One of the things I love most about Christianity is that God specializes in doing extraordinary things through ordinary people. A shepherd boy becomes king. A pregnant teenager becomes the mother of God. An uneducated fisherman becomes the chief apostle. The same is true for us.
Stearns says that 'no other person has our same abilities, motivations, network of friends and relationships, perspectives, ideas, or experiences.' God specializes in using us in all of our uniqueness.
There are two biblical stories that illustrate this well. You can read about the feeding of the five thousand here, here, here, and here (it's one of the few stories recorded by all four Gospel writers). And you can read about the rebuilding of the Jerusalem wall here.
In both stories, ordinary people were used to do extraordinary things.
They weren't asked about the magnitude or strategy or feasibility of what they had to offer. They were just asked to simply give what they had. And then the God who specializes in doing extraordinary things through ordinary people also specializes in doing the impossible.
We are living in a world reshaped. The resurrection of Jesus Christ - that real life can follow death - has reshaped the history of the world and re-ordered the realities of sin and grace.
So how do we living a world reshaped? How do we live, as Stearns calls it, as post-Resurrection disciples?
The whole gospel - that resurrection can be a reality for all of us and for all of creation - is entrusted to us, as Christ and the Spirit of Christ lives with, in and through us. So what are we going to do about it?
Stearns uses the analogy of radioactivity to illustrate how the whole gospel make us brighter and brighter and more and more infected and contagious until we glow with resurrection radioactivity.
A way that I have come to talk about this over the years is that care and compassion is more contagious than death and disease. That healing and resurrection and hope really can overcome the pain and despair of our lives and our world. Do you believe this? If so, be radioactive. Be contagious.
Do you go to church? If you do, you probably go to a real church. That means that it really is a local and particular manifestation of the global and historic Church. It means also that it has some real issues, in other words, it's made up of real people. But it also means that your church has real potential to be a God-worshiping and world-changing community of hope, faith, and love.
Stearns tells the stories of two real churches, Fish Hoek Baptist Church in South Africa and Christian Family Church in Zambia.
Fish Hoek Baptist Church is known as 'the church that cares'. It has launched and now operates permanent, accessible, and sustainable services to those affected and infected by HIV/AIDS. Permanent. Accessible. Sustainable. These are key elements to a long-term, effective, relational, and holistic response to the global pandemic of HIV/AIDS and it's many causes and effects.
Christian Family Church and her 120 members is considered a megachurch, a label generally reserved for churches that number into the thousands. What is 'mega' about this church is her vision to build unity across ethnic and denominational lines and to empower other communities to combat HIV/AIDS with holistic strategies.
So, do you go to church? If so, is it a real church? With real potential? What are you doing to help your church realize its potential?
Christians aren't so popular anymore. This is an interesting reality. Is it good? Is it bad? Not sure. Throughout history and even today, when the church is an oppressed, counter-cultural, grassroots movement, it's growth and influence is remarkable. Miraculous even. So maybe it's not too bad to be unpopular. But here's the thing. The reasons Christians aren't popular today in America is because, as Gandhi has said, 'Christians are so unlike... Christ.'
Most people think that Christians are antihomosexual, judgmental, hypocritical, old-fashioned, too involved in politics, out of touch with reality, insensitive to others, boring, not accepting of other faiths, and confusing.
Is this true? Is this true of you? Is this true of your experience with, around, among Christians?
What if Christians were known as loving to all, forgiving, genuine, revolutionary, involved with people, truthful and aware, loving, radical, inviting to members of all faiths, and simple in presenting truth?
What would the world and the Christian faith look like if this were the case? What might Gandhi say then?
So... are you popular for your faith? If so, why? If not, why not? Was Jesus popular for his faith?
Sometimes it's difficult to read the apocalyptic and prophetic sections of Scripture. They can be confusing and some interpretations can be distracting. The Book of Revelation is one of these challenge sections. But the seven letters to seven churches in Asia (modern-day Turkey) is equally haunting and inspiring because of how straightforward, honest, and promising it is. Read all seven letters here.
Stearns finds the most similarities between America and the seventh church addressed, Laodicea. I agree. Laodicea was wealthy, self-sufficient, prideful. But they had a water problem. Nearby Colossae had refreshing, cold, pure water. Another nearby city, Hierapolis, had healing hot springs. Laodicea had neither. With the use of aqueducts they had access to tepid, lukewarm water that was neither refreshing nor healing.
So despite their wealth, self-sufficiency, and pride, they are called 'wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.' Wow! That's a deadly blow. And it is a clarion call to live a useful, refreshing, healed, and healing life.
Does that sound like a 4 letter word to you? Let's talk about it...
The Bible talks about money more than it talks about faith and prayer.
Jesus talked about money more than he talked about heaven or hell.
Because our resources, their sources, and their uses is a major part of what it means to be an individual-in-community, what it means to be faithful and spiritual, what it means to be human. Money's important. It's not inherently evil. It's important. At my church, we talked about money for the whole month of October. You can listen to my messages here: Grace Giving, Giving in Perspective & Proportion, Cheers!, and What's That Smell?. So if you have the time and interest, there is about an hour and a half of content for you on the biblical ideas of giving and generosity.
Stearns offers two insightful perspectives on money and on giving.
Money is the current that flows through the power lines of society.
Giving inoculates us against the power that money can sometimes hold over us.
What do you think of those images? Do you resonate with them? Agree with them? What power does money have in your life? In your work and relationships and decisions?
Lest you think that talking about money doesn't apply to you because you're not rolling in it, let's get a little global and historical perspective on the issue. If your income is $25,000 per year, you are wealthier than 90% of the world's population. If you make $50,000 per year, you are wealthier than 99% of the world's population. If you own a car, you are among the 7% of the people in the world who do so.
The combined income of all American churchgoers is $5.2 trillion. It would take 1% of that to lift the poorest billion people in the world out of extreme poverty. Imagine what could be done with 10% (the biblical principle of the tithe, which means, simply, tenth).
The world would change. The world would know the whole gospel in all of it's redemptive and beautiful authenticity and action.
What is the American dream?
What is your dream?
What is God's dream for you... for America?
Do these two things mesh?
If we're honest with ourselves, we'd realize that even those of us who work mid-level or entry-level jobs - and those of us who live month-to-month or even year-to-year - are living in abundance or prosperity when compared to the global reality.
In this chapter, Stearns outlines three principles from a scriptural view of money that differ from the American dream's view of money.
1. It' snot our money - it all comes from God.
2. We are not entitled to it but entrusted with it.
3. God expects us to use it in the interest of his kingdom.
There is a beautiful picture of a community living with these principles in Acts 2.
So, what is your view of money? Will you allow your American dream to die so that God's dream for you can rise in its place?
Doma was challenged yesterday with an amazing opportunity– a donor would like to give a generous $27,000 toward supporting the ladies that are served by doma’s Bloom! House programs– only if we can MATCH the $27,000 gift with other doma support– BY THE END OF THIS YEAR! Yes, that’s right… we have approximately 15 days to raise to raise $27,000 for a grand total of $54,000!
Many of you know that doma’s US ConnectionPoint is Judge Herbert’s CATCH court. This special docket prostitution court embodies the concept of restorative justice, and provides accountability and true justice to ladies who have been caught up in Human Trafficking and street prostitution. Doma picks up where the court system is unable to provide support to these ladies. We help to provide daily life needs, like haircuts or dental work. And we also offer them spiritual and emotional support, with consistent and positive times of social connectedness at Doma’s Bloom! home. This gorgeous 5 bedroom, 2.5 bath retreat home is just east of the city, and is a place of comfort and peace for the ladies retreat to during the week. The house is always buzzing with activity. From AA meetings, to cookie decorating, to trauma recovery groups, to bonfires in the backyard, to weekend retreats. There is never a week that goes by without the ladies experiencing peace and joy in tangible ways out at our Bloom! home. In the new doma van, we can now transport them much easier– and our bus should be done with the prep work by January. At Bloom!, the ladies experience ‘home’ like never before!
In the next few weeks, you’ll be hearing more about what goes on at CATCH court to get some insight into the support these amazing ladies need. An observer at CATCH court has been documenting her observations each week at court. Stay tuned for the first post!
In the next few months, you’ll hear about our new, practical, and fun volunteer mobilization program- Abolitionist U, supported with a generous grant from the Women’s Fund of Central Ohio!
And in the next few days, we ask that you think and pray through a financial gift to doma. Email me at email@example.com or call me at 614-648-3663 if you will make a gift toward this challenge and opportunity!
Peace and Joy to you this Christmas season!