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Avoiding Slavery

“No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”  Mt. 6:24.

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Benin, on the Gulf of Guinea in Africa, developed into a major slave trading center in the 17th century, becoming perhaps the largest in Africa.  Almost a million Africans left their continent through Ouidah, sold into slavery in Europe and the Western Hemisphere.

In order to evade the slave traders, some fled into the waters of Lake Nokoué and established the town on stilts, Ganvie.  Apparently the slave traders would—or could—not fight on the water and would not pursue their prey into the lake.  Established 400 years ago, Ganvie is now home to between 20,000 and 30,000 residents.

Ganvie 060

I can’t image the lifestyle adjustment that was required in order to adapt to the new living conditions.  Food sources, shelter, transportation, recreation—daily activities—all must have dramatically changed to acclimate to their new surroundings.

The ancestors of Ganvie’s residents went to great—extreme?—measures to avoid the evil of slavery.  As I rode through this township, I began to ask myself:

What am I willing to do to avoid slavery?

The horrors of human trafficking and slavery—centuries ago and today—are obvious.  No debate or arguments are needed to convince anyone that they do not want to be victims of this horrendous human endeavor.  And yet, every day billions subject themselves to subtle forms of slavery.

Ganvie 057 (640x478)

Jesus reminds us that we cannot serve two masters.  In His example, Jesus warns us against serving mammon, “an Aramaic word meaning wealth or property.”  And yet, despite His warning, materialism is ubiquitous.  I find it very easy to be lured by this form of slavery.  It’s hard not to want more—more money, bigger homes, better cars—and it’s hard not to envy those who appear better off than I am in their material wealth.

And there are other subtle forms of slavery, attractive snares lying in wait for victims.  Am I willing to take Ganvie-like measures to avoid these traps?

  • Materialism:  Do I seek fulfillment through the acquisition of goods and materials—or with the collection of things—or am I content with what I have and do I use my blessings to serve Him? Am I willing to surrender my desire for more and trade it in for a desire for a closer relationship with Him?
  • Lust:  Do I let me eyes lead my head to whatever tempting images the media—or other broken souls—lay before me or, or do I avert my eyes and pray for these victims ensnared in the slavery of self-image and lust?  Am I willing to give up those things that can lead me astray, like TV, internet or movies?
  • Body:  Do I elevate this temple of the Holy Spirit to the platform of divinity, seeing my fitness as my god rather than a gift from the one true God and a means to offer His praise and thanks?  Am I willing to acknowledge Him as the source of my health?
  • TV:  Do I waste hours and days at the alter of the “idiot box” (as my Mom called it), or am I willing to pull the plug so I can use my precious time to serve Him and His better?  Am I willing to spend time in silence in His presence (being still and knowing He is God), rather than filling my time with noise?

What stilt village will I build to escape the slavery of sin?

As an aside, I am often uncertain of my posts as I draft them.  Is this what God wants me to do?  Am I serving Him well with this?  Do I come across as humble or arrogant?  Do I draw people to Him or repel them?  Today I experienced one of those moments when God gives me a clear sign.  Riding through the bustling streets of Cotonou, we came to a stop at a traffic light.  As I glanced around, this sign snagged my attention:

001 2It is the very same verse I begin this post with.  Thank you, Lord, for this awesome sign!


True Liberation

On this Saturday of the Third Week of Lent, I continue my journey through Scott Hahn’s book, Lenten Reflections from A Father Who Keeps His Promises.

After God freed the Israelites from Egypt, He sent them through the unfamiliar terrain of the wilderness and then the desert. At first grateful for their freedom, the Israelites later regretted the change and resented their deliverer:

“If only we had died at the LORD’s hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our kettles of meat and ate our fill of bread! But you have led us into this wilderness to make this whole assembly die of famine!” Ex. 16:3.

They complained that God delivered them from a land of plenty—where their bodily needs were met—to the sparsity of the desert and wilderness.

God heard their cry and provided for His people, but on His terms. Each day He provided their daily allotment of quail and manna. And He gave them water from a rock. Through this rationing, the Israelites learned to look to God for all their needs.

Does God teach me this lesson?

For me, sometimes God shakes me out of the complacency of routine to remind me how much I need Him, and how much I can rely on His provisions. For example, a few years ago I traveled to Benin, a beautiful country on the Atlantic coast of Africa.

I thoroughly prepared for the trip, researching the culture, the U.S. Embassy contacts, etc. Because of this, my two weeks there were enjoyable and I settled into a busy yet comfortable routine. On the trip back, however, I had to take a detour through Burkina Faso, a country I hadn’t researched, hadn’t prepared for, and knew nothing about. My flight reservation—originally through a major European carrier—changed to a small African “puddle jumper” whose safety was questionable. And I was landing in Burkina Faso at night.

I was already nervous about the changed itinerary, and my nerves were strained even further when my initial flight was delayed, causing me to miss my connection in Burkina Faso. And my connection was the last flight out that night! So, I was stuck in a foreign airport in an unknown land in the middle of the night. I was scared!

I leaned heavily on God for my sanity. Over and over again, I prayed “Hail Mary” until some semblance of calm settled over me.

God taught me to rely on Him and remember that all success comes from Him and all glory belongs to Him.

Maybe that is God’s intent when I find myself in uncomfortable situations. Maybe when God uproots me, it is because He wants me to draw all I need from Him. He knows that I can’t get what I truly need from any other source than the soil of His love.

Day 25-1

When I turn to God as my sole provider, only then do I find true freedom. And when I think that I am free when I take back the reigns, that is when my life goes haywire. Day 25-2

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