The Hole in Our Gospel

I always have a stack of books I want to read and sometimes I can't wait until I've finished what I'm currently reading to pick up a new book that interests me. When I shop Amazon for a particular book, others will catch my eye and I'll wind up buying three or four (free shipping over $25). Now that I have a Kindle, my "problem" will probably increase because I can hear about a book and have it on my Kindle in about sixty seconds. I downloaded three books within minutes of opening the package.

While reading several books, one will normally capture me more than the others and I will finish that particular book first, no matter when I began any of the others. For instance, I have been plodding through "Lincoln" for a while now. I pick it up and lay it down. It's a very thick, detailed biography. Some parts are easy reading and others are not because there are so many names/relationships to keep straight (generals, friends, family, administration, congress). I truly love reading about another time when life was so different, yet so many things about people and relationships were not so different at all. I always find myself thinking about Solomon's words . . . nothing new under the sun.

Flawed relationships with parents, disappointments, anxiety, depression, loss, condemnation from some and unconditional love from others; challenges, overcoming moments, triumph, success, joy . . . from Adam to 2010; we are all different, yet we have so much more in common than any of us realizes. Biographies strongly confirm this fact.

Many times in my life, when I have been going through something really hard, I've found myself sitting at a busy intersection, looking at all the cars and thinking about how each person in each car has a story, a family, friends, people who love them and people who can't stand them, strengths and weaknesses, joys and sorrows. And then I think . . . One hundred years from now, same problems; different people.

I think this is partly why I love to read true stories about the lives of other people. It reassures me that I'm really not so different from anyone else who has ever lived. But the book that has recently captured me presents the lives and needs of people whose suffering is so far beyond anything I have experienced and whose challenges are so much greater than anything I have ever faced or overcome. These lives are so different from mine that I can't begin to relate, which is why they become statistics to me rather than a reality I contend with personally.

The book that has captured my interest (and my heart) most lately is one I got for Christmas (from Danny and Rebecca): "The Hole in Our Gospel" by Richard Stearns. The author's own personal testimony really touched me, as well as the message of the book. He is the president of World Vision, U.S. He writes about the road that led him to that position. And he addresses our God-given role in the earth to make a difference in the lives of others for the kingdom and the glory of God.

In spite of the fact that we sponsor a little girl in Africa through World Vision and I receive regular emails and newsletters, I knew very little about World Vision prior to reading this book and I knew nothing about Richard Stearns or his life. But this man has truly inspired me and I highly recommend the book. He has donated all of his proceeds from the book to World Vision. So you can help suffering people and children simply by purchasing the book.

I was raised in heavy legalism, thinking that only my achievement of some ambiguous "perfected" status could result in eternal life. Therefore, even good works were self-focused in such an environment. However, since finding the gospel of grace and salvation through the cross, I have discovered that my good works are not to give me some elevated status or merit with God; my good works are to benefit others and be the evidence of my gratitude for what God has done for me through Christ. The good works that are the fruit of the Spirit flow out of a grateful heart and our love for God because He first loved us. Our good works allow the love of God to flow through us to others.

Richard Stearns addresses the tension between faith and works in a powerful way by illuminating how they work together for the glory of God. Our works do not produce our salvation, they are the result of our salvation.

Salvation has been accomplished for us. We can add nothing to the cross. But, as my pastor says so often, "The most dramatic evidence of our faith is obedience."

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
~ Ephesians 2:8-10

Stearns writes:

"[T]his powerful passage tells us that we are indeed saved through faith alone, the amazing gift of a loving God, but that we are saved for a purpose: to do the good works God actually prepared beforehand for us to carry out. Simply put, we are:

* saved by faith
* saved for works

By their fruit you will recognize them.
Matthew 7:16

I have at times struggled with the tension between faith and works because of my upbringing. Rule keeping and personal performance were paramount. I was raised in an environment where the evidence of my faith was my outward appearance, not whether or not I reached out to the poor and suffering. Then I found the true gospel and experienced a heart transformation that resulted in a desire to break free from my self-focus and self-absorption. After several years of basking in the love of Jesus and the assurance of eternal life in Him, I have begun to feel a calling to really SERVE God in ways I have not previously explored.

My book was my first real attempt to reach out to others in a greater way. And Stearns' book is challenging me in ways that make me feel so very inadequate. I'm praying that God will show me how and where I can more fully serve Him and glorify Him.

I love the recklessness of faith. First you leap, then you grow wings.
~ William Sloane Coffin

I want to leap. I want to grow wings. I want to be salt and light. I want to make a difference for the Kingdom of God. I don't want to simply bask in my own blessings: I want God's blessings to flow through me.


Unknown said…
Hi Shari -

I had also started reading The Hole in Our Gospel a few weeks back, and I have really enjoyed what I have read so far. Due to my schedule right now, it’s been hard to be able to dedicate much time to reading, so I am only about 1/3 of the way through it. But I found what I have read to be compelling and thought-provoking, and even a bit umcomfortable at times when I apply them to my own life.

I always enjoy reading your blog, but I especially enjoyed what you said today when you said" good works are to benefit others and be the evidence of my gratitude for what God has done for me through Christ. The good works that are the fruit of the Spirit flow out of a grateful heart and our love for God because He first loved us. Our good works allow the love of God to flow through us to others."

I loved the way that was phrased! Ephesians 2:10 is one of the verses that we say every day at morning prayer, and has always been one of my favorites. I even noticed that Tim Tebow had Ephesians 2:8-10 as his verse that he wore for the Sugar Bowl last week. Do you ever notice how God seems to surround you with a specific verse and repeats the message over and over? I love that He loves us enough to be patient and keep repeating what we need to hear until we really soak it deep into our hearts!

Just had to let you know how much I enjoy your writing and especially our friendship!!

Love you - Karen
Shari said…
Karen, thank you for such a thoughtful comment! I believe I have emerged completely from my December funk and I feel excited about a new year and all that God has in store! And yes, I know exactly what you mean about God reinforcing certain themes and passages of Scripture when He's wanting to focus our attention on something until we get it. This morning, as I am nearing the end of "The Hole in Our Gospel," Stearns even made reference to Esther (God impressed so many things on my heart through the study of Esther in November and December).

I feel like I am being inspired toward something specific, but I feel indequate and at a loss when it comes to the mechanics of implementing my inspiration. So I'm praying that God will open the doors He wants to open. I'll tell you about my idea over lunch soon. I am really feeling motivated right now to make myself available to God in new ways. I'm just not sure what that is going to mean. But I am bringing my little loaves and fishes, such as they are. It's up to Him what He chooses to do with them.

Thank you for your friendship and your constant encouragement! I love you too!