In 17 days (September 11, 2011) Americans, and maybe some others as well, will be marking the 10th anniversary of 9/11. The very fact that we can say the term 9/11 and know that almost everybody knows what we’re talking about is remarkable. The first plane that hit the first tower had 92 people in it, and they all died instantly in a fireball. The second plane had 65 people in it, and when it hit the second tower, they all died instantly. Some minutes later, those two towers collapsed in an unforgettable moment for us, and 2,595 people perished.
The third plane had 64 people on it and smashed into the Pentagon. They all died that moment, and the 125 people in the Pentagon died that moment. And the fourth plane, most remarkably, had 45 people on it and they gave themselves up to die in a field in Pennsylvania. Where that plane was heading, nobody knows. The total was 2,986 people that died in a matter of hours.
Two years later, there was an earthquake in Bam, Iran, and 10 times that number died in one night. And two years after that, there was a tsunami in the Indian Ocean, and 10 times more people than in Bam died in one night. Closer to home, for America two weeks ago one helicopter was shot down by a ground rocket. I talked to one chaplain and he said, “It was just a lucky shot by a ground rocket, and now 31 of our young boys are dead in one moment in Afghanistan.” And, of course, for you yesterday, 11 people burned to death in a house. The circumstances surrounding it are so painfully tragic, as I read them.
We would all be stunned speechless if we were made to watch the car accidents that kill 50,000 people every year in America. And lest we think these are unusual statistics, 50 million people die every year in the world, 6,000 every hour, and 100 every minute. My question is, what does Jesus want us to learn about our lives from that, particularly from yesterday’s fire? Let’s just bring it home. What is Brisbane supposed to hear from that?
Repent or Perish
Jesus’s answer to that question is found in Luke 13:1–5. I’ll read it to you. If a news reporter came after a calamity like this and asked, “Where was God?” or, “What would Jesus say?” and they want you to say something, here’s what he would say. I’m going to read you the voice of Jesus to Brisbane:
Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?
The situation is that Pilate had taken some pilgrims, who had come to worship in Jerusalem, and slaughtered them in the temple and mingled their blood with the sacrifices that they were going to give. And people came to Jesus with this news, saying, “What do you make of this?” He answered:
No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.
Now what we know about Jesus is that he could weep over his city. We know that from Luke 19:41–44. Jesus wept when he looked at Jerusalem. He said:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! (Luke 13:34).
So he could weep over a perishing people, and we know that. We’re told in Romans 12:15 to “weep with those who weep.” The first response of a soul to suffering is shared pain. Something is wrong with your heart if your first thought is analytical. But after a few days or months — and maybe it’s too early for this in Brisbane — families need answers, and sympathetic, soft, gentle hugs just won’t cut it anymore. They will think, “I want to know something about this. I appreciate your sympathy, but I need something under my feet. I need this to fit in somewhere, somehow.”
And Jesus gives us that. He talks about ultimate reality. He deals with God, sin, judgment, and salvation. Those are the big issues in life, and we need to know how things relate. So he says, “Are you astonished that these Galileans were slaughtered in the temple? Are you astonished that they were walking by the tower in Siloam, and it just fell on them? They were just doing nothing and it killed 18 of them. Are you astonished at that?” And they said, “Yes, we are astonished. What do you make of it?” And his answer is, “You’re astonished at the wrong thing. What you should be astonished at is that you weren’t under the tower when it fell. What you should be astonished at is that you were not in the temple slaughtered with those Galileans.”
And what Brisbane should be astonished at is that they weren’t in the burning house. That’s what Jesus says. The astonishing thing is not that 9/11 events happen, and tsunamis happen, and burning houses happen, and helicopters getting shot down happens, and cancer happens; that’s not the astonishing thing in a world full of hell-deserving sinners. The astonishing thing is that this roof has not fallen on us yet. That’s the astonishing thing. And until our hearts are so changed about our own sense of unworthiness before an infinite God and the preciousness of a Savior who comes into the world to die for sinners and hold back the wrath of God; until we are amazed that we are alive, that we are breathing, and that this building has not exploded yet, we won’t comprehend the gospel. We won’t comprehend what life is about.
So I conclude that God is setting the stage for us in these things to make sense out of life. Life hangs by a thread of grace. Your life tonight, where you are sitting, is hanging by a thread of grace. I don’t know if you're like me, but when I go to bed I always sleep on my left side, and right in front of me is a clock. And often, I just take my pulse as I’m going to sleep and count it, just to see what it is. And it occurs to me that I don’t have any control at all over whether that keeps going — absolutely none, but God does.
He wants you to feel utterly, totally dependent on him and his grace. He owns every one of you. You are not your own. He created you and, therefore, he owns you. You belong to him by virtue of him bringing you into being. You might say, “Well, my parents brought me into being.” No, they brought your body into being. And even there, God did it.
But what about you? You know you’re more than a body. You know you’re more than chemicals. I don’t care what evolutionists tell you about simple matter, energy, and time producing you. You know better. You know that love is more than chemicals. You know that hate is more than chemicals. You know that deep sacrifice for the people you love is more than chemicals. You know this about yourself. God did that. You are made in the image of God. It is an awesome thing to be a human being, an absolutely, unspeakably great thing. And God owns you. He decides what a wasted and unwasted life is.
Not Our Own
Job had 10 children. Remember that story from the Old Testament? It wasn’t a fire, but it might as well have been. It wasn’t 11, but it was 10, and they were precious. A wind came and the house collapsed. And they were all dead — all 10 children.
In America last week, at a rock concert, an inexplicably sudden wind came up. I watched this on YouTube. My son posted this on his blog. I tweeted about it afterwards, and I said, “Save your ‘Oh my Gods’ for the brink of eternity. They will sound less empty that way.” I said that because in this video you watch this wind come up, and there’s this huge video screen with metal lights. In the clip, it starts waving in the wind and then it just totally collapses, and six people are crushed to death right in front of these tens of thousands of young people. The person taking the video captures the reaction to these young people saying, “Oh my God! My God!” At that moment, that’s not a bad thing to say.
Job lost 10 children, all of them, in that kind of event. Then he went down on the ground and it says in the Bible that he tore his robe, shaved his head, fell on the ground, and worshiped, and said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). May God give me the grace to respond like that when bad news comes. Later in the book, he says:
In his hand is life, the life of every living thing and the breadth of all mankind (Job 12:10).
Or think about the story of Hannah. She was barren for years and couldn't have any children, so she went up to the temple and pleaded with God to give her a child. Eli thought she was drunk and criticized her, but God assured her that she’d have a baby. She had the baby, named Samuel, and she gave him back to the Lord three years later. And she sang this magnificent song, and in it she says:
The Lord kills and the Lord brings to life;
he brings down to Sheol, and he raises up (1 Samuel 2:6).
And God himself says:
See now that I, even I, am he,;
and there is no god beside me;
I kill and I make alive;
I wound and I heal;
and there is none that can deliver out of my hand (Deuteronomy 32:39).
What I’m saying is that your life is totally God’s. You belong to God by right of creation. He made you. And you hang by a thread of grace. Whether you live through this message will depend entirely on God and not on you. One of my favorite passages of Scripture, because it sobers me in my daily living, is James 4:13–16. It goes like this:
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.
So it’s arrogant to say, “I’m going to Sydney tomorrow morning”? Yes it is, unless implicit in my soul is the statement, “If the Lord keeps the plane in the air,” or, “If the Lord doesn’t let my heart stop,” or, “If the Lord wills I will live until tomorrow morning and go to Sydney.” If I don’t implicitly know that, feel that, and say that, at least in my mind, I'm arrogant. In other words, it’s arrogant not to know our real condition and to presume we control our lives. God will get me to Sydney tomorrow or I won’t get there.
God owns us, totally. We are his. He has the right to take us out or leave us here. He does nobody any wrong, ever. If this ceiling collapsed right now and all 3,200 of us perished, God would have done nobody any wrong. He has the rights over our lives, totally. I am his. You are his, He gave you life, and he can take your life anytime he pleases. You can’t take my life. I can’t take your life. That would be an injustice. Why? Not because I have rights over my life, and you dare not touch it, or you have rights over your life and I dare not touch it; rather, it’s because God has rights over our lives, and we dare not touch his right. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Keep your hands off that baby in the womb and outside the womb.
So we’re God’s, and he defines what life is for, which is where this message is going. If God governs me, loves me, sustains me, sends his Son into the world to die for my sins and rise again to give me the hope of eternal life, then I want to know what my life is for. I don’t want to waste it. I don’t want to throw it away. Jesus is very jealous that we do not waste our one life. It’s going by very fast. I’m 65 years old, and my life is rushing over the precipice of my present, from future to past. The waterfall of time just seems to rush faster and faster. So I join Jesus in not wanting to waste my life. He says:
A person’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions (Luke 12:15).
So the first thing he does is deliver us from any notion that this life is about getting, earning, having, amassing, owning, and possessing. It’s not. That’s not what life is for. Jesus said:
The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, “What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?” And he said, “I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’” But God said to him, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God (Luke 12:16–21).
What do you think that last phrase means? That’s a puzzling phrase to me. I get the first half of it, lay up treasures for myself. I know what that is. It's just about getting and wanting more. And then this man says, “Maybe I’ve got enough. I can feel secure, relax, and be. This is what life is about. I’m sitting on cash. Therefore, I control my future.” God says, “Fool.” And Jesus says, “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” That last part is the part that’s puzzling, isn’t it? I’ll tell you what I think that means. And we won’t linger on it, but I could try to defend it.
I think it means you’re a fool if you treasure the world and don’t count God as your riches. You don’t count God as your treasure. You don’t see something supremely valuable in him, rather than the world. That’s a fool. A fool looks around the world and says, “Yes. Give me that! Give me that!” And God’s looking out there and says, “Excuse me?” Jeremiah 2:13 says:
Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.
That’s Brisbane and Minneapolis. People are sniffing at God and saying, “No, I don’t think so.” And then they dig and start sucking on the ground, saying, “Oh, that’s good. That’s good. I’ll eat sand the rest of my life in Brisbane and Minneapolis,” and God looks down and says, “Fool. You are laying up for yourself ephemeral pieces of paper that can buy you, at the most, 80 years of happiness and then, eternal suffering.” That’s not a deal.
When the creator of the universe, our redeemer, and the most magnificent person that has ever been or will ever be, offers himself for our eternal fellowship, and we turn away from the living fountain to hew out cisterns, how foolish is that? Jesus is jealous that you do not waste your life. He says:
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:34–37).
So you can gain the whole world, billions of dollars like Bill Gates, and then it’s over. Have you ever known anybody — you can learn from experience if not from the Bible — who was heartened, made hopeful, and encouraged by being reminded of how big their bank account was? None. It doesn’t work that way. It just seems to work that way when you’re healthy, and it’s a mirage. It’s a waste. You’re wasting your life when you devote yourself to amassing stuff.
Only One Life
It’s interesting that Bruce, in his introduction, quoted what he heard as a young man because there was a plaque hanging over the sink in our kitchen from 1952 when the house was built, until I left for college in 1964 in Greenville, South Carolina that said:
Only one life ‘twill soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.
So I grew up as a little boy seeing that every day, and ever since I can remember, which would be about high school, I have dreaded wasting my life. There are few things that I fear more than wasting my life. I’m 65 now. I don’t know how much I have left, but I still tremble at the thought of wasting the next 5, 10, or 15 years.
I had those who were 40 and under raise your hands. Do you know why? Because I have a son pushing 40, which means I’m old enough to be the father of everybody who raised his hand. I don’t know many of you, but I come in here thinking along the lines of me being your father. I have sons. I want my sons to be saved, and I want them not to waste their lives. I want it really bad. I would die for it in a minute, and I feel that way about you.
I want to talk to that generation. I’m glad there’s a lot of you in the older generation like me, because I have a word for you. My guess is that Australia, like America, spends billions of dollars to persuade people my age to waste their lives. They persuade us to get the right kind of recreation vehicle, buy the right kind of away place, get the right kind of boat, and then play for 20 years — bingo, bridge, shuffleboard, collecting shells — as we get ready to meet Jesus with scars in his hands to give an account of our lives, saying, “Look at my shell collection. Was that a good use of 20 years, from 65 to 85?” Do you know what he’s going to say? Fool.
So I do care about you older folks, although I do feel a burden for the younger people because, though some of you will die young, most of you will live a full life. There’s always some young person dying at our church, it seems, and so I’m very aware that some of you who are under 40 in this room will not make it to 50 or even 45. So you might have five years left. Are you going to waste them, or are you going to discover what it means not to waste your life? So here we are at the key juncture of this message. I know I keep telling you not to waste your life because God owns it and he defines it. But what is the unwasted life?
The Unwasted Life
I’m just going to go right there now and try to say what it is. What does it mean not to waste your life based on what God says, not what I say? The text that I’m going to look at is Philippians 1:20–21. The unwasted life is a life that is devoted to displaying the worth of Jesus in everything you do and say. The unwasted life has a passion to joyfully display the supreme excellence of Christ by the way we live. In other words, God created this world and he created you, in order that you might be so satisfied in him that you display to the world his supreme value. So he’s getting all the attention and the glory, and you’re getting all the satisfaction. That’s a deal because it lasts forever. Psalm 16:11 says:
In your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
So he created this world and the way you don’t waste it is by displaying his worth. It’s about his worth, not our worth. Our worth consists in displaying his worth. That’s what mirrors are for. That’s what images are for. We’re created in the image of God, and what do images do? They image the one they’re an image of. We are designed to live and be so completely satisfied in who he is that our lives reflect that value, that all satisfying supreme worth. That’s what the unwasted life does. It falls so in love with God and all that he is for us in Jesus that when it lives, it magnifies his worth. So let me give you a text. Philippians 1:20 says:
…it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.
So what I hear there is a charter for life. I’m asking, “Paul, tell me what life is about. Why am I here?” And he says life is about magnifying Christ in life and death. Let me just make sure we get the word magnify right here, because you can magnify something in two ways — with a microscope or a telescope. How does Christ mean to be magnified by you in the world, like a microscope or a telescope? A microscope takes a very small thing that you can’t see and makes it look bigger than it is. So when Paul says, “I want to magnify Christ,” is that what he means? That’s blasphemy. It would be saying that he’s so teeny he needs a lot of help to be made to look bigger than he is.
Well, what does magnify mean then if it’s not that? Well, it’s what telescopes do. They magnify, but how do they magnify? They take things called stars, or galaxies, or supernovas that look tiny to sin-laden, darkened human beings, and it makes them look more like what they are. They’re not small at all. That’s the way Paul wants to magnify Christ. He looks tiny in Brisbane and in Minneapolis (which is my hometown, by the way). People go through their lives all day long and give him zero attention. The stars get more attention. The pavement under their feet and the rug on their living room floor gets more attention than Jesus or God gets.
He’s tiny to them. And the point of living is to live in such a way that he doesn’t look tiny to people anymore. They see you and, by what comes out of your mouth and what do with your life, he begins to look more like what he is; namely, infinitely valuable, infinitely strong, infinitely wise, and infinitely loving, because that’s what life is for.
We live in a way that makes him look that way, and this text shows how we do it. It says we live so that Christ might be honored, or magnified, in our bodies, whether by life or by death. How is it that you do that in life? The answer that is given in Philippians 3:7 goes like this:
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.
Better Than Life
Therefore, you make Christ look valuable by living in a way that shows you prefer him to everything else. Indeed, it means counting everything else as if it were rubbish compared to him. That’s the way you make him look magnificent, by valuing him over all other things. That means you use your money to show that Christ is more valuable than money. You eat food in a way that shows Christ is more precious than food. You use your house, your land, your car, your computer, etc. in a way that shows Christ is more valuable than all those things.
We could go into a lot of detail here, but I’m just getting at the core principle. You waste your life if you use your house in a way that people would say you value your house more than Jesus. You waste your life if you use your computer in a way that would make people reasonably think, “He values his computer more than Jesus.” You eat in a way that makes people think you need food more than you need Jesus.
Then what about magnifying Christ in death? Paul says, “I want to magnify Christ in my body, whether by life or by death.” How do you magnify Christ, make him look great, in your death? And his answer is given in the next verse. He says:
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21).
How is it gain when a Christian, a follower of Jesus, dies? He answers that in Philippians 1:23, which says:
My desire is to depart (die) and be with Christ, for that is far better.
So let’s put it all together now. Paul says, “My life will count and not be wasted if I can die in such a way that shows Christ is magnificent in my dying.” And then he explains, “That means Christ will be seen as magnificent if, in my dying, I count dying as gain; and dying will be counted as gain for me because when I die I get more of Christ.” It is far better to be with him than to be with your wife, your friends, your retirement, or your fiance. It’s better, infinitely better, to be with Christ.
Here’s a practical situation to consider. Let’s say you’re a 27-year-old young woman, and you’re sick with cancer and all the dreams are falling through your fingers. How, at that moment, do you make Christ look magnificent? You count death gain. What death does is take away everything in this world. You lose your wife. You lose your children. You lose your dreams of retirement. You lose everything, and all you get is Jesus. And if, at that moment, there is a heart expression as you’re in the hospital that says, “Gain,” the nurses will know that to you, at least, Christ is magnificent.
That’s what the unwasted life looks like magnifying the worth of Jesus in living and dying. Let me sum it up. Life and death are given to you. Life is given to you. Death is given to you. And they are given to you for this purpose: to display the supreme value of Christ in life, and to display the supreme value of Christ in death.
The supreme value of Christ is displayed when you treasure him above what life can give and death can take. You are treasuring him. He is so real to you, so precious to you, so all satisfying to you, so magnificent to you that, that when all these things are threatened to be taken away, you call it gain, or if you are left here for a season, then you use them so as to show he is more precious than them. We should use computers, cars, and houses, but the challenge of the Christian life is to use them to display the worth of Christ.
Remember that strange passage in 1 Corinthians 7:29–31?
…let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it.
It’s a very strange passage. He says, “Rejoice as though you were not rejoicing.” What in the world does that mean? It’s the mystery of living the Christian life. Of course, we should be the happiest people on the planet. We should stay in our marriages. We should work harder than anybody at our jobs. But there will be something about the way we hold onto these things. It won’t look like the way the world is clutching them, as if to say, “If I lose this, I lose everything.” No, you don’t. Treasuring him above all things is most clearly seen when you are gladly willing to risk for him and even die for him.
Sufficient Grace, Perfected Power
We’re drawing to a close here. Let me read you a text that captures this from 2 Corinthians 12. This is Paul again. Remember, before this passage he had just prayed, “Lord, I’ve got this thorn in my flesh, and it really hurts. I’ve asked you three times to take it away, and you haven’t taken it away.” And here’s what Jesus said back to Paul:
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Now test yourself here. The typical Australian, or typical American, would say, “I don’t give a rip about your power being shown in my weakness. I’d like to have this thorn out of my side. Thank you.” That’s what the typical, secular, unbelieving person would say, because they’re at the center of their universe. But here’s the way Paul responds to Jesus's words: “Your power is shown to be great in my weakness? That’s what you’re saying to me? That’s why you’re leaving this pain?” Then he says:
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
Paul had come to discover that the point of life is not to be rid of thorns. Life is so short. It’s filled with thorns. It’s filled with pain. We’re back where we started. There’s going to be another tsunami, folks. The earthquake that stretched from Georgia to New York a few days ago in America, one of those is going to bring everything down. America is going to be a footnote. That’s coming. We don’t live for that. What we live for is making much of Christ, and magnifying his surpassing power and his glory in our weakness.
So I close like this. I know that what Australia and America need are about 3,000 people whose worlds have been absolutely turned upside down by Jesus Christ, so that what you’re willing to lose and what you’re striving to gain is just the opposite of the world. This is a very secular land, but it’s a reached land by and large. The gospel is available in various ways. Yet, there are thousands of people groups still in this world that don’t have any access to the gospel. There are no churches there. There are no people who speak their language, speaking the gospel there.
The only way to reach them is for missionaries who cross a culture, learn a language, and plant a church there. Almost all the peoples that are left to be reached don’t want you to come. They are Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and tribal peoples. You’re not welcome there. And that has zero to do with whether you should go. Almost no place that Paul went was he welcomed. His imprisonments were countless. He could not remember the number of his beatings. He was lacerated 39 times on his back, five times over. He never said, “I can’t go into that town because I’ll get hurt if I go in there.” What an amazing man. When I read Paul’s life, I see the quintessential unwasted life, because Christ shines so magnificently off of his suffering life.
My closing plea is that you would see Christ, being sent by your Creator into the world to live a flawless life. Jesus never sinned. When he died, it was not for his sins. It was for my sin and your sin. And then, in his sovereignty, he took his life back from the grave. I just love that passage in John 10:18 that says:
No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.
Nobody can say that. That’s absurd. Dead people don’t take their lives back, unless they’re God, which he was. To live your life in order to make much of this Christ, this risen, reigning, and coming Christ, is a magnificent thing, and it will involve significant sacrifice. How much and in what way for you I don’t know, but I can promise you that when it’s all said and done and you stand before the judge, he will not say, “Fool.” He will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You spent your life making my Son look really good, which he is — infinitely good.”