A Bigger Gospel

Reducing the entirety of the Gospel to the idea that Jesus died so that I can go to heaven has had some unfortunate consequences. Certainly, Christ died on the cross, bearing the weight of our sins upon Himself so that we can enter into right relationship with God. However, by behaving as if Jesus is essentially a get out of jail free card, we end up with Christians who can make statements like this:

Christ does not call Christians to ‘make the world more compassionate and a better place’. Christ calls us to proclaim the Gospel message of Christ Crucified for sinners. This message is not compatible with any other religion or spirituality.

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Beyond Personal Jesus

If Jesus was primarily a good insurance plan, then the best we could do — to paraphrase an idea from Eugene Peterson — is to accept Jesus and then die as quickly as possible because, really, what’s the point of living here on earth? Again, I do not mean to downplay the idea of eternal life with the glorious One of heaven. At times, my heart aches with homesickness for Christ. However, while this “personal Jesus” notion plays nicely into the hands of Western individualistic consumer culture, it says nothing about the reality of sin outside of our own personal wrongdoing (of which there is plenty, to be sure).

While sin certainly has broken our ability as individuals to be in right relationship with God, it is painfully obvious that sin has broken the world around us as well. How is it possible that there are more slaves today than at any point in human history? I believe Jesus is outraged at the trafficking of human beings — each person fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God with dignity and worth — and that we, as followers of Jesus, should be outraged as well. Clearly, this is not the world as it is supposed to be.

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An Invitation to a New Way of Living

The overwhelming emphasis we have placed on Jesus’ death on the cross leaves the impression that His life and resurrection are little more than theological footnotes. One popular praise chorus even sings the dramatic (and kind of morbid) refrain to Jesus, “You lived to die.” Here is a great quote from Charles Lee which provides some much-needed perspective:

When Jesus invited people to himself and his Kingdom in the first century, there was little mention about the goal of this invitation being heaven. I think Jesus was inviting people to participate in a new kind of Kingdom that was to actively participate in the world of the now with the things that resonate close to the heart of God. He was inviting people to partake in a mission to become tangible expressions of God’s love for the world. This was and is still the invitation.

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Towards Shalom

There are plenty of “causes” out there. Even American Idol, and their bizarro-world rendition of Shout to the Lord, have gotten into the act. However, as followers of Jesus who have accepted His invitation to participate in the work of God in the world, we’re doing something more than just relieving our guilt or getting on board with the latest fad. When we accept Jesus’ invitation to follow, we somehow — in our small, broken, incomplete way — participate in establishing the Shalom of God in the world around us. Although mysterious and confounding, God calls His people to participate in His work of restoration, peace, wholeness and fullness in the world He loves.

At times, the sheer volume of information about tragedy in the world can lead to compassion fatigue — the thinking goes, I can’t possibly make a difference in the face of such injustice around the world, so I won’t even try. Of course, we cannot change everything but, in the words of Mother Teresa, we can each do small things with great love. Or, as Jesus said, even giving a cup of cold water in His name matters.

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Let Your Cause Find You

When asked about how he became so involved in his local community, Shane Claiborne responded by saying, “Your cause finds you.” As someone serving in vocational ministry, I am realizing that part of my call is to provide opportunities and resources for our causes to find us.

A good friend of mine from college — one of the brightest and most accomplished people I’ve ever known — helped start an organization called Justice Ventures International. JVI works with justice ventures to eradicate human trafficking, to empower the urban poor and to ensure access to justice. JVI has done incredible work and is well worth supporting with your prayer, time and resources. My friend told me that, when he first began, he was worried that their work might double over into the work of groups like International Justice Mission. He realized quickly, though, that because of the sheer magnitude of systemic injustice around the world there could be a thousand IJM’s and it still wouldn’t be enough.

If you’re in the San Diego area this upcoming Sunday, April 27th, help raise awareness about and take a stand against the global trafficking of human beings at the Red Light Movement event in Balboa Park. There, you can connect with groups such as JustOne and find out ways you can become a modern-day abolitionist.