(Some of you who were at Camp Reunion, or who missed some of the talks had asked for notes of the talks. Here's the text of each of them. For those who weren't, and who haven't a clue what I'm talking about - these are three talks I gave at a young people's weekend on Keeping Christ the focus of our lives.)
General Intro to Camp Reunion
I remember once being in a car crash, and once everything had come to a stop, and we realised that we weren't dead, I felt around to try and find my glasses. I found them sitting on my lap, and put them on, and realised that everything was still blurred and I started to panic, I thought something really bad has happened. But it hadn't the force of the crash had caused my glasses to end up in the back, and a girl in the back seat's glasses to end up in my lap.
When I put on the right glasses everything was all right.
We're born into this world with spiritual short-sightedness. In fact, we are so hopelessly short-sighted that although biblical truth stares us in the face we can't see it. Although creation tells us that there is a God we can't see it. When we become Christians, we get a new pair of glasses that enables us to see things correctly. It's a whole new way of looking at life. We see things that we never saw before.
The problem is that sometimes we forget to put on the glasses, and we live life in a short-sighted daze of confusion and muddling about.
When I was asked to speak at camp reunion I was asked initially to deal with the problems that you have to deal with, and to show you how to deal with them from a Christian perspective - problems like temptation, living godly lives in an ungodly world, knowing where to draw the line, knowing what to do with our lives, guidance, relationships.
But the problem with dealing with each of those problems is that as soon as you get one sorted out, another problem arises. Its like moving obstacles out of the way of a short-sighted person. Its kind and helpful, but not much use in the long term. Its far better to get them a pair of glasses.
This weekend I want to get you to put on and keep on the glasses God has given us. In doing so we will see how then to deal with all those issues, and every other issue and decision you have to make in your life. We will see how not to waste our lives poking around in the things that we can see without our glasses.
The glasses that God has given us to put on, or the contact lens through which we are to view everything is Jesus Christ. Jesus is central. We start the Christian life with him, and we are going to be with him - the bit in between is all about him too.
What we are going to do over these talks is to look at Jesus, and then to look at three aspects of our lives, and see how this applies so that we will not waste our lives, either by:
· Fail to live for Christ
· Be a Christian, and loiter with sin
· Make the wrong thing your goal - such as relationships
Christ and the purpose of our lives
What do you want to do with your lives? Most of you are at a stage where you have choices to make. Some of you are finishing school and looking for a job, some of you are finishing university and looking for a job. What choices will you make? What governs those choices? If you aren't a Christian does it matter what choices you make, as long as you are happy? If you are a Christian, does it matter what choices you make as long as you are obedient?
It does matter. Because you and I only have one life. We are only here once. We get no second shot at living, and we can't afford to waste our one precious God-given life.
John Piper tells the story of a couple who "took early retirement from their jobs in the Northeast five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Florida, where they cruise on their 30 foot trawler, play softball and collect shells." At first, when I read it I thought it might be a joke. But it wasn't. Tragically, this was the dream: Come to the end of your life-your one and only precious, God-given life-and let the last great work of your life, before you give an account to your Creator, be this: playing softball and collecting shells. Picture them before Christ at the great day of judgment: "Look, Lord. See my shells." That is a tragedy… Don't buy it. Don't waste your life.
I hear parents talking about their sons and daughters:
"My son doing very well for himself - gone to university, doing really well." Or "My daughter has married a lovely young man, good job, nice house, great prospects, 3 lovely children."
"Where does they worship?"
"Doesn't go to church anymore actually."
Then they not doing remotely well-doing very very badly. On road to destruction. Who cares if road paved with nice houses & well-paying jobs? That's a wasted life.
Some of the greatest men and women who ever lived appear to have wasted their lives. Churchill. Marie Curie, Einstein, Napoleon, Agatha Christie, Conan Doyle, actors, actresses - Tom Cruise - Imagine the scene on the day of Judgment "Well what have you to show for your life?" Cruise - "Well I spent it pretending to be people who didn't really exist, so that other people could look at shiny bright coloured lights on a screen for a couple of hours." A whole life. Wasted.
Why is it wasted? Wasted because that is not what this life is for. It's like lining the cavity walls of your house with £1000 notes to increase the insulation. For two of those notes you could buy enough polystyrene to do the job. With 100 of them you could buy a new house.
And I want to say to you this evening that Christians can make exactly the same mistake. This isn't the starter talk for those who aren't Christians, and then tomorrow we'll get into the stuff for Christians. This is as much for you too.
What is this life for then?
John 17:3 Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.
1 Corinthians 2:2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
Ephesians 1:17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.
2 Peter 3:18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever! Amen.
1 John 5:20 We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true--even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.
Knowing God is what life is all about. We're going to look at Phil 3:4-14 to see what this meant for one man. He's excited, I'm excited, I want you to be excited about following Jesus.
Looking together at v7,8
7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ
There are two great lessons to learn and two great outcomes to anticipate
The most worthwhile thing we can do with our lives is to make Christ central
Most of us have our dreams and ambitions. When most preachers say that riches or fame, or success, or flying high aren't worth much, they aren't always speaking from personal experience. When they say Christ far outweighs all that this life can offer, not many of us have had the opportunity to test that theory. We know it is true because the Bible tells us; but we don't know from personal experience. Paul on the other hand does. He had it all. Look at v4-6
He was a leader of the church, sent on a vital mission by his superiors, entrusted with a task that was essential for the future of Judaism.
His family, as well as being devout Jews, were rich, rich enough to send their son to the top universities in the land. Rich perhaps because the tents made in the family business had been seen by the Commander of the Roman garrison at Tarsus, who had then placed the contract for his army with this Jewish firm. They were landowners, and Roman citizens. Paul stood to inherit the family business with its lucrative trade, and he was on course to becoming the top rabbi in Judaism. He was probably married, for you could not be a member of the Sanhedrin unless you were married.
It is this man who says about Jesus, "For whose sake I lost all things."
He lost his inheritance, he lost his prospect of fame as a rabbi with his own school of followers, he lost his status in the church, he lost his family, they would have mourned for him as if dead. His mother and father would never want to see him again. His wife would have divorced him. He lost his health, he was about to lose his life. He lost everything.
This is the man who stands before you this evening, and says, "I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ."
And these are not the words of a bitter man, who says like a child who doesn't get what it wants, "I didn't want it anyway." He doesn't say, "These things are rubbish," but "Compared with what I have in Christ, I consider these things as rubbish". When you add up all my losses they're not losses at all.
"I had everything" he says, "I know what it is to have it all, but let me tell you this evening, all those things are worthless, compared with having Christ."
Paul is not making some rash off the cuff statement here. The word 'consider' means to stack up and count coins. Paul has stacked up all that his life has lost, and he has considered it all, and he has come to a deep-seated conviction. He says to us, "I now see things clearly - all that this world had to offer me was worthless. Christ is all that matters."
Friends, I want you to grasp this truth - that there is nothing more worthwhile that you can do with your life than to be a Christian. Some of you here aren't Christians, and you think that to be a Christian is to miss out. Perhaps you are afraid to be a Christian because you'll lose friends, you'll lose face at school. Paul who lost everything, how do you think it felt to walk through the streets of Jerusalem and to have people turn and mutter to each other as you walked by? Or to have men who were once your colleagues try to murder you? That man says to you, "Its worth it."
Whatever else you rate more important than Christ pales into insignificance compared to Christ.
It's worth it because Jesus is so amazing
Look at Paul's words in v8
What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ
"Christ Jesus, my Lord" - it's the only time Paul uses that phrase. There's a wonderful warmth about it. It is intensely personal. He piles up Jesus' titles, he gives him Lord and Messiah, but he calls him "Mine". And knowing this great Lord (A king who blesses and rewards his people and is supremely good) and Saviour (the only one who can save us), he describes as surpassing greatness. What I have now excels all the others. The relationship I have now outweighs everything - inheritance, family, wife. Money, friends and sex - Paul says his relationship with Christ far excels them all.
I've had it he says, and I am in a position to compare - one of 2 men in scripture who does this for us - the other is Solomon.
Think about it you can know God, the maker of heaven and earth. You, miserable little you and me can know God!
It's worth it because that is what this life is all about
Read Eph 1:9,10, 22, 3:10
Ephesians 1:9-10 And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfilment--to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.
This is what this whole universe was made for. That is why there are people and trees and flowers, and stars, and galaxies. So that God would be glorified by sinners turning to him. So that there would be people from every tribe nation and people praising him. And he sits on the Throne right at this very moment controlling all things in this universe for the sake of his people.
Churchill may have achieved much - victory, but if Christ was not central he wasted his life. Einstein. Neil Armstrong. Wasted lives. They missed the point. Tragic. For all eternity.
Friends the universe revolves around Christ. If we have any sense we will bring our lives to revolve around him too. Many are like the sad lonely child in the playground. The teacher is over here with the class engaged in something important … and they are sitting at the far side playing in the dirt. There is something tragic about a wasted life.
Does that not excite you fellow Christians - when you get up and sit down to read your Bibles, you are at the heart of what this whole universe is about. When you stand in church and worship God, you aren't some little group of weirdo whackos but you are at the centre of what this world is about.
It's worth it because it is the only thing that lasts into eternity
String illustration - Our lives are like this ball of string. This first centimetre is for this life, the rest is eternity. Which is the most significant bit? Which bit is worth investing all our energies in?
Some of you are perhaps afraid of what you'll lose or miss out on - listen to me, do you weep and wail when you take the rubbish out to the bin. Do you look at the bits of gunk that have been picked out from the plug hole? Paul says, the things you will lose out on are rubbish compared with the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ.
Some of you perhaps are half-way Christians - a Christian at home, and at church, but afraid to let it be known in public. You have a foot in both camps. You are sitting on the fence. People who sit on fences get splinters. And God doesn't bless those who sit on the fence. You can say goodbye to any real growth and blessing unless you commit your way entirely to God.
Put your focus on Jesus - see who he is, see what this world is about, see everything through him and don't be ashamed to be sensible. If this is what its about - then it makes sense to be doing what we are doing.
Some of you are Christians and perhaps discouraged and feeling as if they get all the fun, as if you are missing out. Paul says to you - no matter what else happens whether you achieve anything much in your life, you haven't wasted it. You have got the point. A life centred on Christ is never wasted.
Look at other people with their cars, and houses, or degrees, or whatever. Not filled with envy, they are missing the point of life.
Now I want to say something to you who are Christians, and perhaps have been Christians for some time.
The second lesson to learn from this is this:
Keep your life centred on Christ
Sometimes we treat Christ like a fire escape. Its great we've escaped from Hell, and now we can get on with our lives. Yes we'll do a few things out of gratitude for him. And so often having been purchased an expensive set of glasses that help us to see what is really important in the world, we take them off again. And we pick up the worlds values and goals.
Paul is saying that to be a Christian isn't just a mere adjustment in our thinking or way of life, or to incorporate another element into our lives. Christ isn't an extra battery pack. Like playing some of the old arcade games, Donkey Kong, had to leap over barrels and climb ladders to rescue a princess. Along the way you could pick up a hammer and use it to smash the barrels that were being hurled at you. But you were still in the same game. Sometimes as Christians we live like that. We have picked up the secret weapon, Christ, but we're still in the same old game.
That's not what the Christian life is about.
That's not what Paul tells us here.
Look at v7 & 8
7But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8Indeed, 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
In v7 Paul has been speaking about his attitude to the things that he lost in becoming a Christian. His conclusion was "I have considered them, and they don't compare." In v8 he wants to emphasise this, "Let me make it clearer - its not just the things that I lost out on when I changed my way of living that I consider loss. I still look at life and compare everything with Christ." The ESV accurately captures the tenses - "I counted" past tense, "I count" - present on going action. He is constantly looking at everything through these new glasses. And because of this continuously looking at the surpassing value of his relationship with Jesus he had a real life about him. You know there are people in our churches who in their day where real livewires for Christ, but now they have settled down into a routine and they have lost that zeal. Why? Because they have stopped evaluating everything compared to Christ. Other things have become important again.
Don't do it. Paul didn't do it. Listen to him in v10
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,
And it doesn't happen when you get old. It happens gradually. Perhaps its happening to some of you at the minute. If I were to ask, you would tell me that Christ means everything to you, but when it comes to your plans for your life, what your goals are: Get married, get a job, get a house settle down, have kids. And perhaps these things are creeping up the ranking table again. Paul tells us, that this is not a temporary change of attitude, but a constant considering of everything. He wants us to be abundantly clear on this: Nothing is more important than our relationship with Christ.
Paul was a man who continually re-evaluated things - will this help to get to know Christ better? The key is not to look at things, but to look at Christ, and to see him for what he is. If he is wondrous, then we will not want anything to detract from that.
And if anything interferes with that no matter what it is we are to consider it as rubbish.
And how is it that we keep this perspective? Paul doesn't finish the verse focusing on what he does without, but he returns us to Christ. He calls us back to focus on what we gain in Christ.
Here is the ultimate goal that we have to keep in mind - we are here to know Christ. We are here to grow in our relationship with Christ.
Paul is writing this letter close to the end of his life. He is under house arrest. He is facing possible execution. And he writes to a group of young Christians who are concerned for him. And he tells them that because of the greatness of knowing Christ he has no regrets.
No regrets about losing his family.
No regrets about losing his inheritance
No regrets about being shipwrecked
No regrets about bring whipped and beaten
No regrets about the scars he has to bear
No regrets about following Jesus even though it meant that he was stoned, and left for dead. No regrets.
No regrets that it means that he is held captive
No regrets that it means he will probably be executed.
That's how you want to come to the end of your life - no regrets. You have allowed nothing to stand in the way of what you were placed here for. If you have Christ you have everything. If you don't have Christ, you have nothing.
And as he sits in that prison after all that has happened to him, and is happening to him, and will likely happen to him, he writes, "I still consider all these things worth nothing".
Let me show you how this applies:
If something is spinning, that can't take anything on board unless it is centred on what the top is centred on. If you put anything off centre the top with not spin properly. All that we do in life has to be centred on Christ otherwise we too will spin of course.
We need to ask the question what impact will this course of action have on my walk with Christ?
What are your goals in life? If the whole universe revolves around Christ? What does your life revolve around?
You have received the greatest thing in the universe. Christ. Is he still the greatest thing to you? Are you still looking at everything and holding it alongside Christ, and evaluating it? Or have you taken off those glasses, and are you looking at things as the world looks at them?
· Will taking on this job give me time to be at church, at the midweek? Or does this company expect me to work every hour of the day because the company is no1.
· If I pick this university course and have to go away from home, is their a good church nearby that I can be involved in, not because of what I can give, but because I need to be fed and encouraged.
· Do I stop going to Sabbath school because everyone my age has?
· If I share a house with these people who aren't Christians - how good will that be for me?
· If I take this job in the summer, is it because money is more important to me, than going on Go Teams, or camp?
· If I take this job - will the people I work with pull me down, and take me away in my walk with Christ?
· If I watch this TV programme late tonight, does that mean that I am not going to be able to spend time with my Saviour tomorrow before I head out?
· Will this job mean that I'm not near a church?
· What gifts has God given me that I could use - now where could I use them, that's where I'm going to be.
· Am I planning to head off around the world? What churches will I be visiting on the way - so that I can have fellowship and teaching?
· If everything is meant to revolve around Christ - what are your plans for this year as a Christian - what areas are you seeking to grow in, what areas are you seeking to develop in?
Two great lessons - from this craggy old man its worth it and its always worth it. But he has more for us.
Two great outcomes
The impact of a Christ-centred life
There is this idea in the church that unless you are going to be a minister then nothing else is that important. Don't make an idol out of ministers. The RP Church doesn't need ministers. It needs people like you who will be fired up for Christ to go out and live your lives everywhere, so that Christ is seen to be magnificent, that following Christ means that you have got something no-one else has. When people see the values that you have then they will know that Christ is precious. They will see how unaffected by the rat race you are.
That's what this church needs. People who live out Phil 3:8 in their schools, in their friendships, in their work places, in their universities, everywhere. How we spend our money, how we talk, what's important to us.
The outcome will be that you will lead eternity effective lives - what you do in Christ will last forever, what you do outside of Christ will never last.
The Reward of a Christ-centred life
This could all sound like a real burden, but look at the language Paul uses.
Later on - "to win the prize"
Earlier in epistle "To live is Christ, to die is gain"
Hebrews 11:26 He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.
Revelation 22:12 "Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.
There is a great reward in a Christ-centred life. To life for Christ here is to store for yourselves treasure in Heaven. More than that, it is to enjoy Heaven before you get there. To know Christ is Heaven, to be used by Christ in the work of his kingdom is joy beyond measure. And you can have a measure of that now.
And so often as Christians we rob ourselves of this. We're like someone who buys the latest digital camera, and then pokes their eyes out. How sad. If only we could see Jesus for who he is, and see what being with Jesus really means, and how wonderful being a Christian is, and to know his power at work in us, and to know that what we do will last forever - "What we do in life echoes in eternity."
You will enjoy this life immensely. Wholehearted commitment brings God's wholehearted approval.
I worry about some of you. I worry that some of you are in a very dangerous category. There is a reward for those who live in wholehearted commitment to Christ. But there are two Bible passages that speak of two other experiences on the day of judgment:
Matthew 7:21 "Not everyone who says to me, `Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' 23 Then I will tell them plainly, `I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'
Some of you think you are Christians, but maybe you aren't. You think that because you made a profession that that's it. You're free to live your life the way you want. I wouldn't be so sure.
1 Corinthians 3:11 For no-one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. 14 If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 15 If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.
Is what you are building going to last?
Assurance and reward in scripture are only promised to those who seek him with all their heart.
John Piper writes: "For me as a boy, one of the most gripping illustrations my fiery father used was the story of a man converted in old age. The church had prayed for this man for decades. He was hard and resistant. But this time, for some reason, he showed up when my father was preaching. At the end of the service, during a hymn, to everyone's amazement he came and took my father's hand. They sat down together on the front pew of the church as the people were dismissed. God opened his heart to the Gospel of Christ, and he was saved from his sins and given eternal life. But that did not stop him from sobbing and saying, as the tears ran down his wrinkled face-and what an impact it made on me to hear my father say this through his own tears-"I've wasted it! I've wasted it!"
This was the story that gripped me more than all the stories of young people who died in car wrecks before they were converted- the story of an old man weeping that he had wasted his life. In those early years God awakened in me a fear and a passion not to waste my life. The thought of coming to my old age and saying through tears, "I've wasted it! I've wasted it!" was a fearful and horrible thought to me."