The message of the gospel is the power that can change a world-the worlds within worlds multiplied billions of times over throughout the globe! The gospel can change the world of every person who would respond to its power. The gospel changes the world of individual people, transforming them from the inside out. The gospel is the good news of the death, resurrection, and Lordship of Jesus and is good because we stand already condemned before a holy God with the death sentence already handed out to humanity! In the gospel we see God’s glorious grace, his strong desire not for mere reform but for renewal. In the gospel we see God’s power to literally make us right and to restore our lost state of grandeur.
In the gospel, however, we also see the power that can change the world, the entire system that has crashed and merely wobbles about simulating the world intended for us by God. There is little debate that the world we live in is not the world God intended for us. There are wars in this world, enduring poverty too. There is debasing addictions along with the oppression of women and children. In this world, people die of preventable diseases by the hundreds of thousands all the time. This world seems to offer so little purpose, so little hope that even when we have plenty we still throw away our families for cheap thrills, our abilities and gifts for mere consumption and our dignity to feel connected to another person, if even for a moment. Our world is damaged and no quick fix, no political party or reform, no amount of money or determination will fix it. What we need is a supernatural, superspiritual, supra-human, extra-dimensional solution of power and the great news is that we have such power in the person of Jesus Christ! Yes, Jesus is able to save our world, but He is also able to save the world!
If it is true, that we have the power to change the world, than what do we do with it? What would you do if you could carry around with you, in your jacket or purse, a device so powerful that if it were unleashed it would literally impact everything and anything around you? Would you release it? Probably not if it were a nuclear device, an incurable virus, or a poisonous gas but what if it were an unstoppable force of hope, a contagion of love, or an enveloping power for restoration? Where would you first introduce such a power? As Christians, we do have such a power, the power to change the world! Unfortunately, most of the time, we leave it in our purse, our desk drawer, glove box, or cached on our disk drives, making sure that it changes nothing and nobody around us. Often, this power has been cemented like a memorial to a time gone by, a faith tradition that used to impact communities, countries, and continents. We have the power to change the world and we need to use it, but where and how?
Recently, I was asked by two students in two separate conversations about how to discern God’s call and how to invest themselves in God’s broad world and Kingdom. I shared with them that there are some things God calls all of us to. “It is God’s will for everyone to be evangelized,” I said, “so you are always safe including personal witness as God’s will for your life.” I said, “God wants us all to always pursue knowing Him so I’m pretty sure you should do that too.” In both conversations, however, they specifically wanted to know about the vast universe of things Christians are doing, “What about AIDS orphans, and clean drinking water for the poor, and sex slaves, and Scripture translation, and Muslims and Hindus, and unreached people groups, and…and…and….” The students felt overwhelmed by both the responsibility of the power entrusted to them as well as the vast needs and ways to use that power in the world. I think we can all sympathize with being in this place at one point or another.
I continued, “One way to look at it is as if the world were a high-rise apartment complex and we live on one of the floors. Let’s say there was a fire on one of the floors. Now, if the fire were in apartment 14B and everyone got out, it might be the Christian thing perhaps to send money or a nice card to express care for the material loss of the tenants in that unit.” I continued, “However, let’s say there was a raging fire on the top floor and the lives of many were at stake. In this case, rescuing them might require special abilities and gifts, not the least of which would include bravery and physical strength-in reality only some people would be helpful in rescuing people on the top floor of the burning building.” I ended by saying, “Now, if there were a raging fire on the first floor, threatening to spread upward to consume each and every floor, every apartment, every life-certainly you would say that we would all be called to do something for ourselves and our neighbors in the building, right?” Both students agreed. I brought the illustration to a close by pointing out, “…some fires in our world are apartment 14B fires. 14B fires matter to God and they should matter to us but our response shouldn’t be to rush in and risk our lives to rescue the material possessions being consumed-it is good enough that the people got out and will live to rebuild their lives. We can and should share our love and concern with people during their time of loss.” Continuing, “Some fires threaten a great many people and require a concerted and passionate response requiring special gifts and bravery. God equips many to respond to these needs even though in doing so they themselves may perish. Such people are heroes to us, people of whom the world is not worthy but we are not all such people-God chooses those heroes.” Finally, “There are many issues we as Christians face, however, that are like the fire raging on the first floor of the building, fires that if left unchecked would simply consume all of humanity. These fires are complex and often reflect not one gigantic blaze but rather a series of smaller interrelated fires. These fires,” I said, “require all of us, no matter what our calling or gifting is, to respond with everything we’ve got.”
It is true that our world is in shambles and there is no end to the need before us, both temporally as well as eschatologically. Each and every person is lost and everywhere we look the impact of that reality is felt. The fact that those without Christ are dying and on their way to hell is a first floor fire. No matter what we do for people temporally, unless we also share the message that can change their world, they will perish and the eternal suffering they will endure will make all suffering in this world pale by comparison. I believe the interrelatedness of modern-day slavery, aggressive secularization, the simultaneous rise of global poverty and the super-rich, the dehumanization of women and children, and mass deaths as a result of preventable/curable diseases are examples of more first floor fires. We are not given a choice by God whether to address first floor fires of the soul or first floor fires of the material world, the Church is called to them all. We must care about all suffering, whether temporal or eschatological. It is not my place to determine what are 14B or top floor fires, and people that have particular calls to such ministries that focus on these fires would not find my opinions on the matter helpful or empowering. It is clear, however, that we all must contribute what bravery, what super powers, what faith we have to doing all we can to put out the blaze that threatens to consume the soul and consume society. Again, the great news is that we have such power, the power to change a world and the power to change the world. The question is will we use it?