At this time of year, it can seem like a lot is asked of you. While much of the Christmas season in the U.S. is rooted in consumerism, there are some tangible (and profound) reasons why Christians give. By taking hold of these truths, we can honor God through our donating and gift giving.
At the start of our "Living for Jesus This Christmas" series, here are four reasons why Christians give.
Creation itself testifies to the giving Spirit of God. In the beginning, God creates (Genesis 1–2). The act of creation is rooted in love and compassion: When God sees that Adam may be lonely, he creates a companion in Eve (Genesis 2:18–25).
From the divine imagination, comes creation. And God looks at his creation and gives again. Everything good in our world is based in giving.
But after creation, humanity went astray and mucked it all up. This put us humans out of alignment with God; and it put us out of alignment with the intention of God's creation (Genesis 3).
God once again looks at his creation and decides on a solution; he decides to give. That solution is the gift of Jesus (God the Son). And that's what we celebrate at Christmas time: God becoming flesh in Jesus (Luke 1–2). In Jesus, we have salvation (John 1; 3:16).
In Jesus, we see the miraculous. But the way God comes in flesh should tell us something: Out of what seems to be ordinary, God will do the extraordinary. God chooses an ordinary Jewish family and the savior is born in an ordinary place, in impoverished circumstances. The miraculous comes through the unexpected.
God certainly provides via the completely miraculous: We see this when God provides for the Hebrew people while they're roaming in the wilderness (Exodus 16). But more often than not, God uses other people to bring about his provision. And that also seems pretty ordinary.
This is why Paul pleads with the Corinthian church to honor their obligation to help the impoverished church in Jerusalem (2 Corinthians 9:1–15). He knows that God will use ordinary people to accomplish his work. Paul himself also depended on other people when he was imprisoned and mentions these types of moments often in his letters (e.g., Philemon 1; Philippians 5:25).
When people helped Paul, or those he advocated for (like the Jerusalem church), they themselves were changed. Paul emphasizes this:
"You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God" (2 Corinthians 9:11 NIV).
Generosity gives us an opportunity to honor God with what he has given us. It enriches our souls. Paul explains this another way earlier in this same passage:
"Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work" (2 Corinthians 9:6–8 NIV).
We as Christians are expected to steward the resources we are given. If we give generously, God will give generously to us. That giving from God may not come in the ways our culture can measure, but it will come.
At the core of the Christian value is a value of giving. Let's give this Christmas season.
We look around us and are daunted by the poverty and suffering and darkness we see. We know it will take a lot of work to change, and we know God asks us to, but we often choose to sit back and wait.
It’s easy to be lazy and complacent and wait for other people to do the work. But these are some of the most dangerous ideals. They threaten the kingdom of God. The whole body of Christ needs to be working together if we are going to get things done. Even if the hands are equipped with a hammer and nails, they can’t get anything done if the feet don’t take them to the construction site. We simply have to rely on each other. Paul uses the body metaphor in 1 Corinthians to remind the church of the importance of unity. He says:
“But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (1 Corinthians 12:24b-26 ESV)
We have our own jobs, families, and lives, and these things help us justify spiritual laziness in the church. Sometimes, we don’t even notice we are failing to act because we feel like it’s a positive thing to be investing in ourselves. Laziness can, and often does, mask itself as selfish hard work. We might be working for recognition and self-righteousness instead of in love and for Christ. But we have to acknowledge that work done for the wrong reasons has no place in the kingdom of God.
The body of Christ needs to be operating together—and it needs to be moving with the intent God desires. When believers do things for the wrong reasons, the action itself is rooted in selfishness and sin. The action may be fruitful for a time, but it will crumble because it has the wrong foundation. The church cannot stand on actions carried out without love. Paul understood that it is difficult for believers to be united for the right reasons:
“And I will show you a still more excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Corinthians 12:31b-13:1 ESV)
I know we’re all a little tired; it seems like less work to focus on our lives than it is to participate in a body of believers. It’s especially hard when we don’t call all the shots. Listening to God’s direction, and any leader’s direction, makes us incredibly vulnerable. When we start putting others first, we stop guarding ourselves as much as we like to.
But it is vital that we do this. We radiate God’s love when we love others. And the body of believers will not lose anything by rejecting selfishness, and choosing love instead. Paul reminds us:
“If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:3 ESV)
It’s not enough to have action without love, and it’s not enough to love without action. The things we do on a daily basis should be in response to the callings God puts on our lives. We need to be giving it all we have. Paul returns to this issue in his letter to the Colossians:
“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17 ESV)
Let us, as the church, check our motivations at the door and leave our selfishness at the foot of the cross. Think of what we could accomplish together, if we truly acted as one, with a heart of love and thankfulness:
“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” (Colossians 3:23 ESV)
Satan wants a lazy church. We fail when we work for people and not for the Lord. But if we, as different members of the same body, rely on love—if we root ourselves in the foundation of God’s love—we can bring real change and light to the world.
Prayer has the potential to completely change our lives. Yet we often treat it as if its a side note. In this sermon, I examine Saint Paul's view of prayer focusing on Acts 16. While exploring how prayer changed Paul's life -- and the lives of others in the first-century -- I share how I have seen the miraculous happen through prayer.
This sermon was delivered at The Table, a missional church plant in Bellingham, Washington on May 22, 2016.
Our world is more interconnected than ever before. We could legitimately provide every last person on our planet with access to the gospel in our lifetimes. Here’s why I believe that.
We have better technology at our disposal than ever before. And we can leverage this to bring the gospel to the unreached.
Today, I can video chat with a church planter in the developing world from Washington state. Google Hangouts and Skype gave us all that ability. Potentially, I could on a video call answer a biblical question of a church planter in the field—in a remote village, because pretty soon, 3G and 4G is going to be everywhere. That’s at least the plan of big tech companies—with their efforts empowered by a space company who can now send reusable rockets to space to launch satellites. This is the age we live in, one where any person on the planet can potentially connect to any other person in seconds.
All the sudden, the issue of training and empowering church planters is far simpler than it has ever been. And the interconnection between those who sponsor church planters and the church planters themselves is greater than it has ever been.
Imagine the potential for global discipleship in this world. I first realized this when I was sitting next to a church planter in Bihar, India and he showed me the screen of his Motorola flip phone. On the screen was my bio on JesusEconomy.org. He said, this is you, right? I was first surprised by how good our website looked on his phone—leave it to me to notice that first. But my second thought is what changed my life: If this guy can look up my bio on his phone, right here while we’re talking, what if I put a study Bible in his hand? What if I gave him a full Bible dictionary and a Bible translation? What if I gave him Bible studies in his native language? And, of course, we can do this. We could even send him video courses on SD cards. We could put any piece of information in his hand.
This is our world. It is more interconnected than ever before. And it means completely rethinking missions.
If our churches thought long and hard about their budgets, we could—like the churches of Paul’s day—pool our resources to bring the gospel to the unreached corners of our world (see Romans 15:26–29). If we sponsored indigenous church planters, it’s surprisingly cost-effective to fund missions.
The church should be innovating in this space. And in the process, we should be thinking holistically about how we approach poverty and reaching the unreached—thinking about how we care for a person’s soul, mind, and body. We should be leveraging every opportunity possible to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).
The fact that the gospel has not reached every people group on our planet is an injustice. And it’s an injustice we can correct.
Likewise, it’s an injustice that the people of our planet do not have clean water. And with technology we can do something about. It’s an injustice that everyone on the planet does not have access to economic opportunities. And in this world, in this time, we can do something about.
Justice is a central cry of the Bible. The works of the prophets are full of calls to create a more just world (Micah 6:8; Isaiah 1:16; Jeremiah 22:3; Amos 5:23–24). Isaiah put it this way: “Learn to do good! Seek justice! Rescue the oppressed! Defend the orphan! Plead for the widow!” (Isaiah 1:16 LEB).
Jesus himself told us that he will distinguish between those who truly know him and those who do not by what they do for the marginalized, outsider, prisoner, and impoverished (Matthew 25:37–40). And we know from James that true religion is loving the hurting and the poor—the widow and the orphan (James 1:26–27).
Indeed, it is unjust when a child has to go without clean water, healthcare, or education. It is unjust when a parent doesn’t have access to a fair paying job that can lift their family out of poverty. It is unjust that there are millions of people who have never heard the name of Jesus. Let’s do something about it.
Let’s innovate the bring about a future of missions where every last person has heard the name of Jesus and experienced his love.
How do we, as Christians, overcome depression? In this sermon I examine the story of early Christianity from the perspective of the book of Colossians, particularly Colossians 1:1-23. I look at how Saint Paul and Christians in general overcame great odds, including depression. In the process I share how I personally overcame depression. This sermon was delivered at The Table, a missional church plant in Bellingham, Washington on October 5, 2014.
From the beginning of the early church, there is a concern for the impoverished and for effective alleviation of poverty. Right off the bat, early Christians are pooling their resources for the sake of the marginalized and impoverished. Early Christians sold their stuff so that they could share resources with the hurting (Acts 2:44–45). Self-sacrifice is a core part of the gospel.
We have to be willing to sacrifice our own comforts for the sake of the impoverished. I can’t look at the situation in Bihar, India—where millions of people are living in extreme poverty—and deny them clean water or economic opportunities. As a Christian, I should experience a conversion in those moments of witnessing poverty. I should be inspired to give of my time and resources to empower the poor. I should be willing to go so far as to sell my house and my belongings. That’s at least what Jesus told one man (Matthew 19:16–22).
That’s precisely what my wife and I did—we put all of our resources into empowering the impoverished and bringing the gospel to the unreached. We sold our house and our stuff, for the sake of the mission. I’m not saying this to boast, because I can tell you that there is no glory in it. I’m saying this to note that I’m not asking you to do something I haven’t done myself. I’m also not saying everyone’s journey will be so radically life altering, but I do ask, “Are you giving enough that it hurts?” That’s the model of the early church.
Jesus has a different economy in mind than the one on offer in our world. He believes in empowering the impoverished. Jesus’ economy is based on self-sacrifice. Jesus’ currency is love.
When the earliest Christians gave, it wasn’t about guilt (2 Corinthians 9:6–7). And likewise, their love wasn’t an empty love—one where I give of my resources without thought of relationship. I believe in intelligent love and I believe in love that calls people to a higher standard. I believe in this because the early church did. I also believe in love that respects the value of hard work (compare 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:7–8). There is a time for charity, such as meeting a basic need like clean water, but people also need economic opportunities. They need jobs.
The early church built intelligence in their giving. We see this in the appointment of deacons—following an issue over distribution of charity to widows, one of the most impoverished groups of the day (Acts 6:1–7). Jesus would have us give in ways that multiply and to think about how we’re giving and to whom we’re giving.
This is why I believe in job creation efforts being a core part of the work of the church. We can meet a person’s need today or we can give them the ability to meet their own need tomorrow. But no matter what we do, showing Jesus’ love in word and deed should be our mission. We should live on mission and empower missions, so that all can know Jesus.
The early church sent missionaries out, but their goal was to train and empower local leadership. Much of 1 Timothy and Titus is about this—the appointment of local elders and deacons. We also see Paul in 1–2 Thessalonians and 1–2 Corinthians working to instruct local leaders on how to lead their own church. Paul’s model was always about raising up indigenous leaders.
Today, we can do the same. We need to empower local leadership around the world. What we need is to sponsor indigenous church planting movements and to empower them with quality, Bible-focused training. And we need to empower them with strong project management, resources for community development, and let them sit at the center of an effort to renew a community.
Churches around the world should partner together, for the sake of both bringing the gospel to unreached people groups and to meet basic needs. And where there are needs to be met, we should meet them. Near the end of Paul’s letter to the Roman church, he requests that they join him and other churches in bringing together an aid package for the impoverished in Jerusalem (Romans 15:26–29).
As Christians, we need to have a holistic approach to life transformation. We need to be about creating jobs, planting churches, and meeting basic needs—one community at a time.
Imagine what could be if the church functioned this way—if we looked at the biblical model of self-sacrifice and lived with the principles of the early church in mind. Imagine how different our world be. Imagine what would happen if we had a truly Jesus economy in mind at all times.
It’s the mid-50s AD. A man named Paul has been traveling the world, spreading the good news about Jesus of Nazareth. Paul believes this Jesus is God incarnate and the savior of the world. This all started when Paul encountered the risen Jesus, who had been crucified in Jerusalem. Before that, he had persecuted Christians.
Paul is now on a mission. He is near the end of his third missionary journey. He desires to see the Christians in Rome. In a letter, Paul tells the Roman church that he plans to launch from Rome a mission to Spain (Romans 15:22).
On the other side of the known world is Thomas. At first, Thomas had doubted Jesus’ resurrection (John 20:25–28). Now, Thomas has been sent out by the church in Jerusalem to bring the gospel to India. (This is according to early Syrian church tradition.)
Paul and Thomas are attempting to bring the gospel to opposite ends of the known world—the furthest western point in their geography, Spain, and the furthest eastern point, India.
Paul and Thomas are following Jesus’ commandment: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8 NIV). From the very inception of the church, they saw themselves as missionaries bringing the gospel to the ends of the earth. The former persecutor and former doubter dedicated themselves to this. And we should do the same.
But the work is far from complete. There are over 3,000 people groups without missionaries. It’s estimated that 99.7% of the church’s resources—it’s missional activities and financial support—is dedicated to areas where the church is already present. Only 0.3% of resources are dedicated to where the church is not present. Let that number sink in.
Like Thomas, I went to India because I had heard of a place where 101 Million people had not heard Jesus’ name. The state is called Bihar. There in Bihar, I shadowed an indigenous, pioneering church leader named Biju Thomas.
In Bihar, I met hundreds of people who had heard the name of Jesus for the first time through the efforts of Biju and his team. And I personally witnessed hundreds of people hearing the name of Jesus for the first time ever in their lives. I saw the freedom of Jesus reign in their lives and renew their hearts. I saw their eyes light up as they realized that their lives had value far beyond what the local religious systems had rigidly defined.
In Bihar, the book of Acts is happening today. There are thousands of people coming to Christ; there are miracles happening everyday; and the needs of the impoverished are being met.
I remember meeting a young woman, perhaps 16 years old, whose face was filled with sadness and anger. She was from a remote village and had until recently been living with father who an abusive alcoholic. At first, she had tried to stay in school—and endure her father’s neglect and abuse—but she would regularly walk three miles to school, just for the teacher not to show. Thus, she moved to Patna, where her mother was and found work and education. But the sadness about her upbringing, future, and her father endured. And her religion demanded chants (mantras) to change this. But she could not chant where she was living.
During a youth event, she heard the gospel told plainly for the first time. And she realized, deep in her heart, that Jesus is what she needed—not mantras. Jesus whispered quietly to her that she had value. I will never forget her face as she walked up the aisle of the classroom to ask for prayer. Her smile brimmed from ear to ear. She had been so angry and embittered looking but now joy swept across her face. Jesus had turned darkness into beauty.
I want to see this type of joy reach every last person on the planet. I want to see the renewal this young lady experienced be offered to every person of Bihar.
As I left Bihar, I thought, “If the book of Acts is happening today in Bihar, perhaps a model could emerge from the book. What if the answers to our problems are right there in the Bible?”
“I’ll go first” is perhaps the most powerful statement a Christian make. It is the people who go first that I most admire: the innovators, the risk-takers, the pioneers.
It is the people who have made incredible sacrifices for Jesus—who join our Lord, not just in his glory but also in his suffering—that inspire me.
One of these people is Biju Thomas, a pioneering community developer in Northeast India. Biju left “God’s own country”—the nickname of Kerala, the state he is from in Bihar—and moved to Bihar, which is known as the most backward of the backward states in India. This is a reference used in India to states that are no longer supported by the Indian government from an infrastructure standpoint.
In Bihar, I shadowed Biju in one of the least reached regions of the world. Over 101 Million people in Bihar have never heard the name of Jesus. Without Biju, I was an outsider and unwelcome; but with him, everything was different.
When people met me and observed the color of my skin, they would generally dislike me. This is because of the history of colonialism in Bihar—there is a cultural memory that says that white people are bad because they represent oppressive colonialism. But once people found out I was with Biju, they would embrace me. And this is because of one simple reason—the love of Jesus.
Biju and his team are empowering women through business; they are providing clean water; they are offering literacy training; and they are sharing the freedom of Jesus with people who have never heard his name before. And as these people experience Jesus—in a culture where the religious systems have dictated that their life is only worth little—their entire world is changed. Jesus offers freedom and liberty.
Biju is the type of person who goes first. He has made incredible sacrifices for the cause of renewing Bihar, India. And that’s why I followed him and am now going first among another group of people. I’m trying to ignite a movement of people who are willing to live self-sacrificially for the sake of bringing the gospel to the last of the unreached and for the sake of alleviating extreme poverty in effective and sustainable ways.
To fund it, I put my money in first. I sold my house. I sold my stuff. That’s what my wife and I did together. Because I could not look at these problems—and continue to sit in my comfortable well paying job—I had to step up and follow God with everything I had. And I knew that I wouldn’t really know faith, or be able to truly call people to it, until I had taken that journey.
This was the method of Saint Paul. In his letter to the church at Thessalonica, he says:
“For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you” (2 Thessalonians 3:7–8 ESV).
Paul was bi-vocational—meaning he worked and did ministry. He worked so that he could do ministry. He put his money where his mouth was. He led by example. Paul explains this further in 1 Thessalonians:
“Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you” (1 Thessalonians 2:9 NIV).
Paul’s mission was to spread the gospel and to leave no one with excuse. They believed because they saw how much he sacrificed for it and knew that there could be no other reason for doing so than God himself. Paul joined Jesus not just in his glory but in his suffering. He went first and did so without regret.
God is building a grand vision for our world and we can be part of it. God is calling us to make sacrifices necessary to renew entire communities—physically and spiritually.
The opportunity and resources are there and now we need to do the work. God is calling us to something extraordinary. We could bring the gospel, in its full form—of loving a person in both word and deed—to the ends of the earth in our lifetimes. Imagine if that happened.
Our strategy will take time. It will involve sacrifice. It will involve leading by example. It will involve making decisions for Jesus that are so drastic that people question them. It will involve finding a better way forward to create jobs and churches for the hurting and unreached. But it will be worth it.
We are all part of a story. We’re living as part of a narrative. We’re telling our story, with each act of each day.
Like the legends of old, we have an opportunity to decide what kind of people we will be. When faced with the problems of our world, will we step up and offer renewal and hope? Or will we cower back, backing away from the fight?
I have seen the problems of our world firsthand. I have witnessed the pain of our world and decided to live a grand adventure to do something about it.
My wife and I sold our house, most of what we own, left a great job, and followed after Jesus—for the sake of empowering the impoverished and bringing the gospel to the unreached (compare Mark 10:17–27). God’s next step for us was to “go all in”—that was the only way for the movement we lead, Jesus’ Economy, to grow.
I made these decisions because of what I witnessed of global poverty—and the amount of people who have never had the opportunity to hear the name of Jesus. I couldn’t live in a world where solutions were available to global poverty and bringing the gospel to the unreached and continue with “business as usual.”
If we all lived a better story, we could reasonably end global poverty in our lifetimes. We could reasonably bring the gospel to those who do not have access to it. Here’s how.
When it comes to what type of story I want to live, I regularly think of what the prophet Jeremiah said:
“Thus says Yahweh, ‘Act with justice and righteousness, and deliver the one who has been seized from the hand of the oppressor. And you must not oppress or treat violently the immigrant, the orphan, and the widow. And you must not shed innocent blood in this place’” (Jeremiah 22:3 LEB).
This is what we are called to do, to deliver the oppressed—to be people who act with justice, who embody it. For the marginalized, immigrant, impoverished, and outsider, we are to rise up and care. We are to stand alongside the hurting and live as people whose lives are marked by these values.
Ending global poverty starts with your everyday decisions—how you use your finances and time. Likewise, bringing the gospel to the unreached is within our grasp—if we all just lived a little more sacrificially. If only we embodied what the Bible actually says, everything would be different.
The situation we have in America of easy access to food, water, and medical care is not the case elsewhere in the world. To give you an idea of the situation around the world, here are a few significant facts.
In a Millennium Development Goals Report from 2015 by the United Nations, there is one line in particular that is incredibly shocking:
“Projections indicate that in 2015 more than 600 million people worldwide will still be using unimproved water sources, almost one billion will be living on an income of less than $1.25 per day, mothers will continue to die needlessly in childbirth, and children will suffer and die from preventable diseases” (MDGR, pg. 3 of the Foreword by Ban Ki-Moon).
This is the story people in developing countries live with. This term, ‘developing,’ refers to the situation of general economic poverty. America, on the other hand, would be called a ‘developed’ nation. And yet, our resources for the most part stay with us. We as individuals and as a nation are by and large ignoring the real problems facing our world.
The people in developing countries experiencing issues of extreme poverty need our assistance. They need us to come alongside them to empower them.
But they need more than mere meeting of basic needs. That’s a start. We need to help create sustainable jobs for those living in poverty, so they can lift themselves out of poverty.
We also need to meet spiritual needs. Throughout our world, oppressive religions and corruption are plaguing societies. We need a Christian presence in every corner of the world, offering liberty and freedom.
I believe it is our time and it is our hour. I believe that Christ will transform lives through the work of our hands. That power is in your hands.
And lest someone tell you that you can’t do something about it, let me remind you of Paul’s words to his young apprentice Timothy:
“Do not let anyone look down on you because you are young but set an example for the believers in life, in faith, in truth, and in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).
Young or old, we can live by example. We can live a better story, for the sake of the impoverished and unreached.
This principle guided me throughout my young years. And it guides me today to continue living this story, despite how hard and painful it is.
What type of story are you going to live?
I know sacrifice. I sold my house and nearly everything I own to follow God’s call on my life. I saw that it wasn’t enough to simply spread a message; I had to live it.
Through pain and trial, Jesus taught me how to follow him—and continues to do so.
But the world doesn’t work like an iPhone; it’s not instantly gratifying. Rather than receiving the instant gratification of people joining our movement, I saw many people distance themselves. My choices either made them uncomfortable, or in giving up my former job—which gave me influence and the ability to make the publishing dreams of others come true—I no longer had something they desired.
This situation revealed to me a larger issue about our culture—apathy.
Our generation likes the idea of alleviating poverty far more than the actual act of alleviating poverty. We’re comfortable liking and sharing posts on Facebook, but ask us to take real action and little to nothing will happen. Likewise, we like to talk about the need to bring the gospel to the unreached far more than we are willing to do the work.
It’s inconvenient to make sacrifices. It’s far from being instantly gratifying. It’s an act of faith.
We need a solution to the apathy of our generation. We need to teach people what following Jesus really means—and demonstrate it by example. Writing to his young apprentice Timothy, Paul puts it this way:
“The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions” (1 Timothy 1:5–7 ESV).
In America, we have a more educated generation than ever before. But from where I’m sitting, it doesn’t seem that we’re teaching people to lead by example. At the college and university level, we are really good at teaching people to think critically and to critique. But it’s easy to critique; it’s hard to create. There is a time and place for critique—for discussion of the law, using Paul’s analogy. But we need to be better at teaching people to take action, getting them to do the work.
You could sit all day and nitpick about a model for alleviating poverty or how we should (and should not) be doing missions—and these are important discussions. But meanwhile, there are people out there dying, physically and spiritually. The world isn’t changed by mere theory; it’s changed by theory in action.
In our top universities, we have Christians pursuing noble training and occupations—lawyers, doctors, executives, scholars, and teachers. While these indeed are noble and important pursuits, many will quickly lose sight of the real purpose of life as a Christian. Consumerism will consume them. They will be wrapped into businesses and striving after promotions; they will become consumed with possessions and money, if they haven’t already.
We have Christians learning to be teachers of the law—with knowledge of the core ideas of the Bible taught by campus ministries and churches. But most people are living without true understanding. This understanding can only be gained through self-sacrifice. It can only be gained through doing what Jesus has called us to do—to give of ourselves for the impoverished, marginalized, and outsider; and dedicate our lives to bringing the freedom of the gospel to those who have not heard it.
It’s going to be difficult to reverse the trend of the Facebook generation of Christians—who seem interested in alleviating poverty and spreading the gospel, but are largely apathetic. Here are a few ideas.
We can start by exposing people to the truth of what’s going on around the world—that there are plenty of resources to go around but that we’re not getting those resources to the impoverished. We can then show people how God can use their skills to not just fiscally assist in these areas but to also transform lives, with their own two hands.
Jesus’ Economy, for example, has an entirely remote all-volunteer team. We have volunteers around the nation who are part of our staff—they are plugging directly into the work of alleviating poverty from right behind their computer. They are working on partnerships, content, and technology projects. They are putting their hard skills to work helping alleviate poverty and spread the gospel.
We can also expose people to the fact that there are over 3,000 people groups without missionaries. It’s estimated that 99.7% of the church’s resources—its missional activities and financial support—are dedicated to areas where the church is already present. Only 0.3% of resources are dedicated to where the church is not present. Let that number sink in.
To deal with this, we need to be thinking about how we can work together to pool our resources—to empower the work of the global church.
I’ve been to one of these places, in Bihar, India. In Bihar, there are over 101 Million people who have never heard the name of Jesus. There is a completely unreached people group.
In Bihar, I met a man who had lived his entire life as a gang leader. An indigenous church planter had a chance encounter with him and shared about the freedom and love of Jesus. The man was intrigued because his life felt so dark and empty—and local religion couldn’t offer any hope for what he was feeling and experiencing. Before long, he decided to believe in Jesus and it changed his entire life. He went out into a field and buried his gun and knife. He then dedicated his life to co-laboring for Jesus—working manual labor and spreading the word about Jesus whenever possible. This reminds me of Isaiah 2:4:
“God shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (ESV).
This is the power and liberty of the gospel that is going forth around the world—but this effort needs more advocacy and funding.
In Bihar, Jesus’ Economy has four indigenous church planters reaching those who have never heard Jesus’ name before. Simple decisions by normal people funded this effort. Online people started birthday campaigns to raise support for church planters, and dedicated events to the cause of church planting. In these simple, yet innovative actions, they have moved past apathy and into action. These ideas are about embodying the values of the Bible, while embracing technology. People are overcoming apathy for the sake of the poor and unreached.
And this is just the start of the potential of what could be happening in our world. Imagine what could occur if we embodied Paul’s teachings to Timothy. Near the end of 1 Timothy, Paul says:
“Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. … Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have .... Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:11–16 ESV).
Paul instructs Timothy to continue to embrace his gifts. He tells him to devote himself to the work of the gospel and to do so with self-discipline. Paul calls Timothy to bring the saving work of Jesus to others, despite all obstacles. And Paul can say these words because he has led by example.
But the type of change I’m envisioning is almost like a reformation. It means a complete shift of Christian culture in the U.S. It will be a long-long race. And we—each of us who have heard this message—have to run it first. We have to lead by example.
Reflecting back upon his many efforts to spread the gospel and alleviate poverty, an older Paul says to Timothy: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:6 NIV).
Paul is not just stating the reality of his life; he is calling Timothy to run the same race. He has shown Timothy in word and deed how to run the race; stated that he has done so; and is now asking Timothy to do the same.
We should never ask someone to do something, or to live a message, that we are not at least trying to live ourselves. And ideally, we should already be living it ourselves. We need to say, “I’ll go first.” And then invite people to run alongside with us.
This is part of why I have made the moves I have in my own life—to show that it is possible to be a missionary while having a full-time job. And then to further show, with the recent moves in my life, that it is possible to self-finance the work God has called you to. And furthermore, that it is possible to follow God’s call—no matter how difficult it may be. It just takes the right partnerships and sacrifice.
The book of James talks at length about how faith without works is dead. We cannot simply critique and talk—because that’s not faith. Christianity is not about mere intellectual ascent; it’s about action. Faith without works is dead.
We need faith that is put directly into action. We need faith that is about doing the difficult. We need faith that is inspiring.