Near the beginning of His ministry, Jesus stood up in the synagogue and said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.” (Luke 4:17) Jesus calls us to be like him. To be people of love and compassion. To be people who use our power and resources to set others free.
IJM: International Justice Mission is the largest anti-slavery organization in the world. They are focused on finding and rescuing the more than 30 million children, women and men who are trapped in slavery today. Another significant thing about IJM is they are a Christian organization. That means they are focusing on the kind of justice and pursuing the kind of justice that God describes in the Bible. There’s a lot of dark places in the world where IJM is going, like Lake Volta to bring people like Gideon out of oppression. There’s many other places in the world where people are suffering from the injustice of violence against the poor. Some of those dark places are in Guatemala and LifePoint Church has been partnering with IJM’s office there for two years to help them rescue and protect children from sexual abuse and to help them improve the public justice system in Guatemala. And today, we have with us here Brad Tweet all the way from Guatemala where he is IJM’s field office director and he’s gonna tell us about the fight for justice in Guatemala. Thanks for being here.
Thank you, Joe. Good morning, LifePoint! I’ve had the pleasure to meet some of you down in Guatemala this past year and that’s been awesome and that makes it especially um, especially joyful for me to be here where you all congregate as a community to worship God together. Thank you for the invitation. Uh, last Saturday was a really special day for me. It was the 24th anniversary of my becoming a Christian (applause). Uh- thank you. Uh- He saved a wretch like me. It’s pretty miraculous, and I do my best to celebrate that. I don’t know about you, but as a Christian, as someone who wants to be better at following Christ, who wants to become more and more like Christ, I find it helpful to periodically ask me what I call re-centering questions and I know questions like, “Are Jesus and I really interested in the same things?” Because if I’m totally honest with myself, if I’m not paying attention, if I’m sort of just letting things slide, I can get pretty passionate about one particular thing- me! Ha- me- it’s easy for me to wake up in the morning and think, “Well, what’s in store for Brad today?” “What does Brad need today?” “How does Brad need to be cared for today?” Now I try to let God sort of stretch the boundaries of my heart. But unless I’m really intentional, it can close back up pretty quickly, and my world can be very much about me and mine. So I try to reflect on some of these questions, and I try really hard to think about what I’m passionate about. And ask myself, “Are my passions the same as God’s passions?” And so, I would like to talk a little bit this morning about God’s passions and particular about a couple that maybe aren’t super familiar, but never-the-less, are powerful passions of God our Father. One is God’s passion for this world and another is his passion for justice. Start with His passion for the world. God loves the world. That might seem a little bit obvious, but let’s step back a moment together and let’s consider this world that God is so very passionate about. It’s an enormous and messy, messy place with all its billions of people stretched out over vast continents of confusing places and cultures and languages with all of its remote masses far-flung living totally unfamiliar lives. So utterly unlike ours. And we don’t have to go across the seas; we can just look as far as New York City, or D.C. maybe to be reminded of the chaos, the complexity, and the dizzying disorder of this world. It’s a broken world. This is the world that God loves. These are the people that God loves. And we know from John 3:16 that it was because God so loved, what? This broken world that He gave His only son that “Whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” God is passionate about this world. And when I think about that word that’s broader than me and mine, and I think about people who are out there who I don’t know, who might be experiencing the Christian faith. I sometimes wonder what would be harder for them to believe about the Christian faith. And personally, I think one of the hardest things for people in this broken world is simply the idea that God is good and that God cares. Because a lot of these people are in a tremendous amount of pain. The 3.1 million children who will die this year from starvation, the billions of people who have zero access to any form of essential healthcare. The one hundred million children that this morning are living and begging in the streets, how are they supposed to believe that God is good. It’s a world, in a world with so much suffering and hurt, what is God’s plan for making it believable that He is good and that He sees and that He cares about this suffering. Well from scripture actually the answer is very clear. His plan is us. We are the plan. In Matthew 5, Jesus says to His disciples, “You are the light of the world. Let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in Heaven.” Think about that for a second, He doesn’t say in the future, you might be the light of the world. But if you kind of just fix things this way, no, it’s like now. You are the light of the world to the entire world now. We are the plan now- not in some future time. And the apostle Paul says something that’s kind of startling to me in 2nd Corinthians 5 where he calls us “Christ’s ambassadors”. God is making His appeal to the world through us. What an incredible invitation but also a responsibility to be God’s ambassador. To be responsible for communicating God’s truth and goodness and reconciliation through our words and our actions to the world. And so for thousands of years, Christians have tried to do this, tried to make it believable that God is present that He is good, that He cares by going into the darkness and bringing the light of Christ. If people are suffering because they haven’t heard the gospel, well we’ve learned how to share it. If people are suffering because they are hungry, well we’ve learned how to feed them. If people are suffering because they are sick, we’ve learned how to provide medical assistance. If people are suffering because they are homeless, we’ve learned how to provide shelter. And at LifePoint, you all are really involved in these good works in a whole bunch of places; in Haiti, in Ethiopia, in Rwanda, Ukraine, in Guatemala, thank you for that.
But there’s another category of people who are suffering that we might not think about as often. A kind of suffering that’s described all throughout the Bible. They aren’t suffering because they haven’t heard the gospel or for a lack of food or medical attention, or shelter, they are suffering because there’s a very real oppressor in their life. They are suffering because of the abuse of another person who has power- even a tiny bit of power over them and they are abusing it. They are victims of injustice. We talk about injustice in our culture pretty loosely. I mean it can actually mean everything and nothing at the same time, and I think often, it’s really nothing more than this kind of complainy self-centered sense of “That’s not fair to me”, right? But that’s not biblical injustice. Biblical injustice is a specific form of sin. It is the abuse of power to take from someone the good things that God desires for that person; life, liberty, their dignity, the fruits of their love and their labor. And this injustice is described again all through the scripture. Ecclesiastes 4, Solomon looks across the land, “Behold, I saw the tears of the oppressed. And there was no one to comfort them.” The oppressors had the power. And we can recall King David abusing his power to steal Bathsheba and then to arrange for her husband, Uriah, to be murdered to cover up what he had done. Psalm 10 describes these perpetrators, these aggressors, these oppressors in a way that is kind of striking. He, it says, “He lies in wait near the villages; from ambush he murders the innocent, watching in secret for his victims. He lies in wait like a lion in cover; he lies in wait to catch the helpless; he catches the helpless and drags them off in his net” (Psalm 10: 8-9). To our modern developed world ears, this could sound a little melodramatic, maybe. It could actually sound old and dusty and Old Testament and remote in time. I assure you it’s not. Every single word of this is true today. For millions and millions of souls that God created and loves. It is their every day. Violence and the threat of violence is their everyday existence. I’d like you to meet Jacqueline. Jacqueline lives in Guatemala. Some of you already know that Guatemala by some measures is the poorest country in all of Latin America in the Caribbean. And Jacqueline grew up in the community that is among the most poor, where houses are made out of corrugated metal or cinder block and they cling precariously to the ridge or even sides of a ravine. She had almost nothing but she remembers her early childhood as a time of happiness. She loved music so she would sing and play with her siblings and she studied Spanish and those were all things that brought her joy. Um, so she remembers that early childhood as a time of happiness. It was hard-scrabble, but there was also joy. Until her biological father rejoined the family after having abandoned it years ago. And then when Jacqueline was only about 10 years old, her father began sexually assaulting her. Her own father, often. And it went on for years. And Jacqueline dared not say anything to anyone because this man, her father, threatened to kill her and the whole family if she did. How is Jacqueline supposed to believe that God the Father is good when her earthly father is using her sexually? She’s not the only one. This is a common form of violence in Guatemala. It’s estimated that there are 44 thousand children in Guatemala that are sexually assaulted every year. That’s 121 every day, that’s 5 or 6 during this service this morning. How are they supposed to believe that God is real? That He’s good, that He sees, that He cares? Does God care? Does He see and hear the oppressed? Well Psalm 10 answers in verses 17 and 18 declaring, “You do hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted; You encourage them, and You listen to their cry, defending the orphan and the oppressed, in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more”, (Psalm 10:17-18). And in Proverbs 14:31, they tell us that God is offended by this form of oppression. He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker. And Psalm 35:10 celebrates, “My whole being will exclaim, “Who is like you, O Lord? You rescue the poor from those too strong for them. The poor and the needy from those who rob them.´ So that is our God. Our God is a god of justice. That’s the good news about injustice is that our God does care. And this is just a few of the dozens of verses in the Bible that communicate that passion of God for justice. And I’ve seen that passion, acknowledging that passion seeing God’s heart for justice raises another question, doesn’t it? God is offended when His people are oppressed. If He’s against it and He wants it to stop, how exactly does He do that? What’s His plan? Again, scripture is very clear. We are the plan. Micah 6:8, “He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” In Isaiah 1:17, instructs learn to do right, “Seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan and plead for the widow.” You, we, you and I are God’s plan for seeking justice. We, you and I are God’s plan for making it believable- that He is God, that He is good, that He sees and that He cares. It’s like, but okay, uh but what’s plan B because we saw this situation in Lake Volta 44 thousand children in Guatemala, that’s just two places. The problem is so big. I’m so small. I have limited resources. I have limited talent. How can I be the plan? This is starting to make me feel paralyzed. Maybe someone else can do this. Maybe I’ll just look this way and pretend that I didn’t know. What’s God’s plan? Surely He has a plan B because I don’t feel up to this. The bad news for those of us who might want to respond that way is there is no Plan B. We are, as Christ-followers, as the body of Christ, we are God’s one and only plan. So what do with that feeling of smallness? What do we do with that feeling of paralysis? What do we do when things look impossible and yet we’re called to do it? Personally I like to go to what Jesus taught His disciples, and us, through the feeding of the five thousand. You all probably remember the story where Jesus is teaching, the crowd is riveted, they stay late, and the disciples get tired, and they suggest to Jesus, “Hey, Jesus, maybe it’s time to send them home so they can go get something to eat.” And Jesus says to them, “Well, they don’t need to go. Why don’t you feed them?” The disciples are very patient with Jesus because he, Jesus clearly doesn’t understand something. So they explain something to him. Well, they’re five thousand people, that would require about eight months wages to feed this many people just so you realize this Jesus. Um, again, you know big problem, inadequate resources, but instead of engaging them in debate, Jesus simply changes the equation. He asks them a question that calls out their doubts and their fears and their low expectations. He simply asks them “Well, what do you have?” And so they go looking around and they find a little boy whose mother had packed his Spiderman lunch pail that morning and filled it with food for lunch. They found just him, and they bring it back to Jesus and they say, “See? Not enough! We have five loaves, two fishes, send them home.” And Jesus says, “Give them to me.” What just happened there? Jesus took responsibility for the miracle, didn’t He? All that was required of the boy was obedience to turn over what little he had and trust it to Jesus and Jesus took responsibility for the miracle. Why did He do it that way? Do we really think that He needed a little boy, or that He needed the disciples to feed that crowd? The Old Testament suggests no, right? Why didn’t He call on God the Father to just rain manna down on the crowd? That would have been a lot easier. Why did Jesus do it the way He did? I think maybe and this is non-scriptural, but this is my suspicion, is it perhaps Jesus just wanted to have one little particular boy that day have a really cool day that day? Think of him walking home and think “Oh, I just can’t wait until Mom asks me if I ate my lunch.” Right? But think how small his day would have been in comparison if he had wandered off by himself and eaten his lunch himself. But instead, he had the courage. He took the risk. He stood up. He offered what little he had, and because of that, the world will remember forever what miracles Jesus can do with such meager offerings. Jesus wants to work in and through us, and when we put what little we have, no matter how inadequate it seems, miracles happen. Joe asked me to share a little bit about my own story.
In 2008, my wife, Regina, and I were sitting in church, and we heard a message very much like this, in our home church in Chicago. And it really just hit me. I don’t know why, but it just really impacted me and I started this whole process of thinking, “What’s in my lunch pail? What are my loaves? What are my fishes that Jesus is just waiting for me to turn over? And the first little fish was just time. And I signed a petition for anti-slavery legislation. I wrote letters to some congressman. I went and visited a senator. And then it became financial prayer support where Regina and I, almost 10 years to this very dayside up as freedom partners and we engaged financially and through prayer with IJM that way. And then ultimately there was this loaf that represented my professional career. I was a lawyer in Chicago. I had always practiced corporate law, litigation. And eventually after this process, and it wasn’t overnight, and it took a lot of nudging from God, but eventually we just decided we were going to give that and we sold our house and we went on a faith walk with God that led us eight years ago to IJM and Guatemala. The first year as a volunteer lawyer and I been now seven years now directing the office. What about miracles? Have we seen miracles? Jesus honor that and do miracles in Guatemala? Well, I could talk to you about that all day long. I could talk about how God has provided resources, church partners like LifePoint, like freedom partners, like 89 of you who signed up at Freedom Sunday last year. Guatemala nationals who have given their professional talents to the cause of justice rather than to the cause of personal enrichment. I could talk about how IJM disregarded the advice of experts in 2005 who said “Don’t bother opening an office in Guatemala. It’s too broken. It’s too hopeless. And how Jesus, since then, acted through IJM Guatemala to rescue 299 victims, to put, to arrest 278 suspects. To convict 275 perpetrators. To train 10,000 plus prosecutors, police officers, and judges so they can better protect the poor from violence. I could talk about how last year, an independent study was issued by an outside organization that concluded that IJM’s program in Guatemala had increased efficacy in criminal prosecutions, had increased efficacy in criminal trial processes, in criminal investigations, increased efficacy in attention to victims. I am a lawyer. I could talk to you all day long about these and other miracles that I see Jesus doing in Guatemala to protect the poor from violence. But instead, I’d rather have you hear from Jackie. I have a work in progress video that I sought special permission to show to all of you today. It’s not finished, but it’s a private screening for you all, but I’d like you to see Jackie and hear from her directly so that you can better experience the transformative, miraculous work that Jesus is doing in people who have suffered oppression in Guatemala. (Plays video)
That’s not the 13-year-old girl we met in 2008. Two years ago on LifePoint’s first Freedom Sunday message; Pastor Joe quoted Louie Giglio, “Freed people, free people. We’ve been set free to free others.” That is God’s plan. Jacqueline is executing that plan. She has turned over to Jesus the few loaves and fishes that she has and she’s confident that Jesus is good for the miracle. I’ll leave with just two quick questions: What do you have in your lunch pail, that Jesus is perhaps waiting for you to entrust to him? Do you trust Jesus to take it and work a miracle with that meager offering? A miracle that will free the slaves of the world. And free other people of other forms of violent oppression. Thank you very much.
Just hang out for just a minute. So are you feeling perhaps God challenging you right now? Maybe challenging you to do something that could feel uncomfortable or maybe even impossible. I mean He may call it, God may literally call two or three of us here to do something like leave your homes and jobs, kind of like the way Brad and his wife did. But I think for most of us, we’re probably already in the place where God wants to use us right now. If you think about it, your current circumstances are probably where you can have the most impact. So the challenge that you’re feeling from God is more likely not about changing zip codes and because I can also tell you that one of the most effective ways to fight injustice and help end slavery in our lifetime is to become what IJM calls a Freedom Partner. A Freedom Partner is someone who gives $24 or more a month to IJM to help them find, rescue and protect people from the injustice of violence against the poor and help them improve public justice systems where countries are struggling. So you can look in your worship guide at the envelope from IJM and you’ll see that that’s one of the ways you can sign up to be a Freedom Partner today. You tear off that flap, fill it out, seal it in the envelope and then you can take it out in the lobby and drop it off at that IJM table. Or if you prefer, if you’re watching online, or if you prefer doing it on your phone, you can go to the website that’s on the screen right now and sign up online to become a Freedom Partner today. You see Freedom Partners provide this consistent support. That’s really crucial to any organization or church. And then IJM will send updates, special updates, and prayer requests so that Freedom Partners can truly pray and fight back the forces of evil and injustice. My wife and I signed up to be Freedom Partners two years ago at our first Freedom Sunday here at LifePoint and we have loved participating this way. We feel like every month we’re doing something about this big issue in the world. If fact, since that time, two years, we’ve had over 100 people here sign up to be Freedom Partners. So thank you for that. Thank you very much. So I hope that if you haven’t done that yet, I hope you will prayerfully consider becoming a Freedom Partner today. And can we thank Brad one more time?
How did you feel about Brad Twedt’s message? What thoughts or feelings did it provoke? What did you find yourself thinking about after the service was over?
Jesus taught us to love our neighbors the same way we love ourselves (Matthew 22:39). How does this apply to vulnerable children in Guatemala?
How does the ministry of justice overlap with the ministries of evangelism and compassion?
In Ecclesiastes 4:1, King Solomon wrote, “Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun: I saw the tears of the oppressed— and they have no comforter; power was on the side of their oppressors— and they have no comforter.” Why is power important in freedom and oppression? How can the Church use power in ways that bring freedom to the oppressed?
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