The Hole in Our Gospel
What Does God Expect of Us?
Thomas Nelson, 2009, 302 pp. ISBN 978-0-7852-2918-6
Richard Stearns is the president of World Vision. This book is a passionate apologetic for getting involved in helping the poor of the world intertwined with his personal story and vignettes of needs and people being helped.
What does God expect of us? God asks us for everything, total commitment, to be His partners in changing the world. Being a Christian “requires much more than just having a personal and transforming relationship with God. It also entails a public and transforming relationship with the world. If your personal faith in Christ has no positive outward expression then [it] has a hole in it.” (2)
The good news was meant to change the world. “When we committed ourselves to following Christ, we also committed to living our lives in such a way that a watching world would catch a glimpse of god’s character—His love, justice, and mercy—through our words, actions, and behavior.” (3)
Part I – The Hole in My Gospel—and Maybe Yours
1. A Hole in the Whole
“The kingdom of which Christ spoke was one in which the poor, the sick, the grieving, cripples, slaves, women, children, widows, orphans, lepers, and aliens—the ‘least of these’ (Matt. 25:40 NKJV)—were to be lifted up and embraced by God.” (16) “Christ’s proclamation of the ‘kingdom of heaven’ was a call for a redeemed world order populated by redeemed people—now.” (16) “The kingdom of God…was intended to change and challenge everything in our fallen world in the here and now. …we are also commanded to go into the world—to bear fruit by lifting up the poor and the marginalized, challenging injustice wherever we find it, rejecting the worldly values found within every culture, and loving our neighbors as ourselves.” (17) “Our charge is to both proclaim and embody the gospel so that others can see, hear, and feel God’s love in tangible ways.” (18)
“This gospel—the whole gospel—means much more than the personal salvation of individuals. It means a social revolution.” (20) The whole gospel means tangible compassion for the sick and poor and biblical justice, the spiritual, physical and social dimensions of our being. It is the mission of the Church. (22)
3. You Lack One Thing
“God expects us to serve Him on His terms—not ours.” (39) “When we say that we want to be His disciple, yet attach a list of conditions, Jesus refuses to accept our terms. His terms involve unconditional surrender.” (39)
Part 2. The Hole Gets Deeper
4. The Towering Pillars of Compassion and Justice
“God will delight in His people when they obey Him. When the hungry are fed, the poor are cared for, and justice is established. … This is what Jesus meant when He prayed, ‘Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.’ Charity, equity, and mercy are the marks of the kingdom of the Messiah, and Christ wanted it to begin on earth.” (57)
5. The Three Greatest Commandments
“Jesus equated loving our neighbors with loving God. If we truly love God, He was saying, we will express it by loving our neighbors, and when we truly love our neighbors, it expresses our love for God.” (66) “The first two commandments…call believers to love God and then love their neighbors, and the third one calls them to go and disciple new believers who will do the same.”
“What does God expect?
“That love [God’s love for us and ours for Him], when demonstrated to the world through acts of kindness, compassion, and justice is revolutionary; and when we become the agents of it, we make credible the message of a Savior who transforms men and women for eternity.” (69)
7. The Stick in Your Hand
“A fitting metaphor for the Christian walk is that of enlisting in the army. Upon enlistment, the soldier immediately surrenders control of his or her life. … The truth is that surrender is not an easy thing to do. But without that surrender a soldier is not useful to the army, and a Christian is not useful to God.” (89)
“God didn’t need great courage and skill from Moses; He could have used just a stick to save the nation of Israel. But He chose to use Moses—and his stick. All He required was for Moses to be available and obedient.” (91)
“Discerning our unique calling is not always a simple thing. We need to be quiet enough to hear God’s still, small voice. We must also faithfully read the Scriptures, pray diligently, follow the Lord’s teachings, listen to wise friends who know us, and consistently make ourselves available to serve. Finally, we have to remain open to God’s possibilities, always willing to take the outrageous risk and do the unpredictable thing.” (92)
“American society does not talk much about calling anymore. … A calling, which is something I do for God, is replaced by a career, which threatens to become my god. A career is something I chose for myself; a calling something I receive. … A career is about upward mobility; a calling generally leads to downward mobility.” (93, quoting John Ortberg)
“Are you willing to be open to God’s will for your life?” (94)
Part 3. A Hole in the World
8. The Greatest Challenge of the New Millennium
The greatest challenge the world faces is the growing chasm between the richest and poorest people on earth. “We have not yet made the commitment to share with others an appreciable part of our excessive wealth.” (98, 99 quoting President Jimmy Carter)
In the past, three major impediments prevented people from loving distant neighbors: awareness, access, and ability. (101) Today these barriers have been erased.
9. One Hundred Crashing Jetliners
26,500 children die of preventable causes related to poverty every day, almost 10 million a year. The plight of the suffering is not personal for us. When it’s your child, it’s very personal. For God it is personal because every one of these children is His child. We must pray for God to soften our hearts and love as He loves. To walk by on the other side of the road is wrong. (107-110)
10. What’s Wrong with This Picture?
Statistics do not make things personal. They seem to excuse our inaction.
We tend to make value judgments about the poor. They made bad choices, or were lazy or stupid. Racial or cultural stereotypes lead us to wonder why their governments are ineffective, their leaders corrupt, their development weak. We may feel sorry for them, thus lessening their dignity. “If we are to see the poor as God sees them, we first have to repent of our judgmental attitudes and feelings of superiority.” (117)
Almost all poverty is fundamentally the result of a lack of options. People are trapped in circumstances beyond their power to change—social, cultural, political, and economic systems that do not reward their labor. The one lost thing every person needs is hope. (118-19)
The average income in the U.S.A. is $105 a day. 2.6 billion people (40% of the world) live on less than $2 a day. “For Christians, this is a justice issue or, stated more bluntly, a moral issue in which those of us who have plenty seem willing to allow others to have nothing.” “It is not our fault that people are poor, but it is our responsibility to do something about it.” (123)
11. Caught in the Web
Poverty is extremely complex and there are no simple solutions. It is more than the absence of things, like food, medicine, and clean water. “While providing things like these in urgent situations is sometimes necessary, it neither addresses the underlying stubbornness of poverty, nor is it sustainable; it just creates a dependency. Frankly, giving things to the poor does much more to make the giver feel good than it does to fundamentally address and improve the condition of those in need.” (126)
The root cause of poverty is often injustice. People have been exploited or manipulated by unjust people and structures. While these systems must be challenged, there are also more subtle factors at play, such as a poverty of spirit, loss of faith, loss of hope, sinfulness. But salvation of the soul in itself does not bring food or clean water. Many of the world’s poorest people are Christians. Perhaps the biggest mistake is to overlook the assets and strengths that are always present among poor people and to build on those. (128) “They need us to love them first and then listen to them. They need us to see their assets and their God-given abilities. When we see them as God sees them, we will glimpse His image in their faces….” (130)
12. The Horsemen of the Apocalypse
Chronic hunger and malnutrition are the number one health risk globally. Almost 1 in 7 people worldwide do not have enough food to sustain them. About 9 million a year die of hunger and related causes. (135) The poor live in a “perfect storm” for disease. Unsafe drinking water is the second leading cause. Malaria is one of the world’s deadliest diseases, resulting in somewhere around 2 million deaths per year. (143) Almost 1/3 of the world is infected with TB. (145) HIV infects 33 million people, 70% in Africa. India ranks #2 and Ukraine has the fastest growth. 15 million children are AIDs orphans. In Africa everyone is either infected or affected. No one escapes. Africa is losing its most productive people.
13. Spiders, Spiders, and More Spiders
One sixth of the world, 2/3 of them women, are illiterate. (155) Two million children are caught up in the sex trade. Women provide 2/3 of the world’s labor but earn 10% of the world’s wages. (156) “The single most significant thing that can be done to cure extreme poverty is this: protect, educate, and nurture girls and women and provide them with equal rights and opportunities—educationally, economically, and socially.” (157)
Wars, civil strife and other violence produce poverty, unspeakable atrocities, and other social, economic, and emotional consequences. There are 9.9 million refugees driven to other countries and 23.7 million internally displaced. Imagine their lives! The economic cost of government militaries is estimated at $1.2 trillion (The U.S. accounts for half.) By contrast $65 billion would lift a billion people out of extreme poverty. (158)
Part 4. A Hole in the Church
15. A Tale of Two Churches
Why have we not done more to come to the aid of Christians and others in extreme poverty? “We need only to read our church bulletin to see where our priorities have been placed. How many of the announcements involve programs that focus more on meeting our needs than the needs of those outside the church?” (180)
17. AWOL for the Greatest Humanitarian Crisis of All Time [AIDS]
“One of the disturbing things about Church history is the Church’s appalling track record of being on the wrong side of the great social issues of the day.” (190) “A Church that has lost its voice for justice is a Church that has lost its relevance in the world.” (193, quoting Martin Luther King Jr.) “What will our grandchildren ask us when they look back twenty-five or fifty years from now and wonder how we could have just sat by and watched when justice was demanded?” (194) “The fact of the matter is, we are all blind, and our only solution is to pray that God will show us our blindness.” (197)
18. Putting the American Dream to Death
Not all parts of the American dream are consistent with Christian values. “He wants us to invest His money on His behalf by undertaking His kingdom work. This is precisely the view Jesus presented in the parable of the talents….” (206) “He wants us to embrace a kingdom view of our money, possessions, and abilities, recognizing that all we have comes from Him. He wants us to hold them lightly and be willing to use them on His behalf. Three clear principles…:
“That’s the bottom line for all of us—whose ‘game’ are we in? Our own? Or God’s? … If we’re in God’s game, we need to put the American Dream to death, because God’s game is a different game altogether.” (209)
19. Two Percent of Two Percent
“Whenever we deal with money, we are dealing with dynamite.” What we control becomes our controller. The greatest diffuser is giving it away. “Giving, both how we give and how much we give, is the clearest outward expression of who our God really is.” (212-13)
Income of American churchgoers is $5.2 trillion. A little over 1% of that amount could lift the poorest billion people out of extreme poverty. About 24% of evangelical Christians tithe. The average giving of American church members in 2005 was 2.58%. About 2% of all church income goes to overseas missions of any kind. That’s six pennies per day per person. “The bottom line is that the commitment that American Christians, the wealthiest Christians in all history, are making to the world is just about 2 percent of 2 percent—actually about five ten-thousandths of our income.” (217) [Statistics from empty tomb http://www.emptytomb.org/scg05pressadv.html]
21. Why We’re Not So Popular Anymore
“For most of my life, being a ‘Christian’ has been perceived as a good thing in our culture.” (226) “Christian, after all, was a synonym for ‘good people…” (227) But the Christian “brand” has taken a beating. We have become defined by those things we are against rather than those we are for. (229) “If we are to truly let our lights shine before the world, it must be through those do’s [vs. the don’ts] that the world finds so attractive.” (230)
22. A Tale of Two Real Churches
There are some 340,000 Christian churches in the United States and about 155 million regular churchgoers. Think of the resources, the possibilities! (237)
Part 5. Repairing the Hole
23. What Are You Going to Do About It?
“We have, in fact, reduced the gospel to a mere transaction involving the right beliefs rather than seeing in it the power to change the world.” (243) “But a changed world requires change agents, and change agents are people who have first been changed themselves.” (244)
“We are postresurrection disciples, and if we are to live like postresurrection disciples, everything in our lives must change. The question for us is whether we are willing to make that commitment—to live and act differently, and to repair the hole in our own gospel.” (245) “The whole gospel involves more than preaching; it also means caring about the whole person and finding ways to meet that individual’s needs.” (248)
24. How Many Loaves Do You Have?
“We might imagine that God’s vision for our world is like a great jigsaw puzzle. You and I are the pieces in His hand, and He places them in just the spots where our particular shapes, sizes, and patterns best fit with the other pieces. The full picture only takes shape as all of the pieces come together in their proper places. In this view, no single piece is insignificant.” (250) “God has created each of us with a unique contribution to make to our world and our times.” (251) “God never asks us to give what we do not have… But he cannot use what we will not give. … if we are unwilling, we will assuredly miss out on every opportunity to be used by God in a powerful and amazing way.” (253)
25. Time, Talent, and Treasure
“If you will assess what you have to offer in terms of your time, your treasure, and your talents, you will have a better understanding of how you might uniquely serve.” (259)
26. A Mountain of Mustard Seeds
“This gospel we have been given—the whole gospel—is God’s vision for a new way of living.” (276) “We are the revolution.” “It starts with you. In the end, God simply calls you to be faithful to the things He has given you to do.” (277)
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