Filling the Hole in Our Gospel

Part 1: Praying and Giving

 

Opening:

Welcome to 10-10-10!

Almost a year ago, we did a series called “The Hole in Our Gospel” that was a defining moment for our church. Today, I’m going to tell you the story of what happened leading up to that, and what’s happened since, and how you can be involved in filling the hole in our gospel by helping the poor in Jesus’ name.

Today, over a billion people don’t have access to clean water; almost a billion people don’t have enough to eat; half the world is living on less than $2 a day; and 24,000 children will die of preventable causes. Those are sobering statistics; but they are more than statistics; those are people—and I know some of them. Poverty is personal.

On the cover of your program is a picture—I took this picture of a little boy named Emmanuel in Homa Bay, Kenya. His mother, Grace, is now working full time for Spring of Hope, our ministry in Kenya. When I took this picture, Emmanuel was 3; his father Willis had died 3 weeks before of complications from malaria. When this program was designed a couple weeks ago, Emmanuel was in the hospital in Homa Bay, fighting for his life because of malaria. We didn’t know if he would live or die. After two blood transfusions—a frightening prospect in Africa—Emmanuel has recovered and is home, but is still in need of your prayers.

This reminds me: it’s personal. I hope it reminds you too.

Today and next Sunday we’re talking about what we’re doing together to alleviate poverty in Jesus’ name, and how you can be involved. It’s personal.

(Pray for Emmanuel.)

CD release next Sunday (back of tear-off)—CDs available for $10 each after services; free CD release concert at 6:30 PM.

Introduction:

Last year, in May of 2009, I went with a team from our church to Kenya with our friend David Opap. We were going to drill a well in David’s village of Adiedo, located in western Kenya, and to begin building long-term relationships with people there. David had met with the village leaders and asked what their development goals were and they had listed three: clean water, a medical clinic, and improved access to education for all their children. They agreed to start with clean water. The water source at that time was a few shallow ponds of murky brown water that were shared with livestock and infested with parasites. David’s mother and five of his siblings had died from water-borne diseases. We decided to partner with David and when we presented this need to you in March of 2009, you responded with a generous offering of $67,000. We used approximately $17,000 to drill and finish that first well. A community water committee oversees the well and charges a small fee (pennies) to draw water; this money is used for well maintenance. Hundreds of people come every day to draw clean, life-giving water for their families. We are preparing now to drill a second well, this one at the local schools: an elementary school with 600 students and a secondary school with 200 students. Imagine a school with 800 students and no water! Drilling is scheduled to begin later this month, hopefully while our team is there. If this well costs about the same as the first, it will leave us with enough to do another well or two. Thank you!

While we were in Kenya, I read Rich Stearns’ book, The Hole in Our Gospel. In it, Rich describes global poverty and calls the church, particularly us, the wealthy American church, to care for the poor. Jesus said that His gospel was good news for the poor (Luke 4:18). But the American church—the wealthiest church in the history of Christianity—gives only 2% of 2% to any kind of help, evangelistic or developmental—to the poorest of the poor around the world. This is “the hole in our gospel”. We need to care for the poor as Jesus does.

Working with the poor in the day, reading the book at night—I was undone! I was so moved that I decided I wanted everyone in our church to read this book. So we bought 5700 copies, gave them to all of you, and we read the book together, and I gave four talks based on the book last fall. Rich, who is the president of World Vision, the largest Christian relief and development organization in the world, agreed to come and give the final talk in the series. If you missed this series, you can listen to them on our website or get the CD’s at the Info Center. And if you haven’t read the book, we have copies for $5 (our cost) at the Info Center.

When we asked Rich to speak, his only condition was that we make child sponsorships available, something that we already do several times a year. However, as momentum built during the series, we kept calling World Vision, asking them to raise the number of sponsorship packets they were bringing from 200 to 500 to 1000 to 1500. And on that Sunday, you sponsored 1500 kids—we put the packets on the wall and within two minutes after each service, the walls were swept clean! Some people were upset because they couldn’t get to the walls in time! Since then, we’ve sponsored a couple hundred more kids from Swaziland, Kenya, El Salvador and other countries. Those 1500 kids on one day represented $52,500 a month, or $630,000 a year, the largest special offering we have ever taken at Life Center, larger than our building campaign in 2002. And because we have promoted child sponsorship in our services for over 20 years, we estimate that together we sponsor over 3000 kids around the world, a contribution well over $100,000 a month or $1.2 million a year.

By the way, your generosity has inspired others. A few months ago, Rich Stearns was speaking at a large church in California, and told them the story of what happened here at Life Center. The pastor got up and challenged his church, “We can’t let a church in dinky Spokane sponsor more kids than us! We can do better—we’ve got money! Some of you here could sponsor 100 kids if you want!” He called Rich the next day: “1504,” he told Rich. And 3 people sponsored 100 kids each! God used your generosity to spur that church on!

2 Corinthians 9:2 “Your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action.”

Not only did we sponsor hundreds of kids, but that series ignited a fire in our church that continues to burn, and I hope will burn in your heart as well. In the 11 months since that series, we have been working to fill the hole in our gospel, to engage the poor in Jesus’ name.

We help the poor because it is the right thing to do. Period. We don’t need any other reason to do good other than doing good for good’s sake. But as Christians, we also do good for God’s sake. Jesus said,

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.

Who gets the credit when we do good? God. This verse convinces me that one of the best ways to make disciples, to bring people to Jesus, is to do good. When people seeing us doing good, they will praise our Father; they will turn to God. Sadly, the church is America is more known for what it is against than what it is for. We are more known for protesting at abortion clinics, picketing funerals, and threatening to burn Korans. Not a lot of people are “praising our Father in heaven” when they see these things!

A friend recently asked me, “What are ‘good deeds’ that everyone would consider good?” How would you answer?

  • Helping the poor; alleviating or overcoming poverty.

  • Caring for widows and orphans. I know one church that decided to take care of the orphans and displaced children in their county. They developed a training program for foster care and adoption that was so good that the county asked them to take over their foster care. Every child and family involved in foster care in that county goes through this church’s ministry.

  • Working for peace and justice.

  • Providing clean water to those who have none.

  • Providing food to the hungry. I know one church that decided no child in their county would go to bed hungry.

  • Providing health care for those who have none; caring for the sick and the dying.

  • Making education accessible to all.

These are things that everyone (or almost everyone) would recognize as good. They are also things that Jesus tells us to do.

Luke 12:33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.

 

Matthew 25:35–36 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.’

 

James 1:27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

 

Matthew 5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.

 

When we do these good things that Jesus commanded, people will praise our Father in heaven.

So for the last 11 months, we have been working on filling the hole in our gospel, and we have been on a steep learning curve! I just finished a book, When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty without Hurting the Poor. The book was recommended to us by two of our partners, Compassion International and World Vision. Written last year, the book discusses the complex nature of poverty, and gives a biblical and holistic approach to helping the poor without hurting them or us. The authors show how many of our first instincts to help are counter-productive. We have good intentions and bad methods. They point out the difference between relief, rehabilitation and development. Relief is going in during or after a disaster and offering immediate assistance to people who might die without it. Think of Haiti. Rehabilitation is helping people get back on their feet, back to where they were. Development is helping them move into a better future; it is improving their long-term outlook. It is important to apply the right solution to the problem; often we are offering relief when development is needed. We’re giving money instead of creating jobs. They also say that many of our short-term missions unintentionally do more harm than good, as do many of our poverty alleviation strategies here at home.

Poverty is complex, and poverty alleviation is complex. There aren’t easy answers; if there were, there would be no poverty!

We are requiring anyone who goes on a mission trip with us to read this book. And many of our leaders are reading it and reevaluating our efforts in light of what it says. If you want to read along, we have copies of the book available at the info center at our cost ($9). Here’s the deal: we’ve said all along that we want to make a lasting difference, not just slap a band-aid on the problem. I still would like every one of you to experience an international mission trip; we just want to make sure that we do it so that not only are you changed, but we leave lasting positive change where we go.

So we’re on a steep learning curve. But we’re busy moving forward. Let me tell you what we’ve done.

We’ve created a new team on our staff, the Community and International Partnerships team, led by Kristi Burns. Kristi oversees our international partnerships, and Kenna Joner oversees our local partnerships. These two hard-working ladies, assisted by Annie Compogno, have formed strategic partnerships with solid organizations that are helping the poor here at home and around the world so that you can be involved. We are calling this effort “Love 360”. Take a look at this:

 

Video:

 

I want to thank Kristi and Kenna; they have worked hard all this year to create these partnerships to help all of us engage with the poor in Jesus’ name both locally and around the world. If you want more information about what we’re doing and how you can be involved, I want to steer you to two places.

First, go to our website. Go straight to www.lifecenter.net/love360, or go to lifecenter.net and click on the “outreach” tab. It will look like this. You can drill down by clicking on tabs for community impact, international, child sponsorships, and missionaries that we support. You will also find links to each of our partners where you can find information about getting involved. Go to website; explore and get involved!

Second, look at the Love 360 piece in your program. This piece gives information about each of our partners, and how you can get involved by praying, giving and serving. This is a great overview of what we’re doing, here at home and around the world, with a focus on the clear steps of action: pray, give, serve.

Here are three ways you can be involved; I’m going to talk about the first two of those before we close.

 

1. Pray: break my heart with the things that break Yours.

One of our mottos here at Life Center is “Pray first.” We’re trying to live as followers of Jesus, so we think it is a good idea to check in with our Leader and get our marching orders before we go charging off! Pray first.

I’ve listed many verses from the New Testament on prayer; I hope you’ll read these and think about them; maybe read them and discuss them at your Life Group. I warn you: these are dangerous verses, because when we pray, God works. And God often recruits you, the pray-er, into His work! For example, Jesus told the disciples to pray that God would send workers into the harvest; in the next verse, Jesus says, “Go, I’m sending you!”

When we pray, God works! Things happen! You and I are Christians today because two guys prayed: a Roman centurion named Cornelius and the apostle Peter. The story is in Acts 10. These two guys prayed, God acted, and Christianity changed from an exclusive Jewish sect to an inclusive, worldwide movement.

When we work, we work; when we pray, God works. And He may pull you right into the middle of what He is doing!

Let’s look at the first Scripture, what is commonly known as the Lord’s Prayer. Let’s read this together.

Matthew 6:9–13 “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 10 your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us today our daily bread. 12 Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”

I’ve been praying this prayer a lot lately, and I’ve been praying parts of it for specific people and situations. For example: “May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

  • When I pray for our well-drilling efforts in Kenya, I pray this. I think it is God’s will for people to have clean water to drink.

  • When I pray for our efforts at Sheridan elementary, I pray this. I think it is God’s will that children have a good education and good role models and mentors.

  • When I pray for women and children trapped in the sex-slave industry, I pray this. I think it is God’s will for these women and children to be free and healed.

When we pray for God’s will to be done on earth as in heaven, God may very well include you in making that happen! Start praying that prayer!

Also, when I pray “Give us today our daily bread,” I can’t help but think about all those who don’t have daily bread. Over 800 million people are starving—they are not getting enough daily nutrition to survive. I can’t pray that prayer without thinking of them…and doing something about it. When you pray, God works, and will recruit you into His work.

And that leads to another prayer I’ve been praying a lot. “God, break my heart with the things that break yours.” Bob Pierce prayed that prayer, and ended up founding World Vision, which has helped millions of poor children and families. It’s a powerful prayer; it will change you, and if enough of us pray it, it could change the world.

Pray first. We can all pray. You will find specific things to pray for at the Love 360 page on our website, and in the printed piece in your program. Also, I challenge you to pray these two prayers each day this week and see what happens. Let’s do it now.

 

Pray.

 

2. Give: be generous with the poor, and be smart about it!

We can all pray.

And we can all give. You will also find specific ways to give on the Love 360 page on our website and in this printed piece.

I’ve listed lots of references on your outline about giving to the poor; it’s a major theme in the Bible. God promises to bless those who give to the poor. You can’t out-give God! When you care for the poor, God will care for you.

Be generous with the poor, and be smart about it. You can give to the poor so that you feel good about it, but if it’s not done wisely, it can make the poor feel disempowered, devalued, dependent, disrespected and embarrassed. Right-hearted but wrong-headed giving can do more harm than good.

This is why I love sponsoring children. World Vision and Compassion International have been doing this for years, and have a very smart, holistic approach to development that benefits children and their families, and the whole community and the local church. Your $35 a month not only benefits the child, but impacts the life of the entire community. The money is used for development that raises the entire community out of poverty by providing clean water, sustainable food supplies, medical treatment, economic development through job creation, and gets kids in school. And they do it in ways that support and strengthen the local church wherever possible. It is the best investment you can make with that $35—bar none!

I think every American Christian ought to sponsor a child—some of you can and should sponsor more. I think it ought to be built right into our disciple-making process: become a Christian, get baptized, sponsor a child, read your Bible, grow in your faith. Besides the difference your money makes, you get to build a relationship with that child, a relationship that can also make a huge difference. If you are not sponsoring a child, there are tables in the Commons:

  • World Vision in Swaziland.

  • Compassion in El Salvador.

  • Spring of Hope in Kenya.

You can sponsor before you leave today; you can also go to our website, click on that “outreach” tab and you’ll find a link to all three of these child sponsorships. It’s one of the easiest and most helpful ways to give to the poor.

Give! Sponsor a child! Thank you to all of you who do!

You are one of the most generous churches I know. I want to talk about what we give, together.

Last fall, I talked about what would happen if every American Christian tithed. The word “tithe” means “a tenth”. To tithe is to give God one tenth of your income. 10% right off the top! It’s what the Israelites did in the Old Testament, and Christians have long considered it the starting point for Christian giving. If the Law required 10%, how could we who are living under grace do less? Besides, we understand that it’s all God’s—not just 10% of what we have—all of it!

But American Christians don’t tithe. We average around 2.5% in our giving, about 75% less than the biblical minimum. What if every American Christian tithed—just did what Christians consider the biblical minimum? We would have an extra $168 billion a year. Even if every church doubled its budget for what it is doing locally (and many need to), we would still have $112 billion a year to spend on the poorest of the poor. To put that in perspective, we could bring clean water to everyone who doesn’t have it for about $9 billion. We could guarantee universal primary education for $6 billion. Provide basic health care for those who have none: $13 billion. We could change the world…if we just tithed!

I challenged you to do this last fall. I’d love to say that we did it—that we became the first American church in which everyone gave at least 10% to God. I still hope to say that some day. We’re not there yet, but we made progress. In an economic recession, our giving increased 7% over the year before. Thank you!

Let me show you what we do with your offerings. Look at the pie chart insert in your program; let’s start with the 2010 expense report.

  • 58.5% of your offering paid for ministry programs and staff. That includes salary and benefits for 60 people on our staff, and the expenses associated with all the ministries that operate from Life Center—and it’s a lot! The “ministry” label is a little misleading, because it’s all used for ministry. For example, the next portion is “facilities”, but what do we use these facilities for? Ministry. Same with operations and giving: it’s all ministry. But we had to have more detail than one big circle that said “ministry”.

  • 21.5% of your offering paid for facilities.

  • 15% of your offering was given away.

  • 5% of your offering goes to operations—nuts and bolts stuff.

Since we’re asking you to give more, we thought it would be good for you to see what we as a church give. Last year, we gave away 15% of all our offerings. Turn your page over and you’ll see where that went.

  • 51.5% of that (roughly 8% of our income) was our monthly contribution to our denomination. This money funds our international mission department, our national and district offices, our Bible college, retirement for pastors, church planting and church assistance, and many other things.

  • 36.5% of that (roughly 5% of our income) went to the listed international ministries and missionaries.

  • 12% of that (just under 2% of our income) went to the listed local ministries and benevolence.

We gave away 15% of everything that you gave last year; that’s where it went. Notice that this doesn’t include child sponsorships—that would drive the percentages way up!

But I also pitched this vision last year that if you gave more, we could give more. So here is some very exciting news: you gave more last year! You gave $240,000 above our budgeted expenses. Our church council unanimously agreed to commit all of that surplus to our local and international partnerships. We’re going to give it all away to help fill the hole in our gospel. This means that we are able to raise that giving total from 15% to 20%! We are giving away 20% of everything you gave. And one day, I’d like to get that number up to 50%. I would love to be giving away as much as we spend on ourselves. It is kind of like loving your neighbor as yourself.

Which brings me back to the vision. I said last year that if everyone tithed, we could double our budget for local ministry and still be able to give away an amount equal to our budget. Said another way, if we all tithed, we could double our budget and ministry, and still give away 50% of our income to the poor, those helping the poor, and those taking the gospel to the world.

You are one of the most generous churches I know. It’s one of the reasons God’s blessing is on us! “Give and it will be given to you,” Jesus said. Thank you for your generosity in sponsoring children, in giving to our church and to other ministries locally and internationally. Here’s my plea: let’s get more generous! Let’s keep giving more until we’re giving away 50%. And I promise you that we will do our best to be smart about our giving—to give in ways that really help the poor and bring praise to our Father.

 

Closing Prayer

Pray and give! Next week, two more action steps: love and serve.