My ministry has taken me to more than 35 countries. Some were beautiful – it’s hard to complain about 2 years in Paris, or nine years in the south of France. I’ve listened to a yodeling choir in Switzerland, walked the walls of Old Jerusalem at sunset, ate the best meal of my life in a fancy hotel in Thailand, and marveled at the beauty of the Taj Mahal.
Some places were more challenging. I lived for two years on the edge of a swamp in malaria-riddled Cameroon, and watched my infant daughter come close to death there from dehydration due to giardia. I’ve strolled the frozen streets of Urumqi, China, in January, walking on ice that would cover the sidewalks for six or seven months.
The town of Abeche, Chad, is at the top of my “hard places” list. A hot wind whistled off the Sahara desert, trash filled the streets and blew through the air, and the glances of many of the Chadians seemed (to this paranoid Westerner) to be full of suspicion and hostility. It was a place that I was embarrassingly glad to leave.
When I’m honest, I admit that I’ve taken prideful satisfaction at my willingness to travel, even to hard places, for the sake of the gospel. But on the last night of the Cross Conference, David Platt blew all of that pride out of the water with one simple question.
He asked if I am willing to go to hell.
The question troubled me at first, even sounded mildly heretical. But listen to the context, and it will make sense.
He was preaching on the book of Romans – that’s right, his message covered pretty much the whole book (you won’t believe how he did it, and I HIGHLY recommend you listen to the message here). After underlining the importance of the gospel in the first 8 chapters, he said this: “Those of us who have embraced this beautiful gospel must be willing to go to hell on behalf of those who have not.”
He then read Romans 9, in which Paul’s love for his countrymen and his anguish over their lostness prompts him to say: “For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (9:3). Paul’s “great sorrow” (vs. 2) over their need for Christ created in his heart the sense that, if it would lead to their salvation, he would be willing to stand on the shores of the lake of fire and jump in.
I’ve been to some hard places. But is my love for those around me so strong that I would be willing to go to hell if it meant that they could go to heaven?
David Platt’s question popped my prideful bubble, and showed me how far I have to go. It was painful, but it was inspiring, and it’s given me a new goal.
On my Sabbath hike tomorrow, I’ll be asking God to create in me the kind of love that He gave to Paul. I know it is the first and irreplaceable step to becoming like Christ, and seeing the world through His eyes.
Let me know if you would like me to pray the same prayer for you.
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