October 18, 2009

The Hole in Our Gospel

Part 1: The Hole in our Gospel


Introduction: What is the hole in our gospel?





1. We need both ____________________________________________________.

Luke 4:14-21, Mark 1:15 Matthew 6:10









2. We need both ____________________________________________________.

Micah 6:8, Isaiah 58:1-12, Matthew 25:31-46









3. We need both ____________________________________________________.

Matthew 5:16, 7:19-23, Luke 6:43-46, James 1:22, 2:14-19, 1 John 3:16-20









October 18, 2009

The Hole in Our Gospel

Part 1: The Hole in our Gospel



          Today, we start The Hole in Our Gospel series.  For the next four weeks, we’re all reading the book together, I’m giving four talks based on the book, and we’re getting in our Life Groups to talk about what we’re learning and how we’ll apply it.  And then on November 15, the author, Rich Stearns, the president of World Vision will be at all three services to wrap up the series.  If you don’t have a book yet, you can pick one up at the Info Center.  The first one per family is free because we want everyone to be able to participate.  Lots of you have asked if you can help us pay for these books—we’ll give you a chance in two weeks to help with that.

          Today, we start with sections one and two in the book, the first seven chapters, and I want to answer the question, “What is the hole in our gospel?”


Offering and announcements:

Newcomer’s connections meeting (back of tear-off) in two weeks, right after the 11:15 AM service.  Please sign up at the Info Center (so we’ll have enough food for everyone!)

Flu season: please love your neighbor by not spreading germs! This is especially important in AdventureLand (item #1).  Please don’t bring sick children to AdventureLand or to the Parents’ Room; please keep them home.


Introduction: What is the hole in our gospel?

          The Hole in Our Gospel opens with Rich Stearns sitting inside a thatch hut in Uganda, listening to an orphan boy named Richard whose parents had died of AIDS.  At 13, Richard was left alone to care for his two younger brothers; there were no adults in their lives.  They were alone.  Try to imagine your own children abandoned in this kind of poverty, fending for themselves without parents to protect them.  Unimaginable.

Just weeks before, Rich Stearns had been the CEO of Lenox, the well-known American tableware company.  He made a seven-figure income, lived in a 10 bedroom home, and drove a new Jag.  Now he was in a mud hut in Uganda, wondering, “How did I get here?”  Rich tells his story in the first two sections of the book—and it’s a great story, isn’t it—and one of the things that makes this a great book.

          Some people have asked me, “How did we get here?”  In this series, we are doing something we’ve never done before.  We’re asking everyone to read a book, other than the Bible, and to make that happen, we bought 5000 copies of The Hole in Our Gospel.  People have asked me, “What made you decide to do this?”

          It was the perfect storm.  For the past several years, I’ve been more aware than ever of the Christian emphasis on compassion for the poor and justice for the oppressed. 

  • In my daily Bible reading, I’d read and underline verses about God’s concern for the poor, the suffering and the oppressed.
  • At the Leadership Summit, each year there has been a growing emphasis on this subject and we’ve been challenged to do our part.
  • I kept coming across books on this subject that have stimulated my thinking.
  • And in my studies at Whitworth, in the Masters of Theology program, I’ve been confronted with it both in the history of the church and in the Scriptures.

When you keep hearing the same thing over and over from different sources, you start to wonder, “Is God trying to say something to me…to us?” 

And then the clincher: I went to Kenya…and while I was there, I read this book.  In Kenya, our team worked with the poor.  We spent a lot of time in the village of Adiedo, making friends, meeting people who had never had clean water to drink, and were sick because of it.  We met people whose family members had died of diseases from drinking dirty water, or from malaria or AIDS.  We visited schools with dirt floors, few books, no water or electricity, and lots of kids: 50 kids per class.  We visited a hospital where the suffering was so unimaginable and the staff so overwhelmed that one of our teammates simply sat down in the hallway and bawled.  And then every night, I would crawl under my mosquito net and read this book, and cry.  And when I was done, I thought, “Everyone in our church should read this.”

And so here we are. 

          What do I hope you get out of it?  First, I hope you become aware.

  • Aware of what the Bible says about God’s heart for the poor and oppressed—we’re going to talk about that today.
  • Aware of the need in our world, and our own abundance, and what we can do—must do—to help.  I want you to become world Christians.

But there is an additional thing I hope we get to beyond awareness, and that’s action.  I hope awareness of the need, and your love for God and people will motivate you to act.  We’re going to be asking each other in our Life Groups, “So, what do we do about this?”  We’re going to find ways to engage our world glocally—both locally and globally—glocally.

          So, what is the hole in our gospel?  Rich Stearns tells us on page 2.

The idea behind The Hole in Our Gospel is quite simple.  It’s basically the belief that being a Christian, or follower of Jesus Christ, requires much more than just having a personal and transforming relationship with God.  It also entails a public and transforming relationship with the world.

To be a Christian means we have a personal, transforming relationship with God, and we have a public, transforming relationship with the world.  Both.  Not one or the other.  Both.  Personal and public; God and the world.  Both.

The word “gospel” means “good news”, and we use it for the message of Jesus.  But what is that message?  What is the good news?  For many Christians, the gospel has been reduced to a single personal transaction: accept Jesus, get saved and when you die, you’ll go to heaven.  Is this true?  Yes!  Is it all there is to the gospel?   No. 

          The whole gospel, the gospel without a hole in it, is a gospel that not only prepares us for heaven, but also to make a difference on earth.  It is a gospel that brings us into personal relationship with God, and it equips us to engage and redeem a broken world.  It is a gospel that is concerned with our lives here on earth as well as heaven, with the health of people’s bodies as well as their souls.  It is a gospel that gives hope for this life as well as the next.  The gospel, Rich writes, “was not meant to be a way to leave the world, but rather the means to actually redeem it.”

ILL: When I was in Kenya, going door to door in the slum, giving out loaves of bread and gospels of John, the pastor’s wife would introduce me and say, “The pastor has come from America to bring you good news.”  And looking into these poor, hungry faces, I wondered, “What good news do I have for these people?”  I could give them Jesus, and was happy to do that.  But I wanted to do more.  I wanted to give them jobs, decent homes, food to eat, clean water, access to education and medical care.  I wanted to change their eternity and their lives right now.  Did I have any good news like that?

          It turns out I do.  The good news is that Jesus came to bring the kingdom of God, to bring God’s will to earth.  The good news is that God loves these people and wants them to go to heaven, and He wants to help them here on earth.

I hope to go back to that slum and share the gospel again—the good news of a relationship with God that changes life now and forever—and I want to demonstrate it by drilling wells, and creating jobs, and building schools.  I believe the gospel is good news for the poor now and for eternity. 

This gospel—the whole gospel—means much more than the personal salvation of individuals.  It means a social revolution. (Page 20)

The whole gospel includes both personal salvation and social transformation.  Both.  You are going to hear me use that word over and over.  We need both.  The gospel includes both, as we’ll see as we survey some of the Scripture Rich cites in these first seven chapters. 


1. We need both the message and ministry of Jesus.

          In Chapter 1, Rich begins his discussion of the hole in our gospel by examining the message and ministry of Jesus.  To have a whole gospel, we need both the message and ministry of Jesus.  We can’t divorce one from the other.

          I don’t want to draw too fine a distinction here, because I believe that the message of Jesus and the ministry of Jesus match.  Jesus didn’t say one thing and do another; His words and works match.  But it’s possible to take selected verses of Jesus’ message and ignore Jesus’ ministry, and create a gospel with a hole in it.  The whole gospel will include both Jesus’ words and works; it will include all Jesus said and did, His whole message and ministry.  And in much of contemporary American Christianity, we have ignored large sections of Jesus’ message and ministry.

          Shortly after Jesus began His ministry, He returned to His hometown, Nazareth.

Luke 4:16-21 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. 17 The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21 and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

This has been called “Jesus’ mission statement”.  He chose this passage—notice it says that He “found the place”—this is the Scripture Jesus intentionally chose to explain His mission.  He read from Isaiah 61, a passage that was widely understood to refer to the Messiah.  Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah who would bring in God’s promised Kingdom, defeating sin, poverty, disease and oppression.  Notice the three main components of His mission.

  • Proclamation: He would preach good news to the poor.  The poor in spirit, yes; and to the physically poor.  Jesus proclaimed good news of forgiveness of sin and God’s care for the poor. 
  • Compassion: He promised recovery of sight for the blind, and to bind up the broken-hearted.  God cares about us, about our physical and emotional well-being.  Jesus healed people of physical blindness; He also confronted people about their spiritual blindness.  Jesus is concerned for the whole person: spiritually, physically, emotionally. 
  • Justice: He came to free prisoners, to release the oppressed, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.  This too can be taken both spiritually and physically.  Spiritually, Jesus came to free those oppressed by sin and Satan.  Physically, Jesus promised to bring about justice for those suffering injustice: the enslaved, the prisoners, the oppressed and poor.  The year of the Lord’s favor was a reference to the Old Testament practice of the year of Jubilee, when slaves were set free, debts were forgiven, and land was returned to its original owner.  The year of Jubilee was God’s way of protecting the rich from getting too rich and the poor getting too poor. 

Proclamation, compassion, and justice—these are the pillars of Jesus’ ministry.  In these words, Jesus announces a mission that is both spiritual and social.  Each of his statements can be taken spiritually or physically.  His ministry matched His message: it was both.  He forgave sins and He healed bodies.  He fed people’s spirits with His teaching and fed the hungry with bread.  He opened the eyes of blind men, and He opened their minds to understand the truth.  The whole gospel is both spiritual and social.

          This summer we discussed the gospel of Mark together; Mark told us about Jesus’ first message.

Mark 1:14-15 Jesus went into Galilee proclaiming the good news of God.  “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”

What is the good news?  The time has come; the kingdom of God is near.  This was Jesus message.  He was bringing the kingdom of God to earth.  What is the kingdom of God?  It is God’s reign.  Where God reigns, His will is done.  Jesus came and did God’s will perfectly—He brought God’s kingdom to earth.  And He brought us into God’s kingdom to do and experience God’s will.  He taught us to pray:

Matthew 6:10 your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

This is our prayer: may your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  And this is how we live: doing God’s will here on earth just as we imagine it would be done in heaven.  Trying to bring to heaven to earth.  Will there be hunger in heaven?  No. 

Poverty?  No. 

Injustice?  No. 

Loneliness?  No. 

Sickness?  No.

May your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  This was the good news Jesus brought, and you can see why it was good news to the poor.  The whole gospel embraces the whole message and ministry of Jesus.


2. We need both personal salvation and social justice.

          To have a whole gospel, we need both personal salvation and social justice.  The gospel is about me being forgiven and going to heaven…and so much more.  It’s also about redeeming and changing a broken world.  Both.  We can’t reduce it to being just about me.  In the Bible, Jesus is never called my “personal savior”.  He is called “the savior of the world.”  I happen to be part of the world that Jesus came to save.  Don’t reduce the gospel to personal salvation—it’s bigger than you or me.

          In Chapter 4, “The Towering Pillars of Compassion and Justice”, Rich uses the three Scriptures cited on your outline, beginning with:

Micah 6:8 He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

This is a beautiful verse that says what God requires of us.  Three things;

  • Act justly.
  • Love mercy.
  • Walk humbly with God.

Said another way, God wants us to show justice and compassion to our fellow man, and walk humbly with Him.  We have tended to emphasize our relationship with God over showing justice and compassion to our fellow man.  We need both.  We need both personal salvation—a relationship with God—and we need social justice—compassion and justice for the poor and oppressed.

          In Isaiah 58, God speaks to the Israelites about their hypocrisy.  They seem eager to know God, and they practiced fasting—abstaining from food to humble themselves before God and seek Him.  Fasting is a pretty radical spiritual practice.  Have you ever tried it?  Most of us get grumpy if we miss a meal or a snack!  Try going a full day without eating anything and use your meal times to pray.  Serious stuff.  But though they looked serious, God saw something else.  On the one hand, they were humbling themselves, lying on sackcloth and ashes; but on the other hand, they were exploiting their workers and oppressing the poor.  God said that their fasting meant nothing to Him.

Isaiah 58:6-10

6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:

to loose the chains of injustice

and untie the cords of the yoke,

to set the oppressed free

and break every yoke?

7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry

and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—

when you see the naked, to clothe him,

and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,

and your healing will quickly appear;

then your righteousness will go before you,

and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.

9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;

you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,

with the pointing finger and malicious talk,

10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry

and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,

then your light will rise in the darkness,

and your night will become like the noonday.

What did God want from them?  Not empty religious exercises, but social justice.  Set the oppressed free.  Share your food with the hungry and your home with the homeless, and your clothes with the naked. 

          This is a very challenging passage.  It suggests that if we sing praise songs to God, but do nothing for the poor, our praises don’t mean much to God.  Our religious practices should ultimately result in a changed world.  Think of our spiritual practices: going to church, praying, reading the Bible, journaling, solitude, fasting, and worship—all good, and they help us know God.  But if we do all these and ignore the poor and oppressed, God is not pleased.  When the hungry are fed, the poor helped, and the justice is done, then God says, “You will call and I will answer.”  Which would God rather have: someone who earnestly seeks Him in worship, prayer and fasting, or someone who feeds the hungry and helps the poor?  Both.

          From the New Testament, Rich cites the analogy of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25.  Jesus described the final judgment as separating the sheep from the goats.  

Matthew 25:34-40 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

Jesus said that we would be judged by how we treated others, specifically the poor, the least of these.  Are we feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, taking in strangers, looking after the sick, and visiting the prisoners?

Perhaps the most startling phrase of all is the last: “you did it for me.”  When we do these things for the poor, we do them to Jesus.  Mother Teresa said that she saw Christ in the faces of the poor whom she served, “Christ in his most distressing disguise.”  Do you see Jesus in the poor?   Rich gives an interesting paraphrase of these verses:

For I was hungry, while you had all you needed.  I was thirsty, but you drank bottled water.  I was a stranger, and you wanted me deported.  I needed clothes, but you needed more clothes.  I was sick, and you pointed out the behaviors that led to my sickness.  I was in prison, and you said I was getting what I deserved.  Page 59

I starred that in my book, because I’ve done all that.  Ouch!

          Rich is not suggesting that all true followers of Jesus must forsake everything to serve the poor, but that we should have a genuine concern for the poor that expresses itself regularly and tangibly in our lives.  It could be sponsoring a child, or volunteering at a shelter, or feeding the homeless.  It’s not that working with the poor is all we do; but it should be part of what we do.  (Pg. 60)

          We need both personal salvation and social justice.


3. We need both faith and works.

To have a whole gospel, we need both faith and works.  A gospel that doesn’t change our lives is not good news at all.  If you can believe in Jesus and then go back to life as usual, nothing changes, what kind of faith is that?  We need a faith that works.

Reading that last story in Matthew 25 about the final judgment makes it sound like we’ll be saved by doing good to the poor.  Are we saved by good works, or by faith in Christ?  Faith in Christ.  But the Bible is clear that genuine faith in Christ results in good works.  We are saved by faith for good works.

Ephesians 2:8-10 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

We are saved by grace through faith, not by works…to do good works.  We are saved by faith for good works.  We need both.

James 2:14-19 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

Faith without action is dead.  How do you show your faith?  By action; by what you do.  We need a faith that works.  And what kind of works?  Good works.  The kind of works that people see and give glory to God.

Matthew 5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

Do the kind of works that people see and give glory to God.

ILL: My friend Kip Jacob pastors in Lake Oswego, Oregon, the wealthiest zip code in the state.  They decided to adopt Roosevelt High School, in the poorest zip code, in inner city Portland.  All these upper middle class Christians are rolling up their sleeves and getting involved in this school, mentoring students, providing meals, gifts, and just being there. 

          Earlier this year, it came to Kip’s attention that the girls’ basketball team at Roosevelt had lost every game, and played their home games in front of 5 or 6 people.  On Sunday, Kip asked his church to show up en masse for the girls’ final game of the season.  Instead of the usual half dozen people, it was standing room only as over 1500 people piled into the stands and cheered for the girls.  They played their best game of the season, and afterwards, the church had special gifts and awards for the girls and their coaches. 

          It made the news.  Most people heard about it and said, “That’s cool.”  One guy complained in a blog about the Christians being at a school event.  Another replied, “If you don’t like the Christians doing it, why don’t you get off your fat butt and do something?”

Most people would say, “That’s what Christians ought to be doing: helping the poor, the oppressed, the down and out.”  Our faith needs to be expressed in works, in the kind of good deeds that bring glory to God.

Faith and works: we need both.