A Matter of Perspective
This was taken from the book Behind the Stories by Diane Eble. The book also includes stories of 39 other fiction authors.
Randy Alcorn’s life, calling, and ministry can be rolled up in one word: perspective. As a boy, Randy used to gaze into the heavens through the telescope his parents gave him. He vividly remembers gazing out at the stars one clear night, pondering that the great galaxy of Andromeda was millions of light-years away. It was all so big, so vast…he started crying. “It’s not a typical thing for a tough sixth-grade boy to look up at the stars and cry. But I felt such awe—and emptiness.”
At the time he was reading comic books and science fiction, anything that stimulated his imagination. Even at that age he felt a stirring in his heart, a longing for something larger than himself. His folks were not Christians, and he didn’t know what to name or do with these longings. Not until high school.
That’s when he met a Christian girl. She lived fourteen miles away from Randy’s home but would come to his area to attend a church youth group. Someone invited Randy, too. “At first I went so I could see her,” he confesses. “But once I was there I was interested in what was said. I heard the gospel, read the Bible on my own, went to church even when she wasn’t going to be there. One day I was reading the Bible and realized I was believing it. I got down on my knees and gave my life to Christ.”
The youth pastor gave Randy a key to his office and said he could read whatever he found on the shelves. Thus began Randy’s love for Christian books. He was especially influenced by C. S. Lewis—an influence that continues today. In fact, he says that he’s never written a book, fiction or nonfiction, in which he hasn’t been influenced by Lewis in some way. One of his more recent bestsellers, Lord Foulgrin’s Letters, was inspired by Lewis’s Screwtape Letters; in Deadline, Lewis’s Mere Christianity plays a pivotal role. In his novel Dominion, C. S. Lewis is actually a minor character.
Randy remembers pulling out his telescope some time after he became a Christian. The awe was still there, but it wasn’t empty. He now knew the Creator and Savior who made all that vastness for His glory. What a different perspective! “I cried again, but for a very different reason. Now I was inside the circle; now I knew the God who created all this,” he says. Thoughtfully, he adds, “All Christians are inside the circle, but sometimes we forget that we were made for a person—Jesus—and a place—heaven. No other person and no other place can satisfy our deepest longings.”
Randy attended Multnomah Bible College and Western Seminary, earning his Th.B. and M.A. in biblical studies. He became a pastor and, alongside Stu Weber, led a church in Boring, Oregon. Within fourteen years the church grew to two thousand members. While the church was thriving on the outside, Randy was burdened by the number of Christians devastated by sexual immorality. He started writing a book addressing this huge problem and approached a publisher about it.
The first of two key life-changing events happened in 1985. In the same month that his first book, Christians in the Wake of the Sexual Revolution, was published, Randy was diagnosed with insulin-dependent diabetes. “God used this to remind me of my dependence on him, in a daily, concrete way.” Randy says. “Before that, I knew intellectually that I was dependent on God for every breath. But I was really very independent and self-sufficient. Now I have a built-in reminder every single day when I take my five or six blood tests and insulin injections: ‘Apart from me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5b). The timing was perfect. Of all the months in my life when I could have gotten a serious disease it happened in the one month when my first book was published. That was a reminder that my writing isn’t about me, it’s about the Lord, and without his strength it will accomplish nothing.”
His disease brought a major change of focus—again, perspective. Randy’s life verse became 2 Corinthians 4:18: “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
The second life-changing event—the one that launched his current ministry—seemed like anything but a gift at the time. Because Randy Alcorn believes in living, not just discussing, his convictions, he was involved in prolife activities. He’d been on the board of the first Crisis Pregnancy Center in his city. He and his wife had opened their home to a pregnant girl, who came to Christ while she lived with them. Randy had also been involved in peaceful, nonviolent civil disobedience, standing in front of the doors of abortion clinics to intervene for unborn children, trying to convince parents not to kill their babies.
The abortion clinic sued him and others. In the judgment against him, he was ordered to compensate the clinic for the income it lost due to abortions prevented by his presence. Randy told the judge, “I will pay anyone money I owe them, but I will not write out a check to an abortion clinic, because they’ll use it to keep killing babies.”
Randy’s church then received a writ of garnishment, ordering them to pay a portion of Randy’s monthly wages to the abortion clinic. “The only way around that,” Randy says, “was to resign, so the church didn’t owe me any money. It was heartbreaking—I loved being a pastor, I loved my church, and I didn’t envision myself leaving. But the Lord providentially yanked me out of that position, and it ended up being a great blessing. It was just like Genesis 50 and what Joseph said to his brothers—the abortion clinic intended it for evil, but God intended it for good.”
One great good that emerged was the birth of Eternal Perspective Ministries. “When I had to figure out what to do,” Randy says, “I thought, I have a love for missions, prolife work, and writing, and I enjoy teaching and speaking. How can I wrap those all together into one ministry? So my family and I started EPM and did the exact things the Lord laid on our hearts.” So his calling was refocused, deepened, and confirmed.
One of the great blessings of starting this ministry was that Randy was suddenly free to write much more. Before, as a pastor, it had been a continual challenge to carve out the time to write. He had refused to write on church time and periodically asked for unpaid leaves of absence to devote to writing. Now, in his new ministry, he is free to write as much as he wants, as part of his ministry job description. Writing is not the end for Randy, but the means to his primary calling—to point people toward an eternal perspective. His goal is to change people’s minds and hearts, through whatever communication means he can: books—both fiction and nonfiction, speaking, a quarterly newsletter, his website. He is free to continue his prolife activities. And he doesn’t give a dime of God’s money to anything his conscience can’t support.
Because it can’t be garnished, Randy receives minimum wage for his salary. Since the inception of Eternal Perspective Ministries in 1990, EPM has given over $4.5 million dollars to ministries around the world. (EPM note: through 2012 this number is over six million dollars in book royalties given away.)
Gifts cover the overhead to run EPM, including the salaries of Randy, his wife, and part-time staffers. Randy had followed the advice of his book Money, Possessions and Eternity about living debt-free. In fact, he had to resign from the church just two months after he mailed in his last mortgage check.
Randy says his books have a double impact: Not only do the messages contained in them touch people’s lives, but the income they generate supports what God is doing through strategic ministries. “It’s a setup I never could have come up with on my own,” Randy says in wonder. “God had to yank me out of a ministry I loved to create something entirely unique, of His doing.”
Randy’s books have earned more money than most writers dream of. Yet none of the money goes to him—it all goes to the ministry. It gives Randy a tremendous freedom, he says. “Greed is kept in check, because my lifestyle doesn’t go up if a book commands a greater advance or higher royalties. It’s just more money for the work of the ministry.” When he sees his books on the bestseller list, he figures, “Maybe the Lord wanted more money for missions work.”
Randy Alcorn demonstrates that when you “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” temporal needs will be met. In more direct and obvious ways than the rest of us, Randy depends on God for every need. For his life and breath, as his diabetes reminds him. For every temporal need to be met, as he lives on a restricted wage. And for spiritual strength and perspective, as he wrestles with daily priorities and the responsibilities of his ministry.
Yet don’t all of us work for the Lord, directly or indirectly? Aren’t we all dependent on God’s grace for every breath and temporal need? Aren’t we all called to submit our talents to God for His use? Aren’t we all required to obediently seek justice and mercy and tell others of the grace of God? Don’t we all struggle to keep our priorities focused on what really matters? In whatever circumstance we find ourselves, we are called to the same kind of obedience and dependence Randy demonstrates.
Randy Alcorn’s story shows how radical dependence triggers God’s absolute faithfulness and a thrilling creativity. God has opened doors for all of Randy’s passions to be expressed. He has circumvented a court judgment and provided a way for Randy’s gifts to be used to make money for God’s own work. Randy’s books have sold well, not to make Randy rich but to provide for God’s work. And God continues to extend His message of grace and eternity through a ministry that clearly He called into being.
What amazing things might God do through your radical dependence and obedience? The only way to find out is to set your sights on eternity, on the unseen, give God your all, and watch for the miracles.