I can be rather cynical about Christianity. Sometimes I think we talk a lot about God, we argue a lot about theology, we grumble a lot about what’s wrong in the world, and we push a lot for Bible study, evangelism, and personal piety.
All the while the needy in our world suffer.
All the while the people in this hurting world are desperately in need to see the body of Christ incarnated and making a difference: transforming all things, fighting injustice, working for Shalom.
I get cynical.
But just when the cynicism is about to choke out my faith, I find myself at the Jubilee Conference in Pittsburgh. The annual Jubilee Conference is done by the ministry that I call it a privilege to be a part, the CCO.
2,000 college students (and others) convened at the Hilton in downtown Pittsburgh this past weekend. They were encouraged to live out their faith in the very vocations in which they are training. They were challenged to think that Christianity is more (not less, but definitely more) than getting into heaven. They were given the Jubilee vision: that Christ came to declare the year of the Lord’s favor, to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed (see Luke 4:16-21; Leviticus 25:10). They were told that, yes, we Christians can make a huge difference in the world. Christianity isn’t just about the “next” world; it is about this world too.
Shane Claiborne challenged us that we Christians can, and must, seek to make a difference for justice. His message was not so much that everyone must follow exactly his way of life, selling all their possessions and living monastically in the inner-city, helping the poor and homeless. It was larger and more profound than that: He told story after story of how real Christians were living out their faith in ways that righted injustices, be it in fair trade, advocating for the poor, seeking peace, using their education and influence to make change in the way their vocations actually did business. He had us believing that we could actually work for the justice of the oppressed and champion the cause of those in need.
Gary Haugen told stories about how Christian lawyers were fighting injustices internationally, fighting to free children forced into bonded labor and sexual slavery. He told stories of real heroism (my kids like the Justice League; when I got home, I told them about the real International Justice Mission). And then he made his challenge. In the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus did a miracle from just the few loaves and fish that a boy had (see Matthew 15:29-31). Jesus simply asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” The point Haugen made was this: The miracle was done by Jesus, but not just out of thin air. He did it from that which could be given from his followers. Haugen said that Jesus seeks to still do amazing things for those in need today. But what is Jesus’ plan to do so? The answer: us. The plan has always been us. Jesus wants to transform the world, but he intends to do so through his people. He still wants to feed the hungry, but he is still asking “How many loaves do you have?” The miracle is not in how much we can do, it is in how much God can do with what we can offer.
I also witnessed how this happens in real life, right here, right now. The CCO honored a former student in our ministry for living out the Jubilee vision with his life. After college, he went on to medical school and became a doctor. He opened a clinic in Pittsburgh, caring for the poor and needy. Half of his patients do not have medical coverage. Many have severe problems: drug habits, psychological issues, long-term physical debilitations. And his clinic cares for these people. This is gospel lived out. This is transformational ministry.
Seminars were led by business people, political activists, artists, medical practitioners, educators, engineers, and others that explained how this Jubilee Gospel vision can actually happen (and has!). Christians are really living out their faith in this world and making a difference. They are not missionaries or pastors. They have not moved from their vocations in order to do “full-time Christian ministry.” They have realized that that is a misnomer. If you are a Christian, then you are in full-time Christian ministry. It’s done in how you transform your vocation to bring about Justice and Shalom in the world.
This is different from the Christianity about which I’ve become cynical. It is not just a bunch of us Christians getting together for a Bible study so that we can know more about God while cursing the darkness “out there” and awaiting the return of Christ to make things right. It is moving into the darkness, being a transformative light in that darkness through the grace and power of Jesus Christ.