October 25, 2009

The Hole in Our Gospel

Part 2: The Hole in the World



          When one person dies, it’s a tragedy; when a million people die, it’s a statistic.  It’s easy to see statistics like these and just be numbed.  But God doesn’t see statistics.  He sees individual people…and it breaks His heart. 

          At the top of your outline is a quote by Bob Pierce, the founder of World Vision.  Let’s read it together.  “Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.”  Bob Pierce

          Today, as we look at the hole in our world, this is our prayer.  “Let our hearts be broken by the things that break the heart of God.”  Lord, the hole in our world is so huge, the need so overwhelming, that it’s easy to become numb or paralyzed, and do nothing.  But let our hearts be broken, and motivate us to action.  Amen.  Let’s start with a story.

Luke 10:25-37 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Jesus was asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  He bounced the question back to the asker: “What does God’s law say?”  And the man answered, “Love God with all you’ve got and love your neighbor.”  He got it right!  If he had just stopped there, he had it right…but “wanting to justify himself,” he asked “who is my neighbor?” 

Why did he ask this question?  What behavior was he justifying?  Many Jewish experts in the law taught that the command to love one’s neighbor in Leviticus 19:18 referred to fellow Jews.  Your neighbor was a fellow Jew, someone of your own race and religion.  It was easy then to take the next step and believe that you were not required to love those different from you.   So this expert in the law asks, “Who is my neighbor?” and Jesus answers with this story.

          A Jewish man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho is robbed, beaten and left for dead.  A Jewish priest comes across him and passes by on the other side—he does nothing.  Then a Levite comes along and he passes by too—he does nothing.  Remember, this is their fellow Jew lying in the road, and these two men are Jewish religious leaders—they had every reason to stop and help—same race, and same religion that commanded them to love their neighbor, which included this poor man.  But they did nothing.  Then a Samaritan comes by.  The Samaritans were part Jew, part Gentile—racial half-breeds—and there were centuries of hostility between Jews and Samaritans.  If there was anyone in the story with a reason to pass by on the other side, it was the Samaritan; but he is the one who stops and helps the man.  Jesus makes this Samaritan the unlikely hero of the story! 

          To put this in perspective, if Jesus were telling the story in Israel today, two Israelis would pass by, but a Palestinian would stop and help.  Or if he were telling it in America, two Americans would pass by, but a member of the Taliban would stop and help.  How does that feel?  Not good.  Wrong hero! 

          So the Samaritan/Taliban stops to help and Jesus asks, “Who was a neighbor to the man who was robbed?”  And the answer is obvious: “The one who had mercy on him.” 

          Which brings us to our first point:   


1. Who is my neighbor?

Based on Jesus’ story, how would you answer that?  Anyone in need, regardless of who they are.  And of course, Jesus challenges us to be a good neighbor by helping those in need, regardless of who they are.

ILL: One of the children that Laina and I sponsored for years was a Muslim girl in Bangladesh.  Is that ok?  According to the story of the Good Samaritan, she is my neighbor.

We live in a world that has shrunk into a global neighborhood.  The word “neighbor” in Greek literally means “nearby”; it refers to the person next to you.  For most of history, Jesus’ command to love our neighbor meant loving our immediate neighbors, the people nearby.  For most of history, it has been impossible to love those living on another continent.  But in the last century that has changed, and the world has become a global neighborhood.  In the past, we lacked the awareness, access and ability to help those far away. 

  • Awareness.  A century ago, we may not know what was happening in our own nation, let alone around the world.  Today, we live in a media-saturated, Internet connected, cell phone equipped world in which anything that happens anywhere is instantly available to everyone.  When a tsunami hits Indonesia and leaves thousands dead and homeless, we know within minutes or hours.  One of the most incongruous sights in Kenya was this (pic): one of the old village mamas talking on a cell phone!  They’re everywhere!  We’re in touch with Grace in Kenya via email.  We’re connected; we know; we can’t say that we don’t know anymore.
  • Access.  A century ago, no one flew anywhere; international travel was done primarily by boat, took weeks and was rare.  Today, you can be on any continent in the world in less than 24 hours.  The poorest of the poor are not more than a day’s travel away.
  • Ability.  In the past 50 years, our understanding of the complex relationship between poverty, health, culture and economics has made it possible to address and transform poverty.  We have the ability to help people out of poverty.

Now, Rich writes, “for the first time in the history of the human race, we have the awareness, the access, and the ability to reach out to our more desperate neighbors around the world.” (pg. 104)

          So this should be good news for the poor—we have awareness, access and ability.  Unfortunately, the gap between the rich and poor continues to grow.  The rich nations get richer and the poor get poorer.  The difference in per capita income between the richest and poorest nations has grown exponentially.

  • In 1820, it was 4 to 1.
  • In 1913, it was 11 to 1.
  • In 1950, it was 35 to 1.
  • In 2002, it was 75 to 1. 

President Jimmy Carter called this “the greatest challenge” our world faces. 

To put a different spin on it, there are 1 billion people living on less than a dollar a day, and almost 3 billion people living on less than $2 a day. 

ILL: Call up two people.  Give one $1 and the other $2.  “You have only the clothes on your back, and the money I just gave you.  That is all you have to live on today.  You have no food at home, and no clean water; you have this money to get food and water.  You have no car; you’ll have to walk home.  If you spend the money on the bus, you’ll have nothing for food and water.  If you spend all the money on food and water, you’ll have nothing left for anything else—shelter, electricity, heat, transportation, education or medical care.  Don’t even think about entertainment—you can’t afford the basics to stay alive.  What are you going to do?”

          You’d have to be very resourceful to live on $1-2 a day!

That is how half of our planet lives.  And they are our neighbors.  Can we just walk by and pretend we don’t see them?  I often do.  It’s so much easier to look the other way, walk on by, and live in my comfortable bubble. Like the priest and Levite, I walk by and go on my way and do nothing.  Why?  It’s not personal.

ILL: Where were you when the jetliners crashed into the World Trade Center on 9-11?  How many of you can remember it vividly?  I was at home getting ready for work, and a friend called and said, “Turn on the TV—terrorists have flown a plane into the World Trade Center.”  And while I watched, a second plane hit the other tower.  I’ll never forget it.  For days afterwards, it was literally all the news. 

          Now imagine not one or two or three or four jets, but 100 jetliners crashing in one day, killing over 25,000 people.  It would be all we talked about for weeks.  Now imagine that happening every day.

          Every day, over 25,000 children die of preventable causes.  Every day!  But it never makes headlines; it’s never on the news.  Why aren’t we paying attention?  Because these children are far away; because they are not our kids.

Watch this.  (First video clip of Rich and Renee.)


          It’s always personal.

          When a child dies from hunger, or dirty water, or malaria, it’s always personal.  It’s personal to that child’s parents and family.  And it’s personal to you and me because that child is our neighbor. 

I’m going to review some ideas about poverty.  It’s easy to be overwhelmed by statistics, by the enormity of the problem.  It’s easy to feel powerless and walk by on the other side and think, “It’s not my problem.”  Don’t do it.  These are our neighbors.  It’s always personal.


2. Understanding poverty.

          We have all kinds of assumptions about poverty and the poor.  I’ve grown up, like you, in the land of opportunity where we believe that if you work hard, you will get ahead—and generally, you will!  Consequently, it’s easy to believe that if someone is poor, they must be lazy or stupid or both.  But it’s not quite that simple.  And if we’re going to see the poor as God sees them, we need to repent of our judgmental attitudes, and realize that not everyone has had the same advantages.

ILL: On the back of your outline, let’s make a list of the advantages we have enjoyed. 

  • We grew up in a country that embraced basic freedoms and the rule of law. 
  • We had access to medical care, were vaccinated against deadly childhood diseases, had clean water to drink and enough food to eat.
  • We had access to good education, public schools and libraries that you did not have to pay for.
  • We had thousands of colleges and universities to choose from, and financial aid available.
  • We had meaningful jobs available that paid a decent wage.
  • We lived in a culture where hard work and creativity were almost always rewarded.

But what if you were born in Sudan or Bangladesh?  Or were born in America, but were African-American, and raised in the hood?  Not everyone has the same advantages. 

          Here’s an idea: look at the advantages you’ve enjoyed and ask, “How could I pay it forward?”  You’ve enjoyed clean water; maybe you could help drill a well somewhere.  You’ve enjoyed educational opportunities; maybe you could sponsor a child’s education.  You’ve enjoyed good jobs; maybe you could make a microloan that would give someone else an opportunity to earn a living. 

We’re blessed!  And the Bible is clear that when God blesses us, it’s so that we can bless others.  It goes all the way back to the first promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:2-3.  “I will bless you…and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”  Rather than smugly thinking we’re superior to the poor, we should humbly thank God for the advantages we’ve had and then pay them forward.  Share the blessing.

          Please hear me: don’t feel guilty about being blessed; feel grateful!  Thank God for all He’s given us.  Just remember that He has blessed us to be a blessing.  Let your gratitude move you to bless and help others.  We shouldn’t feel guilty for being blessed; but we should feel guilty for not blessing others…for being the priest or Levite that ignores our neighbor and walks by on the other side. Rich says, “It is not our fault people are in poverty, but it is our responsibility to do something about it.” (pg. 123)

          So how do we solve poverty?  “Poverty is extremely complex…While there are solutions to poverty…there are no simple solutions.” (pg. 125)  Where do we start?  By listening to the poor.  We start with the assets and strengths of the poor.

ILL: I’ve been reading a book, Out of Poverty, by Paul Polak.  He insists that nobody knows poverty like the poor, and they know what they need to overcome poverty—they just don’t have it or can’t get it. 

          When he asked them, “why are you poor?” they said, “we don’t make enough money.  If we made more money, we wouldn’t be poor.”  So how do we help them make more money?  Most of these people are subsistence farmers living on what they can produce on small 1 acre farms.  “If we could grow more crops, or get them to market, we could make more money.”  So Paul helps them do that, and has helped millions of people out of extreme poverty.

Perhaps the worst mistake we can make is to see the poor as unable to help themselves, and see ourselves as their saviors.  As we heard over and over in Kenya, they need partners, not saviors.  We start by listening.

We think that poverty is the absence of things: the poor lack food, medicine, clean water, clothing, tools; if they had these things they would no longer be poor.  So our first thought is simply to give the poor what they lack.  And there are urgent situations where this is necessary—when someone is dying of starvation, we should give them food; or if they have no clean water, we drill a well.  But this alone doesn’t address the underlying causes of poverty, and it often creates an unhealthy dependency.  Solving poverty requires a more wholistic approach, that addresses injustice in the system, as well as the individual elements of poverty.

ILL: Recently, I met Mike Stemm, from Post Falls.  Eight years ago, Mike was an executive at Kaiser; then he went on a mission trip to Ethiopia and was ruined.  He came home, quit his job, and devoted his life to making a difference in Ethiopia.  And what he’s done is nothing short of spectacular!  I don’t have time to describe it all, but Mike has taken a wholistic approach to helping these people. 

He started with jobs.  He realized that this region of Ethiopia grew great coffee, but the growers were working with big international coffee companies that didn’t share the profits and kept the growers as indentured servants, making a dollar a day.  Mike created Dominion Trading Company, and started buying their coffee, and sharing the profits with them.  He also invested some of the profits in new technology that would help them grow and process more coffee.  Soon the growers bought the processing plant; they made more money.

Some of the profits were invested in medical training, which has resulted in reducing the mortality rate by half in this region!  Other profits were used for an orphanage.  And some went to church planting—profits from the coffee business have started and support 40 church plants in Ethiopia!  I’m barely scratching the surface, but the point is that Mike realized poverty is complex and has taken a wholistic approach that is working. 

I’m pleased to say that we’re partnering with Mike in Ethiopia, and the first step in that partnership is that beginning next week, we’ll be serving their coffee in our coffee bar.  More about that next week.

Poverty is complex, and we’ll have to be smart if we’re going to do more than give hand outs. 

          Chapters 12 and 13 are two of the most difficult and moving chapters in the book.  Rich describes the web of poverty and the spiders that live in the web:  hunger, lack of clean water, disease (he focuses on malaria, TB, and HIV/AIDS), lack of basic resources, illiteracy, the vulnerability of women, war and refugees, and evil.  How many of you cried when you read these chapters?  I did—it was overwhelming. 

  • You read about hunger: that 854 million people do not have enough food to sustain them—they are slowly starving; that almost half of those are children; that 25,000 people die each day of hunger or its related causes.  The world produces enough food for all of us, but it’s not distributed equally.
  • You read about the lack of clean water: 1.2 billion people live without clean water, and it’s killing them—5 million people a year.  This is why we drilled the well in Adiedo.  You read about Rich’s wife, Renee, going a day without water, and walking two miles to the lake to fetch water in a bucket.  By the time she got home, most of it had sloshed out, and she was exhausted.  In many places, women and children make multiple trips like that every day, fetching water, and often it’s dirty, deadly water.  (By the way, Renee is coming with Rich in 3 weeks, and on Saturday evening, Nov. 14, she will be speaking for ladies here at Life Center.)
  • You read about disease, especially malaria, TB, and HIV/AIDS.  You read the story and saw the video of Renee talking with the young mother who wasn’t able to bring her terribly ill son to the clinic because she didn’t have 50 cents for the bus.  Imagine your child dying because you don’t have bus fare!

ILL: I was born with pyloric stenosis.  A small growth had closed the opening into my intestines at the bottom of my stomach; food couldn’t be digested or assimilated.  I would eat, and then throw it all up violently—it is called “projectile vomiting”.  My mom said I could lie in my crib and hit the ceiling!  By the time I was six weeks old, I had lost 40% of my birth weight. I was dying.  But I had the good fortune of being born in America, where my parents could take me to doctors who diagnosed and surgically repaired my birth defect.  And here I am 58 years later.

          If I had been born in many other places in the world, I would have died before I turned 3 months old.  My parents would have watched their firstborn slowly starve to death, and been unable to prevent it.  This is the world that over 3 billion people still live in.  There is a hole in our world.

          Most of here today could tell a similar story, and you may not even be aware of it!  We take our medical care for granted.  Who has had an abscessed tooth, or an ear infection, or diarrhea, or a cut that got infected?  Those and a host of other common ailments are routinely treated and cured in America, but are often fatal in other parts of the world.

  • You read about lack of basic resources, and the amazing difference that microloans can make.  Didn’t you love the story of Rodrick and Beatrice in Zambia who started with a loan to make tie-died cloth, and now have 11 businesses!  Or the story of Lida in Armenia who started with a loan for a sewing machine and turned it into a factory that employs 40 people and ships internationally!
  • You read about the lack of access to basic education and the scourge of illiteracy.
  • You read about the vulnerability of women, and this amazing statement: “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.” (pg. 156-7)
  • You read about the devastating effects of war and the plight of refugees—9.9 million refugees, most living in unimaginable poverty in refugee camps; and 23.7 million people displaced from their homes by war.  How could you not cry when you read the story of Margaret, the woman whose face was disfigured by rebel soldiers and God gave her the grace to forgive the man who mutilated her. 

Poverty is very complex.  There are no simple solutions.  But there are solutions, and in chapter 14, “Finally the good news”, Rich points out that we’re making progress, and if we’re going to be part of the solution, we have to remember these three things:

  • Every one of these hurting people is created in God’s image and loved by him.
  • Every one of these challenges has a solution.
  • Every one of us can make a difference.  (pg. 151, 161-2)

It’s a big world, with a big hole in it!  But we can make a difference one person at a time.

ILL: Rich told the story, and I’ve told it before too, of the man walking on a beach on which thousands of starfish had been washed up by a storm.  He saw another man throwing starfish back into the surf, one starfish at a time.  He asked the man, “What are you doing?”

          He replied, “Saving the starfish.”

          “But,” he said, “there are thousands of starfish; you can’t make a difference.”

          The man bent down, picked up a starfish and flung it into the water.  “It made a difference to that one.” 

At the bottom of your outline, I wrote another Bob Pierce quote.  Would you read it with me?  “Don’t fail to do something just because you can’t do everything.”  Bob Pierce.

The hole in our world is huge.  There are so many people hurting and suffering, so many lying by the road, that it’s tempting to just walk by, to get back to our comfortable homes as quickly as we can and forget the hungry, the thirsty, the sick and suffering.  But they’re our neighbors.  And whatever we do for one of them, we do for Jesus.  Which is why…


3. It’s always personal.

          Watch this: Rich’s second video—the story of the boy without feet.

          I can’t change everything, but I can change something.  I can’t help everyone, but I can someone.  It’s always personal.  Let’s pray.