If you have your Bibles, will you grab them? Let’s go to Philippians, chapter 1, verse 21. If you have a history in church, you might not even need to turn to that verse. We’re only going to be there for just a couple of seconds before we flip over to Acts 7, but I want to show you this verse and let you see it in your Bible, lest you think I’m making the verse up.
Let me tell you where we’re going. Just no secrets right out of the gate. In 1998, I was invited for the first time on my first overseas trip. I’m a military brat and had moved all over the US (at least the West side of the United States). Texas is as far East as I’ve lived. I don’t have deep roots, if you will. I kind of moved around every three to five years most of my life. In fact, I’ve lived here longer than I’ve lived anywhere else my entire life. This is very much home to my family and me. In fact, my kids know nothing but the Dallas area.
In ’98, I was invited by a missions organization into a trip that was going to start in Asia and then make its way and spend the extent of its time in India. About two weeks before we left on this trip, some of the missionaries (or what they code word called “M’s,” which is not a complex code, you know?) were assaulted by a mob for being believers. If you need to be nervous on your first overseas trip, let the missionaries you were going to stay with in India get attacked by a mob for their Christianity right before you leave.
Man, I was anxious and nervous and just kind of prayed and felt compelled, “I’m going. I need to see what’s going on out there.” I boarded the plane and flew into Hong Kong, spent a few days in Hong Kong, and then, from there, went into parts of Asia. I’ll “secretize” this as much as I feel like I need to. Then from there, we headed into India and were in India for about 12 days (different parts of India). Two things simultaneously struck me while I was overseas. Here’s what they were.
The first was the gospel is immense in its implications globally. Here’s what I mean when I say that. I had no idea the gospel was as big as it is. I mean, I just didn’t know. How could I know? I’m getting on a plane. I’m flying for more than a day. You lose time when you travel overseas. Isn’t that weird? You land 24 hours later, a day before you left. Bam! “What day is it?” “It’s Tuesday.” I flew out on Wednesday, but it’s Tuesday. Right? I’m a bit discombobulated.
Really what started sinking in was how unbelievably immense is the gospel of Jesus Christ, because everywhere we went, people loved him, worshiped him, read the same Bible I read, sang some of the same songs I sing. They broke the bread and drank from the cup. Just the sheer immensity of the… We’re just so small-minded here in our “Westerness,” just so paltry in our understanding of just how massive this thing is that we’re caught up in. We say, “Oh, I have to try to be better. I have to try to behave better,” and God is globally ransoming and rescuing people from every tribe, tongue, and nation on earth.
I got to see it, and it infected me. Since then, every year, we schedule one or two trips. In fact, I’ve dragged my kids… People here have gasped. I mean, I took our kids to China. My son was 6 months old. We had the car seat and just got on the plane to China. People were like, “You’re insane. What if something happens?” What if something happens here? You have some guarantees that this is safe? Then this past summer, we all got back on the plane and went to Africa. I need them to see it.
Everything here is trying to teach my kids that they’re god. Everything here is going, “You’re the point. What you want matters. What you’re after is the point of the universe.” Nothing will make them more miserable than actually believing that nonsense. What can I do? There are crayons at every restaurant I go to. I mean, what is here as a check and balance to go, “We love you, but it can’t ever be about you, because if it’s about you, you will be miserable”?
You want to set someone up for depression and anxiety and heartbreak, teach them they’re the point. Teach them their happiness is the point. What they want is the point. Their desire is the point. You want to destroy your children, teach them they’re god. “We would never do that. We’re church folk, Chandler. We’re not going to do that.”
Church folk are some of the worst at this. “Train up a child in the way he should go.” What’s the way they should go? Not good moral citizens, although we hope for that. No. Godliness, glad submission to their Creator. It got dialed in in my heart, notched in my heart, that the gospel is immense. The other thing that happened to me is I saw the need was great. The need was unbelievably great.
As we flew into these places, the gatherings of believers are so different than what we have here, not in content but in size. When we would do pastors’ conferences and a few hundred of them would show up, as we worshiped, they would just weep because they’re not used to singing to God with so many people. Two hundred is just crazy!
The need was great. I got to see hostility…genuine, legitimate, demon-wrought, awful hostility…toward the people of God. Violence where there’s no 911 to call. Murder where there will be no justice this side of glory. Oppression. Theft. A marginalization and enslavement. On and on and on I could go. A hostility toward the people of God that we don’t have parameters for here. I hear us talking, “Growing secularization. It won’t be long.” Hey, don’t giggle, because I think they’re right.
I think they’re right, but we’re a long way from being dragged out of our houses and beaten to death while the government does nothing but cheer on the mob. Last year was a bloody year for our brothers and sisters around the globe. It was an awful, bloody year. The need is so great, so I found myself disturbed and compelled and driven. Then a couple of weeks ago, John Piper wrote a blog on the Desiring God site. I would strongly encourage you to look it up and find it.
He was quoting a guy named Robert Woodberry, who is a sociologist who did 10 years of research on really the effect of Christianity globally. He said what he found was like an “atomic bomb” to him. The atomic bomb was where Protestants landed globally for the purpose of conversion. Not just digging wells (although I’m for that), not just providing aid (although I’m for that), but where we have landed as
Protestants for the purpose of conversion. “We believe you’re outside of the will and kingdom of God. We have come to speak the gospel so you might receive the gospel and become followers of Christ.” Those countries, those cities, those towns where conversion had been made a priority were in far better shape in every other measurable, including socioeconomic, disease.
All the build-outs of what we would deem as healthy cultural growth were found not in trying to establish those things but rather in seeking converts. Why? Because it’s a transformed heart that transforms lives that transforms neighborhoods that transforms towns that transforms cities that transforms countries. It’s not policy. It’s new hearts. What the gospel promises is new hearts.
Here’s where I want to go. I want to lay before you what I believe is a compelling view of what God can do, what God has promised to do, and what God has invited us into. That’s my plan. That’s it. With that said, I want to just read a verse most of us know. If you’re not a believer, you probably won’t know this verse, but if you are, I think you will. Philippians 1:21. Here’s what it says: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
The Word of God, this Book of ours, it’s important how you view it as a Christian. Let me say it to you. This is the inerrant Word of God. There is not a wasted word in this Book. When the Holy Spirit of God breathed into the apostle Paul as he penned this letter to the churches in Philippi, when he wrote, “For to me…” that matters. It’s not a throwaway with the real point being “…to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” We have to do something with that “For to me…”
Here’s what I want to do with the“For to me…” I want to see who this guy is who wrote, “For to me…” To look at what’s going on here, let’s flip back to Acts, chapter 7. Before the apostle Paul wrote the letter to the church at Philippi, a church he planted and founded… You can read about that in the book of Acts; Acts 16 is where Philippi is planted. Before he was writing this letter, he went by another name. That other name was Saul of Tarsus.
Saul of Tarsus was a Pharisee of Pharisees, brilliant with the law. A passionate, zealous man. A brilliant man, by far one of the greater intellects in the Christian faith, although it always helps to have the Holy Spirit flowing Scripture through you in regard to intellect (just because the Holy Spirit just is never wrong). You just write what the Holy Spirit says, and you’re always going to be right. That’s kind of a sweet gig there he had.
Let’s look at his early life, because I think his early life is important for the things we’re talking about tonight. Acts, chapter 7. If you don’t know the story well, here’s the narrative. Stephen was one of the seven chosen by the apostles to serve the widows at mealtime to make sure they got the food they needed. One of the high priests asked Stephen a question, and Stephen answered it by preaching a very un-seeker-friendly sermon. He just walked through the Old Testament and accused the Jews in the first century of always killing the prophets of God.
“It doesn’t matter who God sends you, you guys want to put him to death. It doesn’t matter who God sends you, you always want to turn your back on them. You don’t want to listen to God.” Near the end of Stephen’s sermon, the crowd was so enraged that the verse before we’re about to read says they covered their ears, and they started to scream to stop listening to him. Then they rushed him, grabbed him, and dragged him outside the town to kill him by stoning him to death, by pelting him with rocks until he died.
We’ll pick it up there. Verse 58: “Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.” Remember that, “For to me…”? This is, “For to me…” Saul of Tarsus. “And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, ’Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, ’Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” Chapter 8, verse 1: “And Saul approved of his execution.”
I can hardly get my head around the horror of watching a man get bashed to death with stones by a mob, much less heartily approving and loving watching it. This is Saul of Tarsus. In fact, the Bible says these brothers who are pelting Stephen with rocks have drawn up a sweat beating this man to death, and they’ve taken off their outer garments. Saul is going, “I’ll hold them. Make sure you can get a good range of motion. I’ll hold those things.”
They laid their outer cloaks with Saul of Tarsus. Saul heartily approves of the execution of Stephen. Heartily approves! He thought it was a good, right thing. Then look there in verse 1. We’ll read it again. “And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.” Verse 2: “Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him.”
Listen to verse 3. “But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.” Again, don’t read these verses in a sterile kind of myth category. In real life, Saul of Tarsus is kicking open doors house to house and dragging people into the street and imprisoning them for loving Jesus.This is not showing up in the assembly and shutting it down. This is your front door kicked open, you and your wife, you and your husband, grabbed by your hair, dragged out into the street, and arrested for belief in Christ. This is Saul of Tarsus.
Then if we go to chapter 9, verse 1, if you have a header in your Bible, you’ll see there that it says, “The Conversion of Saul,” but look how it starts. “But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.”
Saul isn’t some sort of passive persecutor. He is active. He is looking for more legal permission in which to inflict sorrow, shame, and death upon the church of Jesus Christ. He went to them. They didn’t go, “Saul, we’ve just seen your gift set. We’ve seen how you’re ravaging the church, kicking open front doors, dragging people out, how you’re filled with venom and violence toward these people. We have a job for you. We found some of these scum in Damascus. We want you to head down there. We want you to lead them back here bound in chains that we might knock them to let this new Way scatter and be done with.”
That’s not what happened. Saul went to them. “Hey, I’ve heard some of this nonsense that’s going on in Damascus. If you’ll give to me the papers, I’ll head down there. I’ll find them. I’ll bind them, and I’ll lead them back here in a parade of shame so we might discourage all of this nonsense to cease.” This is a dark man. This is a dark man! Here’s what I love about Saul of Tarsus. Saul of Tarsus stands as such a trophy of God’s grace that it should drive out of our heads forever that there is anyone beyond the saving mercy of Jesus Christ.
Listen. If we can categorize this brother right here, we’re not thinking, “Oh, the Muslim extremist can come to Christ and can be the source of a revival across the globe.” We don’t think that way. We’re too small, so navel-gazing. “I screwed up again.” I think we have a tendency to believe Christianity is genetic. It’s not genetic. I mean, tonight, today, across the globe God just needs to will it, and we have another Saul of Tarsus who becomes an apostle Paul.
Don’t email me. I’m not talking “big A” apostle. No, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying a ferocious, unbelievable missionary for the name and renown of Jesus Christ can be born like that. Lament over the darkness of the world, but don’t think it’s out of the control of God. You think anyone saw that coming? In fact, I know they didn’t see it coming, because, if we had time, we could read that chapter 9. Saul of Tarsus gets on his horse and is riding to Damascus. God is done with this nonsense. Bam! Knocks him off his horse with a bright light and speaks to him.
“’Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And he said, ’Who are you, Lord?’ And he said, ’I am Jesus [of Nazareth], whom you are persecuting.’” To persecute the church of Christ is to persecute Christ. Then from there, Saul of Tarsus, blind, goes on into Damascus. God comes to a man named Ananias and says, “Ananias, I want you to go heal Saul of Tarsus. You’ll find him down on Straight Street.” Ananias does a check. He is like, “Saul of Tarsus? The man who has caused your people so much trouble?”
I always like when people ask God questions back, like God hadn’t thought it through. You know? It’s just like, “Okay, I hear you. I want to just lay something before you as the eternal Sovereign of the universe that this guy has not been good for us, has not been good for your people.” God answers Ananias, “Go and heal him. He’ll be my apostle to the Gentiles.” “For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” Ananias goes, and he heals Saul of Tarsus. Saul of Tarsus becomes the apostle Paul who wrote, “For to me…”
Let’s be very careful who we think our enemies are. Let’s be very careful who we think our enemies are! The Bible is clear our enemies are not flesh and blood. They’re not flesh and blood! Far too many of us wish we were in the Old Testament, right? We wish we could just go, “Kill the giants of Gath.” Wouldn’t it be easier if our enemies were physical? We could just take a club to them. But our enemies aren’t physical. They’re demonic and spiritual.
Be careful how you categorize and define those who stand in opposition toward Jesus Christ. Look at me. They are not our enemies and should be viewed with the compassion that we would long for ourselves before we were found by his grace. Do you not know that you were hostile in your mind toward him? Do you not realize you, in your heart, were no better than Saul of Tarsus? You’ve been saved by grace alone. You think you’re so talented, God needed you on the team? “I’d really like to do some stuff, but golly, I need a moderately-committed dude in Dallas to really make this global thing work for me.”
No, stop it. No! Be careful. We have an enemy. He is like a lion looking for somebody to devour, and he is angry because he has already lost. We’ll get to watch him bow his knees, and we’ll get to watch him destroyed forever. Our enemies right now are not flesh and blood. “Well, what about…?” It doesn’t matter what you put on the backside of that, “What about…?” because I have a brother right here who is kicking open doors and dragging Christians out into the street and responsible for murdering them.
In fact, in his own testimony in 1 Timothy, he calls himself a blasphemer and an insolent opponent. Do you know what an insolent opponent it? It’s someone who it doesn’t matter what the facts are; they’re going to keep arguing. All right, this will be good for confession. Husbands, wives, have you ever been in an argument and, in the middle of the argument, you realize you’re wrong? But you don’t care. “It’s too deep. It’s too late! I’m going to keep pushing!” Let’s go. Confession. Get your hands up. You’d better get your hands up, man. You’ll make me angry. You absolutely have. Don’t be leaving me on an island.
I mean, I’ve literally gone, “Dang it! She is right. I don’t care. It’s too late! I’m in!” Well, this is what Paul said he was like. It didn’t matter what you put in front of him. He is an insolent opponent, a blasphemer, a violent man. This is his testimony about himself. “For to me…” Isaiah 59:1 says, “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear.”
On that road to Damascus, Christ saves the apostle Paul supernaturally. I joke about this a lot. He is not reading Keller’s book The Reason for God. He hadn’t stumbled on to Lewis’ Mere Christianity. He is not a seeker. He is not interested. He doesn’t think we’re right. “We are against God, needing to be stamped out with oppression, death, and torture.” That’s Paul’s mindset on the road to Damascus. He is not reconsidering what he believes. He is insolent in his opposing the gospel.
God doesn’t care. God doesn’t go, “Oh. I need somebody to tell this dude.” He just saves him, but I want you to listen to how Paul describes his salvation. If you have your Bibles, flip over to Galatians, chapter 1. I love Paul’s description of what God did when God saved Saul of Tarsus to be the apostle Paul. Remember, all we’re discussing right now is, “For to me…” It becomes imperative that we get this picture in our heads of who is saying these words.
Here’s Galatians, chapter 1, starting in verse 15. “But when he who had set me apart before I was born…” I would highlight that. “…and who called me by his grace…” I would highlight that. That’s one and two. “…was pleased to reveal his Son to me…” That’s three. “…in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone.” Okay, a couple of things I want you to see in this text that are both kind of mind scrambling. Here’s the first one.
The apostle Paul just said in this text, “…he who had set me apart before I was born…” “Before I was, God had set me aside.” Think back to our sanctity of human life argument. “Before I was born, God set me aside.” To do what? “To be the apostle to the Gentiles.” Here’s what we have. Here’s what’s a bit of a mind scrambler. What do we do with the fact that when Saul of Tarsus was a young man, he heartily applauded the murder of Stephen, a man the Bible said was full of the Holy Spirit? What we know from the Bible is Stephen is one of those men adopted by God, a son of God, an heir of God, a co-heir with Christ.
What do we do with the fact that Saul, before that road to Damascus, was kicking open doors and oppressing the people of God? If Paul’s understanding is that it’s before he was born that God set him aside to do this apostolistic work among the Gentiles (non-Jews), what do we do with these 30 years of blatant wickedness against God, not just random violence? Are you tracking with this? It’s not just random violence. He is not some just gritty, kind of grimy dude who grew up with an abusive dad who is out there handling business. That’s not what this is!
It’s focused, dialed-in persecution and oppression against the people of God, and God set him aside to be the apostle. Two quick things. Look at me. First, there is no one in this room beyond the saving work of Jesus Christ. What Christ does when he ransoms us is he redeems our darkest moments for his purposes and snatches it out of the hands of the Enemy so shame gives way to the glory of God. The illustration I always like to use when we talk about this is when we do baptisms.
Think how absurd baptism testimonies are. Men and women get in our baptisteries, and they let out some of the darkest secrets in their lives to a room of thousands of strangers. Who does that? Well, you only do it if you understand that that now is God’s glory and no longer your shame. See what just happened? All the wickedness of our rebellion against God is snatched out of the Devil’s ability to accuse us or to blame us, and they become trophies of God’s saving grace.
If you’re in here, you have no hurdle between you and the saving work of Christ, the freeing work of Christ, but your surrender. If you’re like, “Oh, it can’t be me because of this, this, and this,” you’re not listening. What? You want to throw your cards on the table against this full house? You have a little pair of twos you want to throw on the table? It’s like, “Please!” You know? I mean, you’re just not going to win. You don’t have a hand. You have such a weak hand against this.
Some of you are like, “Do you play cards?” No, I don’t. All right? I play Uno with my kids. In the end, I want you to see that, but I also want you to notice this. I want you to hear this because this is profound and should embolden missions to the ends of the earth in the most difficult places among the most dangerous peoples.
In Revelation, chapter 5, starting in verse 9, it says this: “And they sang a new song, saying, ’Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth [forever].’” Look right at me. Jesus Christ did not die on the cross for those who might believe. He died on the cross for those who will believe.
Christ did not cross his fingers on the cross and hope this worked. “I certainly hope this blood sacrifice works. I sure hope they’ll choose me. I sure hope they’ll select me. After all I’ve done for them, I certainly hope they believe.” No! He spilled his blood for those who have already been ransomed from every tribe, tongue, and nation on earth. The reason this emboldens global missions is that it means they’re already out there in every city, in every town, in every village, in every little makeshift gathering of humanity, among every language that’s spoken, among every people group.
Regardless of their hostility toward the gospel, they have been bought by his blood, and he will call them to himself. Praise his name he invites us to play. He invites us to play! I mean, you think how crazy that is. He invites us to play! “Well, I’m just so imperfect.” You are! That’s what makes this so incredible. If you were awesome, it’s not as incredible, right? It’s the fact you’re not and he still does it that is. He went to the cross and purchased for God men and women from every tribe, tongue, and nation on earth to become a people that they might rule on earth with him forever.
He says before he was born, God set him apart. What we see is God redeems our past, and what we see is God has saved, by the blood of Jesus, men and women from all over the world. This mission doesn’t fail. It can’t. Then did you see how he saved them? By his grace. The apostle Paul was saved by grace just like you and me, just like the people all over the world. There was nothing in Paul that made him valuable to God outside of the fact that the apostle Paul was blood-bought by Jesus.
We’re all saved by grace alone. It’s why our enemies have to be spiritual enemies and not flesh and blood, because it’s by grace that we’re saved. Do you understand the implications of being saved by grace alone? It means we have, according to the Bible, nothing to boast in. Nothing! Again, I think some of the Bible Belt laws, Bible Belt kind of ideas, I have to kind of try to rip to shreds here. “Well, I was a good parent. I did this, and I did that.” Praise God you did the things God has asked you to do as a godly mother or father. That didn’t save your kids! You can’t save them. Only God can.
What we do do, as I say over and over, is we’re going to get all of the kindling around their little hearts as we can. We want to get as much dry sticks and hay. We’re going to read the Bible. We’re going to pray. We’re going to celebrate confession in my house. We’re going to celebrate it. It’s an act of the Holy Spirit (confession is). It’s a picture that God is dwelling in you for you to hate sin enough to go, “I hate this! I don’t want to do this!” Celebrate that when your kids do it. That’s an act of God.
I can’t save Audrey. I can’t save Reid or Norah. What am I going to do? Can I make them behave? Yeah, through fear. Is that a win? If they call you, “Yes, sir,” is that a win? Not if their souls haven’t been made alive in Christ. I’m still going to push them to be respectful, but it’s by grace we’re saved so we have nothing to boast in.
Then I love the little third part of this. Not only did God set him aside from before he was born, not only was he saved only by grace, but do you remember the last part in that Galatians text? “For it pleased the Father to reveal the Son to me.” I don’t know how you read the Bible. I just try to get in it. I like to think about, “What are the other pieces? What’s going on here?” I like to think of Paul just angry, can’t wait to get there. He probably sharpened his sword, putting the saddle on the horse, climbing in, ready to just make war.
God is up in heaven going, “All right. Today is the day, boss. I’ve been waiting on this one for about 42…” He just knows the exact spot on the road to Damascus. He is going to be like bam! Knock him off his horse. It made God happy to save him. Think about how that destroys how many different ways we think about God. If there was ever a dude who deserved to get lit up, it’s Saul of Tarsus. Listen. We can giggle right now, but if you know Saul of Tarsus, we’re probably praying, “God, light that fool up!”
I’m reading. You just start loving the Old Testament again. Like, “Hmm. This dude’s guts just burst open with worms. Yeah, I like that one, Lord. I like that one a lot. Oh, look at this. Fire fell out of the sky. This chick turned into salt. I like that one. Lord, I was just thinking as I read your Holy Word…Saul of Tarsus, pillar of salt.” No. By grace before he was born, despite his rebellion. “For to me…” Out of “For to me…” comes this resolution “…to live is Christ…”
We have a bunch of church folks, so I know, “Of course! To live is Christ!” However, what I have found in my own life as well as in the lives of others, the confession often lacks the conviction of actually living that out. But for Paul, the confession and the conviction were inseparably linked, because he had seen the bankruptcy of everything else.
He had seen Lydia in Philippi (house in Thyatira, house in Philippi), fashionista, super wealthy woman. What did her wealth and comfort get her? Nothing. Bankrupt. He had seen it. He knew not to put his hope in comfort, put his hope in wealth. He knew it was vanity. It wouldn’t work. It wouldn’t matter. So when he says, “…to live is Christ…” he has already seen the bankruptcy of the god of our day, which is comfort.
Then he had seen the jailer. He had seen a disciplined life built on principles, “Yes, sirs” and, “No, sirs,” and up at 5:00 a.m. and beds made where a quarter would flip off of them, military precision, faithful service to country. He had seen it, and he had seen that soldier pull out a sword and get ready to kill himself for his failures before the apostle Paul said, “Wait.” He had seen the bankruptcy of that.
He had seen the bankruptcy of being religious but not knowing Jesus. He called it rubbish. When he says, “…to live is Christ,” what he is saying is all other pursuits are bankrupt. They’re slavery. They’re not going to work. “For to me to live is Christ…” If you had all your energy and all your devotion and all your passion to that end, you still wouldn’t have all he deserves. So Paul adds on, “…to die is gain.” It’s been my experience that among most evangelicals, we don’t have a category for this one anymore, because we’re life-lovers.
It’s like we’ve lost the ability. Some spiritual part of our brain doesn’t understand anymore that what’s coming for us is a billion times infinity better than anything now. We just love life more than we should. We don’t want to risk; don’t want anything dangerous. The god we worship is the god who keeps us out of danger, keeps us safe, and never asks us to risk. Again, what a paltry, small, unbiblical god that is to worship. No, to die is gain.
Look at me. Hear me. This is so true. I don’t know if you’re going to like it or not, but I don’t think you can argue with it. To understand that dying is gain is the ultimate freedom. I heard Ravi Zacharias one time ask (he didn’t give an answer to the question because it doesn’t need it) this question: “Do you think after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead you could do anything to scare him?” I thought it was a great question.
After Jesus tells Lazarus (dead for four days) to come out of the grave and he walks out, do you think for the rest of his life you could scare him? He had already been dead. “We’ll kill you, Lazarus.” “Okay. I’ve already done that. If you kill me, it will be quicker, because last time I was sick for days before I died.” How are you going to scare a guy who knows to die is gain? The apostle Paul says, “…to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
In fact, let me read this text to you. It’s one I so appreciate. Second Corinthians 5:8 says, “Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” There is a greater day coming, there is a greater beauty coming, there is every experience of pleasure, and comfort in this world is a shadow of what was originally created before sin fractured it and made the experience of comfort and pleasure less than what it would have been before sin entered the world.
As Christians, we are not men and women who live for this life only. Enjoy your life. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, the book of Psalms is filled with the command of God to enjoy the blessings of God here and now, but they make crummy gods. Fullness of life is not found in comfort and wealth. It’s just not. I think one of the reasons I get agitated at the video game culture is everybody wants to have a “Call of Duty.” Everybody wants to be a part of Black Ops. They want their lives to matter.
I have a good friend who joked around. John Bryson is his name. He is in Memphis. He said, “Call of Duty. Is that the one where you lie around on your couch in your pajamas?” No, we’ve been called to something greater. Here’s what we believe. Let me just lay down the grid. We believe all Christians have been called at some capacity to God’s global glory in letting the gospel go out to the ends of the earth. Many of us will go. Most of us will send. All of us will pray.
Are you tracking with me? If you’re not in that little three, you’re disobedient. Some of us are going to go. Outside in the foyer we have all these tables of men and women who have gone, organizations that send. Some of us are going to give money. Others of us are going to just do support. We’re going to encourage, send packages, help in any way we can.
All of us are going to pray, because if we’re not in one of those three lanes, we’re being disobedient. I want to show you just one of the many things we’re doing around the world. This is Rift Valley Fellowship in Kenya. I’ll let you watch my friend, Pastor Isaac.
Isaac Munji: My name is Isaac Munji, the lead pastor of Rift Valley Fellowship in Maai Mahiu, Kenya. In 2012, God gave me a vision of planting Rift Valley Fellowship Church with the vision of reaching out to families in Maai Mahiu town. These people have been hurting for a long time, and they have opted to take drugs and to just, for men, get involved in alcohol and just drinking. Six hundred women in this town are involved in the prostitution business.
As a result of all of that, HIV and AIDS are very high in this town. The population is 5,000 people living in this town. There are a lot of orphans as a result of now their parents dying and leaving their children. How about going to the root of the problem and reaching out to the families that are struggling, to the men and women who need to know Jesus Christ so they know God loves them and he can change their lives?
The Village Church has been supportive to my family and me as missionaries in Kenya. We are thankful for The Village Church. The Village Church…you are brothers and sisters, not just giving financially toward what we are doing and not just sending teams out there but even praying, continually supporting us through prayers and praying for Rift Valley Fellowship, praying for me and my wife and our family and the leaders in the Rift Valley Fellowship.
We are truly thankful, and we know, without a doubt, God brought The Village Church to come alongside the Rift Valley Fellowship in Maai Mahiu, Kenya, with a purpose…the purpose of reaching out to that community so together we can put a new banner, a banner of hope, in Maai Mahiu town.
[End of video]
This month the kind of umbrella over all of this series of sermons has really just been the idea of prayer and humbling ourselves before the Lord. What I want to do tonight is the same thing we did last week and the week before, which is just take a few minutes here and let’s just pray. Let’s pray for our church that God would raise up more and more men and women who would be willing to go to the ends of the earth. Let’s pray God would teach us and help us understand how to support and encourage.
Let’s ask the Lord that we’d pray more faithfully in our services and spend time really asking the Lord to accomplish what he has guaranteed us he will accomplish. Specifically, let me lay a couple of things before you. We’ve been partnering with the EPC church in South Sudan for many years now. The violence there has really increased. There’s a lot of death around where we work, a lot of people killed on the road between Yei and Juba (Juba is the capital of South Sudan).
One of the generals for the army in the south was actually a member of the EPC church we work with and was killed on the road to Yei last week. The sanctuary there in the EPC was turned into kind of a makeshift refugee camp for those fleeing the violence there. We have spent years now training pastors out of that compound to go into Uganda and go into Kenya and to go throughout Sudan.
God has been doing a profound work there, but it’s violent and hostile and bloody. It’s real. It’s not a movie we’re about to head out to, maybe eat dinner again, maybe grab some ice cream with friends, then go to our warms beds and sleep safely with 911, getting anything to our disposal that we want. It is not so with our brothers and sisters all around the world. Let’s pray. We’ve just seen nothing is too hard for God.
Here’s what I want the Lord even tonight while we plead… Maybe he has willed our prayers tonight would be what called up that Iranian man to belief, called up that Iraqi man to belief, that Saudi Arabian man to belief, that we might see a revival break forth in the Middle East, that among the Muslims in the north in South Sudan, God might raise up more men who passionately preach and proclaim the name of Jesus.
Let’s pray. He hears us. We’re allowed to approach and ask for these things because he told us he is going to do them. Let’s pray. If you’re not sure how that works here… If you’re with your husband or wife and want to pray that way, great. If that’s weird, you’re by yourself, you can pray by yourself. I love the awkwardness of it, so if you don’t know anybody, just lean in to somebody else and say, “Hey, I’m praying with you because he said to.”
Let’s pray. I’m going to give you about five minutes here. Let’s pray for the ends of the earth. Jesus said when the gospel reaches the end of the earth, then the end will come. There are all sorts of arguments about what he is meaning by that. My hope is Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus. End this madness. Let’s pray. Let’s pray together. Let’s go. They’re out there right now, men and women bought with his blood. Pray for our church.
Father, we thank you that you hear our prayers. I pray our prayers would fill your throne room. We pray for the sake of your name, for the glory that is due you and you alone, you might snatch out of darkness more men and women hostile to your name, because we know those who have rebelled most aggressively against you when experiencing grace become some of your brightest lights. I pray you might use us however you see fit.
I pray you would call up hundreds and then hundreds more and then hundreds more who would be willing to forsake cheap, temporary, transient pleasures and sow into eternity, not driven by guilt but by calling, not with a romantic notion of what missions is but a compelling drive of gospel love and a passion for your name. I pray for the men and women representing the tables out in our foyer. God, we pray for them tonight wherever they are. Thank you for the three families we got to commission last week who are already on their way out, some already in their locations.
I pray you would press on our hearts to this end. Help us navigate systems and help us navigate how to build and organize to this end. Thank you for the sending program and all the opportunities there are to explore this. I thank you, Father, that Romans 5 and following…they’re not a guess; they’re what are coming. I thank you that you invite us to play in such sacred spaces. I pray we would be faithful to pray, we’d be faithful to send, and we’d be faithful to go. It’s for your beautiful name I pray, amen.