Monday, February 26, 2007

Amazing Grace and Amazing Change

Amazing Grace the Movie and the Books and the Amazing Change Campaign

February 23, 2007 marked the release of a much-anticipated movie about William Wilberforce’s fight to end slavery in Britain. See the movie trailer for Amazing Grace at Though some Christians have complained that the movie somewhat downplays the Christian faith that inspired the political protest (I don't agree), seeing the movie and reading either of the books outlined below, will provide the context to understand and motivate all of us to apply our Christian faith in the fight against abuse, racism, slavery, and all forms of social injustice in our day.

The Amazing Change Campaign

William Wilberforce's work is far from finished. There are still an estimated 27 million slaves in the world today. Modern-day slavery can come in many different forms. Entire families may work long days in rice-mills, brick kilns, or on plantations. Children may be abducted and forced to fight in a rebel's army. All of the people in these examples are slaves—they cannot come and go as they please and are often beaten or threatened with violence. They have no autonomy in their day-to-day lives and deserve the right to be free.

In conjunction with the release of the film Amazing Grace, the Amazing Change Campaign has been launched to abolish modern day slavery and allow children and adults around the world to live in freedom. This campaign seeks to motivate students and communities to make their mark on history by speaking out against modern day slavery.

At, you'll learn about the "two great objects" that were central to William Wilberforce's Life: the abolition of slavery and the reformation of society.

and learn more about what efforts you can take to make these two great objects a part of your life. Educate yourself by reading stories about modern day slavery, learn how to start your own Clapham Circle, and sign the petition to end modern day slavery. Here you will find all the tools you need to take action against social injustice. Here you can also sign the following petition.

We, the undersigned, affirm the inherent dignity and worth of all people and the right of every child and adult to live free from slavery and involuntary servitude. We call upon world leaders to commit themselves to the abolition of slavery around the world. Let our signatures demonstrate our desire to see the emancipation of slaves and accountability for slave masters and others who benefit from the enslavement of people.

Amazing Grace the Movie

Amazing Grace the movie is based on the life of antislavery pioneer William Wilberforce, played by Ioan Gruffudd. Gruffudd plays Wilberforce
, who, as a Member of Parliament, navigated the world of 18th Century backroom politics to end the slave trade in the British Empire. Albert Finney plays John Newton, a confidante of Wilberforce who inspires him to pursue a life of service to humanity. Benedict Cumberbatch is William Pitt the Younger, England's youngest ever Prime Minister at the age of 24, who encourages his friend Wilberforce to take up the fight to outlaw slavery and supports him in his struggles in Parliament.

Elected to the House of Commons at the age of 21, and on his way to a successful political career, Wilberforce, over the course of two decades, took on the English establishment and persuaded those in power to end the inhumane trade of slavery. Romola Garai plays Barbara Spooner, a beautiful and headstrong young woman who shares Wilberforce's passion for reform, and who becomes his wife after a whirlwind courtship.

Youssou N'Dour is Olaudah Equiano. Born in Africa and sent as a slave to the Colonies, Equiano bought his freedom and made his home in London, where he wrote a best-selling account of his life and became a leading figure in the fight to end the slavery of his fellow countrymen.

Amazing Grace in the Life of William Wilberforce by
John Piper

Just in time for the debut of the movie by the same title, Amazing Grace is John Piper's snapshot of the life, faith, and practice of William Wilberforce. Piper, a leading Evangelical pastor and author, succinctly (75 pages) outlines the spiritual forces that motivated Wilberforce's lifelong battle to end slavery in the British Kingdom.

Unlike the flurry of other books recently released on Wilberforce, here readers will find the theology behind the man. Further, readers will be engaged to ponder how theology should impact practice today, especially in the area of how a lay person relates biblical truth to social action in today's world.

Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery by Eric Metaxas

Eric Metaxas provides the story behind the movie Amazing Grace. Metaxes' book clearly hightlights Wilberforce's faith in Christ as the primary motivator for his campaign to end slavery in Britain.

Metaxas vividly portrays the real and raw experiences that Wilberforce endured including intense opposition. Readers see in Wilberforce, as the subtitle suggests, a heroic and resilient Christian whose faith impacted not only his life, but the lives of millions. It was Wilberforce's freedom from the slavery of sin that led him to fight for freedom from the sin of slavery. Read Amazing Grace and learn the rest of the story.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Generational Repentance and Reconciliation

Generational Repentance and Reconciliation

By now I'm sure that you have read the news. The state of Virginia officially apologized for their role in legalizing and supporting slavery, and they also apologized for their mistreatment of Native Americans. Though the vote was unanimous, it was not without some contention, as one particular lawmaker stated, "Just get over it!"

Another related item in the news was the proposal out of the US House of Representatives that urged Japan to officially apologize for their role in the Korean "Comfort Women" tragedy of WW II. "Comfort Women" were the 100s of thousands of Korean women who were raped by Japanese soldiers.

What is a biblical view of repentance and reconciliation? Do descendents of people of one generation have a biblical responsibility for how their ancestors treated other people?

Corporate Generational Identity

In our individualistic Western society we are quick to shout, "No!" However, most cultures for most of human history, including Jewish culture in the Old Testament, had a much more collective, corporate view of personhood, personality, and responsibility.

While it is true that salvation is an individual decision that a person makes before the God of the universe, it is false to assert that God never views people groups and nations corporately. God not only treated nations corporately in the Old Testament, He viewed them generationally. God held entire past generations of past nations accountable for their past mistreatment of God's (corporate) people.

Clearly it is not an unbiblical concept to say, "For what my ancestors did to your ancestors I am deeply sorry." Nor is it an unbiblical concept for a descendent of a majority race to recognize the lasting imprint that enslavement and abuse has left generationally on a minority race. Such humble repentance and responsibility-taking can lead to present reconciliation and relational restoration.

Though my ancestors were in Romania being persecuted and abused during the time of American enslavement, I still accept a sense of responsibility for the harm that White Americans brought upon Black Americans. I also understand something of the lingering impact of that horrible mistreatment.

Recognizing responsibility and impact does not mean that I think a current member of a past harmed group "needs" my "help" in order to "make it." However, all human beings need understanding, empathy, and reconciliation. They don't need to be told, "Just get over it!"

Thus, I applaud the people of Virginia and the members of the US House of Representatives on their recent movements toward generational repentance and reconciliation. May God honor their efforts and produce the fruit of peace.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Voice of the Martyrs, Part 2

The Voice of the Martyrs, Part 2

Rewinding the Tape (Review from Part 1)

Vibia Perpetua lived in Carthage in North Africa during the persecution of Christians under Septimius Severus. At the time of her arrest in 202 AD, she was a twenty-year-old mother of an infant son. Born into a wealthy, prominent, but unbelieving family, she was a recent convert with a father who continually attempted to weaken her faith and a husband who was, for reasons unknown to us, out of the picture. Nothing in Perpetua’s situation or background prepared her for the titanic spiritual struggle God called her to face.

Perpetua, her brother, her slave (Felicitas), and two other new converts were discipled by Saturus. We learn from Perpetua of the arrest of all these faithful followers of Christ. “At this time we were baptized and the Spirit instructed me not to request anything from the baptismal waters except endurance of physical suffering. A few days later we were imprisoned.”

The Road to Hope

Felicitas was in her eighth month of pregnancy. As the day of the contest approached, she became very distressed that her martyrdom might be delayed, since the law forbade the execution of a pregnant woman. An eyewitness to their eventual death shared his account of their journey together. “Her friends in martyrdom were equally sad at the thought of abandoning such a good friend to travel alone on the same road to hope. And so, two days before the contest, united in grief they prayed to the Lord.”
[ii] Immediately after their prayers, her labor pains began and Felicitas gave birth to a girl whom one of her sisters reared as her own.

This eyewitness recorded their witness for Christ to the very end. “On the day before the public games, as they were eating the last meal commonly called the free meal, they tried as much as possible to make it instead an agape. In the same spirit they were exhorting the people, warning them to be witnesses of the prisoners’ joy in suffering, and ridiculing the curiosity of the crowd. . . . Then they all left the prison amazed, and many of them began to believe.”

Perpetual Persistence

To the very end, Perpetua maintained her perpetual persistence. “The day of their victory dawned, and with joyful countenances they marched from the prison to the arena as though on their way to heaven. If there was any trembling, it was from joy, not fear. Perpetua followed with a quick step as a true spouse of Christ, the darling of God, her brightly flashing eyes quelling the gaze of the crowd.”

As they were led through the gates, they were ordered to put on different clothes; the men, those of the priests of Saturn, the women, those of the priestesses of Ceres. “But that noble woman stubbornly resisted even to the end. She said, ‘We’ve come this far voluntarily in order to protect our rights, and we’ve pledged our lives not to recapitulate on any such matter as this. We made this agreement with you.’ Injustice bowed to justice and the guard conceded that they could enter the arena in their ordinary dress. Perpetua was singing victory psalms as if already crushing the head of the Egyptian.”

What a marvelous example not only of persistence, but also of biblical confrontation. What a testimony to Christ’s power at work in the inner life of a Christian woman whose spirit could never be overpowered.

[i]Ibid., p. 20.
[ii]Ibid., pp. 26-27, emphasis added.
[iii]Ibid., p. 27.
[iv]Ibid., p. 28.
[v]Ibid., emphasis added.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Voice of the Martyrs, Part 1

The Voice of the Martyrs, Part 1

When we think of early Church history, our minds naturally turn to the Church Fathers. Sadly, we normally fail to even consider the Church Mothers. Yet, these godly women heroically waged spiritual warfare against the world, the flesh, and the Devil. Their loses and their victories, their pain and their joy, their walk with Christ and their journey with one another are all an inheritance from which each of us are eligible to draw. There is a mighty company of gallant women believers from whom we can all learn.

From Victim to Victor

Vibia Perpetua heads that company. The early Church preserved her manuscript (The Martyrdom of Perpetua) as a martyr’s relic because it is one of the oldest and most descriptive accounts of martyrdom. It is also the earliest known document written by a Christian woman.

Anyone who has ever suffered for the faith or been oppressed by the powerful can carry on a conversation and feel a bond with Perpetua. In fact, in the introduction to her story, we read that it was “written expressly for God’s honor and humans’ encouragement” to testify to the grace of God and to edify God’s grace-bought people.

Of course, even reading the word “martyrdom” likely causes us to imagine that Perpetua was a spiritual super woman whose life and ministry we could not possibly emulate. The story of her life, however, demonstrates just the opposite.

Perpetua lived in Carthage in North Africa during the persecution of Christians under Septimius Severus. At the time of her arrest in 202 AD, she was a twenty-year-old mother of an infant son. Born into a wealthy, prominent, but unbelieving family, she was a recent convert with a father who continually attempted to weaken her faith and a husband who was, for reasons unknown to us, out of the picture. Nothing in Perpetua’s situation or background prepared her for the titanic spiritual struggle God called her to face.

Perpetua, her brother, her slave (Felicitas), and two other new converts were discipled by Saturus. We learn from Perpetua of the arrest of all these faithful followers of Christ. “At this time we were baptized and the Spirit instructed me not to request anything from the baptismal waters except endurance of physical suffering. A few days later we were imprisoned.”

A Light in the Darkness

Perpetua candidly faced her fears and expressed her internal and external suffering. “I was terrified because never before had I experienced such darkness. What a terrible day! Because of crowded conditions and rough treatment by the soldiers the heat was unbearable. My condition was aggravated by my anxiety for my baby.”

This very human woman exuded superhuman strength. In the midst of her agony, she empathized with and consoled others. Her father, completely exhausted from his anxiety, came from the city to beg Perpetua to recant and offer sacrifice to the emperor. “I was very upset because of my father’s condition. He was the only member of my family who would find no reason for joy in my suffering. I tried to comfort him saying, ‘Whatever God wants at this tribunal will happen, for remember that our power comes not from ourselves but from God.’ But utterly dejected, my father left me.”

On the day of her final hearing, the guards rushed Perpetua to the prisoners’ platform. Her father appeared with her infant son, guilting her and imploring her to “have pity on your son!” He caused such an uproar, that Governor Hilarion “ordered him thrown out, and he was beaten with a rod. My father’s injury hurt me as much as if I myself had been beaten. And I grieved because of his pathetic old age.”

Perpetua provides a classic portrait of biblical empathy. Her as if experience of her father’s pain is the essence of sustaining soul care.

She not only found in Christ the strength to empathize with her father, she also summoned Christ’s power to console and encourage her family and her fellow martyrs. “In my anxiety for the infant I spoke to my mother about him, tried to console my brother and asked that they care for my son. I suffered intensely because I sensed their agony on my account. These were the trials I had to endure for many days.”
[vi] Incredibly, Perpetua’s greatest pain was her ache for others who hurt for her!

A few days passed after the hearing and before the battle in the arena commenced. During this interval, Perpetua witnessed to her persecutors and ministered to other detainees. “Pudens, the official in charge of the prison (the official who had gradually come to admire us for our persistence), admitted many prisoners to our cell so that we might mutually encourage each other.”

[i]Perpetua, “The Martyrdom of Perpetua,” in A Lost Tradition, p. 19.
[ii]Ibid., p. 20.
[iv]Ibid., p. 22.
[vi]Ibid., p. 20.
[vii]Ibid., p. 23.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Capax Dei

Capax Dei

Hunger is the best sauce.

Hunger is the best sauce in our thirst for God. The Bible teaches that the human personality has a capax Dei: capacity for God. We are at our core, spiritual beings. This capacity soars above, beyond, and deeper than all our other desires, surpassing them in a marvelous and terrifying way.

In the face of this bursting forth of longing for God, everything else suddenly retreats. What is most vital about us is our vitality for God. God designed us with an insatiable longing for Him.

Both the Old Testament and the New Testament repeatedly emphasize the God-shaped and God-sized vacuum in our soul. King David pens: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” (Psalm 42:1-2).

The Apostle Paul concurs. “For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:14-19).

How's your capax Dei? What are you, what am I, doing to grasp how wide, log, high, and deep our thirst is for the love of Christ? What are we doing to stir up the thirst and hunger for God in the lives of others?

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Super Bowl, Super Faith

Super Bowl, Super Faith

There he was, the whole world watching. Tony Dungy did not disappoint.

Asked during the trophy presentation about the cultural significance of being the first African American head coach to win a Super Bowl, Dungy told over 100 million viewers, “I’m proud to be the first African American coach to win this. But again, more than anything, Lovie Smith and I are not only African-American but also Christian coaches, showing you can do it the Lord’s way. We’re more proud of that.”

When Dungy said “again,” he meant it. For he and Bears head coach, Lovie Smith, were the page-one story throughout Super Bowl week, discussing daily the Christian faith they share, the personal relationship they maintain, their groundbreaking success, and their motivational coaching style.

Facing the Storm with Faith

Dungy’s faith impacted how he coached his team Sunday. Speaking of their early deficit due to a Bear kick-off return for a touchdown, Dungy stated, “We took the hit early with Devin Hester. We talked about it. It’s going to be a storm. Sometimes you have to work for it. The Lord doesn’t always take you in a straight line. He tests you sometimes.”

In fact, Dungy and Smith’s faith impacts everything about their coaching. Coaching great, Bill Walsh, head coach of three Super Bowl championship teams and mentor to Dungy, noted, “Tony and Lovie are professionals, and I think that’s what players want. There are some coaches who are screamers in the NFL, but not as many as there used to be. The players just can’t see the real value of the coach if he’s continually harping at them and harping at the media and harping at everybody else. The coaches who continue to be so animated that they distract everybody are usually coaches without a lot of confidence. The confident coach can plot out what he needs, how his staff should function and people respect that.”

Walsh continued, “Tony and Lovie take a more civilized approach to it and they can reach more players that way. But I think in both of their cases they’re pretty darn firm when necessary, but they don’t go public with those things. Both are very knowledgeable about the game of football and how to deal with people. I hope this style is what survives rather than the coaches who run amok whenever they’re tested on the sideline, and the players see that they may have a madman on their hands and they may have to overcome it.”

Leonard Moore runs the African-American studies program at Louisiana State University, and he considers sport part of the curriculum. He has spent time studying coaches, including Dungy and Smith. “By them being African American men, I think Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith understand the culture of the hip hop generation,” Moore said. “They know that Bobby Knight stuff isn’t going to work in 2007, that yelling and trying to be that strict dictator. I think you’re dealing with a different generation of ballplayers that aren’t going to tolerate that stuff. “I don’t think they are trying to be players’ coaches at all. I think it’s, ‘I’m going to treat you like a man and in return I expect you to treat me like a man.’ I think Dungy and Smith see their role not only as coach but as mentor, father figure and friend. Kids of this generation don’t want to be yelled at. I think you lead by example. In the black community, we’re big on this thing: ‘I don’t care what you say. I’m going to model what you do.’ So I think by Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith being very calm, cool and collected, players realize, ‘Maybe I don’t have to be loud and go off the handle. Maybe I can have some control over my anger and my emotions.’ That's what I see from Dungy and Smith.”

Bill Cole had a strong rooting interest in this year’s Super Bowl. Regardless of the outcome, he was guaranteed to win. He’s a fan of calm coaches. Cole, a sports psychology consultant in California who works with coaches and athletes, pointed out that Dungy and Smith are both devout Christians who stress that faith and families take priority over football. “Here’s the real paradox. They’re in the Super Bowl and football is not the biggest thing in their world. They have publicly stated that. Sure, it’s important, but it’s not the end-all and they have perspective. I think when you get life perspective as an athlete or as a coach, it calms you down more.”

Calm in the storm. That’s what Lovie Smith and Tony Dungy bring to football and to life.