Filling the Hole in Our Gospel

Part 2: Loving and Serving



ILL: A church sent a mission team to a Central American country to build a house for a poor family. About a year later, one of the team members was in that country on business, and decided to visit the family in their new house. She was surprised to find nothing but bare dirt. The house they had built was gone. She found out that about a month after the team left, the family had torn the house down and sold the materials to pay for other needs that they considered more important than a nice house. Then they applied to another church to send a team and build them another house.

What was the church’s mistake? They didn’t take the time to build a relationship with the family and find out what their priorities were, what needs they considered most important.

It always starts with relationships. That’s what we’re going to talk about today in the second and final part of “Filling the Hole in our Gospel.”


Offering and announcements:

CD sales (#1). CD’s are $10 each, available after the service in the Commons and outside.  All of the money goes for wells in Swaziland. We have 3000 CD’s—if we sell them all, that’s $30,000 for clean water!

Crown Financial (left side of page). We talked last week about the joy of giving, and many people can’t give because they are up to their eyeballs in debt! This is a Biblically based one-day seminar that will help you get and stay out of debt and manage your money wisely.


You can do it too! Each one of you is called by God into His work of changing the world. Whether it is in Nepal or Spokane, you can be used by God to help the poor and spread the good news of Jesus. We’re going to talk more about how to do that today. First, I want you to meet a young couple who is doing it: Dan and Melina Durham, who are working in Mexico with Campus Crusade for Christ. 

Introduction: Each of us can “fill the hole in our gospel” by engaging the poor in Jesus’ name in four ways: we can pray, give, love and serve.

We are talking about filling the hole in our gospel. Last year, we read together Rich Stearns’ book, The Hole in Our Gospel; it’s referenced on the bottom of your outline (do we have copies to sell?). Rich contends that the hole in our gospel is that we have failed to take seriously God’s command to care for the poor. Jesus said that He came to bring good news to the poor. He told us that at the final judgment we would be judged for the way we treated the poor: did we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, take in the homeless, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and imprisoned? He said that when we do these things, we do them to Jesus! The hole in our gospel is that we are the wealthiest church in history, and yet we give so little of our time, money and energy to helping the poorest of the poor. We fail to see Jesus in the poor.

So how can we fill the hole in our gospel? I said last week that poverty is complex and poverty alleviation is complex. If solving poverty were easy, it would have been done a long time ago. It’s easy to give some money; it’s hard to truly lift people out of poverty. You all know the saying, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Giving a man a fish is relief; there is a time to do that—when a man is dying of starvation, give him a fish. But then we have move from relief to rehabilitation to development. We have to teach him to fish. We have to be smart about helping the poor if we really want to help them and not hurt them.

Last week, I mentioned another book, When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty without Hurting the Poor. It is also referenced on your outline, and we have copies at the Info Center at our price: cheap! This book is reshaping our thinking about our efforts to engage the poor both locally and internationally. You’ll hear more about that in a moment. We want to be smart about what we’re doing so that we make a lasting difference, so that we really help people instead of just doing something that makes us feel good, but leaves them as stuck as ever.

So how can we fill the hole in our gospel? We’re focusing on four things we can all do: pray, give, love and serve. My dream is that each one of you will be engaged both locally and internationally with helping the poor in Jesus’ name. I hope that each of you will find ways to pray, give, love and serve here at home, and around the world. If each of us did one thing locally, and one thing internationally, we’d do a lot.

Last week we talked about praying and giving. One of the best ways you can help the poor internationally is by sponsoring a child. Let me see the hands of everyone who sponsors one or more kids. Wonderful! For $35 a month, you can change the life of a child—in fact, you can help change the lives of an entire village. It is the best $35 investment you can make. I think every American Christian should sponsor a child. It is one way that every one of you can make a difference internationally. Not many of us can travel to Africa or Asia or Central America, but any of us could sponsor a kid there and make a difference! And it is one of the smartest ways you can give to help the poor because these organizations we use to sponsor kids are doing really smart holistic poverty alleviation. We have sponsorship tables in the back of the auditorium after the service; you can stop there or go to our website and click on the outreach tab. You’ll see the link to child sponsorships there.

  • World Vision in Swaziland.

  • Compassion in El Salvador

  • Spring of Hope in Kenya

Sponsor a child and you’ll help alleviate poverty internationally in Jesus’ name.

Pray and give: we talked about those last week. Today, I’m talking about loving and serving. Let’s dive in.


1. Love: poverty is the result of broken relationships.

What is our motto here at Life Center? Loving God, loving people. We chose this motto years ago to summarize what we’re about. We think that this is the most important thing we can do: love God and love people. Where did we get this idea? From Jesus.

Matthew 22:35–40 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

What is the greatest commandment? Love God with all you’ve got; and the second is like it: love your neighbor. Love God and love people. This is the greatest commandment; this is what is most important. Life is fundamentally about relationships. Would you agree with this? Life is fundamentally about relationships; poverty is also fundamentally about relationships. This is one of the main insights of this book, When Helping Hurts. In the 1990’s, the World Bank surveyed more than 60,000 poor people in sixty low-income countries, asking, “What is poverty?”

How would you answer that question? I would say that poverty is not having enough money or material goods to survive or thrive. Isn’t that how we define poverty: the lack of material goods and money?

But the poor answered the question very differently. They mentioned the lack of material things, but they also talked in terms of shame, inferiority, powerlessness, humiliation, fear, hopelessness, depression and isolation. They used words that describe relationships with God, self and others.

Corbett and Fikkert write that Jesus’ words about importance of loving God and people show us that life is fundamentally relational. It is about:

  • Relationship with God.

  • Relationship with self.

  • Relationship with others.

  • Relationship with the rest of creation.

Our sin, both collectively and individually, has broken each of these relationships. In this sense, each of us is poor. Each of us suffers from the poverty of broken relationships. Jesus indicated this in the Beatitudes.

Matthew 5:3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God.

The first step to blessedness, to happiness is realizing your spiritual poverty, that your relationship with God is broken and that you desperately need to be made right with God.

If life is about relationships, and if sin has broken our relationships, then all of us are poor. It is important to remember this when we try to alleviate material poverty. It is not the rich helping the poor; it is the poor helping the poor. We are all poor, just in different ways. Someone said that evangelism is one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread. It is one sinner telling another sinner where to find forgiveness. In the same way, poverty alleviation is one poor person helping another poor person.

Corbett and Fikkert write, “One of the major premises of this book is that until we embrace our mutual brokenness, our work with low-income people is likely to do far more harm than good.” (Ch. 2) They go on to explain that “the economically rich often have ‘god-complexes,’ a subtle and unconscious sense of superiority in which they believe that they have achieved their wealth through their own efforts and that they have been anointed to decide what is best for low-income people, whom they view as inferior to themselves.” We assume we know what to do to “save” poor people. Without ever intending to, we treat them as a project, rather than people.

Corbett and Fikkert go on: “And now we have come to a very central point: one of the biggest problems in many poverty-alleviation efforts is that their design and implementation exacerbates the poverty of being of the economically rich—their god-complexes—and the poverty of being of the economically poor—their feelings of inferiority and shame.” In other words, when we ignore the relationships and address only the material needs, we end up hurting both them and us. Poverty is fundamentally relational; it is the result of broken relationships with God, self, others and the rest of creation.

So what does this mean for you and me? It means that the first and best thing we can do is to love others. Really love them. Take the time to get know them, listen to them, care about them personally. Love them! It is all about the relationships.

As “can-do Americans”, we want to solve problems, fix things, do something! But unless we build relationships, we will do the wrong things, or do the right thing the wrong way. Just as winning people to Christ begins with a relationship, so helping the poor begins with building a relationship. It is all about the relationships. Some examples:

When you sponsor a child, it’s all about the relationships. You give two gifts: the gift of money and the gift of love. You send a check and you have the opportunity to write your child and his/her family, and form a relationship. And there are many stories of these relationships being transformative not only for the children but also for the sponsors.

When we send teams around the world, it’s all about the relationships. Our first and highest goal is to build relationships. We go to listen, to learn and to love. We don’t go as experts with all the answers; we go as learners to get to know people and truly love them. We don’t go as “do-ers” to just get a project done; we go as friends, to build relationships. We have learned this over and over on these trips. Our tendency is to want to go and do a project, but our hosts are more interested in building a relationship. In two weeks, I am going with 5 of our staff to El Salvador where we will spend a week with the staff of our partner church, Iglesia Elim. “What are going to do there?” I asked. The answer: get to know our partners. Build relationships. Love. It’s all about the relationships.

When we serve locally; it’s all about the relationships. If we want to help the poor, we have to know them. We have to build friendships, and listen and love.

ILL: About three years ago, a lady approached me after a service and suggested that we install showers so the homeless could come to church. We talked about it for a moment and she left. I didn’t ask her name, or anything about herself. Later, it dawned on me that she might have been asking for herself. I blew it, and had no way of contacting her. I prayed and asked the Lord to bring her back and give me another chance.

The next week, she returned, and we talked for about half an hour; sure enough, this dear lady was trapped in poverty. It was the beginning of a friendship that resulted in many conversations, phone calls, shared meals and visits to her home over the next 18 months. Laina and I visited her home that December just before Christmas; the power and water were both off. We went there to give her some money for Christmas. She didn’t ask for money; she wanted friendship. Laina and I realized that giving her money was the wrong thing to do. I was getting a first hand education in the complexity of poverty; this lady was my teacher, and my friend.

A moment of honesty: this was hard. I was way out of my comfort zone. I often didn’t know what to do or say. At times I had to ask others for help because I was so clueless. But it was so good for me, because I learned how to help the poor by loving a poor person (and it was very messy). And I think it was good for her and her family because they felt valued.

To impact the poor in Spokane, we need to know and love them. This is why our partnership with Community in Schools is so powerful; it’s about mentoring children; it’s all about the relationships. This is why partnering with World Relief or Global Neighborhood to help refugees is so effective; it’s all about relationships.

Mentor a child. Help a refugee family. Get to know someone who is struggling with poverty. Get out of your world and into theirs and build a relationship. It’s all about the relationships. Love someone.

Love…and serve.


2. Serve: use your gifts to work with those in need.

Matthew 28:18-20, 5:16, Mark 10:42-45, Romans 12:11, Galatians 5:13, 1 Peter 4:10-11.

Originally, we wanted everyone to pray, give and go. But as we talked, we felt like “go” put the emphasis on the international trips, and only a few of us each year can do that. So we changed “go” to “serve”, because we can all serve, whether we go or stay, at home or abroad.

We can all pray.

We can all give.

We can all love.

We can all serve. You may not have much money to give, but you have time and you have talents that you can put to work. Each of us are called to serve others.

1 Peter 4:10 Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.

Three questions: (leave the verse up, please)

Who should serve? Each one. That pretty much covers each one of you. You should serve! You can do it!

What should you use? Whatever gift you have received; whatever gifts, talents, abilities you have! Whatever! Put it to work serving others.

What should you do with these gifts? Serve others.

I love what Connie had to say in the video; she figured out what she could do, and she’s doing it. And she challenged you to do it too! We can all serve.

Here is a big learning when it comes to serving the poor. We should never do for them what they can do for themselves. We need to love them, build relationships and ask them what they need and how we can help. Then we need to serve with them, not do to them or for them. Our service must be as their partners, not as their superiors. When we show up and tell the poor what we are going to do for them, and then do it, that is very degrading and disempowering.

ILL: A few years ago, a church group from another part of the country offered to send a team to Life Center for a couple weeks. They said that they could bring a revival to our church, that they would come and take over our services and show us how it ought it be done. No one from this group had ever been here; they knew nothing about us or our community, but assumed that they (from thousands of miles away) knew better than us how church ought to be done in our community. Does anyone else find this a little crazy?

Here’s the deal. I am not claiming that we have this all figured out. I welcome the opportunity to learn from others. But if someone is going to come here and tell us how to do it, they ought to start by getting to know us and our community. God is already present and at work in our church; they ought to start by observing what God is doing and figure out how they can cooperate with that.

I politely declined their offer.

We do something very similar when we show up and start telling the poor what we are going to do for them. Instead, we need to love, listen and learn, and then serve with them in the ways they have identified.

This is what we did with the wells in Kenya. By the way, they drilled again this week and we have water! Preliminary reports indicate about 15 gallons a minute in a new well at the school in Adiedo. The well still has to be developed: screened, cased, and a pump installed. So keep praying that it develops well. We didn’t go to Adiedo and tell them that they needed wells; they told us that’s what they needed. Then they formed a water committee to determine where the wells should go and to supervise and maintain the wells. We worked with them by securing a driller and funding the project.

We want this same kind of thinking to inform our local service. Whenever possible, we want to serve with people, rather than just doing it for them. And by serving with them, we further build the relationship.

So here is my challenge: pray, give, love and serve. Go to the website and click on the outreach tab and explore our partnerships, locally and globally. Find something that floats your boat, and then get involved and serve the poor in Jesus’ name.