During the seasonal breaks, I try to read books outside of my required reading to sharpen and shake me up. In this Advent season, one of the books I picked up is called “The Hole in Our Gospel” by Richard Stearns, the President of World Vision U.S. This book has struck a chord in so many ways… making me cry at certain points, biting my fist in frustration at other times, and sometimes simply just humbling me because I know how I have contributed to the issue that he talks about… The issue that Richard Stearns references is as he shares about Isaiah 1:10-17, he talks about how God is:
“sick of churches and people who just ‘go through the motions.’ And He is weary of seeing a shiny veneer of faith but no depth of commitment. That is the hole in our gospel, and until we fill it, ours is an empty religion, one that God despises” (184-185).
And what Stearns is challenging us to do is to live out our faith and to ask this question… what if… what if all followers of Jesus looked outside the wall of their churches and worked together and reclaiming the world for Christ’s kingdom? What if we actually demonstrated God’s love for the world instead of just talking about it? What if we embraced the whole gospel of loving God AND loving our neighbors?
This what if has been particularly on my mind especially since as many of you know I am often the one that is always thinking and concocting up all kinds of ideas and ways to “do things”. The reality is… my doing is not for the sake of doing. My doing is motivated by something deeper than just the work outside but is driven by this fire that burns inside… this desire to express God’s love to this world … His Gospel. It is for his glory and not mine! The following words I hope somehow expresses a glimpse into this concept. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote about “extremist”… in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail”…
“But… as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you, and persecute you.’ Was not Amos an extremist for justice: ‘Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.’ Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: ‘I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.’ Was not Martin Luther an extremist: ‘Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.’ And John Bunyan: ‘I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.’ And Abraham Lincoln: ‘This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.’ And Thomas Jefferson: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…’ So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists will we be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremist for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime – the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.”
What MLK is asking is what kind of extremist are we? Are we an extremist for love/justice/the Gospel/truth/hope/goodness? Or are we extremists of hate/oppression/immorality/indifference/self? This is an important question to ask ourselves because the extremist of love, of Jesus Christ, of the Gospel… of justice is one that does not simply sit there and does nothing. They are not a person that sits comfortably with everything and ignores the cries of those in need and in suffering around them. They are not the person that separates but desires to connect, desires to share and show love to enter into this world and to engage the culture and world to proclaim the message of our wonderful Savior. This is the love extremist, who can not sit by and just watch as these injustices continue and turns a blind eye to it. You see, the extremist of immorality and hate and self only desires one thing… separation from God…dependency on self and to them, it is a dog eat dog world… sucks to be those that are suffering. That is the difference… where as God fosters hope, and community and relationship,… those that are of the other persuasion often are all about separation, indifference and disregard…it is focused on self rather than others and offers no hope or joy but just self pursuit and reliance. The season of Advent is a time to remember something amazing that happened in the past…to consider our lives and how we are living it in the present…and to look forward in anticipation to what is coming in the future. Remember, Christmas means nothing if not done for the source of its word… “CHRIST”. The Messiah, King, arrived in the most humblest of ways. As God, He did not sit aside hearing our cries, our desperate need for a Savior, for hope, for love, for reconciliation and did nothing. As God and as one that loves us so much, Jesus initiated a connection with us through His humbling Himself as a baby and entering this world in the most lowly and humblest ways in a stinky animal’s stable/cave. Then He chose to engage our world by experiencing and living in it amidst what we experience… whether pain, suffering, temptation, hardship, hurt and all the things we experience… and then chose to die in the most unjust and inhumane way … this is our Savior…this is our Hope, a God that engages us in our circumstances and meets us where we all are at! As we live in the present, how we live matters, because it matters to God. We are his instruments to love and engage this world. So why aren’t we better engaging this world that He deeply loved and died for? Distance and indifference can not be our excuses! God traveled the greatest distance already and met us! God cares so we must care. As we look forward to the future, do you know He may return at any time?! Are we excited for this? How will we respond when He asks us how we lived our lives today? Have we been faithful? Have we been living out His commands through Christ? Will we be extremists of love and hope and the Gospel during this Holiday Season?!
As you take some time to consider this, I challenge you to consider this video:
Here is a way that one of my close friends (future contributor here) desires to love this world. She aims to build a well by giving up her Christmas gifts for the Holiday season so as to give clean water to a village for twenty years! Last year she raised over $5700 to build a well in Ethiopia, and this year, she is doing it again.
Another little sister in High School, wanting to support the above cause, bought chocolate and went around school selling candy and raising funds to support this cause of building a well.
Another brother started a “You like, I give” page on Facebook that promised to donate $5 for each person that liked his page to the above cause as well.
What kind of extremist will you be? How are you loving radically? Merry Christmas!