“A ‘dirty little secret’ is that few Christians have read the Bible from cover to cover. One source claims that fewer than 10 percent of professing Christians have read the entire Bible.” – Richard Stearns in his book, “Unfinished.”
This is especially enlightening in that most everyone you meet seems to have an opinion about what God thinks, and what He expects of us. You would think the way some people talk they are an authority on God. But Isaiah the prophet said, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9. The only way to know what God is like is to read the story that He wrote.
The Bible is God’s Story from Genesis to Revelation. The hero and the villain of the story are revealed in the opening pages of Genesis 3. The story of what God is doing is a thread running through all the remaining books to the final chapter of Revelation. Reading the story also teaches us much about God’s character and His motives. We learn He has a plan and a purpose that includes each one of us.
Although Jesus is seen throughout the First Testament, we get a picture of God in the flesh when we encounter Jesus in the Second Testament. The four Gospels are written accounts of the life of Jesus. We learn from His words and actions what God thinks, how He feels, and how He responds to people and situations in real life.
When Jesus’ time on earth was ending, He gave His disciples a mission that would affect the entire world. When we became Christ followers, we inherited that same mission. We are now characters in God’s continuing story created to play specific roles in God’s story. So, the ultimate meaning of our lives must be found in learning how our stories intersect with God’s story.
Now that our lives are a part of God’s story, we must learn to see the world as God sees it. Should not the things that break the heart of God, break ours? But today there are so many things competing for our attention, our time, and our money. C. S. Lewis once said, “Prosperity knits a man to the world. He feels that he is ‘finding his place in it,’ while really it is finding its place in him.”
Competing values are challenging us constantly. The world view preaches “get more, and keep more.” While Jesus says, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions,” Luke 12:15. Jesus told the story of the successful farmer with a bumper crop whose solution was not to share, but build bigger barns (Luke 12:16ff).
In his book, “Unfinished…Believing is only the beginning,” Richard Stearns of World Vision asks an interesting question. “What would people be like if they had been born and raised inside the Magic Kingdom park (Walt Disney World), and had never seen the outside world? Since our worldviews are shaped by our contexts, imagine what a distorted worldview they would have” (page 46).
In the rest of this chapter Stearns develops the contrast between the blessings we have in the USA, our own “Magic Kingdom”, as compared to living in what he calls the “Tragic Kingdom,” and life in one of the developing (Third World) countries. He describes at some length the Magic Kingdom’s many blessings and conveniences, things that we take for granted, and have come to “expect” because they have always been a part of our lives.
Stearns then turns his attention to the realities of the “Tragic Kingdom.” His list is real and tragic:
• One billion are chronically short of food.
• Two billion children under weight.
• 783 million have no access to clean water at all. (Current figures are 663 million. We are making progress).
Add to this the plight of wars, refugees, and 18 million orphaned children.
He then asked the question, “Are you feeling the heaviness yet? I am not done.”
• One third of the world lives on less than $2 per day.
• Three quarters live on less than $10 a day.
He closes this comparison of the kingdoms with this paragraph. “And, finally, the most terrible statistic of all: “Nineteen thousand children under the age of five die every single day of largely preventable causes simply because they are poor. That’s almost 8 million children every year, one every four seconds. This is something God sees every moment of every day. Is this what you see?”
Two different kinds of poverty. One with opportunity, one without.
Most of us in the US cannot wrap our minds around such statistics. A young man made a comment on our Hope Springs Facebook some time back. He said, “Quit sending all that money over there to help those people; we have so many that need help right here!” His comment struck a raw nerve and my first reaction was anger. But as I reflected on what he said I realized this is a normal response of so many who have been raised in the “Magic Kingdom”. The worst conditions they have seen in the “Magic Kingdom” would be a dream come true for many who live daily in the “Tragic Kingdom.”
Jesus once asked His followers a heart-probing question, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46)
When you listen to Jesus you are not left with questions about the seriousness of being a Christ follower.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me you evildoers!’ ” Matt. 7:21-23. (Emphasis mine). To us those are some impressive works. Who would ever think that those were evil deeds? But apparently why we do something is more important than what we do when it comes to following Jesus.
When we see so much need in the world it is not only hard to get our minds around it, but we ask questions like, “What difference could or would I make?” “My efforts would only be a drop in the ocean of need.” Stearns in his book told of a time when speaking at a donors’ conference. He said to his audience, “God’s deepest desire is not that we would help the poor” —then paused for effect and continued, “God’s deepest desire is that we would love the poor; for if we love them, we will surely help them.” Love and compassion for people was at the heart of everything that Jesus did.
“Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:35-36).
Think of all the stories in the Bible of ordinary people without great talents or abilities, but who were willing to be used by God. Their work may have seemed like a drop in the ocean, but it sent out ripples of effect that profoundly touched many lives.
To overcome the influence of our culture, Christ followers must develop a revolutionary mindset. To do that we must spend time with the King learning from Him, seeing the needs of the world as He sees them. We need to see His heart of compassion and be moved to do what He has enabled us to do. Our King was sent on a mission; now that mission is ours.
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Isaiah 61:1-2; also quoted by Jesus in Luke 4).
For that mission to be successful you and I must see our role in its success.
“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” John 20:21
Let me leave you with a final quote, “The meaning, purpose, and significance of our lives is found only by aligning our lives with God’s purposes, in lives committed to following Jesus Christ.” Sterns – Unfinished.