It’s my privilege to be here, also my wife Annabel, she’s delighted to be here. We thank you for your kindness and hospitality to us. We’ve been here many times and it’s encouraging to see some of the things that are going on. It’s kind of strange having David Strain here. I don’t mean for you; for me, he is one of our students. I think the first time I met him was in the art college in Dundee. You may not know, but he’s a very good artist and he wasn’t coming to our church, he wasn’t as wise then as he is now, but he was wise enough to come to our church to find his wife, Sheena, and it’s just great to see them here.
I also want to express our thanks to you for support of missionaries in general, but the ones particularly who are working with us. And we actually have three couples that you support – Tom and Jan Courtney. Tom is helping us with Solas, which is an evangelistic ministry that we have. He’s our European director. Jan is doing a fantastic work amongst the women. We have lots of young women and not so many older women. Jan doesn’t mind me saying that she’s an older woman; that’s an honorary thing. It’s an honorable thing, rather, it’s a great thing, and she’s doing a wonderful work. Will and Judy Traub – Will is teaching in the Free Church College, he’s helping with MTW’s theological education in Europe, and he’s also a kind of executive pastor for St. Peter’s. I said this morning, he’s very, very Germanic and very organized. I’m not. If I believed in reincarnation I was probably Italian-Greek in a previous life. I’m totally chaotic, so it’s wonderful to have Will with us. And Judy is doing a fantastic work in a thing that we call, “Wee Rascals,” which is a ministry amongst fathers and children, mothers and their small children as well. And then we have Brian and Carsy Parr who are both working in counseling and they’re doing a good job as well. So we’re very, very grateful to you.
And I also want to express my thanks to those of you who prayed for me while I was seriously ill a couple of years ago and your prayers were answered. Somebody said to me after the morning service going out, “You’re looking very healthy,” which in my culture and tradition means, “You’re really putting on the weight!” So thank you! It’s nice to be healthy!
Before we read God’s Word let’s pray.
Lord, thank You that we’re able to be here and thank You that we can look at Your Word and thank You for the encouragement that we get from it. Thank You for each person here, from the youngest to the oldest. May Your blessing be upon us as we turn to Your Word in Your name. Amen.
Let’s turn to Philippians. I’m going to read in chapter 3. You’ll find it in the pew Bible, page 981. I want to actually read from verse 3:
“For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh – though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 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 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith – that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.”
I’d really like to introduce this by speaking to the boys and girls first because I hope you guys listen to the whole sermon anyway, but it’s just every now and then I’ll check that you’re still awake and that you’re watching. I want you, when you go home, assuming that you don’t live in a tent, to go into your bedroom and to have a look and work out all the things that are really valuable for you, things that are really most valuable. Like if you were giving things away to someone, the very last thing that you would give away – what’s that? The things that you, you look and say, “Well that’s worth so much to me.” And then maybe you put them all in a pile and look at them. And then I want you to think and to understand that they’re really worth nothing. They’re very valuable to you but they’re really worth nothing compared with knowing who Jesus is. And that’s the great advantage you have in Sunday School and in church and so on. You need to know who Jesus is and not just learn about Him but you need to know Him as your Savior, as your God, as your Friend. We sometimes sing, “What a Friend We Have In Jesus.” And as you listen to this, this morning, I want you to just simply ask yourself, “Do I know who Jesus is?” because that’s the most valuable thing of all. And at the end I’m not going to sing because I’m not a very good singer, but I’ll just recite a wee song to you that talks about the value of knowing Jesus.
Well that is what we are looking at as we consider mission. We’re looking at where we are at – where we’re at – I can think of it. I like thinking in big pictures. I can tell you lots about where we’re at in Scotland. I spoke about that at the men’s luncheon last week. I think it was Thursday or Friday. I get a big confused with the days – it was Friday. We could talk about the situation in the United States or the situation in First Presbyterian or the situation where our missionaries are working. But I want to make this very directly personal to every single person here and to ask where you’re at. Not just the boys and girls going home and saying what’s really, really valuable, but asking you what’s the most valuable thing you have in your life.
Considering the Cost
Paul, here, is doing a kind of profit and loss thing. He’s thinking what was profitable for him, what was loss for him. And what’s interesting when he considers the loss he doesn’t list a whole lot of bad things that he’s lost. He doesn’t say, like someone might give a testimony and say, “I used to be a drug addict” or “I used to commit adultery” or “I used to be a thief.” He says, or he lists, a whole lot of good things – “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” These are things, apart from being the persecutor of the church, that would have been considered good. What’s the equivalent for us? Well I think that many of us rely on the good things that we have, don’t we? You live in a nice house, you have a nice car, or since this is America, you have nice cars! You have, you know, a good education. I went where I shouldn’t have gone this morning when I tried to contrast Ole Miss and Mississippi State. I’m not going to go there except someone said to me this morning – it’s very dangerous speaking to me immediately before a service because illustrations just pop into my head, and somebody said to me this morning, “We went to Ole Miss and everyone at Ole Miss was Christian.” No, no, no! Everyone at Ole Miss think they’re Christian; that’s slightly different! But you know, you have a good education, you’ve got all these things. None of these things are wrong and all of them you could give thanks for, and Paul says, “No. Compared with knowing Jesus, I count them as rubbish.”
No, I have a suspicion that you’re not all that different from people in my church at home, that there are people here who come to First Pres because it’s the thing to do, because it’s a good thing socially, it’s a nice thing. It’s part of your life. It’s something that you add on. And Paul is challenging us by saying, “You can’t do that. You can’t do that.” All these other things that are really good in your life, you don’t say, “I’m just going to tag Jesus on to them.” Compared with knowing Christ he says they’re rubbish. He uses a word, “skubalon,” which means, “rubbish, manure, sweepings,” the kind of food that you have on the table that becomes crumbs and you clear off and it goes on the floor. And he’s saying the formalists and the legalists and the religious people who just like going along to church because that’s what they do, he’s saying they’re getting the junk. They’re not getting the reality. And he says you have to get rid of this; you have to get rid of all these things that are coming between you and Christ. And it does seem a bit extreme but I love the way that Calvin puts it. He said, “What is more hurtful than anything that keeps us from drawing near to Christ?”
Are We Choosing the Rubbish and Rejecting Christ?
Think about that for a moment. What is there that you have that stops you from drawing near to Christ? It could be a material thing. It could be work. It could be pride. It could be an ongoing sin. It could be a relationship. I remember one man, one of the most chilling meetings I’ve ever been in, sitting with him with some of the elders, we were talking with him because he was a believer and he got into a relationship which was wrong – it’s easily done – and he’d agreed to sit and meet and talk with us and at one point I said to him, “You can choose in this wrong relationship with this woman to be in this wrong relationship or you can choose to follow Jesus Christ. You can’t have both.” And in words I will never forget, he looked me in the face and he said, “I reject Christ. I choose to be with this woman.” Now most of you won’t have the nerve to do something like that. What I mean by that is, you won’t have the nerve to say it but you’ll certainly have the nerve to do it because that is what many of us do. Please think about the things that are stopping you from following Jesus. Paul, it was his own self-righteousness, the righteousness that by law he tried to have for himself. It’s like he’s writing his own health certificate. It’s like he’s going to university except it’s his own university and he’s creating his own degree. It’s like he’s marking his own papers.
In the film, Shrek, there’s the wonderful scene where – I mean I’m sure you’re all “culture vultures” and you’ve never seen Shrek. The children will have and the grown-ups can pretend that you’ve never seen it and if you haven’t, get out the DVD and have a look at it. And there’s a scene in Shrek where the donkey is having a go at Shrek and he’s talking about all the layers that he has. It’s like an onion. He says, “Come on, Onion Boy, peel away all the layers from the onion.” Well I think what Paul is doing here, he’s saying, “Let’s just strip away all these things that you say that you are, that you say that you’ve got – that you belong to First Pres, that you live in this house, that you’ve had this education, that you’ve got this. Well, strip it all away, strip it all away, strip is all away. What are you left with?” And he says it’s a loss. It’s negative. It’s like you go to the bank and you think you’ve got lots of money and you put your card in the machine and nothing comes out. You go in and they say, “I’m sorry but you’re overdrawn. It’s negative.” Without Jesus, no matter who you are, whatever you have, ultimately adds up, not just to zero, but to negative.
By being a Christian though, what does he gain? He says, “I want to know Christ.” And I love this – what he gains. Basically he’s been a Christian for many, many years. This is towards, perhaps towards the end of his life, towards the end of his ministry, and there’s still really a buzz that he has about it. It’s like a marriage. Sometimes you see an older couple who’ve been married for many, many years and you can see that they’re more in love than they were when they got married. Everyone gets really excited about the wedding day and the wedding day’s great, but it’s just the beginning. And it’s wonderful when you see that – that they’re not old and twisted and bitter and cynical, that they actually enjoy being together. And sometimes I think it’s like that with Christians. It’s lovely to meet older Christians. I mentioned Jan Courtney and Judy Traub and in our congregation they are very, very much older. Our seniors group is called “The 49 Plus” and most of you here would get to join our seniors group! And it’s great! It’s lovely! But you know what’s lovely about Jan and Judy as well, is they’ve got a zeal and a love for the Lord after many years serving Him which really, really shines through.
It is a real joy and privilege for me to be here, but much as meeting all of you is absolutely fantastic, I think the highlight of my trip here was stepping into the lift, sorry, the elevator, in the hotel, and there was a lady in a wheelchair. And I looked and I thought, “That’s Joni!” And then I thought, “No, it can’t be Joni.” And then I got out of the lift and I came up here eventually and I saw, “Oh, it was Joni! She’s speaking here tomorrow!” So I was so keen on going to see her because she was a real big influence on me when I was a teenager and I went down to the lobby in the hotel thinking, “Well I’ve got a bit of a nerve so I’ll just go and ask for her room number and send her a message and see if we can meet up.” And there she was sitting there so I went over and spoke to her. Now sometimes when you meet your heroes – again, I’ll say to the boys and girls, if you have a hero or a heroine, sometimes you go and see them and they’re not very nice and you get really disappointed. And sometimes that works with Christians, sadly, as well. But Joni was better than I imagined. She was absolutely lovely. And I looked at her and it wasn’t so much that she looks incredibly young for an older woman, and she is an older woman, but it was just what shone through for me, I thought, “You love the Lord Jesus more than ever.” It was just incredible. It was just fantastic.
And that’s what Paul is saying here. He’s saying, “Gaining Christ” – he’s just so excited about it – having union with Christ, being found in Christ. And what does he get? He gets righteousness, being right with God. “They will say of me,” Isaiah 45:24, “in the Lord alone are righteousness and strength.” See, we need to be right with God. Whoever you are, whatever you’ve done, all of us need to be made right with God and we can never gain it by ourselves and we can never gain it in cooperation with God. We can only gain it through Jesus Christ.
Zechariah: A Picture of the Great Exchange
I love Zechariah chapter 3 verse 3 which says this. Joshua’s dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. “The angel said to those who were standing before him, ‘Take off his filthy clothes.’ Then he said, ‘See, I have taken away your sin and I will put fine garments on you.’” It’s a beautiful picture of what it is to become a Christian because you can stand before God in your three-piece suit and you’re standing before God dressed filthy because it’s your heart that God looks at and God knows what’s in your heart more than you do. And it’s a horrific thought to stand before God naked in that way, exposed in that way. You can stand before God in your filthy clothes and feel that you’re useless and worthless and scum and God knows what is there. And what I love about that picture is that God takes – when we come to know Jesus and believe in Jesus – God takes our filthy clothes, he throws them away, and He clothes us with His Son’s clothes, with the righteousness of Christ, so that He looks upon us as He looks upon Jesus. That’s why, by the way, the Gospel is such good news. You can go to every single person in this city and say, “There’s good news for you.” You can offer them the ultimate exchange. What did Paul want? He wanted to know Christ – a personal, intimate knowledge. Not just knowledge “about” but an appropriated knowledge, a deep and deepening experience. Not just historical insight or doctrinal knowledge. It is the difference between spectators and participants.
Christianity: No Spectator Sport
I like sport, I like watching sport, and I know, I was flicking through the television screens that there’s this game called basketball that some of you seem to like; you must do because there’s loads of it on just now. Now to me, you take the ball, you throw it in the hoop, that’s it, but apparently we need to be able to talk about a whole lot more stuff than that, so it’s apparently more complicated and apparently involves a lot more money and everything else. Can you imagine the person who’s sitting down watching the basketball and he’s sitting on his couch – I’m using language here that I was told you guys would understand – but he’s sitting on the couch and he’s eating his, we would call them crisps, you call them chips, and he’s eating his chips and he’s yelling at the TV screen, “Go! Don’t do that, do this! Oh that coach is an idiot! I would do it this way. Or if I was throwing that shot that’s how I would do it.” And he’s lying there and his gut is spilling over the couch making extra cushions! I mean, he could hardly waddle to the net! Never mind, he can tell everyone what was going on. Now he might be enjoying the game, he might like yelling at the TV, he might vicariously think that he’s linked with whatever team he is supporting. But that’s nothing compared with being on the basketball court, being involved.
Let me say this to you. There isn’t such a thing as a spectator Christian, somebody who comes and observes and just watches what’s going on in church and just watches what’s happening in the world and just watches what’s happening. As Christians, we are to be actively involved. We are not copying a dead model but we walk in fellowship with a living Savior. He says he wants to know the power of His resurrection. We all need power. We need power in our lives; we need power in our homes. Here it’s the idea of “dunamis”, of dynamite. It’s the idea of the dynamic of God and an unleashing of an eternal energy in your life and mind. God gives us that power through His Spirit. I’ll maybe say more about that this evening. But what follows then is something quite extraordinary because he then says, “I want to know the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings.” It’s not the experience of the cross, it’s not recreating the cross; it’s the continued suffering of Christ through His body. It’s dying to the natural self-centered life. And that enables us to be more Christ-like. For example, 2 Corinthians 1:5 – “For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.”
A Fellowship that Changes Everything
See, you would be insane to choose suffering. Nobody wants that. But if you choose to be a Christian it is what you are choosing. You’re choosing to follow Christ, and that means you have to care about what’s happening in other parts of the world. You have to care about what’s happening in other parts of this city. You cannot isolate yourself and shut yourself off. And it also means that you yourself, you will continue to go through suffering. There is a fellowship in that. He says, “becoming like Him in His death.” It’s interesting how the death of Jesus was always before the apostles’ minds. That’s why we have communion, isn’t it? We remember His death. It’s not, I don’t think that we’re particularly morbid, but we realize that what is happening to us all is that we are dying. We are suffering. And in order to communicate the Gospel it has to go sometimes beyond what we might imagine.
Paul’s situation in Philippi was that he was facing death and again, I don’t want to be morbid with you at all, but so are you; so are you. When I was a young teenager and mucking around in terms of my head with different ideas about Christianity and so on, there were some incidences in my life that made me realize you can’t muck around with this. There was a time when four of my schoolmates were killed walking home from a dance by a drunk driver. There was a time when a young man was in a tractor and it overturned and he died. Suddenly I was faced with all these kinds of things. You know we think we’re going to live forever; we’re not. What happens? Paul says, “I want to attain the resurrection from the dead.”
A Challenge: To Obsess over Christ
And that’s where I want to challenge you in all of this. I do a lot of debates and so on with atheists and one of the most famous atheists was a man called Christopher Hitchens. He wrote a book called, God Is Not Great. I wrote a book in response called, Magnificent Obsession – why Jesus actually is great. And the title came from a BBC program that was done about an Amish community in Montana. It was entitled, “How To Get To Heaven in Montana.” And part of that program was an interview with a young man who had become a born again Christian and it wasn’t just a phase, it wasn’t just language, it wasn’t just an emotional experience, it was something very real for him. And the presenter asked, the journalist asked, “What does Jesus mean to you?” And I’ve never forgotten the look on his face. This young bearded man, his eyes filled with tears, and he said, “Jesus, Jesus – He’s my everything. He is my magnificent obsession.” There are some of you here who are more obsessed with football than with Jesus. You sit even in church and you worry about your work and your finances more than you even think about Jesus when you’re supposed to be worshiping Him. For most of us, I think our obsession is ourselves. In Christ it’s, “No, no, no, there’s a better way to live. It’s to be obsessed with Him.”
I think of a boy, seventeen year old young man, gay, sexually promiscuous, using drugs, drinking a lot, from Derby in England. He came on one of these reality TV shows where he did a parent swap. He came to Atlanta where he was placed in a home with an African-American Baptist pastor couple. Man, I don’t like reality TV but that was like watching a train wreck. It was just garishly fascinating. It was just incredible. And all the ups and downs that you can imagine in that situation, because the African-American couple were really strict, at least by UK standards, and going back to the airport in the taxi the film crew are filming him and they said, “What did you think of the trip?” “I’ve loved it,” he said, “loved it. These people are really great.” And he said, “They’re really into this guy, Jesus, aren’t they? They’re really into Him.” And then he stopped and he looked into the camera, I’ve never forgotten this, I was really moved by it – “See, when I get back to England, where will I find Jesus? Is He in the Yellow Pages?” You see, I wonder if people tomorrow at your work, I wonder if your family, I wonder if your friends, I wonder if those you socialize with go home and think, “I wonder where I can find Jesus. What a difference Jesus has made to my friend’s life, to my dad’s life. Where can I find Jesus?”
No Safer Place than to be Found in Christ
That’s why mission begins with those of us who are Christians and determining to know Christ better. The more you know Christ the more you will become like Christ, the more you will love Christ, the more you will shine with Christ. It’s not just for super-heroines that we look at, like Joni and others, and say, “Oh my, aren’t they wonderful?” They are because they’re in Christ and you’re in Christ and you’re wonderful too. Jim Elliot’s famous saying, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Henry Martin, the missionary who died at age 31 in India, Charles Simeon the Anglican said about him that whenever he thought about him the words came into his head, “Don’t trifle, don’t trifle.” How many of you are almost having heart attacks about things that really are trifles, that don’t ultimately really matter?
I said that I was grateful for those of you who prayed for me when I was ill. When I came out of hospital I was asked to help to support, to set up a support group for people who had been in ICU and who had gone through a similar experience and their families. And one of the issues that they have is this – when you’ve been in the hospital for so long, I think I was in eleven weeks, I go back to hospital and it’s quite sad. I think of it as a second home. And you’ve almost become quite secure in that environment. Or you go out, you come out of hospital and you stay in your home and you’re scared to go outside because you’re looking for somewhere that’s safe. I think all of us look for a safe place in our lives. We try and create a safe place in our homes. We kind of live in gated communities, whether literally or not, we try and protect ourselves and protect our family, protect our health, protect our wealth, protect everything. We worry about what’s happening in America, what’s happening elsewhere. Everything’s under attack. You know I think God says nowhere is safe without Christ. Everywhere is safe within Christ.
I think of Will Traub heading off to the Ukraine. There could be a war there when he heads off next week. He’ll still go. I think of a young lady that we know that our congregation helps support – single white woman, working as a missionary in Pakistan. We keep asking her, “Are you not afraid?” And she says, “Why? Why? God is with me in Pakistan and He’s with me at home.” And it’s a very correct and right attitude. There is no safer place on earth than to be found in Christ. That changes everything. Psalm 73 says this. “You guide me with your counsel and afterwards you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you and earth has nothing I desire besides you.”
The Source of Joy
Can I tell you what I think one of the big dangers here is? And forgive me for saying this as an outsider. I think the trouble almost is that you’re too Christian, that you regard yourselves as the buckle in the Bible-belt, that you think, “This is Christian America” and “This is so and so.” Listen, that can be lost very quickly. It happened to us in Scotland. We thought, “Oh, we’re fine. We’ll be okay. The church will always be strong here.” And it’s not. I think it’s very easy to take your eyes off Christ and to start looking at all the stuff that He gives us and then to get really confused when that all starts going wrong. The most valuable thing, whether you’re in Ukraine or Jackson or Dundee or wherever you are in the world, the most valuable thing and ultimately the only thing that matters, is to know Jesus Christ. And please don’t be flippant about it. Don’t think, “Yeah, I know Jesus. I gave my heart to Jesus.” It’s not enough. You need to know Him. The apostle Paul, at the end of his life, was saying, “I want to know Christ.” That should be our longing, our desire. It’s little wonder that your religion has become tired, your Christianity has become tired and jaded and faded because your knowledge of Christ is like a faded photograph from the past. “Oh, I remember the wedding day!” It’s no use remembering the wedding day if you’re not intimate and close now. I’m not saying you can lose your salvation but I’m saying this. You can lose your joy.
I love in Psalm 51 where it says, “Give me back the joy I had. Make my willing spirit glad.” It’s wonderful to see someone whose joy is greater now than when they were converted. When you’re converted sometimes, the experience is such that people go, “The grass is greener, the sky is blue-er, everything is wonderful.” And then it’s kind of almost downhill, gradually downhill all the way until you become an older Christian. You become cold and cynical and afraid and bitter. And it shouldn’t be like that. We have a lovely older lady in our congregation, herself and her husband, came from another church where they were told that they weren’t wanted – they were too old; they were useless. She lost her leg and she said, “I can’t do any of the things that are being done in the church.” And I said, “Do you know you that you do the most wonderful thing that’s possible? You pray.” And she does and she really prays. I know she’s praying right now for us. She said, I think on their 50th wedding or maybe even their 60th wedding anniversary, she announced to her whole family, “These are the happiest years of our life.” That’s what we want as Christians – to finish well, to finish joyfully.
Let me finish with the song that I promised the children that I would say. It’s this. And just think about these words. “All I once held dear, built my life upon, all this world reveres and wants to own, all I once thought gain I’ve counted loss, spent and worthless now compared to this. Knowing You, Jesus, knowing You, there is no greater thing. You’re my all, You’re the best. You’re my joy, my righteousness, and I love You, Lord.”
Lord, how hard it is for us to give our whole selves to You until we see what You have done for us. Enable us to see that and may Your grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be with us and remain with us now and forevermore. Amen.
© 2019 First Presbyterian Church.
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