.

Maybe your reading this and you realize, “you know… I’m doing that with my relationships…”  If that’s you, let me tell you it’s never too late to have that soul-filling love you’ve been running after.  God is standing with arms wide open, waiting for you to run into His all-encompassing love.    Perhaps you’ve been a Christian for years, but never gave this over to God… He’s calling you to change, and look to Him as your strength.  But maybe you’ve never heard about Jesus; you’re wondering what this all means…  ask Him to fill your heart.  I would also love to talk with you, my email is below.

Always remember that you are God’s special valentine, created for a purpose, and loved beyond anything you can imagine.  Never let the world or society convince you otherwise.

Andrea MacBean –  listener and contributor
acmb.galatians220@gmail.com

Did you know there are over 30 Million slaves in the world today?  That’s more than any other point in history.  Just think about that for a moment.  In this modern era, and in your generation, there are more people being forced to work against their will than ever before.  How can this be?  We’ve progressed as a society in so many ways… but there are still millions who are being worked, imprisoned, abused, and beaten in some of the most horrible conditions possible.

Human trafficking goes beyond all racial backgrounds and national borders.  Traffickers don’t target any specific group of people, they just look where they can make the most money.  Read more about that here, or look at a map.  No country is unaffected by human trafficking.   This problem takes many forms around the world:  forcing victims into prostitution, subjecting individuals to slavery or involuntary servitude, the use of people to commit sex acts for the purpose of creating pornography, misleading workers into debt bondage, and more.

According to the U.S. State Department, 800,000 people are trafficked every year.  And approximately 1 million children enter the commercial sex-trade annually.   Every year, an average 17,500 are trafficked into the United States.  Some estimates say that there are approximately 100,000 – 150,000 slaves in the U.S. right now…. but “fewer than 1,000 victims have been assisted through the efforts of federal, state, and local law enforcement since 2001, when services for trafficking victims were first made available.”  I don’t know about you, but that’s unacceptable to me.

In doing the research for this post, I came across these facts, and must share them with you.  There are even more at the website, and it also lists their sources.  Please be aware, some of these statistics may be disturbing or offensive.

  • Approximately 75-80% of human trafficking is for sex.
  • Researchers note that sex trafficking plays a major role in the spread of HIV.
  • There are an estimated 27 million adults and 13 million children around the world who are victims of human trafficking.
  • Human trafficking not only involves sex and labor, but people are also trafficked for organ harvesting.
  • Human traffickers often use a Sudanese phrase “use a slave to catch slaves,” meaning traffickers send “broken-in girls” to recruit younger girls into the sex trade. Sex traffickers often train girls themselves, raping them and teaching them sex acts.
  • Eighty percent of North Koreans who escape into China are women. Nine out of 10 of those women become victims of human trafficking, often for sex. If the women complain, they are deported back to North Korea, where they are thrown into gulags or are executed.
  • An estimated 30,000 victims of sex trafficking die each year from abuse, disease, torture, and neglect. Eighty percent of those sold into sexual slavery are under 24, and some are as young as six years old.
  • Ludwig “Tarzan” Fainberg, a convicted trafficker, said, “You can buy a woman for $10,000 and make your money back in a week if she is pretty and young. Then everything else is profit.”
  • H human trafficker can earn 20 times what he or she paid for a girl. Provided the girl was not physically brutalized to the point of ruining her beauty, the pimp could sell her again for a greater price because he had trained her and broken her spirit, which saves future buyers the hassle. A 2003 study in the Netherlands found that, on average, a single sex slave earned her pimp at least $250,000 a year.
  • Although human trafficking is often a hidden crime and accurate statistics are difficult to obtain, researchers estimate that more than 80% of trafficking victims are female. Over 50% of human trafficking victims are children.
  • The end of the Cold War has resulted in the growth of regional conflicts and the decline of borders. Many rebel groups turn to human trafficking to fund military actions and garner soldiers.
  • According to a 2009 Washington Times article, the Taliban buys children as young as seven years old to act as suicide bombers. The price for child suicide bombers is between $7,000-$14,000.
  • UNICEF estimates that 300,000 children younger than 18 are currently trafficked to serve in armed conflicts worldwide.
  • Human traffickers are increasingly trafficking pregnant women for their newborns.  Babies are sold on the black market, where the profit is divided between the traffickers, doctors, lawyers, border officials, and others. The mother is usually paid less than what is promised her, citing the cost of travel and creating false documents. A mother might receive as little as a few hundred dollars for her baby.
  • More than 30% of all trafficking cases in 2007-2008 involved children being sold into the sex industry.
  • The Western presence in Kosovo, such as NATO troops and civilians, have fueled the rapid growth of sex trafficking and forced prostitution. Amnesty International has reported that NATO soldiers, UN police, and Western aid workers “operated with near impunity in exploiting the victims of the sex traffickers.”
  • Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” video is about human trafficking. In the video, Gaga is trafficked by a Russian bathhouse into sex slavery.
  • Human trafficking is the only area of transnational crime in which women are significantly represented—as victims, as perpetrators, and as activists fighting this crime.
  • Over 71% of trafficked children show suicidal tendencies.
  • After sex, the most common form of human trafficking is forced labor. Researchers argue that as the economic crisis deepens, the number of people trafficked for forced labor will increase.
  • Most human trafficking in the United States occurs in New York, California, and Florida.
  • According to United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), over the past 30 years, over 30 million children have been sexually exploited through human trafficking.
  • Several countries rank high as source countries for human trafficking, including Belarus, the Republic of Moldova, the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Albania, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Romania, China, Thailand, and Nigeria.
  • Belgium, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Thailand, Turkey, and the U.S. are ranked very high as destination countries of trafficked victims.
  • Women are trafficked to the U.S. largely to work in the sex industry (including strip clubs, peep and touch shows, massage parlors that offer sexual services, and prostitution). They are also trafficked to work in sweatshops, domestic servitude, and agricultural work.
  • Sex traffickers use a variety of ways to “condition” their victims, including subjecting them to starvation, rape, gang rape, physical abuse, beating, confinement, threats of violence toward the victim and victim’s family, forced drug use, and shame.
  • Family members will often sell children and other family members into slavery; the younger the victim, the more money the trafficker receives. For example, a 10-year-old named Gita was sold into a brothel by her aunt. The now 22-year-old recalls that when she refused to work, the older girls held her down and stuck a piece of cloth in her mouth so no one would hear her scream as she was raped by a customer. She would later contract HIV.
  • Human trafficking is one of the fastest growing criminal enterprises because it holds relatively low risk with high profit potential. Criminal organizations are increasingly attracted to human trafficking because, unlike drugs, humans can be sold repeatedly.
  • Human trafficking is estimated to surpass the drug trade in less than five years.  Journalist Victor Malarek reports that it is primarily men who are driving human trafficking, specifically trafficking for sex.
  • Victims of human trafficking suffer devastating physical and psychological harm. However, due to language barriers, lack of knowledge about available services, and the frequency with which traffickers move victims, human trafficking victims and their perpetrators are difficult to catch.
  • Human trafficking around the globe is estimated to generate a profit of anywhere from $9 billion to $31.6 billion. Half of these profits are made in industrialized countries.
  • Some human traffickers recruit handicapped young girls, such as those suffering from Down Syndrome, into the sex industry.
  • Human trafficking is a global phenomenon that is fueled by poverty and gender discrimination.
  • Human traffickers often work with corrupt government officials to obtain travel documents and seize passports.
  • Women and girls from racial minorities in the U.S. are disproportionately recruited by sex traffickers in the U.S.
  • The Sunday Telegraph in the U.K. reports that hundreds of children as young as six are brought to the U.K. as slaves each year.
  • Japan is a major hub of sex trafficking.
  • Japan is considered the largest market for Asian women trafficked for sex.
  • Airports are often used by human traffickers to hold “slave auctions,” where women and children are sold into prostitution.
  • Due to globalization, every continent of the world has been involved in human trafficking, including a country as small as Iceland.
  • Many times, if a sex slave is arrested, she is imprisoned while her trafficker is able to buy his way out of trouble.
  • Today, slaves are cheaper than they have ever been in history. The population explosion has created a great supply of workers, and globalization has created people who are vulnerable and easily enslaved.
  • Human trafficking and smuggling are similar but not interchangeable. Smuggling is transportation based. Trafficking is exploitation based.
  • Sex traffickers often recruit children because not only are children are more unsuspecting and vulnerable than adults, but there is also a high market demand for young victims. Traffickers target victims on the telephone, on the Internet, through friends, at the mall, and in after-school programs.
  • Human trafficking has been reported in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and in some U.S. territories.
  • The FBI estimates that over 100,000 children and young women are trafficked in America today. They range in age from 9 to 19, with the average being age 11. Many victims are not just runaways or abandoned, but are from “good” families who are coerced by clever traffickers.
  • Brazil and Thailand are generally considered to have the worst child sex trafficking records.
  • The AIDS epidemic in Africa has left many children orphaned, making them especially vulnerable to human trafficking.
  • Nearly 7,000 Nepali girls as young as nine years old are sold every year into India’s red-light district—or 200,000 in the last decade. Ten thousand children between the ages of six and 14 are in Sri Lanka brothels.
  • Human trafficking victims face physical risks, such as drug and alcohol addiction, contracting STDs, sterility, miscarriages, forced abortions, vaginal and anal trauma, among others. Psychological effects include developing clinical depression, personality and dissociative disorders, suicidal tendencies, Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome, and Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome.
  • The largest human trafficking case in recent U.S. history occurred in Hawaii in 2010. Global Horizons Manpower, Inc., a labor-recruiting company, bought 400 immigrants in 2004 from Thailand to work on farms in Hawaii. They were lured with false promises of high-paying farm work, but instead their passports were taken away and they were held in forced servitude until they were rescued in 2010.
  • According to the U.S. State Department, human trafficking is one of the greatest human rights challenges of this century, both in the United States and around the world.

Another issue that doesn’t receive much national attention, is the fact that pirated movies and music frequently help pay traffickers.  “…the cash they pay lines the pockets of serious, organised criminals, who use the profits from film piracy to fuel their trade in human traffic, hard drugs or even terrorism.”   I’m sure that speaks to all of us in an alarming way.  Maybe you’ve never intentionally purchased a pirated movie or song, but every time you download that “free file share,” there’s a chance it helped a trafficker.  A very small chance perhaps, but not one I’d be willing to live with.  Have you ever considered why that song was free?  I guarantee you it’s not out of the goodness of someone’s heart who pines at the thought of teenagers not being able to freely listen to their favorite artists.  Those websites have sponsors, and they have advertisers, and the more website hits there are, the more money there is to be made.  It makes sense when you realize that many “free music” websites have banner ads or pop-up windows that show soft porn, hoping you’ll click on the link to go to their site.   So even though you never purchased something pirated, you did help support it, and doing so, you helped support sex trafficking…. that makes you think, doesn’t it?

On the subject of pornography, if you purchase, or view freely online any form of porn, you are either directly or indirectly supporting this horrible industry.  You may think that all the women, men, and children in the images are doing it at their own free will, but you would be mistaken.  It’s true that some people make this their “profession,” but most (if not all) are doing it out of desperation, hopelessness, the need for attention, or because of trafficking.   So, just like piracy, even if you never paid to view those images, you did visit the website, and that makes money for advertisers and those in the sex-trade industry.   The same is true with drugs.  If you’ve purchased or used illegal or street drugs of any kind, you very likely helped support human trafficking.  Nothing we do impacts only ourselves, everything we do has consequences on others in some way, either in direct affect, or through our witness.

After reading all of these facts, maybe you’re a bit overwhelmed.
Maybe this is a problem that is bigger than you realized.  You’re probably asking, what can be done to stop this?  What can I do?  There are many organizations that are taking action against trafficking.  The International Justice Missionthe Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Not For Sale Campaign, the Polaris Project, NightLight International, and many others are fighting for the rights of slaves around the world.  The actions of IJM and others perform strategic operations that break up underground trafficking syndicates.   Many stories can be read on the IJM website and others about individuals who have been saved from a life of abuse and forced labor.  Ministries like NightLight are providing rescued women a chance to make a living by teaching them how to make and sell their own jewelry.  The picture to the right is a bracelet I purchased last semester from NightLight.  It was hand-made by a woman who was forced into the sex-trade industry, but now is making jewelry and selling it to support her family.   She and many other women are finding hope and a sense of worth because they are no longer treated as chattel, but like the beautiful children of God that they are.

One step you can make right now to Lift Your Voice on this issue is to sign the petition on the IJM website.   Join the other thousands who are speaking out.  Ask President Obama to take a major stand on this issue.  Together we can help stop human trafficking.  We can spread the awareness of the seriousness of this issue.  We can take a stand against the other illegal activities that promote trafficking (like piracy, porn, and drugs).  And we can lift our voices in unison and declare that we value the lives of all people.  We value their rights because we know Who they were created by.  Whether they know it or not, each one of these victims is in the image of the living God Who came to save all humanity.  We must raise our voices and tell the world that because of Him, we cannot stand idly by and allow innocent lives to be destroyed in this way.   Together we can make a difference.  But your voice must join in.  Will you Lift Your Voice?

Falling Bible

Posted: January 23, 2012 by andreacaresse in Worldliness
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

You may think this a strange title, but you’ll see the meaning behind “Falling Bible” at the end.  It ties into this week’s discussion of “Worldliness,” which is not only an issue that affects our witness to non-believers, but it affects our relationship with God as well.  We as His children can never lose our salvation, but we can lose our fellowship with God.  The more we are of the world, the farther we are from God.   Worldliness is an issue that ranges from everything from daily distractions, to deep-rooted sinful desires that are born from being too attached to what the world desires.  If we are focused and dependent on God, worldliness should be so disconnected from our character that others around us can see a visible difference in the way we live and think.

As Christians, we are called to “be in the world, but not of the world.”   We are meant to be “light and salt in a wicked a crooked generation.”  God has chosen us to be a beacon of light and truth to those who don’t know His name.  One of the most important things to remember is that if we are distracted by the same fallen desires that entice the world, then no one will be able to see any intelligible difference in us, and they will not listen to the Truth that we need to share.   We are the image bearers of Christ.  What the world sees through our lives, they assume is a result of our beliefs in Jesus Christ.  If they look at us and see the same kind of individual as any other secular person, then they can freely suppose that our faith makes no difference and is not important to us.   Our faith in Jesus Christ should be the foundation that we build our actions, beliefs, attitudes, and desires on.  If we allow the world to dictate our values, then all we are doing is allowing ourselves to be “tossed to and fro, and carried about” by everything that’s wrong in the world.

What does the Bible say on the subject? Check these verses out:

“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.” 1 John 2:15-16

“If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” John 15:19

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2

“Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ.  I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?” 1 Corinthians 3:1-3

So what exactly do we mean by worldliness?  Think about these typical examples of someone “living of the world”:  A lifestyle of sexual promiscuity; addiction to drugs or alcohol; dancing the night away at raves; viewing pornography; destructive and harmful behaviors towards self or others…. Obviously these things are sinful behaviors that are a result of fallen humanity, but what about these?:  exposing yourself to movies, music, and games that promote acts of sexuality, violence, and profanity: wearing clothes that intentionally and provocatively show off your body; speaking with abrasive language and profanity; joking around with others on topics displeasing to the Lord; being a fan of an artist or actor that endorses actions you yourself don’t approve of; behaving a certain way simply to fit in with the crowd… These can sometimes be more subtle in our lives, hiding in a “grey area,” but they are destructive to not only our witness, but to our own minds…  Now what about these actions?:  Putting friend time before quiet time with God; reading your favorite novel over the Bible; humming that song in your head that you know is displeasing to God; wasting your time on facebook pressing the refresh button instead of doing your homework; chatting with someone online you don’t even know; being disobedient to authority in your life; not reading your Bible or praying because you’re “too busy”; allowing discontent feelings about your life to cause you to be angry with God.   Some of these are just not “smart choices,” but are they “worldliness” issues as well?  I think so, because they are results of us being too overcome with the pleasures of this world that we lose focus on what’s truly important and right in our lives.  So often we think of just “the big sins” (even though all sin is equal in God’s sight) as the definition of worldliness, but more often the subtleties of life are what begin to erode our faith and cause us to slip even further into actions that are no different from a non-believer.

The issue of worldliness goes way deeper than simply how we behave on the outside, but its source is how we think on the inside.  If our hearts are right with God, our actions will prove themselves.  If we are distant in our fellowship with our Savior, then our behavior will reflect that, and we will be vulnerable to the desires of this world.   The beautiful thing about light is that it radiates.  The closer we are to Christ, the more we glow, because we are reflecting more of Him.  But if we are so filled with the distractions of this world and distance ourselves from God, then our light will be muted and hard for others to see.

Last semester my light was muted, quite frankly it was just plain out.  I had lost my focus on my Savior, and instead my thoughts were concerned on this world and all that was either going wrong, or just wasn’t how I wanted.  I can look back to last year and see how a snow-ball affect started in my life.  It began with tiny little thoughts, thoughts about life and how I was dissatisfied with some things.  Slowly those thoughts turned to actions; I didn’t take my fellowship with God seriously.   My heart wasn’t concerned on seeking His face in fellowship; I wasn’t hungry for that one-and-only friendship. There were days when I didn’t want to seek His face at all, but I wanted to seek His hands (what He could give me).  At the time, it wasn’t clear to me that I was doing this, but I knew in my heart that I wasn’t thinking like I should.  I became overly concerned on how busy my life had become, and I found easy excuses for not opening God’s Word.  Either a distraction would come in my way, or a desire would overshadow my thoughts.  There were weeks when I only read perhaps a handful of verses.  And many other weeks when I would “read” without even absorbing the words… my eyes would just follow the lines.  As my fellowship with God distanced, my behavior changed.  Those who saw me on a daily basis detecting this change, often asked me how I was doing with some concern, but the same answer always came, “I’m good.”   Once the fellowship with God distanced, I didn’t have joy during worship.  Convocation, which was in past a great joy for me, became an arduous duty.  I engaged in conversations with others that, in truth, weren’t pleasing to God, and I knew it.  I developed “friendships” with those who weren’t making God their first priority.  My dissatisfaction for life in general grew, and not only did I not have time to read the Bible, but I didn’t have time for anyone else.  My entire attitude became one of self-interest and dissatisfaction.   As my thoughts and behavior worsened I began to dislike who I had become, and instead of running back to God, I sank further into a state of depression and stress.  I wanted so desperately to break free from the unhappiness that had consumed me, but I had no idea where to begin.  Soon, self-pity added itself to the mix, along with being overly concerned with other’s opinions of me.  No one else really knew what I was feeling; they just thought I was “busy.”   But that’s where my concern for the things of this world had led me.  Not only had seemingly harmless worldly thoughts separated me from fellowship with my Creator, but they kept me from being a light to others.  Who can be a light while they are dark on the inside?  Believe me, I’ve tried.   You can’t be a light in your own fleshy strength, it’s just impossible.   Simple daily distractions and concerns had caused me to forget what was truly important in my life: Fellowship with my God.

My life at this point was entirely run by my schedule.  My life was daily planned out before me and any purpose that remained in me was dedicated to staying afloat through my busy days.  Right about this time, I had a project due in art class.  The assignment was to create an image with a hidden meaning, something that made you look twice.   After getting the details on what was required for this work, I did what I do with every project:  I took some time just sitting and thinking, letting whatever thoughts come into my head, and asking God what He’d like me to do.  (Even though my fellowship with Him had distanced greatly, I knew I still wanted to create something He would want… it’s basically the premise behind all my art, and thankfully that part of my relationship still remained.)  So as I sat there thinking, I looked down on the desk and saw my weekly planner.  The pages were open and I could see how distracted and hurried I had become.  I closed my eyes to try and forget what I just saw, but it was still there.  I started thinking about how busy all of our lives are in this world.  We have so many attachments, distractions, senseless worries.  We rush to and fro, never giving God the time of day.  Like Manhattan during rush hour we never get to where we need to go, and we’re constantly feeling late, even if we’re “on time.”  I just sat there and started imagining the blur of traffic lights streaking all around and in the center of it all was my Bible falling away from me.  Its pages were morphing out into everything that was causing a distraction.  As the objects grew the more of the Bible they consumed, and the farther away the Bible fell.  All I could think about was, please, be still and know that I am God.  Stop the worrying, stop the hurrying; just be still.  Below is the final product.

This symbolically represents everything that distracts us in this life on earth; pictures of the worldliness that encapsulates our lives.  Its title is “Falling Bible,” because the more we are attracted to things of this world, the more the Bible falls away from our hearts.

Starting in the top-left, going clock-wise: Cell phone (all the connections and communications that distract us),  Earbuds (the media we allow to enter our hearts and minds that keeps us from hearing the voice of God), Keys (the multiple earthly possessions that we lock away in our hearts as being oh so important), Money (the love of it, or the financial stresses we face), Car (status symbols or objects that we flaunt to others), Ipod (music, videos, games, and internet access that we feed off of on a daily basis), Watch (time, one of this world’s most costly possessions and distractions), and finally an actual page from my planner… the thing that started it all.   The words Be still and know that I am GOD, appear as though they are set in stone, sunk deeply into the Word.  No longer can one’s eyes just skim over the lines on the page, we are forced to read them.  When we are in the midst of the rush of life, these words are a needed food for the soul.

I had many weeks to work on this, and during this time I was able to analyze myself very well.  This wasn’t necessarily the “turning point” for me; I had a lot of work to do to get back to where I had started.  But this project helped me see how distracted I had become; now I had to act on it.  I knew I had to change something, but I had to discover the what and how.  I finally recognized that what was going on inside me was my own doing, and was started by my own thoughts.  I started talking with godly friends and family, I finally genuinely asked God to help me (no longer in the accusatory “why don’t You help me?”  way I had been praying, I made intentional time for God and stopped doing, and just listened.  It took lots of time to unwind everything that had wound itself around my heart.  But Praise God with His help, it happened.

I’ve learned since then, that little distractions in life caused by this world can do a great deal of harm spiritually.  Since then, I’ve also learned what it means to have an “eternal perspective.”  Often during the course of a day I tell myself, “Life is short compared to eternity.”  It makes those life stresses and distractions not matter so much, and it keeps me from becoming too attached to this world.  Remember, we are not here forever.  We are only traveling for a very short time here on this earth.  While we’re here, we are to shine God’s light for the world to see!  To make Him famous, not ourselves.  To shine His light through our lives.  The closer we are to the world, the less the world will see His light.  The closer we are to Him the brighter we shine.