In 1998, Richard Stearns, a devout Christian, found himself with the dilemma of a lifetime. Would he remain the fat cat CEO of Lenox, the fine tableware company, or would he uproot his wife and five children, move across the country from Philadelphia to Seattle, and become the CEO of World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children, families, and their communities worldwide? World Vision might best be known for their sponsor a child program in which you pay X amount of dollars monthly so that a child can have food, clothing, medical care and an education.
Richard didn’t want to leave Lenox and the upscale life he had worked so hard to build, but time and again, the opportunity at World Vision presented itself in his life. First, an old, church friend and board member at World Vision called to ask him to consider the position. Comfortable and secure in the life he had at Lenox, Richard said “no.” Then, a co-worker at Lenox told him about the opportunity at World Vision because he thought Richard would be perfect for the job. Richard thought what a coincidence! This World Vision job came up again, but he once again ignored the opportunity. The third time it happened, the main recruiter for the CEO position of World Vision called Richard directly and asked him if he would be interested in the position. At this point, Richard began to wonder if there wasn’t something more to this whole situation. Perhaps this wasn’t just a job offer, but a calling from God. After much consideration, Richard agreed to meet with the recruiter for an informational dinner to learn just what World Vision was looking for in terms of a CEO.
As time went on and Richard’s awareness evolved, he seriously considered changing his and his family’s life, moving from CEO of Lenox to CEO of World Vision. He had heard about receiving callings from God through his life in the church, and so he asked himself: am I open to God’s will for my life? It started as a personal question for him, but in answering that question, it became a decision that would affect millions of people.
As a faithful Christian called by God and compelled by the Holy Spirit, and with the support of his wife and children, Richard said “yes” to World Vision and became its next CEO. Within months, he found himself in Rakai, Uganda, learning about the ministry and mission of World Vision by speaking with a thirteen year old boy whose name also happened to be Richard.
Richard Stearns describes Richard’s situation like this:
“Richard was trying to raise his two younger brothers by himself in this small shack with no running water, electricity or even beds to sleep in. There were no adults in their lives—no one to care for them, feed them, love them or teach them how to become men. There was no one to hug them either, or to tuck them in at night. Other than his siblings, Richard was alone, as no child should be.” (pg. 7).
To say this encounter with one of God’s least fortunate children broke Ricahrd’s heart is an understatement. It changed his heart and made him think about the role of the Christian faith in a deeper way than he ever had before.
You see, Richard is a part of an evangelical church where confessing Jesus as Lord and Savior is one of the main emphases of the religion. But his experience through World Vision led him to ponder confessing was really enough. Did believing in Jesus mean much if one wasn’t also actively seeking to live as Jesus instructed? Richard decided believing was one part of the truth, but without action, there was “a hole in the gospel.” A hole as in “a hollowed place in something solid.” His entire book, The Hole in the Gospel: What Does God Expect of Us? is about the absolute necessity of Christians actively working to heal and save the lost, broken and poor of this world. It is not simply enough to confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. It is not enough to say that we love God with all our hearts and our neighbors as ourselves. The only way the Gospel will be complete is when we put that love into action and go about helping as Jesus did.
In his book, Richard says that Jesus had a mission statement for his life, and if for his life, then also for ours. When Jesus walked into the synagogue in Nazareth and read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, Jesus was declaring his mission and God’s plan for this world. “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” When Jesus said those words, he was proclaiming that he was the one who had come to do those things, and as his disciples, we are to carry on his mission.
When all Christians are giving aid to the poor, when we’re working side by side to make people’s lives better, when we are loving and nurturing people we know and don’t know back to health that is when there will no longer be a hole in the gospel.
Are you open to God’s will for your life? When Richard Stearns asked himself that question, ultimately, it became a question about much more than his life. It was about how his life would affect his wife’s life, his children’s lives, Richard’s life in Uganda and hundreds of thousands of other people’s lives around the world as he committed himself to more than himself.
As each of us faithfully try to answer the question: Are you open to God’s will for your life? We too must realize that our answer doesn’t just affect ourselves, it’s not meant to. We must answer this question thinking of our lives in terms of every other life we encounter.
The call of your life has less to do with you than it does with the many lives you will have an impact on. This can be a difficult concept because we care how life affects us. “Whereas I think about my life in terms of how I am affected, God thinks of my life from the perspective of how much good I can do in other people’s lives.” God expects your one life to benefit many. Like Jesus gave his one life a ransom for many so that all might be saved and receive eternal life through him, so too is your life to be given to heal and love many. This can be very freeing and open you up from a closed, tight existence.
When we talk about God, we often name God, Comforter, Healer, Lover, Compassionate One…but the truth is, God often comes into our lives more like a burglar or a thief. God comes in and steals our ideas about the kind of life we should be living for ourselves and directs us outwards.
Look at what happened to Paul. He had an idea about the sort of life he wanted to live. He was a Pharisee who persecuted this radical new group who followed Jesus, and he thought he was doing God’s will. That is until Jesus came to him and he went blind. God often blindsides us with what we are to do in life and the people we are to serve.
Think of how your life has NOT turned out like you expected it to. That seems to be one of the marks of God calling you to live out a certain path. That the path you finally found yourself on was not one you dreamed of, imagined or first chose for yourself. First, it was chosen for you by God. Then, eventually, possibly after years of resistance and struggle, you said “yes” to God’s plan.
If we are open to God’s will for our lives then we have to answer the call to fill the hole in the gospel. That means finding a way to serve those who are physically thirsty, hungry, lost, sick, imprisoned, no matter where they live, near or far. It also means finding a way to serve those who are spiritually thirsty, hungry, lost, sick, imprisoned, which pertains quite profoundly to us and the people who we live with and love. As the Scripture in Matthew today says, what we do or don’t do for the least among us, we do to Christ himself.
Are you open to God’s will for your life? I hope many of you are saying “yes” even as you think of how scary and challenging this might be. That is what the Church is for. This is where the Church is relevant. Our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. No longer is this primarily about getting people to make some sort of confession; it’s about action and interaction among people. Actions speak louder than words, and together, bonded in Christ, we can accomplish this mission to transform the world.