Last night, about ten thousand people from all over Sydney (and maybe a bit further) gathered at Sydney Entertainment Centre to hear from John Piper and John Lennox, two renowned speakers from America who have written quite a number of good books. This was a completely new event that has never been run before in Sydney but the reputation of the speakers certainly attracted a lot of people to come; seating capacity was completely maxed out and both speakers preached a very powerful message to a full house, such would be deemed the success of the event.
For a few of us, the topic of event seemed quite ambiguous and we didn’t really know what to expect from the speakers. I think we’ve all heard about “not wasting our lives” (particularly in the Christian context) and I also wondered what more could be said about the idea. Last night was a night to re-ignite the spirits of those who attended, that they may burn with a strong passion for Jesus and indeed not waste their lives but live it all to their max, for the glory of God.
The night was filled with worship and was MCed by Al Stewart. All in all, the night was quite simple and very heavily focused around the speakers; and they themselves focused heavily around the Bible, it was quite an intense event in terms of the amount of stuff we were hearing. They also gave us very cute little booklets with information and also space to write notes and all (photo above).
John Lennox came up to speak first and he began by addressing the concerns of investing our time, and even our lives, for Jesus. He explained both points of views, that indeed it would be quite a waste of a life if we invested into someone who wasn’t real and the promises of heaven and all were not real. However, if we did not invest into Jesus and he turned out to be real, then we would be in serious trouble. John talked about the transfiguration of Jesus and how that event was a truly remarkable change not only for Jesus but also for those who witnessed it. The eyewitnesses (and apostles) who saw all that Jesus did would be able to invest in Jesus because they actually saw what Jesus had in plan for those who believe. And as eyewitnesses they shared this news with the people around them because the way we live our lives would certainly have an eternal difference at the end. Lennox also talked about how the transfiguration demonstrated Jesus’ power, and it was not a power of this world and while we might not receive this same power, we are called to trust in the one who does have this power.
Lennox moved onto talking about death and leaving the world; because if indeed there is an eternal reward waiting for us at the end of time, how we live our lives up to the point of our death is important. The Bible shows us examples of how some people live their lives and went out with a “bang”: Moses died (but lived a very arduous life), Elijah left the world but did not taste death, Jesus was crucified, and Peter was crucified upside down, in order to not shame what happened to Jesus. If we are indeed convinced of the value of our investment in Christ and of the eternal difference that will show itself at the end of time, then indeed it makes perfect sense to live our lives as best as we can, to reflect the treasure we have in Christ.
Lennox’s talk was a good opener to the evening and explaining why it made sense to invest our time and our whole lives into Jesus.
After a short intermission, John Piper came up to speak. For a 65-year old man, he demonstrated quite a lot of energy in his preaching and I was glad I was able to hear him and the ideas he presented last night. Piper introduced a lot of radical concepts that I hadn’t really thought about before but I was deeply moved by what he said. He started off by reminding us of some of the world events that resulted in various numbers of deaths, namely the famous incidents, starting at 9/11. These, and many more, are incidents where the goodness of God is questioned and a lot of people hear the question: “Where was God in all of this?” Funnily enough Jesus himself was not as sentimental about life and death as we would expect. Piper read out Luke 13:1-5 and showed that amidst suffering, Jesus did not comfort those who lost loved ones but instead called everyone to repent. And of course many people would dare to say that Jesus was unloving because he didn’t show a care for those who died.
The radical idea that Piper presented was that we should not presume even one more breath of our life but be somewhat expecting of the bad. For those who suffered accidents, some of which led to death, we should be surprised not that it happened to other people, but that it didn’t happen to us. Too often we play the “where were you God when ‘this’ happened?” card and replace ‘this’ with something bad that happened. But we don’t seem to ask “where were you God when ‘that’ happened?”, replace ‘that’ with something good. The perspective shift Piper asked us to take on was that bad things are the “default” and anything good, even the next second of your life, is a blessing which we must make good use of, clearly because those who are dead do not have such a gift.
I didn’t find it too hard to take on this perspective, I imagine people who don’t have their trust in Jesus would find it harder to accept such a view. But adopting such a view really turns your world upside down. While it does make you seem pessimistic (because you’re always anticipating something bad), it makes you much more joyful and motivated when good things happen. Not only does it put our perspective on life right, but it also corrects our perspective on God. God has all the right to end our lives and pour His judgement our on us, but He chooses to have mercy on us instead and when we begin to contrast His blessings against His judgement, we begin to value what He’s given us.
Lastly, Piper talked about us learning to give up everything we have in favour of Christ. That is, we don’t literally go around selling everything we own, but in whatever we own or have, we should be prepared to make Jesus more important than that. And I think it works to say that having as much as we want isn’t a bad thing, as long as we are able to value Christ even more, which will end up in a willingness to give us everything else we own (hence you really only become rich to just give it all away out of generosity). How we our lives then should be to magnify Christ in everything that we have and everything that we do. By “magnify” we think of how a telescope magnifies the vast vast universe so that those looking through a telescope can see the magnificence of the universe; same with our lives and God.
Well, they asked us to make a response as to how we intend to live our lives from this point on; how we plan to not waste it. There was a small section in our book for us to jot something down. Here was what I felt at the time:
I’ve never felt like each day in my life was truly a waste because it always felt like there was something to be learned, and something to be gained, not matter how big or small, and no matter whether it was a good or bad day. But I suppose the call for me is to sharpen my life and be more and more proactive with my time which would be the main challenge since I’ve packed it with so much stuff. But that can’t be right since I should always have time to slot people in when needed.
I hope I’ll continue to have time to blog. I have so many pending things to type up that I’ve kind of just left it all to one side. Frankly, it took a while to even finish this post up (probably partly due to my laziness and my wanting to do other things at the same time). But all in all this was a night for us to think about out long term investments for Christ. And while Lennox and Piper didn’t say specifically “how” we should spend our lives, the main focus indeed was to spread the glory of God to all around us, in whatever way we feel comfortable with. For some of us like me, the ministry field seems most applicable; and so I shall try to redouble my efforts at my church.
To end on a semi-dim note, sometimes all my years of leading youth group have felt like a waste, perhaps not a complete waste, but there are times where it seemed pointless or not as fruitful as doing something else. And that definitely discourages me when my passion and vision for youth group doesn’t turn out the way I had hoped it would. But through God’s grace I’ve seen more than enough change to conclude that all my efforts have not been in vain and indeed any amount of energy was worth it to see the fruits that were yielded, and the fruits that will be reaped if we persevere in our race. I believe that to be true of any other aspect of life we devote to our Saviour, Jesus Christ. He will see us through to the last day.