The idea behind The Hole in Our Gospel is quite simple.  It’s basically the belief that being a Christian, or follower of Jesus Christ, requires much more than just having a personal and transforming relationship with God.  It also entails a public and transforming relationship with the world.  If your personal faith in Christ has no positive outward expression, then your faith—and mine—has a hole in it.

James 2:14-18: What good is it my brothers if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save him?  Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action is dead.

I want you to imagine for a moment that you woke up this morning to the following headline: “One Hundred Jetliners Crash, Killing 26,500.”  Now imagine that the very next day, one hundred more planes crashed—and one hundred more the next, and the next, and the next.  It’s unimaginable that something this terrible could ever happen.  But it did—and it does.  More than 26,500 children died yesterday of preventable causes related to their poverty, and it will happen again today and tomorrow and the day after that.  Almost 10 million children will be dead in the course of a year.

Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.

Christ has no body on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours.  Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion for the world is to look out; yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good; and yours are the hands with which He is to bless us now.

Christianity is a faith that was meant to spread—but not through coercion.  God’s love was intended to be demonstrated, not dictated.  Our job is not to manipulate or induce others to agree with us or to leave their religion and embrace Christianity.  Our charge is to both proclaim and embody the gospel so that others can see, hear, and feel God’s love in tangible ways.

To know what is right and not do it is the worst cowardice.  Confucius

Read Matthew 25: perhaps most surprising is that the criterion for dividing the two groups is not that the sheep confessed faith in Christ while the goals did not, but rather that the sheep had acted in tangible and loving ways toward the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, and the vulnerable, while the goats did not.

A startling aspect of this passage is the remarkable claim of our Lord that “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).  Even the good sheep in this passage were surprised at this.  What they had seen as simple human gestures of love to the needy turned out to be gestures to a “Christ” incognito.  Mother Theresa once said that in the faces of the poor whom she served, she saw “Christ in His most distressing disguise.”

We learn that Christ’s criterion for determining the authenticity of someone’s profession to follow Him is whether or not he or she tangibly cared for those in need.  And now we are told that when we do care for them, we are actually caring for Christ himself—His identity merged with the least and the last.  There is no “whole gospel” without compassion and justice shown to the poor.  It’s that simple.

If we truly love God, we will express it by loving our neighbors, and when we truly love our neighbors, it expresses our love for God.

What does God expect of us?  Love God, love others and make disciples who will do the same.

If Christ is Lord, then nothing He asked us to do is optional.  His teachings become the operating system of our lives.  So central was this truth that every action, every decision, every aspect of my life would now have to be defined by Him.

It’s not what you believe that counts; it’s what you believe enough to do.

Think for a moment of your life as a house with many rooms.  Your faith cannot be just one more room in the house, equal with your job, your marriage, your political affiliation, or your hobbies.  No, your faith must be like the very air you breathe, in every room of the house.  It must permeate not just your “Sunday worship,” or even your vocation and your behavior at home, but also your dealings with everyone around you—including the poor.  That’s how deep the commitment must be.

Every follower of Christ was made for a purpose and that our most important task is to discern what that purpose is.  When we find it, he said, we are in “the zone” with God; just like an athlete during his or her best-ever performance.  Bill Hybels

I want you to imagine for a moment that you woke up this morning to the following headline: “One Hundred Jetliners Crash, Killing 26,500.”  Now imagine that the very next day, one hundred more planes crashed—and one hundred more the next, and the next, and the next.  It’s unimaginable that something this terrible could ever happen.  But it did—and it does.  More than 26,500 children died yesterday of preventable causes related to their poverty, and it will happen again today and tomorrow and the day after that.  Almost 10 million children will be dead in the course of a year.

In the news business, one dead fireman in Brooklyn is worth five English bobbies, who are worth fifty Arabs, who are worth five hundred Africans.  What a terrible equation—terrible, but accurate.  If we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that we simply have less empathy for people of other cultures living in faraway countries than we do for Americans.

Our problem is that the plight of suffering children in a far-off land simply hasn’t gotten personal for us.  We may hear about them with sorrow, but we haven’t really been able to look at them as if they were our own children.

Christianity is flourishing wonderfully among the poor and persecuted while it atrophies among the rich and secure.  Philip Jenkins

What I have discovered in my travels to more than forty countries with World Vision is that almost all poverty is fundamentally the result of a lack of options.  It is not that the poor are lazier, less intelligent, or unwilling to make efforts to change their condition.  Rather, it is that they are trapped by circumstances beyond their power to change.

How successful would you and your family have been if you had lived in a place where there was no clean water and one-quarter of all children died before their fifth birthday?  Imagine growing up constantly weak and malnourished, to the point where both your body and your mind became stunted.  What if there had been no health care system, and therefore an abscessed tooth or an ear infection was a death sentence?  What if you had lived where you couldn’t go to school because you had to fetch water six hours a day—or where there was no school?  Or worse, think about what might have happened to you if rebel armies had sacked you community, killed your parents, and driven you hundreds of miles from your home to live in a refugee camp.  These are the daily realities of the world’s poor.

40% of the world’s people live on less than $2 per day.

The richest 20% accounts for three-quarters of the world’s income.

I have developed a mental picture that helps me see my own sin of injustice more clearly.  I imagine that I am on a deserted island with just nine other people trying to survive.  Then I imagine God gives me a huge gift-wrapped package filled with all the food I could possibly ever need.  Finally, I ask myself whether God would expect me to hoard it all for myself or to share it.  I also try to think how the other people on the island would view me if I kept it all for myself.  That helps me sharpen the focus on what God expects of us with regard to the poor, since He has given us so many of us more than we need.

God says that we are guilty if we allow people to remain deprived when we have the means to help them.

Approximately 25,000 people die each day of hunger or its related causes—about 9 million people per year.

The wealthiest countries, where just one-fifth of the world’s population lives, spend 90% of the world’s health care dollars, allowing the remaining four-fifths of the planet to spend on 10% of the money.  In the U.S., we spend about $3,170 per person on health care each year.  In much of Africa and Southeast Asia, the comparable figure is $36, and eighty-fold difference.

Aids has now left 15 million children behind as orphans.

Don’t fail to do something just because you can’t do everything.

“Sometimes I would like to ask God why He allows poverty, suffering, and injustice when He could do something about it.”  “Well, why don’t you ask Him?”  “Because I’m afraid He would ask me the same question.”  Anonymous

Proverbs 21:13: If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.

God wants to see the authenticity of our faith put into action, not the emptiness of a faith without deeds.  But if we look at the things that God condemns when He looks at the behavior of His followers, once again it seems that sins of omission grieve Him even more than sins of commission, yet it is these on which we tend to be fixated.  Sins of commission occur when we do something to violated God’s commands.  These include murder, violence, theft, adultery, profanity, gossip, sexual promiscuity, exploiting the poor, among others.  Most Christians and churches speak to these sins quite directly.  In fact, our zeal to condemn these sins of commission often causes Christians to be perceived as judgmental and intolerant, always defined by what we are against rather than what we’re for.  But notice that God seems to get angrier about those things that He has commanded us but we have failed to do.

These are the do’s rather than don’ts of our faith, and they are the very things that make Christ attractive to the world.

Read Luke 16: 19-21: Do you see what’s important about this?  The rich man did not abuse Lazarus, didn’t beat him or mistreat him; he simply ignored him, passing by him, day after day, with indifference.  His sin was not one of commission but of omission.  He knew, as the apostle James wrote, the “good” he ought to have done, but he failed to do it (James 4:17).

American Dream defined: 1. The US ideal according to which equality of opportunity permits any American to aspire to high attainment and material success.  2. A life of personal happiness and material comfort as traditionally sought by individuals in the US

Aspiring to material comfort and success are not necessarily core Christian values.  A person who dreams of becoming wealthy so she can indulge every selfish fantasy is not in alignment with God’s ideals.

And what about money?  The American Dream often promotes this view of it: I worked hard, I earned it, and it’s mine to do with as I please.  This suggests that we are “entitled” to any income that comes to us because we worked for it.  But that’s not what the Bible tells us about our money and possessions.  In fact, the biblical view of our resources is just the opposite.  It teaches that all we have or receive comes from God; He has simply entrusted it to us.  There’s a big difference between entitled and entrusted.

Three clear principles, then, differentiate the scriptural view of our money from the American Dream view:

It’s not our money—it all comes from God.

We are not entitled to it but entrusted with it.

God expects us to use it in the interest of His kingdom.

How about you?  How do you look at your assets (car, bank accounts, home)?  Are you entitled to them to do with as you please, or were they entrusted to you for a purpose—God’s purpose?

The Bible devotes twice as many verses to money as it does to faith and prayer combined, and fully 15% of Jesus’ recorded words dealt with money, more than He said about heaven and hell combined.  Jesus understood that our relationship to our money and possessions is an indicator of our spiritual condition: “For where your treasure is,” He said, “there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:34).  And it’s true.  If you look at the “power lines” that flow through our society and our world, money is the current that flows through them.  So, to better understand the spiritual priorities of our churches—and ourselves—we have to do what any detective would do: “follow the money.”

God recognized that the chief competitor to our dependence on Him is our money.  When we have enough cash, food, and possessions, we can become self-reliant.  Therefore, money is not seen by God as a benign and neutral thing.  Money is power, and power competes with God for supremacy in our lives.

I have often thought of the tithe in a different way, as a kind of “inoculation” against the power that money can sometimes hold over us.  When we are vaccinated against a deadly virus, our bodies are injected with a small amount of that virus, weakened so that it won’t hurt us.  By putting this small amount into our systems, we develop immunity to the virus, and it can no longer harm us.  Metaphorically speaking, paying a tithe on our income has the same effect.  By cheerfully giving away a small portion of our money, we become immune to the corrupting power it can have in our lives.

Obedience to the Great Commission has more consistently been poisoned by affluence than by anything else.  Ralph Winter

If your income is $25,000 per year, you are wealthier than approximately 90% of the world’s population.  If you make $50,000 per year, you are wealthier than 99% of the world.

I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians.  Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.  Mohandas Gandhi

Most people I meet assume that Christian means very conservative, entrenched in their thinking, antigay, anti-choice, angry, violent, illogical, empire builders; they want to convert everyone, and they generally cannot live peacefully with anyone who doesn’t believe what they believe.

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?  In short, will we be remembered as the Church with a gaping hole in its gospel?

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.  Margaret Mead

It is hard to believe that just eleven of Jesus’ disciples—and particularly those men—actually changed the world.

Be the change that you want to see in the world.  Mohandas Gandhi

In the end God works in our world one person at a time.  The hungry are fed, the thirsty are refreshed, the naked are clothed, the sick are treated, the illiterate are educated, and the grieving are comforted just one person at a time.  You have the opportunity to be that one person to someone who needs what you have to offer.