Casualties of Numb

When we first invaded Iraq, I would go outside every morning to grab the paper waiting to see a “War Ends in Middle East” Headline plastered across the Texarkana Gazette. I can’t for the life of me tell you why I did this. Maybe it was because I wanted to be the first to know we won. Perhaps I just hoped it’d be a quick little war.

Sometimes, my dad would beat me outside in our race to the driveway, and be sitting in his recliner reading the paper. In these situations I’d ask the same question: “Did we win the war yet?” Eventually he ended my continuous inquiry with a loving statement, “Buddy, when we’re done fighting in the Middle East, I promise I’ll let you know.”

He’s never told me this yet.

We have been fighting for sixteen years. I have known us to be in war more than at peace. And I am weary. But I remember a time when we weren’t at war. When fighting was not our default position. When attacks were wept over; not celebrated.

Seniors, graduating and going to Prom this year, do not remember a time we haven’t been at war. They’ve spent an entire lifetime with us fighting. And last Thursday we took a large leap forward to sending young men and women back out again. You could say this was a one time thing. That’s not the stance we’re taking in Afghanistan and North Korea. Our actions and your ideas are inconsistent.

I cannot join the celebration of force without weeping for our casualties. Not just soldiers but for the loss of ourselves. The loss of innocence. We used to be so sensitive to war. If we went to war, we all mourned that it had come to that. The loss of one soldiers life was a shock to us all.

Now we are numb. We are the spiritual and emotional tooth that’s been infected too long by the War Cavity. Numb to the fact that people are dying and we celebrate their deaths. Numb to the fact that we want the violence and the bloodshed. Numb that we call those innocent civilians who we kill as “collateral damage”; the cost of doing business. We’re too dosed up on Novacaine to feel pain anymore.

But what will I tell my sons, when they come up to me as I sit in my chair and read the paper? When they ask me “is the war over yet?” Will I tell them that I’ll let them know when the fightings over? Will I tell them that they shouldn’t fear or weep over the loss of a generation’s innocence? What will I tell them?

I will tell them that this too will be made right. That one day, we will beat our plowshares into pruning hooks. One day, I will see that yes, everything sad does become untrue.

And maybe, just maybe, my children will return back to the time before the war.

Gospel Assurance and Kingdom Citizens

Phil 1:18b-30

One of the things I find most frustrating about the human condition is that I cannot know everything. We often hear advertisements along the lines of “build for your future” “save for tomorrow” “what will you’re life look like in 20 years?” We do everything in our power to navigate life, prepared for any kind of emergency. We, like squirrels, gather our acorns up, preparing for the long Winter of Life, when the winds blow cold and the dark comes too soon. But, as we heard last week, in a moment, that can all change. This boss comes in and says, “You’re on the hot seat”, the doctor says, “It’s worse than we thought”, you find out children just aren’t in your future, the debt collector calls again and again, as if you don’t have a family you’re trying to take care of. We try to navigate life, but the Unknown hovers, like a phantom. And many of us may be tempted to wake up each day in fear. “Is this the day when it all falls apart.” And we don’t know. We can’t know what waits us.

Growing up, I remember times when I would wait in absolute anguish knowing that I was going to get in trouble when my parents came home. Kids, maybe you know the anguish of Report Card day. The first time I brought home a C on my report card, was the longest 35 minute bus ride of my life. Because I knew, the “strongly worded conversation of love at loud volumes” was coming. The spanking was coming. The grounding was coming.

We find Paul in a very similar but higher stakes situation. You’ll remember that he is under arrest, having appealed to Caesar for his freedom. He is waiting, knowing that he very well could die. The Romans could come at any minute and haul him away. This is life or death. He may not get out of this one. But as we also saw a glimpse of last week, Paul seems to not be troubled by this. He is using language like “I will rejoice”. At first glance perhaps you’re like me, thinking “Rejoice Paul? You’re going to rejoice? There? On possible death row?”

And so this draws us to the very first question: What is Paul rejoicing in?

Paul rejoices because, while he may be uncertain about what conclusion Caesar will come to, he is absolutely positive that the result is the same. He says in verses 19-20, “this will work out for my deliverance, it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be ashamed”. Paul is confident in one thing. He is united to Christ. Paul is fixated, hooked, and grounded on the promise that he is already justified before God, and thus will be resurrected and made like Him. He knows in Whom he has believed. He knows that he belongs to His faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. Paul is resting on the promise “He who began a good work in you will complete it.” When Paul says “this will work out for my deliverance,” he uses the same root word we use for salvation. Paul is rejoicing in the assurance he has in the Gospel. Christ has come, lived, and died in the place of His people, he was resurrected and ascended. Paul is rejoicing in that, because by faith in Christ, Paul also will be resurrected. Regardless of what the Romans can do to Paul today, tomorrow Paul will be with Christ. This is the root of the great statement in our Text this morning, “to live is Christ, to die is gain.”

The great temptation this morning is for you to hear that great statement of faith and say “Oh I wish I could be more like Paul. I wish I could have the great faith he had.” My plea with you this morning is that you don’t look to Paul as a model of faith, but rather look to the object of Paul’s faith, Jesus Christ. You have this same promise, by faith. No other place will give us such hope. No other place promises deliverance. This is the only place where we can find real Gospel assurance.

So what does this mean? We can say all day, I have assurance that I am in Christ. But so what? What should be the result of that assurance?

I believe Gospel assurance frees us to glorify God, and calls us to live as Kingdom Citizens.

First, our assurance frees us to glorify God.

Paul is saying very plainly that his highest goal, the height of his desire, is that God is honored in his body, or another way to say that is “glorified”. But then Paul clarifies his statement and says that God will be glorified in either his life or his death. And this seems odd, because Paul’s in jail. He has no life. He can’t do anything. This can’t be a place where Paul can glorify God. But it certainly is. Casesar may look to control the Gospel, to thwart Paul’s ministry. But that’s not the case for Paul. In this cell he is the freest man in Rome. Paul knows God has not brought him here only to abandon Paul. Paul could have very well looked at his cell, the guard chained to him, thrown up his hands and said, “Well I can’t reach anyone here. This isn’t where I’m supposed to be.” But that’s not his reaction, and it shouldn’t be ours. When we see that Christ is not going to let us go, not going to abandon us, it removes all fear that we’re not where God wants us to be.

Growing up in the 2000s, that was the main statement I would hear at youth camp or events: You need to figure out what is God’s will for your life. What is your purpose? And it wasn’t intentional, but what that creates is this overwhelming anxiety, “What am I supposed to do? What do you want from me?” And if we’re honest, we often translate that as if we have to throw everything to the wind, and charge the gates of hell. That we’re the ones that have to go and do big things. That we have to fight all the fights. And it presses down on us, like a weight, to crush us. Some of us are called to church planting or ministry. Some of us are called to work in the ghettoes or in the mission fields far away.

But what if that’s not you? What if you’re gifting is that you entertain other families well? What if you’re really good with numbers? Maybe you just really care for children, or you’re administrative skills are awesome. Or let’s step away from the church. Maybe you’re just a good worker. Perhaps you’re just a student, a banker, a doctor, professor, administrator, or businessperson. Because we know, God has redeemed us and gifted us for Himself, we can rest in these things. We can trust that God is glorified in our being faithful sons or daughters, husbands or wives, brothers or sisters, children and friends. You don’t have to be a zealot, or all in, or sold out. Just be ordinary. Just be where you are.

[9] Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, [10] for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, [11] and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, [12] so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.

(1 Thessalonians 4:9-12 ESV)

This is what Paul means when he says “to live is Christ”. It is a statement, a confession, that “Christ will be glorified in my body. If that’s as minister, a housewife, a salesperson, or a faithful child, my life will be marked by a dependence only on Christ and the grace he brings.”

But assurance also frees us to glorify God in our death. For Paul this looked like being courageous when threatened with execution. For us, where the likelihood of dying for the Gospel seems so distant, it’s hard for us to relate to this. But not being able to relate to something doesn’t mean we shouldn’t affirm that it exists for them. That our brothers and sisters worshipped as we slept this morning and risked their lives for the Gospel. We have heard stories of churches being ripped apart by totalitarian governments, missionaries being killed in the field by those whom they loved enough to bring the Gospel to them. We should recognize and pray for the persecuted Church.

For us, where persecution is so foreign, how then can we glorify God in our death? One way is to have an appropriate view of death, one in which we don’t fear it. Paul was so confident in His union with Christ; that at the threat of death is seen as gain. If you keep Paul alive in prison, strip him of everything, he’s going to preach the Gospel to everyone near him, soldier, citizen, whoever. If you kill Paul, his mindset is, “Well then I will be with Jesus.” Dear Christian, this should be a delight to you. I said earlier about how life could change in an instant. And those tragedies can create doubt. Doubt that God cares for us, doubt that we’ll survive. Where will we find our comfort? Our only comfort in life and death is that we are not our own, but belong to Jesus Christ. Not a hair can fall without the will of your Heavenly Father. But if when die, Christian, you will only take your first breath in eternity.

Death is dead. This is why Paul calls it gain. But if you are here this morning, and you do not look to Christ, ut rather something else for your joy, I must ask you this question. Will that thing, whatever it is you cling to; will it sustain you this way? All other things can be taken away. Your job can be gone. Your money can be stolen. Only in Christ are you assured of your fate, even in the face of Death.

Christ has died, and was raised, for you. This truth is freeing. Because I know that I now, and in eternity will stand before God, not according to my righteousness, but Christ’s, I am free to glorify Him in my life.  You do not have to wander in the forest of doubt. You do not have to live in fear that God is not made much of in you.

Second, Gospel assurance calls us to live as Citizens of the Kingdom of God.

Here we come to this part of the text, and after hearing all of that Gospel, all the freedom that we have, now it sounds like Paul is looking at the Philippians and saying, “Earn it”. That’s not what’s going on here. When we begin to look at this phrase, it literally means, “live as citizens of the Gospel.” Paul is taking something that is common among all of them, and elevating it. He is aiming right at the heart of their identity and saying, “Oh this is much better”.

Here’s what I mean. To be Philippian was to be among the most patriotic people of that time. Philipi was granted a unique status in the empire. It was modeld to be a Little Rome.  Philippi, though in Greece, spoke Latin. They had automatic Roman citizenship from birth. Many who called it home were former soldiers. They were as Roman as gladiator fights and chariot races. They took immense amount of pride in being from Philippi.

But Paul is calling them to live as citizens of a much better city than Philippi, a better Kingdom than Rome. Because this Kingdom transcends all Earthly allegiance. In this dense, political season we find ourselves, we often are assaulted with an appeal to our citizenship. “Be sure to do your ‘civic duty’”. But we are also called to a Kingdom duty to one another, and it is of much greater importance.

So how do we live as citizens of the Kingdom? There are many ways, but Paul gives us two here that we should pay close attention to this morning.

First, we strive together in unity. He writes “If I come at see you or if I’m absent, I may hear” that they are living in light of the Gospel. This is important for them, because the time could be soon that Paul could not be around anymore. He could be gone, and the Philippians have to have a better unifier than just being Paul’s fruitful harvest in Macedonia

Paul is saying very plainly, if I come to you or if I don’t, what’s most important for you is that you live life this way. Paul is intimately tied to this church. He is its planter; preaching the Gospel to Lydia, baptizing her and her house. Freeing the demonic girl. Preaching the Gospel to the jailer, baptizing him and his house. There’s roots with Paul. But healthy churches are united by more than their planter. They live decades longer, because they’re united, not by a man and his vision. But by the Gospel he proclaims.  We have to be untied in Christ and by the Gospel he proclaims.

And this is hard because we don’t naturally pull towards one another. There are so many things that we can use to separate ourselves from each other. In this highly polar political season, we are tempted to let our own ideologies and our own party put blinders on us and ask “how can they over there on the other side even say they love Jesus.” We debate things and are divided by that even at the end of the day aren’t important. Some of us care more about social justice and racial reconciliation, some of us care more about taxation and economics, and that’s ok. Some of us homeschool, some us public, and that’s ok. Some of us extroverts, some of us introverts, and that’s ok. We are tied together by something so much better, so much bigger than that.

Paul also says that we are to strive together. This carries with it an idea of soldiers standing side by side and fighting together. We are called to share the fights, the burdens with those around us. To care for one another. To help each other anyway we can. But the only way we can do this is by being in each other’s lives. This is an area where I personally have failed. If we are going to stand together and strive together, then we have to fellowship together. Spend time together. Care for another.

There was a professor who went to the hospital and found out he had only a few months left to live. Lying in his bed one day, he heard singing hymns outside his window. He went to it and saw his students, perhaps 100 of them, serenading him in his final hours. He said, “I didn’t feel alone” The worst place we could be is alone. That is my greatest fear. To be in a vulnerable place alone.  We need each other, and to live as united citizens is to look at one another, knowing these issues exist and saying, “Brother, sister, how may I encourage you with the Gospel?”

Second, live as citizens by facing opposition boldly. Paul says that we are “not to fear our opponents”. We admitted earlier that, while persecution is not the common threat to the Church in America, there still remains pressure to walk away. We are assaulted with the call from those around us to return. To defect and repatriate ourselves back to a dying City. A coworker may throw you under the bus just so that they can get ahead, and we are tempted to get revenge against them. Our culture tells us that truth is relative, morality subjective; and tells the Church that if we don’t support this notion, that we will lose our influence and attractiveness. On the other hand we are warned by some that we could lose our freedoms and rights to worship, that they are the only ones who can help us. But we need not worry about our attractiveness nor our rights. Both ends of this City of Man call out for us to join them and to come find our peace in citizenship with them. But this City is crumbling; our Kingdom cannot be shaken.

We will suffer in this life. It may be through our family, or our finances, or our health. Suffering will come. That is one of the few things you can rest assured of. But a far greater assurance you have is this. Christ has died on behalf of His enemies. And those same enemies may, by faith in Him, be made right with God and brought in as citizens of a Great Kingdom, glorifying their God and enjoying him in life, in death, and forever.