Monday, August 17, 2015

Recently, I delivered a couple of messages from Philemon, Paul's Post Card. Paul is seeking to bring out the best in his friend, Philemon, asking him to forgive a runaway servant named Onesimus, whom Paul recently led to Christ. It is a letter that is pregnant with instruction on how to bring out the best in one another. Part of becoming a growing community of grace is that we think hard about how to stir and inspire one another to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24). The points from the messages were to engage each other's hearts following certain principles: Practice Humility Prioritize Prayer Show Respect Communicate Love Express Affirmation Model Selflessness Promote Vision Inspire Execution Exercise Faith You can listen to these messages here: One of those elements we can all seek grace from God to apply is to Express Affirmation. Our God is the abundantly affirming God! Hebrews 6:10--God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love that you have shown for His Name in serving the saints. I happen to believe that most of us don't see God as the Supreme Affirmer. I fear that most of us see God as The Reprimander. The Corrector. The Fault-Finder. Of course, if He were that, there would NEVER be a moment He could not find something to reprimand us for or correct us over and find fault with us about. And, of course, that's how many of us indeed see Him...and experience our own imaginations. I read a letter to the congregation that has been widely circulated over the years. It's called, "Father Forgets." It's written by a father to his son. It exposes our own fault-finding ways. But, I hope, it will also expose the low view we tend to hold of God...we tend to see our Father in heaven as this fault-finding dad. He. Is. Not. That. Sure, sin is a reality. Of course, God doesn't condone sin. But what if...God is more patient and more affirming of His children in union with Christ than we give Him credit for? Just. What. If?? Here is the letter: W. Livingston Larned—Father Forgets—a piece that has ended up being reprinted in every type of magazine that’s been published. One reason so impactful is b/c of the way it nails us on our tendency to criticize and condemn before we affirm and appreciate. Listen, son: I am saying this as you lie asleep, one little paw crumpled under your cheek and the blond curls stickily wet on your damp forehead. I have stolen into your room alone. Just a few minutes ago, as I sat reading my paper in the library, a stifling wave of remorse swept over me. Guiltily I came to your bedside. There were things I was thinking, son: I had been cross with you. I scolded you as you were dressing for school because you gave your face merely a dab with a towel. I took you to task for not cleaning your shoes. I called out angrily when you threw some of your things on the floor. At breakfast I found fault, too. You spilled things. You gulped down your food. You put your elbows on the table. You spread butter too thick on your bread. And as you started off to play and I made for my train, you turned and waved a hand and yelled, “Goodbye daddy!” And I frowned, and said in reply, “Hold those shoulders back!” Then it began all over again in the late afternoon. As I came up the road I spied you, down on your knees, playing marbles. There were holes in your stockings. I humiliated you before your friends by marching you ahead of me to the house. Stockings were expensive—and if you had to buy them, you would be more careful. Imagine that, son, from a father. Do you remember later, when I was reading in the library, how you came in timidly, with a sort of hurt look in your eyes? When I glanced up over my paper, impatient at the interruption, you hesitated at the door. “What is it you want?” I snapped. You said nothing, but ran across in one tempestuous plunge and threw your arms around my neck and kissed me, and your small arms tightened with an affection that God had set blooming in your heart and which even neglect could not wither. And then you were gone, pattering up the stairs. Well, son, it was shortly afterwards that my paper slipped from my hands and a terrible sickening fear came over me. What has habit been doing to me? The habit of finding fault, of reprimanding—this was my reward to you for being a boy. It was not that I did not love you; it was that I expected too much of youth. I was measuring you by the yardstick of my own years. And there was so much that was good and fine and true in your character. Your little heart was as big as the dawn itself over the wide hills as evidenced by your spontaneous impulse to rush in and kiss me good night. Nothing else matters tonight son. I have come to your bedside in the darkness, and I have knelt here, ashamed. It is a feeble atonement; I know you would not understand these things if I told them to you during your waking hours. But, tomorrow I will be a real daddy! I will chum with you, and suffer when you suffer, and laugh when you laugh. I will bite my tongue when impatient words come. I will keep saying as if it were a ritual; “He’s nothing but a boy—a little boy!” I am afraid I have visualized you as a man. Yet as I see you now, son, crumpled and weary in your cot, I see that you are still a baby. Just yesterday, it seems, you were in your mother’s arms, your head on her shoulder. I have asked too much, too much.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The 3rd song of the U2 concert at the L.A. Forum on May 27 was Vertigo. Vertigo, of course, is dysfunctional dizziness, often resulting from certain movements or motion. Flying vertigo is disorientation because you’ve lost a true understanding of the horizon. Bono has explained the song: “In the case of 'Vertigo,' I was thinking about this awful nightclub we've all been to. You're supposed to be having a great time and everything's extraordinary around you and the drinks are the price of buying a bar in a Third World country.'re just looking around and you see big, fat Capitalism at the top of its mountain, just about to topple. It's that woozy, sick feeling of realizing that here we are, drinking, eating, polluting, robbing ourselves to death. And in the middle of the club, there's this girl. She has crimson nails. I don't even know if she's beautiful, it doesn't matter but she has a cross around her neck, and the character in this [song] stares at the cross just to steady himself”—Bono, U2 by U2. My take as Bono shouted the opening line, “Uno, dos, tres, catorce” is that U2 sings of how dissonant this world is because of brokenness due to Adam’s Fall into sin and rebellion…that resulted in our own sin and brokenness. 1,2, 3…14? That makes no sense…and neither does this world many times. Just turn on the news. Or…just look around you…OR…just look WITHIN you. The wonder of the Biblical Christian World and Life View is that we have an answer as to why the world is so messed up. Sin and Satan are real. Thus Bono’s lyric in Vertigo…that he always sings with such clarity… “All of this, all of this can be yours All of this, all of this can be yours All of this, all of this can be yours Just give me what I want And no one gets hurt.” Bono is clearly reciting the devil’s words to Jesus during His temptation (Matthew 4:8-9). But not only does the Christian World View have an answer as to WHY the world is upside-down. The Gospel offers a solution..Faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. The only answer to the world’s Vertigo? Christ’s response to Satan: “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.” Look at the Cross...and steady yourself.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

U2 Out of Control

The second song of the concert at the LA forum on 5-27-15 was their first single, Out of Control. Bono has clearly explained the origin & meaning of the song. Bono: "Out Of Control is about waking up on your eighteenth birthday and realizing that you're 18 years old and that the 2 most important decisions in your life have nothing to do with you - being born and dying." The passing of U2's tour manager of 30 years was on my mind as I listened to the song...I would think it had to be on the mind of U2 as well. Bono sang the song with great passion and energy. At times, as he was swinging the mike on the mike stand, it almost seemed to me like he WAS feeling "Out of Control." He almost seemed...ANGRY. And why not? We SHOULD be angry at death! As he'd say later in the concert before the song, "Iris," U2 is family...and when they lost Dennis earlier in the day, they lost a family member. As Christ-followers, we OUGHT to be angry over death. Jesus was. In John 11:35, Jesus wept as He observed the grief of Mary & Martha over their brother's Lazarus' death. Lazarus was also a very dear friend of Jesus. I believe if Christ's tears could speak, one of the emotions they would claim is anger...anger at death...anger at the world as it is and not how it was originally created to be by the Father. As Christians, we have an explanation as to why death is so universal, yet so feels so painfully foreign to how we know that we know things should be. Death came into the world because of sin. But as followers of Christ, we also have hope because we know that death has been conquered. In this life, though, death is still hard. It hurts. It makes us ANGRY! It makes us feel...Out. Of. Control. I wonder if Bono experienced the frustration of being out of control when it comes to death. Another thing struck me as Bono sang the words of "Out of Control." Even as he sang the words and acted almost "Out of Control," the audience was NEVER Out of Control. Not even close. There's something different about people who attend U2 concerts. They're...well...nice. I struck up several conversations as we waited for U2 to come out. We all respected each other. Were kind to each other. Throughout the concert we even looked out for each other. Bono at times during concerts, has been known to say, "God is in the house!" As I looked around at the audience, some people (including me!) were seemingly in an attitude of worship (not of U2...but of the God Who is often behind U2 lyrics). Most, I'm sure, were just enjoying the concert...but somehow U2 attracts people who know that being truly "Out of Control" is uncool. Even when the song is Out of Control.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

U2-ie 2015 LA Forum

U2ie (not the abbreviation for Ireland...or is it?), but the abbreviation for the Innocence-Experience Tour. I'll be blogging on the recent show I attended on May 27, in Inglewood, CA at the L.A. Forum. I'll take my time and share one song at a time. The concert begins. No warm up band. This is U2's Story. The stage is traditional on the one end, attached to a very long runway with a HUGE 2-sided screen that hangs over the runway. The long runway connects to a mini, pod-shaped stage at the other end. While the band sings certain songs, there is either animation or actual home video or pictures of home life while Bono and the lads are young that are shown. It was the most intimate and transparent of all the U2 shows I've seen. What made this show even more unique was the passing away of U2's long-time tour manager, Dennis Sheehan, the morning of the Show. Saddleback Church pastor and author Rick Warren described Dennis as "a calm and kind Christian man." I wondered throughout the day as I prayed for the guys: how would they be affected? I figured they'd either be flat...or flat-out crazy! Uh...they were not flat (I learned later that Rick Warren had been called in by U2 just before the show, to counsel with them, read Scripture to them and pray for them). So afterward, it all made sense. They were flat-out crazy this night! Bono told Warren: "We choose joy." These reflections are my own. I have never met Bono, so I don't know whether these reflections would fit with what he the rest of U2 may think. However, I have read a lot of Bono's own words and have read some great books chronicling their faith in Christ. I have also poured over the lyrics of their songs, blogging on many of them. "For those who have ears to hear..." Bono walks out singing "The Miracle (of Joey Ramone). Right from the start I can tell that there is a special "energy" among U2 this night. Mystery is Present and The Spirit Moves in Mysterious Ways... I find it interesting that even the title of the first song reveals some mystery. It's called, simply, "The Miracle." Then, in parentheses, "(of Joey Ramone)." So, on one level, it is a tribute to Joey Ramone of the Ramones. Bono heard Ramone's voice and listened to his lyrics and something wonderful happened inside of him. Bono and the lads of U2 snuck into a Ramones concert and Bono was greatly encouraged by what he heard. But on another level, a level similar to the hidden meanings of the parables of Christ (another illustration Bono has used for his lyrics), the song speaks to me about The Miracle of Grace. I remember reading on several occasions where Bono says "U2 must be smart" about their faith in Christ. He once compared U2's approach to the early Christian church's symbol of the fish (IXTHUS). The Greek word for "fish" is used as an acrostic--IXTHUS=Jesus Christ God's Son Savior. A fish was often traced out on the sand or dirt by believers to reveal their faith, yet done in order to be smart and subtle. One person would trace the upper half of the fish symbol...and if the other person noticed it (and they would notice it if they were looking for it!) they would complete the other half. As a result, they would be able to engage in conversations about the Savior. Bono has said that U2 just sort of draw their fish in the sand. It's there for those who have eyes to see. For those who don't, they just enjoy the music at a different level. Hear are some of the key lyrics to me: I woke up at the moment When the miracle occurred Heard a song that made some sense Out of the world Everything I ever lost Now has been returned In the most beautiful sound I'd ever heard. Sure, on one level this is about a young Bono resonating with the gifted artistry and power of Joey Ramone. Some say the lyrics refer to the Sirens' Song of Greek mythology and their power to entrance. But on another level, Bono is constantly singing about the "Song" and miracle of Grace. There are beautifully redemptive lyrics here: a song that made some sense out of the world. I couldn't help but wonder, that as Bono processed Dennis's death, whether these words took on even more depth..."I heard a song that made some sense out of the world." The Song of Grace for the Christ-follower can even make some sense out of death. Death for the Christian is not final, but has been overcome by Christ...."the most beautiful sound I'd ever heard." In other songs, U2 sings of "the sound" of grace, of the Gospel. Also, when one is "born again" in Christ, Scripture calls it The Miracle of the new birth. It is a "waking up" from the dead. I couldn't help but reflect upon my own conversion, "when the miracle occurred," and I "heard a song that made some sense out of the world." Then the beautifully redemptive lyrics that even remind me of the hymn, Amazing Grace: "Everything I ever lost, now has been returned." I once was lost...but I have been found. All that has been broken by the Fall is now being redeemed by grace. Near the end of the song Bono sings, "I get so many things I don't deserve." That. Is. Grace.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

March Madness and "Playing Loose"

As the NCAA Basketball Tournament approaches, watch for teams that play loose...and notice teams that play "tight." The teams that play loose are fun to watch. They are simply enjoying the game...and they often win. But, if they lose, they usually lose having played their best. As I make my way through the Old Testament in my daily readings, I came across Judges 5:2 this morning. It is a song written after the female judge Deborah encouraged a Jewish solider (a general perhaps?) to lead Israel into battle against the enemy. Deborah encouraged Barak and the troops that God promised the victory. As a result of such encouragement, Barak and Israel, "played loose," fought valiantly and won the battle. Judges 5:2 is an interesting verse: "That the leaders took the lead in Israel, that the people offered themselves willingly, bless the LORD." The Hebrew is difficult. Literally it says something like "the long-haired ones let their hair hang loose." Israel let their hair down! They didn't play tight. They weren't afraid to fail. The knew they would win so they trusted God's promise and played loose. And as is often the case when we play loose...we experience victory. How are you "playing the game" of the Christian life today? Are you playing tight because of fear? Are you afraid to fail or afraid to make a mistake? Or, basking in God's grace and the promise of His favor, delight and power, are you playing loose? Are you letting your hair down and going for it? That's what Deborah encouraged Israel to do in Judges 4:14--"Up! For this is the day in which the LORD has given Sisera into your hand. Does not the LORD go out before you?" Does not the LORD go out before you today? Take courage! Be of good cheer! Play loose! And maybe even take in some "March Madness."

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Hope Floats!

This past week, we began a 2-part series, "8 Reasons to Leave Your Umbrella at Home" (tied in to the Travelers Insurance Commercial with Chopper the dog worried about all the troubles of life that might cause him to lose his bone). This short series addresses why we as Christ-followers can experience HOPE even in the midst of pain, suffering, confusion, heart-ache, grief and loss in this broken world. But before we can talk about WHY we can experience HOPE or HOW we can experience HOPE, we need to understand a bit about WHAT HOPE IS. Through my study of 1 Peter 1:3-12 and other Scriptures, here are some definitions I've put together: •--Hope is a disposition of the heart that experiences the joy of a buoyant faith toward both the present and the future based on the Person, Promises and Pledge of God. Hope is the attitude of the soul resulting from believing that God’s heart toward you in Christ is good and that He is always working good. Hope is the glad expectation of certain good, even in spite of, and especially in light of, all evidences to the contrary. •--Hope anchors the soul to Christ resulting in peace and joy, no matter the currents below the surface or the storms above the surface. Hope sees good when it is not seen and acknowledges redemption is moving forward "behind the veil." •--Hope is the “Power of Positive Faithing” applied to your tomorrows. Philippians 4:8 applied to the next 5 minutes as well as the next 5 weeks, months, years, decades…”Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” •--Hope is a favorable assessment of the future based on the Person, Promises and Pledge of God, recognizing that circumstances may not change, and may indeed worsen, but at the same time recognizing that “Aslan on the move!” This hope is BOTH a divine gift of grace AND a human responsibility.

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Hunger Games?

Ok. I’ll admit it. I’m a U2 freak! One of my bucket list items is to sit down with Bono and discuss U2 lyrics and the Kingdom of God. I say that because I’ve been so intrigued by his apparent connection of faith with the real-world problems, which the Bible reveals Jesus came to address when He inaugurated the Kingdom. Hunger is one of those problems. Listen to these statistics that Richard Stearns presents in his transparent and insightful book, “The Hole in our Gospel:” •Roughly 1 of 4 children in developing countries is underweight •Some 350 to 400 million children are hungry •About 1 in 7 worldwide—854 million people—do not have enough food to sustain them •Approximately 25,000 people die each day of hunger or its related causes— about 9 million people per year. These are NOT just statistics…they are PEOPLE who share the same longings, dreams and love for their children and for life as we. You need to know that as a pastor, I have often failed to educate and equip my congregation to help the world face this problem. Bono says, “How in a world of plenty, can people be left to starve? We think, ‘It’s just the way of the world.’ But if it is the way of the world, we must overthrow the way of the world. Enough is enough.” That statement is so in line with the revolutionary heart and words of Jesus concerning the Kingdom of God… Jesus said He came to earth to “proclaim good news to the poor…to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19). Jesus taught that at the end of the age, when the fullness of the Kingdom of God will finally visit earth (Matt. 25:31-46), one of His main concerns will be whether or not we fed the hungry (and gave clean water to the thirsty, clothed the naked, cared for the sick and diseased and visited the oppressed). Jesus taught that IF INDEED we have been impacted by the Good News, that IF, in fact, we have been gripped by grace, one of the telltale signs of godliness will be a sensitive social conscience. World Food Day, celebrated on October 16 of each year, “is a worldwide event designed to increase awareness, understanding and informed-year-round-action to alleviate hunger.” My aim in this brief paper, is to help preachers and teachers in the church equip their congregations to become more aware of the problem of hunger and to consider what it means to usher in the Kingdom of God through doing our part, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to alleviate hunger in the world. Surely one responsibility we have as pastors and Christian workers is to teach on this critical subject. We are asking you to make the focus of your sermon/teaching time in your churches on October 14, alleviating hunger as a Kingdom Value. Specifically, THIS year’s Focus for World Food Day is on Agricultural Cooperatives and Agricultural Development as critical to alleviating and eventually ending hunger. Clearly, our Creator calls us to care for the Hungry of the Earth. God even lays out multiple methodologies for us to consider as we seek to address the issue: First, in the Old Testament, God commands the Church to NOT make an idol out of efficiency, productivity and profit, but rather to care for the hungry by actually NOT harvesting every single grape (Lev 19:10), and to leave them for the poor. When we reap the harvest of our crops, we are not to reap right up to the very edge of our land (how inefficient!), but instead we are to leave them for the poor to glean—that is, to obtain food through the work of their own hands (Lev 23:22). Second, in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul takes up an offering of cash from less-needy churches during a severe famine and delivers it to the suffering so that they could buy food (Acts 11:27-30). Jesus seems to leave it up to our God-given creativity and imagination concerning the various ways we might alleviate hunger: He simply says to the “sheep” who were consistent in living out the Amazing Gospel of Grace, “I was hungry and you gave Me food.” Jesus doesn’t go into any detail as to HOW the sheep feed Him through feeding the hungry…it could be through providing work (Lev 19; 23); It could be through sending money or food (Acts 11:27-30). The point Jesus is making is that if we have been gripped by grace--if we have been shown favor in our desperate spiritual hunger--we will, in turn, SHOW GRACE to those who are both spiritually and physically hungry through a variety of means. In Acts 6:1-7, the very issues of food supply and distribution (the emphasis of World Food Day this year) confronted the early church. The apostles faced the delicate situation of meeting both “spiritual” and “physical” needs with wisdom and grace. The solution was that the elders would give their primary attention to the ministry of the Word and to prayer; deacons would be created and organized to make sure that there was proper supply and distribution of food. Notice that an entire group of officers/leaders in the church was created SPECIFICALLY to address peoples’ physical needs. The Bible knows nothing of a church that is only focused on the so-called spiritual needs of the soul while neglecting the “real life” needs of the body. As James points out: “If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘God in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for body, what use is that?” (James 2:15-16) Again, this focus on supply and distribution is the focus of this year’s World Food Day. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, Paul says that the church then and the church now must remember the poor (surely including the hungry). So, what does it really MEAN to “Remember the poor”? It can’t mean to merely send money or temporary food supplies, so that they can eat today and starve tomorrow. It can’t mean entitlement programs that often put only a Band-aid on their deep hunger-wound without addressing the real disease. Surely “remembering the poor” MUST include remembering them not only in prayer, not only in giving, but also in equipping the poor themselves SO THAT they can feel and experience the full dignity of reflecting their Creator through work and productive contribution. We must teach our people about the REAL NEEDS and the REAL SOLUTIONS…and not mere band-aids. Remembering the poor must involve agricultural development; it must include practical mechanics and education: knowledge, wisdom and training that will help the impoverished become productive “image bearers.” This is the “glory and honor” of being human (see Psalm 8, especially verse 5-6). When it comes to humanitarian service, we must guard against dehumanizing others in seeking to salve our own consciences. I must confess that for too long I have responded as a pastor to Christ’s call to show compassion toward the hungry, the thirsty, the sick and the naked by merely encouraging our congregation to give money. Thankfully, we are now looking at supporting agencies and teams that are more geared toward helping the hungry learn how to feed themselves, and others as well. In Genesis 1:26-28, God says that He made humans in His image. What does it mean to be an “image bearer?” It means to be able to reveal, reflect and represent the glory and honor of the Creator God. God also says in this passage that He gave humanity dominion over the planet (not ruling out of selfishness and self-indulgence; but ruling out of wisdom and care and concern). What methods and strategies remember the poor, feed the hungry AND do so in a manner consistent with enabling and empowering image bearers to rule and subdue the earth, allowing them to experience the full dignity, honor and glory of reflecting and representing their Creator? Surely equipping them to work and provide for themselves, enabling them to alleviate their own hunger AND the hunger of those around them, is critical. In Genesis 2:15, the Scriptures present work as a pre-Fall element of a purposeful and significant life that honors and reflects God. After the Fall of humanity into sin, work, like every other area of life, became corrupted; work is now accompanied by sweat, difficulties, “weeds” and troubles. But part of experiencing the significance of being image bearers is the privilege and responsibility of engaging in redemptive, restorative work. The apostle Paul emphasized this privilege and responsibility when he wrote that “if anyone is unwilling to work, neither should he eat” (2 Thess 3:10). If in our “remembering the poor” and “feeding the hungry,” we fail to keep in mind our responsibility to others in not hindering them in their call to productive work, we fail completely! It is those who are UNWILLING, not those UNABLE, to work who should not eat. The world is filled with folk who are willing to work. How can we make them able? I am so thankful for books like Roger Thurow’s “Last Hunger Season” which help me as a pastor understand what is being done and what can be done. Recently, our church sent a group to India as an “Advance Team” to investigate how our church can help meet both the spiritual and physical needs in a particular city. They came back with ideas on how our congregation can help these people by equipping them in the areas of business practices, health-care and agricultural development. It was a “mission trip” in which folk in our church who don’t typically see themselves as “missionaries” felt incredibly useful in meeting some of the real needs of the world. Paul also wrote that one of the ways followers of Christ are to adorn the Gospel of the Kingdom with beauty and attractiveness before the watching world is through “working with our hands” (1 Thess 4:11). Surely we are to do all we can to empower all our brothers and sisters in Christ to adorn the gospel they dearly believe with beauty and attractiveness. We are not merely to relieve suffering; we are to relieve suffering IN THE MANNER that most preserves the dignity, the glory and the honor of fellow image bearers. We are not to relieve suffering to soothe our guilty consciences or to take pride in our “do-gooding.” We are to relieve suffering in a way that honors God, dignifies His creation and most redeems and restores the cosmos. Finally, the Gospel also surely calls us to political engagement. We are called to honor the King—the government and those in authority (1 Tim 2:1-4; Titus 3:1-2). Part of honoring those in authority is engaging with them (across party lines) concerning the needs of others. Honoring those in authority must involve informing them of problems and opportunities and kindly and winsomely “pressing” them to do what governments can do to promote mercy and goodwill in the most effective means possible. The Church MUST be willing to set the pace in ending world hunger; but to think that the governments of the nations should be unengaged and uninvolved is both illogical and detrimental. Old Testament Israel was both Church AND State…and she was commanded by God to meet both the physical and spiritual needs of her citizens…and of the stranger. As pastors and teachers, we must “study to show ourselves approved, handling accurately the Word of Truth” (2 Tim 2:15). Clearly, it is critical that we put aside our commitment to political parties, “camps” and “labels” and get back to the LARGENESS of the Gospel. And in this LARGE Gospel, we must indeed confess that the Work of Jesus Christ is about ushering in the Kingdom of God. Ushering in God’s Kingdom is about inviting people from every tongue, tribe, nation and language into citizenship of the New Jerusalem, but it encompasses much more than that as well. We are to communicate and live out the reality that the Work of Christ and the Call of Christ engages us to nothing less than full restoration of the entirety of creation. We must guard against a “Titanic Christianity” that sees meeting the physical needs of food, clean drinking water, clothing, sanitation and health as “re-arranging the deck chairs on a sinking ship.” Godliness and Christ-likeness surely includes personal piety (Christ-like character, engaging in the spiritual disciplines of Bible Study, Biblical Meditation, high moral behavior, offering the Good News to people of all nations, tribes and tongues), but godliness ALSO includes a social consciousness and feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and bringing clean water to the thirsty. For far too long, Christ-followers have neglected either one for focusing on the other. On all sides, from all quarters, our Gospel has been TOO SMALL. This is clearly taught in the prophetic message of the Old Testament. For all the appropriate concern over immorality and personal piety, the Old Testament tends to give us a BIGGER GOSPEL than many Christ-followers hold to in our day. One illustration of this is the difference of perspective concerning what caused the particular fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. In most peoples’ minds today, fire destroyed those cities because they failed to follow the “holiness ethic” of the Epistles and engaged in various sorts of immorality. But when we look at Ezekiel, we discover a different disease: “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy” (Ezekiel 16:49). How many suffering moms and dads around the globe are indeed crying out to God for help, for deliverance, yet fail to see their prayers answered? How are WE to become the means of God for answering their prayers? How many hungry people in the world are willing to believe, but have not seen the evidence of God’s goodness in the feeding their children? How are WE to be the help they desperately seek from God? We must caution our people against a creeping fatalism that adopts a “let go, let God” attitude. God’s people are His instruments for good and for change in this world. If God is going to end hunger, He intends on moving His people to create or to support the means for doing so. We cannot rest content in grieving the plight of the hungry, yet do nothing (again, James 2:15-16). We must give our money; we must send our food; AND, as we are emphasizing this year, we MUST become aware of, support and engage with organizations that are on the cutting edge of “exporting” agricultural development. Jesus says that He desires MERCY, not sacrifice (Matt 12:7). Simply put, Jesus is not as impressed with as much of our Christian spirituality as we might like to think. Certainly He desires true, heart-felt worship; clearly He enjoys our quiet, reflective, contemplative personal devotional commitments. He rejoices over faithful stewardship as it relates to giving of our money and possessions. But we must remind ourselves that what He truly DESIRES is mercy. He has shown us what God requires of us: but love mercy and to do justly and to walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). Part of loving mercy and doing justly is to do all we can to alleviate and eradicate world hunger…may God establish the work of our hands and establish the work of the hands of those who are hungry as well (Ps 90:17). There is more and more taking place through various agencies that are making agricultural and business development as well as other practical foci some of the means of changing our world. I am confident that there are individuals in our faith families who are very passionate and burdened over the problem of World Hunger. May we identify those people…and engage those people. May we help educate and equip our congregations to get involve in these wonderful and necessary approaches to eradicating hunger in our world.