Last time I wrote on the blog, I talked about needing our eyes opened to the reality of who Jesus is. We take him for granted, we look at him like an interesting teacher, a good, moral person, a wise scholar… but we owe everything to him.
And not just us Christians. Whatever faith you are (or aren’t), I think the reality is that more of your worldview, more of your life, has been shaped by Jesus and his followers than you realize. No one, in all of history, has been as influential as Jesus.
I’m not a fan of plagiarism, so before going further, I want you to know that most of what I’m about to share comes from the books Who Is This Man? by John Ortberg and The Rise of Christianity by Rodney Stark. I highly recommend those two books if you’re interested in learning about the influence Jesus has had through the ages.
Say what you will about Jesus, the life of this one Jew from a small town in Israel has impacted yours. Probably way more than you realize. Streets, cities, and even nations (El Salvador) are named after Jesus and his followers. One-third of the world’s population claims to worship him as their God. Children are named Paul, Peter, Mary, Elizabeth, even Jesus… because of the impact of this one man. Dates are set according to his birth. In most of the world, whether we choose to follow Jesus or not, we acknowledge his birth every time we write a check, add an event to our Google Calendar, date a government form, or refer to a historical event. Today is 22 November in the year 2013, 2013 years after Jesus’ supposed date of birth.
The life of this one man, who lived in a small town on the edge of the Roman Empire and died almost 2000 years ago, has impacted our lives more than seems appropriate.
The legacy of Pharoah Tutankhamun has vanished. Alexander the Great is barely a shadow. The great caesars of Rome, emperors of China, and tsars of Russia live on only in history books and Hollywood films. Yet the life of this one man, who never conquered a nation, never built an empire, never led an army, persists to this day.
Our whole idea of human dignity can be traced to Jesus. Before him, dignity came from position, strength, power. Greeks competed in the Olympics to highlight the strong and worthy, Pharoah and other kings were said to be the image of God. And then Jesus came along and said that we all bear the image of God, rich or poor, young or old, strong or weak. He said we must become like little children (weak, dependent) if we’re to see the Kingdom of God. If you see all people as being worthy, if you’ve seen value where there is no strength or power, you’ve been influenced by the thinking of Jesus.
Our idea of compassion on the weak comes from Jesus. Again, Jesus came into a world where it was recommended parents kill their own children if they were born malformed or disfigured or sickly. In philosophy and social thinking, only the strong and powerful were valued. The first orphanages and hospitals were started by Christians, followers of Jesus who saw in their Master a devotion to help the helpless, care for the weak, and heal the sick. If you’ve ever been to a hospital, you can thank Jesus for that one. Prisons have been reformed from hell-holes without hope to places where even the bad can become good. Why? Because one man, Jesus, told his followers to show compassion on prisoners. Slavery, once a completely normal institution in the time of Jesus, is almost universally condemned (though not wiped out), because one man’s followers took it seriously that it’s written, “There is neither slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all” (Colossians 3:11).
The concept of equality between the sexes isn’t something invented by progressive 1960s feminists but by Jesus himself. The world Jesus entered was grotesquely anti-female. Roman citizens would usually care for their male babies, but if a girl was conceived, more often than not, the baby was either aborted before birth or killed shortly after. Infant girls were “exposed,” a nice word that means the babies were left outside to die of starvation or be eaten by wild animals. Archaeologists investigating sewers in ancient Roman cities have found pipes clogged with the bodies of baby girls. If a girl made it into life, she was usually denied education, and her legal status was much closer to that of property than a human. In this world, Jesus came along and allowed women to follow him in ministry, to sit at his feet and learn among his disciples. He entrusted to women the details of his resurrection before he appeared to the men. And so the early church, in Jesus’ footsteps, valued and cherished women instead of treating them as inferior like the surrounding society. Equality between men and women? That was Jesus’ introduction to your thinking.
The value of education was something Jesus and his followers introduced to the world. Maybe you hate school, so you’d be happier without Jesus’ influence here, but for the rest of us, we have Jesus to thank for our educations. Jesus told his followers to “Love the Lord your God with all your mind,” and to that end, his disciples have gone all over the world establishing schools, developing written languages, creating alphabets (Cyrillic was invented by a monk), teaching people to read, and encouraging educational advancement. The first universities were all started by Christians, followers of Jesus. The early scientists were mostly Christians who were studying the world to know more of their orderly God – Johannes Kepler, William of Ockham, Francis Bacon, Galileo, Copernicus, Blaise Pascal, Joseph Priestley, Louis Pasteur, Isaac Newton…
Our idea of humility comes from Jesus. If you’ve ever cringed at someone boasting in their own greatness, that’s Jesus’ influence in your worldview. Before Jesus, philosophers and social thinkers viewed humility as weakness. Men like Aristotle and Plutarch taught their disciples how to do great things and effectively boast in them. Roman literature is filled with the self-exalting writings of men who thought they deserved praise but could find no other voice to praise themselves but their own. Then Jesus came on the scene and said things like, “Blessed are the meek” and “If you want to be great, become like a servant.” His early followers went on to say similar things, Paul telling his churches, “Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.” Why did Paul have to write that? Because it was so contrary to the normal thinking of his day. And ours, really.
The whole idea of forgiveness comes from Jesus. In the ancient world, forgiveness was weakness. To forgive an enemy would be a sign that he defeated you. Yet Jesus came along and said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Scholars have suggested that Jesus was really, truly, the first thinker / philosopher to put forgiveness in a positive light. Before him, it just wasn’t an idea in the world.
Our ideas of hypocrisy, our hatred for it, the sick feeling we get when we see someone acting hypocritical all come from Jesus. Before Jesus, a hypocrite was simply a Greek term for an actor. Then Jesus came around and talked more about hypocrisy than anyone else. He literally re-invented the term, creating in it the negative associations it carries today. He was the first person to condemn hypocrisy, acting one way for some people and another way for others – before him, it wasn’t a bad thing, just something you had to do to get by in life. Scholar Eva Kittay noted, “It is clear from the literary records that it was Jesus alone who brought this term hypocrisy and the corresponding character into the moral record of the Western world.” If you can’t stand when people are acting like hypocrites (even Jesus’ own followers!) that’s a mark of His influence in your thinking. Without his thinking on hypocrisy, you wouldn’t care about it. You’d call it wisdom, just like everyone else before Jesus called it.
Most of our ideas of sex and marriage come from Jesus. It’s funny to me that people call Christianity’s ideas of marriage without divorce and sexual purity “traditional” and “old-fashioned.” The reality is that these ideas were new things to the Western world when Jesus introduced them. In the ancient world, marriage was flexible. Men had multiple wives, concubines, and mistresses. It was considered normal for men to visit prostitutes and commit adultery, as long as it wasn’t with a married woman. Homosexuality, bestiality, incest, and sex with children wasn’t just accepted but in many ways held up as the ideal. The emperor Comodus had over 200 young boys and girls kept as sex slaves, doctors prescribed orgasms to children to help with certain sicknesses. Even the gods of ancient Persia, Greece, and Rome lived lives of sexual promiscuity and misconduct. If you’ve ever felt disgusted by pornography, if something inside you cringes at the thought of adults having sex with children, if it seems somehow wrong to engage in sex with animals, that’s Jesus’ influence in your life. If you want your marriage to last for life, if you’ve dreamed of that perfect man romantically sweeping you off your feet in devoted love, if you’ve watched Pride and Prejudice and found yourself wanting a romance like that of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy… you have Jesus to thank for showing you a better way of sex and marriage.
Say what you will about him, the fact remains that Jesus has shaped everything in our world today for the better, often in spite of the foolishness and stubbornness of those of us who call him our leader.
Jesus is the reason you think the way you do. He’s the reason our world looks the way it does. Say what you will about him, his influence is undeniable.
I haven’t written here in a long time… Life has been crazy busy, and I plan on putting up some new testimonies and ministry / life updates soon, but in the meantime, I’ve begun writing for my friend Camil’s blog ARPS, which stands for “Art Religion Philosophy Science.” I’m supplying the religion part in the midst of a bunch of philosophers and scientists, though I’ve never been a fan of “religion,” per se. I love Jesus, but all the trappings of “religion” kinda’ just freak me out.
Anyway, since I’m writing about Jesus for the ARPS blog, until I get my act together and write other stuff here again, I figured I’ll at least post here what I’m posting there. Hope you enjoy some of my thoughts on Jesus…
I meet a lot of people every week, and usually concepts of religion and spirituality come up in one form or another. Most people in Romania (and America) know the name of Jesus, they’ve been to a church service, they can tell you the story of how Jesus was born in Bethlehem and died on a cross and rose again. They’ll tell you stories of how he healed the sick, how he walked on water, how he understood the Father better than most.
Our heads are filled with lots of information about Jesus, but we don’t really know Him and we’re not really letting His life change ours.
I forgot where the quote originates from, but someone once said, “We’re way too familiar with a God we barely know.”
At the end of chapter four in the book of Mark, there’s a story of Jesus calming a storm on the Sea of Galilee. Of course, you already knew that, because we all know all sorts of facts about Jesus, right?
Anyway, Jesus is in the boat with his disciples when a big rainstorm appears. The rainstorm turns into a thunderstorm that’s so fierce that Jesus’ disciples, fishermen who make their living on the sea and aren’t scared by little rainstorms, start to freak out.
They look for Jesus, only to find him sleeping, completely unaware of the storm. You can’t blame him. Jesus just got done with a full day of ministry, it was late, and he was tired. So he took a nap while he trusted his disciples to get him where he needed to go.
So the disciples, scared and a little offended that Jesus doesn’t seem to be concerned, wake him up and yell, “Don’t you care that we’re going to die!?” So he wakes up, takes a look at the fierce storm, and simply commands it to stop. And here’s the crazy thing – it actually stops.
After this, no doubt Jesus went back to sleep, but the disciples, the account records, are terrified even more than before. The story tells us they’re “filled with great fear” and begin to ask each other, “Who is this man?”
“What just happened? Did you see that? Who is this guy? What kind of power does this guy have? What kind of person is this? Who does this sort of thing? I thought we were just hanging out with a really godly carpenter who loved God and knew the Scriptures really well… but this is, this is something different…”
Earlier, when the wind and waves start rising up, the Bible records that the disciples are afraid. The word Mark uses is a word that’s only ever used negatively in the Bible. It’s a word that means the disciples were weak, wimpy, cowardly, frightened like little girls seeing a big spider (I have 3 little girls, so I can say this). It’s like Mark is telling us, “The storm was so bad that everyone was acting like wusses, scared out of their minds and whining like babies.”
But at the end of the story, after they see Jesus calm the storm, the word Mark uses for fear is an entirely different Greek word. It’s usually used in the positive sense, like having a fear of God. It’s a word that means the disciples were so filled with terror that they’d rather run away if they could. It means intense and fearful awe, terrifying reverence like we’d feel if God himself stepped into the room and we saw him in all his glory.
Suddenly, it’s like the disciples’ eyes were opened and they realized that something more powerful and more terrifying than a storm at sea was in the boat with them.
“Who is this man? I thought he was just a carpenter, a really good rabbi, probably a prophet… but this? Who is this man?”
I think we all need our eyes opened like the disciples. Instead of being terrified by the wind and waves around us, instead of treating Jesus like a character in a child’s bedtime story, instead of getting annoyed that he doesn’t seem to be helping you, I think we need to let him open our eyes, bringing us to the place where we look around and ask each other, “Who is this man? I thought he was just a religious figure, I thought he was just someone grandma talked about, but this… what is this? Who is this man?”
In Romans 1:16, Paul called the Gospel “the power of God,” but how often have we turned it into a tame thing more fit for nursery rhymes and children’s plays? The Gospel is God’s power to save men! Only the Gospel could turn a terrorist into an apostle, an atheist into a Believer, an addict into a lover of God, or a gang member into an evangelist. Only the Gospel could “persuade a strict dictator to retire, fire the army, teach the poor origami,” as the Newsboys put it so eloquently.
Once a week for a while now, I’ve been discussing a new metaphor the Bible uses to explain the power of the Gospel. If you missed the earlier posts, check them out here. Today, let’s look at how, through the Gospel, God reconciled us to Himself.
Paul tells us in Colossians 1:21-22, “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.”
I love this section. There’s so much going on here, so bear with me as I unpack it a little.
In two verses, Paul shows us the power of the Gospel in a nutshell – who we were, what God did for us, and who we’re becoming.
Here’s the picture of who we used to be: we were alienated, hostile in mind, and doing evil deeds. These aren’t pretty words. These aren’t nice words.
When Paul says we were alienated, he means we were shut out from fellowship and intimacy with God, cut off from Him and all His blessings. The Greek word he uses implies a former state that we’ve departed from as our relationship deteriorated. The word was used to describe the breaking apart of the marriage covenant through unfaithfulness and to the division of property. So Paul is not so much saying that God closed us out because He didn’t like us but that, through our unfaithfulness and stubbornness, we let our relationship fall apart and therefore separated ourselves from Him.
He says we were hostile in mind. I don’t think the English word hostile carries the weight of what Paul is getting at here. The word he uses is usually translated “enemy” in the New Testament and sometimes refers specifically to the devil himself. When Jesus says to love our enemies, He’s using this word. When He says the enemy sows tares in the midst of the wheat, it’s this word. When Paul says Jesus will put all His enemies under His feet, and when he says that many have become enemies of the cross, you guessed it, he uses this word. This is not describing someone who was just a little ticked at God, a little hostile. It’s describing an enemy of God, “someone openly hostile, animated by deep-seated hatred,” implying “irreconcilable hostility, proceeding out of a ‘personal’ hatred bent on inflicting harm,” as the Helps Word-studies on BibleSuite.com put it.
Paul goes on to describe us as doers of evil deeds. The Strong’s concordance defines these deeds as “bad, of a bad nature or condition,” “diseased or blind” and “wicked or corrupt.” No matter how good you think you may have been, without Jesus, even your good deeds were based in selfishness, fear of man, trying to prove something or earn something. Paul says we did evil, corrupt, diseased, wicked works. BibleSuite.com goes on to describe these evil deeds as “pain-ridden, emphasizing the inevitable agonies (misery) that always go with evil.”
The word Paul uses here that we translate as evil, poneros, is not the only Greek word for evil, but it is the one that specifically emphasizes the corrupting, disease-spreading, pain-ridden fruit that results. According to Richard C. Trench in his Synonyms of the New Testament, three Greek words are often translated “evil” in the English Bible – kakos, phaulos, and poneros. Kakos has to do mainly with the idea of lacking something that would make it worthy, like the wicked servant at the end of Matthew 24 who lacked good character and honesty. Phaulos deals with the idea that something is good for nothing, worthless, and devoid of any possibility of good coming from it. Poneros, on the other hand, Trench calls, “the active worker out of evil.” He goes on to write, “The kakos may be content to perish in his own corruption, but the poneros is not content unless he is corrupting others as well, and drawing them into the same destruction with himself.” That, Paul says, is the kind of works we were doing before we knew God.
We had separated ourselves from God, we had made Him our hated enemy, we lived to spread evil, agony, and pain in the world, and God chose to reconcile us. That’s nuts.
Before looking at what the word “reconcile” means, let’s jump to the end of the section first, so we can see the results of His reconciling efforts. Where are we headed? What is God creating in us, these former enemies of His? He wants to make us “holy, blameless, and above reproach.”
He’s making us holy, turning us into saints, no longer separated from God but separated unto God. Holy like the Temple in Jerusalem. Holy like the ground Moses was standing on. Holy like God Himself. Different, separate, set apart from the world. The majority of times this word is used in the New Testament it refers either to the Holy Spirit or to the saints, the church. That’s what He’s after in us.
Blameless, meaning without spot or blemish. Morally perfect, with no defects and no cause for blame. 1 Peter 2 refers to false prophets and teachers that Peter calls “blemishes” full of lust and deceit, unsubmissive, blasphemers, like irrational animals, born to be caught and destroyed. God’s making us into the opposite, into those with no stains or spots or wrinkles. The old person we used to be, who spread evil and pain and disease without even trying, He’s turning into someone who is blameless before Him.
Above reproach. This is a legal phrase that essentially means if someone were to take us to court, the case would be thrown out because there’s no evidence to support the spurious claim. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon describes it as, “that which cannot be called into account, unreproveable, unaccused, blameless.” BibleSuite.com adds, “not convictable when a person is properly scrutinized (i.e. tried with correct logic).” This is where we’re headed, according to Paul – that if someone were to take us to court for how we’re living, every allegation would be thrown out for lack of evidence.
So whatever God did through the cross, He plans to take these people who hated him so vehemently and turn them into people set apart for Him, without any stain, with no evidence of any guilt or wrongdoing in their lives.
What He did was reconcile us.
The roots of this word go back to the idea of exchanging money, like going from US dollars to Romanian lei. The idea is that the situation has completely changed. Where you once had dollars, now you don’t have anything remotely like dollars. You’ve got an entirely different monetary unit, made of different materials, with different artwork, usable in a different country. From this root, the word evolved to mean a ruined relationship becoming completely changed into a restored one. In the New Testament, it’s used to describe a wife being reconciled to her husband after leaving him, in 1 Corinthians 7:11. When God reconciles us, he takes a relationship that’s been destroyed beyond fixing, and He fixes it completely.
This is the simple power of the Gospel! What you were no longer applies. You’re new now. You’ve been reconciled to God, you’re old relationship of enmity thrown out and replaced by a new one of friendship, headed toward purity and holiness in all things.
Through Jesus, God reconciled us to Himself, restoring our relationship we had broken.
Way back here, I started a series on the different ways the Bible describes the work of the Gospel in our lives. As Paul wrote in Romans 1:16, the Gospel is the “power of God” for our salvation. It’s the power of God, something meant to turn whole nations upside-down!
The Gospel is God’s plan to restore and repair everything ruined by sin and the cruelty of man. He has no Plan B, no alternative worked out in case the Gospel fails. This is it. This is His route to glorify His name, rescue His people, and rebuild His creation.
Here’s the next illustration I want to take a look at:
Jesus came to ransom us. Mark 10:45 says, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” What’s that mean? To answer that, we gotta go back to the world Mark was writing in, a world shaped by the Old Testament.
In the Old Testament, the concept of ransoming something entails an exchange, paying a price for another’s release, much like the modern-day concept of paying a ransom to a kidnapper.
In the beginning of Israel’s history, God had laid claim to every firstborn male. Like a 2-year-old around toys, God pointed at the firstborn men and said, “Mine.” Every firstborn male, He said, belonged to Him and had to be sacrificed.
Since God isn’t a fan of lobster and doesn’t like human sacrifice, however, He allowed for certain firstborn males to be ransomed, exchanged, so they wouldn’t have to die as an offering. Every firstborn human male was required to be ransomed. In exchange for their lives, God took the Levites and 5 shekels (about $60) a head. Firstborn men in Israel could go on living because God took the Levites’ service as exchange for their lives.
Similarly, firstborn male unclean animals (like lobster) were required to be ransomed, since offering something deemed unclean in sacrifice would be unthinkable. Everyone who owned a firstborn male of an unclean animal was required to pay 5 shekels to ransom each one, so God wouldn’t have to accept your unclean sacrifice and you could go on running your lobster farm I guess.
Curiously, donkeys were also allowed to be ransomed, at the owner’s discretion. A firstborn male donkey headed for sacrifice could be exchanged for a lamb if the owner wanted to make the substitution. My guess is God gave this as a mercy to poor farmers who only had one family donkey that they really needed to survive.
Jesus ransomed us. On the cross, He exchanged His life for ours. We deserve the wrath of God, we deserve punishment, we deserve judgment in Hell for eternity, but Jesus took our place, receiving God’s wrath poured out on sin in our place, paying His own life as our ransom. We were like a donkey headed for the temple to be sacrificed, when Jesus, our lamb, gave Himself in exchange, so we could go on living.
The Gospel changes lives. The fact that Jesus came, died on a cross, and rose again is more than a fairy tale, more than a nice story to tell kids at bedtime, more than simply some well-written material for Easter plays. The Gospel is everything.
The Gospel is God’s answer to every problem in our hearts and our world. Every weakness, fear, disease, cruelty, depravity, confusion, and sickness finds its answer in the Gospel. Paul called it “the power of God to salvation” in Romans 1:16.
Back here, I started a discussion of some of the ways the Bible describes what the Gospel does in our lives, beginning with the concept of adoption. If you haven’t read it, go back and take a look. It’s good stuff. 🙂
Now let’s go on to the next one.
Luke records Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father, speaking of the ministry of Jesus in Luke 1:68. He proclaims, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people!”
To understand this concept of redemption, you’ve got to go into Zechariah’s world as a 1st century Jew raised on the Law and the Prophets.
The concept of redemption shows up repeatedly in the Old Testament. Over and over again, God is said to have redeemed people. He redeemed Israel from bondage in Egypt. He redeemed her from exile in Babylon. He redeemed people from death, from oppression, from violence. And in the same way, Zechariah is saying, He is coming in Jesus to redeem us from sin.
Now dig a little deeper and things get even cooler. In Leviticus 27:13, it says that if someone dedicates an item to God, consecrating it, and they later realize they want it back, they can have it, but they have to redeem it by paying what it’s worth and addding 1/5th to it, making the item theirs again, to do with as they please. God redeemed us through the cross. Though we gave ouselves up to the service of sin and darkness, God paid to redeem us through the blood of Jesus. He bought us back so we could be His again.
Alright, that’s sweet, but let’s keep going further, where things start to get really cool. In the Old Testament, each family was given land. This land was their inheritance from God, passed down through the generations, a special gift to them alone that was meant to bless them and serve as a reminder of the covenant God had made with them.
Losing this special gift from God would be a huge disgrace, not to mention the fact that survival in an agrarian society would be next to impossible without your land. So God provided a way so that, if someone was forced to sell their land due to financial hardship, when they got back on their feet, either they or a family member could come along and redeem it, buying it back and restoring it to its rightful owner. We were that abandoned plot of land, and Jesus redeemed us through His blood. He bought us back from the enemy and gave us to our rightful owner, God. We were His to begin with, and though we had sold ourselves to another, He paid to make us His again.
So what if things went really badly, so bad that you had to sell yourself into slavery to pay off your debts? Then a family member had the obligation to redeem you if they could, to pay the price for your freedom, so you wouldn’t have to be a slave any longer. Though you had ruined your life, wasted all your money, and sold yourself into slavery just to survive, a loving family member could pay for your release, and you would be free, redeemed. Jesus did this on the cross. He paid for our release from slavery, though we had willfully sold ourselves into it by our own bad choices and hatred of God.
And then there’s the concept of the kinsman redeemer. Read the book of Ruth to get a good visual of this. If a woman found herself a widow, without a husband, a home, or sons to take care of her, then the nearest of kin had the obligation to redeem her, to take her as his wife, raise up children for her dead husband, provide for her, love her, and be the husband that she used to have. It’s a weird idea to our modern minds, where women can date, find a husband on-line, get any job they want, get college degrees, and fly space shuttles, but in ancient Israel, a woman without a husband didn’t have a whole lot of options waiting for her. She had no way of finding a new husband, and if she remained single, my guess is she’d have to either find some friends or relatives to mooch off of or resort to begging, slavery, or prostitution to survive. The kinsman redeemer was there to spare her from that life and to make sure she could have as normal a life as possible.
Redemption. It’s the idea of restoring something back to the way it should have been all along, before things went bad, whatever the costs may be. Jesus redeemed us. Though the cost was astronomical, He bought us out of slavery, He paid for us to be His again, He became our kinsman redeemer who gave us everything so we didn’t have to be at the mercy of fate and enemies much bigger and stronger than us.
This is the power of the Gospel, that when we were worthless and lost, without family, land, or even our own freedom, Jesus came and redeemed us with His blood. We were like the Prodigal Son, we had wasted all our money, sold ourselves into slavery, and we deserved the hard life and judgment of sin we were under, yet God, through Jesus, redeemed us. He paid to make us His again. He redeemed us from our slavery and set us free.
In the same vein as previous “Five Books” posts we’ve done, I want to give you another list of five books that’ll change your life. These aren’t necessarily my “Five Top Books” or anything like that, just five books that, if you read them and let God speak to you in them, you’ll walk away different.
1. Jesus the Messiah (Robert H. Stein)
I loved this book, a solidly evangelical, yet authoritatively historical, look at the life of Jesus from birth to resurrection, with plenty of opposing views so you can think for yourself. Read it and you’ll walk away with a bigger view of Jesus.
“In the ministry of Jesus, a unique understanding of God’s grace and love is given. Now it is seen as never before what it means to love outcasts, sinners, and enemies.”
“One cannot read the Gospel accounts without the question arising, ‘Who is this man who is master of nature, disease, and even death?’ In Jesus’ actions, people saw a bold claim to a unique authority.”
2. Erasing Hell (Francis Chan)
At one point in this book, Chan writes, “It has taken me forty-three years to finally confess that I have been embarrassed by some of God’s actions. In my arrogance, I believed I could make Him more attractive or palatable if I covered up some of His actions… I am just now seeing the ugliness of my actions.”
To say I loved this book would sound odd given the subject matter, but I really needed it when I read it. Rather than trying to scare readers with fanciful images of Hell, Chan simply assumes that if God put it in the Bible, we need to believe it, regardless of our feelings. So he looks at the Biblical truth in its context, one Scripture at a time, and that, I think, is scarier than any turn-or-burn sensationalism.
3. Living By The Book (Howard Hendricks)
I read this book when I had been a Christian for maybe 6 months. I didn’t know anything about God, so I decided to take some classes at my church’s Bible college. One of the classes used this book to teach how to read and study the Bible, and, man, it changed my life!
Oh, I love this book! Read it, use it, do the exercises, learn the concepts, and you’ll get way more out of your Bible than you have in the past. You’ll fall in love with the Bible as you notice new things, you’ll uncover the God who wants to speak to you through His word, you’ll find yourself spending hours reading and studying and poring through the Scriptures. Don’t be content with just reading the Bible on a surface level. Get in deep and let it change you.
Thirteen years later, I still remember the first time I heard God speak to my heart, while reading this book, and it completely changed how I approached Him. God is speaking all the time, He’s always ready to talk to His children. If we can’t hear Him, usually it’s because we’re not listening or we’re listening distractedly, not because He’s not speaking.
Unlike some books on hearing God’s voice, this one doesn’t get too flaky but consistently comes back to the Scriptures on everything. It’s not perfect, but I don’t know of a better book on hearing God speak.
5. To Train Up A Child (Michael and Debi Pearl)
We don’t have perfect kids (just spend more time at our house to see the evidence), but a lot of people have commented on our kids being well-behaved, and I want everyone to know they can have good kids too. Our kids aren’t magical little unicorns stuffed with jelly beans, flowers, and rainbows. They’re real kids just like yours, and, just like yours, they need constant training and encouragement to not resort to a brutal Reign of Terror. Seriously, let me be blunt – there’s a lot of crap parenting books out there that do more harm than good, filled with pseudo-Biblical philosophies and psycho-analyses written by terrible parents with bratty kids. This book is short, easy to read, full of Scriptures, stories, and practical advice on raising kids that bring peace and joy into your home, like God intended.
So that’s five more for you. Read a few and let Jesus change your life.
This is a follow-up to Jake’s post, Five Books That’ll Change Your Life. He recommended some really great books there, so I would check that post out after reading this one. I love to read, and there are several books that I’ve read that I often recommend to people, and the following five are some of them. Now, this doesn’t mean that these are my five favorite books, but just ones that I really like and want to tell the world about. So, in no particular order, here they are:
1. The Jesus Storybook Bible (Sally Lloyd-Jones)
Yes, this is technically a “children’s” book, but my whole family loves it so much, that I wanted to start with this one. This is not a bible translation, but a bible storybook. It is so well-written and engaging that even adults will like reading it for themselves and the children in their lives. Some of the stories even brought tears to my eyes, as the author portrays the love, gentleness, and absolute passion of God for His people. Over and over you’ll read about “the never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love” of God, a love that is ultimately expressed in the gift of His Son Jesus. The artwork is also really well done, and Naomi and I often sit down with pens, markers, and pastels attempting to draw them ourselves.
2. Andrew Murray on Prayer
Ok, this is sort of a cheater recommendation, because it’s really like six books in one. But with classics like “Abide in Christ,” “With Christ in the School of Prayer,” and “Waiting on God,” I couldn’t help but suggest this book. It’s one of my all-time favorites, one of the first books we wanted to have shipped over to us here in Romania (although it may have gotten lost among other things), and one that transformed my understanding of prayer, intercession, and what it means to abide in Jesus day by day and moment to moment.
3. They Speak with Other Tongues (John Sherrill)
This is the “controversial” book in my list. Speaking in tongues is one of those dividing issues in the church today, possibly the weirdest of all the spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit mentioned in the Bible, and, I think, one of the most under-used gifts that God gave to His people. The author is a journalist (which means it’s extremely well-written) from an Anglican background who initially sets out to write about the gift of speaking in tongues objectively and as a skeptic. As you read amazing true-life stories that he presents, you will also see his mind change regarding this spiritual gift and eventually embrace it as God intended.
I love this book, and it’s one I want to read again. I recommend it to every Christian, whether they believe in the gifts of the Spirit for today or not, because you will see one of the most balanced investigations of it here. And if you already embrace speaking in tongues, this book will inspire you to do it more often for the glory of God.
4. Dreams and Visions (Tom Doyle)
This book is on my list because I just read it recently, as I received it free from Thomas Nelson to preview. Even though I’m a busy mom and missionary wife, I finished this book in two or three days. I loved it because it didn’t get too preachy, but it just presented a lot of stories about Muslims coming to faith in Jesus in journeys that started with supernatural dreams or visions of Jesus. When you read this book, you will get a glimpse of God’s love for the Muslim people and of how He will stop at nothing to reach them. If you’re like me, you also will catch that love in your own heart and want to be a part of this great move of God in the Muslim world!
5. Weight of Glory (C.S. Lewis)
This “book” is really a collection of sermons C.S. Lewis delivered mostly during the time period in which WWII was occurring. “The Weight of Glory” is the first in this collection, and my favorite. In it, Lewis, addresses the fact that Christians often ask so little of God, when He offers so much more. One of my favorite parts: “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” And the whole sermon just gets better. I love C.S. Lewis, so I couldn’t have a list of books without something by him on it.
That wraps up my first five in this series. Now you have ten total books to go read from what Jake and I have recommended!