The Blazing Center

Part 7

Bethlehem Baptist Church Youth Retreat | Minneapolis

I want to express my thanks to you for being such good listeners. Thank you so much for paying attention. My affections for you grow as I’m with you. That’s the way it works, I think, in the ministry. You spend time with people and you increase in infection. Face-to-face encounters do that, right? And it’s easy for me to move from the affections that I have for my own children, five of them, to you, because they used to sit where you are. And in four short years, Talitha will sit where you are, God willing.

I have a hard message for you this morning, so I feel affections rising because I’m going to talk about suffering. Some of you have it now, some of you will have it later, and all of you will have it eventually because the Bible says, “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22). There is no other way there. And if you choose to embrace obedience in the hard place of mission or ministry, it will be more. So I don’t take lightly the fact that I am going to call you to treasure Christ enough to die for him.

The reason my affections increase is due to the fact that I’ve said that to my sons, who all dream about missions and have all done foreign mission trips. I don’t know which ones will wind up there, but I have thought long and hard over the last 33 years of parenting of what it would be like for one of my kids to go away on missions and never come home again. And I’m saying to you, that would be okay with me as a dad. That would be okay. I would regard that as the high calling of a parent to offer up my child. That’s what we do when we dedicate babies, isn’t it?

We say to the child, “Together with, your parents who love you dearly, and these people who care about the outcome of your faith, I dedicate you to God, surrendering together with them all worldly claims upon your life in the hope that you will belong wholly to God forever.” And every time we say that over a little baby, we know one of these little babies is going to be surrendered completely to the Lord. We have lost little babies and we have lost young people.

God’s Glory, Our Joy

This is about suffering, but let me put it in the context of where we’ve been going. I hope if I repeat it enough you’ll understand what this weekend has been about. So let’s try again to walk us through where we’ve been, and see if you’ve been getting it. I hope you can fill in the blanks pretty easily as I go. The theme has been the glory of God and the gladness of man. Can they really be one? Can God’s passion for his glory and my passion to be happy really be one and not be in conflict. And our answer has been yes, they can be. And the secret, the key phrase has been, God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in him.

But the way we’ve walked through it is like this. First, we looked at the texts that describe God’s pursuing his glory in all things — Psalm 19:1, Romans 3:25, and 2 Thessalonians 1:10. God does everything he does in order to magnify his greatness and his glory. Then we ask, “Can that be love if he acts like that?” We said, “Yes, it can be.” We looked at John 11 and John 17. If I were giving a final exam on this weekend, this would be one of my test questions: Explain how God’s self-exaltation can be love for you. How would you do on that little essay question?

The answer is that God’s glory is the one thing that can satisfy us forever. So if he doesn’t lift that up, preserve that, make much of that, he’s not loving to me. And if he does lift it up and make much of it, he’s offering me the one thing that can satisfy my soul forever. You get an A on that question if that’s the answer you just wrote in your head.

To Die Is Gain

Then we asked, does the enjoyment of the glory of God in that way magnify him, glorify him? And we looked at Philippians 1:20-21, which says, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” That is supporting the fact that Paul wants to magnify Christ in his life and in his death. So death magnifies Christ if I count it gain, because I get Christ. So I’m willing to lose everything here and have him and call all of that loss — all of my family, all of my health here, all of my plans, all of my dreams — gain. I call that loss gain because Christ has become so precious and so valuable to me and I am so satisfied in him. Paul says that magnifies the worth of Christ.

So the answer is yes, enjoying God, enjoying Christ, magnifies Christ and magnifies God. It makes him look really good. And then we drew the inference, “Okay, if that’s true, then you should obviously pursue that joy all the time, 24/7, never stopping and letting nothing get in your way. Keep on pursuing that joy in God, because that magnifies him so much.”

Then I gave you eight biblical reasons for pursuing your joy, and two of them got right at the heart of God’s glory and you’re being a loving person. The one was the illustration of the flowers. If you say to a friend or a spouse, “There’s nobody I’d rather be with than you. Nothing makes me happier than to spend the evening with you,” the center of that little dialogue is not you, even though you just referred to your own happiness, saying, “Nothing makes me happier than to spend the evening with you.” All the focus is on the value of the other person to you.

When you say that to God, he gets a lot of glory. He gets a lot of honor. You show him as valuable when you say to God, “There’s nobody I would rather be with than you. Nobody satisfies me like you satisfy me. All that you are for me in Jesus is all that my soul longs for.” When you talk like that, you’re talking about your happiness, but you’re talking about his glory. And he is very pleased with that response.

Joy in God for the Sake of Love

Then we said, does that pursuit of your joy in God result in love? And we said, yes, it does. In fact, I said, you can’t love other people if you don’t pursue your joy in God, because 2 Corinthians 8:1–4 says that love is the overflow of joy in God that meets the needs of others. That’s where we’ve been so far. That’s the summary.

I have one thing to add, and I’ll add it to both the vertical, worship dimension of Christian hedonism and the horizontal, love dimension of Christian hedonism. I’ll say the vertical dimension like this: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him, especially when we maintain satisfaction in him through suffering. It’s pretty easy to be a Christian when all is well, when everybody around you is a Christian, your mom and dad are Christians, you’ve got a cluster of friends at school, maybe, who are Christians, and you have a church. That’s kind of easy. You can cruise through life just being what everybody else around you is.

But the day is going to come when the props of your life start to fall out. All the things you’ve been leaning on are going to get knocked out one after the other. Friends will go, health might go, parents might split, and there might be tragedy. And you’re going to be left wondering, “Has it all been real? Has all my praise for you in the worship songs been coming from my heart or that it just feels good in the group?” That’s coming and I want you to be ready. And I’m saying that when you endure with Jesus through suffering, he gets a lot of glory, a lot of glory. Then I’m going to say it horizontally like this: Love is the overflow of joy in God that meets the needs of others, and that love that really shines as beautiful when you press on loving others even when it’s really hard and really costly.

Costly Love

I call this session The Cost of Pursuing Joy in God, or, The Cost of Loving People. That’s where we’re going. I invite you to open your Bibles to Hebrews 10. What I’d like to show you in Hebrews, by walking you through the last four chapters, is a theme in Hebrews that has profoundly shaped my life — at least my goals in life.

Joy that Sustain in Suffering

Now here’s what I’m looking for in this text. I want to find texts in Hebrews 10, 11, 12, and 13 that talk about joy, or at least the seed of joy now, and the hope for much joy later as sustaining and carrying you through the sufferings of your life. Let’s say you get home today at 5:30 p.m. and you find out some awful news. You can make up the scenario. What have I taught up here that will help you endure, survive, and flourish? Indeed, what have I taught that will help you love other people in the midst of your suffering? Here are the texts that are going to show you the answer to that.

Hebrews 10:32 says:

Recall the former days when, after you were enlightened …

This is telling them to think back to the days when they became Christians. And then, just like we saw in Corinthians, you become a Christian and things go bad. Hebrews 10:32–33 continues:

But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated.

Now, stop there. Let me get the situation in front of you. There was a persecution that arose when they became Christian. So they didn’t become a Christian in order for things to go better. They became a Christian because to know Christ is deeply and eternally satisfying. All their sins were forgiven, all their hope opened, and eternal life was offered. They thought, “I die, I’ve got Christ.” That’s why they became Christians, not because things went better in this life. Some of them went to jail. Others did not go to jail. The ones who did not go to jail faced a question, “Do we go visit those who are in jail? Because if we go visit them, they’ll know we’re Christians. We might wind up in jail. What about our kids?”

Compassion on Those in Prison

Now that’s what they’re facing. Let’s read what happened in Hebrews 10:34. It says:

For you had compassion on those in prison …

In other words, they went. It continues:

And you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property …

Now just stop there. They had a little prayer meeting. They discussed, “Well, if we go to the prison, they might arrest us. Who will take care of our kids? But if we don’t go, we leave them to languish in prison.” It wasn’t a nice TV, bed-and-breakfast, kind of prison like we have. There was no food, and if your relatives don’t take food, you die in prison. So they thought, “We have to go. They’re our brothers and sisters in Christ. We all have the same Lord. We are the same body. We have to go.”

So they went, and as they went their property was plundered. Now I don’t know whether that was official confiscation by rulers or whether that was mob violence, but something happened. They looked over their shoulders, and they saw either their houses going up in flames or windows being broken or graffiti being written on their houses, saying, “Yeah, you’re Christians too!” And they threw the furniture outside. But then whatever it is, their goods were being plundered.

So if you go home today and you find — this is highly unlikely, but the day will come when it may not be unlikely — that your house has been torched this afternoon. Your parents couldn’t get to you. You were on the bus. And written all over it was the words, “We hate Christians.” Would you do what they did? Look what they did. These are really strange people, crazy people. Hebrews 10:34 continues:

You joyfully accepted the plundering of your property …

Better Possession

And the question is, how in the world can you look at your house, all broken with graffiti all over it, saying, “Christians go home,” and joyfully accept it. And the answer is given in the next clause:

Since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.

Not many teenagers spend much time thinking about heaven. That’s sad. You have, teenagers in Christ, a better possession than your house. You have a better possession than all of your music and all of your DVD’s. You have a better possession than all of your grades, all of your clothes, all of your favorite foods, all of your favorite places, and all of your favorite friends. You have a better possession — his name is Jesus and he lasts forever. When everything else is gone he remains like a rock, no matter what. Oh, that you would cultivate a sweet, deep unshakable love for him above all other loves so that when your house goes up in smoke, with tears on your face and a smile on your lip, you can say, “Gain! Christ is better. I’ve got a possession. I’ve got a kingdom that cannot be shaken.” Oh, I want young people to be like that.

By Faith

Let’s see it again in Hebrews 11:24. It says:

By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter …

He refused, even though he could have been called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. That would have been a nice place to be. It would have been nice, comfortable, and secure with all the benefits of the palace in Egypt. Rather, Hebrews 11:25 continues:

Choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.

Mark that word fleeting in your Bible, because I’m not telling you that the pleasures of sin are not real; I’m just telling you they’re fleeting. They don’t last. Christ lasts forever. So Moses knew this, he knew that these pleasures offered to him in Egypt were fleeting. Hebrews 11:26:

He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth …

Now that’s really strange. If you want to be a Christian, you’re strange. You can’t reproach riches? I mean, riches are riches. Having a lot of money in the bank to whatever you want — that’s riches. But Moses said, “Reproach for Christ is riches.” That’s just strange. You have to get on your knees by yourself and say, “God, make me strange like this.” And you have to do it every day. I’m not like this by nature. I’ve been a Christian for 52 years. This is war. To count reproach as wealth is something I have to work on every day. To walk into a situation and bring up Jesus, when you know they might roll their eyes and think, “You’re the biggest knucklehead in the world to believe that kind of stupidity and to count that riches,” and count it riches doesn’t come naturally for us. We want to be like Peter and John when they left the Sanhedrin, after they had been flogged, and it says in Acts 5:41:

Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.

I mean, that is strange. And it’s because of how deeply Jesus had become a treasure to them. They just looked in his face and said, just like we sang, that they might be conformed to his suffering and his death, and when it comes, a smile with all the tears and all the pain. The smile came and they looked Jesus in the face and they said, “You and I are on the same Calvary road.” This is wealth.

Greater Wealth than Egypt

Now, How do you do that? We didn’t finish reading it. I’m at Hebrews 11:26:

He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt …

Then, here’s exactly the same argument from Hebrews 10:34. The passage continues:

for he was looking to the reward.

Some of you asked me about that issue of reward. When I think reward, I’m thinking more of Christ. I’m not thinking about a golf course in heaven, or the fact that finally I get to see my mom. My mom died, you know, and finally I will get to see her again. That’s not my reward. That will be icing on the cake. The cake is Christ. The reward here is that I’m going to be with Christ forever and ever. And then, if you have that joy, that hope, you can endure anything.

For the Joy Set Before Him

Let’s go to Hebrews 12. Now we’re right at the heart. Oh, this is the most powerful one of all because here we’re looking at Jesus, not just Moses or the early Christians. Now we got Jesus modeling for us how to endure suffering. How does he do it?

Let’s start at Hebrews 12:1:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses (I think that’s all the saints who have gone before us), let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us …

We need endurance because there’s going to be a lot of difficulty in this marathon of life. How do we do it? Hebrews 12:2 says:

looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who (how did he do it?) for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

How did Jesus survive what you saw in the Passion movie? How did he survive it? How did he not say, “God, I spent 33 years in sinless obedience, and this is what I get?” That’s the way a lot of Christians respond when things go bad. They think, “I’ve been trying my best to follow you and this comes into my life?” Jesus said that the call to be a Christian is, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). That doesn’t mean a small, disagreeable person sitting next to you in algebra class. Crosses are where you die with nails through your hands, hanging three days until the crows eat your eyes out, right? That’s what crosses are for.

Jesus invited you, “Do you want to be my disciple, then come and suffer with me. Bear reproach for me.” To reach the nations that are yet unreached in this world is going to be extremely costly. When I recruit missionaries at Bethlehem, I’m not smiling like this is a nice romantic thing where you can take a trip and come back every few years and just watch videos every night, as if it all goes well. This is war. Muslims don’t want you there, and neither do Hindus or Buddhists. They don’t want us there trying to convert them.

But Jesus says, “Go make disciples of every nation, whether you’re wanted or not. Whether the country is open or not” (Matthew 28:18–20). This is war. If this Great Commission is going to be finished in our generation, it will mean death and suffering and reproach and imprisonment. We’ve got to own up to how Jesus survived here. How did he survive those lashes? Answer: For the joy that was set before him. The place to fight the battle of your preparation is right now are you asking God in your heart, “Oh God, make Christ such a treasure to me. Make my heart so deeply, profoundly, unshakably satisfied in this treasure called Christ that whatever comes into my life, I will endure to the end in faith”? That’s the way Jesus did it.

Outside the Gate

There’s one more text in Hebrews 13. Notice there’s one of these in every chapter. I hope you see this theme. I hope you circle these and read them again and again and again — Hebrews 10, 11, 12, and now 13. Let’s read Hebrews 13:12–13:

So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood …

And here’s the conclusion that the writer of Hebrews draws for us from that:

Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.

So there it is again, an invitation, saying, “Come on. He went outside Jerusalem. You could say that he went outside his comfort zone. That’s kind of a cheap way to say it, but it’s true. We all have those. He went outside the safe, secure place to the hard place and he died there for us. And the writer says, “Come on, let’s go with him. Let’s go with him.” That’s what you were singing a few minutes ago. How do we do that? How are we going to get that kind of motivation? Hebrews 13:14 says:

For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.

Do you like Minneapolis, Saint Paul, or whatever your town is? Wherever you are, you like your town. I like Minneapolis. I think Minneapolis is cool. I think it’s one of the prettiest cities in America. In fact, it’s clean. It doesn’t even have a slum. I live in the poorest neighborhood in Minneapolis. I think it’s paradise, frankly, compared to a lot of places in the world.

I love Minneapolis. I’m glad I was able to raise my kids in Minneapolis. I still feel kind of like a foreigner there because I grew up in South Carolina. I still have a little bit of an accent if I let my guard down. I don’t really feel at home in Minneapolis. I don’t feel at home in South Carolina either. I couldn’t go home again. I have one home and I’m going there, and it’s with Christ wherever he is. If he wants to come back and set up his throne in Minneapolis, that’d be okay. I just want to be where he is.

I don’t have a city here that lasts. I mean, a dirty bomb could take Minneapolis and all of us out in a minute, right? And the reason we’re able to go with Jesus and endure hardship, even though you thought this life was all about maximizing your pleasure on earth, is because here we have no lasting city. We seek a city which has to come. Teenagers don’t do much of that. I want all teenagers who are Christ’s to be different. I want them to be different. Be different. Be Christian. Don’t just think, “Well, I’ll do the Christian thing maybe when I’m married and have kids. Then I’ll start taking it seriously.” Don’t be like that.