World Poverty: We Can End This!

What if you took a Bible and a pair of scissors, and cut out all the verses where Jesus talked about justice, poverty, the poor, and helping really vulnerable people, like orphans?

What would be left?

A gigantic hole, that’s what. This is the basic point of The Hole in Our Gospel, a 2009 book by Richard Stearns, President of World Vision U.S. According to Stearns, this is basically what Christians have done. They’ve left a huge hole in the Gospel.

How do we do it? Somehow, we skip over those parts. We’re big into our “best life now” scenarios. We’re big into asking how Jesus can help me in my life. We use the Bible to find out how we’re going to be better. We focus on how we’re going to excel in life because we have Jesus.

Somehow we convince ourselves that the Gospel is all about us.

So how does that relate to what Jesus said? When a scribe challenged Him to name the first commandment, Jesus replied:

“The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”

You shall love your neighbor as yourself! Jesus said that! But in our “best life now” scenarios, we lose it. We’re not loving our neighbors.

Part of the problem is that we think it’s too hard. It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed when you read statistics on poverty. You don’t feel like you can help. When you read how bad these issues are, everywhere in the world, you wonder, “What can my one dollar really do? Or my fifty cents, or my five dollars? Or even my five hundred dollars?”

Stearns shows how the statistics can be overwhelming, and even depressing. They can make you do the opposite of what you are called to do, which is trying to figure out a way to make it better.

But Stearns also shows how statistics can be deceiving. You see, we can help. We can be effective. We can be very effective. We can end poverty! How? Easy! Don’t work alone. This is the calling of the Church. It’s the calling of the body of Christ.

Christian churches are supposed to be the pillars of their communities, and even the pillars of the world. Read about what Jesus did. Then read about the early church. Loving our neighbors as ourselves is the reason why Christians came together as churches in the first place.

We’ve lost that. We get into our own little bubbles. We create megachurches that offer yoga classes and Starbucks in the lobby. They focus on the comfort and nourishment of their own congregations.

I understand the importance of discipling. We all must become disciples. Some megachurches do radical, amazing things in this area, like the Los Angeles Dream Center. But all too often, megachurches give the impression that they are insular, turned within, and focused only on themselves. They make it look as though they are there for only one thing: seeing to the needs of their own congregations.

Christians are supposed to be the body of Christ in the world. Christians are supposed to be His hands and feet, His face, and His reflection. We are supposed to be a Church everywhere in the world. We’re supposed to connect to the communities of the world, so that we can figure out who needs help. And when we know who needs help, we’re supposed to get together and take care of them.

We’re supposed to help!

Jesus said, “I came to rescue.” He said, “I came to take people out of bondage.” He said, “I am here to bring joy to those who have none.” Based on how people responded to Him when He was here, he made good on those promises.

When He ascended to heaven, He left it up to us to continue His work. That’s what it means to be the Church. That’s our discipleship. That’s our fulfillment in Christ.

That’s our real “best life now” scenario!

Who is with me?

See you Tuesday.

United in Love

I do not lie in bed at night saying, “Man, I’m so awesome, I’ve won three world championships! Oh, I’m so cool!” I do not do that.

I don’t go home at the end of the day and say to my three boys, “Hey sons! Tell me what your dad did,” just to hear them say, “Dad! You won three World Series!” I would be so disappointed to hear my kids say that. I don’t want them to say that. I don’t want them to know me as some pro athlete that won a world championship. In five years, no one is going to even know I was on the team. Okay, Giants fans might remember, because they really love their team! But most people will not know who I am.

When I stand before my God and King, and He looks at me from the throne, what is He going to say? Not, “Well done, good and faithful servant, you won three World Series, congratulations!” That is not what He will say! And it’s not what I want to hear.

I want to hear Him say, “Jeremy, thank you. Thank you for promoting the Gospel. Thank you for taking the least of these and loving them. Thank you for using your talents to love other people, and for using your success to help other people succeed. Thank you, Jeremy, for joining the movement of people devoted to loving their neighbor as themselves.”

I want to hear that because that’s how I read the Gospel. I read in Matthew 25 about the separation of the sheep and goats, and I hear Jesus say that when you feed the hungry and give the thirsty something to drink, you will go into eternal life. You will be righteous if you do these things. If you do not do these things, you will miss the boat. I can’t read it any other way.

So think about that when you go to work. Students, when you’re in school, think about that. Take that passion you have for your neighbor and bring it to your job or your classroom, and join the movement. Because it’s stirring. It’s stirring in you, and it’s stirring in the world. This is our calling as a Church.

When I talk about Church, I’m not talking about the four walls of a building. I’m not talking about a Presbyterian church, or a Baptist church, or a Catholic, or Evangelical Free, or non-denominational church. I’m not talking about any of that. We need to unify, but I don’t see a need for everyone to unite in one denomination. That wouldn’t make any sense! We need diversity. Every believer needs to be able to go to the church where they were saved.

No, no. I’m talking about something else. I’m talking about uniting in our calling. I’m talking about uniting in our mission. I’m talking about unity of purpose, about bringing the Kingdom of righteousness and justice.

If we follow the commandment to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength by loving our neighbor as ourselves, then we will unify the church. It’s in this commandment that we experience ourselves as one church. We are the body of Christ, and we have one calling. We are called to love.

When I stand before God’s throne, I hope to hear Him thank me for joining His movement, because this movement of love will unify the church.

See you Monday.

The Program is Jesus

As Christians, our calling is to make Jesus visible by reflecting Him into the world. So just like Jesus, we should want to live for other people. We should look at the least among us and say, “I’m going to live to provide for you.”

We need to build up struggling communities, in the US and outside of it. We need to help them become self-sustaining. No one should ever be so poor that they have to sell their kids. Children should not have to take jobs that put them at risk. Imagine a 10 year-old trying to sell gum on the street corner to get money for food, only to be grabbed and sold as a slave. What are they going to do? They’re 10! They’re not strong. They’re scared!

I want to provide opportunities. But I can’t save the world. I’m one person. This is what the Church needs to be doing.

Churches need to expand their focus. It’s okay to focus on building projects. There’s nothing wrong with 5,000-member cathedrals. Some of them have the best sound systems and the coolest giant screens. I’ve visited churches that are up on the best technology possible to run their Sunday programs. And these are great programs!

What happens when someone approaches one of the pastors and says, “You have so much influence here. Will you mobilize your congregation to work on fighting against the traffickers?

I’ve done this, and the answer has been, “No, it’s not one of our programs.”

What? It’s not one of your programs?

Well, I’ve thought about this. And you know what? These pastors are right. Fighting trafficking is not one of the Church’s “programs.” Fighting trafficking is Jesus. Jesus is the vision. Jesus is the one and only “program.”

Sometimes the answer has been,”Well, we’re trying to raise money for our sound system so we can have better acoustics.” Or, “We’ve got this nice sound system, but we’ve got other different types of programs. We’re trying to help our congregation become better people.”

Do you know what’s going to help your congregation become better people? Help them do Jesus. Key in on what’s going on in your towns and cities, and in the world, and live Jesus!

Now I’m not saying that if you don’t choose to fight human trafficking, then you’re not Jesus. I’m saying there are a lot of issues going on out there, beyond the bounds of our suburbs. When did your community become the only one you care about? “Well, I’m called to this suburb.” What? No! You’re called to live like Jesus!

How about using your resources to bring your community into the fight against human trafficking? How about mobilizing your congregation to participate in hunger initiatives? Why not work to build wells? You obviously have great resources. Why not use them to create sustainability for people who are trapped by poverty? Set the captives free!

This is what the Church is called to do. We’re called to represent Jesus, who healed the sick. We’re called to represent Jesus, who set the captives free. We’re called to represent Jesus, who fought for truth. Truth sets people free! We have got to do Jesus in the world.

I’m not shaming you for your beautiful building, your 5,000 people, and your state-of-the-art sound system. It’s great! It means you have awesome resources! I’m just asking you to utilize these resources to make Jesus visible by doing what He did. Your congregation has built this church for you because they respect your voice. Mobilize them to fight for freedom, healing, and sustainability. That’s the program. Jesus.

There have been times when I’ve asked congregations to join in the fight to end human trafficking, and they have actually said, in so many words, “No, it’s not part of our program.” But that is changing. More and more, churches are getting involved.

More on this next time. See you Monday.

Words of Power

My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. James 3:1

Jesus ate with the Pharisees, read their minds, and blew them up for their thoughts. Nowadays we talk about the Pharisees and what they did, and how bad they made people feel. But shouldn’t we also look at how we make people feel? Are we doing the same thing as the Pharisees? And when we do, why do we do it? Do we need it to feel better about ourselves?

“I’m a pastor so you have to listen to me.” Have you ever heard a pastor speak some version of that? And when they do that, why do they do it? Is it a power thing?

If you’re called to be a pastor, I believe that means you are given wisdom, and that you are called to share it. And I genuinely believe that most pastors are very sincere about their calling. But I worry when I hear a pastor say, “I was praying the other day, and God told me to talk to you about this.” When he says that, he is basically telling people, “This is what God said.” Now he can say whatever he wants, and most people in his congregation will say, “Amen! I guess I’ve got to do it then.” That isn’t always the case.

The apostles didn’t even do that. You’d think if anyone could tell people, “This is what God says you should do,” it would be the apostles! But they didn’t do that. Think about what happened in Acts, when the church was having a big fight over the question of circumcision. They gathered in council, and when they communicated their decision, they said, “It seems good to us, and it seems good to the Holy Spirit, that what matters is a circumcision of the heart, not of the flesh.” The meaning here is important. They didn’t say, “Look, God came down and said to us, ‘This is what you need to do.’ No doubt about it.” They just said, “It seems like the Spirit was okay with our thought process on this.” That’s a pure message. That’s the wisdom pastors are given and called to share.

It’s a good thing to see a pastor say, “Hey, through what I’m seeing, and what I’ve read, and how I’ve been praying, I feel like the Spirit has given me peace by thinking this way. You need to pray about this too.” It’s a good thing to see a pastor say, “Pray about my message.” Or, “Hey, think about these things and see if it’s good to you with the Spirit.” But you don’t always hear that.

James said teachers will be judged more strictly. I think it’s because of the power they have. Words have power. We should pay more attention to the words in red. You know, Jesus. We should focus on His words, because those are the actual words of God. Not the inspired words of God, but the actual words of the Almighty God. Jesus carried these words. He spoke them into play. They are the most powerful words in the history of words, period. His words. You can read them over and over again, and feel good every time. Because you’re like, “Man! The actual words of God!”

Just the other day, I read Mark 9. It was so good! I read it via the Message Bible, because sometimes I’m struck fresh by the words. The last part of the chapter said that we’re going to be “preservatives” in this world. We are to preserve peace. And that meant so much to me. I’d never read it like that that before. “Preserve peace.”

Are we doing that as believers?

See you Thursday.

They Don’t Like Christianity

I learned about grace from my family by receiving it from them. My oldest son was living in a grace-based mentality even when he was really little. He has been a voice for God in my life, teaching me how to be a dad.

I’m so thankful for this! Now I know what it’s like to lead my family as the head of the home. The head of the home does not say, “I’m the head, you’re the tail, do what I ask.” The head of the home says, “I’m going to serve you. I’m going to love on you. I’m going to take good care of you. I’m going to nurture you into becoming the fullness that you are asked to become.”

I do that for my family because that’s what Jesus does for me. He serves me, loves me, takes care of me, sustains me, and is nurturing me into the fullness that He has called me to become.

Jesus does that for everybody. That’s why we naturally put ourselves under Him. We trust Him so much! We know how much He loves us.

The Bible talks about the sinners around Jesus. Before they met Jesus, they weren’t following God. But as soon as they saw Jesus, they followed Him. They said, “Lord, we’ll follow you.” Why did they do that? Well, Jesus didn’t say, “Look people, I am the Messiah. I am the son of the Almighty God, so if you don’t act a certain way I’ll strike you down.” He didn’t say that. It wasn’t His message!

People followed Jesus because He nurtured them and loved on them.

Now the church wonders why it’s losing people. Why don’t people want to follow Jesus anymore? Why don’t people want to be in church? I’ll tell you why. The church teaches grace, but expects legalism. The church says to people, “Jesus saved us by grace, so let’s live in joy and peace! BUT, you need to do this, and you need to do that, and you have to tithe this, and you have to give that, and by the way, you’re not allowed to drink in public, and if you use certain words…” It goes on and on. Rule, after rule, after rule.

That’s why people don’t like Christianity. Jesus lived in grace and people loved Him, but we are living in legalism and people don’t like us. We’re telling them what to do. We’re telling them what not to do. We’re making them feel bad about everything. We’re judging everybody!

And so we are falling apart.

It’s hard for us to avoid living in legalism, because we feel like we need boundaries. We feel like we need to have laws so that we won’t go off course. But it’s making us miss the whole point! Jesus took that all away! We don’t need to fear law and judgment anymore. Now we can give grace to each other and love on each other, and nurture each other to the fullness that we know we are called to become.

See you Thursday.

Confess and Find Grace

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. James 5:16

There is no condemnation! We can go before the throne of God without fear, and receive grace and mercy. We can trust in God’s love and salvation, which frees us to recognize our sins, accept them, and let them go.

But why do we ask God for forgiveness? We don’t do it for Him. We don’t need to ask for forgiveness to be right with God because we are already righteous and holy. When we go to God to ask for forgiveness, we are recognizing and accepting what we have done. It’s a way of admitting, “Okay, that was not the best way to behave.” And it’s a way to tell God, “You know what? That was stupid. I get that.”

Going to God with confession in our hearts is not a way of telling God, “I need forgiveness.” He already gives us grace. So going to God with confession in our hearts is how we say, “Thank you for forgiving me for that.” For example, we might say, “Hey God, you know what? I lived in the flesh right there when that guy cut me off. I yelled at him and I cussed him out. Thank you for forgiving me! And thank you for giving me the grace to move on. Help me to use more wisdom next time so that I won’t act like that. I acted from my flesh, and I would rather act in your Spirit, because that’s what I’m destined to do.”

The Bible also tells us to confess our sins to one another. Why does God want us to do that? He wants us to confess to one another because it is a liberating thing to do. What if you could sit in grace among fellow believers? Try to imagine it. You would sit with people and say, “I’m going to confess my sin to you. I can do this because you will not shame me. And this will free me.”

The Bible says that this is what believers do. We confess our sins to one another because it’s the confession that lets the sin out. But we have to do this in grace. As followers of Jesus Christ, our responsibility is to look at the person making his confession and say, “I just want to let you know that I love you. I’ve been in your situation. I’ve messed up like that. Or maybe I haven’t messed up like that, but here’s how I messed up the other day. Here’s my confession.”

This is how we know and love each other as human beings. When we confess to one another, we look at each other and accept that we all live in the flesh. At the same time, we understand that we live in the Spirit as well.  We choose to live in the flesh sometimes, but that is not who we are. So embrace each other in grace. You are holy, and you are free.

The Hole in Our Gospel

I’m so grateful for all the new visitors to my blog in the last few days! I thought, out of the nearly 500 posts I’ve written, which one would I want new readers to see first? Which one will tell you, in a few short paragraphs, what my blog and my upcoming second book are about? Which one will show you the direction I hope to take in my next phase of life? And I settled on this one. Please give it a read. Please stay connected to me. Please join the movement!

If you went to the Bible and removed all the verses where Jesus talked about justice, poverty, the poor, and helping the really vulnerable, like orphans, you would leave a gigantic hole in the Christian Gospel. That is the basic point of The Hole in Our Gospel, a 2009 book by Richard Stearns, President of World Vision U.S. Stearns also says that this is basically what Christians have done.

We skip reading those parts. We’re big into our “best life now” scenarios, and we’re big into asking how Jesus can help me in my life. We use the Bible to find out how we’re going to be better and how we’re going to excel in life with Jesus. Somehow we convince ourselves that the Gospel is all about us.

But how does that relate to what Jesus said: that all the law can be summed up in love your neighbor as yourself? In our “best life now” scenarios, we lose that. We’re not loving our neighbor.

Part of the problem is that we think it’s too hard. When you read statistics on poverty, you don’t feel like you can help. When you read how bad these issues are, everywhere in the world, you wonder, “What can my one dollar really do? Or my fifty cents, or my five dollars, or even my five hundred dollars?”

Stearns shows how the statistics can be overwhelming, deceiving, and even depressing. They can make you do the opposite of what you are called to do, and that’s trying to figure out a way to alleviate poverty.

And then he shows how effective we can be. He shows how we can alleviate poverty. We do it as the body of Christ. We do it as His Church.

Christian churches are supposed to be the pillars of their communities, and even the pillars of the world. Read about the early church, and what Jesus tried to do. This is why Christians came together as churches in the first place.

But in the Western church today, we get into our own little bubbles. We create these mega-churches. They offer yoga classes, Starbucks in the lobby, all these things intended for the comfort of their own people. I understand the importance of discipling, but the impression these mega-churches give is that they only care about themselves. They make it look as though they are there for only one thing: seeing to the needs of their own congregations.

We’re supposed to be a church as a whole, a church everywhere in the world. We’re supposed to go out into the communities of the world to figure out who needs help. And then we’re supposed to get together and help!

Jesus said, “I came to rescue.” He said, “I came to take people out of bondage and bring joy where there is none.” And when He ascended to heaven, He left it up to us to continue His work. That’s our fulfillment in Christ. That’s our real “best life now” scenario.

Who is with me?

See you Thursday.