Our lives and our decisions matter eternally. They ripple through the corridors of time. There was and never will be a meaningless moment.
I was reminded of this truth recently by two things. One was an email from a missionary that was questioning the good that they, limited and challenged that they are, could accomplish. The second reminder came from one of my favorite books by C.S. Lewis, Perelandra.
In Perelandra Elwin Ransom is sent to the planet Perelandra (or in English, Venus) to stop the Fall of that planet (parallel in some ways to the temptation of Eve in Genesis). Weston, the great enemy, possessed by Satan has now become the un-man. The un-man is seeking to cause the destruction of the beautiful and enchanting Perelandra.
Ransom upon seeing that he is commissioned to stop the un-man and prevent the Fall is crushed by the weight of it all as well as confused over why God doesn’t send some miracle. “He tried to persuade himself that he, Ransom, could not possibly be [God’s] representative” (p. 141).
Ransom questioned. “What was the sense of so arranging things that anything really important should finally and absolutely depend on such a man of straw as himself?” (p. 142). Yet that is the way things are.
“At that moment, far away on Earth, as he now could not help remembering, men were at war,… and freckled corporals who had but lately begun to shave, stood in horrible gaps or crawled forward in deadly darkness, awaking, like him, to the preposterous truth that all really depended on their actions” (p. 142).
Or think of Eve herself. She “stood looking upon the forbidden fruit and the Heaven of Heavens waited for her decision” (p. 142).
So, Ransom came to see that it is true, that “a stone may determine the course of a river” (p. 142).
He felt it megalomania to think that he himself is the way that God will work—work a miracle. Yet, “he himself was the miracle” (p. 141). He was God’s provision. The way God was providing deliverance.
“Here in Perelandra the temptation would be stopped by Ransom, or it would not be stopped at all… This chapter, this page, this very sentence, in the cosmic story was utterly and eternally itself; no other passage that had occurred or ever would occur could be substituted for it (p. 146)… Great issues hung on his choice… It lay with him to save or to spill” (p. 148).
As he saw his call, he also felt an unbearable weight. Then he felt the weight left. “He was in God’s hands. As long as he did his best—and he had done his best—God would see to the final issue” (p. 141).
God uses mere humans as His mouthpiece. God uses humans to do His will. What we do matters. It matters eternally.
Let me ask you, friends, what are you doing?
In Mere Christianity, Lewis said, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”
Friends, our lives matter, our actions matter, our voices matter.
If we knew a millionth of the magnitude of our lives we’d be moved to wonder and crippled by the significance of it all. Our lives and our every action have significance because this world and this life is not all there is.
And for Christians, this is multiplied ten-fold. We are mouthpieces, ambassadors, commissioned by the one true God.
Friends, let’s live fierce purposeful lives because we have purpose. Our lives matter more than we can know.
Dennis E. Johnson’s book, Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation, has a lot of important and relevant things to teach us. Here are a few highlights from the introduction…
1. Revelation Is Given to Reveal.
2. Revelation Is a Book to Be Seen.
“One of the key themes of the book is that things are not what they seem. The church in Smyrna appears poor but is rich… What appear to the naked eye, on the plane of human history, to be weak, helpless, hunted, poor, defeated congregations of Jesus’ faithful servants prove to be the true overcomers who participate in the triumph of the Lion who conquered as a slain Lamb. What appear to be the invincible forces controlling history—the military-political-religious-economic complex that is Rome and its less lustrous successors—is a system sown with the seeds of its self-destruction” (p. 9).
3. Revelation Makes Sense Only in Light of the Old Testament.
“The ancient serpent whose murderous lie seduced the woman and plunged the world into floods of misery (Gen. 3:1) is seen again, waging war against the woman, her son, and her other children—but this time his doom is sure and his time is short (Rev. 12; 20)” (p, 13).
4. Numbers Count in Revelation.
For example, “The number seven symbolizes the Spirit’s fullness and completeness” (p. 15).
5. Revelation Is for a Church under Attack.
“Our interpretation of Revelation must be driven by the difference God intends it to make in the life of his people. If we could explain every phrase, identify every allusion to Old Testament Scripture or Greco-Roman society, trace every interconnection, and illumine every mystery in this book and yet were silenced by the intimidation of public opinion, terrorized by the prospect of suffering, enticed by affluent Western culture’s promise of ‘security, comfort, and pleasure,’ then we would not have begun to understand the Book of Revelation as God wants us to… Always, in every age and place, the church is under attack. Our only safety lies in seeing the ugly hostility of the enemy clearly and clinging fast to our Champion and King, Jesus” (19).
6. Revelation Concerns “What Must Soon Take Place.”
7. The Victory Belongs to God and to His Christ.
“Revelation is pervaded with worship songs and scenes because its pervasive theme—despite its gruesome portrait of evil’s powers—is the triumph of God through the Lamb. We read this book to hear the King’s call to courage and to fall down in adoring worship before him” (p. 23).
Have you ever heard of C.S. Lewis’ book series, The Chronicles of Narnia? It’s good. But, Lewis’ Ransom Trilogy is even better. And one of the reasons for that is because he confronts scientism.
Scientism exalts the natural sciences as the only fruitful means of investigation. In the words of Wikipedia: “Scientism is the promotion of science as the best or only objective means by which society should determine normative and epistemological values.” In short, scientism is the view that says science, and science alone, tells us what is right and true.
Science, of course, is different. It is the study of the natural world through systematic study (observation, measurement, testing, and adjustment of hypotheses). Scientism goes beyond science and beyond the observation of the physical world into philosophy and ethics.
How can observations about the natural world tell us how to think and live? How cans science tell us how to best do science? What can be said about the problems of scientism? C.S. Lewis gives us a few things to think about, and in a very enjoyable way.
Weston, one of the main characters in C.S. Lewis’ book, Out of the Silent Planet, holds to a form of scientism and belittles other ways of acquiring knowledge. Unscientific people, Weston says, “repeat words that don’t mean anything” and so Weston refers to philology as “unscientific tomfoolery.” The “classics and history” are “trash education.” He also says that Ransom’s “philosophy of life” is “insufferably narrow.”
This post is from chapter 11, “Hello, My Name is _____ and I am
an Addict Transformed,” from my book, Gospel-Centered War: Finding Freedom from Enslaving Sin.
The Bible does not deny that we were various things—addicts, homosexuals, hateful, prideful, pornographic masturbators—but that is what we were (past tense) (1 Cor. 6:9-11; Titus 3:3-5). The emphasis in Scripture is on what we are and what we are called to be. The Christian does not say, “Hello, my name is _____ and I am an X Y or Z.” The Christian says I was dead, but now I am alive. The Christian says I am a struggling sinner, yet I am a saint. The Christians says, I am a new creation; I am transformed.
We must remember however that we are “simultaneously saint and sinner.” This is the biblical balance. We are holy in Christ and yet we are progressively becoming holy (see 1 Cor. 1:2; Heb. 10:14). I like how John Owen says it: We, who are freed from the condemning power of sin, ought yet to make it our business all our days to kill the indwelling power of sin.
Paul wrote a letter to a church located in Ephesus back in the day. The people there had many struggles. Many of them use to worship various false gods and perhaps were even involved in cult prostitution. But you know what Paul called them when he wrote to them? He called them “God’s beautiful creation,” “God’s masterpiece” (Eph. 2:10). He didn’t say, “Now church, make sure that you are constantly reminding yourselves that you were part of the occult. In fact, when you meet together say, ‘Hello, my name is ______ and I am an occultist.’” No! He said, “You are new! In Christ! Transformed!”
One of the problems in claiming the identity of “addict,” “alcoholic,” or “overeater” is that we deny that addiction is a habit that can be finally overcome. I am not saying it won’t be a struggle. I am not even saying that it will even finally be overcome in this life. Yet, the Bible teaches the freeing and empowering truth that in Christ we are currently a new creation. It says we are adopted children of God. We are even God’s beloved; His treasure.
Labeling may not seem like a big deal but it is. In hospitals, it is important for people to be labeled correctly. If someone has a gunshot wound on their leg, they should not be taken to a cardiologist and someone that has the flu, they should not be life-flighted. Labels are important for treatment. Labels are important for our own treatment. The treatment of ourselves. How we look at ourselves, talk to ourselves, think of ourselves.
I really enjoyed Zach Eswine’s book, Preaching to a Post-Everything World, here are some highlights:
On the importance of illustration…
Eswine quotes Calvin Miller and says: “Jesus himself told lots of stories, and his sermons were full of images…. When asked, ‘Who is my neighbor?’ Jesus in effect does not say, ‘Let me give you three Hebrew roots on the word neighbor.’ What he does say is, ‘A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho….’ In other words he follows the question, ‘Who is my neighbor?’ with an immediate ‘Once upon a time’ and then launches into a story” (p. 61).
“Those who are precision oriented must learn to tell the stories of the text. Those who are poetic must learn to surrender to the precision of the text” (p. 108).
On the importance of modeling how to think about reality…
“When we preach we publicly model for a community how a human being is meant by God to relate to reality” (p. 85).
Here are twenty of my favorite books that I read in 2019. I think I only read three fiction books this year. I need to fix that. I plan to read quite a bit more fiction next year. Anyhow, here’s some of my favorites… (in no particular order)
- Why Suffering?: Finding Meaning and Comfort When Life Doesn’t Make Sense
by Ravi Zacharias
- Safely Home by Randy Alcorn
- Apologetics at the Cross: An Introduction to Christian Witness by Josh Chatraw and Mark D. Allen
- Them: Why We Hate Each Other–and How To Heal by Ben Sasse
- How Long O Lord?: Reflections on Suffering and Evil by D.A. Carson
- Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. by Ron Chernow
- Alienated American: Why Some Places Thrive While Others Collapse
by Timothy P. Carney
- Holy Sexuality and the Gospel: Sex, Desire, and Relationships Shaped by God’s Grand Story by Christopher Yuan
- Remember Death: The Surprising Path to Living Hope by Matthew McCullough
- The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr by Clayborne Carson
- Today Matters: 12 Daily Practices to Guarantee Tomorrow’s Success by John C. Maxwell
- Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance
- Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Timothy Keller
- Preaching as Reminding: Stirring Memory in an Age of Forgetfulness by Jeffrey D. Arthurs
- An Unhurried Leader: The Lasting Fruit of Daily Influence by Alan Fadling
- Everyday Church: Gospel Communities on Mission by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis
- Susie: The Life and Legacy of Susannah Spurgeon, wife of Charles H. Spurgeon by Ray Rhodes Jr.
- To the Golden Shore: The Life of Adoniram Judson by Courtney Anderson
- Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing
- Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport
Out of all the books I read last year, Remember Death by Matthew McCullough, is the one I would suggest you read over all the rest.
I really appreciated Elliot Clark’s book Evangelism as Exiles. Here are some of the things that stood out to me:
“Picture an evangelist. For many of us, our minds immediately scroll to the image of someone like Billy Graham—a man, maybe dressed in a suit and tie, speaking to a large audience and leading many to Christ. As such, we tend to envision evangelism as an activity—more commonly a large event—that requires some measure of power and influence. In communicating the gospel, one must have a voice, a platform, and ideally a willing audience. It’s also why, to this day, we think the most effective spokespeople for Christianity are celebrities, high-profile athletes, or other people of significance. If they speak for Jesus, the masses will listen. But this isn’t how it has always been. Not throughout history and certainly not in much of the world today” (Clark, Evangelism as Exiles).
Elliot Clark gives six essential qualities of a Christian exile on mission:
“With the help of God’s Spirit, such believers will be simultaneously (1) hope-filled yet (2) fearful. They will be (3) humble and respectful, yet speak the gospel with (4) authority. They will live (5) a holy life, separate from the world, yet be incredibly (6) welcoming and loving in it. While these three pairs of characteristics appear at first glance to be contradictory, they are in fact complementary and necessary for our evangelism as exiles” (Clark, Evangelism as Exiles).
“From the perspective of 1 Peter, the antidote to a silencing shame is the hope of glory, the hope that earthly isolation and humiliation are only temporary. God, who made the world and everything in it, will one day include us in his kingdom and exalt us with the King, giving us both honor and also a home. We desperately need this future hope if we want the courage to do evangelism as exiles” (Clark, Evangelism as Exiles).
Here is a long string of quotes I found instructive:
“over the last decades, in our efforts at evangelism and church growth in the West, the characteristic most glaringly absent has been this: the fear of God… “Knowing the fear of the Lord, ” [Paul] explained, “we persuade others” (2 Cor. 5:11)… The consistent testimony of the New Testament is that if we have the appropriate fear for them and of God, we’ll preach the gospel. We’ll speak out and not be ashamed… our problem in evangelism is fearing others too much” (Clark, Evangelism as Exiles).
“In a world teeming with reasons to be terrified, the only rightful recipient of our fear, according to Peter, is God… Fear of him, along with a fear of coming judgment, is a compelling motivation to open our mouths with the gospel. But we do not open our mouths with hate-filled bigotry, with arrogant condescension, or with brimstone on our breath. According to Peter, we fear God and honor everyone else” (Clark, Evangelism as Exiles).
“According to Peter, we’re to honor everyone. Take a moment and turn that thought over in your mind. You’re called to show honor to every single person. Not just the people who deserve it. Not just those who earn our respect. Not just the ones who treat us agreeably. Not just the politicians we vote for or the immigrants who are legal. Not just the customers who pay their bills or the employees who do their work. Not just the neighborly neighbors. Not just kind pagans or honest Muslims. Not just the helpful wife or the good father” (Clark, Evangelism as Exiles).
1. “Engaging in radically ordinary hospitality means we provide the time necessary to build strong relationships with people who think differently than we do as well as build strong relationships from within the family of God” (Rosaria Butterfield, The Gospel Comes with a House Key, 13).
2. “The truly hospitable aren’t embarrassed to keep friendships with people who are different… They know that there is a difference between acceptance and approval, and they courageously accept and respect people who think differently from them. They don’t worry that others will misinterpret their friendship. Jesus dined with sinners, but he didn’t sin with sinners. Jesus lived in the world, but he didn’t live like the world” (Rosaria Butterfield, The Gospel Comes with a House Key, 13).
3. “A cold, unwelcoming church contradicts the gospel message” (Alexander Strauch, Leading with Love, 100).
4. “If you are looking for ways to evangelize, opening your home is one of the best methods of reaching unbelievers” (Alexander Strauch, Leading with Love, 102).
5. “Some theologians go so far as to state that the growth in the earliest churches was wholly dependent on the meals and hospitality of the believers” (Verlon Fosner, Dinner Church, 24).
6. “Jesus does not have us here to straighten out our dinner guests’ thoughts and realign their lives, and it’s good thing, because their challenges are quite impossible at times. What Jesus needs most from us is for us to be their friends” (Verlon Fosner, Dinner Church: Building Bridges by Breaking Bread, 73).
7. “A lot of our language presents and reinforces the idea that church is an event… we talk about ‘going to church’ more often then we talk about ‘being’ the church” (Krish Kandiah, “Church As Family,” 68).
8. “Look at any church website and what is advertised worship services for us to enjoy, sermons for us to listen to, use provision for our children, and perhaps a small group that can provide for other needs. We post pictures of our smart buildings, of our edgy youth work, and of well designed sermon series; we invest time and money and brilliant branding and hip visual identity. This all serves to reinforce the idea that our churches exist primarily as events for consumer Christians to attend” (Krish Kandiah, “Church As Family,” 68).
9. “God’s guest list includes a disconcerting number of poor and broken people, those who appear to bring little to any gathering except their need” (Christine D. Pohl, Making Room, 16).
10. “Although we often think of hospitality as a tame and pleasant practice, Christian hospitality has always had a subversive countercultural dimension” (Christine D. Pohl, Making Room, 61).
“We welcome others into our home, but generally those who don’t even need it. Our hospitality is only lateral and transactional. We host peers in a system that expects reciprocity, not one that displays free grace” (Elliot Clark, Evangelism as Exiles).
Here is a list (in no particular order) of some of the most significant theological books I have read.*
- God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment By James Hamilton
- From Eden to the New Jerusalem and The Servant King by T. D. Alexander
- The Imitation of Christ by Thomas A Kempis
- The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
- The Doctrine of God and The Doctrine of the Word of God by John Frame
- Knowing God by J. I. Packer
- Money, Possessions, and Eternity by Randy Alcorn
- Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem
- Desiring God, Don’t Waste Your Life, God is the Gospel, Future Grace and Let the Nations be Glad by John Piper
- The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer
- New Testament Theology and The King in His Beauty by Thomas R. Schreiner
- Foundations of Soul Care by Eric Johnson
- The Cross of Christ by John Stott
- Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
- Death by Love by Mark Drisscol
- The Universe Next Door by James Sire
- Dangerous Calling by Paul Tripp
- The Resurrection of Jesus by Michael Licona
- Desiring the Kingdom by James K. A. Smith
- Radical by David Platt
- Center Church by Timothy Keller
*This is a personal list of books that helped me in a particular way at a particular time. This is not a list on the best and most significant theological books; that list would look different.