Which Way Will You Choose? (Judges 21)

Right-Career

As we finish up the book of Judges, we see that Israel really hasn’t changed during their war on the tribe of Benjamin. The book ends with the phrase that has been used a few times in the last chapters, “In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.” (Judges 21:25, NLT). The people of Israel felt bad that they wiped out a tribe of Israel, so they sought to get wives for the survivors of Benjamin. They were trapped by an oath they had made that none of their daughters would marry Benjamites. So they looked for people who had not joined in the war and made the oath with them. The area of Jibesh-gilead had sent no one to the war, so (based on another oath) the people of Israel went to Jibesh-gilead and killed all of the people except for the women virgins. These women were to be given to Benjamin as wives. However there were not enough women for the surviving men. So Israel instructed Benjamin to wait in the vineyards near Shiloh and take the daughters that came out to dance at the festival.

We end the book of Judges with a differing opinion of what is right. God commanded the evil be eradicated from the land of Israel. So He commanded that Benjamin be destroyed. After their success, the people felt bad that an entire tribe of Israel had been destroyed. So they sought to make it better. The people’s opinion of what was right is that Benjamin must survive their destruction. They felt terrible for Benjamin’s situation, but sometimes that’s the consequence of disobeying God’s Laws.

So here we are left with a question that I feel flow throughout all of Judges. Is it better to trust and follow God, or our own desires?

This question has plagued humanity ever since it’s creation. We read in the beginning, that there was a tree God commanded Adam and Eve not to eat from. “The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her.” (Genesis 3:6a, NLT). They both chose to follow their own desires, and not what God had planned for them. Ever since that day, we have all been faced with the question of who knows best for our lives.

As I was saying yesterday, the cost to follow God is large. It’s so big that many of us don’t want to pay it, and we don’t want a gospel message that asks something from us. We would rather keep Jesus at arms length, and not allow him to get close. But Jesus tells us, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:25, NLT). Right there Jesus lays it out for us what it takes to be a follower of God. We must turn away from the things that we desire, and focus on the things God desires. We must die to ourselves and our sin. Then we must follow Jesus Christ.

So it comes down to a simple point. We can either choose to follow a loving God that brings order to chaos, or we can trust our sinful desires that do nothing but create chaos. Which would you chose?

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Psalms to Pray: Psalm 89

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The Cost of Following (Judges 20)

followingjesus

In today’s chapter we read about the aftermath of the previous chapter. After the death of his concubine, the Levite chapped her body into 12 pieces and sent them throughout the land of Israel as a call to arms. The people of Israel came together to find out what had happened in the city of Gibeah. The Levite told them, and they all decided to go to war with the tribe of Benjamin for what had happened in Gibeah. Judah was chosen to lead the armies of Israel. After 2 attempts (with significant loss), they made one final attempt to overcome the Benjamites. They succeeded and destroyed the entire city to Gibeah.

When we set out to do the things God requires of us, is it hard or easy? Does it cost us little or a lot? The people of Israel had a wake-up call, and realized the great evil that had happened in their land. They knew, for the Law of God, that the evil had to be purged from the land. But when calls  upon us to do something, it is seldom an easy thing. Sometimes we even fail.

I believe that when we given an opportunity to do God’s work, He can test our resolve. He will sometimes make us fail to make sure we are really committed. The Israelite’s knew what they had to do, and God wanted them to do it, yet they still failed twice before succeeding. God wanted to make sure that they were doing this for the right reasons, and that they were committed to uphold His Law.

God’s work also makes us give up lots. A rich man came to Jesus and asked how he could get eternal life. Jesus told him two things. First he was to keep the commandment. Then he said, “One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” (Luke 18:22, NASB). Jesus asked this man to give up everything. Each time a disciple was called to follow, he had to leave his family, job, and life behind in order to follow Jesus. This just says to me that we must be prepared to give up everything for God’s work.

If you are feeling called to do something, I encourage you to persist through your failures. Failures don’t mean you’re wrong. The phrase “God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called” comes to mind. That qualification process, is a learning process, and sometimes we fail. The cost of following can feel like a failure as well. Giving up/losing everything feels so wrong in our cultures that teaches “more, more, more”. But if it is truly the call of God working in you, it will work out for good. I encourage all followers to keep working, and trust in God. He’s helping us to become more like Him, which is completely different from the people we were before.

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Psalms to Pray: Psalm 88

God’s Ways or My Ways (Judges 19)

my-way-gods-way-sign

In today’s chapter we really see how low the morality of Israel became without a Judge or a king. We know that Israel had gotten bad in the past, but we weren’t shown exactly how much. Here we meet another Levite that left his home to find a new place to live and landed in the hill country of Ephraim. This man had taken a woman to be his concubine. She was unfaithful to him and ran away to her father’s house in Judah. After four months had passed, the Levite traveled to get his concubine back. He stayed in his father-in-law’s house for three days, and decided to leave on the fourth. He was convinced to stay another day. So on the fifth day he finally left. When night was approaching, the Levite’s servant suggested staying in Jerusalem until morning. The Levite said no, because Jerusalem was not an Israelite city; so they continued on to Gibeah (which was an Israelite city). They took refuge with an elder man, who was also from the region of Ephraim. Then the story turns into one that reads like the story of Lot and his family during the destruction of Sodom (Genesis 19:1-29). The  men of Gibeah came to the man’s house and demanded that he give them the Levite so they could have sexual relations with him. The man refused, but offered his own daughter and the Levite’s concubine. The men refused them and insisted on the Levite. The Levite then forced his concubine out into the crowd, and they took her and abused her throughout the rest of the night. In the morning she was released, but when she reached the house, she died.

The last two chapters start with the same phrase, “Now in those days Israel had no king.” (18:1, 19:1, NLT). This phrase can be taken in two different ways. At first, you can take it at face value. When it says “Israel had no king” it could literally mean there was no king, no central governing body to rule over the people. The second way you can take it is that Israel did not follow any sort of king. If you remember from a few chapters ago, Gideon told the Israelites, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son. The Lord will rule over you!” (Judges 8:22, NLT). This would mean that the Israelites were not even listening or obeying God.

As terrible and tragic as this chapter is, I think it paints a very good picture of what our lives can be like without God. When we remain in sin, we run our lives into the mud. We ruin them because we are looking out for ourselves, with little or no care for the cost. But Jesus changes this for us. He gives us the opportunity to be reconnected with God, and learn to live good, godly lives.

We read in John’s letters, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:7-10, NASB). Since we know God, we know how to love, and Jesus calls us to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:23, NASB). This love that we share will not let us step on or hurt others to keep us in a better place. Rather it forces us to humble ourselves beneath all others in order to serve them, and build them up into a better place.

So I ask you a simple question. Are we more likely to act like the men of Gibeah and serve our own wants and desires, or do we put ourselves aside in order to help others? We all know what the right answer is, but try to be honest about it. I know that there are times the mantra “Gotta look out for #1” pops into my thoughts. It’s also the way the world teaches us to be. But this is a time where we must question, do we do what the world teaches us, or Christ?

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Psalms to Pray: Psalm 84-87

True or Idol Worship (Judges 18)

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Today we read about the tribe of Dan, traveling to claim their land allotted to them by God in the land of Israel. The send out five scouts, who come to Micah’s house. The consult the Levite serving as Micah’s priest about their mission, to see if it will be successful. After the priest gives his blessing, the scouts head out to survey the land. When they return home, they tell their fellow Danites about the peaceful people inhabiting their land. They then took 600 men ready for war, and traveled to their allotment, but first stopped at Micah’s house. They took all of Micah’s idols, and convinced the Levite to come with them and serve as priest for the tribe of Dan. Once they had taken over the land, they installed Jonathan (the Levite) as their priest, and placed Micah’s idols as their idols in their temple.

Idol worship brings many problems, the biggest is that it takes our praise away from the only god that deserves it. But idol worship has a common theme, no matter what you are idolizing. When the Danites took his idols, Micah came out saying, “You’ve taken away all the gods I have made, and my priest, and I have nothing left.” (18:24, NLT). Did you catch what he said? “…the gods I have made…” That’s what sets idol worship apart from true worship. In true worship, we give glory and praise to something we have created; whether it be money, power, false gods, etc. But true worship give glory and praise to the one that was not created, but rather is the Creator. These men in Dan, and even Micah, did not understand how idol worship was wrong or even offensive.

During the season of Lent, we have a practice where we give up something as a fast to become closer to God. I know I’m a little late in suggesting something like this, but take some time in prayer to figure out what is higher in your heart than God. It can get rough. Sometimes it can be something that you wouldn’t think would be a problem. For instance, there are times that my family or my ministry gets a higher place than God. This should not be the case. Jesus said to a crowd of people, “If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison — your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters — yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:25, NLT). Jesus wants us to place him above everyone else in our lives, so that nothing can hold us back from Him.

So figure out what is distracting you from glorifying God above everything else. Try to give it up for Lent, or learn to give it an inferior place in your heart.

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Psalms to Pray: Psalm 79-83

Are You Living a Lie? (Judges 17)

Idol-Worship1

In today’s chapter, we meet a man named Micah. Micah had stolen some money from his mother. When he returned the money, she made some of it into a idol of him. Micah then made a shrine for the idol and set it up in his house. One day a Levite from Bethelehem came to Micah’s house looking for a place to stay. Micah offered the man a salary to remain in his house and be his priest. Micah finishes by saying, “I know the Lord will bless me now because I have a Levite serving as my priest.” (17:13, NLT).

Have you ever thought you were doing the right thing, but in actuality, it was completely wrong? That’s the story we find here in the 17th chapter of Judges. But it is just as applicable to our lives today. We often spend time trying to help others, when all we are really doing is hurting. Micah breaks so many of God’s laws, and brings it to the climax of hiring a priest who is breaking just as many laws. At the end he believes God will bless him because he knows that only Levites can serve as priests. It’s like someone who says I’m super rich (because of fancy houses, cars, clothes, etc) but it reality is deeply in debt. Micah is living a lie, even to himself.

Are we doing this? At my church we are reading the book not a fan. by Kyle Idleman. In this book, he asks us to take a serious look at our relationship with Christ. He wants us to realize that we want to be followers, not fans. So I ask this question of all of us today, are we really with Christ or do we think we are? Do we think we are Christians because we go to church on Sunday, be involved in ministries, or listen exclusively to Christian music? Do we think that reading the Bible for a few minutes every-so-often is helping us become deep followers of Christ? Are we living the lives God has called us to through His Son, or are we living a life that just looks like one?

These are the questions that we must ask daily to remind ourselves of what it means to be a Christian. Simply because we have a label, or repeated a prayer, or got some water splashed on us does not mean that we are following. Don’t be fooled like Micah. Know that you are doing the right thing and living a life according to God’s Will.

“People may be pure in their own eyes, but the Lord examines their motives.” –Proverbs 16:2, NLT

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Psalms to Pray: Psalm 78

Bringing Down the House (Judges 16)

Bringing-Down-The-House

In today’s chapter, we see Samson’s weakness for Philistine women show up for the final time. The first one was labeled as a prostitute. The Philistine men learned that Samson was with her and decided when he came out, they would ambush and kill him. However, Samson outsmarted them all and snuck out in the middle of the night. The second woman is far more well-known, Delilah. She was the woman Samson fell in love with. She asked him three separate times what made him strong, and on each one of those occasions she sold him out to the Philistine leaders. The fourth and final time, he actually told her what made him so strong. She again sold him out, but this time the Philistines overpowered him and gouged out his eyes.  During a time of feast, the Philistine leaders brought Samson out to “entertain” them. Then Samson, realizing who he was in front of prayed, “Sovereign Lord, remember me again. O God, please strengthen me just one more time. With one blow let me pay back the Philistines for the loss of my two eyes.” (16:28, NLT).

I think that there are a couple powerful messages in this text. The first is that God can use a man, so covered in sin, to do great things. Of all the things that Samson was good at, he was really good at committing adultery. We all have a sin that we must fight all the time, and Samson’s was obviously lust and the lure to adultery. But God saw him, and used him to bring Israel out from the oppression of the Philistines. We know that we are all right there with Samson, just as guilty. Paul writes, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23, NASB). Since “all have sinned”, that puts us right in there, just as guilty, just as sinful. But God has another promise for us, “But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31, NLT). This says to me that, no matter our sinfulness, no matter how bad we’ve been, when we trust in the Lord, He will come to us and help us. “Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6, NIV).

The second point I wanted to make comes from a psalm for today. “Your way, O God, is holy; What god is great like our God? You are the God who work wonder; You have made known Your strength among the peoples.” (Psalm 77:13-14, NASB). Our God is mightier than anything else. He is even more powerful than all the gods of this world. In our story of Samson, he was brought into a place where the Philistines were worshiping their god, Dagon. But what happen when Samson prays in v. 28? God brings the entire temple down upon them. I’m reminded of a message I heard about how great God is. The speaker was using the majesty of outer space to convey his point. He also used this passage from David that conveys the absolute wonder anyone has when they look at the night sky, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day the pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.” (Psalm 19:1-2, NIV). There is no way that a deity, that created all of that, could be overcome by our own imaginings of what a god is. Our God is powerful, and He will bring down our temples to false gods.

This chapter really urges me to realize that, despite me sin and guiltiness, God still wants me. He will even still use me to accomplish His goals! The other thing is to take a moment to sit back and marvel at the glory of God. He truly is glorious, and all our praise should go to Him. I’m going to put a song up here. Take a moment to listen and think about the Creation that God has made. Both around us, and including us. And if you have time, take a listen at night and look at the stars (hopefully its a clear night). Even include reading Psalm 19 if you’d like.

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Psalms to Pray: Psalm 74-77

You Wouldn’t Like Me When I’m Angry (Judges 15)

angermanagementforkids

Man! Samson sure has a temper, doesn’t he? At the end of yesterday’s chapter we saw that the father of Samson’s wife give her in marriage to the best man. In this chapter, he decides he wants his wife and goes to her. But her father tells him that she is another man’s wife now. So what does Samson do? He gets angry and destroys all of their wheat, in the middle of the harvest! Then the Philistine’s get mad and take over Judah. The people of Judah go to where Samson is hiding and they arrest him. When the Philistine’s began to celebrate, Samson broke free and killed 1,000 of them with the jaw bone of a donkey! He then prays to God, “You have accomplished this great victory by the strength of your servant. Must I now die of thirst and fall into the hands of the pagans?” (15:18, NLT) God then gave him a watering hole from within the ground.

Anger seems to be a problem for the human condition. It can get the best of us and make us do some terrible things. I’m sure we could agree that Samson wasn’t entirely to blame for his setting the wheat on fire. His wife was taken from him. If my wife were taken from me, I’m sure I would do everything I could to get her back! But Samson’s anger brought the Philistine’s upon his people in Judah. When our anger is not in check, we can bring about worse situations.

There is a such thing as righteous anger, and it can be used for good. We have seen the story of Samson killing the 1,000 Philistines, but what about something else. It’s rare, but one of the accounts that all 4 gospels show is an account of Jesus becoming angry. It says in John, “And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the tem, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; and to those who were selling the doves He said, ‘Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.’ His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for Your house will consume me.'” (John 2:14-17, NASB). Jesus got mad and cleared the temple from people treating it like a marketplace.

Anger can get the best of us. It can also be used as a tool to turn people towards God. I’m not saying to get mad at people that are not following God, we should always be kind and loving. However, on occasion, being kind and loving can mean getting angry. We must keep our anger in check. We do not want to turn people away from the glory of God. When our anger gets out of control, we can make a situation worse. Paul even mentions it in a list of things that work against the Spirit, “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these…” (Galatians 5:19-21, NASB).

If you are easily angered, try taking a deep breath before you react and say a little prayer. Something as simple as “Lord, I am angry. Please help me to overcome and control my anger, before I make situations worse.” Anger is a tough thing to battle, but with the power of Jesus Christ and the grace of God, we can all overcome it.

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Psalms to Pray: Psalm 73

Getting What You Want (Judges 14)

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Samson most certainly has a weakness, which shows to be his biggest problem. His weakness? Philistine women. In this chapter, we see his first recorded showing of this weakness. While he was in Timnah, Samson came across a Philistine woman. I’m sure she was very attractive, because he told his father, “Get her for me! She looks good to me.” (14:3, NLT). His parents tried to talk him out of it, but he wouldn’t have it. So Samson’s parents went to Timnah to get the woman to be their son’s wife. While traveling, Samson was attacked by a lion, which he defeated with his bare hands. He kept it a secret from everyone. During another trip to Timnah, for his wedding, Samson came across the lion’s dead body. He went to investigate and discovered that bees were now living inside it and had produced honey. He grabbed some and ate it on the way to Timnah. Samson made a wager with his groomsmen that they couldn’t figure out his riddle before the celebration was over. Then men spent days trying to figure it out. When they couldn’t, they went to Samson’s wife to have her make him tell them the answer. She persisted for days to try to get the answer from him. On the final day of the celebration, he told her the answer for the riddle. She told the men, and they came back to Samson with the correct answer. Samson then lost everything, including his wife.

Have you ever wanted something so bad you would do anything to get it? We pray and we pray for God to give us this thing we want so badly, and we get upset when God says “No”. The truth is that God doesn’t say “no” just because. Jesus said, “You fathers — if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead? Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” (Luke 11:11-13, NLT). God wants to give us good gifts, not the ones that punish us. When we fight against Him, and take what we want anyway, the thing we want usually comes back to give us problems. Just like Samson. The woman he wanted, no matter what, ended up being his downfall.

Are you fighting God for what you want? I know I do it, and I might even be doing it now. The truth is that God doesn’t want to give us gifts that will destroy us. He wants to shower blessings on His people. We must be content with what God has given us, and if He says “no”, there is probably a good reason for this. So trust God. He knows what is best.

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Psalms to Pray: Psalm 69-72

God’s Plan (Judges 13)

Gods-Plan-for-you

In today’s chapter we get the back story to the last Judge risen in this book. After the death of Abdon, Israel turned back to their evil ways. An angel came to the wife of a man named Manoah. She had been unable to conceive, but the angel told her that she was going to give birth to a son. There was a list of rules for her to follow during her pregnancy and over the child’s life, most importantly that he was to be dedicated to God. The symbol of his dedication was that his hair must never be cut.  After telling her husband what had happened, he prayed that God would send the angel back. When he returned, he explained everything to Manoah as well. Manoah made a sacrifice to God, and the angel ascended in the flames. When the boy was born, they named him Samson.

God has a plan for each one of us. A plan that started before we took our first breath. Are we listening to God’s direction for that plan? He tells us “For I know the plans that I have for you, plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11, NASB). God’s plans are meant for good. This doesn’t mean we won’t have hard times. Jesus’ life was certainly not easy or happy all the time, it had lots of pain and suffering. Yet, his life was the biggest part of God’s plan. I say this because I don’t want us to think that living according to God’s plan makes life easy.

Are you following His plan, or yours? It’s a question that we must ask ourselves everyday. If you find yourself living counter to what God is wanting from you, let’s spend sometime re-purposing our lives today. We should be doing all things for the glory of God, no matter the cost. So let’s spend some time in prayer and worship today.

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Psalms to Pray: Psalm 68

Need Some Help (Judges 12)

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After Jephthah received victory over the Ammonites, he was approached by the people of Ephraim (one of the twelve tribes of Israel). The asked him why they did not call upon them to help with their enemy. Jephthah responded, “I summoned you at the beginning of the dispute, but you refused to come! You failed to help us in out struggle against Ammon. So when I realized you weren’t coming, I risked my life and went to battle without you, and the Lord gave me victory over the Ammonites. So why have you now come to fight me?” (12:2-3, NLT). This encounter turned into a war among the two groups of Israelites. Jephthah once again became victorious, but at the cost of 42,000 Ephraimite lives. After Jephthah’s death, Ibzan became Judge. Afterwards Elon became Judge. Than after his death, Abdon became Judge.

Have you ever had people question your motives, or why you did something? Even to the point where you begin to doubt yourself? Well I certainly have. It’s not a great feeling. This is what the Ephraimites were doing to Zephthah. But we can take a lesson on how Zephthah handled the situation. I’m not saying we should go to war with people over this, but he gave us a good example to live by.

Sometimes we simply need help. So what do you do when you need help? You ask. This gives people the opportunity to either be apart of what you are doing or not. The problem always comes with success though. When things start going well, or we are recognized for our achievements, we never run out of people offering to help. People always want to help when they can receive some positive views on their reputation, but don’t want to take risks when the future seems uncertain or unfavorable.

The last place is where God likes to put us. He loves to ask us to do things where we can’t see the outcome. I think that this places us in a place of dread or fear. Things will be risky and they may seem unfavorable. I think of the Apostles in the book of Acts. Jesus told them to go and make disciples, and off they went. But I’m sure each one of them had a certain fear for their lives. Especially Paul. He knew first hand exactly how far the Jews were willing to go to put a stop to the followers of Christ.

But how do we deal with these “glory seekers”? If we follow Zephthah’s example, the answer is quite simple. Our task/goal has not changed from the beginning, so why do they want to help now? They want to look good. We have to call each other out when we are not seeking to glorify God. If that is the true reason for the new offer of help, you will know.

Is God asking you to help someone today? Or maybe he’s asking you to take on a whole new venture, and wants you to seek help. So let’s spend some time in prayer today, to discern God’s direction for our lives; how we can help glorify Him, or new ways we can bring Him glory.

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Psalms to Pray: Psalm 66-67

UPDATE I forgot to mention this when I originally made this post. Since today is Shine a Light on Slavery Day I suggest going to this site and seeing if you can get involve to help stop slavery in the world! http://www.enditmovement.com/