We should have expected it when we heard the title of John Piper’s morning session. His message title was “How the Supremacy of Christ Creates Radical Christian Sacrifice.” Here’s a little advice: when you hear a sermon on suffering, be prepared for God to help you put it into practice! But before we get to the day’s adventure…
Piper’s message was powerful. He demonstrated, from the book of Hebrews, that it is the supremacy of Christ (Christ being “our treasure”) which motivates believers to endure and even rejoice in all manner of suffering. Piper explained that this is especially true when it comes to what he called “radical suffering.” Why would anyone “accept joyfully the seizure of their property” (Heb. 10:34) or “choose… to endure ill-treatment with the people of God” (11:25)? Because they understand there is something better, something of greater value than “stuff” and “comfort”; because they understand the “treasure.”
As Piper talked through this idea, it became evident that he was really expounding the true theme of Hebrews. The book holds up Christ as supreme, as better than all the old ways, and it does so for a very practical reason. The audience was enduring suffering and intense persecution for their commitment and obedience to the Christian Gospel. However, some were starting to waver and abandon the faith. Why should they stick it out and pesevere? Because Christ is better than anything else!
After wonderfully expounding this idea, Piper then moved on to show how a book that focuses on Christ as the supreme “means” (Christ the ultimate sacrifice, Christ the perfect high priest, Christ the author of our faith) really calls us to see Christ as the supreme “ends.” Here he raised the question: what is God’s purpose for all things? His purpose is that His glory would be manifested supremely through His grace for our joy. And what is the ultimate expression of God’s grace for our joy? It is Christ’s glorious saving work! What will be our joy in all eternity? What will we rejoice in and sing about and delight over for all eternity? As Piper put it “The worst event in history [the cross] will be our song in eternity.” The “means work” of Christ becomes the glorious ends we will celebrate.
Understanding this, that Christ and his glorious work is the treasure we’ll celebrate forever, Piper challenged us to “go to Him outside the camp” (Heb. 13:13), to find him in the midst of our suffering and to endure suffering, even rejoice in it, if that is where he is. That, he explained, is the point the author of Hebrews is making.
Following the message, there was another great panel discussion (which involved Piper’s unique praise of the women in his church “I could just marry them all!” and teasing John MacArthur for having a Bible with tabs). The most profitable part (although laughter is good medicine!) was the discussion on preaching. It was very insightful to listen to these godly brothers talk about how they prepare themselves for the preaching moment.
After the wonderful morning session, we headed back to the hotel and readied ourselves to head home. We decided to skip the last session since it ended after noon and our flight was scheduled to leave at 2:30. Our thinking was, with over 5,000 pastors descending upon the airport, we’d want to get there early and get through check in and security. Turned out that our ways were not God’s ways! I think He would have rather we stayed for C. J.’s session (and I am truly disappointed that I missed it).
And here is where our adventure began.
We made it to the airport, through check-in and security, with no problem whatsoever. We had time enough to spare. Finally, after 2 hours of hanging out at the airport, we boarded our plain… and there we sat… and sat… and sat. Eventually the captain came on the overhead speaker and informed us they had noticed some oil on the wing and were calling maintenance to inspect it. I started to become a little concerned because this flight was just to Chicago where we had to catch our connecting flight back to Seattle. The time between our scheduled arrival in Chicago and our next plane’s departure was only 35 minutes. Every moment sitting on the tarmac was putting that second flight more in jeopardy.
Eventually, after about 25 minutes, maintenance got the issue fixed. We then sat for another 15 while we had to wait for “paper work to be filed” (pilot’s words). We then taxied onto the runway and as the engines began to roar for take off, a gentleman seated in front of Chris and myself jumped about a foot off his seat and yelled in pain! Everyone sat silent for a moment and then as we asked him if he was ok, he explained he had an internal defibrillator which had just gone off! We got the attention of the flight attendent and then headed back to the terminal. This flight was going nowhere soon.
Eventually, we made it to Chicago. We had missed our 3:30 flight. We had missed the 5:20 flight. We did, however, find a spot on an 8:00 flight. After dinner and a lot more time at sitting around and joking about either being cursed by C. J. for missing his session or that we were just “suffering for Jesus,” we boarded our flight and made it home by 10:30 pacific time (but 1:30 on the body clock). I arrived home at midnight, happy to see my wife and daughters, but worn out from an interesting day of traveling “outside the camp”!
Seriously, on the suffering scale, a couple hours sitting in a hot plane on the tarmac is way not very high. Overall, I was extremely blessed to be able to take this wonderful trip and would encourage anyone, but especially those in pastoral ministry, to purpose to join the next conference in 2010. It is by far worth the sacrifice!