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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.

Ganvie 047-2

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!


Am I Ken in a Barbie World?

The year 2012 was a tough one for my overall health and physical fitness.  In essence:  I really let myself go.  With all the transitions (new job, new home, new church, new schools, etc.), I abandoned any real fitness regime and lost any dietary discipline as well.

A few times during the year, I resolved to start running regularly.  But what would begin as a weekly commitment was soon exposed as a commitment made weakly.  But this all changed when we flipped the calendars to 2013.

With the New Year I resolved to improve my health.  This began with finding a new doctor in my new hometown.  After I finally made an appointment, what began like any other resolution was bolstered by the data disclosed by the first doctor’s visit:  cholesterol, blood pressure, weight, blood sugar—all demanded to know: “WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU MAN?!”

So I doubled down on my resolution.  And then some colleagues brought up the Tough Mudder, a team-oriented challenge requiring some measure of fitness.  What a great opportunity to get back in shape!  So I bought in.

And finally, Lent.  I know that my body is a temple of God, and so as part of my Lenten preparations, I committed myself to undertaking certain exercise- and diet-related activities to improve my health.

Of course, it helped that we had planned a family vacation for March. Our destination:  Mexico!  I know one of my jobs as Dad is to humiliate our kids, but there are limits!  Knowing that I was going to expose parts of myself in a bathing suit—parts that hadn’t seen the sun since early in the Michigan autumn—I set a goal for myself:  reduce my weight to … well, to nunya.  As in, “that’s nunya business!”  But I set a goal.

It wasn’t easy, but the thing that made it more bearable was a Lenten attitude of fasting, of self-denial.  So, when I was hungry, I reminded myself to fast for love of God.  When I didn’t want to run on the treadmill—preferring a more horizontal position—I again reminded myself of God’s love.

I have to admit: I have been pleased with the results.  I pretty much met my goal well before our vacation.  I now can wear work slacks that until recently I had abandoned (I thought they were made of shrinking material, a sort of planned obsolescence foisted on consumers by the fabric conglomerate).  I even caught myself looking a little longer in the mirror.

I was getting a bit smug.  Until last night.

Last night, I had a strange dream.  In it, I was looking pretty buff.  Sort of like a Ken doll—you know, Barbie’s former beau.  (I’m embarrassed to admit that I am aware of their breakup).

KenIn fact, I looked too much like Ken.  Like I had detachable limbs.  I had a tan line that corresponded to the body parts of a Ken doll.  My torso was bronzed, but my legs (up to my hips much in the same shape as a Ken doll) were white, as were my arms.

I was amused by the dream—until I realized what it meant.  It dawned on me that I had been drawn into a sense of superficiality.  What began as a healthy, holy endeavor—physical fitness to take care of the temple—became idolatry.

Remember a recent pop hit, Barbie Girl by Aqua?  One annoying verse goes:  “I’m a Barbie Girl, in a Barbie world.  Life in plastic.  It’s fantastic.”

In my effort to attain a semblance of fitness, I became plastic—shallow.  I lost sight of my purpose (health) and latched onto another (self).

Wow!  I don’t ever remember God speaking to me in a dream before!  I was reminded that even things that are normally positive can be abused.

I am grateful for this nudge from God:  to refocus my efforts on how best to serve Him.  That doesn’t necessarily change what I do as much as why I do it.  I am reminded that I should do everything for His glory.  And in humble gratitude.

Glory be to the Father,
And to the Son,
And to the Holy Spirit,
As it was in the beginning,
Is now and ever shall be,
World without end.


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