Good morning.  I must say that it is a real privilege to speak at this church this morning.  Your pastor emailed me months back asking if I could speak here this fall.  Honestly, I have to say no to most of the requests I receive from churches to come and speak because I have a pretty demanding day job.  But when I learned how over the top fanatical your pastor and this church were about reading my book – I just had to come.

 

But here is my problem – you’ve read the book and over the past four weeks your pastor has used all of my best material – so I had to struggle to find something new to say.  But as any teacher will tell you, we learn best through repetition.  So, there will be some of that this morning but hopefully some new stories and ideas as well.

 

I want to begin today by talking a bit about the 21st century world that we live in and raise the important question of world view.

 

All of us have a world view or ‘view of the world’ which informs the way we live in the world, the decisions we make and the attitudes we hold toward the rest of the world.

 

In particular I’d like to start with what I call the ‘Rick Steves’ view of the world.

 

Rick Steves, of course is the wonderful travel writer who writes all of those marvelous travel guides.  Perhaps you’ve used Rick Steve’s Best of Europe, RS Italy, RS Great Britain or RS Rome – something Renee and I relied on when we visited Rome a few years back.

 

In the Rick Steves world view, the world is a wonderful and fascinating place – filled with magnificent monuments, historical places, cultural attractions, quaint bed and breakfasts, coffee houses and fabulous restaurants and food.  The world is a veritable theme park just waiting for us to explore it.

 

And all of that is true about the amazing world we live in.

 

But then there is a darker, more sinister world view; this one I call ‘the Rich Stearns view of the world’ and it is starkly different – but also true.

 

In this view of the world we need only begin with the headlines of the last few weeks.  A tsunami that devastated Samoa, two typhoons which slammed into Taiwan and the Phillipines, a series of deadly earthquakes in Indonesia and massive floods in India and just this week, El Salvador – a string of events that took thousands of lives and left tens of thousands homeless.

 

And that’s just in the last few weeks.

 

There are also severe famines in Northern Kenya and Zimbabwe, the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Darfur, the violence and tension in the middle east, the twenty year war in the Congo during which thousands of women have been brutally raped – a war that has taken 5 million lives.

 

Of course there is the violence in Iraq and Afghanistan – – nuclear weapon threats in Iran and N Korea.

 

Add to all of this the perils of climate change, ethnic and religious hatreds and violence, the blight of human trafficking, pandemic diseases like AIDS, Cholera, Tuberculosis and swine flu and the staggering problems faced by Africa’s 50 million orphaned children.

 

And we must not leave out the statistics of widespread grinding and brutal poverty – that…

 

          – 2.6 billion live on less than $2 a day

          – 1 billion are starving

          – another billion lack clean water and sanitation

          – 33 million are living with HIV or AIDS

          – 1 million die annually of malaria

 

And most appalling of all – 26,575 children under the age of five die every single day of preventable causes – simply because they are poor.  That’s almost 10 million children every year – one every three seconds.

 

What a great topic for a Sunday sermon.

 

This view of our world is mind numbing and I completely understand why most of us would do almost anything to put it out of our minds – change the channel – turn the page – look the other way – and do anything we can to avoid thinking about all of this.

 

It is so much easier and pleasant for us to live inside our more comfortable bubbles – insulated from all of this ugliness – where we can focus on thoughts of

 

          -Our families

          -Our careers

          -Our church and our Bible study groups

-Our social lives, school events, golf games, our friendships, our gardens, our home improvement projects and perhaps even our upcoming ‘RickSteves’ vacations.

 

Unfortunately, I don’t think God allows us that option.  God wants us to see the world the way that He sees the world.  He wants us to see it through His eyes – not through the distorted lens of our modern, affluent and insular American culture. 

 

World Vision’s founder, Bob Pierce once prayed this now famous prayer – “Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.”

 

It starts with a broken heart.

 

Are our hearts broken by the things that are happening outside of the comfortable walls of our homes our churches, our neighborhoods and our workplaces?

 

I wrote my book because I have come to believe that there is something fundamentally missing from our understanding of the gospel or good news.  And I believe that God wants more from us than just believing the right things, reading our Bibles and going to church on Sunday.

 

There is a simple but profound question on the cover of my book: What does God expect of us?  All my life I have struggled to answer this simple question.

 

Frankly this is a question that is very personal for me because eleven years ago I had to answer it in a way that changed my life.  Let me share with you that story.

 

It started with a phone call.

 

I was sitting in my office at Lenox when my assistant indicated that an executive recruiter was calling.  The recruiter’s name was Rob and he told me he had been retained to find the next president for World Vision.  I listened patiently to Rob’s spiel and he concluded by asking if I knew anyone who might be a good fit.

 

I remember saying that I didn’t – that this was a tough job to fill – because they way I saw it, he was looking for someone who was part CEO,  part Mother Teresa, and part Indiana Jones – not an easy combination to find in the same person.

 

Then came the question – what about you – would you be interested in the job?  Me, I laughed?  Rob, did you miss the part where I’m running a luxury goods company?  Not only am I not qualified, I’m not available and not interested – sorry. 

 

But Rob didn’t stop.    I want to have dinner with you, he said, – we need to meet. 

 

Rob, no, I won’t have dinner with you.  Let’s not waste our time.  This isn’t going to happen.  I knew this was a dangerous phone call.  But Rob just wouldn’t quit. 

 

Finally he said, let me ask you a different question.  And here it came: Rich, are you willing to be open to God’s will for your life?  Now that’s not a nice question!  Not very polite at all – and not an easy question to answer.

 

Because, you see there were so many other questions behind that question.  Questions like these:

 

  • Rich, are you willing to quit the job that you worked 25 years to get?
  • Are you willing to walk away from your career – maybe commit career suicide? And how about the 75% cut in pay you’ll need to take?
  • Then there’s that ten bedroom 1803 fieldstone farmhouse on 5 acres – you know, the one that was the house of Renee’s dreams.  Are you willing to sell that.
  • Are you and your family willing to just pull up stakes and leave all of your friends behind?

 

Are you willing to be open to God’s will for your life? What a terrible question.  And then there were the questions that cut even deeper.

 

  • Rich, are you willing to enter the pain and the suffering of the poor- for my sake?
  • Are you willing to travel to garbage dumps where children scavenge for food, enter the stench of refugee camps, hold dying babies in your arms, see the eyes of famine staring back at you from children’s faces?  Are you willing to follow me there, Rich?

 

 

In those few seconds, all of those issues and questions flashed through my head.  Because you see, in my heart I knew what was at stake here.  God was asking me that day to choose.  He was asking me what kind of disciple I was willing to be. 

 

What was the most important thing in my life?  Was it my career, my financial security, my family, my stuff?  Or, was I committed to following Christ regardless of the cost – no matter what?

 

Was I willing to be open to God’s will for my life? 

 

I heard Rob’s voice again on the phone.  

 

Well,…. I said,…… yes, …….I do want to be open to God’s will for my life – but I’m pretty sure this is not it.

 

Let’s find out, he said.  Have dinner with me.

 

Someone once said that Jesus came to comfort the afflicted – and also, to afflict the comfortable.  Are you comfortable this morning?

 

I can tell you that in the weeks after that phone call eleven years ago trying to decide whether I was willing to be open to God’s will for my life – I was sorely afflicted.

 

After climbing the corporate ladder and living the American Dream for twenty five years – I have now had an opportunity to see and experience the world’s nightmare.  And it has radically changed my view of the world and our responsibilities before God. 

 

And as a result, here I am, eleven years, forty three countries and one million air miles later trying to afflict all of you with God’s view of our world.

 

Because you see, underneath every one of these horrible statistics and mind numbing global problems are individual men and women and children, each made in the image of God and each precious in His sight – people that Christ loved so much that He died for them.

 

So what does God expect of us in the face of all of this?

 

Normally I would summarize for you many of the great passages of scripture that describe what God expects of those of us who claim to follow Christ – Matthew 25, James 2, Isaiah 58, I John 3, Deuteronomy 15 and Luke 4 – but as I said at the start – Joe has stolen all of my thunder over the past four weeks.

 

But I do want to circle back to Ephesians 2 because whenever I speak and tell people that I believe the gospel is about both faith AND works, they get concerned that somehow I am suggesting that our salvation is dependent on our works.

 

In Ephesians 2 we read the key text that puts this common fallacy to rest:

8 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.”[1]

 

Clearly, our personal salvation depends only on the atoning gift of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

 

But the very next verse in Ephesians gives us a glimpse of God’s expectations of just what that saving faith is supposed to produce:

 

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

 

In other words,

 

The purpose of our faith…………..

 

The product of our faith…………..

 

The logical outcome of our faith…………..

 

Is to do good works – works that God prepared in advance for us to do.

 

Therefore, good works are the evidence that we have experienced redemption and renewal in Christ.

 

Let me illustrate this by asking you to picture two large apple trees.

 

One tree is brittle, dry, and has no leaves or fruit on it at all.

 

The second tree is lush and green, covered by leaves and so laden with fruit such that the branches are bent toward the ground.

 

Obviously, by the evidence, the first tree is dead.

 

And the second tree, bursting with fruit, is very much alive.

 

But it isn’t the fruit that produced the life in the tree……………

 

It is the life in the tree that produced the fruit.

 

The fruit and the leaves are the tangible evidence that the tree is alive.

 

So it is with our salvation.

 

It isn’t our good works and deeds that result in our salvation.

 

Rather, our good works and deeds are the evidence of our salvation.

 

God is not pleased with those who claim to believe but bear no fruit.

 

I’ve asked you some challenging questions this morning but there is a very tough question that Jesus himself asked of His followers found in Luke 6.   And it sends a chill up my spine every time I read it:

 

“Why do you call me Lord, Lord but do not do what I say?”

 

He went on in Matthew 7 to use this very same metaphor of bearing fruit to explain with brutal clarity just what He thinks of people who talk the talk but fail to walk the walk.

 

Listen:

 

16 “By their fruit you will recognize them.  18A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit….”

 

19 “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  20Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”

 

Now here’s the hard part……..

 

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  22Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’  23Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you.  Away from me, you evildoers!”

 

 

You get the picture.  The answer to the question of what God expects of us is not all that mysterious.  Scripture is really quite clear.

 

Jesus made it even simper for us when he summarized the two greatest commandments.

 

“Love the Lord your God with your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  ‘This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it:  Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Mt 22:36-39

 

God’s expectations are pretty simple –

 

Love God and love our fellow man

 

In the end, we are called to do these things out of love for our Savior.  Our concern for the least of these should flow from our hearts in love.

 

God loved us so much that he sent his only son Jesus-

 

—and then Jesus sent us-to be His hands and feet and heart to the poor.

 

Mother Teresa once said, “I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world.”

 

You see, the gospel – or good news – is about love – God’s love – expressed to the world – God’s love in action.

 

And we – you and me – have been called by God to demonstrate His love to a hurting world.  And that’s why the gospel is such good news.

 

Now, as you might imagine, I’ve had conversations with hundreds of people about what I call the “hole” in our gospel – and I almost always hear something like this:

 

“Rich, the problems of poverty and injustice in our world are just so big and overwhelming – and I’m just one person. What can I possibly do to make a difference?”

The answer to that question has a lot to do with perspective.

 

Have you ever put together one of those 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzles only to find out that you only had 999 pieces?  I have, and it drove me crazy trying to find that missing piece.  I looked under the furniture and pulled the cushions out of the couch to find that one missing piece.  Because, you see, without that small piece, the picture was incomplete.

 

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.  Every single piece is significant.

 

One of the most common mistakes we can make is to believe that we have nothing of significance to offer – that we’re not rich enough, smart enough, skilled enough, or spiritual enough to make much of a difference at all, especially in the face of huge global problems.

 

The point is that God doesn’t expect any of us to do the impossible – he just calls us to place our piece into the puzzle.  Mother Teresa also said, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.”

 

Let me share a final story – about one such ‘small thing’ – it’s a story of hope and redemption

 

In April, Renee and I traveled to Ethiopia with Max Lucado and his wife Denalynn.  We met a woman there named Wosene, who shared with us her remarkable story.

 

Wosene was a widow and the mother of five children who had fallen into desperate poverty.  How desperate?  Wosene and her children had no income, no food, no clothes and no hope.  They lived in an unimaginable crude mud structure of one room no more than eight feet across and slept body to body on the dirt floor – no beds, mattresses or pillows.  With each rain she and the children huddled inside would be soaked as the driving rain penetrated the shabby leaking roof.  The children could not go to school because they had to go out and find work.

 

Each of us has limits to how much pain and degradation we can bear.  Wosene reached that point one rainy night.  She stripped off her clothing, went into her collapsing hut and lay face down on the ground to pray.  “I was praying in the room.  I was naked in the night. I was planning to commit suicide by taking poison. I prayed, Lord, please deliver me.”

 

Fortunately, community volunteers found Wosene and reported her situation to WV staff who were beginning a new project in Wosene’s community.

 

 

  • Over the next months two of Wosene’s children were sponsored by a woman in Nevada named Donna Galli – a woman I have since met.
  • WV provided a safety net for Wosene and her children received clothes, food and school supplies.
  • Wosene was able to get milk cows a donkey and oxen so that she could work her land, grow food for her family, and take extra milk and produce to the market to sell.
  • An agricultural and irrigation project was started to improve food supply and nutrition in her community.
  • A health outpost was built and staffed with a health worker.
  • AIDS and malaria prevention programs were begun.
  • Wosene showed us letters from her sponsor that were amazing.  Over the past two years, Donna had sent extra gifts to help the family.
    • Money for a new house
    • Livestock
    • She even paid to bring electricity so kids could study.

 

With her new prosperity and a sense of hope, Wosene took in another child – an orphaned boy who she is now raising as one of her own children.

 

Wosene’s infectious smile was perhaps the most joyous I have ever seen – before we left she said to me and to Max – ‘I am the happiest woman on earth!’

 

Wosene’s story is just one of literally millions of stories of changed lives in some of the darkest places around the world.  I have learned over and over again that families like Wosene’s  don’t have to suffer and live in squalor.  They don’t have to lose hope and just give up.    We have the power to change all of that.

 

If any of you here this morning believe poverty is hopeless and that you are too insignificant to make a difference – you need to think again!

 

Today, after the service, each of you will have a chance to change the life of one child and one family like Wosene’s just like Donna Galli did a few years back.  As your pastor indicated last week, World Vision and Life Center are going to partner together to transform a community in Swaziland called Maseyisini.

 

Swaziland is a small country where 63% of the population lives on less than $1.25 a day, one in four adults is HIV positive and life expectance is below 40.  24% of the children are malnourished and one in ten dies before their 5th birthday.  But the good news is that they don’t have to get sick and they don’t have to die – that part is up to us. 

 

If we can get all of these children sponsored, WV can establish what we call and area development project – an ADP.  And over the next fifteen years we will work with the people of Maseyisini to address food and nutrition, clean water, basic health care and AIDS prevention, education for the children and economic opportunity through microloans.  Together we can change the future of an entire community.

 

What does God expect of you this morning?  I’m going to be bold and just talk straight to you.  Perhaps you’re already thinking of why this appeal doesn’t really apply to you – maybe because you already sponsor a child.  I’ve got good news; you’re not limited to one.  My 28 year old son and his wife sponsor 12 children. 

 

The real question to ask of yourself is this:  Am I excused?  Lord, am I excused from this even though compared to any one of these children in Swaziland I am wealthy beyond measure?  The truth is that we spend more on coffee in a day than it costs to sponsor a child.  Most of our teenagers spend more on iTunes in a month than it costs to sponsor a child.

 

There are 1000 children’s photos all around us here this morning 2000 eyes staring at us – it’s almost like they’re in the room with us eagerly waiting to see if this is the day their lives will change.  And if you take one home, you’ll get to watch as their little lives change over the months and years ahead.

 

Let me conclude this morning by reading just one page from my book.

 

With regard to American Christians, the question is not, as the saying goes, the size of the dog in the fight. Clearly, the American Church is a very large “dog.”

But what size is the fight in our dog? Are we fighting the good fight to be

faithful stewards of the abundance entrusted to us by God, or does He

expect more fight out of us? Are we fighting hard on behalf of the poor;

that is, are we giving it all we’ve got? These are the questions we must

each ask, not only of our churches, but of ourselves individually. And they

are not easy to answer.

 

There is much at stake. The world we live in is under siege—three billion

are desperately poor, one billion hungry, millions are trafficked in

human slavery, ten million children die needlessly each year, wars and

conflicts are wreaking havoc, pandemic diseases are spreading, ethnic

hatred is flaming, and terrorism is growing. Most of our brothers and

sisters in Christ in the developing world live in grinding poverty. And in

the midst of this stands the Church of Jesus Christ in America, with

resources, knowledge, and tools unequaled in the history of Christendom.

I believe that we stand on the brink of a defining moment. We have a

choice to make.

 

When historians look back in one hundred years, what will they write

about this nation of 340,000 churches? What will they say of the Church’s

response to the great challenges of our time—AIDS, poverty, hunger,

terrorism, war? Will they say that these authentic Christians rose up courageously

and responded to the tide of human suffering, that they rushed

to the front lines to comfort the afflicted and to douse the flames of hatred?

Will they write of an unprecedented outpouring of generosity to meet the

urgent needs of the world’s poor? Will they speak of the moral leadership

and compelling vision of our leaders? Will they write that this, the beginning

of the twenty-first century, was the Church’s finest hour?

 

Or will they look back and see a Church too comfortable, insulated

from the pain of the rest of the world, empty of compassion, and devoid

of deeds? Will they write about a people who stood by and watched while

a hundred million died of AIDS and fifty million children were orphaned,

of Christians who lived in luxury and self-indulgence while millions died

for lack of food and water? Will schoolchildren read in disgust about a

Church that had the wealth to build great sanctuaries but lacked the will to

build schools, hospitals, and clinics? In short, will we be remembered as the

Church with a gaping hole in its gospel?

 

I believe that much more is at stake than global economics or world

missions. More is at risk even than the lives of the poor and the orphaned.

The heart and soul of the Church of Jesus Christ, the very integrity of our

faith and our relevance in the world, hang in the balance.

 

Do you believe you have the power to change the world?  I do – because I’ve seen the world change.

 

I have seen the revolutionary power of this amazing gospel in our world. 

 

I have seen what’s possible when God’s people take the gospel seriously – the whole gospel – W-H-O-L-E.

 

I’ve seen the hungry fed and people taught to fish and farm. I’ve watched wells being drilled—the thirsty given water. I have seen the sick healed, the lame walk, and the blind given back their sight. I have met refugees who have been resettled and disaster victims who’ve been restored.

 

I’ve seen widows comforted, orphans cared for, young girls freed from slavery and abuse, schools built, clinics opened, babies vaccinated, loans lifting the poor out of poverty

 

— I have seen these things with my own eyes — this amazing, gospel, transforming the most broken of lives and bringing light to the darkest places in our world.  I have seen what’s possible when the gospel is put into action.

 

What about you?  What does God expect of you?  And of your church?  Are you willing to be open to God’s will for your life?

 

It starts with a broken heart.

 

Are your hearts broken by the things that are happening outside the walls of your church – in Spokane, in Seattle, in Swaziland?  What kind of church do you want to be?  Do you believe you have the power to change the world?

 

A pastor of a poor church in Zambia once told me this: ‘ A church that lives within its four walls is no church at all.’

 

I am so excited about the possibilities for this church.  You seem to be on fire to serve the Lord by serving the least of these and taking the whole gospel to the whole world.  This is the kind of church that really can change the world.

 

Think about it – two thousand years ago just twelve men changed the world forever.  Imagine what even one church like yours could do.   It can start  right here.  It can start with this church.  It can start with you.

 

What does God expect of you?

 

 

Let us pray.

 

As we meet in this comfortable and beautiful place, remember our brothers and sisters in Christ who live without comfort

 

  • In poverty

 

  • Under Persecution

 

  • Without a church building

 

  • Without food, water, healthcare

 

Sometimes without hope.  Today thousands of people across the globe are crying out in prayer – victims of disasters, widows and orphans, refugees, the sick, the lame and the desperately poor.  They are praying to God for help in their time of need.

 

Help us Lord to be the answer to their prayers.